An Interview with "Team Magic."

Interview by 
Arielle Spence
Large book of magic and spells

On May 1, 2018, the call for Issue 42.1 "Magic" opened. In anticipation of this exciting themed issue, the editorial team of the issue share some thoughts about their connection to the theme, what they're looking for in submissions, and recommendations for ways to live your reading life (and every day) more magical.

ROOM: What personally draws you to the theme of 'Magic'? 

Arielle Spence: From a very young age, I have been entranced by the idea of magic. From television, to books, to imaginary friends and casting 'spells' at recess, I sought to fill my life with magic. I am not a religious person, but I would say that magic is one of the few things I believe in that can't be proven through scientific observation. It's something I know to be true deep down, and so it's thrilling to have the opportunity to read and appreciate the work of writers and artists who feel the same, and see the magic in every day things.

Yilin Wang: Fantasy fiction is one of my first loves as a writer and reader. The theme of magic is at the heart of most books that I enjoy, whether the work falls in the urban fantasy, epic fantasy, or steampunk subgenre. Brandon Sanderson wrote a series of three articles on building magic systems that I always turn to first when thinking about the role of magic in fiction. On one hand, you have "soft magic", the kind that exists in fairy tales with little explanation for its presence or rules. On the other hand, you have complex "hard magic" with internal logic and rules, which treats magic like the laws of physics. I am delighted to help put together an issue that explores magic in all of its forms, at either end of the spectrum and throughout the gray areas in between. 

Nailah King: Growing up, my mother was always telling stories about magic or obeah that always fascinated me so I think it’s something that has always been around me as a child. The whole concept of magic is quite empowering when you think about it.

Wendy Barron: I've been a fan of magic in fiction since the earliest stories I heard and read and watched, from fairy tales to Peter Pan (I'm named for the main female character) to the original Bewitched on television. I am inexorably attracted to stories with magic systems, people, and creatures. In my most fanciful moments, I believe that we carry minor magic around with us all the time, and some of us can access it, whether by chance or design.

ROOM: What are you looking for in submissions to the Magic Issue? 

AS: I am hoping to be surprised. We all have our own interpretations of what magic means, and I'm looking forward to having my own interpretation challenged. Furthermore, I'm looking forward to seeing how literally, or figuratively, writers take the theme. I think this issue is a real chance for Room to promote writing that pushes the boundaries of 'literary' and 'genre' writing, and so I sincerely hope that writers let their imaginations run wild and create something outside the box.

YW: To me, good writing is built on deep characterization and complex settings. It often takes readers on an emotional journey and gives them a new perspective. I look for submissions that go beyond cliched or stereotypical portrayals of magic, to play with genre conventions and reader expectations. Take risks and surprise me with your submissions. Above all, write what you would love to read and send it out to the world. 

NK: I’m personally looking for stories that embrace many interpretations of magic and other genres. How can magic be used and shown through character and story to show us the beautiful and often the not-so beautiful moments and aspects about everyday life? That’s probably what’s most interesting to me.

WB: My top three hopes are for at least one good "first time" piece, one piece examining the cost of doing magic, and one whose magic system comes from something other than the Western literary tradition. And maybe one about time travel, which is a kind of magic.

ROOM: Favourite book/story/poem/essay about magic? Why?

AS: A book that I've recently rediscovered, and fallen in love with as an adult, is Awake and Dreaming by Kit Pearson. The novel follows Theo, a girl who escapes her difficult circumstances by having a 'dream' that she lives with her ideal family in Victoria, BC. As an eight-year-old reading the book for the first time, I remember something stirring in me that I can only describe as a kind of magic.

Also, if I can suggest a more recent example: Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado, which features many fairy tale and fantasy-inspired stories, completely revived my love of short fiction.

YW: It's very difficult to come up with just one, but most recently, I have become a fan of Ken Liu's work, especially his short fiction. Many of his stories draw on a new genre he created called silkpunk, which reexamines steampunk from an Eastern Asia as opposed to Western point-of-view, drawing on organic materials like bamboo and silk rather than steam, and delving into issues like post-colonialism.

NK: This question is tough because as a woman with Caribbean parentage, most of what I know about magic was told to me. In terms of actual books, there are several. #goatemoji, greatest of all time is Beloved by Toni Morrison. That work, and a lot of work by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, are some of my favourite takes on this theme. The Night Circus is also an important book about magic for me. Chronologically speaking though, I’d have to say Spiral Maze by Patricia Bow is the first book that really got me thinking about magic as a genre or theme and writing about magic. Without going into spoiler territory, I think all of these books show the possibility of magic and worlds of magic but also the heartache and challenge of it. That’s ultimately how I see magic, a window to a world of possibilities and these books renew my faith in it every time.

WB: I know The Time Traveller's Wife is a divisive book, but I love stories of time travel and I loved how it worked in this book and in 11/22/63. I'm also fond of the Harry Dresden series (because the smart-mouth protagonist treats magic seriously and pays the price for using it), the Temeraire books (because dragons!), and most books about witches (because women plus magic is a recipe to delight me).

ROOM: Favourite non-literary work about magic (eg: video game, podcast, visual art)?

AS: I'm going to recommend the bands Florence + The Machine and Of Monsters and Men, whose music makes me feel like there's magic flowing through my veins and whose lyrics read like spells. I am also a sucker for a fantasy or sci fi podcast, and have been obsessed with The Adventure Zone and Alice Isn't Dead.  

YW: Studio Ghibli's Spirited Away is one of my favorite animations of all time that is connected to magic. I love the beauty of the film: the world of the spirits at night in a Japanese bathhouse, the folklore that inspires the story, and the details that bring characters alive. Many of Miyazaki's films stay with me long after I have watched them.

NK: Not really about magic as such, but, probably Tarot, actually. There is meaning behind every single card and the combinations and meanings are endless. I read a little, and it does seem like doing a bit of magic each time a card is pulled.

The call for Issue 42.1 "Magic" closes on July 31, 2018. Room welcomes your best non-fiction, poetry, fiction, and art exploring the theme. Check out the full call and submission details.

Arielle Spence, Yilin Wang, Nailah King, and Wendy Barron are members of Room's editorial board. 

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