Over the past few weeks, since first finding out about Blake Charlton and his upcoming debut novel, Spellwright, I’ve made a point of covering the novel. I don’t know what it is that’s grabbed my attention (certainly not the suitcase full of small, unmarked bills…); maybe it’s glowingly positive praise from Terry Brooks, Robin Hobb, Tad Williams, Tobias Buckell and Daniel Abraham, some of my very favourite authors; maybe it’s the fact that it reminds me of the Fantasy I used to love as a kid; maybe it’s Charlton’s background as a Med Student and his fight with Dyslexia (which plays a huge role in the story). What I do know is that I’m anxious to get my hands on an advance copy (that seems stuck in the endless limbo of the Canadian/US postal system) and even more excited about the 6,500+ word interview Charlton and I put together.
So take a look, and see why you might be just as excited about Spellwright as I am.
Blake, welcome to A Dribble of Ink! I appreciate you taking the time to drop by.
Thanks so much. I’ve become a big fan of the blog, and it’s wonderful to have my first interview here.
One look at your bio reveals an interesting aspect of your history as a reader and a writer: you were diagnosed at a young age with severe dyslexia, a learning disorder that manifests itself as a difficulty with reading and spelling. My brother is also dyslexic, working now in the film industry and writing some damn good scripts, so I’m aware of the struggles and trials facing someone with the disorder as they try to prove, to themselves and others, that it does not define them.
What was it like for you, growing up with dyslexia, but still finding yourself on the path to becoming a published author?
First off, the very best of luck to your brother. I’ve run into scores of successful dyslexics, but not another who writes. I’d be curious to know what his experience has been like.
For me it was a long, strange journey. Dyslexia has taken a lot from and given a lot to me.
One of the most vivid memories of my childhood comes from watching my older sister read and write. How she knew to decode the symbols on a page was absolutely beyond me. How could she know that the letters ‘ough’ could make a sound like ‘f’ in at the end of a word (enough) but not at the beginning of a word (ought). It made absolutely no sense. How could ‘good’ and ‘food’ not rhyme? When angry, I would rant about how it was English–not me–that was retarded, about how English–not me–should be in special ed. And yet, when I wasn’t so furious, I felt a sense of awe about the written word. And it is magical. That sense of wonder only intensified when, much later, I learned to read and lost myself in so many fantasies. Somehow, lying alone in bed and staring at black and white symbols can transport us to distant countries and fill our minds with color. It’s that sense of wonder that I hope to share with others through my writing.
Before I had a grasp of standard English spelling, I would write stories for myself in my own uber-dyslexic script. I liked that no one else could read them. I was comfortable. But when I could spell well enough to write for other people, I began to distrust my own words. I would print up a paper for school and would read it over and over and over for misspellings. But when I turned it in, it would come back bleeding red ink. That distrust became habitual. Even now, I distrust every sentence I write. I scrutinize them and edit them ad nauseam. Some days, I wish I didn’t do this. I’d certainly write faster if I didn’t. But there are other days I feel like my self-scrutiny helps me keep improving.
Spellwright, your debut novel with Tor Books, is about a young man, Nicodemus Weal, who can’t spell. The problem? He’s a spellwright, a type of magic-user whose magic relies on the caster’s ability to reproduce complex series of runes, and Weal’s disability inhibits him from reproducing even simple texts.
This basis of the story, and Weal’s subjugation at the hands of a world that has little understand of things like learning disabilities, obviously comes from your own struggles growing up. Can you speak more on this? Is Spellwright, in a way, a skewed autobiography of your own struggles growing up?
Is Spellwright autobiographical in the sense of subject? Absolutely. In the sense of story? Only vaguely. I’ll try to explain.
Everyone’s heard the imperative “Write about what you know.” Or sometimes, “Write about what you love.” Personally, I think if you obey only those two commandments, you’ll end up with warm mush. A love-in. I would add the third commandment: “Write about what you fear.” Do that and all of a sudden there is tension between you and your subject. All of a sudden, you have to discover what causes your fear. You have to stand directly in its path. All of a sudden, you’re playing with fire. I think readers have a very fine sense of whether or not an author is putting something at stake in a work. If the author doesn’t, if the characters and story are created only from a calculation of what will please the most people, the work comes off dry. Among critics, there’s a lot of fuss about being “unique” and “original.” And, those are wonderful things to have. Very intellectually pleasing. But any day of the week, I’d rather read an author who is “genuine” or “heartfelt.” Naturally, the very best authors can manage both.
Disability is what I fear most. I still have dreams that I’m on the short bus headed to special ed. Spellwright is an epic fantasy and also an examination of disability in many different forms. Nicodemus has a disability similar to the one I know best, dyslexia. But Nicodemus’ mentor is blind. There is a character dealing with epilepsy, another dealing with something like Tourette syndrome, another dealing with idiopathic mental retardation. Communities grow around disability, and I’ve mined those that I’ve known to try to show what they are like—the good and the bad. By virtue of being a disabled author, I share a lot in common with all of these characters. I’ve struggled with the same self doubts, the same bouts of self-hatred, the same rage at the world for the unfairness of it all, and the same quest to find meaning and purpose in the face of disability.
So in the sense of subject matter, Spellwright is absolutely autobiographical. In a way, I’m taking a gamble on this book. I’m hoping that a ‘protagonist-as-cripple’ will allow me to transform the classic (if feeling critical you might say clichéd) epic fantasy plot into something fresh. And, I’m hoping that by confronting disability, the book captures some of the genuine anguish and triumph felt by those who struggle with disabilities. In a few months, we’ll see if the readers think I gambled wisely.
Regarding the story arc, Spellwright is only autobiographical in that it contains a quest about disability. I suppose you could say that the book takes place mostly in an academy, and I’ve spent most of my life in school. But the actual plotting has nothing to do with my life. I’ve never been investigated for murder, or been caught up in bloody political infighting, or conducted arcane research on lost languages, or investigated the origins of an abandoned inhuman city, or discovered a magical connection between human language and all living things. And I hope those things never become autobiographical. Well, maybe not those last three; they sound kinda kick-ass.
Besides doing the debut author thing, you’re also a graduate from Yale University and are currently attending Stanford Medical School as a third-year medical student. I’m curious how you find the time to be a writer, between all your high-level academics? How has such extensive schooling affected you as a writer?
Regarding time, there’s some sleight of hand there. I took five years off between college and med school. For long stretches, I wrote fulltime in a kind of mentor-less apprenticeship. When the money ran out, I’d take whatever job was at hand. I was a high school English teacher, a JV football coach, a medical writer for UCSF and Stanford, a one man neighborhood-to-airport taxi service, and a tutor for the learning-disabled kids. All of that, especially the teaching, was grounding. It gave me a taste of “real life” and helped me escape the purely academic mindset.
Learning to write a novel after leaving academia was painful. Crafting literary criticism interesting to an English professor has little to do with writing a compelling story. Lev Grossman, author of The Magicians and fellow Yalie, wrote a wonderful essay about how academia gives one the snotty idea that meaningful literature has to be hard work. I had to get that and other pretentious ideas out of my head. However, I was able steal and then corrupt a wonderful amount of material for the academy and specifically from literary criticism.
The idea of Spellwright’s magic system came to me when I was in a dull Shakespearian seminar scrutinizing the punctuation of different folios of King Lear as if the placement of a semicolon had implications on life or death. At the same time I was taking organic chemistry and biochemistry. My chem profs were big on the idea of macromolecules as a language. We, the students were to learn the different molecules (the vocabulary), the ways they interacted (the grammar), and the useful and elegant ways they could be manipulated (the prose style). I considered this in conjunction with the fact that biological processes have to “proofread” these macromolecules with amazing accuracy. Unlike a Shakespearian semicolon, the misplacement of a single nucleotide in an essential gene can create deadly disease. From that came the inspiration of a spellwright, a person who could produce magical text with his or her body, and the idea of a cacographer, a disabled spellwright who causes magical text to misspell simply by touching it.
Med school, oddly, hasn’t returned me to the ivory tower mindset. We do sometimes get our heads in the clouds listening to lectures about theoretical applications of stem cell technology or the economics of health reform. But the privilege of seeing patients brings one back down to earth. The stuff of good fiction–character, voice, drama, anguish, and joy–fill a hospital or a free clinic. It’s no coincidence that so many healthcare workers write.
As for finding the time nowadays, I’ve been blessed by the Stanford Medical Scholars Research Fellowship, which has given me the grant that is allowing me to take a year (or so) out of classes and clinical clerkships to finish the series.
Spellwright isn’t out until March, 2010 in North America (August, 2010 in the United Kingdom) but you’ve already accrued a fair amount of praise from some major authors–Daniel Abraham, Robin Hobb, Tad Williams, Tobias Buckell and heaven genre-heavyweight Terry Brooks. How do you keep your head from inflating to epic proportions with such fuel?
This is a very important question. Being a pale fellow with an impressive case of premature balding, it’s important I keep my hat size in check. Otherwise, the resulting glare becomes dangerous to oncoming traffic.
Okay, more seriously. All of the quotations have been incredibly humbling. I tremendously respect all of the authors who’ve quoted the book. Some of them are directly responsible for my overcoming my disability. I might never have learned to love books if I hadn’t fallen in love with Terry Brooks’ work when my parents read The Elfstones of Shannara to my sister and I. Later, I taught myself to read by sneaking books by Tad Williams, Robin Hobb, Robert Jordan and many others into special ed study hall and reading them under my desk when I was supposed to be doing homework. Later in college, Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea Trilogy and John Gardner’s Grendel filled me with such wonder that I found the wherewithal to attempt a novel.
Fantasy saved me. It gave me back my sense of wonder with the world. It transformed me from an angry disabled kid looking for trouble into a big nerd who loved literature and science.
And the genre continues to change me. Honestly, it’s not hard to be humble when reading the brilliant fantasy being written today. I recently picked up Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora and could not stop turning pages and laughing out loud. Sure, I thought to myself, I might have been clever once or twice but this guy is more than that; he’s got true wit! Then I read The City & The City by China Mieville in two days and was blown away by how deftly he tells a murder mystery while creating such a complex and meaningful world. It’s a book that not only entertains but also provides shocking insights into how societies divide themselves.
So this is how I see the Spellwright blurbs: By putting their names on the book, these authors haven’t given me anything I should get big-headed about. Rather, I see them as tokens of trust. With their names, they are showing their trust that I will try to further the tradition of fantasy, to help share the sense of wonder and fear and awe that the genre is about. Will I succeed? The readers are the only important judges of a book. I’ll have to wait and see if people will read it, if it will keep them turning pages, and if it will stay with them after they put it down. I certainly hope it does. I’ve dedicated nearly all of my twenties to trying to make the book equal to the task.
Pre-release hype aside, it’s never easy to sell a debut novel to readers (unless your name is Patrick Rothfuss, I suppose…). What do you bring to the table with Spellwright that sets you apart from all the other epic fantasies out there?
Short answer: The magic system.
Spellwright is a character-driven hard fantasy and an almost-but-not-quite science fantasy. By hard fantasy, I mean that the narrative establishes comprehensive “laws of magic” and endeavors never to violate them. By science fantasy, I mean that these laws are derived from distorted versions of proven scientific law.
Each magical language in this world has specific physical properties. Some can affect matter. Some can affect forms of energy, such as light or heat or other spells. The spells crafted from these languages behave something like computer programs, executing their commands exactly as written. They also behave like organic macromolecules (e.g. the nucleotides that make up DNA or the polypeptides that make up proteins), needing to fold into a proper shape to function. Fairly simple spells might make something float in the air or allow two spellwrights to carry on a textual correspondence. Adept spellwrights might author creatures made of magical language—writing a body from prose that affects mater and a textual mind from prose that affects energy. These creatures, called “constructs,” might be simple beasts of labor or military gargoyles or ghosts made entirely of energy. Even more masterful spellwrights might write textual extension of their own minds that allow them to become hyper-intelligent and think previously unthinkable thoughts through their own spells. And military authors might write dangerous curses that distort mind and body or light-bending ‘subtexts’ that render their casters invisible.
That’s the heat I’m packing in Spellwright. Here’s the scene: A powerful wizard is murdered in a literary stronghold rife with academic infighting and filled with libraries of powerful texts. When our protags—Nicodemus and his mentor Shannon—are suspected of the murder, they must race to uncover the truth about the murders and about themselves. Count on some butt-kicking action along the way: encounters with deadly constructs, thought-altering books that can swallow a mind whole, and literary firefights with authors hurling luminescent war-texts at each other.
The magic system also allows me to explore some speculative questions about what it means to be human. Traditionally that’s been science fiction’s territory, but I see no reason why epic fantasy can’t join in. I can’t go into too much detail without spoiling, but in the series expect to see texts that become self-aware, self-conscious texts in search of their lost authors, author’s augmenting their cognition with magical texts, and exploration of the origin of human language and the origin of life.
The magic system is my ‘special sauce,’ if you will. But if the book takes off I don’t think it’ll be because of anything that makes it unique. Your question really had two, linked questions: “What makes this book unique?” and “What might make readers interested in it?” I think it’s problematic for authors to think of ‘originality’ as synonymous with ‘success.’ Promise I won’t stay up on this soapbox for long. Promise. But lemme try to explain:
What makes one good story different from other good stories is less important than what makes all good stories similar.
Character, voice, action, emotion—there are no substitutes. By itself, no elaborate magic system or speculative technology or intricate plot or any other intellectually derived element can make a story worthy of readerly devotion. A book series does well not because it is unique, but because it has a genuine voice and true emotion. I can imagine a very successful book series with average intellectual elements—let’s pick something random and say…gee…ionno…vampires who sparkle—but that still captures a genuine and compelling aspect of life—let’s again totally randomly say something like…teen romance, angst, and sexuality. I don’t think such a book would really be down my alley. But if it captures something ‘true’ and the author is lucky enough to get noticed, I have no doubt that it would be wildly successful. To look down on such a book because one finds its intellectual aspects beneath one is a form of snobbery.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve used every synapse in my brain to try to make the magic system and world and so forth unique from other fantasies. But I’ve also used every fiber in my heart to make the sincerity of voice and the trueness of character similar to the epic fantasies that moved me.
At the end of the day, Spellwright is a classic quest. That will turn some people off; all classic quests share certain elements. But it does not tell the story of a lowly farmhand becoming an emperor. It tells the story of a young man and an old teacher fighting disability and disease. Such quests are vividly real to me. I live with them every day, in my own head and in the hospital. Everyone has undertaken such a quest or will when age weakens body and mind. If Spellwright passes muster, it will be because it captures something true and urgent about such quests.
Are we looking at a trilogy, a long series, or does Spellwright mostly stand on its own?
In my opinion, good things come in threes. Spellwright will be followed by Spellbound and then finally by Disjunction (working title). I’m a big believer that a series should tell a discrete story. As a reader, I get nervous when a series proposes to ‘epic’ but then flirts with ‘endless’ at the rehearsal dinner. Of course, if the world deserves more exploration, I think multiple series set within the same world is a wonderful solution. There are several who do this well; I think Robin Hobb does it best. I really enjoyed how elegantly she built her world in The Farseer Trilogy and then expanded it with The Liveship Traders Trilogy and The Tawny Man Trilogy. I’m looking forward to seeing what she does with The Rainwild Chronicles. If I keep writing in this world, I imagine I’ll try to emulate her in that regard.
So it’s safe to say you have the route more or less mapped out for the trilogy? Being a big fan of Terry Brooks, who is a religious outliner when it comes to writing his novels, I wonder if you spend a lot of time thinking through your work before you sit down. Or are you a bit looser, letting the story come as it will?
The trilogy is very well mapped out. I write detailed outlines. For Spellbound, which I’m guessing will end up around 115,000 words, I have a 20,000 word outline. But I treat this outline more like a first rough draft than anything to which I’m bound. I’m sure the final novel will be significantly different from its outline.
I think it was in WorldCon 06 when I heard Uncle GRRM compare writing to gardening and architecture. He identified himself as a gardener, planting the seeds of his story and watching what grew from them. Others he thought were architects, carefully drawing up blueprints and building off of them. I like the metaphor because creation happens both by design and by discovery. Some authors write wonderful novels using only one mode: GRRM being an example of a master gardener. But I suspect that most authors write by both design and discovery. They’re not mutually exclusive. A magnificent estate needs a well-built house and a lush garden. Likewise a magnificent novel needs a well-crafted story and unstructured character elements that grow up naturally around the story.
I’m always looking for new authors. What’s one author or series that you think is criminally under-read?
Hands down, no question about it: Daniel Abraham’s The Long Price Quartet. Really, that every fantasy reader hasn’t got a copy of TLPQ on their bookshelf is a sign that justice is in short supply in this world. Earlier, I was listing fantasists that make it easy to be humble, Daniel Abraham belongs on that list. In fact, he should be at its top. When quote hunting, I stalked poor Daniel because of how much I admire these books. What makes me feel so strongly? It’s hard to know where to start. The magic system is unique and profound. The world building is richly layered and compelling. The grand, epoch-changing events described by the narrative are always portrayed through the moving personal relationships of those involved. His work is an excellent example of all that “capturing genuine character and true emotion” stuff I was jumping up and down about earlier. I’ve just picked up the last book in the series, The Price of Spring, and I’m lost in wonder all over again. But don’t take my word for it: George R. R. Martin, Patrick Rothfuss, Jo Walton, Brandon Sanderson, Junot Diaz, and Locus have all raved about the series.
So, if the books are so great, why have they not yet taken off? Abraham is expanding our literary tradition, and some of us are uncomfortable about change. The magic in this world is not mystical or martial, as we are used to seeing; it’s economic, almost industrial. Whereas most fantasists (including me), use our magic systems to help keep our readers turning pages, Abraham saves the big guns–magic, war, world changing spells, etc–for the key moments of the epic. It’s the heartfelt interpersonal drama alone that keeps the reader going. Finally, the dominant culture in Abraham’s world is pseudo South Asian, rather than pseudo European. I think many readers are open to such derivative worlds (Lian Hearn’s Tales of the Otori comes to mind as a wonderful example), but I think most readers are just starting to warm up to the idea. I believe that Abraham’s career will follow a course like that of Gene Wolfe—who I believe took a while to catch on but is now recognized as a master storyteller.
Anyone who has read a lot of fantasy and craves a series that expands tradition simply must pick up these books.
Most of the authors that you mentioned are relatively new writers. How does this reflect your opinion of where the speculative fiction field stands in 2009? How has it changed since you first wandered into it through Brooks’ The Elfstones of Shannara.
I should start by saying I’m no great historian of SFF. I’ve read a fair bit within the genres, but not enough to analyze all of speculative fiction. I feel more comfortable thinking about epic fantasy, but even there I would defer to a more experienced reader or an editor working in the genre.
That said, I’m fascinated by the current rage for gritty fantasy that has no heroes or has heroes with questionable morals. It’s literature interested in disturbing the reader with realistic depictions of pre-industrial life or graphic language or violence or sex and so on. A recent World Fantasy Convention panel named it “Non-Conciliatory Fantasy.” (I’m not wild about the name, but it works for now.) It’s not a new phenomenon: Moorcock’s Elric books being a good example of earlier gritty fantasy. But recently there’s been a profusion of great novels coming out of this camp: Uncle GRRM, Scott Lynch, Joe Abercrombie, and others.
I don’t write non-conciliatory fantasy, but I do love to read it. It wasn’t a large presence back when I was first absorbing Terry Brooks, Robin Hobb, Tad Williams, Raymond E. Feist, and Robert Jordan. Now it has a large, perhaps the largest, presence in the epic fantasy field. As a movement, it might have come into vogue spontaneously or as a reaction to the double blast of Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings (the first with a YA sensibility, the second with Tolkien’s Victorian sensibility). Whatever the case, I’m always fascinated by how non-conciliatory fantasy walks a fine line between upsetting and rewarding its readers.
**In the next paragraph, I’m going to write generally about GRRM’s Song of Ice and Fire, so if you’re not up on those, read only at risk of spoilers.**
When I first discovered A Game of Thrones I was shocked when GRRM killed off the character I was most attached to. But then I realized how he had brought in a real sense of danger in for the reader. Before, when a protag faced impossible odds, I wasn’t truly worried. I figured the protag was too important to kill off. Now no one was safe. It was thrilling, never knowing who was going to survive. But recently I’ve begun to read non-conciliatory fantasy differently. I don’t let myself get attached to the protags. I figure the author will kill them off for the shock value. I especially don’t get attached to a protag in a non-conciliatory fantasy if said protag is likable. I double especially don’t get attached if the character is likable and GRRM’s writing the book. That guy, super about to die, horribly. Don’t get me wrong, I’m just as eager to get my hands on A Dance with Dragons as the next fan, but I’ll be reading it much differently than the first books in the series. But I’m only one reader; I’d be curious to learn if other folks had similar reactions.
I’m fascinated to see where “non-conciliatory” fantasy will go from here. Its wave might break if readers, like me, start to distance themselves from the characters. Or, as I would prefer, it might find a way to keep its momentum going. I do hope its authors can come up with a better name. If they write “non-conciliatory fantasy” then the rest of us write “conciliatory fantasy,” which makes them sound arrogant and us sound like milquetoasts.
Another hot topic recently has been speculative fiction’s place in the gutters of literature, and what sort of effect (positive and negative) it might have on the genre and its authors.
It started with an article by John Howell, Why Science Fiction Authors Can’t Win:
Is science fiction destined to remain drowning in the gutter, unappreciated by the so called “judges” and “arbiters” of great literature? Will science fiction authors ever escape the publication ghetto? If not, if the works of science fiction authors remain unrewarded and unloved by the literati, I’ll happily remain in the gutter with SF readers and writers alike. The gutter is obviously the place to be.
Then Lou Anders responded by posting a quote by James Enge, author of Blood of Ambrose:
I believe that the greatest danger to genre fiction nowadays is not the denial of respect from some notional group of literary tastemakers but the very real likelihood that sf/f may become respectable. Those who thirst for the foamy gray poison of respectability should consider the fate of jazz, once a popular medium, now respectable, ossified and ignored.
After which a whole load of authors joined in with their thoughts. The quote that stuck out most to me was from Mark Chadbourn, author of The Age of Misrule:
I relish the roots of the genre, and agree with James that it’s a vital part of what makes sf and, indeed, f, a transgressional thrill.
But I am concerned about the scorn poured on to the genres. When papers like The Independent refuse to review *any* genre title because they “have no value,” there is a strong message being sent to potential mainstream readers. When commentators across the media trash the entire sf/f genre (but not crime), it does have an effect. And in this day and age, these kinds of memes spread much faster and deeper, and take root.
I don’t care whether SF is up for the Booker or not. I’m not bothered about respectability. I see little value in prizes and awards. But I *do* see a danger in corrosive criticism of the entire genre from people who really are opinion formers to the wider population.
I’m curious to hear what you, as an author new to the genre (and the publishing world as a whole, in fact) thought about speculative fiction’s perennial place in the gutter.
Chadbourn hit the nail on the head. In fact, he describes the problem so well I don’t have anything to add.
No, wait, I do.
When I read Margret Atwood’s quotation “Science fiction is rockets, chemicals and talking squids in outer space,” (The Guardian, 28 January 2009) and then again when I read Sven Birkets’ statement that “science fiction will never be Literature with a capital ‘L’” (New York Times, 18 May, 2003) I had to vomit a little in my mouth and then swallow it.
This type of prejudice is dangerous because novels, like many forms of art, have character. In that, they’re like people. Types of novels are like types of people. And the communities of ‘genre,’ which we rightly create to help us navigate the myriad of books produced each year, are no different than neighborhoods. To say that there’s no Literature on the SFF shelves is analogous to saying there are no truly beautiful people in the Polish neighborhood or the Black neighborhood or the whatever neighborhood. Maybe you don’t hang out in certain neighborhoods so much. Maybe you don’t have any good friends that live there. That’s cool. You can’t hangout in all neighborhoods; you can’t know everyone. There’s nothing wrong with reading predominantly literature-that-wants-a-capital-L or predominantly mystery or horror or whatever. Most of what you read in any genre is going to be average, just like most of the people you meet in any neighborhood are going to be average. It’s the rare book of any stripe that’s truly going to be beautiful. It’s the rare person who’s truly going to be beautiful, inside and out.
If you believe that there’s absolutely no literature in science fiction or fantasy or young adult fiction or chick-lit or another genre, then you are worse than snobbish, you’re slightly bigoted. Maybe it’s not your fault. Maybe you unknowingly absorbed the prejudice when you were young. That’s sad, but it doesn’t excuse you. You should work hard to become otherwise.
Tell me about that Todd Lockwood cover. It’s pretty badass.
I was ecstatic when my editor mentioned that Todd had been hired to work on the cover. I’d been a huge fan of his D&D work and his now legendary cover art for the R.A. Salvatore books. Authors aren’t told much about how the art development process happens. But I heard that they had given him an early manuscript of Spellwright and then asked if could suggest any scenes that might make a good cover. Todd chose one scene that featured a particular war-weight gargoyle. Here’s the gargoyle’s intro in the book.
A seven-foot-tall gargoyle stood guard on the bottommost step. Its muscled body would have been humanoid, save for the two extra arms growing under the expected pair. And the stone wings bulging from its back would have resembled bird wings but for the two additional carpal joints that allowed the limbs to fold into tight, fiddlehead spirals. Its giant hawk’s head glared at the spellwrights with stony eyes.
As you can see, Todd took that description and made it into an amazing visual reality. Even better, Todd worked my text-based magic system into the art. As he noted on his website “the gargoyles are constructs of magic, literally made of words. So I used letter forms as the texture ground, as you can see in the close-up detail.”
Also, Todd captured the importance of lightness and darkness in the book: the luminescent moons competing with the incandescent text is perfect.
We’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but I’ll be pretty damn happy if anyone judges Spellwright by Todd’s cover.
One final question, Blake. You’re a self-professed bald man, who must’ve heard a lot of bad bald jokes. Which one makes your skin crawl more than any other?
Apologies to my glabrous brothers who do not yet see their (literal) brilliance, but I love being shiny and I love bald humor. I can’t think of a bald joke that doesn’t make me cackle with delight as I think about how I might appropriate it for my own self-glorification.
So far, there’s only one joke that’s got the best of me. This one’s for a partially bald guy who wants to pick on a totally bald one: “Men who are bald in the front are great thinkers. Men who are bald in the back are great lovers. But men who are bald in the front and the back just think they’re great lovers.” I’d love to have a witty comeback for the guys that tell me this one. But sadly, I am usually stuck explaining to the jokester-of-single-sided-shininess that he’d get more dates without the combover. *OHHH SNAP!*
Mostly, I recommend a doctrine of preemption. If you mock your gloss before they do, you win. Extra points for self-aggrandizement. Along this line: “God made a few perfect heads; on the rest, he put hair.” Or “Grass doesn’t grow on a busy road.” Double extra points for a façade of humility. For example, if someone says you’ve done something less than perfectly, rub the dome and sheepishly say that you’ll practice so that next time you “won’t have a hair out of place.”
Thanks for dropping by, Blake! Best of luck with Spellwright, Spellbound and beyond!
It’s been a pleasure! Hope I can come back someday.