At the Hour Between Dog and Wolf

by Tara Ison

Ig Publishing (February 21, 2023)

Paperback: ‎ 286 pages


Tara Ison’s novel, At the Hour between Dog and Wolf, is a frighteningly evocative look into a descent into fascism, one small step at a time. Ison, a multi-genre writer, offers insight into the creation of this complex portrait of a young Jewish girl transformed by circumstances.

AUTHORLINK: Tell me about your apprenticeship as a creative writer. Did you have a mentor who offered advice that has stayed with you that you can share with us?

ISON: My Bennington MFA mentors – Rick Moody, Doug Bauer, Askold Melnyczuk, Maria Flook – all offered me wisdom I remember to this day; some ideas were specific to a piece I was working on, some were general thoughts on writing, and the writing life. At this point, they’re so internalized it’s hard to identify actual quotations.

“‘What do you feel is your character’s greatest vulnerability?'”

But more importantly, I think, were the questions they asked me, about the choices I made: why this word, rather than that one? Why did you choose this POV – and how would the story change if that were to change? What do you think is the moment of shift in the story? What do you feel is your character’s greatest vulnerability? What would happen if you started the story here, instead? If you ended the story here, instead?

Such questions run on a loop in my head as I write – or as I revise, actually, as I like to allow a rough draft to simply follow its own flow. But their open-ended nature encourages exploration and experimentation, and as much as this helps me as a writer, I believe it’s also helped me as a teacher of writing; I want my students to think about their work the way my mentors inspired me to think about mine, for them to find their own answers rather than imposing my own writerly way upon them.

And being a “mentee” never ends – I feel every author I read, and every student I teach, continue to mentor me, and I’m grateful.

AUTHORLINK: James Dickey said the idea for Deliverance came to him as a vision of a man standing alone on top of a mountain. His job was to get the man off the mountain. Where did the idea for At the Hour between the Dog and the Wolf come from?

ISON: Love this way of thinking about it! My original inspiration was my stepmother, who as a five-year-old Jewish child in WWII Hungary survived the war by hiding as a Catholic orphan. But it isn’t her story I’m telling, at all. My main character, Danielle, begins the story as a rather spoiled, sheltered, sophisticated, indifferently Jewish 12-year-old, girl, living with her parents in WWII Occupied Paris. By the end, thanks to the influence of extremist right-wing ideologies, she’s been transformed into a devout Catholic, and an anti-Semitic disciple of fascism.

“…my job with this novel was to get my character from A to Z – and make that psychological trajectory believable.”

So, my job with this novel was to get my character from A to Z – and make that psychological trajectory believable. How can one person be manipulated, terrified, indoctrinated, etc., into becoming a completely different person? I believe it happens in very small shifts and steps.

AUTHORLINK: Talk about how you settled on the title. It has a great sense of mystery and menace.

ISON: Somewhere in my research years ago I came upon the French phrase “entre chien et loup,” or “between dog and wolf,” which is an idiomatic expression for twilight, or dusk. I loved the sound of it, and how I could integrate the idea quite easily into the novel; there’s an early scene where Danielle remembers long walks with her father in Paris, and how he’d point to the twilight sky and ask her to tell him the exact moment the day turns to night, the lightness to darkness, the dog to wolf. And she never can, of course – which allows the phrase/title to work on a metaphorical level as well, as a description of the character’s transformation over the course of the novel. It isn’t possible to identify one exact moment Danielle becomes s different person, as it’s a series of gradations and shadings, exactly like the twilight sky.

AUTHORLINK: This is a story of personal transformation. What steps did you take to make sure that Danielle’s transformation into Marie-Jeanne was authentic and compelling?

“It’s all in those tiny, seemingly insignificant moments of decision and choice the character makes …”

ISON: It’s all in those tiny, seemingly insignificant moments of decision and choice the character makes; each step forward, no matter how small, leads her further down a very dangerous and destructive path. She can reassure herself she’s just a child, after all – so nothing she does or doesn’t do is really of any importance.

I also had to find a way to allow her to rationalize each step she takes – I had to get inside the fascist and anti-Semitic headspace (not a comfortable place to be) in order to find the language and “logic” used to support those ideas as beneficial, patriotic, and so on. As the epigraph by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn says, “To do evil, a human being must first believe that what he’s doing is good.”

And then you’ve created an entire generation, an entire nation, of fascists.

AUTHORLINK: The period details in the book are gritty and real. Talk about your research. What surprising things did you discover?

“…how did this fact/figure/detail make my character feel?”

ISON: EL Doctorow said: “The historian will tell you what happened. The novelist will tell you what it felt like,” and I find that useful to remember when writing research-based fiction. I came at the research from as many different angles as possible: history and nonfiction books, memoirs, novels from and about the era, documentaries, movies, and television shows. There’s a great deal out there about WWII, Vichy France, and the experiences of hidden children, so it was a huge project, over many years; my instinct is to use every fact and figure, and detail I’ve learned in the story, which is impossible, of course. So, I go back to Doctorow – how did this fact/figure/detail make my character feel? What was their experience of the world in which they were living? And if I can’t find a way for a bit of research to be about my character, it gets cut.

But my favorite research is experiential, doing the best I can to quite literally breathe the air of my characters, walk their streets. I was fortunate to make several trips to France and spent a lot of time in the area around Limoges, where Danielle is living in a small village with a Catholic farming family. I listened, observed, inhaled – and it offered so many of the visceral, sensual details I know I love to discover in fiction.

One disturbing surprise during my research was learning the degree of enthusiasm with which the Vichy government participated in the policies of Nazi Germany. I knew they had collaborated, but had no idea of the extent – for example, the Vichy government began rounding up and deporting Jews living in France before the Germans even asked them to, as a “goodwill” gesture of friendship.

AUTHORLINK: You have worked across genres including screen writing. I am interested in your evolution as a writer and what, if anything, the different forms have in common.

ISON: For many years I was dismissive of my early experience as a screenwriter – it didn’t seem like “real” writing, to me, not as serious as fiction. But eventually, I came to appreciate how helpful the screenwriting experience had been to me, as a fiction writer: the focus on defining incidents, the best function of dialogue, and the sense of visual atmosphere and environment conveyed in a script. And definitely the critical importance, in a novel, of developing and sustaining narrative momentum; my first serious fiction was my first novel, and there was no way I could have managed that without the screenwriting “training” in story structure.  I’ve actually mapped out every novel I’ve written using the elements of classic 3-Act Cinematic structure, and those maps are my lifeline as I try to balance the multiple needs of long-form fiction.

AUTHORLINK: What were the greatest challenges when writing At the Hour between the Dog and the Wolf and how did you overcome them?

ISON: The scale of the story was intimidating. The history of the era is so complex, as is the range of traumas of hidden children of war – there is no singular story, but I felt a responsibility to get the details right, in order to honor an experience not my own. I tried to focus on the truth of my (fictional) character, to keep in mind it was her specific story I wanted to tell. Or, needed to tell.

“Writing a novel is a powerful exercise in both self-doubt and hubris.”

Writing a novel is a powerful exercise in both self-doubt and hubris. No one in the world really cares about your novel – so, how do any of us keep going? I feel every story has been told – but the story of your character has never been told in the way you wish to tell it. And you are the only person in the world who can tell the story the way you think it should be told. That kind of determined faith helped me get through it.

AUTHORLINK: Talk to me about your revision process when working with your editor. What sort of changes did you make? Any tips on revision for apprentice writers?

ISON: I’ve worked with such a range of editors – those with a “heavy hand,” and those who barely touched the manuscript.

The feedback/notes I’ve received over the years tend to fall into one of three categories: 1) The notes make me think Yes, thank you, great idea, I knew something was off but couldn’t figure it out, this will make it so much better!; 2) Well…I don’t necessarily agree with this note, but I see your point, so I’ll go ahead and do as you suggest, no problem, 3) I can’t. This feels wrong. This isn’t my voice, my intention, my vision.

It’s a compromise, a negotiation, and I try to stay open-minded and do my best – all I want is to make my editor happy! But at the end of the day, I have to listen to my gut. Some editors make it very clear their notes are merely suggestions, for me to think about and then do what feels right. Others are more…well, dictatorial. That can be hard, especially for apprentice writers – you really need to find the balance between accepting feedback from someone who is likely far more experienced than you are, and learning to develop, trust, and stand by your own instincts.

AUTHORLINK: What advice would you offer to apprentice writers?

“Write the story you want to write, the way you want to write it.”

ISON: Write the story you want to write, the way you want to write it. You might as well, in the beginning! Then put it down – for three times longer than you want to. Go back, revise. Put it down again, for much longer than you want to. Go back, get feedback, revise. Revise. Every single sentence, every single word, should feel right. Don’t rush. Revise. Then try to find a caring home for it.

Also – find your people, other writers you can share with, mutually support. Be a good literary citizen. Read, read.

AUTHORLINK: Discuss what you are working on now.

ISON: Short stories – hoping to put together a new collection. I’m playing around with some forms that are new to me, taking a lot of inspiration from folklore, fairytales, classic literatures. Giving myself room and time to play a little, after the novel.

Tara Ison is the author of the novels The List (Scribner), A Child out of Alcatraz (Faber & Faber, Inc.), a Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and Rockaway (Counterpoint/Soft Skull Press), featured as one of the “Best Books of Summer” in O, The Oprah Magazine, July 2013. Her essay collection, Reeling Through Life: How I Learned to Live, Love, and Die at the Movies, Winner of the PEN Southwest Book Award for Best Creative Nonfiction, and her short story collection Ball, were both published in 2015 by Counterpoint/Soft Skull Press. You can find Tara Ison at

Ig Publishing (February 21, 2023)


Paperback: ‎ 286 pages