Crafting a Creature: Were-Alligators

I drafted my first treatment for a were-alligator novel in April of 2012. In March of 2016, a new idea came, this time for an alligator-shifter romance trilogy. I worked out the treatment in a rough sketch of the plot and characters, but also a few thousand words of scenes. Somewhere lost on my hard drive are the plots for books two and three. They aren’t the sort of thing I usually write (is alligator-shifter-romance/erotica-thriller even a category?), but they catch my eye from time to time.

When I headed to the Georgia aquarium looking for monsters for the next book in the Monster Beach series, the white skinned alligator reminded me of those stories. I’d love to introduce my alligator-shifters in that book – establishing them as a culture but giving myself more time. I need to find a reference for how alligator-shifters would work. I don’t want to create characters or start a new manuscript until I find a good myth to base the alligator culture on. I want a solid grounding with rules on how the alligators would work, like the way we all know werewolves shift on the full moon. Easy, right?

Except there are no alligator-shifters.

Not that I can find anyway. I’ve read a lot about sea monsters, swamp monsters, lake monsters, cyrptids, and urban legends, and I can’t find a single culture that has a monster that’s human by day and alligator by night/full moon/etc. There are a few modern paperback books out there, most of which make the were-alligators up as victims of a voodoo curse. With its connection to Louisiana, voodoo-magic seems like a logical choice, but it leaves the ‘how does that work?’ question unanswered. I’m not happy with that idea.

I’m also not comfortable appropriating culture. As an outsider to many cultures, I don’t know when a monster is actually a monster, or if they’re really a deity or guardian-style spirit. I don’t want to turn a sacred creature into something offensive. Taking traits from myths and legends is one thing, using only the name or a handful of characteristics sounds like the path to trouble to me. I’m not a superstitious person, but I was raised to be respectful of the Others.

A photo of Kappa illustration from the book Yokai Attack

The Kappa entry in Yokai Attack

Japanese Kappa
Kappa are one of the most popular Yokai (Japanese monsters/spirits/demons/ghosts). Turtle like with a long beak-style mouth (sounds like an alligator mouth to me), Kappa are known for challenging their victims to a wrestling match. Like an alligator’s famous ‘death roll’ Kappa drag their prey under the water, twisting and turning while they drown. Like selkies Kappa can remove their skin, and must do so in order to sleep. I can see a lot of fun writing coming from that, so while my favorite reference (Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide) shows me they don’t look like what I want, Kappa certainly act like. I’m not sure how I could justify a Japanese monster in the swamps of Florida though.

Bunyips
These Aboriginal-Australian  creatures first came to my attention in Temeraire series, where they are described as being somewhat dragon-like in appearance. A silhouette drawing supposedly dating back to the 1850s shows them as more of whale-like creature, except with the addition of two stubbing forearms (or maybe legs). A widely quoted newspaper article from 1845 describes the creatures as a half-horse, half-alligator, while another source says the head is more like a crocodile. Fascinating stuff, but there’s almost no trustworthy research out there, so until I can head to the Outback to track them down myself, I’ll have to pass.

Lizard men
More urban legend than monster, lizard men show up in modern culture the way Bigfoot does. The manlike cryptids have scaly skin and huge amounts of strength. They tend to live near swamps (I found a lot of stories set in South Carolina) and show up in the media as being responsible for damage to cars or houses. They look more like frog-men in Ohio, and reports from Canada are more like ‘the Creature from the Black Lagoon’ (Thetis Lake Monster) or have two tails (myths from the Queen Charlotte Islands). While I’m impressed that reptilian humanoids are still being reported, the stories are, once again, lacking.

None of them really work, so it’s up to me to create something new. My stories are set in South Florida, near the swamps inhabited by the Seminole Indians so I’ll use the Seminole language for their name: halputta-is-te (alligator people). I’m familiar with selkies and there’s a lot of source material about them, so I’ll likely take from those legends. There are also a lot of Kappa tales that overlap with selkie lore. That intersection will be where I ground my alligator-shifter stories as I start to write them.

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