2021 Debuts author Charissa Weaks has experience in publishing. As a City Owl Press editor, she’s usually helping other authors achieve success. But earlier this month, her debut novel, The Witch Collector, was released. The book is the first in The Witch Walker series, which also includes the forthcoming City of Ruin and A God’s War. One early reviewer wrote of the book, “The Witch Collector is a finely woven tapestry of everything one could desire of fantasy—compelling characters, intricate world-building, gripping action, and burning romance,” while a recent Amazon reviewer said that the book is “a compelling fantasy story that reads like a combination between a mythological story and a fairy tale.” Fairy tales hold a sweet spot in my heart, so of course I was interested in reading this book. And I’m so glad that I did. November is a crazy month for many of us, especially for someone with as many duties as Charissa has, so I’m grateful she took a moment (or two or three) to answer my questions.
Christina: Congrats on the publication of The Witch Collector. Alexia Chantel has called it “a magical, enchanting, fantasy romance whose pages are filled with threads of love, loss, and healing.” Can you tell us a little bit about where the idea for the story came from? Did the final version match up with your original intention?
Charissa: Back in 2017, I decided to put together an anthology based around the Wheel of the Year/pagan festivals. The old ways are very interesting to me. The first anthology’s theme was vampires and was set around the Winter Solstice. That book published in December of 2018 and contained short stories, novelettes, and novellas from all genres and many talented authors. I knew that the 2019 volume would center around Mabon/Autumnal Equinox and witchcraft/witches. So the seeds for The Witch Collector were born then. Once I wrote the novella though, I could see the larger story. I published The Witch Collector in the 2019 anthology and later contracted all three novellas with City Owl Press. The plan was to expand The Witch Collector and keep all three novellas around 45K words each. At the time, novellas seemed like all I could manage. I was a caregiver to my father, and the necessary time and mental energy to turn the tale into a trilogy of full-length novels just didn’t exist. My father passed in 2020, and I had to postpone the novella’s release. In the months after my dad’s death, I poured myself into Raina Bloodgood’s world to help busy my mind as I coped with the loss, and before I knew it, I had a 400-page novel on my hands. Thankfully, my publisher was cool about this and now here we are. So no, the final version doesn’t match my original intention at all, and I’m so glad!
Christina: “Love, loss, and healing” is a lot to take on in addition to the romance and fantasy aspects of the book. How do you find the right balance so that readers are intrigued and sympathetic but not bogged down by the themes and plotlines?
Charissa: This is a tough question! It’s all about weaving, I suppose. To me, every story element is a thread. I try to make certain I’m pulling each thread through the book in a way that prevents it from feeling lost or dominating the pattern. My goal is that, at the end of the read, the threads are all visible and create a story tapestry that can be examined in hindsight with new clarity. There are also ways to combine so much of this in the actual story writing so that it comes across naturally and doesn’t feel overly done. It’s tough, for sure. I don’t think I did a perfect job in The Witch Collector, but it’s always fun to put the puzzle of a story together for readers.
Christina: Readers also mention your “strong female leads.” Does anyone in particular inspire those leads? What messages do you hope to send with these characters?
Charissa: My main goal when creating female characters is to make them real. Women are strong by nature, in my opinion. I can’t say that I really have a message I’m trying to send, I just attempt to highlight the bonds between women and their strength in the midst of adversity. Raina, for instance, endures a lot of loss and has all she’s ever believed proven wrong. I could’ve made her super stubborn throughout and had her react to the new knowledge about her world in a childish manner, but instead, Raina takes these new truths and copes with them. Then she charges onward. Don’t get me wrong, she has her stubborn moments! She also gets angry and reacts. But more often than not, she processes her new reality and survives whatever comes her way. She’s also very protective of those she loves, and there’s a sisterhood in this tale that has a larger role in forthcoming books. I have four grown daughters who are best friends. When I see them cope with life changes and struggles—often together—it always impresses me and stirs something in my soul. If anyone inspires the creation of my female leads, it’s them.
Christina: Your bio says that you can be found “digging through four-hundred-year old texts for research.” What is it about that era in particular that calls to you? What’s the strangest thing you’ve uncovered so far?
Charissa: Ah. The story of my heart has a heroine who lives in a small village in 17th century England. There are witches, dual timelines, time travel, reincarnation, and of course, a little romance. I began working on that story in 2014. It spans 800 years and requires a little more storytelling confidence on my end before I can truly deliver it the way it needs to be delivered. But it’ll eventually happen.
As for the strangest thing I’ve uncovered? I can’t pinpoint one thing. I’ve read so much across many time periods, from travel logs to commonplace books to translated texts sent straight to me from the librarians at Versailles. I really love reading travel logs though. One of my favorites is from 1896, Edmondo de Amicis’s Constantinople. Another is from 1838, Beauties of the Bosphorus by Julia Pardoe. You get a unique viewpoint of a time and place by reading old travel logs. It’s really fascinating. Seventeenth century texts are a little more tedious, but still enjoyable. I stumbled across and fell in love with the story of Elizabeth Mallet beginning the first newspaper in 1702 London—The Daily Courant. My author newsletter is titled The Monthly Courant as an homage to her.
Christina: As an editor for City Owl Press, you’re well-versed in the publishing industry. How has publishing changed in the last five years? Do you have any tips for authors just getting their feet wet? Did anything about the industry surprise you once you took on the role of author?
Charissa: Publishing has changed so much in the last five years. I first dipped my toes in the publishing world in 2009. I knew I wasn’t ready to publish yet, but I was still part of the community. I joined writer groups, went to workshops, conferences, and conventions. I took classes and more classes. And I paid attention to people working in the industry and listened to what they said about publishing as it changed. I remember worrying about print books vanishing as ebooks became prevalent. I also remember the excitement of self-publishing as that avenue opened for many. I’ve seen trends come and go and watched the romance sector of the industry change everything (they’re amazing, by the way). The Big 6 became the Big 5 and then the Big 4. Audiobooks are on a steady rise. Distribution options have changed. Marketing efforts have been rehauled with the popularity of Bookstagram and now Booktok. Authors have more responsibility for their own marketing. I could go on and on, because things change daily. But ultimately, the publishing world adapts.
As for tips? Learn. Polish. Prepare. The amount of learning you need to do depends on where you are knowledge-wise about this industry and genre expectations when you begin the journey. My advice is to not go into the publishing world without educating yourself. Know the way things work, the etiquette, and the process. When you’re ready to submit a book for publishing consideration, be sure it’s polished to the best of your ability and follow the submission guidelines. There’s no need to shoot yourself in the foot by ignoring basic technicalities. If you don’t take your work or the process seriously and respectfully, you can’t expect an agent or editor to reciprocate. Then, prepare for rejection and Plan B in case your initial effort doesn’t end the way you’d hoped. It may! And that’s wonderful. But if not, it’s important to remember that the road of a writing career can have many detours and take you on paths you never imagined. But you must keep moving. Not being prepared to alter your path can bring the journey to a halt, and that’s not what we want.
Did anything about the industry surprise me once I took on the role of author? Sure. Mainly, how amazing readers can be and how absolutely wonderful it feels to have people love your work. I knew it would feel good—I had that experience with the anthologies. But reader love has motivated me to push so much harder now so that I can get more of my stories in their hands.
Christina: You’re “a foodie and a book-buying coffee addict,” so I must ask a few questions (and thank you for humoring me):
- What are your favorite foods?
- Do you like to cook or have someone else do the cooking?
- Do you have a few favorite books or authors?
- And flavored coffee: Yes or No?
- Finally, what do you mean by addict—do you measure your addiction by the cup or the pot?
- Right now I’m on a Poulet à la Moutarde kick. That sounds fancy, but it’s just French Mustard Chicken. It is divine. I might have four jars of French mustard in my refrigerator right now.
- I love to cook and always have. My house is the place to be if you want food. I cook a little less now because I’m so busy writing, but my youngest daughter is still at home during her last year at university, and she absolutely has the cooking gene. It’s so nice when she cooks!
- I’m guessing you mean cookbooks? I am horrible about following recipes. I’ve been cooking for so long that I just know what to do. I love buying old cookbooks though, especially old French cookbooks. I do think I’m going to purchase Anthony Bourdain’s Appetites and give some of his recipes a whirl.
- So much yes.
- Most days by the cup—maybe two. I didn’t drink coffee at all until my thirties, and now, a little over ten years later, I want coffee everything.
Christina: What does literary success look like to you?
Charissa: Having a stack of published novels on my desk with my name on them and readers who love them. That’s it.
Thanks to Charissa for agreeing to this interview! If you know of an author who’d like to be featured in an interview (or you are an author who would like to be featured), feel free to leave a comment or email me via my contact page.