February 22


Magical Places by Nikki Loftin

Sometimes it’s people who stay with you forever. And sometimes it’s places.

When I was a girl, I spent many summers running wild in the Texas hill country. My parents were building a ramshackle house from scratch and junk timber at the top of a hill, and my older sister and I were free to explore and play, as long as we didn’t bother our parents or get into trouble.

We didn’t pester our parents… but trouble? Oh, we found plenty of that, in the form of coiled-up rattlesnakes, cactus spines, poison ivy, and occasionally other kids whose parents also let them run wild, with pellet rifles and bb guns in hand.

We found magic as well, or at least I did. I spent countless hours standing on the crumbling limestone cliffs on the sides of my valley, singing into the constant wind, watching the trees sway and move below while turkey vultures wheeled above. It was the safest place I knew, and the most dangerous.

It was where I went to think my deepest thoughts, and tell the wind my secrets. There was real magic in the way my heart grew still and quiet, alone in my valley. In a childhood full of turmoil, it was an oasis of peace. And then, one day, it was gone. Sold to new owners.

When I decided to write my next novel, Wish Girl, a book about family and friendship and learning to love each other for who we are, not for who we want each other to be, I remembered the valley of my childhood. It was the one place I had felt fully accepted. And so I set two characters I loved, Annie Blythe and Peter Stone, on those same ledges, filled my fictional valley with the sort of magic I’d felt years before, and let the valley itself become a character in my story.

When my first readers gave me feedback on the manuscript, they said they loved the characters… but they longed for the valley. I was overjoyed that possibly, I had succeeded in bringing my own magical place back into the world in some way.

Many of my favorite childhood stories had settings that stayed with me for a lifetime. I ran, explored, swam, flew, climbed in all of their trees, both then and now. Narnia, the Island of the Blue Dolphins, Terabithia – they all became real to me, and changed the way I looked at the world as much as any human character did. I was transported every time I read or re-read those stories.

In Wish Girl, the valley protects the children in many ways, nurtures them, even plays with them.  By writing about it, I hoped to share with kids the thought that there are magical places in the world, places that can protect us, and give us space to be who we are. Places that help us to become braver, and stronger, and truer to our deepest selves… even if those places are fictional, and we can only travel to them in our minds. I wish for the kids who read this book, who need a safe place where they can think their deepest thoughts, to find one in its pages. I hope I wrote it well enough to make it seem real. And who is to say my valley, and all the settings that change us, aren’t every bit as real in some vital way as the house down the street, or the corner store… and ultimately, possibly, far more important?

Safe travels.

wish girlNikki Loftin lives with her Scottish photographer husband just outside Austin, Texas, surrounded by dogs, chickens, goats, and rambunctious boys. She is the author of the multiply starred-reviewed Nightingale’s Nest and The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy, which Publisher’s Weekly called “mesmerizing” and Kirkus called “irresistible.” Her newest novel, Wish Girl, will be published on February 24, 2015.You can find her online at nikkiloftin.com and on Twitter as @nikkiloftin.