Please welcome Emily Croy Barker to The Qwillery as part of the 2013 Debut Author Challenge
Interviews. The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic
was published on August 1st by Pamela Dorman Books.
The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real MagicThe Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Emily: I wrote short stories and poems in high school and college, then switched to journalism in college and in my working life. I’ve always enjoyed putting words together and telling stories. Also, when I was a child, both of my parents wrote art reviews for various newspapers, so I did grow up with the sense that good writing was important and was worth taking pains over. I spent about a year when I was in my 20s working on a novel, a murder mystery set in North Carolina, but eventually got bogged down and abandoned the effort. That was a wise decision, given the quality of what I’d produced. As a journalist, I really enjoyed writing features for business magazines like The American Lawyer (my current employer) or Inc., and I thought that would be my chief outlet for writing—but then I met a couple of characters in a daydream who totally captured my imagination. And there I was, writing fiction again.
TQ: What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
Emily: I have several, but probably the weirdest one is that while I was writing The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic, I tried to avoid reading any novels so that I could focus all my attention (and spare time) on writing. I made an exception for novels in French (The Count of Monte Cristo, A Very Long Engagement), which I read very, very slowly, looking up every other word or so. Having to focus so intensely on individual sentences and to translate them into English in my head was really helpful for me as a writer.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Emily: By “pantser,” you mean “seat of the pantser”? I’m a plotter. I never made an outline for The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic, but I had the general shape of the story in my head from the beginning. Of course, the details evolved slightly over the three and a half years I spent writing the first draft.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Emily: Finding the time. I love being about to switch back and forth from my day job as an editor at American Lawyer to my other life as novelist, but it usually means that I can only write on weekends and vacations. Which actually lets you accomplish a lot, as long as you give up housework, movies, etc.
TQ: Describe A Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic in 140 characters or less.
Emily: An unhappy grad student enjoys a Cinderella makeover, but is trapped by enchantment. To survive in a harsh alternate reality, she must learn magic herself.
TQ: What inspired you to write A Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic?
Emily: The characters Nora and Aruendiel came to me in a daydream and wouldn’t let me alone. Nora intrigued me because she’s a present-day woman who gets seduced by the chance to become an idealized, impossibly glamorous version of herself. In this era, when the pressures on women to look beautiful, thin, and chic are greater than ever, who wouldn’t fall into a trap like that? Aruendiel got my attention because in my mind’s eye I saw him trying to help Nora, to warn her about being enchanted, and I wondered why he’d bother. I could tell that, one, he was a magician, and two, he had a lot of secrets, so I wanted to start unraveling them.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for A Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic?
Emily: I didn’t do much formal research, but I spent a fair amount of time thinking about what kind of world Aruendiel lives in. Physical details: climate, geology, flora and fauna. Cultural and political details: What sort of society would you get if you had magic instead of technology? I read up a bit on the post-Ice Age era in our world (After the Ice Age, E.C. Pielou; After the Ice, Steven Mithen), since in the alternate world it has only been a couple of thousand years since the ice sheets melted. To help me get the slightly archaic flavor of Aruendiel’s speech right, I dipped periodically into an abridged version of Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language. I would also visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, looking at medieval swords and helmets or Bronze Age Chinese vessels or Middle Eastern ceramics, trying to imagine what artifacts from Aruendiel’s world might look like.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Emily: Nora was the easiest to write because I could tap right into her modern-day mindset. Her reactions, as she experiences this strange, regressive, magical world, are very similar to what I and perhaps many readers would be feeling in the same situation: incredulity, alienation, fear, amusement, wonder.
I always had a good, strong sense of what Aruendiel was thinking and doing, but he was difficult to write at times because he keeps so much hidden, including a lot of his emotions. How much to tell, how much to give away? For someone who can be very impulsive and impatient, he’s also very controlled.
TQ: Without giving anything away, what is/are your favorite scene(s) in A Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic?
Emily: That’s a hard one. There are so many scenes that I LOVED writing and that still move me—even after rereading the book 15 times during editing and revising process. But I think my favorite is the scene on New Year’s Day when Aruendiel lets the mask slip a little and Nora sees deeper into his heart than she has before. That’s a pivotal scene: How she reacts at that instant sets the arc of the rest of the novel.
TQ: What's next?
Emily: Some readers have asked me if there will be a sequel. Yes, and I’ve written about half of it. Nora has more to learn about magic, what it can and can’t do. She has some things she’d like to say to Aruendiel, who for his part hasn’t yet told her the secrets of how he learned real magic. Ilissa and Raclin are still out there, and so is the Kavareen. I think there are a lot of adventures ahead for Nora and Aruendiel, which suits me—I’m thrilled to spend more time with these characters.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Pamela Dorman Books, August 1, 2013
Hardcover and eBook, 576 pages
An imaginative story of a woman caught in an alternate world—where she will need to learn the skills of magic to surviveAbout EmilyFrom the Author's Website
Nora Fischer’s dissertation is stalled and her boyfriend is about to marry another woman. During a miserable weekend at a friend’s wedding, Nora wanders off and walks through a portal into a different world where she’s transformed from a drab grad student into a stunning beauty. Before long, she has a set of glamorous new friends and her romance with gorgeous, masterful Raclin is heating up. It’s almost too good to be true.
Then the elegant veneer shatters. Nora’s new fantasy world turns darker, a fairy tale gone incredibly wrong. Making it here will take skills Nora never learned in graduate school. Her only real ally—and a reluctant one at that—is the magician Aruendiel, a grim, reclusive figure with a biting tongue and a shrouded past. And it will take her becoming Aruendiel’s student—and learning magic herself—to survive. When a passage home finally opens, Nora must weigh her “real life” against the dangerous power of love and magic.
For lovers of Lev Grossman's The Magicians series (The Magicians and The Magician King) and Deborah Harkness's All Souls Trilogy (A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night).
A graduate of Harvard University, Emily Croy Barker has been a magazine journalist for more than 20 years. She is currently executive editor at The American Lawyer
magazine. This is her first novel.Website