Feature: Andrea Cremer, bestselling YA novelist

By Christa Lawler
Duluth News Tribune

With Andrea Cremer’s debut novel, she has changed the dripping-incisors back story of the cursed lycanthropes.

In “Nightshade,” the first of a trilogy, earning the fur is a privilege and a blessing — not the stuff of agonizing glares, and pained howls at the full moon. And the hero is Calla Tor, a teenage girl, a shape shifter on the fast track to becoming the alpha female of the pack, coupled up with sexy wolf-mate Ren Laroche. Things get wonky when Calla saves the life of a human boy, then subsequently falls for said human boy.

Turns out the teens are digging this new take on an old creature. The Ashland native’s novel is No. 9 on the New York Times Best-seller list for chapter books this week.

“It was really surprising and wonderful. It was a surreal moment,” Cremer said of getting that phone call from her publicist.

Cremer is a history professor at Macalester College in St. Paul. Her staff bio includes courses on religion, race and society in the development of early American society, and gender and sexuality in colonial America and the early republic. She is on a sabbatical this semester, and has been touring with her book. She grew up in Ashland, and was an undergrad at Northland College — where Sigurd Olson is believed to be the only other writer alum to have landed on the New York Time’s Best-seller list.

The Los Angeles Times called “Nightshade”: “A fantastical mash-up of religious warriors and witch hunts, of feminist will and societal oppression. … ‘Nightshade’ is a book for well-read hopeless romantics who like their heroines conflicted, their love interests smoldering and their passions triangulated and torrid, yet unfulfilled.”

The descriptor “the anti-“Twilight” has been bandied about by reviewers. And it is true that when it came to making a protagonist, Cremer went with an empowered female lead. Calla Tor would probably go for the wishy-washy doe-eyed Bella Swan’s jugular.

“You never want to say you hear voices,” Cremer said. “In the case of ‘Nightshade,’ Calla really came into my head and wouldn’t let go. I knew there was a girl, independent and strong. She wanted to be a warrior and a leader. I also knew she was a wolf.”

There is a crossover in readership between her book and Stephenie’s Meyer’s epic vampire collection, Cremer said. The Twi-Hards have embraced her novel.

Despite growing up with the great Northwoods for her playground, and being influence by the scenery for this novel, Cremer set her story in Vail, Colo. She needed a mountain, she said. Lutsen wasn’t going to cut it. And she needed a place where wealthy and elite wolf keepers could mingle with society, but also have remote areas. Cremer said she is familiar with Boulder, Colo., and Denver, and what she didn’t know about Vail, she found using Google Earth, which provides satellite photographs of addresses all over the world.

The next two books of the series are completed. “Wolfsbane” comes out next summer, and the finale, “Bloodrose,” comes out in 2012. She is working on a prequel to “Nightshade” right now, as well as a re-invention of the 19th century filled with gadgets and scientists and a place where the American Revolution fails and the British Empire takes over with terrible machines.

She has been touring with the book. Cremer just returned from Chicago and jets off for Florida next week.

Cremer started writing “Nightshade” after a horseback-riding accident, sentenced to living horizontal in fall 2008.

“For me, writers were people who lived in their parents’ basement,” she said. “I had all this time I couldn’t do anything other than lie on my couch. As soon as I started writing fiction, it was a switch I turned on inside myself that I couldn’t turn off.

“It was one of the scariest things, once I realized it was what I wanted to do,” she said. “If I didn’t get published, it would be a heartbreak I’d never get over.”

This story was in the November 14, 2010 edition of the Duluth News Tribune.

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