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Interview with Jessica Spotswood, author of Star Cursed
[box type="note"]Fantasy. Alternate history. Magic. Sisters. Witches. Spells. Romance. Swoony boys.
Yup, you get all of the above and much more with Star Cursed, the second book in Jessica Spotswood's Cahill Witch Chronicles that releases on this coming Tuesday (6/18). Aside from being my Putnam imprint sister, Jess and I both did our very first book tour together as part of Penguin's Breathless Reads, and I've been a fan of her books ever since. For any of you who have not yet read the first Cahill Witch book, Born Wicked, you are seriously missing out—and things just ramp up in Star Cursed. There are gorgeous romance scenes, complex sibling and friend relationships, shocking twists, betrayals, deaths, mind magic, and more. Agh! Seriously, go pick it up now if you haven't already. Check out the full synopsis below, as well as Jess's answers to my questions:[/box]
Star Cursed (Book 2 in the Cahill Witch Chronicles)
With the Brotherhood persecuting witches like never before, a divided Sisterhood desperately needs Cate to come into her Prophesied powers. And after Cate's friend Sachi is arrested for using magic, a war-thirsty Sister offers to help her find answers—if Cate is willing to endanger everyone she loves.
Cate doesn't want to be a weapon, and she doesn't want to involve her friends and Finn in the Sisterhood's schemes. But when Maura and Tess join the Sisterhood, Maura makes it clear that she'll do whatever it takes to lead the witches to victory. Even if it means sacrifices. Even if it means overthrowing Cate. Even if it means all-out war.
In the highly anticipated sequel to Born Wicked, the Cahill Witch Chronicles continue Cate, Maura and Tess's quest to find love, protect family, and explore their magic against all odds in an alternate history of New England.
Marie: To start, tell us briefly about Star Cursed in your own words. Mix us a literary cocktail!
Jess: Star Cursed is one part witchery, one part historical, and one part romance. Add a jigger of political intrigue and 3 sprigs of sibling rivalry. Shake well and garnish with a mad oracle. Drink up and prepare for possible heartbreak.
Marie: Okay. That sounds delicious. Mmm. There's so much to love in Star Cursed, but one of my absolute favorite aspects is the deepening complexity between the three sisters. I especially love how each of them has a strength—Cate's protectiveness, Maura's fire, Tess's kind heart—that can also be a weakness. Out of the three, which sister is your favorite to write? Did you draw on any real-life moments for the conflicts that they face together?
Jess: I identify most with Cate because I'm in her head and her point of view. Like her, I'm the oldest of three sisters, so I can draw on that complicated mix of love and competition between siblings. But I'm probably most like Tess—bookish, curious, quiet, and eager for everyone to get along. I enjoy writing Maura, though, because she makes mistakes in the same big, wholehearted way she loves - this is not a girl who ever plays small, and I love that about her. They really do each have their own strengths!
Marie: With Star Cursed, I think you really expanded on the seeds you planted in Born Wicked. It's so good. But writing the second book in a trilogy is rarely smooth sailing—I bear my own scars from that voyage! What challenges did you face going into the sequel?
Jess: Ag! Star Cursed was my first book on a tight deadline (four months), and it was rough. I was terrified that it wouldn't be good enough—that whatever magic happened when I wrote Born Wicked couldn't possibly be replicated. And then the worst seemed to happen—my editor read it and the more we talked, the more we realized it didn't work. Middle books in a trilogy are tricksy; they have to be a bridge between books 1 and 3, while also possessing their own plot and character arcs, and they have to step it up in every way—more thrilling, more romantic, more twists and turns! I threw out 75% of the draft and started over. I will not lie; there were lots of tears and cookies involved. But it was the absolute best thing for the book. Whatever else readers may think, I don't think they can accuse SC of being a placeholder book in which nothing happens. *Jess cackles evilly*
Marie: Yup, pretty sure no one can accuse SC of that. And this book is darker! I mean, Born Wicked wasn't exactly a walk in the park, but you really shine a light on how bad things can get in this Brotherhood-dominated world. Did you know all of the twists and turns that were going to happen? Or did some of them come to you during the drafting process? Do you like to wrench your readers' hearts and leave them sobbing?
Jess: Most of the twists and turns came to me in the rewriting. My characters surprised me a lot. I was so full of self-doubt after the failed draft; I didn't trust my own instincts, so I kept trying to follow an outline and force them into corners. They stood there staring at me all rebelliously, like, This does not even make sense. It taught me that when I'm stuck, the best thing to do is get quiet and ask myself what the characters want (and sometimes, more helpfully, what they really don't want). I did know what the ending was; that was in the first draft. And in related news, I do like to make readers feel all their feelings! As a reader, that's what I want from a book—to swoon and cry and throw the book across the room. It has to be organic, though, not gimmicky or contrived.
Marie: Okay, so. Finn, Finn, Finn. He really is one of the most delightful YA boys on the shelves today. It's so refreshing to see that a good boy can be just as sexy as a bad boy, and Finn is endearingly good. (He also seems to be getting even better with the kissing. Hotcha!) How did Finn come to be? Real-life inspiration? A sweet, sweet imaginary kingdom of handsome good boys?
Jess: My favorite YA heroes are clever, talented, respectful boys—Po from Graceling and Eldric from Chime are my book boyfriends. At the time I was writing Born Wicked, there were so many possessive, jealous, alpha-male bad boys in YA. And they can be totally fun to read about, but I wanted a different kind of relationship for Cate. She's grown up with the message that witchery is wicked and wrong, that women should be submissive and chaste. Finn is very progressive; he's something of a revelation to her. He not only accepts her as powerful and independent and bossy, he loves her for it. They are a partnership of equals. It was important to me that she have that because - well, it's the kind of relationship I have, and I think it kind of rocks. My husband is a bookish, freckled redhead too, so he may have inspired a few of Finn's attributes.
Marie: I love your diverse cast of characters. There are good girls and bad girls, good boys and bad boys, boys and girls who are shades of gray, and characters spanning a great range of ethnicity, sexuality, and personality. It's so important to portray to a young reading audience that a world like this is the world we live in—one populated by all kinds of people. I just had to highlight this strength in your series.
Jess: There wasn't any question of writing it otherwise. I don't live in a world where everyone is straight and white and rich, so why would Cate? The only criticism of BORN WICKED that genuinely infuriates me is when readers accuse me of having "a pro-gay agenda" just because there are girls in my books who love and/or kiss other girls. Reflecting the world we live in - which contains loads of LGBTQ people - is not an agenda! It reminds me of how Joss Whedon was asked why he writes strong women, and he said something along the lines of, "Because you're still asking that question." I look forward to the day when diversity in our fiction is totally commonplace and unremarkable.
Marie: That day will a glorious day. And criticism like that should just be worn as a badge of honor, because it's not a reflection on you or your work at all—but a reflection on the reader.
Lastly, I'm sure I won't be the only one enamored with the lush descriptions of beautiful dresses in Star Cursed. What does your dream dress look like?
Jess: The dress I'm currently lusting after is this Jardim Lace Dress (in pink) from Anthropologie. I'm basically stalking it, hoping it will go on sale. But if we're talking Victorian-era dresses, I love this blue gown that I think would be gorgeous on Maura. You can see lots of other pretty historical dresses on my Cahill Witch Pinterest board !
Marie: Which, by the way, is one of the most gorgeous Pinterest boards ever. I want to dive in there and swim around in the lovely dresses and gorgeous casting!
Star Cursed comes out this Tuesday (June 18), guys, so pre-order it now or make sure to head over to your local bookstore to grab your copy! As for me, I'll stay here in this corner and brood until I can get my hands on the third book...
Jessica Spotswood lives with her playwright husband and a cuddly cat named Monkey. She's never happier than when she's immersed in a good story, and swoony kissing scenes are her favorite. You can visit her at www.jessicaspotswood.com and follow her on twitter @jessica_shea.