Open magic book with the light. Eps 10The other day, I was involved in one of those online chat exchanges with some folks I know. The kind where all you can read is text, with a tiny motionless icon representing the speaker’s head. The kind with no facial expressions, tone of voice, or body language clues to tell me whether the speaker is laughing–maniacally or condescendingly or conspiratorially–as they type. I can’t tell if they are smirking or crying or flipping me off.

The topic was Santa Claus, specifically the “right” age for a child to learn the “truth.” Two members of the group seemed to be exchanging ideas about how old is “too old” too believe in Santa. There was talk about parents lying to their kids, and condescendingly keeping secrets. One seemed to be saying that if kids are allowed to believe too long, that it could lead to delusional behavior later in life, that there was some connection between that and having difficulty separating reality from fantasy. The exchange was filled with cynicism and negativity and a general sense of Bah Humbug.

“For it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.” -Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

By this point I was feeling more than a bit personally offended and also very sad. The folks involved in the conversation knew that I had two children who only last year–at ages 8 and 11–confronted my husband and I about who was really enjoying cookies and milk on Christmas Eve. Even 8 was considered too old by my compatriots, and their comments smacked of an accusation that I was lying to my children and perpetuating a delusion. So, as I tend to do when hit by an emotional sucker-punch, I write.

I believe in magic.

In fact, I consider myself something of a magician.

Go ahead, laugh. Roll your eyes and smirk. Sneer or condescendingly pat me on the head. I’ll wait. I’m pretty used to it.

I not only believe in magic, and make it, but it pays well and keeps me sane.

See, I have three careers: software engineer, author, and mother.

As a software engineer, I make cool new stuff happen by casting spells. Some of my peers call it “coding”, but with a few made up words and some powerful ingredients (silicone, copper, plastic, electricity, titanium, and such), I make music or videos or solve complicated or tedious problems or make inanimate objects come alive. I am blessed to work for a company  that literally dreams up never before seen inventions and makes them reality. Some spells take a single person a few hours to cast, others take hundreds of people years of working together to complete.

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” -Arthur C Clarke

When I write a novel, I am casting a different kind of spell than the coding version I do for the day job. I am not summoning sound or light with magic words like. When I write fiction, I am summoning emotional responses from my readers. I string together fantasies about make-believe friends in non-existent worlds. I can make you smell the charred remains of human flesh after a dragon’s attack, taste the bite and cream and sweet and unexpected salt of a dark chocolate truffle, hear the whistle of leaves on the fall wind. I can make you angry or sad. You might despair one page and soar on the sweet wings of desire on the next. I can leave you feeling heartbroken or hopeful or horrified.

Doubters–muggles–at this point may be pointing out that fiction is fantasy, not magic. Clearly, words on paper that tell a story depict fantasies of varying degrees of realism, and the tangible objects that surround us are reality that can evoke elements of fantasy. But my body and my brain are tangible objects. When I am sad or hurting, I feel physical pain in my chest, a knot in my gut, tears in my eyes. Totally real. Anxiety brings cold fingers and sweaty palms and a racing heart rate. Love and desire stimulate…additional visceral responses. All real. Observable and measurable, even.

Books are magic that turns fantasy into real emotions.

But my favorite magic of all is the magic I get to make as a mother. I have never lied to my children about  Santa Clause or the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy. They exist. They’re writing these very words to you now. No, I do not believe that I have a furry tail or that I am a portly older gentleman who commutes to work with flying livestock. Although I envy Tinkerbell’s curvy animated figure, I look more like her older, slightly dumpier and much taller cousin who is perhaps a little too old to still be wearing that short of a skirt and whose wings look worse for the wear after sitting in a plastic bin in my basement for too long.

“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.” ― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

But on Christmas Eve, after Easter Vigil, and some nights between bedtime and dawn, I have had the great privilege to bring hope and joy and happiness to my children by slipping a few gifts into their lives. Now that they are old enough to understand that Santa is not one person, but millions, I believe that the magic will grow. Instead of my husband and I making magic for our two children, the four of us can work together on bigger spells, more spells, new ones dreamed up by my two little apprentices. Magic like collecting donations to help others and performing acts of service in our community. We’re talking stone soup magic.

Muggles looking over my shoulder at the day job will think I am delusional. I sit in a cube farm in a windowless space decorated in muted grays, gray-blues, and gray-greens. I squint at charts and grouse at compilers (they’re like cauldrons that turn code into ) and dread the infamous blue screen of death. The repetition of the days can appear as soul-sucking drudgery.

And those muggles who se the writer-me, hunched over my laptop late at night apparently talking to myself and repeatedly typing and deleting the same three lines will think I am insane. I play make-believe with figments of my imagination and craft ridiculously implausible situations that some say lie to people about real life and real relationships and real love.

“Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.” -The Polar Express

Finally, by the time the muggles see me in public with a pair of whining, brawling kids with unbrushed hair and dirt on their knees, begging for a treat in loud and off-key voices, they will totally give up on me and my claims of magic.

Magic doesn’t always work. Software crashes;  the prose sounds too trite or too purple; the children transform into spoiled little beasts. Sometimes the doubts and cynicism of the world around me drowns out the wonder. For me, the darkest, dreariest days of my life are the ones that need magic the most. And for many of us, this year has been pretty dingy.

“But you know, happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” -J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Magic isn’t created by waiting for a white knight or fairy godmother to swoop in and rescue us. It isn’t a genie or a wand that will perform our work and bestow instant greatness upon us. We make it ourselves. And it only gets more powerful when we share it with others around us, whether they believe in it or not.

Don’t mind the chanting. I have spells to cast.

Copyright 2016 Kristi Lea


Do you NaNo?

This is my third year participating in the craziness that is the National Novel Writing Month.

If you’ve never done it, hop over to their website and check it out.

Need a writing buddy? I’m britelord. Feel free to add me as a buddy and keep tabs on just how much I am and am not getting done on my latest work in progress.

Happy Writing!

Literary Fiction vs Genre Fiction or, Why Pizza is a Health Food

After a single semester of Feshman Composition in college, I avoided the English department. It took only that one taste to realize that I didn’t fit with “those people”.

You know the type: the literary snobs. The ones who sneer at paperback covers graced by Fabio or tattooed shoulders or exploding space ships or dragons. The ones who pronounce the word “genre” with a twang to the n that makes it sound like they’re discussing prison inmates or dirty diapers.

Ok, so I also passed a quick judgement against a large group of bibliophiles based on my impressions of one lone graduate student. I was seventeen, clearly knew everything about everything, and already owned a collection of over one hundred fat paperback romances. And they insulted my favorite pastime. Over and over and over.

At seventeen, I didn’t know everything. But nor did I have the self-confidence to stand my ground and defend the books I loved. It would take me another thirteen years before I attempted to put words to (eletronic) paper and begin writing something of my own.

I have known all along that there were gems hidden in the bodice rippers, the sword-and-sorcery, the chick lit. The more I write, and read about writing, and think about writing, the more I realize just how wrong all those literary snobs were. Pizza really is a health food. No, that isn’t a cut-and-paste error. I didn’t just splice a food blog post in the middle of my literary musings.

I distinctly remember a particular assignment that I did in the fifth grade. Everyone had to choose a card containing the nutrition information of various foods, and draw a graph. Each graph had a series of bars, representing the percentage of different nutrients contained in the food. Mine was pizza. Every bar on my graph was tall. Pizza was clearly a miracle food–full of calcium, vitamins A and C, B vitamins, protein. It had everything.

When the teacher asked who had chosen healthy foods, I raised my hand. And was laughed at by the entire class. Despite my towering bars of nutritional greatness, depsite the hard evidence before their eyes, the rest of the fifth grade class thought I was crazy. Pizza is junk food. End of story.

I also struggled with my weight for years. I spent my twenties about fifteen pounds overweight. Not bad by some standards, I suppose. But it ate away at my self esteem. In order to solve the problem, I had to go back to that fifth grade lesson. I had to graph and analyze what I was eating. Choose options that had tall bars and flavors that I loved. I wasn’t willing to cut dessert and pizza out of my life in order to shed a few pounds. And you know what? I didn’t have to.

Twenty something years later, I still don’t call pizza “junk food”. Any more than I call romance, or sci fi, or fantasy, or chick lit, “trash”. Making a food taste good does not diminish its nutritional value. Adding entertainment–adventure, romance, horror, suspense–to a novel does not diminish the message the author was trying to express.

“That’s a miracle pill?”
“Chocolate coating makes it go down easier” –from The Princess Bride

Healthy food doesn’t have to taste like dirt and deprivation. Thought-provoking novels can have sex and ray guns. Yes, I do believe that writing fiction had a positive impact on my weight and outlook on food, nutrition, and exercise. And realizing that I can look healthy and eat dessert has had a positive effect on my outlook on writing. I can attempt to process big, dark themes and ideas, and laugh while I write.

So please pass the parmesan. Because I’m not done with my pizza yet.

Copyright 2010 – Kristi Lea