There’s a lot of great fantasy being written these days.  A trip to a richly imagined alternate world is always a great break from the here & now & reality based reads.  Personally I can’t wait to escape into the world Ms. Barker’s created. Today, courtesy of Meredith at Penguin-Viking, the Book Nook has a Q&A with Emily Croy Barker and paperback giveaway of THE THINKING WOMAN’S GUIDE TO REAL MAGIC.  To enter you must answer the question below.  Be sure to check back Friday. The Book Nook will be featuring recipes, maps, character profiles, a playlist & other treats!

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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.

Q. Which of the characters in The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic did you most enjoy writing?
A. Aruendiel, no question. He says exactly what he thinks, and he doesn’t mind giving offense to anyone. Not something that most of us can get away with in our daily lives. Of course, Ilissa was also a lot of fun, too. Because she’s also honest—Faitoren can’t tell lies—but at the same time, she’s thoroughly deceitful.

Q. Are any parts of this novel autobiographical?
A. You mean, is it about the time I stumbled into an alternate world and started
studying magic? Sadly, no. There were things in my life that I deliberately borrowed for the novel. The way
Aruendiel talks about other magicians—I was thinking of how my father, who was a painter, used to talk with his artist friends about other artists, about who was doing good work and who wasn’t. My dad was the kindest and most gentle person ever, but he was ruthless when it came to criticizing bad art. It’s the idea that you have a calling that you have to follow and you don’t sell out. I gave Nora some of my interests—a penchant for memorizing bits of poetry, a love of cooking—although she’s much better at both things than I am. She’s also braver than me. You could never get me to go up a cliff like the one at Maarikok, even with a levitation spell! And I let her take a path that I considered but never took—going to grad school in English.

Q. You have so many literary references, John Donne, Miguel de Cervantes, William Carlos Williams, Alice in Wonderland and Grimm’s Fairytales, but it’s Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice that Nora ends up with as her only possession in the alternate world. What is the significance of this particular book? Any personal connection to it?
A. Well, Pride and Prejudice is so modern in many ways, although written and set in a premodern time. So it seemed like a good match for A Thinking Woman’s Guide, where a contemporary woman is thrown into a world where women are still second-class citizens, at best. And Pride and Prejudice reflects some of the themes that I was
interested in—an intelligent woman engaging with a man who has both higher status and worse manners than she does—without being too closely parallel to the plot of my story. Finally, I love Pride and Prejudice! And so do many other readers. So I hoped it might resonate with those who read my novel.

Q. How did you develop Ors, the language Nora must learn in order to communicate?
A. I was inspired by how Tolkien, who was a philologist, essentially began imagining Middle-Earth by inventing various Elvish names. He wrote poems about these characters and, eventually, fiction. I thought, wow, what a powerful tool to create a believable fantasy universe, to develop some kind of logical linguistic framework that
underlies your story.

Q. Your writing is loaded with references from history, literature, and fantasy. What sort of reader did you envision for this series?
A. I tried to write the kind of novel I would want to read, so I guess in that sense I wrote it for myself. And as the book took shape and it became clearer that I would actually finish a draft at some point, I decided I would send it first to one of my oldest friends to see if she thought it was any good. She and I grew up watching Star Trek and Monty Python, reading Sherlock Holmes and The Black Stallion and Jane Eyre, and doing the ultimate in geekdom—taking Latin—so I trusted her judgment. She liked it, so that encourged me to keep revising.Beyond that, I was thinking that it might appeal to some of the adults who loved Harry Potter but who wanted more of a adult perspective and a strong female character at the center of the novel.

Q. The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic ends on a cliffhanger. Can you hint at what’s next for Nora and Aruendiel?
A. I’m pretty sure that Nora will find her way back to Aruendiel’s world. The two of them really need to talk and to be straight with each other, don’t you agree? And of course she has a lot more to learn about magic—and how to use it properly.

So how do you like your fantasy?  Mixed with Sci-fi, magical, alternate world, creatures…What makes a good fantasy novel for you? One (1) lucky commenter will win a paperback of THE THINKING WOMAN’S GUIDE TO REAL MAGIC. Sorry, U.S. only & no PO Boxes, please.  Good Luck y’all!!

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