The single most common question I’ve faced at panels and book clubs is this: Where do you get your ideas? It’s a totally reasonable question, and I try to answer it in a totally reasonable way. It’s also one of the most impossible questions to answer, at least for me. While there are some very specific events that factor into the journey that is Devil and the Bluebird, the truth is that much of what I write, this book included, come from something more along the lines of an itch than a carefully considered thesis.
What does that mean in practice? Writers write in the way their brains work, their ideas filtered through the vast network of assumptions and experiences and quirks that have shaped said brain. Maybe that’s not true. Or maybe it’s true only for me, but I think it extends at least as far as the other writers I know.
Yeah, yeah, that still is kind of dry, isn’t it? Of course. Perhaps it’s better to go after it this way. I would be the wrong person to write a novel about a boarding school for wizards. In part because I have no grasp of boarding schools beyond what I’ve read in novels about them, but in much larger part because that’s not how my brain works. Most of what I write, be it novels or short stories, contains elements of magic. It’s just not the kind of magic you learn about in textbooks and classwork.
The magic in a short story of mine published years ago (This Place From Which All Roads Go) derives from the connection between farmers and their land. The magic in Devil and the Bluebird comes from the connection between Blue and her mother and music. The true devil in the book is drawn to the lack of connection, the emptiness inside people. See that word that keeps turning up? Connection.
So what does that say about the kind of magic I write? In a nutshell, my magic is the glue that binds the characters to their worlds. It’s the spark that lights in the distance between our hands, or between our hands and a tree, or a dog, or a river. The ghosts Blue encounters, the echoes as she calls them, are manifested by that connection she has to her dead mother, her missing sister.
That’s the kind of magic that works for me to write. The truly stellar thing is that other writers develop their own magic. That’s magic, right? The thing that each of us feels and names for ourselves? It doesn’t matter whether it comes from spells using toads, or farmers reaching into the soil, or typing alone at a keyboard. The one important thing is that it comes.