C.L. Polk's ‘The Midnight Bargain’ Fuses Regency Romance with Magic

Posted by Sharon on October 1, 2020
Fresh off the success of her World Fantasy Award–winning novel Witchmark comes a standalone romantic fantasy from author C.L. Polk. In The Midnight Bargain, readers meet Beatrice Clayborn, a young magician who dreams of becoming the first great female magician, except doing so would go against her duty to her family.
In a world where women’s powers are cut off after marriage to protect their unborn children, Beatrice yearns for freedom and the right to choose. And she has her heart set on this mission until she meets Ianthe Lavan, a wealthy suitor who could help Beatrice fulfill her duty to her family and save them from severe debt.
“I’m using a fantasy world to talk about contemporary problems because I tend to do that. I wanted to write a world where I could tell you a story about a girl who falls in love, but at the same time we look at the historical role of women in society,” explains Polk. “It’s not that history repeats itself, but as a friend [quoting Mark Twain] puts it, it rhymes. What I’m realizing is we keep coming against the same questions that we think we have answered, but we have not. I was thinking about how far we’ve come and how history continues to rhyme for us.”
Polk spoke to Goodreads contributor L’Oreal Thomson Payton from her home in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Their conversation has been edited.

Goodreads: What was the inspiration for The Midnight Bargain?
C.L. Polk: One of the games I like to play when I’m coming up with a book is to come up with some things that I really, really love and something that makes me really, really angry.
I had all the stuff I really loved, like 18th-century fashion, and then I was thinking about Western European occult traditions of summoning spirits to help them with their magic. I thought that’d be really cool, but I don’t have any conflict.
Then, in fairly short succession, three different states passed laws about abortion that didn’t make them illegal, but made them so difficult to obtain that they might as well have been illegal, and that was it. I was angry.
We continue to have this problem where women don’t have all of the choices that they should have because of sexist limitations. With that came the whole idea of the warding collars that women had to wear in order to protect their unborn children from spirits, which is the main horror element of the book. As a fantasy writer, I want to speculate on magic and its effects on the world.
GR: What is your creative process for building worlds?
CLP: One of the things I wanted in The Midnight Bargain was the extravagant fashion of the 18th century because it’s so glamorous. It is completely opulent, and I love it. But I’m also consciously aware of how much of a display of wealth these outfits were.
The dresses we now see in museums were worn by people who made a lot of money by exploiting other people in a thousand very different cruel ways. So one of the things I wanted to do when I was inventing this world and making these dresses possible is I wanted a world where, when historical people met each other, their first impulse was to say, “Do you have any cool stuff to teach me or trade me?” rather than “I don’t know who you are, and I’m going to beat you and take stuff,” which is the basic mechanic of colonialism and imperialism.
I wanted all of that to not be the point. I wanted it to be more about countries gaining their wealth by taking their own resources, making their own materials, and figuring out new technologies. And I did that by design because I was thinking I couldn’t make a world perfect.
Ianthe and Ysbeta are from a country that has a long history and is quite prosperous. In a different fantasy world, it would be automatically assumed that this country would’ve been colonized and exploited by other people, but instead I have this world where people will buy a country out before they will shoot people. I wanted the pretty dresses, but I didn’t want awful things to happen in order for those pretty dresses to exist.

GR: Your debut, Witchmark, was a World Fantasy Award winner. What pressure did you feel in following up that success?
CLP: I was in the middle of writing the third book for The Kingston Cycle, which is the last book of the series, and I was feeling a lot of pressure. I was feeling like a huge fake, and I didn’t believe I could do it. One of my friends said to me, “Is it that you can’t write that book or any book? If you were to take a month and a half to quickly dash off a book to prove to yourself you could do it, would you do it?”
I started thinking about the different ideas for The Midnight Bargain, and the idea slipped into place quickly. So I wrote it as a way to let off steam and prove to myself that I could write a novel, and prove to myself that the problem I was having writing the third book was that I had psyched myself out. The problem solved itself, and I went on to write Soulstar, which is coming out in the spring.

GR: What can readers expect in Soulstar?
CLP: It’s Robin’s book. She’s a secondary character we meet again in Stormsong, the second book in The Kingston Cycle. Robin basically follows the great tradition of many women everywhere who look at a situation and say, “Heck with this, I’ll do it myself.”
It’s a little bit different from the other stories in that she’s dealing with election politics and contending with being reunited with her spouse after 20 years apart. She actually thought her spouse was dead because she was trying to get in contact and the institutions wouldn’t allow her to visit. A lot of the book is about them trying to reconnect after a couple of decades apart.
It’s about community and community building. About how your world is you, your family, your friends, your neighbor, your neighborhood, your district, and your city—these rings of people who belong to you if you will allow them to have that kind of space in your heart.
GR: How has the pandemic impacted your writing process?
CLP: This year has been teaching me so many things, and sometimes learning is not sweet. I’ve been angry a lot. I’ve been frustrated a lot. I’ve been lonely a lot this past year. I feel frustrated because my productivity hasn’t been the greatest this year, but at the same time I’m taking so much on board that I’m thinking about.
I’m thinking about the things that we assume have to be in our lives that we can envision in a new or different way. I had a big moment where I thought I should absorb this as much as I can. I started reading some new books and old books about sociology, cities, and people. I think those things are going to come out in future books. This year has been an incubation year for me. I’m not sure what’s going to come out on the other side creatively, but I’m going through a lot of changes.

GR: With NaNoWriMo around the corner, what advice do you have for aspiring authors?
CLP: Make sure that whatever it is you’re writing, you’re writing because you love it. If you’re writing what you love and what you believe in, it’ll work out much better for you in the long run in so many different ways.
One of the cynical things I’ve caught myself saying over the last week was, “Sure, it’s a book idea, but is it a book idea that I want to support and promote for the rest of my life?” I run into a lot of writers who don’t know what to write because they want to write what’s fashionable, and I say don’t worry about that. Write what you love. The trend will come to you.

GR: What are you reading right now?
CLP: You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria.
GR: Which authors or books have influenced your writing?
CLP: I take inspiration from everywhere I can. I have pored over pages of To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf and studied chapters of Real Life by Brandon Taylor. No writer is safe, honestly.
GR: What books are you recommending to your friends these days?
CLP: I recommended Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall to my friends who all enjoyed Red, White & Royal Blue, and it was a hit. I really want people to read When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole, and I would like people to watch for Nghi Vo's next novel, The Chosen and the Beautiful, which I got an early look at. It's wonderful so far.


C.L. Polk’s The Midnight Bargain will be published in the U.S. on October 13. Don’t forget to add it to your Want to Read shelf. Be sure to also read more of our exclusive author interviews and get more great book recommendations.

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Delirious Disquisitions So excited to read this!!! 🤩

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Nora Looking forwards to this!

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