News

The Wolf Hour — Sara Lewis Holmes

As some of you know, I’ve become an increasingly bad blogger (in that I don’t blog very often at all). This site just springs to life once a month in honor of an ongoing poetry challenge I have with my Poetry Sisters and then usually goes full-on lively in April for my daily haiku.

But I’m making an exception, you guys. Because there’s the book — written, in fact, by one of those poetry sisters — and I want to tell you about it! And I want to give away a copy of the book! Do you want to win one?

Introducing The Wolf Hour, by the brilliant Sara Lewis Holmes!

I thought we could talk about fairy tale re-tellings or empowered girl heroes or combining scariness with beauty (because all of that is IN HERE), but instead I decided on music! Because that actually fits within this poetry-ish blog and because it’s a big (and impressive) part of this book.

So, without further ado, here’s my chat with Sara Lewis Holmes about the musical aspects of The Wolf Hour…

LIZ: This book is awash in music, beginning with the conjured-up piano Magia plays at her mother’s knee, moving onto the terrifying voice lessons at Miss Grand’s, and even into the howling, windy woods. Are you a musician yourself? If so, how did that inform the writing and if not, how did you manage? And why did you choose to use music as an important thread through this story?

SARA: I live in a musical family. Mike has played the guitar by ear since he was a teen, and both of our children play too—-and sing. It’s a jam session whenever everyone’s home. Sadly, I’m not in there jamming but usually in the kitchen, cooking a giant pot of soup and listening and leaking tears at the glory of it all. I took piano lessons, and know how to read music, but have always felt like I’m missing its essential elements, as I can’t hear or sing notes as I’m sure most of the world can. I think I gifted Magia with a gorgeous voice because I’ve always wanted one, or at least, the ability to stay on key. Ironically, she has the voice, but wants to use her other gifts.


Sara, obsessively playing her favorite song, Bridge Over Troubled Waters

Anyway, to compensate for my lack of musical chops, I did research, and I talked to people who live and breathe this stuff. For example, the Wolf Hour was inspired by many things, but one of them was a conversation with a musician I met on a trip to Croatia. He mentioned “wolf notes” in stringed instruments, and I instantly wanted to know more. Maybe it was the concept of a wild sound “escaping” a disciplined process? I’m not sure, but I took the idea—-which is highly technical—-and instead played with it as a both a theme and a repeating sound. So the idea that one girl’s (or one wolf’s) actions could reverberate beyond their original intent (or frequency) is definitely there, but also some pretty intense actual howling. Maybe every time Magia or Martin howls in the book, that’s me, singing. Heh.

LIZ: Oh, I love that idea! That’s how I’ll read it from now on. And, in fact, I did read the language of the woods to be its own kind of music. The wind through the trees and the chimney flue, the howling of wolves, the miraculous words that passed between Magia and Martin, and even the collegial conversation amongst pigs! I could hear it all. How were you able to bring those evocative sounds to life — and what knowledge of music, wolves or linguistics did you rely upon?

SARA: I loved writing that scene where the chimney howls, and Magia and Martin find a way to talk to each other. To me, it was their mutual hunger—-howled out to the world—- that caused them to connect, and to recognize a kindred soul. Isn’t that the way of it, in music, or otherwise? We think we’re the only one, alone and hungry, and it turns out, most of the world aches in the same key.

The pigs, too, were a kick to write, in that they are both dastardly AND bumbling, with all the language that goes along with those two comic archetypes. The pigs don’t howl, but they DO squeal… especially when they fight amongst themselves, as brothers will, and I had to keep a firm lid on their tendencies to show off. (They used to have names like Ham and such, for one thing.) Maybe they have a future on Broadway?

LIZ: Well, ok, speaking of those pigs… the question writers always have to ask themselves when doing a re-telling of a beloved myth or fairytale is how closely to hew to the original, and how and when to depart. Again, you handled this like music. You have written a soaring, symphonic variation that is its own piece altogether but then — every so often — the reader hits these deep, resonant and wholly familiar notes that anchor the experience to something old, something we know in our bones. What were the rules you laid out for yourself regarding Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs, and the story you wanted and needed to tell?

SARA: Oh. I like that—-a novel as symphony—and hope I accomplished even a tenth of that brilliant description. As for rules, my main goal was to center the stories around the role that wolves play in them. After that, I gave myself permission to re-cast the parts, and to poke into all the places in the stories that I remember not understanding as a kid—-like what does it FEEL like to be swallowed whole and then rescued? Gross, right??

I also wanted to replicate the “rule” in fairy tales that things may veer from deeply disturbing to jauntily funny in the space of a drawn breath because that kind of world makes me believe I, too, can be more than I am at the moment. That I can “sing anyway” for lack of a clearer term. I’m still gonna make soup in the kitchen and cry when shared music-making drifts out from the other room, mind you. No way am I going to front the band. But I’m happy that music in The Wolf Hour howls to readers like you, and I’m grateful for the voice that writing gives me.

LIZ: Oh, Sara. Even your answers are symphonic, aren’t they dear readers? Thank you!

Now… go pick up the book at your local indy bookseller or request it at the library. OR, win it! Comment here or on my facebook or twitter account and you’ll be put in the drawing for a copy of The Wolf Hour. Lucky you!

Posted on 12/08/2017 04:30 am
 

15 Comments

  1. I heard of this book earlier and wanted to read it then. Now I’m even more intrigued. I relate so well to the listening to music. My daughter plays piano and cello and one the things I miss most about her being gone to college is the sound of her practicing music.

    Reply

    • Oh, same thing at my house, Kay!! Both my daughters are musicians and just having one of them gone has made the house too quiet!
      I think you’d really appreciate the musical storyline in this book — as well as the musical language!

      Reply

  2. Well, for someone that describes herself as a bad blogger….this post is fantastic! I have followed the poetry sisters for a while now and much appreciate how they tackle challenges with results that are beautiful! Everything from delicate to true to razor-sharp. You all are such an inspiration.

    And, I cannot wait to get my hands on Sara’s book. I’m hoping she will come back east at a time when I can hear her speak about the book or just enjoy seeing her. I’d love it if she could make it to one of the annual conferences I attend. I will get on making that rec to conference planners!

    I am wondering if there are any plans to make Wolf Hour into an audio book? Of all the books that “go-audio” this one seems like an award winner in the making with the right narration. Thoughts?

    Reply

    • Thank you for your kind, kind thoughts about the Poetry Sisters — we are so lucky to have each other 🙂

      Sara lives out east so I DO hope you can overlap at a conference — and definitely recommend here — I think conference planners really appreciate getting those personalized suggestions!

      I don’t know about an audio book at this point — maybe Sara herself will chime in if she sees this — but I agree it would be GREAT!!

      Reply

      • Yes, there IS an audio version! I was lucky enough to hear a bit of the two narrators’ auditions, and they were fantastic (one male, one female.) And Linda, just email me if I can be of use to any conference. I live in the Hampton, VA area now and I love to talk about writing, and books, and kids, and how we can all make better connections.

        Reply

  3. Because Laura Salas shared The Wolf Hour a few weeks ago, I was able to find it at my library and have read and loved it. The complexity of the book made me want to share it with my middle school readers (if I was still teaching!) so I did share with a former colleague. Sara added many layers to those well-known tales, created a heroine and a wolf to cheer for. I did love that music, both wonderful and horrific, kept a thread that I began to look for. I grew up in a musical family, though I do little now but listen! Thanks for a beautiful conversation about this new book by Sara!

    Reply

    • Oh, thanks, Linda — I’m so glad you got your hands on. Your summary and review of it is perfect — thanks for reading our chat!!

      Reply

  4. Thank you for sharing this book, and your interview with Holmes, as well as offering a free copy. I want to read it and share it with friends and family.

    Reply

  5. Both the questions and answers did the book justice, you guys! Yay.

    Reply

  6. Well I’ve been swept away and captured by this interview Liz, thanks for sharing Sara’s book, “The Wolf Hour.” And thanks Sara for sharing insights of the story and the music that’s carried through it–What a wonderful idea to work from, I look forward to reading your book!

    Reply

  7. Dawn Meyers Dixon

    Sounds like such a lyrical and deep story with layers and layers of complexity and richness! I’m enraptured already. Can’t wait to delve into this book. Thank you so much for bringing it to my attention.

    Reply

  8. Sondra Soderborg

    This book sounds so alive! I can’t wait to read it.

    Reply

Leave a Reply