Hype from 'American Horror Story,' Upcoming TV Could Spell the Season of the Witch for YA
Now that end-of-the-year trend pieces are dying down for 2013, publishers and readers are looking to find the "next big thing." While fairy tales are making the case for the prime spot currently with TV shows like Once Upon a Time finding a core audience and spawning its Wonderland spin-off, along with popular YA novels like Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles; the upcoming Cruel Beauty, which adapts Beauty and the Beast; and the critical acclaim of Tom McNeal's 2013 Far, Far Away. But what about what's coming next? With the massive interest in American Horror's Story 's third piece of its anthology, Coven , as well as upcoming pop culture events, I'd make the case for witches capturing YA publishers' attention — and that could be a good thing for advancing women-centric pop culture.
YA novels aren't without witches already, of course. Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl's Caster Chronicles, beginning with Beautiful Creatures (which was a very successful book, but only a "meh" movie), is the major one that comes to mind, though it uses "Casters" instead of the name "witches." Deborah Harkness' A Discovery of Witches is another. But with pop culture's recent Wicca obsession, look for authors and publishing houses to be seeking out different takes on the witchy theme.
American Horror Story: Coven is a landmark show for many reasons — the female-centered cast, being one of the highlights, and Stevie Nicks! — but it has turned public attention to the bad-ass witches in present day New Orleans. It's part-historical, part-ridiculous, all-awesome story line contains the legendary Marie Laveau, queen of Louisiana Creole voodoo (played by Angela Basset, no less).
And while it's certainly not a given that the series sparked the idea, but November 2013 saw the publication of Michelle Zink's This Wicked Game, in which one of the characters found out she was a descendant of Laveau. And while it found success, the book was not a breakout hit. But that could be chalked up to timing, because witches are about to have an even bigger moment on television.
Weeds and Orange is the New Black creator Jenji Kohan announced an upcoming Salem, Mass.-centric period drama. Salem, of course, is infamous for the witch trials made famous in books such as The Crucible. And while Bustle's Alicia Lutes notes that this theme and setting is ripe with Kohan's subject matter "bread and butter," it also allows women to shine as main characters on television. This will no doubt translate into more depth in female characters in YA novels.
Alongside Kohan's announcement was WGH's pickup of its first original program, Salem , starring Janet Montgomery. The show was originally titled Malice, but rumor has it, after the success of Coven, the creators and network punched up its witchy vibe and put it front and center in the title. The series will reportedly rewrite history, making the witches real and in league with their persecutors. Executive producers Brannon Braga and Adam Simon say the change is for the sake of the actresses.
"Why should men get all the good anti-hero roles like Tony Soprano and Walter White, they wondered. Women too should be able to journey 'to a very dark place,' Simon said."
Montgomery agreed: "Nobody wants to see a woman dealing drugs (like Walter White) and it’s really important to see some nasty piece of work on the screen."
Not to be outdone, CBS is planning a reboot of cult TV drama Charmed. Meanwhile, Lifetime's Witches of East End, which is based on Melissa de la Cruz's YA novels, is picking up more and more buzz. Basically, witches are about to be flying all over your TV.
The witch buzz is already translating into publishing, with books on the theme upcoming in 2014. And these novels, like the existing and upcoming TV shows, are all taking unique approaches to the subject.
Sally Green's Half Bad is already somewhat of an international sensation, despite not being published until this March. The first-time author grabbed a massive publishing deal with Penguin for her story about a war between witch factions in modern-day England. Publishers Weekly has already given the YA novel a starred review:
This grim and thrilling tale, first in a planned trilogy, features understated prose that lets readers' imaginations fill in the blanks, as well as a well-developed sense of Witch culture.
Thirty-six other countries also picked up publishing rights for Half Bad, and Fox snatched up movie rights, so March won't be the last of Green and her good and evil witches.
Teenager Josephine Hemlock (how's that for a ominous last name?) tries to keep her magical life separate from her everyday life in April's House of Ivy and Sorrow by Natalie Whipple. But her efforts are getting more difficult as the rumors of a witch in her small town in Nebraska are gaining more traction. And she knows the rumors are true because, well, she is that witch.
Also in the current-day witch trope, like Whipple's novel and several of the TV shows, is Michelle Krys' upcoming The Witch Hunter series, starting with July's Hexed. Krys' series also focuses on a teenage girl, but this girl has yet to discover that she is a witch. Indigo Blackwood knows that her family is a little bizarre — her mom runs an occult shop — but when a guy dies in front of her, her cheerleader facade comes crumbling down when she discovers her true self.
The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness, the final installment of the All Souls trilogy that began with A Discovery of Witches, is set for a July release. Warner Bros. also acquired the film rights to A Discovery of Witches, with producers Denise Di Novi (famous from Edward Scissorhands) and Allison Greenspan (who produced other YA adaptation The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants), but there have been no release details yet.
These YA novels are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. As the new shows come to cable boxes, Netflix and Hulu near you, look for publishing houses to grab at witch stories, and as they become more popular, you'll see more innovative approaches to the sub-genre. But what does this have to do with women? It puts them front and center.
Sure, witch novels can have men, but female characters are likely to be the driving force. And to stand out, authors will have to develop new and interesting women protagonists to run their novels. And if novels are modeling after the success of Coven, or even Charmed, we might see more YA witch novels that focus on, well, covens. Groups of women talking about things other than men in pop culture? Magical, indeed.