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W.D. Gagliani: Respecting the Beast Within

By, Vince A. Liaguno

Author and lycanthrope enthusiast W.D. Gagliani is on a mission: To get werewolves the respect they deserve. Long considered the distant third cousin to the seemingly more popular, more visible vampire and zombie, the werewolf is often relegated to the supporting cast of the classic monster crowd. While werewolves once took center-stage and inspired terror in the days of Lon Chaney Jr. and Universal Monsters, today they’re often found doing yeoman’s work as bodyguards (True Blood), as objects of unrequited love (Twilight), or as the mortal enemies of the vampire (Underworld). Even Oscar-winning filmmaker Benicio Del Toro couldn’t get audiences howling again with his much-touted, big-budget remake of The Wolfman earlier this year.

But Gagliani will argue the point that werewolves deserve a comeback, and he’s poised to deliver it with the latest installment of his Nick Lupo series from Leisure Books, Wolf’s Bluff. He’s carved quite a lycanthropic niche for himself following the misadventures of his werewolf-homicide detective, creating a complex underworld full of shapeshifting terror and excitement.

Gagliani was eager to sit down with Dark Scribe Magazine to make the case for his beloved, albeit often misunderstood, furry, sharp-clawed member of the iconic monster squad. In this insightful sit-down, he discusses the inevitability of one’s dark side, reminisces about the early paternal influences on his work, and refutes the supporting class membership of lycanthropes in popular culture.

Dark Scribe Magazine: Tell us a little about the new book, Wolf’s Bluff.

W.D. Gagliani: It's the third book in a series about Milwaukee homicide cop Nick Lupo, who also happens to be a werewolf. It comes after Wolf's Gambit, which was the sequel to Bram Stoker Award nominee Wolf's Trap, which introduced the character. Matter of fact, Gambit-Bluff and next year's Wolf's Edge form a loose trilogy in which Lupo faces danger from a certain government contractor. Some of that book is ripped from the headlines, some of it is based on my parents' actual experiences in WWII Italy under German occupation, and some of it is pure fantasy. Well, lots of it is pure fantasy! But meanwhile Wolf's Bluff is the middle book in the Wolfpaw arc, picking up where Gambit left off after Lupo was forced to face the fact that he's not the only werewolf. And these other werewolves are pretty scary dudes with roots that go back a long way.

Dark Scribe: What is it about the werewolf that interests you?

W.D. Gagliani: The whole concept of the beast within as a symbol of everyone's dark side. I think we all have a dark side, a side that comes out to play when others can't see us. It probably leads us to the petty evils in the world, and maybe even the great evils. Of course some of us are at least tormented by the evil we do, and others revel in it. But really, forgetting about werewolves for a second, what is it that makes humans hurt others? I like trying to explore that, though I'm constrained by having to tell an entertaining story at the same time and have to take shortcuts. Writing about werewolves, one expects a certain amount of carnage, so I have to offer some up because it is, after all horror — but I consider the books horror/thriller/crime blends and try to pace them the same way, along with presenting usually two parallel stories showing Lupo in the present and in his distant past. Next year's Wolf's Edge presents his father and grandfather's stories, as they relate to the present-day events. Gets a little science-fictiony there, for a minute. But don't worry, there's plenty of horror.

Dark Scribe: The vampire is a perennial favorite, the zombie craze shows no sign of dying — yet werewolves seem to have gotten a lukewarm reception and haven’t quite ignited the same mania as other iconic monsters. Why do you think this is? Do you see any signs of werewolf mania on the horizon?

W.D. Gagliani: I tend to disagree that there's been a lukewarm reception in some areas. Though Del Toro's The Wolfman movie had a disappointing reaction, the low-budget Dog Soldiers was a huge cult hit, werewolves are about to take both the Twilight and True Blood franchises to new howling heights, and other cult films like Ginger Snaps also helped lay the groundwork for a werewolf renaissance. Underworld, too, helped popularize lycans. When I wrote Wolf's Trap, absolutely no one was doing werewolves, but I feel its success at Leisure spawned more wolves, at least there: Ray Garton's novels, and one from Thomas Tessier, and J.F. Gonzalez with a reprint, and now Jeff Strand has one coming, and they've taken three more from me, so some readers must have responded positively. Plus, in the years since I started Trap (1993) a whole new paranormal romance market with werewolves who are also hunky guys started and took over half of the romance section in bookstores. Sure, they're slugging it out with vampires, who still win on sheer numbers, but you can walk down the aisle and count lots of wolves and moons on romance covers. So I think the night of the werewolf is coming. And I like to think I had a small part in its beginning. 

Dark Scribe: What is it about Detective Nick Lupo that keeps you interested in him as a protagonist?

W.D. Gagliani: He's not like vampires, for instance, many of whom seem sort of smug and quite happy to go about their blood-sucking ways. He's a werewolf — so for one thing, it's messier. Raw meat and intestines and all that. Lycanthropy isn't for neat-freaks! Plus he's a reluctant monster, and he recognizes that he has done some terrible things. Control has been an issue for him, with the moon first controlling his change, and then the creature he carries inside controlling him. Through the books, he both succeeds and fails at controlling his internal wolf. I like his tragic sense of loss and his anger and the fact that he's sometimes incapable of doing the right thing though he intends to and means well. I like the fact that he's conflicted, but not in that sort of gothic, brooding way. He's a wolf in a china shop. He messes up. He's done some more terrible things in his past than he can even really remember, though they seemed like the "right" things to do at the time. My new tagline for him might read: "He's a good guy, but he's getting over it."

I should get this off my chest. I've taken some crap for my protagonist's name, Nick Lupo, "lupo" being the Italian word for "wolf." Sure, I guess it's a little on the cheesy side, but we certainly have a tradition of using names that somehow reflect our characters. Start with Dickens and Shakespeare, if you want. But some recent examples include "Louis Cyphre" and "Harry Angel" in William Hjortsberg's novel Falling Angel, and a werewolf named "Wolf" in King and Straub's The Talisman. Nick Knight in the TV show Forever Knight (he's a cop, he's a knight-errant, and it puns with "night" because he's a vampire), which was certainly an inspiration to me, as well. Anyway, as I explored Lupo's past, I intended to give him a sort of destiny signaled by his name — and having the opportunity to write at least three more books about him allowed me to bring that destiny to the fore. So the sometimes visceral, mocking reaction I've had in some reviews to his name sort of surprised me, as did the complaints about his music tastes and details — about which, by the way, I've had incredibly positive mail from readers. If I'd made him a big fan of punk or jazz, I think I'd have been allowed to skate, but since it was the reviled progressive rock, some critics took shots. But I had so much great mail from prog-heads who loved it, and others who thought it was great he didn't listen to the usual stuff, that I'm glad I did it.

Dark Scribe: What are some of your favorite books and movies featuring lycanthropes?

W.D. Gagliani: Books — the absolute best is The Wolf's Hour, by Robert McCammon, and one that definitely influenced me. It's set in WWII, and my own books have led me to that venue, though not in an effort to copy or repeat, but to celebrate some of my parents' experiences as kids living through the German occupation in Italy, the Allied bombings of their city, and their witnessing of rough partisan justice on the streets as the Germans retreated in front of the Allied advance. I've reluctantly tended to avoid reading too many of my contemporaries' werewolf novels in order to keep as much in my own cabbage patch as possible, so to speak. In terms of movies, Dog Soldiers, The Howling, [and] Ginger Snaps are all good. The Wolfen isn't really about werewolves but gets the vibe. There's a 70s movie of the week, Moon of the Wolf, that did it for me as a kid. It's very atmospheric.

Dark Scribe: When you set out to write Wolf’s Trap, had you already envisioned a series?

W.D. Gagliani: No. In fact, I half-intended to kill Nick Lupo at the end. I envisioned a much darker, downbeat ending. The book's original editor wanted a more upbeat ending, and I'm glad I made that work. I decided, though, that at the end of all my novels, Lupo – or someone close to him – will lose something important or pay dearly for some mistake or have his soul dragged to hell by perpetrating some negative action that will lead to greater problems later. I still enjoy the downbeat aspect of even a positive ending! How's that for twisted? I like painting Lupo and his people into corners, and then sometimes they tell me how to get them out of trouble, and it's messy…not at all sugar and spice. It's supposed to be horror, after all.

Dark Scribe: What are the challenges of writing a multi-book narrative? In what ways is it easier than a stand-alone novel, for example?

W.D. Gagliani: I've sold each book individually, so I'm lucky that it has developed as a series, but if Leisure decides to let Lupo go, then the multi-book narrative ends. So I don't know when I’m plotting one book whether I'll get to continue Lupo's adventures. I hope so, because even I was surprised by what happens at the end of Wolf's Edge, which is due next year. Actually, in the current new release, Wolf's Bluff, some characters also took things into their own hands. I hope readers will be surprised, because I was. But I like to let them choose their way logically, at least in the context of what they know in their world, and I try to balance that with surprise. Only readers will know if it works.

Dark Scribe: You craft a beautiful tribute to your late father, Gilberto Dario Gagliani, on your website. Was your father a fan of your work? What do you think he’d say about your work if he were alive today?

W.D. Gagliani: Thanks for that — I really appreciate it. I wanted to say something different from the ordinary about him. He was quite a character. Like Nick and his father, Frank Lupo, my dad and I didn't always see eye to eye. He was a very traditional Italian. So, you see, there's a bit of autobiography in the books, things to do with growing up in an Italian-American household, for instance. My dad always encouraged my reading and writing. He introduced me to Jules Verne when I was young, and therein lays the basis of many of my favorite genres. Eventually, he would come to the illogical conclusion that I was reading too much and put me to work every chance he could, and that was his dark side, I guess. He was stern, but never mean. In any case, he never got to read Wolf's Trap. It came out in the small press edition right in the middle of the progression of his illness, and he was no longer able to do things like read for fun. But he'd read almost all my short stories to that point, and he encouraged me. I remember after we first saw Raiders of the Lost Ark, he said: "You should write things like that." I agreed, although by then I was taken by horror thanks to Stephen King. But I was as big a fan of crime and thrillers, and fantasy and science fiction, too, so it was natural for me to want to blend genres. He was always full of advice and I think he secretly had always wanted to write his own life's adventures – of which there were many as a young sailor traveling the world in the 50s and 60s – and he was tickled that some of his stories and experiences ended up in my stories. As to my work today, I think he would think the violence is okay, but he'd be disturbed by all the sex. He was very straight-laced and would have found it extreme, even when it isn't. He'd advise me to cut, cut, cut!

Dark Scribe: It seems that despite the warnings of a revolution, the advent of eBooks and eReaders is upon us. What are your own thoughts, as a writer, about the digital evolution of reading?

W.D. Gagliani: Well, I've just released a straightforward thriller – Savage Nights – to Kindle (in March) and just ordered my own Kindle reader three days ago. So I guess I'm aboard. Actually, I was aboard a long time ago — originally I published my story collection, Shadowplays, as an eBook back in 2000. It sold enough copies to maybe order a couple pizzas. At work a decade ago, we had bought a Rocket eBook Reader, one of the first, just to check out. No one liked it much, but there was a sense that their time would come. I think Amazon was brilliant in its leadership and made the Kindle not only viable, but a bestseller. And now publishing backlists on Kindle is a great career move, in terms of income. They just raised the author royalty to 70%, which is outstanding — but of course you really have to hustle to push the work. The nice thing is, it's there forever — the book that sells a dozen copies this month could potentially sell hundreds next month. It's a bit of a crapshoot. It's like the Wild West out there, with so many authors going indie, but I think the market will continue to grow as the devices compete: the Kindle, the Nook, the Sony, the new Kobo, and so on — not to mention the iPad and all the Smartphone users who can read eBooks on their devices and want to. [Competition] — that's the key. The potential is for millions of sales, as the pool of users grows exponentially. I always point interested people to Joe Konrath's blog if they want to take a crash course in all things e-publishing. By the way, Savage Nights is like the Liam Neeson movie Taken on steroids — it was written about a year before the movie came out and it takes you much, much farther into the darkness. And, since it's about sexual slavery and some very shady, violent people, it's really not for the faint of heart. I'd call it shocking, in fact.

Dark Scribe: What’s next for W.D. Gagliani, the writer? Another Nick Lupo tale on the horizon?

W.D. Gagliani: I'm plotting Wolf's Cut right now, seeing where I can take Lupo after he's faced down his big enemy, the government contractor that gave him so much trouble for three books. Now that he knows werewolves (besides him) exist, his whole world can change — if there are werewolves, then what else might be out there? I want to stick with the noir crime and thriller aspects of the series, though. Maybe steer closer to pure horror.

I've had several very successful collaborations with my friend, writer David Benton. They've all been short stories so far, and we've had some great sales: to the Hot Blood series, to the Malpractice anthology, to the German anthology Masters of Unreality, and to the eZine Dead Lines. Now we're taking our collaboration to new heights, heading off into a fantasy/horror/adventure series for middle grade readers. We have an agent shopping the first book now and the second is nearly finished and a third is plotted. Very exciting stuff!

Dark Scribe: Last question…give us your best werewolf joke.

W.D. Gagliani: I don't know about best, but here's a Gagliani original: Werewolf walks into a restaurant. Waiter takes one look at him and says, "We don't serve the likes of you." After he's done eating the waiter, the werewolf says, "Apparently you do."

For more information about W.D. Gagliani, visit his official author website.

Posted on Tuesday, August 17, 2010 at 10:00AM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | CommentsPost a Comment