In her popular writing advice newsletter, author Susan Dennard is painfully honest (her own words) about the ups and downs of the writing life. Not surprisingly, that same candor translated well to her Reddit Ask Me Anything thread for her new novel Truthwitch (out this week from Tor Teen), which she described as “Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Sabriel.” Check out an excerpt, then check out the highlights from her charming AMA, in which she unabashedly geeks out about Fallout and meeting her author heroes. Dennard also has the sweetest real-time reaction to discovering that Truthwitch made it into a recent io9/Gizmodo roundup (“OH MY GOSH WHAT NO SHUT UP WHAT”). Read on for her 2015 obsession and the 2016 trend she’d like to start.
Fantasy Heroes as Role Models
effinandy: I wanted to ask you about Fallout, but IDK if that’s too off-topic. So, what attracted you to writing fantasy in the first place?
SD: You can ALWAYS ask about Fallout. I. Am. There.
I was attracted to writing fantasy because it’s what I’ve always read. It just…seemed the obvious thing to write when I was first starting out at the ripe old age of 12. ;)
I loved authors like Lloyd Alexander, Garth Nix, or Susan Cooper when I was a kid—I loved that a seemingly weak, awkward kid might find strength (or magic!) and change the world with it. For someone as woefully uncool and shy as I was, the worlds in those books were my salvation.
So yeah. When I decided I wanted to write For Real and get published, I immediately wrote fantasy—and wrote for teens.
How Airbending Inspired Truthwitch
JABeaumont: So I was already interested in picking up Truthwitch, and I was curious if A:TLA had influenced your writing at all, but now that you’ve confirmed that… Yoooooo
Did the idea for Truthwitch just hit you out of nowhere? Was it a gradual process of discovery? When did you know that you knew you could know that writing novels was the thing for you?
SD: Ha! Yes. ATLA is life. Although, that said, I didn’t have elemental divisions in the original book—that was something my editor suggested adding in. And it fit so neatly and made so much since that of COURSE I did it!
As for the idea for Truthwitch…Well, it was a perfect storm situation. Ever since I couch-surfed through Croatia, I knew I wanted to set a book in an alternate version—especially an alternate, fantasy Dubrovnik. I also knew I wanted to one day write a book about a chosen PAIR (instead of just a chosen one) and a book about friendship.
Then one day, this word—Threadwitch—floated into my head as I was drifting off, and bam! I wrote it down, and other witcheries started growing from there. As well as the characters behind them.
But it wasn’t until I heard Two Steps From Hell’s piece, “El Dorado,” that it all COLLIDED. I heard that music, and seriously: the opening scene just exploded in my head. Two best friends (both witches) on a dusty road like the ones near Dubrovnik running for the lives after a roadside heist went wrong.
The rest of the book and the world grew from there.
A Favorite Writing Memory
debarthel: Susan, what is one of your favorite writing memories? A place you visited, some research you stumbled across, a day you wrote a million words and felt on top of the world?
SD: Aw, fun question!
One of the coolest writing memories I had was writing chapter 15 in Truthwitch. It was one of the only scenes in the book that just came to me and I couldn’t write it fast enough.
I remember it vividly. I was sitting in a fat papasan (yeah, I had to google that word) in my unfinished basement while construction workers renovated everything upstairs; I had “To Glory” by Two Steps From Hell blasting on repeat; and I just BECAME Aeduan, the Bloodwitch character.
It was glorious….and I’ve never tapped into such glory again. ?
The Status of Windwitch
hkaczynski: I remember you mentioning a while back that you had to start over writing Truthwitch‘s sequel almost from scratch—how is that going?? I would be terrified/overwhelmed FOR SURE.
SD: So…I have started over on the TW sequel, like, an uncountable number of times. I’ve written >200K words that I’ve just thrown out. There are a LOT of factors contributing to why I’ve struggled so much—some of them story-related, but most of them life-related (life DOES get in the way sometimes). It is what it is, and while it’s frustrating and exhausting…I can’t change it.
I know when a story isn’t working, and it’s best to just let it go and start over sometimes.
So far, the new version of Windwitch has seen a few rough starts and going back, and while I’m not super far, I AM happy with what I’ve got. And I can FINALLY see what the story is and how all the POV’s stories intersect/connect. (That was not the case a few months ago.) So yeah. It’s slow going, but it IS going. And I refuse to sacrifice my life/health/happiness for a book (I already learned the hard way what the consequences for a Book-First life leads to).
Wow, that turned into a dark answer. Sorry! Onto the fun stuff!
Embarrassing Fangirl Moments with Author Heroes
kiss_the_violets: I first heard about Truthwitch when Robin Hobb said nice things about it.
Did you just die? I mean, Robin Hobb. Eeeeeeeeee!
Ahem. Anyway, just wondering if you have any freaked-out fangirl moments to share. Bonus points if they are embarrassing. :)
SD: Oh my gosh, I fell to my kitchen floor sobbing hysterically when I found out she’d not only read the book but BLURBED it.
I also cried hysterically the first time I met her back in 2012. It was so embarrassing, but she was SO gracious and kind about it. But yeah, she was the first Author Hero I ever met. So tears were inevitable.
I have also freaked out on Jacqueline Carey, Kate Elliott, and Tamora Pierce. But they were all crazy kind about it. I guess this must happen to them all the time!!!
Favorite Obsession from Last Year
bookishwhimsy: What is one thing you discovered in 2015 that you are obsessed with? (Like a fandom thing, or just a new favorite thing)
SD: Bioware. I discovered Bioware’s Dragon Age and then Mass Effect last February, and holy hell waters, I fell down a PIT OF GAMING. A many week binge of gaming that was at once PURE BLISS and also PURE HELL (since I knew I ought to be writing ?). But wow, those games are brilliant. Like playing all your fave fantasy books (Dragon Age) or space operas (Mass Effect). Also, they have the best gaming romance of all time.
Stocking Your Desert Island Library
MikeOfThePalace: You’re trapped on a deserted island with three books. Knowing that you’ll be reading them over and over and over again, what three do you bring?
SD: I’ll go with Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell because that book is the greatest ever, and it’s dense enough to read over and over and over again and STILL discover new twists. Then there’s Carl Sagan’s Contact. Same reasons: I could read it and always find new things. Plus, I feel like the message would give me comfort as a slowly go insane from solitude/starvation/dehydration. Annnnd…wth, let’s go with The Swiss Family Robinson just so I can feel sad at how easy they make it look.
Fantasy Trends for 2016 and Beyond
MadxHatter0: If you could start one trend in fantasy what would you want it to be?
SD: Um…more women in roles of power? Even I’m guilty of defaulting to a dude when I write fantasy—like just in secondary or even placeholder characters. With Truthwitch, I made a conscious decision to make as many characters female as I could (and as felt write).
Read the rest—including plenty of talk of gaming mechanics and the best video-game soundtracks—on Reddit!