INTERVIEW: Christie Yant, author of “The Magician and the Maid and Other Stories”

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

In a very narrow sense it’s about a woman who finds herself ripped from her own fairy tale, and her quest to find the person responsible and make him send her home.

In a broader sense it’s about making the wrong decisions for the right reasons, and seeing what’s in front of you and mistaking it for something else. 

In the broadest sense it’s about the magic of stories, and how at least while we’re reading them, they are real.

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

The characters came first. Miles and Audra were inspired by and loosely based on two real artists for whom I have a great deal of respect. They each have a very unique and public persona and weave a twisted kind of artistic magic of their own. They struck me as people who had been pulled right out of a fairy tale. (I don’t believe they’ve ever met, but I would love to be a fly on the wall if they ever do!) I’m not really sure how I came to put the two of them together in my mind–they probably just appeared in my RSS feed on the same day or something equally mundane.

Once they collided in my head I wrote the first paragraph, which is almost unchanged since the first draft. I didn’t really know what it meant yet or where it was going; I just had those two people and that paragraph, and I was kind of in love with them, so I had to justify their existence with a story.

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

Yes! I knew when I started it that I was trying something more ambitious than anything I’d written before. I actually didn’t write the “fairy tale” part of the story until after I had a few drafts of the ‘main’ story done, and I didn’t originally intend to use it–it was just back-story for my personal peace of mind. Once I realized that I needed to give the reader both of them, it finally started to come together. Finding the right beats and transitions between the two was a fight hard won.

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

In some ways this is the least personal story I’ve ever written, but of course there’s always a seed of ourselves somewhere in our stories. 

In this case the ‘character’ that is most personal to me is the book. That book actually exists–it’s sitting a few feet away from me right now. It was given to me by my paternal grandmother and dates from the 1930s. It’s a book of fairy tales called Through Fairy Halls. I read it over and over as a child, and from it I learned that fairy tales exist all over the world, and are unique little realities unto themselves. That book is where I learned to love them, and it makes perfect sense to me that the stories between its covers are true, and that maybe one is missing. 

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

I went back to the book, and read a lot of Grimm’s. 

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

There are so many ways to answer that, and all of them are probably right and equally true. 

The types of wizard stories that I seem to gravitate toward have been the descendants of T.H. White’s The Once and Future King–an ordinary kid discovers that he or she is potentially a great wizard, and we get to watch them grow up with this knowledge and see what they do with it. Even Wheel of Time follows that model. Why do we love them? Maybe because we all feel that potential within ourselves–or at least we hope that it’s there. 

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

When I was growing up I loved the Young Wizards series by Diane Duane, but I think my very favorite ‘wizard’ story is Books of Magic by Neil Gaiman. It’s such a beautiful story, about choice, and power, and coming of age. It’s one of those books that I’ve bought over and over because I always loan it to someone because I want them to experience it and then (naturally) I never see it again. I don’t regret loaning it, though, all half-dozen times.  

Once you introduce the idea of magic and the power that comes with it into a world, what you do with that power becomes all-important. Timothy Hunter’s journey as he’s shown the possible futures in which he is the greatest magician of the age is an important metaphor. At some point we all have a certain amount of power over other people–how will we use it, and what is the price?