Pleased to say that today I’ve been joined by Terry Mancour, author of the Spellmonger series (10 parts currently and still going strong). There are some spoilers in the interview below.
What's the premise of Necromancer, the tenth and most recent instalment in the Spellmonger series?
Necromancer is a climactic book, in a couple of different ways. First, it’s the tenth book in the series, and hitting double digits deserves some celebration, plot-wise. There are elements that I brought up in Spellmonger, Book 1, that I didn’t revisit until Book 10. Secondly, it’s also the conclusion of a trilogy (quadrology?), of sorts. Books 8 (Court Wizard) and 9 (Shadowmage) take place partially concurrent with Book 7, Enchanter, but from different character perspectives. In Necromancer I had to unite those three disparate character and plot perspectives and put Minalan back into the picture, character-wise. All of those deeply personal questions that arose at the end of Enchanter had to be answered.
Plot-wise, Minalan the Spellmonger is in rough shape . . . but he has hope. It involves an impossible quest and a tricky set of moves in which he manipulates everyone he needs to, from his own vassals to the very gods, to get what he wants. Thematically, it’s a quasi-Orphic quest in which he goes into both a figurative and a literal Land of the Dead in order to bring his wife, Alya, back from a persistent vegetative state. It’s a fight between Min’s ego and intellect and the dark forces around him – not all of which are readily apparent. He emerges from a dark place, by the end of the book, but only at great cost.
The early books focused very much on the goblin threat, but more recently it’s on the backburner. Can you tell us whether the Dead God and his goblin hordes will be coming back soon, or even at all?
The role of the gurvani (goblins) has changed, since Spellmonger, but they are still very important to the over-all plot, as is their fossilized Dark Lord. As truths about Callidore’s past get revealed, Sheruel’s simple desire for genocide will seem quaint and wholesome compared to Korbal – or, at least, the reader might feel a little more sympathetic to the gurvani. They have been kicked around by a lot of different peoples over the years, and they feel sidelined by the Nemovorti. They were finally on top, with an undead Dark Lord of their very own, and now this! They very aren’t happy about it. We will see Sheruel again, and the rise of the Goblin King as rebels against Korbal’s betrayal. Gurkarl will decidedly play a role, because yes, I enjoy drawing out plotlines that far for the pure hedonistic joy of it.
There are many parts already in the series, and many planned ahead. How much detail have you charted out the course of future books, or do you make a vague outline for each planned instalment and only develop it when you arrive at that book?
In some cases, quite a bit. I know how it ends, more or less. I know what has to happen for the end to happen. I know the cool scenes I want to write. But there is much undiscovered country along the way, and part of the joy for me, as the writer, is having unexpected stuff fall out of my brain and onto the page. I know we can expect to see some familiar fantasy tropes tackled in a slightly new or different way.
Min will go on the road, during his exile, and there will be a lot of adventures before the end. But I’ve learned not to over-plot my books before I’ve started them. That’s boring for the reader and for me. And its too much work. It’s easier to hitch my subconscious to the plow of my keyboard, or somesuch other analogy, and let it do the heavy work. That opens my writing up to spontaneous inclusions of interesting bits of stuff I pick up in my research.
Writing a series offers both writer and readers the ease of a consistent world and characters, as well as enabling for more character depth and development than a single volume, but keeping consistency without making things repetitive or ‘samey’ can be tricky. What’s the greatest challenge you’ve found writing a series which is now up to part 10?
Thankfully, while the piano only has 88 keys they still keep getting new songs out of it. Fantasy is much the same. Both J. R. R. Tolkien and George R. R. Martin use the medieval European fantasy setting, dragons, swords, magic, etc., but they are two entirely different stories. Hopefully, Terry R. R. Mancour will be able keep playing across those tropes in an entertaining way.
The episodic format of series fantasy fiction is helpful. But it’s also important for the writer to not abuse that. I make a point that each of my novels is a complete novel, in itself, not merely a section of a larger work. That means they need a beginning, a middle, an end, a plot, character development, and the rest.
Part of that can rest on the natural progression of events and character development. If you do it right, and understand human nature sufficiently, then figuring out how your character is going to change and develop in response to the course of events isn’t as hard as most writers seem to make it. In Enchanter, Minalan underwent stages of psychological response to a major personal trauma. That’s a pretty clear course of development to follow, and it gave the story greater depth without a lot of psychobabble. Or not much.
Part of that has to be supplied by the author applying a different approach or perspective on the same old medieval fantasy tropes. I find I take a lot of inspiration from significant events of the Middle Ages. Journeymage, for instance, was inspired by the Children’s Crusade.
Thankfully, the Middle Ages had a lot of fascinating stories that Fantasy literature has endlessly reinterpreted. While knight vs. dragon, elf vs. dwarf, etc. has had a lot of play, there are plenty of great tropes I haven’t used yet. In the future, expect some stories and plots revolving around the plague, voyages of exploration, peasant’s revolts, pirates, a succession crisis, and perhaps even the Inquisition. I’ll also be doing some more-familiar Fantasy tropes, such as the Dragon’s Lair, the Secret Cult, the Lost Civilization, the Ancient Evil, etc. Any of these is enough to hang an entire novel on, if you do it right. Mixing and matching them in the Spellmonger universe is a joy, and I have a long way to go before I start running short of material.
The series is focused entirely on Minalan to start with, but more recent instalments have seen other perspectives become increasingly important. Was this always planned, or did you feel that either telling the story or offering a new point of view was necessary to keep things fresh?
At a certain point, I think you have to vary the perspective in order to keep the reader’s attention. Consider that an awful lot more happened in the Civil War than what Rhett Butler saw and experienced. Offering those different perspectives allows you to give true depth to your world-building. It also allows the author to inject differences of perspective that can be jarring.
A case in point is how I handled the character of Dara in Necromancer. Dara has been the lead in the Young Adult/Cadet spin-off series I’ve done chronicling the events of the Spellmonger Series from her perspective. An adolescent girl and a middle-aged man see things very differently, and their perceptions of each other are as flawed and biased as anyone’s. I caught some flak from fans about how Dara, after being a strong and resilient character in one series, seems to be a whiny and self-absorbed girl in the main series.
Here’s the thing: to Minalan’s perspective, she is a whiny and self-absorbed girl. But Min’s perspective is informed by only a few brief scenes, not the introspection that Dara is undertaking as she moves from childhood to adulthood. To her, Min is a wise and powerful wizard who always knows what to do, not a self-doubting and sometimes self-loathing mage who frequently feels he’s in waaaay over his head. Which perspective is the “true” one? Neither. Each is just as valid, and by shifting viewpoints and characters to review the same events I hope to build up a tension that eventually erupts into conflict between the two.
A similar thing occurred with Pentandra. Responding in part to the popular ideas that a) there were no good female leading characters in Fantasy (which I dispute) and b) that men could not write good or convincing female characters, I wrote Court Wizard from Pentandra’s perspective. Within the novel she sees quite a bit of Callidore’s society that Minalan doesn’t, thanks to both her class and her gender. More, I had to change not only the nominal gender of the main character, but had to work to understand her perspective myself. Regardless of the politics of the moment, men and women generally tend to approach the same situations from slightly different directions. While there are notable exceptions, writing a female lead convincingly had to encompass some of these basic differences or Pentandra would have just sounded like Min in drag. No one wants that.
The further excursions into perspective, specifically Book 4, Knights Magi, and its more-or-less sequel Book 9, Shadowmage, explore the relationship with Tyndal and Rondal, Min’s senior apprentices. They’re undergoing an entirely different journey than Dara. They have different motivations and seek different risks and rewards. And they all see Callidore differently.
It’s not just a matter of keeping things fresh. Changing characters and perspective can serve the greater story when the reader knows things that the main character doesn’t. In fact, keeping track of who knows what, when, and how that advances the plot is something I spend a lot of time on.
Your books are selling nicely and well-reviewed, but do you ever want a break from the Spellmonger world? Are you working on anything else/have other plans, or are you just enjoying writing the series?
I’m so glad you asked! I am absolutely devoted to the Spellmonger series – it’s like a rich mug of ale. But I have two sci-fi series underway, at the moment.
The first is my Tanith series, a continuation of H. Beam Piper’s classic space opera novel, Space Viking. After the original author tragically committed suicide with no heirs, his work became public domain. I’ve written two short sequels to the original already, Prince of Tanith and Princess Valerie’s War, and I’m working on a capstone finale to the work now, called Trask’s Odyssey.
And I will be totally honest: one reason it’s taking so long to produce the final book is that I’m enjoying it too much. If Spellmonger is like a rich mug of ale, then the Tanith Series is like a dirty double martini with three olives.
Secondly, I have a second sci-fi trilogy I’ve begun publishing. I won’t get into the background of the work here, but it’s an original time-travel piece that’s also (wait for it) openly pornographic. Sexually explicit. With all the best dirty words. It’s called the Casanova’s Butterfly trilogy, and the first book, Bad Penny, was released last summer to generally good reviews. I’ll be releasing the other two parts this summer and next, respectively. It’s already written, I just want to space it out because I’m like that.
It’s a trashy beach read and a lot of fun for any student of history or erotica or both. The main character is an anti-hero Pick-Up-Artist who goes pro by joining an elite government-sponsored time-travel program which goes back in time to insert certain genetic corrections into the human genomes to avoid a future catastrophe. The Old Fashioned Way: by seducing your grandmother. Most of the MC’s work is in the mid 20th century, the 1940s-1970s, one of my favorite historical periods. Along the way, the character’s hubris and arrogance screws up the time stream but good. If Spellmonger is a rich cup of ale, Casanova’s Butterfly is like a classic Manhattan with a roofie in it. I like to think of it as the Thinking Man’s porn novel.
The Spellmonger series is classic high fantasy. What were your inspirations, whether fictional or (for the political side, probably) real life?
It goes without saying that Tolkien is my bedrock inspiration, and my appreciation of the Professor grows every time I start another book. I also credit George R. R. Martin for some inspiration, because I began reading him before Game of Thrones and enjoy his approach to prose.
Other influences may be more obscure or subtle, even when I try to make them blatant, but here it goes: First and foremost would be Steven Brust’s Adrilankha series. My approach to Min’s character is closest to how Steve handles Vlad, his main character. Careful readers of both series will recognize me blatantly ripping off Steve’s character for a kind of cross-platform cameo in Shadowmage. But Steve’s wit and humor informed Min, and his approach to a well-drawn character is something I am proud to have stolen from him. Brust is the spiritual heir of Roger Zelazny’s amazing style, and I can’t recommend his stuff highly enough. Zelazny, himself, is a huge influence as well, particularly the Chronicles of Amber and the Lord of Light, but I even tracked down his “hard boiled detective novel” from the 1960s, and it rocked.
Another powerful influence was Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series. Even though it has dragons and castles, it isn’t Fantasy. Not a lick of magic in it. It’s high-concept Sci-Fi with really good characters. Much of my cadet novels were cribbed from her Harper Hall YA trilogy. Another was Andrew Offut, who might be a little obscure for some folks but who did some great work back in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly for the Thieves’ World shared-universe series (for which Brust contributed a story, last volume). If you aren’t familiar, Thieves’ World was a wonderful collection of fantasy stories that really demonstrated the chops of some of the better fantasy writers of its time. Offut’s stories always impressed me the most. His original novels were likewise superior, though he didn’t get the acclaim that he deserved for their quality. Andy Offut knew how to get the most out of his characters, especially the minor ones, and when I need inspiration I frequently turn to his stories in the anthologies.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Fritz Lieber and Robert Howard, whose magnificent bodies of work informed the adventurous imagination of my childhood and occasionally leak all over Spellmonger. They made the world safe for brawny-thewed barbarians everywhere.
Non-literary influences should be included. Count the Boy Scouts and Dungeons & Dragons (which I was, incidentally, introduced to in Boy Scouts by Chris Evans – thanks, Chris!) as among my strongest. The BSA led, of course, to the Kasari culture in Spellmonger, and D&D has been a constant source of both inspiration and research.
Looking back at the 10 parts to date, which character (whether major or minor) have you found most enjoyable to write, and why?
I have a few favorites, and I’ll take the various main characters off the table for the sake of this question. Writing Crazy Alya was fun, largely because she’s usually so level-headed. I love writing the various Wizards of Sevendor, especially Olmeg the Green and Banamor. Both are based on people I know. Gatina the Kitten was a delicious delight to write, because she combines utter commitment with youthful enthusiasm. Onranion is a blast because he just doesn’t give a crap, and so is the Sorceress of Sorsha Wood, Lilastien the Rebel, M.D., the last remaining member of the Callidore Colonial Medical Service.
I love Sire Cei. I love writing Azar. There are characters that I absolutely love and who I haven’t even gotten to, yet. And yes, sadly, some won’t make it. But I have plenty to work with, and as long as I can keep them all sounding different and exciting, we’ll keep seeing them. Some will even get their own books. Banamor, Olmeg, Sire Cei and Zagor the Hedgemage will all get separate stories focusing on their perspectives, hopefully this year. Others will be explored in the future.
I thought I might tell this one from the vampire’s point of view.
Seriously, Book 11 begins the second major arc of the series. The first ten books (decalogy) is The Spellmonger Ascendant. The second ten will be The Spellmonger’s Exile. In the first series, we see the rise of Min from lowly village spellmonger to senior noble of a unified kingdom. We saw how he built Sevendor from scratch and changed the feudal society he found himself in for the better: Magic in the Service of Man.
The second series will go a little darker. Now that Min has been exiled from Sevendor for at least three years, and then put unexpectedly in charge of the Magelaw, he has an even greater task ahead: building Vanador, a city designed to challenge the might of the various Dark Lords directly, without messing around too much with the rest of the Five Duchies. He has recovered his family, somewhat, and finds himself threatened in ways he never suspected once he becomes Count of the Magelaw.
In one way, the pressure has never been higher. At the end of Necromancer we saw our understanding of the war, so far, challenged by events and revelations from the past. Humanity has finally caught the attention of the Sea Folk, and now Min has to figure out what to do with it . . . as well as solving the complicated thaumaturgic puzzle of how to re-create the freak Snowstone spell. His wife is only beginning to recover her sanity and her fragmented memories. He faces a dauntless foe with very few resources or advantages, and no allies nearby to speak of. His political situation has never been more dire, and the future looks grim.
Yet in another way, Min has never been happier. The accomplishment he feels after retrieving the Handmaiden in Necromancer gives him great power, and he doesn’t see the various threats to Vanador as serious, compared to Korbal and Sheruel. The goblins are fighting each other, for a change, and the thousands of former slaves he helped free are struggling to rebuild their shattered lives in a shattered and depopulated land. Min has learned how to develop a country, thanks to Sevendor, and he has a lot more help this time. He’s living where he originally wanted to (more or less) with the girl of his dreams and their children. His enemies are far away and think he’s been bound by his exile, when nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Min sees his exile as a means of catching up on some important work while allowing Sevendor to grow naturally, without his direct guidance for a while. In a way, he’s off the game board of Kingdom-level politics. In a way, he’s at the center of it.
It’s a time of restful watchfulness and preparing for future battles. A time of repose, reflection, rebuilding and consideration of the future. So, nothing of consequence happens. I anticipate that it will be a really long and boring book on peasant market economics and the fascinating study of crop rotation’s effects on overall productivity and peasant farmers’ risk management schemes. I foresee some fascinating discussions on comparative thatching techniques. Perhaps some titillating debate about the differences between canon and secular law. Livestock will be discussed in depth and detail. There might even be some authentic pottage recipes, if you’re good.
There will be a mix of old characters and new. To the fore will be Tyndal, Gareth, Ruderal, Carmella, Azar, Wenek, Sandoval, Terleman, Landrik, Caswallon, Thinradel, Cormoran, the Dradrien, and others. On the back burner (in the “Meanwhile, Back In Sevendor . . . .” sense) will be Rondal, Gatina, Pentandra, Anguin, Sire Cei, Banamor, Olmeg, and Dara. Ithalia and Onranion will be present. Varen, Fallawen, and Lilastien will have cameos, at best.
We’ll also see some new folk in the woods of the Wilderlands: Rumel’s people, commonly known as Wood Dwarves. Durin’s Folk, they ain’t. Some new critters we haven’t seen before, including powderhorns and shapeshifting predators. We’ll see how someone other than Dara commands a wing of Sky Riders. We’ll start to get to know Min’s kids as more than names. Including the children of Greenflower. We’ll see what light an ancient AI from humanity’s past can shed on the current colony’s precarious position. We’ll find out more about the Forsaken. And we’ll see just who among his many manly minions Korbal considers powerful enough to challenge the Spellmonger.
As to when it will be out, that’s difficult to say. It takes a while to craft a book like that, a lot of research and a lot of writing. I took much of this year off of Spellmonger to prepare for the next series and finish up the audiobooks for the first one. I’ve committed to publishing three other novels and some stories before I even get there. I’m also feverishly working on additional texts, like the Atlas of the Five Duchies and a FRP module and sourcebook, in conjunction with superfan and recognized Mage Knight of Sevendor, Aaron Schwartz. I need to continue my marketing efforts and my development efforts. I’d really like to see some elements of Spellmonger in an AV format, someday, and have been working in that direction. I’d also be interested in exploring a comic adaptation, if I could find the right artist. I’ve been looking for a few years, now, but haven’t found someone who can do it, yet.
All of that being said, I can make this simple guarantee: YOU WILL SEE BOOK 11, THAUMATURGE, BEFORE YOU SEE WINDS OF WINTER. Likely sometime in early 2019.
So, suck it, George R. R. Martin.