By Amy Lignor
The mighty character of the werewolf is something booklovers turn to for excitement, following the in-depth stories of those who live with the gift and/or curse of the midnight howl.
In W.D. Gagliani’s WOLF’S BLIND, homicide detective Nick Lupo is injured in an explosion. He should heal—after all, he is a werewolf—but something keeps him from shifting. Vulnerable, he must find a way to survive while being hunted by his greatest foe, a Maffia boss seeking a brutal form of revenge.
I had the honor of speaking to Gagliani for The Big Thrill this month.
The suspense/thriller genre is expansive. What made you want to explore the “darker side” of human nature?
I began reading (in Italian) early on, then leaned toward Sci-Fi/Fantasy. My father loved Jules Verne, so I fell into that orbit first. Then, I stumbled onto British thrillers and was captivated with their literary approach and straightforwardness. I saw my first Bond film at the age of five. (Yes, my parents were very liberal on that score.) I was in grade school when they took me along to The Godfather, Dirty Harry, Midnight Cowboy, The Wild Bunch, and many other inappropriate movies. I’m grateful. They opened up my horizons. Goldfinger made me a Bond fan for life, and in late grade school I found Ian Fleming. At that point, I already wanted to be a writer. I wrote my first werewolf tale in the fourth grade classroom. The teacher—a nun!—read it to the class. I was gravitating toward the darker themes even then.
But then I ran into a movie based on a Richard Matheson novel, and after further detective work, saw that he crossed over from thrillers to horror. In searching, I found James Herbert and loved his horror novels (The Rats and The Fog), and in search of similar thrills, I stumbled on someone whose second book was on a grocery store paperback rack. Salem’s Lot by newcomer Stephen King. I was then lost to horror.
I’m the product of many influences, but the majority of them featured that thrill of danger—describing conflicts in which the stakes were survival itself made me want to write. When I realized I really liked werewolves, everything clicked.
Could you give a bit of background on your protagonist Nick Lupo and where the “vision/muse” came from?
Nick Lupo is based on me in many ways. An only child, a loner, one with a vibrant inner fantasy life but a hint of darkness, too; an Italian-American household with parents born in Italy (survivors of World War II bombings), growing up in the 70s, developing a narrow but rich interest in music—those all describe me. I was always fascinated by cops and detectives. I watched just about all the PI and cop shows of the time period (Starsky & Hutch, anyone?) And I had that constant reader’s interest in thrillers.
The titles in the Wolf series have each been unique stories that scared, thrilled and excited. Could you give readers a look into your newest, WOLF’S BLIND?
WOLF’S BLIND is the next in the Nick Lupo series, and it follows the book in which Lupo found himself caught between two groups of antagonists: a kind of intentionally clichéd, old-fashioned Mafia family looking to take over the local Indian casino (on the reservation where Lupo’s lady friend works as the doctor), and the super-secret Pentagon faction dedicated to government takeover called “Wolfclaw,” because its leaders are werewolves. This new book has a more personal feel because it brings back an enforcer for the Mafia family who now seeks revenge on Lupo, but in true super-villain fashion, he wants to derive some enjoyment from it. Think of the classic short story, The Most Dangerous Game, by Richard Connell and you’ll get a sense of where this is going. Meanwhile, Jessie is targeted and has to summon her own inner darkness, and Lupo’s partner, Rich DiSanto, is falling into a rabbit hole of dangerous sex lured by Heather, the lovely werewolf who is also aligning herself with the wife of the Mafia family’s new boss.
What did being raised in both Italy and Wisconsin–two completely different locations—add to your imagination?
I like to think I have a wider world-view because I’ve seen other places and cultures. On a personal level, my parents’ stories of nights huddled in the air raid shelter under Allied bombing after Italy’s surrender in 1943, were vivid enough to stimulate a lot of side plot action/parallel stories of several of my books. Basically, the parallel story started out being about Nick Lupo’s own youth, but eventually it became apparent to me that I had to reach back farther, to his father and grandfather. Their stories revealed themselves to me and I found them very interesting on their own. Fortunately, I had left enough interesting tidbits about the elder Lupo behind in the first book, so I was able to create a whole secret life, and follow Lupo’s father through his own journey. But none of this would have been possible if I didn’t have a great sense and memory of growing up in Italy or in certain parts of Wisconsin, Kenosha and Milwaukee especially, which I blended to form the setting.
Is there a specific piece of advice you offer to other writers just starting out?
Honestly, it’s a cliché, but I think anyone who wants to write should read, read, and read some more. Read what you love and sample everything else. I didn’t mention my long-time interests in nonfiction, military history, Egyptology, alternate history, crime, the occult (of course), etc. I also advise anyone who wants to write to sit down and do it. Don’t put it off. It wasn’t until I made myself sit and produce, with an almost daily writing schedule, that I managed to get my novel production time down from nine years per book (Wolf’s Trap) to nine months (Wolf’s Gambit), to eight, seven, and eventually six months for more recent titles. Without the concerted effort of a regular writing period or a deadline, it’s difficult to “find time” to write; one has to “make time.”
Are there other genres you wish to explore, or projects in development?
My thriller, Savage Nights, has a thread of paranormal (a psychic element) but is otherwise straightforward dark crime and suspense. I want to write more thrillers, and a sequel is percolating in the back of my mind. My Great Belzoni tale is about to be slightly expanded and published in Italy as the start of a pulp fantasy series featuring the proto-Indiana Jones, Giovanni Battista Belzoni, who was a grave-robber but also interested enough in actual scientific discovery to have made astute observations. I have a Civil War Steampunk fantasy that began life many years ago, but I see that one more as a possible novella series—Steampunk is a genre I’d like to spend some time in. I’m working on a straight horror mash-up with David Benton, my frequent collaborator, so even though that’s still horror, it’s a bit more occult. Lastly, I’m working on a high concept novel that will blend fantasy, horror and crime.
Are you a writer who likes outlining the story beforehand, or one that gets that burst of imagination, sits down and immediately begins?
I’ll straddle a fence here and say that, for me, it works best when I do both. I find that a “loose” outline is helpful, but I will intentionally leave gaps so the plot can go its own way, and I absolutely let the characters determine their own fate. I need to have a direction, and a hazy ending is helpful, but otherwise I feel that readers will be more likely to be surprised by twists in the plot if those twists also surprised me. I know my inner process imposes a structure on the plot almost subconsciously, so it may not actually be as freewheeling as it seems while I’m doing it.
Talk werewolves. What’s the best?
I gravitated toward the tragic hero of The Wolf Man, Larry Talbot. He (Lon Chaney, Jr.) also appeared in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, and when I saw it on late night television, I was hooked. I guess I was attracted to the idea (and fear of) becoming a monster. A 1958 SF movie I saw when I was about nine scared me to death in an existential way: Meteor Monster, aka Teenage Monster. A meteorite turned a kid into a monster (not a werewolf) very much against his will, and for some reason the tragedy of it really bit deep. The kid’s pain at being shunned by everyone worked on me. Mind you, it wasn’t a very good movie, but it’s theme was magnified by my youth and situation (I was still learning to adapt to living in the U.S. and learning English, so I was already somewhat of an outsider.) I Was a Teenage Werewolf also affected me.
If you could have lunch with one writer, living or dead (they would be alive for lunch) who would it be, and why?
I’d love to just sit and chat with Tim Powers. I’ve met him, but only at a convention and never had a chance to really relax and talk. Also, if I’m allowed to cheat a little, I think I’d enjoy convening a roundtable of British thriller folks: Ian Fleming, Alistair MacLean, Jack Higgins, Desmond Bagley, and Duncan Kyle.
W.D. Gagliani is the author of the novels Wolf’s Trap, Wolf’s Gambit, Wolf’s Bluff, Wolf’s Edge, Wolf’s Cut, Wolf’s Blind (upcoming), and Savage Nights, plus the novellas Wolf’s Deal and The Great Belzoni and the Gait of Anubis. Wolf’s Trap was a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award in 2004. He has published fiction and nonfiction in numerous anthologies and publications such as Robert Bloch’s Psychos, Undead Tales, More Monsters From Memphis, The Midnighters Club, The Asylum 2, Wicked Karnival Halloween Horror, Small Bites, The Black Spiral, and others. His book reviews and nonfiction articles have been included in, among others, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Chizine, HorrorWorld, Cemetery Dance, Hellnotes, Science Fiction Chronicle, The Scream Factory, The Writer magazine, Paperback Parade, and the books Thrillers: The 100 Must Reads, They Bite, and On Writing Horror. The team of W.D. Gagliani & David Benton has published fiction in venues such as THE X-FILES: TRUST NO ONE, SNAFU: An Anthology of Military Horror, SNAFU: Wolves at the Door, Dark Passions: Hot Blood 13, Zippered Flesh 2, Masters of Unreality (Germany), Malpractice: An Anthology of Bedside Terror, Splatterpunk Zine, and Dead Lines, along with the Kindle Worlds Vampire Diaries tie-in Voracious in Vegas. Some of their collaborations are available in the collection Mysteries & Mayhem.
To learn more about W.D. Gagliani, please visit his website.