I’m so excited to be a part of the tour for A Wolf for a Spell by Karah Sutton that is being hosted by TBR and Beyond Tours! A Wolf for a Spell sounds absolutely amazing and I’m so excited to share my interview with the author!
The Girl Who Drank the Moon meets Pax in this fantastical tale of a wolf who forms an unlikely alliance with Baba Yaga to save the forest from a wicked tsar.
Since she was a pup, Zima has been taught to fear humans—especially witches—but when her family is threatened, she has no choice but to seek help from the witch Baba Yaga.
Baba Yaga never does magic for free, but it just so happens that she needs a wolf’s keen nose for a secret plan she’s brewing… Before Zima knows what’s happening, the witch has cast a switching spell and run off into the woods, while Zima is left behind in Baba Yaga’s hut—and Baba Yaga’s body!
Meanwhile, a young village girl named Nadya is also seeking the witch’s help, and when she meets Zima (in Baba Yaga’s form), they discover that they face a common enemy. With danger closing in, Zima must unite the wolves, the witches and the villagers against an evil that threatens them all.
Congratulations on the publication of A Wolf for a Spell! This year was very different for many authors, but especially for debut authors. How has publishing been compared to how you thought it would go?
The biggest hurdle for me personally has been forcing myself to push my book and get people’s attention when I know that there are so many other big things happening in the world. I try to remind myself that people are stressed and anxious, and that a cozy book might be a welcome comfort in a year like this one. Overall though, I’ve been amazed at how well people have come together to support debut authors this year, and moving everything digital has had some benefits, in that I’m now able to do a lot more events and panels and school visits than I would have been able to do before.
How would you describe A Wolf for a Spell in just one sentence?
A wolf in the Russian forest is cursed to trade places with the witch Baba Yaga, but they must work together to save their home from a wicked tsar.
What initially inspired A Wolf for a Spell?
It started with “what if the wolf was the hero of the fairytale?” I felt like it had the potential to combine animal fantasy with fairytale fantasy in a way I didn’t think I’d seen before in middle grade. Early drafts were inspired by the wolf from Little Red Riding Hood, and the characters were a lot more trope-aware. The main wolf knew that wolves were the villains in stories and wanted to avoid that path. That felt too much like something that had been done well already, so I tinkered with a lot of different approaches for about six months until I finally thought to combine this concept with my love for Russian fairytales. That was when things became much more interesting, because the Gray Wolf in Russian fairytales is quite morally gray, which gave me room to play with wolves in the world being both good and bad.
Your book is rooted in Russian folklore; did you always know you wanted to write a book that integrated this?
Looking back on it, I feel like retelling Russian fairytales was inevitable, but it took me a long time to realize that, as I mentioned. My first several book attempts were all contemporary fantasies, which is a style of writing that doesn’t come as naturally to me, I think. But books like The Tale of Despereuax by Kate DiCamillo and Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin reminded me of how much I’ve always loved fairytales, and from there I connected that with my love of Russian fairytales specifically.
A Wolf for a Spell is told from multiple perspectives. Did you find it at all challenging to balance them? Was one perspective easier to write from than the others?
Originally the entire book was written from Zima the wolf’s point of view. But because there are several moving plot threads, it became apparent that the story needed to show where other characters were at different times. I feel like this was the final big change that really tied the whole book together, because by digging into these different points of view I found a lot more depth and heart to the story. It became more about how each of these people are connected by the forest, and have to work together to protect it.
Do you have a favorite scene from A Wolf for a Spell?
I have scenes that are my favorite to read, and also scenes that were my favorites to write, where the process felt immersive and emotional. One that really fits both of those is at the very beginning of the book, when Zima sees a human in the forest and has to decide whether or not she should follow the rules of her pack, which require her to kill a human on sight. I remember my heart racing while writing that scene, like I didn’t know whether Zima was going to go through with it or not and I was discovering what would happen next as I wrote each word. I still get that feeling when I reread it too.
Did you always know how your book would end or was it a surprise?
The ending took me more rewrites than any other part of the book! I seem to struggle with endings. By the time I get to them, I’m always a bit exhausted from the process of writing the rest of the book, and I’m eager to finish so that I can start editing (which I prefer to drafting). So there were some drafts with really atrocious endings. Once I edited a lot more, and I understood the characters better, then the ending started to take shape.
If you could switch bodies with anyone, would you want to and if so, who would you ideally like to switch with?
I like the idea of being able to change into an animal, so long as I knew I’d be able to change back. I’d probably want to swap with some sort of bird, so I could experience flying.
If you could write a book based on or inspired by any fairy tale, which fairy tale would you love to write about?
If I’m fortunate enough to have the opportunity to write more books, I have a list of fairytales I’d like to explore. One is another Russian fairytale called “The Feather of Finist the Falcon”, about a prince who can turn into a falcon, and another is a Hans Christian Andersen story called “The Travelling Companion”. They’re both pretty perfect as is, though, so it’s hard to imagine how I could expand on them.
What’s next for you? Is there anything you can share?
I have a second book that I’m working on with Knopf Books for Young Readers. This one focuses on swans. You’ll have to guess which story it is!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Karah Sutton has loved Baba Yaga, ballet, and blini ever since she had to do a research project on her Russian heritage in the third grade. Her hunger for adventure inspired her to move from Kentucky to New Zealand, where it was rumored she would find talking trees and the occasional wood elf. Karah spent four years as a bookseller before she turned to writing her own fiction. A Wolf For a A Spell is her first novel.
What story do you think Karah is writing about next?