Exclusive Interview with D. T. Neal, Author of ‘Saamaanthaa’
I’ve got a fantastic treat for you today. An interview! Woot! I had the pleasure of chatting with D. T. Neal, the author of Saamaanthaa, a brand new werewolf novel unlike anything we’ve seen before. Check it out and let us know what you think.
Can you tell us about your book Saamaanthaa?
“Saamaanthaa” is set in Chicago in fall of 2007, with Samantha, the protagonist, as the narrator. She’s a late 20-something hipster who goes clubbing with her friends, who are all artists and dilettantes of some shape and form. Sam is serious about her art (performance art being her medium), with being seen as an artist, and earning cred with her pals, who are busy playing versions of King of the Hill with each other, constantly one-upping one another.
She runs into another artist, Ansel Rupino, who is also a werewolf, and he infects her during a one-night stand. Sam then finds her artfully constructed world going belly-up as she contends with this other self (“Saam” — her werewolf psyche) who urges her to shed her affectations and just get at making “real” art. Of course, to Saam, this invariably amounts to carnage, cannibalism, murder and mayhem — Saam’s notion of art is squarely tied to slaughter, with Samantha increasingly along for the ride. I won’t go so far as to say Sam’s a slacker werewolf, but there is a definite dose of dark irony in Sam’s metamorphosis from infected human to monster.
The story is darkly funny at the outset, and gets increasingly dark as you get deeper into it, until the bottom falls out and Samantha is staring into the moral abyss. Throughout it, she tries to reconcile her relationship with Ansel, with her best friends, and with Saam, this nether-self that keeps urging her to do more horrible things, and the pace builds as you get deeper into it: bigger, badder, bloodier.
How does Saamaanthaa differ from other novels about werewolves?
“Saamaanthaa” is very much a literary horror novel — which is to say it isn’t simply a genre exercise (although I’m always peevish at the line in the sand between Literary and Genre fiction, and deliberately set out to scuff that up with this novel, to write something that couldn’t simply be blown off lightly). There is a lot of attention paid to character, to pop culture, philosophy, politics, and art — these strands keep pace with the werewolf plot. The novel is both a celebration of art and an indictment of false art, and that hangs as forcefully over the story as Saam’s hulking, monstrous shadow.
I also deliberately wanted it set in a big city like Chicago, because I liked the notion of dealing with something as out-of-control as lycanthropy in a densely packed city. I mean, it’s almost easy to be a werewolf in the countryside (although Ansel has some comments about that in the book; he’d disagree with me), but in the big city, it’s fraught with peril — you can (and do) run into anybody anywhere in Chicago, and if you’re plagued with something as wild as lycanthropy, you’ve got a serious problem to deal with. I liked that challenge.
The genesis of “Saamaanthaa” was me imagining lycanthropy as performance art — like imagining what an artist would do if they became a werewolf, and how they would express their affliction in their art. The moment that came to me, the book just flowed. I loved the idea of the werewolf artist, what that would even mean, both for their art, and for themselves. Artists by their very nature must have a kind of persona, a self they put out there, an approach to their work, a technique — and something as shambolic as lycanthropy would mess all of that up. And there’s the very real chance that the werewolf will be the better artist, too, since they are more in touch with raw emotion, nature, etc. So I had to go there.
What inspired you to write about werewolves?
I have always loved werewolves — I even love the word “werewolf” — it’s such a beautiful, menacing, evocative word. You hear it and it’s like “Uh-oh.” And I had written two short stories with werewolves in them, and decided I wanted to write a werewolf novel (this was around 2005-06). I thought vampires had been done to (un)death and had always liked werewolves better — but was also chagrined that it never seemed like werewolves got their proper due in fiction. And so I deliberately set out to write what I thought would be the perfect werewolf novel. Not simply a novel with werewolves in it, but something that really got down and dirty with it.
And I think I succeeded. When I had finished the first draft of it, I thought I had written the “Moby-Dick” of werewolf novels, but having revised and rewritten it enough times, I think maybe it’s more like the “Ulysses” of werewolf novels. Which likely means that some folks will absolutely love it, and others will absolutely hate it. But either way, I think I did werewolves justice with this book, and I don’t think anybody who reads it will look at werewolves quite the same way again. I’ve already had some readers tell me that they kind of blew off werewolves before stumbling onto my book, but after reading it, they found that they liked them. That’s music to my ears, because I think werewolves are awesome! I think this book will grow in stature as time passes.
What is one thing you would like people to take away from their experience of reading Saamaanthaa?
Wow, that’s a good question. Maybe a better understanding of themselves. I think Samantha is a fun character, but I felt that one of her prime flaws was a failure to really understand what made her tick as a person — she was so obsessed with keeping up with her peers that she didn’t really do the introspective heavy lifting to really know what she was all about. I think it’s a very American kind of affliction — that affable, agreeable, empty, bland kind of self that can go along quite well in this world, provided there aren’t any bumps in the road.
I mean, people get outraged because they got bad service at a coffee shop, or got stuck in traffic. To me, those are folks who need to get a deeper sense of perspective about the world around them, and their place in it. And Samantha, confronted with an absolute evil germinating inside her, is ill-equipped to deal with it. Had she spent some of her young life gaining a better sense of who she really was (versus how she wanted to be seen), I think she’d have been better off. So, for people reading it, I’d say “Know who you are, and why you are who you are.” That would be the main lesson of “Saamaanthaa.”
Who’s your favorite fictitious werewolf (other than your own)?
This’ll sound very old-school, but I have to go with Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde — obviously, they aren’t the fur-and-fangs werewolf, but it’s impossible to not see them as an exemplar of the lycanthropic archetype. The duality inherent in them, two distinct personalities in one body, the clash between lust and reason, the fight for power over the self. Robert Louis Stevenson had his fingers on the jugular vein of the Victorian era with that novella, and it’s a testament to its power as an image that people still mention somebody as having a Jekyll/Hyde personality. It still comes up. The gleeful, lusty evil of Hyde contrasted with the quiet priggishness of Jekyll is compelling, and speaks to people today. It definitely influenced me with writing “Saamaanthaa.”
What is your favorite werewolf book, movie and/or show?
I like so much of it. For example, I love the original cinematic poster of “The Howling.” I still think that is just fantastic, that imagery…
It just captures it so perfectly. You don’t know whether they’re ripping through paper or metal, but you can just feel it, and the woman’s expression is enigmatic, somewhere between agony and ecstasy. That image always stayed with me. I’ve seen another version that has this alternate cover that is far less satisfying…
Even though an actual werewolf is in the latter, it feels tamer than the original, which just seems wilder and more ambiguously ghastly, and, therefore, far more powerful.
I love the dark humor in “American Werewolf in London” — even though it leaves me somewhat unsatisfied as a story. Same with “The Howling” — it has genuinely scary/creepy moments and aspects to it, but fails to fully deliver (although I always love the ending, it’s one of the high points). “Ginger Snaps” is definitely one I enjoy a lot — I saw that one after I’d written “Saamaanthaa,” and was pleased to see a female werewolf protagonist, liked the darkly funny sensibility of it. I never get tired of werewolf movies, if they look like they have heart.
Tell our readers why they should check out your book – in 3 words: (bwahaha)
Dark. Funny. Sharp.
It’s a unique book, honestly. Nobody’s going to read it and think it’s like any other werewolf novel they’ve read. I sometimes say it’s like “Heathers” meets “The Howling” but that doesn’t quite nail it; it’s far better than that. Readers have laughed a lot about it, told me that it’s very funny, but they’ve also cringed in horror at the grisly stuff. Hipsters and scenesters get a little bent out of shape by it, but I think that’s good to shake people up a bit, take them out of their comfort zone.
And finally, what other projects are you currently working on? Any goodies we should watch out for?
Oh, I’ve got a Lovecraftian zombie novel coming out next year (“Chosen”), and am slinging around a science fiction novel I wrote this year that I think’ll knock people for a loop, once I find a proper home for it. And there will be a sequel to “Saamaanthaa” at some point, although that’s a couple of years away — I want Sam to be able to run around the yard awhile, chasing her tail.
Find D. T. Neal here:
About the Author
Moonlight loves to write about, read about and learn about everything pertaining to werewolves and other supernatural beasties. She writes for top genre sites like Vampires.com and Werewolves.com. You will most likely find her huddled over a book of folklore with coffee in hand. Touch her coffee and you may lose a limb. You can stalk her via her Twitter.
One of the writers for werewolves.com, as well as vampires.com.