Several days ago, while boiling myself in the public hot tub at the local gym, a woman who knows me simply as “that writer guy” (I cordially think of her as "Lady Hot Tub") asked me what sort of things I write about. My usual response to this oft-asked, straightforward question is to say that I write books for Middle Grade and Young Adult readers. Sometimes I’ll even launch into a quick summery of one of my novels, about a twelve-year-old girl named Oona Crate, who lives on an invisible street in Victorian era New York City. Oona’s biggest conundrum, having been raised as the next great Wizard of Dark Street, is that what she really wants is to be a detective. It’s a story of logic and reason vs. the unpredictability of a magical world. The book (my publishers and I are still working on a title) will be published by Egmont USA, summer of 2011.
That’s pretty much my usual spiel.
On this particular hot tub excursion, however, I did not launch into a book pitch, nor did I mention my so-called target audience. Instead, the words that popped out of my mouth were: “I write about magic.”
With those four words, I suddenly realized that I had found the truth of it. Looking back, and I’m talking about more than twenty years of writing, there isn’t a story of mine that I can find that lacks some element of magic. Wizards, witches, monsters, time travelers, soothsayers, faeries, elves, haunted houses, mystical contracts, portholes to alternate universes, cognizant soap bubbles, on and on. There’s always some twist of the supernatural.
It got me thinking.
Why am I so attracted to the mystical? To tell the truth, I’m afraid to look too deeply into that question, because magic, at its core, is mysterious. That’s what makes it so intriguing. It’s an enigmatic art to those of us living in a day-to-day world of mortgage payments, and traffic, and doing the dishes. Magic has both its possibilities of the fantastically fun, and its frighteningly sinister side. To me, both are equally fascinating to read and write about. Yes indeed.
“I write about magic,” I told Lady Hot Tub, almost offhandedly.
Her eyebrows rose, and she leaned forward, subtly, inquisitively...all at once a little more alert. The look on her face read: “Tell me more.”
It was clear I had her hooked. “Magic” in and of itself seems to be a magical word.
You can imagine my surprise when this fifty-something-year-old woman, who came across as slightly conservative in her demeanor, asked: “What kind of magic?”
Unthinking, I replied: “The kind that causes all sorts of trouble.”
“Is there any other kind?” she asked.
I laughed, thinking of how my book’s heroine—the highly logical, and great mistruster of magic, Oona Crate—would have replied to that question. “Definitely not,” I said. “That’s what makes magic so fun to write about. What’s a story without trouble?”
Lady Hot Tub smiled but didn’t answer. I think we both knew the answer to that one. What’s a story without trouble? The same thing as a story without magic. Boooring.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think a story has to have a flying carpet or a spell-casting walrus in a star-speckled pointy hat to have magic. Magic comes in countless, subtler forms. The magic of a first kiss. A soldier struggling to carry a fallen comrade. A meek woman who rises above her oppressors. A self-centered man who risks his own life to save a stranger. Or even just the simplistic detail of sunlight cutting through a dirty windowpane, lighting up a universe of floating dust particles. A white mushroom amidst a pile of charcoal stones.
Mostly the magic comes from the words themselves, and how, when penned by the hand of a gifted storyteller, our very existence is transformed. The pen becomes the true magic wand as one world melts away and, as if through a mystical veil, we enter another.
And of course it doesn’t stop there. It is a story’s ability to spill out of the page and into our everyday lives that is perhaps the most powerful spell I have found yet; so that each time we put down our book, we carry that magic with us. We, the readers, are transformed, eyes a little wider, hearts a little more vulnerable, more open, alert, or understanding, ready to appreciate or face the complex magic that is our everyday existence. Because truly, everything is mysterious, and when it comes right down to it…everything is magic.
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