Caroline Stevermer Answers College of Magics Questions

The Second of the Series! Caroline Stevermer was kind enough to answer some questions about College of Magics. I’m excited to learn that the sequel, A Scholar of Magics is about the likeable Jane, and that there is a third book in the works RIGHT NOW.

Thanks, Caroline!

Tamago: When we first meet Faris, she is rough and untrained. It isn’t until we see Faris in the Glass Slipper rescuing Gunhild that we come to realize Faris is a strong character. In many YA books, girls like Faris transform to become more conventional. In College of Magics, Faris transforms to become more the strong character we are introduced to here.

Caroline: Long answers are good, right? Then I’ll mention that I got the idea for the book in the first semester of my sophomore year of college. I thought of the final plot element nine years later. Unfortunately, I was so excited, I told the story to a close friend before I’d written it down. I am, it turns out, one of those people who shouldn’t talk about what they write until they’ve actually written it down. The whole story turned to ashes. It took me another five years to pull myself together and actually finish the rough draft so revising could begin. It went through many, many drafts.

All this was a very long time ago indeed, so forgive me if my answers aren’t as specific or accurate as they would have been right after the book was originally published. I wrote A College of Magics because I wanted to read a ripping yarn in which the protagonist was a woman. The books that inspired me (for example, The Prisoner of Zenda and its sequel, Rupert of Hentzau) invariably relegated girls to subsidiary roles where they had nothing to do but look pretty and act nobly. I wanted Faris to be imperfect and independent. Perfectly reasonable people dislike her intensely, and I don’t blame them.

Tamago: What do you hope readers will take away from your portrayal of Faris?

Caroline: The key word for Faris was always truculent. I hope that the disadvantages of having a short temper are made clear in the course of the book.

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The Grim Reaper

Ferrett publishes in Asimov’s. Asimov’s? That’s kind of impressive. I think congratulations are in order.


And now, some sobriety.

It’s been a strange morning here at Kirkwood. A student from Africa stopped in to drop her classes because her mother is dying in the Congo, and she must go away for a month. Her mother is 68.

Another student just called to tell me she wouldn’t be in class tomorrow night because her mother has succumbed to a virulent cancer, and the family is now on death watch.

This comes on the day that Bryon and I are running to Southern Iowa for a funeral visitation for his aunt Hilda, the fourth aunt or uncle Bryon has lost in the past year and a half.

Makes that other post I was going to write otherwise this morning seem frivolous, so I think I”ll talk about this.

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A College of Magics

Caroline Stevermer wrote A College of Magics in 1994, so I’m a little behind the curve on reading it. My only defense is that in 1994, I started working on my doctorate in Second Language Writing, so I missed a chunk of material coming out from then until around 2001. I enjoyed Stevermer and Wrede’s Enchanted Chocolate Pot books immensely.

However, I’ll confess that I was reluctant to read College because of the inevitable marketing tack toward Harry Potter comparisons. It wasn’t that the Potter books were the best in the cosmos. It was that unlike the people who search for similar books, the marketing ploy convinced me I would be reading another variation on a theme.

I know Caroline is a gifted writer, and I should have trusted my instincts, but I’ll admit to be doing duped by corporate public America trying to make a buck. Damn them. As I’ve gotten to know Caroline better, however, I thought I should read more widely in her works. I’m glad I did.

Don’t let anyone compare A College of Magics to the previously mentioned magical school series. Both stories take place, to some extent, in a boarding school. There is magic in both stories, and that’s it. No more similarities.

What you will find is the story of Faris, a young woman that YA-reading girls aren’t encountering as much in the current universe of Bella. Faris is a heroine that I’d like my (imaginary) daughter to appreciate.

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Runway Gripes

Today…I was stampeded by a herd of dangerous students.

So all I can say is this:

Project Runway Season 8:

Gretchen: Does anyone else hate Gretchen as much as I do? I have never seen such a self-serving, arrogant contestant on the show. She even outdoes Wendy Pepper from Season One.

Team Luxe: Those arrogant bastards. They couldn’t even see how awful their collection was! They were so sure they were going to win. I was so happy when they lost.

I am amazed that their arrogance blinded them to the worth of the lace/military collection, and I am furious that they threw Michael under the bus. Yes, he’s not a great designer. But he did deserve to be treated like a human being, and not a disease.

It was so interesting that the team let Gretchen and Ivy set the tone. Most of the guys were just passive, but passive in this case is plenty criminal.

And they couldn’t see that their collection was absolute crap. Don’t designers need to be able to see that sort of thing?

Tim Gunn: Tim still rocks my world. Tim called it like it was at the end of the episode, asking Team Luxe how it could allow itself to be “threatened, bullied, and manipulated” by Gretchen. He’s no one’s fool. He could see the writing on the wall.

I can’t believe Ivy was shocked by Tim’s statements, like she didn’t realize that was what was going on. The toadie!

I gotta say, while I’m not thrilled with the designers on team military/lace (their Michael is good, and Mondo and Valerie aren’t too bad), I will in no way, shape, or form support ANY of the evil people on Team Luxe. Because I know what jerks they are, I can no longer appreciate their talent. I hate them with the white hot intensity of a thousand suns.

Not that any of them come close to Seth Aaron, Emilio, or Christian, the designers on the show who I think have been the best. Gretchen isn’t fit to stitch their hemlines. What a reprehensible person!

So, yes, I was a little riled up. I was so hoping Gretchen would have been sent home. Just…argh.



I’ve successfully revised almost the first two chapters of the troll story, which is a task I’ll complete tomorrow morning. These 50 some-odd pages are the ones I’ll be shooting off to the interested agent, and I’ll be looking for some readers to let me know if I’ve combined the write amounts of action and introspection. If you might be interested in looking, let me know.

For those of you holding out for the whole draft, hold out a little longer. I’m going to go through this version pretty quickly, so it won’t be too much longer before I’ve given it my best shot.


And…nothing is more boring than just hearing a work status report, so I thought I would talk about a couple of new words that Bryon and I have worked into our vocabulary.

Wiilusion: n. The idea that, because you are good at something on the Wii, you would be good in real life. This is not necessarily the case. Example: Because Catherine lost the hula hoop contest, even though she is a calorie incinerator on Super Hula Hoops (TM), she realized that she was having a wiilusion.

Wiiluded: v The state of having a wiilusion. Example: You think you can sky dive? You’re wiiluded!!!!


My recent willusion, however, is that I would like to try frisbee golf. I am very good at it on Wii Sports Resort. I think it would be a great sport. Walking and throwng frisbees. I could dig that.

Maybe I’m not wiiluded, because I don’t expect to be good at it. But I might like to try it. Do any of you have experience with frisbee golf? Do you like it?

Expanding my physicality, one virtual scenario at a time.


No, really, the next write up will be about Carolyn Stevermer’s excellent book A College of Magics. I’m a little late in coming to it, but it deserves some conversation.


Growing into It

Especially during back to school time, parents plan ahead for what to buy their kids. Children develop and get larger, so it’s not uncommon for people to buy clothes that are a little larger than a child needs, because then the kid can grow into it.

I smell a writing analogy.

There’s a lot of self-help literature out there to help writers. Like many get rich quick books, or life change books, these books are success-oriented, and often suggest that their suggestions will help you circumnavigate a lot of hard work and succeed. With particular methods, you will separate yourself from the herd, and publication will be yours.


Some people do get lucky, and indeed their story is published, regardless of time up front, or even the quality of the piece.

Some people also win the lottery. Some people are also struck by lightening.

For the majority of us, we have to grow to fit the shape of what will become our writing career.

The truth?

There is no substitute for hard work.
There is no substitute for hard work.
There is no substitute for hard work, ESPECIALLY if you are God’s gift to writing.
There is no substitute for hard work, REGARDLESS of who you know.

And here’s why.

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Still, it’s another complete draft…

Well. *dust hands* Draft 3 of the troll story was finished yesterday evening.

The next draft/polish should take less time. There are three objectives:

1. The romantic YA overlay (but not too sappy. I’d never make it as a romance writer.)
2. Change and focus the role of one of the characters a bit.
3. Sharpen everything.

Since the fall semester has started, given the new job, this should be made easier. I have scheduled writing times during the day, and I tend to have more energy when I write during the day.

I can actually see this project ending. Readers should be asked opinions soon.

How are your projects coming along?


Seams of Reality

Leaving Florida this time made me wonder why I didn’t just go to Disney again. The answer, of course, was that I wanted to capstone my Harry Potter fan experience. I wanted to see the new Hogwarts, and share that love with my geeky Harry Potter friends in a small way, the four of us running around, playing like little kids.

My imagination is, apparently, better than Universal’s. And you know, I think if Disney had had this property, a few things would have been done differently.

Note the following list.

What I wanted: My own unique wand
What I got: A terrible death head’s wand that was obviously cheesy and plastic. (Later to be replaced by one that I liked better).
What Disney would have done: Made several build a wand stations at the park and its subsequent toy stores in Disney Marketplace

What I wanted: A wand that worked
What I got: A resin toy.
What Disney would have done: Set up a sort of Geocache game around the park, a la the kind of game at the Mall of America, or the Kim Possible scavenger hunt at EPCOT.

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Bryon and I first visited Disney in 1996. It was, coincidentally, the year I also went to Japan on a scholarship tour, so it was a good travel year all around. We decided we were going about six months in advance, and in order to count down, I drew little Mickey heads on each day of my calendar.

The Wonderful World of Disney had been a staple of both of our childhoods. Most likely hokey by today’s standards, and to some extent a prolonged infomercial, Disney showed us theme parks and creative, magic vision.

Now, I know. I know that many people dislike Disney. They see Disney as sort of a sell-out, or not so visionary, or corporately evil. It’s not my intent to step up and defend Disney. Disney does questionable things regarding copyright. While they have had low creative ebbs, they’ve also been incredibly innovative at other times. I can see the pluses and minuses to the company.

All that said, no one does theme parks like Disney. I’ve been to a few, and there’s no other experience like it.

When we went in 1996, we did the grand tour. We stayed on property at Caribbean Beach (Disney has moderately priced and value priced resorts, as well as the more expensive and traditional ones).

Because I’m the kind of person who saves what I like best for dinner to eat last, I methodically planned the trip so that the Magic Kingdom was at the end. I also figured that as an adult, I would no longer be as interested in the Magic Kingdom as the child in me was.

We visited Disney Studios first. It was a small park with a few interesting attractions, most obviously the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. The evening we arrived, we were hit with a furious thunderstorm. We stood under an umbrella together and watched fireworks. It was really something.

The other park to visit was Epcot. Epcot was very interesting. As someone who enjoys travel, I knew I’d like the World Pavilions. The other features were a little dated, but they were fine.

Coupled with visits to shops and restaurants, Disney was a fine vacation. Before the Magic Kingdom piece, I have to admit I wasn’t finding what four-year old me was looking for.

We should have gone to the Magic Kingdom first.

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Disney Mystique: Part 1

There was a time…

My life started out in the Navy. My father had escaped small-town Iowa by becoming a career sailor in 1959 when he graduated high school. He traveled around the world and ended up in Dunoon, Scotland, where he met my mother while he was stationed in the Holy Loch.

Life was pretty good up until about the age of four. I remember huge chunks of that life. My earliest memory is me, being whisked onto my mother’s lap while a camera takes a picture of the three of us. I was scooped up from a chair, my older brother was pulled in tight, and the flash bulb went off, embedding the episode in my gray matter forever.

We went from Maryland to Iowa (for a tiny sojourn, as opposed to the later exile), and off to Guam for two years, where we lived on a naval base. I had a Captain Crunch t-shirt, beautiful clothes from Sears (even then, the costumer lived), and a generally happy life in our typhoon proof home.

My father did two tours of duty in Viet Nam. It was the case then that after two tours of duty, a sailor rotated out for a tour, but Viet Nam was special, and Dad was offered a third tour of duty. This time, in a little 4-man boat going up and down rivers.

My dad decided in 1969 that his career with the navy was over. We went to California while he left, and then we returned to Iowa, where we reverted to the traditional dysfunctions of my mother and my father’s family. Upon retrospection, I see this decision as critical to my life thereafter. Things were very different pre- and post-Navy. Of course, my parents would have been my parents, regardless of where they were, but I see the Navy days as halcyon, my mother sane, my father that nice man who smelled of soap who visited sometimes.

But this isn’t about them. It’s about Disney. And I have to give you that background, so you can begin to understand my fascination.

As we left California and returned home to Iowa, I sat in the plane with my mother, Mrs. Beasley in my lap. I loved traveling. I loved the smell of diesel fuel, and the little trays of bad food, all of it. My mother pointed out the window. “Look,” she said. “See those lights down there? That’s Disneyland.”

There was a sea of sparkles and lights out the window as I looked down on diminishing California. I couldn’t imagine anything more beautiful in my four-year old’s experience. This was coupled with the fact that at that time, I couldn’t see (I would begin wearing glasses at five), so the whole thing took on a gauzy, fairy-tale experience.

“Some day we’ll all go there,” said my mother.

And of course, I believed that. Because everything my mother ever had told me had happened.

I wanted to be part of that. It ignited my imagination. It activated my wish circuit. I already knew Mary Poppins lived there. And Cinderella and Malificent. I wanted to be there too.

Continue reading “Disney Mystique: Part 1”