The Art of Making Witches Real
by Kelley Armstrong
Imagine a world where creatures of nightmare and legend exist…
That’s the tagline on the first page of my website, and I often wonder what kind of image it conjures up in the minds of first-time visitors. Something dark and thrilling, I’m sure. Maybe a leather-jacketed vampire swooping along a moonlit alley. Or a coven of caped witches casting deadly spells by moonlight. Or a grotesque wolf-beast ripping through flesh that once was human. All that good gothic stuff. Then they’ll read one of my novels. And what will they find? Blue-jean-wearing vampires strolling the city streets at high noon. A coven of witches casting healing spells in a community center. A werewolf ripping her way through a stack of pancakes and ham.
Okay, it’s not quite the world one would imagine from the tagline, but when I sat down to start the series, I really did try to “imagine a world where creatures of nightmare and legend existed.” Not just any world, though. I wanted to make these creatures exist in our world. For me, the challenge of the series would be trying to make the supernatural as natural as possible, to plop these “monsters” into contemporary North America and convince a reader that maybe, just maybe, they could indeed live among us.
I started with werewolves, which have always held a special place in my imagination. I created a subculture of werewolves who lived in a pack, with an Alpha, and who changed into actual wolves. Nothing new in anything I did here—I cherry-picked from existing legends and came up with the most believable werewolves I could imagine. Then I created my main character. Being a woman myself, a female protagonist was the obvious choice. For added fun, I made her the only living female werewolf. The result was Elena Michaels, the narrator of my first two books, Bitten and Stolen.
By the time Stolen ends, one of the characters, Paige Winterbourne, finds herself the de facto guardian of Savannah Levine, a twelve-year-old witch captive that Elena befriended. Mothering a preteen stranger would be tough enough for any twenty-two-year-old. But Savannah is also the daughter of a notorious black witch, now dead, and is herself already showing signs of becoming an extremely powerful supernatural. When Paige takes Savannah, there’s bound to be trouble. For a writer, trouble is good…and as irresistible as a siren’s call. So, after Stolen, I nudged my werewolves aside to make room for a few spellcasters.
Spellcasters are much easier to make realistic than shape-shifters. As long as your witches aren’ t cartoonish crones flying around on broomsticks, it’s pretty easy to convince readers that they could exist, undetected, in modern society. My main challenge here was to keep their spells as believable as possible. None of that “making cakes appear from nothing” stuff from Bewitched. Sure, I’d love to be able to make a double-chocolate cake just by twitching my nose, and I’m sure Paige would too, but it really does stretch the boundaries of believability . . . not to mention the waistline! So I stuck to more practical magic.
Paige’s story begins in Dime Store Magic. When Paige first took custody of Savannah, she knew others would come after the girl, hoping to woo the powerful neophyte witch to their side. So she’s ready for a custody fight. But she’s not quite so ready to face off against a full team of supernaturals who’ ll do anything to get Savannah. Cut off from her friends, accused of witchcraft, satanism, necromancy, murder…Paige quickly realizes that keeping Savannah could mean losing everything else.
In the next book, Industrial Magic (available 11/04), someone is killing the teenage children of high-powered supernaturals. When infighting among the various groups threatens to let the killer continue his spree, Paige and her crusading boyfriend decide it’s up to them to stop him. The chase takes them on a cross-country hunt through the supernatural world, where allies can be found in the strangest places, including a celebrity necromancer, a wisecracking Celtic deity, a pissed-off ghost, a half-mad clairvoyant, and a group of vampires who’d really rather be in an Anne Rice novel.
Right now I’m working on book five and, again, I’ve switched narrators. Back in Stolen, I introduced Savannah, whose infamous mother, Eve Levine, both a witch and a half-demon, had already been killed by their kidnappers. But in this series, just because someone is dead doesn’t mean they can’ t have their own novel. In book 5, we’ll finally meet Eve in the flesh—so to speak. She’s a ghost on a mission, fulfilling a promise she made to the Fates, a quest that will take her to every corner of the spirit world.
And that’s it. My supernatural world…so far. If I’m fortunate enough to be able to continue the series, this world will keep growing, inhabited by a regular cast of characters who will tell their stories, and cycle through the stories of others. As for which characters reappear, that decision lies partly in the hands of my readers. Readers can—and have—told me whom they want to see more of, and I listen. I also supplement the series with an annual free online novella, another way for me to explore characters and situations that readers wanted to know more about. It’s all part of exploring and growing this supernatural world…a world where creatures of nightmare and legend exist.