Francis Knight interviews Benedict Jacka, author of the Alex Verus novels
In September we release CHOSEN (UK|ANZ), the fourth Alex Verus urban fantasy novel from Benedict Jacka. In an interview below, another Orbit fantasy star Francis Knight
(author of FADE TO BLACK – UK|US|ANZ, and the soon-to-be-released BEFORE THE FALL –UK|US|ANZ) finds out more about the writing of this highly popular series . . .
Francis Knight: So, Alex Verus, wizard in London. I suppose certain comparisons are inevitable, if a bit easy. So who and/or what were your inspirations for this series? I know when I start, the first idea generally morphs into something bigger. What was the initial spark, the first ‘what if…’ that led to the book becoming reality?
Benedict Jacka: The Alex Verus setting is an adult version of a YA setting that I’ve been using on and off for almost 15 years – the whole mage world and the magic types was something I first came up with back in 2000-ish. Between 2000 and 2008 I wrote four YA books in the setting, all with teenagers as the main characters who all had elemental powers of some kind. None of the books got published, so I kept giving up and shelving the series and trying something else.
In 2009 I decided to pull out the setting yet again to give it another shot, with an adult main character this time. I was getting dissatisfied with the elemental mages as protagonists, though, and at some point I had the idea of using a protagonist whose abilities were information-based instead of brute force. The rest of the story snowballed from there!
FK: Having met you before I read your books, I tend to automatically “see” you as Alex. The reader part of me thinks this was inevitable, but the writer part knows it’s unfair because we are not our characters. What do you and Alex have in common and in what ways are you polar opposites?
BJ: Alex has a similar basic personality to me, but a very different history. When I first began writing him in Fated, I’d use my own emotional reactions as a starting point, then modify them based on Alex’s (highly screwed-up) backstory. The longer the series ran, though, the more separate we became, and now that I’ve gotten as far as book 5 he’s a distinct enough personality that I don’t need to use my own reactions as a template anymore.
FK: I didn’t come to writing until I was well into my thirties. In fact, I wanted to be a vet (this did not happen). When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Do you still want to?
BJ: I wanted to be an airline pilot. Unsurprisingly, this also did not happen. I’m fairly sure by this point that it’s not going to, short of an Airplane scenario where I end up on a 747 and everyone else gets food poisoning . . .
FK: What’s the best part of being a published author? Tell the truth, have you ever done a little ‘Yes!’ dance? And which bit brings you out in a cold sweat?
BJ: The best bit is being able to write stories and get paid for it! Not many people get to do what they most love for a job, and I think I’m very lucky to be in that position.
The downside . . . well, like all freelancing, being a writer isn’t exactly a safe job. No matter how well you do, there’s always the fear at the back of your mind that the book you’ve just sold is going to be the last one. I’d like to be able to keep writing the Alex Verus series, but there’s always the possibility that it’ll just stop selling, and as a writer there’s nothing you can do about that except make the book as good as you can and hope.
FK: Literary jealousy :-) Who, if anyone, do you wish you could write like? Alternatively, which book/character do you wish you’d written?
BJ: Probably Lois McMaster Bujold. Her characters are amazing, and I love the way she does humour and relationships. Miles Vorkosigan’s one of my favourite protagonists of all time, although I think he’d drive you crazy if you had to actually live with him!
FK: If you ruled the world . . .
BJ: . . . then I’d be a ruthless and obsessively ambitious politician instead of an author. You don’t get anything for free!
Francis Knight is the author of the Rojan Dizon novels, which begin with FADE TO BLACK (UK|US|ANZ), continue with BEFORE THE FALL (UK|US|ANZ) – released next week on 18th June – and finish with LAST TO RISE, released this October.