Which came first: The writer or the witch?

All of my life, I’ve been a daydreamer. I’ve never been sure if I pass more of my hours navigating real life or wandering my imagination.

That’s why Halloween always has been near and dear to my heart. It’s one of the rare days in the U.S. when we merge our daily routines with our daydreams. It’s a day when we let imagination take the lead.

In my youngest years, I chose the typical costumes associated with a feminine aesthetic – one year I’d want to be a ballerina, the next I wanted to be a princess. In third grade, I was a pink, glitter-covered fairy that garnered the praise and attention of my teacher.

But there was one costume I adored above all others. One that I began to request year after year. Eventually, my mom stopped asking, “What do you want to be for Halloween?” and instead started asking, “Do you want to be a witch again?”

Dressed as a witch for Halloween and holding my cat, Panther

The idea of magic – and particularly the women who yielded it – captured my imagination early on. Images of women huddled around bubbling cauldrons, soaring in front of the moon on broomsticks, and living uninhibited lives deep in the forest strummed a chord in my heart. To me, witches symbolized control over their own lives and power over any situation. A witch wouldn’t be scared of the dark – she could summon flame to chase shadows. A witch wouldn’t be afraid of a wild animal – she would tame and befriend it.

When I pulled on my pointy black hat and swished my tattered skirt every Halloween, I felt fearless and powerful.

While Halloween stoked my love of witches, popular media fanned the flames. I was six years old when Disney released the movie Hocus Pocus. It’s a miracle our VHS cassette lasted as long as it did, because from August through October each year, I watched it multiple times a week. Even though the Sanderson sisters were the villains who sucked the souls from children to stay eternally youthful, they were my favorite characters. What little girl wouldn’t want to brew potions and browse the thick vellum pages of a spellbook and enchant the world?

(Not to mention they could fly on those iconic besoms.)

Hocus Pocus | Walt Disney Pictures | 1993

Then in 1996, along came the TV series Sabrina, the Teenage Witch starring Melissa Joan Hart. I was nine years old, and every Friday night I spent a half-hour watching a regular girl discover her magical powers and use them in a modern world. Not only was the witch the hero of this story, but she was young and modern and relatable – a witch who listened to Britney Spears, wore butterfly hair clips, and weaved through the minefield of school drama.

* * *

Before I even started school and learned to write, I declared I was going to be an author, so it was a natural progression that I penned (or rather, penciled) tales about witches and dragons and fantasy worlds during my grade school years.

That changed as I got older. Although my reading diet remained full of the fantastical – The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Harry Potter, and The Prydain Chronicles, among many others – my writing shifted toward realistic fiction as I entered junior high. I had reached an age when my classmates wanted to muse about boys and who would make the girls basketball roster and which pop band was the best. No one wanted to conjure wild games of make-believe anymore.

Me at age 12 (seventh grade) dressed as a witch for Halloween. My sister holds the end of my wig in front of her face and says, “Look, I’m Cousin It!”

Not that I stopped conjuring witches and magical artifacts and dragons in my daydreams. But I kept them carefully to myself. The exception came once a year on Halloween, when I could transform into a witch and daydream aloud without the risk of judgment.

Fantasy and lore still called to me, but I didn’t write it down. Instead, I went through the teenage rite-of-passage of scribbling angst-ridden poetry and hormone-fueled journal entries and experimental stories that seemed deeply profound at the time but make me cringe today.

Throughout high school and college, I felt an increasing pressure to write meaningful work – something that could be a Pulitzer contender or deemed “the Great American Novel.” I started and failed to finish multiple pieces of literary fiction that were full of themes and meaning and symbolism but lacked an important ingredient. I didn’t care about them.

It wasn’t until I wrote a fantasy tale for my nieces as a Christmas surprise that I felt truly engaged in my writing again. The mist that had clouded my inspiration for nearly two decades finally lifted, and I embraced a simple truth: I am a genre writer. As much as I appreciate literary and realistic fiction, my heart belongs to first and foremost to exploring paranormal and fantasy stories.

Working cover of The Witch’s Witness

I’ve spent a lifetime consuming media about witches and imagining what a world with magic would be like. Now I’m recording those musings on paper. After all, life is too short to waste on stories that don’t feed the flame inside us.

* * *

My debut fantasy novel The Witch’s Witness will be the first installment of a three-book series (name of trilogy to be announced) about a coven of witches in the Green Mountains of Vermont. Release is tentatively set for summer/fall 2022.

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