Exclusive Interview with C. D. Bell, Author of the WEREGIRL Trilogy
Tell us more about your writing process. Has it changed from Book 1 to Book 2?
I think that the writing process for Book 1 was very, very fast. I wrote the first few pages on the plane on the way home from the retreat and I just didn't stop writing the whole time. All I know is that I was writing a lot. I was definitely revising and researching while I went. I was definitely doing a lot of that. Book 2 we had more time and in a way the Book 2 writing process wasn't easier—it was harder. You know, why are you telling this story? The first one felt like an origin story to us. And the second one, I think we needed to understand as a team... why. I sent off Act 1, and I was just like, I'm just going to see how long it takes for me to write Act 2, and it went. It only took 2 weeks. It went so fast and was fun and everyone loved it. We never looked back. I don't think we rewrote a single word. And Act 3, well, we're still working on it!
Which character do you most identify with?
Well, I think I identify with all of them very intensely. I love Nessa. She's so smart and she's so strong, but I'm not Nessa. I am definitely more of a Bree. I'm like, let's just have a good time and think about all of this later. I think, more fun, less strength. Nessa is super strong. She is a fighter. She's fierce. I think I've always wanted to be like that, but I think my strengths lie elsewhere. And I think I've cut Bree more out of who I am. That's what's fun about this—writing a character that's not like you that you get to give all of these amazing attributes. We talk about Nessa sometimes like a superhero and who of us is really a superhero, but we all aspire?
What is it like to get inside the head of the different characters? What's it like to write Luc?
When I think about writing Luc, I sort of channel... silence. I think of him as being the kind of person who doesn't feel the need to speak everything he's ever considered. He only speaks when it's necessary. And he uses his body to communicate more than his words. And so, there are a lot of scenes of him and Nessa together where his physical presence is a great comfort to her. Not like Luc's not aware of every single thing that's going on at all times... he just doesn't feel the need to talk about it. So I try to go physical when thinking about him.
How about when you're writing the character Delphine?
I think of writing Delphine... well, in this book, Delphine is offstage. But while she's offstage, she's having this transformative life experience of getting out of Tether and she's also always been very protected because she's had Nessa in her world. So like Bree, she can afford to be like, "pass me the cookies" and let Nessa think about the hard things. So I try to remember always that she's a little sister and she's used to being taken care of by Nessa.
Have you ever lost yourself in the writing?
I would have to say, I lose myself when I write about the forest in Weregirl. Both the forest around Tether and a new forest that Nessa gets the chance to explore in Book 2 are pretty much magical places. Over the course of creating the story with the editors at Chooseco and writing it, we all got very excited about the idea that nature is a strong force and that the forest has a life of its own. And it's a place that's always in transition. A forest is as much an organism as a human being. And it is changing and pushing and pulling and Nessa feels it, and she responded to it before her transformation and she responds to it after. I love writing in that space.
Will science play a role in Book 2?
Absolutely. Nessa's favorite subject is Biology and that's a much larger part of Book 2. Don't worry. No laboratory jacket and goggles will be required to read it, but it raises a lot of questions that science is asking these days as we think about our changing world. And what it means to be a member of an ecosystem. And how our actions are reflected in the effect we have on nature. This is all really important in our time, and it's really exciting to be writing about it. And it's really exciting to be writing about it in the context of a girl character, because I know for a long time girls didn't have access to science in the same way that boys did, and that's all changing and we're glad to be a part of that.
How has Nessa changed from Book 1 to Book 2? Has she gotten stronger?
In Book 1, she was strong, but she was strong almost as an ambition. But by the end of Book 1, she's had a chance to develop her strength in so many more ways. And she has become almost a heroine of her town. She's saving her world. And in Book 2, she starts out that way. She knows what she's capable of and she's tested again in a way that makes her realize that she might not even realize the depths of her own strength and resourcefulness. But her strength is coming from different places instead of sort of superpowers or skills that she has from her wolf transformation ability. In Book 2, she's also using a lot of intuitive strength that she has as a human, and also just by trusting her instincts as a wolf she kind of becomes more animal-like in her own stopping of her second-guessing herself.
What is it like to write about Nessa's wolf pack? How do those characters evolve in Book 2?
Nessa's wolf pack is one of my favorite parts about the series. She discovers this wolf pack early on in Book 1 and she runs with them almost the first time that she becomes a wolf. She knows that wolves are really meant to be together with other wolves, just like humans, so it's something that we can all identify with.
They get to be the punching bag for a crazy puppy.
There is definitely a pecking order in the pack, as there would be in any wolf pack. There's an Alpha male and an Alpha female, too. I don't want to ruin it, but things are a little bit "off" in the wolf world, so we're going to get to see some changes in the typical pack structure.
There are two characters in the pack who I kind of love—the Brothers. They don't have their own names. They are almost like two identical twin boys, and I sort of think of them as Beavis and Butthead or the twins in the Harry Potter story who are just content to amuse themselves and just be really silly and not serious. And they are back in Book 2, with more little brothers.
Is the town of Tether, Michigan based on real places and/or were both books inspired by real life events?
Michigan was a great place to set it because there is a huge body of water there and there's a lot of woods, and both of those places are traditionally linked to werewolves. Choosing Michigan at the time that we started writing, the Flint water crisis was happening, and although Tether is *not* like Flint—Flint is urban and Tether is industrial-rural, it's a company town in need of company... it isn't near Detroit, it's in the lower part of the state—so, Tether was kind of an amalgam of a lot of places. Some of them are Michigan places and some of them are places in the northeast where I'm from; some of them are towns that I've driven through in annual pilgrimages into northern Ontario; some of them are inspired by midwestern towns that have lost the industries that formally supported them. Basically, it's good people, a failing economy, and a lot of woods and some farms.
Will Nessa ever find true love?
Will Nessa ever find true love?! That's a terrible question! She's got to. I think she has found it. Will this be *it*? Will this be the relationship that carries Nessa... I don't know. I think that it's really important for young men and women to not settle down too early. But sometimes you find that special person and you can't help it. I... I don't know. I think Nessa will find true love—will she keep it? Will it last? Will it even be possible for it to last? Sometimes circumstances get in the way and you have no control.
That's all I'm sayin' :)
We heard that there is an Audible audiobook version of Weregirl coming out and we are SO excited. Has that process started? Tell me about the narrator and your involvement in it.
The narrator and I spoke briefly about pronunciation and Nessa's character and while we were having the conversation I thought to myself, "Wow! She really sounds like Nessa." At first I was just thinking that I was talking to a person on the phone, but I think Audible did a great job of finding someone who has that midwestern solidity of tone, but also a kind of optimism... but a down-to-earth optimism that I think characterizes Nessa.
Do you prefer to write about heroes or villains?
I definitely prefer to write about heroes. And I tend to turn my villains into heroes. People are good... and they're trying... and when they're lying, they're lying to themselves. That said, I still think there needs to be justice and there needs to be order.
I think that the villains in Weregirl are muted. You kind of know why they're doing what they're doing, and while you don't necessarily like them, they're human. They're not abstract. I find it very hard personally to get much out of a story where there's just this evil force. You always know (especially if it's a superhero story) that the superhero is going to win, so what's the fun of watching it happen when you already know the outcome? I like it when there's a more complicated villain where you're almost pained, you're almost as sympathetic to them as to the hero.
Can you sum up Book 2 in 5 words (without revealing the title)?
Okay. It's not 5 words... Who. Am. I. Going. To. Become . (That's Nessa speaking.)
I think that's what this book is. I think Book 1 is... What. Am. I... and Book 2 is...
Where. Am. I. Going.
Or Where. Did. I. Come. From?
... I've given you like, 7 groups of 5 or more words :)
What do you hope that readers will take away from Book 2?
What I loved hearing readers say in Book 1, and I don't think any of us were expecting this... I mean, we knew that we loved the story, but what we didn't know was (let me tell you a story).
I had a niece who read an Advanced Reader Copy [of Weregirl] over the summer and she just disappeared with it into a back bedroom in my house and she came out 7 hours later, and I was like, "Oh, are you enjoying it?" Trying to of course, play it cool. And she was like, "Yes, I'll tell you why," she said. "This book makes me realize that I've always wanted to know what it's like to run as a wolf."
And I realized then that one of the things that readers are engaging with in this story is our curiosity as humans about how it feels to be an animal. And how good it looks. You know, I got a puppy this year and watching that puppy run in the meadow in the park... people stop and stare and it just makes us all happy to see a dog running full tilt. Just the way it makes you happy to see a kid blowing bubbles or a cat napping in the sunlight of a window. And I think we put ourselves in those places. *We* feel the joy of running when we see an animal run. *We* feel the coziness of that windowsill.
What I mean is... I think in Book 1 what people told me they took away was the identification with animals and really knowing what it feels like to be a wolf. And I think in Book 2, there is a lot more of that, but there's also a lot more team building. Everyone is together; and everyone has their strengths and their weaknesses; and what they want and what they don't want. And that's the kind of team that Nessa starts to assemble. She has Delphine, who is going to become a bigger player. And Aunt Jane, who we only know through her mom's phone calls in Book 1—we get to meet her and she's a good contrast to Nessa's mom. And Nessa has to reach out to a lot of the grown-ups in Tether like Dr. Morgan, the vet. And she needs her friends and she needs her family and she needs her fellow wolves. And what we were hoping that readers would take away is just a feeling of like, yes! We did it. That feeling that you get when you're on a team that works really well together.
Why should readers look up to Nessa?
I think girls look up to Nessa because she is sort of the best of a lot of things. She never stops feeling flawed and human and real, but she definitely is strong. She's fierce. She's ambitious. She's a lot of things that girls are not *supposed* to be. When I was growing up, it was just supposed to come naturally and things are not coming naturally for Nessa—she has to make it happen. She stands up for herself, and I think she inspires her friends and her sister to do the same.
Is there any mythology that the Weregirl trilogy is based off of? Is there a "greater story" beneath the surface?
There's a lot of mythology that we're drawing on. When we were planning this we talked a lot about different stories. We talked about sequels in particular. The second book in a trilogy. We talked about notable sci-fi trilogies, warrior stories, and you know it's funny because the one thing we didn't spend a lot of time talking about was superhero stories. But I think that there's so much in the ether right now and we kind of wrote [a superhero story] without setting out to do so.
Book 1 is really the origin story for Nessa. And Book 2 is a little bit more of her challenging her roots and wondering where she came from and really finding out. And of course then that raises all sorts of questions for her.
So we were thinking about: what does the hero need, what is the hero after, what does she need to find, who is she trying to save... all of these larger questions that come up in superhero stories. And all of this just happens naturally to Nessa because I think sometimes a superhero story can follow a particular pattern. This is not following that pattern. Things just happen and Nessa reacts and BOOM, the story is off and running.
What type of music do you listen to while writing?
I feel like all of my readers are going to be so disappointed when I admit that I listen to *classical* music. And I only listen to it because it helps me focus? I don't know. I don't even listen to classical music I like. I love classical music, and I just hit "Pandora Classical" and it's all this overplayed Brandenburg stuff that I've heard a million times. And I just listen to it anyway because I'm just trying to block out the world. Sometimes I've written books where a song is guiding a story. In this one, it was not so much a song as a sort of image of all the wolves. The videos I watched... thinking about Nessa... it was very much an image.
Tell me more about the creative collaboration process. What is it like? What do you do to figure out where the story will go?
That's a great question. I joined a team that was functioning like a writer's room where we were all brainstorming together in a conference room over a course of several days. When I joined the process [for Book 1], a lot of it had already been figured out... like almost all of Act 1. But we just kept going through it, and going through it, working out the little hitches or the things where someone would have a question like, "Why would so-and-so want this?" Or, "How could this be because she already did this?" "Is this exciting enough?" "Where's the movement, where's the momentum, where's the conflict?" We all got to ask these questions and we all got to try to answer them. And we ate a lot of Thai food and burritos and you know, 3 days later we had a story outline. And I LOVED that story outline. I felt like it had strength and power that comes from having come out of many people's minds. I had the freedom to change it as I was writing, but often I would change it and I would end up going back to the original. It was almost like the story had become ordained in a way. So, this was a really unique process for me.
I keep thinking, "Will this change the way that I do my own writing?"
Will I make an outline and pretend that someone else made the outline? Because I make outlines—I just never stick to them. Maybe if I made myself stick to an outline it would be easier to write? I don't think there's easier in writing.
But this outline, because it was so beautifully made it was like a good piece of furniture, which just kept getting stronger and better the more it sat in your home.
What should readers keep in mind when reading Book 2?
Book 2 is not going to feel like a repeat of Book 1. You couldn't have that. We wanted Book 2 to be the same tonally, but maybe a little bit more action and a little bit more growth for Nessa. We wanted the highs and lows of the roller coaster to get higher and lower. We really want to bring our readers on a thrill ride. And I think we've done that. So I would say, get ready, buckle up, and it's going to be a lot of the same characters we love, but we're going to be going to new places and having a really different, fun experience together.