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  • Writer's pictureKD Webster

The Muse and the Wendigo

Hello, readers. The Writers Block will continue later this week. Within the next day or two, actually. Today I kinda felt the urge to pick up the pen and just let the leash out a bit.

This is one of those posts where I’m not entirely sure which direction the flow will take me, but the need to write is here, and when my Muse is feeling chatty, I have found it best to just go with it.

So, okay, guess I should start with this. I’m a tales teller who writes in multiple genres. My writing projects include epic fantasy, horror, and narrative fiction, among others. My writing style, though? Good question. I was asked that before and wasn’t sure how to answer back then. I just like to write what my Muse tells me when she tells me. But now, if I had to dial it in, the closest comparison would be speculative fiction, seasoned with mimetic fiction for taste. It starts with the foundation every storyteller builds a structure upon. That unspoken question that begins with the most powerful two-word combination in fiction.

What if…

I'll have a story idea in my head, then allow the fleshing out to begin. Whether the mental image is a violent fight sequence, a dramatic scene, or just a couple of friends having a heart to heart, I will ask the "what lead up to this" question. After forming several reasons, I’ll run with the most plausible. One that makes the reader think, "Well, in theory, sure. I guess that could happen, if..."

To me, that makes for some of the best sci-fi/fantasy storylines. The ones that make you say, "Well, if the conditions are right and such and such and whatnot and stuff." The ones that reach out of the pages and take you into the motivation behind the actions. Why did he do this? Why did she do that? Because that gets into character development. Because that’s when the reader starts looking at your character less like a character and more like a person. Because that's when the magic happens.

That being said, no writer is worth their salt if copious amounts of research aren’t involved. If you’re doing period fiction and mention a certain date, you'd better make sure events within that year actually went down the way you described. Even if you’re telling a tale set in space, get the distance from Earth to Mother Moon precisely. Doing a story involving cryogenics? Neglecting your research will be the one time that one reader calls you out on the boiling point difference between nitrogen and oxygen.

Follow me, I think I’m finally going somewhere with this.

Some years ago, I had an idea for a story about the Wendigo, a cryptid creature of First Nations lore. At the time, I knew next to nothing about the urban legend, only that it was closely associated with cannibalism. Past that, what else? I started my research and, in doing so, discovered the supernatural creature came with a very real-world origin.

In 1878, a First Nations Cree by the name of Swift Runner took his family to a hunting camp in the Canadian forest. Three months later he emerged from the woods alone. His wife, six children, his brother and mother in-law, all dead. A formal inquiry was launched into the disappearance of his family. Swift Runner would be arrested, put on trial, and hanged for murder, but not before telling a fantastic tale. Swift Runner stated he was possessed by the Wendigo, a malevolent and cannibalistic spirit well-known by the First Nations Algonquian tribes. Once taken over, Swift Runner stated he became the physical manifestation of the Wendigo. This gave him an all-consuming hunger and an insatiable taste for human flesh.

I would end up spending two weeks learning the tale of the Wendigo before putting pen to paper. That research took me down some very dark paths. Visualizing the very woods it frequented. I would go to sleep with thoughts of the monster. Picturing in my mind’s eye how it should look. As tall as a professional basketball player. Ashen gray skin stretched taunt over slender, elongated bones. A nearly bald head with a few scattered white hairs. Large bestial eyes filled with both hatred and sorrow. All this with a mouth whose jaw could not only unhinge like a snake, but housed row upon row of sharp jagged teeth. A spirit of all-consuming hunger, a never-ending need to feed.

I’d wake up in the middle of the night, shadows playing with my head. The story of the Wendigo was already consuming me, and this was before I had gotten past the plotting stage. Within two weeks I had gone from knowing very little, to knowing more than I cared to retain about the creature. It wasn’t just knowing the backstory had a real world origin, but had a modern day disorder named after it.

The Wendigo Psychosis. The craving for human flesh and the fear of becoming a cannibal.

Despite the nightmares and hearing things go bump in the night, I saw the story through. My tale of the Wendigo would go on to be one of my most popular horror stories. Variations made their way into an anthology and an online zine. An extended version of it became the opening story in Volume One of Scratch’s Urban Legends (click here for the story). This in turn was instrumental in that book becoming the most sold of my horror projects.

For some time, I thought I’d put the tale of the Wendigo behind me. I’d made quite a few pennies and was ready to leave it for others to discover and read later down the road. But then my Muse started whispering about the creature again. For months I tried to ignore her. Wanted to focus on my umpteen other projects I had going on (and still have going on). But my Muse, once she has my ear, she doesn’t stop until I start listening. So, I did. I listened.

I didn’t want to go back into those woods, and it shows in the story. But I did go back, and it also shows in the story. What followed wasn’t so much a tale of the Wendigo, but a reunion with the creature. A story as if told by director Christopher Nolan. Sorry, that’s the best way I can describe it. Click here and give it a read and see if you would categorize it the same way. That story is the beginning of Volume Two of Scratch’s Urban Legends. Although it is the only story in Volume Two (at the moment), it has already garnered more than a few readers.

And now, my Muse is whispering again. Images of the creature coming back to the fore. My Muse wants me in those woods for a third time. Sooner or later, I will have to go back. There are people I left in those woods. People with families, jobs, friends, including a person that is very close to me. I have to write their origin stories. I have to write how they got in those woods, even if they might never leave. To do that, I will have to face the creature again. To go where I don't want to go. Into the heart. Into the dark. My Muse, she’s not going to let it go until I go. Until I put pen to paper. Give the devil his due. Give the Wendigo another pound of flesh.

Pray for the prey.

Take a break from your world...visit for a while in mine. Come often. Stay for a spell.

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