My Favorite Bit: Stephanie Burgis talks about SNOWSPELLED
Stephanie Burgis is joining us today with her book Snowspelled. Here’s the publisher’s description:
In nineteenth-century Angland, magic is reserved for gentlemen while ladies attend to the more practical business of politics. But Cassandra Harwood has never followed the rules…
Four months ago, Cassandra Harwood was the first woman magician in Angland, and she was betrothed to the brilliant, intense love of her life.
Now Cassandra is trapped in a snowbound house party deep in the elven dales, surrounded by bickering gentleman magicians, manipulative lady politicians, her own interfering family members, and, worst of all, her infuriatingly stubborn ex-fiancé, who refuses to understand that she’s given him up for his own good.
But the greatest danger of all lies outside the manor in the falling snow, where a powerful and malevolent elf-lord lurks…and Cassandra lost all of her own magic four months ago.
To save herself, Cassandra will have to discover exactly what inner powers she still possesses – and risk everything to win a new kind of happiness.
What’s Stephanie’s favorite bit?
I’ve always been a driven, ambitious person; I know how to push through challenges with strict discipline. So when I got my first “career” job in my late twenties, just after getting my first literary agent, I was certain that from then on I would be set. I planned to jog every morning and work every day. I’d write novels during my lunch breaks, prove myself at my dayjob, enjoy the fact that I’d finally (after years of grad school) hit a professional income level – and I would achieve and achieve and achieve, forever after.
It felt like a fairy’s curse descending out of nowhere when I got sick in 2005 and never got better again. I was a healthy 28-year-old who loved to hike and jog and travel, but suddenly my head swam whenever I walked for even half a block. When I spent twenty minutes upright in my kitchen, cooking muffins, I had to collapse afterwards as my teeth chattered with exertion. Worse yet, the doctors couldn’t work out what was wrong with me…so week after week, I had to call in sick to work with no explanation and no prospect of any cure.
I kept throwing myself back into motion each time I began to feel slightly better, only to collapse worse than ever before, every time. Because, it turned out when the diagnosis finally arrived, pushing through was no longer a recipe for success for me.
I had M.E./CFS, an illness that leeched away 95% of my physical and mental energy without taking away a single percent of my drive and ambition. By the time it was diagnosed, I had had it for two years, which meant that it was almost certainly a permanent condition.
So I found out at age 30 that I could never go back to that day job – or to any other job that required working outside my home – because I would never be physically independent again.
Suddenly, I had no job and no income. I couldn’t even walk to the local store. I had prided myself all of my life on my independence, my strength, and my essential competence. But suddenly I had none of those things anymore.
The rest of my life felt like a yawning black pit opening before my feet, with everything I had planned and hoped for suddenly gone.
I saved myself, in the end, by writing. I threw myself (while lying on a couch and moving as little as possible) into a frothy MG Regency-era fantasy adventure, Kat, Incorrigible, which was full of highwaymen, loving but bickering sisters, magic and hilarity, and it absolutely saved me emotionally. Then it saved our family financially, too, when it sold as the first book in a high-paying trilogy.
But people kept asking me over the next few years: when would I ever write about a heroine like me? That is, someone dealing with chronic illness, because that kind of experience isn’t represented nearly often enough in fiction – especially not from the perspective of a person who has it, rather than just (as almost always) their long-suffering family members.
And I tried, over the years. I really did. But here’s the problem: my writing is my escape from M.E. I don’t want to stay trapped in my illness even in my fictional worlds. So every attempt fell flat…until 2016, just after the November election.
I was furious and scared by the results of that election. So I started writing a romantic fantasy novella, Snowspelled, just for fun as a comfort project, an escape project, full of sparkling humor, magic, romance and adventure – and it became the most personal project I’ve ever written. In my heroine, Cassandra Harwood, I finally found myself writing about that life-shattering transition I’d experienced in my twenties…but this time, with a twist.
Unlike me, Cassandra doesn’t have M.E.; unlike Cassandra, I’ve never been able to cast magic. Our stories (and personalities) are very different in many ways.
But like me, Cassandra spent her life working towards an ambitious goal – in her case, to change her society’s rules and become the first lady magician in Angland (where ladies, being the more practical sex, are meant to stick to politics while men see to the more emotional and tempestuous magic) – only to find herself derailed in her mid-twenties by a horrible, life-changing incident that takes away her ability to cast magic…and with it, not only her goals and dreams for the future but also her entire definition of herself.
Snowspelled is not about that moment of shattering loss. Set four months afterward, it’s light and frothy and was deliciously fun to write, as Cassandra finally emerges from her grief to find herself snowbound in the most awkward house party of her life, along with an assortment of scheming lady politicians, bickering gentleman magicians, an enchanted snowstorm, interfering family members, and – worst of all – her infuriatingly appealing ex-fiancé, who refuses to understand that she’s given him up for his own good. But when she is confronted in the whirling snow by a menacing elf-lord, she has to find out what inner powers she does still possess after all…
And I can’t even express how cathartic it felt to write from the perspective of a strong, determined heroine who’d experienced that kind of earthquake exploding in her carefully-planned life – and then to show her finding a shining new future after all, replete with unexpected happiness, satisfaction and adventure.
…With, of course, a lot of flirting, banter, and fun along the way!
I lost my first definition of myself in my twenties. But I love the person that I’ve grown into, and I loved writing Cassandra toward happiness, too. I laughed so much as I wrote this novella. I hope you guys will laugh when you read it, too – and I hope it’ll be a comforting escape-read.
It hurts to lose our first adult dreams. But sometimes our new ones are even better.