Wednesday, May 21, 2014

CHANTRESS ALCHEMY with Amy Butler Greenfield!

This week I got to chat with the supremely talented, Amy Butler Greenfield, about her new book CHANTRESS ALCHEMY, the wonderful second part of the CHANTRESS triology.

Here is the awesome book trailer...
For ease of following our chat - my questions are in blue...

I love the mood you set at the beginning of this novel with the Chantress by the sea - as someone who grew up by the shore, I wondered if you had ever lived there, and how you researched for this? I imagine you walking the sands of Norfolk at night in the wind and rain!

Oh, I wish I could have done that! I’ve always loved the sea, and I expect that’s why there’s a lot of water and water magic in the Chantress books. Growing up, the coasts I knew best were all on the eastern US seaboard, especially the island of Nantucket, where my uncle was a lobsterman.  But ever since I first came to live on other side of the Atlantic, I’ve enjoyed getting to know the British coast better – though my explorations are hindered a bit by the fact that I live in landlocked Oxfordshire!
My favorite part of the British shoreline so far is the Jurassic Coast in Dorset. Initially I planned to start Chantress Alchemy there, but for all kinds of reasons I soon realized Norfolk made more sense.  Because my deadlines were tight I wasn’t able to travel there, but luckily we have friends and family who often go to Norfolk, and I also researched the exact bit of coastline I needed at the library and online. Almost none of the research made it into the book, but it helped make the setting real in my mind – which helped me make it real on paper.

How did this book idea come about and was it always meant to be a trilogy?
My friends and even my mom had ideas about what I should write next but I couldn’t find anything I wanted to start on. 

Then one day sitting in a coffee house, I thought, maybe this is it. I don’t have any more books in me. I always have my journal and pen in hand so I wrote, if I was only allowed one more book what would it be? And something shook itself free and I was able to start. And the three things that came to me were, singing, spy network, ruby, lost girl. And then I knew I really wanted to write this.

This novel is very much a stand alone, which I think is tricky especially for the second novel in a trilogy - so often they become a bridge between the beginning and end. Did you set out deliberately to make sure each part has its own distinct story, as well as an overall arc?

It IS difficult!  But it was something I very much wanted to do, as I always get frustrated when I read a trilogy where the books break off in mid-story – and I’ve always loved books like THE DARK IS RISING sequence and THE CHRONICES OF PRYDAIN (and in a looser sense, the WIMSEY-VANE mysteries and the MARY RUSSELL mysteries), where each book is both part of a whole and a story in itself.  

I underestimated how hard it would be to pull this off, though!  The characters need to develop and grow, and there needs to be some kind of epiphany in each book – and yet you always have to remember where you’re going with the overall arc of the series. And the same is true with the ending:  You need closure, but not so much closure that the reader has no reason to come back.   

I love and also despair at this ending - did you mean to break my heart? Seriously, I need to know what happens next, after you left us on such an 'oh, it had to be this way,' ending - how far into writing the third book are you?

I’m sorry that I broke your heart – but truly delighted that you cared so much about the characters!  I have to admit I cried when I wrote that last scene.  In fact, the first draft had a much happier ending, because I couldn’t bear to write it any other way.  But that ending didn’t feel true to me. So I dug deeper and let the story be what it wanted to be, and I found the ending that felt real.

Of course I left myself quite a job to do in the third book! But I have a full draft of that now, and my editorial letter has just arrived, so we’re on schedule for a Summer 2015 release.  Although it’s been tough writing on such a tight deadline, the book itself has helped keep me going, as it’s full of adventure and all kinds of Chantress mysteries and secrets—with Lucy and Nat facing their greatest dangers yet.

I love how aspects of the Flamel story intertwine with this one, and the elements of court life in seventeenth century England, can you tell how hard I'm trying not to give any spoilers away here? How much research did you do and was it hard to stop?

You are doing a SUPER job not giving away spoilers, Keely!  I adore research in general, but the research for this book was especially fun.  I visited historic houses, sampled old-fashioned foods, and swanned around a fashion museum admiring ballgowns and embroidery.  I even got to research chemical explosions and alchemical secrets. What’s not to love?! (Er, yes…  it was hard to stop.)

I have never heard of calendar houses and am now dying to visit one. Were there any other amazing things you found out that you would have loved to include but just didn't fit into this story?

A ton! But dearly as I love research, I’m a firm believer in only including what’s absolutely necessary for the story, and not letting the cool facts take over. To give an example:  I was fascinated by everything I read about the alchemist Sophie Brahe, but virtually all of it will have to wait for some other book. As will all those gorgeous (and truly wacky) illuminated alchemical manuscripts, and the brocaded seventeenth-century court shoes, and… sigh.  It’s hard not to include it all! But I try to keep in mind that with novels, research is like an iceberg: most of it should stay hidden.

Was it easier to write the second story, as you knew the characters so well, or does it bring its own unique challenges when you're working with the same personalities?

It really was a joy to come back to these characters. In a very real way I felt like I was getting to visit with old friends.  Occasionally I found myself constrained by something I wrote in the first book that I wished I could change, but that was rare. Honestly, I think I had the best of both worlds this time around, since there are also quite a few new characters in this book, and most of them were enormous fun to write. 

So, what is your next project? 
I’ve had the good luck to write about things I love and care about and have a few ideas, but I’ll wait until the end of this project to see which one grabs me, or it might be something completely different!
Okay, as Amy lives just outside of Oxford, and I'm an expat, Brit talk!
Hot buttered crumpets or cream tea? 
Cream tea – with clotted cream, please!
Earl Grey or black tea?  Oh, that’s hard.  But I’ll go for Earl Grey.
Pimms or G & T?  Pimms. It always makes me think of summer in England, which happily is almost here.

I cannot wait to read your next book and what a delight it was to meet you! Thank you Amy Butler Greenfield, for stopping by The Inkpot!


  1. Mmmm. Clotted cream. How wonderful that you managed to give the second book it's own arc as well as contribute to the trilogy's arc! Congratulations, Amy--that's quite a feat!

    1. Thank, Ellen! It was devilishly difficult. Maybe more clotted cream (& jam) would have helped?

  2. It is a brilliant read - and I know clotted cream and Pimms - ahhhh an English summer ;)

  3. Thanks, Keely! Such a treat to do this with you.

    And we are pouring with rain at the moment - yet another classic bit of an English summer! :)

  4. Chantress Alchemy is beautifully written, and this series is a definite must for fans of historical fantasy. This series has many elements that make it stand out among all the other young adult fantasy novels. I am anxiously awaiting the final installment in the Chantress Trilogy.

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