They say as an author you should never read the reviews of your own work. As an author I can say with authority you can and inevitably will read reviews of your work, especially when it’s your first novel. The good news is Magicians Impossible has been relatively well-received especially for a debut. It received multiple starred reviews, it made some top ten lists, it made some Best of 2017 lists.
I got some great fan mail too. People telling me Magicians broke them out of a reading rut.Some even saying it was one of the best books they ever read.
But of course not everybody liked it. And I’m not going to address any of that because why would I? Not everything is going to be someone’s cup of tea. A book, like any work of art, is what it is; it never changes. And how a person responds to it is 100% on them.
That said there is one recurring criticism of Magicians Impossible that I would like to address.
For some readers it all has to do with how quickly Jason seems to master his levels of magic. Some seem to feel it all happens in a couple of days. Some say a week. Those who paid attention would guess correctly that it more or less takes a month.
Here’s the correct answer. Spoilers lurk within so if you haven’t read Magicians Impossible why on earth are you visiting my website?
I mapped out the events of the book before I put words to paper, just to get it straight in my mind. Using October 2018 (the year after the book’s 2017 release) as a guideline I made a calendar of events so I’d know what happened and when.
Damon’s opening mission takes place on Friday September 28th. His funeral is Monday October 1st. The events that transpire up to the climactic events of Murder Hill happen between October 1st and October 29th – so four weeks total.
The bulk of Part One – everything from Damon’s Funeral through Jason’s visit to the Oracle takes place between October 1st and 5th. After the Oracle, Jason is on lock-down with no further training, and spends the next two weeks honing his Adept and Archmage skills. He doesn’t next advance in levels until the Louvre mission, which takes place on October 23rd when he “blinks” on his own for the first time, showing him he has the abilities of a War Seer (Level 4). He later wields an Enchantment spell (Level 3) on the Paris metro. Since it’s established that levels of magic are cumulative, it’s not out of the ordinary for you to leap ahead a level then backtrack to master the previous one. All told that’s a span of 19 days.
The rest of the story – the Temple of Bones, Jason’s visit with Damon, his throwing in his lot with the Golden Dawn, the Battle of the Citadel and Murder Hill takes place between October 24th and the 30th. There’s a three day (October 25-28) span between Jason deciding to join the Golden Dawn and his theft of the Sphere of Destiny. In that time he hones his newly acquired skills as an Enchanter and War Seer. He crosses over to the Diabolist Level on Murder Hill.
Now some would argue a month is too quickly to learn these skills let alone master them. But those people ignore the events at Murder Hill on July 4, 1999 when Jason was 12 years old and first exhibited the abilities of a Mage. But as he never got his Hogwarts letter or was recruited into the Invisible Hand those skills lay dormant until he crossed the threshold into the Citadel, where those powers began to be unlocked, by passing through the many doors and chambers of the Invisible Hand’s fortress.
So if you yourself was questioning how someone with no training could and advance so quickly, I hope the above clarifies it. And if not, maybe the below will. This is the calendar I put together three years ago when I was just drafting Magicians Impossible. Some details may have changed but I pretty much adhered to this breakdown.
There are other criticisms I’m sure and I take no issue with any of them, not even the ones that accused me of ripping off books or video games or TV shows I’ve never read, played, or watched. I wasn’t even completely sure I should even address the timeline, but for people who surfed on in looking for answers, maybe this will do that.
[As a follow-up that’s not to say Magicians Impossible definitively takes place in 2018 or 2017, just that in my mind it takes place later this year]
I had planned to end this year’s blog with a more general update on things. What’s going on in my life. What movies I’ve seen. What books I read. The TV I watched, the music I listened to. I’ve also been waylaid a bit, both with family obligations, and with a banger of a head cold that’s kept me out of the loop for a bit. Frankly, I’ve been in a state of near exhaustion for the last month. So I was going to just let 2017 sputter out on its own without me.
Then my sister forwarded the obit.
Let me tell you about John Alexander Ballachey. “JB” as he was known to we students of Brockville Collegiate Institute. JB taught history. He was, I believe, head of the department, but I may be mistaken in that regard. He’d taught at our school since the late 1960s, even teaching history to the parents of some of the kids in my class.
He was an institution.
It sounds cliché to speak of a teacher who inspired you, but in JB’s case this was all true. I’m a huge history buff today and that’s largely due to him. He made learning fun. He didn’t care about dates and events that occurred on them. He wanted you to see the connections. Many times our classes were about what could have happened at certain junctures, as opposed to what ended up happening. What if Hitler hadn’t invaded the Soviet Union. What if the French hadn’t lost the Plains of Abraham? What if the 1980 Sovereignty Referendum had swung in the Parti Quebecois’ favor? It was, in essence, storytelling, based on historical fact. You needed to know your facts with JB and he wouldn’t hesitate to call you out for it. And the thing was, you wanted his approval, that wry grin and winning smile that told you “good job” without his having to say it. I was a fair-to-average student in many regards, but for two subjects; English, and History. I succeeded in history class because JB made it an adventure to learn.
JB wasn’t just a teacher though. He was also a longstanding member of the Brockville Operatic Society, appearing in dozens of musical productions. I appeared with him in late 1989, sharing a scene with him as a reporter in the BOS production of Damn Yankees (with JB playing the team owner). We all had a hoot – him especially. For the week leading up to the performance he’d grill me mercilessly, asking if I remembered my lines (I had, I think, three). But he clearly enjoyed making me nervous, just like he enjoyed all his students. If you encountered him on the street he’d always grin, and ask how you were, even though he knew how you were doing in his class.
He was also encouraging in my burgeoning career as a filmmaker and storyteller. In Grade 12 he happily agreed (despite being busy with teaching) to perform a small role in a 1-act play I directed based on a Woody Allen comedy bit. Despite having only a couple lines he hammed them up like crazy and got the biggest laughs of the show. There was something of a performer in JB, beyond the stage, beyond the classroom. I always felt after the fact that he had no real aspirations for the stage – he really just enjoyed being in front of and around people, be it an audience, be it a classroom of students. Despite having a mild stutter he didn’t blanch, even when he fought for the words on the tip of his tongue.
I don’t think I saw him at all after high school – maybe around graduation or shortly after though I did get to tell him I’d been accepted into film school, which earned hearty, friendly punch to the arm in that guy-ish way. I don’t remember what he said, but I like to think he was proud that I was going out into the world to make history of my own – just one of many kids he taught. I think he was proud of all the kids who passed through his classroom. To teach for so long you found yourself teaching the children of former students might have made you feel your age, but not JB.
JB never left Brockville. I’m told that while he embraced world travel in his later years Brockville was always home. He remained involved in the community, in theatre, and the choir, and made animal welfare his passion after he’d hung up his teaching shoes. I am told though, second-hand, that he did know I was making a name for myself as a writer in the film and Tv biz, and thought that was fantastic news. I’m sure he felt that way about all his former students – the lawyers and doctors, and the ones who went on to teach history themselves.
Looking through his memorial page, I saw a lot of names I hadn’t thought of in more than 25 years. Students, colleagues, parents, children. All who were touched by an extraordinary teacher. You realize now, in adulthood, what an impact your teachers had on you. To me, teaching is one of the noblest of professions – the one that truly keeps the world spinning.
I never got to tell JB any of this, but I’m saying it now for all the teachers out there. I want to say how much you do matter, to every child you teach, to every parent whose child is entrusted to you. And know that, even after those kids graduate or advance a grade and move on, they never do forget how much you meant to them.
Godspeed and good-rest, Mr. Ballachey. You were one in a million.
Sent from iPad
On November 11th I had my final author event of the fall at Bakka-Phoenix Bookstore in Toronto. My hometown (or as close to a hometown as I’ll ever have). It was the best attended event yet, owing to the friends, family, and colleagues who came out. I didn’t have time to talk with everyone or to thank them for coming out to support me and Magicians Impossible, but I appreciate each and every one of them.
If you missed the event, Bakka has a limited number of signed store copies they’d be happy to sell to you. There’s also a smaller number of signed copies at the Indigo Bookstore in the Eaton Centre. They make great Christmas gifts, or so I tell everyone.
So, what’s next? For Magicians? For me?
Bakka may represent the end of the fall leg of the Magicians book tour, but I’m in the process of lining up more events for 2018. These will largely be centered around the NY-NJ-CT region, but hopefully we can do some ones a bit further afield. It all depends on the book’s longevity, obviously, but there’s been a little bit of good news coming in on that front I’m not quite at liberty to discuss as of yet.
[Of course, if any bookstores, libraries, schools etc. would like to have me out for something I’m always interested, and you can reach me direct through this website]
As for me, I just finished the first draft of what will hopefully be my next novel a week ago. It was a challenge – maybe even more difficult a book than Magicians was to write – but I’m pleased with how that first draft came together. Right now it’s sitting in the drawer until 2018 when I plan to open that drawer up, pull it out, and start going over it with the red pen.
In the meantime I’m beginning development on a new TV project with some producers I have a long-standing relationship with. That was another reason for the Toronto trip; to sign the paperwork and make the deal real. It too will have to remain on the down-low for now, but it’s a project I’m very much looking forward to doing. It’s based, in part, on my own life, which is probably saying too much already. Rest assured once it’s made public a lot more about what it is will be much more clear, and may even delight some long-time fans of me and my work.
Until then I’m taking a couple of weeks off – now through Thanksgiving. 2017 has been a very busy, sometimes punishing year. between fatherhood, writing this new novel, doing Magicians promo, and inking the TV deal I’m absolutely exhausted. But I won’t be sitting idle during my Stay-cation; I have books to read, movies and TV to catch up on … and ideas to put to paper. The writer’s brain is never completely at rest, and I routinely find my best ideas when I’m not at my desk, working.
It’s been a strange journey, being an author. It’s a side of the writing biz I’ve never experienced before, but it’s been fun having the chance to step out from behind my desk to meet people, to read from my work publicly, to sign copies of a thing that sprung solely from my mind. So much of writing is solitary; even more so when you’ve largely worked in the film and television fields. Just knowing that my book is sitting on bookstore and library shelves continues to amaze me.
And I’m just getting started.
What a month.
Magicians Impossible hit stores September 12. Today is October 24. Time enough to talk a little more about it.
First up, CALIFORNIA.
Short version: I had a blast.
Longer version: I had a blast.
I also sold some books!
I got to visit (and shop at) some very cool bookstores run by some very friendly people, I got to see the sites, I got to visit places I’ve never visited before, and I of course got to do a LOT of driving. That didn’t bother me so much though; traffic in California is comparable to the sprawl and congestion of Toronto coupled with the nuttiness of New York drivers, minus the sudden unannounced stops followed by the appearance of four-way flashers (the bane of any NYC driving experience).
A few days after returning from California, I had an event at The Mysterious Bookshop in Tribeca, which went VERY well too.
Reviews also been pretty solid. People have generally liked it, with mostly three, four, five stars on Goodreads and Amazon (and a share of ones and twos) The mixed-negative reviews really don’t bother me though; if anything they make the glowing reviews more legit.
I’ve come to discover that writing a book is like building a house. Your blueprint, your specifications, your taste, number and size of rooms, amenities. It’s decorated and furnished the way you want it. It’s your house, but you did all this work for other people; your guests. They move in and inhabit the house. Some stay a few days, some for a week, some for a month. And they all have a different reaction to it. Some will like the entrance and foyer, maybe it opens up into a spectacular living room with floor to ceiling windows overlooking a lake. They’ll move through the house, room by room. Some will love the kitchen, some will think it needs more counter space. Some think the floor tiles are ugly, some don’t like the drapes. Some find the bedrooms too small, some think the bathrooms could be bigger. But in the end they all stay however long they need to and when they move out they have an impression, and an opinion. They say they liked it, but had a couple of issues. Other really liked it aside from a couple minor caveats, but they would recommend it to other friends. Some love it, and not only would they recommend it to others, they’re looking to re-up for another stay, or if you’ve got another house on the street, want to stay there too. And for some it just wasn’t what they were looking for, period.
That’s book writing. And that’s also book criticism.
An example of this is my current read is Stephen King’s It – a book I first read back in 1989, the same year as the setting of the recent blockbuster film adaptation. I was roughly the age of the characters in the book – the “Loser’s Club” of kids – and back then naturally I gravitated most strongly to the sections of the book detailing that fateful and fatal summer in Derry, Maine. The sections set in the then present-day world of 1985 with the kids all grown up were less than compelling. At that young age I had no inkling of what awaited me in the adult world. The successes, the failures, the disappointments. But reading It now it’s the adult sections that cut much deeper. Maybe because I’ve grown up as well, but all the things the adult Loser’s grapple with are things I or my friends have had to face as well.
A book is probably the most intimate form of entertainment there is, because of the time it demands. It’s not like watching a 2 hour movie or an hour long TV episode (or several, consecutively, if you’re a binge watcher), or listening to an album full of songs. A book will demand hours, days, even weeks of your time. Who you are and where you are in life will have a huge impact on how you respond to something; the fact I’ve had two very different experiences reading It would point to that.
But in the end Magicians Impossible is no longer my book; it belongs to everyone who has bought a copy. If you’re one of them, thank-you.
Now for some random bits of news:
I’ll be appearing at Bakka Phoenix Books in Toronto on Saturday November 11th at 3:00pm. Hometown store, hometown crowd; I’ve spent a lot of money at Bakka over the years, starting with their Queen St. W location in the early 1990s, so I am honored to be appearing there.
For those who missed the NY and California signings, due to time or location constraints, Turn of the Corkscrew, Book Soup, Book Carnival, Mysterious Galaxy, and The Mysterious Bookshop all have author signed copies on hand and will be happy to sell and ship them to you. Presumably, Bakka will as well, after November 11th.
And that’s pretty much it. I’m busy working on my next book, having just passed the 2/3rds mark of the first draft and am hoping to be done that by the time I depart for Toronto. It’s been going … well, though there’s a HUGE story behind it I’ll spin some day. But for now I’m just enjoying all of it; the book, authordom, the whole dang ride.
And the sunsets are nice too …