Susan Dennard on Feminist Fantasy, Gaming, and Bloodwitch

Susan Dennard on Feminist Fantasy, Gaming, and Bloodwitch

Bloodwitch, the third novel in Susan Dennard’s Witchlands series, is hitting shelves on February 12 and we’re eagerly counting down the days. This book follows Threadsisters Safi and Iseult as they fight their way back to each other and dives deeper into the backstory of the Bloodwitch Aeduan (affectionately known as Baeduan to the Witchlanders). Here, we chat with Dennard about Aeduan’s journey, video games, and what readers can expect next.

Psst: Head over to BookishFirst for an excerpt of Bloodwitch and a chance to win the first three books in the Witchlands series: Truthwitch, Windwitch, and Bloodwitch!

Bookish: On your Twitter, you’ve done GIF recaps of your books in the past. If you had to pick one GIF to sum up Bloodwitch, what would it be?

Susan Dennard: Ha—you mean like this?

Bookish: The books in the series feature multiple points of view, but each book feels tethered to a specific character through the title. How do you see the book titles and the characters’ arcs connecting?

SD: The series was planned this way from the beginning. I mapped out each book according to one character’s primary arc, and the overall arc of the series followed that planned trajectory. Unfortunately, I learned during the writing of Windwitch that one of my planned titles wasn’t going to be accepted by a major retailer. This happens from time to time, and typically isn’t an issue. You just change the title! But because of the way my series was assembled, I had to actually reorganize and reevaluate everything I had planned (Bloodwitch wasn’t going to be book three, for example!).

In the end, it has all worked out and I love the direction the series is going now. But I’m definitely still dealing with the aftermath of it. When you plant all these seeds in the first book, it’s hard to then rearrange reveals and plot points!

Bookish: In Bloodwitch, we learn a lot about Aeduan—what drives him, what haunts him, what he believes in. How has your understanding of him as a character changed or evolved during the process of writing this book?

SD: When I first sat down to write this series, I only intended to have three points of view: Safi, Iseult, and Merik. Then, at around 100 pages into the first draft, Aeduan was like, “LISTEN TO ME NOW.” So I did. And he was fascinating. I always knew he would be a gray, morally conflicted character, but I never realized how much he lied to himself until I was in his head. Nor did I realize how strictly he adheres to a moral code—one that other people maybe don’t understand, but that makes a lot of sense within the framework of his life.

Bookish: Throughout the series, almost every character has a moment when they realize that everything they thought they knew or believed is a lie. As a writer, what draws you to those moments?

SD: I think we all hit a moment like that in our lives, when we realize that we don’t understand how the world works at all—or where we fit into it. We realize our parents aren’t all-knowing and that adults have no idea what they’re doing. We discover people we loved and trusted were only using us for their own ends. We learn that we’re a lot stronger than we ever thought we might be (or maybe a lot weaker, too). Or we discover we have a chance to break the cycle of mistakes prior generations have made—or else we have a chance to keep perpetuating them.

Even though these awakenings are wrapped up in a fantasy plot with politics and war and magic, it’s familiar to us all. It resonates, and I think that thread allows readers of all ages to more deeply connect to the story.

Bookish: What’s one thing you’ve been building towards that is revealed in this book that you can’t wait to see readers’ reactions to?

SD: If I share that, it would be a major spoiler. But there is one epic event at the end of the book that readers know I have been writing toward for six years—my main “cookie” scene that I’ve been daydreaming about since I first sat down to write this series.

The event happens at (and around) the Aether Well, and both Aeduan and Iseult are there. I am really, really, really excited to see what readers think.

Bookish: Your characters share a strong desire to have the freedom to make their own choices. What drew you to this theme?

SD: I think it’s familiar, especially for young readers. Making your own choices and facing consequences is terrifying, but also liberating. Each of the main characters in the Witchlands has to learn how to do that for themselves.

In Bloodwitch, a running theme for all of the characters is what it means to have your agency taken away: How do you decide who you want to be when the power you’ve always had is gone? For each person in the book, the answer looks different.

Bookish: The ending of Bloodwitch leaves readers with a few hints about what they can expect from the next book. What are you most excited to explore in future books?

SD: I’m probably most excited about Iseult’s arc. She still has some serious growing to do, and I cannot wait to see her explore her newfound powers. I’m also really excited about the broad series arc in book four. I’ve been laying the threads for this since the beginning, and whenever you finally get to write those big twist moments and payoff scenes—ah, it’s just so satisfying. I can’t wait!

Bookish: You’re currently studying game design, and recently finished the initial prototype for your first original game! If this series were ever turned into a game, how would you envision it?

SD: Ha! I have spent way too much time thinking about this. I love Bioware’s Dragon Age franchise, so a Witchlands game in the style of Dragon Age would pretty much melt my geek brain. But I also discovered Horizon Zero Dawn this year—and not only was it the most visually stunning game I’ve ever played, but the absence of a male gaze was refreshing beyond words. So, I’d be willing to let Guerrilla Studios take a crack at the Witchlands too.

Bookish: It was announced earlier this fall that this series is being developed as a live-action series by the Jim Henson Company, and you’ll be serving as co-executive producer! Is there anything that you haven’t been able to show or explore in a book medium that you hope is featured in the adaptation?

SD: My biggest regret is how I handled some of the representation in Truthwitch, and I think the Witchlands TV show is a great chance to not only rectify my mistakes but to simply increase the overall diversity of the cast. The team at Henson is incredible, and they are all about having women writers and women running the show behind the scenes. Feminist fantasy all around!

Susan Dennard has come a long way from small-town Georgia. Working in marine biology, she got to travel the world—six out of seven continents (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 Something Strange and Deadly series, as well as the Witchlands series, which includes the New York Times bestselling Truthwitch and Windwitch. When not writing, she can be found hiking with her dogs, slaying darkspawn on her Xbox, or earning bruises at the dojo.

Kelly Gallucci
Kelly Gallucci is the Executive Editor of Bookish.com, where she oversees Bookish's editorial content, offers book recommendations, and interviews authors like Leigh Bardugo, V.E. Schwab, and Sabaa Tahir. She's just coming off of moderating an author panel at New York Comic Con. When she's not working, Kelly can be found color coordinating her bookshelves, eating Chipotle, and binging Netflix with her pitbull. She is a Gryffindor.

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