The Author's Corner
Circle, Coven & Grove:
Talks to Deborah Blake
TWPT: Most everyone remembers what drew them to the particular spiritual path that they happen to be on. What was it about Wicca that first caught your attention and compelled you to learn more about it?
DB: A friend invited me to a Samhain ritual. (Clearly, she already knew what I was, even if I didn't.) There were way more people than I was comfortable with, and they all insisted on hugging me! It seemed pretty weird. And then we moved outside to a nearby park after dark, and the circle was cast, and my life changed in an instant. I had come home. I felt the touch of the gods, and knew for certain that they were real. After that, I started to learn more about Wicca and what it meant to be a Witch, but it had to "happen" to me first for me to understand that this was what I had been searching for.
TWPT: Once youíd done some looking into Wicca what was your next step in exploring this spiritual path on a more personally level?
DB: This same friend was HPS to an Eclectic Wiccan study group that met once a week to learn and practice Wicca. I stayed with that group for over five years, eventually doing a year and a day of extra study/practice to become a HPS myself. And, of course, I read, read, read.
TWPT: Tell me about some of your initial experiences with Wicca in regards to ritual, everyday practice etc. Was it all like you had hoped it would be when you first started seriously looking into it?
DB: I found it to be even more powerful than I'd expected. This was both good and bad, of course. I wrote a prosperity spell that worked for everyone in the group. I also made some mistakes (like the typical love spell oops) that taught me the importance of rules like "never interfere with free will" and "be careful what you wish for!"
TWPT: Did you ever have any face to face contact with the Wiccan community in the early stages of walking this new path? If so in what way did you go about seeking out others who were of a like mind?
DB: It is one of the great ironies of my life that I, who by nature am a very solitary person with very solitary pursuits, turned out to be a "group" Witch. Much of my practice has been with others, both in the group I began with, the extended community, and now my own group. I practice on my own too, of course, but I really enjoy the energy that can be found in circle with others. And in general, I have been fortunate in having an extended community near at hand, with very little effort on my part. I am just starting, as a writer, to connect with a really extended community--this year I went to Pantheacon in San Jose, and had a fabulous time!
TWPT: Were there any books that you found helpful as you began to learn about Wicca and deepen your commitment?
DB: There are a few books that I consider to be "required reading" for all Witches (most of which my original HPS introduced me to): Starhawk's The Spiral Dance, Marion Weinstein's Positive Magic, and of course, Wicca for the Solitary Practicioner, by Scott Cunningham. Since then, of course, I've added many others, but I particularly recommend Denise Dumar's book, Be Blessed and The Circle Within by Dianne Sylvan. And my books, of course!
TWPT: Did you always fancy yourself becoming a writer as you were growing up and moving through your education pondering a career? What kind of stories were you drawn to as a reader of fiction? And of non fiction?
DB: I was writing at a very early age. I wrote "novels" of ten pages or more when I was young, and plays that my sisters and I put on for company. I had always intended to write fiction, but life and discouragement got in the way, and I had pretty much given up on the dream until a couple of years ago, when my first nonfiction book insisted that I write it. I never had any intention of writing nonfiction; that just kind of happened. Now, of course, I am doing both and enjoying it immensely. I read fantasy and SF when I was younger, veered into mysteries for a while, and now read a mix of both, with the occasion chick lit or romance thrown in. Nonfiction, I read whatever I'm interested in at the moment: Pagan, naturally, but also gardening, healing, cooking and such. My educational background is a strange mix: I studied Psychology and Theater the first time around, then went back for my certification in English Education. But if you think about it, that is probably the perfect combination of training for writing rituals!
TWPT: What kinds of writing did you enjoy doing when you first started to write with an eye towards being published?
DB: Originally (a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away) I wrote short stories and poetry. My non-fiction book, Circle, Coven & Grove: A Year of Magickal Practice, was the first thing I actually had published (other than a brief article). My second book (also for Llewellyn) is Everyday Witch A to Z: An Amusing, Inspiring & Informative Guide to the Wonderful World of Witchcraft, will be out in October, and I am finishing the third one right now, for release next year. I also just finished a novel (featuring a protagonist who is a Witch, of course) and am searching for an agent to represent my fiction work. So I guess it's official--I'm now a writer.
TWPT: Does writing come easy for you or do you have to discipline yourself to write a certain length of time each day?
DB: Yes. (Laughing.) Writing seems to seep out of my pores like water some days, and it is all I can do to make myself stop and do other things. But that doesn't happen every day, and when you have a deadline, you have to write on the days when things aren't flowing quite so easily. So for me it is a mix of creativity and discipline. I try to make myself write at least a page, most days. Some days that's all I get, and some days I'll get up from the computer with eight pages written, and say, "Where did that come from?"
TWPT: What are some of the differences in the way that you go about writing a piece of fiction as opposed to writing an article or nonfiction book? Are they all that different from a writerís perspective or all just one and the same in that they are both writing projects?
DB: In some ways they are much the same; I tend to plan out the basics in my head, then sit down and write whatever comes out as a result. On the other hand, the nonfiction I write tends to come from my own opinions and experiences, and therefore often flows more easily. It certainly needs less revision than fiction, which often requires a number of complicated rewrites.
TWPT: With all of the books out there and more coming out each day how is it that you choose a subject that you want to write about as you ponder each new writing project?
DB: Most of the books I write are based on some kind of lack I see in the existing materials available; I often write the books that I wish I could have read, but they didn't exist. Certain subjects do "grab" me and inspire me to write about them. With articles, sometimes there is a topic given to me (some magazines have particular themes for each issue, for instance). I was just asked to do an article for a new Llewellyn annual on Sabbats, for example, and I will end up writing on whichever Sabbat they give me, according to the guidelines that are established for that annual. But I'll give it my own spin, probably based on activities that my own group has done.
TWPT: You mentioned earlier that you are a very solitary type person so I was curious as to how you made the transition from internally focused to externally focused and did you have any difficulties moving from one end of the spectrum to the other? Any thoughts on the whole solitary/coven debate in regards to the benefits of each?
DB: I think all of us are a mix of internally and externally focused--at home more internal, perhaps, and more external at work. My biggest challenge as High Priestess is to balance the needs of the group as a whole with my own personal inclinations. Hopefully, I have gotten better at that with practice. The solitary/coven debate is something I just wrote about in my third book. I think there are advantages to both; all Witches can benefit from doing at least some solitary practice and solitary communion with the gods. What I enjoy most about group work is the tremendous energy that can be produced when a number of Witches all focus on the same goal, the sense of community and acceptance, and the close relationships I have developed with the other members of Blue Moon Circle. But I don't think it is a matter of one option being better than the other. The two women who started Blue Moon Circle with me were both solitaries for many years, in part from personal preference, and in part because they never found a group that seemed to suit them. And some folks have no inclination to practice with others, and that's the right choice for them.
TWPT: When you wrote Circle, Coven & Grove did you feel that it was good enough that you would eventually see it published?
DB: I did, actually. I had a very strong feeling from the start that this was a book I was meant to write. And I got an immediate, positive reaction from the acquisitions editor at Llewellyn, which reinforced that belief. Personally, I think it was the gods kicking my butt to make sure I wrote the book, but you could say that circumstances just happened to work out unusually well, if you prefer that explanation. (Tee hee.)
TWPT: Iíve always wondered about whether a writer would continue to write even if they knew that their projects would only reach a few close friends and never a wide audience?
DB: Some writers would. I probably wouldn't. To me, writing is meant to be shared. If not, you might as well just stand around and talk to yourself--it'll save on paper. But that's just me.
TWPT: Tell me about Circle, Coven & Grove and what it was that motivated you to write it?
DB: When I started Blue Moon Circle over 4 years ago, I wanted a book that gave me a bit of help with the first year of being a HPS and running a new group. I looked around, but at the time, such a book didn't exist, or at least if it did, I didn't find it. I wanted something that gave me a few pointers, and a year of moon and Sabbat rituals, in case I couldn't come up with one on any given occasion. After our first year of practice, I wrote CC&G so that other folks in similar situations would have that helping hand. (I also figured that not every group had someone who had the time and/or inclination to write the group rituals, so it would work for that kind of need as well.)
TWPT: What makes Circle, Coven & Grove unique in the approach that you took towards your subject that hasnít been covered in other books on the market?
DB: Well, I guess one of the things that people like about it is the way I speak to the reader. I wanted it to feel comfortable and welcoming, like having a cup of tea with your friendly neighborhood High Priestess. And it is set up to be an inclusive full year's worth of practice, with New Moon, Full Moon and Sabbat rituals for every month. Most books either have lunar practice, or Sabbats, and many of them are aimed more at solitaries than at groups. I haven't found many books that are specifically for group work, and none with this exact format. There are even suggestions for study group questions.
TWPT: Has the process of writing Circle, Coven & Grove and seeing it published been a satisfying one over all? Was it harder or easier than you thought it would be to take your manuscript from concept to finished product?
DB: It has been incredibly satisfying. So much so, in fact, that what I'd intended to be a one-time endeavor has turned into an ongoing career. I just finished my third book for Llewellyn, the second one is coming out later this year, and I am working on a novel as well. What can I say; I guess the gods had plans I didn't know about:) In some ways it was easier than I'd expected--as I said, the entire process went freakishly smoothly with this particular book. On the other hand, I have since found publishing to be an unexpectedly challenging and difficult field, although well worth the effort. And I have been truly fortunate in dealing with Elysia Gallo, my editor at Llewellyn. She has made the entire journey much easier than it might have been otherwise, and has generally been a joy to work with.
TWPT: What kind of reception did it get from the readers out there? Does the feedback from readers about what you have written give you any different perspectives on the subject that you wrote about that you didnít think about before?
DB: By and large, my reception from readers has been wonderful. (BIG, BIG kisses to you all!) People have been very kind and generous in their praise. The only real surprise has been the feedback I've gotten from many solitaries, telling me how much they loved the book and how useful it has been to them. Since I had intended the book primarily for groups, this has been an unexpected bonus. Of course, most of the NM and FM rituals are perfectly suited for solitaries, and all the Sabbats can be used with some small changes, but I just hadn't thought about that when I first wrote the book. If I ever write another one like this, I'll probably call it "Circle, Coven, Grove & Solitary: Another Year of Magickal Practice" and make sure that I make it easy to use for solitaries as well.
TWPT: Tell me about your involvement with The Artisanís Guild and how that came about?
DB: Ah, my other baby. I am, besides being a writer, a jewelry maker as well. I make gemstone necklaces, earrings and such, and have been doing so for about 20 years. About 10 years ago, the local Art Council shop closed, and there was no good place in town for artists and craftspeople to show their work. So my friend Ellie, a potter, and I got together and started The Artisans' Guild. It is a cooperative shop featuring the work of almost 50 local and regional artists and craftspeople, and we'll be celebrating our 9th anniversary in October. I've been working as Executive Director and manager since the store opened, and I think I have one of the best jobs in the world. Artists rock!
TWPT: Youíve got a new book coming up in September. Care to give our readers a glimpse of what your new book is about and who it is that will benefit from the subject that covered with this one?
DB: Everyday Witch A to Z: An Amusing, Inspiring & Informative Guide to the Wonderful World of Witchcraft is exactly what its (insanely long--I swear, it seemed like a good idea at the time) subtitle says. The book is an overview of the Witchy world, presented in alphabetical order. There are a number of topics for each letter--for instance, "A" covers Attitude, Altars, Athame, Athena & Aphrodite & Artemis, with sidebars that include simple spells, Witchcraft essentials, and helpful hints. It was co-written by my black cat, Magic, who added some herbal helpers and feline suggestions as well. It is a fun book, full of information, but it has its serious elements as well. It is my hope that there is something in it for everyone.
TWPT: You also were a finalist in the Pagan Fiction Awards Contest and your short story Dead and (Mostly) Gone is going to be included in the anthology that is going to be published. How do you feel about being included in this anthology and will we at some point see a full length fiction novel further down the road?
DB: The entire contest was a great experience, and I was beyond thrilled when I won third prize. This will be my first fiction publication (what a way to start!), and I am really excited about it. As much as I love writing nonfiction, fiction writing has always been my first love.
TWPT: How have your experiences with Blue Moon Circle shaped you as a writer and do you see that as an ongoing process that will influence future projects as well?
DB: Interestingly, I'm not sure that any of this would have come about if it had not been for Blue Moon Circle. They have been my inspiration, my cheering section and the occasional boot to the butt when I am feeling discouraged. Much of what I write (nonfiction) is based on our work together--enough so that it has become a running joke: whenever we do something particularly interesting, somebody always asks, "Hey, are you going to put that in your next book?" And two of the women in the group are also writers, so we formed a writing group, too, primarily to work on fiction.
TWPT: Any final thoughts youíd like to share with the readers of TWPT about your writings, your hopes in regards to what your books can accomplish in the community or anything else that was not touched on during this interview?
DB: I am truly grateful to all those who have bought and read my books (and all of you who will undoubtedly be doing so as soon as you finish reading this interview!). A writer is nothing without those who read their work. And I send my love and blessings out to the entire Pagan community--as wonderful and welcoming a group of people as anyone could hope to meet. Whenever I go to events, it is as if I am meeting family members I never knew I had. I hope that I can continue to provide helpful and useful information, and touch the lives of those who read my books. My third book, especially (tentatively titled The Goddess is in the Details: Living Life the Witches' Way) is based on my current passion, helping Pagans to integrate their spiritual beliefs with their everyday lives. I also have an ongoing column in the Witch School's online magazine, The Daily Spell, that touches on that as well. Blessed be.
TWPT: Well it looks like you are off to a good start with your writing and we here at TWPT wish you all the success with your ongoing career as a writer of both fiction and non fiction. Thanks for taking the time out of your writing schedule to answer these question.