Wednesday, August 6, 2008
JM Snyder :: Why Bobcats?
The most common question I get about my Between States series is, why bobcats? My tongue-in-cheek response is, why not?
The first thought that comes to mind when you say 'shapeshifter' is werewolf and, in my opinion, they're just a little overdone. I've written the obligatory werewolf story myself (it's entitled "One of Us" and appears in my short story collection, Shorts), but when I first came up with the idea for the Between States stories, I wanted something different. Something that would stand out. The first story was written with the original intention of submitting it to shifter anthology (which I decided against, in the end), and I knew every other story in the slush pile would be werewolves. I needed something all my own.
To be honest, I'm not much of a dog person and have never been "into" wolves. I have, however, always been owned by at least one cat (at the moment, two very spoiled kitties take care of me, Jelly and Jono, who have shared my life for the past twelve years). I know feline behavior intimately ~ I'm the first person called whenever a cat expert is needed among my family and friends. I know the way they act, the way they play, the way they move ... I know their purr, their meow, their walk. The flick of their tail when they're pissed, the flattening of their ears when they're mad, the head bump and rub when they're pleased.
In short, I know cats. And if I wanted my characters to feel real to the reader, in both human and shifted form, then I would need to play on my strengths and write what I know. You always hear that, "Write what you know," from writing instructors and books and magazines, and I've heard a lot of argument from people who write spec fic (fantasy, sci-fi, horror) who say they can't write what they know because magic doesn't exist, or elves aren't real, or vampires are only works of fiction. Maybe so, but there are elements you do know, which you can write about with authority, and which will make your writing stronger and your story believable. In my case, here, I wrote about cats.
I picked bobcats for several reasons. One, they're felines, of course. Two, they're very prevalent in the United States, specifically in the woods of the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, where these stories take place. They're also known as lynxes, FYI. And finally, a full-grown bobcat can be large enough to shift back into a human.
This last point was very important to me. Some authors of shapeshifting fiction don't think about the logistics of shifting. A human has a certain amount of body mass which just doesn't disappear if/when they shift into another form. Or rather, wouldn't, assuming this were something that could really happen. All the bones, the muscles, the sheer weight of a human male has to go somewhere, don't you think? To me, a bobcat solved that problem nicely, being a creature which could conceivably contain that body mass without looking grotesquely over-sized for its species.
Maybe I'm too anal in my approach, but even with spec fic, I like it to ring true.