LJ Talks to Ruth Emmie Lang | Debut Spotlight

Photo by Max Eberle

In her debut novel, Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance (LJ 9/15/17), Ruth Emmie Lang offers up the wondrous tale of Weylyn Gray, who was quite literally raised by wolves. She invites readers to experience his life through the perspectives of those who come into contact with this enchanting and unusually talented man. Here, Lang talks about the story’s inspiration, its expansive setting, Weylyn’s wanderlust, and more.

What was your inspiration for writing this novel?
It started with an image I had in my head of a beekeeper leaning over a glowing beehive. At first, I thought it would make a cool illustration, so I attempted to draw it. After realizing that my artistic skills weren’t quite up to par, I decided I’d write a story based on said image instead. I guess I should be thankful I’m a mediocre illustrator, otherwise, I’d never have written Beasts!

Weylyn is an endearing character who charms readers and allows them to accept his inexplicable supernatural gifts. How did you go about developing him and the extraordinary things that happen to him?
Whether it’s in books or movies, I tend to gravitate toward whimsical, bittersweet stories. There’s something about finding a moment of beauty or humor in a sad circumstance that really resonates with me. Weylyn is particularly adept at this. He’s outwardly silly and lovable, but deep down, he struggles with the same feelings of loneliness and inadequacy that we all feel. It was important to me that the story be grounded in empathy. I think it makes the magical elements easier to accept because the heart of the story is very human.

The narrative is told by people who know Weylyn, love him, and just can’t quite understand him. What made you decide to write from these different points of view?
I chose to tell it from multiple perspectives for several reasons. First, I liked the idea of Weylyn as a mythical figure who leaves stories behind wherever he goes. Someone living in Oklahoma and another in Oregon could each hear an urban legend about Weylyn and never know it was about the same person. Second, I consider Beasts not only to be a story about Weylyn, but the story of how he affects the lives of the people he meets. In that way, each character becomes a part of Weylyn’s mythology. Third, I think telling the story through other people’s eyes makes the fantastical elements more believable. No narrator is 100 percent reliable. They all have their own beliefs and biases, which undoubtedly influence their interpretation of the events that take place.

There are so many exciting facets in this novel—magic, tornadoes, wolves, snowstorms—yet it takes on a slow, steady rhythm. Can you talk about how you chose the pacing?
The pacing was something that happened naturally. Maybe it was born out of the fact that much of it takes place out in nature, where life moves at a decidedly slower speed. I’d like to think of the experience of reading [this book] as something akin to a walk in the woods (with the occasional storm and wolf encounter).

One of the unusual aspects of your novel is the way Weylyn pops up in so many different geographic locations across the United States. Were you able to do any traveling to scout out and get a feel for the locales you explore in the novel?
I wish I had been able to travel to all these places! Some of them are states I’ve been to in the past, but some of them, like Oregon, I’ve never been to (although, I’d really like to). I guess you could say my location choices were partly aspirational!

You were able to tap into a variety of genres in Beasts. Do you lean toward any particular one when it comes to your own reading interests?
Surprisingly, I don’t read a lot of fantasy, although the “Lord of the Rings” series are my favorite books. Honestly, I’ll read pretty much anything as long as it has characters that I care about. That’s the most important thing for me. It doesn’t matter if they’re climbing a mountain or making a sandwich, if I care about the characters, I’ll read it.

Having now released your first book, what’s next for you?
I recently started working on something that I think has a lot of potential, so I’m seeing where that goes. I’d also like to take a Weylyn-esque adventure of my own and go hiking in the Pacific Northwest with my husband. Hopefully, I can get a little inspiration for stories to come!—Andrea Tarr, Corona P.L., CA

This article was published in Library Journal's January 1, 2018 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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