Earlier this year, Jonathan Thurston published his second book Where the Carnivores Meet. A departure from his first novel, the young adult Farmost I See Tonight, Thurston's latest novel is a story of strength, courage and determination. The young, out author is reading and signing books tomorrow at Barnes and Noble Vanderbilt.
Thurston describes his characters as "Diego is the straight, muscular best friend who is always dependable but certainly prone to fits of anger. Marsh is the gay twink who has major family issues and has an abusive boyfriend. When a Chicago gang targets Diego and Marsh gets involved, what are the two willing to do to save one another? When secrets come out, how willing are they to trust one another again?"
Oh yeah, Diego is a rabbit and Marsh a fox. Where the Carnivores Meet is an anthropomorphic novel. We chatted with Thurston about the role his furry identity plays in his novel, his take on the furry community and what's next in his writing queue.
So Where the Carnivores Meet is your second published novel, but your first anthropomorphic novel, correct?
Yes, last March, I published a teenage novel entitled Farmost Star I See Tonight, which was heavily wolf-related. However, the only truly anthropomorphic quality was the wolves’ ability to talk. In this way, it was less of a Wind in the Willows story and more of a Disney’s Fox and the Hound one.
The novel falls under a subset of fiction called furry fandom? Can you explain furry fandom to those who might not be familiar?
I do classify this book as “furry fiction.” That is to say that the characters are anthropomorphic, similar to Wind in the Willows or Brian Jacques’ Redwall series. They walk on two legs. They talk. They wear clothes and function as a society akin to humans. Some furry fiction can include human society and anthro-society. Some of it is transformative, e.g. anthro becoming human and vice versa. Carnivores is strictly anthro-society.
I have noticed that everyone has their own explanation for furry, so I will not pretend that I am the definitive resource. My own belief is that being furry is very much a fandom and a community. The media portrays furries to be sexual deviants, wearing fursuits while having intercourse. However, I know very few furries who actually even have fursuits. Also, I would say that there are as many furry fans having sex in fursuits as there are Star Trek fans (just naming another fandom) having sex in Captain Kirk costumes. Yes, the fetish exists, but it is not the defining characteristic.
Being furry is often hanging out with people over a cup of coffee. You all respect your animal side and may correlate your personality with an animal (not by any means to say that you believe you actually are an animal). Most have an appreciation for anthropomorphic art and literature. It is a fandom and a community all at once.
I realize that this may require a further explanation about yourself and your experience with being a furry- would you share that story?
I came out as both a gay man and a furry last year shortly after the publication of my first book. I had actually been doing literary research on the furry fandom for a few weeks and decided to stop by one of their coffee meet-ups. To be honest, I had been fully surprised. No one was in a fursuit. I saw no one wearing tails. They were perfectly normal people. It was just a group of people that liked talking about animals. I met my first boyfriend there and decided to stick around with the group. After a while, I just decided I must be furry too. It’s the people I’ve fallen in love with.
I’m afraid that the misconception that many readers may have is that this is all about sex—the novel and the furry community, that is. And I think you try to tackle that in the beginning pages with Diego’s declaration that he is not a ‘lustful rabbit.’ Can you help dispel those misconceptions? Perhaps by offering a relatable introduction to the world of furries?
While I definitely tackled the issue of sex in the furry fandom above, I can definitely work to dispel it about my book. There are definitely sex scenes in this novel. It is what I classify as a gay “adventurotica.” I have a twofold belief: 1. Sex does not make a good book. 2. A good book can have sex and use it well. There is definitely more to these characters than is first apparent. There is deceit. There is fear. There is pain. Sex in my novel functions as an embodiment of the emotional relationships the characters have. Diego’s statement that he is not a “lustful rabbit” shows that he is a bit of a hopeless romantic. He does not believe in acting solely on lust. He believes that there can be more to sex than lust… or maybe that’s just what he wants you to think.
I read on your blog about the variety of identities you assume in your life—Jonny to some, Howl to others—much like Marsh’s identities from Res to Marshall. Are some of your experiences woven into the character of Marsh?
Yes, many of my experiences tie in with many of the characters in this book. I certainly hope I never have the relationship that Marsh has with one of my side characters Blaze or the one Diego has with another character Gibi, but I can definitely relate to both Diego and Marsh in several ways and at several points in the novel.
And you penned this novel under Thurston Howl—your fursona?
Yes, my fursona is typically just Howl. However, you see, I do actual work with wolf dogs at a local sanctuary. My boss there once called me Thurston Howl, due to my last name being Thurston and my passion for learning about wolves. The name sort of stuck and resonated with me.
How about Diego? While he declares his heterosexuality numerous times in the opening of the book, I might have pegged his as a ‘gym bunny’ and thus the gay character based solely on the book’s cover. Was that intentional?
Diego is definitely one of my favorites out of the characters I’ve created over the years. He is strong. He is masculine. Yet, he is the one targeted in this book. One of the themes in this book is strength. What is it? Who has it? What defines weakness? I honestly never thought of the gym bunny correlation, but I still would not classify him as that. He works out to show off, but I think it is more to show off to himself than to impress any other guys.
You mention on your blog several publishing houses that deal with furry fandom but you took the self-publishing route in order to use your social connection, seeing that you are already a part of that community. How has that been working out for you?
I am still early in the marketing of this novel. While my sales are certainly not where I want them to be, I do not honestly think that any of the furry publishing houses could have done a better job at this point.
We often assign human characteristics to animals and in terms of your characters I already think Diego is a quick and nimble fellow and Marsh is quite sly and possibly deceiving based upon being a rabbit and a fox. As an author, do you hope readers bring those thoughts to the table when approaching your novel or are they completely irrelevant?
I certainly do think people will be cautious around Marsh. Any child will tell you of the fox’s wiles. Diego is indeed a rabbit, but I definitely replaced his speed and agility with strength and determination. That is not to say that he does not have moments of swift reflexes in the book however. I work with what I assume most readers will already know about the animals and go from there.
Anthropomorphism is prevalent in Japanese culture and I saw you spent last summer there. How was that experience in terms of your personal life and in terms of your growth as an artist?
Going to Japan has been a dream of mine since I was a kid. It was incredible to go there and finally immerse myself fully in that amazing culture. It opened my eyes a little to just how different two cultures can be, and it inspired me to travel a lot more. I actually planned out Carnivores while I was in Tokyo and Kyoto, but the natural ambience that pervades most of the culture in Japan really took my breath away and has its place even in this novel.
Are you planning further tales with Diego and Marsh?
I left Diego and Marsh at an interesting point by the end of this novel. I would certainly like to continue their story. However, I await fan reaction. I have already had numerous calls to write a sequel to my first novel, and I very well might do that. It is further down on the list of my writing projects, but it is definitely a possibility. I do hope that people enjoy Diego and Marsh enough to request me to pick up their story again though.
I see an upcoming work of nonfiction about the representation of wolves in literature—can you share any details about that or any other upcoming projects?
Yes, two years ago, I wrote a book I have tentatively called From the Big Bad Wolf to Jacob Black: Wolves in Literature. It definitely needs some intense editing along with updated material. A lot has happened in two years with Jodi Picoult’s Lone Wolf, Anne Rice’s werewolf books, and changes to wolf laws. Along with that, I have a draft of book that would focus on the correlations between animals in literature and love/lust. In case you cannot tell, I specialize in what is called totemic literature, the studies of animal literature. I have written two fantasy novels, part of a series, that I have not seriously tried publishing yet. I plan to do so after I publish my third book. I am presently working on a study of marine animals in literature as well. Title upcoming.
Can you share any additional details about the upcoming book signing and reading?
Certainly. I shall be doing a signing of both my books but a reading of just Carnivores. It will be at the Barnes and Noble at Vanderbilt, over on West End Ave. It takes place on Feb. 21 at 7:00 pm. I will be answering any questions that anyone has for me there as well, so please come by for a visit!