Me: Andrea, welcome to the Enchanted Inkpot! It’s so kind of you to drop by for Thanksgiving-week interview (please, take the cozy chair). Your NIGHTSHADE tells the story of three magic-marked teenagers (two of them what we might call werewolves—they would say “Guardians”) trying to figure out the rules of their mind-bendingly complicated world before they lose everything that matters to them. I have to ask: what came first to you, the characters or the world they inhabit? What was the germ of this story?
Andrea: Calla started it all because I wanted to write a story about a female character who wasn’t being pulled into a magical world – she was already in the middle of it, a leader and a warrior. The world of NIGHTSHADE came as I tried to figure out how someone like Calla, a girl who I knew was incredibly powerful, could be afraid and angry. What was controlling her? Why would she be fighting against her own destiny? I realized that she was facing off with something even more powerful than herself. That’s where my background as a historian came in. I teach early modern history (1500-1800) – a period of immense, violent change in human societies. This is the time of witch hunts, religious warfare, colonization, the Inquisition; all types of cataclysmic social transformation that turned the lives across the globe upside down. The more I thought about Calla I thought about the ways in which wolf warriors and witches could have intertwined lives. The mythology in NIGHTSHADE is a blend of history and lore plus new twists I imagined along the way.
Me: One thing I really admire about this book is the way you make us live in the worldview of your narrator. Calla Tor, like all the other Guardians, has to follow the rules of her pack (and the rules of the Keepers who are in charge of all packs). She sometimes finds the rules irritating, but they seem normal to her. Not to us, though! The strict and unquestioned hierarchy within the pack—the acceptance of the Keepers’ authority, even when their actions are unreasonable or cruel—for Calla, that’s just the way things are. So here’s a question: Was it hard holding back those explanations? Did you find it a challenge, staying solely in Calla’s head?
Andrea: Because Calla was the inspiration for the story it wasn't difficult to stay in her head. I think it also helped that I'm a historian and have seen so many examples in history of people following rules or adhering to ideologies that are really horrific. It can be incredibly difficult to see outside the worldview you've been raised in - that is the situation Calla is stuck in.
Me: Did your editor give you any trouble over the quotes from Hobbes, by the way? I was tickled to see “Bellum omnium contra omnes” taking a central place in a YA novel! How did you get away with that?! It’s even in Latin!
Andrea: Not at all! My editor is amazing and she's always been supportive. I teach Enlightenment philosophy so twisting the theories into the plot wasn't hard, but I don't read or write Latin. Fortunately I was able to call on the skills of a Classics professor who made sure the Latin I was using was correct.
Me: The massively rule-constrained world the (wolfish) Guardians and their (magical “witch”) Keepers live in does seem a desperate attempt to prevent a slide back into the war-of-all-against-all state of nature: the Guardians give up their freedom in order to live in “peace.” What the real nature of this bargain may be will almost certainly become clearer in the sequels (WOLFSBANE, 2011, and BLOODROSE, 2012), and I won’t ask you to spoil them for us here. But will there be more 17th-century philosophy involved? (hoping!) And more forbidden love? (yes?)
Andrea: More forbidden love = yes. In terms of philosophy: while the themes and arguments continued to be explored there won't be more direct involvement of philosophy than what we've already encountered.
Me: The Mountain School, where teen Guardians move from class to class in packs, while the human kids kind of cluster in alarm on the other side of the cafeteria and the occasional lord-like teen Keeper saunters up to give orders, reminded me, of course, of my own high school experience. I did wonder why human families would send their children there (“to the wolves,” as it were)—do you have a theory about that?
Andrea: The human students who attend the Mountain School are the children of powerful figures in the human world (millionaires, high-ranking politicians, etc.) whose work has brought them into dealings with the Keepers. It's a legacy thing.
Me: You are a model for all of us wondering how to make the new media/the really new media/the social media/the really new social media, work for us as we promote our books: a tiny bit of Googling brought me to the eight webisodes set in the NIGHTSHADE world narrated by a super-attractive “Shay Doran.” Hey, he even has his own Facebook page! How did these webisodes come into being, and do you have any wise words for us about which kinds of media presence seem to be working out best for you and your books?
Andrea: I loved the webisodes! Penguin partnered with the marketing firm, Campfire, and together we created the Shadow Days campaign. It was an amazing experience. And Will Browning, the actor who brought Shay to life, is honestly one of my favorite human beings. He's a wonderful guy (and yes, super cute). In terms of social media I think it's only successful if you love doing it. If you're blogging or tweeting out of obligation rather than because you find it interesting, it won't end up helping your promotion at all.
Me: More randomly: Have you spent a lot of time in the mountains of Colorado? Do you like caves? Have you ever wrestled a bear in real life? Inquiring minds want to know.
Andrea: I've been to Boulder and Denver and have drive through the Rockies, but I haven't spent time in Vail. I did a lot of research on Vail using Google Earth to create the setting. I'm claustrophobic so I'm terrified of caves. I have seen several bears (black bears, not grizzlies) but no wrestling.
Me: Speaking of extracurricular activities, I notice that you’re a history professor during the day (I sympathize—I teach, too) and write your thrilling, sexy YA when the moon rises (well, you didn’t actually say that out loud on your website, but I’m guessing). That’s a kind of shapeshifting in its own right! How do you balance the academic and fiction-writing sides of your life? Do your students know what you do? I can guess that your training in history helped with the construction of NIGHTSHADE’s intricate backstory, but do you ever find your interest in fantasy and ravenous wolves affecting the kind of historical research you do, or the way you teach history?
Andrea: I write whenever I can and have been able to balance that with my teaching schedule. My students are amazingly excited and supportive about my novels :) With regard to research I think it's a bit of a chicken and egg question - my scholarship examines the intersection of religion, violence, and sexuality in the early modern world and my novels focus on witchcraft and oppression. I think both fiction and history are constantly feeding off each other in my brain.
Me: What are you working on now? Where are WOLFSBANE and BLOODROSE in the writing/publishing pipeline? What other books are you dreaming up at the moment?
Andrea: WOLFSBANE ARCs are being printed! I'm in the final editing stages of BLOODROSE, which will be published in spring 2011. After that I'm writing a prequel to the NIGHTSHADE series which is about the origins of the Witches War and takes place in the Middle Ages. I'm also working on a steampunk series.
Me: Finally, how do you get anything—ANYTHING—done—EVER—with a border collie in the house? Really, I want to know. I need to know. Ours is named Soushka, and she never stops moving, except to chew on the furniture.
Andrea: She herds our pug and that keeps her pretty busy.
Me: Andrea, thank you for letting The Enchanted Inkpot ask you all of these nosy questions, and huge congrats on NIGHTSHADE!