Alice Hoffman Talks About New Book: "The Rules of Magic"

On the prequel to bestseller "Practical Magic."

Posted Oct 10, 2017

Alice Hoffman’s enchanting new novel, The Rules of Magic, is a prequel to the runaway 2013 bestseller Practical Magic and Hoffman at her best. The Owens children—Franny, Jet, and Vincent—grow up believing that their magic powers have rendered them cursed: everyone they love will die.

While their parents establish strict rules to keep them out of the harmful reach of their ancestral powers, the children discover they can’t deny who they are. Franny attracts birds, Jet can read other people's thoughts, and Vincent is obsessed with black magic. They also discover what we all learn: Love is both a blessing and a curse. It has magic powers all its own. Here’s more from Ms. Hoffman:    

Image courtesy of Simon & Schuster
Source: Image courtesy of Simon & Schuster

Jennifer Haupt: Why did you decide to write a prequel to Practical Magic more than a decade later?

Alice Hoffman: I’ve been thinking about writing a prequel for a long time because people keep requesting it. I found I was interested in the history of Franny and Jet, the two elderly aunts in Practical Magic, and how they were formed. It’s always interesting to find out who older people were.

I was interested in the idea that the two young girls in Practical Magic, Sally and Gillian, [who came to live with their aunts] could never know their parents or their aunts for that matter. None of us can ever really know our parents, what they were like in their younger lives and the experiences that shaped them.

JH: You do such a wonderful job of weaving the plot of the story in with the changing times. How much research did you do for this novel?

AH: I loved doing the research. The sixties were such a rich historical time period. In fact, I had so much history in the book that I had to take some of it out.

I did a lot of research about New York City, in particular, Greenwich Village—and I also relied on my memories. I lived in New York in my 20s off and on and spent a lot of time in the Village. A lot of the funky clothing stores, bars, and restaurants are gone now, but some things haven’t changed. Washington Square Park, which is featured in this novel, still has the same feel to it. People go there for the same reasons. It’s like the present is layered onto the past.

JH: Grief is a major theme in the lives of each of the Owens siblings, handled in such beautiful ways. The interweaving of grief and love is transformational for the characters. Tell me more about that.

AH: This is my theme. I’m always writing about grief and love and survival. This story charts the journeys of these three siblings and how each of them deciphers the meaning of life—and love.

The Owens siblings really believe they are cursed by a family curse, generations old: to have love ruin their lives. So many people keep love at arm’s length because they are afraid of being hurt, of having their lives ruined. Each of these characters learns to love, even though it is sometimes painful. Ultimately, the one we love will leave us, or we will leave them—and it does hurt. But we love anyway.

JH: What is the one true thing you learned about love from Franny, Jet, and Vincent Owens?

AH: No matter what, love more and not less. I didn’t realize that’s what the message of this book was until the end.

JH: Will you write another prequel or sequel about the Owens family?

AH: I feel like there’s a lot more to write about this family, going farther and farther back in time. I definitely won’t rule it out!