Today on Twisted Tales, killer author Dave Jeffery has agreed to join me for an interview about his thrilling new werewolf book, Tooth and Claw. (It only took a little cajoling and maybe a lotta blackmail to get him here, too). By far one of my favorite horror tales of the year, Tooth and Claw offers up an intensely suspenseful tale of man vs. werewolf vs. man. It’s complicated. Best just to let Dave explain it…
SRW: Thanks for showing up, Dave.
DJ: Thanks for having me, Stuart. It’s appreciated very much and thank you for your kind words about Tooth & Claw.
SRW: First, tell the readers what Tooth and Claw is all about. But do it with the timing of an old Catskills stand-up comic.
DJ: A bunch of wealthy big game hunters pay to hunt down a werewolf on a huge country estate. Big question is who is hunting who?
SRW: Tooth and Claw’s premise is great, that of the werewolf being hunted (and I’m more than a little jealous I didn’t think of it). The theme of man hunting man is nothing new, of course, dating back to Richard Connell’s 1924 short story, “The Most Dangerous Game” and the subsequent movie adaptations. (I’m fairly sure it goes even further back, but I’m much too lazy to research now). What inspired the premise?
DJ: I’d wanted to write a werewolf story for quite a few years but never really found a good hook. I read a story here in the UK about fox hunting and how there was always a desire by the rich establishment to bring it back as it was more part of their heritage than the actual act of hunting. This got me thinking, what if there was a way where you could pay to do this kind of thing illegally but in complete and total privacy? Then, viola! I suddenly had my route into the kind of werewolf story I wanted to write.
SRW: Your prose is impressively dense and I mean that in a good way. But I found it odd that until a quarter through the tale, there’s only a handful of dialogue! Dialogue is a secret weapon to me, easy to write and fun to read. Was this a conscious choice on your behalf? Does it represent your overall writing style?
DJ: The narrative for my pulp fiction is deliberately mapped out this way. When you’re developing a shorter piece my focus is always on getting the characters embedded in a way that is paced, yet detailed. I owe a lot of this style to my writing hero, John Steinbeck. In longer pieces I use more dialogue to differentiate in stories that have a lot more characters, for example my Beatrice Beecham series for Young Adults.
SRW: Along these same lines, there’s a lot of internalizing amongst the characters, particularly when they’re faced with life or death situations. Usually in action-oriented books, the characters think fast on their feet, worry about the consequences later. Interesting approach.
DJ: Again, this is a device to add pace and also gives the reader some insight into the reasons why characters make the choices they do in adverse conditions. It’s certainly something I ask when reading action adventure books.
SRW: I see that you’re a mental health professional as well as an author. Interesting, particularly in regards to your characters. Let’s start with protagonist Detective Constable Ian West. As an undercover cop in a dangerous situation, West seems to be his own worst enemy. Constantly, he doubts himself, jeopardizing his mission and his life. Do you see this as the hazards of West’s dangerous job, his ill-timed romance, or a flaw in his character?
DJ: West is pretty much coming to the end of his career and is at a phase in his life where is he more concerned about what his job has cost him rather than the original reason he took it on. The potential flaw of being in a relationship whilst undercover hints at how his judgement is askew. The notion that he is in love gives him clearer guidance on his destiny as he sees it, which is no longer with the police.
SRW: Moving onto your villains, you’ve created one of the most loathsome group of folks gathered in some time. Yet, deep into the tale, you make a case for a couple of them as to why they became the sociopaths they are today. To you are they ultimately victims because they were abused as children? Predators? Both? (I can’t remember any reason for the O’Kill sisters or Rothschild being the way they are, just plain old rotten).
DJ: I have a background in mental health and I try to avoid simplifying mental illness with, what are in truth, complex psycho-social issues. That said, the characters have encountered experiences that have shaped how they perceive the world and this is not necessarily from the point of view of someone’s mental health. Sometimes people are raised in certain climates of privilege and it is the disconnect with what constitutes the ‘normal’ world that makes them behave the way they do; so this is not about abuse. It is about never being exposed to an average life. Is essence they are more ignorant than sociopathic.
SRW: To me, the werewolves are much more sympathetic than the human villains. After all, the wolves are just being wolves. Them, I can empathize with. The human bad guys, not so much. So, tell me, Dave, who would you rather take your chances with in a dark alley?
DJ: Humans, because they’re fallible! Once a werewolf is on your tail, it never ends well.
SRW: To me writing sustained suspense is incredibly taxing, but you manage to keep the entire second half of your tale riveting. Is that hard to write for you? If not, what part of writing causes you the most hair loss?
DJ: The main issue for me is emotional continuity. Once you build a character you have to keep them consistent with their belief system. I often stall when I place a character in a situation and think, well this puts them into conflict which, as you know, is good for the reader and character-development. However, the sensible part of me wants to keep the character true to their base personality. So, if I lose hair – not that I have much of it left to lose – it will be over that continuity dilemma.
SRW: Even though I’m a fan of Jeffrey Kosh’s stellar cover, I have to say because of the characters represented, I thought the book was going to be more of a rebel-rousing, testosterone-driven, yee-haw, blood-soaked, good ol’ boy romp through werewolf-ville. Yet I was pleasantly surprised that it’s a suspenseful, action-packed, thoughtful book. Not really a question. Just a thought. So take the compliment!
DJ: Thank you! I agree, the cover is amazing and gives the book a balls-to-the-wall vibe. Though I think this is more representative of the second half of the story.
SRW: Alright, just to play devil’s advocate, and because I’ve got you here, I’m gonna pull the pin on this next question and lob it at you, Dave… Ready?
As both a horror writer and a mental health professional, do you see horror entertainment as a healthy, cathartic release? Or do you view it as potentially damaging to already susceptible or troubled minds? (BOOM!)
DJ: This is very much a subjective process, depending on the person. The more damaging perspective is the clumsy application of mental illness in the genre. That has potential to create more harm to those with mental illness in terms of mental health awareness and social exclusion.
SRW: From the tough to the mundane… Off the top of your head, favorite werewolf movie…
DJ: Easy – American Werewolf in London.
SRW: Honestly, I thought the entire werewolf genre had been played out (sparkles killed the vampires, natch), but you show there’s still some fresh breath in the ol’ mangy wolf. Any other werewolf fiction spring to mind that’s different?
DJ: I’ve heard Corporate Wolf is a doozy, I’ll let you know!
SRW: That's peculiar...I've heard the same thing about Corporate Wolf. What are you working on next?
DJ: I have three contracted projects for next year The Phase War and Frostbite 2 (Severed Press) and another in the Beatrice Beecham series for Crystal Lake Publishing. There will also be a sequel to Tooth & Claw (Grinning Skull Press) in 2021 and a follow up to my dystopian novella A Quiet Apocalypse (Demain Publishing).
SRW: Tell everyone where they can stalk you via social media sites and where to find your books.
DJ: Please stalk away at:
SRW: Thanks so much for dropping by, Dave. And, seriously, Tooth & Claw is great. Unrelenting suspense, gripping terror, and a fast read, every horror (or action) fan should go get it right now.
DJ: Thanks so much for asking me do this and for the kind words about what I do. You’re a star!