From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Author Spotlight: Caroline Yoachim

How did you decide on the setting of Old West Kansas?

Some people start writing from a character or a setting, but I generally start from a vague idea. In this case, I began with some musings about what a second generation werewolf might look like. As I was brainstorming, isolation and loneliness emerged as important themes, and I quickly realized that the Old West would be a perfect backdrop for the story.

With the exception of Texas, where I currently reside, I’m not terribly familiar with the states that make up the Old West. And while the weather in the opening scene was inspired by my first Texas summer, it didn’t feel right to set the story in Texas. I ended up choosing Kansas after chatting with a Clarion West classmate of mine, Tina Connolly, who grew up there. She was invaluable in making sure I had all the right details about climate, geography, and vegetation!

Daniel and Grace’s inverted transformations somewhat parallel Martha and her recently deceased husband. Both pairs are separated by an insurmountable barrier, but they also keep returning to each other. While the nature of each relationship is very different, how might the reader interpret that parallel?

That’s an interesting way to look at the story. Certainly both Martha and Daniel long for relationships that they can’t have. Martha misses not only her husband, but also her daughter, who died as an infant. Daniel, in wolf form, wants to raise his pup. It is this parallel desire for family that draws the two of them together, because Grace helps to fill a void in each of their lives.

Both Daniel’s and Martha’s families have several members die, leaving both Daniel and Martha alone. How much do those tragedies affect their ability to be open to the events and people in this story?

The death of so many of Martha’s family members has left her to fend for herself, no easy feat for a widowed woman in the Old West. As a result, she has developed a balance between being practical and being sentimental. She has to shoot predators to protect the chickens, but she still has her dead daughter’s christening gown from two decades ago. Furthermore, Martha has already faced disapproval for doing work that was generally done by men. Certainly these experiences, combined with her own loneliness, make it easier for her to except Grace and later Daniel.

As for Daniel, I don’t think of him as being open to what’s happening. He doesn’t have a choice about turning into a wolf, and in that form his actions are largely driven by instinct. Even at the end, it isn’t the family members he’s lost that make him open to staying, it’s the fact that Grace is still alive.

The old west was full of folks like Martha who kept to themselves and spent a great deal of time alone. Doesn’t that buffer from society and civilization leave more room for extraordinary stories, like yours?

Having a buffer from society was a key feature for this story. When I wrote earlier drafts, Martha was far less isolated, but having her face societal disapproval and inquisitive neighbors wasn’t working. Having Martha be truly alone turned out to be important for her character, and for determining how she would respond to the various events of the story. That said, I don’t think that isolation from society necessarily leaves more room for extraordinary stories – it just influences the sort of story you end up with.

Is there anything else you’d like to say about your story?

Writing this story made me grateful to live in modern times. If I want milk or bread I just run to the grocery store, and when the weather here in Texas gets too hot I can stay indoors where it’s air-conditioned!

William Sullivan is a writer, computer programmer, and musician living in Austin, Texas. You can find his website at http://enkrates.com.