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Luanne G. Smith Interview – The Vine Witch

Luanne G. SmithThe Vine Witch was an Amazon First Read last September and has since garnered over 3,500 reviews. I picked it up not because I was particularly interested in wine or witches, but rather because it was free with Amazon Prime. Going in with low expectations, I was blown away by the creativity and wordsmithing. In utter awe, I reached out to Luanne, who graciously agreed to an interview to talk about wines, witches, and Shakespeare.

First, Wine or Beer?

Um, wine.

Okay, that was a silly question. For reals, I have to ask if you are a wine connoisseur.

I’m really not. I had enough interest in wine before I wrote The Vine Witch to have more than one bottle sitting on my counter at a time and to want to watch a documentary about French winemaking, but that’s about it. I didn’t even understand the fermentation process very well before researching for the novel.

After reading The Vine Witch, I’m surprised! Surely you have a favorite wine?

The Vine Witch (cover)My favorites are the fruity, yet spicy, reds. I like a little smokiness to the wine and that feeling you’re drinking something that took months, if not years, to achieve that particular flavor combination. Now, what that means in terms of barreling or terroir or fermentation, I still have no idea.

Did your research take you to France’s wine country?

I have not been to France. Unless you count endless hours on Google street view as a visit.

Most of my research was done through watching documentaries and YouTube videos, and reading other historical fiction novels. But I also visited a couple of wineries in Colorado and New Mexico to get a sense of what the winemaking process is like (though mostly I just tasted lots of wine and pretended I understood what they were saying).

I would’ve never guessed. Well the witch in me sees a research trip and tax write off in your future…

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, who are your literary inspirations?

I admire so many writers of all genres, but here are a few of my contemporary favs: I admire Diana Gabaldon’s novels for being huge doorstoppers yet absolute page-turners at the same time. Neil Gaiman writes enchanting fairytale-like stories that could come out of no one else’s brain. And Madeline Miller is a word witch of the finest order, as is Hilary Mantel. If you noticed, I am a big fan of mixing history and fantasy together. Both genres are full of worldbuilding and adventure, which is what I love most as a reader.

What inspired you to write The Vine Witch?

A Year In Burgundy (poster)As I mentioned before, I had enough interest in wine to watch a documentary about it. I was binge-watching Netflix after giving up querying another novel and came across A Year in Burgundy. I already had an idea for a witch book, but hadn’t hit on the right angle yet. I knew to be competitive in the market there’d have to have something different about my witch story to make it stand out. So that was in the back of my mind when I watched these French winemakers talk about their process. Some of them were very caught up in the modern science of creating wine while a few others were more nature-based in their approach. But one woman was so bewitching in the way she spoke about the effect of the moon on the harvest and how one must care for their vines like they’re children that it struck me right away. There was some interesting magic going on in the vineyards! And, voila, I started writing.

The main character, Elena, is the titular vine witch. Tell us a little bit about her.

Elena is in a very angry place when she first appears in the novel. She’s just had seven years of her life taken from her by a curse, and she wants revenge. Under normal circumstances she’s a very skilled vine witch (someone who tends the vines and coaxes the wine grapes to harvest), but the curse has weakened her so that she’s left in a vulnerable position. That weakness forces her to negotiate in ways she might not otherwise, particularly with the new owner of her vineyard. And though she wants to act out in the name of revenge, her nature is to be a nurturer, which ultimately guides most of her choices.

There are many different types of magic in The Vine Witch. Is there a hard system connecting them all?

The Glamourist (cover)You see a little more of this explained in the second book, The Glamourist, but in The Vine Witch world witches each have a craft they excel in. Sometimes it is an inherited skill and sometimes it is taught through an apprentice/mentor relationship. But generally, the witches are born with a particular skill and are registered at birth with the ministry of lineage and licenses to acknowledge it.

Elena mostly uses incantations of rhyming couplets to enact her spells. There’s power in words and how they’re put together. That’s part of her effectiveness, but she also has a rarer skill. She’s able to see into the shadow world, which is a sort of limited psychic ability that allows her to connect not only with the vines but to see spell magic at work. And, yes, she also uses it to spy on people when the need overrides her morals.

In my review, I noted that The Vine Witch is what Game of Thrones would be if it was isolated in France’s wine country. Where do you get your knack for writing backstabbing, conspiratorial murder mysteries?

Treachery is just too fun to write about. I didn’t mention him above, but Shakespeare is one of my favorite writers for this very reason. He’s the master of backstabbing, conspiratorial murder. Some readers may have noted I named the tavern in The Vine Witch after two of the three witches in Macbeth as a nod to his play on this very subject.

What wine would you recommend while reading The Vine Witch?

I’ve had people tell me they wish they could sample Elena’s wine, so a Château Renard red would be first choice, but other than that maybe a Toad Hollow Merlot? Or perhaps a little Spellbound cabernet sauvignon? Prophecy pinot noir?

The Vine Witch (detail)

After the Vine Witch series, what new adventures can we expect from you?

Book two, The Glamourist, is out in June, and then there will be a third book in the trilogy, which I’m finishing up right now. After that, I have another standalone witch book I’m working on called The Raven Sisters that I hope to see published someday.

Thank you to Ms. Smith for taking the time to speak with us today! To learn more about The Vine Witch and her other stories you can visit her website and follow her on Twitter and Instagram!

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