The Making of In Sheep’s Skin Part II

The Making of In Sheep’s Skin

Part Two (Inspirations)

We’re back! Last week, I shared some of the origins of “In Sheep’s Skin.”

(For those of you who missed it:

This week, we’re looking at what inspired this monstrosity. I don’t think this will have any spoilers, but also I know some people these days treat any hint of spoilers like a life-threatening allergy (Spoiler: This book is comprised of words), so proceed at your own risk.

“In Sheep’s Skin” started as an unfinished screenplay. It sat for years and years, out of sight but never out of mind. The plan had been to finish The Bones of the Earth series before tackling it. I think the reasoning behind this was not only due to the fact I didn’t have a fully-fleshed out story, but I also had two disparate plotlines I was trying to splice into the thing.

Giallo killer.

I like werewolves as much as anyone else, and I certainly love Giallo films. But why I felt the need to combine the two? I have no idea. The thought came into my mind, and then it refused to leave. I believe this fixation is more the result of my interest in marriying opposing genres, tones, or situations more than anything else.

But again. Werewolf. Giallo killer. Sounded great in theory. However, both these were totally incompatible with my writing style and what I try to achieve as a writer.

Werewolves, traditionally, only transform on a full moon. That means you get one night of nastiness a month. That’s predictable. Kind of boring. 

Giallo killers are similar to slashers. It’s a game of cat-and-mouse often with a psychosexual element. When I think Giallo, I think Argento, Fulci, and Bava. I think lush set designs and banging music, and hilarously bad yet endearing dubbed voices. Giallo, to me, is visual. Giallo, to me, is also not terribly complex. It’s an experience. An experience that requires a body count and faceless killer, who, by necessity, can’t be revealed and explored until the third act.

It became quite clear to me I had to ditch the Giallo aspect. I kept the slasher element, but even that felt too simplistic, too shallow (and I love slashers). So, instead, werewolf and slasher were merged; and what should’ve been proactive, hyper-aggressive forces of death became looming threats. 

And our main characters, Peter and Mary, they stepped forward, to transform before our very eyes. They became my original intention, while the original intentions became catalysts. I’m speaking vaguely, as I still want to give people time to finish the novel, but yeah.

Anyway, this about inspiration. About where this thing came from.

A major theme in this novel is “Liminal Space.” Liminal Space is the disorientation that occurs during a transitory period. The novel, “I’m Thinking About Ending Things,” introduced me to the phrase I often wondered of but never could put into words. I believe it is mentioned in passing, but it stuck with me. Wasn’t my favorite book, but without it, I’m not sure “Sheep” would’ve turned out the way it did. When it comes down to it, all of my stories are about people wanting, becoming.

HBO’s True Detective (season one, and only season one) was and will continue to be an inspiration on my work. It taps into everything I love. Season one helped informed my creation of the woodland commune, Goetia, and it’s invisible, seemingly timeless influence on the towns around it.

Joe Dante’s 1981 horror film “The Howling” likely had an influence on the novel as well, but I suspect more so on a subconscious level, as I hadn’t even realized the similarities until I was about finished with the thing (werewolf community). Once I did, I quickly added a reference to the movie in one of the later chapters. 

And finally, my experiences as a social worker informed the novel more than anything else. Every day, I work with families who have experienced all kinds of hardships, mental health-related or not. There was one family I worked with whose daughter had traits of Borderline Personality Disorder; she had a potentially unhealth relationship with another girl (they would fixate on their depression and suicidal ideation, often fueling their illnesses and attempts). The mother of this patient described her daughter’s relationship with this girl as “trauma-bonding.” The phrase refers to the strengthening bond between abuser and victim; however, the mother was using the phrase literally, and, well, it stuck with me. Two people linked by the trauma they’ve experienced. Not necessarily by likes or dislikes, or attraction, or anything like that. Bound by the cauterizing heat of a terrible catastrophe. 

I suppose, at the end of the day, I got my werewolf and Giallo killer story. Just not how I imagined I would. 

Hmm. Not sure if I am pleased with this week’s reflection, but it’s all I got. Next week… Part Three… where we will jump into the story itself and why it unfolded the way that it did.