Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Theatre of the Fantastic

SpellcastFirst off, I want to thank Jen for reviewing my contemporary fantasy novel Spellcast and for giving me this opportunity to talk about what went into writing it. The short answer is: my life.

Originally, I was just going to sprinkle in a few memories to add “flavor.” Next thing I knew, Maggie Graham was morphing into Barbara Ashford (which resulted in more than a few moments of schizophrenia for me and the occasional reminder from my husband that I was writing a novel, not an autobiography). Maggie grows up in Wilmington, Delaware; so did I. She chucks her job in educational administration to try her luck as an actress…ditto. We both worked at telephone helplines. We both found love during a summer stock season. And we both believe in the transformational power of theatre.

It’s more than actors putting on makeup and costumes or an audience suspending disbelief to accept that transformation. The theatre is a place between the worlds where anything can happen, a communal experience for the actors that bring the magic to life and the audience that shares it. And just as in ancient days, it is ritual that helps them transcend the ordinary and embrace the fantastic. Actors cling to superstitions to bring them luck and participate in exercises that help them leave the everyday world behind to enter the one onstage. Audiences silence their phones (you hope!) and sit in hushed silence in the darkened house, waiting for the curtain to open on that other world.

Throwing genuine otherworldly magic into the mix was a natural. In Spellcast, it is personified by the mysterious director Rowan Mackenzie. Just as Rowan remains aloof from the cast, his magic lurks in the shadows, its effects clearly felt by all the characters, but its true nature revealed only to Maggie.

In writing Spellcast, I looked for ways to highlight both kinds of magic. Each show contained a fantastic element: the spellbound village in Brigadoon; the selkie in The Sea-Wife; the ghost of Billy Bigelow in Carousel. The structure was “theatrical” with its act divisions and show tune chapter titles. Even my writing style shows the influence of musical theatre. Chapter 1 is essentially the “I am, I want” number, where Maggie reveals who she is and what drives her. The most impassioned scenes are the “power ballads.” Chapter 39 is the fictional equivalent of the “eleven o’clock number,” a major emotional turning point for Maggie and the final revelations about the staff of the Crossroads Theatre.

As you’ve probably guessed, Spellcast was a labor of love, a sort of valentine to my years in the theatre, a rueful tribute to the twists and turns of my life, and a heartfelt thank-you to everyone who helped me on that journey – and in doing so, helped shape me.

I hope you’ll enjoy exploring life at the Crossroads and that you’ll drop by my website. You can find pictures of the places that inspired me, read an excerpt from Spellcast, and get a sneak peek at the sequel coming out in June 2012.