From now until Mother's Day, A Love So True is joining forces with Kensington Publishing to bring you original content from your favorite Kensington authors! Today, we're thrilled to share this essay from Honey Badger Chronicles author Shelly Laurenston. Read about her inspirations for In a Badger Way below—then enter our Relaxing Reader giveaway to take home her new book for yourself!
There are two layers to how I came up with the sisters for my Honey Badger Chronicles. The first, of course, dates back to 2011 or so. I was beginning to work on the next book in my Pride series about the love of a wolf shifter and a jackal shifter. I was struggling a bit with this book, I remember. I had already written seven other Pride books, three Magnus Pack books, and a few shifter novellas.
The more I researched, the more I fell in love with such a vicious, mean-spirited, take-no-s^&@ animal.
In retrospect, I needed a break but my schedule was full and I just kept working. But I knew I needed something to get me truly excited about the book. To get me to dig in and produce a book that I had fun with so that those reading it would have fun, too. That's when I discovered an awesome video about a creature I’d never heard of: The Honey Badger. I love to laugh so the narrator was what caught me initially because he was hilarious. Then, once I got past the laughing, I noticed what the narrator was actually telling me about this animal. You see, I love researching stuff I have an interest in (which is great for a fiction writer but not so great when you’re just trying to get through high school and college and you have no control over what a professor/teacher asks you for).
Sometimes I have an interest based on seeing the animals in books and movies all my life, like wolves and lions. In fact, when I wrote my first Magnus Pack book, I didn’t need as much research because I’d been reading about wolves for ages. I clearly remember my brother seeing one of my books on a table but the title was a bit cut off. That title was Of Wolves and Men, but my brother saw “Of Wolves and Me” and his question then became, “Dear God, what are you reading now?” When I moved the book and showed him the entire title, he let out a relieved sigh…I was afraid to ask why. Anyway, Pack Challenge was based on what I already knew from my general interest, which was great for a short book that I, initially, wrote for fun. But as I continued writing, I had to expand that research. Not only into the animals I already knew in a general sense, but animals I’d never thought about one way or another.
So I saw that video and thought, “Huh…that’s an interesting animal. Too bad it’s so small. It would be a fun character in a book.” But I write about big, human-killing animals. Grizzlies can weigh up to 1,000 pounds. Tigers are known man-eaters, especially when one’s back is turned. Hyenas remind me of a ‘70s biker gang from a Billy Jack movie; their calls to each other sound like the taunting of their victims. And the list goes on. I briefly thought about the cute, adorable, thieving foxes that had made their way into my books (especially when I found out they tend to follow polar bears around so they can feed off their leftover kills), but still…badgers were just too small. Right? I continued working on my current manuscript but I couldn’t get that damn honey badger out of my mind. Especially the biggest thing I discovered about the badger (other than that they NEVER give up): that after being poisoned by a snake, it didn’t die.
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I’m not big on writing about immortals. Even if my characters live for a thousand years, I still like for them to grow old and die. Being immortal, at least to me, sounds a little boring. If you can’t die, how do you appreciate life? But an animal that is simply hard to kill in general, isn’t immortal. It’s just hard to kill. I started researching beyond the initial video I saw and found that badgers really are hard to kill. They can be killed, of course, like any mortal being. But a lion trying to kill a badger has its work cut out for it. Not only does the badger not go down without a fight but its physical being is built to survive as long as it can. Even shooting one doesn’t guarantee a kill. And the more I researched, the more I fell in love with such a vicious, mean-spirited, take-no-s^&@ animal.
In a way, it reminded me of my first dog Maximillion Von Schell (aka Maxie). He, too, was mean-spirited, vicious, and took no s^&@. Some days I hated him for it because he made my life difficult (I had no intention of going to prison because of my dog), but other days, he amused me in ways I can’t even say. He was just such a snarly beast for a 50-pound dog. When I eventually brought Max to a friend’s house for a family dinner, I prepped the backyard and brought him through the house like I was bringing in Hannibal Lecter. But all one of my friends could say was, “I thought he’d be bigger. You know, from the way you described him.” And maybe it was remembering that conversation a few years later that brought me to the decision that as vicious as honey badgers were, despite their diminutive size, they could easily be a shifter character in my book. Not simply because they had defenses. Almost all animals have defenses. Even rabbits have big feet that can ward off a determined German Shepherd, as I learned from a friend’s story several decades ago. So it wasn’t the defenses of honey badgers that kept my interest, it was their “take no prisoners” attitude. They would do their best to destroy whatever came for them. They didn’t care about the risk to themselves or others and, if they had to, they’d kill “everybody in this place!”
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That, my friends, makes a character. So, I came up with Livy Kowalski, who may be tiny but is vicious. And I had such a great time introducing her in Wolf With Benefits and then giving Livy her own book with Bite Me. So, when it was time to return to my Pride world, I knew I wanted to write about honey badgers, but I needed a good foundation. Something that would keep my easily distracted interest.
That’s where the second layer comes in. Usually, when I get to the human part of my characters, I go into the vault in my head of made-up people I’ve always had there since I was an introverted, weirdo kid. I’ve always lived in my head despite my seemingly loud-mouthed personality (just because you’re not shy, I finally discovered, does not mean you’re not an introvert). But for the first time in, well, ever, I actually found the foundation for my characters right in front of me.
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My best friend is a dynamo woman who gets stuff done. She rescued me from the struggles of getting through my divorce, is a protective boss to her staff, and is not a human being you want to cross when it comes to her family and friends. She and her sisters are a tight group of lovely women who know how to throw a family event like you wouldn’t believe, especially where the food is concerned. Are they like honey badgers? No. Thankfully. But these law-abiding, charming ladies were there for me during bad times and, eventually, good times. They became my California Family, allowing their natural sisterhood to spread to those of us who need a little sisterly love. And it was this steel-like sisterhood that caught my attention when I was working on the proposal for the Honey Badger Chronicles. “Hey,” I asked my best friend over lunch one day before we were to go to a movie that either had copious amounts of action or violence or action and violence, “mind if I base the characters for my new series on you and your sisters?”
“Nope, don’t mind,” was the immediate reply I got. But, being me, I felt the need to clarify. “I mean, the characters won’t be you. You guys have never killed anyone, your mother has never gone to a Belgian prison because of a jewelry heist gone wrong, and none of you can shift into a tiny animal that can withstand the full dose of poison from a Black Mamba. At least that’s what I’ve come up with for the characters so far, but I do really love how close you guys are, so…ya know….yeah.”
Smirking and shaking her head (as she often does when I say something weird or randomly tell her about bear attacks), my friend replied, “Yeah. That’s fine.” Seriously, it’s nice to have friends who accept you despite how weird you must seem to them on any given day.
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Anyway, I took all the traits and quirks of the honey badgers and tossed them in a bowl, added the lovely sisterhood of my California Family, sprinkled in some of my dog Maxie’s rage-filled personality, added a few of my own mental health issues, mixed it well, and voila! You get Charlie, Max, and Stevie MacKilligan; the ladies of the Honey Badger Chronicles.
And I’ve gotta be honest…I’ve never been so proud.
Want more from Shelly Laurenston? Enter the Relaxing Reader Giveaway to win Hot and Badgered!