- Autumn Moon
- C.I. Kemp
- Antimony and Elder Lace Press
- November 22, 2021
“Why do you write horror?” an interviewer once asked me.
“For the same reason Edgar Allan Poe didn’t write kiddie stories, or A.A. Milne didn’t write erotic romances, or Victoria Holt didn’t write horror. My personal Muse is highly specialized in a particular genre, She leads, I follow.”
Which serves a preface as to why I wrote Autumn Moon.
Wolves have always fascinated me.
Even as a kid, on overnight camp-outs with my buds, I remember how we’d sit before the campfire well into the night and howl at the top of our lungs. We’d imagine the reactions of those at other campsites, or, if we were camping in a backyard, the reactions of the neighbors. We’d actually let ourselves believe that anyone who heard us would cower in fear, believing that there were wolves in the vicinity.
Big, bad wolves.
To our untutored minds, that wasn’t just a cliché. Wolves were big and bad. They attacked unwary travelers — pursuing them on limbs that never tired, mauling them with claws sharper than razors, gouging out chunks of flesh with fangs that could shred steel. We’d continue howling until we couldn’t help but collapse in a combination of of juvenile giggles and cold shivers.
It wasn’t until my college years in Wisconsin that my outlook towards wolves took a different turn. I met someone who rescued a wounded wolf cub, the sole survivor of a pack killed by poachers. The person explained that the cub, after being nursed back to health, grew to
adulthood and contrary to my presupposed notions, was friendly, gentle, timid, and highly intelligent.
My response to this conversation was twofold. On the one hand, I was amazed to discover how wrong I was regarding a long-held and deeply entrenched belief. But the more dramatic response was one of disgust, revulsion, and anger.
I’ve never been into hunting for sport, but I don’t judge it, either. I know hunters who embrace a code of honor associated with the activity. Hunt within season, get close to your quarry, don’t exceed the limit, make a clean kill, and wherever possible, use what you’ve killed.
Not so with wolves.
My friend had gone into graphic detail as to how wolves are slaughtered throughout the west and midwest. Hunted from planes, from a distance at which a clean kill cannot be confirmed. Baited
with poisons which assure a slow and agonizing death. When hunted close-up, riddled with bullets and left to die. Males, females, cubs — no distinction. Massacred with a visceral hatred which goes beyond the need to protect livestock or the desire to engage in proper sportsmanlike hunting.
The more I read, the more enraged I became. These are noble, magnificent animals. They don’t deserve the reputation with which myth and folklore have endowed them. They certainly don’t
deserve the sadistic campaign of violence to which they have been subjected for so long. And I must admit that the horror genre, to which I am so fervently attached, has done its share to propagate the attitude which has so victimized this wonderful creature.
I can’t recall when it was that the idea struck me to attempt a biologically correct werewolf story, or more specifically, to create the character of Nielsen Johns as the moral center of Autumn Moon.
Every character a writer creates reflects some aspect of the writer’s own personality. Niels is a distillation of the research I’ve done, the knowledge I’ve acquired, the empathy I’ve come to feel, and the heroism I wish I could muster in defense of wolves. In short, Niels is my spokesman and my wish fulfillment. If I can’t be the protagonist I’d like to be in reality, maybe I can accomplish that vicariously. I can advocate for wolves and sponsor them in real life. What I can’t do is kick the you-know-what out of every poacher who takes pleasure in watching the light go out of a dying wolf’s eyes.
But Niels can.
Autumn Moon is a horror story. It has some bad characters in it. It has werewolves. It has violence and at times, that violence is explicit. As a horror writer, I want you to feel the frisson of fear when confronted with something unknown, unfamiliar, and formidable.
But Autumn Moon is also, perhaps primarily, a love story. Not the love between Niels and Annette although there is that. I’m talking about the love I’ve personally come to feel for this much maligned animal. If there’s just one part of Autumn Moon I want you to read, it’s the town hall scene. This is where Niels expounds upon the true nature of the wolf. In that scene he shares his love for the wolf with the people of Homestead.
That’s the love I want to share with you.