Most authors have some sense of who their audience will be when they write a novel, and I certainly did with The Mad Wolf’s Daughter: I wrote it for me, for my son, and for middle graders who wanted a fast-paced adventure to make them almost miss the bus in the morning.
The Mad Wolf’s Daughter is the book of my heart. It stars Drest, a scrappy 12-year-old girl who takes swordplay, cliff-climbing, and swimming through dangerous seas as her daily exercise. When her warm and loving family—a notoriously brutal father and five vicious brothers—are captured by enemy knights and shipped off to a castle to meet their doom, she goes after them, hauling along a young injured knight as guide and hostage. On her journey, she follows her family’s war-band codes of honor, but also develops her own codes. Oh, and she rescues pretty much everyone she runs across.
Let’s start with why I wrote this book for me.
When I was a kid, I devoured fantasy adventures: The Dark is Rising, The Sword of Shannara, The Hobbit. I loved movies that took place in ancient times: costume dramas with swords. Those stories—of quests and adventures, with witty sidekicks or wise mages—were the backdrop to my quiet life in a rural town.
I needed adventure, but I also could have used a girl leading it all—just once, please. And could she also not be the oh-so-obvious hero, but perhaps someone on the other side of the good/evil divide? I always asked myself: What if these books I loved were told from the villain’s perspective? Who would be the villain then?
So this book is, in one sense, an answer to my middle grade self: a bold medieval adventure, a historically accurate costume drama, with a somewhat villainous girl leading the show, and yes, she has quite the sword.
I also wrote this for my son. He’s eleven now, but was nine when I first began this novel. He’s always devoured books, as much as I ever did. He and I agree that there should not be “boy books” and “girl books” but just books, and that it’s important for boys to read stories with girls as protagonists. Lucky for him, there are quite a few great middle grade novels out these days that feature strong girls.
But the fast-paced classic adventures still lacked the girl who was just as strong as any boy as a matter of course. And a girl not interested in the kinds of things that many girls in such books care about. He’d read about princesses, as well as tales of awkward bookish girls, sporty girls, and nerdy girls. I wanted to share with him a new kind of girl: one whose gender was simply part of her without defining her. All within a wild adventure novel (Drest’s story is one reason that we struggle with bedtimes in our house; what kind of author parent would I be if I told him that it was time to stop reading my novel and go to bed?)
Which brings me to my third audience: middle grade readers keen on a good adventure novel. But also a question: How many of those readers—boys as well as girls—have felt alone? How many of them feel they don’t fit in? How many have spent great chunks of their lives being cautious about being themselves?
For those middle grade readers especially, I wrote a girl who was utterly unafraid to be what she wanted to be. I want those readers to think of how Drest—if she could—would step out of these pages, sling her arm around their shoulders, and offer to walk with them on their ways. How her eyes would narrow and her hand slip to the grip of her sword if she ever heard them insulted. I hope those readers look at Drest, enjoy her journey and her struggles, but also remember this: You’re important. You matter. Everyone does. Even if you’re different. Especially if you’re different. (Twelve-year-old me needed to hear that.)
“Shuttle your courage back and forth with someone you trust” is the first of the war-band’s codes. I hope that all my readers take that to heart, and, if they need someone to trust, that this book will serve that role for them.
Diane Magras grew up on Mount Desert Island in Maine surrounded by woods, cliffs, and the sea. She works for the Maine Humanities Council, volunteers at her son’s school library, and is addicted to tea, toast, castles, legends, and most things medieval. Diane lives with her husband and son and thinks often of Scotland, where her books take place. The Mad Wolf’s Daughter is her debut novel. You can find her at www.dianemagras.com and on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Goodreads.