Book: The Bitterwine Oath
Photo Courtesy of Hannah West
Author: Hannah West
Hannah West is the author of The Bitterwine Oath and The Nissera Chronicles, and a freelance writer with a French degree she wishes she had more occasion to use. Her debut novel, Kingdom of Ash and Briars, received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews and was named a Kirkus Best Book of the Year. She lives in Texas with her husband and their two rambunctious rescue dogs.
Find her at hannahwestauthor.com
1. Growing up what genre of books did you read?
2. How much of yourself is embedded within the character Natalie Colter?
We only have a few surface-level things in common. We’re both Texans, we have a blue heeler, and we’re close to our families, but that’s about it. She’s an athlete and I can barely jog a mile. She loves barbecue and I don’t really eat meat.
She’s social and I’m an introvert. But I think there’s something a little deeper that I imprinted onto her, and it’s that she’s a sensitive person who feels very deeply and is often wondering what other people are thinking and feeling, especially the people she really cares about.
3. What inspires your writing and how long does it take for you to develop a story like, “The Bitterwine Oath”?
The Bitterwine Oath took longer to develop than anything else I’ve written, partly because I was drafting it while needing to go through a huge amount of growth as a writer. It’s my fourth published book, but it was only the second book I drafted, right after Kingdom of Ash and Briars. I think I was 23 years old when I started writing it, and I still needed to learn so many basics about the craft.
I revised it a lot and nearly shelved it before diving into massive revisions. It needed to go through that journey, and so did I! As far as inspiration, I draw on nature and its mysteries quite a bit, and I loved setting a book in the Piney Woods of East Texas because I could actually go there and immerse myself in the vibe.
4. What are 3 things that all great murder mystery stories must have?
1. Betrayal by a character who is trusted by both the reader and the protagonist.
2. An object that seems insignificant in the first act that later resurfaces as a major clue.
3. Kissing while on the case!
5. Have you ever had any interactions with the supernatural? And if so, would you care to share a story?
This might be a little disappointing since it’s an established scientific phenomenon, but when I was at a library conference a couple years ago, I experienced a sleep paralysis apparition for the first time in my life. I woke up in my hotel room at night, which looked exactly the same as it had when I had fallen asleep—except that a man in a bowler hat was standing in profile like he’d just stepped out of the open closet.
The bathroom light was on in the dream and shining onto the closet, and so that revealed a lot of detail. He was nicely dressed with a very expensive-looking watch, and he seemed aware of me but wasn’t looking at me.
As one does when one thinks a strange man is in their hotel room, I started trying to scream and move, but couldn’t. It was terrifying, and I felt weird the entire next day! I knew about sleep paralysis apparitions before that happened, and so I recognized the Hat Man, which is an apparition that so many people across cultures have experienced. Freaky!
6. What are you excited for readers to experience in “The Bitterwine Oath”?
I really hope that most readers get a chill down their spine at some point, whether it happens while learning about Malachi’s unsettling powers or seeing the Woodwalkers on the page for the first time. I don’t consider The Bitterwine Oath “horror,” but I do hope it’s creepy! And I also hope that readers leave feeling empowered to question authority and challenge it when necessary.
7. Readers mention that your character development is crafted ‘beautifully’, what is one teachable moment in your writing process that contributed to your strong character development?
Well that’s lovely to hear! I’m not sure there was really a moment of epiphany, but I realized at some point you have to be willing to empathize with every single character, even the ones who aren’t relatable, and find something relatable about them and allow them to be right about some things.
It’s too easy to treat your protagonist’s morality as precious and make them right about everything while making everyone else wrong. But humans are so much more complicated than that, and even when we’re right, we often go about things the wrong way and make a mess. If you let your characters be a little messy (even if they’re good people), the resulting conflict will open up so many more plot opportunities than when your character is perfect and can do no wrong.
It seems obvious, but it's something I only learned to do after my debut, and I think a lot of new writers can benefit from practicing that empathy for all of their characters.
8. What’s your best advice for getting over writer’s block?
A lot of people say to work through it, to just sit down and force yourself to type something.
I think that has merit, especially if you’re avoiding writing purely because it’s intimidating. On the other hand, I’m someone who needs to stew over a story before I put it on the page, and I think it can be more beneficial to take a walk or take a nap and daydream about the story than it is to try to write it when the ideas aren’t flowing.
9. What’s the best book you have read this year so far?
10. Do you plan on writing more books in the future?
Absolutely! I just finished up writing my first adult romance novel, and I have a couple more YA ideas in the works as well. I’m not sure of their fate yet, but it’s exciting to have a lot of ideas.
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