My love affair with magical fiction began at seven years old, when I inhaled A Wrinkle In Time. I still remember the goosebumps that spread across my gangly arms and legs when Mrs. Whatsit blew into Meg’s life and proclaimed, “Wild nights are my glory!” This anticipation of the impossible has yet to loosen its hold on my imagination.
At thirty-three, I greedily devour anything that Sarah Addison Allen writes (Garden Spells is one of my favorite books) and am always searching for authors who weave understated magic into their worlds.
I believe that magic surrounds us, though it often goes unnoticed, or masquerades as happenstance or coincidence or maybe even El Nino.
My grandmother can toss a handful of flower seeds onto a mound of red clay, then ignore it, and a month later there will be a bed of the prettiest wildflowers you’ve ever seen. She plops half-dead plants and sunbaked bulbs into the dried-out dirt in front her house and they thrive, growing into vibrant blooms and robust greenery. I have even witnessed flowers pushing up from cracks in her concrete driveway, oblivious to the fact that they should not be able to grow surrounded by stone.
This kind of everyday magic is what inspires my stories. These curiosities that we explain away: The old man who makes everyone smile, no matter their mood. The child who is so beloved by animals, that it isn’t uncommon for a bird to land on her shoulder or a chipmunk to eat from her hand. The lady who seems to always end up in a rainstorm. And of course, my grandma, who can grow anything, anywhere.
We humans are curious creatures. We look for answers and refuse to accept things as “just because.” When I create the magic in my books, I am providing answers…just not the ones you’ve come to expect. For me, the first (and most important) step is always to ask, what if.
Sure, that rainbow spread across the sky is a result of rain and reflections from sunlight through water droplets, but what if there is another reason, too? What if, in the middle of nowhere there is a boy who can call to rainbows by playing a flute his grandmother gave him (and that her grandfather gave her)? What if he has fallen for a girl, and that rainbow is his attempt to woo her?
Those cicadas that serenade you every summer night? Yes, we know their high pitched song is their mating call, but what if, in the woods behind your home, there is a woman who lives in a hollowed out tree. What if she cannot come out and is lonely, so she sends out the cicadas to collect stories, and every night the tiny winged messengers sing to her the gossip they have witnessed that day.
What if that child who is so beloved by animals can understand their language, so they trust her with their secrets?
What if that happy old man can who makes everyone smile, can feel in a handshake the things that make your heart heavy, and therefore knows just what to say?
What if it isn’t coincidence for that lady to always end up in the rain? What if the storm clouds love her and follow her around like a puppy looking for a treat?
What if my grandma is somehow connected to green, growing things?
As we grow up, we become blind to everyday magic. Caterpillars weave themselves into silk purses and emerge with fairy wings and we don’t bat an eye. There is a type of flower in Arizona called Queen of the Night, whose blooms are dusky and star-like.
One night a year for a few short hours, they open en masse, turning into an earth-bound constellation before shedding their petals and transforming back into ordinary cacti. Maybe this is for pollination purposes (as is the accepted adult reason), or, what if the flowers are grown from seeds shed by far-away stars, and watered with moonlight. What if, when they bloom, they are waving to their parents in the sky to let them know that, yes, they are doing just fine down here on Earth?
Magic always weaves itself into my writing, whether I am working on something that has a darkness to it, like Blackbird Summer, or a sweet love story like Forget Me Not. I have tried to write without it. In fact, my women’s fiction book (not yet published) was planned as strictly contemporary, but my characters had other ideas, and next thing I knew, they were reading fortunes in tea leaves.
That is probably my one warning about everyday magic: Once you see it—once you have found it and used it in your writing—it is very difficult to stop. Sure, you can outline a book and carefully ignore the fantastic and magical. You can write in the world that everyone knows, the world that we all live in each day while wearing our adult-blinders. I am sure that you can resist the pull of magic, even once you’ve discovered that summer breezes are actually the breath of trees who are sighing with relief that winter is finished. I am sure you can ignore it or reject it, or omit it…but what if you don’t want to?
About Em Shotwell
Em Shotwell is the author Blackbird Summer and The Chans. She writes about magical misfits and the oddballs who love them. Her newest book, Forget Me Not, releases August 8th and Em is donating her earnings this project to the charity Operation Homefront.
About FORGET ME NOT
Maybe dating the good guy, isn’t so bad.
When Rex Somersby’s family matchmaker sets him up with the famous Evelyn Cadeau, he can’t believe his luck. Evelyn is the woman with the perfect Gift—the woman every man wants—while Rex’s own magical ability leaves much to be desired. He travels from Missouri to meet his dream girl in her rural Mississippi home, where Evelyn makes it clear that winning her heart won’t be an easy task. Good thing farm-boy Rex has never been afraid of a little hard work.
Evelyn Cadeau is used to getting her way. As the woman with the most powerful Gift, she knows she can have her pick of anyone she wants. And who she wants is slick, handsome, and off-limits Guy McCallister—not gawky, buttoned-up Rex Somersby. Yet, after an arranged date with Rex takes a dramatic turn, leading to a bottle of wine and sneaking to the creek for a late night skinny dip, she realizes there may be more to by-the-rules Rex than meets the eye.
Just as the young couple start to think their family’s tradition of matchmaking isn’t quite so backward, Rex is drafted to Vietnam. With war threatening to tear them apart, will love be able to save them? Or will it take a bit of magic?