What do you do when you feel like the world is ending? KT Mather turned to fiction to explore how one teen answers this question. In Mather’s debut novel for young adults, Rage Is a Wolf, 16-year-old protagonist Elaine has become seriously concerned for the state of the world around her—and she knows blindly sitting through the rest of her high school lessons isn’t going to cut it, not even close. She convinces her moms to let her drop out of school for the year and attempt to write a novel, which leads her into more trouble and adventure than she could’ve imagined. In a starred review, a critic for Kirkus calls the book a “bold and inventive environmental tale with a striking protagonist.” Mather spoke to us over Zoom from her home in Vermont; the interview below has been edited for length and clarity.

You learned a respect for both nature and writing early in life. Do you write outdoors?

Yes, when I have the opportunity. I do a lot of thinking and engaging with my imagination while I’m hiking, and I’ve also turned into a massive gardener. I’m slowly converting our lawn into a pollinator garden. In the summer, I spend eight hours a day out there. I find that when you keep the hands and mind on some other thing and let the imagination do its business, when you show back up to the page, you can find that a lot has happened while you were away.

When you were around Elaine’s age, did you share her sense of urgency? What would you tell yourself at that age, and what would you tell readers who are that age now?

I was that age in 1991, 1992, so the climate crisis was not as present in the zeitgeist, not like it is now. That said, I also came of age during the Rodney King trials. I went to an incredibly diverse high school, and that had a huge impact. There was certainly an awareness of injustice and that the world was not a fair place. I would say to my younger self that you have a role in shaping the world that you live in, but it’s also not solely your responsibility—in fact, it can’t be. I think that this is something that Elaine is trying to learn. You have to find other people who care and build communities and relationships with them.

High school is a difficult time for so many kids. What do you hope young readers learn about perseverance as they read this book?

I was a high school English teacher, and one of the things that I encouraged kids to wrap their minds around is that there will always be times in our lives that are uncertain and that white-knuckling it through those times is not really the answer. When you’re waiting for that letter or for a war to end or a pandemic to end, or you’re waiting for your heart to stop hurting, white-knuckling it is not going to feel good. There are ways that we can cope with uncertainty that are life-affirming rather than life-draining, and seeking out the life-affirming ones makes life more bearable and more fun.

Elaine has two moms. How did you decide what her family would look like?

I am a very aural person, and when I first started hearing Elaine’s character speak to me, she just referred to her two moms. It didn’t even occur to me to question that; I just sort of went with it. Later on, I was in a writing group, and somebody had read one of the chapters and commented that they thought that Elaine should just have a “normal” family, because having two moms was too many issues in an “issue book.” If I had ever been thinking about changing the makeup of her family, I was certainly not going to do it now, because having a queer family is not an issue. It’s just a family.

Rage Is a Wolf is published by Whisk(e)y Tit. What has your experience been like being published by an indie press?

It was one of those situations where it’s like, Be glad you didn’t get what you thought you wanted. Because I had attempted to go the traditional route, and I had shopped it to some agents and some editors, all of whom were like, We really like it. It’s too weird to publish as a debut. I had gotten some offers to revise and resend if I made it a bit more traditional. At the time, I got super disappointed and put it away for a little while. Then, when I started working on the pollinator garden, I met someone who knew someone at this publisher, and we were introduced. Right from the start, Miette [Gillette] let me be absolutely involved in the process. I chose my cover designer, who is a very good friend of mine. We’re currently editing the audiobook, which I read. Miette has involved me in all of the steps of how you copy edit and how you turn something from a Word document into a finished book. And we worked together when we were getting it made into an e-book. I have absolutely loved working with an indie publisher, and I feel super grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to work with her.

Nina Palattella is the editorial assistant