Today I’m lending space on my blog to author Ken Hughes. Last week I did an interview with Ken. Here is his his interview, with me answering the questions
1. Let’s start at the beginning: how did you know you wanted the kind of magic you use in your writing?
J.S.: I always start with a premise, then a setting, then the characters to put into it. The magic comes after all that. What I want is something I can use in the plot, that fits in with the type of characters who’ll be using it. I’ve never started from a magic system and built a story around it.
2. Magic can open a whole set of doors (and pitfalls) in the plot of a story, with new opportunities for characters. How has your concept of magic meshed with your plots?
J.S.: In most of my writing, magic is a tool. It adds a dimension of possibility beyond normal physics. When a reader plays along and tried to see what’s coming up next, or how the hero is going to deal with his or her current dilemma, it gives them more options to consider. Trapped alone in a stone dungeon cell with steel bars, a normal character has few options. Give him the power to rust metal or to cause minor tremors in stone, and now he has a plan to break out. But what if oxidizing the iron bars causes a hissing sound, or half the castle can feel the tremors from cracking the dungeon walls? Magic should always add complexity and give readers more to consider.
3. Pick a character in your stories. Of all the ways they could use their magic, what’s their approach for choosing what to do with it, how to go about it, and what are the challenges or limits that puts them in conflict with?
J.S.: Mort from my Black Ocean series. He’s a wizard on the run aboard a starship. Mostly he uses his magic to help the ship traverse the astral plane (my in-universe method of FTL travel). But most of his other spells cause science-based systems on the ship to go awry. So he’s always at odds, capable of so much, yet unable to make use of his powers without endangering the lives of everyone aboard the ship (including himself) because it relies on science for silly things like breathable air and propulsion.
4. When magic touches your characters’ lives, how does it tend to change their lives or their viewpoint?
J.S.: Magic is generally empowering in my writing. Whether it has drawbacks or just limitations, it will open up new doors for the practitioner. Of course, not everything is sunshine and roses beyond that door, but it allows the character to escape the mundane.
5. What authors, myths, or other sources does your view of magic admire or draw from? Is there anything you think one source hasn’t done justice to?
J.S.: I always appreciated the systemic magic of D&D. But as I started writing, the very mechanical nature of D&D magic felt like it boxed in storytelling, so I scrapped it. Rune construction was a concept from Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman that really stuck with me from the Deathgate Cycle. I’ve carried some form of that type of written or carved magic into most of my works. One magical world that always felt like maybe I downplayed magic too much was Lord of the Rings. At least in the trilogy itself, Gandalf is made out to be much more of a wizard than he ever shows. For all that the series does well, that always seemed like a point that could have been given more page time. Even Gandalf’s battle wit the balrog takes place off scene.
6. Sometimes it just clicks. Tell me about your favorite scene or moment where your brand of magic brought the story up to a new level.
J.S.: Without getting into spoilers, the climactic battle in Sourcethief is a sorcerous duel of epic proportion. It basically used everything the series had shown about magic to that point, as well as one key revelation that had been hinted at in Aethersmith (middle book in the series).
7. Looking ahead for your writing: what’s your biggest hope for something you want to capture for writing about magic that you haven’t done yet?
One of these days I’ll write something with a heavily mechanical, rule-based system of the sort that Brandon Sanderson advocates. It would be something of a change of pace from my more free-form magic.
8. About yourself now: what form of magic would you most like to have, and what would you use it for?
If I had to just pick one power, probably something to do with teleportation. I’m not one of those advocates of the journey. I like destinations. If I can poof across cities and continents instead of sitting in airports and stop-and-go traffic, that would be a huge deal for me.
9. What’s the most important thing you want to convey to your readers when you write about magic?
I really want to give the impression that more exists than any one person knows about. There’s always another way of thinking, another type of magic, a new way of solving a problem.
10. Is there anything else you’d like to say about it that we haven’t covered?
I think my outlook on magic has evolved the more I’ve written. One of the things that’s grown on me is how non-magical people get ahead in a world with magic.
Many thanks for giving me an extra glimpse into your world. For links to this and some of the other authors I’ve interviewed, and my own comparison of the different views they take, take a look at www.KenHughesAuthor.com.
I can’t wait to take a closer look at your stories in this light. Thanks again!