Witches have always interested me as a reader and writer. So I was giddy to discover Jessica Spotswood’s The Cahill Witch Chronicles (Putnam), a trilogy showing an alternate history of the New England witches. The main protagonist, Cate, is a bold but reluctant witch who struggles with a number of things, including the menacing Brotherhood, an organization that prosecutes witches. After reading Jessica Spotswood’s BORN WICKED, the first book in the trilogy, I quickly read STAR CURSED, the sequel. I look forward to landing my hands on SISTERS’ FATE, the final book, which is coming out in August.
Today, I bring to you Jessica Spotswood.
I wanted to explore a world where clever, strong, powerful girls weren’t valued – were in fact feared – by the men in power. And while that was true in the 1890s (is still true today, I think, alas!) I wanted to make things even more difficult for my characters. I wanted to create a situation where, while the men definitely abuse their power, they also have a legitimate reason to fear these women. In the Cahill Witch Chronicles, magic can only be inherited and practiced by women, and in the past, the witches took horrible advantage of their ability to erase the memories of their enemies. It creates a situation where neither the witches nor the ruling Brotherhood are entirely good or bad, and the Brothers’ restrictions have created a powder keg situation where the witches are secretly gathering and ready to rebel!
Your books show rich world building. What things do you consider when you construct a world?
Thank you! I think it depends on the world. Since my New England is an alternate history version where witches settled the New World, fleeing persecution, and then were overthrown by a group of patriarchal priests called the Brotherhood, I thought a lot about how that history would trickle down. I explored the legal system a bit but focused mostly on culture – music, books, fashion, home decor, the rules governing conduct between men and women.
How did you construct the use of magic in your stories? How did you decide on the language of the spells? (e.g. "evanesco" to make something disappear, or "dedisco" to make one forget)
For my spells, I totally took a lesson from J.K. Rowling and used Latin! I took five years of Latin in high school. Evanesco means to vanish or disappear, and dedisco means to forget or unlearn! As for constructing magic, I decided there would be different kinds of magic, with varying levels of difficulty. In the world of the trilogy, illusions are easiest to create, followed by animation spells, followed by healing, followed by compulsion. Most witches can do illusions and animations; fewer are gifted at healing; and it’s very rare to be able to do compulsion.
In BORN WICKED, there’s also a running theme of girls needing to make the "right" choices (e.g. the intention ceremony). How do you feel about female characters making the "wrong" choices?
I think it’s really important to allow characters to make mistakes, regardless of gender. Female characters are often judged more harshly – called any number of slurs that would never be applied to boys who made the exact same choices. But I think that’s all the more reason to write about flawed female characters. Seeing characters in fiction who make mistakes – or even choices that aren’t mistakes but can be easily judged by readers - can hopefully start great dialogues and help us all learn to be more empathetic.
In STAR CURSED, there's a theme of imprisonment- there is physical and emotional imprisonment. Tell me more about Cate’s imprisonment. What elements, in your opinion, go into a story about imprisonment?
I think Cate experiences both – she doesn’t want to be in New London, away from Maura and Tess and Finn and her garden, and she also feels very alone, literally cursed, by her magic and the prophecy. She doesn’t want to be a witch, and making peace with it is one step forward and two steps back, because even as she learns that she can do a lot of good with her healing, she fears that magic will cost her true love and one of her sisters’ lives. I think one difficult element for me was walking the line between making her believably, understandably despondent at being put in this situation without making her unlikably whiny. I don’t feel like characters need to be likable all the time, but we do ask readers to spend a lot of time in our protagonist’s head, so it’s a tricky balance. Cate’s also not one to take action rashly; she thinks things through a billion times first; so you could also say she’s stuck in her own head sometimes. Not as dreadful as being imprisoned in Harwood, but still frustrating for her as she struggles to figure out what the right thing to do is.
Some of my favorites were LITTLE WOMEN, the EMILY OF NEW MOON and ANNE OF GREEN GABLES series (Rilla in STAR CURSED is named after RILLA OF INGLESIDE), WUTHERING HEIGHTS, JANE EYRE, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, and EMMA. My absolute favorite was GONE WITH THE WIND, though. I read a ton of historical romance!
What upcoming projects would you like to share about?
Actually, I just announced a new book deal! I’m going to be editing PETTICOATS & PISTOLS, a YA anthology of short stories that explore clever, strong, resourceful American girls throughout history. All the stories are written by female authors. Some will be realistic historical and some will be historical fantasy. I’ll be contributing a story, and so will Elizabeth Wein, Robin LaFevers, Andrea Cremer, Beth Revis, Marie Lu, Marissa Meyer, Saundra Mitchell, Jillian Anderson Coats, Katherine Longshore, Lindsay Smith, Robin Talley, and Caroline Richmond. I’m so excited to work with these amazing authors! It will hopefully come out in Spring 2016.
Thanks for having me!
Thanks for letting me interview you!