Welcome to Cantastic Authorpalooza, featuring posts by and about great Canadian children’s book creators! Today’s guest: Jessica Vitalis. Take it away, Jessica!
I never meant to write about a story about death; not in the traditional “I’ve lost everybody I love” or the “I’m about to lose someone I really love” sense. After writing several dark and relatively painful manuscripts, I was ready for something new––something light. So when I saw a worn copy of Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief on my shelf and wondered what kind of middle grade story I would write with Death as the narrator, I figured I’d try to create something fun and possibly even humorous. I set out to write a plot-driven story about Death trying to trick a twelve-year-old kid into taking her job. And that’s exactly what I produced—a narrative about a kid who, for reasons I no longer remember, left home and, after a series of misfortunes, ended up on the receiving end of a job proposal from Death. I shared my manuscript with a trusted beta reader, who gave me feedback I wasn’t expecting: my story wasn’t about Death-the-character. It was (or needed to be) about actual death. (*cue dark, ominous music*)
My beta reader was right––what was the point of including Death in my story if I wasn’t going to write about grief and loss and all the things that give death power and meaning? But writing about grief and loss was something entirely different than writing what I’d expected to be a humorous adventure. I knew right away that if I was going to tackle the subject for middle grade readers, I had to do it honestly and without shielding them––I’m a big believer that books can and should be a safe place for children to experience life’s many struggles.
But there were already so many wonderful contemporary, realistic stories where children lose their loved ones––The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise, The Line Tender, and Glitter Gets Everywhere, to name a few––I wanted to do something different. Something that was both honest and fun. Something that still included Death-the-character. And so The Wolf’s Curse was born. Although the story opens with an actual death, it wasn’t until I finished writing a (brand new) first draft that I realized that my story isn’t about death at all––sure, a Death-like character is still the narrator and the story is filled with more than its fair share of grief. But kids don’t need an entire book about that––what they really need, and what I hope they’ll find on the pages of my book––is a story about friendship and resilience. A story about how to keep going when the odds are against you, when it doesn’t feel like there’s anything left worth fighting for. A story about finding family when yours has been taken away. A story that examines death with a realistic but snarky and sometimes even humorous lens––a story that will give readers the space to grapple with issues of mortality and loss while being immersed in a fantastical adventure. A story that will fill them with hope.
I may not have set out to write a book about death, but it turned out that I needed to do exactly that in order to write a story about all the things that are really important in life. As for writing something light––well, there’s always my next book (but don’t hold your breath).
To learn more about Jessica and her books, visit her website or follow her on social media: