Karah Sutton is the author of A Wolf for a Spell, a middle-grade fantasy novel inspired by Russian fairy tales. We loved it for its complex characters, layered plot, and exquisite atmosphere. We were thrilled to interview her for this week's feature!
Rapunzel Reads: Who is your favorite character in A Wolf for a Spell, and why?
Karah Sutton: I am especially fond of Veter, the lone wolf. I love how expressive he is. How he's always optimistic even though he has experienced so much pain. He was a lot of fun to write.
RR: What books inspired you when you were growing up?
KS: Growing up I was an especially big fan of Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia Wrede, and The Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce. Even though I'm now an adult I still read a lot of books for young readers and I'm grateful to have found books that I didn't read growing up such as Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones and The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, both of which were major sources of inspiration for A Wolf for a Spell!
RR: The world of A Wolf for a Spell clearly echoes folklore, but also adds its own elements, with Zima’s forest feeling
Author photo credit: Tabitha Arthur Photography
KS: My favorite part of this world is undoubtedly the elements that were inspired by Russian fairytales. I love Baba Yaga's hut that runs around on chicken legs and the firebird in particular — these are things which are unique to Slavic fairytales and it was a pleasure to be able to write about them in A Wolf for a Spell! But of course, a book requires more description and detail than a short fairytale, so I often tried to add details from my research of real Russian forests, such as specific plants and mushrooms and trees. And there are other things from Russian fairytales such as the Waters of Life and the Waters of Death which are mentioned in the original stories only in passing but which I had to give more specific detail, which was where I had to be a bit more inventive. Besides the fairytale elements themselves I think my favorite thing to write was the effects of a blizzard which takes place in the story. It felt thrilling to write about howling winds and swirling snow.
RR: What advice do you have for young writers?
KS: There is a lot of advice out there about how best to write, whether it's how you structure your story, or your research, or your writing schedule. To me the thing that matters most is that you need to do whatever works for you to help you get words on the page. If that means outlining first — great! If it means sitting down every day at 6am to write for 10 minutes — wonderful! Or if it means writing whenever you find time and not writing every day, that's also fine! Starting a book is difficult, and finishing one even more so. Do yourself the kindness of remembering that writing takes a lot of work and a lot of time, so do whatever you need to to keep going.
RR: The three narrators of A Wolf for a Spell, by nature of who they are—Zima as a wolf, Nadya as a human, and Baba Yaga as a witch—are on a different side of the conflicts developing in this book at the beginning, and they often see the same events in different ways. How did this influence the way the story unfolded, and how you wrote these characters?
KS: Initially the entire book was written only from the perspective of Zima the wolf, so it really focused on her opinions of witches and humans and how her time in both of their worlds shifted her perspective and helped her grow. But as people read the story, including friends, my agent, and my editor, we found a couple things that needed to change in how I was telling the story. First was that readers were often wondering what the other characters were doing through the story, and second was that seeing the human and witch characters grow and come to accept the others made the story overall feel more powerful. So I actually went back through much of the book and rewrote whole scenes and chapters to be from the point-of-view of other characters. What I loved about this change was it gave the human characters and Baba Yaga much more depth than they'd had in previous drafts, and I hope that it made the ending feel more emotional and impactful.
RR: What is your favorite thing about being an author?
KS: I am someone who loves research and loves solving puzzles, and being an author is a combination of both! For my writing I am always having to research things, whether it's history or facts about wolves or even just reading other books that are similar in style or tone. And writing stories feels a lot like solving puzzles, almost like being a detective, because you're needing to keep track of all of the different characters and their motivations and discover plot twists and conclusions as you are writing and revising. It is incredibly satisfying when you find the right puzzle piece which brings the story together.