Today I’m thrilled to be taking part in the At the End of the World Book Blitz presented by Storytellers On Tour, as we feature Kevin J. Fellows’ debut Literary Fantasy/Magical Realism tale! This book immediately drew me in with its stunning and evocative cover, and quickly flew onto my TBR – I honestly can’t wait to give it a read, and I’m very much looking forward to hearing what our Roadies think of this one!
Kevin was kind enough to stop by and share his thoughts on crafting magic systems in Fantasy and Poetry. It’s a fantastic quick read, so I highly suggest you give it a go. Keep scrolling to learn more about the book and author, read his thoughtful post, and enter to win yourself a signed copy of At the End of the World!
At the End of the World by Kevin J. Fellows
PUBLISHED: October 21, 2020 by Modern Folklore Press
GENRE: Literary Fantasy, Magical Realism
A wayward city spinning through time and place connects and draws travelers; trapping them with no way to return home. Each traveler: Nico the peddler, Stina the university graduate, João, Lieutenant for the King of Portugal, and Croydon, a boy at the edge of adolescence, face a choice: stay in the strange medieval city where magic infects and wealth is not measured in coin, or leave to find a new home in the next time and place.
Many arrivals accept the city’s magic, others are rejected by it. A few desire it for themselves, and one seeks to destroy it. Disrupting the magic could trigger the unmaking of the city and the world containing it.
A rich and magical literary fantasy debut about finding ourselves in unfamiliar places and situations; the choices we face and the decisions we make. Do we find solace in what familiarity remains, risk everything hoping to regain what we lost, or embrace the strange and the unknown?
Magic System? What Magic System?
by Kevin J. Fellows
Readers often ask fantasy authors how we create our magic systems. My answer is that I don’t.
That doesn’t mean I don’t love magic in fiction and poetry. I do. The more magic, the better. Fantasy stories are wonder stories. Strange settings, creatures, and magic all work together to build wonder. Yet as a reader, often I find books have too much detail about the inner workings of magic and the wonder is lost. Perhaps the authors have gone so deep with their magic systems they can’t help but sneak them into the stories in chunks of dry exposition. Or perhaps it’s just my taste. I know many readers love such detail. Just as some want to read about the intricacies of sword fighting, or the military strategies behind a climactic battle. And there are books to satisfy every taste. But for me, the more a book explains magic, the less magical it becomes.
Give me stories by Guy Gavriel Kay, N. K. Jemisin, Patricia McKillip, Sofia Samatar, Tim Powers, Neil Gaiman, C. S. E. Cooney, and in short fiction, John Wiswell and Sara Pinsker to name just a few. For all I know, these writers have complex magic systems or rules they use while writing. But if they do, they practice great restraint and put just enough detail on a page to build that sense of wonder.
So if I don’t have a system, how do I write magic? Doesn’t that lead to a lack of internal consistency? Stories do need to be internally consistent. Once the writer establishes the world for the reader, it needs to remain identifiable throughout and nothing should jar the reader from their fictional dream. But I question whether magic needs the same level of consistency. It is, after all, magic. Magic is illogical and unexplainable. Can any character ever fully understand how the magic works? Does the author need to?
The author needs to know a little, just as they need to know some of the world they are building. So while I don’t create a system, I do have a method for writing magic. There are writers who plot meticulously and writers who write into the dark without a plan. My approach to writing magic is more like writing without a plot. I know just enough to start the story and discover the magic as I go. That doesn’t mean my stories have any less magic than if I worked from a system. I try to put magic in every scene. I just don’t know where the magic will take me until I write it.
Typically, I’ll establish a source and a limit to the magic. That’s all the character and I know at the start. The character may not even know that much. As the story evolves, the characters, me, and eventually the readers discover more about the magic. Perhaps that original limit was misinformation, or the character was just inexperienced. The advantage for me with this approach is that it prevents me from dumping details in exposition. It allows the wonder to grow naturally through the story.
In my novel At the End of the World there is a section in the form of a letter where one character explains how she understands the magic to work. It’s really a summary of what the character and I have learned about the magic. Other characters speculate throughout on the magic they acquire. I did this because some early readers, including my editor, wanted to know more about the magic. I had gone too light on the details. However, the letter writer is not entirely correct. Close readers will pick up inconsistencies in what they’ve read versus what the character claims. This is because she has a limited perspective. She hasn’t experienced everything. The characters can only speculate. There’s no way to gain a complete understanding of the magic.
Stories don’t fully exist until a reader reads them. Fiction lives through the writer and reader’s shared imaginations. Writers trust readers to fill in the spaces between select details describing the story world. I try to provide enough detail to allow readers to immerse themselves.
Reading fantasy means embracing the unknown, and the dangerous, reading into strange places and situations. Wonder needs the unknown with only a reader’s expectations and experience of what they’ve read before as guideposts. Characters explore and discover. Readers share the journey. For me, that’s what makes fantasy immersive. A system would bog me down. Trying to create a logic for something that defies logic would tie me up and I might never finish a story. But with a few details on the page, I can imagine the magic into existence.
Meet the Author
I’m a poet and author of fantasy and speculative fiction. At the End of the World is my debut novel. You can find my poetry in the Star*Line Summer 2020 issue, and in my short collection An Important Sky.
My fiction is about ordinary people and places that might have been or could be. The stories always contain magic, but never in a complicated system. What some people call ‘Low Fantasy’ but I dislike the term. There’s nothing low about it; it has plenty of deep magic. I write stories of people struggling through strange and impossible situations; of how they learn about each other and the magic of their world to find their ways.
I live in the desert southwest, but was born in the wilds of New Hampshire. I have also lived in upstate New York and Boston. I run, bike, and play guitar, all less often than I should.
Enter to win a signed copy of At the End of the World by Kevin J. Fellows! One copy is looking to find its forever home!
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Before you go, I just HAD to share this with you. Yes, it’s a recipe for At the End of the World Meat Pies. I’m trying it out this weekend, and you should too!