Saturday, May 6, 2017

Interview - Spellcaster by George Backman

Can you tell readers a little bit about yourself and what inspired to write in this particular genre?

I love stories about ghostly happenings and incursions of other worlds into this one. I also love stories about periods of social change. I was excited to find a way to combine the two.

What is it about the paranormal, in particular vampires, that fascinates you so much?

The paranormal speaks to the idea that this world is more than what the senses can fully take in, which means the world inside us is too. If you cock your head or open your ears at just the right moment, you can catch a glimpse or note of something transcendent.  

What inspired you to write this book?

Initially, I was moved by Edith Wharton's stories of the social changes experienced by the New York upper crust during the Gilded Age. Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale encouraged me to think about that theme in conjunction with the idea of the supernatural co-existing with the real world and occasionally invading it.

Please tell us about your latest release.

Spellcaster  takes place mostly in an alternate fin de siècle England and concerns  Christine Daniel, a debutante on the verge of adulthood. She has everything going for her except a debilitating illness and the paranormal visions that seem to cause them. During the London Season, Allie, her older sister and the family heir, seeks a match among the English aristocracy while she searches the occult underground for answers. The only witch who can help is an aristocrat named Lady Kinloss whose great powers have not helped her social standing. Unfortunately for Christine, Kinloss won't do so unless Christine cajoles Allie into marrying her lover, Lord Serton, another impoverished aristocrat, so that the illicit pair can share Allie's inheritance. Christine is forced into a Hobson's choice between betraying her sister and saving her own life.

Do you have a special formula for creating characters' names? Do you try to match a name with a certain meaning to attributes of the character or do you search for names popular in certain time periods or regions?

I have used a few obscure historical personages in my book. My villain Lady Kinloss, for example, is more or less real, though, as far as I know, her historical counterpart did not practice witchcraft or scheme with married lovers. Her name happens to be evocative and appropriate for her, but otherwise my choices of names are arbitrary.

Was one of your characters more challenging to write than another?

No. All of them came easily to me this time.

Is there a character that you enjoyed writing more than any of the others?

Christine. She is very much part of her world and yet something about her stands apart.

Do you have a formula for developing characters? Like do you create a character sketch or list of attributes before you start writing or do you just let the character develop as you write?

The characters develop as I write, always. I don't follow any formula, being simply content to let their actions play out on the page as I am sure they would in real life.

What is your favorite scene from the book? Could you share a little bit of it, without spoilers of course?

Perhaps odd concerning a supernatural fantasy, but my favorite scene contains no element of the paranormal. Christine catches Allie and the dastardly Lord Serton alone together in a bedroom during a party that has gotten a little out of control. At this juncture the pair are innocent – Serton is only showing Allie some artwork -- but Christine, protective and perhaps a little priggish, assumes the worst and promptly lets Allie have it.   

Did you find anything really interesting while researching this or another book?

Besides the historical Lady Kinloss, the obscure rituals Christine engages in are mostly based on rites outlined in grimoires like The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage and practiced by magicians going back to Mesopotamia. Most of the architectural and social details are also accurate, as is the picture of the occult culture Christine and Lady Kinloss operate in.

What is the most interesting thing you have physically done for book related research purposes?

My physical labors are confined to diving into the most obscure texts I can find in libraries and online.

Can you tell readers a little bit about the world building in the book/series? How does this world differ from our normal world?

I kept as much as the real world as I could, to make the supernatural all the more convincing. Most of the occult material is only a little altered from source texts.

Do any of your characters have similar characteristics of yourself in them and what are they?

Except for Christine's slight priggishness, none of my characters share my personality traits. I write to get away from myself as much as possible.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? How do you deal with it?

Never. If anything, more stories seem to slip away from me than I can commit to paper.

Do you have any weird writing quirks or rituals?

None. I wonder if this in itself isn't a quirk.

Do you write in different genres?

Yes, all of them. My next book will be a historical fantasy.

Do you find it difficult to write in multiple genres?

Genre is only another set of tools, like style and varieties of character. The present story dictates the genre, never the other way around.

When did you consider yourself a writer?

Always. As opposed to what? I don't know what it is to not identify as a writer.

What are your guilty pleasures in life?

I have a yen for classic bad movies, but given how cool Rifftrax has made them, I'm not sure how guilty those pleasures are.

Other than writing, what are some of your interests, hobbies or passions in life?

Anime, manga and Asian art cinema, particularly classics of the Taiwanese new wave and China's Fifth Generation.

What was the last amazing book you read?

The Tale of Genji, which may be the best novel I've ever read besides Proust's vast fairy tale and Cao Xueqin's Story of the Stone.

Where is your favorite place to read? Do you have a cozy corner or special reading spot?

There is nothing like reading in bed in the dead of night while classical music softly pipes from your stereo.

What can readers expect next from you?

A fantasy which will be closely based on historical events while managing to take more liberties.

Where can readers find you on the web?

Would you like to leave readers with a little teaser or excerpt from the book?

I had to wait till Wednesday before dawn, since that was the time of the daemon I must supplicate. Even on Lady Kinloss’s property I would not dare be caught with the package I carried under my arm with such anxiety that perspiration on my arms and chest greased it from my grip several times and I nearly rolled it like a bowling ball into the lone boulder- and birch-enclosed grotto I had chosen. I sat on a large flat boulder jutting out over the stream that ran past the grotto. My limbs trembled, my eyes swam with fear so that looking through birch trees at the twilight-shaded fields and streams around it was difficult; but always a restless, frantic impulse urged me on, often as a voice talking me though too many moral recriminations and imagined horrors of getting caught by a stray squire or fisherman. Despite all that I did maintain reasonable self-control. I would not let myself think of my time nearly two hours ago at St. Paul’s churchyard. The air was as damp, and cold as it was now, as my heart, and a freezing drizzle started to fall. Slight as it was it soaked the earth by the front gate and the dirt caking my shovel and burlap sack into mud. The breeze slapped the surrounding broad leaves into my face and showered fine dust down my cloak and hood. The sight of the watchman kept me frozen in place, or rather his torchlight casting shadows across the tombs and the charnel-house beyond them I needed to investigate. My stupid mind wondered if rain makes mud softer or harder. The hands on my timepiece hardly seemed to move. The implements in the sack poked my lap. I wondered if I should have taken a lighter shovel from Lady Kinloss’s work shed. By bellonsphere my lady had assured me he would vanish at three o’clock and allow the new Provençal friend of his best customer thirty lonely minutes, enough time, as long as the honest old coot could say he had not seen said friend. As long as no one came along the street out of the half-dark, defying what the eyes told. As long as my nerve held out and I did not flee around the corner to the horse tied to the broken lamppost there. As long as I kept still and waited for whatever mysterious impulse would finally take him out of my way already.

After an age, he moved off from the charnel-house. One push at the gate told me he’d already left it open, the sadistic tease, and I slipped through it dripping wet splotches of filthy water behind me like a damned soul tracking mud into Charon’s boat. Nobody around. Leaving the gate nearly shut behind me, I scoured the graves in the right section of the churchyard over and over in the dark. Then the freshly turned earth of the grave my lady had had her glimmer-man mark for me kicked up and settled on my shoes, my burlap sack, and the hem of my cloak. I hoped the four feet between me and what I needed did not prove too challenging. I did not have time to dig around the six-by-four containment if they did.

Not wanting to impose more than I had already, I had refused my lady’s offer of her glimmer-man—her lookout, though I couldn’t imagine why she’d need one for—to keep watch on the street with his torch. I hunched over the headstone and with my shovel made a small cut in the earth the width of the grave. Thank God the mud proved soft, easy to dig down and down into without too much disturbance of the soil.

A thud and the shovel scraped something. I brushed stray dirt from the lid and swung down hard into the top of the coffin. The crack of the old wood exploded in the wet, sweet air like gunpowder and the stench of rotting meat welled up. The noise froze me except my eyes which bulged in the direction the watchman had gone. I didn’t know how much time passed before my heart suddenly relieved at no one appearing unfroze my body, allowed me to smash in the lid. It gave way and no one came screaming from the street.

From the sack I took the rope and the hook, which were already fastened to each other. I took a deep breath inside my cloak and dropped the hook into the black hole and reached in with my other hand. When I felt the chin I slipped the hook into the soft spot between the throat and the jaw. A gentle push, then a tug, then a push and the steel plopped into the flesh and bone. “Streng verboten” I muttered, and as hard as I could, my biceps aching from the words I’d put into them, I arched back and yanked the rope.

The flesh-tattered head of the nameless man or woman popped up through the crack in the lid. What little flesh hung off it was alabaster in the torch-spotted blackness. Stench boiled at my face, a whoosh of air. My stomach heaved me to the ground. I gasped into the sour-tasting earth. My nostrils sucked up holy ground.

I did not need to strip the ancient body so I’d only brought a panel hacksaw, no scissors. For the hair I merely yanked the few remaining strands and threw them to the side. I grasped the knotted neck as far from the chin as possible and ignored the harsh scrape of metal on bone, so difficult proved the labor. The head snapped off. I dropped the saw to chase the head over the tombstone.

Carefully I placed the head, shovel, hook, and hacksaw in the sack. I shoved the ruined neck bone back into the coffin and packed soil over it until it looked undisturbed. I checked the street all along the gate, smoothing over my tracks, and then ran for the horse, hardly feeling the weight of the sack.

No, I would not think about that. It did not matter where the head I placed on the ground came from.

From an inside pocket in my cloak I scooped out five black beans. One went into the dead thing’s mouth, two in its eyes, and two in its ears. From that same pocket I drew a charcoal pen I hoped had not ruined the cloak in my haste. Hoping I correctly remembered the instructions in the grimoire I’d consulted, I drew an unspeakable figure on its face and pointed the face toward heaven. The drizzle smeared the figure a little, but that did not matter.

Not trusting my tear-blurred eyes, I scuttled back until I pushed up against one of the surrounding boulders to make sure I had sufficient room between me and the skull. 

Starting from the skull’s chin and working my way backward I inscribed into the damp brown mud deeply enough to be seen: SCABOLES, HABRION, ELÆ, ELIMIGIT, GABOLII, SEMITRION, MENTINOBOL, SABANITEUT, HEREMOBOL, CANE, METHÉ, BALUTI, CATEA, TIMEGUEL, BORA.

The dampness did not obscure the charcoal, even after a few moments of that drizzle. I put the pen back in my pocket and knelt before the skull, coolness seeping through the cloak onto my knees.

“O Ye Spirits of Invisibility, I conjure and constrain you incontinently and forthwith to consecrate this experiment, so that, surely and without trickery, I may go invisible. 

Furthermore, I conjure you by your prince, by the obedience which you owe to him and by the power of God, incontinently to aid me by consecrating this experiment, without loss of my body or my soul. So be it, so be it, so be it.”

I did not have nine days to tease out the spirit with brandy and constant prayers so I gave the skull something daemons prefer anyway. I opened the vein in my right wrist, opened deeply, and squeezed blood upon the teeth and skinless mouth. The pain was nothing next to my fear at that damned brightening sky.

Without moving its mouth, the skull suddenly asked in a bored, nasal voice as deep as mine sometimes got, “What doest thou?”

Daemons and their damned feigned ignorance and need for ceremony. “I am watering my plant,” I repeated the formula, trying not to stir impatiently.

“Give me your arm, I will water it myself.”

My arm was on fire. I kept squeezing even when that fire became sharp pangs. “No!” I snapped.

After a few minutes of tedious back and forth when I was ready to give the whole thing up and leave Sir Tomas’s two friends to rot, an arm-shaped fog finally reached out of the skull’s mouth and drew in the air the same figure I’d traced upon the head.

I sighed. “So it is you and not some other who’s come to take advantage of me.

“Take those wretched beans out of me and put them in your mouth if you like them so much. Yew!”

“Will it work?”

“Yes, yes. After the bean, go look in the water and see that you have what you’ve asked for.”
I transferred a bean from its mouth to mine and bent over the nearest stream. Nothing but the fish feeding at the stream’s bottom looked back at me; I could not see myself.

“Everyone but you will be able to see you without effort,” the skull said tiredly, in the voice of one that had fulfilled this request so many times that a supplicant’s particular needs no longer excited his curiosity. “A side-effect, but if you want to hide from the one who hunts you, you’ll just have to put up with it. You will have to picture yourself in your mind to view your image in a mirror, though it will only be from your mind. But the one you cloak yourself from cannot see you until Sir Tomas, your past self, returns to his time. Eat the rest of those wretched things or give them to whoever else you would protect.”

“I have no one else.”

It must have sensed I was about to ask about Rodham and Valerie, for it retorted, “Not within my power!” and the fog of air exploded in the light rain. I made sure I’d packed over the black words and sacked the skull for later disposal before the sun really started to brighten and the fishermen’s dogs barked from somewhere in the distance, sending me hence like a cock crow in reverse.

George Backman

Print Length: 262 pages

Publisher: Sublime Ltd. 

Publication Date: April 3, 2017


Christine Daniel suffers in ways no sixteen year-old should and that no doctor has been able to cure. That's because the excruciating pains and high fevers slowly debilitating her aren't triggered by a physical cause but by visions of a youth calling to her while fleeing a mysterious man who means him harm. This could hardly be happening at a worse time, when she and her beautiful older sister Allison are making their début in high society, like other wealthy socialites seeking matches with titled but impoverished gentlemen in Victorian England.

Because of his pleas, Christine is convinced that to stop the visions she must somehow save this youth. But first she has to find him, and since she's seen him only in visions, she needs someone who'd know how to locate someone through means outside the known senses, the paranormal. 

Unfortunately the authorities have driven underground all but one of the country's occultists, and the reason she isn't hiding is the only reason she might help Christine, something she wants in return. Christine must convince Allison to marry the occultist's lover, one of those impoverished gentlemen, so that the illicit pair can share her part of the family fortune while continuing their affair.

If Christine doesn't stop the visions by saving the youth, the pains and fevers will eventually kill her. But if she does what the occultist wants, she will betray Allison to a lifetime of misery. Can she lead her sister into a marriage with a very bad man if doing so is the only way to save her own skin – literally?

Amazon      Goodreads

No comments: