Today I am interviewing Wendy N. Wagner, author of the new sci-fi novel, An Oath of Dogs.
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DJ: Hey Wendy! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Wendy N. Wagner: I live in Portland, Oregon, and my day job is working as the managing/associate editor of Lightspeed and Nightmare magazines. I also used to write tie-in fiction for the Pathfinder role-playing game, including two novels. That was a great way to get free RPG materials! Everyone in my whole family is obsessed with games (role-playing, board, and video–it doesn’t matter), so that was a nice perk.
When I’m not writing or gaming, I’m usually puttering in my garden. I’m a total dirt nerd!
DJ: What is An Oath of Dogs about?
Wendy: It’s about a woman and her therapy dog who move to a new planet. When they get there, she begins to suspect her company killed her boss–and that it’s part of a much larger corporate cover-up.
DJ: What were some of your influences for An Oath of Dogs?
Wendy: It’s mostly inspired by my experiences growing up in southern Oregon in the early ’90s. We lived in a beautiful area where it rained more than 100 inches a year, and beautiful mossy forests stretched everywhere. The planet in Oath is very much like that: giant trees, lots of moss, constant rain.
But since there are lots of trees, the timber industry is very powerful. My hometown was entirely dominated by the timber industry–everything depended on those companies. Not just the loggers and the millworkers, but the restaurants, the churches, the schools, local law enforcement. When the timber industry dried up, my hometown essentially died. I wanted to write about what it was like to live in a town where one industry could dominate not just the economy but the entire culture and landscape of a community.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them? (aka What makes them compelling?)
Wendy: The novel has two main characters, Kate Standish and Dr. Peter Bajowski. Standish–she hates being called by her first name–suffers from an anxiety disorder linked to post-traumatic stress. (She was in an accident in space, and now open spaces and the sky are really stressful.) One of her coping tactics is crocheting. Another is that she has a therapy dog, a big white Swiss Shepherd named Hattie. I think writing the moments when she’s just dorking around with Hattie were my favorite parts to write. They really love each other!
Writing Peter was great, too. I think of all the characters, he’s probably the most like me. He’s a biologist and an environmentalist, which is tremendously challenging given the fact he works for a natural resources extraction company. He’s also a beer-lover and a vegan. He’s always struggling with food at the bar or when hanging out with friends. One of my favorite moments in the book happens when Standish is making sandwiches and struggles to figure out what she can put on his.
DJ: What is the world and setting of An Oath of Dogs like?
Wendy: The book is set on a world called Huginn. It’s large enough to qualify as a planet, but it’s a satellite of a much larger planet named Wodin, and it has a companion satellite named Muninn. The whole system is actually named for the Norse pantheon.
Huginn is very much like Earth. The part that’s shown in this novel is very damp–it rains almost constantly. And the plants are very simple proto-plants, more like the kinds of plants that covered the Earth during the Triassic period. There are very few animals. The creatures that live in the forest ecosystem are all very similar, essentially larger or smaller adaptations of the same form. They look like isopods, but colorful and often fuzzy. There are ones the size of sheep that come in sherbet colors, and underground ones the size of caterpillars that come in pink and green.
There’s also a lot of fungi, most of which come in striking colors or sparkle or are otherwise pretty. Most of them will kill you, though. That’s the biggest drawback of the planet: You can’t eat anything there.
Needless to say, farming terrestrial foods is pretty important to the survival of humanity on the planet. The farmers and the timber companies butt heads quite a bit. That adds some extra tension to community life.
And community life is pretty tense to begin with. People have only been living on Huginn for about a hundred years, so the government is still very colonial. Everyone’s wants a slice of the political and economic pie. It’s a little bit Wild West out there!
DJ: Could you go in depth a little bit more about the sentient dogs of this planet?
Wendy: I can’t tell too much without giving away some critical parts of the story, but suffice to say that dogs are a major problem for the people living in the town of Canaan Lake–the town where the novel is set. They steal livestock from the farms, and they dig up dead bodies in the cemetery. They’ve even been known to attack humans. When someone brings a new dog to town, they tend to run away and join the wild dogs in their mayhem–which means new dogs are pretty unwelcome.
That’s bad news for Standish and Hattie the therapy dog.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing An Oath of Dogs?
Wendy: I’ve never loved writing like I loved writing Oath. Every bit of it made me happy. But probably the most fun part was creating the quotations that start off every chapter. They’re all excerpts from texts written by fictional characters, including a lot of characters who appear in the novel. I think some are delightfully quotable, but I’m obviously a little biased!
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
Wendy: I think they’ll be talking about the world. Huginn is just such an awesome place. You’d have to be crazy not to want to visit it.
DJ: Did you have a particular goal when you began writing the An Oath of Dogs? Was there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?
Wendy: I think one big theme that plays out is the power of belief. Standish believes she’s damaged goods that no one could possibly care about, and that makes her lead a pretty lonely life until Hattie (and a few special humans) teach her otherwise. People on Huginn believe everything on the planet is creepy and alien, and so they shut themselves off from it, letting themselves be scared instead of enchanted. It’s a theme that comes back again and again in different shapes and forms.
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from An Oath of Dogs that you can share with us?
Wendy: Well, I really like this one, but then again, I was a philosophy major in college:
“Languages in all their infinite variety are rooted in our bodies and our societies, and those roots are like strictures. We are defined by them as we define with them; we are strangled by them as we close our fingers around their throats.”
DJ: Now that An Oath of Dogs is released, what is next for you?
Wendy: I’ve been working on a dark fantasy novel that I’m pretty excited about, but I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
Amazon Author Page: amazon.com/Wendy-Wagner/e/B0048X81ME
Author Newsletter: eepurl.com/cUECx9
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about An Oath of Dogs that we haven’t talked about yet?
Wendy: I just realized how much time characters spend talking about food! The book is full of delicious cookies, burgers, pastries, and beers. So if you’re a foodie who loves an action-packed thriller, I think this is the book for you.
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
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*** An Oath of Dogs is published by Angry Robot and is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
Amazon | Barnes & Nobel | Goodreads | Kobo
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Kate Standish has been on Huginn less than a week and she s already pretty sure her new company murdered her boss. But extractions corporations dominate the communities of the forest world, and few are willing to threaten their meal tickets to look too closely at corporate misbehaviour. The little town of mill workers and farmers is more worried about the threat of 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. When Standish connects a secret chemical test site to a nearly forgotten disaster in Huginn s history, she reveals a conspiracy that threatens Standish and everyone she s come to care about.
Wendy N. Wagner is a full-time science fiction and fantasy nerd. Her first two novels, Skinwalkers and Starspawn, are set in the world of the Pathfinder role-playing game, and she has written over thirty short stories about monsters, heroes, and unsettling stuff. An avid gamer and gardener, she lives in Portland, Oregon, with her very understanding family.