Martinez on A Nameless Witch

I continue my self-examination of my own work with A Nameless Witch. Witch is probably my most “literary” novel. It certainly gets the most mixed reactions, especially with the ending, but why did I write it in the first place?

I don’t always have a great reason for starting a story. Often, it’s just a cool idea or a random character that pops into my head that I’m interested in exploring. From there, a story springs forth. But Witch was written with a very specific theme and as a very specific rebuttal to a trope I’ve always hated: Magic that can be counted by the Power of Love.

Plenty of stories seem to believe this, which always annoys the hell out of me because love isn’t stronger than a sword or a bullet. Love doesn’t counteract gravity or allow us to teleport. Love is an emotional response, and an important one. But it isn’t enough on its own to do much of anything.

The second theme that compelled me to write Witch was the notion that love conquers all, that there is no obstacle it can’t transcend, that if you can just love enough, you can make any relationship work, you can fix anything, you can endure anything. I hate to be the realist in the room, but while it’s a nice philosophy, it’s probably an impossible expectation.

With this in mind, I set out to write a novel exploring love, its strengths, and its limitations. Yes, Witch is a love story. It was always intended to be one right from the start. It’s also the first novel I wrote with a female first person narrative. The Witch of the story isn’t a typical woman, but it was still a concern when I started writing the story. It’s also the first (published) novel I’d written in first person. While I’m of the opinion that first person vs. third person is mostly a convention of storytelling and not much different in terms of actual storytelling results, I know some people disagree.

So with Witch, I set out to write a female narrated love story that dissects the notion that love can overcome anything. Is it my most complex novel? I don’t know. My novels tend not to be that complex, but its themes are perhaps more unconventional than my other novels. The result is a book that has received dozens of interpretations, and I’m okay with that.

Witch also won the Amelia Bloomer Award, an award given to noteworthy feminist fiction enjoyable by young adults by the American Library Association, which remains one of my greatest accomplishments as an artist.

On the surface, A Nameless Witch is another fantasy story about friends and family and the struggles we all bear to find meaning in our lives. It doesn’t start out as a love story, but eventually transforms into one. There’s still plenty of magic and adventure to be found, but even the Witch remarks that the adventure isn’t ultimately the point of it. (Though it’s some fun and cool stuff that I enjoyed writing.)

The cast features one of my favorite characters ever: Penelope the broom, who can move and not much else but manages to be one of the greatest characters I’ve ever created. (If you feel like more Penelope, check out my Robots vs. Slime Monsters short story collection, where she becomes the star of the show.)

A close second is Newt the demon duck, who simultaneously embodies all the childish and self-centered aspects of human nature while somehow being a guy I can’t help like.

The center of the story is the Witch and the White Knight, who struggle against strange emotions and growing closeness that could destroy them both. They simply can’t be together by virtue of who they are, and in a world where we expect star-crossed lovers to somehow make it work, we’re faced with two characters who don’t have any real chance together.

It’s difficult to talk about the novel without giving too much away, but I’ll just say that the ending of the book continues to divide the Action Force. Is it happy? Is it sad? Is it confusing? I’ve never thought so. I’ve always been firmly on the “Happy” ending side of that spectrum. It might not be the happy we’ve come to expect, but does that mean it’s “Sad”?

Maybe I’ll let the Witch herself have the last word:

“Because life is complicated and difficult. Anyone who says otherwise hasn’t truly lived.”

P.S. Don’t ask me what the Witch’s name is. I don’t know either.

Keelah Se’lai

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,


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  1. Posted June 13, 2016 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    I was able to get my late wife to read a few of your books and The Nameless Witch was one of them. We both loved it and agreed that the ending, like you stated is neither happy nor sad. I tend to think of it as “nostalgic,” because it made me think of crushes that I had as a young man with girls that were out of my reach for some reason or other. I get the same feeling when I hear a song on the radio that reminds me of my wife. That is the same feeling that we shared when we finished the book. It’s a good feeling that requires me to go back and reread it. Thanks for self-examining!

  2. Posted June 13, 2016 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

    this is my third favorite book of yours. the ending is spot on perfect.

  3. Charles Harrington
    Posted June 27, 2016 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    This is my favorite book of yours and I loved the choice to pit an illusionist villain against a character who is better than most at seeing things the way they are. I do think the scene in which the Witch encounters the different versions of herself is an especially powerful one.

  4. Shreela Sen
    Posted August 9, 2016 at 12:01 am | Permalink

    In my opinion, Witch has a happy ending. But for a matter of fact, it has a feminist ending! “Wo afsaanaa jise anjaam tak lana na ho mumkin, use ek khoobsoorat mod dekar chhodnaa achchhaa” – that story which cannot be brought to a conclusion , it is best to leave it with a beautiful twist – it’s a sad song from from a 1963 Hindi movie, but I have always though that it is very good life advice!

  5. Philip Amphioxus
    Posted April 12, 2017 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    Re. Audible version: Your work deserves a reader with an understated, wry sense of humor, durn near a straight man/woman, capable of subtly ironic voice. Ann Marie Lee is excellent, I’m sure, for something else.

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