An Interview with Mark Van Steenwyk

A Wolf at the Gate


Where did you get the idea for A Wolf at the Gate?

I’ve loved the legend of Saint Francis and the wolf for years. It is one of the stories about peacemaking I’ve told my son. Unfortunately, Jonas prefers violent stories. I wrote A Wolf at the Gate for him. I wanted to tell the most exciting story I could, but one that still subverted the old myth of redemptive violence.

Previously, you’ve written or contributed to works of non-fiction–particularly in areas of spirituality and radical politics. How did you decide to write a story for children?

We live in a dark world. Our nation has been at war for most of my life. Increasingly, folks are protesting economic injustice, environmental injustice, racial injustice…but we don’t seem much closer to justice.

Adults are often set in their ways, but children often have an imagination for a new world. In a way, I don’t see this book as very much of a departure from my earlier books. The big difference is my audience. I’m starting to write for children because I believe that our hopes for justice rest with them.

Have you been inspired by any authors in particular?

I’ve been reading Lloyd Alexander’s stuff my whole life. I love the Prydain Chronicles. He has a way of playing with folklore that keeps it timeless but fresh. I’m also a huge fan of Neil Gaiman and have been influenced by his willingness to let his children’s stories linger in darkness. And I’m indebted to Ursula Le Guin. She’s one of the greatest writers of the past 100 years. Her storytelling and prose are amazing, but the thing that sets her apart is her ability to explore social constructs in her work without being preachy.

Why is the wolf red?

There are a couple reasons for that. Firstly, it is a bit of a visual pun. The book presents what could be interpreted as a leftist economic vision. So, she is a red wolf both literally and figuratively. Secondly, the color red captures the violence of her character. But I also think it just works better aesthetically. It is a children’s book, after all. We don’t need to be bound by convention…and something about a bright red wolf captivates my imagination.

Do you have another project in the works? If so, what is it?

In terms of children’s literature, I’ve been working on a five-part epic about a post-apocalyptic squirrel that I’m calling the Hackberry Saga. It actually takes place within the same world as A Wolf at the Gate, but thousands of years in the future. The main character, Hackberry, lives in a world where certain animals have risen and human beings are almost entirely lost to legend.

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