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Susan Dennard Interview

Susan DennardSusan Dennard has come a long way from small-town Georgia. As a marine biologist, she got to travel the world before settling down as a full-time novelist and writing instructor. She is the author of the Something Strange and Deadly series as well as the forthcoming Witchlands series. Today she was kind enough to stop by Fantasy-Faction and talk to us about her recently released novel Truthwitch.

So, who is Susan Dennard? And what’s she likely to be doing on a rainy Tuesday evening in December? Does she laugh at cat videos on the weekends when she’s supposed to be working?

I love this question. Susan Dennard plays video games when she’s supposed to be working. Right now, she’s playing way too much Fallout 4.

Sometimes, though, she goes to karate on Tuesday nights and pretends to be a productive human being instead.

What was the first thing you ever wrote and finished (literally anything counts!)?

The first thing I remember writing was a story about Jamie Bond—007’s precocious daughter. Basically, she was the female version of James Bond Jr. (does ANYONE else remember that cartoon?) with fabulous 90s hair as well as gadgets and intrigue galore.

Truthwitch is going to be incredible. It’s definitely a departure from your Something Strange and Deadly books—how did Truthwitch come to be a thing?

Truthwitch (UK cover)Truthwitch was one of those “perfect storm” moments. I knew I wanted to write epic fantasy (since that’s my true genre-love), and I knew I wanted to write something with a Croatian aesthetic—I’d backpacked there a few years before and the landscape had haunted me ever since. Plus, I knew-knew-knew that I wanted friendship to be at the story’s heart. I feel like friendship can be as powerful and life-changing as romance (I have some incredible lady friends myself!), and I wanted a friendship that literally saved the world.

It was right around then that I discovered Two Steps from Hell—who are only the most amazing composition duo of all time. I heard their piece “El Dorado” and suddenly this scene just exploded in my mind. Two best friends caught up in a roadside heist gone wrong! Turquoise blue waters on one side and limestone cliffs on the other! And a city similar to Dubrovnik only a few miles away…

Which of the clans would you be part of it you lived in the world of Truthwitch? Why this clan?

I’m a water girl—a Pisces with a master’s degree in marine biology! So if I could have any magical affiliation from the Witchlands series, I’d definitely want the water magic, please!

It’s been hard to miss talk about the Clans and the Witchlanders Street Team on Twitter—all of which are fantastic—but where did the idea for this sort of approach in regards to getting Truthwitch known to the wide world come from? Is it cool or daunting, or both, but mostly cool?

The idea for the street team was all conjured up by an incredible gal in the UK named Nicola (you can read an interview with her here!). She had started the @Truthwitch account on Twitter and had quickly discovered that there was a lot of buzz for Truthwitch—and this was all MANY months before the book was out. She emailed me to ask how I felt about tapping into all that early hype with a street team, and so the #Witchlanders were born!

I won’t lie: it has been a huge amount of time (and money) to maintain the street team. There are almost 90 members, and whenever you have that many people working together, it’s going to demand a lot of negotiation and planning. But it has been SO worth it. For one, I’ve gotten really close with Nicola and the various leaders of the six elemental clans. On top of that, we’ve built a community—that’s truly what it feels like!! So even if all the #Witchlanders’ amazing tweets and pins and blogs have no impact on Truthwitch’s actual success, it was still so worth all the effort just to forge these great friendships. (That said, I do think their hard work will pay off!)

Tell us a little about Truthwitch so people can get super excited about it! (The question authors hate: what’s the book about?)

Truthwitch (US cover)In a world…

Just kidding. Sort of.

The gist is this: Safiya is a Truthwitch, able to tell truth from lie. Many would kill for that magic, so she has kept it hidden her whole life—and Safi’s best friend, Iseult, has a power hidden even from herself.

All the two witches want in life is their freedom. But with war coming, treaties breaking, and magic dying, the best friends will have to fight emperors, mercenaries, and witches alike—for some will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.

Do you have a written list of all the kinds of Witchery that exist in your world?

I do! And it’s enormous. From Truthwitches (a subset of Aetherwitchery) to Bloodwitches (a facet of the Void), I have way too many kinds of magic. Hence the master list, so I don’t forget them all!

I also have a master guide to the world because, again, TOO BIG! And to keep track of all the cultural nuances and character backstories and Witchlands settings, I started a master file a few years back.

It’s incredible that you wanted friendship to be such a powerful theme! Really, it’s a theme that’s somewhat underused in, well, anything. Friendship is huge, right?! What big themes have you yet to write about that are really big to you and you want to weave into your work one day?

Something Strange & Deadly (cover)I would love to write about family. They can build you up and be the most important people in your life, or they can also be your greatest downfall. Sometimes they can be both at once.

I’d also really love to explore some of the current fears we see (some legitimate, some not) regarding radicalism and terrorism. I heard the most incredible quote on the radio recently from Farris Barakat, who lost his brother to a shooting. “We can’t kill these [radical] ideas,” he said. “We have to nurture people out of them.” I thought that was brilliant and beautiful and poignant, and I think fantasy literature—especially YA—is the perfect place to explore such ideas in a safe, palatable way.

There’s more emphasis on friendship than romance in Truthwitch, between both male and female pairs. This is pretty big to me as a reader, especially seeing so close a bond between guys that is a mirror of a BFF relationship, instead of just battle-hardened brothers-in-arms! Name some of your favourite fantasy and sci-fi BFFs. Who would you want to be BFFs with if you could choose anyone from any media ever?

Obviously Sam and Frodo. Then there’s Fitz and the Fool (from Robin Hobb’s Royal Assassin books). Spock and Kirk. Hector and Stanley (from Louis Sachar’s Holes). But gosh, notice how all of those are male? I really cannot think of any female BFFs that I connected with in fantasy or sci-fi. I mean, I’m sure they’re out there, but I didn’t encounter them as often as the “bromances.”

As for who I would want to be BFFs with in the media, um, can I say Felicia Day? She’s kind of my hero. So funny, so accomplished, so smart! That said, I feel like being her friend would just end in my awkward attempts to copy her every move. She probably wouldn’t like me at all.

Do you think a book or series with few romantic interests until much, much later in the flow of things would be just as compelling as one where the romance is more obvious and happens sooner? Is romance really all that important?

A Darkness Strange and Lovely (cover)Honestly, I’m a slow-burn romance kind of gal. I also (forgive me!) enjoy love triangles—or at least I enjoy the possibility of multiple love interests over the course of a series. I blame the fact that I mostly read huge, sweeping epic fantasy series. So much time passes and world is crossed that multiple love interests are inevitable, and since the plots are not romance-driven, the love stories tend to take a back seat to the overall narrative.

My favourite romances have always been the ones that took me by surprise. The ones where I find myself unexpectedly falling for a character, but the romance is so subtle, I’m not at all sure it’ll pan out. But then lo-and-behold, my “ship” eventually does come to pass. Oh, I get all fuzzy then.

If you’re stranded on a desert island and need to build a civilisation from scratch, with little hope of rescue, which SFF characters would make up your dream team? Who would be in charge?

Okay. Let’s start with the leader: Mal from Firefly. He’s a natural born leader who can turn just about anyone to his side and who always fights for the greater good. And maybe most important of all, he’ll keep our morale high.

Then…let’s put Mark Watney from The Martian on the team. That desert island ain’t got nothing on Mars, so I feel like Mark would build us a boat…or spaceship. Or at the very least, a working potato farm.

Of course, while we’re waiting for Mark to fly us home, we’ll need a survivalist to keep us fed. Katniss is the obvious choice.

Oh yeah, we’ll be back to civilization in no time.

What would the characters of Truthwitch set as resolutions for the New Year?

Safi would resolve to get in less trouble. For sure. She doesn’t mean to stir up so much mayhem, and she feels bad every time it happens…Plus, she hates always roping her BFF into the madness. So yeah—she’d definitely resolve to be on better behaviour in 2016.

Iseult, meanwhile, would probably resolve to dream less. As sad that is, she’s only ever had her dreams crumble to dust—over and over and over again. She’s so tired of getting her hopes up, so maybe if she can just stop hoping, it won’t hurt as badly every time she fails.

If the Truthwitch gang were in our world, what would they be doing?

Strange and Ever After (cover)Oh my gosh, I love this question. HA! How fun.

Safi would make a fantastic journalist, rooting out the truth and exposing Bad Guys. She’d love the thrill of the hunt, and she’d lovelovelove the havoc her exposés set off.

As for Iseult, I could see her excelling in science—especially any work that gets her out in the field. She’d discover a cure for cancer while trolling through the Amazonian rainforest or diving off some volcanic atoll.

Merik would definitely be some kind of NGO worker, trying to help refugees or the homeless. He’d jet-set from glamorous fundraisers to heavy conflict zones with no trouble transitioning. After all, wherever he can do the most good is where Merik wants to be.

As for Aeduan…Well, I think he’d do well a bounty hunter. A very, very expensive bounty hunter. The kind that governments hire unofficially to find just about anyone who doesn’t want to be found.

Oh boy that was fun to think about!

Do you, as a writer, have a book that you read that literally changed everything: the way you write, the way you think about your writing, everything? A book you connected with so much that it is The Book?

Probably Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. That book…THAT BOOK. It’s unbelievable what she built—not just in terms of the incredibly detailed world and alternate history, but also in terms of the masterful plotting. Oh, and the incredibly real characters. I’ve read it so many times, and yet I discover something new with each reread.

Your newsletter is fantastic! As in, it’s really amazing and encouraging and so insightful – what made you start sending out such a detailed, candid and frankly awesome newsletter so regularly?

Truthwitch (UK detail)Wow, I don’t what prompted me to start that! I guess I was honest since I first began blogging in 2009. It really never occurred to me not to share the brutal, at-times-painful truth about the struggles of being a writer. And as more and more people started to follow me—and as more and more people made it clear they valued my honesty—then, I saw no reason to change my approach.

And I have to say, I hate the curtain so many authors put up. They imply that they sit down and a masterpiece pours out—which, let me tell you, makes ME feel like the biggest piece of crap ever. I don’t write masterpieces. I toil and slave and rewrite (x10) to get anything that resembles a coherent story. And honestly, I think most authors do that. So why not be open about it? We’ll all feel so much less alone if we just share.

Plus, just because I need ten rewrites doesn’t mean I’m any less talented or any less hardworking (actually, it probably means I’m more hardworking!). It just means that my creative process demands ten rewrites. Period.

We’d like to thank Ms. Dennard again for stopping by today. You can learn more about Truthwitch and her other books on her website or follow her on Twitter.

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  1. […] Dennard said when I interviewed her for Fantasy Faction, the publicity team soon realised that there was already a natural hype […]

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