Today we welcome Stephen Morris to Bad Moon Rising! This eerie cover would have me ripping the book off the shelf for a closer look. Werewolves and Halloween just naturally go together – right?
“Libahunt!” Alexei breaks the terms of the wolf-magic he inherited from his grandfather and loses the ability to control the shapeshifting, becoming a killer and slaughtering his neighbors, his friends — even his family. His grandfather’s magical wolf-pelt was meant to protect their rural village in 1880s Estonia by fighting the terrible storms in the sky that could devastate the farms and fields but instead it drives Alexei to kill with impunity. Heartbroken at what he has become, Alexei flees his home and wanders through Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Bohemia. He encounters the Master of Wolves who forces him to terrorize local farmers and the infamous Frau Bertha with her belt of sailor-skin who traps those who anger her in the form of wolves. Dare he hope to ever find an enchanter who can free him from the curse?
Storm Wolf is infused with carefully researched authentic medieval and Renaissance magical practices and folklore, some taken from records of actual witchcraft and werewolf trials, as well as folk rituals.
What’s the first story you ever wrote?
I started telling stories when I was in grade school and began to write them down shortly thereafter. I wrote my first books – one was a story involving time travel using a “timeract,” similar to the tesseract from Wrinkle in Time (by Madeline L’Engle) and another with characters similar to those on Bewitched, my favorite television series — in middle school. I wrote an epic poem about the creation and fall of the angels similar to Paradise Lost in high school.
Which fictional character would you most like to meet and have a drink with?
The Wicked Witch of the West! From the Wizard of Oz movie, not the book! Hands down! Or, failing her then Margaret Hamilton (who played the role). That would be my dream come true! (*swoon*)
In the spirit of Halloween, what scares you?
I am squeamish and grossed out by blood-and- guts so I always look away during doctor shows or horror movies when they show close-ups of medical procedures or vicious attacks by monsters—Ugh! My peripheral vision isn’t always very good and so I am quite startled when someone just suddenly appears beside me whose approach I was unaware of. But I am truly scared of walking down a dark street at night when I am the only person on the block that I can see, or walking under scaffolding at night, where the shadows are even darker and deeper than the rest of the street. I will do almost anything to take another route or walk down the middle of the road to avoid those dark shadows!
Favorite hero and villain in a book/movie?
I first became interested in the occult and magic when I was very VERY young and saw The Wizard of Oz on television for the first and second times. The first time, my mom says I was terrified of the Wicked Witch’s appearance in Munchkin Land amidst smoke and flames and ran straight to bed! (I must have been 5 years old or so.) The next year I began watching the movie again and made myself stick with it past the appearance of the Witch and after that — I was hooked!
The Wicked Witch of the West became my favorite character because not only is she the most interesting but she is the only one who wields any real power in the movie. She became my idol for years and years! (When a major storm recently struck Manhattan, I made a comment on FB about the wind picking up our house and depositing it atop someone wearing peppermint stripped stockings and glittering red shoes and my cousin responded: ‘You’ve been chasing those shoes for YEARS!’ LoL! My favorite hero? That character is much harder to identify because the Bad Guys and Villains are generally so much more interesting! I think Dallben, the enchanter in the Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander, is certainly one of my favorites. He is quiet, unassuming, and easily underestimated yet is clearly the mover-and- shaker behind the story, much as Merlin is in the King Arthur legends. I always thought that—given the choice and the opportunity—I would rather be Merlin than Arthur because Merlin may not be front-and-center but he is the one who directs all the action from offstage.
What do you consider the hardest part of writing?
I think getting the first half of any chapter down on paper is like scrabbling up a wall by your fingernails or struggling up a steep mountainside. Then, you crest the mountain’s ridge or reach the top of the wall and writing the rest of the chapter is like sledding down the other side of the mountain. I reach a critical mass or something that tips the weight and – “WHOOSH!” – down we go, the words flying out of my fingertips and onto the page. But then, what a struggle to begin the next chapter again!
What are you working on now?
I am currently working on Earth to Earth, Ashes to Ashes which tells the story of Elizabeth, a young woman in late 1600s or early 1700s Waterford, Ireland who is forced to marry a wealthy, English landlord who beats her to death. But Elizabeth rises from her grave as the dearg-due (“red blood sucker”) who seduces and kills men. She is indestructible, immune to sunlight or garlic and can only be pinned back under the earth if a small cairn or tower of stones is erected on her grave.
With degrees in medieval history and theology from Yale and St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Academy, Stephen Morris brings his extensive knowledge and meticulous research in medieval magical practices to his terrifying historical and contemporary fantasy novels. In each of his novels, the magical and fantastic elements are all drawn from authentic occult beliefs and practices from the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and from local legends and folklore.
A former priest, he served as the Eastern Orthodox chaplain at Columbia University. His previous writing includes the Come Hell or High Water trilogy and When Brothers Dwell in Unity: Byzantine Christianity and Homosexuality (McFarland, 2016).
As the senior Project Leader for Inter-Disciplinary.net, Stephen organizes annual conferences on aspects of the supernatural, evil and wickedness, fairy tales, monsters, and related subjects.
Stephen, a Seattle native, is now a long-time New York resident and currently lives in Manhattan with his partner, Elliot.
Where to find Stephen
“Morris’ werewolf isn’t a fur-coated romantic, but a refreshingly murky protagonist who’s both flawed and sympathetic; he kills innocents, but never intentionally. There are quite a few werewolf onslaughts, which the author unflinchingly portrays as bloody and brutal…. A dark supernatural outing, featuring indelible characters as sharp as wolves’ teeth.” — Kirkus Reviews
“…a unique weaving together and retelling of central and eastern European werewolf folk tales. Set in 1890, when such tales were still being told, Storm Wolf stands apart from contemporary myth and legend retellings… The magic– Alexei’s battles with storm creatures, the conjuring of a snake demon from pipe smoke, a witch’s talisman of skin stripped from a sailor– is extraordinarily well imagined and described here. Dollops of regional history and glimpses of customs and legends are fascinating.” — Blue Ink Review