Blake Charlton is a new American fantasy author, who is working to establish a dual career in fiction and medicine. He is the author of Spellwright, which is the first book of The Spellwright Trilogy.
Here's a short description of Spellwright from the author's official website:
Imagine a world in which you could peel written words off a page and make them physically real. You might pick your teeth with a sentence fragment, protect yourself with defensive paragraphs, or thrust a sharply-worded sentence at an enemy’s throat.
Such a world is home to Nicodemus Weal, an apprentice at the wizardly academy of Starhaven. Because of how fast he can forge the magical runes that create spells, Nicodemus was thought to be the Halcyon, a powerful spellwright prophesied to prevent an event called the War of Disjunction, which would destroy all human language. There was only one problem: Nicodemus couldn’t spell.
Runes must be placed in the correct order to create a spell. Deviation results in a "misspell" – a flawed text that behaves in an erratic, sometimes lethal, manner. And Nicodemus has a disability that causes him to misspell texts simply by touching them.
Now twenty-five, Nicodemus lives in the aftermath of failing to fulfill prophecy. He finds solace only in reading knightly romances and in the teachings of Magister Shannon, an old blind wizard who’s left academic politics to care for Starhaven’s disabled students.
But when a powerful wizard is murdered with a misspell, Shannon and Nicodemus becomes the primary suspects. Proving their innocence becomes harder when the murderer begins killing male cacographers one by one... and all evidence suggests that Nicodemus will be next. Hunted by both investigators and a hidden killer, Shannon and Nicodemus must race to discover the truth about the murders, the nature of magic, and themselves.
Click here to visit Blake Charlton's official website.
Click here to read Risingshadow.net's review of Spellwright.
Risingshadow.net has had the honour of interviewing Blake Charlton. You can read the interview here:
AN INTERVIEW WITH BLAKE CHARLTON
You are working to establish a dual career in fiction and medicine. What inspired you to do both things?
From an early age, I attended a special education classroom. Some of the other students had intellectual disabilities like mine. Others had physical disabilities or medical conditions that greatly affected our lives. All of us were attending this special classroom so that we might — as we thought of it — “get better.” This fixation on ‘healing’ had a profound effect on me, especially as I grew older and still could not easily read or spell in English. It wasn’t until I was about 13 and my parents started reading fantasy to me that things began to change. I would sneak paperbacks by Robert Jordan, Robin Hobb, Tad Williams, Terry Brooks, Raymond Feist and many others into special ed study hall. I fell in love with fantasy, and it was because of this love that I learned to read and begin to excel at school. To me reading is an act of expanding the self. As I see it, even when we read about matters upsetting or even repulsive, we see through other eyes; we learn; we live lives far beyond our own limits. As a result, to me the idea of literature and of healing are very closely aligned. During college I took all the courses necessary to enter medical school, and after graduation I took years ‘out’ (taking odd jobs as an English teacher, a football coach, a technical writer) so that I could write. For six years I tried without success and figured it was time to give up and go back to medicine. Then, just a few weeks after being accepted into medical school, I got a call from my agent letting me know that Tor wanted to sign me to a three book deal. That was back in 2007, and it’s been a wild ride ever since — advancing through medical school (more slowly than my peers) and rewriting Spellwright, Spellbound, and now the third and final book in the series.
Do you have time to read books? What kind of books do you usually read?
All the pen-and-ink books I read these days are medical textbooks; however, I am a very avid listener of audiobooks. One of the ways I deal with my hectic medicine/writing schedule is to reserve an hour a day to run, row, or workout. When doing these things I listen on my iPhone, which has software that allows me to play audiobooks at double speed without modifying the frequency (so it doesn’t sound like chipmunks squeaking). The human mind is an amazing thing: some people are very fast readers, sometime are very fast listeners. I’m one of the second category. As a result, I finish three or four audiobooks a month.
Mostly, I listen to fantasy. This year I’ve gotten very engrossed in Brandon Sanderson’s and Guy Gaverial Kay’s work. Presently, I’m re-listening to Robin Hobb’s Liveship Traders Trilogy, partially because think she is a master of fantasy and partially because I’m studying how she incorporated sailing into the story so that I can do a better job with the third book, some of which is turning out to take place on water.
Aside from fantasy, I listen to a great deal of non-fiction that is about either medicine or science. My favorite non-fiction read from last year was The Demon Under the Microscope by Thomas Hager, which examines the fascinating history behind the discovery of sulfa, the first antibiotic. I also listen to a lot of historical fiction and non-fiction. Will in the World by Greenblatt, a Shakespeare biography, made me want to one day write an Elizabethan/Jacobean fantasy. Recently I finished The Piano Tuner by then medical student Daniel Mason, an intriguing story of the Victorians in Burma (Myanmar) and a My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk, a meta-fictional murder mystery set in sixteen century Istanbul that delvers beautiful — but sometimes a little longwinded — explorations of Islamic history and art.
What I don’t listen to much are science fiction novels, which I’ve always found odd about myself, as there are some SF books I love. But I tend to prefer SF short stories over novels.
What are your favourite books? Have these books influenced your writing style in any way?
Oh, my friend, my hands are beginning to ache just thinking about all the typing I’d have to do list all my favorite books! I’m write most of my thoughts down on all I read on my goodreads.com account and the truly curious can see what I’ve put there (don’t forget to friend me!).
But let me just pick one, of the hundreds, of books that changed my life. Actually, I’ve been thinking about this book a lot lately. It is The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin. Like its prequel, A Wizard of Earthsea, the magic system and the vulnerability of the characters in this book moved me. Anyone familiar with the magic-system of Spellwright can see almost how big of a debt the world owes to Le Guin. But what amazed me about this book in particular was its relationship to its prequel: the two books are very different from each other and yet the second clearly comes from the first. Tenar is a full, living wonderful character and we see how her story is connected to the story of Ged we encountered in the first book; however, (and I think this is really important) Tenar’s story is pleasing in an entirely different way than the previous story. There’s a lot I like about the superstars of fantasy today, most especially GRRM and Scott Lynch. But I have been growing a little weary of the way we write series such that each book is a direct progression of the past book. I love a series that make bold but not ungainly jumps from one book to the next: like the jump from The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings (which people often forget is one book, not a series), or the jump between The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife.
You've created an interesting and original magic system called spellwriting. Was it difficult to create a new magic system?
Not I the least. Quite the opposite really. I very much like what I call “Megawatt Magic-System” fantasy, where the rules are different than they are in this world, and yet where the nature of those rules illuminates something true about our world and ourselves. In my opinion, Le Guin’s spoken-language magic-system in the Earthsea books is the best example of this. I was also inspired by Robert Jordan’s One Power magic-system and it’s analogies to the war of the sexes. Of course, Brandon Sanderson’s Allomancy in his Mistborn trilogy is a shining example of how the subgenre is alive and well.
Are there any new fantasy authors which you'd like to recommend to your readers?
Of course. The debuting author I most have my eye on is Saladin Ahmed. I got a chance to read an early version of his Throne of the Crescent Moon, scheduled for publication from DAW books in 2012, I believe. It’s a vivid epic fantasy set in a 1001 Nights-ish world concerning a detective-like ghul hunter and a young, sword-wielding dervish. If the final product is anything like the draft I saw, it’ll be not only compelling but very well written. Additionally, I’ve gotten to enjoy Tymon’s Flight, a whimsical and charming fantasy set in a world tree by New Zealand author Mary Victoria. It made a wonderfully fun summer read.
Your second book, Spellbound, will be published next year. How does Spellbound differ from Spellwright? How would you describe Spellbound to your readers?
I’m never any good at writing these kinds of blurbs and this is the first time I’m doing so for Spellbound. So here goes:
Set ten years after Spellwright, Spellbound is the story of Francesca DeVega, a smart-mouthed spellwright trained in medical prose and living in Avel — a large, walled city deep in a wild savanna and a stronghold of the Spirish hierophants, who write their magical language on cloth to create giant kites, graceful airships, and constructs that harness the power of the wind. The constant winds above Avel make it vital to the prosperity and security of the Spirish kingdom. In this vibrant city, Francesca’s lives the tumultuous but predictable life of a physician…until she attempts to remove a curse from a young woman’s spellbound heart. Discovering her patient is semi-divine, Francesca is drawn into a world of deadly intrigue and a search for two hidden dragons. Before long she is being pursued by the city’s ruler, a renegade spellwright named Nicodemus Weal, a hyper-intelligent spell in search of its author, and a mysterious creature whose presences makes it impossible to think in words. To survive, Francesca will have to use all of her wit, intelligence, and medical training to discover the truth.
The dominant mode of all the Spellwright Trilogy will be epic fantasy, but in each book I’m hoping to blend in elements from other genres. Spellwright had elements of a murder mystery and a coming-of-age narrative (one of my fans described it as “Harry Potter and the Special Ed Classroom”). At heart, Spellbound is an epic fantasy; however, it has strong elements of a thriller and a romance. Spellbound is a slightly longer book, fans of the first book in the series will recognize many of the same characters — including Nicodemus, who is central to the story.
Have you already begun to write the third book?
Indeed. I have a solid chunk of Disjunction down and a very detailed (about 20k words) outline. I’m always shy about talking about a book until it’s done; I want to leave space for it to evolve into whatever works best. I’m guessing it’ll be the longest book in the series, and (I very much hope) the best. I really can’t guess when it’ll come out, partially because I won’t publish a book that isn’t — in my opinion at least — better than the first two, and partly because my medical school schedule is more demanding this year. But, of course, I’ll do everything I can to make sure fans of the series get a higher quality book as soon as I possibly can. Keep your fingers crossed for me!
You've written an interesting short story called "Endosymbiont". Have you thought of writing more short stories in the future?
Endosymbiont was a very personal story to write; its inspiration came from witnessing, for the first time, a patient pass away. I wrote it during my first year of medical school and was very proud to have it published. Recently I sold the audio rights to EscapePod and look forward to hearing it performed. I would love to write more short stories, especially science fiction shorts. But one of the lessons I’ve learned in pursuing medicine and publishing is to be vigilant about not taking on too many projects. Right now my top priorities are to be the best possible novelist and medical student I can be. For my financial support from Stanford, I also produce some academic prose. We’re getting ready to publish an article on Western medical texts and the concept of diagnosis. So with all this going on, I have to be good about saying no to new projects. Maybe once I turn Disjunction in, I’ll try my hand at few more shorts.
Do you like fantasy paintings and cover art images? What kind of cover art do you like?
As you might guess from the ‘neoclassical’ feel of The Spellwright Trilogy, I fell in love with the classic fantasy cover art. I grew up admiring artists like Don Maitz and Michael Whelan. Over the past ten years or so, some of the most interesting fantasy cover art has been coming out of Europe. In particular, the UK cover for Pat’s The Name of the Wind was stunning as was the UK cover for Stephen Deas’s The Adamantine Palace. Recently I’ve been admiring work by Kekai Kotaki and Jesse van Dijk (who created the art for the Dutch version of Spellwright). But of course, I think Todd Lockwood is working at the top of his game. He produced a beautiful cover for Spellwright. In fact, Todd’s work for the Wizards of the Coast, especially his pieces that showed up in the “Bant” realm of the Magic: The Gathering served as inspiration for the city and lands in Spellbound, and I’m thrilled that he’s produced a cover for that book that’s one of the most amazing pieces I’ve ever seen.
Fantasy literature is popular at this moment, but there are critics and readers who don't appreciate fantasy literature. Do you think that fantasy is an underrated form of literature?
Not only do I think that fantasy literature is underrated, I think it’s under recognized. At its core almost any fictional work requires two fantastical events — the first from the author and the second from the reader, creation with a pen and recreation on the page. These fantasies might be as small as “what if there was once a girl who felt this way about life,” or as large as “what if we could anatomically locate a soul within a body.” Of course, at the end of the day, the only metric of the book is its story and characters. Were they compelling? How long will they stay with me? But that said, it seems to me that a disproportionate number of the most successful (commercially and critically) books make very small leaps of fantasy. And those that do take large leaps and are successful (e.g. The Time Traveller’s Wife, The Lovely Bones, almost anything by Rushdie, Marquez, or Borges) are placed outside of this category. Personally, I think there is a danger for failing to entertain grand possibilities; I think it leads to a restricted conception of what our world is, was, or might yet become.
Is there anything you'd like to add? Or is there anything you'd like to say to your fans?
Nothing other than to thank you very kindly for chatting with me!