In today’s Author Spotlight, Natalie C. Parker, author of the acclaimed young adult Seafire trilogy among other YA titles, chats with me about her MG debut, The Devouring Wolf. Hailed by Kirkus as “An easily devoured, chilling, and suspenseful adventure,” the fantasy novel is out now from Razorbill. Plus, scroll down for a chance to win one of THREE copies! 👇
It’s the eve of the first full moon of summer and 12-year-old Riley Callahan is ready to turn into a wolf. Nothing can ruin her mood: not her little brother Milo’s teasing, not Mama N’s smothering, and not even Mama C’s absence from their pack’s ceremony. But then the unthinkable happens—something that violates every rule of wolf magic—Riley and four other kids don’t shift.
Riley is left with questions that even the pack leaders don’t have answers to. And to make matters far worse, it appears something was awoken in the woods that same night.
The Devouring Wolf.
The elders tell the tale of the Devouring Wolf to scare young pups into obedience. It’s a terrifying campfire story for fledging wolves, an old legend of a giant creature who consumes the magic inside young werewolves. But to Riley, the Devouring Wolf is more than lore: it’s real and it’s after her and her friends.
MR: Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files, Natalie! Thanks for joining us today.
NCP: Hi Melissa! Thank you so much for having me.
MR: Anne Ursu describes The Devouring Wolf book as “A compulsively-readable, big-hearted story,” and I concur. Can you tell us what inspired you to write it? Also, what is it about werewolves that fascinates you?
NCP: Inspiration is always such a sprawling, semi untraceable thing. I feel like I could give you twenty different answers that are all true; I was inspired by mythology and queer families and the love I have for my home state of Kansas! But in this case, I have to say that the inspiration to shift from writing for young adults to writing for middle grade readers belongs to all my nieces and nephews. I wanted to write a story for them.
As for werewolves, I have adored many over the years, starting with Wolfman from the timeless classic, The Monster Squad. As I started thinking about what kind of story I wanted to tell for middle grade readers, I realized that the majority of werewolf stories I was familiar with seemed to focus on adults where the metaphor of shapeshifting was something about the animal inside. When I considered what the metaphor looked like if kids on the verge of puberty were the ones learning how to shift, things got really exciting and the story sort of unraveled from there.
Message to Readers
MR: The novel centers on a community of werewolves, yet Riley, the 12-year-old protagonist, experiences feelings that are universally relatable: the desire to belong; the need for friendship; the importance of family; the fear of the unknown… What was the message you wanted to convey to readers?
NCP: When I was Riley’s age, I was very concerned with what was happening to my body. I was also worried about falling behind my peers and I struggled when things turned out differently for me than they did for others. A lot of this was wrapped up with being a queer kid and not having the language for it. I poured all of those feelings into this story and into Riley’s experience in particular who struggles when she doesn’t shift in spite of having an incredibly supportive family and community. There’s no guidebook for what she and the other four kids are going through, not even the adults can explain it to them. It’s scary and hard and ultimately something that Riley and the others have to figure out for themselves, and that is something I hope readers take away from this story. That sometimes our experiences align and sometimes they don’t and there are many ways of belonging.
Interview with a Werewolf?
MR: While we’re on the subject of werewolves, what kind of research did you do for the book? I’m pretty sure you didn’t interview a werewolf. 🙂
NCP: I wish! But alas. At the time of writing this book, no werewolves were available for an interview. The majority of my research was actually historical, most of which will never show up on the page. But because I was crafting communities of werewolves (and witches!) who reside alongside everyone else, I needed to approach the book as something of an alternate history, of the country and more specifically of the state of Kansas. The werewolves in the book are based in my own hometown of Lawrence and while I know a lot about our recent history and present state, I wanted to make sure everything I set up about the werewolves felt like it could be true.
Diversity and Representation
MR: The characters in your book are diverse in terms of race, gender, and sexual orientation—something that’s desperately needed in children’s publishing. Notably, Riley has two moms, and her friend Kenver is nonbinary, using they/them pronouns. What do you think needs to happen to make diverse representation the norm rather than the exception?
NCP: I think we need books that tackle questions of identity politics head-on and we need books that reflect a diverse world without demanding that authors or readers explore their pain on the page. Along those lines, queer normativity is intensely important to me and my work, so while Riley has two moms and is starting to crush on another girl, those things are woven into the fabric of her life as “normal.” She may have a little anxiety about her crush, but she never questions whether or not she should have those feelings.
We also need to keep finding ways to support our gatekeepers who are currently fighting to keep diverse books in libraries and schools.
Writing for Middle Schoolers
MR: You’ve written novels and short stories for young adults, but The Devouring Wolf is your first foray into middle-grade fiction. What prompted you to write for this age group? Did you encounter any specific challenges while writing the book?
NCP: When I think about who I’ve been as a reader, I have never felt as transported or taken care of by books as I did when I was reading middle grade. Books were an adventure, but they were also a deeply important refuge. I have always wanted to write a book that does for someone else what Madeleine L’Engle and Susan Cooper and Lloyd Alexander did for me. But it was intimidating to think about. I knew I had to wait for the right story. The one that landed with so much clarity that I had no choice but to try. And that’s exactly what happened with The Devouring Wolf.
MR: As a follow-up, is it tricky to switch from YA to MG? From MG to YA…?
NCP: I actually find it refreshing. Both YA and MG require precision and clarity, but it’s different for each and I find the challenge of moving between the two rewarding and enlightening.
Built for Speed
MR: The book moves at a speedy, page-turning clip. What is your secret to writing fast-paced prose?
NCP: This is one of those things that I didn’t realize I was doing until people started to tell me. So, sadly, there is no secret, but I can say that I never start a chapter until I know what the emotional movement will be within it. Whether I’m building anticipation little by little, or tipping that over into a moment of major disappointment, each chapter puts something new in place. That way, no matter what is happening with the plot, there is a feeling of forward momentum. At least, that’s how I think I do it. Another answer could just be that I love coffee and drink copious amounts when I write.
Secret to World-Building
MR: Also, please tell us the secret to fantastical world-building—something you nailed in The Devouring Wolf. How do you create a setting that feels other-worldly and earthbound at the same time?
NCP: That description makes me very happy because that’s exactly what I was trying to do. I think this answer goes back to what I was saying about research. I wanted this world—the werewolves and witches and hunters—to land so close to ours that it felt possible. I wanted young readers to finish reading and imagine that the next patch of woods they passed was secretly hiding a community like Wax & Wayne. I wanted them to reach for a silver bracelet and wonder if it was a wolf cuff. I wanted them to look at the first full moon of summer and hold their breath to see if they could hear the call of First Wolf. I built every piece of the world on top of something that was already familiar from history to mythology so that the magic felt like it was within reach.
Natalie’s Writing Routine
MR: What does your writing routine look like, Natalie? Do you have any particular writing habits or rituals?
NCP: I am mostly a chaos person when it comes to writing rituals, by which I mean, I am envious of them, but have never managed to keep any for myself. I love the idea of writing rituals, but am ultimately too Sagittarius to make them stick. I’m also easily distracted, so one of the best things I’ve discovered are writing sprints. I find a buddy (and honestly, this only works for me if there is a buddy in the picture), then we agree on the starting time, the sprinting time, and the rest period and get to work. And who knows why, but it really works for me. There is something about setting the timer for twenty minutes and typing “GOOOO!” that engages the productive part of my brain and for that I’m grateful.
MR: What are you working on now? Enquiring Mixed-Up Files readers want to know…
NCP: I am hard at work on a follow-up to The Devouring Wolf along with my next YA project, both of which will come out next fall. We should be releasing titles and names of each very soon, so keep a look out!
MR: And finally, no MUF interview is complete without a lightning round, so…
Preferred writing snack?
Coffee or tea?
Werewolves or vampires?
How could you do this to me??? Okay, okay, okay. Werewolves.
Zombie apocalypse: Yea or nay?
I’m a Sagittarius and you cannot convince me I wouldn’t survive the zombie apocalypse so I say BRING IT ON.
Favorite place on earth?
If you were stranded on a desert island with only three things, what would they be?
A water purifier, a knife, and shovel. (And on the off chance you were looking for a less Sagittarian answer: an eReader, some SCUBA gear, and fuzzy blanket.)
MR: Thank you for chatting with us, Natalie—and congratulations on the recent publication of The Devouring Wolf. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I know MUF readers will too!
For a chance to win one of THREE copies of THE DEVOURING WOLF, comment on the blog–and, if you’re on Twitter, on the Mixed-Up Files Twitter account for an extra chance to win! (Giveaway ends on 9/18 at 12am EST.) U.S. only, please.
Natalie C. Parker is the author and editor of several books for young adults, including the acclaimed Seafire trilogy. Her work has been included on the NPR Best Books list, the Indie Next List, and the TAYSHAS Reading List, and in Junior Library Guild selections. Natalie grew up in a Navy family, finding home in coastal cities from Virginia to Japan. Now, she lives with her wife on the Kansas prairie. The Devouring Wolf is her debut MG novel. Learn more about Natalie on her website and follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. You may also subscribe to her newsletter here.