By Ashleigh Cameron.
We are very happy to welcome Rachel Harrison to The Reading Corner to discuss her upcoming release Such Sharp Teeth, out October 4th!
Rory Morris isn’t thrilled to be moving back to her hometown, even if it is temporary. There are bad memories there. But her twin sister, Scarlett, is pregnant, estranged from the baby’s father, and needs support, so Rory returns to the place she thought she’d put in her rearview. After a night out at a bar where she runs into Ian, an old almost-flame, she hits a large animal with her car. And when she gets out to investigate, she’s attacked.
Rory survives, miraculously, but life begins to look and feel different. She’s unnaturally strong, with an aversion to silver—and suddenly the moon has her in its thrall. She’s changing into someone else—something else, maybe even a monster. But does that mean she’s putting those close to her in danger? Or is embracing the wildness inside of her the key to acceptance?
This darkly comedic love story is a brilliantly layered portrait of trauma, rage, and vulnerability.
Hi Rachel! Thank you so much for your time. Firstly, I just need to gush about how much I loved this book. I am a huge Horror and Gothic fiction enthusiast, and your book gripped me from the get-go –- I almost missed my stop several times when reading on the way to work!
You have written this gorgeous, comedic, dark-fantasy tale of Werewolves and romance, and then layered within themes of identity, sisterhood, trauma, rage, vulnerability…. I thought the whole thing was fantastic!
This means so much to me, thank you!!
Let’s talk about your protagonist, Rory – she is an instantly relatable 20-something character, and her inner monologues really set the tone of the novel with her darkly amusing, deeply sarcastic nature. When creating her character, what were your building blocks, and how did she evolve?
I knew I needed a character who was in a great spot when we initially meet her for the bite to have a significant impact. She needed to be winning, happy with her life, confident in her skin, and in total control. That way when the control is taken from her, it shakes her to her core and puts her in a place to have challenges and introspection and ultimately growth. Also, in terms of her personality, the protagonists of my previous two novels were both insecure and lost, so I wanted to change it up and write someone completely secure with who she is, who has some bravado. A lot of bravado. Her evolution is all about vulnerability, opening herself up despite the risk of getting hurt.
The Scarlet and Rory dynamic was incredibly compelling, and I loved the twin’s mirror tales of navigating change – Rory’s situation being totally supernatural contrasted with Scarlett’s story of something undoubtedly human. Was this intentional?
Yes, absolutely. I was first inspired to write a werewolf book thinking about how frustrating and beautiful and terrifying it is to exist inside a body. No one else will ever experience what it is to live in your body but you, and it can be isolating. Rory and Scarlett are about as close as you can be to sharing a body, as identical twins, but now each must confront a physical and emotional change the other can but can’t quite relate to. It’s difficult for them both and brings up some unresolved issues.
The exploration of Rory’s fraught relationship with her mother, and the way it contrasted with that of her sister’s mother-daughter relationship was an equally fascinating dynamic and one of unfolding tension. What inspired you to focus on these complex female relationships?
I love writing about relationships, my first two novels focused on female friendship, which I find endlessly fascinating, but for this book/protagonist/concept, it was really about creating relationships that would make sense thematically and cause the most conflict.
A prevalent theme within the book is trauma and the navigation of its after-effects in life, and in present relationships. I found Rory’s post-bite/post-transformation descriptions particularly moving with how they portray violation of the body. Why was this an important aspect for you to portray in the book?
Unfortunately, I think it’s something a lot of people can relate to. The things we endure leave a lasting impression, and apparently ignoring them and pretending they never happened is not an effective coping mechanism, who knew! Before I started writing, I read THE BODY KEEPS THE SCORE: BRAIN, MIND, AND BODY IN THE HEALING OF TRAUMA by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D. It’s an illuminating read; I recommend it.
As a backdrop to the problematic supernatural situation is this charming, modern love story. Amongst the other complex relationships depicted, and whilst all else is quite tumultuous in Rory’s life, Ian felt like a safe-haven and place of calm for her. What was the inspiration and reasoning to write the Rory/Ian romance?
Rory doesn’t let people in, she closes herself off to protect herself. She sucks at being vulnerable! She’s afraid. And then here comes Ian who, maybe even more than the werewolf stuff, causes her to reckon with her past, her hopes, her fears, and herself. He’s integral to the story and to Rory’s arc. Also, who doesn’t love a love story? In most classic monster tales there’s a romantic aspect, so that was another motivation for weaving it in.
Rory and Scarlet are frequently described through the eyes and dialogue of other characters as strong, independent women, who present as their most authentic selves. However, as we discover through developments in the novel, they are also women with flaws. What impact would you want these characters to have on readers?
I strive to write characters who feel like fully realized human beings. Everyone has flaws, I think our flaws define us as much as our virtuous qualities. I hope readers take away that you can be strong and independent but also vulnerable and open, they aren’t mutually exclusive. Also, seeking help and support isn’t cowardice, it’s one of the bravest things you can do.
Writing within the genre of horror fiction brings with it many tropes – the genre historically writes male-saviours and women as defenceless victims. Personal favourites of mine within the genre, are the likes of Angela Carter’s tales in ‘The Bloody Chamber’ which totally subvert these stereotypes. Rory being this confident, deeply funny, and at times volatile character, who eventually embraces this newfound wildness is a refreshing subversion of these norms. As a writer within the horror genre, do you purposefully write female-centric stories and offer new perspectives to tackle tropes?
I write about what excites me and what I find interesting, which happens to be female-centric stories in the horror genre. Tropes intrigue me and are fun to explore but if I’m honest, I’m just stumbling around in the dark trying to make sense of everything. My only hope is that people can relate to my work, that it can maybe help them feel less alone in this big scary world, and that they have a good time reading it.
What draws you to write within the horror and fantasy genres? Do you take inspiration from any modern or classic authors, or other mediums, like films perhaps?
I’m for sure influenced by films, I studied screenwriting in college and have loved movies since I was a kid. Some of my early memories are sitting on the couch in my childhood home watching JAWS and ALEIN, two of the great monster movies. My first book, THE RETURN, was heavily influenced by THE SHINING, the film and the book. CACKLE was influenced by MIDSOMMAR and Disney fairy tale adaptations and the Brothers Grimm. SUCH SHARP TEETH was influenced by GINGER SNAPS and FLEABAG and while writing I watched the transformation scene in AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON so many times, I lost count. I also started writing the first draft after reading Paul Tremblay’s SURVIVOR SONG and Stephen Graham Jones’ THE ONLY GOOD INDIANS back-to-back, and those novels are masterful and inspired me to think about pacing in a different way. Music, too. “Communication” by The Cardigans is Rory and Ian’s song, I listened to it on loop when writing scenes between them. This was a long answer, but art inspiring other art is a subject that really gets me going, I find it so fascinating!
Are there any other books within this genre, similar to Such Sharp Teeth, that you would encourage our readers to pick up?
PLAIN BAD HEROINES by Emily M. Danforth is a brilliant, super fun modern horror book with some love story action. I recommend getting a physical copy because it has gorgeous illustrations. I also recommend Alexis Henderson’s HOUSE OF HUNGER, which I’d describe as gothic horror fantasy. It’s sexy and atmospheric and full of dread and some dizzying body horror.
Lastly, did you consider writing any other character as ‘the original’ Werewolf who bites Rory? Maybe Seth, or even Ian…!
In my first draft I left the original werewolf a mystery, I never answered who it was. The character wasn’t even in the book! But now I can’t imagine the book without them. Moral of the story: editors know best!
Rachel Harrison is the author of SUCH SHARP TEETH, CACKLE and THE RETURN, which was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel. Her short fiction has appeared in Guernica, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, as an Audible Original, and in her debut story collection BAD DOLLS. She lives in Western New York with her husband and their cat/overlord.
Rachel’s Instagram: @rachelharrisonsghost
Rachel’s Website: https://www.rachel-harrison.com
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