Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Guess Blogger - Kate Grilley - In Praise of Magic


by Kate Grilley

I believe in magic. I believe in shooting stars, magic wands, fireflies that wink in the night, things that glow in the dark, wishing on the first star. I believe that magic is the essence of mysteries that widen our eyes, quicken our breath and make us exclaim in wonder and delight, "oh, wow." Magic is all around us.

Most of all I believe in the magic of the written word.

Words can transport us. When I open an Agatha Christie Miss Marple mystery, I'm immediately taken to St. Mary Mead; reading a Sue Henry book I'm in Alaska, or on the road with Maxie and Stretch; Carolyn Hart lets me wallow in Annie Darling's charming bookstore Death on Demand; Charlaine Harris has taught me about the habits of vampires and added new phrases to my vocabulary like "fang banger."

Creating a fictional universe requires a special magic. I believe in the magic of visualization. If I can't close my eyes and see a place, I can't write about it. I need to be able to walk the streets, smell the air, look at the buildings, listen to the residents talk. In my mind I teleport myself into the lives of my characters, a fly on the wall taking notes on everything they do.

In the Kelly Ryan/St. Chris series, I was on home ground. I've lived in the Caribbean for many years and worked at a radio station when I first moved to the tropics. I changed names and places to protect the innocent and keep the local visitor's bureau from gunning for me when I walked down the street. Another reason for using a fictional Caribbean island setting was that in the real world things change...shops come and go, restaurants open and close or change names. By using a fictional setting, I was able to keep things just the way I wanted them and as long as I was consistent, no one could say I got it wrong. Kelly Ryan is a disc jockey on an island radio station, she's divorced, no kids, has a background in theatre, loves cats and kayaking.

I began writing the Peggy Jean Turner/Cobb's Landing series (as Kate Borden) to prove to myself that I could write something different, that I wasn't a "one trick pony" with only one story to tell. At the beginning of the series, Cobb's Landing is a little town in New England that has seen better days. As I described it in "Death of a Tart"..."Cobb’s Landing was the place where most of the residents had been born, grown up and married, but a town their children would be anxious to leave." But, all that changes when Max, the new owner of the Citizen's Bank, arrives with plans to turn Cobb's Landing into Colonial Village, a themed tourist attraction. Peggy Jean (PJ) Turner is a widowed single mother of an eleven year old son Nicky, the mayor of Cobb's Landing (she succeeded her late husband as mayor, and kept getting reelected because no one else wanted the job) and owner of Tom's Tools and Hardware. Peggy embodies the New England virtues of thrift and hard work. Cobb's Landing is a fictional town in a nameless state, but it was inspired by research I'd done on plans for New England colonial settlements. In college I spent a semester reading Henry David Thoreau's "Walden," so when it came to creating Cobb's Landing I felt in a sense that I was going home although I've never lived in New England.

I like writing about strong women and the friendships that sustain and nurture women. Although Kelly has more choices in her life than Peggy, both women are independent, self-reliant and have great women friends.

I hope that readers get out of my books entertainment and a sense of well-being. The cozy mysteries that I write are like little morality plays. Wrongs are righted, the villain is always caught and at the end of each book, once again, all is right in the world. Cozy - or traditional mysteries - are often described as mysteries of manners. Primarily, I write to entertain my readers. I want them to feel that their investment has been time well, and enjoyably, spent. If a little of the magic that enabled me to write the book has been rubbed off on the reader, that's a definite plus.

Magic has power when you believe in it. If you believe in magic, it will enchant your life.

P.S. While writing this blog, I watched one of my favorite movies, "Practical Magic" -- based on one of my favorite books by Alice Hoffman. The book and the movie are pure magic.


Kate Grilley is the author of the Kelly Ryan/St. Chris Caribbean mysteries "Death Dances to a Reggae Beat," "Death Rides an Ill Wind," and "Death Lurks in the Bush." As Kate Borden, she wrote the Peggy Jean Turner/Cobb's Landing New England mysteries "Death of a Tart," "Death of a Trickster," and "Death of a Turkey." Email:


  1. I wanted to be Dianne Wiess and Stockard Channning in Practical Magic1

  2. What Terri said. LOL. Thank you for the smile this morning. I do believe in magic, I merely needed to be reminded of that fact.

  3. Terri and Mare... one of my favorite scenes in the PM movie was "midnight margaritas" LOL. I forgot to mention in my blog that I keep a ceramic jar filled with pinwheels and magic wands on my desk... because you never know when you're going to need one! Kate

  4. I just found this blog and although I am several years late I must say that I love the Cobb's Landing books! When will there be more to the series???


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