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Author Interview: Scott Lynch

Jami Alcumbrac / March 6, 2015

Books that leave you on the edge of your seat, trying to figure out every twist and turn are Scott Lynch’s specialty. His Gentlemen Bastard series introduces a world of magic, suspense, and intrigue that you just don't want to leave.

Lynch’s first novel, The Lies of Locke Lamora, is the introduction to this beautifully written series. The series is not your typical high fantasy—all swords and magic wands. Lynch creates a world that is familiar, filled with casinos, delicious food, and modern-day profanity, but quickly reminds you that it is fantasy with a dash of magic and good old fashioned fight scenes to boot.

Scott Lynch took some time away from his work on the next book in his series, The Thorn of Emberlain, to answer questions for the Tucson Festival of Books.

What inspired you to write your books?

I grew up reading pretty intensely, and I was immersed in the fantasy and sci-fi pop culture of the 1980s… Star Wars, Voltron, G.I. Joe, Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors, Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, Willow, The Last Starfighter… all things adventurous and explosive. In my teens I fell even deeper into books—Margaret Atwood, Frank Herbert, William Gibson, and on from there. I guess you could say there’s a deep stratum of wonderment buried under all my other interests. I’m a fantasist’s fantasist. I want readers to have immersive and emotional experiences with my work.

Your Gentlemen Bastard series has such a rich magic system that seems more based in science than magic. What inspired you to create such a system?

Well, it’s not quite science, but it follows certain guidelines. The magic in these books obeys poetic logic rather than empirical logic; things work because they seem like they should work. This is tied in to certain “real” world magical theories—look up the “laws” of contagion and sympathy if you want to have some fun reverse-engineering what I’ve done with the Magi of Karthain.

I’m also very interested in the exploration of magic as a field that obeys most laws of thermodynamics but draws from an energy source unavailable to most people, or unknown to scholars in general. Someone who went into a radium cave a thousand years ago would have come out suffering what we now know to be radiation poisoning, but in the parlance of the time it could only be described as a malign or magical influence. The material was the same, the scientific process was the same, but true understanding of it was centuries away. I think magic is a lot of fun to contemplate in those terms.

The Lies of Locke Lamoraseems to be set in an alternate Venice. Why did you choose this setting for your novel?

I didn’t actually set out to just write an analog Venice, but as Camorr grew into a city of canals and islands the comparison became inevitable and I gave in to it. I originally wanted an Italian city-state feel not just because the quasi-Renaissance setting allowed for a rich blending of social and economic elements, but because I was (and am) enamored with the look of Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 Romeo and Juliet film.

There are moments while reading about food in your novels that I have to stop and wipe away my drool. Each plate of food seems like a piece of art with every detail ready to be destroyed in the most delightful way. Is it safe to say that you are a foodie?

To a certain extent, yes. I do cook, I like to experiment. My girlfriend has really broadened my culinary horizons over the last four years in particular. I wouldn’t describe myself as a particularly dedicated foodie; I can happily eat a fairly innocuous Middle American diet for long periods of time and I don’t bore easily. I enjoy playing with wildly elaborate food in my books in much the same way I enjoy playing with gambling, as something I love to write about but don’t much partake of in real life. It’s all part and parcel of creating a vivid experience for the reader.

What does the day-to-day business of being a writer actually look like for you?

There’s an ever-increasing amount of what we call “administrivia,” which is examining and sorting email and other communications for dozens of various reasons. I have editors on both sides of the Atlantic, travel and convention appearances to coordinate, and requests for any number of things for business or charity purposes. Arranging all of this could easily be its own full-time job, so I’ve recently hired a PA to take over as much of it as possible and let me concentrate on more central aspects of both business and creativity.

After that, there’s a certain amount of marketing, website adjustment, blogging, book reviewing, and general social media stuff, all of which falls under the twin categories of “promotion” and “time-wasting.” Ideally, you do it only so long as it’s fun, and only for a limited time each day.

Once all that’s sorted, I try to get anywhere from four to twelve hours of actual writing per day. Everything depends on whether I’m home alone or traveling—there are intense periods of deep seclusion, and busier periods where concentration is harder. On top of that, I’m a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical responder, so when I’m home there’s a training schedule to meet and random calls to respond to.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Read. Read everything. Read widely and deeply. Deliberately read outside your comfort and experience zones. Revisit books that were forced down your throat in school—you might find that with the passage of time you’ve become more able to appreciate them. Keep lists of everything you read, and every now and then examine them for patterns. If you’ve read ten books in a row by men, deliberately read a bunch by women. Disrupt your own unconscious habits. If you’ve read nothing but fiction for months, seek out some biographies, journalism, or history. Pay attention to what excites you and moves you as you read. Dissect the techniques other writers use to achieve those effects, and steal them for your own use.

Failure or refusal to read will destroy your ability to write meaningfully and professionally, period. Reading is a writer’s fundamental job. You can’t grow your art and craft in a vacuum.

What are you working on right now?

My fourth novel, The Thorn of Emberlain, and a number of shorter works and side projects.

Where can we buy your books?

All major online retailers. Any Barnes & Noble. Any science fiction and fantasy specialty retailer.

You can find Scott Lynch at the following sessions at the Tucson Festival of Books:

  • "Creating Characters Who Drive Plot" workshop on Saturday at 11:30 AM
  • "It Came From Schenectady: Where Do Writers Get Their Ideas?" on Saturday at 2:30 PM
  • "I Spy a Dead Guy: Spies and Detectives in Paranormal Worlds" on Sunday at 1 PM
  • "Aim to Misbehave" on Sunday at 4 PM

Jamie Alcumbrac, a Phoenix native, writes for The Lonely D12, a blog about games and RPGs. You can find her on twitter @_msfizzle.

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