By Jeanne Adams
As most of you know, October is my absolute FAVORITE month. Fall is my favorite time of year, Halloween’s my favorite holiday, pumpkin’s my favorite pie.
So, what better time than October to bring out the brooms and get a clean sweep start at some cool writing-craft tools?
My guest today is none other than the multi-published author, garden authority and one fabulous witch, Ellen Dugan. Author of eleven books on garden and natural witchery for Llewellyn Books, Ellen has no doubt winced over some of the methods and materials fictional witches utilize. (I’m hoping she’ll clue me in on some Coven things for a new series I’ve proposed), and I hope you’ll take advantage of having a wonderful witch “on call” to answer your witch-and-garden questions.
So, welcome Ellen!
Good morning everyone, happy October!
Jeanne: When did you first get into witchcraft, and the natural methods of connecting with the Earth through witchcraft? Tell us too, about your gardening background.
Ellen: First, I have always been interested in the Craft from the time I was a girl. I think I checked out every book on magick, mythology and faery tales as a kid. As my psychic abilities grew when I hit puberty it landed me in lots of trouble with my very conservative and disapproving parents. But I had no control over the things I saw and felt and could do. I was always in trouble and often harshly punished for this. (You would think that the fact that I was wicked accurate with my predictions would have clued the folks in….)
Jeanne: Well, yep. That's usually a good indicator! I'm sure that was not only confusing but a real challenge to make sense of things.
Ellen: Absolutely! As I hit high school I became desperate for information and finally a kind, open-minded, teacher took pity on me and suggested I do my term paper on psychic phenomena. That opened up worlds for me.
Now, I had information and I could put it to use and try and gain some control. As time went on I started running into the idea of magick and witchcraft and how it complimented psychic abilities. I was still a teen and I’ve been studying and exploring the Craft ever since. I formally began to study the Craft after my first son was born back in the early 1980’s.
I love how witchcraft connects you to the cycles and seasons of the earth. Nature is revered and how the Craft encourages you to be strong, to think for and to be true to yourself.
Jeanne: I think many people are attracted to it for that reason. Of course, it's also what editors are looking for in modern heroines which may be why witches, vampires, and all things paranormal are so popular. If you're among the "differently minded" you pretty much have to be strong, think for yourself and follow your own path, right?
Ellen: Yes, indeed. As to my gardening background. When we bought our house I was twenty years old and eight months pregnant with our first son. And I did the stereotypical gardening thing and killed just about everything - planted sunny plants in the shade and vice versa… I could grow roses, and vegetables but other flowers not so much.
As my kids grew older and were in elementary school I was friendly with a woman whose mother had grown up in England and she had the most amazing perennial gardens I had ever seen. I complimented her on her gardens, and she told me to bring every bucket, and pot over that I owned and she would give me baby perennials for my own garden.
That got me started and so I went to the library to research the plants- I did not want to kill those new perennials! And I had so much fun that I kept going. Later that spring I picked up a part-time job at a local nursery and learned even more. So for the next several years I picked up a seasonal job at a different nursery, greenhouse, landscaping company, or tree farm. I kept learning and experimenting. Gardening is like a sickness. If you are bit by the gardening bug- you are incurable.
Jeanne: That is SO true! We have that gardening bug in common. My DH despairs of the "plant projects" I'll dream up next. Grins.
Ellen: An added plus for me was that many of those herbs and plants in my gardens had magickal properties… I had free magickal supplies!
Jeanne: Even better. Ha! So what made you decide to stop planting long enough to write a book about Garden Witchery (2003), your first book with Llewellyn?
Ellen: It was my frustration with a lack of magickal gardening and flower and herb magick information. I kept saying to myself. “Why doesn’t anyone write a book like I would want to read?” I was bored with encyclopedias. Nobody ever talked about how to plant or grow those herbs and flowers with intention and to use them in your own magick…. And I thought to myself, “Well, hell. Why don’t I just write the book?” So I sat down and taught myself to write a book.
I followed the number one rule for both fiction and non-fiction. Write about what you know, and write about what you love. It took me about 6 months to write. I sent for and followed the writers guidelines and sent it in. Six months later, in spring of 2002, I was mailed a contract for Garden Witchery.
Jeanne: Garden Witchery was quickly followed – less than 2 months later – by Elements of Witchcraft, Natural Magick for Teens, which has been one of your most popular books. Was it challenging to meet those two deadlines so close together?
Ellen: Well while I was waiting to hear on Garden Witchery, I had been speaking to an acquisitions editor who had enjoyed a “Teen Witch survival guide article” I had written for Llewellyn’s Magical Almanac. She asked me if I would consider writing a book for teens. (Since at the time all three of my kids were teens I thought it sounded like fun.)
So I put the focus on natural magick and the four elements and while I was nervously waiting for 6 months to hear about the first proposal, I wrote Elements of Witchcraft: Natural Magick for Teens. I sent my second finished book proposal in right after they contracted the first book. Llewellyn snatched it up. Nobody was more surprised than me when they released those books back-to-back.
And I was off and running.
Jeanne: You had that same issue this year, with Garden Witch’s Herbal coming out in August, and the latest, Book of Witchery, Spells, Charms and Correspondences for Every Day of the Week which JUST came out. Was it a massive headache to get two books in so close together?
Ellen: I can’t remember. I was too busy trying to survive the writing, editing and proof pages…. Not to mention going on an east coast tour for Garden Witch’s Herbal. All while remaining calm, and professional and totally unflappable. (That was sarcasm)
Jeanne: Uh-huh. I hear you on that sarcasm. I'm feeling a bit of the unflappable right about now myself, with my deadline looming. I'm just eating bon-bons, you know. No worries.
(Yes, that was more sarcasm, and from me this time! Hahah!)
Anyway, you also just began offering classes too, didn’t you? Your website indicates three of your classes are available online, using your books as texts. I’m deep into the Autumn Sabbats Class and loving it.
Ellen: I decided to offer online classes because there was such a demand from folks all over the country to take a class of mine. I had many requests to do a series of online classes. A few summers before I had done a 16 week course on Witchery and those were well attended so I took a look at my “live classes” notes and started to put together an online class.
Holy cats! It took forever and was much more involved than teaching a class “live.” But the response has been very positive and I know all too well what it’s like to want an affordable class and not have access to one, because of where you live or because you need to keep a low profile. Keeping the classes affordable is very important to me, and I stick to that. Also the classes are self paced.
We are all grown ups here the only person who should be “grading” your studies in the Craft- is yourself.
Jeanne: Ellen, you and I have had several conversations about fictional witches and both laughed and winced over some of the errors authors make. (I have the same issue about body disposal too, as most of our readers know!) Who are some of the authors who get it “right”?
Ellen: Fiction authors? (Sigh) There are a few… but I understand that they need to push it a bit and take their readers to the edge of fantasy, so I can overlook the more fantastic scenes. I adore the positive slant Nora Roberts takes with her fictional witches. Actually I have had many readers and the general public walk up to me and happily announce that, they "...know what Wicca and real Witchcraft is. Because they read about it in a Nora Roberts book.”
You just have to smile at that, because their hearts are in the right place. Goddess bless them.
Jeanne: We all enjoy that about Nora. She does tend to make things accessible. Grins. Including playing the cello and doing archeaology and police work in addition to magic. Ha! You bring up and interesting point, however. What's the difference between witchcraft and Wicca?
Ellen: A Wiccan may or may not refer to themselves as a Witch. And just to keep you on your toes a Witch may or may not refer to themselves as Wiccan. Confused yet?
Jeanne: Totally. *VBG*
Ellen: Wiccans strictly adhere to the “harm none” law. Some traditional Witches do not follow the harm none rule. They believe that if they have to defend themselves or their loved ones… then all is fair.
Do Witches run around looking for a fight? Absolutely not. But they realize that “sending love and light” to a problem is not always a practical solution. Witches have no qualms about defending themselves with magick should the need arise. So they live as ethically as possible, trying to maintain neutrality while keeping the rule of karma in mind.
Jeanne: Very interesting dileneation. I don't think I've ever heard it explained quite so succinctly. Thanks!
Another incredibly cool book of yours is How to Enchant a Man: Spells to Bewitch, Dazzle and Beguile. As Romance Writers and Readers, that's a title to make you sit up and take notice.
What kind of feedback have you gotten on that book? I know you love Romance and I know this book has been monumentally popular with your readers. I think our Romance Bandits and Bandit Buddies would like this one too! Tell us a bit about it…
Ellen: This book gets the strongest reactions of any book I have written to date. I have had women pounce on it squeal with delight and get a glazed look in their eyes as you can see the wheels start to turn. They laugh and get excited and tell me how much fun it is.
And to my surprise, I have had gay men snatch it up with similar reactions. They and their partner look at it together, laugh and then buy it for themselves. I have also had straight women go off on me and tell me how offensive they feel the book is to them personally. Typically while the unkempt, frumpy woman is on her tirade- her poor man is just standing there waiting for her to wind down.
What happens next is that he picks up the book, starts to peruse the pages and smiles. Then he tells her that he wants her to buy a copy- while she gets even more irate. Then he typically starts to stare at any other woman who is in the vicinity. I can’t tell you the number of times I sat there and tried not to laugh as a this scenario played out.
If they would get off their soapbox for a moment and actually look inside of the book, they would see that the way to “enchant” a man is to be confident and happy with yourself. The magick you do for transformation is always on yourself. Because when a woman is confident and happy she attracts men into her life with out even trying.
Its all about self empowerment with a dollop of witchcraft and sexy, saucy magick stirred in!
Jeanne: I like it! Again, it really speaks to what most of us strive to portray - strong women, finding security in themselves and finding the love of their lives because they believed in it and in themselves.
(And of course, I had to add my delicious CSI Nick Stokes as an enchanting man there...just for visual aid, you know!)
One other thing, I’ve beguiled you into coming to the Washington Romance Writers Retreat, “In the Company of Writers…” next April to give us the full-bore lowdown on how to portray modern witches in fiction. Are you looking forward to that as much as I am?
Ellen: I am so-o excited about that! I can hardly wait. I wonder if they all talk as fast as I do?
Jeanne: Well, I don't know about "as fast" but they sure can talk! Ha! I'm also hoping some of our cool readers today will jump into the fray and ask about their works-in-progress, or about witches, Wiccans, herblore and so on to keep it hoping today.
So, to wrap up, Ellen, what’s your advice for writers and readers of Romance when it comes to witches?
Ellen: Do your homework. And remember there are NO demons or devils in the real Craft- ever. We raise our families, work our jobs, take care of your homes and gardens, and are regular people. Keep that in mind.
Jeanne: So last but not least, who’s your favorite TV Witch? Movie Witch?
Ellen: Tv Witch Samantha Stevens from Bewitched- (What can I say? I grew up watching the show.)
Movie Witch: Kristina- from Sleepy Hollow
Okay Banditas and BB’s, you've read a little about who got it "right" in the world of fiction, witch-wise, tell us who's witchy books YOU liked, who's your fav TV/Movie witch and fire away (oooh, bad witch pun) about what you'd like to know about plants, herbs, and witches, oh, my!
One lucky poster today will get a copy of Ellen’s latest book, Book of Witchery along with chocolates and a copy of Dark and Deadly from me!