Message From The Author
My novel, Almost To Die For, starts on my main character Ana’s sixteenth birthday. Normally, this would be a happy day, but Ana has a problem. That night at a big, public Initiation, she’s supposed to be able to prove that she’s an experienced Witch who can practice true magic. Despite spending years studying magic and being born into a long line of True Witches, Ana can’t perform even the simplest spells. She’s known she’s a dud at magic for some time, especially since her sometimes BFF Bea can turn people into newts – literally. Ana has tried to talk to her mom about it, but Mom won’t hear it. Ana is a Parker, and Parker Witches always shine at their Initiation.
Just before they leave for the Initiation, Ana’s long-lost Dad shows up. Turns out, despite what Mom has intimated, he’s hasn’t been dead all these years – or has he? He’s a vampire, after all. Dad has his own set of expectations that he lays on Ana’s feet: he wants her to come with him and rule an underground vampire kingdom, as a princess.
For herself, Ana really just wants to pass midterms and try out for the school play in the spring. But when things go spectacularly badly at the Initiation and a vampire/Witch war begins to brew, Ana can no longer ignore the decision she needs to make: is she a Witch or a vampire? Unfortunately, the choice isn’t easy. There are things she likes about each, and things she finds deeply disturbing. Moreover, how can she abandon a part of herself, her heritage? Is there strength in just being who she is – neither one nor the other? Could she actually choose NOT to decide?
For me, Ana’s plight reminded me of that of children of immigrant parents, who often feel torn between two cultures. I heard some of these stories when I worked as a secretary at the University of Minnesota’s Immigration History Research Center. Though I was only expected to type letters and file correspondence, I talked to the other curators and librarians who worked with me. I was fascinated by the fact that so many of them – some from very different cultures – had missed out on a lot of the common American cultural references to Saturday morning cartoons, because that part of their weekend had been devoted to Hebrew or Ukrainian language classes. They talked about being resentful of having to taking the classes when none of their friends did, but feeling guilty for having felt that way, having later come to appreciate them for what they were – an entry into the culture of their parents.
The vampires in my novels are also immigrants. They come from “beyond the veil” and, like some immigrant cultures in America, struggle with preserving a sense of connection to the homeland that they no longer quite remember. One of the things I learned working at the Immigration History Research Center is that lutefisk is not something that’s eaten regularly by modern Norwegians. Lutefisk, if you’ve never heard of it, is fish that’s been soaked in lye. I’ve never tried it, not being Norwegian, but it’s one of those ethnic foods that you either love or hate. However, the reason it stuck in the minds of Norwegian immigrants is because many of them came over at a time before refrigerators… and that way of preparing fish became sort of imprinted as “our food” even after it was no longer vogue back home. The vampire culture in my novel is meant to reflect some of this. I don’t mention anything specific, except that the vampire hero suggests at one point that the strict hierarchal, feudalism of the vampires is something they believe they used to do before brought to this earth.
In the book, one of Ana’s friends Taylor is Somali. There is a large group of Somali immigrants here in Minneapolis/St. Paul. It’s from her that Ana gets a key to trying to figure out who she is… and the answer boils down to the idea of authentic self. You need to be who you are, even if what it is is a little weird. Ana discovers a very powerful magic when she decides to walk both paths, forging her own way forward.
- Tate Hallaway
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