The new series Bitten, based on the first of best-selling author Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld novels, tells the story of lone female werewolf Elena Michaels (Laura Vandervoort), a woman desperate to escape a world she never wanted to be a part of. The betrayal of having been turned sent her running to try to lead a normal life away from her pack family, until she’s pressured to return to help track down a killer that threatens to expose the secret existence of werewolves.
During this recent interview to promote the show, author Kelley Armstrong talked about her inspiration for the book, how this interpretation of werewolves differs from others that are out there, why Elena is a role model, how she hasn’t had any involvement with the show except for getting to read scripts, that she would be interested in writing a script for an episode, at some point, and what she enjoys about working in the supernatural genre. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
KELLEY ARMSTRONG: Bitten actually came out of an X-Files episode. I was in a writing group, and as part of a writing group, you’re expected to actually write new stuff. I was trying to come up with an idea, and sat down and watched The X-Files, way back in their first season, and it was their one and only werewolf episode. It was your typical big guy who changes into some beast-like thing and goes around slaughtering people under the full moon. I said, “That’s not how I would do werewolves.” And for a writer, that then sparks, “How would I do them?” So, I wrote a short story with this character named Elena, and I loved that world so much that I wrote a book. That goes to show you how long ago I started writing Bitten. It was the first season of the show.
How does this interpretation of werewolves differ from others that are out there?
ARMSTRONG: Bitten was my first published novel, so it was way back. I wanted to create a character who would be a werewolf and be uncomfortable with that role, but ultimately come to embrace it. Bitten was about coming to understand that what you think you should be is not always what you’re meant to be. This book was written in the late 90’s when I didn’t have to worry about what else was out there. My point of reference was The Wolf Man and An American Werewolf in London, so I didn’t have to say, “Okay, what’s currently out there and how can I be different?”
If anything, the fact that I wrote about werewolves was a huge strike against me because nobody knew how to sell a book where the werewolves weren’t monsters. So, when I’m comparing it to other things, that’s a whole lot tougher for me because I built mine from folklore. I’m a huge folklore geek and I went through everything I knew about werewolves and cherry-picked what bits of folklore made the most sense, if putting it into a contemporary context where I want people to believe that the werewolves could actually live next door. There are lots of things in the folklore, like the can only be killed by a silver bullet, that don’t realistically work, if you’re trying to say they have existed for hundreds of years, unknown.
Do you see Elena as being a role model?
ARMSTRONG: Especially in the world of fantasy and superheroes, it’s great to have role models that aren’t in skimpy little outfits, in impossible poses. That’s so important for young women.
Have you written any episodes of the show yourself?
ARMSTRONG: No, I have not written any. There was talk of that early on. They had asked if I wanted to, and I definitely did. Nothing came of it, but maybe at some point in the future.
How much influence did you have on the TV show, and were there any noticeable changes that had to be made for the TV show?
ARMSTRONG: I really didn’t have any influence, and that is what I felt was the correct stance to be taken. A TV show is an adaptation. It is another version for a different medium. To take a book and translate it directly to screen would make a very boring book. With Bitten, I spent way too much time in Elena’s head, and to put that on the screen would have been boring. Somebody else has to take it with fresh eyes and reconstruct it for a different medium. Of course, I’m so attached to my characters and so attached to my world that I would be objecting to things that I shouldn’t be objecting to. But, I was so thrilled with the early scripts I read. I was so thrilled with the writing and how they got the characters. Yes, there are changes, but there should be. I was quite happy to leave it in everyone’s capable hands and just step back. It’s very, very necessary because this is my work envisioned by other writers and by actors. I’m thrilled to have that happen. I’m thrilled to have current readers see it on a screen, and new people see it. But, it’s not supposed to be my books translated to the small screen.
In the books, Elena has overcome a history of some pretty awful abuse. What was that important to you to give her that history?
ARMSTRONG: For a character like that, you really need to pile as much as possible on them. But seriously, what it was for Elena was that, looking at the psychology of a character who could have a background and become a werewolf and embrace that, Elena’s overriding need is for family and acceptance, and that comes out of this really rotten background. If she’d had great parents and a great support system at home, she would have found that break from the pack much easier. She just would have gone home, lived her life, and not really felt that pull to go back to people who had betrayed her. As it is, because it’s been so bad for her, you’re combining both the werewolf instinct with her own desires and what she really needs to feel fulfilled. It’s both a push and a pull because the pack does offer family, but it does not offer the type of family that she has grown up expecting, which is getting married, having kids, and living in the suburbs somewhere. It is really difficult for her. And for me, my background is psychology, and mainly counseling psychology. That’s what my degree is in. So, I really layer ed that in for background.
When someone is bitten, is there an innate sense of connection to the pack, or do these people simply understand Elena the best?
ARMSTRONG: What I was doing when I was creating my werewolves is really basing them on a wild wolf pack, as much as possible. It’s not as if being bitten brings you in, but what it does is that it strengthens that instinct for pack. It strengthens that instinct to need to be with others who are like you, and to form tight bonds, as an actual wolf pack does. So, while she’s not drawn to these particular people, she is drawn to the idea of needing to be in a close knit group like that.
What is the best and worst thing about working in the supernatural genre?
ARMSTRONG: The best thing about working with it is just the capacity for imagination. That is what I love. I have been asked many times, “Why do you write this stuff?,” and I say, “I have no idea.” I grew up writing about the paranormal, and I blame too many Saturday mornings watching Scooby Doo. I just saw such a capacity for imagination there, where I could take anything and spin it. As for the worst thing, that’s also something of a plus. The genre has gotten much more popular. When I started, it was a struggle. It is far more popular now, which is both good and bad because you are always being asked, “How does your stuff differ from what is currently out there?” That makes you worry, “If I do something new, is it too similar to what somebody else has already done?
In seeing the show, what were you most surprised about?
ARMSTRONG: I’ve read and really enjoyed the first two scripts. Apparently, screeners are on the way to me of the episodes, so I haven’t seen anything yet. I can only go from early versions of those couple of scripts. One of the things that they really needed to do was bring in other points of view because Bitten is written in first-person, from Elena. When we see her and she’s not with the pack, all we know is when she has communication with them. We’re not seeing what they’re doing, at the same time. But on the TV version, they were able to show what the other characters are doing. So, it was a lot of fun for me to read them, imagining what the other characters were doing while Elena was in Toronto.
Bitten airs on Monday nights on Syfy.