I discovered Eden Royce’s Root Magic (HarperCollins Publishers) through a cover reveal on a favorite blog, the Nerdy Book Club. The cover was evocative, as was the book’s description, which described a set of twins helping their family with rootwork. I had to read this book and, from the first words, I not only felt the oppressive humidity of the South Carolina town where the twins, Jezebel and Jay, live, but the suffocating effects of racism on their daily lives. This compelling debut novel tackles a lot of big topics but at its heart is a family story. I can easily imagine it as a classroom read-aloud!
I’ve been writing short stories for what seems like forever; in actuality, it’s probably about ten years. One November, I wrote a collection of short stories set in my home state of South Carolina. In researching where to publish it I ran into challenges. At the time, publishers weren’t interested in single-author short story collections by debut writers. I realized: This needs to be a novel.
As this realization dawned, another one became apparent: I didn’t know how to go about changing a bunch of short stories into a novel. But I had to find a way. The story of twins Jezebel and Jay was so important to me. They were the kids I wanted to read about when I was growing up. Black Southern kids doing rootwork, having adventures, and being surrounded by the love of family. While I enjoyed reading about places I’d never been to as a kid, I wanted to see someone that looked like me who was from the place I grew up in a book.
I wanted to feel the heat of the air, hear the marsh mud squooshing between my toes. I took multi-award winning author Toni Morrison’s words to heart: “If there’s a book you want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Armed with those powerful words, I began weaving those short stories into a novel.
Rootwork is an African-American traditional medicine that evolved due to people’s need to survive. It’s a combination of knowledge brought from the African continent by enslaved people combined with the knowledge of plants and healing medicine of local Native tribes. Later, even some Europeans remedies made their way in.
I read and watch movies in my (ever dwindling) spare time and it has always been difficult to see rootwork and other conjure magics portrayed on screen and in books as evil. Especially by people who don’t know the reasoning behind why these practices have such negative connotations.
It goes back hundreds of years to when people – some of them my ancestors – were enslaved and brought from various countries on the African continent through the Transatlantic Slave Trade to what is now the United States. Enslavers wouldn’t allow these people to practice their religions, spiritual rituals, or traditional medicines under penalty of severe abuse, even death. So these disenfranchised people had to hide their prayers, ceremonies, their use of herbs and roots and practice in secret as best they could in order to survive. And when you hide to do something, even something innocent, your actions are seen as wrong by those on the outside looking in.
I wanted to do my part to show these traditional medicines and practices aren’t the evil many take them to be. So I wrote Root Magic (HarperCollins Publishers) to show rootwork in the manner it was always intended: a way to protect and heal the rootworker and those they loved.
My favorite part of writing this book talking with my mother about her experiences doing social work and visiting family on South Carolina’s Sea Islands. It was a joy to hear her stories. When I gave her a copy to read, she loved seeing the things we discussed appear in the book. I knew I’d accomplished what I set out to do when I saw and heard my mother’s delight with the final version of Root Magic – that moment will stay with me forever.
Eden Royce is the author of multiple short stories for adults in print and online publications. She’s a recipient of the Speculative Literature Foundation’s Diverse Worlds grant and is a contributor to the Bram Stoker Award finalist anthology Sycorax’s Daughters. Her debut novel Root Magic released in January 2021 and is the first work she’s written for a middle-grade audience. She now lives in England with her husband and cat. Find out more about her online at: https://linktr.ee/edenroyce