Characters have a way of catching their writers off guard. When I started writing Denying Yourself, I didn’t know it was going to be paranormal. I thought it was about two young guys who’d just graduated high school and decided to run away together, but Matt and Shane had so much more to tell me. After two false starts, Shane finally confessed to me that he was a werewolf. I argued with him a bit but he was quite insistent. He even showed off his fangs and claws and I had to admit he was right and that meant I had a shapeshifter world to construct.
The first thing to figure out was whether humans knew about the existence or werewolves. The answer was yes, werewolves and other shapeshifters are known, but many people despise them for being so “unnatural”. Conservative churches teach that shifting is sinful but shifters themselves are all right as long as they don’t make use of their abilities. Basically, shifters are treated much like GBLT people in our society. So for Shane, being a gay werewolf meant facing a hell of a lot of prejudice.
Next I needed to know if wolves lived in packs and how the packs were structured. In this world, some wolves form packs and some other types of shifters live in groups as well, but most packs are more like the mafia or another criminal organization than a supportive family. Because they often have trouble finding jobs and being accepted in society, many werewolves use their superior strength to strike back and take what they want. There are some packs that functions like families or support networks though. Those packs have led by an alpha wolf whose authority is respected by everyone who wants to be part of the pack.
The next thing I think about when writing shifters is shifting itself – how does it work. Do wolves have to shift at the full moon? The wolves in this story don’t. They often have full moon parties but they aren’t physically compelled to shift then. They can take on their wolf form any time they want to once they gain control of it, typically in their middle teen years. Clothes don’t survive a shift, so they either shift naked or their clothes get destroyed. The process is painful the first few times and then becomes fluid and easy.
When I’m creating a shapeshifter society, I get some basics like this worked as I start writing and then other questions inevitably come up along the way. I might need to research animal behavior or think about legends I’ve read to come up with those answers, or my characters might just tell me how things work for them. I love it when they communicate instead of keeping secrets J
Part One: Denial
THE first time I let myself hope Matt was interested in me as more than a friend was his eighteenth birthday. We’d been friends for almost a year by that time.
My family moved from Raleigh to Dunford, a little town south of Greensboro, the summer before my senior year of high school. I expected it to be hell since I had no intention of hiding the fact that I was gay.
The town proved as dismal as I’d expected and as bigoted. But I had a lot more power in my lanky frame than anyone anticipated, more than I should have had. When I pushed back at the first asshole who tried to shove my head into a gym locker, I sent him flying across the room. A year before, I’d started a part-time job with a construction crew, but I didn’t do anything else in the way of strenuous physical activity. Despite that, I’d been growing stronger and stronger over the last year. I was almost as strong as a shifter now. My adoptive parents had refused to tell me anything specific about my origins, but surely they would have warned me if I had the potential to turn into an animal. Besides, shifters usually gained their animal form at the onset of puberty. I’d turned eighteen last fall, so I was well past the time the first change should have occurred. There had to be some other explanation for my superior strength.
When Matt Dawson, a farm boy and member of the football team, exactly the type of boy I expected to hate me on sight, walked over to me before school one day, I braced myself for a fight. Instead, he introduced himself and sat down beside me. For some reason I’ve never understood, he wanted to be friends. By the time the year was half over, I wanted more than that.
Several times that spring, I caught him looking at me with more interest than most people have for their friends, but I told myself again and again that he was straight and completely off-limits. He was the one guy who was willing to hang out with the school’s token queer, and I wasn’t going to fuck that up. But sometimes, I thought I might die from wondering what it would feel like to kiss him. By spring, I was more and more restless around Matt. I felt something strange inside, some wildness I couldn’t define, like I might come out of my skin, like wanting him was changing me, like it was going to make me come apart.
At first, I thought it was just the intensity of lust with no outlet. But it went on for months and finally got so bad my hands shook every time I was around Matt. I started to worry that something was wrong with me. I started cutting class, because I truly could not sit still.
My mom knew something was up with me, but she didn’t ask me about it. And when I tried to talk to her about what was going on, she acted like I was exaggerating everything and tried to pass it off as normal teenage restlessness. I was convinced I was either sick with some horrible disease or losing my mind.
A few times I almost told Matt, but I chickened out, because I was afraid if I started talking about whatever was stirring inside me, I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from telling him how I felt about him. I fantasized about him more and more, and the restlessness grew worse, like something inside was trying to claw its way out
I’d avoided Matt for several weeks before his birthday, because I started to scare myself. I couldn’t hold my temper. I was dreaming about Matt all the time, and the dreams had grown increasingly violent. In those dark fantasies, I ripped his clothes to shreds, bit him, scratched him, and held him down. I would never really hurt him, at least not if I was in my right mind, but still, I was afraid.
He called me the day before his birthday. I let the call go to voice mail and told myself I wouldn’t listen to it, but I couldn’t help myself. I had to hear his voice.
Shane, I miss you, man. My mom’s making a special dinner for me tomorrow, but after that, I was hoping to hang out with you. Maybe we could go down to the river. Call me.
I hit the button to call Matt back without even thinking.
He answered on the first ring. “Shane?”
“Yeah, it’s me. I’m sorry. I’ve been…. Fuck, I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’d like to hang with you tomorrow. Just call me when you’re done with your family thing.”
He waited a few seconds to respond. “You could come for dinner if you wanted to.”
“Nah, I… I just can’t.”
“Okay, but after. I want to see you.”
“I want to see you too.” And I did, desperately, no matter what happened. I had to see Matt. We’d be graduating in a few weeks, and I didn’t plan to stay in Dunford. I needed to make these last weeks with Matt count.
Dinner at Matt’s house would’ve been delicious. Matt’s mother was an awesome cook, and so was Matt after all the time he’d spent learning from her. The food she made was hearty and comforting, not like the trendy food my mother prepared, weird stuff that never filled me up. But while Matt’s mom was truly a Christian woman who bubbled over with generous love for everyone, even those whose beliefs didn’t align with hers, Matt’s father had counseled his son against “running around with that damn fag.” I was thankful Matt had ignored him and pleased that ultimately Matt’s father had let him choose his own friends. Still, I didn’t want to sit across the table from the man.
Read the next scene here: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=3809
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