The book clasped to her chest, she says, “So. By any chance, have you ever cast a spell?”
It takes me a moment to understand. “Spell? As in magic?”
She nods, then sits down. “I don’t mean Harry Potter bibbity-bobbity-boo crap. I mean sending out your energy as an agent of change.”
—Season of the Witch
Last year around this time, I was talking to people about The Girl in the Park, my novel about a girl who solves her friend’s murder. One gentleman listened patiently, then asked what I was working on now. I said, “Oh, a novel about two girls who get into witchcraft.” His eyes gleamed. “Let me know when that one comes out!”
What is it about those witches? Why do we love them so? The Wizard of Oz, Snow White, Macbeth. In the classic Disney movies, the princess is pointless without a prince—but she needs the witch just as much. Without the witch, there is no danger. Without the danger, no story. Nobody remembers what the princes look like—they’re Ken dolls with swords. But you can’t forget Maleficent or Snow White’s stepmother holding out that apple.
For anyone who’s read my books, witches might seem like something new. I’m pretty grounded in reality, an utter Muggle, in fact. There’s a picture of me at my seventh birthday. My parents hired a magician. In the shot, he’s pulling something out of a hat. I have my hand out and an uncomfortable smirk on my face. I think I was worried he was going to hand me a rabbit and it would pee on me.
But I am a serious believer in the good and evil we do to others. I first had the idea for Season of the Witch when I read Emily Bazelon’s extraordinary pieces for Slate on the Phoebe Prince suicide. Phoebe Prince was an 15 year old Irish girl whose family moved to Massachusetts. The story that emerged after Phoebe’s death was that she had dated a boy she was not supposed to according to school rules, and been hounded by a pack of bullies until she committed suicide. Nine students were indicted on felony charges ranging from violation of civil rights and criminal harassment to disturbance of a school assembly, and stalking.
As Bazelon shows, the story is more complicated than the early version of events. What’s never been in dispute however is that Phoebe ran afoul of some very angry kids and they targeted her with rage in a way most of us would have found unbearable. One kid wrote “Irish bitch is a Cunt” next to Phoebe’s name in the library sign-up sheet. Another girl yelled “whore” at Phoebe and “close your legs” and “I hate stupid sluts.” Reading how the kids fed off one another’s energy as they flung hatred at Phoebe, I thought, My God, they’re like witches. The focus felt so intense, the ugliness so specific and targeted. It felt like putting a small insect under a magnifying glass and incinerating it.
Most of us can remember that time in school when we felt that people’s emotions about us could kill us. If not literally end our lives, their negativity could obliterate us as individuals with any voice or power. It could destroy hope and faith in ourselves. In Season of the Witch, I wanted to go back to that time and look at the dynamics of cruelty, what it does to the people who are the targets. I also wanted to look at what it means for people when they are cruel to others, the impact on your own mind and spirit when you put rage and viciousness out in the world. As Cassandra warns Toni in the book, there is a “Threefold Law. Or the Law of Return, whichever you prefer…. whatever energy you put out, you get back. Times three.”