Interview with John Marco

With this, Mr. Marco now has two published trilogies completed in six years. No small feat in such a short time. John also recently re-established a Web page at John was kind enough to take some time and correspond with Rob Bedford via e-mail about the new book, the Web page and what projects are on the horizon.

SFFWorld: Did you set Lukien’s tale as a trilogy from the start or did each novel build on each other?

John Marco: Both, actually. I knew that Lukien would be a central figure in all the books, and I knew that there would be three books about him in all. The details of the plotlines developed as I was writing them, though. That’s how it usually is for me. I’ve heard authors say that they have the entire story arc worked out before they start a series, but I find that unfathomable. All that I have when I start is a rough idea of where I want the story to go. For me, it all depends on where the first book takes me. After that, I can see much more clearly where I want to take the next two books. By then I’ve established the themes of the series, and I know who the strongest characters are–those are the ones I want to spend time with and explore more deeply. In some cases, as with the character of Baron Glass, those can be a surprise to me.

SFFW: The role of magic in your novels has always been very powerful. In this trilogy of books, magic is sometimes viewed negatively by “good” characters, like Lukien, and a tool by the “not so good” characters, like Glass. How do you see the role of magic in your books?

JM: So far, I’ve treated magic as a kind of “taboo” in both of my series. It’s not something that most the characters are comfortable with, except for those few who grew up around it. It’s something foreign and frightening that has to be learned about and takes them time to understand. For Lukien, he never really gets a good handle on it. He feels victimized by the magic in the story, because he becomes forced to do things he doesn’t want to do. In that way, Lukien stands in for the rest of us, because as he discovers magic he’s perplexed by it and distrustful.

Magic comes in small doses in my books. That’s how I like to deal with it, because otherwise it becomes too “unreal” for me. I don’t have wizards in my books who cast spells for every occasion because the worlds I try to create are more like our own, and I want magic to be a mystery. I want the readers to uncover it as the characters do.

SFFW: Redemption has been one of the larger themes in all of your work. Would you say redemption is possible for anybody, regardless of the act?

JM: Let’s take the first part of your question first, because I don’t think I can answer the second part! There’s no question that I’m drawn to the theme of redemption. Count Biagio from the Tyrants and Kings series is probably the best example of that, and I often get emails from people pointing that out to me. There are characters in my new series who experience redemption as well, or at least try to. It doesn’t always work out for them, and sometimes there are consequences.

To be honest, I have no idea if redemption is possible for everyone. That may just be a matter of perspective For some people, redemption is a religious thing, where they have to “get right” with God. That’s not how I look at it in my books, though. In my stories the characters have to get right with themselves, and perhaps their friends and families. It’s a personal thing. They know they’ve done wrong (sometimes heinously wrong) and they try to make amends for it, or try to change themselves for the better. Because I’m so interested in psychology, this idea truly fascinates me. I’ve worked with people who are trying to do the right thing and get their lives back on track, but it’s often extremely difficult. The story, though, is in that struggle.

SFFW: You’ve got two trilogies in the books, what’s next? Another series, a standalone?

JM: Right now I’m working on the first book of a new series called The Black Mirror. The first three books of the series have been sold to DAW. I don’t know if it will be more than three books in the end, but for now three books is more than enough for me to wrap my mind around. After that, I’m not really sure. I have a lot of idea for stories, including another epic series that I’d like to do. I’ve already started writing notes for that. I also would like to write something a bit more supernatural as well. I’ve always been drawn to those kinds of stories (Clive Barker is a favorite of mine). I used to worry that I would run out of story ideas, but that doesn’t seem to be happening, thankfully.

SFFW: One thing in publishing that seems to be occurring on a more regular basis lately is book splitting. Some publishers have been splitting one book and publishing it as two. With the size of The Sword of Angels, was this ever a consideration?

JM: No, it wasn’t. I thought it might have been a problem once I finished the manuscript, because it was so long, but when I spoke to Betsy Wollheim at DAW she was fine with it. DAW often publishes really big books, and that’s one of the things that makes us a good fit for each other.

SFFW: This is the largest book you’ve written, thus far, if I’m correct. Was it the most difficult, as well?

JM: This was definitely a tough book for me to write because there were so many characters and plot lines to tie together. Plus, finding the quiet time to write it was tough because my wife and I have a child now, and he takes up a lot of time and energy. It’s been a big adjustment for us, but I think we’re finally starting to settle into a good routine. I found all of the books in this series more difficult to write than my first series, and I’m not sure why that is. But I’m very pleased with how this final book turned out, and have a great sense of satisfaction now that the series is complete.

SFFW: People have remarked that the mix of emerging technology and magic was particularly appealing in the T&K trilogy. Is this mix something you’d be interested in returning to?

JM: Yes, I would like to get back to that idea someday. While I was writing the T&K books I never really had the sense that I was doing something special in mixing magic and technology. Lots of writers do that, and it’s just something that interested me. Now, though, I miss that element, because I haven’t done it for a while. There is some science in the Lukien books, but not a lot. Readers who are familiar with the books will remember Figgis from The Eyes of God, who was sort of a pseudo-scientist who invented a machine that could “think.” Figgis was a fun character for me, partly because he was a throwback to the T&K books. I do have some ideas for mixing science and technology again, and I’m sure those will come up in a future series.

SFFW: After a hiatus of maintaining a Web page, you’ve renewed your web presence with the handsome looking What made you decide to re-launch a Web site?

JM: Mostly the timing. I hadn’t been active on the web for almost two years, and it just felt like the right time to get back into it, now that a number of things in my life have evened out. I’m still getting used to being a father, but it has gotten easier, and some other projects I was working on have finished up. Plus, I missed having a website and having people get in touch with me. Even when I’m very busy, I still like getting emails from readers and answering their questions about my books. It makes the whole job much less isolating.

SFFW: Have you attended any conferences, such as World Fantasy or the like?

JM: No, I haven’t. The only con I’ve ever attended was a local convention here on Long Island called ICON. I did that back when my first book came out and it was fun. I got to meet some interesting people and see what it was like from “the other side,” since I’d been attending ICON for years as a fan. I would like to start attending some cons, and I have a couple on my radar screen. I just have to make the time for them and commit to actually going.

SFFW: Have you been reading any good books in or out of the genre lately?

JM: Over the last couple of years I’ve read a whole slew of books, but most of them have been text books. I’ve been finishing up a degree in psychology, doing psychological research and an internship, and all of that has required a lot of reading. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been the kind of pleasure reading that I used to enjoy, so it’s been a long while since I sat down and read a good novel just for myself. I have been reading some anthologies lately and enjoying them, however. I’m co-editing an anthology for DAW books along with John Helfers and Martin Greenberg, and I’ve been reading stories for that as they come in to us That’s been great fun.

SFFW: Have you found yourself integrating what you’ve been reading and learning of psychology into your work?

JM: Sure, all the time. People who read my books know that I spend a lot of time on motivation and getting into the heads of the characters. I am fascinated by human behavior and what makes people tick. Studying psychology has allowed me to delve deeper into that and gain an understanding that I couldn’t get otherwise. I’ve had some great professors and worked with a number of professional in the field, and they’ve all added to my knowledge and experience. All that stuff just seems to seep into my writing by osmosis. It’s there inside me, waiting to make it on to the page in some fashion. In a way, writing has been a great outlet for my passion for psychology. I get to express the things that interest me about it, but also my frustrations as well.

SFFW: Can you tell us some more about the anthology you are editing?

JM: Happily, because I love talking about it. It’s called Army of the Fantastic, and should probably be out in about a year. All of the stories will follow a theme about magical armies and warfare. We have some fine authors lined up to contribute, and so far the stories we’ve received have been great. Everyone has a different take on the theme, and it’s been interesting to see what they come up with and the worlds they create. Alan Dean Foster, for example, wrote us a terrific story about a world in which everything is controlled by magic; there’s no science in this world until one low ranking soldier discovers how explosives work during a desperate siege of his castle. That’s the kind of story readers will be getting, and I hope people look for it when it comes out.

SFFW: How did you get involved? Was it an anthology you proposed to DAW or were you invited to be an editor?

JM: The project kind of fell into my lap, luckily. I had been in touch with Russell Davis, who also writes short stories and edits anthologies. I had mentioned to him that I would like to write a short story for one of his anthologies one day, if he ever had an opening for me. He was the one who then put me in touch with John Helfers, who invited me to co-edit this anthology with him and Martin Greenberg. The invitation was unexpected, because as I said I was simply hoping to write a short story. I love short stories and have wanted to write them for a long time, but the opportunity never really presented itself. At any rate, I jumped at the chance to join as a co-editor. They pitched the anthology idea to the folks at DAW, who do a number of anthologies every year. Shortly after that, John Helfers contacted me to tell me that the proposal was accepted.

SFFW: How are you finding the role of editor – more challenging than that of author or something else entirely.

JM: Being an editor has been very different from being a writer. I’ve had a lot of good input from my co-editor John Helfers, who has taken the lead on working with the authors and been helpful to me personally. Without his help, I’m sure the task would be much more difficult, but as it is now I’m thoroughly enjoying it. Most writers read other people’s work with a critical eye anyway. It’s a terrible habit that’s impossible to turn off. This way, I’m able to actually voice my suggestions to the authors, but because they are all professionals no one has needed a great deal of input. They’ve made the job easier for me by being good writers. I have the easy part, really. I get to sit back and enjoy their stories, and then make some suggestions on how they might improve things. It’s been a joy and I hope to do more of it in the future.

Now before we finish I want to thank you, Rob, for doing the interview, and sffworld for giving me another chance to talk about my work. I appreciate it.

SFFW: It was my pleasure!

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