For most of December and into early January both Rana and Patti have battled extended and recurring colds and bouts of bronchitis that slowed down all aspects of life, including finishing To Teach a Witch, the eleventh Jinx Hamilton novel.
The book is on track to be published this month, however, which is the update we know you all want. Also, for the first time, the novel will include a reference section to help readers with difficult pronunciations and definitions of some of the more esoteric terminology.
That feature requires a little extra assembly time, but it’s an aid we plan to add retroactively to all the novels and to include in future books.
Today, we also want to talk a little about where the series goes after the Book 12, which we can now confirm will be called To Love a Witch.
Over the ten existing novels we’ve taken Jinx from life as a waitress gifted with an unusual inheritance to a realm-trotting Fae special operative. In the eleventh book we’ll be wrapping up several long-standing plot themes.
Nothing that happens in books 11 and 12, however, signal an “end” the series — far from it.
In future books we plan to take the greater story arc in new and broader directions. For the sharp-eyed readers, we’ve already foreshadowed some of that in the last two novels. New locations like Tír na nÓg, the sanctuary of pure magic located in the Otherworld over Oak Island, will play a huge role in that.
Just like Jinx, we continue to evolve and engage with the characters and world we’ve created. As fresh ideas and influences come into our brains, they have a way of morphing onto the page.
Both Rana and Patti spent much of Christmas and New Years laid out flat in front of their respective TV sets. Exchanging movie recommendations and commiserations over iMessage, they both wound up watching and then discussing the same films and programs.
It made for an odd assortment: Dunkirk, The Mountain Between Us, Rebel in the Rye, Blue Jay, and three seasons of American Horror Story — Coven, Roanoke, and Cult.
Amid residual hacking and sneezing on the first day back at work, characters, imagery, and nuances of plot filled the conversation. What do an epic act of patriotism in World War II, the tortured life of J.D. Salinger, two love stories (one involving nearly dying on a mountainside), witches, demon-possessed houses, and killer clowns have in common?
We see what other authors and creative people are doing with ideas and ask ourselves, how does that inform our work? Can it inform our work?
Here’s an example, using Tír na nÓg, of how random ideas and impressions can come together in one of our books.
The backstory and descriptions of Tír na nÓg evolved from a mix of a single scene in Titanic, Rana’s fascination with the real Oak Island treasure mystery, and Themyscira (the island from Wonder Woman.)
Let’s decode that bizarre combination.
In Titanic, as the ship sinks, an Irish woman trapped below decks tells her children not to be afraid because they will wake up in Tír na nÓg, the land of eternal youth and beauty. Irish mythology says that place can only be reached by crossing the sea or going underwater.
The Mother Oak moved from Kent to the Valley by going on the water.
Hmm. What can we do with that?
Searchers on Oak Island have found intriguing connections to the Knights Templar, the supposed guardians of the Holy Grail. Brenna’s father was a Templar Knight.
What can we do with that?
A cloak of invisibility protects the mission and purity of Themyscira.
What can we do with that?
And so it goes. One idea layering on top of the other until we blend our experience with broader storytelling into our own tale.
We also constantly challenge ourselves by reading the work of other authors and discussing passages that strike us powerfully.
For instance, in the opening chapters of The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah describes a French village. She paints an image of a world comprised of “ancient limestone buildings that leaned clumsily against one another” where splashes of red awnings and geraniums enliven the stone palette.
Everything comes to life, from the old men smoking in the cafés to the hat maker washing her shop window. As the passage segues to the scene of a picnic on the riverbank, the reader feels the fragility of such placid mornings, soon to be shattered by the arrival of the Nazis.
In mere hours, the normal scenes of life there and throughout the country will disappear into the sepia fog of memory tinged by a fearful yearning for “the way it was.”
As writers, when we come across passages of that quality leaping off the page with such vibrancy we hear the jackboots of the stormtroopers on the cobblestones, we share the reaction of aspiring athletes watching an Olympic champion.
If there comes a point in the life of a writer where the striving to get better at the craft disappears, we haven’t reached it. We’re not sure we want to reach it.
But we don’t just study the art of storytelling on screen and the printed page. Listening to a book gives you a completely different experience of the story, something Rana discovered years ago with The Amelia Peabody Novels by Elizabeth Peters. Reading the books on the page put her to sleep. Consuming them as audiobooks plunged her into the delightful, eccentric world of the Victorian Egyptologist.
Jinx’s world emerged from a complex blend of such influences via numerous channels. There’s nothing we love more than when a reader says the books are getting better and the story deeper and more complex. That’s what we set out to do. Start with a simple story and peel back the layers of Jinx’s experience to reveal the magic in her world, and hopefully in our own.
Don’t forget the first law of thermodynamics. Energy can't be created or destroyed. It only change forms. Multiple streams of energy in multiple forms flow into Jinx Hamilton’s world. There’s much more to explore in the that universe after To Teach a Witch and To Love a Witch.
Be patient for just a little while longer and book 11 will be in your hands!