Fantasy author Alisa Sheckley—the daughter of SF legend Robert Sheckely—told Tor.com that her latest novel (and her first under the Sheckley name) is The Better to Hold You. It’s her take on the urban fantasy subgenre, but hers was written long before that trend took off, and might never have been published if not for a certain well-known writer.
“I got the idea for The Better to Hold You years and years ago, before all the sexy vampire books took over the bookstores,” Sheckley said in an interview. “I was staying at a rambling old Victorian hotel with my mother and kids. We were there for a winter weekend of swing dancing, but I felt as if I’d been transported into the middle of Stephen King’s The Shining. ... As I wandered around the hotel, I found myself wondering why the wife in The Shining hadn’t gotten infected by the hotel’s ghosts. I started to picture the showdown between two spouses who were both possessed, and at some point, I started thinking about lycanthropy, and how it could probably be transmitted by all kinds of bodily fluids—just like an STD.”
In the book, Abra Barrow is a veterinarian in a prestigious internship who is smart about dogs, but stupid about men. “Her journalist husband, a Sebastian Junger wannabe, has just come back from a trip researching wolves in Romania, and Abra is so grateful to have him home that she doesn’t pay attention to some crucial relationship warning signs: Moodiness, unprovoked aggression, increased libido and a sudden predilection for eating raw meat,” Sheckley said. “Desperate to save her marriage, Abra agrees to move upstate with her husband, and finds herself stuck in a rural backwater with a redneck wildlife removal expert as her closest neighbor. But as her husband’s behavior grows more and more challenging, Abra finds her own instincts growing sharper and her tastes changing—as regards both food and men.”
This was one of those books that just seemed to write itself; Sheckley finished it in something like six months, but the hard part came after. “No one wanted to publish it,” she said. “At the time, chick lit was huge, and I found that I could write just about anything I wanted—satire, crime caper, comedy of manners—and get it published as chick lit. The only thing off limits was fantasy.”
So Sheckley put her werewolf novel away and went on to work on other things. “It might have remained in a drawer forever, except for Neil Gaiman,” she said. “I had shown it to Neil right after finishing it, and from time to time he would ask me why I hadn’t tried selling it again. Finally, about a year ago, he said, ‘You really should have listened to me, because now werewolves are a huge trend, and you could have been at the head of it.’”
But the book is better for the delay, Sheckley said. “I believe I’ve grown as a writer, and the book has benefited from that,” she said. “Also, I’ve met a lot of strange people in the past few years, I’ve had a bear wander into my front yard, and I’ve had to wrestle my dog off a deer. That’s all gone into the book, too.”
If you’re wondering how Sheckley managed to have Neil Gaiman read her unpublished novel, it’s not because of her famous parentage—she’s also worked as an editor for D. C. Comics’s Vertigo imprint (as Alisa Kwitney), which published Gaiman’s Sandman series.
Sheckley is currently working on a Steampunk graphic novel for Vertigo, which she described as “the classic romantic triangle of man, woman and reanimated corpse.” She’s also writing a young adult vampire novel. “[It’s] the exact opposite of Twilight,” she said. “For me, the whole point of writing about a young girl and a vampire is facing the issue of a huge disparity in age, and the dangerous allure of experience to innocence, and innocence to experience.”