The Making of In Sheep’s Skin
Part Three (Plot (Part I))
We’re back! Last week, I shared some of the origins of “In Sheep’s Skin.”
For those of you who missed it:
I was debating on how to approach this next part. To give a breakdown of each *part* of the novel in one go would’ve been an information overload, and in all likelihood, wouldn’t have done the novel as a whole justice. This week, we’ll just be looking at Part I of the novel. This, in turn, will give people time to catch up, read along, if you will.
The novel begins with the following:
“In a forgotten field stands a forgotten tree, a sheet of skin slung over limbs; white moon in its red rivulets. When the wind blows here, coarse hairs are kicked up and carried off like seeds. It’s a cold night, when all words spoken are written ghostly. Still, there are pockets of warmth. They stink of sweat and blood, and the acrid gasses of a starved stomach. The heat and reek run from the tree to the tree line, where the woods, shaken bare in Fall’s clockwork stick-up, show a shadowy tableau: a ribbon of road, lunar-lit, and beyond, a diner just as forgotten as the field and tree, soon to be forgotten no more.”
For anyone who has read beyond this point, they’ll recognize all too quickly that not only is the tense different from the actual text, but the descriptions, overall, a more flowery than most passages. My aim with this introductory paragaph was not only set the tone, but also at the atmosphere; and also, to give the impression that the story you’re about to read is one that could just as easily be happening presently. It is, really, a unverisal story of toxicity and trauma, and the selfish will to survive.
We begin at Mare’s Diner, just as the original screenplay had. Immediately, we are introduced to our two characters, Peter and Mary, the both of them playing a part. They’re acting, but not really: for how over-the-top their performances are, they are, like all great actors, pulling from personal experience.
It was important to me that I make it clear from the beginning these two are not best friends. They are acquaintances. Two people who happened to sit next to each other at the same time, through either coincidence, or providence. At no point in the story do they ever lovers, let alone friends. Their relationship is far more deranged, parasitic.
This chapter marks the beginning of Peter’s point of view, with Mary’s coming in next, and then they alternate like that. Peter’s point of view is more descriptive than Mary’s. He’s more watchful, more considerate, and also, more damning of himself and others. He’s aware of his prejudices. And most importantly: his anxiety. He’s an over-thinker. Maybe by biology, but most certainly by upbringing. He tells Mary his mom is gone, and she tells him her Dad is the same. His anxious to live, because he had to be in her absence.
Mary, on the other hand, is more introspective, more caustic. She’s observant in a “How can I find your weakness?” kind of way. There’s a sense of history to her inner monologues and recollections, but even with herself, she plays coy. She harbors a secret past that’s not nearly as distant as she’d like to believe.
Part I opens up with a lengthy chapter of dialogue, and then it’s off to the races. By the end of Chapter II, the entire Diner has been wiped out, brutally. Mary is kidnapped by the Killer. I took this approach with the beginning of the story, because I wanted to create a sense of urgency. I wanted the peace to be shattered almost instantaneously. Once this book get started, the characters really never get any reprieve. Be it through action, or inner turmoil, they are tested time and time again.
So, Mary gets kidnapped. Peter gets run off the road by a werewolf. And somehow, Peter ends up at the farmhouse where Mary is captured… the same farmhouse that is owned by the Melancon’s, a family she doesn’t know she knows. Nothing is connected, and yet all the lines are there. The farmhouse is a nexus. A liminal space.
In the farmhouse, there’s a body. Washed in ritual. A portent of things to come for Mary. She even remarks on the clothes the killer set aside for the corpse to wear. Clothes she’d wear herself. Weird.
Outside the farmhouse, the world is moving against Peter and Mary. The wind constantly howls. The moon isn’t just a moon, but a crown. And it seems to be moving closer to Peter, as if to touch him. It’s drawn to him, finally seeing him, as if for the first time. As if it’s his time.
What about the killer? I gave him dialogue. A gun. A knife. Why not? Not very Giallo, but eh. The werewolf? It’s fur is white, pale. I wanted something that was almost camouflaged by the color and texture of the moon. As if the two were one in the same. And the teets? I mean, I do like to have things leaking fluids in my story, but it’s no mistake to have the werewolf lactating at the sight of Peter.
I also wanted this chapter to show the violence and ferocity both the protagonists and antagonists show towards one another and others. It’s no mistake that Peter and Mary, upon escaping the farmhouse, deliberately leave behind the last surviving Melancon’s as they come stumbling down the driveway.
But really… Really… I wanted to show the readers that this was not your typical werewolf story, nor would this be your typical horror story. We start with a bombastic opening, then we slow things down. Then we build to a second act that ends in a twist most stories would save for the end. And a third act where morality is grayed, and a fourth act where all bets are off. It’s a story that obliterates the lines drawn around it by genre conventions. Because werewolves? Killers? Cults? Yawn, been there, done that. They’re cool, but you now what’s cooler? The story of the damaged souls who cross paths with these terrible things, and the terrible things they end up doing as a result of their hellish convergence. I love stories that go beyond the story: into that uncomfortable, seldom seen territory of tales, because for most it’s too uncomfortable, too weird, too non-commercial to write about.
End rant. Next week. Part Two of Plot.