By Nancy Klingener
The title of Naomi Novik’s talk was “The High Cost of Magic” — a reference to the work-in-progress from which she read an excerpt.
And to frame the reading, she spoke about context — and how it relates directly to the theme of this year’s Seminar. “I really love context. I love talking about influences, and I love making context explicit,” she said.
Novik is the author, most recently, of Spinning Silver. The novel grew out of a story she contributed to an anthology called The Starlit Wood. Writers were asked to choose a fairy tale as an inspiration.
Novik chose the story of Rumpelstiltskin, about a magical creature who helps a miller’s daughter save her own life and become queen by spinning straw into gold. His price was her first-born child, but she tricks him into breaking her promise by spying on him to find out his real name.
But Spinning Silver is very different.
“It’s not a re-telling of Rumpelstiltskin. No one ever spins straw into gold,” Novik said.
Instead, the original fairy tale — including its anti-Semitic qualities — spoke to a story from Novik’s own family. “It evoked for me, initially, a story I knew from my family that my grandmother had once been arrested for smuggling gold for dollars behind the Iron Curtain,” she said.
Novik also answered several questions about fan fiction, which is how she got her start in writing. “This is being done by millions of people on the Internet today. It has been done a long time before that,” she said. It started with Sherlockians — people who wrote stories about Sherlock Holmes after Arthur Conan Doyle killed off his famous (fictional) detective.
Her current work is not fiction, though she said it was inspired by a couple different sources. One is Harry Potter — where magic is free, which made her wonder why everyone wasn’t always using it to make their lives pleasant and easy. The other was a half-page sidebar from a Time-Life Mysteries of the Occult book that she found in a school library, which she described as “one of those stories that or no obvious reason, has stuck with me.”
Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN, South Florida’s public radio station. She is a member of the Key West Literary Seminar board of directors and chaired the 2019 Seminar program committee.