Q: How would you define and describe writer’s block?
A: The word ‘block’ sounds so powerful, so final, huh? But I try to think of it as two separate but not unrelated problems that are both beatable.
The first problem seems to be when motivation is low, which is probably the hardest to fight for me. But the other is perhaps more to do with story itself. Sometimes when I start with an idea or premise, it goes nowhere and I think that’s due to a fundamental difference between an idea and a story. For me to finish, I need a story which includes conflict. An idea doesn’t always have conflict, since it’s often only a starting point for me. Often, when I’m too excited about an idea and I can’t see or create the conflict, I definitely get stuck.
Q: You just published another fantasy novel. Why did you choose that genre and that story?
A: I think because it’s fun 🙂 I love using my imagination and so stories about other places, stories that feature magic, they let me stretch my imagination. I also like the high-stakes element inherent to a lot of fantasy – which isn’t to say other genres can’t have those things of course.
There’s also something very appealing about having the heart of Never’s story in Imperial Towers revolve around a struggle between brothers. The redefining of their relationship has been a great challenge and I hope, ends up being an engaging story!
Q: Can you give us an overview of the magic system in your book’s world?
A: A lot of what I went for in this story was what I’ve seen termed as a ‘soft magic system’ whereby there’s a lot of room for wonder and curiosity in the reader, since not everything is explained at first or sometimes even at all. When talking about soft and hard systems, Brandon Sanderson uses his own Mistborn as an example of a ‘hard’ or structured, clearly explained system and LOTR and Gandalf as an example of a ‘soft’ system. Personally, I love both approaches and feel that while mine falls between soft and hard, it leans more toward the soft end of the spectrum because that suited this particular story, which has a strong element of self-discovery.
The magic in the stories centring around Never is a little less systematic than in my other books I think. Part of this is because during the time Never is on his search, ancient lore and power is slowly being uncovered. For much of the series, Never is ignorant about the bulk of his heritage and magical abilities.
But the curse on his blood is a lot clearer to him. For lack of a better word, his blood is magnetic. It seeks and draws forth the blood of others, but only when exposed. When backed into a corner, Never will open a small cut on his hand and inflict a similar wound on an enemy. Once he does this, his blood will drain his enemy. During the process, Never tends to take on something of the fallen – perhaps an unwanted memory.
Part of his search is to discover the ‘why’ behind his curse and to rid himself of it, since it has made him both outcast and extremely reluctant to grow too close to others due to the risk his very blood poses.
Q: Can you give us an idea about the development process your magic system went through? Did you need to modify it as characters, world, and plot developed? Or did it stay pretty much the same as you first envisioned it?
A: I did do a bit of pre-planning on the system but not as much as I usually do. I knew I wanted to move away from bones as a focus for my magic, since I’d used them in a previous series. However, I wanted to keep the magic closely related to the body and so I went with blood. During that planning, I wanted to steer away from vampiric aspects though there is an obvious similarity. On the other hand, I knew the Never books wouldn’t please fans of traditional vampire scenarios.
As I wrote the first draft of the first book (and even once during the current book, Imperial Towers) I definitely altered and expanded as the characters and plot progressed. I wanted the magic to remain mysterious so it could be an element of awe and surprise – for both the reader and Never. The more I wrote, the more I realised the best way for me to tell this story would be to allow the reader to discover new things about Never’s magic just as he did. It’s my hope that this keeps the reader firmly onside with Never as a sort of co-discoverer.
Q: You have different types of magic in your book. Why did you make more than one type? How did you decide to divide magic along those lines?
I thought that more than one type of magic was a natural way to add depth to the worldbuilding and reader immersion. After all, I wanted a variety of fighting styles and ways of living in the book, so magic had to be the same, which was great because I got to explore and create more 🙂
While the main focus is on Never’s magic, I placed hints of other magics in the world too, like the terrible wrath of Gods or the subtle, unseen guiding hand of such deities. One element of magic I’ve introduced but haven’t had the chance to explore yet is that of truth-sayer; I have a jester-like character who can ferret out lies under interview-like conditions, at the cost of degradation to his puppet. The constant repair of the puppet is but one price I’ve envisioned so far.
Q: You don’t introduce all your magic types at once. Why is that?
A: Part of why I haven’t explored that magic in the first five Never books is probably because of another notion I first read in a Brandon Sanderson article – the idea of deepening an existing magic before introducing too many others. So I’ve focused on exploring depth around Never’s curse, other uses for his blood, like a single drop revealing hidden doors left by his ancestors, healing or something like even more destructive offensive elements like what I’ve termed crimson-fire.
Q: How important did you think it was to set limits, rules, and prices on magic use for your world?
A: Very! I always think of the classic Superman example. Without kryptonite there’s no danger, no risk, no tension. Superman simply wins every single time and as a reader I’d find that pretty boring.
So I absolutely had to put limits on what Never could do with his blood magic and related abilities – the chief one of which was his ignorance. Since Never spends most of the series searching for the truth about his magical heritage, he doesn’t have all the answers for every problem he faces. He has to work a little harder to win through.
A very physical limit too, is the use of Never’s blood as a weapon – he cannot simply use it constantly, since it’s a finite resource. He’ll die if he does so.
Q: I really appreciate you sharing your time and experiences with us. Is there any person or group who especially supported you as you wrote this book?
My pleasure, I love to ramble on about magic and worldbuilding stuff!
Definitely – for this particular book I think I owe the biggest debt of support to my wife, whose support remained unwavering all the way through 🙂
Q: For those readers who want to know more about you, where can you be found?
A: For news about my fiction check out www.cityofmasks.com I’m also trying to read a lot more this year so you can visit my Goodreads profile at https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5806251.Ashley_Capes . You can recommend a favourite book to me there or on Twitter, where I share the occasional observation on… stuff, basically! https://twitter.com/Ash_Capes