Bestial…in 60 Seconds

Ray Garton, author of Bestial, told Tor.com that the book is his attempt to do something never before seen with a werewolf tale.

“Religion usually plays a part in vampire stories, but I’m not aware of it having a significant presence in any werewolf tales—none that I’d read, anyway,” Garton said in an interview. “It makes sense in vampire stories because vampires are very sexual and have been since Stoker. His novel Dracula threw a punch at sexual repression, and one of the primary sources of sexual repression is religion, so all of the religious iconography in vampire stories seems natural. But I think werewolves are about repression, too. They represent the animal in us, the beast, all of our primal urges and needs coming out in a big, noisy way. I wanted to blend that with religion in some way. I was raised in the Seventh-day Adventist cult, which is extremely repressive, especially sexually. Most serious Adventists still believe masturbation causes every ailment known to man, including insanity and death. I’m very familiar with that sect, so I used it in the book. The sub-plot involving Bob Berens and his Seventh-day Adventist family will probably seem pretty extreme to many, but I assure you it’s not. It’s a very accurate portrayal of serious Adventism.”

Bestial is the latest of Garton’s Moffett/Keoph series, and picks up a few months after the end of Ravenous. “As they were in Night Life (the sequel to Live Girls), private investigators Karen Moffett and Gavin Keoph are given an assignment by their client Martin Burgess, a very successful horror writer whose hobby is investigating the paranormal and conspiracy theories,” Garton said. “His sources—a network of computer nerds who inhabit the shadowy world of paranoid conspiracy theories—have alerted him to the possibility that the small coastal town of Big Rock in northern California has become infested with werewolves. Big Rock has a new sheriff, and he’s the alpha male of the werewolf pack. Karen and Gavin connect with a couple of other people who are aware of the growing problem and together, they try to combat it.”

Although series character Moffett and Keoph carry much of the novel, to Garton the heart of the book rests with the character Bob Berens. “He’s a sad case,” he said. “He’s a grown man still living with his widowed mother and his grandmother, who are strict Seventh-day Adventists. His family’s religion has maimed him emotionally. He’s never had a girlfriend, he’s had sex only once as a teenager, and he is the whipping boy of his family. As he deals with the werewolves in Big Rock, we see the beginning of his transformation. It’s a lot slower than a lycanthrope’s transformation, but it’s just as radical and profound.”

Garton’s first exposure to the horror genre was old horror movies on TV. “My favorites were the Universal horror films,” he said. “As a result, I’ve always had a great fondness for the traditional, iconic creatures of the genre, like vampires and werewolves. I’ve written some vampire novels, but I’ve done little with the werewolf in my past fiction, so I decided it was time I wrote a werewolf novel. It’s always been a personal favorite of mine, and it seems to have been rather neglected in horror literature, especially compared to the vampire. I made this decision about twenty minutes before a sudden wave of werewolf novels hit the shelves, many of them from my publisher, Leisure, so I guess I timed it just right. As I’d done with vampires in Live Girls, Night Life, and Lot Lizards, I decided to dump some of the trappings of the mythology and toss in some sex. I made lycanthropy a sexually-transmitted disease.”

It wasn’t Garton’s intention for the book to be as personal as it became. “I suppose that makes me look rather thick-headed,” he said. “After all, it deals with the religious cult in which I was raised and which scarred me deeply, and it features a character based on an old friend. But I use things from my life in my fiction all the time. All writers do. I guess I just didn’t expect it to stir up in me the things that it did. There were parts of this book—and some of them are meant to be funny—that were emotionally roiling for me. Writing Bob was surprising, too. Like I said, I’ve known this friend all my life. Seeing his situation and what that religion and his family have done to him has made me angry over the years. But writing about it made me focus on it more intensely than usual, and it made me furious. It gave me more understanding of him and his life than I’d had before. The Seventh-Day Adventist cult damages families and marriages and destroys lives. It virtually destroyed my family, and it has ruined my friend’s life. This was not news to me—I’ve known it all my life. But writing about it like this sort of made it all fall on me like a truckload of bricks.”

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