Today, I have a guest article from debut author Emily Croy Barker, who has written A Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic! Published by Viking Penguin, it’s probably one of the hottest reads of this summer and fall. I’m currently reading it, so a review will come later. However, right now you can check out what Emily has to say about her decision and transition to step over from journalist to fiction author. If you are interested in what the book is about too, you can see the information below the article.
If you know me, or are an avid reader of my blog, you know that I interview many men and women authors who’ve come from journalism backgrounds. As a journalist and aspiring fiction author myself, this topic always interests me as many find it easy, some find it helpful, while others struggle. Now I’m waving my wand and mind-bending you to read the article…hehehe…but first the book cover…
A Journalist Turns to Fiction
By Emily Croy Barker, author of The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic
I’ve been a writer and editor for more than 20 years, and for the majority of that time, the writing I did was all journalism—mostly long features for business magazines like The American Lawyer and Inc. When I started writing The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic almost eight years ago, it was strictly for my own enjoyment. I’d dreamed up a couple of characters that I couldn’t get out of my mind, a woman trapped by enchantment and the magician who becomes her ally and teacher. Once I’d figured out a little bit more about who they were and how their stories were linked, I decided that I’d better start writing this down.
Writing fiction instead of nonfiction felt a little bit as though, after I’d mastered one dance—the foxtrot, say—the music changed and I was suddenly trying to dance swing. Some previously learned lessons helped me with this new dance. I already knew how to keep typing, resisting the temptation to turn off the computer and flee, even when I became convinced that what I was writing was crap and that no one would ever want to read it. And I knew that sometimes, when you really get stuck, it’s fine to go off and take a bike ride or watch a movie and come back the next day to try again. I had written long articles about people doing deals or starting companies or arguing in jury rooms; I had learned to look for “color” and the famous Telling Detail; to listen to how people talked; and to pay attention to what they said and what they didn’t say.
That all turned out to be quite useful in fiction-writing. But the actual process of stitching together sentences to make a fictional narrative was daunting at first. Beginning writers are always told, “Show, don’t tell,” which is very good advice. On the other hand, you can’t show everything. I had to learn where I could condense and where I could leave something out altogether. It took me a while—probably one reason why my first draft ended up being 1,300 pages long—and I know there’s still more to learn.
One change from journalism that I loved was being able to make things up. No more coaxing anecdotes out of reluctant or forgetful sources, no more worrying about holes in the story. And yet this new freedom was also a little scary. Suddenly the entire burden was on me to create a credible world. I could no longer rely on details scrounged from reality. What if I got things wrong?
Thankfully, I was writing fantasy about an alternate world, so most description came straight from my imagination. The main thing I had to be concerned with was consistency. If I were to write a police procedural, say, where I had to think about what kind of car a certain character would drive or which make of gun she would carry or whether it really makes sense for a transgender Russian emigré to be running a vegetarian restaurant in a small city in North Carolina, frankly I would be a nervous wreck.
Good journalism and good fiction are both about telling stories and as such, they are hugely satisfying. I have to say that fiction is a bit more fun. Maybe it’s because, when I was sweating over crafting the perfect lede for a magazine article or explaining some complicated twist in a deal or litigation, I was always keenly aware that I was writing for someone else, the readers of American Lawyer or Inc. Will they like this? Will they get this? With fiction, though, I’m writing for a smaller audience: myself. Because if what I’m writing doesn’t move me or excite me or pull me along—if it doesn’t come alive for me—I’m absolutely sure it won’t do that for anyone else, either.
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.
Learn more about Emily and the book, including excerpts, maps, extras and more at www.emilycroybarker.com.
A Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic, Synopsis~
Nora’s life is not quite going as planned. The man of her dreams is getting married, but not to her; her academic career has stalled; and there’s a mouse in her kitchen… Getting away for the weekend for a friend’s wedding seems like perfect timing, especially when she stumbles across the unfeasibly glamorous Ilissa, who immediately takes Nora under her wing.
Through Ilissa, Nora is introduced to a whole new world – a world of unbelievable decadence and riches where time is meaningless and everyone is beautiful. And Nora herself feels different: more attractive; more talented; more popular….Yet something doesn’t quite ring true: Was she really talking to Oscar Wilde at Ilissa’s party last night? Or transported from New York to Paris in the blink of an eye?
It is only after Ilissa’s son, Raclin, asks Nora to marry him that the truth about her new friends becomes apparent. By then, though, it’s too late, and Nora may never be able to return to the world, and the life, she knew before.
If she is to escape Raclin and Ilissa’s clutches, her only real hope – and an unlikely one at that – is the magician Aruendiel. A grim, reclusive figure with a biting tongue and a shrouded past, he might just teach her what she needs to survive and perhaps even make it home: the art of real magic.
For fans of Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy, Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, or Lev Grossman’s Magicians series, The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker is proof that magic not only exists but—like love—can sweep you off your feet when you least expect it…
Praise for A Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic
“A marvelous plot, clever dialogue, and complex characters… With the intimacy of a classic fairy-tale and the rollicking elements of modern epic fantasy”
—Deborah Harkness, author of the All Souls Trilogy
“Centered on more adult concerns than the Harry Potter books, Barker’s debut is full of allusions to dark fairy tales and literary romances. If Hermione Granger had been an American who never received an invitation to Hogwarts, this might have been her story.” —PEOPLE magazine
Watch for upcoming review of the novel, and Q and A with Emily Croy Barker, including a giveaway!