Kathie: Hi Jessica! It’s such a pleasure to have a chance to chat with you today about THE WOLF’S CURSE, your MG debut which will be published on September 21st by Greenwillow Books. Please tell our readers a bit about your story.
Jessica: Thank you for having me! The Wolf’s Curse features a Great White Wolf that is very old and very tired. For hundreds of years, she’s searched for someone to take her place. But in all that time, only three people have seen her. One died young. One said no. One is still alive—a twelve-year-old boy named Gauge.
Unfortunately, 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. Things go from bad to worse when the Wolf steals his grandpapá’s soul.
The Wolf visits the boy again, this time with an offer; she can save him the pain of growing up––if he’ll take her job. Now that he’s all alone in the world, it may be the only way to escape the bounty on his head. Too bad his beloved grandpapá’s last words were Stay away from the Wolf.
Kathie: I thought your use of the Wolf as the narrator was so clever and original. Can you tell me why you chose to write it from her perspective?
Jessica: I was standing in front of my bookshelves one day, seeking inspiration, when my gaze landed on The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I knew right away that I wanted to try writing a story with a death-like narrator, but I wanted to do it in a way that reimagined the Grim Reaper for middle grade readers. I knew that would mean making the narrator female, and I knew that she’d want to try to trick someone into taking her place, but I didn’t know that was going to mean making her a Wolf until I sat down and started writing. Right away, the Wolf’s snarky voice took over and there was no turning back!
Kathie: I really loved the protectiveness and loyalty that develop between Gauge and Roux despite knowing each other for a short amount of time. Why do you think Gauge is willing to jeopardize his own escape to help someone he hardly knows?
Jessica: Great question! Humans are inherently social animals, and when we endure traumatic events, those shared experiences can forge deep bonds almost instantaneously. Other than his grandpapá, Roux and her father are the only people who show Gauge the slightest kindness over several years. He has a big heart and he’d never turn his back on the one person who was there for him in his darkest hour. (Plus, there is the matter of his emerging crush; as adults, it can be hard for us to remember the intensity of those new feelings!)
Kathie: I was struck by the similar economic situations of Gauge and Roux, and yet how differently they were treated by the community because of fear. What were you trying to show young readers with this disparity?
Jessica: I think this aspect of the story is an exploration of issues from my own childhood. I moved nearly twenty-four times before fourth grade and lived in places ranging from apartments to campers to school buses to one-room cabins with no plumbing or electricity; by the time we (more or less) settled down in middle school, I was acutely aware of, and embarrassed by, the differences between my family and the students around me. My hope is that by highlighting the contrast between how the community treats Gauge and Roux, readers might start to examine how not being familiar with a particular aspect of someone’s identity might lead us to unconsciously fear them or assume that they are “bad.” And while the difference between Gauge and Roux in The Wolf’s Curse is supernatural/fantastical, in real life it can be all too easy to focus on how a member of our community may dress or look or talk differently (or any number of other differences); it’s only when we set these externalities aside that we can focus on our common humanity.
Kathie: This story felt like historical fiction to me with a touch of magic. I’m curious to know what genre you would classify it as?
Jessica: I’ve gone back and forth on how to best categorize this book many times! Although the story is set in an era that might loosely be described as late medieval or early renaissance, I worry about labeling it historical due to the many liberties I took with the world building. I tend to stick to calling it fantasy in my own mind, but I suspect historical fantasy might be a more useful label in terms of helping readers determine whether the story is of interest, and I agree that historical fiction with magic works, too!
Kathie: Is there one thing you’d like our readers to know about The Wolf’s Curse that you haven’t been asked by anyone yet?
Jessica: One of my favorite aspects of this story is how it depicts Lord Mayor Vulpine’s abuse of power. As the highest-ranking official in the village, it’s incumbent upon him to protect those in his charge; instead, he uses his position to enrich himself and to wield absolute control over the villagers. Oftentimes, kids (and adults) can feel helpless in the face of such abuses, and I hope that learning to recognize such behavior within the pages of a story will give young readers the tools, and confidence, to begin identifying and questioning unhealthy power dynamics in their own lives and in our society at large.
Kathie: Are you working on another writing project at the moment?
Jessica: Yes! My sophomore novel comes out in the fall of 2022; it’s a loose companion novel to The Wolf’s Curse in the sense that it’s set in the same general era but in a neighboring country with different magic. I absolutely love the premise, which is both the opposite of The Wolf’s Curse and a perfect complement, and I can’t wait until I can share more.
Kathie: Where can our readers go to find out more about you and your writing?
Jessica: Readers can learn more about me and my stories at www.jessicavitalis.com; I’d also love to connect on Twitter (@jessicavitalis) and IG/FB (@jessicavauthor).
Kathie: I’m so glad we had a chance to talk today, Jessica. Thanks a lot for sharing some insight on your story, and I look forward to seeing it in the hands of young readers.
Jessica: It’s been a pleasure! Thanks for having me––and for everything you do to support kidlit creators.
Jessica Vitalis is a Columbia MBA-wielding writer specializing in middle grade literature. 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 recording book talks for Magic in the Middle and changing the batteries in her heated socks. Her debut novel, The Wolf’s Curse, will be published September 21, 2021 by Greenwillow/HarperCollins with a second book to follow in the fall of 2022.