Practical Magic wasn't my first choice for this square. I originally intended to read Wicked, which I had picked up for 75 cents at one of those Friends of the Library sales. But it was too much another good vs evil diatribe after I'd already read several of those, so after about 50 pages I set it aside.
Then I tried a few Kindle freebies, but they didn't grab me either, for a lot of reasons.
Last week, the writing bug bit me again, really hard as you've maybe seen by my tallies of daily production. The Secrets of White Apple Tree Farm was -- is -- one of those weird phenomena that come to me all at once, beginning, middle, and end. I'll be working on it again today when I finish this review, even though I also need to load my car for Sunday's art show and do a hundred other mundane tasks.
White Apple Tree Farm is a contemporary gothic, set in a fictitious community in northern Indiana similar to where my husband grew up. There are some small details of the setting that are based on places -- but not people -- that actually existed there at one time. My objective is to finish this book as soon as possible. Hold that thought.
Last year, right after I had finished and self-published The Looking-Glass Portrait, I began another book. It did not come to me in a flash, and in fact has undergone some major conceptual changes since the beginning. One of the first changes was to the title.
I love coming up with titles for books. I have, literally, lists of titles with no books to attach to them. Rarely do I change a title once a project is underway; more often it's the title that drives the plot. But with the book I started last year, the original title didn't work. It so much didn't work that when I changed it, I completely forgot the original. I even scrubbed it from the computer files I set up to collect research information. And as the concept for that book evolved, I realized that the new (and now current) title offered some opportunities I hadn't considered.
The new title was -- is -- Forgotten Magic.
As with The Looking-Glass Portrait, that new book involved a house, and therefore I had to go looking on the internet to find just the right picture of a house to keep in my mind while writing. I wanted a Victorian with lots of gingerbread, more romantic than creepy. I wasn't sure, however, if there were any Queen Annes in the location where I wanted to set this story, so when I did my image search, I included the actual setting, which is Whidbey Island, Washington. My search brought up this:
I learned that this house was built for the filming of the 1998 movie Practical Magic, which I had never even heard of, much less seen. Although the story is supposed to be set in Massachusetts, the filming was done in Washington.
One the simple pleasures I had in writing LGP was that I incorporated details of places I actually knew because I had either lived or visited them. When the idea for Forgotten Magic came to me, I knew that the atmosphere of Whidbey Island was perfect for it. I have family who live there and I've visited a few times. Finding the picture of the "perfect" house seemed like a little bit of an omen.
It's not, however, the house that is being used in the book as it's being written, for various reasons, but that's not the subject of this review.
Because I had not seen the movie, I checked to see if my library had the book. They didn't, but they did have the DVD of the movie. I checked it out. And I enjoyed it -- except for the utterly stupid last scene. I also recognized . . . things.
The character of Sally Owens (Sandra Bullock) opens a little shop in the town. The scenes were filmed in the picturesque village of Coupeville, on Whidbey Island. It's instantly recognizable.
I grabbed some screen shots while viewing the film on the laptop.
This is Coupeville. The building out on the water at the upper right is a gift shop that's a favorite subject for artists. I tried to find a souvenir cap there, but everything was made in China, so I didn't buy one.
Later in the film, there's another scene in Coupeville that really caught my attention:
Practical Magic was released in 1998, so filmed probably 1997-98.
In July of 2013, I went up to Washington for a kind of family reunion. My daughter and her husband and son (and dog) drove all the way from New Jersey. With my son and his wife and son, we hit some of the usual touristy spots, including Coupeville. We walked up and down the streets, poked into some of the shops, and even stopped for ice cream cones.
That's what caught my attention: The building in the middle of that screen shot is the ice cream shop we stopped in.
Well, of course. Anyone can see a shot in a movie and say, "I was there!" and maybe yes, and maybe no. A quick Google search indicates the business is still there.
Next to the ice cream shop, on the far left of the screen shot, is another building. The sign on the front reads "The Jan McGregor Studio."
I was quite certain, watching the movie, that I had been in that building. In fact, I was almost certain I had bought something there. I knew what that something was, and I knew where it was, so it was a simple matter of going to my bedroom, opening the bag it was still in, and scanning the hand-written receipt for a bundle of Japanese silk fabric swatches.
The irony of refusing to buy a made in China souvenir cap but then buying the Japanese silk is not lost on me. Or maybe it was an omen??
Because I have a bit of a fetish about fabric.
For various reasons, Forgotten Magic languished. I've worked on it off and on, but other things interfered, and my passion for the novel wasn't strong enough to shove them aside. Maybe the passion that's driving White Apple Tree Farm will fade, too, as the empty time of summer gives way to art shows and holidays and other obligations. But Forgotten Magic is clearly not forgotten; I put together a cover art mock-up to use as my Bingo marker.
After the huge disappointment of The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes, I knew I had to have a comfort read for my last Bingo square. I put in a request at the library for Practical Magic. It arrived Monday.
I knew that there were huge differences between the book and the movie, so I was prepared for that. I had read -- or tried to read -- Alice Hoffman before and so I was also prepared for that.
The book was still a bit of a disappointment, and when I finished it last night I knew exactly why: It's me, not the book.
The movie had a focus the book lacked. The movie also had characters I liked.
I read, and have always read, because of the people. I want to care about them, root for them, empathize with them, encourage them. I want them to be more than I am, to do things I can't do or am afraid to do. I write for the same reasons -- the people.
Most of the characters as Alice Hoffman created them were not very likable. The aunts are either mean or irresponsible. Sally is too perfect and self-righteous. Gillian is often just plain stupid. Antonia is a bitch, then Kylie is a bitch. None of them seem to care when their actions impact other people negatively. (Holy shit, don't we see enough of that on the news these days?)
The book's lack of focus stemmed, I think, from the use of too many viewpoint characters and an omniscient point of view. This problem was exacerbated by shifts from present to past tense. You can call me a funky old traditionalist, and I won't be insulted, but I like a certain consistency in the writing. Maybe it's fine for a more literary style like Hoffman's, but I found it distanced me from the events and especially the emotions.
The screenplay, on the other hand, narrowed that focus to the character of Sally Owens and made the story her story. Instead of all the bad romantic choices made by Gillian and Antonia and Kylie and the drugstore girl and all the boys they ever loved, Sally became the microcosm and the prism. Her hurt became everyone's hurt. Her triumph became everyone's triumph.
I wondered how the book would have fared under the scrutiny of Christopher Vogler, whose work The Writer's Journey is virtually a bible for screenwriters and, by extension, novelists. Then I realized that it would have fared exactly as its conversion to screen played out. The film was better.
But there were other aspects of the film that I felt succeeded where the book didn't. Although the film purports to be set in Massachusetts with its connection to witchcraft, most of the book's action takes place on Long Island, New York, where Sally has escaped to in order to raise her daughters without any influence from the aunts. The milieu is suburban, and instead of being an outcast, Sally is fully accepted into the community. She works at the school and the girls are more or less normal.
The magical elements are far better integrated in the film than in the book. More important, however, was that the emotional elements were better developed. The aunts loved the sisters and cared about them; in the book the aunts were nasty and cruel, and I could only imagine them allowing the young Sally and Gillian to eat Snickers for breakfast out of a sense of neglect, not affection. Sally and Gillian, for all their differences, still loved each other in the film. It wasn't always easy, but the love was still there. So was the love Sally had for her daughters -- and the love they had for the aunts.
Sally's romance in the book takes a back seat to Gillian's, and I found Gillian's romance with the biology teacher to be shallow and contrived. The fact that Gillian's story in the film did not end with a happily ever after relationship seemed more fitting; she emerged from the near-death experience with renewed hope and faith in the magic of love. (The resolution of the murder in the book seemed stupid and contrived, too.) Sally's romance became the main thread in the film and provided motivation for all the other events.
One of the impressions I took away from reading the book was that Hoffman had a little bit of the Daphne DuMaurier stamp -- she didn't much like people.
I watched the movie three times when I checked it out the first time; I checked it out again and watched it twice more. I make no apologies for being a romantic and for demanding a happily ever after ending from a romance. The film version of Practical Magic worked much better as a coherent character story and as a romantic story than the book did.
As I said, however, that cheesy ending to the film was dumb; the final paragraphs of the book were actually better, but they weren't enough to save it from mediocrity.
I think on my next trip into town I'll check the film out of the library again.
But I have writing to do first.