Having written two novels for young adults, author Ava Morgyn is getting more adult (and genre-ly diverse) with her Gothic urban fantasy horror mystery romance novel The Witches Of Bone Hill (paperback, Kindle). In the following email interview, Morgyn talks about why she got more mature this time around, what inspired and influenced this witchy tale, and whether people who were YA before will enjoy this OA story.
Photo Credit: Zoey Sweat
To start, what is The Witches Of Bone Hill and when and where does it take place?
The Witches Of Bone Hill is the story of two sisters, Cordelia and Eustace Bone, who inherit a gothic Victorian estate from their estranged great aunt after she dies, only to discover that they are the descendants of a line of generational witches with a very peculiar heritage.
Set in modern-day Connecticut against the backdrop of the Litchfield Hills, the sisters spend their time at the estate trying to unravel the mystery of their mother’s death, the secret behind her estrangement from the family, the source of their undisclosed wealth, the enigma of their own personal health issues, and the reason for the many spirits haunting the house and grounds, including an enormous hill crypt standing at the far end of the property. All whilst they wrestle with a dynasty trust that won’t let them leave and a stalker whose threatening messages make it clear they’re not welcome. In the process, the sisters must heal their own strained relationship and come to terms with their past, including Cordelia’s narcissistic husband and the mountain of debt he’s left in her name.
It’s a book that would appeal to readers of witchlit, Gothic fiction, mystery, and horror, I think. It’s dark but there’s humor, romance, and magic for levity.
The Witches Of Bone Hill is your first novel for adults; your first two, Resurrection Girls and The Salt In Our Blood, were young adult novels. Did you set out to write something for adults and Bone Hill is what you came up with, or did you come up with the idea of Bone Hill and then realize it would work better if it was written for adults?
I did, in fact, set out to write a novel for adults, and in particular, a novel about witches. Once the idea to do so was planted, the characters of Cordelia and Eustace Bone emerged very quickly, and everything else spun out of these two indelible women I couldn’t shake.
Why did you want to write something for adults?
My agent approached me with the idea of writing an adult novel about witches. Normally, I would have declined. I’d only been interested in writing YA up to this point, and I don’t write to a prompt very well. But I happen to love the archetype of the witch and stories about witchcraft, so that’s what drew me in. I told her to let me think about it, and within a few days I’d written a pitch and sent it to her. She loved it and here we are.
And where then did you get the idea for the plot of The Witches Of Bone Hill?
Usually, my ideas start with a character or a premise. In this case, it was the characters of Cordelia and Eustace Bone. I knew they were going to be witches and started considering their magical heritage, settling on a Nordic line. But having these modern, American women carry an ancient lineage of supernatural power meant I had to consider how that power might have behaved or changed over the generations since it originated, how it might look now outside of the place and time of its source, and how the Bone family managed to hold onto it across countless years and miles.
So, is there a reason why Cordelia lives in Dallas, her sister lives in Boulder, and that the story ultimately takes place in a small Connecticut town? And I don’t just mean “Why do the sisters live far apart” but also why Dallas, why Boulder, why Connecticut.
I wanted to take the sisters outside of their comfort zones to get the answers they always wanted but were too afraid to seek. It made sense to me that they should have to travel somewhere neither of them had been before. And their mother’s past implied that when she fled before her girls were born, she would have really put distance between herself and her family home. It also felt important that they end up somewhere steeped in history, a place where you could imagine their ancestors settling and trying to make a way for themselves, a place where a home like Bone Hill would be plausible.
I chose Dallas because it’s close to home. I’m a Houston resident, but having been there several times, I could really picture Cordelia building her real estate empire in Dallas. By contrast, I wanted Eustace to have a wildly different career. She is in many ways the opposite of her sister. Someone as free-spirited as Eustace, with the latent magic she holds, made sense in the cannabis industry and in a progressive, college-city like Boulder. And I chose Connecticut because of the history and Victorian architecture in New England, the proliferation of quaint small towns, and the natural beauty of that particular region of the state.
There are a lot of jobs a free spirit like Eustace could’ve taken. Is there some significance to her being a cannabis grower? Or was this just your attempt at taking your edibles off your taxes? Y’know…research.
The cannabis industry is an ideal choice for Eustace’s personality as well as her latent powers. Just like real estate showcases Cordelia’s attempt to maintain a picture-perfect image to fit in and taps into her magical ability to “hear” houses and detect their ghostly residents, cannabis gives us an instant understanding of Eustace’s distinctly different coping mechanism — to flout the status quo instead of upholding it. And it taps into her magical connection with plants and animals.
Earlier you said The Witches Of Bone Hill has elements of Gothic fiction, mystery, horror, and romance. Though it also sounds like it’s an urban fantasy tale…
I think that’s pretty close. I would describe it as dark witchlit or a Gothic contemporary fantasy. It’s got underpinnings of magical realism, urban fantasy, Gothic fiction, horror, and mystery. I do try to pick a lane when I write, but damned if I ever manage to stay in it.
As I mentioned earlier, The Witches Of Bone Hill is your third novel after Resurrection Girls and The Salt In Our Blood. Are there any writers, or maybe specific stories, that had a big influence on Witches but not on Girls or Salt?
I think Gothic fiction as a whole had a profound and unique influence on this story. I grew up devouring books like Rebecca and Dracula and Wuthering Heights. And now I love books like Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase and Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. And all of that just kind of seeped into this story in a way I hadn’t necessarily intended but ultimately loved.
How about non-literary influences; was The Witches Of Bone Hill influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
I think the Bone family, especially Cordelia and Eustace, are an amalgam of all of these movie and television characters that make up my notion of the modern fictional witch. I think there’s a heavy dose of Sally and Gillian Owens from both the film and book versions of Practical Magic, as well as their aunts. But I also think there’s some Endora from Bewitched in Eustace and a hint of Zelda Spellman from The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina in Cordelia. Weirdly enough, I even see a little Mary Poppins in Cordelia. I also remember going through a period of watching a lot of horror and thriller movies before starting this novel. I can’t put my finger on any specific one, but in general I think those films had an impact on how I saw the story unfolding in my mind.
And what about your dogs? What influence did they have on The Witches Of Bone Hill?
My dogs have an influence on everything I do. They didn’t make their way directly into the story, but they definitely featured in the relationship Morna Bone has to her familiars and how we see that mirrored in Eustace and Marvel. I have two dogs: Takoda, who is a woolly Siberian Husky, and Nola Sue, who is part pittie and part husky and who knows what else. They are completely ridiculous creatures, and I love them for it.
Nola Sue, Takoda
Now, The Witches Of Bone Hill sounds like a stand-alone story. But you never know. So, I’ll ask: Is it?
The Witches Of Bone Hill is a stand-alone book. That said, I have toyed with the idea of eventually writing a prequel to it that would tell the story of another set of Bone family members in a different time. I actually have an entire Bone family tree drawn up, so there are lots of options for this. But as of yet, I haven’t embarked on any of them.
I wrote The Witches Of Bone Hill as a stand-alone read because I tend to want to move on from my characters and stories to new characters and stories pretty quickly. But I’m not opposed to circling back some time in the future. However, I have another book from St. Martin’s Griffin releasing in 2024 or early 2025 titled The Bane Witch that I’m so excited about. So, fans of The Witches Of Bone Hill will have more to look forward to from me in the same vein.
We’ve talked a bit about how your previous novels were young adult. If someone was a young adult when Resurrection Girls or The Salt In Our Blood came out, but they’re now an old adult, do you think they’d enjoy The Witches Of Bone Hill?
Oh, sure. I think anyone who enjoys my writing will find there are universal threads through all my work that they can appreciate. I always tend to write dark. I always write about magical and supernatural characters and events. I always write about women and female relationships. These are elements that find their way into all my work. Readers of Resurrection Girls and The Salt In Our Blood will find the same struggle with death and loss and the histories that haunt us here that they’ve read in my work before. But they’ll get it with a dash of sex appeal and maybe more gore, more humor, and more detail than they’re used to.
And what if they’re an old adult who’s enjoyed The Witches Of Bone Hill? Would you suggest they go back and read Resurrection Girls or The Salt In Our Blood?
I would tell them to start with Resurrection Girls. There are parallels between the friendship of Olivia and Kara and the sisterhood of Cordelia and Eustace. I also think the allusions to death in both stories and the grief Olivia and Cordelia experience have similarities. And there’s a hint of the supernatural legacy the Bone family shares in the Hallas family of Resurrection Girls. It’s just not as well developed. But in The Salt In Our Blood, they’re going to find the impact of generational choices that we see in The Witches Of Bone Hill, as well as a setting that plays such an important role it’s practically its own character.
Earlier I asked if The Witches Of Bone Hill had been influenced by any movies, TV show, or games. But to flip things around, do you think Witches could work as a movie, show, or game?
I definitely think The Witches Of Bone Hill could be adapted for a movie or a limited series. But to work on screen, I assume it would need to lean more into the horror aspect or more into the romance / humor aspect. I’m not sure it could straddle both as easily as it does in book format. Books are just so multidimensional. You can really develop all these facets of a story simultaneously. But I think film needs to be more focused.
So, if someone wanted to adapt The Witches Of Bone Hill into a movie or TV show, who would you want them to cast as Cordelia and Eustace and the other main characters?
I have actually thought about this more than I care to admit. I often picture Cordelia and Eustace as Michelle Pfeiffer and Cher from their The Witches Of Eastwick era. But I could picture Jessica Chastain [The Martian], Emma Stone [Cruella], or Bryce Dallas Howard [Jurassic World] in the role of Cordelia. Eustace is harder to peg for me. Maybe Kathryn Hahn [WandaVision] or Catherine Keener [Capote]. Or someone really funny like Sandra Bullock [Oceans 8] or Rachel Bloom [Crazy Ex-Girlfriend] or Melissa McCarthy [The Little Mermaid]. There is a reason I’m an author and not a casting director.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about The Witches Of Bone Hill?
That it’s a perfect fall read, and it’s releasing just in time for spooky season. No matter your favorite genre, we all love to lean into the spirit of Halloween come September and October. I think The Witches Of Bone Hill is the ideal book for that time of year.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Witches Of Bone Hill, what witchy novel of someone else’s would you suggest they check out?
I love that you asked this question. And I have so many answers! I highly recommend The Orphan Witch by Paige Crutcher, The Year Of The Witching by Alexis Henderson, Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman, The Witch’s Daughter by Paula Brackston and Slewfoot: A Tale Of Bewitchery by Brom. But this is barely scratching the surface.