Interview with Lauren Blackwood


About the Author: “Lauren Blackwood is a Jamaican American New Yorker living in Virginia who writes Romance-heavy Fantasy for most ages. When not writing, she’s a physical therapist assistant and violinist who really doesn’t know how to settle on one career field. Her debut YA novel, Within These Wicked Walls, is a NYT/Indie Bestseller and the Reese’s Book Club Fall 2021 YA Pick.” (bio taken from author website)

Find Lauren Blackwood on the following platforms:

I’d like to give a huge thank you to Lauren Blackwood for interviewing with me, as well as a thanks to Meghan Harrington for organizing everything. Her thrilling debut fantasy novel, Within These Wicked Walls is out now from Wednesday Books. Check out our review here!

Grace Kennedy: To start off, I want to thank you for interviewing with me and congratulate you on your debut novel! It’s no easy feat to get your work out there for the first time! How do you feel now that your book has been officially published?

Lauren Blackwood: Thank you! It still feels like a dream, honestly. It’s unreal but lovely at the same time.

GK: I read that you’re a violinist and physical therapist assistant in addition to being an author. That’s an impressive list of skills! How did you balance writing while doing your other work?

LB: I probably don’t sleep as much as I should, haha! And I used to write a lot on the company computer (on Google docs, so there was no evidence, haha!) It’s all about balance.

GK: What made you want to write fiction for the young adult audience specifically?

LB: I’ve been in love with YA books since middle school, but I decided to write after I read the book Hawksong by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes. That book really spoke to me, and it showed me that books with all the tropes I love were being published, so why couldn’t I do that too? Also, there were no fantasy books with characters who looked like me, being anything but slaves, never the heroes of their own story. Black girls need to see themselves as the main character—this was a book I needed when I was a teen.

GK: Within These Wicked Walls is a fantastically horrifying, haunting read. Do you read a lot of horror or like horror movies? Do you have any favorites?

LB: I love movies that aren’t outright scary, but frightening in that they keep you guessing in the most unnerving, visceral, intimate manner—Black Swan and The Prestige are great examples of this. That’s why I gravitate toward gothic romance. It’s about the yearning, but let’s unsettle the reader along the way.

GK: Moving on to some questions that are more specific to the book, What made you decide to base Within These Wicked Walls on Jane Eyre?

LB: The romantic dynamic, for sure. Two souls entwined, but also both incredibly stubborn, battling with words at every opportunity. Also the ethereal, eerie vibes of the 2011 movie adaptation of Jane Eyre were the biggest inspiration for my book. 

GK: What elements did you focus on maintaining from the original work in your retelling and which ones (if any in particular) were important for you to change?

LB: The back and forth between Andi and Magnus was really important to me, as well as maintaining the bleak atmosphere of an empty, grand house. The racism was definitely the first thing that needed to go—no wives in the attic, thank you very much.

GK: Are you a fan of the original novel?

LB: I’m a true fan of the romantic tropes and the overall vibes and presence of the story/setting. But, as I stated earlier, there are a few things that are problematic enough that I couldn’t overlook.

GK: There is a reference early on to both the Greek mythological figure and the shrub, but since it’s such a unique name I’m curious: why name your protagonist Andromeda?

LB: It’s sort of a tradition of mine that every book I write has at least one character with a name from Greek Mythology (Yes, readers have only seen this one book so far, but just wait!) Andromeda is an Ethiopian princess who is chained between a rock and a monster. Metaphorically, that fits my Andi’s situation perfectly.

GK: Within These Wicked Walls is an Ethiopian-inspired fantasy. Why did you choose Ethiopia as your setting/source of inspiration?

LB: I loved the Eye Evil lore but it felt wrong to bring the curse to England just to hold on to the gray Jane Eyre vibes. This story is distinctly not British, and Ethiopia is a country that had never been colonized and so rich in culture and identity that setting it elsewhere would be doing the story a disservice.

GK: Now, let’s talk about the romance in your debut. I saw a lot of parallels between Andromeda and Magnus Rochester’s romance to the original one between Jane and Rochester. Both relationships were tumultuous, both versions of Rochester sometimes insufferable. How did you go about writing Magnus to be both an endearing character while also just the right amount of eccentric and frustrating?

LB: I love Magnus! I drew his eccentricities out through his artsy nature/hobbies and his boredom rather than just being sort of awful. When he’s awful, it’s the “he lives in a bubble” sort of way, because he truly does—he hasn’t been out in three years, and that’s taken a toll. His earnest efforts to adjust and learn to be social again, to engage with Andromeda and impress her…he’s trying, poor thing, haha! He has no filter or tact, but he’s trying.

GK: Do you have a favorite scene or quote from Within These Wicked Walls? How did you feel after writing it?

LB: The scene in the library where Magnus catches Andromeda looking at his drawings is absolutely electric with sexual tension (am I allowed to say that?), and everything I love about gothic romance.

GK: Moving away from the book, I have a few questions about what’s next for you. To start, can you tell us a few of your favorite books you’ve read in the past year?

LB: Beast of Prey by Ayana Gray, The Jasmine Project by Meredith Ireland, A Chorus Rises by Bethany C. Morrow, to name a few

GK: Now that you’ve been through the whole ordeal, what advice can you give writers on getting published?

LB: Especially my fellow writers of color— work on your craft. That’s the most important part. And make sure you have good critique partners you trust who will give real feedback.

GK: Do you have any plans to write another novel in the works? Perhaps another retelling or something totally different?

LB: I definitely have more novels in me, and some ready to go. Can’t talk about any of them at the moment, but there are definitely some more classic retellings in my future.

PRR Assistant Director, Grace Kennedy