A big part of my writing process (and my teaching process, for that matter) is building stuff. I used to do this all the time when I was a kid, bringing to life characters and objects from both my own imagined worlds and the ones I visited through reading. (I vividly remember building a life-size Jack Pumpkinhead from The Marvellous Land of Oz one Halloween).
It took me several years into my professional writing career to realize that these activities informed each other, and now I embrace it.
My latest book, Spell Sweeper, is coming out with HarperCollins on November 30th, and it’s no exaggeration to say that it was inspired by stuff that I thought it would just be fun for a character to wield: brooms, potions . . . magical supplies, but with a twist.
In truth, I already had most of the important supplies (a cool spell sweeping broom that I bought long ago from Granville Island Broom Co.), potion bottles, goggles—it was just a matter of assembling it and making sure everything was appropriately weathered.
What about you? Anyone else dressing up as a literary character for Halloween?
By the way, the Spell Sweeper kit gets a detailed description in the book (there are many interceding sections in the story, places where Cara goes on a rant and provides some insight into the world of wizards).
So, here’s an excerpt, in Cara’s own words . . .
These are the essential items in a spell sweeper’s kit:
Most people think broom + wizard = flying. But take it from someone who actually attends wizard school—no one straddles a broom and jumps from the top of a Dragonsong tower unless they’ve drunk too much of Madame Kree’s secret-recipe Halloween punch (which apparently happened with Chloe Quill one year).
Good for protecting your eyes from residue splatter or from the venom that an attacking creature might spray in your direction. I only use them when absolutely necessary because even wizards don’t seem to have conjured up a solution for preventing fog-up.
These are woven from the fiber of elf’s breath (a very purple and very pretty plant), which has excellent properties for filtering out toxic fumes. We wear our scarves around our necks and pull them up around our faces when required.
Because when dragons stomp, they apparently don’t mess around.
Made with special residue-repellant material. A pretty good idea, because you definitely don’t want magical gunk under your fingernails.
Next to my broom, this is my most important piece of equipment because it’s where I store my broom snippers and vials of stain removers and neutralizers. It also includes a collapsible containment box—in the event that we encounter small magical entities, we can unfold the box and use it for transporting the entity to a proper wizard for inspection.
(Side note: This doesn’t really make sense to me, because the sweeper code of conduct explicitly states that we should not interact with a magical entity.)
(Side note 2: It’s really hard not to interact with a magical entity when it is trying to eat you, in which case the last thing you’re thinking about is how to fit it into this tiny containment box.)
You’re probably familiar with the bright yellow “caution” tape for securing the scene of an accident. When we do a purge in Bliss territory, it’s procedure to rope off the entire area to ensure no one stumbles upon any magical activity. Our tape reads: Chemical Spill Containment Site: Do Not Cross—because no Bliss would take Danger: Feral Magic at Work seriously.
Useful in both the wizarding and the Bliss worlds.
At one point in the book, this list was much more detailed, but we cut it for sake of brevity. But, if you want to know some of the more specific details, I present them to you here, also in Cara’s voice . . .
Moone Brew (patent pending)
My personal mixture combining qilin powder and caladrius gland secretions. It kicks the snot out of toxic spell dust.
Stones from the River Quell
This is the equivalent of kitty litter, which Blisses use in a regular chemical spill situation. Quell stones are good for absorbing and mopping up various types of creature excretions—your basic snots, urines, feces, but also things like dragon yolk or basilisk venom.
Ash from a phoenix’s nest
The best kind comes with bits of feather, flecks of gold, and other material. It’s a good abrasive and can really take on the peskiest of stains.
Pollen from hippogriff’s heart
In case you think this is ultra-gross, let me explain! A hippogriff’s heart is a type of flower, named for its shape and color. The pollen it emits makes for another good abrasive. But do NOT mix it with the above because . . . um, boom. Like many of our plant-based cleaners, Dragonsong Academy grows hippogriff’s heart in its enclosed botanical garden (the students call it “The Poison Patch” because there are some plants in there that are so dangerous that they have their own individual cages).
Elf’s breath cotton
Our spell sweeper scarves are woven from elf’s breath because it has excellent properties for filtering out toxins. In its pure form, elf breath is a strong deodorizer, so if our scarves simply won’t cut it, we can uncork a bottle of this stuff. (Apparently, urine from certain dragon species can leave an odor that lasts for decades.)
This is ground up from the antlers that qilin shed annually and is a powerful neutralizer that can send feral magic running for the hills (not that we want it running anywhere).
These are famous for their healing properties, but they can do a number on feral magic as well, soaking up all the mischievous dust and converting into a manageable slime that you can easily sweep up.
Caladrius gland secretions
The caladrius is a magical bird that can draw the illness right out of a sick person. The gland secretions are very potent, which is why it’s one of the key ingredients I use when dueling toxic spell slime.
I don’t know what these are supposed to do, but Master Quibble says that a spell sweeper should always have a vial on the ready. Gusto refuses. Snakes really wig him out, but spiders aren’t too far behind, especially after we saw what happened in Cosimo Balthazar’s antique shop, The Two-Eyed Cyclops.
Feathers of various magical creatures
Some people (annoying non-spell-sweeping wizards like Georgia and Simone) think that feathers are for dusting, but you can’t “dust” spell dust, especially the feral or toxic kind. We use these feathers to trim into bits and to add to some of our other powders or abrasives when trying to soak up certain messes. (In case it isn’t clear yet, you need to know what you’re doing when it comes to mixing.)
Sparks from a wizard’s fire
These stay alive within their bottle and can be activated with a quick shake. They don’t clean up anything but, apparently, if we encounter a dangerous creature, these might cause a distraction that buys us a few precious before being turned into spell sweeper mulch.
This is basically moss that has been harvested from Dragonsong’s garden. I’m not sure how it’s different from regular moss, except that it does really good job of soaking up and neutralizing certain creature venoms, spits, and saliva.
You’re probably automatically thinking of these as being in liquid form, but unicorn tears are known for quickly solidifying into tiny crystals, usually silver and red, depending on whether they are tears of joy or tears of sadness. They are particularly good for counteracting certain explosive materials, such as dragon snot.
Yet another plant that is grown in Dragonsong’s botanical garden, these are like a wizard’s version of incense sticks. We can light them to purify a place, but I find this is more to do with providing comfort as opposed to an actual cleanse, and I’m not so keen in sticking around a spill site any longer than I have to.
Definitely NOT a part of the standard spell sweeper kit. So, shh . . .
As I said above, I love to hear about people dressing as literary characters, so feel free to post in the comments.