Freshman Fifteen author Kelly Loy Gilbert sat down with fellow Freshman Virginia Boecker (pronounced Baker, in case you were wondering) to find out more about her forthcoming debut, THE WITCH HUNTER (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, June 2015).
THE WITCH HUNTER, pitched as Shadow and Bone meets The Tudors, is set in an alternative 16th-century London, in which the only girl in the king’s elite group of witch hunters is framed for being a witch herself, finding freedom at the hands of the world’s most wanted wizard.
“The streets are deserted, as they always are on burning day. Those who aren’t watching the burnings are at Ravenscourt Palace protesting them or at any one of Upminster’s taverns trying to forget them. It’s a risk, making an arrest today. We risk the crowds, we risk being seen. If we were arresting an ordinary witch, we probably wouldn’t risk it at all.
But this is no ordinary arrest.”
You originally had a career in startups, but legend has it writing a novel was always on your bucket list. Can you tell us how THE WITCH HUNTER came to exist?
It’s true! Writing a novel has always been top of my bucket list. But it seemed likely to remain there, at least until we moved back stateside after spending four years in London. I had a horrible case of reverse culture shock: I missed the weather, the travel, my friends, the food, the pubs…and I was miserable. When I realized I couldn’t make my misery go away by drinking wine and watching reruns of Grey’s Anatomy (believe me, I tried), I decided to go back to work. I had been away for four years, but that equals about ten in the startup world. I was hopelessly behind and as it turned out, I had no desire to catch up. That’s when I turned to writing. And I’m so glad I did. It was definitely a case of turning lemons into the most gorgeous mile-high lemon merengue pie imaginable.
What is the most badass scene in THE WITCH HUNTER?
One of my favorite scenes (and one of my editor’s favorites!) is a fight that takes place in a kitchen between my main character, Elizabeth Grey, and a ghost servant called Hastings. Elizabeth is in the middle of a robbery, stealing everything that isn’t nailed down: knives, meat saws, pewter, silver. Hastings catches her, and the scene escalates into a brawl involving baskets of flour, a brace of flying fowl carcasses, ovens spitting out freshly baked loaves of bread, and a deer roasting on a spit. I won’t say who wins, but I will say that Elizabeth is one hell of a badass knife thrower.
What made you decide to set the story in England?
Many of the settings in my book are inspired by real-life places: Hampton Court, Smithfield, St. James Palace, the Tower of London, Hever Castle, the Cotswolds – and setting the book in England was a way for me to put myself back there, albeit 500 years earlier! I’m also a huge English history buff. If there’s a book out there – fiction or non – set between the 1300s and the 1600s, I’m all over it.
How is writing different now that you have a book deal?
I’m always aware of my time – in fact, I’d rank time management up there with one of my better skills. But now that I have a book deal, I’m even more aware of it. Because it’s not just me I have to worry about now. It’s my agent and my editor, my agency, my publisher, the sales and marketing and publicity departments, the list goes on. I take my role in this process very seriously. If I don’t do my job, they can’t do theirs.
How do you keep yourself sane inside the publishing whirlwind?
Ah. Who said I was sane? Actually, the big thing for me is to tread carefully around social media. There’s a certain degree of competition to be found among writers on Twitter and on blogs, whether intentional or no. People speak in sound bites, and it’s easy to make everything sound perfect and wonderful and too-good-to-be-true. I’m no doubt guilty of it too. So when I’m feeling angsty about writing or the publishing process, or feeling like something isn’t happening for me the way it’s happening for someone else, I step quietly away from the Internet until the feeling subsides. The good news is, it always does. And my lovely agent, Kathleen Ortiz, is always reminding me to keep a fresh perspective and to focus on my own experience, not anyone else’s. She’s very wise.
What’s left on your bucket list now?
In no particular order: to run a marathon (specifically the Sahara Marathon, a charity race that benefits Saharawi refugees. And just as the name implies, the course runs through the Sahara Desert!), to learn to knit, to play the Minute Waltz in a minute, to speak French fluently, and learn how to swear in German. I know exactly one German word: krankenwagon. When shouted, it sounds like a swear (go on, try it!) – but it actually just means ambulance. I can do better than that.
Virginia Boecker grew up in Amsterdam, Boston, and Dallas and has since lived in Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and London. She now resides in the Bay Area, CA with her husband and spends her days writing, running, reading, and chasing around her two young children and a new puppy named George.
Virginia likes The Smiths, art galleries, Talledega Nights, champagne, and hot dogs (the last two preferably together). She’s also hopelessly addicted to Chapstick and has at least four sticks on her at all times. She is represented by the incomparable Kathleen Ortiz at New Leaf Literary & Media.