Series: The Heart of the Sisters #1
Published by LLC on 3/10/2014
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Folklore tells how evil gods shattered the fabled gem called the Heart of the Sisters and brought magic into being. Those same stories speak of the Heart being healed and unleashing a power that will end humankind. While traveling to begin his studies as an apprentice magician, Niel suddenly finds himself at the center of the Heart's terrifying legend. Caught in a whirlwind of events that fractures the foundation of everything he's believed, Niel learns his role in the world may be far more important than he ever could have imagined, or ever would have wished. A Mage of None Magic begins an extraordinary adventure into a perilous land where autocratic wizards manipulate an idle aristocracy, where ordinary academia struggles for validation, and where after ages of disregard the mythical finally refuses to be ignored.
Interview With A. Christopher Drown
Can you talk a little about what the book is about?
When I set out to write A Mage of None Magic, the underlying question I wanted to explore is the one that appears atop the back cover: What’s unbelievable when magic is a fact of life? It occurred to me that just because a person lives in a place where magicians and monsters roam about, that doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be ideas that person doesn’t find absurd. After pondering what an example of that might be, I arrived at prophecy—specifically, the notion of a chosen one. With that, I honed in on the chicken/egg nature of messiahship: Is a person the chosen one because the masses believe it, or is said person the chosen one whether or not the masses even care? Would it matter if a person is adamant he is not the chosen one when the masses insist he is? And if the insistence of the masses proves inescapable, what responsibilities does that reluctant messiah have?
What makes your book unique?
I would never presume to claim my storytelling is unique. If a reader chose to openly deem it so, then that of course would be terrific; I just don’t see it as my place. That said, I’d like to think I’ve been able to accomplish what any good writer should strive to do—to take the finite elements that have existed since we were telling around campfires while wearing bearskins, arrange them in an interesting or even compelling way that engages the reader, and make that person want to turn the page. Since the initial release of Mage, I’ve been fortunate to have others feel I met that goal.
Where did you get the idea for the book?
The primary inspiration for the story came from a novel published in 1983 called The Sleeping Dragon, by my late friend and mentor, Joel Rosenberg. In that book, Joel geniusly investigates what a practical, day-to-day existence in a typical fantasy setting might be like—predating by a couple decades the current trend of vérité fantasy exemplified by works like Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of West by Gregory Maguire, or even the upcoming Disney film Maleficent. It’s a terrific read, and Joel’s assessment of life in such a world would be a much better candidate the uniqueness mentioned in the previous question.
Is there any message you want readers to get from reading the book?
None that I am conscious of (…except, of course, “Happy birthday.”). Perhaps if I stretched things, I could make a case for a message like, “Don’t let anyone tell you what you what to do—not even if they want to make you their mythical savior person.”
How long did it take to write the book?
The overarching idea for the series came to me in the early Nineties, and I just started writing. But I didn’t know anything about writing, and proceeded to make every mistake first novelists have been known to make—which, though, proved validating because to me it meant was I making the right mistakes.
Frustrated, I set things aside and dedicated myself to learning the craft. When I finally reached a point where I had at least a semblance of knowing how to proceed with the novels, I did. In the mid Twenty-Oughts, shortly after my daughter was born, I sat down with a serious intent to write the first book. A few years later, I finished it. Knowing the woeful success rate first-time novelists enjoy, I stashed the book away and turned my attention toward short stories with an aim to place a few here and there and build a track record. Tyrannosaurus Press picked up Mage in 2008 and released it the following year.
Who is your favorite character, or what character was the most fun to write?
Ennalen, the main antagonist, was most fun. She’s selfish, brilliant, megalomaniacal and remorseless. She’s the female praying mantis who eats the head off her mate.
Can you talk about how you wrote it? Did you do any outlining? Did it take you in any unexpected directions?
Because a great deal of my process takes place in my head, my method of outlining on paper is pretty haphazard—just a few words or phrases jotted ahead of the paragraph I’m working on, used as a target of sorts.
I do keep a general direction I know I want to go, but I also tend to be the sort of writer who reads along as I go, just as eager to see how the story turns out as, hopefully, an actual reader would. There were a couple scenes while working on them a character said or did something entirely unexpected and added a nifty turn, but those instances were the result of flow and rhythm rather than planning. As my friend Joel liked to say: Before you start writing all you need to know is where you’ll begin and where you’ll end—and more than likely you’ll be wrong about the latter.
If you could go back and change anything in the novel, what would it be?
After two editions and a half-dozen passes-through for editing, I really think Mage is in the best shape it’s ever going to be—which is by no means saying I think the book is perfect. As a rule I don’t go back over work I’ve published, because when I do all I notice is every clunky sentence and every place a better word could have been used. That was the case when going through the book for its re-release with Second Star Press. Before then, I hadn’t read the story in over four years.
How did you come up with the cover?
Since Mage is the first book of the Heart of the Sisters series, I wanted an image that would signify the beginning of a journey. So I picked a scene where the main character, Niel, is doing just that, and illustrated it as closely as I could to how it looked in my head. That’s my son, Alexander, on the cover. He was about six at the time, and I did what I could to make him look older. I’m happy with how it turned out, but in keeping with my previous answer, all I see when I look at it now is that Alexander’s arms are too short.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I’d had a suspicion of wanting to be a storyteller as early as fourth grade, when I wrote a magnificent opus called The UFO Syndrome. However, it—and just about all the other stories I composed around that time—were simply shameless rip-offs of Star Wars. After reading The Sleeping Dragon, though, I set that book down, took a deep breath, and said to myself, “I want to do that.
What is your favorite genre, and why?
I assume you mean other than Pick-A-Path adventures.
I tend not to have any actual favorites of anything, regardless the subject at hand. I take things at face value, like with food—pizza and Reese’s Puffs cereal are both great, but I don’t think you can say one is better than the other because they’re two entirely different things. Oddly enough, I don’t read much fantasy. And I just finished Jon Meacham’s brilliant and engrossing biography on Thomas Jefferson called The Art of Power, but I’m not a huge non-fiction fan either. A good book is a good book, regardless in whatever column someone places it on their checklist.
Are there any books you are absolutely inspired by?
Outside the catalyst that The Sleeping Dragon turned out to be, I’d have to say the most inspirational book I’ve read in the past fifteen years is Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. I can’t recommend that book any more highly if I were receiving royalties from it myself. Second to that, the first book that truly captured my imagination is Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight, which my dad loaned me when I was about twelve and is the first grown-up book I ever read. And a close second to that, The Once and Future King by T. H. White. Honorable mention would go back to Mr. King with his Dark Tower series, which is a staggering achievement in both scale and scope.
What are you working on next?
As far as writing, I’m at work on the follow-up to Mage titled The Book of Sediahm. The first draft for that is slated to be handed into Seventh Star Press this November. As far as publishing, I’ve an unrelated novel called A Sister to Butterflies in the hands of a potential publisher now. So, wish me luck.
What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Read. Write. Submit. Repeat. If you’re not raking in the rejection letters, you’re not doing it correctly—and it only takes one yes. Oh, and keep those letters. J.K. Rowling had the manuscript for the first Harry Potter book rejected by almost every publisher in the UK before getting accepted. She’s now literally richer than the Queen of England, but more importantly she still has a shoebox full of those rejections.
How do you juggle writing with family time?
Not very gracefully. When I don’t have the luxury of finding uninterrupted quiet time to work, I do my best to steal moments wherever I can. Thankfully, my kids are very supportive; they think it’s pretty cool to see a copy of their dad’s book on the shelf at the bookstore.