Alana Joli Abbott (alanajoli) wrote,
Alana Joli Abbott

Guest Blog: Dylan Birtolo

I met Dylan Birtolo in Authors' Avenue at GenCon of 2006, where I was looking for novels by new authors to send off to a buddy of mine stationed in Iraq. We had a great conversation, and on the way home from the convention, I read Dylan's first novel, The Shadow Chaser. I was so engaged in the story, and in Dylan's world of shape shifters, I finished it on the plane. Since then, I've kept up with his blog (he's here as eyezofwolf), where I learned that he's also a sword-for-hire (he's a member of the Seattle Knights combat troupe), and I've had the chance to work with Dylan on a story for the Ransom anthology, which he edited. Along with his novels, his short stories are showing up in several anthologies and e-zines, from The Edge of Propinquity to the upcoming Boondocks Fantasy (DAW) and Human Tales (Dark Quest Books).

Without further ado: Dylan!


I often get asked where I got the inspiration for my novels. Yes, I grew up on tales of werewolves, and yes I have played a lot of D&D and am familiar with other lycanthropes. I also enjoyed the White Wolf storyteller series and have played Werewolf with other races thrown in (Bastet, Gurahl, etc). And while all of these played a part, these aren’t the core inspiration - they are merely influences on the main theme. The main theme comes from what I have learned about some Native American spiritual beliefs.

Let me back up a step and talk about storytelling for a moment. I specifically mention storytelling because I think this is true whether you are writing the story, showing it, or even running a game campaign. With storytelling, one of the golden rules that I have learned and heard many times is that you should know much more about your world than you ever show to your audience. You should know things about your characters, about the world, about the situation that is currently happening, and you should know what other characters not currently in focus are thinking and doing. Putting in all of these details will ruin the story. It will lose some of the mystery and some of the magic. It also has a very high chance of boring most of your audience to tears if they do manage to slog through it.

This is a rule that I have tried to follow, with differing levels of success, in all of my stories. I also try to make sure everything has a reason and even the fantastical situations follow rules. Rules are a good thing in stories. They make fantasy more believable. It makes it so that your audience is more willing to suspend their disbelief and engage in the story. If I am continuously breaking rules for no reason, it makes the story less engaging and my audience (readers, players, etc) is going to leave.

If you read through my novels carefully, you will see trends. Each of the characters (with one or two exceptions that I will get to later) can only change into one specific animal. You also notice that each of the shifters has an animal that they get along with, even if the animal is a wild, undomesticated creature. This pattern comes from one idea that I had – what if there were people who were blessed by an Animal Spirit?

One theme I have seen in multiple Native American traditions is Animal Spirits. There is the Great Spirit who presides over everything, and then there is an Animal Spirit for each animal. This spirit is the difference between Wolf and wolf. The animals in the world are the physical embodiment of everything that the Animal Spirit represents. The traits and mannerisms that an Animal Spirit has are demonstrated through their associated animal’s behavior. My thought was to create a world where people were blessed by an individual Animal Spirit. As part of this blessing, they could take the form of the animal and could get along with any animals that were representatives of their spiritual benefactors. In short, the shifters became champions of the Animal Spirits – part animal and part human.

This led me to the idea what would happen if an individual was not blessed by an Animal Spirit, but was blessed by the Great Spirit. It seemed to reason that whoever was blessed by the Great Spirit would be an overseer of all of the animals, and as such could take the form of any and get along with all of them. And thus, my main character was born.

None of this material is explicitly spelled out in my novels. But it is all there, in subtle ways if you know what to look for. The important thing is that it gave me a set of rules to follow. And following these rules made my stories more believable and more engaging. At least, I hope it did!

Thanks, Alana for letting me ramble. I hope it was entertaining, educational, or maybe even both!
Tags: dylan birtolo, gencon, guest blog, mythology, ransom

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