The strange ties to Brambleberry Island first formed after the war, when the few men who returned home did so bewildered, broken, and bitter. Old Hoecake hadn’t been devastated like the big cities in the east; it was only a modest frontier settlement that had dwindled once the promise of gold was revealed as an empty one, and the fighting and destruction had never approached its scrubby fields and empty blue skies. But with so few in number already, each loss of a fine young man proved a harsh blow. And though the people remaining in Old Hoecake were as stubborn and resourceful as daisies growing in cliffside cracks, something had to be done to keep the settlement from withering away.
So the witch women cast their rune stones, and studied the entrails of jack rabbits caught and split apart, and chewed on the seeds of special-grown poppies to see what help magic might provide. Each ritual offered the same answer, an answer startling to even these weathered seers: Brambleberry Island.
Separated from the rest of the world by lapping water and warnings of dark, unpredictable magic, it was a place unpopulated except by wild beasts. Surely not a source of husbands, then, this island?
Yes, the rune stones insisted, placing importance on rowing down the river and out to the island on the day of the milk moon. And the swollen livers in the rabbits told of powerful love waiting for any woman brave enough to make the journey. But the poppy seeds were what revealed the secret of the island: once a year, the beasts may turn into men, and any one of these strange creatures met and accepted by a woman will remain as such as if he’d been born instead of whelped.
Not many in Old Hoecake liked the idea, but once the first few women went and returned with husbands who looked like men and gave them children that were satisfactorily human — not a horn, hoof, or tail among them — rowing to Brambleberry Island became its own peculiar little ritual. The sort of folk magic not spoken of to outsiders. The sort of choice left to the desperate or foolhardy.
Raven’s Speech began as an idea about a woman who rows to a remote island to find a husband, an island of beasts that turn into men once a year beneath the milk moon.
Aside from that story seed, I also knew I wanted a cracked-out setting that combined a folk-magic infused frontier settlement with ancient ruins. I wanted grotesque sex and gleeful rutting. I wanted a heroine as wild as whatever beast she found on that island.
I don’t know when I’ll finish the first draft. I could give a date like Spring 2017 or such, but that would be a baldfaced lie because I’m still figuring out this story, and like all of the stories in the Monstrous Hearts series (I’m working on five others in addition to this one), it claws its way out of me. It can’t be rushed. Well, it can be, but then I don’t know what the hell I’m doing and the story loses focus and coherency until it finally collapses beneath its own weight like the bloated corpse of a beached whale…
…I may have done that once or twice before. Maybe more like five times before. It takes me awhile to learn a lesson.
Regardless, I’m eager to work on it. A little scared, too. I don’t take myself seriously as a writer, but I take writing very seriously. No pandering, no holding back for fear of exposing too much of myself or making mistakes. These stories have to be feral or why write about monsters at all? People write for different reasons, all of them valid. My reason is simply that I have stories to tell, and that I have to be honest, raw, and unflinching when telling them.