Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Interview with Amy Butler Greenfield, Author of CHANTRESS

Today we welcome author (and Enchanted Inkspot member) Amy Butler Greenfield, to talk about her new YA historical fantasy CHANTRESS. If you are looking for a beautifully written, atmospheric fantasy with a fascinating and complex magic system and a determined heroine seeking to make her own future, then you much check this one out!

Cover of the novel Chantress, depicting a young woman in a cloak holding a glowing red stone

Sing and the darkness will find you. 

Shipwrecked on an island seven years ago, Lucy has been warned she must never sing, or disaster will strike. But on All Hallows Eve, Lucy hears tantalizing music in the air. When she sings it, she unlocks a terrible secret: She is a Chantress, a spell-singer, brought to the island not by shipwreck but by a desperate enchantment gone wrong.

Her song lands her back in England — and in mortal peril, for the kingdom lies in the cruel grasp of a powerful Lord Protector and his mind-reading hunters, the Shadowgrims. The Protector has killed all Chantresses, for they alone can destroy the Shadowgrims. Only Lucy has survived.

In terrible danger, Lucy takes shelter with Nat, a spy who turns her heart upside-down. Nat has been working with his fellow scholars of the Invisible College to overthrow the Lord Protector, and they have long hoped to find a living Chantress to help them. But Lucy is completely untrained, and Nat deeply distrusts her magic. If Lucy cannot master the songspells, how long can she even stay alive?

CHANTRESS is available now in stores! You can also learn more about Amy and her books at her website!

You've previously published several other books (VIRGINIA BOUND, historical fiction for young readers set in colonial Virginia, and A PERFECT RED, described as "A true story of mystery, empire, and adventure, in pursuit of the most desirable color on earth"). But CHANTRESS is your first published work with fantasy elements. What drew you to write a historical fantasy? What do you think draws readers to fantasy and magic?

The past is a strange and amazing place, full of wonderful true tales, and until I wrote CHANTRESS I always went to great lengths to depict history as it really happened. But a few years ago, I found myself wanting to tell a different kind of story, a story that asked “What if?”

My favorite “what if” had to do with 17 th-century England, when even brilliant scientists like Isaac Newton and his crowd believed in the possibility of magic. What if history had been different? What if the magic those scientists believed in had been real? And what if the magic belonged not to them, but to someone who ordinarily wouldn’t have had much power: a young woman, a singer of songs?

A wild flight of fancy for a sedate historian like me! But I’ve loved fantasy fiction since I was small, which helps explain why I made this huge leap into the unknown. Pretty soon I was reworking the course of English history, dreaming up a magical system, and conjuring up whole dynasties in the blink of an eye.

I can’t speak for all readers, but for me that “leap into the unknown” is a powerful part of magic’s appeal. And when it came time to write about the magic itself – well, in all honesty, I felt as if I’d sprouted wings! To write about anything is a bit like working magic, I think. But in writing about magic I felt that tenfold.

While CHANTRESS features a number of fantastical elements, they are grounded in a real-world historical setting. How do you balance the need for historical research with the needs of the story you are telling? Do you do the bulk of your research before you start drafting, or during the drafting or revision?

I was lucky enough to come to CHANTRESS with a good grounding in my chosen setting, which was a huge help. But even so, I was always hitting points where I’d say, “Wait, would a pork pie really keep that long?” or “What kind of sound would a clock like that make?” and it was incredibly tempting to start hunting for exact details then and there. But as much as possible, I’d make my best guess or put in a placeholder and keep going. I know from experience that it’s way too easy for me to get caught up in research, and I needed to keep my head in the story.

In CHANTRESS, the main character, Lucy, discovers her own abilities to work a rich and complex music-based magic. Can you tell us a bit about how you developed Chantress magic? Did the origins and mechanics of it change during drafting and revision? Do you have any advice for writers who want to include a system of magic in their stories?

At first the whole idea of creating my own magical system scared me. But once I got going, working out the magic turned out to be one of my very favorite parts of writing CHANTRESS.

I knew from the start that the magic was worked by singing, and how it sounded. The origins were always clear in my mind, too. But it took me several drafts to work out the relationship between Wild Magic and Proven Magic. I’m fascinated by the difference between what we’re taught and what we know by instinct, and that turned out to be key to the magic I wrote about.

It helped me a lot to ask “real world” questions about my magic: How did it start? How is it passed on? Has it changed over time? Does it need just one practitioner, or many? Is there a wrong way and a right way to do it? What are the consequences and costs of the magic? What are its limit? How have people
tried to control it? Can the magic be countered – either by mundane means or with other magic?

The magic in CHANTRESS is strongly based on music. Do you sing or play any instruments yourself? Were there any specific songs that inspired the music in CHANTRESS?

I grew up in a house that was filled with music. Singing and playing the piano were big parts of my life. But in my twenties, for complicated reasons, I stopped, and it left a huge hole.

One of the best gift CHANTRESS gave me is that it made me realize how deeply I longed to make music again. We now have a piano, and I sing in a choir.

Although I can’t point to a specific song that inspired CHANTRESS, I can think of a silence that was crucial – the silence that comes after you’ve sung a song with everything that’s in you. Even in our world, that silence is powerful. It feels as if magic could happen, or has happened. In CHANTRESS, I wanted to write about a world where that magic is real.

One of the themes in CHANTRESS that most intrigued me was that of magic and science. Nat, the young spy who helps Lucy, is highly involved in a society of scholars and favors scientific observation and experimentation. Do you see any parallels to the tensions we see in our real world, between mystery and knowledge, between the numinous and the known? What sort of questions do you hope readers will ask themselves when reading CHANTRESS?

I’m a writer, but my dad is a scientist, my husband is a mathematician, and I myself was really torn in college between science and the arts. So I guess it’s no surprise that I’m very interested in the different ways of “knowing” that are possible. I’d love it if readers found CHANTRESS a good way to explore some of that territory.

In the real world, it’s all too easy for people to dismiss a way of knowing that differs from their own. I’ve tried to reflect that in CHANTRESS, particularly in the tensions between Nat and Lucy over Chantress magic. It was fun — and also deeply satisfying — to let Nat and Lucy challenge each other and ultimately to come to respect each other’s point of view.

In CHANTRESS, scientists and magic workers have to work together to set the world to rights again. Although I didn’t consciously set out to write the book that way, I’m very happy that’s how it turned out.

While CHANTRESS stands alone (at least in this reader's opinion!) and resolves Lucy's story in a satisfying way, I believe I am not alone in wondering what she will do next. Can you tell us anything about your next project? Will we get to read more about Lucy and her adventures as she learned about her Chantress powers?

I like stand-alone books, and I thought CHANTRESS would be one. And I’m thrilled to hear that you found the story satisfying just as it is. But when I was midway through drafting CHANTRESS, I had a thunderbolt moment when I suddenly saw that Lucy’s full story might actually take 3 books to tell. I scribbled down everything I could that day and tucked my ideas away in a folder. Years later, when my agent and editor asked if I could write more books about Lucy, I was delighted to pull those notes out again.

There will be two more books about Lucy. The next one is called CHANTRESS ALCHEMY (at least for now!), and I had a wonderful time writing it. It should be out next year.

I can't wait! Thank you so much for answering all these questions, Amy!

Deva Fagan is the author of Fortune’s FollyThe Magical Misadventures of Prunella Bogthistle and Circus Galacticus. She lives in Maine with her husband and her dog. When she’s not writing she spends her time reading, doing geometry, and drinking copious amounts of tea. Visit her at


  1. I can't wait to read Chantress, Amy, it sounds wonderful! I love the tension that you've developed between magic and science in the book. And the cover is gorgeous! Thanks for the interesting interview, Amy and Deva!

    1. Thank you so much, Erin! I'm so glad the book sounds good to you. And yes, I got very lucky with that cover!

  2. great interview, ladies! I was drawn to this book on gr by it's awesome cover. and the premise sounds son interesting, now it's a must-read!

  3. Thank you! I'm so glad you enjoyed the interview!

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