That was the question that started it all.
Back in January of 2010, I was very ill and knew I was going to be spending some hard time in bed and on the couch. I needed some type of artistic distraction besides writing to keep me sane, so I looked into finding cross-stitch patterns.
After doing some research, I found a bunch of really hip designs and finally decided on the Japanese designer Gera‘s scene from “Little Red Riding Hood.” (If you haven’t seen this woman’s patterns, you’ve got to check them out. Lots of fairy tale scenes.)
As I was stitching away, some questions pulsed through my brain: What if LRRH was a real person? Where would she have lived? And if she was real, wouldn’t that make an awesome YA premise?
I read Charles Perrault’s version of LRRH and was shocked to find that his original tale was much darker than the common story we’ve all grown up with. Told as a cautionary tale warning young women of men’s wolfish sexual appetites, this early telling of LRRH was very moralistic and resulted in a tragic ending for the heroine: the wolf “devours” her.
I knew I wanted to make my story dark like Perrault’s version, while also throwing in some of the Grimms’ elements, but I thought the novel would be more interesting if the wolf in the fairy tale was a werewolf. Lo and behold as I was reading all the different versions of the tale I found a French version entitled “The Grandmother” where the wolf was in fact a bzou (werewolf).
After a little more digging, I got lucky. Nearly 60 years after Perrault penned his version of LRRH (1697), one of the most famous alleged werewolf attacks happened in the south of France.
The Beast of Gévaudan killed almost one hundred people from 1764-1767 in the Gévaudan province (now the department of Lozère and part of the Haute-Loire department). This was the perfect setting! Additionally, the region is criss-crossed by the Margeride Mountains. I always loved that “Dracula” took place in the Carpathian Mountains. So now I too would have a monster among misty plateaus.
Here are some pictures from around the area. (Can’t wait to plan a trip to all these places!)
Carcassonne is one of the nearby towns in “Scarlette” and coincidentally also was one of the locations where “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” was filmed.
Furthermore, it’s no secret that I’m an old school Gothic lit junkie and really wanted to bring the Gothic elements alive in “Scarlette.” So it was with pure joy that I discovered another fact while researching. Horace Walpole is considered the father of the Gothic novel. His Gothic book “The Castle of Otranto” was printed the same year that The Beast of Gévaudan attacks first occurred (1764).
If that wasn’t exciting enough, I also found out that Walpole did in fact know of the Beast. He commented that it was the French equivalent of London’s Cock Lane ghost, which was a haunting involving a suspected poisoning in 1762. Walpole stated, “…compare the two cases and then tell me that we live in an enlightened century.” In 1765 Walpole actually saw the stuffed remains of the first wolf thought to have been the Beast at Versailles. However, the Gévaudan province was in for a terrible surprise when more victims began to turn up all over the countryside during subsequent months.
I had almost everything I needed except a clear idea as to what French peasant life was like during the 18th century. So then came an onslaught of interlibrary loans from all across the country:
And there you have it. Idea from start to finish!
If you are writing a story, I’d love to hear your start to finish journey. Please email me if you’d like to be featured on my site.