INTERVIEW: Wendy N. Wagner, author of “The Secret of Calling Rabbits”

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

This story is about a man who spends his whole life running away from incredible pain and loss, a man who is afraid to make a life for himself.  But luckily, it’s also about the transformative power of love and the ways it can give even the most desperate person courage and power.

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

When I was five, my mom read Watership Down to me.  I fell thoroughly in love with the story, but when I heard The Hobbit about a year later, my little kid brain sort of bled them together.  To this day I remain obsessed with rabbits and hobbits, and in “The Secret For Calling Rabbits,” I tapped into that long-standing love for all things furry, in trouble, and that burrow underground.

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

I sat down at the computer one day and brainstormed the scene where Rugel begins to dig into the ground.  The words flew out of my fingers but the story was stuck like that for at least a month–I had no place to take it.  Little by little, the story emerged, but it had to go through two early readers (thank you so much, Ed Morris and Christie Yant!) before any of it made any real sense.  An undeveloped backstory really held back the wonder of the hero’s transformation, and that backstory wasn’t finalized until you (John) asked me push the magical concepts in the revision process.  All in all, this piece took almost eight months to complete!

Most authors say all their stories are personal.  If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

I grew up in a farm family, and I’ve always had a really strong connection to plants and animals.  Because of that, everything I write comes out of this deeply nature-loving place.  There was just no way for me to create a race of magic-users that weren’t working to help nature — I wonder if perhaps I was a dwarf in a past life!

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

I read a lot about mandrake plants — their growth habits, their place in literature, their story in the Bible.  That’s where I took the name Rachel, from a story in Genesis where Rachel asks Leah for mandrakes to aid in her fertility.  There is so much legend & lore bound up in these strange, poisonous plants, and they make appearances in many great fantasy stories.  That really complicated finding information about the real plant.

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?

Everything about wizardry is so exciting!  I think it’s incredibly appealing because you can be any size or any shape and still tap into an amazing source of power.  It’s a great equalizer.  Wizardry can be a great force of justice in the universe a writer creates, and readers love to see justice spun across the page.

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

I love Nita and Kit from Diane Duane’s So You Want to Be a Wizard.  They’re just kids and absolutely new to their powers, but they go toe-to-toe against the ultimate evil in the universe.  And win.  Duane does a great job keeping the magic real and vital without allowing it to be the solution to every single problem that befalls the characters.  Plus, she allows magic to meet and befriend science, instead of pretending that the laws of nature don’t exist.

Another favorite is Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  Here is the most powerful wizard alive, and he’s hemmed in on all sides by politics.  The government is nagging him; the school’s Board of Directors has put their thumb down on his back.  But he refuses to let injustice win in his realm, even if he can only help in the most surreptitious manner.  I think that moment he winds Hermione’s time-turner is his best and boldest moment in the entire series.