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Conjuring Magic: Sadie Fox Curtis Casts her Spell



Imagine you're at work. You've got this co-worker. Let's call him John. John's a good guy- little bit of a nerd- but here's the thing about John. If he senses even the slightest opening in conversation at the water cooler, he'll start talking about his book. Little people with big, hairy feet, swords, dwarfs, a quest. God, it's so cringe. He's even gone as far as to create a fully-functioning language for these immortal elves he dreamed up. Oh, and to make it extra authentic, John doubled-down and wrote the entire history of his made-up world going back a thousand years. He's been working on this book for ten years with no end in sight.


So you cut him off, right? Every time. You offer a few token interested noises (Nice! Cool! Really? Huh. How about that?) and then invent a meeting, leaving poor John Ronald Reuel Tolkien trying to get Gary from IT interested in Hobbits, Elves, and a quest to throw a ring in a volcano. And guess what? Now you're not getting a cameo in the history of Middle Earth as the Bobin, son of Bobert the Listener of Riventhdor because you had to get back to playing solitaire in your cubicle and avoiding John and his walking, talking trees.


Books take years to write and this interviewer speaks from experience when I tell you that the lifespan of other people's interest in your WIP is about six months. And it's understandable. It's hard outside of the context of a job or a degree to relate to that level of dedication to a craft. Picture chemical engineering or the law as an unpaid hobby. It's crazy, right?


But this is how every single bestselling book or Hollywood adaptation began: a lonely journey into the wilderness, hunting down dreams, and translating them in a way others can understand. No writer is exempt from this journey. Every time an author outlines a book they are building their own graduate course from scratch. Every bit of research is a writer teaching their own classes; every draft and query letter a nail-biting week of final exams.


What drives a person to undertake this kind of work? The cart guy at Target, the computer programmer at the water cooler, your boring brother-in-law, and J.R.R. Tolkien: they all have one thing in common: an obsessive love affair with the craft of writing. They grab moments they can barely spare- dawn, dusk, midnight- and throw handfuls of their own words on a smoldering fire, offerings to attract an elusive muse. Every stolen moment away from reality is a prayer that finally, the great She of inspiration will be appeased and bless them, at long last, with a beautiful, perfect story. It is a thankless affair, but one writer Sadie Fox Curtis wouldn't have any other way.


If you met Curtis in the wild, you might not guess that you are dealing with someone who dreams of shifting dimensions and a community college for magical outcasts. Her forthcoming novel, The Fire Within, is a gorgeous ouroboros of a story, devouring itself only to be reborn again and again. Her writing is visceral poetry: smiles become loaded handguns, kisses transform mid-sentence into bloody jewels, things that exist off the map-edges of your nightmares take center stage with a wink and a low, sweeping bow. Her recent award winning short, That Crimson Flight (Apparition Literary Magazine, 2021) throws you into a dystopian world of Red Baronesque Russian witches in ten seconds flat, only to wrench you out, breathless and blood-stained, just before you've earned your wings in a midnight aerial dogfight. Curtis exemplifies every writer out there just before their big story breaks: apprentice architects of castles in the sky, midwives of dreams that just won't quit. Curtis loves writing, even when it's hard, and her work is a love letter to her obsession with the craft of storytelling.



"Zasha felt the first brush of the clippers like frostbite. Nip nip nip. Her exposed skin prickled and crawled under the crescent moon. Her neck felt slick with blood, but when she reached back to caress her neck, it was dry and smooth, silken hanks of hair sloughing off her fingers. She was reborn.
This would be a transformative moment, Manya had warned. Their power had settled in the roots of their hair, and now their full manes would be shorn. Zasha would have to reach deeper, pull forth the power of her predecessors. Mentally swap out the smooth wood of the broom from between her muscled thighs and replace it with the soft, pliable skeleton of her two-seater canvas and plywood Polikarpov Po-2. Without her hair, she was naked, exposed, but far from powerless.
She was Nachthexen and this work spelled death to those who opposed her. "
-excerpt from That Crimson Flight (2021)





Interviewer

Let's hear the elevator pitch for your forthcoming debut novel, The Fire Within.


Sadie Fox Curtis

The Fire Within is darkly hilarious YA novel about magic, found family, and community college. It’s perfect for anyone who wishes there was more sex and swearing at Hogwarts and less misogyny at Brakebills.


Interviewer

Can you share the opening line?


Sadie Fox Curtis

“Remy DeSable crouched next to a rain puddle outside the Sanskrit Club, feeling fire in her fingers and wondering why the moon was in the wrong place in the sky.”


Interviewer

Yeah, no, I'm sorry. We're going to need a bit more of that.



"Remy thought about fire and water and earth and air. Obvious. She thought about invocations, incantations, initiations. She thought about sage and spells and crystals and candles, about black cats and new moon rituals and about things that go bump in the night. Another, deeper part of her argued that the truth was so much more than all of those things, that they were absolutely true and vital but beyond, in addition to, there was something else. Slowing down time. Visions in the forest. Glimpses of something else deep in the water. Flickerings in the corners of her eyes, at the back of her mind, on the edges of sleep. What else could she say about something she knew nothing about?"
-excerpt from The Fire Within




Interviewer

What was the inspiration behind The Fire Within?


Sadie Fox Curtis

Vitriol. And witchcraft.


Interviewer

Fair enough. How long have you been writing?


Sadie Fox Curtis

I’ve been writing since I could hold a pen. A few years ago, my dad sent me a photocopy of my earliest known work. It’s a love story about two seals and it was scribbled on a long piece of butcher paper along with original illustrations by the author. I’m very proud of this work, even if I can’t understand why I named the main character Flarf (I think?!)


Interviewer

What about your early life influenced your work or your journey toward becoming a writer?


Sadie Fox Curtis

I have always written to make things come alive. I’ve also used that practice to remember what’s happened. As a survivor of PTSD, among others, my memory can be very unreliable and so writing things down solidifies them for me and allows me to remember and process them more clearly.Writing it sometimes the only way I can make sense of the world. When something’s down on paper, it’s like a prayer or a summons and I can see the patterns or truth of it in a way I can’t when I’m just thinking or talking about the thing.


Interviewer

What is your connection to Cleveland?


Sadie Fox Curtis

I was born here and grew up here. I went away to school—several times, actually—but something always brought me back. Most recently, it was family and friends. And food! God, nobody has restaurants like Cleveland (though I haven’t been inside one in over a year).



Interviewer

If you had to describe "literary success," what would that look like for you?


Sadie Fox Curtis

I want to hold my finished, printed book in my hand. I want folks to read the dedication and recognize themselves in it. And I really, really hope for fan art—success is people falling in love with my world and wanting to dive in so deeply they immerse themselves in it through art.


Interviewer

Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?


Sadie Fox Curtis

I’m building a body of work. The connections aren’t linear—book two isn’t a sequel to book one—but each story focuses on one or more of the characters and relationships from the periphery of another.


Interviewer

Do you believe in writer's block?


Sadie Fox Curtis

I do. I have crippling bouts of it and sometimes it’s only the belief that I can’t do anything but this has kept me going through it. A have a friend who calls me a “classic self-loather” but I think it’s just perfectionism in a really ugly dress.


Interviewer

Does writing energize or exhaust you?


Sadie Fox Curtis

Both. It’s like a tough workout. Often miserable but occasionally euphoric when I’m in it. Absolutely joy and motivation when I’m done and reaping the benefits of that struggle in the form of lovely, lovely piles of words.





Interviewer

What are your short term goals as a writer?


Sadie Fox Curtis

My goal, that I assume everyone can understand, is that I want to write forever. This is the only thing I have been called to do. And I have to do it and I am excited to do it and... I dread to doing it and I look forward to doing it. I want to be able to tell every story that is in my head until I can't hold a pen any longer.

Interviewer

And in the long run?


Sadie Fox Curtis

My stretch goal is to write as an escape again. The way I used to write when everything felt possible. As you get older and the world starts to narrow, it feels like an act of defiance to say I still believe in magic. I still believe anything can happen and I want to thrill and entice myself every fucking day.

I don't know if writing will ever be my full-time job. I have a full-time job that I love and that takes up a lot of my time and brainpower. But my goal is to make writing less like a second job and more like the thing I come home to. What's waiting for me at the end of every difficult decision or disappointing day.

Interviewer

You describe your feelings about writing like a romantic relationship, or the early days of falling in love when everything is wonderful and horrible. Would you agree with that?


Sadie Fox Curtis

Ha! I think that's a great description of how I feel about writing. It's obsessive for me- it's all I think about. And yet I also want to punch it in its stupid face. After making out with it.


Sadie Fox Curtis is a modern witch with an ancient heart who writes about deep magic, light mischief, and hot make-outs. She lives with her partner, two cats, and eleventy-hundred hula hoops in the Midwest (though she dreams of smelling salt water in her hair and picking lemons from her backyard tree someday). For news about the release date of The Fire Within and Curtis' other literary releases, you can follow her on Instagram here.


Dana McSwain is a bestselling author and principal at Webb House Publishing. @writersofcleveland is a project dedicated to amplifying the voices of Cleveland writers. 2021 All rights reserved.