Following on the heels of the reissue of 2011’s Redwood And Wildfire, writer Andrea Hairston has issued a new version of that book’s sequel of sorts, 2016’s Will Do Magic For Small Change (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook). In the following email interview, Hairston discusses what originally inspired and influenced this Afrofuturism / fantasy / genre-mashing novel.
Photo Credit: Micala Sidore
To start, What is Will Do Magic For Small Change about, and when and where does it take place?
Cinnamon Jones dreams of stepping on stage and acting her heart out like her famous grandparents, Redwood and Wildfire. But at 5’10” and 180 pounds, she’s theatrically challenged. Her family life is a tangle of mystery and deadly secrets, and nobody is telling Cinnamon the whole truth. Before her older brother died, he gave Cinnamon The Chronicles Of The Great Wanderer, a tale of a Dahomean warrior woman and an alien from another dimension who perform in Paris and at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. The Chronicles may be magic or alien science, but the story is definitely connected to Cinnamon’s family secrets. When an act of homophobic violence wounds her family, Cinnamon and her theatre squad, Klaus and Marie, become determined to solve the mysteries and bring her worlds together. The three of them also start falling in love.
Where did you originally get the idea for Will Do Magic For Small Change?
I had been trying since 2001 to write this novel about a family haunted by ghosts and graced by spirits. I wanted to get at how the past worked on us in the present. First, I had to write Redwood And Wildfire, about Cinnamon’s grandparents. That gave me some specific family history, a context for Cinnamon’s life. I also wanted to include Dahomeyan women performers. So I started a chapter with Cinnamon holding a book written by an alien about arriving on our planet in Dahomey. The alien was a griot / storyteller and offered me access to characters who were elusive in the historical record.
Obviously, some of the particulars in this story were previously decided upon when you wrote Redwood And Wildfire. But is there a reason you set Will Do Magic For Small Change in 1984 as opposed to 1884 or 2084 or some other time?
The movie Brother From Another Planet came out around then. Cinnamon’s grandparents, Redwood and Wildfire, were still alive. The 80’s had a lot to offer.
And why Pittsburgh as opposed to New York or Paris or Algiers?
Why not Pittsburgh? The three rivers, the bridges, the steep roads. The communities and museums, old mills and houses hanging off hills. My novel makes stops in Ouidah, Paris, New York, and Chicago. It takes place all over the world.
In the same vein, is there a significance to Cinnamon being the grandchild of actors as opposed to them being painters or singers or something else that puts people into the spotlight?
I write about science, religion, magic, and art. In addition to being actors, her grandparents are in fact singers and visual artists, farmers and philosophers, poets and keepers of wisdom. Her father is a painter; her mom drives a bus. They all have magic.
It sounds like Will Do Magic For Small Change is a fantasy novel, except there’s aliens and alternate dimensions and other sci-fi stuff. So, how do you describe it, genre-wise?
I write the book. Other people try to define it genre-wise. I am not invested in strict genre mappings. Afrofuturism works for me. I write conjure stories and celebrate indigenous wisdom.
Now, when it originally came out in 2016, Will Do Magic For Small Change was your third novel after Mindscape and Redwood And Wildfire. Are there any writers, or maybe specific stories, that had a particularly big influence on Will Do Magic For Small Change but not on those books?
The same writers kept me company while I wrote Will Do Magic For Small Change as when I wrote Mindscape and Redwood and Wildfire: Pearl Cleage, Alice Childress, Michael Ende, Octavia Butler, Sheree Renée Thomas, Tad Williams, Lynn Nottage, Caryl Churchill, Stephen King. A lot of non-fiction writers as well.
How about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games? Did any of those things have a big influence on Will Do Magic For Small Change?
Influence is a strange word. I feel the stories I tell come from the world I live in, from everything I see and experience, from all the people, animals, rocks, and rivers that I know. My little story is nestled in the on-going world epic. So films and TV shows fill me with possibilities, even if I don’t want to do what they are doing.
Along with novels, you also write plays. Which makes me think you probably read plays as well. How, if at all, do you think writing plays, and reading them, may have influenced Will Do Magic For Small Change?
Theatre is in everything I do. Writing is a rehearsal. The final draft is a performance. Also I like dramatic narratives, the poetry of action and dialogue that sings, that is action and idiom.
Now, we’re doing this interview in honor of Will Do Magic For Small Change being reprinted. In prepping this reissue, did you go back and change anything about, uh, Change?
I changed a few lines here and there, caught a few typos and slips, but nothing significant. The story, the characters held up. I couldn’t write this book now — I’d write a completely different story.
Aside from those changes, does the new version of Will Do Magic For Small Change have anything else that the previous version did not? Like, for instance, a connected short story, or a new preface?
So whose idea was it to reissue Will Do Magic For Small Change?
My agent, Kris O’Higgins and my Editor, Lee Harris worked the magic to get several of my books reprinted. Redwood And Wildfire came out in February.
In the six years since Will Do Magic For Small Change first came out, you published your fourth novel, Master Of Poisons. Do you think Poisons was at all influenced by either you writing Change or the reaction to it?
Every time you write a book you are changed. You become a more experienced writer. You’ve wrangled more words, revised, agonized, and rejoiced. You’ve journeyed to new places. Master Of Poisons benefited from all that.
Earlier I asked if Will Do Magic For Small Change had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But I’d like to turn things around, if you don’t mind, and ask if you think Will Do Magic For Small Change could work as a movie, show, or game?
Will Do Magic For Small Change might work as a TV show. It’s epic, with a large cast of intriguing characters and there are multiple settings and time periods. I think it would work well as long form, episodic TV.
And if someone wanted to make that show, who would you want them to cast as Cinnamon and the other main characters?
I’d want them to cast someone we hadn’t seen before as Cinnamon, someone who might not ordinarily get the lead role. In fact, I’d want to have an open audition and discover who is out there who I may have never seen but could play the roles.
Finally, if someone enjoys Will Do Magic For Small Change, which of your other novels would you suggest they read next and why that one?
Redwood And Wildfire. This book is about Cinnamon’s grandparents and their adventures in the early 20th century as they try to find love, do theatre, and conjure the world they want.