Jessica Spotswoods‘s debut novel Born Wicked came out earlier this year. This stunning alternate history is filled with witches and unexpected twists and feminist ideas to boot. The ending broke my heart a little bit and made me desperate for book two, but Born Wicked remains a favorite 2012 read and I can’t wait to see the rest of the trilogy. Ms. Spotswood is here today to talk about her debut novel and answer some of my questions.
Miss Print (MP): Can you tell us a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?
Jessica Spotswood (JS): I loved writing in high school, but got absorbed in theatre in college. After grad school, in 2007, I realized that I didn’t love theatre enough to make a career out of it. It was a scary thing to admit, but I coped by rereading my favorite books from childhood like L.M. Montgomery and Louisa May Alcott. That led me to reading some of the YA that was out at the time, like Vampire Academy, Wicked Lovely, and Twilight. I started writing my own YA fantasy, about a portrait-painting girl who discovers her family’s link to a world where artists are considered enemies of the state. I queried in 2009 with that manuscript, which earned me representation from my awesome agent, Jim McCarthy. While I was on submission, I wrote Born Wicked. That first manuscript never sold, but BW did, in a week!
MP: What was the inspiration for Born Wicked?
JS: I had a dream about three sisters who were fighting over a magical locket. There’s no magical locket in BW, but the idea stuck of writing about three sisters with a complicated magical inheritance.
MP: Born Wicked focuses on the three Cahill sisters, all witches and all extremely different. Did you identify with one sister more than the others? How did you go about giving each of the Cahill sisters their own unique personality?
JS: I identify with Cate the most; since the books are from her point of view, I spend the most time in her head. Like Cate, I’m the oldest of three sisters. Also like Cate, I’m a worrier and I’m super-stubborn (I think you have to be, in publishing)! As for how I gave them each their own personalities, I tend to think of each sister in terms of what she wants most and what she fears most, as well as her strengths and weaknesses. For instance: Cate’s best and worst qualities would be selflessness & overprotectiveness; Maura’s are ambition & jealousy; Tess’s are perceptiveness & impulsiveness.
MP: Although your book is set in an alternate history, Born Wicked is still grounded in pre-twentieth century clothing and social behaviors. Did research play into your writing process?
JS: Yes! 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 hope all of those little details contribute to a rich portrait of the Cahills’ world.
MP: Before writing you studied and worked in the theater. Did your theater background affect how you set about writing each scene or setting up the plot Born Wicked?
JS: I’m not sure if it contributes to how I plot, but I do tend to write dialogue first and then add in description and Cate’s observations and thoughts. I read plays pretty exclusively for several years, so I think (hope?) I have a good ear for dialogue. I also tend to think in three-act structure, which may be why the Cahill Witch Chronicles is a trilogy!
MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project? Or when to start looking for the second book in the Cahill Witch Chronicles?
JS: Right now I’m working on revisions for Star Cursed, the second book. It will be out February 7, 2013! On the Breathless Reads tour, I liked to say that Star Cursed will be brutal & awesome, with kissing. A longer teaser: 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!
[MP: OMG that sounds awesome!]
MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?
JS: Find people to read your work and give you honest feedback. Other writers are great, but so are friends who read a lot. It is incredibly helpful to have objective opinions on what works well, what they love, as well as what they have questions about or what might not quite make sense to them. My critique partners are invaluable!
Thanks again to Jessica Spotswood for taking the time to answer my questions.