Lena Coakley


Today I'm hosting another YA author. This time a fellow Torontonian. I'm very excited about her debut fantasy novel, Witchlanders, which earned a starred reviews in both Publishers' Weekly and Kirkus . (For those of you who don't know what that means... let's just say it's a very big deal and so well deserved.) I love when great covers and great reviews and great publisher support happen to deserving people. (Not that all authors aren't deserving--I just love when it happens to a friend.) :) If you think the photo of this cover is beautiful, you should see the real thing. It's a book that begs to be held and opened and read.


Lena was born in Milford, Connecticut and grew up on Long Island. In high school, creative writing was the only class she ever failed (nothing was ever good enough to hand in!), but, undeterred, she went on to study writing at Sarah Lawrence College. She got interested in young adult literature when she moved to Toronto, Canada, and began working for CANSCAIP, the Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers, where she eventually became the Administrative Director. She is now a full-time writer living in Toronto. Witchlanders, her debut novel, is both a Junior Library Guild selection and an ABC New Voices selection.


* Exquisite storytelling plus atmospheric worldbuilding equals one stunning teen debut. Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

* Plot twists unfold at a riveting pace, the boys’ characters are compellingly sketched, and Coakley explores her subject matter masterfully without falling prey to safe plot choices. Publishers Weekly (starred review)

High in their mountain covens, red witches pray to the Goddess, protecting the Witchlands by throwing the bones and foretelling the future.

It’s all a fake.

At least, that’s what Ryder thinks. He doubts the witches really deserve their tithes—one quarter of all the crops his village can produce. And even if they can predict the future, what danger is there to foretell, now that his people’s old enemy, the Baen, has been defeated?

But when a terrifying new magic threatens both his village and the coven, Ryder must confront the beautiful and silent witch who holds all the secrets. Everything he’s ever believed about witches, the Baen, magic and about himself will change, when he discovers that the prophecies he’s always scorned—

Are about him.


MAUREEN: What’s your favorite movie of all time?

LENA: I used to think my three favorite movies—The Wizard of Oz, Casablanca, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon—had nothing in common, but I’ve recently realized that they mark me as a worldbuilding addict. I like to be taken to exotic places I’ve never been before, whether they be Oz, Morocco, or ancient China.

MAUREEN: That's a great insight! What’s the first book you remember reading?

LENA: I vividly remember Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are and the effect that it had on me. The image of Max’s room gradually turning into a forest was probably my first experience of finding the surreal in the everyday—something I still love in the literature I read now.

MAUREEN: What’s next for you as an author?

LENA: My agent was very surprised—and pleased, I hope—to get a peek at my next project, because he was expecting another high fantasy in the same vein as Witchlanders. Instead I’m working on my first historical fantasy—with no swords, bones or witches in sight. I can’t spill too much about it yet, but I can tell you that it does take place in 1834 and…I’ve taken two vacations in a row to the north of England.

MAUREEN: Cats or dogs?

LENA: People who’ve read Witchlanders might be surprised that I’m picking cats.
I do love Bodread the Slayer, the dog in my book, but since I’ve never actually owned a dog, I’ve never had that strong bond with one that you get from sharing your life with an animal. I’ve definitely had that with cats. When I was growing up we had a cat named Oscar that I loved as much as any person.

MAUREEN: What was the first story you remember writing?

LENA: I remember writing a play in Junior High School called Phaeton’s Chariot of the Sun. It was about how the mythical island of Atlantis was destroyed by a nuclear power plant. I would pay good money to read it now, but, sadly, I didn’t keep it. I suspect that I bludgeoned the reader over the head with the message, but at the time I thought it was utterly brilliant.

MAUREEN: Do you remember your grade one teacher’s name? If you remember her/him, why does he/she stand out?

LENA: Mrs. Yearsley. I’m pretty sure they gave her the first graders so that they would love school right off the bat. I have no idea if I learned anything—I probably did—but her great skill was to make every, single one of her students feel like they were her favorite. We adored her, and it wasn’t just her students. I distinctly remember other teachers just dropping by the classroom for no reason and gazing at her. She was some sort of siren of the first grade.

MAUREEN: Love that! What’s your favorite kid joke?

LENA: Knock knock.
Who’s there?
The interrupting cow.
The interrupting cow…

MAUREEN: A classic. Which era would you most like to live in and why? Least?

LENA: My problem with questions like this is that if I could go back in time I would feel this great need to save my heroes. “Mr. Van Gogh! Don’t shoot yourself! You’ve probably just got lead poisoning! Mr. Wilde! That Bosie character is bad news. Find a boyfriend with no parents!” I’d just be running around from place to place trying to alter history. But perhaps it would be cool to go WAY back about forty thousand years to the time when mammoths and saber toothed cats roamed the earth and humans were still coexisting with Neanderthals. There is so much we don’t know about that time because it was before written history. But I’d only go if I could bring my glasses, a handful of antibiotics and maybe a shotgun.


MAUREEN: Why do you think fantasy is so popular with young people in particular?

LENA: Hmm. I can tell you why I loved fantasy when I was young—and why I still do. Many people assume I read fantasy for escape, but I really don’t think a fantasy is any more escapist than a contemporary novel. I think fantasy often talks about weighty issues in metaphor, and maybe there is something I enjoy about that—it’s a way of seeing an issue from a completely new point of view.

I also just love the surprise of being introduced to new worlds. Perhaps this appeals particularly to the young because youth is a time for exploration. It’s a time when people want to break out of the confines of their own world and discover something totally different.


I loved the question about the first book I remember, so I’d like to throw it back to those reading this blog: What’s the first book you remember reading?


Website: http://www.lenacoakley.com%20/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/lenacoakley
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/lena.coakley


  1. Good interview, Maureen and Lena. Lovely cover too. It sounds good like a good story. I'll have to find it for my grandchildren.
    By the way, the first books I remember were Kabumpo in Oz and Tarzan of the Apes, both fantasies of a somewhat different kind. My father read them to me. They're still on my shelf of favorites.

  2. hi Lena,

    i love reading YA ^^

    the first book i read are from author sandra brown (genre suspenroman), author johanna lindsey and lisa kleypas(genre HR) and author julie kagawa, cassandra clare and richelle mead (genre YA).

  3. My first book was The Promise by Danielle Steele. I read it straight through the night and finished at 5 a.m.

  4. Bread and Jam for Frances. It was about a mouse who would only eat bread and jam and her family trying to get her to eat other things.

    First romance was A Rebel's Love. I remember reading one of "those" scenes and thinking - they can WRITE that????

  5. Lena, what a wonderful blurb for your book, followed by Kirkus and PW. How can you go wrong. YA and Fantasy, brilliant combination. Thanks for joining us on GLIAS today!

  6. Thanks again for visiting, Lena! The first book (other than picture books) that I remember reading on my own was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I don't think it was the actual first one... That was probably a Bobbsey Twins book or something, but Charlie was the first book that stuck out.

  7. Ellis! I'm an enormous Oz fan but had never heard of Kabumpo! I'll have to look for it. These answers are bringing back memories of many, many great books. I also had a copy of Bread and Jam for Frances (also Bedtime for Frances) which I loved. And Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was also a huge childhood favorite. Thanks for having me on Get Lost in a Story today, Maureen and crew!

  8. The first adult book I remember reading as a kid was Gone with the Wind. I was really bored one summer afternoon and went looking for something to read on my mother's bookshelf!

  9. Welcome to GLIAS, Lena. And major congratulations on the praise for your book. So sad that you've never connected to a dog though. Maybe it's not too late :-)

    And the first book I truly remember connecting with is 101 Dalmations...the original, not Disney. Read it over and over and over.


  10. Great interview! I really enjoy reading the YA books myself. This one sounds like a fabulous read, would love to read it.