Thursday, October 22, 2015

On Being Shifty

Posted by: Jane Kindred
I have to confess: I have shifter fatigue. Not about the concept, per se. Just that it’s been done so many times, and no matter the animal, shape-shifting creatures seem to have the same basic rules and behaviors. Sure, the wolves have their alphas and pack culture, the cats are more loners and fighters, the dragons are singular and mysterious, and the bears are a little bit dimwitted and can often be seen sucking their own paws.

Oops, that last was Chronicles of Narnia. Talking bears, not shifting ones.

Which brings me to the shifters I decided to write. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The standard shifters of paranormal romance and urban fantasy may have their canine, feline, and ursine personality quirks, but the way they shift is pretty much the same, the time-honored method since An American Werewolf in London spent a full twenty minutes on its new, cool special effects were-transformation in 1981.

And it is cool, thinking about a human having to rearrange bones and sinews and skin, and grow hair and claws, and morph into an entirely different shape, and exactly how uncomfortable that must obviously be. And then the shift back—and the problem of clothes. But whenever I considered writing a shifter, I thought about how many people had done it before me, and I just wanted to do something a little different.

Now, before I go any further, I should probably warn you that the rest of this post is a bit spoilery for my forthcoming gothic paranormal romance, The Lost Coast, since part of the suspense of the story is not knowing what the paranormal element really is until midway through. But read on, intrepid blog readers who don’t mind knowing a secret or two before they start a book.

Still with me? Okay, then. Back to the Chronicles of Narnia—the first fantasy books I read as a child, and one of the biggest influences on so much of my writing. My favorite Narnian creatures were the nymphs: the naiads and maenads, the dryads and hamadryads. In short, the nature spirits. So when I decided to write a shifter story, I thought, why does my shifter have to transform into another animal? Why not something else from nature? And how would a nature spirit shift differently?

The naiads in Narnia could assume human form when briefly out of the water, though they were tied to their watery domains. And the dryads and hamadryads could move their roots through the ground like feet shifting in sand or mud; some, if I recall correctly, able to leave their trees and assume a separate human form, while others seemed to shift into tree-like people. Though I’m probably confusing the basic rules of Narnian nature spirits with the unnatural states they were forced into by magic and the loss of magic, I always found the different ways they could shift from state to state fascinating, and I wanted to read more about them.

Hence, the idea for The Lost Coast was born. I’ll refrain from saying specifically what sort of nature spirits my characters encounter or which characters actually shift—I’d like to retain a tiny bit of mystery—but suffice to say, I had fun doing the research. I had already used a few nature spirits from Slavic mythology in my Arkhangel’sk series—the Syla and the Leshi, plus a Rusalka readers never got to meet—but I hadn’t really thought of them as shifters. For my gothic paranormal, I went with Swedish and Greek, just to mix things up. Even more fun was deciding how my unique brand of nature spirits would transform. And travel—because being connected to the thing into which you shift and yet being able to be separate from it as well can make travel difficult.

To some, I’m sure The Lost Coast won’t qualify as a shifter story at all, but like most shifter stories, it explores what it means to be human—and what it means to be something slightly other than human at the same time. The dual nature of being a shifter, in the end, is about being human. We all feel a little bit “other” and misunderstood from time to time. It’s how we embrace and celebrate the strengths of our otherness that counts.

The Lost Coast

Some histories should stay lost. Especially those written in blood.

The only things Millie Lang’s mother gave her were third-degree burns, and a name Millie refuses to use. Abandoned as an infant, Millie grew up as “the girl with the scars”, shunted from one foster family to the next.

Before she met Lukas Strand, she’d never understood what “home” meant. Then Lukas disappeared without a word. Eight years later, Millie is secure in the life she’s built as a physical therapist. Until she gets a letter from a mysterious stranger who knows her real name.

From the moment she arrives at the sprawling vineyard manor on California’s Lost Coast to work with the owner’s young son, she begins to doubt her secret benefactor’s motives. The vineyard is known as The Strand—and Lukas is her patient’s father.

As Millie delves into the tangled threads of their family histories, she realizes the fire that scarred her may not have been an accident—and Lukas’s son is in danger. Unless she survives long enough to unearth the key to some very uncomfortable truths…

Warning: Contains a vineyard owner whose family tree may not have the ideal number of branches, and a woman who is about to discover the magic hidden in her own DNA. May cause unsettling feelings of creeping anxiety and a sudden urge to make bad puns about wood.

Pre-order The Lost Coast now, available December 15:

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