Today, I have the privilege to chat with Wendy N. Wagner about her new book, An Oath of Dogs (Angry Robot, July 2017.) For those who aren’t familiar, Wendy is managing editor of the Hugo Award-winning Lightspeed magazine, as well as the author of two novels set in the Pathfinder RPG world, Skinwalkers and Starspawn.
CC: Welcome! An Oath of Dogs was released earlier this month. Congratulations! Give us your elevator pitch for the novel.
WW: An Oath of Dogs is the story of a woman who moves to a new planet only to discover that her boss has been murdered—and it looks like their company did it to cover up a much larger crime. It also features a heroic therapy dog, lots of alien plants and creatures, a sect of neo-Mennonite farmers, a mysterious pack of wild dogs, and a botanist with a love of beer.
CC: Sounds like a lot of cool hooks for readers. What was the nugget that started the story in your head? A character, scene, or event?
WW: I had an idea about wild dog packs that made me want to explore the relationship between people and dogs. I kept playing around with the idea, and it grew into part of a much more complicated story about the way we explore and develop new places and how we treat the landscape around us.
CC: How long did it take to write? Do you have a normal writing time, or do you fit it in when you can?
WW: This book took a long time to write! Maybe two and a half or three years, even. I got the idea for the story while I was working on my first Pathfinder tie-in novel, so I didn’t get a chance to really start working on it for a while. Then I got hired to write a second novel, so that slowed it down even more.
I try to write in the morning, after my daughter has gone to school and my husband has gone to work. I walk the cats, drink some coffee, and then write for an hour or two before I do my freelance work.
CC: So you’ve told us who the protagonist is, but tell us about a side character you love.
WW: Oh, it’s so hard to choose—I wound up falling in love with all the side characters! Probably my favorite is Olive Whitley, a young girl who befriends the main character. Olive loves wandering in the woods and studying nature, where she harvests plants to sell to local artists to help her family make ends meet. She’s just a really, really good kid. A little weird, but good.
CC: Which question about An Oath of Dogs do you wish someone would ask? Ask and answer it!
WW: Well, this is extremely nerdy, but I wish someone would ask about the scientific names I used. I feel very clever about coming up with them. I used taxonomic names based on the names for plants that currently exist, but I gave them a third component based on the name of the planetary system. The world An Oath of Dogs is set on is called “Huginn,” and it orbits a planet named “Wodin,” accompanied by the tiny satellite of “Muninn.” All the celestial bodies in the system are named for Norse entities, and it’s called the Yggdrasil system. So if humans were from Huginn, they’d be Yggdrasil homo sapiens.
CC: Those are great details, and I love the Norse influence… Speaking of which, gardening is another passion of yours. Tells us how it inspires/influences your writing.
WW: I love plants, and I love dirt. Everything I write winds up having a lot of plants in the background, simply because plants are a major part of the way I see the world. A world just doesn’t feel like a world unless it’s packed with growing things!
Since I find biology and horticulture so interesting, those sciences usually play the main role of “science” in my science fiction. I like writing about the future and imagining that people have traveled to new worlds, but since I barely pay attention to technology in our current world (at least while it’s working), I don’t spend a lot of time imagining fancy gadgets and crazy technology for my books.
CC: An Oath of Dogs explores the relationships between humankind, animals, and the landscape. Do you think it’s important a novel have a social message?
WW: Not exactly. I think it’s important for a novel to grapple with culture, because I think that as an artist, part of your job is to play around with cultural elements. And because you’re a human being, of course your work has a political, moral, philosophical, and sociological stance, no matter what you’re writing about or what genre that you’re working in. The more you try to understand and control the political, moral, philosophical, and sociological stance your work is taking, the more mature your work will feel and the stronger your craft will become. But that still might not feel like a “message,” per se.
CC: Your first two novels, Skinwalkers and Starspawn, are set in the shared Pathfinder world. How was it controlling your own universe in its entirety this time? Did it make the writing process easier or harder?
WW: Writing in my own world is vastly easier. I think the best fiction features characters and settings that grow intrinsically out of each other, and that’s almost impossible to achieve in a shared-world setting where your story can’t have any long-term effect on the world.
CC: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
WW: Yes and yes.
While I’ve had to write really in-depth outlines for projects (all of my tie-in work had to have multi-page outlines approved before I could start writing) and really appreciated having them as a tool for writing, I’ve also written things where I only had a very loose outline. I definitely like knowing a basic structure, but I don’t mind finding things out as I go.
CC: Now for fun, who would win in a fight, Kate Standish or Jendara (from An Oath of Dogs & Skinwalkers, respectively)? Compare their strengths and weaknesses.
WW: Jendara, definitely! Standish is tough-minded, and she has a fairly physical job, but Jendara is a combat veteran. Plus, she heats her house with wood and cooks on a wood stove, which means she’s constantly splitting logs.
While I was researching the Jendara novels—she lives in part of the Pathfinder world inspired by Viking culture, which meant lots of reading up on Vikings—I learned that one archaeological dig had uncovered a war horse with a cut in its leg bone containing shards of mail and other bone. Further examination made the archaeologists realize that a fighter had chopped their sword through the horse’s chain mail coat, through one of its front legs, and only finally come to stop in the bone of the horse’s second front leg. And that was with one blow! I can’t imagine that kind of strength, but it was far more common in less sedentary centuries.
CC: What if they teamed up? Who would be the sidekick?
WW: If those two teamed up, they’d be unbeatable. (Well, unless they found a keg of really good beer. Both of them are a little too fond of beer.) They both have incredibly hard heads and refuse to take no for an answer. But Standish would have to be the leader, because Jendara can be a bit rash, and she’s terrible at making plans. Then again, people like Jendara a lot more, so if it was a bigger group, she’d make the better leader. Standish is really good at getting people angry with her.
CC: Any other writing projects you’re working on?
WW: I’m working on a ton of stuff, but I’m not sure I can talk about any of them! I do have some fun short stories coming out, including one in this awesome anthology that looks like a Ouija board.
CC: That looks like a lot of fun! Thanks for stopping by, and good luck with all your writing endeavors!
An Oath of Dogs:
Kate Standish has been on the forest-world of Huginn less than a week and she’s already pretty sure her new company murdered her boss. But the little town of mill workers and farmers is more worried about eco-terrorism and a series of attacks by the bizarre, sentient dogs of this planet, than a death most people would like to believe is an accident. That is, until Kate’s investigation uncovers a conspiracy which threatens them all.
More About the Author:
Wendy N. Wagner grew up in a remote town on the Oregon coast, a place so small it had no grocery store and no television reception. When the bookmobile came every two weeks, the whole town gathered to explore its latest offerings. Books were her lifeline, her window into the outside world, and soon, an obsession.
Wendy’s short fiction has appeared in more than 30 anthologies and magazines, and she has written tie-in fiction for the award-winning Pathfinder role-playing game (including two novels). Her third novel, AN OATH OF DOGS, is due out July 2017.
As well as writing, Wendy is also the managing/associate editor of LIGHTSPEED and NIGHTMARE magazines. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her very understanding family. You can follow her exploits on www.winniewoohoo.com.