I’m Ken Hughes, author of Shadowed and the upcoming The High Road. Since the first book deals with enhanced senses and the second with flying, I’ve always been a writer fascinated with the question: “How many ways can magic and the paranormal add to a story?” Thanks for agreeing to help me here explore it, Maurice. So let’s start at the beginning: how did you know you wanted the kind of magic you use in your writing?
How I use magic changes with each story and what I’m trying to do with it. With The Knights of Breton Court trilogy, since I was essentially re-telling the Arthurian saga, the roadmap was laid out for me. With the story being told through the lives of homeless teens, my approach for it was that magic would stand in as a metaphor for homelessness: both are all around us if we know what to look for.
Magic can open a whole set of doors (and pitfalls) in the plot of a story, with new opportunities for characters. How has your concept of magic meshed with your plots?
Yes, magic can be a crutch, a built in Deus ex machina in case one writes themselves into a corner. For me it’s like any other part of world-building. I work out as much f it as possible in advance so that I know the “rules” I need to play within. I knew going in, for example, I was going to use my love of the idea of ley lines as mystical boundaries dividing up the city. That element has popped up in several of my stories.
Pick a character in your stories. Of all the ways they could use their magic, what’s their approach for choosing what to do with it, how to go about it, and what are the challenges or limits that puts them in conflict with?
Merle, my “magical redneck,” was a fan favorite, not the least because of his on-going arguments with his squirrel companion. Magic was a tool that he wasn’t always in control of. In a lot of ways, he’s a relic ready to be put out to pasture, a magic user in the age of reason, science, and technology. So his is a constant call to look to the old ways, to look back on the stories and rituals which have shaped people in order to find their way forward.
When magic touches your characters’ lives, how does it tend to change their lives or their viewpoint?
When one confronts magic, it’s like that scientist/skeptic in a horror story when confronted with a demon of some sort. They have lived within their worldview only to have that paradigm shattered. Then it’s a scramble for survival while they piece together a new or broader way of looking at life.
What authors, myths, or other sources does your view of magic admire or draw from? Is there anything you think one source hasn’t done justice to?
So I recently had to write an essay where I had to create a mythological history of Kurt Vonnegut. I re-imagined him as a practitioner of chaos magic. It gave me an excuse to study the work of comic book writer, Grant Morrison, and his views/practice of it.
Sometimes it just clicks. Tell me about your favorite scene or moment where your brand of magic brought the story up to a new level.
In The Knights of Breton Court, the main character, King, is the classic reluctant hero. There comes a point where the forces pulling at his life has him going up against the effects of the “Dragon’s breath.” Like the skeptic earlier, he could continue in a state of denial and end up dead, or he could realize this ish just got real and level up.
It’s funny how we rarely think of the “monsters” as magical. I wrote the Green Knight as an elemental. He was a magical creature existing and making a (brutal) life for himself in the real world. He as my favorite character to write.
Looking ahead for your writing: what’s your biggest hope for something you want to capture for writing about magic that you haven’t done yet?
The current novel I’m writing will be all about finding magic as a way to cope with life. It follows a gamer who lives in a world without magic, but loves the idea of the wizard character he has created for himself. So on one level it’s about a guy LARP-ing through life, on another it’s about finding ways to know yourself, discover who you are and to create your own reality.
About yourself now: what form of magic would you most like to have, and what would you use it for?
I had a discussion with my aunt who is a practicing obeah woman in Jamaica. She told me that because of my faith—I’ve been a Christian for decades—that I have a powerful obeah spirt. With that in mind, I think any faith, any system of belief, is t make us better people and be used as instruments of healing and making the world a better place.
On the other hand, I was raised on comic books and magic can also equal super powers, from Dr. Strange to Dr. Fate. So there’s a good chance I’d slip on a pair of tights and go fight crime.
What’s the most important thing you want to convey to your readers when you write about magic?
I get asked a lot about how I can be a Christian and write about magic the way I do. I have never seen these as incompatible bedfellows. We live in a world full of mystery. My worldview is already bent toward seeing the world as a spiritual place, that there is more to life than what we see and that there are forces all around us that can be drawn upon.