When Joselle first asked me to write “Sanquali,” I had no idea what to do. Some of the thing she was looking for from me sounded easy (mannerpunk), but I’d never thought about werewolves before, and I don’t have the best track record of writing women or lesbians.
When a female-type person in fandom says, “I’d rather be writing boys,” it can mean a lot of different things. A quirk of our writing habits and skills or too much time spent in slash fandom. It can be about internalized misogyny, a dislike of writing things close to home, or any of a million other things, all of which are pretty hard to untangle from each other.
At various points, I’ve tried on all these explanations for my own writing habits, and they don’t necessarily feel true or untrue. But they universally don’t feel like a tight or complete fit. Today, I think I write boys more often because I always played the male roles in all the school plays I was in growing up, and so it’s more natural, when telling a story or taking on someone else’s skin for me to think male.
And werewolf stories are all about skin. How does someone become a werewolf? How does the transformation work? What does it mean to their place in their family, amongst their friends, and in society? And how would that weigh (or not) on a woman in a world where gender and role are closely, specifically, and largely inflexibly linked. What’s more important, being a wolf or being a woman?
It was those questions that got “Sanquali” going. I built a mythology of the place, and then tried to find a way to make it interact with its people. The characters are mostly women — a guard, a thief, a wealthy daughter, a socially important mother. But there’s also a male guard who helps to frame the story. I felt a bit weird about doing that in a woman-focused (and lesbian-focused) anthology, but it was an important statement about “Sanquali” the place. This is a world made and shaped and structured for women by men, even when they are absent, ineffectual or irrelevant, to what the women are experiencing.
Sanquali isn’t a romance or a love story, although relationships and potential relationships (primarily a lesbian love triangle or polyfidelitous arrangement) are suggested, and an arranged marriage is central to the plot. Even for a lesbian anthology, it was really important to me not to write an “issue” story. This is a plot that happens to have lesbians and not the other way around. Plus, in a world with supernatural wolves in sarcophagouses hanging out in rich people’s basements, it seemed like lesbianism was really not going to be anyone’s central crisis.
Anyway, here’s a small chunk of the opener.
Antonia scratched at the dirt floor with her long knife and listened halfheartedly as Gino attempted to tell a creepy wolf story. It was, she thought, one he had clearly heard told before and was perhaps even bored with himself. That was, at least, the only explanation she could find for the manner in which he was telling it, punctuating the all-too-familiar mythos with excessively dramatic pauses and frankly ludicrous hand gestures.
“Every city has two societies and so two stories of its founding,” he said, flourishing his hands as if to beg she imagine such a city placed between them. “Sanquali is no different. The rich live above, on the hill and in great rooms with grand windows.” He went up on his toes then to emphasize the height of the hill, before descending into a crouch. “And the poor live below in the valley by the flooding river or in the low-ceilinged basements of the houses they serve. These men and women of wealth or poverty, however, are not the only residents of Sanquali. There are also the wolves.”
“Tell me something I don’t know,” Antonia said when he paused and looked at her expectantly. “Our little basement here is a nice touch, though.”
“I’m setting the scene; it’s supposed to be eerie,” he whispered, at if there were an audience beyond the two of them to hear him stray from the narrative. “Thanks, though,” he added shyly.
Antonia laughed and shook her head as he stood again.
“Those who live above say the wolves helped found the city—”
“It would really be better without the jumping around,” she said, not feeling bad about criticizing him because she could have been so much crueler.
“I’m wooing the audience.”
Antonia stared at him until he blushed.
“These wolves,” he continued, “rescued two boys, who were carried to the city on the river, and they tended to them, feeding them, keeping them warm and teaching them to fight. The boys learned courage from the wolves and crawled out of the dens and caves of these animals to build the city and its great society. When women were needed, the men found she-wolves and beseeched the gods they had created to make them human.”
“That’s actually really weird,” she said.
“What do you mean?”
“There were no women until we turned wolves into some?”
“It’s just a story,” Gino said weakly.
“Well, it’s a stupid story,” Antonia said. “Why would I start as a wolf, become a woman, and then get turned back into a wolf part-time?”