I'm like a little kid about DC Petterson's writing. He ticks all the boxes for me: magic, mystery, creatures of the night, love... And wolves. Dave *gets* wolves. His novel, Lupa Bella, released on October 31 (very aptly, thank you very much) and today I've got him over for a little fireside chat, so to speak.
Author Rosemary Edghill has this to say about Lupa Bella, “Lupa Bella is a compelling secret history of a world that might be our own. DC Petterson blends pagan mysteries and very human evil to create a haunting tale of love, lore, and renunciation that will keep you turning pages in your race to the end. Petterson gets better with each book. Keep an eye on this guy: he’s good, and he’ll surprise you.”
I agree with her, and I totally couldn't say it better. So, without further ado, over to Dave.
What makes your werewolves stand apart in your mind?
There are a few things that, I think, differentiate the wolves in my stories from wolves in other urban fantasies. One is the Benandanti ("Good Walkers"), a magical fraternity that we know existed in Italy in the 16th and 17th centuries. They claimed to be able to transform into wolves, and in that shape they helped protect their villages. They were tried as witches by the Inquisition. My wolves are remnants of the Benandanti. They have this connection to magic, as well as a long history of partnership with people.
Expanding on this idea, bear in mind that wolves were the first animals to form a tie of friendship to people, the first creatures humans domesticated and started intentionally to breed. In my stories, the wolves have been partners with humans for forty thousand years. I've combined this idea of wolves having been bred and genetically manipulated by humans with what we know about the Bendandanti to create the Good Walkers of my stories. I've brought in many other bits and pieces of historic werewolf lore as well—always tweaked for the universe I’m building.
My werewolves are not people who sometimes take the form of a wolf. They are wolves who can appear to be people.
Why Sicily? Can you tell us a little more about the choice in setting?
I have an ancestral tie to Sicily. My great-grandparents on my mother's side were born in the tiny village I've fictionalized in Lupa Bella. Sicily also has a long reputation for being independent of the mainland. It has a rich folklore of magic, even surviving to the present day. This allowed me to imagine a story about a place where some of the old ways have not decayed, a place that has stood apart from the tides of time and change.
Sicily is also a place of ancient vendettas and family feuds that last centuries. The possibilities for tales of intrigue and of loyalty and betrayal are endless.
Tell us more about the bond between Celeste and Dario.
Dario's family has lived on the slopes of Santo Stefano for many years, but they came originally from Tuscany, a region in the north of Italy, known for remembering wisps of gods so old they predate the Romans, and even the Greeks before them. Celeste is a wolf, who was fostered to Dario's mother when Celeste and Dario were both infants. They were raised as sister and brother, and all the villagers view them--and they see themselves--as fraternal twins.
In another novel, A Melancholy Humour, I used the word "legere" to describe the bond between a human and a wolf. That's an old Latin term for a tie or a knot, and it was used in medieval witchcraft to signify a love spell. I use that word to describe the bond between a human and a wolf, and I depict it as a link closer than the blood-ties within a family, stronger than romantic love, not quite a telepathic link but a touch of awareness that cannot be severed.
It it a link, however, that was purposely bred into wolves by their human masters. Some of them resent it.
Dario and Celeste are inseparable. It isn't sexual, and it isn't romantic. It is a love and respect deeper than any of that. This story has provided an opportunity to test the strength of their bond, and I intend in the future to push it still more, perhaps to its limits.
All stories have a spark. What was Lupa Bella's story seed?
Celeste is the grandmother of the wolf character in A Melancholy Humour. I want to tell the story of that family. As I sat down to write it Celeste’s tale, I realized her brother Dario had an expensive Italian motorcycle. Another character asked him where he'd gotten it, and he answered, "I did a service for someone. He said I could keep the Ducati." This forced me to look back toward their home town in Sicily, and to learn more about how Dario came to own the bike. It all turned out to be far more complex than he'd let on.
What was possibly the most difficult part of writing Lupa Bella? And why?
I tend to fall in love with my characters, even the slimy ones I really hate. I want all of them to feel real, and to be complex and layered. To present them as something other than cutouts, I try to spend a lot of time in their heads, getting to know them. This means I have a deep emotional investment in each and every one, even the minor characters who appear only once. (I really like Clio and Eliana, for instance, and I wish I'd had the space to do more with them.)
Lupa Bella includes some deaths. I tend to agonize over those scenes, writing and rewriting them with enough care to get the emotional nuances proper to the character. They are pretty real deaths to me, the end of the lives of people I've come to know. I keenly feel the loss, and I want to let the reader feel that, too.
I struggled with the death scenes in Lupa Bella. One in particular really broke my heart, but it was necessary for the story. I still tear up whenever I re-read it.
Does this world of yours stretch to other cosmologies? I can almost imagine this encompassing North American myths and legends too. In any case, what lies ahead for your wolves?
Humans have domesticated wolves everywhere on the planet--every single place where there are both wolves and humans--not just all over Europe, but also in the Americas, in Asia, in Africa, and in Australia. Everywhere there are domesticated wolves (we tend today to call them "dogs") there also are stories both of the ties between people and canines, and of creatures who freely and frequently step over the line between the two. There is a world full of magical wolf-lore from which to draw. There are differences, yes, and story possibilities can be found there as well, but the underlying ideas, worldwide, are startlingly similar.
Following Lupa Bella, these particular characters are likely to confront the onrush of history about to flood America. I chose the year 1962 for this story with some care. Magic has been fading, but it is not dead, and it is destined to return. I want to tell those stories in the context of a rapidly-changing society, embracing both the horrors and the promise of the new world.
Now go forth and make me the most amazingly happy author ever by buying this book at Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Nook or Kobo, or just go add the damn thing on Goodreads and stalk Dave on Twitter @dcpetterson