A Talk With: Isabel Sterling, on These Witches Don’t Burn

Hi friends! I’m finally back with another Talk With!!

In case you missed it, “A Talk With” is a brand new feature here on Drizzle & Hurricane Books, where I will invite young adult book authors to chat with me about their upcoming books, share their writing tips and tricks and more!

I’m having today another wonderful debut author, Isabel Sterling! Her upcoming book, These Witches Don’t Burn, is one of these queer witches stories that we need more of and that sound just way too good to pass up on. Let’s get on with this lovely interview, where we talk about her debut, creating magical worlds, juggling between plot and characters and so on!

1. Can you describe your debut, These Witches Don’t Burn, only using three words?

Thank you so much for having me! Ooh, this is tricky. If I could do a three-word phrase, I’d say TWDB is “queer witchy fun!”

2. Are there any real-life places (or / and imagined) that inspired you for These Witches Don’t Burn? Any songs, a particular playlist or some books/tv shows that inspired you as you wrote or before, to write about witches?

I’ve been obsessed with witches my entire life. I grew up on movies like Practical Magic, The Craft, and Hocus Pocus and read every kind of witchy book I could get my hands on. I remember ordering all the T*Witches books (by H.B. Gilmour) from those book fair fliers we got at school, and I read dozens of books in the Sweep series by Cate Tiernan as a young teen. I also watched a lot of Charmed (and am currently loving the reboot!) and very much wanted to get my Hogwarts letter.

When I first drafted TWDB, I had never been to Salem, MA — though I had wanted to visit since we studied The Crucible by Arthur Miller in high school. In 2015, after I’d finished the first draft, I was lucky enough to visit Salem with my wife (who was a new girlfriend at the time), which helped develop the setting for the novel.

3. How did the magic system of These Witches Don’t Burn come to be and how did you polish it? Do you have any tips for us writers to create a magic system? Do you take particular notes for each scenes where it is used, how it all works out, like a sort of, magic-system manual of some kind? 🙂

This is a great question! Believe it or not, the very first draft of TWDB didn’t have any of the Witch Clans that are in the published book. When I was stuck in revisions, I realized I was bored with the story because it didn’t have any magic. The system developed over the course of revisions and edits, but the initial inspiration came from sitting down one day and brainstorming all the things I loved about magic in the stories I grew up on. Ultimately, I settled on three types: Elemental Witches (heavily influenced by my love of Avatar: The Last Airbender), Caster Witches (your more typical potions/spells type of witch), and Blood Witches (the creepy witches the other two love to hate).

For other writers looking to create their own magic systems (and this is what works for me, but writing advice is never one-size-fits-all, so your experience may vary), it’s important to keep logic in mind. Yes, we’re creating our own rules, but if those rules don’t make sense to the reader, they’re likely to get lost and put down the book. You don’t have to get it right on the first try (revision can be a great time to iron out the finer details and logical issues), but it’s something to keep in mind.

4. These Witches Don’t Burn sounds like a delicious mix of contemporary and character-focused story, in a magical world filled with intrigue, too: how did you manage to juggle between the magical, fantasy and thrilling aspects of it all and still keep a tight focus on your characters and their development, too? Did you write different outlines and character arcs and made them meet afterwards in your writing or edits?

This is another excellent question! It was definitely a balancing act to keep the mystery and tension going forward while creating space for more character-focused moments, like the aftermath of Hannah’s breakup and exploring her new crush. Getting the balance right was definitely a collaborative process with my editor. My inclination as a writer is to race through the plot, and she helped me remember to slow down and give these exhausted teens a moment to catch their breath!

1. Are there any fellow #novel19s and debuts that you really loved and would like everyone to read?

Gosh, so many! I haven’t read it yet, but I’m so excited for Kat Cho’s Wicked Fox (the ARC is waiting for me on my kindle!) and Hot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan is a really fun queer romcom.

2. If you woke up with magical powers just like the ones in These Witches Don’t Burn, which powers would you like to have?

I would love to be an Elemental Witch. Having the power to manipulate the elements would be really cool, and I’ve always felt an affinity with water. Plus, ever since I watched Practical Magic, I’ve been desperate for the power to light candles with magic.

3. Can you share one line of These Witches Don’t Burn with us?

I think readers expect the fun magic, ex-girlfriend drama, and awkward flirting (which are all parts I love!), but the book is also a bit dark at times, so I present you with the end of Chapter 2:

“Fire flickers a few yards away, but what captures my attention is the girl on the ground. Covered in blood.”

Thank you so, SO much for taking the time to chat with me about your upcoming book, Isabel! Friends, I hope this made you want to pick up this wonderful book as soon as you can, it releases on May 28th!

📖 More about These Witches Don’t Burn

Buy on Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository

Hannah’s a witch, but not the kind you’re thinking of. She’s the real deal, an Elemental with the power to control fire, earth, water, and air. But even though she lives in Salem, Massachusetts, her magic is a secret she has to keep to herself. If she’s ever caught using it in front of a Reg (read: non-witch), she could lose it. For good. So, Hannah spends most of her time avoiding her ex-girlfriend (and fellow Elemental Witch) Veronica, hanging out with her best friend, and working at the Fly by Night Cauldron selling candles and crystals to tourists, goths, and local Wiccans.

But dealing with her ex is the least of Hannah’s concerns when a terrifying blood ritual interrupts the end-of-school-year bonfire. Evidence of dark magic begins to appear all over Salem, and Hannah’s sure it’s the work of a deadly Blood Witch. The issue is, her coven is less than convinced, forcing Hannah to team up with the last person she wants to see: Veronica.

While the pair attempt to smoke out the Blood Witch at a house party, Hannah meets Morgan, a cute new ballerina in town. But trying to date amid a supernatural crisis is easier said than done, and Hannah will have to test the limits of her power if she’s going to save her coven and get the girl, especially when the attacks on Salem’s witches become deadlier by the day.

🎁 Preorder These Witches Don’t Burn

If you preorder These Witches Don’t Burn (or request it at your local library), you can receive these lovely and exclusive vinyl character stickers!

Submit your receipt here!

This campaign is open internationally and until June, 4th. More information here.

📖 More about the author, Isabel Sterling

Photo by Megan Adams.

Isabel Sterling has been dreaming up new worlds since childhood, but she didn’t commit any of them to paper until after college. When she’s not writing about magic and murder, Isabel can be found lost in a good book, binge-watching her favorite shows, or swimming in the lake. She lives in central NY with her wife and their brood of furry children: cats Oliver and December and a mischievous puppy named Lily.

Her debut YA novel, These Witches Don’t Burn, will publish in May 28, 2019 from Razorbill.

Find Isabel Sterling on:

💻 Website 📱 Twitter 📷 Instagram


Do you want to read These Witches Don’t Burn? Did you read it already?

What are some of your favorite books with witches? Let me know your thoughts and recommendations in comments!





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Book blogger, travel blogger, writer. 📚 |🌍 | 💞 Writing & Communications Graduate. French. Living on love, wanderlust and ya books.

25 thoughts on “A Talk With: Isabel Sterling, on These Witches Don’t Burn

  1. Ohh, this sounds like a brilliant book, there aren’t many stories out there with witches (much less queer witches, yay for more LGBT representation). The last one I read was Undead Girl Gang but ever since then I’ve wanted more witch-y reads.
    I love the author’s advice on creating a magic system as well, whenever I’m writing my world-building always tends to be something which falls aside in the first draft. It’s only when going back that I actually have the time to look at it more and develop it. Guess no first draft is perfect right?
    Great post Marie. 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ohh yay, I need to read Undead Girls Gang eventually, it sounds incredible 😀
      I loved her advice on that, too, I always love hearing about world-building, because it’s something I suck at, haha. Thank you so much, Beth! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This was such a fun interview to read Marie! TWDB is one of my most anticipated reads, I’m actually going to preorder it soon!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Lovely interview!! I like most people also would have loved a letter to Hogwarts too!!
    And I loved reading about the writing process for creating a magic system– especially as at the minute of am rethinking my magic system and world in my book as I learnt I barely developed it in my first outline. So it is nice to hear that Isabel didn’t have a magic system first time round either.
    And thinking about how to balance plot with characters is important and something I want to get better at.
    I also love elemental magic especially water!! It would be amazing!!
    Wonderful interview!! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh thank you Sophie, so happy you enjoyed this interview! 🙂
      I find it so interesting as well to learn about how writers figure out their magic systems, this is something that amazes me a lot haha 🙂 I’m so glad you enjoyed this, thank you!! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

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