Author Spotlight: Diane Magras talks The Mad Wolf's Daughter
I'm more than a wee bit excited to be taking part in Penguin's official blog tour for Diane Magras's middle grade debut, THE MAD WOLF'S DAUGHTER! This Scottish medieval adventure centers around the youngest member in a war-band as she attempts to free her family from a castle prison after knights attack her home. The story comes with all the excitement of Ranger's Apprentice, and is perfect for fans of heroines like Alanna from The Song of the Lioness series!
One dark night, Drest's sheltered life on a remote Scottish headland is shattered when invading knights capture her family, but leave Drest behind. Her father, the Mad Wolf of the North, and her beloved brothers are a fearsome war-band, but now Drest is the only one who can save them. So she starts off on a wild rescue attempt, taking a wounded invader along as a hostage. Hunted by a bandit with a dark link to her family's past, aided by a witch whom she rescues from the stake, Drest travels through unwelcoming villages, desolate forests, and haunted towns. Every time she faces a challenge, her five brothers speak to her in her mind about courage and her role in the war-band. But on her journey, Drest learns that the war-band is legendary for terrorizing the land. If she frees them, they'll not hesitate to hurt the gentle knight who's become her friend. Drest thought that all she wanted was her family back; now she has to wonder what their freedom would really mean. Is she her father's daughter or is it time to become her own legend?
For more on Diane and The Mad Wolf's Daughter, see the full blog tour schedule (with links) at the end of this interview.
And now, here's my chat with Diane!
Hi, Diane! Welcome and congrats on the publication of The Mad Wolf’s Daughter. Can you tell us a little about the story and what inspired it?
Thanks, Megan! It’s very exciting to have this story come out. It’s the tale of a girl named Drest, the youngest daughter of the Mad Wolf of the North. In the very beginning, her father and her five brothers, who compose a fearsome war-band, are captured by enemy knights. Drest, who has been trained alongside her brothers and is just as strong as they, decides to go after them and rescue them from the castle where they’ll be hanged. She takes along an injured enemy knight as guide and captive. Her journey is the story.
I’ve always loved classic adventure stories, and I’ve been fascinated by medieval times my whole life. I’ve always been disturbed, however, that most of the protagonists of these fast-paced books were boys, and the female characters were usually stereotypically feminine: gentle, pretty, submissive… And then so many books with tough and physically strong girls have as their major conflict the girl fighting boys who don’t support her right to do the same things that the boys are doing. I wanted to write a novel with a powerful, insistent, fiercely loyal, and deeply affectionate girl leading the story, and with men and boys who supported rather than challenged her right to wield a sword. In this story, no one questions Drest’s role as warrior—so she gets to have the adventures and be important in the way that usually only male characters have and get to be in this kind of book.
The Mad Wolf’s Daughter is set in medieval Scotland. What kind of research did you do?
I love reading about medieval history, and I delved into many research books: on Scotland and Britain, medieval Scottish politics and identity, and British social mores and daily life during the period. I also researched specific topics such as castles, armor, weaponry, and forestry. There isn’t a lot of history written about women during that time, so I picked up information about gender roles where I could, often in passing, with the most direct descriptions coming from books about more general subjects of medieval life. I also traveled to Scotland in 2016 and 2017 to explore the castles and abbeys of the Scottish Borders—my slightly adapted setting—in person. It was inspiring to wander among those historical sites, and useful: Seeing actual arrow loops, murder holes, narrow spiral stairs, and door hinges helped me to make my description of my world more accurate. (As well as hearing the stories of the people who lived in those places.)
I’m a firm believer in the idea that every story teaches the writer something new, so what did writing The Mad Wolf’s Daughter teach you?
It took me many years as a writer to truly understand what it meant to revise a novel while still keeping what I valued most within it. This novel brought all that together for me. It also taught me that rather than rewriting a novel wholly with each pass, I can write in layers, changing elements with each pass to slowly get to the core of what I’ve written and clarify what I mean to say. This method helped me discover new angles, new perspectives, and new depths of meaning, which I then wove through the whole novel at the subsequent pass. I am grateful to Kathy Dawson, my editor, whose prompting helped me develop this method. It’s one I’ll use for my future books too. I’m eager to see how deep they’ll go.
Children see the world through a much different lens than adults. What are your tips for writing an authentic middle grade POV?
A lot of knowing an authentic middle grade POV comes from reading a great number of books for that age. My biggest piece of advice is to read as much middle grade fiction of different genres as you can and see how other writers are creating that perspective in their own ways. Then, imagine yourself as a kid. Do you remember what you cared about? What upset you? What delighted you more than anything else? If you can, find ways to have conversations with kids today: Find out what matters to them and how they talk. My other big tip is to always think of your middle grade novel with respect for both your young characters and your readers. You’re telling this story for them, not for yourself. And it’s an honor.
What part of the writing process do you find most challenging and how do you tackle it?
Ideas come easily to me, but the challenge is finding all the time I need to write them! I have a wonderful family, and I also have a full-time day job. So I’ve established writing periods each day and keep to a rigid schedule: I get up early in the morning to write, stay up late to write, and write on weekends. Sometimes my day job or family schedule takes away one of these, but I can nearly always claim at least one writing session per day. When I sit down to write, I usually jump back into a story quickly. I also know that I’ll be able to rewrite anything, which helps me get my scenes out on paper when I’m tired. The good news is that those scenes usually take me somewhere in the story—and I’m rarely tired once I get started.
Quest stories can be notoriously difficult to write, as it’s easy to get off track. Do you have any tips or advice for writers attempting to craft a quest-centered plot?
The trick is to keep the characters’ primary goal—and the stakes—in mind. What’s the purpose of the quest, and what will happen if the character doesn’t succeed? For Drest, the protagonist of The Mad Wolf’s Daughter, it’s to rescue her father and brothers from a castle prison. She has six days before they’re hanged, and if she doesn’t succeed, she’ll lose her whole family. Keep the goal and the stakes in front of your reader as often as you can. Introduce conflicts. Slow your characters. Give them complications and stories on the side. But always keep them moving toward that goal and keep your characters discussing what will happen if they don’t succeed.
What are you reading, or otherwise currently infatuated with?
Right now, I’m in the middle of revisions of my own writing, but I have a TBR pile, and the book on very top is The Serpent’s Secret (Book 1 of Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond) by Sayantani DasGupta. This is going to be such a treat for me when I have time to take a break and read! It stars Kiranmala, a 12-year-old New Jersey kid whose parents have always told her that she’s an Indian princess from another world and is destined to slay demons. She takes those stories as yet another sign of how unusual her parents are, but it turns out that they were actually telling the truth. (I love that part.) On her birthday, her parents disappear, and she finds herself face-to-face with a mythical beast-turned-real: a rakkhosh demon that wants to eat her. Thus begins her journey to self-discovery and her quest to save pretty much everything. I’m looking forward to reading Kiranmala’s wild adventures and seeing the world that Sayantani has created.
And finally, what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned thus far in your publishing career?
Write what you most want to write, and keep trying. Do these together, and you’ll have not just the brilliant idea but the stamina to create something you believe in utterly. You’ll also get on your feet again after every setback and feel inspired to keep going. And when someone inevitably tells you that your story needs work, remember the first part—that you’ve written what you wanted most to write—and let that strengthen and hearten you as you fix everything around it—the keep-trying part. One needs the other to succeed.
Many thanks go out to Diane for taking the time to tell us more about The Mad Wolf's Daughter, as well as sharing some excellent tips for writing a middle grade POV, how to navigate a quest story, and the importance of writer stamina. Be sure to add Diane's Scottish medieval adventure to your Goodreads list, or (better yet!) order your copy RIGHT NOW from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, or request it at your library, or local independent bookstore.
And, as always,
For more on Diane Magras and THE MAD WOLF'S DAUGHTER, be sure to check out all the other blogs taking part in Penguin's Official Blog Tour!
March 5 – Xpresso Reads – Review
March 6 – The Review Room – Review
March 7 – The Book Deviant – Review
March 8 – Pop! Goes the Reader – Author Guest Post – Feminism and gender stereotypes
March 9 – Rhythmic Booktrovert – Review + Instagram
March 12 – Megan Write Now – Q&A
March 13 – Tween Librarian – Review
March 14 – The Quirky Book Nerd – Review
March 15 – Vicariously & Voraciously – Review
March 16 – Mundie Kids – Character Profiles
March 20 – Lu and Bean Read – Review