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Debut Author Interview: Jessica Vitalis and The Wolf’s Curse Giveaway

Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have debut author Jessica Vitalis here to share about her MG fantasy The Wolf’s Curse. It sounds like a fast-paced story with characters that will pull at your heartstring. I’m looking forward to reading it.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

"The path ahead isn't easy. It will be filled with darkness and despair, and you will almost certainly regret your decision, just as I regret mine."
~Narrator, 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. Narrated in a voice reminiscent of The Book Thief and Lemony Snicket, this fast-paced adventure is perfect for fans of literary fiction fantasy such as A Wish in the Dark and The Girl Who Drank the Moon. 


Hi Jessica! Thanks so much for joining us!

Thank you for having me!

1. Tell us about yourself and how you became a writer.

I’m a Columbia MBA turned children’s author; I particularly love upper middle grade fantasy and entertaining stories that are also thought-provoking, and I run a free program called Magic in the Middle that features monthly videos that educators and caregivers can use to introduce their readers to new stories. My journey to become a writer was long and twisty; I read a lot as a child and wrote an essay for a college textbook in university, but I didn’t start thinking seriously about writing a book until I was in business school and challenged to design my ideal career; the exercise helped me identify that writing was my true passion. It was still several years after that before I tried writing my first book, a memoir that will never see the light of day. At the same time, I had young children, and I was also writing picture books; every time I brought a new manuscript to the critique group I’d joined, they told me it read like the opening chapter in a middle grade novel. It’d been years (decades?) since I’d read middle grade, so I picked up Kit’s Wilderness by David Almond and immediately realized that I’d found my literary “home.”

2. That’s awesome how you found out how you were meant to be a middle grade writer. Where did you get the idea for The Wolf’s Curse?

I was standing in front of my bookshelves, searching for inspiration, when I picked up a copy of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Although I’d read it before, lightning struck at that moment, and I realized that I wanted to try writing a story with Death as the narrator. As I pondered what that might look like, I realized that I had to first understand how Death felt about her (yes, her!) job. I figured she probably wouldn’t like it much, and that she’d be trying to find someone to take her spot, and so The Wolf’s Curse was born!

3. Share about your world building process and how it made your story richer?

My very first draft of this story was set in a vaguely European, completely nondescript world. My first beta reader pointed out that the story was nicely written but lacked any real theme. When I realized that I was going to have to rewrite the story, I also realized that I needed to fully develop the world and understand their traditions and rituals surrounding death and grief.

Researching death rituals from around the world helped open my mind to the fact that there isn’t any one “right” way to approach this topic. Since I’d once spent a year in a fishing village in Germany and had recently returned from a trip to France, I decided to merge the two and create a French-inspired fishing village. I then used this location (and the early renaissance timeframe) to create a specific and unique mythology for my story; for example, as fishermen without access to science, the villagers naturally assume that stars are lanterns lit by their loved ones as they travel to the sea in the sky and sail into eternity. And rather than being buried in coffins, they bury their loved ones in boats along with feathers so that they can fly up to the sea in the sky. 

4. That’s awesome that you were willing to rewrite your story. You also decided to have the Wolf narrate the story, and the voice of your narrator has been described in your blurb as like The Book Thief and Lemony Snicket. Why did you decide on having the Wolf instead of Gauge narrate the story? What challenges did you face in creating her[JV1]  voice?

The Grim Reaper is typically a skeletal figure cloaked in black. I wanted to make my version of Death much less frightening­­––and more accessible––for middle grade readers, so I created a Great White Wolf (the only real white wolves are arctic wolves, which didn’t work for my setting). Since writing a story with Death as a narrator was the initial story spark, I started with her voice—she came to me so strongly from the beginning that I never seriously considered having anyone else tell the story. But writing with an omniscient voice is always a challenge, so I worked to make sure readers were connected to her and the other characters, and I also had to make sure that dipping into close 3rd person with Gauge didn’t feel like head hopping. Beyond that, the biggest challenge was not letting the Wolf’s snark (and parentheticals) run away with the story.

5. Many fantasies are either a two-book or three-book series. You decided to tell this story as a standalone. Why? Did you ever think of developing this as a series instead?

Writing one book is hard enough—writing an arc for three or more books? My brain just exploded! That’s not to say that I’ll never write a series, only that it’s not something I’ve spent much time exploring from a craft perspective. The Wolf’s Curse always felt like a stand-alone to me, but if the right idea ever came along …

6. I read that you had help from your “literary godmother” Erin Entrada[JV2]  Kelly in getting your two-book publishing contract. Share about how she helped you. What advice do you have for other writers looking for a published author to take them under their wings?

Erin and I were both mentors in Pitch Wars when I parted ways with my first agent; around that time, Erin put out a call out on the private mentor board, looking for works-in-progress to share with a class she was teaching; she offered to share their feedback and her own. Eager to make sure my pages were as polished as possible before querying, I sent them off to Erin. When she learned I was querying, she passed the story on to her agent, and the rest, as they say, is history!

In terms of mentorship, my personal experience is that the best way to cultivate relationships is by being an active participant in the literary community; my most treasured literary relationships have come organically from the contacts I’ve made volunteering and attending conferences. There are also a variety of incredible programs available (Pitch Wars, We Need Diverse Books, etc.) for more formal mentorship opportunities.

7. That’s so cool how Erin helped you. Your agent is Sara[JV3]  Crowe. How did she become your agent and what was your road to publication like?

I call Erin Entrada Kelly my literary godmother because Sara reached out to set up “the call” less than twenty-four hours after Erin sent her my story. That said, I’d written six books over the course of thirteen years by that point. After signing with Sara, we did a light round of revisions and went on submission; after years in the trenches, I expected months of waiting, but I received a two-book offer from Greenwillow/HarperCollins just three weeks later! The whole thing was particularly surreal because all of this occurred from mid-March to early May of 2020—just as the whole world had been turned upside down by the pandemic.


8. What a great road to publication story! You’ve also chosen to work with Books Forward to market your book. What made you choose to hire them to help you with book promotion and what has your experience been with them? What’s your advice to other debut authors about hiring them or another company to help them with the big job of marketing their book?

I’d heard that authors were expected to do much of their own publicity (not because publishers don’t care or aren’t working hard, but because they have limited resources and are being pulled in so many directions). Because the timeline for my two book deal was fairly tight, I didn’t feel that I would have the time to do my first book justice from a marketing perspective. I’d seen Books Forward work on other campaigns, and I was impressed with their professionalism.

My experience thus far has been positive. They are incredibly responsive and organized, and they have freed up my schedule to stay focused on writing and revising instead of pitching to media. My advice to others considering hiring a PR firm is to be clear about the size of your budget and to set clear expectations; do you need help developing a press kit and pitching to media? To influencers? Setting up author visits/events? Creating swag? A more comprehensive campaign? Setting realistic expectations is also important; a PR firm can pitch you, but they can’t force Oprah to invite you on her show! 

9. I saw on your website that you’ve done a podcast on street teem marketing and also talked about it at a MG book party in August. Why is having a street teem important to a marketing plan? How have you developed your own street team?

I don’t know if anybody really knows how much a street team might or might not contribute to the success of a book. My personal feeling is that I only have one chance to launch my first book, and I want to do everything I can to help it reach readers. Because I believe word of mouth is the most powerful sales tool authors have, I hope that inviting a team of passionate readers to advocate for my story in person and online helps. I recruited street team members by offering swag and a copy of my book in exchange for their participation.

10. You are a member of two debut groups, the 21ders and the Class of 2k21. How did these groups help you navigate your debut year?

The collective wisdom and support in these two groups has been invaluable! Debuting feels a bit like reinventing the wheel, and having groups that share experience and advice and cheer each other on has made the whole process so much easier. A debut group can also pool resources to make marketing and advertising opportunities more cost-effective.

11. What are you working on now?

I’m editing book two, which publishes in the fall of 2022 (the title hasn’t yet been revealed) and starting research on what I hope will become book three! 

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Jessica. You can find Jessica at www.jessicavitalis.com, on Twitter at @jessicavitalis, and on FB and IG at @jessicavauthor.

Giveaway Details

Jessica has generously offered a hardback of The Wolf’s Curse for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower of my blog (via the follower gadget, email, or bloglovin’ on the right sidebar) and leave a comment by October 9th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the contest. Please be sure I have your email address.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog and/or follow me on Twitter, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry for each. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. This giveaway is U.S. and Canada.

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is hosted by Greg Pattridge. You can find the participating blogs on his blog.

Upcoming Interviews and Giveaways

Tuesday, October 5th I’m participating in the Howloween Giveaway Hop

Wednesday, October 6th I have an interview with debut author Sacha Wunsch and a giveaway of her YA psychological mystery Lies My Memory Told Me and my IWSG Post

Monday, October 11th I have an agent spotlight interview with Kristin Ostby and a query critique giveaway

Wednesday, October 13th I’m hosting Angela Ackerman to celebrate the release of the Conflict Thesaurus

Saturday, October 16th I’m participating in the Cheeky Pumpkin Giveaway Hop

Monday, October 18th I’ve got an agent/author guest post by Melissa Nasson and Alex Perry and a query critique and MG contemporary Pighearted giveaway

Monday, October 25th I have an agent spotlight interview with Ginger Clark and a query critique giveaway

Hope to see you on Tuesday!




Melissa Miles said...

I'm so excited for a chance to win this book! It's looks amazing, and I'm so happy for Jessica. After all the years she's mentored and helped other writers, it's amazing to see her book out in the world!

Stephanie Owen said...

Congratulations on your book, Jessica! It sounds like something my students would really enjoy reading!

Randomly Reading said...

Great interview. I have this to read and I'm really looking forward to it.

Anita Yancey said...

It sounds like a very interesting story, and I really like the cover.

Tammy Waldrop said...

I marveled at the narrator in The Book Thief. Can't wait to read how Death tells the tale in Jessica's book!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

What a gorgeous cover! Congratulations to Jessica!

Danielle H. said...

This book is high on my TBR and sounds exciting, imaginative, and fun to read. The Book Thief is still one of my favorite books and I'm intrigued about how this author tells this story with a similar narrator. Thank you for the interview and chance to win a copy. I shared: https://yesreaderwriterpoetmusician.tumblr.com/post/663493150776672256/debut-author-interview-jessica-vitalis-and-the

Terry Nichols said...

Congrats, Jessica! Can't wait to read it.

Yolanda Renée said...

What an amazing premise! I love it, and the journey to the final product. I will have to pick this one up! Unless I win a copy. LOL Congratulations, Jessica!

mrsjrvit said...

Thank you Melissa!

mrsjrvit said...

Thank you--happy reading!

mrsjrvit said...

Thank you Elizabeth!

mrsjrvit said...

Thanks Terry!

mrsjrvit said...

Thank you Yolanda!

mrsjrvit said...

Thanks for the wonderful interview!

Liz Hanson said...

This book is at the top of my books to read list. I have heard so many positive comments and would love to own a copy. Congratulations on your publication! lizhansonbooks@gmail.com

Tyrean Martinson said...

Congratulations to Jennifer!
Great interview!

Biz said...

omgosh, so this is a second "Liz Hanson" ... actually a Liz Chestney-Hanson, but I saw the name above and thought, oh I've already registered. Like the Other Liz, this book is at the top of my list (because I am also neighbour, writing away in Elmira, ON, and I read your feature in the paper. I find your personal story so compelling, love middle grade fantasy, and think the idea of a female cast narrator, Death, is brilliant. Please put me down for the contest: elizabethchestney@gmail.com - also I'm curious.. what is a Street Team Meeting?

Computer Tutor said...

Nice to meet you, Jessica. I hadn't heard of Books Forward. Good overview of them!

Carl Scott said...

So looking forward to this book. Thanks for the chance to win a copy.
I've tweeted: https://twitter.com/carlrscott/status/1442543492585050117, and shared: https://www.pinterest.com.mx/pin/336573772160514590/.
I also follow on Twitter: crs(at)codedivasites(dot)com
Thanks again, have a great day everyone!!

Greg Pattridge said...

Love the cover. It should alone attract many readers—including myself. I enjoyed Jessica sharing her marketing plan for the book and the path to getting an agent. Best of luck with this one!

Fundy Blue said...

Jessica, your book sounds like a great read. I'm not sure if I've read a book with Death as the narrator. I love middle grade books, so I would enjoy winning a copy of this. Or buying one. Wishing you success, Jessica, and thanks Natalie for another great interview.

tetewa said...

Enjoyed the post and interview. Love the cover!

Patricia T. said...

Wow! What a compelling story. I loved hearing the research behind the story and your using death as the narrator! I look forward to reading your novel. Wishing you a great book tour and I hope you sell a lot of books!

SC Seaman said...

Thanks for another great interview and helpful insights! Sharing this on Twitter.

Liz A. said...

I really like books with Death as a narrator. I like that you've made this Death a her.

Natalie Aguirre said...

A street team is a group of bloggers who support the book by shouting out about it on social media, reading and posting reviews, and doing other things to support the author.

mrsjrvit said...

Thank you Stephanie!

mrsjrvit said...

Thanks Tammy!

mrsjrvit said...

Thanks Anita!

mrsjrvit said...

Thanks Danielle!

mrsjrvit said...

Thanks Liz!

mrsjrvit said...

Thanks Tyrean!

mrsjrvit said...

*waves hi*

mrsjrvit said...

Hi Jacqui! Books Forward has been great!

mrsjrvit said...

Thanks Carl!

mrsjrvit said...

Thanks Greg--I actually just saw the cover for book two today by the same illustrators and can't wait until I can share that one, too!

mrsjrvit said...

Thanks! (And does Fundy have anything to do with the Bay of Fundy in Canada? Just curious as I went tidal boar rafting there for the first time this summer!)

mrsjrvit said...

Thank you!

mrsjrvit said...

Thank you Patricia!

mrsjrvit said...

Thanks Liz!

Rosi said...

Interesting premise. It sounds like a book a lot of kids will like. Thanks for the interesting interview. I will pass on the giveaway. I am buried in books.

Sue said...

Great interview, thanks!

John Smith said...

This sounds like an exciting and imaginative fantasy!

jsmith[delete brackets]3may[delete brackets]2011

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Angie Quantrell said...

This sounds wonderful! Congratulations!

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