LSQ: Modern, feminist, business-owning witches! This must have been a blast to write. What was your inspiration for this plot, setting, and cast of characters?
Shana: This is the first story set in what I hope will be a world worth visiting over and over again. I’ve been dreaming about these middle aged witches for a while. I adore all the magical schools that others have created but I wonder what would happen if it weren’t children and teenagers learning to wield and control their powers, but someone a little more like me, who has a lot of life experience to reckon with, even before we get to magic. Not yet wise crones, but definitely not kids. That’s a world I want to hang out in.
LSQ: The friendship between Gabby and Natalie is endearing and their dialogue gives the reader further clues into Gabby’s character. Tell us more about Gabby — her insecurities, how she views her life, profession, Natalie, and her clients. What does Gabby’s future hold?
Shana: Gabby is someone whose story, I hope, resonates with many readers. We are all doing our best, with more power and talent than we fully appreciate, and insecurities leaking out when we least expect it. Gabby just happens to be dealing with magical ethics instead of standard office politics or PTA shenanigans. Luckily, she’s got her best friend to process everything with.
As far as what her future might hold, I think she’s got a lot to wrestle with – even a witch can’t manage to change the world singlehandedly . . . or can she? She can change the course of individual lives dramatically. Is that enough? Can she change history? Is she willing to risk it? She can’t be the first witch with a social conscience. But she’s also not sure how to start testing the limits of her powers.
LSQ: The ending was totally unexpected and yet felt right. As a reader, I understood at a deeper level what the client wanted. Don’t we all at some point? Did you know that’s how the story was going to end before you wrote it, or was this an ending that the characters created for themselves while you were writing it?
Shana: In January of 2018, my book club (hi ladies!) read The Bear, by Marian Engel. Reasonable people can debate whether or not it’s speculative fiction, and I don’t want to spoil it, other than to say that I’ve been obsessed with bears ever since. It’s a bit of a collective inspiration at this point – a bear is full of raw and lethal power, and more than a bit unpredictable . . . like women, especially those who are caged, one way or another, before finding their voice and needs and strength. I think we’re all negotiating a relationship with some kind of metaphorical bear – unless we’re wrestling with a literal one.
All that was bubbling in my heart as I was writing, but honestly, this ending was written to give myself hope. I have friends who teeter dangerously towards believing the world would be better without them, or that erasure would be a relief. I have dear friends who are so frantic in their day to day that I worry they’ve got similar seeds inside, waiting for a chance to take root. It terrifies and saddens me. I wanted to remind myself that people will surprise you if you give them the chance, and there are plenty of us just waiting to transform ourselves into majestic creatures who deserve your awe and fear.
LSQ: OK, big question here: can you speak to the overarching meaning between the ending and the title and why/how modern women are being pulled in these directions?
Shana: I think I alluded to this when talking about the ending, but I think one of the things that terrifies me most about romanticizing the idea that you could just fade away into a blissful non-existence that’s all soft light and no demands a la the Heaven that Buffy was ripped out of is that I understand it. I hate it and it’s wrong and awful, but I know why it’s attractive. On every level, the modern world demands so much from us – we’re still fighting SO MANY of the same gendered socialization and roles and toxic social structures that our mothers and grandmothers had to, still, but now we also get to perform them on social media, 24/7, now with push notifications of all your failures. I know we’ve come a long way, but being a woman is exhausting. But I hope someone someday reads this and remembers that there’s a better option . . . not to get punny, but I think the status quo is unbearable. It’s just that “unbearable” doesn’t mean “game over, I quit” – it can also mean “this is the last straw, hold my latte while I roll up my sleeves so I can fight and not stop until everything is shredded.” Choose to be a bear.
LSQ: Are you working on any other writing projects at the moment? If so, can you tell us about any of them?
Shana: I’m very new to writing. Started in 2018. That means I’m still in that entry level phase (which I may or may not ever grow out of) where I’m working on a dozen different things at the same time. You can catch more of my short work at Bowery Gothic and Big Echo, with hopefully more speculative fiction to follow in different flavors as I find my voice. I’m hoping to come back to Natalie and Gabby sooner rather than later. And I’m working on a poetry manuscript – tentatively titled “Exit, Pursued.” The Shakespeareans will get that joke. I’m all about the bears these days. Find me on twitter @shanakatzross to get all the updates!