I didn’t get a chance to post about this before going out of town, but here it is now: the overflow Qs and As from Joe Sanders’s interview with Benedict Jacka in the July 9 issue of PW.
If you’re into urban fantasy of the wizarding kind, Jacka’s books are very much worth checking out. I’m surprised I haven’t heard more people talking about them, since they seem tailor-made to appeal to fans of authors like Jim Butcher and Harry Connolly. The series stars Alex Verus, a London-based diviner who has a sort of magical ADD that lets him see all possible futures at once. Alex’s interactions with the “Light” and “Dark” mages in the area (which groupings are more like D&D “lawful” and “chaotic” than “good” and “evil”) have an interesting dynamic: knowledge is power, but power is also power, so he flips between acquiring and selling knowledge and trying not to get fried or squashed by people who have more direct forms of magic. It’s good stuff. For more info, see our reviews of Fated, Cursed, and Taken–and, of course, the Q&A.
JS: Besides interacting with a growing crowd of vivid individuals, Alex keeps running into Light characters whose actions are at least as vile as those committed by anyone from the Dark side. Is that the only way to tell the real difference between nice and not-nice, by how a person treats other people?
BJ: Well, it’s definitely a better guide than what they call themselves! A lot of readers comment on the fact that the worst of the Light mages are just as vicious as the Dark ones, but if you think about it, it’s really what you’d expect to happen. Just because you say you’re a servant of light and virtue, that doesn’t mean you are one!
JS: Are you pleased with how the Alex Verus books do keep readers off-balance but thoughtful?
BJ: I hope so. When you’re writing a book, it’s very hard to predict whether a book will put a reader off-balance or not. I’ve had some readers praise how unpredictable Fated was, while I’ve had others claim that they saw everything coming. I do get more reviews of the first type than the second, though.
JS: What does give you the most satisfaction—or pleasure or fun, if you prefer—about writing in general and the Alex Verus books in particular?
BJ: It’s hard to predict. Sometimes a section I’ll be working on will go smooth as silk, and at other times I’ll find myself struggling to write a single line (which is the exact opposite of satisfying). In the end, I think the bit I enjoy the most is just knowing that people out there are reading my books and liking them.
JS: How did you create Alex’s smart-ass but sympathetic persona?
BJ: I’m honestly not sure—he just sort of grew that way! I often find that happens with my characters, especially the ones that work out well. To begin with I design them, but the longer they stick around the more they develop their own voice and the direction they go in isn’t something I can predict.
JS: You’ve got a large cast of characters by now, and some prominent early characters have left. Why did air elemental Starbreeze go on leave? And will we be seeing more of the dragon?
BJ: In Starbreeze’s case, I was finding that Alex was relying on her a bit too much: to keep on growing, he needed to face threats on his own without being able to use her as a get-out-of-jail free card. The dragon, on the other hand… it’s possible, but I’ll be using that particular character very, very sparingly. It would lose its impact otherwise.
JS: The first three Alex Verus novels have appeared very close together to establish a presence. Are additional novels ready for publication?
BJ: I’d love to be able to say yes, but unfortunately I can’t write quite that fast! I’m in the middle of Alex Verus #4 at the moment, and it’s about 30% done. With luck and a few late nights I should finish at about the same time that book #3, Taken, is released.
JS: Now that you’ve established Alex as a presence with readers, do you think the series is ready to make a transition to hardcover?
BJ: It’s kind of embarrassing given my profession, but I still really don’t know much about the economic arguments for paperback vs. hardcover. At this stage I’m mostly concerned with overall spread & name recognition, so I’ll go for whichever approach I think gets the most people introduced to the stories.
JS: Any major difference between British and American publishers?
BJ: Americans are faster! There’s the odd exception, but generally the turnaround time for decisions, edits, galleys, etc. seems to be smaller on that side of the Atlantic. Though my British publishers aren’t slow, either, so it usually works out fine in both cases in the end.
Check out the rest of the Q&A for more on Alex Verus’s origins, plus the worst and best writing advice that Jacka ever received.