Laura Perry: Re-enchanting the World
I recently read The Bed by Laura Perry and was pretty much blown away. It was a genuine page turner and you can read my review here. Laura is the author of various books including Ariadne’s Thread, an exploration of Minoan spirituality and Ancient Spellcraft, exploring ancient magics from all over the world. As well as authoritative books on ancient and modern spirituality, Laura writes compelling fiction with a magical twist. She was kind enough to return to PaganPagesOrg for another interview about her latest literary exploits.
Mabh Savage: Thanks for talking to us again Laura! First of all, what gave you the idea for your latest novel, The Bed?
Laura Perry: All my stories start with a “What if…” kind of idea. Here’s the “What if…” for The Bed: I was poking around an antique/junk store one day and I overheard a conversation between two women who were looking at an antique bed. One of them really liked it and was trying to get the other one to buy it. But apparently it was from an estate (the owner had died) and the second woman was concerned that the owner might have died in the bed, an idea that gave her the creeps. So I thought, what if someone did buy a bed that the previous owner had died in? What might the magical repercussions be? Might the bed be haunted in some way, and what kinds of problems would that create for the new owner? By the time I got home from that shopping trip, I already had the main storyline fleshed out!
MS: Who would you say the book is aimed at?
LP: I like to think it appeals to a broad spectrum of people: Anyone with an interest in magic, the paranormal, and witch-y subjects, since that sort of thing is a big part of the book. But on another level, it’s simply a story of a woman figuring out who she is and what her life values really are, instead of what everyone has been telling her all her life, and I think that’s a basic premise that most people can connect with.
MS: The characters in the book are very believable. Are any based on real people; did you draw upon your own experiences at all?
LP: I’ve learned the hard way that I can’t put a real person in a book and expect them to behave themselves and stick to my plotline! LOL. But I am occasionally inspired by certain aspects of individual personalities. The ghost of the bed, for instance, was inspired by a professor I knew in college – I never took any of his classes but I did attend a few individual talks he gave. He was a very interesting man, but as far as I know, was never into the kind of ceremonial magic the book character gets into. And I’ve known people who had some of the annoying attributes of some of the characters in The Bed.
In a sense, the setting of a book is also a character. In this case, the Atlanta area where the main character lives is where I’ve spent most of my life, Emory University is where I did my undergraduate work, and Unicoi State Park is one of my favorite places to visit up in the mountains. So I set up the story in a place I’m intimately familiar with, at least in part because I love this area and wanted to share it with my readers.
MS: Have you ever felt a presence tied to a piece of furniture, or another household item?
LP: Not furniture, no, but I have encountered pieces of jewelry – usually in junk shops or at estate sales – that made me feel creepy, like someone was watching me while I was handling the necklace or earrings or bracelet. I took that to mean that the previous owner’s energy was still clinging to the item and they probably didn’t want anyone else wearing it. Needless to say, I always put those back and walk away from them.
MS: The books contains elements of ceremonial magic, angels, instinctive witchcraft; was it hard to tie all these elements together or was it a fun experience?
LP: It was mostly fun, though there were points in the process where it felt like an uphill climb. All the different aspects of magic and the supernatural tend to twine together in my life. I think this is probably the case for a lot of Pagans; we don’t fit neatly into any kind of pigeonholes, but follow whichever threads look interesting to us. At first I tried to restrict the magic in the book to just the ceremonial stuff, but then Liz showed me that she’s a natural magician (or witch) and I had to figure out how to work that in. Most authors will tell you that their characters run the show, and I think that’s true – they are who they are, and once we’ve created them, we have to follow their lead and not the other way around.
MS: Would you describe the book as ‘Witch Lit’?
LP: I think so. Witch Lit is writing that incorporates magic in one way or another. It’s not just “chick lit with sparkles” but a much broader and deeper genre. I like to think it’s a way of re-enchanting the world.
MS: Do you think magical fantasy is a growing genre at the moment? Why do you think this is, if so?
LP: It does seem to be growing in popularity, and I think there are two main reasons behind that increase. First, the mystical-and-magical side of life (magic, witchcraft, Paganism, the occult) is becoming more and more mainstream every day. So more people are discovering this aspect of thought and of writing and realizing how much they enjoy it. But there’s also the fact that the world is a pretty disturbing and scary place right now, and magical fantasy allows us to escape that for a little while. Not only do we get to dive into interesting stories with fascinating characters and settings; we also get to image ways of combating the dark forces in the world beyond just the simple methods we already have at hand. And that can be empowering, because if we can imagine overcoming our own imperfections as well as the nastiness that’s outside us, that gives us hope that we might be able to do it in real life.
MS: Which authors of fiction would you say have been your greatest inspiration?
LP: That’s a long list! I started out steeped in all the Victorian classics, with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein at the top of the list along with all the creepy sadness of the Brontë sisters. In terms of modern authors, I’ve always wanted to be able to write like my favorite three: Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, and Douglas Adams. That’s not terribly likely, but I still love their humor, their way with words, and their ability to touch on the magical parts of life with lightness but in a way that still makes the reader believe in them.
MS: Which do you prefer writing, fiction or non-fiction, and why?
LP: Honestly, I like them both. They’re different experiences, both in reading and in writing, but there are places where they overlap. For instance, they both require research as well as organization. In terms of what I’m reading, I tend to have one fiction and one non-fiction book going at the same time. And I’ve recently realized that I’m much the same with writing: I’ll typically have one of each in the works at any given time. Each genre challenges me as a writer in different ways, and I enjoy that.
MS: What’s the biggest challenge with writing a novel?
LP: For me, it’s keeping all the details straight so I don’t mess up the continuity of the story. I don’t want to end up with a situation like J.K. Rowling, where readers realized the Marauder’s Map somehow transferred ownership between the end of one Harry Potter book and the beginning of the next. I simply can’t keep a whole story in my head, so I rely on extensive notes and outlines, and sometimes even spreadsheets, to make sure I don’t screw up the details somewhere along the line and confuse my readers.
MS: And what do you enjoy most about the process?
LP: I love immersing myself in the story, getting to know the characters as if they were real people, and following them through the twists and turns of their lives. There’s a certain amount of “brain work” that goes into setting up a novel: researching the setting and any technical details, outlining the plot to make sure it makes sense, and so on. But once the preliminaries are done, I can just dive in and flow along with the story – and that’s my favorite part.
MS: Any more books on the horizon currently?
LP: In terms of fiction, I’m working on a historical novel set in ancient Crete, right at the end of Minoan civilization when there was all that turmoil and all the cities were eventually burned down. Though it’s a very different experience from writing a modern novel like The Bed, it’s still ultimately about human beings and how they deal with whatever life throws at them.
MS: As an author, how do you get yourself in ‘the zone’ to write? How do you prepare?
LP: I wrote my first two published books when my daughter was a toddler (yes, I’m slightly insane LOL). That experience taught me how to focus quickly and take advantage of short time spans whenever they’re available. I don’t usually have the luxury of spending whole hours at a time writing, since I have so many other responsibilities. But when I do get that time, I’ve learned that it’s OK to allow the rest of the world to just fall away and disappear. That way, I can focus on what I’m doing, on the words I’m writing, and nothing else. It’s almost like a meditation – that is, until the phone rings or someone knocks on my studio door!
MS: And how do you switch off and relax?
LP: Nature is my favorite medicine. I have to have my “nature time” every day, even if it’s just 15 minutes puttering around the vegetable garden or walking in our little patch of woods. After a few minutes outdoors, I can feel my shoulders relax down and my whole body reset itself to something more natural and less busy-busy-busy. When I get the chance, I head up to the north Georgia mountains for day trips to “get away from it all” – that’s some excellent sanity time, if you ask me.
MS: Any plans for the summer [ed note: interview took place a few weeks ago!]? What does the rest of 2018 hold for you?
LP: My daughter just graduated from high school so we’re spending the summer shifting gears for her to start college next month. (Eeek! Where does the time go?) We had a lovely beach vacation earlier in the summer to celebrate her graduation, so the rest of the summer will be at-home time and doing my best to keep up with all the projects I already have going. I’m in the middle of revising and updating The Wiccan Wellness Book, complete with new illustrations. The second edition is due out at the end of September. I’m chugging away on the Minoan historical novel and trying out some new challenges with the Witch Lit crew, like doing video readings of excerpts from some of my books. This October will also see the publication of the first anthology I’ve ever edited, Deathwalking: Helping Them Cross the Bridge. It’s about the shamanic practice of psychopomp (soul conductor) work, and is very much a from-the-heart project for me.
MS: Finally, if you could speak to any dead person, not necessarily tied to a bed (!), who would it be and why?
LP: Now you’ve got me thinking about what kinds of dead people might like to be tied to a bed! LOL, Besides wishing I could chat with my grandmother and ask her advice about the issues I encounter in life (she was an amazingly wise woman), I think I might like to talk with Mary Shelley. She was such an amazing person, writing far more novels and travelogues than most people are aware of, besides her famous Frankenstein. Her life was quite troubled but she had an amazing persistence and resilience, and the overriding idea that we can change society from the inside out by practicing kindness and compassion and teaching our children cooperation over competition. I’d love to hear her views about the world today as well as finding out more about her life more than a century ago.
About the Author:
Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist.
She is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors and Pagan Portals – Celtic Witchcraft: Modern Witchcraft Meets Celtic Ways.