INTERVIEW: Desirina Boskovich, author of “Love is the Spell That Casts Out Fear”

Tell us a bit about your story. What’s it about?

My story is actually two stories. One story is about an average girl who lives in a middle-class suburb, attends a typical evangelical Christian church, and hides a big secret. The other story is about a girl wizard who lives in a fantastical city called Perta Perdida, where lost girls from every universe escape to be safe. Of course, the two stories are really the same story. That story is about the sacrifices we make for people we love, and the way our fantasy lives give us the power and courage to make these sacrifices.

What was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

When I first set out to write a story about a wizard, I knew I wanted to write something that would explore magic and wizardry in a metafictional way. I adore M. John Harrison’s story “Seven Guesses of the Heart,” which beautifully engages the idea of magic and what it means — as well as what it is and isn’t capable of changing. Inspired by this story, I wanted to write something in a similar vein. I also knew I wanted to write something with anachronistic elements, using signifiers and scenery that would disassociate the story from any particular place or time.

One evening a few lines came to me and I wrote them down. They were these ones:

“The wizard trembles in her sleep.

She dreams of lands she has never seen, lovers she has never tasted, spells she will never utter. She sees the shining seas, the glittering towers, the assembly lines and forest floors. She smells frying noodles, hot metal, marina waters and sweet honeysuckle. She hears chiming bells, raucous construction, rock and roll.

The wizard is old, but not that old.

The wizard is young, but not that young.

She has never been so afraid.”

I realized that this story belonged in Perta Perdida, a fantasy world to which I escape from time to time. The rest of the story evolved over the next several months, and those lines made it into the final draft with a few alterations.

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

Actually, this story was among the most difficult stories I’ve ever written. It was a huge stretch for me creatively. I struggled quite a bit with the challenge of switching back and forth between story lines while maintaining consistency in voice, and using the two stories to tell just one. It was also a stretch for me personally, forcing me to draw on memories of a time in my life that I would be happy to forget. I went through a phase of intense creative block, which I eventually shattered by listening to Christian music for several hours, forcing myself to reconnect with Hannah’s world.

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

I read up on the lore of incubi throughout the ages, partly seeking inspiration on how to resolve the central conflict of the wizard’s story, and partly to learn about the tropes and assumptions underlying the mythology. My intent is to explore and challenge these assumptions from a feminist perspective.

What is the appeal of wizard fiction? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about it? Why do readers love it so much?

I think wizard fiction appeals because it’s fantasy in its purest form. Wizardry is the act of creating change through the power of will as expressed through language. To me, this is what fantasy is about. In a way, this is what writing is about, too. And every human endeavor that requires patience, practice and passion. Wizardry is metaphor for the most conscious, focused, human parts of us.

What are some of your favorite examples of wizard fiction, and what makes them your favorites?

“Seven Guesses of the Heart,” by M. John Harrison.

“Not Long Before the End,” by Larry Niven.

The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle.

Each of these works is totally brilliant, and it would be utterly unfair to both me and the stories to attempt to explain why. They’re much better read than described. However, each greatly influenced this story in one way or another. I think because each approaches wizardry with varying combinations of cynicism, skepticism and play, pushing back against archetypes and cliché to ask, “What is this story really about?”