Welcome to my interview with author Jessica Vitalis, where we chat about her debut middle grade fantasy THE WOLF’S CURSE.
In what Booklist calls a “striking debut,” Vitalis’ novel is a vivid, literary tale focusing on family, friendship, belonging, and grief, wrapped up in the compelling narration of the sly, crafty Wolf. Fans of award-winning titles like “The Girl Who Drank the Moon” and “A Wish in the Dark” are sure to be captivated by “The Wolf’s Curse.”
One intriguing side note about Jessica before we begin. Jessica’s journey to publication is an inspiration to readers, to writers, and to anyone working towards reaching a goal. This is taken directly from her press release: “After 13 years writing, debut author Jessica Vitalis lands six-figure, two-book deal.” 👏👏👏
THE WOLF’S CURSE by Jessica Vitalis
The Wolf is not bound by the same rules as you are.
The Great White Wolf is very, very old. And she is very, very tired. For hundreds of winters, she has searched for someone to take her place. But she is invisible to most people. In all those years, only three have seen her. One died young. One said no. One is still alive — a 12-year-old boy named Gauge. Everyone in the village thinks Gauge is a witch. He’s been in hiding half his life, all because he once saw the Wolf — and right after that, the Lord Mayor’s wife died. Now his only protector, his beloved grandpapá, is dead, too. The Wolf visits the boy again, this time with an offer. She can save him the pain of growing up. Now that he’s all alone in the world, it may be the only way to escape the bounty on his head. If only his grandpapá’s last words hadn’t been, “Stay away from the Wolf.”
“Thoughtful, creative, and engaging. … Accessible and intriguing worldbuilding, particularly around the Wolf’s backstory, will pique readers’ interests, as will larger questions about life, death, truth, and tradition.” — Kirkus Reviews
“A lyrical tale of loss and survival, tradition and belief, in which tension and secrets build like a towering wave. The Wolf’s Curse is a story of many layers. Young readers will treasure this beautiful debut and hold it close to their hearts.” — Diane Magras, author of “The Mad Wolf’s Daughter”
Hi Jessica! It’s wonderful to have you drop by. I have to tell you that I’m so excited for this book! Care to give our readers a quick peek inside THE WOLF’S CURSE? Maybe five words to give us an inside view?
Macabre, sweet Grim Reaper retelling
The boy Gauge’s beginnings surely tug at the heart. If you would, share a thought or two from his heart with our readers.
Hello, readers––I’m a boy of twelve winters who would like nothing more than to invite you into the living quarters behind my grandpapá’s shop; there, we can sit by his feet in front of the fire as he whittles and tells stories of his travels far and wide.
Oh wow! Now that sounds intriguing and peaceful, yet adventurous.
Tell us. What about Gauge makes him unique and relatable to young readers?
I think part of Gauge’s appeal is that, despite his young age, he already possesses an impressive skill set in terms of his carpentry and whittling. At the same time, he’s relatable because he’s uncertain about the world and his place in it; young readers will recognize his longing to live up to his grandpapá’s expectations and make the old man proud.
What do you hope young readers of Gauge’s story take with them about death and the process of grief?
Childhood can be a frustrating time; kids want to have agency but sometimes feel trapped or like they don’t have a say in their own lives. This is especially true of kids living with or experiencing trauma; without the foresight that age and maturity brings, it can feel like things will never change. My hope they’ll walk away from this story with the sense that no matter how bad things feel, there’s always room for hope and healing.
A very important take-away.💚
Portraying the Grim Reaper as a Great White Wolf is clever. 🐺 Share how you capitalized on the darkness of a reaper contrasting with the ‘lightness’ of a white wolf to create such a wonderful character.
I’m glad she resonated with you! When I started writing the story, I didn’t have any sense of what kind of character she might turn out to be, so I was delighted when she revealed herself as something other than pure evil. That said, I knew before I started writing that she wouldn’t want to be doing her job––giving her a tangible and relatable personal goal helped create a nuanced and compelling character rather than a stereotypical Reaper. As to her coloring, I was troubled by the trope that Reapers are typically represented by black—this drove me to create a Great White Wolf, which doesn’t actually exist in nature (the closest thing is the Artic wolf, which are sometimes referred to as white wolves).
Interesting fact about wolves.🔍
If the Great White Wolf had a life (or death) quote, what would it be?
Follow your heart. It’s as true as any compass out there.
Which character from the book do you see yourself in most?
I’m 1/3 the Wolf’s snark, 1/3 Gauge’s sweetness, and 1/3 Roux’s practicality!
You share in your press release how writing the Wolf as an omniscient narrator kind of just happened, evolved as you wrote and edited. How different was it writing in this POV for you? What pitfalls should writers who would like to try it for themselves look out for?
I was having so much fun writing that I didn’t worry about the POV as I drafted; it wasn’t until the revision process that I realized how big of a risk I’d taken. Writing an omniscient, first person, present tense narrator presented some unique challenges in that I needed an explanation for how and why the Wolf knew what was going on when she wasn’t around. The biggest challenge in writing an omniscient voice (especially one that often dips into close third) is to avoid head-hopping; that is, to only switch when you have a compelling reason and to clearly signal when you’re switching characters (usually by using their name at the beginning of the transition).
Writers go from one idea to another, gathering them until they eventually take shape into a story. But there’s usually material that doesn’t make it into the final cut. Would you share one thing about the story that didn’t make it into the book, but the readers might find intriguing?
I threw out the entire first draft of this book—other than a Wolf, a boy, and a girl, the second draft shared almost no similarities with the first. In fact, Gauge was named Kipling and Roux was named Nyx, and instead of living in Gatineau, they lived in a non-descript country called Bantym. (Early readers said these names didn’t fit with the French-inspired feel of the rest of the story, hence the changes.)
For our reading educators: what advice could you share for encouraging reluctant readers? For our reading writers: what writing or life advice has been the most valuable to you?
Educators already do such tremendous work, I’m not sure they need my advice. But if I had one thing to share, it would be to examine any preconceived notions of what reading might look like—picture books, comics, and graphic novels are all great as long as they foster a love of stories. For the writers out there, the advice that has been most valuable on my journey came from Chris Grabenstein, who reminded me that our first job is to entertain readers––if they aren’t engaged in the story, they won’t stick around.
Thank you for having me!
Oh gosh, you’re welcome. But honestly, thanks goes to you for sharing this beautiful story with the world. It’s been such a pleasure chatting with you, Jessica! Much congratulations to you!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
JESSICA VITALIS is a Columbia MBA-wielding writer. After leaving home at 16, Vitalis explored several careers before turning her talents to middle grade literature. She brings her experience growing up in a non-traditional childhood to her stories, exploring themes such as death and grief, domestic violence, and socio-economic disparities. With a mission to write entertaining and thought-provoking literature, she often includes magic and fantastical settings. As an active volunteer in the kidlit community, she’s also passionate about using her privilege to lift up other voices. In addition to volunteering with We Need Diverse Books and Pitch Wars, she founded Magic in the Middle, a series of free monthly recorded book talks, to help educators introduce young readers to new stories. She was recently named a 2021 Canada Council of the Arts Grant Recipient. An American expat, she now lives in Canada with her husband and two precocious daughters. She loves traveling, sailing and scuba diving, but when she’s at home, she can usually be found reading a book or changing the batteries in her heated socks. WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | TWITTER | INSTAGRAM | YouTube: MAGIC IN THE MIDDLE
Enter to WIN one of five swag packs for THE WOLF’S CURSE! (US Only.) Ends October 4th. Winner announced via Twitter.
Packs contain: 1 bookmark, 1 postcard, 1 glass bottle w/printed letter from the author, 1 lollipop, & 1 feather