When Natalie Zaman’s new book, Magical Destinations of the Northeast, was finally released last week, I knew GlitterSquid should talk to her about it. Natalie and I have been friends for a couple of years now, fellow New Jerseyans, and she is such a lovely person, with one of the warmest spirits I’ve been around in quite a long time. I’ve seen her social media postings for a while now of some of the sites she’d visited for the book and the process of getting her latest print baby out into the world. And now it’s here! She also writes the Wandering Witch column for Witches and Pagans magazine. And I want to go full apprentice to her Wandering Witch after emailing back and forth for this post.
I strive to be the kind of person who is “together,” which to me means always calm and organized, rather than the hot mess running out the door to get her kid to school late, usually still in slippers and pajama pants, that I sometimes am. But to me, Natalie is a completely different kind of “together” that I also want to be when I grow up. I wish I was around her more, because she gives off this feeling of warm acceptance and inclusion, and she is the most effortlessly cool person in the room (sometimes with purple hair). More and more I want to be THAT kind of together. So, I figured if I interviewed her about her new book, some of that attitude would rub off. I’m pretty sure that’s how that works, right?
What drew you to this topic for a book? Why are magical destinations appealing to you specifically?
If you ask my friend Chris (He’s an awesome astrologer—he also wrote the Stop By For A Spell segment for New Jersey) he might say it’s because I’m a Sagittarius—writing and travel, together at last! I’ve always loved both—throw a little magic, folklore and history in there and I’m even happier! This book was inspired by a cross-country trip my family and I made a few years ago. We drove to California (from New Jersey) and back again, and I was pretty much floored by how awesome America is. You really get a different perspective seeing it from the road the way we did. “Magical”( when it comes to places anyway) is a very broad term for me—it’s sacred, but at the same time fun, serious, but doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s any place that makes my heart flutter, and I’ve been to lots of places that do that!
How long have you been interested in magic, witchcraft, paganism, etc.? Or, I know you’re active in the Wiccan world (and forgive me if I’m not using the right terms, I’m still learning), how did you get involved? What does witchery mean to you?
I’ve been in love with the occult since I was a child. I think it all started in 5th grade when Sr. Natalie (I went to Catholic school for most of my life and yes, it was the best having a teacher who was a nun who shared my name!) read us E.L. Konigsburg’s, Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth. I love that book. I read it and it brings me back to autumn and Halloween and childhood—and yes, witchery (even though the witches aren’t exactly what you’d expect—don’t want to give any spoilers). Eventually, I found the Tarot, and then more books—non-fiction this time. Growing up I didn’t have access to many resources, so it took lots of time to piece things together and meet people.
To me, witchery is a spiritual path. My friend and Reiki teacher Jennifer Wood recently wrote a post on social media about her beliefs and it inspired me to do the same. This is where I am at this moment. Who knows what the future, or the road, holds? (Note, the quoted sentence in the paragraph below is from Jennifer.):
I have practiced both Catholicism and Wicca. Both are very much a part of me, but I cannot call myself either Catholic or Wiccan. I still believe in Jesus, the Saints, and Mother Mary, and from my little experience thus far, it seems that just about every religion has a version of these archetypes. “I believe any name for God/Goddess is still the One and same Divinely intelligent creative force that is evident in the geometric patterns we observe in how life and the universe grows and expands.” I believe in magic and prayer and have a funny feeling that they’re the same thing. I believe in the palatable energy that can be felt and sometimes seen in all living things. I believe in the immortality of the soul. No one ever dies, really; the essence of what makes each of us unique lives on and on and on. When I called myself the Wandering Witch I didn’t realize that it was more than just a name. It is me. The Road is my Path, and I have found many truths upon it. I’ve also encountered cultural and spiritual practices that have resonated with me—and for these I acknowledge and thank their sources as far back as I can trace them. We are more alike than different. I love and honor my ancestors, and through them I have been given precious gifts and insights. I bless and am blessed by them all: Christian, Wiccan, Pagan, Italian, English, French, Scandinavian, Irish, and, of course, American. I am so grateful for the joyful, painful, loving, scary, evolving, enlightening adventure that is this life. I will always be a Pilgrim.
How long did it take you to research and write the book?
Magical Destinations was sold on proposal—that happened in May 2014 and it went to press at the end of July 2016—and we worked until the very end. So a little over two years—not a lot of time, now that I think about it—wow!
Do you have any anecdotes or fun memories of your travel to these locations while writing this book?
I have great memories of all of the places I’ve visited. Something always happens fun-wise, especially when I’m not alone. A really good time was when I took my British friend Emma to Cape Cod. We visited the Edward Gorey house and met Edward Gorey’s cousin who took us on a little tour of the place. Then we went to First Encounter Beach, where the Pilgrims first met the Wampanog—I was looking for the magic pebbles I wrote about in the book, but it was late in the day, and absolutely freezing, windy and dark—so no stones for me!
Did you travel to all of the destinations researched? Alone, or with family/friends?
I’ve been to most but not all of the sites in the book. There just wasn’t enough time to hit them all and logistics (time and distance) made some impossible, and many were added after each edit round. I roped quite a few people in driving around with me (we’re still friends, yay!), but I did do some alone, especially at the end when I was running around to take photos. I would leave at like 6 in the morning and come home late just driving from site to site taking photos. One day I drove down to Delaware to take a picture(s) of one of Peter Toth’s statues, then to Maryland to do some cemetery shots, then over to Washington DC where I parked around the block from the House of the Temple, took some pictures, hopped back in my car and went home—whatta day!
Are you working on other books for this series, in other parts of the US?
Four books were planned for the series, but just the first is contracted so far. If it does well (shameless author beg: please buy the book!), then the next will be Magical Destinations of the West, followed by Magical Destinations of the South, and rounded out with Magical Destinations of the Midwest—which I’m really excited to research. I bet the Midwest is bursting with secret and fun places!
And now for some random, fun questions….
What’s your favorite hot beverage?
I like coffee AND tea, so… nothing like a nice dirty chai! Hail Caffeina!
What’s the best book you read in the past year?
Haha—I’ve actually read a TON for research. But for sheer fun, I would say it would have to be The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez Reverte. It’s the book on which the film The Ninth Gate is based. The book is SO different from the movie!
What’s your favorite color, and why?
Honestly, I really love them all, and end up wearing or using different shades depending on my mood. At the moment, I’m really loving oxblood. Darker than red, richer than brown or purple, different than black. So fall!
Winter, spring, summer, or fall?
Definitely fall! I love everything about it—the weather, the smells, the falling leaves, cider doughnuts (which reminds me I’m overdue for my trip to Hacklebarney Farm (um… cider hot dogs!). It’s my birthday season, and I heart heart heart Halloween!