Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Monsters walk the streets of Chicago

It's now less than a week until the release date for A MELANCHOLY HUMOUR. I'm pretty psyched.

As with many of my stories, this one went through a number of changes before reaching its final form. My original conception was for a short tale of a psychiatrist interviewing a young man who is convinced he is a monster. The story as I saw it then had only two characters, and neither of them survived into the present version, though a number of elements of personality have.

The title came before the story, which is unusual for me (I'm currently over 60,000 words into a prequel to A MELANCHOLY HUMOR, and I still don't have a title I like). It's such a perfect title for a werewolf tale that I'm amazed it hadn't yet been used. Too bad for everyone else.

My penchant for puns perhaps led me to the title. I'd gotten interested in werewolf lore (how that happened is a story for another time) and even the most superficial research revealed the medieval explanation for lycanthropy: an excess of one of the four bodily humours, the fluids that keep us alive. Too much black bile -- melancholic -- is the culprit. This is why werewolves are so often pictured as being depressed, antisocial, withdrawn -- melancholy. But I shall say no more, lest I spoil some of the surprises.

With the startling revelation of the title, the main themes of the story couldn't be avoided. Both the beginning idea and the soon-to-be published version center on the people involved -- their reactions to the events, more than the events themselves. Both deal with the tension between madness and the extremes of reality, the question of perception and how a broken mind deals with the pressures of everyday life. How can one tell for certain that the absurd things someone else describes are not real? How can one be certain of one's own sanity?

The young man in my original tale has become a young woman, one with a twin brother. The female psychiatrist who examines him has likewise been split, into a retired profiler of serial killers and a much more minor character, a policewoman.

I changed the focus of the story in expanding it into a novel. When I had the germ of the idea, urban fantasy had not yet become a part of popular culture (yes, I'm that old). A current reader wouldn't be surprised by the idea that someone who thinks himself to be a werewolf might actually be one. The question of who really is or is not a preternatural beast could not be saved for the ending. Instead, a more interesting question today would be who really is the monster.

The original form of the story still interests me, however. I've started a draft of a short more true to that beginning conception, but one that doesn't deal with wolves. I think I can still make a go of it, after it undergoes a few more metamorphoses.

Meanwhile, I'm hard at work on a longer tale, a prequel -- really, a series of prequels -- to A MELANCHOLY HUMOR. I dropped some hints as to where Celia came from. It will take more than one book to explore all that. I do intend eventually to tell where it's all going. I think these people have taken up permanent residence in my head, and I know better than to argue with creatures who have teeth like that.

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