Jeff Hirsch is one of my favorite authors to see at author events and signings. He’s personable, funny and always great to hear. He’s also one of my favorite authors for writing great stand alone books–something I always desperately want in a world filled with multi-book stories. Jeff Hirsch is here today to talk about his latest novel Magisterium a really fun blend of fantasy and sci-fi adventure.
Miss Print (MP): What was the inspiration for Magisterium?
Jeff Hirsch (JF): I was coming home from work one day, listening to a podcast on politics. The speaker was talking about how the political divisions in our country had gotten so extreme that it’s as if both sides had walled themselves off in their own realities. The idea for Magisterium came when I simply took that metaphor and made it literal. Two realities existing side by side on the same planet.
MP: Magisterium is your second book. Like The Eleventh Plague it has a lot of action and excitement. This time around, though, you have more fantasy elements as well as a narration in the third person. Did this change in point of view impact your writing process?
JF: Not much actually. The fact that it was fantasy certainly didn’t. In both books my primary concern was focusing on the main character’s internal journey. The world that journey happens in is important of course but not as important as portraying that journey accurately. The POV shift was maybe a little trickier. It felt like the right choice for this, but 3rd person naturally puts a bit of a barrier between the main character and the reader. Sometimes it was a challenge to make sure the reader felt as close to Glenn as I wanted them too.
MP: This book features two very different worlds: the technologically advanced Colloquium and—on the other side of the Rift—the Magisterium, a world of affinities and magic. Given the choice, which world would you want to call home?
JF: My heart says the Magisterium but my head tells me I wouldn’t last a day in it.
MP: How did you approach writing a story about such distinct future? Did your vision for Glenn’s world start with a specific place or aspect?
JF: The most important place, and the location all my thinking started at, was Glenn and her father’s home. It’s kind of on the edge of this super high tech world, and while there’s technology there it’s all a little shabby, a little run down. I wanted to start there to ground the reader in a place that felt somewhat familiar instead of jumping right into sci-fi land or fantasy land.
MP: Speaking of Glenn’s world, as the story progresses the Magisterium itself starts to feel like a character. Was the Magisterium inspired by any real locations? How did you go about creating this magical world?
JF: It’s not based on any particular locations. Like the world in The Eleventh Plague this one started out fairly generic in the first draft, kind of a sketch. The details came by thinking about the premise the world was built on and brainstorming what sorts of things one might see there or hear there or feel there. I would come up with long lists of characters and locations and visual or aural bits and pieces and then add them in over the course of many drafts.
MP: Readers will learn why Glenn decides early on to name her pet cat Gerard Manley Hopkins. As a writer how did you decide on that name?
JF: Oddly enough it’s not that I’m that big a fan of the guy’s poetry, I’ve just always loved the sound of the name. It’s solid and has a nice rhythmic feel to it. I also liked Hopkins as a kind of nickname since it felt respectable and a little old world, but warm.
MP: Throughout Magisterium Glenn uncovers a few bombshells about the truth of her own past and the Magisterium itself. How did you go about structuring Glenn’s story? How did you decide when to share different details and when Glenn would make sense of those details?
JF: Trial and error really. I wish I could say there was a grand plan but that’s not quite how I work. I basically start with an idea of the major bits of info that will be revealed and a general idea of when that will happen and then tinker until it starts to feel right. Same thing with a characters reaction to things. You start with an idea of how you think a character will react and then experiment a little until you find what works best.
MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?
JF: Yes! The Darkest Path is coming out October 1st. It’s set about six years into the second American Civil War. It follows a young man named Cal and his brother James who were kidnapped in the early days of the war by the Army of The Glorious Path and forced to serve the revolution. Once Cal discovers more about the life The Path has planned for them he decides it’s time to escape and they begin the trek from an army base in Arizona back home to upstate New York.
MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?
JF: Always remember the words of screenwriting legend, William Goldman: “Nobody knows anything.” He was taking about the film business but it applies to any art form. I think what he meant by it was no one ever knows what the public is going to want, what’s going to be successful. The only response to that truth is to be yourself. Read what you want to read. Write what you want to write. Please yourself. What you create may or may not be commercially successful but at least you were true to yourself along the way and that’s pretty good too. At least you didn’t succeed or fail while trying to be somebody else.