Hi Laurie! First off, you can count us as The Black Witch fangirls. But for our readers who haven’t been introduced to this world, would you share an elevator pitch for The Black Witch?
Evil looms on the horizon, and for Elloren Gardner, granddaughter of the last Black Witch, pressure to live up to her magical heritage is building. If Elloren is to survive, she’ll have to open her mind and learn to trust the very people she’s been taught to hate and fear.
What inspired the book?
The multitude of fantasy novels my then pre-teen daughters were putting in front of me and begging me to read (I’d never read much fantasy before), as well as real-world prejudice going on around me (my family was involved in the fight here in Vermont for marriage equality).
Would you share more about that? How it was influential in shaping the book?
My husband and I were involved in the struggle for marriage equality here in Vermont. Our kids are adopted so many of our close friends are the gay/lesbian parents of adopted children. The fight for marriage equality was surprisingly hard here, since everyone knew it was the beginning of a national fight (it began with the struggle to make Civil Union partnerships legal here). Money poured in from out-of-state groups to prevent Civil Unions and later marriage equality, and hatred I never knew existed came out of the woodwork, completely blindsiding me. Gay and lesbian friends were harassed. Large newspaper ads were purchased accusing LGBTQ people of horrible, perverse things. During one of the statehouse hearings, a man got up and said, “They should be happy we’re just saying no to this – at least we’re not doing what it says in the Bible which is to kill ’em.”
During that time, someone came, in the middle of the night, and drove their large pickup truck up onto our lawn and over our pro-Civil Unions/pro-diversity lawn signs (I think one sign said “LOVE MAKES A FAMILY” with a rainbow background and a big heart). The truck driver didn’t stop until he had torn up most of our front yard. I spent about one day being terrified. The next day I got about 10 more signs and my husband hung them about 10 feet up on the big trees on the side of the road we own. But the experience stayed with me – and gave me a very small taste of what my LGBTQ friends have had to deal with throughout their lives.
The story had a happy ending when first Civil Unions and then marriage equality eventually prevailed. But the experience of seeing what prejudice is capable of stayed with me.
Around the time marriage equality finally became law, I was mulling over prejudice in more general terms (religion-based, gender-based, etc.) and reading THE GOLDEN COMPASS series. The spark of a story lit inside me – a fantasy story where people with wings are rejected by pretty much every religion/culture for no sound reason save tradition. I tried my hand at writing that first scene down, and found myself as instantly hooked by writing as I had been by reading fantasy fiction (it felt like magic). My fledgling story rapidly found its own trajectory and rapidly veered off into pure fantasy territory.
Wow. That’s may be the most powerful inspiration for a book we’ve ever heard. Speaking of beginnings, Elloren’s story really begins with Carnissa, the Black Witch. How would you describe her?
Fanatical, powerful, corrupted.
What do you like most about writing a book that started with her?
Interesting question, as Elloren’s famous grandmother, Carnissa, exists only in memory and her lasting effects on the Realm in this first book. I did get to write scenes with Carnissa in them (astride a dragon!) in WANDFASTED (the e-book prequel)—which I loved doing. What I liked about writing Carnissa is the challenge of writing an overwhelmingly powerful character (which is often achieved via the effect that character has on others, I find). And Carnissa is interesting because she might have started out with some noble intentions, but was eventually thoroughly corrupted by power and hatred—turning her, ultimately, into a devastatingly dangerous and fascist villian.
Carnissa isn’t the only character who goes through a moral transformation in the book. Who do you think is most changed and how did that impact the plot?
Many characters go through dramatic transformations in this series, but if I just focus on Book One, my answer would have to be Elloren. Elloren starts out with some very wrong/unjust views in the beginning of the book (as many people do when raised in cultures that hate diversity and demonize others). She goes through a very uncomfortable and necessary metamorphosis (that continues in future books—as Elloren is certainly a flawed character) that opens her eyes to the truth of what’s going on in the world around her. This has a huge impact on the plot, since Elloren (as readers find out in the prologue) is perhaps the greatest weapon the Realm has ever known (which she is unaware of). Elloren’s loyalties are of paramount importance to this series.
The book is so wonderfully cinematic! Is there a scene in the book that you love most or took your breath away even while writing?
The final action scene, where the dragon horde is accidentally released—I can picture the movie version of that so clearly! I’ll avoid saying more because of spoilers 🙂
Seriously, when I asked that question, that’s the scene I was thinking of! So, what do you hope fangirl readers like us will take away from The Black Witch?
That it is possible for people raised in destructive, prejudiced belief systems to change—and that discussions about how destructive/prejudiced belief systems come about and how they can be torn down are important discussions. And that any government or culture or religious system of belief that does not promote diversity can lead to a very dark place. Kind of the path to Mordor. Or in the case of THE BLACK WITCH, Marcus Vogel’s vision for Gardneria.
Love that so much. Actually, if you see our review in this issue, you’ll see that was a big part of why we love this book so much! So, what are you working on next? (hint hint can you tell us a little about the sequel/prequel?)
I’m actually working on the e-book prequel edit (WANDFASTED, out this summer) and Book Three (edits for Book Two being worked on soon!). Book Two (not titled yet) takes a darker turn as Elloren and her band of allies become more and more involved in the Resistance, and Marcus Vogel begins to fully unleash his power on the Realm (secrets will be revealed – be prepared for huge surprises!)
The author you’d most like to collaborate with is….
It’s a tie! Tamora Pierce & Robin Hobb.
Your favorite fantasy book character is…
At the moment? Kvothe in THE NAME OF THE WIND by Patrick Rothfuss.
Something you haven’t shared in any other interview is….
I have a good-luck Totoro stuffie I bring on book tour stops 🙂