Writing and Magic

by Philip Brown

I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of ‘magic in the moment,’ how if we are living totally in the present, we can open the door to key experiences.

I was in Hawaii one time with my family. I’d never jet-skied before, but thought it would be a good father-daughter activity (my daughter was a teenager at the time). I had a vision of doing some sort of free-range jet skiing, skimming over the water wherever we wanted to go. But instead, we were confined to a limited section of water and ended up just going in circles around a large raft. It got kind of boring. Jostled and pounded by the swells and wake from other jet skis, I also found jet skiing to be uncomfortable.

We’d jet skied for a while, and I kept wondering when out rental was going to be over. I think that sense of boredom helped me to focus on the moment because I was just looking at the water in front of me, navigating the jet ski, modulating the speed, when something shiny caught my eye. I looked more closely, and it took my breath away—a school of flying fish was swimming just ahead of my jet ski. Silver scales flashed, caught the sunlight, blended with the glittering water, leapt through the air, and splashed back beneath the surface.

I think writing is sometimes like that. The page can be confining, and you feel like you are just going in circles. Then, into the field of vision . . . something silver flashes over the surface of the text for just a moment, disappears, then another and another, until all of a sudden the page becomes alive with sparkling light.

Part of the magic of writing a novel is how reality gets transmuted into fiction—and fantasy. At the center of my novel Light Runner is a teenage girl, Dara Adengard. When a powerful healing armband falls into her hands, she’s thrust into a perilous search for her father, clues about her mother’s recent death—and the truth about herself. Dara soon discovers that the armband—which she learns is called the Jyotisha—has the power to heal wounds, injuries, and illnesses.

Prior to Light Runner, I wrote a couple of astrology books. Astrology—especially as it is practiced in India—has been a strong interest of mine for quite some time. I originally got the idea for the armband from a book called Autobiography of a Yogi, which describes an astrological “bangle” made from interwoven gold, silver, and copper, designed to combat “the adverse effects of subtle cosmic influences.” That’s a far cry from Dara’s Jyotisha, which can heal a gunshot wound, but part of the writing process is taking an idea and molding it into a different shape, seeing what it can become.

One of the most fascinating things to me as a writer is this process of transmutation—how an idea or concept morphs into something quite different. For example, fiction writers often base characters on real people—someone the writer has known or seen. But the final creation of that character—if done well—ends up being a total individual, not just a copy or rip-off. A goal in writing Light Runner was to keep it real, not get lost in abstract phenomena. One reviewer even commented that she could see parts of the story showing up on the news or a Twitter feed.

In India, there is a form of astrology called Vedic astrology, or Jyotish. Jyoti is a Sanskrit word meaning light, and Jyotish is the study of star or planetary light. I liked the word mainly for its overall meaning—light—as it applied to Dara’s armband and simply added an “a” to it. In addition to interpreting the influence of the planets (although with a different system than Western astrology), Vedic astrology uses gems for healing and to ward off maleficent karmic influences. For example, if a Vedic astrologer foresees the future onset of an illness, the astrologer may prescribe the wearing of certain gems to counteract that illness.

I put these two together—an astrological armband and healing gems—to create the fantasy Jyotisha in Light Runner. In earlier drafts, I’d described it as being similar to one of the astrological bangles that can be found online. Those armbands have a high-quality, refined sheen to them. However, several readers in my writing critique group commented that they saw Dara’s armband—which she finds when it’s tossed by a mysterious hand into a swimming pool—as more rough-hewn, not a polished piece of jewelry. That’s how I wrote it in later drafts. The fictional origin story of the Jyotisha, which comes out in Book 2, shows how it was discovered by a Russian peasant in a meteorite debris field and forged into an armband.

Philip Brown, YA contemporary fantasy author, is motivated by the power of words to change lives. He teaches high school and is inspired by his students, many of whom struggle to overcome difficult social and personal issues. He believes the classroom is a place filled with brilliant and amazing stories. Before he began writing fiction, Philip wrote a couple of astrology books. Cosmic Trends was published by Llewellyn Worldwide in 2006 and was a finalist for the Coalition of Visionary Resources Award. His widely read AstroFutureTrends blog was turned into the book, On the Cusp: Astrological Reflections from the Threshold. Philip grew up with three strong sisters and a lineage of strong women. He learned to appreciate their fortitude and determination. In writing Light Runner, he wanted to convey his own heritage of their powerful resilience through the character of Dara.  Philip’s own daughter helps to keep him sharp and sort of trendy. He likes to discover new books and watch British cop shows. With his wife, he enjoys frequent rock music concerts—although he’s up for any kind of live music. Philip received his Master of Arts degree in English from California State University Los Angeles and lives in Southern California.