Tired of zombies and vampires hogging all the apocalyptic fiction fun? Local author Travis Heermann agrees, so he's pushing werewolves to the center stage in his new novel The Wild Boys. The timeless shapeshifters of the book come to life thanks to a bioengineered plague that tilts the balance of nature against humanity, knocking us a notch down on the food chain. At the forefront of the impending werewolf apocalypse, a young half-Japanese girl seems to be one of the few who realize what's happening, leaving it to her to stop it -- if it's not already too late. Before Heermann's book-signing event Saturday, December 29, at Bean Fosters in Golden, we talked to him about the novel, the archetypal fear of shapeshifters and finding inspiration in dreams.
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Westword: What can we expect from The Wild Boys, apart from the werewolves?
Travis Heermann: The main character of the story is a sixteen-year-old girl. She's half-Caucasian, half-Japanese. She has moved to the Midwest very recently and finds that she doesn't fit in very well. She finds herself at the forefront of a rash of strange murders. When one of those happens to be her only friend, she's sort of dragged into this situation where something really bad is happening. She doesn't know what it is initially, but that's how the story starts.
Your press materials pitch the book as a werewolf apocalypse story. Without giving too much away, can you tell us if the story reaches full-blown apocalypse?
By the end of the book, the full-blown apocalypse has not happened -- but it might be [starting].
Tell us about your werewolves. I understand they're caused by a bio engineered plague?
Yes. Lycanthropy is passed on through a virus, and the virus is bioengineered, but at this point nobody knows by whom, or where it came from. The werewolves have the capability to change back and forth between human and wolf form, but when they're in wolf form they retain the larger portion of their intelligence. Some of it gets subsumed by the animal nature, but they're still very much themselves. What's happening is, some of them believe that humans are food. Others try to hold onto their humanity. That's where the the conflicts in future books are going to come from.
Do the werewolves transform into actual wolves, or are these the more "wolfman" style werewolves?
Most of them just turn into wolves, although I treat this scientifically. So a 150- or 220-pound person, because of the law of conservation of mass, makes an awfully big wolf.
Like a direwolf?
Exactly. And because the transformation is usually a conscious thing, there's a certain amount of skill involved for some of them and they can make partial transformations. I haven't ruled it out that there could be sort of "wolf men."
You mentioned they have conscious control over their transformation, so these weres don't change when the moon is full. Are there times or situations that do trigger the transformation to wolf form?
Extreme emotion -- kind of like the Hulk. Even when they're in human form they retain some of their animal nature, so maybe they're a little more emotionally volatile. So maybe if there's an outburst of rage or something like that, they might transform
It sounds like you're planning on this being a series, or at least for a sequel. What does the future hold for the Wild Boys universe?
I don't have plans for a specific length of series, but I could certainly write other books [in this universe]. There are other storylines in here that could still be worked out. There are romance angles, there are family relationship subplots and the general development of Mia as a character. Not to mention, the whole "how far could this werewolf apocalypse go?"
That's one of the great things about apocalyptic fiction. It allows you to follow a storyline from the very intimate scale to something global.
Absolutely. This is a very intimate story, but there is very much a sense that big things are happening out of sight. Those would become more and more visible with future books.
When you sat down to write this story, why did you choose werewolves. Was there something particular about them, or was it simply a matter of the other big monsters -- zombies and vampires -- being a little played out?
Well, werewolves have terrified me since I was little little. Some of my early -- I can remember some of my earliest nightmares, from when I was like three years old, that were about werewolves. I think something about werewolves -- people who can shapechange into animals -- something about that is maybe built into us, that we respond to it on a very deep level.
The idea for this story in particular came from a dream that my wife at the time had. She said, "You need to write this story" and I was like, "Wow, that is a pretty cool dream. I need to think about this for a while." So I sort of took the initial kernel and built my own story around that.
What was the dream?
The dream was she was walking down a bike path and she had the sense she was being followed. Then three little boys come out of the bushes and say, "You have to save us." Somehow she knew they were werewolves, and that was the kernel of the story.
Some of that sounds familiar from the opening of the book.
Yep. And that [actual] scene is coming up [later in the book]!
This is your first horror novel, right?
This is my fourth [published] novel. My novels up to now have all been fantasy of various types. My earliest one was epic fantasy, then I had one in 2009 called Heart of the Ronin, which is a historical fantasy set in thirteenth-century Japan. Then Rogues of the Black Fury came out this year, and it's a dark and gritty swashbuckling fantasy. This is also my first foray into the young-adult [market] as well, although the Japanese fantasy one was sort of written before the young-adult craze, but the protagonist in that book is seventeen years old, so it could have been marketed as young adult.
Anything else you'd like to share with people?
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I also do podcasting. Both Heart of the Ronin and Rogues of the Black Fury have been podcast in serial form in their entirety [via iTunes]. So if anyone wants to check those out, they can do it for free, and the books are available as ebooks and trade paperback. I'm on Facebook, I'm on Twitter -- I'm a pretty easy guy to find on the interwebs. And all my books are available at Tattered Cover and the Broadway Book Mall. Support your local bookstores!