Benjamin Percy translates modern worries into werewolves and the apocalypse in ‘Red Moon’

Benjamin Percy. Credit: Jennifer May
Benjamin Percy. Credit: Jennifer May

Benjamin Percy didn’t set out to write a typical werewolf novel. The 34-year-old author says he’s “always loved the epic novel — the kind that swallows up your life, that tangles you in its complicated web — and I’ve always wanted to write one.” And his new book “Red Moon” is just that. The sweeping tome is a mixture of a supernatural thriller (hello, werewolves!), a love story and a political allegory all wrapped up into one insanely readable package. Here’s how he did it:

Can you tell us a little about how you came about writing a book about werewolves? It wasn’t because you were secretly looking for the next supernatural phenomenon after vampires, were you?
Some of the most lasting horror stories target cultural unease. Consider Frankenstein: The creature embodies the fear of science and technology, man playing God, all of the anxieties that swirled out of the Industrial Revolution. So when I sat down to brainstorm “Red Moon,” I considered what we fear now. We fear disease (look at the Purell oozing from every counter top, the panicked headlines about bird flu, swine flu, West Nile), and we fear terrorism (as the recent Boston bombing and ricin-laced letters so unfortunately reminded us). I have braided these two elements together. That’s the strategic answer.

Here’s the anecdotal one. I moved recently, and when pawing through some old boxes discovered a sixth grade “research” paper. The title: “Werewolves!” There is a table of contents, though the paper is only five pages long, and the final section concerns The Ceremony of the Wolf. In my backyard, under a full moon, I followed the instructions in a mildewed book from the library and tried to transform myself into a wolf. In other words, this book has been a long time coming. (Oh, and you should avoid me on a full moon.)

Why do you think apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic plotlines are so addictive these days?
Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic narratives have been around forever, but since 9/11, there has been a flood of films and novels. The end of the world has never been so popular because the end of the world has never seemed more possible, due to political and economic and environmental unrest.

What kind of research did you do to nail down the book’s militaristic aspects?
Every story is a research project, but “Red Moon” was more challenging than most. I spent dozens of hours with researchers at the USDA and Iowa State University, trying to figure out the slippery science behind animal-borne pathogens (lobos, as I’ve written it, is a prion) and vaccinations. I had to talk to politicians and government agents and brewmasters and pharmacists. And, yes, soldiers. I bought them coffee, scribbled down jargon and procedure and ranks and stories in yellow legal tablets. I also read blogs and articles. I watched documentaries. And I got my hands on the Marine Corps handbook.

There are many facets at play in “Red Moon” — there’s a love story, it’s a political allegory, human rights are addressed — the nuances interspersed within the pages go on. But if you had to whittle down the point of “Red Moon,” what is it? What is at its core?
I’ve always loved the epic novel — the kind that swallows up your life, that tangles you in its complicated web — and I’ve always wanted to write one. I hope my readers feel struck by the political allegory, and I hope their pulse quickens with the love story, and I hope the more horrifying passages scare the pants off of them. Its core — this post-9/11 reinvention of the werewolf myth — is thought-provoking entertainment.


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