Andrea Cremer spent years studying -- and teaching about -- slavery and sexuality before spinning her expertise into the fantastical, feminist saga of witches and werewolves known as the "Nightshade" trilogy. Her bestselling series for young adult readers concludes with "Bloodrose," to be released Jan. 3. I recently caught up with the Minnesota-based author to talk about the books and an ending that shocked even her editor.
Jacket Copy: One of the things readers relate to with "Nightshade" is the double standard applied to Calla and Ren. Ren's allowed to be a playboy, but Calla, whom he's supposed to marry, has to remain chaste. That's a double bind that doesn't only exist in fantasy but continues to thrive in the real world as we kick off 2012. Why is that idea alluring to you?
Andrea Cremer: I'm very much a feminist, and as a girl I was so needing strong young women to be heroines to me in the books I read. Eowyn in Lord of the Rings, I lived for the moment when she ripped off her helmet and said, "No living man am I!" I wanted a character with all those qualities, but the parameters of society were constantly around her telling her she couldn't do that. You're allowed to be a warrior but only to a certain extent before she would have to submit to someone else, and that someone else was always going to be a man.
JC: That brings up another idea you tackle -- society's fear of the powerful female and its desire to suppress her. Calla needs to prove she's the pack's alpha, but there are forces working against that.
AC: Sexuality and sexual awakening were key for me to explore in this book because so often the "boys will be boys" attitude is still so dominant in contemporary society. It is not considered to be the norm or even healthy for girls to be aware of their sexuality unless it's coquettish. If you're not using your sexuality to get a life mate, then you're a whore. That's really what I wanted to work against. Women who are sexually self-actualized are dangerous, but only to those people who want to control them.
JC: It makes sense that you'd explore these ideas in the context of witchcraft and warfare, which you also teach at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn. Why are you attracted to those subjects?
AC: The war that was waged on witches is so much about subverting female power. In the early modern period, 1500 to 1800, witchcraft was redefined from being something where magic was tied into folk medicine and could be helpful to being malicious and aligned with the devil. Warfare for me, I love weapons, so that's the geeky part of it, but it's really how multilayered warfare is. You have so many class and social components. The infantry comes from the lower and working classes and the generals and kings are elite, but they're all brought together for this machine that is war for really diverse reasons that are all tied into social, religious and cultural belief. War for me is simply a space where all the dynamics of history I'm interested in tend to converge in a really amplified and intense way.
More from the interview with Andrea Cremer -- including possible spoilers -- after the jump.