Please welcome Constance Sayers to The Qwillery as part of the 2020 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. A Witch in Time is published on February 11, 2020 by Redhook.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece you remember writing?
Constance: This is embarrassing, but I wrote a soap opera treatment when I was twelve. (In my defense, it was the height of the General Hospital craze.) My sister gave me her old baby-blue Smith Corona typewriter and I sat for hours in my dad’s study and typing this story. I worked on it for years and in the end I think it was nearly two-hundred pages which is quite a lot of commitment at that age! Obviously, I really wanted to be a screenwriter at one point in my life. In undergrad, I took at least three semesters of screenwriting and playwriting.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Constance: I’m a true hybrid. Being a full pantser hasn’t worked out for me very well because I tend to wander. Having to turn in fully-baked plots to the publisher has helped me make sure that I know where I’m going with the narrative. Often, I can see holes appearing right away in a 3-page synopsis and I know those are things I’m going to have to work out to find solutions for (plot holes, inconsistencies). I also get feedback from my editor on the outline where she can see any major structural problems and things I should steer clear of or places where I could get tripped up. I also try to put in some atmosphere in my synopsis, kind of like a movie treatment. I’ll often go back and consult them to see what type of mood or voice I was trying to create and if I pulled it off. Once I start to actually write, however, I allow the manuscript to surprise me. I will make drastic changes (adding characters, shifting the ending) if it feels right as I’m writing or revising on the fly so my detailed plot description never feels restricting.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Constance: The first draft. It’s an ugly time for me when there is nothing yet on the page. When I’m in first draft mode, I write a thousand words a day, faithfully. Some days it’s excruciating and other days I’ll write five-thousand words…but I always make myself come back and do another thousand the next day. I don’t worry if the words are good, I never even look at them, I just keep going. This process is not unlike getting up at 5 am to work out (which I also do). In the moment, you hate it…you’ll try to talk yourself out of it, but after you’ve put in the time, you feel at peace. I adore the second and third drafts, so I’m just slogging through the first (very rough) draft.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing?
Constance: My father always wanted to be a professional musician, so growing up, our house was always filled with music. There was no choice in the matter that I would study piano and voice with an eye toward a career in an opera somewhere. I love music, but there is a math to it that didn’t come naturally to me. I’m a terrible piano player. That said, music is the single biggest influence in my writing. My characters are always musicians or frustrated musicians. I find musical instruments haunting and mysterious things. Often, I provide a soundtrack for the book. For nearly four years, I was an overnight DJ for a commercial radio station in rural Pennsylvania and the love of music and the search for new music is something that always present in me. I write with the Apple Music Chill station and for A Witch in Time, I was very influenced by music—particularly Eric Satie for Juliet and the Laurel Canyon sound for Sandra.
TQ: Describe A Witch in Time using only 5 words.
Constance: Curse Gone Wrong Through Time
TQ: Tell us something about A Witch in Time that is not found in the book description.
Constance: There is actually some family history in the book. There is a scene for Juliet that is something that came from my own grandmother’s history. In 1918, my grandmother was a young girl and was attacked by three men while walking home. In the 1980s, my father learned about this incident quite by accident and attempted to find out more details. I recall no one in the family wanting to discuss it, so we were forced to go to the city archives to find her police case files. Those files were tough for him to read. It’s a rather tragic story in that as a result of the attack, my grandmother had a child out of wedlock. It was 1918, so as you can imagine, she had very limited options, but she took her infant daughter and went to work as a housekeeper for an older widower. That widower would eventually become my grandfather Despite a rather large difference in their ages, they were married on Valentine’s Day and had three children of their own before she died at the age of 27. I like to think—hope—that she eventually found some happiness in her life. So much of her story was lost to history and memory, but the character of Juliet is definitely inspired by her. It’s a crazy story, but shows you that real life is sometimes much stranger than fiction.
TQ: What inspired you to write A Witch in Time?
Constance: My sister brought home a print of a well-known painting and she thought the subject looked exactly like me. I’ll admit, the likeness was pretty unsettling. This painting hung on her wall for years and I recall thinking: What if there was a story where a character discovered she was the person in the painting from another time? I love “what if” types of narratives. The book just came to shape rather quickly after that.
TQ: Why do you think we are continually fascinated by witches?
Constance: For years I wrote rural noir short stories and novels—those realist kind of close-up, gritty stories. I don’t think my writing really popped until I started looking at the fantastical. Witches are limitless creatures in a way…they can transcend the mundane and at least for me, I love the power and possibility of that.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for A Witch in Time?
Constance: I started with books, both non-fiction and fiction or films of the time. I have bookshelves filled with biographies of painters and Hollywood stars of the 1930s. One time period is difficult enough, but I was juggling three, so I just dove in, getting a sense of each time. With the exception of Challans, France, I also visited every location and worked with local historians who would take me to places representative of the time. I recall admiring David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas so much for his immersive time periods. I tried very hard to make the language of each section really feel like the time. I studied a lot of interviews and films from the 1930s to try and get Nora right. I also think those feel different than the groovy tone of Sandra in the 1970s or the more formal language of Juliet in Belle Epoque Paris.
TQ: Please tell us about the cover for A Witch in Time.
Constance: Lisa Pompilio of Orbit Books created the cover. I love how mysterious it is and how shadowy the woman on the cover is. I’m assuming she’s Juliet, but then Juliet is all of them so I love the choice Lisa made to shadow her face. I’d also never talked to the folks at Redhook/Orbit about my love (borderline obsession) of all things Rococo so to my amazement, Lisa included this Rococo flourishes on the cover that I adore. I’m also a sucker for typography, so I love a good serif font.
TQ: In A Witch in Time who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Constance: Sandra is hands-down my favorite character, yet she is no one else’s favorite. (In fact, she’s usually people’s least favorite). Without giving anything away, you don’t get to the ending without Sandra. She is the keystone and asks the difficult questions and matches Luke for the first time in the book, much to his surprise. I loved, loved writing for her and I think it shows. Also, I grew up in the 1970s, so for me it was the romanticized time of childhood. While my favorite, Sandra was the hardest to write. I ended up writing that section twice. By that I mean, I largely scrapped the first take on her and started over and rewrote the entire thing. Juliet was the easiest. Her story just came to me. I didn’t know if I could write a period section like that (I’d never done it before), so it was fun to see that it worked.
TQ: Does A Witch in Time touch on any social issues?
Constance: I really tried to illustrate how difficult it was to be a woman. I think it is still hard to be a woman, but certainly in 1895, Juliet is a teenager who is seduced by a much older man. She finds herself in a terrible situation that requires otherworldly intervention to get her out of. I wanted her time period and the choices available to her to feel as restrictive as a corset. Nora’s situation is a bit better, but not much. I wanted to focus on Hollywood at the very moment the idea of the ideal “woman” was created on screen. To me that was “the” moment in Hollywood and quite a moment in the public’s formation of an “ideal.” Norma is literally erased and re-created as a sex-symbol Nora, but it’s all an illusion. Next comes Sandra. The seventies were about choices, but still I think they weren’t always free.
TQ: Which question about A Witch in Time do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Constance: Who would you cast as Luke and Helen! It’s my favorite question. I was a big Battlestar Galactica fan and actor Callum Keith Rennie (Leoben) was always who I had in my mind when writing for Luke. For Helen, I always thought Genevieve Angelson from Good Girls Revolt was a great Helen. In my mind, the same actress would have to play all of the parts and I think she’d morph from Juliet to Helen well.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from A Witch in Time.
“People were meant to live in their small pockets of time with events proceeding in digestible intervals. To see so many lifetimes of progress unfurled before us is far too jarring and almost incomprehensible. It makes us doubt our significance in the world. And a feeling of significance is so important to our survival.”
TQ: What's next?
Constance: I’m working on a book about a circus with dark origins.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Constance: You’re welcome!
A Witch in Time
Redhook, February 11, 2020
Hardcover and eBook, 448 pages
A young witch is cursed to relive a doomed love affair through many lifetimes, as both troubled muse and frustrated artist, in this haunting debut novel.
In 1895, sixteen-year-old Juliet LaCompte has a passionate, doomed romance with the married Parisian painter Auguste Marchant. When her mother — a witch — attempts to cast a curse on Marchant, she unwittingly summons a demon, binding her daughter to both Auguste and this supernatural being for all time.
Born and re-born, Juliet is fated to live her affair and die tragically young across continents and lifetimes.
But finally, in present-day Washington D.C., something shifts. In this life, Juliet starts to remember her tragic past. And this time, she begins to develop powers of her own that might finally break the spell…
A Witch in Time is perfect for fans of A Secret History of Witches, Outlander, and The Time Traveler’s Wife.
Constance Sayers received her MA in English from George Mason University and her BA in writing from the University of Pittsburgh. She is a media executive at Atlantic Media. She has been twice named to Folio’s list of “Top 100 Media People in America” and was included in their list of “Top Women in Media.” She is the co-founder of the Thoughtful Dog literary magazine and lives in Kensington, Maryland.