By WILLIAM J. WRIGHT
“Eclectic” doesn’t begin to describe Lindy Miller Ryan, co-author of the lycanthropic new novel THROW ME TO THE WOLVES. She is quite literally the Buckaroo Banzai of horror literature. In addition to being a novelist, Ryan is an award-winning editor, a director of short films, a screenwriter of made-for-TV rom-coms and the co-chair of the Horror Writers Association Publishers Council. In 2017, she founded Black Spot Books, an indie publishing house specializing in horror and dark fantasy. Now an imprint of Vesuvian Media Group, Ryan continues to serve as Black Spot’s president. A third of this would make one hell of an impressive resume, but we haven’t touched on Lindy Ryan’s day job yet. She’s a full-time professor at Rutger’s University who has written such textbooks as The Visual Imperative: Creating a Visual Culture of Data Discovery and Visual Data Storytelling with Tableau.
Growing up on a steady diet of horror movies and Goosebumps novels the horror genre remains Ryan’s first true love. Recently, she somehow found time in her incredibly busy schedule to chat with Rue Morgue about the origins of THROW ME TO THE WOLVES, the book’s future as an ongoing series and how the werewolf has been given the short shrift in horror literature.
Thanks for speaking with me, Lindy. Let’s get right to it. Tell me about your new novel THROW ME TO THE WOLVES.
THROW ME TO THE WOLVES is the first in a new series, the Cry Wolf series, that’s co-written by myself and Chris Brooks. It’s a blend of a supernatural occult thriller [with] some urban fantasy elements and some Southern Gothic. But it’s really about a woman who comes from a place of terror and tragedy trying to find her footing in this new world she’s a part of and you know, really go from victim to survivor to champion. It’s got werewolves, witches, magic – but it’s dark. It’s not your typical urban fantasy-type fare. There’s no “shifter romance” going on here. It’s definitely a little bit of a darker examination, trying to give the monster some agency – and the werewolf genre as well.
Why did you choose to collaborate with Christopher Brooks for this series?
[It’s] kind of a funny, long story. So the short version is this story: I began writing it about ten years ago, under a different title, inspired by some true events of my own past. In the book, Britta’s family kind of uproots overnight and essentially moves to this dilapidated plantation house in Louisiana. And shenanigans ensue. My family did the exact same thing. My mother dreamed of this house. This was back in the 90s, you know, got on AOL dial-up. [Laughs] [She] bought this hunk of junk. I’m pretty sure. I mean, I’m not pretty sure, I’m dead confident that realtor cashed the check and skipped town. It was awful! We lived there for a while, and to the day I die, I 100 percent lived in a haunted house. That place was terrifying. I always knew there was a story there. I have a little brother, and my stepfather was a raging monster. So I had these elements and started to write this story.
I got a publication offer from a major publisher several years ago, but they really wanted me to push it urban fantasy, paranormal romance. That’s not what this story is. Chris has edited for me in the past. And in fact, he edited a book I just sold to a big five imprint. I am so frustrated! The contract process takes forever! Having worked with him as an editor, I knew he saw my vision; I knew he could get it. And I said, “Hey, I have this other book that’s drafted, but it’s not where I want it to be. Are you interested in partnering up and shredding that thing to pieces stitching it back together with the right feel?”
It’s not traditional, pure horror, but there are a lot of gore-horror elements in the book, and I want those to really come out. I want that trauma and that grief and all this to come out. And he said, “Yeah, let me give it a read.” He read it, and he came back, and said, “Well, what if we did this, this and this?” I said, “Yes! That’s exactly what I want.” Then, we started talking about the series and what’s going to happen next, and how can we build this world and build these characters without going that urban fantasy way with this politically achieved treaty between man and monster or these romance components. What do we do instead? So Chris amped up some of the crime components and brought a good perspective for the male characters and really helped me see who I wanted not only Britta to become but also the place that her mom, Bertie, has in this world and Malik the pack leader has in this world. So it’s been an incredible co-writing experience. It’s a little unconventional because we started with a finished project that was just sitting in a drawer as opposed to our new stuff that we’re starting from scratch together. That’s a little bit how this came to be, and I’m so very happy with how it’s turned out.
Is the series completely mapped out? Do you have any idea how many volumes it will run?
I think it’s gonna be three. I know where we’re going for three books. I’ve mapped to three; I don’t think we’ll go beyond that. We kind of wanted to focus on Britta’s arc. In the first book, she has to change the way she feels about herself and get over that survivor’s guilt and the weird shape that it’s taken and get over some of that trauma. She has to kind of grow into herself and into who and what she is. She keeps seeing herself as a monster and in this really negative way. You kind of have to learn to embrace all those components of yourself.
She’s a very strong female character, but she’s a pretty ambivalent hero. She’s not necessarily even a great person; She makes some mistakes; She acts selfishly; She kind of doesn’t think clearly sometimes, but that’s all very human, and that’s a very human way to be a monster. And so we want to embrace that. The next book will see her really start to fight back and fight for her station and who she is and what she is. In the third book, I think we’ll see her kind of rise to a position of empowerment.
Just off the top of my head, I can only think of one great werewolf novel, Jack Williamson’s Darker Than You Think. There isn’t really a quintessential werewolf novel. Why hasn’t the werewolf taken root in horror literature the way that other monsters like vampires have, for example?
I love that question! There’s this paradox of the werewolf in popular culture, right? It’s not just books but also in film. The werewolf is one of the most powerful metaphors for the human condition in all of horror fiction, but it kind of lacks the archetypal story like Dracula or Frankenstein. There’s no one werewolf novel that I can think of. There are certainly many great ones and some really great films that rival the original Dracula and the original Frankenstein. THROW ME TO THE WOLVES doesn’t aspire to fill that gap. I don’t think that it is the archetypal, amazing werewolf story. I think we’re still looking for that. Or waiting for that.
There’s been a lot of really great films, I think – more so than books. There are certainly a lot of great books coming. Rachael Harrison just announced one called Such Sharp Teeth. We’re starting, I think, as a horror creative pool to reconsider the powerful metaphor that is a werewolf and move beyond creature features and move into more of that agency into what it’s like for the journey of the person. You know, American Werewolf in London did a little bit of that. There’s a lot of fodder and a lot of great ideas running around. I don’t know why we as a horror community haven’t really found our footing with the werewolf yet. But as one of my favorite cryptids ever, I think we’re on our way, and I hope that Britta in this Wolves series can add a component and a little bit of personality that’s helpful in the genre.
What attracts you to werewolves and lycanthropy, and by extension, what attracts you to the horror genre in general?
Well, first of all, I’m just a huge dog person! [Laughs] Frankenstein definitely is my favorite literary work. It’s my favorite thing to talk about and noodle on about the messages in there. But I think The Wolfman and the werewolf thing comes second. And you know, sympathetic to the argument that Jekyll and Hyde is kind of a pseudo-wolfman peer to Stoker and Shelley, but I don’t necessarily agree that it. I kind of get why people think that. I love the polarity of it; You can be two very different things at the same time and you can not necessarily be aware or not necessarily be happy about it. I think when we looked at some of the other monsters like vampires, it’s one entity. With the werewolf, we have the opportunity to think about duality in a person or in people. There are lots of different ways we can go. It can be the ravaging blackout beast, or it can be a very conscious entanglement of two separate and distinct ideas coming together. I’m always very interested in being two things at once.
Horror has always been my number one true love. My mom had me sit down and watch Poltergeist and Psycho and Pet Semetary at like five or six years old – completely ruined me at an early age! [Laughs] But even when I’m writing horror or editing, horror collections, I also write a bunch of screenplays for Hallmark-type movies. I’ve done a number of book-to-film romance scripts. Talk about polarity! There’s not much further apart you can get from writing horror to writing that sweet made-for-TV romance. So I’m just always interested in exploring what that looks like and what it feels like and what it’s like to be stuck between the two. And maybe not sure to embrace either or both. And you know, just what the consequences of that are for a person.
It’s always great to talk to a fellow member of the Horror Writer’s Association. Tell me a little about your involvement in the HWA. What do you think the value of membership in that organization is for writers, whether they’re beginners or pros?
I’m a tremendous fan and supporter of the HWA. I met Marge Simon, who was an HWA lifetime achievement winner, probably, oh my gosh, it’s been close to 15 years ago. She was my intro into the HWA in a kind of roundabout way. I became a member of the HWA and have since become pretty involved with them. I was on the social media team up until recently when my bandwidth just completely tapped out. You know, I do run a small press, so I’m the co-chair of the inaugural publishers council over there, really looking to create a sustainable and safe, equitable future in horror publishing. I did the Women in Horror Month this year, which is my total cup of tea. So I’m just delighted and grateful to have been able to do that. I think it’s very, very important to have a community of like-minded individuals who can inspire, who can encourage, who can support, and who can advocate for each other.
We’ve seen in the HWA and in the larger horror community, just a tremendous influx of incredible new talent from unusual, previously untapped places. This diverse and inclusive, attitude is happening. There are more voices; There’s more of everything being heard and brought together, and I love watching that. We as a community or as a horror genre are so much richer for all those perspectives and all those terrors and all those things that come in together. And I think the HWA, unlike some other writing organizations that I’ve been a part of over my career, is truly supportive of their members, really looking for ways not just to help them where they are but help them grow, help them succeed, help them develop good networks and solid footing. There’s a lot of predatory behavior in publishing, and the HWA helps young or emerging writers navigate it and grow. I feel that the HWA is unique in that it really cares about its writers in ways that other writing organizations only care about the organization.
I also have an academic background, so I’ve always approached horror carrying that kind of baggage. How does your background as an academic, especially your study of data analysis, play into your writing, especially in relation to the genre? I found that really fascinating that you have this very analytical side and also a very creative side. We’re always told you’re either one or the other.
It’s definitely been a burden and a benefit at different times. My professional writing started in academia with journals and papers and textbooks. And you are trained, as an academic, to write very, very differently as you are as a novelist. We could put words on it like “very passive” or “very telling.” It was a fun albeit difficult shift to hone and find my fiction voice – I’m sure to the agony of editors on both sides. Right now, as I mentioned, I just sold this series to a big five publisher. So I’m starting to work on the next book in that series. At the same time, I’m updating one of my textbooks. [It’s] just a little crazy. But you know, I have that academic and analytic background. So I think I start thinking through everything, you know. I’m thinking about the details and all those little pieces that go into a story and obsessing over them, which makes me sometimes slower because I miss neurotically thinking about things.
I think the biggest benefit is research. I spend a lot of time doing research and understanding and feeling like I have a good grasp of the nebulousness surrounding whatever I’m working on. And I think that my academic background has certainly prepared me for criticism and feedback because you get a lot of that in academia! [Laughs] You have to learn to listen and take everything with a grain and be patient with yourself and grow. So I do think that the academic background has helped in those areas in my fiction work, and I’m aware of the limitations sometimes it’s given me as well, and I apologize to my editors. [Laughs]
Are you at liberty to speak about that project that you just sold to a big five publisher?
I can’t speak on it in detail, which is just endlessly frustrating, because I’m so excited about that project. It is horror. It is very true horror whereas THROW ME TO THE WOLVES may be teetering on a few different genres. This one’s very true horror. It’s a love letter to my family, which is great because I killed them all by the end. So you know, it’s the best kind of love letter.
I really like writing monster projects; I love drawing inspiration from some of those old classics and then thinking of how they play in modern storytelling. I like to keep playing with those tropes and ideas and refitting them. So the new series is a little bit more on the vampire and the origins of vampire stories before Bram Stoker romanticized vampires – back to when they were still kind of ghouls and whatnot. Like everything I write, whether it’s horror or romance, probably not so much academic, but like every fiction genre I write, I look for strong female characters. I look for characters that really talk about the human condition, no matter how monstrous they are.
Well, of course, you know about Into the Forest. That comes out in November. I wasn’t originally involved in that project, and then things kind of switched over and came to me. I am so excited that they did. There are 23 stories in that book, all inspired by the Baba Yaga, from women in horror all over the world – a lot of very familiar names and a lot of brand new voices. I think the collection is just phenomenal. I love that opportunity to amplify the voices of women in horror in that collection and work with some of my favorite writers, for sure. That comes out in November and then next year, hopefully, we’ll start getting the sequel to THROW ME TO WOLVES closer to being finished. I’ll have that new series I mentioned; That’s supposed to drop in next fall. And then, I’ll be starting to work on editing the next Women in Horror Poetry Showcase. We had the first installment released back in April called Under Her Skin. We’re widening and bringing in even more poets. I think the first book had something like 70 poets. We’re aiming for a solid 100 the next time around. It will be themed on domestic horror. That project is done in partnership with the Pixel Project so that we can donate the proceeds to supporting the end of violence against women.
“I look for characters that really talk about the human condition, no matter how monstrous they are.”