Q&A with Angela Benedetti, author of A Hidden Magic
Today we’re chatting with A Hidden Magic author Angela Benedetti!
If you haven’t read Kenra Daniels’ review of the book, take a second to check it out so you have a better feel for what we’re talking about below. Angie is also giving away an e-copy of A Hidden Magic to one lucky commenter, so read the Q&A then follow the instructions on the Rafflecopter below the interview for your chance to win!
GT: Every author is asked this question more times than they can count, and the answer is unique to every author. I’ve also found it changes as writing techniques and skills progress. Ready? Wait for it… Where do you get your ideas?
Ideas are everywhere; it’s sort of like developing your mage sight. 🙂 Once you’re used to looking for story ideas, it’s actually harder not to see them. A news story or a joke or a letter in an advice column might spark a story. Or a photo might, or a bit of a movie or a TV show. Or I might be reading a book and think, “Wait, what if they’d done this instead?” or “That detail could have interesting consequences….” Non-fiction is great for story ideas too.
Some ideas will give me a character, others will give me an interesting setting idea (especially if it’s SF or fantasy), while others might give me an idea for a plot device or a trick or a twist. Sometimes one story seed will grow into a story on its own, and other times it needs to get together with one or more others.
And sometimes something just pops up out of the cluttered basement of my mind.
GT: At first I questioned the likelihood of everyone on the Sentinel team being gay, but you found a way to justify it. Is there a particular reason you chose to write AHM with gay men as the main characters?
Well, the facile answer is that my publisher, Torquere, is a GLBT specialty press, so if the characters were straight, Torquere wouldn’t have published the book. 🙂
But seriously, about ten percent (or more, depending on which statistics you look at) of the population is GLBT, and yet only a small fraction of fictional characters are GLBT. And of those who do appear — in books, TV, movies, the whole fictional shebang — a ridiculously large percentage are portrayed negatively. They’re villains, or they’re helpless victims, or they’re crazy psycho stalker-killers, or they hate themselves and commit or attempt suicide, or they’re grotesque comic relief, or they’re the sassy best friend who has no personal life but exists to help the real (straight) protag win.
GLBT people should be able to see themselves being the heroes too, solving the mystery and defeating the bad guys and finding love. The world has GLBT people in it, and fiction should have them too, with realistic portrayals, including a reasonable number of hero slots. Normalizing GLBT characters in our culture’s entertainment is part of the process of creating a society that accepts GLBT people as normal in real life.
GT: I haven’t read a great deal of LGBT Romance, and what I have read has all been male/male. The ones I’ve read all had a high level of erotic content, even if they weren’t Erotic Romances. I was surprised to find only a few intimate scenes in AHM, which left a great deal of the detail to the reader’s imagination, reminiscent of Sweet Romances. Why did you choose that route, rather than using explicit scenes?
If all the GLBT romances you’ve read were very heavy on the sex, that’s a factor of the stories you’ve read. Basically, sexy books are sexy. (I feel like I need a LOLCats picture here. [grin]) There are others out there, though which aren’t; I’m by no means the only writer of gay romance who doesn’t go for the sex-fest type of story.
There’s a perception in romance that sex sells, that heat sells, and it’s true that the bestsellers in any subgenre and within any given publisher’s list are the hotter books. A lot of authors do try to wedge as much sex into their books as possible, and there are publishers who encourage this for financial reasons. One of the things I like about Torquere is that they don’t identify as an erotic romance press, they don’t nudge writers to add more sex, and their heat rating scale (based on types of peppers) goes all the way down to Bell Pepper level. Torquere publishes scorching hot books with practically cover-to-cover kinky sex, but they also publish romances with no sex at all, and I appreciate that very much. I want the freedom to tell a story without having to stick extra sex on with duct tape to meet a publisher’s standards, and Torquere gives me that freedom.
When I include sex in a story, it’s because that story requires that particular sex scene. It furthers the plot, shows character, develops the relationship — something besides just sitting there going “Yay sex!” A sex scene, like any other scene, has to pull its weight in the story or it doesn’t belong.
In A Hidden Magic, the first sex scene (or half scene, since it’s interrupted) shows that the elf king is actively after Rory. It also lets Paul know that Rory finds him attractive in a physical way, which leads to Paul letting Rory know the physical attraction is mutual. They’re not in a situation where letting themselves be distracted with sex would be at all smart — Azzy not being the most reliable of sentries — so this new knowledge ups the sexual tension between them at a time when they can’t do anything about it, even if either of them were into quickies with near-strangers. The second sex scene was a reaction to getting through a dangerous (and to Rory, very long) period, plus was the first time they really could have sex without worrying that something would attack part way through. It also changed Paul’s situation considerably; he’s still handicapped whenever Rory’s not in the room with him, but he’s not quite as debilitated as he believed he was going to be when he made his bargain with Pelamin. In a way, that was a positive up-turn at the end, although Paul still wants to have words with me about it. 😉
That’s one and a half sex scenes. I didn’t add any more because the story didn’t need any more, and I don’t stick sex on with duct tape just to have more sex.
Most of my short stories are frankly erotica, where there’s a plot, but it has to do with sex. It’s almost impossible to write a full-out romance, from the first meeting on through the developing relationship to an HEA or even an HFN, in just a few thousand words. And if you’re going to have a sex scene at all, that’s going to be a big chunk of your few thousand words. A couple of my shorts are romances, but they’re about established couples who are having problems. And a lot of the erotica shorts are romantic — like in “Unfinished Business,” where part of what makes it work is that Cal and Aubrey are already a couple, they know and love and trust each other, which makes the story much more fun and interesting than if I just threw together a couple of strangers in that situation somehow. In “Candy Courage,” Glenn and Neal are beginning what looks like it might become an HEA type romantic relationship, even if they’re not In Love by the end of the story. They’re all sex-heavy for their length, though. My one novelette has a lot less sex from a percentage-of-words point of view, and my novel even less. I’m a plot-heavy writer, and the longer lengths make me expand on the plot much more than the sex.
GT: I found the concept of mage-sight and visible magic highly interesting. I’ve only encountered similar ideas a couple times in books, and I don’t recall ever seeing one where a mage could see and read all the details of another’s spell. What’s the story behind those braided and woven strands of colored magic?
I wanted to do something different, rather than just have random words and gestures and whatever produce a spell. The idea is that magic works logically and has structure. The gestural components — what a normal person would see as the mage waving a wand, or if it’s someone Aubrey has trained, using their fingers — are actually the mage drawing the spell. The question I asked myself was, “What’s up with the wand waving?” and this is the answer I came up with. I envision it as being rather like a circuit diagram in electronics, although it gets more complex. There’s more about how this all works in the next novel.
On a deeper level, though, magic is all about will. Drawing spell sigils and glyphs is a way of picturing the magic, what you want the magic to do and how, and holding it in your mind. Elves cast magic as pure thought; they are of magic and use it in a more raw state; they manipulate magic the way we manipulate sound by speaking or singing. Mortals can throw raw magic too, but they have much less control of it than elves do. But other cultures’ magic works as well. Someone taught to use chanting or drums or dancing or physical drawings or material components or anything else to cast a spell will be able to work magic in that way, so long as what they’ve been taught lets them hold in their mind what they want the magic to do and how.
In the short story “Reach Out and Touch,” Cal has been working on a more formal type of magic that requires symbols drawn on the floor in particular colored pigments. The spell he’s trying to cast is complex, and (at Cal’s level, at least) it requires that the magic be formed out of something more permanent ahead of time, with everything just so. The drawn circle lets Cal work slowly and concentrate on getting it right, then when he’s ready, he activates it by sending the magic out along the prepared lines. Doing the calculations and the drawings helps him hold the large and complex spell in his mind; if someone else had drawn it, Cal wouldn’t be able to use it because he wouldn’t be able to focus well enough on the form of the spell.
Think of it as being like computing. It’s all ones and zeroes, but only the higher fey — elves and similar — can work directly with magic at that level, in “binary.” Mortals use higher languages. Aubrey can use the equivalent of assembler code, although he doesn’t do it often. What he’s teaching Cal is like C++. In the next book, he starts teaching Rory something more like BASIC. There are different ways to manipulate the ones and zeroes, and elves can do it with their bare hands. Mortals have to go through layers of symbology, which takes more time and effort, but is less likely to fizzle out or blow up in your face.
A lot of fictional magic is just magic — the caster says a word, maybe with a flick-and-swish of the wand, and magic happens. I started out in science fiction, though, and I like systems that hold together and make sense. I’m having fun with this magic system, and hopefully the readers are too.
GT: Azzy is adorable for a bottomless pit. The haphazard way he reveals vital information seems completely in line the mentality of the Fey in your world. Was his, and the other Pixies’, physical description inspired by a particular legend or story?
Azzy just sort of popped into my mind. 🙂 For my pixies in general, I’ve seen a lot of fantasy art that was full of little miscellaneous creatures, all different kinds and shapes. Each one could represent an entire species, but I thought it’d be fun to have pixies be a single, more varies species instead. Most people think of the Barbie doll with butterfly wings, and those do exist, but in my world there are many others as well. And I like the idea of having the freedom to use whatever appears in my brain and demands a speaking role.
GT: Time for another of those questions every author answers over and over. How long have you been a writer, and why did you become one?
I started writing stories — or beginnings of stories, actually — when I was seven or eight. It was quite a while before I actually completed a story. I think I was fifteen or sixteen, and it was a horrible treacle-laden Christmas story that I sent to McCall’s women’s magazine, the editor of which very wisely rejected it with a fifth-generation xeroxed form. It was a while before I submitted anything again, but I stuck with the writing because I love doing it, even the more aggravating bits.
GT: Some writers read voraciously, all the time, no matter what’s going on with their writing. Others prefer not to read during particular phases of the creation of a new story. Which way do you lean? When you’re able to read for entertainment, what genre do you prefer?
I read whatever I’m reading, and don’t stop just because I’m writing. As for what I read, it depends what’s caught my eye lately. I read a lot of m/m romance, of course, and some het occasionally. I read a lot of SF and fantasy, and humor books, and an occasional mystery. I love comic strip collections because you can pick them up and put them down pretty much anywhere; with novels I prefer to pause at the end of a chapter or at least a scene, and with short stories I like to be at the end of a scene if not the whole story. I also read non-fiction, mostly science and history (I was a history major at uni) but anything else that seems interesting. The last non-fiction book I finished was 127 Hours Between a Rock and a Hard Place, which is the book they made the movie 127 Hours out of. Non-fiction tends to spawn a lot of plot bunnies.
GT: These days, with tightening budgets everywhere, achieving sales success as a writer can be more difficult than ever. What’s your best advice for writers trying to sell, whether to an agent, an editor, or directly to readers?
First you need a story that will sell. Write. Keep writing. Finish what you’re writing and start something else. Finish that and start a third. Etc. Writing five stories will improve your writing much more than rewriting the same story five times. If you’re a brand new writer just starting out, the fact of the matter is that your stories are going to suck, just as a brand new tuba player’s first honkings on the tuba are going to suck. It’s part of being new; you need to practice to develop your skills. There’s this weird belief floating around that writers don’t have to practice, that every story can be awesome if you just rewrite it twelve times and polish it for another month or year. That’s ridiculous. Why can we accept that a tuba player — or a singer or a ballet dancer or a painter or an actor — needs years of study and practice before they’re ready to go professional, but we think Baby’s First Story should be publishable? Your first story, and probably your tenth, aren’t going to be worth polishing, so don’t try. Just keep writing new material and you’ll improve as you go.
When you’ve got something you think is publishable, you need to send it out. Heinlein’s fourth rule for writers was “You must send your story to someone who can give you money for it.” Note that agents can’t give you money. Editors can, and readers can if you self-pub. Send your story to an editor, and if it bounces then send it right back out to another one. Keep writing new material while your older story is out in submission. Or self-publish it. If you’re self-pubbing, be sure to get your story up on as many vendor sites as possible. Amazon might be the biggest, but it’s not the only one and it’s not even the main one, necessarily, for your work. I sell very little on Amazon, for example, but I make good sales elsewhere. Take advantage of all the available customer pools. If your story is up and selling for the next ten years, even ten sales per month across all the sites where it’s for sale adds up to a nice chunk of change. Multiply that by fifty or a hundred stories (or twenty to thirty novels, or however fast you write whatever lengths you write) and by the end of those ten years you’re making a living.
GT: Cal and Aubry are a couple, and now Paul and Rory. When does Manny get lucky?
Manny gets lucky in the third novel, which is currently a collection of notes in a file. The rest of the gang is off dealing with Stuff somewhere else, and Manny’s holding down the fort at home. And there’s a new guy in the area who’s popping in and out of random places with what has to be magic. It looks like someone who’s just figured out their talent and is having fun with it, which is one of the things Sentinels are supposed to help with. The guy hasn’t hurt anyone, or done any damage, or even stolen anything; he just looks like a joyrider, someone who figured out he could teleport and went, “Whoa, cool!” so Manny’s pretty sure he can deal with this on his own. [cough]
GT: What are you working on now?
Right now I’m writing Emerging Magic, which is the second novel, also focused on Paul and Rory. After Manny’s book, I plan to back up in the chronology and tell Aubrey’s story, which will be a historical, and then the story of how Aubrey and Cal got together, which will be set thirteen years before A Hidden Magic.
And of course, more short stories might ambush me at any time; Cal and Aubrey are particularly good at that. 🙂
Angie is currently working on Emerging Magic, the second novel in the Sentinels series from Torquere Press. You can read more about her on her blog here and follow her on GoodReads here. GraveTells sends Ms. Benedetti a huge thank you for coming on the blog today and chatting with us!
Ready to win a copy of A Hidden Magic?
This was a wonderful interview. I can say I will def be checking this out. I like the different approach and ideas to the world of novels.
Amanda — thanks! I always try to do something different with my SF/Fantasy/Paranormal settings; I’m glad you enjoy the variety.
It is interesting she compares magic to computing… I never thought of it that way but I can definitely understand the comparison.
Question for Ms. Benedetti: How do you feel about sometimes the way in books the sex is just there? I know you touched on this a little bit, but I just wanted to hear more of your thoughts on this. Sometimes it is sexy but I am sometimes, left feeling why was that there. I enjoy that you put that you will put it in there if it is needed, but you aren’t going to shove it down a person’s throat.
Amanda B — well, I have to say right up front that different people have different likes and dislikes and preferences, and that that’s a good thing. The world would be pretty boring if we were all alike. The fact that there are different groups of readers with different tastes means that there’s room for a lot of different kinds of writers to find audiences.
And actually, my own preferences have changed over time. My mom started lending me her historical romances when I was twelve. This was back in the seventies, when mainstream romances had a lot of features that would be considered problematic today, but I plowed through them as fast as I could, and through my teens and twenties I’d happily read any sex I could get my eyeballs onto. 🙂 When I hit my thirties or so, it wasn’t quite so special anymore. And by my forties (I’m 48 now, as a data point) sex as sex pretty much bores me. Been there, read that, written most of it at some point. [yawn] A good sex scene can be a lot of fun, but it has to do something else besides just be sex; the generic stuff isn’t interesting anymore.
My own personal preference at this point, as I said above, is for sex scenes to be treated like any other kind of scene in that they’re made to pull their weight; they have to serve some purpose in the story besides just being sex. If I’m reading and I run into a sex scene that doesn’t seem to be doing anything besides being sex, I start skimming. I keep skimming until something significant starts happening again, at which point I go back to reading. And I’ll admit that if I do more skimming than reading (which I have a few times) I get annoyed and start to regret buying the book.
Part of the problem is that there’s no rating system that looks at whether or not sex scenes serve a purpose. Some ratings indicate how much sex is in a book, and some indicate how hot — usually based on different kinds of kinks — the sex is. Some try to use both. But a book can be 100K words with only one sex scene, but if it involves an eight-inch steel frozen dildo and a fifty-pin play-piercing that gets whipped with a silk flogger, that’s pretty kinky by most people’s standards, even though there’s not much sex. Or a book can be 75% by wordcount of plain vanilla m/f sex, which isn’t very hot when you get right down to it, but there’s a lot of it.
And neither situation addresses what purpose the sex plays in the story. My favorite example of a book with a lot of sex, every bit of which pulls its weight, is Laney Cairo’s Bad Case of Loving You. I’ve read this book four or five times, and it wasn’t until… around the third reading, I think, that I realized just how much sex is in it. Every sex scene serves the story, by showing character, developing the relationship, advancing the plot, or some combination. It doesn’t feel like a lot of sex because none of it is stuck on with duct tape; all of it blends organically with the story. I love this book, and read through all the sex scenes every time.
Unfortunately, I don’t think we’re going to get publishers to put a “Percentage Of Pointless Sex” rating on their books any time soon [wry smile] so people like me who don’t like sex that’s just sex have to cross our fingers and take our chances when we buy books with high heat ratings.
That’s actually a really interesting idea – having some sort of rating for meaningful or relevant sex.
I think some people classify “sex for the sake of sex” as “erotica” (or “bdsm” if it’s kinky) but, like you, I don’t agree with that. Reading through some of Joey Hill’s novels, the sex is incredibly hot, fairly kinky, and some of it helps develop the characters in ways you just can’t get with plain dialogue or action scenes. It’s considered “erotica”, so it probably scares away some readers who might have really enjoyed the character development and emotional rollercoaster.
Very interesting Q&A session.
Thanks for the more in depth explanation of your magic system in the Sentinels universe. I particularly appreciated the computer language comparison.
I really enjoyed A Hidden Magic and I’m trying to wait patiently for Emerging Magic.
I really enjoyed the computer comparison too. That totally speaks my language. =)
Thanks! I appreciate everyone who’s waiting patiently for the next book. [hides under keyboard] I’ve been threatening the boys with a tire iron lately, and it seems to’ve been working. ;D
Congratulations to our winner, Amanda! I’ll contact you shortly.