Several years ago, on an episode of Gilmore Girls, an unscripted Norman Mailer said this to a reporter played by his son Stephen: “I can’t tell you what I’m working on. I never tell anyone what I’m working on. A novel is like a secret affair and you don’t bring other people in on it.” I’ve often played with the idea of being that closed-lipped about my own current writing endeavors. There are so many ways in which talking about one’s novel-in-progress could be problematic. For example: a) I might not actually know exactly what I’m writing about. b) I might be feeling a tad embarrassed about it. c) The whole thing may change completely before it ever sees the light of day. And, d) very often I can’t describe it in a way that adequately gets my meaning across.
This is what I told someone who recently asked me what I was working on: “My new novel has magical elements to it—dealing at least, to some degree with Wicca, and my protagonist is chronically in a bad mood—very fun to write!! But other than that, it’s still shaping itself in my mind.”
Her response was matter of fact and very sweet. “That’s having to do with witches and witchery, right? I’m not so much into that topic, but if you write it, I will read it.”
And this is the main reason I am hesitant to talk about my latest project: it has something to do with Wicca—because it’s something that’s often misunderstood at best, and considered evil at worst. And because I don’t want to somehow disrespect practitioners of the earth religions.
I am fortunate enough to have befriended people on many different spiritual paths—including various versions of faiths that many people lump together as Witchcraft. My fear is that they will say I’ve gotten it all wrong, but I have come to realize how individual our personal beliefs about spirituality often are—even when we are purporting to practice the same faith. I have long been intrigued by both spirituality and religion, so it’s no surprise to me that both my novels are, in part, explorations of faith. My first novel delved into Catholicism—an easy place to start since that was the religion into which I was born. Or was it? As I researched and wrote, I began to appreciate all the different kinds of Catholics that are out there. There is so much love and a great deal of fear. There is liberalism and conservatism. There are nuns who focus on social justice at the possible expense of church doctrine and priests who tell women that they caused their husband’s death because they had used birth control. I am close to people for whom Catholicism has been a great solace and those who call themselves “recovering Catholics”. One of my readers for Communing with Saints was so firmly in the latter category that she confessed to me that when beginning the book, she was nervous she wouldn’t enjoy it because it landed her back in a Catholic church—a place she really didn’t want to be. (P.S. She liked the book anyway.)
In order to inform myself more about Wicca, I am in the process of reading Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft—the cover of which has been gracing the left hand side of my site for several months (it’s taking me a while) along with the covers of other books I am reading. I don’t know how much of what I’m learning from Raymond Buckland’s book will end up in my own, but I have found reading it fascinating. Did you know that people of the Wiccan religion do not believe in an all encompassing evil entity like the devil? Or that a heathen is literally just someone who lives on a heath? That spell craft may or may not be a part of one’s religious life? That among Wicca’s central precepts are those of personal accountability, equality, and ecology?
My reasons for writing about Wicca are many fold. I like reading novels that tell me about different cultures and times and ideologies and as a writer, I try to write what I would like to read. I also write as a way of understanding something more deeply. It’s a great way to impel myself to become more informed on a topic, to explore how I feel, and to investigate how others might experience the world. There are a lot of literary witches out—they take many forms, good and bad and in between, but I would like to portray witches more similarly to the ones that I have known—earthy and funny, kind and real.
I don’t know how much magic will play into the story—but I find spelling scary, so I will most likely tackle that in some way. And there will be knitting! (probably) And a quest (I think). And some link to Celtic Mythology?
You see why I’d like to join the Norman Mailer order of secrecy?
Here’s what I can say for sure: Mostly, my books—like most books—are not about the topic in which they dress up. They are about people wrestling with life, finding their own way through—and hopefully, along the way, stumbling across a little grace.
By the way, if you have a book that explores and explains your faith in a way that’s deeply meaningful to you, I’d love to know about it! Please leave me titles in the comments!
Finally, a bit of housekeeping: On Sunday, those of you who have been subscribing to my blog from the beginning through FeedBurner got spammed with a post from a few years ago. This was not my doing and I apologize for the confusion and annoyance. In the coming weeks, I am planning to disconnect my blog from FeedBurner, so if you would like to continue getting email updates of my posts (and I hope you do), please enter your email address in the box under my picture on my site. This will subscribe you to the WordPress feed and you will get an email just as soon as I publish any and all posts!