Interview with Lena Coakley, author of Witchlanders

You may have noticed that our Book of the Month for March is Witchlanders by Lena Coakley (which you should ALL go out and pick up already!). So I figured we ought to get to know Lena a bit better.


Witchlanders by Lena CoakleyHigh in their mountain covens, red witches pray to the Goddess, protecting the Witchlands by throwing the bones and foretelling the future.

It’s all a fake.

At least, that’s what Ryder thinks. He doubts the witches really deserve their tithes—one quarter of all the crops his village can produce. And even if they can predict the future, what danger is there to foretell, now that his people’s old enemy, the Baen, has been defeated?

But when a terrifying new magic threatens both his village and the coven, Ryder must confront the beautiful and silent witch who holds all the secrets. Everything he’s ever believed about witches, the Baen, magic and about himself will change, when he discovers that the prophecies he’s always scorned—

Are about him.

1. Welcome, Lena! And thanks for joining us. You’ve probably been asked this before, but I just have to know: When you started writing Witchlanders, what was the inspiration behind it?

The story of how Witchlanders began is now officially lost to the sands of time.  What I thought happened was this:

While sitting at my desk one day in the offices of the Canadian Children’s Book Centre (I was the secretary), an idea for a novel came to me out of the blue. The idea had a beginning, middle and end, and I was so excited about it that I called in the library coordinator, Hadley Dyer, and made her listen to the whole thing.

This is what Hadley says happened:

The idea for Witchlanders came to me in a dream that I related to her while we waited for the coffee machine one morning.

Either way, the following is true:

  • Hadley patiently listened to the whole garbled story in spite of having many better things to do.
  • Even though my idea had a beginning, middle and end, they weren’t the same beginning, middle and end that Witchlanders ended up with. If I could go back in time and listen to the conversation between the young Hadley and Lena, I probably wouldn’t recognize much of the story. I do remember that the climax involved someone riding a reanimated zombie horse, which, if you’ve read Witchlanders, does NOT occur.

The one thing that I DID tell Hadley was that the main character was a gruff, cynical farm boy. That boy was the one thing that stayed the same throughout the ten years of writing the novel, my main character, Ryder.

2. I guess we’ll never know which of you is right, haha! In hindsight, do you wish you had done something differently with Witchlanders while writing it (minus cutting the reanimated zombie horse, of course)?

Oh, the writing took so long! And I think that one of the reasons for that was that I kept rewriting the beginning bits instead of moving forward. I’m about a third of the way through my current WIP and I’ve just re-outlined. Now that I know what has to happen in the beginning, the temptation to go back is overwhelming—rewriting is so much easier than first-drafting!—but I know I will re-outline again after finishing the second third of the book and then again when I’m finished, so rewriting at this point is probably a waste of time. Polishing my work now will just make it harder to cut.

3. That’s exactly what I’m struggling with right now—that urge to go back and rewrite the beginning gnaws at me constantly! And you know, I think you’re absolutely right on how polishing stuff makes it harder to cut. Great advice! Are there people (like critique partners or beta readers) who help you stay on track and help polish your work when it is ready for a good shine?

I love my writing group, which includes the wonderful Hadley Dyer, mentioned above, the playwright Paula Wing and the author Kathy Stinson. We’ve been together since April 2000 and we’re still going strong. Hadley is now the executive children’s editor at Harper Collins Canada, so I am in the very odd situation of having an editor see my early drafts! But she’s very good about keeping her life at the office separate from our workshopping.

4. Lucky you! Hadley was an AMAZING teacher in my publishing program. Now… I NEED to know… Will there be a sequel?

Not right away, I’m afraid.  I’d love to go back to the Witchlands someday and write something from the point of view of Falpian Caraxus, the secondary main character in Witchlanders.  Right now, though, I’m working on something entirely different.

5. Well, I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that a sequel does happen! And speaking of what you’re working on now…Can you tell us a bit about it?

Well, I think I can spill. My next work is tentatively titled The Worlds Below and is about the four Brontë siblings. The Brontës, including Charlotte Brontë who wrote Jane Eyre and Emily Brontë who wrote Wuthering Heights, were schooled mostly at home in a remote part of England during their teens. Spurred on by each other and by the remoteness of their situation, the four of them—three girls and one boy—invented imaginary worlds, which they wrote about in great detail. The premise of my book is that those worlds were real places that they had the ability to travel to—but for a price.

I’ve now traveled to the Brontë parsonage twice in order to research the book, and the last time I went I even got permission to access the Brontë archives! In short: I am becoming a real Brontë nerd.

6. Oh WOW. That sounds INCREDIBLE! The Brontë siblings travelling to different worlds? Yes please! Now, if you could travel to any time and spend a night at the pub with 3 authors, who would it be and why (and how many of them would have the last name Brontë, I wonder)?

I am sorry to say that if I was at a pub with three of my favourite authors I would be too shy to say a word. I know this because I recently sat next to the science fiction writer Robert Sawyer on a plane and I didn’t say a thing. Not a thing! (He wrote the whole time, by the way, while I watched episodes of True Blood. This is why he has written twenty-two novels and I have written one.)

Now, if I was pub crawling with the Brontë sisters they’d probably be even shyer than I, but interesting if I could draw them out. No offense to the sisters, though, I’m not sure they’d be my pick. I don’t see how I could pass up having a drink with Oscar Wilde if I had a chance. He’d be so witty that I wouldn’t have to say a word—I could just listen. The Brontës would have to rock, paper, scissors for who got to join us.

7. Speaking of having a drink, mix me a literary cocktail! What would make up your ideal book?

Well, undiluted fantasy isn’t for everyone but I can always drink it straight. However, my favourite book is probably One Hundred Years of Solitude, which I would call: One part magic, one part puzzle, one part family tragedy and a dash of philosophy. For me, it’s the ideal book.

Oooh! I’ll join you for some undiluted fantasy! Thanks so much, Lena!

In honour of having Witchlanders as our Book of the Month, we’re giving away a copy! And it’s open internationally!

Just leave a comment below telling us what imaginary world YOU would live in, and we’ll contact the winner next week!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Lena Coakley InterviewLENA COAKLEY is a full-time writer living in Toronto. Witchlanders, her first novel, has received three starred reviews and was called “one stunning teen debut” by Kirkus Reviews. It is a Junior Library Guild selection, an ABC new voices selection and an OLA Best Bet. She is also the author of two children’s picture books and the former administrative director of CANSCAIP, the Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers.


46 Responses to Interview with Lena Coakley, author of Witchlanders

  1. Pragya Mar 8 2012 at 4:06 am #

    It would be the one I make up with lots of beautiful things around.

  2. Sally L Mar 8 2012 at 4:24 am #

    Not only does ‘WITCHLANDERS’ sound intriguing, the cover is stunning. Hm. Okay, if I were to travel to an imaginary world, it would be a fictional world, as nothing I could ever imagine would ever be as beautiful or as well-developed as Middle-Earth or Narnia. I’d say that I’d visit J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World, but I’m adamant that it exists (if only I could find my way to England!)

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio Mar 8 2012 at 4:55 pm #

      I love to cover for WITCHLANDERS too! And I am absolutely convinced that my Hogwarts letter got lost by owl.

  3. Christina Kit. Mar 8 2012 at 6:04 am #

    This one looks absolutely awesome!!

    If I could travel anywhere, I’d enter the world Lauren DeStefano created in Wither and Fever and of course I’d go to Hogwarts!!

    Both are full of lore and history and Hogwarts is full of charm. The Wither world is attractive because of how everyone literally has to live to the fullest.

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio Mar 8 2012 at 4:59 pm #

      I think it’s interesting that you chose a dystopian world to live in! And yes, Hogwarts would be SO LOVELY! *sighs longingly*

  4. Julie Mar 8 2012 at 6:45 am #

    WHAT?!?!?! A story about the Bronte sibs traveling to the worlds they create?!?!?! Lena, this is such an epic idea! And I am so jealous of your Bronte nerdness. 😉
    Great interview, guys! I can’t wait to read WITCHLANDERS!!! Thank you so much for bringing it to my attention. 🙂

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio Mar 8 2012 at 5:00 pm #

      Thanks Julie! and I know, isn’t the Bronte story just AMAZING?!?

      I hope you do pick up WITCHLANDERS – it’s fantastic!

  5. Joy Mar 8 2012 at 6:53 am #

    Probably a mix of both – but mostly made up – with only good things & happy things – no sickness or war or hurting, but lots of coffee & chocolate- everyone is thin & active & there are no worries. Aahhh.. i can see it now…

  6. Nhi Mar 8 2012 at 8:21 am #

    Tortall from the Song of the Lioness/Alanna Adventures from Tamora Pierce. Not only does it sound epic but also sounds like a pretty damn awesome place to hang out. That or any of the locations in the Disney films, especially the kingdom/forest from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio Mar 8 2012 at 5:03 pm #

      Yes yes YES! I would LOVE to travel to Tortall!

      Oh, and any Disney movie location would be fantastic! (This makes me want to have a Disney movie marathon, actually!)

  7. Erin Bowman Mar 8 2012 at 8:21 am #

    Fabulous interview!! WITCHLANDERS sounds fantastic and the cover is simply gorgeous. Adding it to my TBR pile right now! 🙂

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio Mar 8 2012 at 5:04 pm #

      Thanks Erin! And yes, you should definitely read it! I LOVED WITCHLANDERS! 😀

  8. Sara Riouch Mar 8 2012 at 8:52 am #

    I’d actually love to travel to Anne Bishop’s Dark Jewels world! Great interview, I’m looking forward to reading Witchlanders!

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio Mar 8 2012 at 5:05 pm #

      I’m not familiar with the Dark Jewels books – but now I want to go look it up! And thanks – it was a fun interview to do, and WITCHLANDERS is SOOO GOOD!

  9. Teresa Mar 8 2012 at 9:28 am #

    I’d probably travel to a made-up place that pulled the best elements from the real world. What I would really want is a place where I can immediately step into whatever setting I feel like I want to be in at that moment – a jungle, a desert, a mountain, rolling hills, etc. And then immediately step back out again if I feel like it. A place where I could do the same thing with the seasons would be nice as well… snowball fight one minute, chilling out on a porch swing on a breezy summer day the next.

  10. April Tucholke Mar 8 2012 at 1:40 pm #

    I’ve been to the Bronte Parsonage. I’m a pretty hardcore Charlotte fan. I read Jane Eyre in one night when I was fourteen. I remember reading somewhere that Bramwell was a bit of a jerk…wonder if this was true?

    If I could live in any fictional world, it would be the shire in LOTR, minus all the evil ring stuff. Peace. Elevensies. The occasional dwarf & dragon adventure.

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio Mar 8 2012 at 5:09 pm #

      I think one of the most appealing things about the Shire for me is the seven meals a day (YUM!). Plus, it’d be so pretty!

  11. Sarah J. Maas Mar 8 2012 at 2:01 pm #

    I apologize in advance for how fangirly I’m about to get, but…

    EEEEE!!!!! Lena, I absolutely ADORED your novel–WITCHLANDERS was seriously one of my favorite reads of 2011, and I recommend it to anyone looking for a great YA fantasy book! (I also totally turn it face-out every time I go into B&N, lol)

    It is SUCH an honor to have you at Pub Crawl today–thank you so much for such a delightful interview!!! I cannot WAIT to hear more about this book about the Bronte siblings!! HOW AWESOME.


  12. Daisy Mar 8 2012 at 2:07 pm #

    I’m kinda sad that we won’t be seeing a sequel to Witchlanders anytime soon cause I LOOOOVED IT!!! But a story about the 4 Brontë siblings traveling to other worlds sounds fascinating as well! 🙂
    If I could travel to another world I think it would have to be one someone else conjured, cause I’m just dying to visit Hogwarts, that’s the first place I’d go 🙂
    Thanks so much for the giveaway!

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio Mar 8 2012 at 5:11 pm #

      I’m so sad too! Let’s make a fan club and nag until we get it 😉

      And ahhhh, Hogwarts <3

  13. roro @roro is readin Mar 8 2012 at 2:42 pm #

    if i could travel anywere it would be narnia
    gosh darn it /i love that book

  14. Denise Mar 8 2012 at 4:41 pm #

    Great interview and a great site!

  15. Giada M. Mar 8 2012 at 5:05 pm #

    My imaginary world would be….Hogwarts! 😛 Harry Potter fan here!!!
    WITCHLANDERS sounds great! Thank you for the giveaway! 😀

  16. Leigh Bardugo Mar 8 2012 at 5:23 pm #

    Oh my good gravy. I want to read THE WORLDS BELOW immediately. IMMEDIATELY.

    Wonderful interview and can’t wait to read WITCHLANDERS!

  17. Vivien Mar 8 2012 at 6:46 pm #

    OMG…..Hogwarts!!! Yes…ever since a child, magic has played a huge role in my day dreams. I would give anything 🙂 No need to come up with my own. That’s my favorite!

  18. Krispy Mar 8 2012 at 7:23 pm #

    As much fun as Witchlanders sounds, I’m maybe more excited about Lena’s WIP! Sounds amazing!

    Not super original here, but I’d like to go to Hogwarts for my imaginary world field trip. Seems the most fun and intriguing with the least amount of danger. Hah!

  19. Jasmine Stairs Mar 8 2012 at 7:44 pm #

    What fantasy world would I live in? Holly Black’s curseworker world, mostly because I love gloves and I want to see how it works.

    I can’t think of many fantasy worlds I wouldn’t be happy to be in though– other than horror worlds– they all have their attractions. The hope in Tahareh Mafi’s world, the unconventional beauty in Melissa Maar’s wicked Lovely world, the underlying magic in Tamora Pierce’s circle of magic setting, the Charter in Garth Nix’s Abhorsen trilogy…. But yeah, I want to see the public health signs in the curseworker series, so that’s my first pick. 😀

  20. Kayla B. Mar 9 2012 at 12:38 am #

    If I could travel to an imaginary world, I would either live in JK Rowling’s wizarding England (Hogsmeade, preferably), C. S. Lewis’ Narnia, or Piers Anthony’s Xanth (I was convinced that I would find my way there when I was young). That being said Witchlanders sounds like a great read!

  21. Victoria Mar 9 2012 at 4:56 am #

    Oh so many to choose from! Very, very tempted by Hogwarts/Narnia, but I’ve just finished reading Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series and I love her take on Victorian England so much I’d have to choose that one 😀

  22. Amie Mar 9 2012 at 6:13 am #

    Three cheers for WITCHLANDERS getting some love! I think when my story ideas arrive I’m always convinced they’ve arrived in a blaze of glory — and I’m pretty sure the people I’m trying to explain them to have no idea what I’m talking about!

  23. Amber J. Mar 9 2012 at 11:45 am #

    I would love to go to the ethereal (fictional) island of Paragon off the coast of Washington State from The Celestra Series by Addison Moore. I’m so obsessed with those books.

    I’m hoping I have the same reaction to WITCHLANDERS — it sounds awesome!

  24. Annabelle H Mar 9 2012 at 2:44 pm #

    Hogwarts, no doubt about it!

  25. Judit_K Mar 9 2012 at 3:03 pm #

    Well, if I could choose any imaginary universes, including those in film productions, I’d go to the Star Trek world, and stay with the Voyager crew 🙂 Though maybe it’s not going to be imaginary after a few decades 😛

  26. Emily Mar 11 2012 at 4:58 am #

    I think it would be to a world I could make up, because what is more perfect than a place you can imagine all on your own?
    Although I would love to go to Tirnanog from The Iron Fey series (by Julie Kagawa) to meet Megan, Ash, and Puck! I love them 🙂
    Thanks so much for this amazing giveaway!

  27. The Readventurer Mar 11 2012 at 6:23 pm #

    HP world!

  28. Priya Mar 13 2012 at 11:46 am #

    Uh, Hogwarts. I’m a total Ravenclaw.
    Or maybe i’d create a world for myself since i’m doing that half of the time.

    • katherine S Mar 14 2012 at 4:26 pm #

      I would definitely join you in Hogwarts!

  29. katherine S Mar 14 2012 at 4:36 pm #

    Even though I like Hogwarts, I would love to live in my own dystopian world.

  30. katherine S Mar 14 2012 at 4:39 pm #

    Great interview! Witchlanders sounds great and I love the cover.

  31. Sooz Mar 14 2012 at 6:06 pm #

    Such a GREAT interview! And honestly–what a relief to hear I’m not the only one whose first draft looks NOTHING like the final book. 😉

    My favorite imaginary world, huh? PERN!!!! Hands down.

    Thank you so much for the great interview, Lena (and Vanessa)!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.