What could be better than a witchy urban fantasy for Halloween? In this new interview, Lou Wilham tells us all about The Hex Next Door, introducing us to the Witches of Moondale in this magical, romantic series. Get your spellbook at the ready, gals and ghouls!
Hi, Lou! Thanks for joining us. First of all, tell us about your urban fantasy, The Hex Next Door, and what inspired you to write it.
Thanks for having me! It’s always fun to talk about my writing, so I really appreciate the opportunity to do just that.
Alright, so, The Hex Next Door is about a witch named Rus who is returning to her small town after eleven years away. When she left, she didn’t really say goodbye to her then girlfriend, and she was sort of chased out of town by the ruling magical body because she practiced necromancy. So now she’s got to deal with the fall out of all Past!Rus’s decisions while also balancing two adopted daughters, a new business, and the danger that drove her back to Moondale in the first place. No big deal, right?
It always feels a little bit like a cop out when I tell people what inspired me to write The Hex Next Door in the first place. But here goes. I had signed up for a witchy book event in Salem, realized I didn’t have a witch book, and decided to write one. From there, Rus and Az were born. Not terribly awe-inspiring, but sometimes inspiration comes from mundane places.
The story takes place in a witchy fictional town named Moondale. How did you build this magical urban setting and is it inspired by any other places, real or fictional?
Moondale, and its neighboring town Ironport, are actually inspired partly by a few places where I lived in my home state of Maryland throughout the years. So I took my own hometown, with a large 4-H community, and a not-quite-town just 15 minutes away that usually gets all the big stores first (this is where Ironport came from), and combined it with a city where I lived during university in the mountains, and the small one-stop-light-town I lived in just after which was on the water to create Moondale. It’s kind of a weird mix of all three places. I’d be happy to give a more in-depth analysis of what came from where, but that’s the gist, is that it’s an amalgamation of places I’ve lived in my home state.
What was the process like in deciding how witches would be represented in this series? What’s most unique or exciting about your world?
I actually did a lot of research leading up to this novel, more than I generally do, and part of that was because I was so excited about the project and didn’t have time to write it right away. So I satiated that urge by researching. I watched all different kinds of witch shows, and did a lot of reading. But I didn’t just read about fictional witches, I also read about real life witches, and superstitions throughout history. It was important to me to make my witches, and the magic they practice, grounded in reality. To make it feel like it could happen, like Moondale was a place you could visit, but at the same time be sensitive to those who do practice the craft.
One of my favorite things to sort out was Rus’s necromancy, though. Like it had to have rules, and those rules had to make sense logically. I didn’t want her bringing back the dead left and right, there had to be balance. Especially since balance is a big part of the craft.
A lot of folks have said they like that my witches all have their own specialization, and unique abilities.
Can you tell us a little bit about your characters? Which, if any, did you identify with most and why?
Rus is a necromancer who let politics chase her out of town, and leave the love of her life behind. She spent the next eleven years traveling the world, learning about herself, learning what she did and did not want out of life, and adopting two amazing kids.
Az is a hedge witch from a well-to-do witch family who has spent the last eleven years right where Rus left her. She’s sassy, snarky, and unfortunately works in retail.
The way I make my characters is I take a piece of myself, and I build from it. Sometimes it’s a habit I have. Sometimes it’s a job I’ve had. Sometimes it’s a personality trait. And thus, I identify with different parts of both of them. Rus has this energy about her that I identify with. She gets started on a project and gets so laser focused it’s hard for her to drop it until it’s done. Whereas with Az I identify with her grumpy introverted-ness.
The book features a sapphic romance (yay!). What are your favourite tropes to read and do any make an appearance in this story?
One of my favorite tropes is found family, and that does make an appearance here. Another thing I like to see, which isn’t really a trope, is different kinds of intimacy. I love seeing how people express their affection toward one another outside of the physical sense. Because of the nature of Rus and Az’s lives when they meet again, their romance is slow burn, which means there’s lots of yearning, lots of pining, and lots of showing they care in ways that aren’t strictly physical.
What initially drew you to the fantasy genre and what do you love most about writing romance in this setting?
I personally get enough of real life in real life, so I prefer my stories with at least a little magic in them. Adding romance to that just ups the magic.
The Hex Next Door is the first book in the The Witches of Moondale series, with the second book coming out November 1st (eek)! Can you tell us what to expect from the sequel? Anything that might surprise us going forward?
So I like to think of the first book as Rus’s story (or at least the first one), where she has to come to terms with what coming back to Moondale really means for her. The second book is the first of Az’s stories, where she learns what she really wants from her life there.
In the second book, there will be more necromancy. More sassiness from 157 Mourning Moore. More of Darcy and Lizzie. And you’ll get to learn more about Moondale, and the politics that are at work there.
Do you have more books planned for the series, and if so, can you give us a hint as to what might come next for Azure and Icarus?
I actually outlined book 3 back in July. In book 2 we see Rus and Az fighting to find a foothold for Rus’s coven in Moondale. Book 3, that fight will continue with them looking to add to the ranks of the coven. Which means they’ll be making new friends! You might even see some crossover characters between Moondale and Ironport.
Did you find any challenges while writing these books? How did you overcome them?
One of the biggest challenges was just that I already had a bit of a full schedule when I decided I wanted to write Witches of Moondale, but I also didn’t really want to wait. Like I said before, one of the ways I dealt with that was by doing a lot of research, and world building. I actually have a Moleskine notebook full of dialogue, world building, and ideas for future books in the series. There’s probably enough there I could do books for some of the side characters too.
You have lots of projects happening at the moment! How do you balance them all, and what book of yours would you point readers of Moondale to next?
Juggling so much is tricky at times, but it helps to have different projects at different points in the process. So right now, I’m juggling four projects. One that’s on its final read through (this is where I just look for any typos that snuck past me and my editor the first couple passes), one that’s on revisions post beta reads, one that’s on my alpha read through (this is where I read the first draft myself and do a beta read of sorts), and a co-author project I’m in the middle of drafting. It definitely makes it easier if I’m not trying to like draft three things at the same time.
If you loved Moondale I’d recommend Sanctuary of the Lost and Hunters of Ironport.
Sanctuary of the Lost is a co-author series I’m working on with one of my best friends Christis Christie. The first book—Of Love & Ruin—released on Oct 4. With Miami as a backdrop, Sanctuary of the Lost borrows inspiration from Greek and Roman mythology to bring the gods and their creatures into an urban setting. If you love found family, golden retriever love interests, and outright shenanigans, this might be for you.
Hunters of Ironport is set in the same universe as Witches of Moondale, just a town over in Ironport. The release date for the first book—Overkill—is December 20th. It’s a little darker, a little grittier than Witches of Moondale, but still has a similar vibe. The leads of Ironport are two vampire hunters. One a tired teacher in his thirties. The other a sassy mechanic in his late twenties. This book also features a trans main character. If you love Buffy, I think Overkill might be right up your alley.
Have any shows, movies, books, or games influenced your own work at all?
I say this a lot: artists in general are an amalgamation of all of the media we’ve consumed. And every book has its own inspiration. For Witches of Moondale I watched all of The Good Witch, Charmed, and the Halloweentown movies. I also read several other witchy books like The Ex Hex.
But I’ve had people review The Hex Next Door and say they saw influences of Murder, She Wrote, Warehouse 13, and even The Librarians. Which makes a lot of sense since those are all shows I’ve loved at one time or another. So, like I said, we’re all kind of an amalgamation of all of the media we’ve ever loved.
If you could give any advice to indie authors set to make their debut, what would it be?
I say this a lot, but the best advice I can give a new writer is to find your people. Writing can feel very solitary at times, and lonely, but it really doesn’t have to be. Sure, not every project can be a co-author project where you get to play off another writer, but that doesn’t mean you’re in this alone. It’s always good to have friends in the community who you can talk craft with.
Sometimes when I’m really stuck on a plot point, I’ll message one of my writing friends and talk it out with them. Very often they don’t even give any input, it’s just a matter of me being able to tell someone else about it and talk myself out of the corner I’ve written myself into. Or having someone who I can go to when I’m having release day jitters. Which happens almost every release.
A writing community isn’t just there to help you share your cover reveals, and release day graphics. It’s also there for support.
Our podcast focuses on media we’re currently loving. Are there any books, shows, movies, or games you’re enjoying at the moment? Any recommendations for our audience? Bonus points if it includes sapphics!
Currently I’m in heavy drafting and revising mode, so I haven’t had a lot of time to read or watch TV. BUT I did just finish the first book in O.E. Tearman’s Aces High, Jokers Wild series and loved that. It’s not sapphic, but it does feature heavy found family vibes, and a queer cast.
Also, a couple months ago I read The Princess and The Grilled Cheese which was super cute, and I definitely recommend that as well. That one is sapphic.
Born and raised in a small town near the Chesapeake Bay, Lou Wilham grew up on a steady diet of fiction, arts and crafts, and Old Bay. After years of absorbing everything, there was to absorb of fiction, fantasy, and sci-fi she's left with a serious writing/drawing habit that just won't quit. These days, she spends much of her time writing, drawing, and chasing a very short Basset Hound named Sherlock.
When not daydreaming up new characters to write and draw she can be found crocheting, making cute bookmarks, and binge-watching whatever happens to catch her eye.