An Interview with Joseph Stone, Author of “The Wolf Esprit”

About Author: Joseph Stone is a historical, dark-fantasy novelist who lives in San Diego, California.  He holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from San Diego State University and a Master of Arts in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology.

1. If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?

Kind, funny, and introverted.

2. Living in San Diego, California, has your local environment influenced any of your storytelling or world-building choices?

Unquestionably! Growing up in Southern California has doomed me to compare it to every other part of the world my imagination wanders through. As a result, a unique expectation of human experience colors how my characters approach their lives.  In writing last year’s novel, A Perfect Night, which takes place in Buffalo and Westport in the 1960s, my editor pointed out that every character seemed to have their own car, which she insisted wasridiculous. There might be one family car to throw in the mix, but the one working parent, invariably the father, took it to work daily. She insisted the rest of the characters needed to walk to school or the market, or at least take a bus.

Her disturbing note forced me to look back at each of my novels set outside of modern California through a different lens.  Sure enough, all my characters have a car. I found them each traveling in private carriages in the 17th through 19th centuries.  As soon as the 20th century rolled around, they traded their horses for an internal combustion engine. Growing up in SoCal cursed me with this expectation.  Both of my parents drove to work in their own car. Upon my turning sixteen, the debate between them was over which of those cars would become mine so the previous owner could buy themselves a new set of wheels. Even my latest character travels around 18th-century France in a caravan of carriages to perform in minstrel shows. It seems I refuse to walk anywhere!

3. What inspired you to set the first chronicle, “Criminal Beware,” in 1922 California? How did the historical context influence the storyline?

I’ve always been a fanatic of the 1920s, especially in California. The advent of automobiles during that period is directly responsible for how we look today. Pick your favorite movie about life here during that period, and you’ll likely find it’s my favorite picture, too. When I was eighteen, I took my car (obviously) for a drive and soon found myself in Mission Hills,where I came across this gorgeous houseI soon became obsessed with. Even before researching to learnthey built her in 1921, I wanted to write a paranormal noir mystery thriller set inside. Like an MGM detective film, I saw the entire story in black and white. But that dream began in 1993 without the internet, and realizing the local library could tell me little about the house or period, I gave up on the story in frustration when I couldn’t flesh out crucial details.

In 2017, I found the novel sleeping on an old computer drive and caught the fever again. This time, I had the breadth of human history waiting in a search engine to help me create the world of my dreams. All of San Diego’s history is in there, down to the names of people who shaped its society, what they cared about, and even the names of their favorite brothels. As I researched everything that went on during that age, the novel eventually became a love letter to San Diego’s past.

4. The blend of dark visions and criminal investigations is unique. How did you come up with the concept of characters having visions of violent events?

When I saw the mansion at 2055 Sunset Boulevard, I realized I wanted to set a noir mystery centered around murders committed by a werewolf. That year, I was also given a school assignment about different religions of the 20th century and came across a booklet on popular occult beliefs from the 1920s. It outlined mesmerism, psychic faculties, and the mysteries of the spiritual world. It all clicked at the perfect moment, and I decided my werewolves would be telepathic. 

Once I had that secret in my arsenal, I thought up as many ways as possible for how the monster’s telepathy might manipulate or unconsciously affect the human characters in the story. The mystery was born when Daniel Archer went to dinner and found himself seized by future visions of the violent murder of a man seated only a few feet away. By the end of the story, I realized I had a dozen other stories tell about these unique werewolves.

5. Immortality is a central theme. How does the concept of forever impact the characters in “Wolf Omega”?

When I started the stories as a boy, immortality was not a component of my werewolves. Dangerous and sexy? Sure. But nothing is less interesting to a kid than stories about a bunch of old people.  When I returned to them in my forties, my perspective of life had changed.  I’d grown to revere age and wisdom, so the most important characters in the stories became the eldest among them. That perspective also forced me to conceive of how immortality would affect the mind and its viewpoints.  If my perspective was so vastly different in my forties compared to my twenties, what would the world look like in my hundreds?  How would I have changed?  Would I have grown into a paragon of moral strength, or might I change back to the blindly immoral boy of my youth?

Wolf Omega is about the life of the werewolf (the murderer) featured in Criminal Beware. By the end of the first novel, I’d realizedI wanted an origin story and chose the close of the 17th century to start the adventure. Before I knew it, I had characters centuries or millennia old explaining the burden of time to eighteen-year-olds.  Ironically, that made these stories about immortal werewolves even more realistic to me than my contemporary novel characters. The biggest trap in character writing is to never let them change. There’s nothing profound about a story where the hero is the good guy, and the villain is the bad guy. To some degree, humans possess every character trait, and the benefit of writing about characters who live so long is that I can more easily let them live out each trait along their journey. More so, it allows my characters to swing on a pendulum from moral to immoral and back again, just like all real people do as they grow.

6. Are there real historical or cultural references in 18th-century France that inspired the exploration of belonging in “The Wolf Esprit”?

The central theme of my wolf novels is the idea of an outsider who finds strength in their voice through the wolf’s supernatural power. After pouring through orphans and misogyny in the first two stories, I wanted a gay voice to explain this world to the reader. But there are little more than fragments of stories about LGBTQ+ people to pull from during that period, particularly from the lower classes. Of course, that made the challenge even more interesting to me, and I was never more excited to use the idea of a werewolf’s strength to facilitate Esprit’s story.

7. How did you approach portraying Esprit’s journey of self-discovery, particularly in relation to his sexuality and identity?

As my werewolves are telepathic, it is not possible to hide thoughts of sexual desire from one another in youth. It’s one of the first things a wolf would ever learn about another wolf upon meeting them. And so, sexuality is one of the least interesting aspects of their personalities to other wolves. And I knew that once his wolf was unleashed, Esprit I would have limited opportunities to describe the adversity of homophobic bigotry in his 17th-century life. 

I also knew Esprit would have to survive being outed as a queer kid, so I set him up as an outsider before mentioning his sexuality in the first chapter. His family are traveling performance artists, seen in their world as undesirables. He already knows what it means to be hated by people long before his father learns Esprit’s secret. We find our strength in adversity, and growing up on the fringe of society provides Esprit with a reasonable foundation for survival in the face of hatred before his wolf ever arrives to protect him. As I see it, that foundation of strength enables his survival and success when challenge after challenge tries to destroy him throughout the novel.

8. The werewolf is a powerful symbol in dark fantasy. How did you use the werewolf motif to convey deeper meanings about Esprit’s character and the human condition?

In the previous books, I’d already exploited how the werewolf could empower a victim with the strength to overcome evil. So, for Esprit, I found the deeper meanings of his journey by wielding against him the one thing his wolf could not protect him from: love. Running throughout the novel is the truth of how all these terrific powers and defenses cannot protect us from the many ways love can hurt us.

And who better than a gay kid to lead that charge?  Esprit must often combat his broken heart in silence.  He cannot rely on his human parents, friends, or society to help him survive one of the most common and painful challenges in life we all deal with. By the end, we see how he mistrusts love like anyone might mistrust a dangerous serpent. Esprit’s true strength comes when he learns to embrace love again with an unguarded heart.

9. Are there specific elements in “The Wolf Esprit” that tie back to earlier books in The Lykanos Chronicles, and how do they contribute to the overall narrative?

The idea of living indefinitely is the main element enabling the three stories, or memoirs, to enrich each other. By the time I was to the end of Criminal Beware, I’d created a world set apart from popular werewolf lore. My werewolves are not afflicted or cursed. Their powers—their wolf—is a gift that saves them from the trials of their early lives and keeps them safe through vast stretches of time. Because of this unique flavor of immortality, I have been able to include most characters from the preceding novels in Esprit. Did you fall in love with characters who died in the other novels?  You’re lucky because I’ve only begun to tell you about them.

10. Themes of trauma, love, betrayal, and activism are highlighted in Esprit’s journey. How did you incorporate these themes into the narrative, and what significance do they hold for Esprit’s character?

I incorporated those themes by ensuring Esprit could not escape them. Wisdom and wealth encapsulate us from most of life’s hardships, but they can also hinder our ability to grow.  And the moment a character stops growing, as a reader, I fall asleep.  For Esprit, the wisdom and wealth I give him are but short reprieves; a chance for him to reflect and grow in peace. By the next chapter, he finds himself tested again, facing some type of adversary, be it love, betrayal, or trauma, that renders all his grown strengths useless. 

11. Are there specific relationships in “The Wolf Esprit” that you found particularly challenging or rewarding to write?

Far and away, the relationship between Esprit and his werewolf lover challenged me most. Without spoilers, the relationship is between Esprit and a character very much his senior. That trope is quite common in popular literature. Who doesn’t like a dashing older man to whisk away a young, unsuspecting, fresh protagonist to teach them about love and life?  But as often as I’ve read it, I’ve rarely been satisfied by how the characters grow. I spent a long time thinking how to make Esprit not end up as one more foppish twink with a Palm Springs sugar-daddy to service. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

12. Do you have other writers in the family and friends?

My mother published over a dozen children’s books as a primary school teacher during her forty-year career. She planted the writing seed in my head, resulting in the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done.

13. Are you currently working on any new series, and if so, can you share any insights into the themes or genres you’re exploring?

I’m presently working on the next story in my Haunted Women series, which started with A Perfect Night, following the lives of women who can see spirits and the coming-of-age of a young girl named Frances Tarantino. Unlike my werewolves, these women are very much cursed, enslaved to one ghost, who abuses and harms them just as much as he enriches and protects them.  They consider themselves witches for no other reason than they can see this ghost. 

At the end of the last novel, Fran is given an opportunity none of her progenitors had against their captor.  Her adventure will be to see if she can destroy the ghost and free herfuture daughters from his control.Once again, the theme of their journey is the growth of feminine power in a misogynistic world. 

14. For aspiring writers entering the world of dark fantasy, what advice would you offer based on your own experiences and journey as a novelist?

I would tell anyone who loves stories about werewolves, witches, and ghosts that the Dark Fantasy genre is where they’ll find the greatest satisfaction in their storytelling.  I’d tell them to remember there are no rules to writing, and that whatever they like reading is precisely what they should type onto the page.  I’ve sat through countless writing courses since I was a kid, many with instructors who insisted I would fail their class if I turned in a story about vampires.  On behalf of Mary Shelley, Shirley Jackson, Stephen King, Peter Straub, Dean Koontz, Anne Rice, and myself, let me assure you there are many people out there waiting for you to tell them the next great story about a monster. 

Experience the captivating journey of “The Wolf Esprit (The Lykanos Chronicles)” by Joseph Stone on Amazon. Dive into 18th-century France, where secrets, passion, and werewolf magic intertwine, leading young Esprit on a transformative quest for love and freedom. Order your copy today for a spellbinding exploration of identity and history in this dark fantasy masterpiece.

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