Q&A with ‘Spellcaster’ author Claudia Gray

Claudia GrayClaudia Gray is the author of more than 10 books for young readers, both anthologies and complete novels. Among her most popular books are the Evernight series and “Fateful.” Her latest read, “Spellcaster,” came out March 5. The following is a complete transcript of her interview with Cracking the Cover.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Yes, always, though it took me a long time to believe that I might really be able to do it. It always seemed like more of a fantasy than anything that could actually happen in my life … still does, sometimes.

Why do you write for young readers?

Honestly I think no one ever gets over being 16. At any rate, I never have. And YA stories deal so strongly with the evolution of a single character — the defining moments and choices that shape their futures — that I find them endlessly fascinating both to write and to read.

Where did the idea for “Spellcaster” come from?

There are a lot of paranormal/supernatural stories out right now where a young person discovers her (or his) powers, some great destiny, etc. Don’t get me wrong — I love these stories and have written a couple of them myself! But I wanted to tell a story about a heroine who already knows her place in the supernatural world and who has worked really hard for all the magic she knows. I liked the idea of showing that kind of depth to the magic, and the discipline it would take to wield those powers.

(Although ultimately they’re not much alike, the roots of Nadia Caldani probably spring from Hermione Granger.)

How long did it take you to write?

That’s hard to answer, actually. The core of the story I came up with years ago. Then I outlined it over a course of about three or four months … and, as I had multiple other books to write, didn’t get to turn to it until a couple of years later! I wrote for about six months, working with that earlier outline. So does that add up to three years? Six months? Something in-between? With SPELLCASTER that’s a tough call to make!

Why are people fascinated with witches?

Personally, I think it’s because witches have THE POWER. Yeah, we all love vampires, we all love werewolves — but there are such limitations on such creatures, always, whether in traditional or new mythologies, and part of the romance there is that they don’t have control over their supernatural natures. That lack of control is really the whole point. Vampires are sexy and eternally young and immortal … but they must have blood, must shun sunlight, so on and so forth.

Witches? They’re the masters of their own fates. They get to choose what spells to use, who will know about their magic and who won’t. They can go anywhere and do anything. Surely we’re all slightly drawn to the idea of having that kind of power (or is that just me? Hmmm.) Yet we also like to believe these powers might come at a price. Stories about witchcraft let you play with all the tangled feelings we have about power, especially female power.

Spellcaster Claudia GrayHow much research did you do and how much came from your imagination?

I did very little research on witchcraft. In fact, I wanted it to be absolutely clear that SPELLCASTER is only about a fantasy form of witchcraft — neither the historical versions, nor the demonic practices suggested in (invented for) the MALLEUS MALEFICARUM, nor the modern religion of Wicca. Nadia explains this herself in the book. So virtually all of it came from my imagination, and oh, I had SO MUCH FUN coming up with a whole system of magic.

The books in the SPELLCASTER series are largely set in Rhode Island, a state I have never visited. So I repeatedly quizzed my friend Stacey, a native, in order to learn all the unique things about life in Rhode Island. I was informed that — shockingly! — it is pretty much like life in the rest of the United States. Plus “coffee milk.” So the characters drink coffee milk.

Was it more enjoyable to write a “good” character like Nadia or a “bad” one like the villain?

I removed the villain’s name from your question – no spoilers, please! At any rate, it’s fun writing both good characters and bad characters. Often the villains are easier to write — they tend to enjoy themselves so much more, you know? But ultimately the scenes with the heroes are often more rewarding in the long run.

How does the finished product compare to what you initially imagined?

SPELLCASTER is very like its outline in most ways, though a few surprises cropped up. The system of magic was something I worked out as I wrote, and it wound up not only being enjoyable but also a way to delve deeper into the characters. Verlaine, who was created to be the trusty “best friend,” wound up being such a distinctive voice — and having such a fascinating backstory — that she almost becomes a co-lead in the later novels of the trilogy. And the villain creeped me out more than I’d anticipated!

What are you working on now?

Right now i’m finishing revisions to STEADFAST, the second book in the SPELLCASTER trilogy. After my tour to promote SPELLCASTER, I’ll start work on CAN’T GET NEXT TO YOU, the first novel in an upcoming science-fiction trilogy (the FIREBIRD series) coming from Harper starting autumn 2014. What are those about? The main character is Marguerite, the daughter of two famous scientists — who pursues her father’s murderer through parallel dimensions, through all the different lives she might have led. As she travels, however, she learns more about all the different people she could be, about the potential for good and evil in the people she knows, and learns that her prey may not be the cold-blooded killer she’d thought. This book is one I’m hugely excited about. It’s more “New Adult” than young adult, but I believe YA readers will still enjoy it.

Looking back, how has your writing evolved?

I’m writing much more freely now — trying to zero in on exactly what I find most cool/fascinating/tragic/romantic/whatever about a character or a scenario, instead of trying to predict how some hypothetical reader would react. Yes, you have to keep your audience in mind, but you also have to remember that every audience is made up of individuals as quirky and individual as you are yourself. (Or, in my case, as admittedly weird.) If I’m captivated by an idea, maybe readers will be too.

Is there a book from your own youth that still resonates with you?

So many! I was always reading as a kid — all the time, even more than I still do, and I read a lot. Trying to name just one feels vaguely sacrilegious, like I’m slighting all those other dozens of books that meant so much to me. But I’ll come up with two: A LITTLE PRINCESS by Frances Hodgson Burnett, which is one part sweetly frosted revenge fantasy and one part the truest thing about the mind of a writer you’ll ever read; and A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeleine L’Engel, which so effortlessly blends science fiction and fantasy concepts, while creating such wonderfully layered relationships among the characters. (To some extent, the Murrys inspired Marguerite’s brilliant scientific family in the upcoming CAN’T GET NEXT TO YOU.) There are so many other books I want to name now, but I’d better stop here!