Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic by Emily Crow Barker (Guest Post)

Please welcome Emily Crow Barker, joining us with her debut novel - The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic!

Beginning writers are usually advised to read, read, read as much as you can. Literary classics, usually: Tolstoy, Melville, Bellow, Cheever, Brontë, Faulkner—just to pick some heavyweights at random. I think that’s excellent advice. Right now, though, I want to make the case for not reading. 

Normally, I have a novel going at all times—and when I’m getting to the end of one, I usually make sure that there’s another novel tucked into my bag, ready for me. Call it an addiction if you will. I have long ago accepted that I am powerless over this particular compulsion.

But when I was writing the first draftof The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic—which took more than three years—Idrastically changed my reading habits. I gave up novels almost completely. There were some exceptions: I couldn’t resist The Historianor Perdido Street Stationor the last couple of Harry Potter novels, and I remember rereading Special Topics in Calamity Physics during a long train ride. Overall, though, my normal novel consumption rate, which probably hovers around a book a week, dropped to maybe ten per year.

It was painful, frankly. Why did I do this? A couple of reasons. First, I frankly didn’t want to be intimidated by how much better other, published writers were. Also, I wanted to avoid imitating another writer’svoice or fantasy world. I know very well that there’s nothing truly original under the sun. Every book ever written—except for the very first one, I suppose—is in dialogue with its predecessors, and it wasn’t as though I could forget the novels I’d already read. But I could at least give my creativity a little more room to wander.

Most importantly, however, I wanted to goad myself to write. If I could happily lose myself in someone else’s novel—even during my subway ride or some other time when I couldn’t write—I’d have less incentive to lose myself in writing my novel. Reading and writing are not so far apart when it comes to the role of the imagination.

And yet I still needed something to read on the subway. So I turned to reading novels in French. I don’t speak Frenchthat well, and I read at a glacial pace—it took me six months to get throughThe Count of Monte Cristo (totally worth it, by the way!). But my ineptitude turned out to be a good thing. Reading in French was a great exercise for me as a writer, because I had to go slow and pay very close attention to language, and I was also essentially writing the novel, line by line, as I translated it mentally into English.

I finished the first draft of my novel in May 2009—and the next time I went into a bookstore, it was like going into a bakery after being on a diet for years. Am I advocating that writers give up reading novels for the rest of their lives and learn a foreign language to boot? Not at all. But sometimes, when you really need to concentrate on doing your own work, it’s a good thing to turn down the volume on all the distractions, even the best ones.

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic
By Emily Croy Barker
Pamela Dorman Books/Viking Hardcover ▪ On-sale: August 5, 2013
$27.95 ▪ ISBN: 978-0-670-02366-0
THE THINKING WOMAN’S GUIDE TO REAL MAGIC is the richly imagined story of what one young woman must do to survive in a fairy tale gone wrong. Emily Croy Barker’s debut novel follows a clever, authentic protagonist down the rabbit hole, enchanting readers with a brilliantly cinematic alternate world.
Nora Fischer is a bluestocking-ish grad student with a stalled thesis, unsure future, and a broken heart. At a boring wedding reception, she finds herself in a beautiful garden near a tiny cemetery—and suddenly in a different, bizarre sort of world. Here she takes up with a group of glamorous new friends who throw incredible parties with the likes of Oscar Wilde. If things sometimes seem a little off-kilter, Nora’s having too good a time to notice, especially since her romance with the gorgeous Raclin is heating up.
When her head finally clears, Nora is shocked to find herself in a magical world where men rule with swords or spells and most women are illiterate chattel. Surviving 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 murderous past. And it will take Nora becoming Aruendiel’s student—and learning magic herself—to survive. While waiting for a passage to her own world to open, Nora must weigh the chance to resume what she still considers her “real life” against the dangerous power of love and magic. 
With echoes of everything wonderful from Grimm’s fairytales to Harry Potter to Pride and Prejudice THE THINKING WOMAN’S GUIDE TO MAGIC is sure to appeal to fans of Susanna Clarke, Neil Gaiman and Lev Grossman.

Emily Croy Barker has spent more than twenty years as a journalist, after starting out as an editorial assistant at Viking.  Barker had great fun turning her writing skills to fiction to produce her first novel. A graduate of Harvard University, she is currently the executive editor at The American Lawyer magazine, where she oversees international coverage. She lives in New Jersey.
Visit, or follow @EmilyCroyBarker on Twitter

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