The Secret Guide to Keeping Supernatural Secrets

A review of Sierra Dean’s The Secret Guide to Dating Monsters (Samhain Publishing Ltd., 2011)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Named “Secret” and a person at the crossroads of many secrets, Secret McQueen is a bounty hunter you will enjoy.  Secret is a hybridised half vampire, half werewolf and treated as a second class citizen by the vampires she works for due to only sharing half of her identity with them. She would be treated even worse if they knew that the other half was not human, but the creature that vampires view as totally loathsome – the werewolf. In a world where vampires and werewolves are hidden from the public, Secret stands at the bridge between two hidden groups, blanketed in human disbelief for the supernatural. In order to keep the existence of the supernatural from humanity, Secret has become a bounty hunter for the vampires, suppressing any risks of exposure. She is a guardian and gatekeeper of whispered supernatural truths.

Secret’s human friend Mercedes has been able to find out about her werewolf side, but has an intense hatred for vampires, whose existence she has discovered. Her intolerance forced Secret to repress and suppress her vampiric side around one of her few friends.

In The Secret Guide to Dating Monsters, Sierra Dean deals with issues of being an inter-racial person, abstracting the social pressures encountered by inter-racial people onto the inter-monstrous figure of Secret McQueen. Like many inter-racial people, she is trapped between her identities, suspended in a place of intolerance by both sides where she is forced to find her own identity, and often hide aspects of herself. If the racist vampire council knew about her werewolf side, she would experience further workplace discrimination (which she is already experiencing for being only half vampire). She is constantly forced to “pass”, to pretend to be fully something that she is not  – whether it be human, werewolf, or vampire. She is trapped in a constant need to pretend, to act, and to only express parts of her dual heritage.

Secret finds she has difficulty finding dates since she can never be totally honest with a lover, always having to hide some part of her identity from groups intolerant toward inter-racial people. She even notes at the start of the narrative “As a general rule, people don’t like to date monsters”, opening the story to the challenges involved in having to play something one is not.

The theme of playing identity, and performing identity is further expressed by the person Secret is sent to hunt, an actor who plays vampire roles in Hollywood movies… who happens to actually BE a vampire. Here is a character who is playing an actor playing himself, a lie trapped inside a truth. The actions of this vampire, abusing his power to control women and using his vampiric gaze to take away the decision-making abilities of the women he tries to seduce, he risks exposing the secrets of the vampiric world in addition to taking away the identity and selfhood of his victims. Secret has to suppress the risk of exposure posed by this vampire, but she takes a secret pleasure in doing so because slaying this vampire would do society as a whole a favour.

You can explore Sierra Dean’s work on her website at http://www.sierradean.com/ . You can purchase The Secret Guide to Dating Monsters in ebook format from Amazon, iTunes, or Kobo or by visiting the Samhain Publishing website at http://store.samhainpublishing.com/sierra-dean-pa-1639.html

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Canadian Werewolves

By Derek Newman-Stille

Canada is fundamentally a hybridised place, embodying multiple differences in the same country and torn/strengthened by contrasting pulls of culture. This hybridity, and ability to alternate between different forms is best expressed in the werewolf and this is why the werewolf has become such an interesting medium for Canadian duality or multiplicity. We are multiple and ever changing, shifting between diverse forms and expressions. Canada’s bilingual and bicultural policy embeds in it a binary, a duality that echoes the transformation of the werewolf. It’s multicultural policy shows the fluctuations of identity and the multiplicity of identity that the werewolf can also express. We are not set and unchanging, but, rather, Canada defines itself by its changeability, by its multiplicity just as the werewolf is defined by its ability to shift and take new forms. The werewolf represents the challenge of balancing a multiplicity and shifting of existence and the idea that shifts of form are not easy, but require constant vigilance and self awareness.

Here are a few werewolf stories that have really spoken to me and helped me to question existence and be comfortable with the changeability of identity and the ability to live in the question and not try to force anything into my ideas of stability.

Kelley Armstrong’s Bitten

A great book that uses the werewolf as a symbol of feminine empowerment. It positions the heroine as the only female werewolf in the world, dealing with the conflicts between her own desire for the ‘normal life’ and the call of a new form of heritage. She challenges the masculinity inherent in a lot of werewolf horror.

Tanya Huff’s Blood Trail

Deals with issues of intolerance and religious persecution. Set in a small town, this novel is about the secrecy of identity, and the need to hide aspects of the self that are different from the mainstream culture around oneself.

Sparkle Hayter’s Naked Brunch

Treats the werewolf as a point between the medical and the mystical. Hayter’s werewolves are subject to medical treatment, control, and suppression.

Charles de Lint’s Wolf Moon

Positions the struggle between assumption about identity and the truth of identity. This is a novel that reveals that the surface aspects of identity are often the least important.

Claude Lalumiere’s Roman Predator’s Chimeric Odyssey in Objects of Worship

Werewolf meets alien in apocalyptic future. This werewolf, already hybridised, encounters an alien that is based on assimilation, bringing new and unique biological forms into its own body and incorporating diversity into itself.

Margaret Atwood’s Wereman in Journals of Susana Moodie

Positions the man as fundamentally werewolfish, embodying a changeable identity and shifting from when he is inside the house, to when he is outside the home in a space that he defines as one in which he can express his masculinity.

Douglas Smith’s Out of the Light in Chimerascope.

Creates a distinctly urban were creatures and causes the reader and characters to question the image of the natural were, out in the scary woods and reminds us that the city itself is a frightening environment of changeability and shifts. Not every creature of darkness lurks in the shadows and shadows need light to take form.

John Fawcett (director)Ginger Snaps (2000)

This film  plays with ideas of gender and the coming-of-age theme through the werewolf medium. It deals with ideas of sisterhood, family, and the straining bonds of family that come with radical change.