Author Meg Howrey on incorporating history into fantasy with City of Lost Dreams
Some novels take a while to get going, and some give you an immortal dwarf, a time-traveling corpse and an alchemical mystery before the end of the first chapter, as City of Lost Dreams does. The follow-up to the best-selling City of Dark Magic finds protagonist Sarah Weston in an adventure that weaves magic and alchemy with art, science and history for a different kind of fantasy. A collaborative effort between authors Meg Howrey and Christina Lynch, who work together under the name Magnus Flyte, the books incorporate the juicy parts of history -- the madmen, perverts, artists and prophets -- into rollicking stories full of humor and adventure. Howrey and Lynch will be in town to discuss and sign the books on Friday, January 17 at the Tattered Cover Colfax, and we caught up with Howrey in advance to find out how the collaboration came to be, how it differs from typical fantasy, and how you research books so rich with oddball historical details.
Travis Tanner Together, Christina Lynch and Meg Howrey are Magnus Flyte.
Westword: You and your writing partner Christina Lynch met at a writer's retreat, correct? Did you just hit things off right away, or how did the partnership develop?
Meg Howrey: At these writer's retreats, most of the day the house would be in silence. You couldn't actually speak because everyone needed to work. We would have these morning sessions, then at night it would be cocktail hour and we'd workshop people's stuff. In these morning sessions, I'd keep turning around to hear this amazing writing coming from this woman sitting in the corner of the room. I thought her stuff was great, and she liked my stuff, too. So we became friends from that, we were fans of each others' work.
Then it turned out she lived in California, about four hours north of me, so I'd go up and hang out with her sometimes, and we'd write and talk and we just became very good friends. It was kind of a mutual admiration that turned into a good friendship.
Previous to your collaboration, what kind of writing were you each doing?
For myself, I have two novels under my name, so I've written literary fiction on my own. Nothing in the genre field. Chris has a television writing career and she's a journalist as well. She hasn't written any books, but she has a career in television and journalism.
What prompted the dive into genre fiction when you decided to collaborate?
We weren't even thinking genre. I don't think either one of us are exactly clear on what that is. When the book came out, people were saying, "Oh, it's such-and-such genre" and I'd turn to Chris and say, "I've never even heard of that. Is that a thing?" And she'd say, "I don't know, I've never heard of that, either." So we weren't thinking genre, we were just thinking,"Let's have fun. Let's put all of our weird, eccentric, esoteric, nerdy tastes for history and science and music and art and travel and weird historical trivia, let's just find a place for them and have some fun as writers while we write our serious stuff." [Laughs.] Let's just find a place to be as weird as we want to be, and as inventive as we want to be, with stuff that interests us.
Kind of naturally it became -- well, I think setting [City of Dark Magic] in Prague made it kind of fantastic because of that city. It dictated that element of the book. Then it was like, "Let's have Cold War shenanigans!" Popcorn movie stuff that we, as readers, love. Neither one of us are snobbish readers. If it was printed and handed to us, we would read it. So it came out of our eclectic tastes, I think.
That approach probably helped shape the books into the weird genre-mashup that they are, rather than sitting down with a write-by-numbers approach to filling in the expected blanks in whatever niche you're targeting. It's fantasy, but it's not in the continuum of what people think of when they say fantasy.
Right. It's not world-building in the way that I think a lot of genre-fiction is world-building. It's all this-world stuff, and all the "magic" and time-travel is all science-based. Weird science, but behind everything there is a sort of a rational explanation for what's going on, or pushes the boundaries of what that is. It's not fantasy in the sense of vampires, or alternative world sort of stuff. That's all great, but it's just not our thing. I think there's enough vampire books. We didn't feel called to add to that.
I think they kind of struggle with what to call it. There's been some confusion along the way, of people trying to figure out what it is. I think a lot of genre readers come with a lot of expectations of what they want. They look at the cover and they think, "This is going to give me my world of fairies and elves" or whatever they are coming to it with. Then it's all this stuff about musicology and history. It's taken a while for people to accept that it's not one thing or another, or find those people that don't mind that, who actually like that. They don't have one specific category that they read in.
Are there any authors that have inspired the creation of this book and its predecessor?
One of the reasons we have this pseudonym, Magnus Flyte, is that it felt like it was so it's own book, with its own style of writing. The way that we write this book is not how we write as individuals. We kind of found a third style. So we weren't thinking of any one writer in particular.
I have heard subsequently Christopher Moore, or Jasper Fforde, I think because of the funny elements of it. There's a lot of humor in the books.
The bit I've gotten through reminds me a bit of Tim Powers. He writes historical fantasy, and when he writes about alchemy, for example, it's grounded in how alchemists actually thought this stuff worked.
I don't know him. That's very much where we went too -- sort of what that meant to them [historically].