Snake Charm: Backstory

snakes-and-roses-469x469The PDXX website was built around the idea that, rather than having emerging female writers struggle to build a platform on their own, they could come together to share each other’s work via a curated online magazine that kicks all kinds of ass  (i.e., “literary feminism for the working writer”).

I like this idea a lot, and I’m hoping that if you’ve been following this blog, you’ll consider following my work at PDXX.

My second story for PDXX, which went live last week, is called “Snake Charm.” It’s the story of a twelve-year-old girl who finds a book on witchcraft in her grandparents’ house in Florida, and decides to cast a spell aimed at getting the boy she likes to like her. She winds up getting what she wants, in a roundabout way, but discovers–as we all do, maybe, in coming of age–that “every rose has its thorn.”

Those of you who know me well will recognize that many of the elements of this story are, in fact, true. I did spend weeks of my junior-high summers with my grandparents in Fort Myers, and my grandparents are, in fact, Guyanese. Even the book of witchcraft, and the discovery of it on my grandparents’ bookshelf, is real–though it was a cheap paperback, not a hardcover (published no earlier than 1968, based on what I remember of its cover).

It’s true too that my grandparents were Christian and high-minded, but I came to realize over the years that my grandmother’s brand of Christianity had room for all sorts of hoodoo, be it Hindu (she believed in fate, or kismet) or the occult (at one point, apparently, she copied a book of “secret knowledge” by hand, banned at that time in Guyana). She talked to trees and plants. Toward the end of her life, she was a big fan of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. She even seemed to believe, at times, that the resurrection of Christ was a sort of a metaphor (though I never heard her use the word) for the resurrection of the body here on earth through the life cycle of the soil.

All of which is to say, my grandmother’s spirituality was far more complex than that of the grandmother in the story, and for all I know, she had picked up this book somewhere on purpose, based on a genuine interest in witchcraft.

As for the rest of the story–I did consider trying one of the spells I found in the book, though I never did; I did once have a crush on a boy at a water park in Michigan, and my first boyfriend was indeed from Miami; but the guy from Miami is still alive and well, as far as I know, and currently making a living as a maritime pilot in the Everglades. (Also, he was a fan of Led Zeppelin, not the Dead, and he never sent me roses, wilted or otherwise.)

I do write purely imaginative fiction (such as the sci fi novel I’m working on), but stories such as this tend to function more as a sort of imaginative rearrangement of real elements, or tall tales. It seems as if I almost have the stuff to write memoir–to tell the story straight–but not quite. My imagination takes liberties, in ways that tend to surprise me.

A good example of this is the dark being in “Snake Charm” that rises up out of the mango tree in the grandparents’ backyard when the spell is cast. My grandfather really did pick things up he found by the side of the road and hang them from the trees in the backyard, and I always did find this a bit magical. But who knew that this genie would appear this way?

In a way, I think, much of the creative process is like that. You rearrange the real to fit the demands of the imaginative form–and along the way, if you’re lucky, some dark thing rises up out of the mango tree and asks you a question. Maybe one you wouldn’t otherwise have considered.


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