Today I'm talking with author Matt Posner about the latest in his School of the Ages series, a young adult contemporary fantasy series.
1) Please tell us about your book.
The War Against Love continues the story of teen magicians attending a magic school in New York. In this adventure, the heroes gets into a life-and-death struggle with a gang of Nazi wizards from Europe who have a long-standing grudge against the school and are willing to make it very personal. They attack Simon's house in the first chapter and they attack his partner Goldberry in the street shortly thereafter. From this point, the conflict is all-out, and only blood can follow. But in the middle of this, Simon falls in love with the Arch-Mage's daughter, whom he feels is so perfect for him that it hurts to be near her. And she's not the easiest person in the world to deal with, and he doesn't know if he can win her heart, and even if he can, there's still the magical war going on in the background.
It's the darkest book of the series, in the way the middle of any series must be. The closest parallel I would say is The Empire Strikes Back, the middle movie of the first Star Wars trilogy. The enemies do damage that maybe can't be healed.
2) This is the third in your School of the Ages series. You're working on a fourth. That's certainty a lot of writing time invested. What inspired you to start on this particular series?
I've been writing about magic and coming of age since I began my first fantasy novel at age 14. In this case, my original idea was to write about one wizard and about three teen apprentices travelling the world, but at the time I was working in a yeshiva high school, and I decided it would be more cool to use what I was learning there, so I switched to a magic school concept. I also got the villain of The Ghost in the Crystal from something I read in the yeshiva. With this basis, I began to draw in other elements of my life and knowledge. My wife is Hindu Indian, so I added in this cultural background, and I was then new to New York and wanted to use the city also. And I have a lot of knowledge of the paranormal and Hermetic magic. So it all came together well.
I started this series in early 2002. So I've been working on it for ten years, and it will be a total of twelve years by the time it's done. I'm writing other things also, but honestly, I'd like to get it over with, and start something else. However, the story isn't done yet, and I don't have any choice now -- I have a traditional publisher who is expecting five books. And there is so much cool stuff still coming that writing the rest will still be fun.
3) Please tell us a bit about the cultural background underlying your story.
The magic system in this series is an eclectic combination of paranormal studies (like you can see on TV ghost shows); and Hermetic occultism, the European magical tradition with its methods of divination and astrology and mainstream magic theory; and Asian traditions such as meditation and mantras; and Cabala, Jewish mysticism and magic. I combine these with a variety of histories and cultures, adding new ones with each book. In book 3, I used my knowledge of learning disability to create a teen magician with Asperger's syndrome. In the present book, I use my travels in Europe to provide some intriguing settings for the kids to adventure in. So they are meeting and dealing with their allies and enemies in real places in Europe, just as I used real places in New York for The Ghost in the Crystal.
4) What sort of challenges does Simon face in this book that he hasn't faced before?
He faces adult magicians who want to kill him, including one who is a serial killer, and there are also really deadly spirit opponents. He has to face down an arch-mage, and he has to deal with wild, passionate love for a girl he's not sure likes him. But worst is really the challenge of dealing with his own rage and corresponding potential for violence. In book one, Simon was an innocent child. In book two, he was a wounded child. In book three, he learns that he has the power and the capacity to kill. In book four, he will deal with remorse.
5) A lot of people die in this book. Do you have any concerns that readers will be off-put by some of their favorite characters dying?
Well, I didn't like it when Ben Kenobi died in the original Star Wars. I was only seven when I saw that in 1977. I guess it had a strong effect on me to see a character die that I liked so very much. For most contemporary readers, it's the death of Sirius or of Dumbledore that hurts the most. However, if it makes you feel any better, remember that my books are full of ghosts. Being dead doesn't mean the characters won't appear anymore.
6) With all the darkness in this book, did you find it difficult to integrate the romantic elements?
I think I had a sense fairly early on that the story arc of the book was going to damage Simon, Goldberry, and the rest of the cast on the emotional level, showing the cost of war. It is the war against love -- which Simon describes early on as the conflict that would deny him peace. So the whole shape, including the romance, was in my mind throughout the writing process.
One event that made a difference is worth reporting. I work two jobs on most days. Back in 2009, I drove to my second job and had 45 minutes to unwind before beginning work, so I lay down on the sofa and listened to my iPod. The song "Nothing Else Matters" by Metallica came on just as I was starting to fall asleep, and in my half-asleep state, the emotional impact of the song triggered my creative process, and I realized the climax of this novel for the first time. So music helped me a little with the integration, I must say. But music always helps.
7) You've engaged in a bit more stylistic experimentation in this book. What motivated those writing choices?
I suppose you mean the scene that is told as a screenplay. I wrote it that way because I conceived the events of the story as the sequence of a film, and I just wanted to put them on paper that way. Those events can be told best in montage form not as a straight narrative. Also, because this book is heavily designed around dramatic irony, I intend for the readers to know things Simon doesn't know, and accordingly to feel sorry for him as he makes mistakes. It's a tragedy, really. I love tragedy as a literary form. I have since reading Oedipus Rex back in middle school.
I also have an extended sequence in which the Jonathan twins beat up Simon by throwing at him fantasy novels that were popular in the 1980s. They make a variety of remarks about the books and the authors, some complimentary, some not. (I'll bet my publisher in India takes this part out…) This is based on Chapter VI of Don Quixote, in which a priest and a barber go through Quixote's library of romances and judge them one by one as either good, or suitable only for burning. I'll leave it to the reader to decide which of the Jonathans' opinions are mine.
8) How many more books are planned for this series?
There are two more books planned. Book IV has had a name change and is now called Simon Myth. It brings back time travel and has a heavy focus on India and Indian mythology. It also has a lot more of Goldberry, who gets entire chapters on her own. I have written more than half of this book, but my progress is very slow. Book V, which has not been written but is just partly planned, is called The Wonderful Carol and will employ Arabian and Persian mythology as well as some cool popular culture tropes.
Jeremy, I appreciate the chance to appear on your blog to talk about The War Against Love. My next book, possibly for the end of September, will be How to Write Dialogue, to which you are also contributing. So I'm going to get to work on that, and please, more of your series too, ASAP!
Thanks, Matt. If you'd like to see more from Matt please check out his site at http://schooloftheages.webs.com/.
The War Against Love can be purchased at:
Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/School-Ages-Against-Series-ebook/dp/B008VXUI0K/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&qid=1344684150&sr=8-8
Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/school-of-the-ages-matt-posner/1112451675?ean=2940014860512