Author Spotlight: Philip K. Dick Award Finalist Lisa Mason
This Author Spotlight
The Garden of Abracadabra
This week's author spotlight features a returning guest, Lisa Mason.
Lisa is the author of ten novels, including Summer of Love, a Philip K. Dick Award Finalist and a San Francisco Chronicle Recommended Book, The Gilded Age, a New York Times Notable Book and New York Public Library Recommended Book, a collection of previously published science fiction and fantasy, Strange Ladies: 7 Stories, and two dozen stories and novellas in magazines and anthologies worldwide. Her Omni story, "Tomorrow's Child," sold outright to Universal Studios and is in development.
Lisa also served as a judge for the 2016 Philip K. Dick Award.
Lisa also served as a judge for the 2016 Philip K. Dick Award.
Lisa is herself a Philip K. Dick Award finalist, which you can read about HERE.
She shared her book Summer of Love with us in December 2012. You can read that interview HERE.
She visited again to share her book Strange Ladies in September, 213. You can read that interview HERE.
Today's interview is Lisa's third visit with us, making her the first three-peat. Thanks, Lisa!
Tell us about your new book, The Garden of Abracadabra.
At her mother’s urgent deathbed plea, Abby Teller enrolls at the Berkeley College of Magical Arts and Crafts to learn Real Magic. To support herself through school, she signs on as the superintendent of the Garden of Abracadabra, a mysterious, magical apartment building on campus.
She discovers that all of her tenants are some stripe of supernatural entity—witches, shapeshifters, vampires, and wizards—and that each apartment is a fairyland or hell.
On her first day in Berkeley, she stumbles upon a supernatural multiple murder scene. One of the victims is a man she picked up hitchhiking the day before.
Abby is compelled into a dangerous murder investigation and torn between three men—Daniel Stern, her ex-fiance who wants her back, Jack Kovac, an enigmatic FBI agent who is also a magician, and Prince Lastor, her mysterious and sexy tenant in the penthouse apartment who may be a suspect.
Abby will discover the first secrets of an ancient and ongoing war between humanity and the demonic realms, uncover mysteries of her own troubled past, and learn that the lessons of Real Magic may spell the difference between her own life or death.
A reader on Goodreads wrote, “So refreshing! This is Stephanie Plum in the world of Harry Potter.”
How would you categorize The Garden of Abracadabra?
The book, the first of a trilogy, possibly a series, is squarely within the subgenre of Urban Fantasy. I love this subgenre, which falls within Fantasy and first became recognized about ten years ago.
What is Urban Fantasy? It’s that rich blend of fantasy tropes (magic and magicians, witches, wizards, vampires, shapeshifters, demons) in a contemporary setting, often an urban area (as opposed to the rural, medieval settings of high fantasy), and mystery tropes (detective work, murder and crime, police procedural), spiced up with dicey romance, troublesome relationship issues, and wit and whimsy interspersed with the murder and mayhem.
Books I adored when I first began to read as a child have shaped my love of Urban Fantasy. Supernatural people in a real-world setting and wise articulate animals in all four volumes of P.L. Travers’ Mary Poppins (such beautiful and humorous writing, a true sense of wonder, and wonderful pen-and-ink illustrations). Myths and Enchantment Tales adapted by Margaret Evans Price and illustrated by Evelyn Urbanowich (illustrated Greek and Roman myths). Then there was the Giant Golden Book of Dogs, Cats, and Horses (61 short illustrated stories, a Newberry Award winner). Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Books (my edition has dazzling pastel illustrations). Who could have missed Charlotte’s Web (a rare book dealer in New York is selling the edition I own for $3,000! I wouldn’t part with mine). I took all of these books (lovingly wrapped in plastic) with me to college in Ann Arbor and lugged them all the way to California where they sit on my bookshelf to this day.
Did anything in particular inspire you?
Yes! Like every author on the verge of a special, big new project, I well remember that transcendent moment of first inspiration for The Garden of Abracadabra.
Often inspiration springs from something quotidian, mundane. You’re in the shower. Or shopping for groceries. Or going on a jog
Or, in this instance, searching for a parking place in Berkeley.
Berkeley is a small historic university town across the Bay from San Francisco, and the town is so crowded now, searching for a parking place on the street is something of a quixotic quest.
As Tom and I cruised through unfamiliar neighborhoods looking for that elusive space, we passed by a spectacular 1920s Mediterranean apartment building and were both instantly struck by its beauty. But more than that, the place had a powerful vibe or atmosphere. It was downright spooky!
The idea sprang instantly to my mind: what if you were the superintendent of a building like that and discovered that every tenant was some stripe of supernatural being and every apartment was a portal to a fantasy world? To a fairyland or a hell?
I knew I had my book!
So you had a magical apartment building and a super. What then?
I had a high-concept setting and a heroine, but I didn’t think that was enough. I didn’t want a fantasy knock-off of an old TV situation comedy, “One Day at a Time,” with witches.
I wanted more plot, more tension, more to the heroine.
I don’t like slacker characters. Abby Teller is a vital, lively, witty woman and she needed an excellent reason for signing on for a mundane job like that.
Well, of course! She’s going back to college to learn Real Magic. She needs a job with flexible hours and a lot of independence. And she must learn to master her power to save her life.
Is Abby’s life in danger? And what is Real Magic?
Abby Teller must learn Real Magic to defend herself against the Horde, gangster-sorcerers who murdered her father when she was a child of eight. It turns out that she’ll use techniques of Real Magic to deal with all of the supernatural people and entities at the Garden of Abracadabra.
She applies to and is accepted by the Berkeley College of Magical Arts and Crafts.
In Volume 1, she learns the First and Second Fundamentals of Real Magic. As research I consulted several volumes in my own library, including Real Magic by R.E.I. Bonewits, Natural Magic by David Carroll, Secret Teachings of All Ages by Manly P. Hall, The Secret Doctrine of the Rosicrucians by Magus Incognito, and The Complete Book of Spells, Ceremonies & Magic by Migene Gonzalez-Wippler among many others.
The First Fundamental of Real Magic is “Knowledge is Power” and, as a corollary, “Know Thyself.” The great philosopher and teacher Pythagoras coined that adage 2,500 years ago, but it still rings true today, especially in this age of media up to your eyeballs.
“Know Thyself.” Think for yourself. Investigate and research issues, then exercise your own judgment and will. Only then may you practice Real Magic in the real world.
Makes sense, doesn’t it?
Yet how many people allow themselves to be whipsawed by the media? Not to mention by other people?
Abby Teller applies the First Fundamental of Real Magic to come to grips with her feelings about her mother’s wasting illness and recent death. Her grief and guilt seriously compromise her ability to master her power.
You have a lot of detail about the apartment building. Is that based on the mysterious building you glimpsed in Berkeley?
Yes, partially, and also on The Garden of Allah. This was a Mediterranean apartment complex with bungalows and a pool in Hollywood. Sheilah Graham wrote a memoir of about the place, which was inhabited by many famous actors of the 1940s, like Humphrey Bogart, Errol Flynn, and Greta Garbo, usually before they attained their fame, and also by the New Yorker crowd of writers, like Dorothy Parker, John O’Hara, and Robert Benchley, who came to Hollywood to write screenplays. Sheilah and her lover, F. Scott Fitzgerald, also spent a great deal of time there.
I loved the idea of an apartment building inhabited not by famous actors and writers, but by all sorts of supernatural people and entities!
As you would expect with a crowd of professional exhibitionists living in close quarters, the Hollywood denizens of the Garden of Allah were infamous for their shenanigans. Several scenes from Marx brothers’ movies were based on incidents that took place there: people hiding in closets, people charging through doors into someone’s bedroom. Various scenes in “A Day At the Races” or “Horse Feathers” were inspired by life at the Garden of Allah.
So, too, the Garden of Abracadabra is “the biggest, coolest party place in Berkeley.” I take the reader to several of the parties that supernatural entities throw!
Is the Garden of Allah still around?
No, urban development in Los Angeles moved on after the war years. The Garden of Allah fell into disrepair and was leveled in the 1960s. A strip mall and parking lot were built over the grave of the beautiful Mediterranean apartment complex.
Joni Mitchell’s delightful ditty, Big Yellow Taxi, is about the demise of the Garden of Allah. The song goes, “Don’t it always seem to go; you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. They paved Paradise, put up a parking lot.”
I never knew that, did you? I read about the connection recently in an article in The Hollywood Reporter. I’ve received that trade journal for free ever since I sold my Omni story, “Tomorrow’s Child,” to Universal Studios. I don’t know who comp’ed me! It’s pretty funny. Every year I receive an email from THR begging me to renew my free subscription!
The Garden of Abracadabra was built in Berkeley in 1850 during the California Gold Rush. This beautiful Mediterranean building won’t be demolished any time soon!
Ryan: No, I didn't know that about Joni Mitchell's song. I think I first heard it when Counting Crows covered it, or perhaps it was John Mayer. I thought it was a general commentary about urban/suburban development. Thank you for identifying that it was about an actual place.
You mention that Abby Teller is “torn between three men.” She sounds like she’s rather busy!
Abby is searching for true love. When we first meet her, she’s just broken up with her fiancé of three years. Daniel Stern has no magical power the way Abby does, and Abby’s mother pleaded with her to leave him. Daniel can’t protect her from the Horde and he may even turn against her one day. Their relationship has been floundering, anyway. So Abby returns her engagement ring, but not without misgivings.
Now that she’s free, she immediately attracts the attention of three very different men of magic: the sorcerer-hitchhiker Brand, the enigmatic magician Jack Kovac, and the mysterious, alluring Prince Lastor, a tenant in the penthouse who may be a suspect in the supernatural murders.
Abby is also searching for her own identity. Every person with magical power who she meets when she arrives in Berkeley is shocked when she introduces herself. Why? Because, they tell her, Abby Teller is legendary and Abby Teller is dead.
Of course, Abby isn’t dead, she’s very much alive, living a private life and taking care of her sick mother in Buckeye Heights until the mother’s recent death.
Why does everyone in the World of Magic believe this strange story? And how did they learn of
The answers to these questions drive Abby’s quest to discover her true identity as a woman of power destined to fight evil magic.
Central to Abby’s development as a woman of power is her confrontation with and resolution of mysteries of her past, especially the mystery of her father’s death. And why did her mother contract an incurable wasting illness, requiring Abby’s care for years, beginning when she was a young teen?
Stop me before I give away any plot spoilers! People need to read the book!
Okay! And you say The Garden of Abracadabra is just the first book of a series?
Yes, I’ve been working on Volume 2, The Labyrinth of Illusions, for some years now and have a third in mind. I’m structuring the first three books on a plot arc that should be resolved by Volume 3, The Shadows of Illyria.
Depending on how wide a readership the three books receive, I may then proceed with another set of three books. But we’ll see!
Charlaine Harris ended the Sooki Stackhouse (True Blood) books with twelve books (I think). Same for Kim Harrison and the Rachel Morgan books. Jim Butcher, on the other hand, is still going strong with the Dresden Files after twenty-plus books. Same for Laurell K. Hamilton and her Anita Blake books. Both of those authors have expanded their original premise—a supernatural detective—beyond strict Urban Fantasy, with Butcher incorporating high fantasy tropes into the mix and Hamilton resorting more and more to porn.
Career-wise, I think an author will do well to develop a series, or at least a trilogy, for a concept that fits into a recognized genre like Urban Fantasy, Fantasy, or Science Fiction. The trick, though, is keep the momentum going!
As for me, I’m also developing a new high-concept Science Fiction world and publishing stories. I’ve published two this year in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, “Teardrop” in the May-June 2015 issue, and “Tomorrow Is A Lovely Day” in the November-December issue. Visit me at Lisa Mason’s Website for more details.
Thank you, Lisa! This has been a fascinating peek inside your new novel. Please let us know about future developments with the story.
Be sure to visit Lisa's website to learn more about her recently-published stories. And be sure to buy your copy of THE GARDEN OF ABRACADABRA today!