word craft


Story Behind the Story #58: Murder at Midnight

Murder at MidnightIf you are going to write a series, here is my advice: Love your pro­tag­o­nists. With­out that affec­tion it’s hard to engage with such nov­els. But the char­ac­ters from the pre­vi­ous­ly pub­lished Mid­night Mag­ic held that affec­tion for me. It is 1490, in Italy. On one hand you have the elder­ly philoso­pher, Man­gus, who hides his rad­i­cal ratio­nal­ist think­ing (this is the Renais­sance, after all) behind the notion that he is a magi­cian. What he real­ly does is tricks. Then you have his youth­ful appren­tice, Fab­rizio, who is very super­sti­tious, and wants very much to believe in mag­ic. What he real­ly does is get into trou­ble. Togeth­er they proved a pair of engag­ing sleuths. It was a plea­sure to write about them.

Midnight MagicInto the mix, besides the plot to over­throw King Clau­dio, is the new inven­tion of mul­ti­ple type print­ing. In the day, there were those who con­sid­ered print­ing dia­bol­i­cal. Indeed, the term, “Print­er’s Dev­il,” is a holdover from those days. And what is a print­er’s dev­il? My dic­tio­nary defines such a per­son as “typ­i­cal­ly a young boy, serv­ing at or below the lev­el of appren­tice in a print­ing establishment.”

Fab­rizio fits the bill.

Mur­der at Mid­night, how­ev­er, is a pre­quel to Mid­night Mag­ic. When I wrote Mid­night Mag­ic I had no idea I was going to write such a tale. The tricky part about writ­ing a pre­quel is to make sure noth­ing con­tra­dicts what I’d already set down: age, appear­ance, cer­tain rela­tion­ships, etc. Going back in time is com­plex. Not so much set in stone, but set in print.

Naples, in Italy
Naples, in Italy

Strict­ly speak­ing these books are his­tor­i­cal fic­tion, set in Italy (there was a geo­graph­ic Italy then, but not a nation state). And it takes place in Perga­men­tio, a city which does­n’t exist at all, though it is some­what like Naples. Nor are any of the char­ac­ters based on real people.

In this sense I think of these books almost like musi­cal come­dies, with sets and cos­tumes to cre­ate a mood, but with only a causal rela­tion­ship to his­tor­i­cal verac­i­ty. The intent was to com­pose some­thing fun to write and fun to read.

I think I succeeded.

Venice, in Italy
Venice, in Italy

Indeed, I’ve liked these char­ac­ters so much there are plans to bring this dynam­ic duo back. Last I heard, Man­gus and Fab­rizio were trav­el­ing to Venice to solve a crime. Now Venice is a very real place—I once lived there. And I can tell you it’s tru­ly, well, magical.

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