MSWL as WP 1: “Professor Profligate Grades Papers”

Having sent my queries on a novel, I’m currently working on some other writing projects. But I added the agents I queried to a Twitter list to try to better understand both Twitter and literary agents. One of the things you’ll see if you read any agent’s feed is “#MSWL” which stands for “manuscript wishlist.” There’s even a site dedicated to letting agents maintain their MSWL: the expectedly-named

WP is “writing prompt,” a seed, however developed, to write something, however developed.

So I figured I might cross the two, taking a #MSWL idea and writing a short piece based on the idea. For fun and science and all that jazz.

Saw this one from a reply to a reply:

Twitter: Nivia Evans: 6 June 2018 says:

An inventive, female-led magic school story, but from the teacher’s POV.

Manifestation, not infestation!” Pamela Profligate shouted at the essay. She sat on her grading stool trying to manifest a paper-eating inkbug to save her from toiling through eight more flubworks on Basic Magic Theory.

Year by year, the predictable mistakes of spelling, of syntax, of confusing concentration for willpower. Enough to drive a witch to flight. She drew a red C on Vincent’s paper and added: “It’s not enough to make magic. You must understand it.”

Eyeing a copy of Leslie von Sport’s 101 New Ways to Play Kickball, Pamela knew if she made haste, a chapter could be had before bed. She grabbed the next essay from the stack and started reading.

Enchantment is the fundamental problem of magic. Though identified as the elementary basis of all things magical by Sally M. Witchford in her treatise “How Does a Spell?” we still have not advanced the science of magic to understand what makes an enchanted thing. There are theories about. . .

An interesting start, thought Pamela, peeking at the name: Jaunkrast Gravelley. No doubt named after that atrocious writer from one of the mountain worlds.

. . . energy beings, your dryads and such, inhabiting magic objects and living symbiotically inside the souls of magical beings. There are the beliefs in a supreme will that channels itself based on lay lines and bloodlines and star charts. But for every theory there are examples that contradict. Ordinary objects that, by processes unknown, came into possession of magical properties.

Take the very pages you now hold, dear teacher. . . .

Pamela tried to let go of the pages, but her fingers held firm. Binding—what a rascal to even try it! She spun on her grading stool to the waiting flame of cleansing and set the essay afire. As the flame bit at her fingertips, she was already composing in her mind: “You should know better, Ms. Gravelley, than to bother with trickery. I am failing you, but I would still like to read your essay. Please provide me with a clean—” The spell had broken, and she reached for a page to write on.

As she finished, she turned back to the cleaning candle to dust up the ashes. In the unwavering flamelight the curls and flakes of ash fluttered and hopped about. The flecks puffed and breathed and spread into one another, forming strands that grew into a pool. The pool formed ridges along its edge and lightened and darkened until the essay had mended itself.

Out came Pamela’s testing blade. She removed the cork tip, and pressed the blade against the seal on the back of the cork. It glowed light red: the blade was working. She placed the sharp at the center of the topsheet, depressing slightly. The blade did not glow.

She used it to turn the page and continued reading:

. . . dear teacher, they are no longer magical. Where did the enchantment go? Some, like Witchford, would claim that the flame took it away. But the ashes still held the enchantment of assembly, so that cannot be right. And enchantment cannot be exhausted by mere repetition, as Ruther Arglave showed by spending 30 years trying to use the magic up from a single box of toastmaking, from which he turned over ten million single slices of bread into as many slices of toast. The process of remaking the pages could not devour the magic. And yet your blade proves it is gone!

Pamela Profligate went to her shelf and pulled Spellbreaks. She flipped through to “Flames” and read the passage on flames of cleansing. The power rule required multiple passes through flame for multiple spells. The timing rule required the flames to engulf an active object for at least a tenth as long as its activity. But there was nothing about the ashes.

She set the gradesheet aside, along with Ms. Gravelley’s missive, and moved on to the next essay.

Magic works because you have to want it. If you do, magic works. You want the water to stay in the cup when you turn the cup over and the water says in the cup. That is the basics of magic. . . .

Maybe a start. I’m sure the intention behind the #MSWL was more about the class interactions with a magic teacher, from her perspective (“Timothy, we do not stick orbs of remembering in our noses!” and “Who knows the first witch to circumnavigate the globe?” “Was it the Harlem Broomtrotters?”).

But I like the idea of a magic teacher grading papers and having to deal with that side of things. Because, fun fact, teaching is about a lot of stuff beyond just standing in front of magical children and teaching them not to open portals to dimensions full of cottage cheese. There’s a lot of bureaucracy and paperwork (not to mention class sizes, budgets, and all that).

The other concept here, of a teacher not knowing everything and being confused by her own student’s magic, reminds that even experts are not omniscient. It also would make me figure out how Jaunkrast managed it. Leaving hurdles to either knock down (Jaunkrast merely included a blank page that would recreate the essay from its ashes and was protected from the flame of cleansing by the other pages) or leap over (Jaunkrast discovering a new property of enchantment, possibly setting up a trip to a magic fair (comp: science fair) where students present their magical inventions).