I am so pleased to welcome local author Emily Croy Barker (The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic) to Melissa’s Eclectic Bookshelf. Keep reading for some insight into Emily, her writing and this wonderful book!
1. Please start by telling us a little bit about yourself.
During the day I’m a journalist who covers lawyers—but I spend nights and weekends thinking about magicians. I wrote The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic after an unhappy grad student named Nora and a sharp-tongued magician named Aruendiel took up residence in my imagination and refused to leave. Now I’m working on the sequel. I grew up in North Carolina, where I read a lot, daydreamed about horses (without actually riding them), and took Latin in high school, which was all good preparation for writing about imaginary worlds later on. When I was 21, a fortuneteller told me that the only two careers for me were medicine or teaching, but I’m afraid I’ve ignored her advice because I enjoy writing so much. I live in New Jersey just across the river from New York City in an apartment where I’m always running out of bookshelf space.
2. When did you first discover your interest in magick & witchcraft and how/when did you decide to incorporate it into your writing?
When I was a kid, I devoured any book with a supernatural theme—magic, portals, ghosts, witches. I don’t remember being interested in witchcraft in particular until I read The Active Enzyme Lemon-Freshened Junior High School Witch, which is about a girl who finds a book of spells and starts trying to practice magic. Looking back, I can see that the book was mildly satirical about the girl and her mad enthusiasms, but the whole idea of doing magic yourself—I just ate it up. And then I found a book of spells in the local bookstore! So I read that and even tried some of the simpler spells, the ones that didn’t require a lot of herbs I’d never heard of or that didn’t involve killing some little animal. The results weren’t encouraging. I might have made it rain, once.
I started writing about magic because I still love to read about it. Magic fires my imagination as a writer in a way that cops tracking a serial killer or a sensitive 19-year-old at college never will. Fiction is about making things up, so why not really make things up? The fun part is to make something that’s unreal seem real. Magic can also be a wonderful metaphor for all kinds of things: power, art, love and hate, self-knowledge, and more.
3. Do you believe in magick?
I believe there’s a lot of things we don’t understand about the world, including a lot of invisible connections between people, and that magic can operate in our lives in all kinds of unexpected ways. I’m thinking of things like weird little coincidences—for instance, out of the blue you start wondering what happened to an old friend you haven’t seen for years, and the next day you get an email from that person. Something’s going on there. That said, I think it’s pretty hard to control or channel that kind of phenomena, so I don’t use a spell book these days.
4. What do you hope that readers take away with them after reading your work?
I hope they come to care about the characters and find them as interesting, funny, provocative, and sometimes infuriating as I do. I also hope that they feel as though they really have spent some time in a different world.
5. I find it interesting to know what environment authors find most productive… Do you use a pen and paper or laptop? Quiet room at home or bustling café? Basically, what gets your creative juices flowing?
Laptop. It would sap my confidence as a writer to have to read back over my prose in my terrible handwriting. Although I’ve had some good writing time on trains, generally I like to write in a quiet, uncluttered space. In my home that usually means the dining room. About three-quarters of The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic was written with a cat on my lap. My current cats aren’t lap-sitters, but they stick around to keep an eye on me while I’m working.
6. What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
If readers find my characters unconvincing, that’s a real problem. If they just don’t like the character—well, I feel somewhat bad about that, because I myself don’t enjoy spending time reading about unlikeable people, but on the other hand, you won’t like everyone you meet in life, either.
The best compliments have come from readers who say they stayed up all night to finish the book or that they read it twice because they wanted more.
7a. What book is currently on your nightstand? And who are some of your favorite authors?
Just now I’m re-reading John McPhee’s books on the geology of North America, which are really a history of the continent over so-called deep time. He’s a fantastic writer, and I get intoxicated with his descriptions of lost landscapes: huge mountains rising in New Jersey, warm tropical seas in the Midwest.
My favorite authors—it’s a long list! I’m getting up right now to look at my shelves: Iris Murdoch, Susannah Clarke, Kate Atkinson, Robertson Davies, Philip K. Dick, Tolstoy, Haruki Murakami, Henry James, Hilary Mantel, Robert Graves, Calvin Trillan, Philip Pullman, Neil Gaiman, Larry McMurtry, P.D. James, Mark Twain, Raymond Chandler, Scott Fitzgerald, James Ellroy, Alice Munro.
7b. Now to get more specific: What are some of your favorite Witchy reads?
Practical Magic and Seventh Heaven by Alice Hoffman. The Harry Potter books. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susannah Clarke. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. The Physicke Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe.
8. Do you have any favorite Witchy Movies?
I’m way behind on movie-watching, because of my writing schedule, but I’d list Howl’s Moving Castle, the middle-period Harry Potter movies (haven’t seen the last ones), and The Lord of the Rings. Also, if you don’t mind a detour into television, I was and am a huge Buffy fan.
9. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I always have a book going! My other non-writing escapes include cooking, gardening, bicycling, hiking, and watching the Montreal Canadiens.
10. What do you plan to do for Halloween this year? Do you plan to dress up?
I’ll probably carve a pumpkin and then put on my grandmother’s long, dark cloak—actually a nurse’s cape from the 1920s—and go out to watch the tricker-treaters.
As Spike said once on Buffy, Halloween is Amateur Night—but you never know what you might run into. I plan to bring some garlic, just in case.
11. Do any animals share your life? Please tell us about them.
I have two black-and-white cats who don’t always get along, so sometimes my life feels like a feline soap opera. One is named Zixi after the title character in one of Frank L. Baum’s books—a beautiful witch who causes a lot of trouble but isn’t actually as evil as she seems. It’s an appropriate name for my cat. The other is Marlowe, for Philip Marlowe. He looked a bit like Humphrey Bogart when he was skinnier.
12. If you were a witch, what one power would you really want to have and what power would frighten you?
Good question. I’m afraid I might misuse my powers terribly—putting hexes on people who cut in front of me in line, etc. Well, flying would be cool and perhaps would help me overcome my fear of heights. The one power that would really horrify me would be knowing the future.
This or That?
1. Trick or Treat? Treat.
2. Candy or Caramel Popcorn? Candy.
3. Pumpkin carving or pumpkin painting? Pumpkin carving, always!
4. Ghosts: Real or Not? Of course they’re real. They just don’t want to talk to you. Usually.
5. The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown or Friday the 13th? The Great Pumpkin.
6. Orange or Black? Black, although there’s nothing wrong with orange, either.
7. Cats or Bats? Cats.
8. Twilight or Harry Potter? Harry Potter.
9. Snickers or Sour Patch Kids? Snickers.
10. Halloween or Samhain? Halloween. I love saying it!
Title: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic
Author: Emily Croy Barker
Age Range: Adult
Genre: Fantasy | Paranormal | Witches
Length: 563 pages
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books | Penguin
Publication Date: August 1, 2013
Available Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, E-book, audio
Add the book: Goodreads
Buy the book: Amazon | BN |The Book Depository
An imaginative story of a woman caught in an alternate world—where she will need to learn the skills of magic to survive.
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.
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.