Revenge of the Rat Queen
I was recently asked in an interview if there’s any one thing my books have in common, and this was my answer: murderous rodents.
Not love. Not redemption. Not man’s eternal struggle for… whatever.
Just killer rats.
The funny thing is, I’m not a hater. I’m a cheerleader for the small and twitchy. When I was little, I loved animals, probably because most other kids found me annoying and strange. But my pets liked me well enough, even if it was just because I was the one holding the bag of alfalfa. I was a miniature Doctor Doolittle, with cats, a dog, a piano-playing rabbit, a well-trained parakeet, and a tank full of fish all named, oddly enough, after the rabbits of Watership Down.
But the strangest of all my pets, at least so far as everyone else was concerned, was my rat, Baby. She was an albino rat, the sort scientists use in labs and people use for snake food. She chose me when she was just a little peanut, running up my arm and perching on my shoulder. And, yes, her red eyes looked a lot like LifeSavers holes and her tail looked like a worm. But she was intelligent, clean, and affectionate. I even got permission to take her in to school when I had to give a speech. The topic was RATS, and my goal was to change everyone’s mind about the much-denounced vermin.
And yet rats captivate me to this day. The middle grade book that caught my agent (but didn’t sell) was about rats that were actually goblins. My next middle grade book (that also didn’t sell) included venomous silenodons. And my debut steampunk paranormal romance, Wicked as They Come, includes cat-sized, rust-colored, blood-thirsty rats that are a bigger threat than the vampires.
Of course, the real crowd favorites among my readers are the bludbunnies, which look just like normal, fluffy, adorable, innocent rabbits—right until they bite you. And eat you.
Then again, I’ve always loved the odd things, the slimy things, the supposedly unlovable things. From snakes to lizards to tarantulas to vampires, I feel a kinship with the outcasts. When I was little, I loved movies like Piranha and Ben and Troll and Night of the Lepus. And when I got to college and had to read about all the rapes and assaults that happened around campus, I didn’t get pepper spray—I got a red-tail boa constrictor and carried him around my neck to class.
So maybe that’s why I like to give my rats teeth: so they can bite back at a world that rejects them. Wicked as They Come is a love story and a steampunk adventure and trip down, I hope, an Alice-like rabbit hole. But it’s also a story about prejudice and the predator-prey relationship, about what would happen in a world where vampires were just people, and not necessarily the ones with power.
If you ever get mail from me, expect to find a rat on my stationary. I never want to forget that the world’s most hated pest was once my best friend and that giving Baby a taste for human blood helped me become an author.
Delilah S. Dawson is the author of Wicked as They Come, out now and the first in a three-book series from Pocket/Simon & Schuster. It’s a sort of steampunk gypsy vampire circus adventure romance with lots of murderous rodents.