Interview written by Catharine Bramkamp
This December, Dorothy Hearst will release her third book in the wolf fantasy trilogy, SPIRIT OF THE WOLVES, published by Simon & Schuster. One thing that caught our attention was that the first book in The Wolf Chronicles trilogy, Promise of the Wolves, had a long history. The book began as a short story that never quite worked and was never published. Dorothy put it aside for years, but then the characters came roaring (barking?) back.
She describes the inspiration for her series as the wolves just barging in, demanding to be heard. “I wondered why me? Why did they come to me of all the people in the world, when I’d never written anything before? Once I’d accepted the challenge, it felt like a huge responsibility. I had to learn my craft, and I couldn’t give up because the wolves were counting on me. Like many writers, I often feel that I’m an imperfect tool for sharing the messages the universe is trying to send through me. But I’m happy with Kaala’s story. I’m happy I got to tell it and that I turned it into something I’m proud of.”
The books necessitated a great deal of research, almost after the fact. The story was there; it was up to her to find out about wolves. “I thought I was supposed to write highbrow literary fiction and was really surprised when talking wolves was what came out. I probably would have written books sooner if I hadn’t been trying to figure out what I should be writing.”
But the research had to be done. Even if it meant interviewing experts and asking total strangers a lot of questions.
“I used to be very shy about talking to people I didn’t know, especially people who were experts in something. Then I got a job that required me to talk to people. I became an acquiring editor for professional books for nonprofit and public leaders, and I really loved it. I wanted to do well. The problem was that I had to call people up and talk to them, go to events, and ask people to write books for me.
There were three things that helped me overcome my shyness. First, I practiced on people who didn’t scare me. If I were at an event, I would find another young woman who looked unthreatening and talk to her.After I practiced on few non-scary people, I made a deal with myself: I had to talk to three people I was nervous about talking to and then I could leave.
The second thing was that I had a script for myself, so I had a list of questions and thoughts as conversation starters, and that I could fall back on if I started getting nervous. These two things helped me get started. After I tried it a few times, I found out that people love sharing their work and knowledge.
The third thing is the old saying: fake it until you make it. I would pretend I was a competent professional and people believed me. The more I practiced, the better I got. Now I can talk to pretty much anyone.”
Dorothy was patient; she didn’t sell her story, Promise of the Wolves, right away. So she put it away and let it sit for a number of years. That can be a difficult thing for a writer to do. She encourages us all to be patient.
“First, don’t listen to non-writers in your life who keep asking you why it’s taking so long. Well-meaning people will tell you that they wrote a twenty-page memo for work over the weekend, so you should just write the book and be done with it. Ignore them. It’s not the same thing. Know that writing creative work comes from a different place and honor the process and the journey.
Other than that, keep showing up at the page and trust that the idea will mature. Some ideas turn into stories and books very quickly, others take a long time. You do, however, need to be there, writing as often as you can so that when the story is ready, you’re ready for it. Then there are times when you do need to push through to write a story, even if it doesn’t feel ready. Obviously, if you’re on a deadline you need to do so, but also if you’re blocked. Sometimes you need to attack a story. Part of the process of learning to be a writer is learning, through trial and error, which is which. But stories have their own schedules and it’s important to honor that and to know that you aren’t wasting time if it takes a while to find what the story is.
“Write what’s fun, write what you would want to read. Write whatever comes out, especially as you’re finding your story. Also, it’s really, really, really important not to worry if early drafts are terrible. I still think about Anne Lamott’s shitty first drafts all the time, and I write a lot of really bad stuff. It’s the only way to get to the good stuff.”
For more about Dorothy Hearst and the Wolf Trilogy visit: http://www.dorothyhearst.com