As I stated in my recap of this year’s SDCC, I had the opportunity to interview Susan Dennard about her upcoming release, The Luminaries. I’ve been a fan of Sooz since her first series and I know I’ll love her words forever, so I was especially excited to get to meet with her.
Before we get to my flailing, let’s check out the book.
Title: The Luminaries (The Luminaries #1)
Author: Susan Dennard
Publisher: Tor Teen
Pub Date: November 1, 2022
Find it: Macmillan | Indiebound | Bookshop | Goodreads
Synopsis: Hemlock Falls isn’t like other towns. You won’t find it on a map, your phone won’t work here, and the forest outside town might just kill you.
Winnie Wednesday wants nothing more than to join the Luminaries, the ancient order that protects Winnie’s town—and the rest of humanity—from the monsters and nightmares that rise in the forest of Hemlock Falls every night.
Ever since her father was exposed as a witch and a traitor, Winnie and her family have been shunned. But on her sixteenth birthday, she can take the deadly Luminary hunter trials and prove herself true and loyal—and restore her family’s good name. Or die trying.
But in order to survive, Winnie enlists the help of the one person who can help her train: Jay Friday, resident bad boy and Winnie’s ex-best friend. While Jay might be the most promising new hunter in Hemlock Falls, he also seems to know more about the nightmares of the forest than he should. Together, he and Winnie will discover a danger lurking in the forest no one in Hemlock Falls is prepared for.
Not all monsters can be slain, and not all nightmares are confined to the dark.
Sounds good, right?
Please give the elevator pitch for The Luminaries.
Do I have one? Let me try this. I need to think about this… what is on the book? Is there anything there that can help me? Okay, how about this. A secret society of nightmare hunters in which there are seven families, one for each night of the week, charged with protecting the world from a forest that spews monsters or nightmares.
Winnie Wednesday is of the Wednesday clan and her family was outcast four years before because her father was discovered to be a witch, the sworn enemies of The Luminaries. And now she’s desperate to get her family back into the society and has entered the deadly hunger trials.
For us, as readers, it started as the “choose your own adventure” Twitter story. For you, what came first, the characters or the plot?
I came up with this pitch in 2013. I tried to sell it at the time. My first series didn’t do well, as you know. No one was really interested and on top of that, it was paranormal, which was pretty much dead as a genre in 2013. Versus now, when it’s starting to come back.
I had this idea for Winnie Wednesday and started to develop the world sort of around her and the character Jay Friday. One day, I was bored at LaGuardia and didn’t want to be stuck with my thoughts, I decided to start this online Twitter adventure and used it as the idea. I figured no one would interact and it turned into this whole thing that lasted 6 months…and here we are.
What was the hardest part of taking the story from Twitter and turning it into a full fledged book?
When I first sat down to write the actual book, I tried to stick to the story we came up with on Twitter, or the story that I had spun out from the polls and feedback. It just wasn’t fun.
I realized that for one, I’m someone who…if I’ve already planned the book, it’s not fun to write. That was part of it. The other part was the community. Without it, I just can’t tap into it. If I try to write the same story, everyone is going to feel that something is missing. I decided instead to keep all of the characters, to keep the world, and come at it with a totally new plot that I had never thought of before.
There are plenty of Easter eggs for the Twitter people. There are some very blatant references that a non-Twitter participant won’t recognize, but everyone who played along will definitely and instantly know.
And it’s a series?
Yes. It’s a planned trilogy.
Well, let’s hope that people buy it enough to make it a trilogy.
Are you team thirst or team ugh Jay?
I mean, look. There is a part in the book that she says “ugh, jay” several times and in the sequel. Jay is such a fun love interest to write. On one hand, they’re slightly antagonistic because he ditched her four years ago and she doesn’t know why. They’re not friends now, but they used to be. There’s a very rich history and I think it’s so much fun. There’s so much tension that you can pull out of that. I am both. I obviously ship them.
Without spoilers, what was your favorite scene to write?
In the book?
Yes. Or the Twitter story.
In the Twitter one, the most fun is when I actually let Winnie die and everyone was like, “WHAT?!” They weren’t prepared for it and I told them they had two more chances. We’re giving her 3 hearts a la Zelda. That was funny. As the dungeon master of the internet, it was a lot of fun.
In the book, it was just such a fun book to write. The world was falling apart and I just needed an escape. I was a new mom and everything was challenging. The Witchlands series is so complex and I didn’t have the mental capacity for that. But, I need to get paid and I need to write books, so I decided to write this story from the internet. The story that came out is so fun. I mean, nightmare hunters. The idea is both silly and amazing.
And it’s fun when it’s fun.
It is. And I don’t mind rereading it. It’s probably one of the first books that I wasn’t sick of. I really enjoyed it and it’s probably one of the cleanest first drafts I’ve ever written. Now, the sequel…not so much. I love where it’s ended up, don’t get me wrong, but man it was hard. Partly because the circumstances of my daughter getting older and more challenging. I have less time in the day for the deep thoughts.
She’s two now?
She’s two years and two months and oh boy.
You find out you’re being published for the first time. Describe the next 5 minutes.
I was in my living room, I was living in Germany at the time. No, I was in the dining room and my agent…it was like a thing to call to Germany, so she told me she needed to talk to me. And we talked on the phone and I lost my shit. I couldn’t believe it.
The first person I called was my mom, of course. She wasn’t there and I left a message, which she still has saved. The message is like “Mom. Mom. Pick up the phone. Someone bought the book. Mom. Mom. I need to tell someone.”
What 3 things would you take to a desert island?
You have to give me prep for these questions.
No, this is half the fun.
My daughter, does that count? Except, I wouldn’t want to do that to her, so she needs to stay somewhere safe. Take that back. I’m going to be dorky and say survival gear. Or should I pick fun things? A tv, my PS4. I don’t have a PS 5 because no one can get one. And Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norell because I could read that book 100 times and never get bored.
What is the one thing about publishing you wish someone would have told you?
It’s so funny that you ask this because I just wrote a newsletter about this and it’s going out next week.
I wish I had fully understood that publishing is a business, first and foremost. Which obviously you know in theory, but it’s a speculative business. It’s a business in which they buy up lots of books, put very little behind most books, in the hopes that one of them will take off. And then they put all of their money into one or two of them that they know will take off.
I wish I had fully understood the speculative nature of that business because I took it so personally when I wasn’t one of the chosen ones so to speak with my first series. I was very bitter about it and I’m not proud of that fact. But I see it happen every year, every new debut crop. I see the same sort of trauma happen. It’s sad and I think there’s just so much about publishing people don’t understand
I have been doing this for 12 years and I still don’t fully understand about what happens behind the scenes. I understand why publishers aren’t transparent, so that’s in no way a sort of commentary on them. I just wish I had fully understood that just because you have a book deal, doesn’t mean you’re suddenly going to be JK Rowling, although who really wants to be her now?
It’s a bit of a Debbie downer answer and I always feel bad about it…
But it’s truthful.
And I just feel bad about it. I see it every debut and I wish I could give them a hug and tell them, “oh, honey, you will work through this.” It’s a hard realization to understand that you weren’t one of the chosen ones, you book is not going to get everything. It doesn’t mean your book is bad. It’s not a reflection of your self worth. It’s hard when you love something so much. It’s the nature of any art. Musicians have the same thing, actors, performers, it’s any art.
I’ve come a long way from small-town Georgia. Working in marine biology, I got to travel the world—six out of seven continents, to be exact (I’ll get to you yet, Asia!)—before I settled down as a full-time novelist and writing instructor.
I’m the author of the Something Strange and Deadly series, as well as the New York Times bestselling Witchlands series, and I also host the popular newsletter for writers, the Misfits & Daydreamers. When not writing, I’m slaying darkspawn (on my PS4) or earning bruises at the dojo.
I live in the Midwestern US with my French husband, two spoiled dogs, and two grouchy cats.
Huge thanks to Susan for taking the time to do this interview (and for the hug) and to her publicist who offered the opportunity.
The Luminaries releases on November 1, 2022 and you can pre-order a signed copy from Schuler Books here.
Have you read Susan’s books? Which is your favorite?
I haven’t read this author before, but I got an e-galley of this to read and can’t wait to get to it. Thanks for sharing this!
Oooh, I hope you enjoy! Sooz is one of my favorites.