After finishing The Wolf’s Curse I was excited to have the chance to interview Jessica Vitalis. I love supporting debut authors and The Wolf’s Curse was a fabulous story about belief and truth. Keep reading to see this interview and the summary!
Summary of The Wolf’s Curse
Twelve-year-old Gauge’s life has been cursed since the day he witnessed a Great White Wolf steal his grandpapá’s soul, preventing it from reaching the Sea-in-the-Sky and sailing into eternity. When the superstitious residents of Bouge-by-the-Sea accuse the boy of crying wolf, he joins forces with another orphan to prove his innocence. They navigate their shared grief in a journey that ultimately reveals life-changing truths about the wolf––and death.
I loved the footnotes, were these always in your drafts of THE WOLF’S CURSE?
I love them, too! They were always a part of the story; in fact, until right before my agent sent the manuscript out on submission, about half of what are now parentheticals were also footnotes. My original idea was that anything that wasn’t absolutely needed to understand the story would be in the footnotes, but my agent felt that the content of many of the footnotes was important, and we both worried that many readers would skip them. In trying to solve the problem, I decided to move most of the footnotes up to the body of the text and relegate the remaining footnotes to pronunciation guides.
One of the things I loved the most about THE WOLF’S CURSE was this line between belief and truth. With themes like this that resonated with me, I always wonder if it’s a conscious choice for writers to say, “okay I want to explore X”. Was this how it was with you and this story?
No! In the beginning, my intent was to write a fun adventure in which death tried to trick someone into taking her job. It wasn’t until after a beta reader pointed out that I couldn’t write a story with a Grim Reaper as the narrator without tackling death and grief that I started to think about the deeper themes in the story. One of the things that struck me in pondering death (and I think it holds true about most things in life) is that we tend to fear the unknown. While I was writing the second draft, I worked to convey the sense that despite the many different beliefs that exist about the afterlife, it isn’t something that has to be feared. The exploration of the “truth” behind the grief traditions and rituals in the story was something that grew organically as the plot developed.
Did any of the side characters change drastically throughout the drafting process?
I wrote the initial draft of this story in about a month; I ended up throwing that entire draft (and all of the characters except the wolf) out and writing an entirely new story. The only side character who went through much of a change after that second draft was the Steward. Mistress Charbonneaux, who is tasked with releasing souls, was originally a more stereotypical character who was plotting to marry Lord Mayor Vulpine to secure her future; I’m much happier with her planning (dare I say plotting?) for more independence!
What was your inspiration for the magic system in THE WOLF’S CURSE?
After I threw out that initial draft, I studied death traditions and rituals around the world; while I didn’t include any of this in the story, the research opened my eyes to the fact that there isn’t any one “right” way to manage death and grief. With this understanding, I decided to dive into the setting to develop a unique magical system. Since the story was set in a fishing village in a French-inspired, medieval/renaissance-like era, I tried to imagine what views a fishing culture might have had about death and grief and came up with a magical system in which the villagers believe that stars are lanterns lit by their loved ones after they travel to the sea-in-the-sky to sail into eternity. Of course this had to be reconciled with the wolf and her magical system, which is what led to the exploration of the beliefs and truths you asked about above.
The choice of narration immediately hooked me, did you ever think of writing THE WOLF’S CURSE from any other POV/narration style?
The inspiration for this story came from The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, which is a lovely and heartbreaking story about a young girl sent to live with a foster family in Nazi Germany. The real brilliance in the book comes from the fact that death is telling the story as an omniscient narrator. I was scanning my bookshelves one day, searching for inspiration, when my gaze landed on my worn copy. I remember thinking about how much fun it would be to write a story with death as a narrator and wondering how I would pull it off; since the Reaper was the spark for the story, I never considered any other POV, although I did (briefly) consider making her (yes, her!) a crow. Although this might have been interesting due to their intelligence, it seemed too easy to give my Reaper wings—that’s when the idea of a wolf hit me, and as soon as I sat down to capture her voice, she took over the story and never let go.
What are some more of your favorite middle grade stories?
It’s forever changing, but some of my recent favorites have been The Many Meanings of Meilan by Andrea Wang, Starfish by Lisa Fipps, and A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus. I also love Whichwood by Tahereh Mafi and anything written by Shannon Hale.