Interview with Hal Johnson, author of Immortal Lycanthropes

During a road trip across the state this last summer, fellow nerdbrarian Sheri and I entertained ourselves by reading aloud from Hal Johnson’s excellent YA novel, Immortal Lycanthropes, the story of a bullied and disfigured thirteen-year-old who discovers that he’s an immortal were-creature. I won’t give too much away, but I will say that my accent for Spenser the Scottish were-elk was reportedly excellent. Hal was kind enough to answer a few questions for us about the book, YA writing, and tabletop gaming for the blog. More information about Immortal Lycanthropes is available on the author’s website.

Immortal Lycanthropes1. We both thoroughly enjoyed Immortal Lycanthropes and want to get the most obvious question out of the way: Where did the idea for the novel come from?

This was an idea I made up when I was a little kid. I’d been reading a book about weasels, and I started to pretend, the way kids will, that the different members of the weasel family could assume human form, and what that would be like. I know this sounds moronic, but I was like ten. Or at most fourteen, I don’t know.

I drew some pictures of the weasel guys, and imagined an adventure or two, wereweasels (you know, werestoats and werebadgers) versus other werecreatures, but I had a problem with the action scenes. The sad truth is that no matter what awesome power you have, you’re probably better off just shooting your opponent. If you’re a martial artist, you can study half a lifetime to learn the quivering palm death touch; or you can practice for five minutes with an M-16, and you’ll be just as deadly. I wanted to imagine a werebadger fighting a wererhino, not the two of them in human form shooting at each other. So I invented the proviso that any of these wereanimals could only be killed by the teeth or claws or horn of another wereanimal. I guess that’s a spoiler, but roll with it.

So that was the idea I had when I was a kid, and I forgot all about it after a while. Years later I was pitching ideas to an editor at Houghton Mifflin, and everything I proposed got nixed, until, in desperation, I started dragging up ideas that has stayed buried for decades in my subconscious. Immortal lycanthropes was the one that made him stop turning his head away from me in disgust.

I threw out almost everything from my juvenile flights of fancy except the high concept part of only dying from the claws, etc. This isn’t the book the ten-year-old me would’ve written; it’s probably got a lower body count, and it has more anarchists.
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