We caught up with children’s author Lauren Wolk in the latest issue of PaperBound Magazine, who told us all about her new novel My Own Lightning. Read on to discover more.
Could you tell us a little about your book, My Own Lightning, and the inspiration behind it?
My Own Lightning is a sequel to Wolf Hollow, something I never expected to write. It’s a product of the pandemic, a time of such turmoil and uncertainty (both because of COVID and the political situation in the U.S.) that I longed for the safety and security I had always felt on the family farm that inspired Wolf Hollow. But I was also intrigued by how I was being influenced by the chaos around me, and I wanted to explore how Annabelle would react to a similar shock. How it would make her see the world differently. How it would teach her to look past the obvious to hidden truths … about herself and others. Since I’ve always been fascinated with the untapped potential of the hidden brain – and how some of its mysteries are revealed by lightning strikes and other traumatic events – I decided that Annabelle’s ‘shock’ should be literal. So I sent her out into a summer storm and then watched what happened next.
My Own Lightning takes place in the 1940s and has some beautiful locations, such as the farm and Wolf Hollow. What draws you to this time period? And are any of the settings based on real locations?
I grew up listening to my mother’s stories about her childhood in the 1940s on the family farm in Pennsylvania, and I spent quite a lot of time on that farm myself. Wolf Hollow and My Own Lightning are my way of paying tribute to that time, that place, my family, and the natural world. I owe a great deal to my mother, especially, for sharing the memories that inspired my work. But I am indebted to my grandparents and my uncles as well, all of whom devoted so much of their lives to the land.
Annabelle is struck by lightning at the beginning of the novel and gets heightened senses and the ability to understand dogs. What powers would you want if you were struck by lightning?
What a great question! Honestly, I’d like a whole boatload of powers – including being able to sing beautifully and fly (of course) – but those are far-fetched. I simply haven’t got the mechanics for such things. But people have gained some really extraordinary abilities from lightning strikes and traumatic brain injuries – like being able to compose music and play the piano … or do complex math … or speak foreign languages. I’d be delighted to speak another language well. Especially the language of dogs and other creatures. Trees? I’d be over the moon.
My Own Lightning is a sequel. What was it like to take the characters from Wolf Hollow on a whole new adventure?
Because I write without a map, I’m always surprised by what I encounter as I write a novel. Of course, I have some influence on the route I take, but I trust my characters enough to follow where they lead. And I trust Annabelle to my bones. She’s a very able guide. As I wrote My Own Lightning, however, I was so baffled by the state of the world in general and the U.S. in particular that I allowed a fair bit of that confusion to muck up the works. Annabelle and I got lost a couple of times, following subplots down rabbit holes, running in circles, and falling down a lot. It was only after a couple of drafts that I managed (with the help of my editor) to shut out the noise around me and listen to what mattered most to Annabelle and her story. In the end, it was a simple one that focused on giving people second chances and doing the hard work it takes to be fair in a world that seldom is.
Dogs play a big role in My Own Lightning. How hard was it writing them in danger?
It was difficult to put my beloved dog characters in harm’s way. But I had made a decision early in the book that I would not allow any of them to die. I rarely make hard and fast decisions about a book, but in this case I did. I was therefore able to put them as risk without losing too much sleep. It was hard to see them get hurt, but it was very satisfying to see them survive.
You have been called a ‘successor to Harper Lee’ by The Times. How did that feel?
It’s wonderful to be compared to such an icon. Truly. But it’s also a bit scary, first because I always want my work to be mine, not an echo of someone else’s … and, second, because Harper Lee has very big shoes I can’t possibly hope to fill. I honestly didn’t see any parallels between my work and hers, largely because I was so inspired by my own family history and legacy, and I was therefore shocked when people started to point out plot and character similarities between Wolf Hollow and To Kill a Mockingbird. Then I reminded myself that all of art and literature are filled with echoes. They’re inevitable. But I do work hard to make sure they’re not deliberate.
Is My Own Lightning the last we’ll see of Annabelle and her friends and family? Or is there more to come for Wolf Hollow?
I’d love to write a third Wolf Hollow book at some point. And I’m excited about writing a sequel to each of my other books as well; Beyond the Bright Sea and Echo Mountain. (I can’t tell you how many school children have asked for such things … and plotted them all out for me!) But I’ve nearly finished a brand new novel with different characters, and I have another one I plan to rewrite after that. So it may be a while before I meet up with Annabelle again (or Crow or Ellie).
Lauren Wolk is a poet and artist best known for her novels, especially the New York Times bestselling and Newbery Honor-winning Wolf Hollow (2016), its sequel, My Own Lightning (2022), the Scott O’Dell Award-winning Beyond the Bright Sea (2017), and Echo Mountain (2020).
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