Author Spotlight: My Interview with Colleen Cowley

Hi there! I’m thrilled today to spotlight one of my favorite new-to-me authors! Colleen Cowley is the fantastic author of the Clandestine Magic series, which you’ve probably heard me rave about on the blog. It’s an immersive story with a fantastic (and swoon-tastic!) romance. This is definitely one of my favorite series of the year, and I hope you get a chance to read it!

Getting to Know Colleen Cowley:

Question: According to your bio, though you wrote as a teen, you stopped novel-writing for some time.  What inspired you to begin writing again?  

Colleen Cowley: The Harry Potter series — or more precisely, the fandom that sprung up around it. People were having so much fun speculating about what was to come and writing road-not-taken stories. It was inspiring to see! And it reignited my love of storytelling. 

I know a lot of other writers with a similar origin story. I’m curious how many novelists that series launched.

About Colleen Cowley:

1. “Colleen Cowley” is not my normal, everyday name. It is a family name of sorts, though.

2. In my teens, I wrote a really awful high fantasy with a portal and many other clichés. And then I took a novel-writing break that I thought would be permanent.

3. As much as I love The Hobbit, my favorite sort of fantasy is present-day. Because there’s such possibility in the idea that something magical could be happening right under your nose.

4. Regarding No. 3: After I zipped through the first four Harry Potter books and waited impatiently for the fifth, I would occasionally dream I was at Hogwarts.

5. I live with my family beside a possibly magical forest. My wardrobe, though, is perfectly ordinary.

Colleen Cowley writes romantic fantasy in (warped) modern-day settings because, c’mon, who doesn’t secretly wish for some magic in real life?

Q: Your bio says that you write romantic fantasy in “warped modern-day settings.” What pushed you to create this type of world?

CC: I like all sorts of stories, but I’m especially drawn to fantasy because there’s so much possibility there. Especially when the setting is the quote-unquote real world. Fifty-one percent of me thinks that magic in a society like ours would be terrifically cool, and the other 49 percent is certain it would be terrifying. (Exhibit A: Harry Potter.) Either way, lots of fodder for storytelling.

Add to this mix a couple of characters who might be well-suited for each other, and there’s even more to write about. My favorite romantic stories are slow burn, an attraction based not on appearance but deeper and truer things.

Q: If you had magical ability, what would you most like to do with it?

CC: Ooh, this is a great question that I will blatantly swipe. It’s like a Rorschach test for fantasy readers.

I might be tempted to fly — that’s what my main character in The Opposite of Magic wants to do when she discovers magic is real. But I’m not much of a risk-taker, so I’d probably talk myself out of it. To put it in fantasy terms, I’m a Bilbo-before-the-adventure sort of person.

Making people tell you the truth would be an awesome power … and also potentially awful.

Perhaps an all-purpose healing spell? (That couldn’t go wrong, could it?)

I’m pretty sure I would not want to peer into the future. Trying to avoid your fate is the surest way to bring it on, or so novels have taught me. 

About the Series:

Q: Can you tell readers more about the Clandestine Magic series?

CC: Sure! It’s set in an America controlled by wizards and 100 years behind on women’s rights. Beatrix Harper counts herself among the resistance — the Women’s League for the Prohibition of Magic. Then Peter Blackwell, the only wizard her town has ever produced, unexpectedly returns home and presses her into service as his assistant.

Beatrix fears he wants to undermine the League. His real purpose is far more dangerous for them both.

The first book, Subversive, is set in 2020 — an alternate reality 2020. It’s a bit dystopian, not in a Hunger Games or Mad Max sense but in a more understated, pernicious way. Kind of Anne of Green Gables meets The Handmaid’s Tale, with magic.

I had a lot of fun imagining the setting, but at heart, the trilogy is about Beatrix and Peter. It’s always, always characters that make me love a story.

Q: One aspect of the series that I love is the strong social statements, especially concerning sexism and equality.  What messages do you hope readers will take away from your stories?

As it happens, I didn’t start off with the idea of a book about sexism and inequality. I began with my two main characters and pulled threads to make a world for them. And since I’m obsessed with power imbalances — so much evil flows from people trying to keep other people from their share of it — I ended up imagining a society where wizards are on top, then “typic” men and, at the very bottom, women.

I started thinking about this eight years ago. It’s been really frightening to watch the actual world become so much more dystopian since then. When I start to lose hope, I think of Beatrix Harper and real people like her who never give up. So I suppose that’s the takeaway message: Injustice cannot hold out forever against determined people pressing for equal rights.

Q: I also love how richly developed and complex the world, characters, and magical systems are.  What is your process in creating a story with so many layers and so much depth?

CC: Step one: Spend eight years on it.

OK, that’s mostly a joke. It only took me that long to finish the trilogy because I have to write in bits and snatches when real life allows. But that did mean a lot of time to let the story steep, which offered plenty of opportunity for ideas to present themselves. 

What got me started was thinking about what I loved in other books. (Not just fantasies, given the influence of Anne of Green Gables on the small-town setting.) I thought about tropes, like wizards with long silver hair. I thought about how some of the novels I love are immersive in part because they have a lot of characters, all interesting in their own right. 

I’m so glad my results come off as layered and deep! I’m way too far down this rabbit hole to see it with any sense of perspective.

Q: What is one of the most surprising things you learned while writing this series?

CC: The most mind-bending fact is one I learned after I’d already finished. I opened up the mailbox this fall to find a newspaper clipping from Christina Morland, who writes amazing Austen variations (seriously, if you like Jane Austen, you should definitely read her books).

The New York Times piece was about the 19th Amendment, the one that gave women the vote. It made her think of Clandestine Magic. That’s because the amendment was almost undone after the last required state approved it. Opposition forces, seeing a chance for a redo, “tried to persuade legislators with cash bribes, job offers, blackmail and bare-knuckled threats.”

They didn’t succeed. But there are always new efforts to suppress votes and rob people of power. 


Q: Can you tell us anything about your upcoming books?

CC: The second novel in the trilogy will be released Oct. 25 and the final book (now on pre-order) is out Nov. 29. There’s also a free prequel book about the crazy four weeks leading up to the main characters’ worlds colliding.

After all that? I haven’t been able to get my head out of this world (and the all-consuming launch of it into the actual world) for long enough to start thinking about other what-ifs. 

It’s inevitable, though. I love to write.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you and your writings (i.e., website, Twitter, Facebook page, Goodreads, etc.)?

I love spelunking around in archives, so my website has photos of Clandestine Magic places and people. I’m also on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.If you’re an awesome person (and of course you are), join my newsletter for awesome people. You’ll get bookish discussions and that prequel story.

Thanks for checking out my Author Spotlight, and thanks again to Colleen Cowley for participating!!

14 thoughts on “Author Spotlight: My Interview with Colleen Cowley

  1. The Harry Potter series inspired me to write too!

    I loved this interview. I found myself relating to the author on many levels. Guess I’ll be adding this series to my TBR list. 🙂

    1. You totally should! It’s such a good series, and I was so excited to interview the author. I’m glad you enjoyed it and hope you love the series when you read it!

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