Our first new author interview at our new home is a big one! Last March I read about this deal in Publisher's Weekly:
Arianne Lewin, executive editor at G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, bought three books by Jessica Spotswood, including the debut novel Born Wicked (formerly called Thrice Blessed). Agent Jim McCarthy at Dystel & Goderich brokered the deal for Spotswood. Born Wicked, set in what the publisher calls "a world of tea parties, engagements, and elegant dresses," follows the Cahill sisters, a trio of teen witches who must hide their powers in order to save themselves from being shipped off to prison or a mental ward. Spotswood, who is from a small Pennsylvania town, lives in Washington, D.C.
Then I read this on the Born Wicked book page:
Our mother was a witch too, but she hid it better.
I miss her.
I was completely hooked. Witches who have to hide their power? This I have to read! And when I read it, I simply adored it! And if that isn’t testament enough, my 12 year old daughter, who is also a big reader, came home one day from soccer practice, dirty, exhausted and just wanting to take a shower and go to bed. But the bathroom was occupied. So she grabbed Born Wicked, sat in the hallway outside the bathroom to wait for it to be free. An hour and a half later, I come up to find her still on the floor of the hallway, obsessively reading, shower and exhaustion completely forgotten. It’s that good!
So I'm excited to be able to welcome Jessica Spotswood to the Inkpot!
Ello - Ok Jess, enquiring minds must know! How did the Cahill sisters become real to you?
JS – I was inspired by a dream I had about three sisters who were fighting over a magical locket from their mother. There’s no locket in BORN WICKED, but the idea of exploring the complicated relationships between three sisters with a dangerous magical inheritance stuck. Like Cate, I’m the oldest of three sisters, and I definitely drew upon my own relationships with them – the love, but also the petty rivalries and the way we define ourselves in relation to and in opposition of each other (i.e. she likes blue, I like pink; she’s messy, I’m neat; she argues, I’m the peacemaker).
Ello – I loved the sisters, my favorite is Tess! I have a feeling there’s a lot more to her that we will probably learn in later books, right? But the sister dynamic felt right to me, especially the older sister to middle sister relationship. Clearly the relationship between the three sisters is the key to the whole series. I was talking about Born Wicked with another friend and she said your book was a great romantic story about a witch, and I said I’d categorize it as a great fantasy book about three sisters who happen to be witches. What would you say?
JS – Thank you! I joke that it’s about sisters and witches and kissing. I think the romantic subplot is vital to the story, and I do love writing the kissing scenes – but at its heart, the Cahill Witch Chronicles is about Cate and Maura and Tess. At the beginning of the book, Cate barely knows what she wants for herself anymore because she’s so preoccupied with her promise to her mother to take care of her sisters. Over the course of the trilogy, we’ll see her wrestle with her magic and what she wants to do with it and figure out who she is besides Maura and Tess’s big sister. She questions whether it’s even okay to want to be something besides that, to compete with them. And, yes, she loves Finn; she wants to marry him. But it’s important to me that that’s not the be-all and end-all for her.
Ello – I LOVE that you said that! I wish more authors would also recognize that a girl can save herself and not need to be helplessly waiting for a knight in black leather... Bravo Jess!
What I particularly love about your book is the feel of it. Yes it’s alternate history, which I always think is so cool, but it is also Victorian/Edwardian. Why this time period?
JS – I love the idea of writing letters and candlelight and having teas and wearing incredible dresses. It seems so lush and sexy, though I’m sure it was less so in reality. Things were changing rapidly in terms of industry and technology and growing freedoms, but that era was still awfully repressive for women. I shifted things to make it even more so in Cate’s society. I suppose I wanted to play with that contradiction – the sensuousness of the high society dress and rituals with the rigid social expectations for women.
Ello – I have many favorite scenes in this book, but one of my absolute favorites is also the most romantic scene I’ve read in a book. Hands down! I loved it! I’m quite envious because I find romance scenes the hardest to write. I can kill off a character in many unique and nasty ways but a romantic kiss makes me all squirmy and uncomfortable. I can’t do it. So share your secrets with us romantically challenged writers! How did you write one of the most romantic scenes ever?
JS – Thank you so much! That was one of the first scenes I wrote in BW, and it remains one of my favorites. I think the fun thing is that it’s Cate’s first kiss ever. Wanting someone, especially someone so unexpected and unsuitable – it’s all new to her. Every touch, every look, every detail is new and fascinating. She’s totally thrown by it. Whereas Finn – he is so intrigued by her, by how there is obviously much more to her than he ever thought. She’s a challenge, and he’s attracted to that. Honestly, I just tried to make it about their feeeeeeelings. And occasionally I have to figure out where all the arms go, and I make my husband be my kiss dummy. He’s cool with it.
Ello – And of course that romantic scene simply wouldn’t have worked but for the fact that Finn is such a fabulous romantic lead! He’s not your typical alpha male, which to be honest, is what I loved about him. He’s gentle and smart and sweet, but determined and protective and very sexy! I really liked him! I can’t help but wonder if he’s modeled after someone in real life. Hmmm?
JS – Well, my husband is a freckled, brown-eyed book-lover, and I am rather fond of him! Mostly, though, Finn was inspired because I was a little weary, as a reader, of brooding alpha-male love interests. I wanted Cate’s romance to be a genuine partnership, with someone who loves her despite her flaws, and respects her. Who wants to protect her but not boss her or contain her. If anything, Cate is the snappish, bossy one in their relationship. It’s an anomaly for their society, but Finn was raised by a clever, educated woman. He’d be bored by a subservient wife.
Ello – And with that answer, Jess has clinched Finn's position as most romantic lead in my list! Now I’m always fascinated by the research process for a book. What was yours like? What was the funnest part to research? What was the most challenging?
JS – One of my favorite notes from my editor was to “ruffle my corsets” more, so I read up on Victorian fashion and home décor and social customs. Since BW is an alternate history, I was able to take some liberties, but I wanted to create a rich portrait of the Cahills’ world. The most fun part was looking at pictures of dresses. I think the most challenging part was that Cate loves gardening and flowers, and I know very little about that. I tried to check my facts with my mom (who is an amazing gardener) to make sure I didn’t have plants growing out of season, or describe things totally incorrectly, but I’m sure I made mistakes somewhere!
Ello – Well I think you succeeded very well!
All writers have deleted scenes or things that didn't make it to the final draft. Can you share with us something about Cate or her sisters that didn’t make it into this book? Some backstory that was too much for the book but kind of was important for character development?
JS – I actually have very few deleted scenes – my first drafts are spare, and I end up adding a lot in revisions – but I did totally rewrite the last fifty pages. The ending changed radically from the draft that went on submission. In the original draft, in order to save her sisters from the Brothers’ suspicions, Cate admitted to being a witch and was put on trial. Paul publicly announced their betrothal in order to try and save Cate's reputation. Oh, and in that draft, Zara escaped from Harwood and was on the run! But obviously we went in a totally different direction for both of those things!
Ello - Very different! And we won't say anything else cause we don't want to spoil the read for all of you! But speaking of endings, I have to say that I was blown away by yours! I remember screaming in my head “NOOOOOO!” But it was so good! And of course it is the type of ending that leaves your readers banging their heads on the wall at the thought of waiting another year to read the next book. Can you share with us a little bit about what to expect in the second book? A little teeny tiny hint? Come on, throw us a bone here!!
JS – I’m afraid things are only going to get worse before they get better for Cate and her sisters! Cate loves fiercely, but she has a habit of thinking she knows what’s best, making decisions to protect people without consulting them. It’s sort of her fatal flaw, and there will be consequences for it in the second book. The Cahill sisters will get to learn more about their magical heritage and what’s expected of them in the coming war between the Brotherhood and the witches. As usual, they’ll be divided about how to handle the responsibilities they’re faced with. They’ll finally get to meet their godmother, Zara Roth. There will be scandalous romantic trysts, new friends, political uprisings, and heartbreaking betrayals!
Ello – EGADS! I need that book NOW!!!
Ok, last question. You are on a deserted island and meet a genie who can’t get you off the island but can fill one very large and magical suitcase with 10 of your favorite things. Assuming that food (not including sweets and luxury items) and clothing (loin cloth at the very least) is already taken care of, what would that suitcase contain?
JS – Oh, tough question! A box of Earl Grey tea, a box of Sweet ‘n’ Low, a very large college-ruled notebook, two pens, copies of GONE WITH THE WIND and THE DISREPUTABLE HISTORY OF FRANKIE LANDAU-BANKS and CHIME, my cat, and a satellite phone so I could chat with my husband (assuming he wouldn’t fit in the suitcase).
Ello - Sweet 'n' Low? We seriously get the most interesting answers to that last question!