When writers Christina Lynch and Meg Howrey decided to collaborate on the new novel "City of Dark Magic," they chose a pseudonym as fantastical as the novel itself: Magnus Flyte.
Howrey is a novelist whose two previous books have veered closer to realistic fiction (her 2012 novel “The Cranes Dance” is set in the ballet world), while Lynch is a TV writer who wrote for “Stephen King’s Dead Zone.” Together they’ve penned a tale packed with an assortment of strange and unexpected elements: a 400-year-old dwarf, a time-warping drug disguised as a toenail clipping, and a powerful U.S. senator with dark secrets.
“City of Dark Magic” follows music student Sarah Weston after she lands a summer job at Prague Castle, cataloging Beethoven's manuscripts. Shortly after arriving, Sarah's life takes a strange and dangerous turn. She pieces clues together from the manuscripts, revealing that her mentor, who was working at the castle, may not have committed suicide after all.
This Wednesday at 6:30 p.m., Lynch and Howrey -- who refer to themselves as Magnus's handlers or wranglers -- will do a reading and signing at Vroman's Bookstore. They answered some questions via email about writing “City of Dark Magic.”
Why did you choose to write under a pseudonym?
Howrey: We always wanted a single author name, and we had both read a raft of articles talking about how men don’t buy books written by women. We thought a very grand, slightly ridiculous name set the tone of the book. “Magnus Flyte” is just one more twist in the tale.
Lynch: We took “Magnus” from a usurping Roman senator and “Flyte” for Sebastian Flyte from Brideshead Revisited.
Tell me a bit about the collaboration experience — the challenges and the benefits?
Howrey: We wrote the novel in a relay race, handing off chapters. We discussed the arc of the book only in very loose terms, so neither of us knew exactly what the other would write. Our main rule was no re-writing until we got to the end. So you had to play the cards you were dealt. This kept things fresh, to say the least.
Lynch: We were striving to surprise each other, so for example when one person introduced a cryptic dwarf, he could have immediately disappeared from the story but instead reappeared as a chauffeur, who evolved into a bodyguard, who turned out to have a very lengthy back story, who then... well, I don’t want to give it away.
How did the two of you find a uniform narrative voice and tone through which to write the novel?
Both: We felt like we slid naturally into a third voice that worked for the kind of story we were telling. During the revision process so many things got combined or moved or shifted, and we rewrote freely on each other’s work, so pretty much all chapters are blends now. Like this answer, which we both wrote.
“City of Dark Magic” crosses over multiple genres from paranormal to mystery to romance. Was it challenging to incorporate multiple genres into the novel?
Howrey: No, because we didn’t think about that. We wrote what we wanted, what interested us, what we found amusing, or intriguing, or exciting. Some of the genre labels City of Dark Magic has been called are genres we had never heard of till now.
Lynch: Meg said at one of our readings that we don’t make fun of genres, we make out with them. Throw them down and have our way with them.
The book is full of art, history and political references. What sort of research did you do in advance?
Howrey: Binders! Binders of research! Color-coded. And books. We traveled to Prague of course. Poor us.
Lynch: With our relay writing style, there’s only so much you can do in advance. You have to do the research as it comes up. If Meg sends me a chapter that ends with a character revealing his secret passion for rococo snuffboxes, then I’m off to learn all about rococo snuffboxes.
How did you strike a balance between staying true to the historical facts and taking creative liberties?
Howrey: As Emily Dickinson advised: “Tell the truth, but tell it slant.”
In order to capture and depict the mystical elements of the novel, where did you turn to for inspiration?
Howrey: If you need truly crazy and outrageous things to read – read science.
Lynch: I will say that history was always weirder than anything we could make up. When we sent chapters to each other we’d add in the email, “that thing about the drunken elk—true!!!!”
Are the two of you working on a sequel?
Lynch: The sequel is set largely in Vienna. We wanted to call it City of Curious Sausages, but Penguin is strangely reluctant.