Emma Steinkellner | The Okay Witch
The Okay Witch
by Emma Steinkellner
Magic is harder than it looks.
Thirteen-year-old Moth Hush loves all things witchy. But she’s about to discover that witches aren’t just the stuff of movies, books, and spooky stories. When some eighth-grade bullies try to ruin her Halloween, something really strange happens. It turns out that Founder’s Bluff, Massachusetts, has a centuries-old history of witch drama. And, surprise: Moth’s family is at the center of it all! When Moth’s new powers show up, things get totally out-of-control. She meets a talking cat, falls into an enchanted diary, and unlocks a hidden witch world. Secrets surface from generations past as Moth unravels the complicated legacy at the heart of her town, her family, and herself.
September 3rd, 2019
Introduce yourself and your debut novel!
My name is Emma Steinkellner and I wrote and illustrated The Okay Witch, a middle grade graphic novel about Moth Hush, a 13-year-old girl who learns (surprise!) she’s a witch. On her bigger-than-she’s ready-for journey, she encounters a deceased family friend who has come back as a talking cat, a magic diary, and a town history museum that all work to uncover the complicated history of her family and her town. Together with her mom Calendula, her centuries-old witch queen grandma Sarah, and her best friend (who is descended from a witch-hunting family) Charlie, Moth tries to find where she fits into her family's legacy and rewrite a warped history.
What’s the most surprising part about your debut journey so far?
I thought having a finished, real-live book was going to make me feel more locked-in as a fixed type of author/illustrator, but it really gave me so many object lessons and revealed more questions that help me keep changing and growing and getting better.
Give a shout-out to a fellow debut!
Slay by Brittney Morris. It’s incredibly imaginative and well thought-out. I cannot begin to explain how much fun it was to read.
Who is your favorite character?
Mr. Laszlo, the ghost of Moth’s dead neighbor and friend who comes back in the body of a black cat, is very dear to me, because his reactions are the reactions I’d probably have to all these magical goings-on. Laszlo is most comfortable making jokes when the situation is dire. Plus I got to put to use my basic, working knowledge of Yiddish for his dialogue, which was real fun.
What inspired you to write this book?
I’ve had the idea to do something with witches kicking around in my brain for a long time. There’s something really enduring about the archetype of the teen or young witch– the extra-powerful girl caught in a particularly tricky moment of development– that we as a culture, as a pop culture, keep on coming back to. I often think about the movie Scream, which is both a verrry meta study of classic teen horror movies and all the tropes in them, but it’s also just a really good teen horror movie in and of itself. Similarly, I wanted to nod at the legacy of teen witch fiction that’s come before this. But it also reexamine how these tropes would really personally affect a kid.
How do you develop your plot and characters?
I think my process is pretty backwards, so I’m not sure I could in good conscience recommend it to everyone else. I start with a pretty light framework of everything/everyone I know I really want in my story. Not need, want. What are the treats that I can turn into tentpoles. And then I fill in the gaps with what needs to happen to make those events and characters make sense. And then I usually go back and change a lot so I can make all those choices more essential and make the plot more economical. It works for me because I have a very strong impulse to amuse myself and that keeps the whole thing running. And it does work for a graphic novel because panel-based pages do lend themselves to moment-based storytelling.
How do you select character names?
It’s one of my absolute favorite things to do, because I’m always paying attention to names in real life and in fiction. One of my favorite devices that I use when I’m trying to come up with a plausible, historical name is the “Find Out What Your Name Would Be If You Were Born Today” generator on time.com. It is hours of fun. And I usually am aiming for fun when I’m naming characters. Fun and a kind of consistent internal logic, same as when I’m dressing or styling characters. What would they want, who’s had influence on them? Although, admittedly, I think I might have just dreamed the names Moth and Calendula Hush, the two main characters in The Okay Witch. So, logic sometimes takes a holiday.
What book or author has most influenced your own writing?
As a kid, every story Gail Carson Levine wrote really attached to me and sunk in and as a more adult kid, I’ve appreciated Aimee Bender and Octavia Butler for the same reasons I did Levine, but a lot of different reasons, too. I’m very drawn to the complicated nature of storybook-style magic and conventions and how that can change and re-inform real people’s lives.
Share a playlist!
This is a playlist I made that I usually listened to while drawing The Okay Witch. All the songs remind me of either a character, setting, or moment in The Okay Witch. Some in a very roundabout way and some are more obvious. (https://open.spotify.com/playlist/6hpe8KGtzb8hqs3rm93xFF?si=ezPXVC9MQXyF1wqmJHa5qA)
I love graphic novels! I'm so excited for Emma's, out on 9/3/19!
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