Of nature and magic

Trash Sex Magic by Jennifer StevensonWhen I wrote Trash Sex Magic I was trying to do about a dozen things, which maybe accounts for why it took eighteen years to sell.

I had a lot to say about nature. Oh hell, I just wanted to glorify nature. I wanted to describe and amplify the feeling I got when I was five, lying in the grass, staring at ants working, feeling their world fill up my world. Or staring up through the trees at clouds, feeling the sap rise out of the ground, feeling joy hurtle through me and blast out the leaftips overhead. I don’t think I was on drugs. Bubble Yum, maybe.

By the time I wrote Trash, I also wanted to talk on a kid plane about magic. I’d given up trying to talk about magic to fantasy writers; they were mired in a hierarchical discourse. They were always calling for “internal consistency” in the magic used in a fantasy novel.

In my personal childhood experience magic was never consistent, it didn’t have discernible rules, it struck at whim, and hardly ever usefully. As an adult I watched people use magic and shook my head. Nearly all the really effective magicians were street people, or mad, or drunk, or all three. And “effective” was a relative term. Someone who was capable of generating a real buzz, such as that creepy woman mumbling to herself two rows behind me in the subway car, was as likely to be a danger to herself as to others. From my readings in Medieval and Renaissance magic, I knew that the intellectual study of magic was fascinating, and a long, long way away from practice.

My fantasy writer friends wanted their fictional magic to feel like those wonderful treatises on angels of the decans, or instructions for how to scry with a crystal: full of tidy rules but with moral overtones that guaranteed that almost everybody who was any good at it would be, well, good. It’s the high-fantasy model of applied magic: the taller your pointy hat, the longer your long white beard, the better a magician you are. As if getting tenure confers magical power. I’ve known some profs who wished it were so, but.

But the fact is, one of the rules of science, on which our academia is founded, is that where there is no proof, unmediated personal experience is meaningless. And they “knew” there could be no proof. Because there is no magic.

Science fiction writers like to say that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishible from magic.” I say, “Any internally-consistent magic is indistinguishible from technology.” In other words, it is not magic.

I guess you had to have been there for those arguments.

Anyway, I gave up trying to talk about magic on an adult plane.

If I talked about magic from a kid’s headspace, I could just tell the truth. Hence this book.

Raedawn and her mother Gelia are priestesses to a very local god, a luckless man who was in some long-ago year transformed into a thing like a tree, connected to all the local ley lines and waterways, mediator of the area’s life force. Rae and Gelia are typical powerful magicians of modern Western culture: uneducated, lore-less, without pride or a trade vocabulary or a sense of limits about their powers. Because their power is about sex, and women who use their sexual power are by definition in our culture labeled sluts, they’re heavily handicapped from the start.

Rae and Gelia were taught the way their foremothers taught them. Don’t talk about the power. Learn your own tricks by yourself and don’t share them with your daughter, who is your rival. Keep your profile low in the community, because people will put up with a local whore only so long as she knows her place. They don’t even have a name for the god they serve. They aren’t truly wild. They’re only feral. Rae and Gelia are ashamed of themselves.

In Mink and Ink, the nine-year-old twins who live next door, we see how living near this god affects a child conceived and raised at his feet, but not old enough to serve. We see what happens when Mink is dunked in his magic too young. We see how her not-yet-fully-wired-up system takes the blast of raw life force. How does it feel? What is gained, what is lost?

None of them know that Mink and Ink’s half-brother Willy is also serving the tree-god, ministering to gay teens in his school even more quietly than Rae and Gelia minister to the town’s men.

In fact nobody who lives on the riverbank is untouched, un-gifted, un-ruined by this focal point of natural power.

And then a real estate developer buys the land and cuts the tree down, and sex miracles spray all over the landscape, until Rae can find another man willing to take the tree-god’s place.

I got to talk a lot about nature and magic in this book. Give it a look.


Trash Sex Magic by Jennifer Stevenson; Small Beer Press 2004

About Jennifer Stevenson

Jennifer Stevenson’s Trash Sex Magic was shortlisted for the Locus First Fantasy Novel Award and longlisted for the Nebula two years running. Try her fantasy series Hinky Chicago, which is up to five novels, her paranormal romances Slacker Demons, which are about retired deities who find work as incubi, or her women’s fiction fantasy series Coed Demon Sluts, about women solving life’s ordinary problems by becoming succubi. She has published more than 20 short stories.

Find Jennifer at the Book View Cafe blog, at the second row at fast roller derby bouts in Chicago, or on Facebook.