This month on the monster blog, I had the pleasure of interviewing fellow debut author Sasha Laurens, whose A WICKED MAGIC is set to release July 28, 2020. This fantasy YA has been described as The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina meets The Craft, and I personally could not put it down.
LL: You set A Wicked Magic in a small town on the Northern California Coast, and I loved your descriptions of cliffs, switchback roads, strange pygmy forests, and the fog. Why did you choose that landscape for the backdrop of your story?
SL: Although North Coast County, where A Wicked Magic takes place, is invented, it is very much inspired by Marin County as well as Mendocino County. I grew up in Marin, and I spent my teenage years visiting friends who lived in remote communities on the beach. I used to go on long drives up the backroads to Mendocino with my mom when I had learner’s permit so I would know how to drive safely on those precarious roads. That area is this crossroads of incredible natural beauty and danger just beneath the surface. You do wonder how quickly things could go wrong if you ran out of gas, if you hit a turn at the wrong angle, if the fog gets so thick that you really can’t see well enough to drive. That juxtaposition between beauty and pleasure, with danger and harm, dovetailed really nicely with the story I wanted to tell.
There’s an insular, self-reliant culture in the communities out there as well. The feeling that the rules are a little different in these isolated areas has always fascinated me. That’s something that really colors the girls’ interactions with people in their community, which might strike some as odd.
As for the pygmy forest specifically, in real life it’s located in Salt Point State Park, and I had to go on an overnight field trip there in middle school, which I deeply despised. So I guess it showed up here as a kind of catharsis!
LL: You talk about the insular nature of the communities in that area of California, and that the rules, over time, have diverged from the mainstream. In a community like this, do you think it’s easier for the characters to magically “bend the rules,” or does the fishbowl nature of small towns make it actually harder for them to get away with it?
SL: I think it definitely makes it easier for them. These coastal California towns have historically tended to attract people who want to escape from mainstream society, from hippies to marijuana growers to isolationist religious groups. Even though neighbors might still know each other’s business, there’s very much a “live and let live” ethos out there. That’s why no one in North Coast is overly concerned that the new commune in town might really be a cult, or particularly worried when teenage girls date adult men.
It’s also the kind of place where even if the girls were caught in the middle of a spell, it wouldn’t necessarily raise any eyebrows. After all, what they’re doing really isn’t so great a departure from commonplace activities like burning sage to clear bad energy or carrying around a certain crystal to improve your mood. But while most other North Coasters hope what they’re doing has some kind of magical or spiritual resonance, the girls have actually tapped into something greater than themselves.
LL: Who was the most challenging character to write?
SL: Alexa was the character who took the longest to come together for me. Unlike Dan and Liss, who are essentially in the grips of a year-long disaster, Alexa has fairly successful ways of managing her trauma, because she’s been experiencing it for her whole life because of her family situation. It took me many drafts to realize that her arc wasn’t about triaging a crisis (and she does experience some crises), but about finding a way to do more than just survive. It’s about trying to be open when you’ve been hurt before and learning to trust people to help you. Dan and Liss spend most of the book on the brink of total self-destruction, so by comparison, Alexa’s story is quieter, but no less important.
LL: Without getting into spoilers, part of the climax of this story takes place in caves near the ocean. Are those caves based on a real place?
SL: They are! But not places I’ve been to. I went to some used bookstores in Marin looking for old coastal access and trail guides of the area to inform my writing of the scenes on the shore. One in particular (Point Reyes — Secret Places and Magic Moments) describes a lot of hikes that I would never attempt, because you really need to know what you’re doing. Many of them involve trails that would be inundated by high tide, so hikers that timed their trip wrong would be stranded. They wouldn’t be rescued either, because doing so was too risky, and they’d likely be swept out to sea before a rescue could occur. Honestly, I’m not a hiker, but apparently those people are out there risking their lives to see some attractive rocks!
Some of that sequence is also inspired by a caving excursion I did on a trip to Belize, into Actun Tunichil Muknal, a partly submerged cave that’s is known as home to “The Crystal Maiden,” the crystallized skeletal remains of a young woman who was sacrificed by the Maya. Some of the tight-squeeze situations the girls are in while they’re caving and in the water were based on that.
LL: Okay, I can’t let you leave the blog until you answer this all important question. What’s your all-time favorite water monster movie, and why?
SL: I am a huge scaredy cat, so what comes to mind is a bit old school—Beany and Cecil was a cartoon I watched a lot as a kid, because my mom loved it when she was young. Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent is a good-hearted, goofy sidekick to Beany, and saves him from lots of tight squeezes.
I love the idea of this little boy being protected by this enormous, friendly monster.
In more contemporary stuff, I really love so-bad-it’s-good movie King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, which came out in 2017. It features some truly weird and cool moat-dwelling creature that’s a squelchy naked squid-like hybrid of three women who accept human sacrifices to grant wishes. That whole movie is bonkers in exactly the right way.