Q&A with Susan Dennard (WITCHSHADOW)
Susan Dennard has come a long way from small-town Georgia. With a masters degree in marine biology, she got to travel the world—six out of seven continents, to be exact (she’ll get to Asia one of these days!)—before she settled down as a full-time novelist and writing instructor.
She is the author of the New York Times bestselling Witchlands series as well as the Something Strange & Deadly series. When not writing, she can be found slaying darkspawn on her Xbox or earning bruises at the dojo.
Welcome to the Hive, Susan!
For those who may not know, can you tell us a little bit about the series? What can readers expect?
Readers can expect a huge, diverse cast of characters in a huge, diverse landscape. I love epic fantasy–it’s my bread and butter–and I love taking tried-and-true tropes and making them my own, either through subversion…or just totally leaning in. Basically, I wrote something I would want to read.
When the Witchlands series begins, Safi, a Truthwitch who can tell truth from lie, and her best friend Iseult, a Threadwitch, who can see the emotions that connect people, hold up the wrong carriage in a roadside heist. Suddenly, they have a ruthless Bloodwitch on their tail who wants to sell them to the highest bidder–and who can track their bloods anywhere they try to go. Meanwhile, magic is slowly dying, three empires are on the cusp of war, and these two young women may…or may not be the chosen pair meant to fix everything. No pressure.
What inspires your worldbuilding and magic system?
My initial idea for the magic came from the Threadwitch, Iseult, who is at the heart of the story in Witchshadow. I heard the word “Threadwitch” in my mind and started exploring what she could do (see how people are bound emotionally as well as what they’re feeling at all times) and what such a power might do to a person. Then I built the world out from there. What sort of magic would her best friend have–what would be a great foil to emotions? Truth and facts! And then, from there, what other sorts of witches do I want populating the world?
Originally, I had way too many kinds of magic. Like…a hundred. I’m not even joking (though I wish I was) that I had “Barleywitch” on my list of magics. I don’t know what they were supposed to do. Magically grow barley, I guess? Either way, that list got severely pared down. And then eventually divided into six elements, to make it even more accessible. So for example, my Windwitches got categorized into Airwitchery. My Ironwitch got moved into Earthwitchery. My Truthwitch and Threadwitch were now in the Aether element.
I personally love elemental magic. I think there’s always a fresh way to approach it, and I will never not love the pure visual, epic appeal of people using their various elements in battle.
What (or who) are your most significant female fantasy influences, and are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?
The list is so long, and I’m sure I’m forgetting someone. I fell in love with fantasy thanks to so, so many women who came before and just shattered the mold of what one can do in fantasy. Ursula K. LeGuin, Diana Wynne Jones, and Anne McCaffrey were some of my absolute favorites when I was a young reader and first exploring the genre. Then there are the more recent influences like Tamora Pierce, Robin Hobb, NK Jemisin, Jacqueline Carey, Zen Cho, Michelle West…Oh gosh, so many more.
As for who I dream of working with someday, it’s not so much a creator, but a creative team. I’d love to work in video game development and try my hand at writing for that medium. I’m a big gamer, and the demands of storytelling for games just fascinate me. I dabble as a Game Master for TTRPGs, and I find it way more fun than actually playing the game.
Finally, what is the one thing you hope readers take away from your writing?
I hope it transports them. Books were so important for me growing up, and as an adult they’re the place I escape to when I need to recover from the real world. They’re the place I embrace when I want to feel bigger than myself. If I can impart even a fraction of the awe and empowerment that books have given me, then I have succeeded. That’s honestly all I want as an author.
Thank you so much for joining us today, Susan!
The fourth book in the Witchlands Series, Witchshadow, is available now.