Book Nerd Interview
I've wanted to be a writer since I wrote a story about my grandparents' cabin in Mrs. Eisenhart's class in fourth grade. In fifth grade, I got in trouble for reading under my desk while the teacher was talking. Then in sixth grade I read Gone with the Wind. It changed my life. The characters of Scarlett and Rhett leapt off the page; they were flawed and clever and fascinating. In high school, I wrote three sprawling historical romance novels full of kissing and banter. In retrospect, they were dreadful (I had not been kissed myself at this point), but it didn't matter; I fell in love with creating characters and writing into the wee hours of the morning. I also played clarinet in the marching and concert bands and tenor sax in the jazz band; edited the newspaper; was copy editor for the yearbook; and acted in a bunch of school plays. My favorite role was Beth in Little Women. I died splendidly.
I left my tiny one-stoplight hometown (Biglerville, PA) to attend Washington College. Within my first week there, I had auditioned for two plays. Writing mostly fell by the wayside because I was spending thirteen hours a day in rehearsal. The drama department at Washington College was amazing; it taught me to value creative collaboration, ask questions, and give tactful feedback (all skills that have been crazy-useful in my writing career). I directed a production of Elie Wiesel's The Trial of God for my drama thesis and wrote a play for my English thesis. It was at WAC that I met my husband, Stephen Spotswood, and a fabulous group of friends who are still my besties.
After graduation, I moved to Washington, DC. I got my M.A. in Theatre History & Criticism at Catholic University while I interned in literary management at a few different DC theatres. Eventually I realized that I loved theatre, but not enough to make a career out of it. It was a scary thing to admit. I coped by rereading all of my favorite books from childhood. L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon books led me to reading some of the brilliant YA that's being published now. In 2007, I started writing my own YA fantasy,Inheriting Garolass, about a portrait-painting girl who discovers her family's link to a world where artists are considered enemies of the state. This manuscript helped me snag my awesome agent, Jim McCarthy at DGLM. Unfortunately, Garolass didn't sell—but the next book did, in a pre-empt from Penguin for the whole trilogy.
Now I live in a hipster neighborhood in Washington, DC with my brilliant playwright husband and a very cuddly cat named Monkey, and I am a full-time author.
What fiction most influenced your childhood, and what effect did those stories have on your writing?
As a little girl, my favorite books were L.M. Montgomery’s ANNE OF GREEN GABLES and EMILY OF NEW MOON series, and Louisa May Alcott’s ANNE OF GREEN GABLES. They created a love of stories about families, with a strong sense of place. Those are things I aspire to in my own writing. As a teen, my favorite book was GONE WITH THE WIND. I love how flawed yet sympathetic the characters are. Scarlett O’Hara is selfish and ruthless, but she’s also a survivor and a strong, independent woman in a society that doesn’t respect that. I definitely also aim to write about strong, independent girls.
When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill?
I’ve wanted to write since I was a little girl, but I didn’t think of it as an actual career choice until about five years ago. I had just finished grad school and in the process I’d sort of fallen out of love with theatre. I was studying dramaturgy and helping playwrights develop new scripts, but I really missed having a creative outlet of my own. That’s when I started writing fiction again and realized that it was what I was meant to be doing.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in writing Born Wicked?
I was surprised by how collaborative the editing process was. My editor and I brainstorm together a lot about new outlines and plot points and character developments, and we went back and forth on revisions countless times. She’s challenging, but I know my writing has improved because of it. And it is reassuring, because even when I don’t have faith in myself and my own talents, I have faith in her!
Do you have plans for a new book? Is this book part of a series?
Right now, I’m working on STAR CURSED, the sequel to BORN WICKED. There will be three books in the Cahill Witch Chronicles. After that, who knows? Before BW sold, I was working on a Sleeping Beauty retelling from the point of view of Princess Tala’s half-fey best friend. I'd love to finish it at some point.
Did you learn anything from writing Cate and what was it?
Absolutely! I learned that when I get stuck, I should stop over-thinking and just listen to the character, think about what she wants and what she’s afraid of, and go from there.
List 5 of your all time favorite books?
Here are five of my current favorites:
CHIME by Franny Billingsley
GRACELING, FIRE, and BITTERBLUE by Kristin Cashore (I’m cheating & counting that as one!)
BLOODROSE by Andrea Cremer
SCARLET by AC Gaughen
SOMETHING LIKE NORMAL by Trish Doller
Blessed with a gift...cursed with a secret.
Everybody knows Cate Cahill and her sisters are eccentric. Too pretty, too reclusive, and far too educated for their own good. But the truth is even worse: they're witches. And if their secret is discovered by the priests of the Brotherhood, it would mean an asylum, a prison ship - or an early grave.
Before her mother died, Cate promised to protect her sisters. But with only six months left to choose between marriage and the Sisterhood, she might not be able to keep her word . . . especially after she finds her mother's diary, uncovering a secret that could spell her family's destruction. Desperate to find alternatives to their fate, Cate starts scouring banned books and questioning rebellious new friends, all while juggling tea parties, shocking marriage proposals, and a forbidden romance with the completely unsuitable Finn Belastra.
If what her mother wrote is true, the Cahill girls aren't safe. Not from the Brotherhood, the Sisterhood - not even from each other.
Born Wicked is an unparalleled debut from Jessica Spotswood. A magnificent merge of science fiction and fantasy that entwines together topics of love, belief, magic, responsibility, and feminism. The plot line and the alternate history grant enough world-building that keeps readers’ interest level high. With skillfully crafted enthralling characters and their world, I was immediately hooked from the first chapter.
The very likable Cate is caught up in a tough situation, but she’s strong-willed and determined. With her sisters under her care, she’s also ready to make sacrifices to guard the people she loves. Three events are fast approaching Cate; either announce her engagement, join the Sisterhood or the Brotherhood pick a husband for her. She also locates her mother’s diary that depicts a prophecy of three sisters that becomes the most dominant witches. But it also says that these sisters will either save civilization or carry upon the second terror.
Born Wicked is engaging in all aspects from the alternative historical setting, the plot, the characters, and to the writing style. The book presented constant surprises throughout. Jessica’s writing style is truly remarkable and completely connects with its reader. The storyline is addictive and the pacing was just right. Born Wicked is a grand launch to a very promising series.
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