End of Year

There are a bunch of Ask Luna questions in the queue, but for today I thought I’d give you guys a general update instead.

Alex Verus #6 is chugging along on the road to publication – for those who remember the ‘The Process’ posts I did a few weeks back, it’s currently in the ‘Waiting for Copy-Edits’ stage.  The worst of the work is done, now, and the finished product you guys get in 2015 should be pretty similar to the version that’s sitting on my hard drive right now.

On the topic of Alex Verus #6, it’s also got a name and a (provisional) release date!  The book will be called Veiled, and it’s due to come out around August 4th-6th 2015.  The story is going to focus on Alex, Caldera, and the political machinations of the Council.  More details closer to the time.

In the meantime, Alex Verus #7 is also going well.  My original plan was to see if I could get it written by the end of March, and so far it’s on schedule, if only just – it’s around 30% complete.  However, I’m going to be overseas over Christmas and New Year, so I’m not sure whether I’ll be able to keep up my writing routine while away from my regular home and patterns.  I guess we’ll just have to see.

And that’s about it for now.  Next week’s post will be an end-of-year round up, and after that we’ll be back to more Ask Luna.  Until then, have a happy Christmas from everyone in the Alex Verus world!

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Ask Luna #40

From: Tom

Hi Luna,

Alex said Onyx is one of the most deadly battle mages he’d ever seen. Does this mean that Morden is stronger, as Onyx is his Chosen? And if not, why does he stay as his Chosen? Finally, staying with the Chosen theme, when would someone stop being a Dark Chosen and become someone’s master?

Thanks Luna, Tom.

I’ve never actually seen Morden in action, but if what I’ve heard is true, he could wipe the floor with Onyx any time he felt like it.  From what I’ve been told Morden’s one of the most powerful Dark mages in the country, and Alex agrees.

The idea of Dark Chosen is that they’re kind of successors-in-waiting.  So at some point, they take over their master’s business.  Or that’s the plan, anyway.  Sometimes they get sick of waiting and leave, sometimes things get nasty.  Not all Dark apprentices get made Chosen, and not all Dark mages with apprentices name Chosen at all.  

From: Geli

Dear Luna,

thank you, that you’re answering all of our questions. Also congratulations on getting more popular. It seems that you’re getting more and more letters.

Back to the purpose of my letter, I’m still thinking about Alex. In my first letter, we both agreed that there was a distinct possibility of Richard changing Alex to a harder, more battle-orientated person. (I said all diviners are naturally pacifists, but I guess we can’t know that until we meet some more.) In my second letter, I asked if Alex was kind of inexperienced outside of battle divination and you pointed me towards the different kinds of divinition and that Alex is following the Appolonian one, while his dreams / warning about the far future belong to the Dionysian one. I read both up by now and found it an interesting topic.

Having recapped our conversation so far, I wondered what methods Richard used to change Alex. The environment was of course a major part, as was the deadly race between the apprentices. But what stood out for me, was the matter of punishment for Alex’s attempted rescue of the girl.

First: A room with nothing but a diviner in it has been described several times as the “ideal” environment for a diviner. Even Alex admits that it was here he learned to throw things with 100% accuracy, and I’m sure he picked up some other tricks in there too. Second, the labyrinth and Tobruk: If I had to design a training course for a diviner to force him to adapt to battle conditions this would be it. Alex had the advantage of only one enemy, a labyrinth and the

future – and as he has proved against our unfortunate teenage Avenger group he excels now in this. Excels to a degree that a Dark Mage looked at him with respect.

So in short: Could it be that Richard had never really punished Alex, but simply created an enviroment that forced Alex to become better? Because if all mages so far agree on one thing, it is that Richard is a master manipulator. And it would fit neatly with why Richard isn’t at all angry at Alex… 

Hope you have a nice day!

Um.  

I’ve read that a few times and each time, it makes more sense.  Tried to find holes in it, but I can’t.  

I think I remember Alex telling me once that the one restriction Tobruk was under was that he wasn’t allowed to do anything permanent.  Looked at another way . . . training environment.  Which means that Alex might have been doing exactly what Richard wanted.  

So yeah.  I think you might be right.  That’s worrying to say the least.  

From: Little Watchmaker

Hi Luna,

firstly I would like to say congratulations on the huge progression with controlling your powers.

Secondly, I’d like to throw a theory at you, see what you think. I hope you don’t mind.

Say I was a mage, I knew another mage and we were friends, we shared similar goals we both respected each other. And I was dying. With my death, my power would be gone. It would be a useless waste. Couldn’t I elect to be harvested by my fellow mage? If the process was mutual and I was willing the process wouldn’t be as traumatic for me. I’d feel much better knowing my power and spirit had been given to someone else and a part of me would live on within him or her. Or perhaps my mind is too complex. What if a loyal magical beasts last wishes were to pass on a final gift of power. What would happen if a blink fox wished to be harvested?

My first reaction is ‘hell no’.  It sounds a lot like asking someone else to murder you.  Thinking about it some more . . . it’s possible, I guess, but it seems really unlikely.  I mean, if you were dying, and you had enough time to set up a Harvesting ritual, wouldn’t you have enough time to find a life mage and get yourself healed instead?  

I’m also not sure how much of the insanity-inducing side effects from Harvesting come from the target being unwilling, and how much just come from the fact that you’re trying to rip out a piece of them and graft it inside your head.  I suppose if you’ve thought of it, it’s a good bet that someone has tried it, but they’d have to be pretty crazy to be willing to give it a go.

Oh, and as far as I know, all attempts to Harvest magical creatures have resulted in permanent insanity and a fifty-percent-plus mortality rate.  For the mage, that is.  Obviously, one hundred percent if you’re the magical creature in question.

From: Royd Burgoyne

Hi Luna!

Dedicated fan from Downunder here! Thoroughly enjoying your (and Alex’s) (mis)adventures but I’d love to know if we’ll be seeing more of the Blink Fox in future instalments?

He (?) seems like an intriguing character who will likely cause Alex some grief (eg. emptying the fridge) and we’d love to know more about him :) Bottom line, I hope he features in future adventures! Thanks for any info! Warm regards,

Royd Burgoyne

Perth, Australia

Yeah, he’s around.  Mostly he begs food off whoever’s home and leaves hairs all over the armchair.  He’s started showing up at Anne’s flat and nagging her for food, too.  I suppose he’s friendly, more or less, but he’s kind of annoying.  All he seems to want to do is eat and sleep.  

I wish Alex had let me name him.  I was going to call him Vulpix but thinking about it, Garfield would probably have been better.  Oh well, he seems attached to Alex at least.

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The Process (Conclusion)

The last part of our look at how an Alex Verus novel gets written.  If you missed the earlier bits of the series, here are the links to Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Putting It Together

So what does the full timeline look like?

1. Idea (? months)
2. Planning (1-2 months)
3. First Draft (5-7 months)
4. Waiting for Edits (1-2 months)
5. Edits (1-4 months)
6. Waiting for Copy-Edits (1-2 months)
7. Copy-Edits (<1 month)
8. Waiting for Proofs (1-2 months)
9. Proofs and AQs (minimal time)
10. Pre-Publication (4-6 months)

We can probably cut out the idea and planning stages, as they’re mostly done in the background while I work on other things.  So that leaves the writing stage (step 3) and then the road to publication (steps 4 to 10).  Adding it all up, we get the following time spans:

First Draft:  5-7 months
Road to Publication:  9-17 months

In practice, the time for the first drafts for the last few books has come in at a consistent 6 months, largely because that’s the deadline I set myself.  The time for the road to publication stage has been more variable.  Chosen took 11 months, Hidden took 14, and the new book is looking like it’ll be 13.  Added together they average to close to a year.  So 6 months to write the book, and 12 months to edit it and get it published.

If this seems like a long time, that’s because it is.

Is It Worth It?

The six months figure to write the book is probably understandable to most of you – it’s slow by the standards of some authors, but fast by the standards of others, and it’s not particularly notable one way or the other.  I suspect the part that most of you are more likely to balk at is the 12-month publication process.  While this figure is pretty standard in the industry, the fact that it takes publishers twice as long to edit and put out a book as it does for me to write it might raise a few eyebrows to those not experienced with the publishing business.

So is all that wait time necessary?  Could it be done faster?

Well, it depends.

Some of the items – in fact, most of the items – in the publication process are very necessary.  All the stages of edits, in particular, are crucial.  All of my books have been greatly improved by the editorial process that they’ve been through – if I were self-publishing, I could put up each new Alex Verus novel on Amazon within a week of finishing the first draft, but they’d be much worse books.  So from that point of view, yes, the wait time’s necessary.

On the other hand, if I’m being honest, it doesn’t probably need to be quite that long.  While edits might be essential, I spend as much time waiting for edits to be delivered as I do actually editing, and by the time we get to the proof stage, the book is mostly just sitting around.  Unfortunately, all of these wait periods are determined by bureaucratic and scheduling decisions made by my publisher, and as such are out of my hands.  I could kick up a fuss, but it’d be pointless – the 12 month processing time is the industry standard, and I’m not a big enough gorilla to demand changes.  All it’d accomplish would be to cause a lot of stress and bad feeling for no real gain, and I’d rather spend my energy on writing.

Finishing Up

And that’s how an Alex Verus novel gets written – hope you found it interesting!  Next week, we’re back to Ask Luna.

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The Process (Part Three)

The third part of our journey from first idea to finished novel.  We left off last week at the stage of waiting for copy-edits.

Step Seven: Copy-Edits (<1 Month)

Copy-edits are the middle stage of the editing process.  A copy-editor checks the manuscript for errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation, as well as for more subjective things like repeated words, choice of language, and sentence/paragraph length. On top of that they also look for issues such as consistency (are the characters the right age, do the details match up, does Magic Plot Thing A do the same thing in each chapter) and legality (is the publisher going to get sued for anything the author’s written).

This can add up to an awful lot, and the copy-edited manuscripts I get generally look as though they’ve just come back from being graded by a particularly obsessive-compulsive English professor.  Every page will have multiple notes and corrections, and I have to go through each and every one of them to confirm that the corrections and changes are actually right.  (It would be nice if I could just let the copy-editor handle everything – unfortunately it doesn’t work that way and I need to check it personally.)  All of this takes time.

On the plus side, while checking copy-edits takes a while, it’s not actually very demanding from a creative point of view – easier than writing new material, and much easier than rewrites.  I can easily copy-edit a full chapter in a day, and multiple chapters if I work at it. I finished Hidden’s copy-edits in under two weeks.

Step Eight: Waiting for Proofs (1-2 Months)

Back to waiting.  By this point I’m fully occupied with the next book, and I’ve probably stopped thinking about this book at all.

Step Nine: Proofs and Author Questions (<1 Week)

A proof is a copy-edited manuscript that is (almost) ready for publication.  The proof stage marks the first point at which the book is actually printed – copy-edits and edits are typically done electronically, but proof copies are physical bound books.  They usually won’t have a cover – their job isn’t to look pretty, their job is to be read, mainly by a proofreader.

A proofreader is the last line of defence in the editing process, and their job is to catch any errors that made it through all the previous sweeps.  They don’t do major or even minor edits – changes at the proof stage are costly, and the larger the change the more costly.  Mostly they check small, easy-to-miss things like spelling, grammar, page numbering, etc.

Unlike the copy-edits, I don’t double-check the proofreader’s work line by line – instead my publishers send me an email with author questions covering issues that the proofreader has drawn to their attention.  Each question comes with a page and line reference, and I have to look them up one at a time.  It’s slow and tedious work, but thankfully there’s generally not much of it and I can usually get it done in an afternoon.

In theory I’m also supposed to check the proofs myself.  In practice, by the time I get to this stage I’m sick to death of editing the damn book and just want to do something else.  There also isn’t much I’m likely to catch that the proofreader won’t, so I usually just skim the proof copy to make sure the copy-edits actually got done, then go back to writing the next book and trust the proofreader to catch any spelling mistakes.

I sent my responses to the final set of author queries on Hidden around the 25th of March, more than five months before the book’s publication date.  This marked the last point at which I had any influence over the book’s content.

Step Ten: Pre-Publication (4-6 Months)

By this point the book’s content is finished, and it’s all ready to be read.  So you can buy it, right?

Well, no.

Publishers typically schedule book releases a long time in advance.  They have a certain amount of book slots planned over the course of each year, and books are allocated to slots far in advance of their actual publication date (usually a year or so).  For obvious reasons, publishers like to get the books ready to go a long time before they’re due to come out.  Partly this is because booksellers like to have access to the book a while before the release date, but mostly it’s so that the publishers have some safety margin and don’t have to rush.

A little more work on the book is still done during this stage (mostly finalising what’s on the front and back cover) but mostly the publishers spend this time on marketing – pitching the book to booksellers, sending out copies to reviewers, and so on.  How much marketing attention a book gets (and how much good that attention does) varies enormously.

I’m almost completely uninvolved by this point.  Usually all I do is look over the cover copy, and take part in any publicity activities.  Most of my energy is being spent on writing the next book instead.  I finished the first draft of Alex Verus #6 at the end of June, two months before Hidden was due to be released, and I spent very little time thinking about Hidden during this whole stage.

Step Eleven: Publication

The book comes out!  Everyone’s excited!

Well, except me.  I’m busy with Step Four or Step Five of the next book, and with Step One of the book after that.

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The Process (Part Two)

Carrying on from last week, here’s what happens once a book’s past the first draft stage.

Step Four: Waiting for Edits (1-2 Months)

After I send off the first draft to my editors and beta readers, I can relax a bit.  This is the closest I get to being on holiday, and it’s generally the only time in a book cycle when I’m genuinely not working.  While I’m in the first draft stage, I typically work 7 days a week for the whole 6 months – as a result, by the time I send the manuscript off, I’m often quite exhausted and drained.  It takes me a month or so to recharge the batteries.  After 3-4 weeks, I’m rested and usually ready to get back to work.

Unfortunately, this stage also marks the end of the point where I have full control over the timing of things.  Part of the reason I’m relaxing and doing nothing in this stage is that I’m waiting on my editors to send me their first-stage edits.  If I’m lucky, they’re working away on the edits and I’ll receive them after a month or so.  If I’m unlucky, the edits are sitting under a pile of work, or in my editor’s inbox, or are bouncing around in limbo between various email accounts.  Until I get them, there’s not much I can do but sit around.

In the case of Hidden, I got the editorial report from my UK and US editors on August 7th, a little over 5 weeks after submitting the manuscript.

Step Five: Edits (??? Months)

A novel delivered to the publisher typically has three to four major stages of editing, and the first-round edits are the biggest and longest.  This is where your publishers tell you how much they liked the book, followed by all the things they want you to change.  If you’re lucky, the suggested changes are things like “This character’s great, can we have more of him?” or “Hey, maybe you should cut out some of the world-building details so we can jump into the action quicker.”  If you’re unlucky, it’s stuff like “I’m just not sure I found the supernatural elements in this story really convincing.  What if you set the book in a traditional boarding school instead of this ‘Hogwarts’ place?  Oh, and if you could change the sex of the main character, that’d be great.”

It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that waiting for edits can be somewhat stressful.

Once the email with the editorial report arrives in my inbox, the holiday’s over.  My first job is to decide how I’m going to respond to their suggestions, followed by getting in touch with them to agree on what the changes are going to be.  Once that’s been agreed, I’ll get to work on the edits themselves.  This step can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the size of the changes.

Hidden had a difficult edits stage.  The first stage of the process ended up taking a good two and a half months, the first couple of weeks of which was negotiation and discussion, and the rest of which was the writing itself.  After that I spent a further couple of months on a second-round edit, with yet more discussion and yet more edits.  The final version didn’t get sent back to my publishers until the last week of 2013.  Although the end result was a much better book, it was a lot of work and made it difficult to make a start on Alex Verus #6.  I couldn’t easily start the next book until I’d settled what was happening in this one, and as a result I didn’t begin writing Alex Verus #6 until several months after its original hoped-for start date.

It’s also usually somewhere during the edits that a title gets decided.  Prior to this stage, the manuscript of Hidden was being sent around with the title of ‘Alex Verus #5′.

Step Six: Waiting for Copy-Edits (1-2 Months)

Once the publishers have decided that they like the basic structure of the manuscript, they’ll shunt it off to a copy-editor for the next stage.  Again, there’s not much I can do during this process, but unlike Stage Four, this isn’t a holiday – typically by this stage I’ve started work on the next book.

The amount of time I spend waiting for the copy-edits depends on the publisher’s schedules, which in turn depends on how much time pressure they feel they’re under.  If the book looks like it’s easily going to hit its publishing slot, they’re not going to be all that hurried about it.  If time’s tight, they’ll set a stricter deadline on when the copy-editor has to deliver, and they’ll pressure me to complete the copy-edits faster in turn.  In this case, since the edits for Hidden had taken so long, there wasn’t much time to spare, and the copy-edits were delivered to me exactly a month after I’d sent them the edited manuscript.

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The Process (Part One)

Alex Verus #7 is underway, and about 10% complete.  The book’s coming along nicely (and currently ahead of schedule) but there’s no immediate news to share, so for this week’s post I thought I’d write about a more general topic instead.

One of the most common questions I get asked is “When’s the next book coming out?”  I always hate answering it, because when I tell people that the next book is finished, they get all excited and expect to be able to read it soon.  Then I have to watch their faces fall when I explain that it’s going to be a full year before the book hits the shelves.  (Okay, most of the time I don’t actually see their faces fall, since I’m doing it over the internet, but you get the idea.)  It’s generally not immediately obvious to the casual observer why it takes so long for a novel to go from manuscript form to purchasable book, so to try and explain it a little better I thought I’d write up the process.  If you’re interested in how a book gets made, this might give you a little idea of the nuts and bolts of the profession.  If not, it’ll hopefully at least explain why the books seem to take so long to get written.

So here’s the journey that an Alex Verus novel goes through, from conception to the bookstore.  Each step is accompanied by a rough estimate of how many months it takes.  For our guinea pig, the book we’re going to track on its course is Alex Verus #5, Hidden.

Step 1: Idea (??? months)

The little acorn from which the oak tree grows.  All writers collect story seeds, fragments of ideas with the potential to become something more.  In rare cases, they get turned into a book.  More often, they gather dust in a notebook or computer file somewhere.

In the case of Hidden, the initial idea was basic:  do something involving Anne’s past.  This was floating around in my head sometime back in 2012, before I’d even finished with Chosen.  And then it sat and waited, until Chosen was written and the Chosen edits were completed and I had time for something more.

Step 2: Planning (1-2 months)

Some writers can improvise an entire book from scratch, but I’m not one of them.  I need some sort of plan in place before I’m really comfortable sitting down to get started, and the more of an idea I have of what I’m going to write, the better.

The way in which I do plans has changed over the years.  For the early Alex Verus novels I’d draw out detailed plans on A4 sheets, with timelines and events in contrasting colours.  Nowadays my notes are much shorter and more piecemeal, shifting as the plan does.  Hidden’s notes were mostly written on a file on my computer and probably wouldn’t have made much sense to anyone but me.  From the beginning, I knew that there were two plotlines from Chosen that I really wanted to continue and develop:  Richard’s return, and the mystery of Anne’s past.  Everything else developed from there.  I began laying the details of the plot of Hidden in November 2012, and by the end of December 2012 I had a clear enough idea of the book’s early sections to start writing.

Step 3: First Draft (5-7 months)

The longest part and generally the hardest.  When I give percentage updates on my blog, this is usually the bit I’m talking about.

My Alex Verus novels are around 90,000 words in length.  Counting editing time, this means that if I average a little over 500 words a day, I can write a book from beginning to end in 6 months.  In Hidden’s case, the official starting date was January 1st 2013, and the deadline was June 30th 2013.  I made it with a day or so to spare.

With the manuscript done, you’d think that the worst was over.  It is, but there’s still a lot to do before the book can hit the shelves.  More on that next week.

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Ask Luna #39

From: Leon

Hi Luna
A long time watcher here from New Zealand- and that is not meant to be creepy, honest.
So I had a couple of questions:
Firstly how much of a super hero did you feel when you got to save Alex for the first time? Did you ask him to give you a special code name?

Secondly does anyone know anything about Richard’s magic association (family? Powers? Ok that last one is all superhero again. What is the correct phrasing?)

That long-term-watcher line made me think of The Avengers. ‘I watched you while you were sleeping, wait, that came out wrong.’ Did anyone else think that? Okay, so just me.

Saving Alex was pretty awesome. I don’t think I’ve ever told Alex, but back in the first year or two, I felt really useless a lot of the time. I mean, he was a full mage, and all I had was this stupid curse that didn’t do anything but hurt me. It felt like he was always having to rescue me and explain everything. So getting to the point where I could actually save him . . . yeah, that felt good. I like being competent. It’s nice.

Re: Richard, it’s ‘family’ for the general branch (elemental, living, or universal) and ‘type’ for the specifics (fire, earth, life, divination, etc). And no, we don’t know, though we’ve done a bit of guessing.

From: Kyle(TheJugglingBard)

Hey Luna, quick question about Alex’s magic. Lets say, for example, Alex is fighting a boxer. A boxer who has been boxing for a long time. This boxer would react mostly on muscle memory. He would see a punch coming and his body would move and react accordingly, without him ever (consciously, at least) deciding to move that way. Would Alex be able to see his reactions coming? Also, wouldn’t that be a fantastic way for him to sharpen his immediate danger “radar”?

Not only can Alex do that, from what he’s told me, that’s exactly what he DID do back when he was training up his defensive precognition. He says more skilled fighters are less predictable, but all of them fall into habits. Doesn’t just apply to boxing, either. The more time I spend duelling, the more I notice the same thing happening with duellists. If you pay attention you can start to guess the move before it comes, and you don’t have to be a diviner to do it.

From: Wodden

Dear Luna,

Once again, thank you for your response to my enquiries.

If you could spare the time, I wonder if you could elaborate a bit on “international magic politics” for me.

You said that there are “power blocs” and alliances between national magic councils – to what extent do they mirror mundane alliances? Are the US and UK close magical allies as they are in the normal, visual world? Are there any unusual relationships that fly counter to any expectations that may be founded on mundane world experiences?

On a related note, when the mundane powers come to blows, how do the national councils react? Is there any feeling of nationalism or patriotism to the mundane state? Or is it an individual choice with the council in question remaining “neutral”?

For example, in WWII, did Allied mages take the field on a national basis , on a council basis, or did they avoid the conflict? I would assume that if they did get swept up in the wars of nations, the lines between Light and Dark would blur further, eclipsed by mundane national interest. Would this be accurate?

I apologise for distracting you from your own studies in this way, but I am of an historical bent and tend to get fixated on such things. Your indulgence is appreciated.

Yours Faithfully,

Wodden

Ugh, you are seriously pushing the limits of how much I know here. I just don’t spend that much time on international magical politics. I mean, it’s not the same as for normals, you can’t just look up the BBC website and find out what the news is and which countries have signed a treaty and who’s fighting with who. Most of this stuff is secret. I know there are a few websites that cover it, but the ones that are any good aren’t public and I don’t have access.

Okay, so based on the very little that I DO know – and don’t take any of this as gospel, by the way, since I’ve no idea how accurate it is or whether it’s out of date by now – they mostly mirror relations in the normal world, except when they don’t. The British and North American Councils get on pretty well. They have exchange programs and stuff. With the European Councils it’s a bit more murky, and it changes more. I think the European Councils get on less well with each other. As for the rest of the world, we get on decently with the Middle Eastern Councils, badly with the African ones, and with the Asian ones there’s kind of a you-don’t-come-here-we-don’t-go-there thing. They’ve been opening it up a bit but it’s still not friendly.

As for World War II, it was really really complicated. The Gate Rune War was going on at the same time and some mages were fighting along national lines and some were fighting along Light-Dark lines and it was a huge mess. You’d have to ask an actual mage historian if you really wanted to learn about that.

From: sheyd

has anyone ever called richard dick? and if yes, did he die in a painful way?

Oh, sure, I’ll get right onto finding that out for you. I’ll go trek out to Richard’s mansion, get past the various psychopathic Dark mages and other associates he’ll have hanging around him, all so I can ask him a question about a stupid pun on his name. I’ll just go do that now, shall I?

Honestly. How do you guys think I find out this stuff? It’s not like I know everything, I do have to get it from somewhere.

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Endings and Beginnings

Alex Verus #6 is done!  The edited version was sent off to my publishers last week;  there are copy-edits and proofreading still to do, but for the most part, the manuscript sitting on my computer now is the same one that you guys will be reading next year.

And with that finally out of the way, I’ve started work on Book #7.  Wrote the first paragraph yesterday, should have the first page done by tonight.  I’m aiming to finish this one the end of March – let’s see if I make it!

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Ask Luna #38

From: Wodden

Dear Luna,

Thank you for your most kind responses to my questions over the last two weeks. I am much more enlightened.

Going back to utilising ambient air moisture for certain ice and water effects, does this mean that in environments of zero (or extremely low) ambient moisture, ice and water effects would be limited to energy-only effects?

And an unrelated question, but are there mages which control and communicate with the natural world (animals and plants)? And if so are they more a specialisation of Mind mages than anything else? Do they see themselves as universalists or living mages?

Indeed, I suppose I could ask if that, if one was to conceive of a given magical skill set/focus, is it possible that it exists somewhere? So a Sand Mage, Animal whisperer, Shadow Mage etc?

And one final question (an please feel free to ignore any/some when answering):

With regards “National Councils” of Mages – what are the relations between them? Do “alliance blocks” exist, and is there ever open conflict between them? Was the last Light-Dark war a “world war” or just one limited to the UK (possibly also those with descendant/analogous council mechanisms, like the US, Australia etc)?

Thank you once again for your patience and indulgence. I have taken up more than enough of your time.

You’re very polite. I kind of like it.

Yes, ice and water mages are a lot more limited in what they can do in really arid environments. One of the reasons they don’t like hanging around them. Though usually they just get really good with energy-only spells to compensate.

And yes, there are animal and plant specialists. Some of them overlap with shapeshifters, others are called nature mages or druids. You tend to get less of them here in the big cities, for obvious reasons. They’re classified in the living family.

As for relations between the national Councils . . . oof, that’s a hard one. Yeah, there are alliance blocks, and yeah, there are disagreements and sometimes fights, and it’s really really complicated. There haven’t been any serious Light-vs-Light battles for a long time, though. The last few wars (including the big one) were basically Dark-vs-Light, though the sides were pretty mixed up. And yes, the Gate Rune War was a world war, not a local one, though there haven’t been any shortage of local wars in mage history either.

From: Geli

Hi Luna,

first of all thank you for answering my last question if Richard “changed” Alex. I’m still thinking about the topic, and I’m wondering…
Alex is clearly a lot more combat orientated and more willing to enter fights than pretty much any other diviner. The thing that stands out is, that Alex seems to use his divination *best* within a combat situation. He’s not bad outside of battle, but it’s within he excels. So I wanted to ask, could it be that outside of fights and labyrinths/decoding, Alex is pretty much inexperienced? After all, Richard is definitely no diviner and Alex didn’t seem to know if his nightmares are about the future or not. Also, let’s face it, for a diviner Alex gets “danger warnings” on a really short notice, while during the first adventure every other diviner in the whole country was already in hiding.

Wish you a great day!

Good question. I don’t honestly know, since the only diviner I really know anything much about is Alex, but my guess is that because of Alex’s history he’s ended up getting a lot better with combat divination than’s usual for a diviner – most of them are more likely to spend all their time making sure they never get anywhere near a fight in the first place.

The thing with his nightmares is weirder. Apparently some diviners can get warnings and prophecies through dreams – I asked Alex about it once and he says he goes in for the Apollonian style and not the Dionysian one, whatever that means. Still, oneiromancy is supposed to be a diviner thing, so maybe he can do that too, who knows . . .

From: Aguido

Has anybody tried harvesting imbued objects? I’m wondering whether the side effects are inherent to the process, or only arise when there’s a mind on the other side…

I am NOT looking Harvesting up in the encyclopaedia. Who even wants to know about that stuff?

From: John D.

Dear Luna,

After reading the latest adventure, I got a little confused with regards to how focus items work. Originally, my understanding was that focus items didn’t actually carry any magic of their own – a one-shot had a single spell they could use, and an imbued item had a range of lasting powers that could be called upon, but I thought that focuses only worked for mages with a particular specialty (for example, a Water focus required Water magic, or a type that included Water in its purview such as Storm, and acted to help “shape” the magic rather than execute an effect). That was my understanding when your “ex” in the “Cursed” case (sorry for bringing him up…) was looking for an Imbued item – since he couldn’t use a specific type of magic, he couldn’t use focus items.

However, in Hidden, there was that tea cup that made everything taste like chili, which Alex said was a water-type focus, but implied that it would work for potentially anyone – if a mundane was to put water into that cup, it would taste like chili to them.

So are focus items capable of executing a spell or set of spells repeatedly for anyone, or am I missing something (i.e. the person has to be able to use magic already)?

You basically had the right idea to begin with. Focus items can’t actually create effects off their own bat, they need an energy source. So the standard way you use them is that you channel energy into them, and they convert that into whatever particular spell that focus is designed to produce.

One of the ways mages have come up with to work around that is ambient focuses. Ambient focuses are designed so that they can automatically draw in energy from the area around them, kind of like water draining down a sink – the idea is that they feed off the ambient magic in an area, or in a person. That’s how that teacup works. It’s meant to feed off a person, preferably a mage. So a mage could make it work in only a few minutes, just by being around it. An adept might take twice as long, a normal or sensitive would probably take more like an hour, and if it’s on its own in an empty room it wouldn’t work at all.

The problem with ambient focuses is that the amount of energy they draw is really low compared to direct-channel ones, and since there’s no-one actually guiding the spell it has to be very crude. Fine for flavouring a drink, pretty useless in a fight.

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Ask Luna #37

From: drizztmajere

Hey Luna,
I am glad to see that Anne and Alex are friends again and that he finally has a focus for dealing with his opponents pesky shields. My question for you is I realize that Alex has a healthy fear of Richard but why hasn’t he used his divination to help him identity what his opponents can do especially with Richard and Morden, because it seems like he is going to need all the knowledge he can get going forward to survive those two and Levistus?

With Morden we already know what the guy can do – he’s a death mage and a really powerful one.

Richard’s harder, because he’s passing – that means he keeps his magic type a secret. Not something that you can get away with in Light circles because they know too much about each other, but a few Dark mages do it. We’ve talked about finding out more, but it’d mean getting up close and personal with Richard, which Alex (funnily enough) isn’t very keen on doing.

The thing is, with guys like this, just figuring out what they can ‘do’ in a physical/magical way isn’t as much help as you’d think, because the real reason they’re so dangerous is their influence. Yes, they can blow you up face to face, but they’re more likely to make a phone call and have someone else drop a building on you while you’re asleep.

From: rena

Hey Luna! Okay about alex’s dreams. Is it me or are the visions getting stronger? Also do you feel it is hard for Alex to tell between vision and dream or do you feel he is in denial? Also did Natasha/Natalie get her comeuppance for attacking you at containers?

Which visions? You mean those trips he takes to Elsewhere? I’m not sure they’re any stronger, it’s just that he’s better at navigating the place. Though better him than me, to be honest. I really wouldn’t want to go back there.

As for Natasha . . . not really. Alex paid a visit to her master, but by the time I was back in London Natasha had been pulled out of all the classes I shared with her and she’s hardly ever been in the same room as me since. So I don’t know what Alex told her master, but it made an impression. I really, really wanted to go after her but Alex flat-out ordered me not to (and when I tried anyway he stopped me). I’m not going to go chasing her, but I’m still hoping to get a shot at her someday.

From: Anton

Hey Luna,
I was wondering, what exactly are wards? How in what ways are they used and can any mage (i.e. Alex) create them? Can you ward yourself?

A ward’s just a spell that’s been placed on a location. Usually when mages talk about them, they mean some kind of protective spell, like something to stop gates or scrying. Alex can’t make them because of how his magic works, and the times that I’ve tried it’s never worked, either.

From: Anton

Hey, Luna a question about imbued spells. It seems as if you can imbue anything with a spell. Constructs, items, an animal (blink fox) and even people (like possibly your curse) My question is, do mages ever imbue themselves in order to use magic they other wise couldn’t like a force mage imbued with lifesight or a mage using a imbued space spell to create an effect similar to “Captain America’s” Storage spell.

You’re mixing up a few different things. Imbued items are a really specific type of top-end magic item that can use magic in its own right because its basically alive. Constructs are completely different – they’re not alive at all, they’re just machines that follow a set of programs. And magical creatures like blink foxes aren’t imbued at all, their magic’s innate, just like your arms and legs.

Putting a spell on someone else is a different thing again. You can do it, but it doesn’t necessarily last and the energy has to come from somewhere. I’ve never heard of a force mage being imbued with lifesight, and I think it wouldn’t really work. The closest you could get would be some kind of focus that did it for him (like a set of goggles or something).

From: Bedragon

hey luna
just wondering it has been said that theoretically time mages can remove certain things from the timeline is it true also if a time and pace mage work together cane they do time travel

Dude. Spelling and punctuation.

Yeah, time mages can remove stuff from the timeline. I think it’s usually temporary, though. Basically, it’s short range future time travel. They make something go a little way into the future. Some people say that they can take stuff out of the timeline completely, but it’s kind of hard to tell whether they’re actually doing that or whether they’re just sending it far enough into the future that no-one can tell the difference.

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