Crafting Blooming Howls: Writing witch vs. written witch

16 Oct

Welcome, dear guests of Magaly’s “Witches in Fiction” blog party! I am glad to have you, so pull up a chair, take this apple cider and enjoy a short scene that may or may not become part of one of the next “Magic behind the Mountains” books…

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(…)

The elevator took us up to the 9th floor. Its floor was carpeted in a rich milk chocolate brown. But for the mirrors on the walls, I might have thought I was alone in the tiny cabin. My gaze flitted over the nervous face of my secretary. Her hands kept creeping up to the golden  cross at her neck, always forced back into her lap by sheer willpower. When the doors PINGed open, she grabbed the handles at the wheels and maneuvered herself down the hallway. We had never been here before – at least I hadn’t, and I didn’t think Maria had had any business with the Voodoo Queen, either – but the string of dried chicken feet at the door told us which apartment we were looking for.

We advanced slowly. I knew better than to offer Maria any help with her wheelchair. She was at least as stubborn as I was. The doors to our left remained closed, and no sound could be heard except for the quiet groan of the wheelchair material.

As we approached, the door swung open. The hallway remained quiet. A hint of booze and decay wriggled into my nostrils. I felt queazy. Now I regretted never having taken that college course on New Old World Voodoo. Might have been nice what to expect when talking to the most powerful Voodoo Woman of Europe.

Stepping over the threshold felt like walking through a curtain of jello-shots. My head spun. The sound returned with a PLOP. Someone was talking Dutch on the phone, too fast for me to understand. I had never been good with languages. The smell intensified. There was something besides death and magic in the air – chicken soup? Bile crept into my throat. Please don’t let her ask us to join her for dinner.

Maria’s wheels left clear lines on the floor. The carpet was dark red instead of brown here, with stains I did not want to know the origin of. Worn wicker furniture covered every inch of the floor, overflowing with bright-patterned quilts and cushions. The room was at least as spacious as the ground floor of my house in Riverton, still it felt tiny and crammed. A bead curtain separated it from what I assumed to be the kitchen, where the woman was still talking. I welcomed the opportunity to adjust and look around. Especially the view from the windows was breath-taking.

Until I realized what I was looking at. Then my heart skipped a beat. My blood swooshed into my ears.

Dead faces were staring at us from the windowsill. Some looked as if they had overslept and missed leaving together with their bodies, others were just bones and globs and maggots. Their mouths hung open in silent screams. While I looked, a crow descended from the dark blue evening sky and started pecking at a rotting cheek.

“Good evening, you must be Miss Willow. Enchanté.” The voice in my back was sweet and thick as molasses and made my skin crawl.

I turned around, smile nailed into place like a shield. “It is too nice of you to meet us at such short notice. This is my personal assistant Maria.”

We shook hands. Madame Santé’s hands were dry and rough, as if she had spent her life working. I knew for a fact that her practice was indeed hard work, although nothing you would have to get up for at the crack of dawn. For some reason voodoo was mostly celebrated late in the day. Not that I would complain if I had her working hours.

“I see you are admiring my gallery.” She made a sweeping gesture to include the gruesome decoration at the window, beaming like a proud mother.

“Yes, it is… impressive.” 

Maria made an effort not to turn her head away from the display, still not really looking at the dead. I didn’t blame her. To fill the silence, I asked, “I wonder why they are not facing away from your flat. Does this have a special meaning?”

“Why, of course there is”, Madame Santé replied politely. “It’s so nice of you to take interest in my humble work. These died at my hands, and their terror feeds the Loa. But surely you have not come to talk shop.”

There were hundred of questions I could have asked her. This side of Dutch legislation fascinated me. People found guilty of severe offenses involving the use of magic could be sentenced to death at the hands of a practitioner – most often Madame Santé. How had she gotten this job? Had she ever doubted a decision or refused to execute someone? And did the dead trouble her at night?

Well, at least to that last question I probably knew the answer already. But all of this was not what we had come here for. I produced a photo from my coat pocket. It looked slightly worn from all my worries. “This is my other assistant, Falk. He disappeared here in Amsterdam a few days ago. Do you happen to know what fate might have met him?”

(…)

*****************************************************************************************************

And now I am just as curious as you to know what happened to Falk, although he is not a witch. Just because I had to know what kind of witchy place would have the dead peaking inside in terror…

Writing witches, I feel, is difficult at times, maybe even more so for witches who are writers. You need rules. You want your magic to feel real – but it also has to be something new and exciting for the reader. Magic cannot be your “deus ex machina” solution every time you have a plot point. Don’t you, too, hate it when all of a sudden the protagonist has a new wand that is just the right kind of wood to fight the blazing basilisk? But still the magic has to be used. Who would want to read a book about a witch who does not use her powers and becomes a mediocre chef instead? And talking of basilisks… bringing mythological creatures into the mix has its ups and downs as well. Plenty to choose from – but not just when it comes to creatures, but also when it comes to specific lore. No, you don’t get to change the rules simply because this is your story. If you want bloodsuckers, they need to be predators. If you want sparkly, stick with fairies.

And, last thought – promise! – you can’t make your witches, good or bad, all-powerful just because you can. If they have nothing to fear because they don’t have any worthy adversaries, the story will be boring. Still we want to read about exceptional witches. Could be exceptionally bad, of course, but they need to be special…

So, before you continue with your blog party fun: What are your favorite witches in fiction? What makes them stand out from the ever-growing crowd?

And don’t forget to head back to Magaly for a chance to win a copy of “All Souls’ Children”

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26 Responses to “Crafting Blooming Howls: Writing witch vs. written witch”

  1. Alice Craft October 16, 2014 at 10:42 pm #

    *claps* Well written! I have a minor note (from one writer to another) – if she is not good with languages, how does she know for certain it is Dutch being spoken into the telephone? Even if the setting is predominately Dutch culture-wise, there is still the likelihood she may not know for certain. (If I’m missing some setting bits that clarify this question, my apologies and please ignore it!)

    I have a habit of referring to pen-and-paper RPG’s to help me decide how to work the power levels of my various magic users, especially when pitted against certain types of plot bunnies. In fact, one of my favorite fictional witches is from novels based on the Dungeons and Dragons rpg, the Forgotten Realms campaign setting. Her title in the books is “Witch-queen of Aglarond” and she is capricious, chaotic, and fiercely defensive of her tiny realm, which has been under siege by a neighboring realm ruled by evil wizards. She is also ridiculously powerful, but the books also pit her against things she can’t defeat. I find her character well-rounded, partly because the setting is also balanced carefully to show her as *not* all-powerful.

    • diandralinnemann October 17, 2014 at 9:17 am #

      Good morning and thank you!

      With the languages you have a point, but Dutch is a pretty distinctive language, at least among the European ones… plus the scene takes place in Amsterdam. (I can never tell the East European languages apart, or Italian and Spanish and Portuguese, just by listening, but Dutch really stands out – my boyfriend once described it as “a duck vomiting into a microphone”. Or maybe I am biased, I am half-Dutch myself. ^^ )

  2. petoskeystone October 17, 2014 at 3:53 pm #

    My favorite fiction witches do not shun their darker sides, not the consequences of their actions. There are so many ways to get lost in Amsterdam.I fear the worst for Falk.

  3. Kestril October 17, 2014 at 4:07 pm #

    Writing a supernatural story can be a big challenge! It’s hard to know where that line is, but I agree, once everything starts taking on a Deux ex Machina solution, it’s time to make a fresh pot of preferred beverage and try again.

    I really like the imagery here. That wall of the dead will linger in my mind a bit.

    • diandralinnemann October 20, 2014 at 9:48 am #

      Yeah, the dead staring in through the window came from a nightmare… and I guess that’s where they will return once I start writing that one. ^^

      The DEM thing was what kind of turned me off Anita Blake – that and the sex. Not that I mind sex in stories, it was just that the stories were always the same length, and the books got longer and longer because everyone was boning…

  4. magalyguerrero October 17, 2014 at 4:34 pm #

    “Stepping over the threshold felt like walking through a curtain of jello-shots. My head spun.” Perfect imagery, Diandra. We learn so much about the setting and Helena’s personality from these couple of line.

    I’m particularly pleased that I get to see Maria again!

    Madame Santé’s truly freaks me out. What a character.

    Falk? No!

    I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your final note. But I do disagree with a bit of it. For instance, when it comes to “tweaking” mythology a bit. As long as a writer doesn’t contradict his or her own rules, I’m all right with it. This was brilliant, Diandra!

    • magalyguerrero October 17, 2014 at 4:36 pm #

      Damn, forgot to tell you who my favorite witches in fiction are. Got over excited *cough*. You probably already know, but I’m telling you again: Granny Weatherwax, Elphaba, Polgara… and there are a many others (including your Helena and the grandmother of my AlmaMia).

    • diandralinnemann October 20, 2014 at 9:49 am #

      Tweaking may be okay, but I keep getting back to sparkly vampires and such… if a writer manages to surprise me with his take on the old and dusty, I’m all for it. ^^

  5. Laura October 17, 2014 at 8:39 pm #

    You paint an explicit atmosphere with your words. I found myself holding my breath at times.
    I appreciated Shakespeare’s witches, I have a fondness for the Practicl Magic aunts, and of course any Disney versions I grew up with. Mombi from Oz left an impression.
    Arthurian Morgana, of course. Witchiepoo, who ruled my Saturday mornings.
    I like intelligent and crafty, creative witches with a sense of wit and whimsey.

    • diandralinnemann October 20, 2014 at 9:50 am #

      Hehe, when I grow up, I want to be just like those aunts… still looking for a house to go with the crazy.

  6. Sarah H October 17, 2014 at 11:09 pm #

    While they wouldn’t call themselves witches, I think of them as such…the hangman and his daughter in The Hangmans Daughter by Oliver Potzsch are two of my favorites. Elphaba of course, and Jax in the book 50 ways to Hex your lover. Too many favorite witches to count. Madame Sante is fascinating! I can’t wait to know more about her.

    • diandralinnemann October 20, 2014 at 9:51 am #

      Plenty of people I have to read up on, I see… damn, why do days end when we are only halfway through with all our plans?

  7. timsbrannan October 17, 2014 at 11:47 pm #

    I have a simple rule when writing a witch. She has to be awesome.
    Now that can me she has the power to do what she needs to do, the knowledge or just the shear determination.

    Who are my favorite witches in fiction? Do you have several hours!?

    In print it is Rachel Morgan of the Hollows Series.
    TV it is Willow & Tara or the Charmed sisters.
    Myth it is Morgan Le Fey.

    But I could go on and on (and on….)

    Stopping by from the Crafting Blooming Howls blog hop!

    http://timbrannan.blogspot.com/2014/10/witch-crafting-celebrating-halloween.html

    • Katy Magee October 19, 2014 at 3:13 am #

      I just started reading the Hollows series (didn’t even realize that’s what it was called). I’m on book 2 right now, and while I love the character Rachel Morgan (talk about a MC with hangups…), the author has irked the hell out of me with one detail: minks are not rodents. Seriously. The teeniest bit of research could have told her that. Nor are they colorblind (they have dichromatic vision) or eat carrots (they’re obligate carnivores). Ugh! So annoyed… still. Sorry. I’m done now. It’s a great character, which is why I’m still reading it, but if I could tell other authors anything, it’s Do Your Research! [/rant]

      • diandralinnemann October 20, 2014 at 9:53 am #

        Yeah, poor research puts me off a book/movie faster than anything else.

      • timsbrannan October 20, 2014 at 6:36 pm #

        In defense of the series, Rachel gets so much more interesting as the books go on.

        I agree with the research, but I can give some details a pass as well.

    • diandralinnemann October 20, 2014 at 9:52 am #

      I’m going to check out your post today! Stupid wifi-less weekends…

  8. Oma Linda October 18, 2014 at 11:04 pm #

    THe imagery in words is just right….fine tuned but not too extreme. I am very taken with the heads looking in….hit a chord with that bit.
    As for my fave witches…..I’d have to say Elphaba, and Mamabuela. Both for the same reason. They tug at my heart strings. Commonality is a stronge brew. xoxo Oma Linda

    • diandralinnemann October 20, 2014 at 9:52 am #

      Thank you! And yes, a witch is nothing without a (possibly twisted but good) heart.

  9. Katy Magee October 19, 2014 at 3:10 am #

    I don’t know who my fictional favorite witch would be… there are so many, for so many different reasons. I’m fond of Merlin, of course (if druids can count as witches), and partial to any story with some sort of animal or plant magic.

    I’m captivated by your story, though. There’s something about your storytelling… if I could put my finger on it, I’d need all I needed to know about good writing. Good pace, and my interest is definitely captured. I’ll take those tips you gave to heart (easy to do, since I agree completely).

    • diandralinnemann October 20, 2014 at 9:54 am #

      Thanks a lot! And of course druids can be counted as witches. Don’t know whether they would like to be, though…

  10. Jenn October 19, 2014 at 10:38 pm #

    Yes it is so true! Writing witches can lead down so many different paths and stereotypes we would like to avoid! My favourite fictional witch is Aggie Cromwell from the Halloweentown films! She is what I would like to epitomize as a witch.

  11. Sharon Rawson October 22, 2014 at 2:04 am #

    This story leaves me whining for more! The window of dead magic wielders is intense and brilliant!

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