While Lana Popovic’s Wicked Like A Wildfire (hardcover, digital) may be found in the “young adult” section of your local bookstore, in talking to her about this new novel, the first of a two-part fantasy series, she explains that you might want to focus more on the latter word more than the former. And she would know; when not writing YA fantasy novels, she works as a book agent for a number of “young adult” authors.
Photo Credit: Gary Alpert
Let’s start with the basics. What is Wicked Like A Wildfire about?
It’s about witchy twin sisters, growing up in a secluded seaside town in Montenegro. They both have the gleam, the power to magically manipulate beauty, but have been forbidden by their cold, distant mother from using it for fear of discovery. But when their mother is attacked and left hovering between life and death, the sisters are left to unravel the mystery of a family curse that ties them to an ancient blood goddess of death and love. More or less.
It’s been described as a “young adult fantasy.” But there are a lot of subgenres in fantasy. Which, if any, do you think Wicked Like A Wildfire belongs in, and why that one?
I’d say it straddles the line between magical realism and contemporary fantasy, with more of a foothold in the latter. Contemporary fantasy typically involves a magical, elevated reality within our own world, or a fairytale version of our world. Unlike urban fantasy, it’s usually not set against a city backdrop, and isn’t as much of a “creature feature.”
Similarly, “young adult” books seem to fall into two categories: books written for young adults and only young adults, and books that are not inappropriate for young adults and can be enjoyed both them and regular adults. Which do you think Wicked Like A Wildfire is, and why?
A lot of YA fantasy is very ambitious, and sometimes has higher hurdles to clear than adult fantasy, in that “show don’t tell” is an ironclad rule, and protagonists can’t get away with having things happen to them rather than exerting agency. The resulting stories are usually fast-paced, elaborately built, and really engaging for both adults and younger readers. Because I tend to think that adolescence maintains strong sway even over the adult psyche. A lot of our most intense emotional experiences happen to us as teens, since everything is at such a constant fever-pitch. I intended to write Wicked Like A Wildfire with the kind of complex characters, strong sense of place, and highly sensory, dreamy aesthetic I hope appeals to adults as well as teens. And there’s a bit of blood, blasphemy, and naked witches in there too. So, something for everyone, really.
Are there any writers, or specific novels, that you think had a big impact on Wicked Like A Wildfire?
I really fell in love with YA after reading Laini Taylor’s stunning Daughter Of Smoke & Bone, which is also the reason I primarily agent young adult authors. It’s such a gorgeous, heart-breaking book, with phenomenal visual impact. And since I write what I’d like to read, Wicked Like A Wildfire is also meant to evoke dramatic visuals.
I’m also a sucker for such decadent books as [Joanne Harris’] Chocolat and [Erin Morgenstern’s] The Night Circus, so those will have contributed to the story’s many tastes and smells. I love writing about food and perfume, I just can’t get enough of it. I’m one of those people who sees foods on TV for a split-second of a scene and then has to drop everything in order to obtain them immediately. There must be a name for this. Highly food-suggestible?
Sounds about right. But going back to influences, what about non-literary ones? Do you think any movies, TV shows, or video games an influence on Wicked Like A Wildfire?
I shamefully never read Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic, though I adore some of her other books, but I loved the witchiness of the movie. Battlestar Galactica and Joss Whedon’s shows probably didn’t have a direct impact, but I love them so much that shades of both are likely in everything I write.
Now, in researching you, I saw on your wesbite that you studied psychology and literature at Yale and law at Boston University. How, if at all, did your knowledge of the human mind and our legal system impact Wicked Like A Wildfire?
The American legal system isn’t so much in play here, since the book is set in Montenegro. And I was never all that deft with The Law anyway. But there are certainly humans in the book, and some pretty twisty psychologies in play. When I studied psych, I always enjoyed the personality disorders most. You can’t “fix” those, and while they often yield very dysfunctional people, those minds are also really compelling. There’s a good bit of narcissism and borderline personality behavior happening in Wicked Like A Wildfire.
Your website also says you subsist, “largely on cake, eyeliner, and aerial yoga.” So how much of this book’s plot did you come up with while hanging upside down, trying not to hard not to cough up a princess cake, since you knew it would screw up your make-up?
I actually wrote the book exactly that way; it’s like you were there.
Seriously, though, cake and I have quite a thing going. I like to eat it for breakfast whenever I can, and once, a friend caught me watching Cake Boss and whispering “cake” under my breath to myself over and over like I’d crawled out of a well in search of desserts. She pretends it’s funny, but I think she’s still a little scared.
Wicked Like A Wildfire is the first book in a duology. When in the writing of this first book did you realize it was a two-parter, and why did you decide to make it two books instead of one big one?
I initially intended to write Wicked Like A Wildfire as a stand-alone novel, but my editor had other ideas, and she was, as she tends to be, extremely right. Part of my extensive first revision included fleshing out the story such that I left room for another installment. Hence that truly evil cliffhanger at the end. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
So do you know when you’ll be releasing the second book, which you’ve said will be called Fierce Like A Firestorm?
I do. It’ll publish in summer 2018, likely in August.
Earlier I asked about the movies and whatnot that might’ve influenced Wicked Like A Wildfire. But has there been any interest in making a movie, TV show, or video game out of your novel?
I can’t say anything definitive about film or TV interest yet, but the dream for me would be a miniseries. I think there’s more terrain to cover in the two books than is comfortable for film, and with the extensive cast of characters — many of whom are much more present in the sequel — I think it would be such fun to see lots of parallel plot threads and wild magic everywhere.
If it was going to be made into a miniseries, who would you like them to cast in the main roles?
I always thought of Iris and Malina as a teen Dichen Lachman and Maggie Q, respectively. Dichen Lachman is just so outrageously, starkly beautiful — I stopped watching Being Human once she was no longer in it, and she was my main reason for entertaining Dollhouse at all — and Maggie Q is softer but equally lovely. So whoever looks exactly like them would be great.
Finally, if someone really enjoys Wicked Like A Wildfire and they’re looking for something to read while waiting for Fierce Like A Firestorm to come out, what would you suggest and why that?
Any or all of the books I’ve already mentioned, but also [Stephanie Garber’s] Caraval and [S. Jae-Jones’] Wintersong for enchanting sister fantasies, [Brittany Cavallaro’s] A Study In Charlotte for its uncompromising, bold female protagonist, Laini Taylor’s Strange The Dreamer because everyone should be wrecked and redeemed by Laini at least once, and Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy series for its sensuality and exploration of beauty.