AUTHOR INTERVIEW & REVIEW: “The Magpie Lord” by KJ Charles
Ami interviews author KJ Charles to discuss her
HIGHLY PRAISED debut novel “The Magpie Lord”
Hi KJ, thank you so much for your willingness for this interview for our “Debut Author Highlight”. I LOVED your book, “The Magpie Lord”. It was an excellent read and I couldn’t believe that it was your first book. Based on reviews for your book at Goodreads, it shows that I’m not the only one.
I’ve been amazed by the response to the book. I thought that m/m Victorian alternate fantasy mystery was so niche as to have a readership of, basically, just me. I’m glad to be wrong! A lot of people have commented ‘I don’t usually read historicals, but…’ which I’m really pleased about.
It’s my first published book (unless you count preschool sticker books, which is hardly the same thing… although I’m now envisaging a Magpie Lord sticker book… No.) I wrote a couple of unpublished novels before I had kids (one of which, Non-Stop Till Tokyo, will now be coming out with Samhain) and then returned to writing once my little blighters stopped waking up screaming every night. Magpie Lord was the first to be picked up by a publisher and I couldn’t be happier or luckier with the reaction.
Okay, first of all, what was the inspiration behind Magpie Lord and “A Charm of Magpies” series?
I live behind a park which is absolutely full of magpies, so I had the magpie rhymes in my head every day. (‘One for sorrow, two for joy’ – we put them at the front of each book to help non-British readers out!) I started thinking about a world where the magpies had meaning, where every time the hero sees magpies they’re telling him something (if he only knew what), and it came together from there.
Oddly enough, I wasn’t aware that ‘charm’ was a name for a group of magpies until my editor asked me to come up with a series title. Hmm, a good name for a series about magpie magic… I looked up collective nouns for magpies, hoping for ideas, and said, ‘Oh my God’ out loud when I saw ‘charm’. It was meant to be!
Will you be working with historical settings for all your upcoming books?
I do prefer historical settings. The Victorian era has always been my imaginative playground. I love the atmosphere, I read masses of Victorian/Edwardian pulp fiction. And of course, in historicals, you don’t have to worry about mobile phones, which make plotting modern stories a right pain. The Magpie Lord would have been a lot less interesting if Stephen could have sent his colleagues a quick text for help.
Everything coming out at the moment is historical. I’ve a short story in the Torquere Press anthology Lights Out coming out in October, ‘The Caldwell Ghost’, which is a Victorian ghost-hunter story (or at least an m/m version). The MS that’s about to go to my editor is Edwardian (Downton Abbey era). There’s no magic in this one: it’s a full-on old- style adventure with a retired soldier, a poet with a secret, villainy to be avenged, fistfights, that sort of thing. It was a blast to do. The Edwardian period, pre-WW1, is a peculiar time, on the cusp of the modern world, with some people embracing new ideas and others clinging onto Victorian values, anti-Semitism on the rise, women fighting for their rights, and the last hurrah of the privileged classes before the war changed everything.
That said, Non-Stop Till Tokyo is set in modern Japan and I had a lot of fun writing it. It’s quite different from the Magpies (it’s m/f, romantic suspense/thriller). So that’s a change of pace!
Truthfully, since I’m an Indonesian reader, I don’t understand much about Victorian era. I also know readers who don’t like historical settings, period. But then I read your blog, and you said that ‘secret and sex’ would make this era intriguing to write. In addition, you also wrote on your blog on how you prefer to tease readers and not sharing all background information. I just need to ask, what is with you and (the idea) of secret?
Ha! I’ve never thought of it that way. I suppose it’s that secrets drive plots. A story is about holding back information and revealing it at the right time. Every gossip knows that. You start ‘You’ll never guess who I saw in the front office!’, not, ‘Jim is in the front office.’ That’s also why every writing advice handbook has a huge section telling you to avoid backstory and infodumps. You have to leverage your knowledge, make the reader want it, not just plonk it on their plate. Learning when to give information and when to withhold it is crucial for a writer.
Well, could you tell us whether you will be revealing the story behind at least one of Crane’s tattoos? The readers are dying to know!
/evil cackle/ Not in book 3. Maybe 4…
All of your characters in Magpie Lord were engaging – who did ‘come’ to your head first? Who was the most difficult to write? And while I know that ALL authors love their characters but who did you end up enjoyed writing the most?
Crane and Merrick came as a pair, fully formed! Stephen took his time. I needed to have the right physical idea of him – small, thin, nervy but with an unbreakable sense of justice – and then it all fell into place.
I love writing Merrick. I’m so happy other people like him as much as I do. I’m frequently tempted to wander off on long scenes of Merrick and Crane chatting, just because I enjoy doing them so much, and have to rein it in.
You are also an editor and I love reading your experience as one. Was it difficult to separate K.J. the editor and K.J. the author when you wrote Magpie Lord? I imagine being an editor you must be ‘your own worst enemy’…
I definitely have to turn off my internal editor, otherwise I just edit each sentence out of existence. (And once I’ve turned it off, I make damn fool embarrassing mistakes that I curse authors for every day.) What I try to do is write on the computer, then read over the MS with an editor’s eye on the e-reader. Somehow that allows me to separate the two.
How many books do you see A Charm of Magpies series will be?
I’m on second draft of book 3 now, and book 4 is taking shape in my head. Book 3 is a bit tricky because it involves a big change for Stephen and Crane, so I have to get that right first to make sure we can move forward. (I’m not being a tease, honest – but it needs nailing down before I say anything, and obviously I have to see if the editor likes it!)
Could you clue in on what will happen in book #2? What can we expect? Will there be more bad-ass Merrick?
A Case of Possession starts four months on from the events of Magpie Lord. A hot, sweltering summer. They’re in London, where Stephen is working as a justiciar and Crane is running his business, and they’re not getting to see as much of each other as Crane would like. Crane gets dragged in to Stephen’s work when the practitioner who introduced them tries a bit of blackmail, and Stephen needs his help in communicating with the Chinese shamans in Limehouse (a dodgy area of Victorian London). Inevitably, things get quite complicated, quite quickly.
Expect Crane’s life in China coming back to haunt him, shaggy-dog stories, Stephen’s justiciary team, in particular his partner Esther Gold, blackmail, revenge, plenty of Merrick, quite a lot of swearing, rather more sex than book 1 (making up for lost time!), some fairly spectacular deaths, and any amount of rats. *Big* rats.
Can we expect ‘treats’, like free short stories for this series? Yes, we the readers are very greedy *laugh*
I’ll be writing up one of Stephen’s shorter cases this autumn. I have more things to write than I can shake a stick at, so it won’t be in the immediate future, but expect something around Christmas..
Okay, to wrap up, since our blog name is “Boys in Our Books”, who are your book boyfriend(s) and why?
I adore Alverstoke in Georgette Heyer’s Frederica. He’s lazy, selfish, cynical; wealthy and privileged but very alone in the world. Watching him fall in love with Frederica, and his growing affection and responsibility for her two young brothers, is absolutely glorious, especially because this does not change his character in the slightest when it comes to anyone else on the planet. “His lordship, previously ruthless on his own behalf, was now prepared to sacrifice the entire human race to spare his Frederica one moment’s pain.” That’s what I like to see. :)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
I live in London, UK, with two kids, a tolerant husband and an even more tolerant cat.
KJ Charles can be found at:
“The Magpie Lord”
A lord in danger. A magician in turmoil. A snowball in hell.
A Charm of Magpies, Book 1
Exiled to China for twenty years, Lucien Vaudrey never planned to return to England. But with the mysterious deaths of his father and brother, it seems the new Lord Crane has inherited an earldom. He’s also inherited his family’s enemies. He needs magical assistance, fast. He doesn’t expect it to turn up angry.
Magician Stephen Day has good reason to hate Crane’s family. Unfortunately, it’s his job to deal with supernatural threats. Besides, the earl is unlike any aristocrat he’s ever met, with the tattoos, the attitude…and the way Crane seems determined to get him into bed. That’s definitely unusual.
Soon Stephen is falling hard for the worst possible man, at the worst possible time. But Crane’s dangerous appeal isn’t the only thing rendering Stephen powerless. Evil pervades the house, a web of plots is closing round Crane, and if Stephen can’t find a way through it—they’re both going to die.
The story opened with Lord Crane trying to commit suicide — it wasn’t because he wanted to do it, he was persuaded by force of evil. Merrick, Crane’s manservant, told his Lord to look for help from a shaman. Entered Stephen Day, a magic practitioner who had every reasons to hate Crane for the sins of Crane’s father. But Stephen realized that Crane was not his father and he ended up helping Crane to find out the root of evil that had almost took Crane’s life.
This story came as a delightful surprise especially because historical is not my genre of choice. However, I am a huge fan of mystery and paranormal, and anything with magic will tempt me to try. From the first page, I was immediately hooked. It continued to be charming with witty banters, engaging horror mystery infused with magic and tales and ghosts, BAMF!manservant (yes, you, Merrick!), captivating characters, and DELICIOUS sexual tension between the two men.
The sex scenes were amazingly hot. Crane and Stephen seemed to prefer NOT using beds! There prefer using vertical surfaces and one memorable desk (Oh, the story that desk can tell). They were RAWR-kind of scenes and it made me all melty and tingly *fans self*. Another thing that made me love it was the words … it was so pretty and at times sensual. And THAT climax of an ending, I wish ALL books end like that.
I do have few trivial complaints:
First, regarding the reveal of the bad guys. In mystery/suspense, I do love being surprised. However, at the same time, I would like to be ‘guided’ in the process. Throw in some clues and then red herrings along the way and I will be one happy girl when I come to the finish line. In here though, few of the major villains are disclosed in the 11th hour; without any prior introduction. It reduced the fun of deducing — even if I wasn’t a detective.
Second, some of the teaser information is not fully explained in the end. We got the tease on Crane being “forced to have a very large and expensive tattoo”. He was about to tell but he stopped and the issue wasn’t raised again. It will be nice to have it told — it will give me a deeper understanding about Crane and his background. Having said that, this is quite trivial because I assume we can still get the teasers explained in book #2.
So in conclusion, The Magpie Lord was engaging, arousing, at times frightening, and most definitely entertaining. This is what an excellent story is made-of — a combination of well-prepared idea, well-plotted execution, and well-written characters.
Simply one of my favorites from a debut author this year. I am definitely looking forward to book #2 coming in January.