You can vote for Divorcing a Real Witch: for Pagans and the People that Used to Love Them to win the Diagram Oddest Book Title of the Year on We Love This Book. Official/original announcement on The Bookseller. The prize? Whoever nominated my book gets the claret. Whoever that is is not sharing, the bastard.
As a rule, Pagans don’t write award-winning books. This is in part because no one in the Pagan community has thought to create such an award – and because attempting to award anything non-general would end in unnecessary, over-political havoc. Second, the craft of writing often runs second to the crafts that stem from ritual design. These are separate art forms; people that take the time to master the craft of writing AND hone their spirituality into book worthy expertise are rare and usually expend with such things as healthy social lives. This isn’t a complaint, but an observation. Both art forms take massive amounts of time. It’s hard to turn out quality prose on occultism, Pagan religions, and living faith that isn’t, well, prosaic. Except for the burst in the late 1990s when the New Age – Wicca category outsold everything (now fully eclipsed by YA) books relating to modern Paganism just don’t hit the publishing radar without serious celebrity oomph. On top of that, Wicca at least has entered into mainstream consciousness: Disney seems to always have at least one throw away, genuinely harmless joke about Wiccans in its shows, most people I met in Minnesota respond, “Oh, are you Wiccan?” when I mention my Pagan/witchcraft leanings, and the misogynists of the world have turned far more of their attention to atheist feminists, for the most part leaving those of us with no dog in the atheism fight to go about our usually innocuous woo-woo way.
A Little Inside Knowledge
Within the Pagan community, a new genre subset has popped up: books for building infrastructures in Pagan communities. Often stimulated by crisis not of interest to the mainstream press, this has resulted in books such as Crystal Blanton’s Bringing Race to the Table, Pain and Faith in the Wiccan World, and Bridging the Gap; the belated Judy Harrow’s Spiritual Mentoring, and Shauna Aura Night’s the Leader Within. Yes, Pagans do have the same problems that everyone else has – and often we want, possibly need, Pagan rather than mainstream tools to cope with our problems.
A Little Bit of Stating the Obvious
Outside the Pagan community, I am well aware that no matter how well publicized our Pagan Pride celebrations, how much good we do as our organizations form park and highway cleanup teams, or how reassuring our PR about the safety of neighborhood pets during Halloween, we still have plenty of people in the world that either:
a)think witches are imaginary or at least deluded or
b)think witches are evil.
Add into this mix the New Wave Misogyny to pair with the latest wave of feminism and you get a world that still often places a lot of pressure on women, using witch as the “polite” interchangeable for “bitch.”
The Diagram Prize Nomination…and why I kind of WANT that prize
Now I find my inaugural book nominated for one of the most curious prizes in literature: the Diagram Prize. Why? Because enough people found the title, Divorcing a Real Witch, odd. The prize is not in any way a condemnation of the contents of my book – at least, I can only assume the “award committee” members don’t read the books, just the titles. Hell, that one on pavement sounds so dull I couldn’t bring myself to read the subtitle.
This is the first book I have published. I seriously don’t expect to see much, if any profit from it. What marketing I did do happened in a six week flurry before my partner’s job took us to California. In the years preceding recent chaos, I wrote the book because I needed to write it. I chose the title because it reflects my approach: it only sounds silly or crazy or offensive to those that don’t think, or those who aren’t aware there’s something underneath the tomfoolery to think about. The attention called to this book will get it back out there, and get people thinking. Most likely it will get a few people thinking about how they could do it better and hopefully that might inspire some real infrastructure building in terms of Pagan life crisis care.
So, what’s it about then?
At 26, I straddled both the unstructured, often unsupportive to young adults Pagan world while also bearing the stigma of a young divorcee in the mainstream world. I did not find any decent assistance at that time. Friends ranged from clueless to judgmental, family had a long list of impossible expectations that I failed in the 99th percentile, and a 26 year old with no health insurance paying 50% income to rent doesn’t have room in her life for a psychologist. I needed help and I just didn’t have it.
When I don’t have what I need, I make what I need, even if I end up beyond that need by the time I complete the project. Fortunately I have a brain that lets me do these things for myself. I collected 150+ survey responses on divorce, talked to strangers and friends endlessly about their divorces whether Pagan or not, recorded a few for a documentary interviews I tabled because of a 1,977 mile move, and I read about, meditated on, and looked at alternatives to the western marriage model that seems to run capitalism. I dug back into the origins of marriage, all the way back to when “husband” and “wife” were actually just suffixes used as job descriptors. My divorce didn’t change how I thought about marriage and alternative relationship models; writing this book sure did, though. By the time I brought DARW to a publisher, I had remarried, my father had died, and I was well into that next phase of adulthood where you realize you are what’s left.
If I’d chosen a more mainstream publisher, I might have posed the book as one of the slew of “I divorced under 30!” books that have slowly started to appear, sprayed out in bookstores somewhere between self-help and memoir. After all, Divorcing a Real Witch is…somewhere between self-help and memoir, with a rather large dose of journalism thrown in for good measure.
The title was my idea. While titles usually change at some point after a publisher contracts a book, when I started shopping the book, I got advice from people I trust about the title: keep it. After spending ten years researching this book and longer than that living it, I wanted it to get read by as many people as possible. A catchy title gave it its best chance. Reception to it was mostly positive, with a small contingent of American readers taking offense either because they read it as the misogynistic subtext (their own preset), or because I am not “famous” ((after Pantheacon I have some things to say about that, but I want to get enough sleep to use something other than four letter words to make my points clear.)) and/or credentialed in their preferred traditions. The British/European side apparently plays “oh, you’re not a real witch,” like it’s a game of Duck Duck Goose (or Grey Duck, MN readers.)
When I checked my phone on Friday morning in that roll-out-of-bed-and-check-email that is probably as bad as smoking, I have to admit I cringed at the Guardian headline, telling me my book had made an “Oddest Book Title of the Year” shortlist. Then, after coffee kicked my brain back on, I realized that this nomination means I was right. The title catches attention – and as an unknown, this is the best I could possibly get.
After giving it some thought – and deeply appreciating the comments online of “uh, why is that weird?” from some folks (and then stepping away lest I get caught by a bridge troll) – I’ve had time to consider. I actually kind of want this prize. I am a bit weird, and weird is only a bad thing to the unimaginative. Honestly, who wants to truck with those committed to banality? The cocktail tedium alone could prompt a very interesting public nervous breakdown. I have made a career out of picking up the things those of grey-visioned society deems wrong with me and making them work for me. Since this is an overculture judgment on my work, I am saying “yes, bring it on! I’ll bake cookies!” I do this because winning will get someone of a different Pagan tradition to pick up a copy of the book, insist that it’s all wrong, and write a book and maybe even establish a practice for maybe counseling couples during marital strife or caring for them when they end their marriages. It’s what I hoped would happen when the book came out anyway. All that pique might just build some infrastructure.
As to the folks that nominated my book… it’s my pleasure to entertain you. Now stop bogarting the claret.