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––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 grandpapá’s last words were, “Stay away from the Wolf.”
Narrated by the sly, crafty Wolf, Jessica Vitalis’s Jessica Vitalis’s debut is a gorgeous, voice-driven literary fantasy about family, fate, and long-held traditions. The Wolf’s Curse will engross readers of The Girl Who Drank the Moon and A Wish in the Dark.
About the Author
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. Her debut novel, THE WOLF’S CURSE, will be published fall 2021 by Greenwillow/HarperCollins with a second book to follow.
Interview by Erica George
Hello, Jessica! Let me start out by saying how excited I am to interview you about your debut middle grade fantasy, The Wolf’s Curse. I got to read an advance reader copy, and it was absolutely stunning. Can you tell us a little about the book?
Thank you; I really appreciate the kind words! The Wolf’s Curse is a twist on Grim Reaper mythology in which a seven hundred-year-old invisible Great White Wolf searches for someone to take her job. The only one who can see her is a twelve-year-old boy named Gauge, but he’s spent most of his life in hiding after being accused of witchery by the superstitious villagers. When he witnesses the Wolf steal his grandpapá’s soul, he joins forces with another orphan to avenge his grandpapá and clear his name. They end up on a life changing journey that reveals surprising truths about the wolf and about death.
Many authors discuss how stories begin for them with a character, or a setting, or even a song. What was the catalyst of this story for you?
I was standing in front of my bookshelves one day, searching for inspiration, when I saw a worn copy of Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. I knew right away that I wanted to try to write a book with Death as the narrator. The first question I asked myself was how Death would feel about being Death, and so The Wolf’s Curse was born!
The Wolf’s Curse deals with themes such as death and coming of age. What drew you to write about these topics for a middle grade audience?
I think so often as a society we want to cling to this ideal that childhood is a fun, innocent time free of the burdens of adulthood. Of course that has changed with a worldwide pandemic raging, but even before Covid kids had to deal with the reality of school shootings, poverty, drugs, domestic violence, etc. And even if they didn’t experience these things themselves, they saw it in classmates and in social media. So rather than try to “protect” our kids, I think it’s important to offer them safe spaces to process their trauma and build empathy. In writing The Wolf’s Curse, I wanted to offer young readers an entertaining story, but also a model for hope and healing.
The character of the Wolf is truly unique, really witty, and oftentimes heartbreaking. What can you tell us about this character?
I feel like the Wolf has always been inside me, just waiting to be discovered. When I sat down to do some voice work to try to figure out who was going to narrate my story, she appeared immediately in the form of the opening the book has to this day; as soon as she started talking, I knew immediately that this was her story. Very little about her voice has changed since then, but it did take some work to figure out her backstory––I knew there had to be a reason that she was so full of snark and desperate to find someone to take her job. I’ve written seven novels over the course of 14 years, and she remains the most fun character I’ve ever brought to life.
Describe for us what your perfect writing day would be like.
Every day I get to write is a perfect writing day for me! But there are all sorts of “dream” settings. I love writing in charming coffee shops with a cup of hot chocolate next to me while the snow falls, I love writing at the beach with my toes buried in the warm sand, and I love writing on porches high in the mountains. I’ll be traveling to Spain over the winter and can’t wait to do some writing at a window overlooking a bustling city street. In general, any day that starts with a run, walk, or yoga and then settling down with my laptop is about as good as it gets.
Can you tell the audience what’s next for you? Anything you’re working on?
I can’t say much about my next project yet other than that it’s set in a neighboring country with the same French-inspired feel as The Wolf’s Curse, but the characters and magic are totally different. It’s both a perfect complement to and the exact opposite of The Wolf’s Curse.
Where can readers find you online, and where can they grab a copy of The Wolf’s Curse?
Pick up a copy of THE WOLF'S CURSE at your favorite indie bookstore or at the following retailers:
Erica George is a writer of young adult fiction. She is a graduate of The College of New Jersey with degrees in both English and education, and is currently an MFA student at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She resides in scenic Hunterdon County, New Jersey, but spends her summers soaking up the salty sea air on Cape Cod.
Many themes in Erica’s writing rotate around environmental activism and helping young people find their voice. When she’s not writing, you can find her exploring, whale watching, or engrossed in quality British drama with her dog at her side. Words Composed of Sea and Sky is her debut young adult novel.