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Author Talk: October 22, 2020

Alice Hoffman traces a centuries-old curse to its source in MAGIC LESSONS, which unveils the story of Maria Owens, who is accused of witchcraft in Salem and is the matriarch of a line of the amazing Owens women and men featured in PRACTICAL MAGIC and THE RULES OF MAGIC. In this interview, Hoffman talks about her decision to return to the Owens family in the form of a prequel; the most fun part of her research for the story, which is rich with historical details; the two special ladies in her life who have inspired her the most; and her next novel, which likely will be the conclusion to the Practical Magic series.

Question: MAGIC LESSONS continues the story of the beloved Owens family, taking us to the origins of the family curse. What inspired you to return to the Owens family after so many years?

Alice Hoffman: My readers asked me for more of the Owens family, and I was intrigued by what their history might be. The character of Maria, who appears in the first book [PRACTICAL MAGIC], always seemed as if she might have a great deal more to say.

Q: You have said that you always start a novel with a question. What was the question that you asked before writing this book, and did you find your answer?

AH: The question in MAGIC LESSONS is how can those who are cursed in love manage to live a life that includes love. How can people who are hurt and vulnerable and betrayed open their hearts again?

Q: The story is rich with historical details, especially when Maria enters new cities throughout the world. What was the process behind your research?

AH: I have been researching the Owens family for 25 years! I read a great deal of history, went to Salem, and read extensively about the witch trials. But I’m also interested in everyday details: recipes, how houses were built, clothing --- that to me is the beginning of building a world. I also do magic research and have a magic library that I have been collecting for years. For me, that is the fun part of my research.

Q: A value that Hannah Owens imparts on Maria is kindness. It is a trait that Maria’s biological mother, Rebecca, does not possess but Hannah teaches Maria to value. What inspired you to emphasize this trait?

AH: In a cruel world, it can be difficult to see that kindness is the way through the maze of uncertainty. But then and now, kindness is always a trait to value.

Q: You explore the relationships between humans and animals through Maria and her crow, Cadin, and Faith and her wolf, Keeper. Can you tell us about an animal that has been special in your life?

AH: Witches are said to have familiars, animals or birds who are soul mates. My soul mate was a German shepherd named Houdini, my dearest companion for 16 years.

Q: There are different types of love in the novel. There is romantic love, demonstrated in the relationship between Maria and Samuel Dias. There is also familial love between Maria and Faith. What did you want readers to learn from these different relationships?

AH: The book is about love in its many forms. I think most readers take away what the story means to them, and what love means in their own lives.

Q: Faith’s journey is a realistically dark one. She is taken from her mother and held captive for years, and subsequently turns to the Dark Arts for revenge. Did you plan her story beforehand? Or did her character evolve in the process of writing the novel?

AH: I didn’t plan Faith’s story. She was such a strong character, she took charge of her own life, and I just sat by and watched. She’s so complicated and hurt and brave. I grew to love her, despite her turn to the Dark Arts.

Q: This book thematically resonates with PRACTICAL MAGIC and THE RULES OF MAGIC in that powerful women are at the forefront of the story. What women have inspired you in your life?

AH: My mother and grandmother always inspire me. My mother was a single mother in the early ’60s, a social worker, a rebel and a wonderful friend. My grandmother was a Russian immigrant who supported her family and who loved me unconditionally. My first story was about her, and I likely would not have been a writer without her support.

Q: Your interest in fairy tales, myth and fantasy comes through in many of your novels. Did you read any works that inspired you while writing MAGIC LESSONS? How did this interest influence the writing of the book?

AH: I don’t read while I’m writing fiction --- I don’t want to be influenced by other stories or ideas. But the stories I read as a child and the books that I love are with me always. The Grimms’ fairy tales, the myths and legends, and the stories my Russian grandmother told me are always a part of what I write. In this case, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel THE SCARLET LETTER was hugely influential.

Q: Can you tell us what you’re working on now?

AH: I’m working on the fourth book in the Practical Magic series, called THE BOOK OF MAGIC. It’s likely the last of the series as well, and takes place in modern times, so that readers find out what happened to Sally’s daughters, Kylie and Antonia, and they also discover what happened to Vincent Owens. For me, it’s been a pleasure to spend more time with the Owens family.