‘Wicked’ and Ghost Stories Collide in Discussion

“I have a story. It isn’t my story—I’ve never seen a ghost,” read Kelly Link from her short story “Two Houses” at the Brattle Theater on Thursday. Link, an author of short stories and winner of the World Fantasy Award, was joined at the event by Gregory Maguire, the acclaimed author of the “Wicked” series. The two authors represent two different facets of fantasy literature: while Link focuses on real-world horror and mystery, Maguire is famous for his revision of L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” Both, however, were invited by the Harvard Book Store to speak on their respective collections of short stories—Maguire’s “Tales Told in Oz” and Link’s “Stone Animals.”

The talk featured readings from their earlier works, followed by a question-and-answer session and book signing. The discussion employed a similar format as a talk show; the two authors engaged in conversations and questions with each other as the audience looked on. “We tend to let the authors who are speaking decide for themselves the format for the evening, and I think that they had it work really smoothly,” said Bethy A. Atkins, the organizer of the talk. The tone of the event thus rested heavily on the dynamic between the two authors, as well as the differences in their literary styles and approaches to writing.

The audience had the opportunity to hear the personalities that lay behind the authors’ works. As Link read an excerpt from her short story “Two Houses,” her mellow voice worked well with her spooky take on magical realism and science fiction. Maguire especially admired her reading of “Two Houses,” which unfolds like an anecdote from friend to friend: “I was listening to the fluidity and the casualness of the delivery of your sentences,” he commented. “I work very fast and also very rococo, so that was interesting to hear you.”

As the two writers’ commentaries bounced off of each other, the differences in how they each translated their ideas into literature became clear. While Link’s writing, much like her stage presence, was very calm, Maguire’s excerpt was a performance full of energy, which reflected his animated personality. He read from “Out of Oz,” the fourth and final book of The Wicked Years series. “The roots and the fundament of my four-volume book series really rest in the work L. Frank Baum did in his original tales of Oz in bringing depth and balance and range to that original story,” said Maguire. In his new book “Tales Told in Oz,” which is his first foray into short stories, he elaborates upon various subplots mentioned during The Wicked Years series.

Link and Maguire also compared their approaches to writing, especially in their recent short stories publications. “I often think of writing anything really as being one of those terrible dreams in which you’re a circus performer, and you just start running up along the high wire, and once you start you can’t stop, because once you stop moving you’ll topple over and die,” Maguire said. “That’s what writing makes me feel like, and once I get the first sentence I start running and completely forget the nerve in the work that I have to do.”

Maguire’s reason for writing rests on his need for a mental break from daily life. “It was a way to escape my large family, find a voice that was my own, find a world that was my own,” he said. This inspiration is apparent in the fantastical universe of Oz that Maguire recreated. In the spirit of a true inventor, he manipulated Baum’s original world of Oz to create something that is uniquely his own.

Link, however, works in a very different way from Maguire. “I start in a little bit, and then I go back to the beginning, and then I go in a little bit further, and I do this the entire way through,” she said about her writing process. And her fascination with horror stems not from a personal outlet, but from her interest in readers’ reactions to the genre. “I asked a writer [why he read horror], and he said he read for the feeling of dread,” she said. “And it really struck a chord with me.”

Thus the casual tone of Link’s writing mirrors the telling of a ghost story. “Tell it as if you’re telling a story to a friend, not even think of it as writing, but like you’re trying to tell a friend something weird or depressing, and don’t worry about whether or not it has an ending or if it makes sense,” she said. “The trick is to try to keep somebody interested in what you’re saying.” By skewing aspects of reality, Link creates a distorted lens through which readers view her stories.

In this respect, Link and Maguire have different approaches to “worldbuilding,” or the process of developing the environment in which stories unfold. Both authors discussed the effect and repercussion of this literary technique in their own endeavors. While Maguire has built his writing around the world of Oz, Link never returns to the same world in her work. “I think that probably the way that I write short stories is that I rely less on worldbuilding, which I don’t trust myself to do,” she said. “It’s more sort of a way of seeing how can I convey differently something that already exists.”

Meanwhile, Maguire likes the idea of adding different facets to already existing material. “Worldbuilding is a lot like interior decoration,” he said. “It’s placing things in juxtaposition in such a way as to suggest the greatest amount of both value and mystery. And that’s what I aim for.”

Maguire and Link’s works highlight just how much creative space the fantasy genre leaves for experimentation. “[The authors] both are in the sort of fantastical realm that we thought have a nice counterpoint to each other,” Atkins said. “Their topics speak to each other in a way, because they’re both in these fantasy, science-fiction worlds.”

Ultimately, both authors agree that being a writer not only means creating something new, but also finding an identity through writing and disseminating a personal message through it. “You have to know your own voice,” Maguire said. “However foolish your job is, you have to go after it yourself.”

—Staff writer Jihyun Ro can be reached at jihyunro@college.harvard.edu.

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