HOW TO SUCCEED IN WITCHCRAFT Author on Her Sapphic Supernatural Romance

Magic school books have won a place in the hearts of many young readers and often become lifelong favorites. Current stories like Dhonielle Clayton’s The Marvellers bring to life a broader vision of the classic fantasy setup. Aislinn Brophy adds another dynamite offering to the school magic canon How to be successful in witchcraft. Their YA debut introduces us to a fully imaginary world that mirrors ours, but with one small change: magic exists.

in the How to be successful in witchcraft, we meet Shay, who dreams of earning a prestigious scholarship through her elite school. But to do that, she has to team up with her beautiful school enemy. Also, catch the attention of the cool young teacher who is directing the school musical. But when her teacher starts paying too much attention to her, Shay has to reconsider her vision of success. She has to protect herself.

The cover of How to Success in Witchcraft shows a young black woman in front of a magic school with two other young black women at her side
GP Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

As big fans of wonderfully cozy stories that don’t shy away from hard-hitting subjects, we were delighted to chat with Brophy. We talked about her debut YA, its backstory and the joy of queer romance.

Nerdist: What are the origins of How to be successful in witchcraft.?

Aislinn Brophy: I’ve been going through a period in my life for a long time where I really loved writing about women and I think I wanted to write something that summarizes a lot of the experiences I’ve had in my life. I grew up in South Florida, so I really wanted to write something about where I grew up. Many places in [the book] are actually places where I have spent a lot of time. I think that really inspired me.

I also just wanted to write a book about power and navigating academic spaces as a mixed person. So I think a lot of it came from that. Also from some negative experiences made in academic spaces and also in theater spaces. Like, who has power? Who is able to control what is happening? And if you feel like you actually have the power to do something about it.

The book definitely tackles a lot of pretty heavy stuff – particularly in terms of how authority figures use and exploit their power in the academic space. but They also build this incredibly cozy, beautiful world. Could you talk about reconciling these two aspects?

Brophy: For me, both as a person and as a writer, I’m not one to really dig into the hard stuff for long periods of time. I really like balancing it with joy, laughter and jokes. So humor was always a very big part of the book. I find people who can only write sad books incredibly beautiful. But I’m not one of those people. So I knew I couldn’t write this book to be really sad. It just doesn’t work for me because it makes me really sad!

I always wanted there to be that balance between funny things and difficult things in the book. For me it makes looking at difficult things a little easier when you know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. There will be scenes to make you feel happy and enjoy what you are reading. So the magic in the book was always a kind of foil for the difficult content. When it comes to authority figures abusing their power and nurturing, I think the magic has always been present to make that a little bit more digestible.

So I also wanted the romance to be a pretty meaty part of the book. The relationships Shay has really give her the opportunity — even beyond a romantic relationship — to have the latitude to do something about this really difficult thing that’s happening to her. Also because of this creeping nature [grooming] is so important because she doesn’t necessarily realize what’s happening. So she had to have something else to focus on that not only caught the audience off guard, but caught her as well.

An image by the author shows a young black woman with curly hair smiling at the camera
Aislinn Brophy

Another thing that immediately struck me about the book was how organic and complete the magical system felt. How much work did it take to create this part of Shay’s world?

Brophy: That took a lot of work. I think that was one of the hardest parts of developing the book. I started the book and initially it was a spell book with almost no magic in it! And that didn’t work! That’s what I kept taking notes on throughout the book’s development process. So I finally sat down and said, “I’m going to write a really big manual about what this world is and answer all these questions that my amazing editor asked me.” So I wrote a 10-15 page document, which was a general story about where our world’s history diverged in the nature of the “discovery” of magic in this world.

That was really helpful. I knew I had to make class and race work roughly the same way in America. So I had to pick a point in the story where the story could diverge, so that it would be close enough to the present day where things would be a little different, but not so far back in the past that things just seem vaguely different . Then I had a lot of fun trying to capture historical moments and seeing how magic could have made them slightly different or maybe the same but with some magical nuances. So I had a lot of fun developing that. In our world, Shay would be a regular, so it feels like magic has a lot of rules. It’s about manipulating matter, so I really had to spend a lot of time thinking about how functionally this would work!

Speaking of Shay, she is such a personable and loveable entry into this world of magic. What made her the perfect lead for your story?

Brophy: I didn’t have much trouble getting together with her. It’s very much a love letter to who I was when I was in high school. Both the really strong qualities of this person and my mistakes from that time. I wanted a character who was intensely driven, who really wanted to be successful and had very rigid ideas about what success was. But who is then forced to question those ideas because things don’t work out, which is frustrating for her because she follows all the “rules” for success.

They have a lot of fun introducing Ava and playing with the lovers trope enemies. Is this a trope you love? It’s one of my absolute favourites.

Brophy: I think it’s my favorite topic! I also like academic rivals of lovers. Then I put them aside and they didn’t do exactly what I wanted because I realized I actually don’t like writing to people who are mean to each other. So I just thought it would be really funny to have characters that just have really different perspectives on what’s happening. So the basis of it all is a weird misunderstanding based on that kind of insecurity that you get when you pit two women of color against each other in a very white environment. I really enjoyed that. I also just wanted to write a really cute, engaging queer love book because I enjoy that kind of thing!

How to be successful in witchcraft is available now.

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