This September brings the publication of A. Christopher Drown’s A Mage of None Magic: The Heart of the Sisters, Book One from Tyrannosaurus Press. Specializing in science fiction and fantasy, the press has been around since 2002. Recently, Drown graciously agreed to chat with us about his writing, working with a small press, and the intimate details of his mental meat thermometer.
Your novel has an interesting title. Could you explain what it means?
“A mage of none magic” is from a bit of verse in the story that refers to a mysterious figure known as the Apostate. It’s also an allusion to a major theme I want to explore with the series—the chicken/egg relationship between messiah and prophecy. A friend of mine suggested using the line when I was fumbling for a title, and when she did I felt like a Dr. Seuss who’d written a story about a cat in a hat but had no idea what to call it.
I also notice that it’s “book one” of a series. How long of a series do you envision? Along similar lines, why a trilogy as opposed to a self-contained single volume?
I seem to be the kind of writer who’s just as interested to see how a story’s going to turn out as (hopefully) a reader would be. I view storytelling a bit like walking a hallway lined with doors; the end is discernible but how long it takes to get there depends on how many interesting doors-within-doors are discovered along the way. While I definitely have an overall arc in mind for the “Heart of the Sisters” books, the height and length of that arc is not exactly fixed. So, I’d say no fewer than three books, but probably no more than five. Unless, of course, I’m wrong.
When deciding how best to approach and present the story I wanted to tell, the story itself of course took priority; however, the realities of publishing also had to be considered. The simple truth is first- time novelists have a hard enough job getting into print without the added disadvantage of asking a publisher to invest in a monstrous thousand-plus-page manuscript by an unknown author. Taking a lesson from George Lucas, I wrote the opening episode of a larger tale that I felt would stand well enough on its own if need be, and therefore might be more palatable for a publisher, and then could conceivably pave the way for follow-up novels.
Tell me a little bit about Tyrannosaurus Press. What are they known for? How did you get in touch with them? What was it like to work with them?
Tyrannosaurus Press is a small company based originally in New Orleans but now near Baton Rouge following Hurricane Katrina. They almost closed up shop because of the huge hit they took from that storm—loss of facilities, loss of inventory—but in the end decided to stick it out. They publish speculative fiction—novels and anthologies. A few years ago a friend of mine who’d written for their newsletter urged me to submit some of my short fiction. I did, they liked it, and from there a very nice friendship ensued. They’ve since been kind enough to include a story of mine in each of the first two volumes of their short fiction anthology, “Beacons of Tomorrow.”
A couple summers ago I had lunch with the company’s owner and fellow writer, Bret Funk, just because I happened to be driving through Baton Rouge on the way home from a conference; I thought it’d be nice for the two of us to actually shake hands and move things beyond the e- mail inbox. I’d only intended it as a casual get-together, but over burgers Bret surprised me with an offhand, “So, I want to publish your novel.” I replied with a quick-witted, “Uh, okay,” and that was that.
Working with TPress has been a genuine pleasure. Their unwavering focus is the story, and how to make that story the best it can be—which, in my case, they did. “Mage” is a much cleaner, much tighter book than it was when they initially took it up, for which I’m exceedingly grateful. They have an option for my next novel, and I’m excited about the prospect of starting the process all over again because the first time was a lot of fun, as well as terrific learning experience.
More generally, how would you describe your writing style?
I’ve been told I have a pretty fluid style; I prefer to let rhythm and cadence dictate word choice, and often permit flavor to trump syntax. If anyone were to say my prose reminds them even a little of Ray Bradbury or Alice Sebold, you’d hear no complaint from me.
And your writing process?
Rex Stout, who wrote the “Nero Wolfe” novels, is said to have been such an exceptionally regimented writer, and to have held so strictly to his daily word count, that if he finished a novel before meeting that day’s quota he simply rolled the page out of the typewriter, rolled a blank sheet back in, and began his next novel right there and then, even stopping in mid-sentence when he reached the limit he’d set. Take that rigorous sense of discipline, turn it completely
the other way around, and you’ll have something akin to my writing process. I try to make at least some progress on my writing every day, but being a parent of two and having a full-time job makes that a challenge. A great deal of my process goes on inside my head. When the little mental meat thermometer pops up to let me know an idea is done, that’s when I have to sit down and write it out.
Who are some of your influences?
Poetry caught my ear first; T.S. Eliot, to be precise. My introduction to speculative fiction came via a worn paperback of Anne McCaffrey’s “Dragonflight” that my father loaned to me and never got back. The book that made me see fantasy storytelling as literature was T. H. White’s “The Once and Future King,” while the book that made me realize I wanted to write stories of my own was Joel Rosenberg’s “The Sleeping Dragon.” I’ve already mentioned Bradbury. There’s also Frederic Brown, Stephen King, Clive Barker, and a few hundred others. Oh, and I can’t forget Roger Ebert—yes, the film critic. Roger Ebert is hands down one of the best writers alive.
Finally, who do you see as the ideal reader for this book? In other words, who is your audience?
For me the ideal reader would be, of course, anyone who also purchases copies of “Mage” for their entire family, all their friends, and everyone at their office. My target audience, though… I guess I’d say is comprised of those who appreciate that no matter how fantastical the setting, a good story still boils down to the humanity at its center; that for all the magic and wondrousness that abounds, people who actually live, breathe, fret and fail have to populate the world at hand—not just those who fight and conquer; and that adventure is derived as much from within as it is from without.