Brittany Warman and Sara Cleto

[This issue, we sit down with Brittany Warman and Sara Cleto, founders of The Carterhaugh School of Folklore and the Fantastic, and creators of Spellcraft: Write Like a Witch! Here, they discuss their academic backgrounds and love of folklore and fairy tales; how they developed Spellcraft; and their favorite fairy tale adaptations.]

ev0ke: You recently created Spellcraft: Write Like a Witch. First, congratulations! Second, what led to the development of Spellcraft? What was the impetus behind it?

Brittany Warman and Sara Cleto: Thank you! We’re both academics by training — we have PhDs in Folklore — but we love creative writing too and have always done it as a side project/creative outlet. Accordingly, we love folklore-inspired texts especially! When we first started publishing our work, we realized that — while there were guides for writing fantasy, or science fiction, or other genre work like that — there wasn’t a workshop or specific guide to writing that drew on folklore, which disappointed us. We really wanted something like that to exist! That led to the creation of our 2020 writing workshop, also called Spellcraft, all about folklore and creative writing. One of the things we made for that workshop was a shorter version of the Spellcraft: Write Like a Witch workbook — it proved so popular that we knew we had something special that we had to expand! 

ev0ke: What sort of research went into developing Spellcraft? Stacks of how-to books? Input from other authors and previous students? Your own experiences as writers?

BW and SC: All of the above! We went through stacks of our favorite books on writing, particularly the work of Natalie Goldberg and Susan Wooldridge, and definitely sought out advice from our favorite authors and previous students, but honestly the biggest thing we drew from were our own experiences, both as writers and scholars. For example, we deconstructed several of our favorite folklore-inspired texts to see how they were put together, trying to figure out why certain things were successful and others were not. We also relied heavily on our training as folklorists to consider things like the structure of the fairy tale, the rhythm of language, and the necessary elements for retellings as well!

ev0ke: The Spellcraft Workbook is filled with prompts and exercises. Which one was the most difficult, but ultimately most satisfying, to create?

BW and SC: Definitely the exercise we called “The Chicken-Poem Principle,” which you can actually download as a free PDF sample of the workbook here! It’s all about how to write when you really, really feel like you can’t, and how sometimes the best thing to do is just write total nonsense. It was kind of mortifying to put together, because it involves giving hilariously terrible samples from our process of writing one of our own poems that we had saved because they were so stupid and funny, but, once we got beyond that, it turned out to be one of our favorite exercises in the book!

ev0ke: Who can benefit from Spellcraft? Who is the target audience?

BW and SC: We truly believe that anyone who uses folklore, fairy tales, mythology, etc. in their own writing — be it fiction, poetry, nonfiction, whatever — will find something helpful or interesting in this text. There really just isn’t anything else quite like it out there! That said, it will be especially useful for new writers, writers who are looking to experiment with new forms and ideas, and also writers of all levels who are experiencing writers’ block!

ev0ke: Where can people find Spellcraft?

BW and SC: You can buy Spellcraft by going to this link! The workbook comes with all kinds of bonus materials too, like videos and extra PDFs.

ev0ke: Tough question: fairy tales have been widely adapted. What are some of your favorite retellings, such as novels or movies or cartoons or even plays?

BW and SC: This is definitely a tough question, there are so many we love! The first thing that comes to mind as #goals is Angela Carter’s collection The Bloody Chamber. No one quite beats her when it comes to decadent, Gothic, powerful retellings! We also love the collections by Emma Donoghue and Francesca Lia Block. Our favorite movie adaptations include Ever After, Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast, and, bizarrely, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, which is ridiculous and gory, but oddly satisfying! On the cartoon side, we both still have a soft spot for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (yeah, we were the girls practicing reading while walking after that one came out!) and we love the anime Snow White with the Red Hair too. As far as theatrical pieces go, Matthew Bourne’s ballet Sleeping Beauty: A Gothic Romance and the play The Woodsman are both incredible!

ev0ke: What other projects are you working on?

BW and SC: We just started teaching our new course, Haunted Art, which is the final piece of a trio of courses that included Gothic Fairy Tales and Monstrous Women. We’re super excited about this one because we’re incorporating seminars in addition to lectures, which we’ve never done before! We’re also working on a co-written book of fairy-tale inspired poetry focused on sisterhood and friendship between women that we can’t wait to get out into the world, and there are a few other things in the pipeline too: think witches, vampires, fairy-tale heroines, and more!

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