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School of the Ages: The War against Love FAQ
See directly below this FAQ for Piers Anthony's review of The Ghost in the Crystal.
Q. This book is over 500 pages, much longer than the first two in the series. Why is it so much longer?
A. There are two major plotlines and a lot of subplots in The War Against Love. One is for war, the other for romance, and the others are echoes and mirrors of these plots. There are many new characters, including numerous villains to overcome. At over 500 pages, it has already been cut down. I had a few extra confrontations, a time-travel trip, just generally a lot more interesting material that I decided to remove. I will release some of it later on as short stories or bonus content.
Q. You said romance? Do you mean that Simon will get a girlfriend after moping through the second book?
A. Simon falls in love with Ana Vorkina, the daughter of the Arch-Mage of Prague. I hope you will fall in love with her, too. I certainly did. Goldberry got very jealous, having to share the role of heroine with a newcomer. The question is, will Ana fall in love with Simon? She's not an easy person, as you'll see.
Q. Leah was such a great person. How can Simon just give up on his feelings for her?
A. Simon will never stop loving Leah. You will not be disappointed to see how I handle this delicate situation.
Q. Why do you have so much of the important action of the book taking place in Europe rather than in New York?
A. I enjoy my visits to Europe and want to use the places I've visited as settings for drama and intrigue. I want my books to have an international, multicultural flavor. Culture is global, life is global, and magic is universal.
Q. The main villains in this book are a group of Nazi magicians called Gott im Himmel. That name in German means "Oh my God!" Why did you select this name? Or the name Kaiser Petrus for the leader?
A. Germans use the expression the same way we use "Oh my God," but it literally means "God in Heaven." That's what I was thinking about when I chose the name. The founder of the group, Herr Kohler, apparently thought God was on his side.
The name Kaiser Petrus combines the German for emperor (Kaiser, derived from Caesar, which is also the origin of the Russian Tsar/Czar) with the Latin version of Peter, which actually means "rock." So Kaiser Petrus is the Rock Emperor, or the Emperor of Stones. It's just tough-sounding.
Q. How did you come up with such a group of nasty characters?
A. I started with a list of major cities in Europe where I thought the cabal would want to have headquarters. Then, using my typical style of grabbing names out of the air (something Tolkien sometimes did even with his meticulous Elvish language), I made a list of villainous names to correspond to the cities. Then I chose a focus for the magic of each person. When I was plotting the novel, I had the list to pick from. A lot of decisions about their relationships as villains were made during drafting.
One of the villains, The Connoisseur, who is the enemy in Paris, has a name of somewhat older vintage. A group of college friends created superhero names for themselves, and this was the name one of them chose, with the pleasant irony that exquisite taste could be treated as a super-power. The character is absolutely nothing like the real person.
Since I think the villains are a real strength in this book, I'll be writing more about them in guest blogs and places like that.
Q. The identity of Kaiser Petrus, the leader, is withheld until late in the story. Why did you decide to do this, and at what point did you yourself know the identity of the villain?
A. The reason I withheld Kaiser Petrus' identity is just plain old suspense. You spend the book expecting someone monstrous, and you get someone even more disturbing and monstrous than you expected.
I decided who K.P. was when I was about 10-20% into the first draft. Keep in mind that I don't write my chapters in order of appearance, so the time that I decided is not a clue; but I am Captain Foreshadowing, and there are clues planted all along to assist with the feeling of inevitability. It's okay with me if you figure it out before Simon does: dramatic irony is enjoyable, right? Oh, and by the way, Voldemort kills Snape.
Q. This novel goes very heavily into the background of one character, Dr. Solomon Archer. What was your reason for focusing on him to this extent in this work?
A. Dr. Archer is purely a teacher in the first two books. As we grow up, though, our teachers become more human in our eyes, and Simon's maturation required that he see his mentor not only as an educator, but as a man with all his strengths and failings. Dr. Archer is an amazing character because of his contrasts: the mixture of scholarliness and toughness, of compassion and ruthlessness. His ability to deflect loss into action is both inspirational and tragic.
Q. What are the origins of Arch-Mage Jan Vorkin and his daughter Ana?
A. I used to love superhero role-playing, and in preparation for a future session of a role-playing game, I created a character who was a villainous elemental archmage called Janos Vorkin. He had four daughters, one for each element. The daughter associated with water was Ana Vorkin, who alone in the family was not evil, and so escaped him to be a super-heroine called Water Witch. As I worked to plot out this book, writing preliminary drafts, I wound up lifting these characters out of the super-heroic setting, toning down their power levels to fit the School of the Ages setting, changing their personalities, and moving their home base from Budapest to Prague. Janos (a Hungarian name) became Jan (a Czech name). Vorkin is a surname of my own invention.
Q. I like fights. Are there any fights in this book?
Yes. It's about a magical war. There is a lot of action. Every one of the seven or eight magical combats offers a fresh combination of participants and circumstances. Kids, adults, elementals, and monsters are all involved multiple times each.
Q. I like romance. Is there any romance in this book?
A. Romance is a crucial component of this book. I'm a big fan of Jane Austen, and I write teen romance pretty credibly, I think. See for yourself.
Q. Does anyone die in this book?
A. Yes. It's about war. People die, good and bad. I kill off a member of the core cast in this book. You will not like it when you find out who dies. I stated in my Ghost in the Crystal FAQ that the only characters I promise will live till the end are Simon, Goldberry, Mermelstein, and Simon's parents.
Q. Will all my favorite characters be back?
A. You will not see Level Three and Lorena in this book, although they will return in the fifth book. Everyone else is back, including Mr. N.Otis, whom some of you have missed. Also, you will meet a lot of new characters that I hope you will like. I already told you about Jan Vorkin and his daughter Ana. How do these sound? Delphine, the adorable little French girl; Miss Chatterjee, the puzzlingly mystic daughter of Dr. Chatterjee; the villainous uber-nerd Jonathan twins; Avery's horrible father King Wind; lots more elemental spirits including the North and West Winds; and a whole bunch of brutal bad guys including WWII-era Nazis and a magician serial-killer?
Q. What's next after this?
A. Book four, Simon Myth, is scheduled to contain substantial sequences in both contemporary and mythical India. It features everything from Pandavas to Rakshasas.
Q. What did famous fantasy author Piers Anthony write about The Ghost in the Crystal?
A. Here is his complete review:
I read The Ghost in the Crystal, by Matt Posner, the first in his School of the Ages series. This is about Simon, a thirteen year old boy interested in magic. He sees an classified ad beginning “If you can read this advertisement, you may have what it takes to be a student wizard at School of the Ages.” It turns out that the ad is invisible to those without magic potential. Simon follows up, and is recruited to attend the school. It goes on of course from there. This may seem to smack of Harry Potter and Hogwash, but it is its own story. There is a strong Jewish and biblical current, but it's about magic rather than religion, and the magic is impressive. I got the feeling I was attending the school by correspondence, and that the magic was authentic. A seemingly dull curriculum turns out to be otherwise. For example “Seminar in Memento Analysis” has them contemplating mementos. A memento is an object, anything from a ring to a brick that is associated with a spirit. Pick one up, and commune with the spirit. But you dare not trust the spirit, because it is out for its own advantage and will trick you and take over your body if you are foolish enough to let it. If you are careful, you can get useful information or power. Some spirits are more dangerous than others, so new students are limited to the easy ones, sort of the way a ski school would limit novices to the gentle slopes before letting them try Mt. Everest. It takes time and diligence, but in due course you may indeed scale the heights. Well, a dangerous spirit persuades Simon to take his memento; that's the ghost in the crystal. Before it is done, one of Simon's party of friends dies. This ain't beanbag. There's more, of course, serious and light; I liked the sequence where they encounter a hat that keeps jumping at them, and every time it collides it becomes two hats, until they are waist-deep in hats and have to figure out how to stop them. Simon has friends and enemies and aspires to romance as he struggles to make his way. This is good reading. It's available on Kindle.
FAQ -- Reviews and Relationships
Q. Do you pay for reviews?
I often give a free electronic copy of my book in exchange for a review, but if the person doesn't review my book after that, I let it go. I don't have money to pay for reviews; even if I did have the money, I don't think that having Kirkus reviews, or whatever, to quote is going to make a big difference to sales. Word of mouth matters more, and evidence of longevity also.
Q. Do you trade reviews?
I exchange books with authors, usually in order to cement a new friendship. I used to propose formal review trading arrangements, but I stopped doing that because of the online stigma and because I can't make a time commitment. For the record, the big-time authors write each other blurbs and read each other's books and help in the marketplace, so I think we should be able to do it also, without being accused of being fakes.
Q. Would you give a good review to a book you didn't like?
I don't give bad reviews to books by authors I have met. If I think a book is poor quality, I don't review it, so you can have confidence that anything I review is worth reading.
Q. Do you have some kind of special relationship with certain book bloggers?
Yes, I do. It's called friendship. No cash is involved.
Q, How do you know so many writers?
Four ways. First, I am in a closed Facebook group called Writing Kindle Books. There are a lot of very successful indies in the group, and we use the group to help each other with publicity and other general author business. Additionally, if I see that a writer looks interesting, whether at Amazon or at Kindleboards or wherever else, I approach that person through the website, offering an interview on my website. Not everyone is interested, but I try to meet several people per month this way. The third way is being introduced by another contact, such as a book blogger. The final way is being approached by someone who has seen the interviews on my website.
TALES OF CHRISTMAS MAGIC
Q. Why did you publish this book?
A. I wanted to get out a short story book for the Christmas season. Originally I meant to contribute to the Christmas Lites anthology being published by the Goodreads group Creative Reviews as led by Amy Eye. I began to write "Goldberry vs. Santa Claus," but I couldn't perfect it by their deadline, and I was inclined to quibble about their copyright process. I decided not to be a pain to Amy and her team, but instead to get the story out myself. However, I thought one story for 99 cents wouldn't sell well enough, so I expanded my plans to include more stories.
Q. What is the genesis of "Goldberry vs. Santa Claus"?
A. I grew up celebrating Christmas, but like everyone, I've gotten a little weary of the Christmas season's material excesses and the ubiquity of Santa Claus imagery. (Not of Christmas music, though. I'll sing that with you any time.) Thus, I thought a villainous Santa would be a nice contrast with the usual overexposure of the world's favorite North Pole denizen. I was working on the fourth book in the series, in which Goldberry has a long section as the viewpoint character, I wanted her to go solo for a while. Don't worry, kids -- the villainous Santa is an imposter. This book also gives you a hint of what state the kids are in after book three, to make you interested to read book three when it comes out this summer.
Q. Why did you write "How the Magician Radish did NOT cheat on the PSAT"?
Robbie Ravitz, my youthful elementalist, had not had a solo story either, so it was an easy choice for me to give him a chance to shine. I also wanted to bring in some everyday experiences of teenagers and show how being a magician makes them different. The PSAT has been a given for college-bound kids in the United States for a while, so it seemed like a good choice. How do you keep teen wizards from cheating on tests, anyway? I also wanted to highlight Smoot Prep, which has not appeared in any of the finished novels so far, and to do something with Ms. Roosevelt-Wilson, the registrar.
Q. Where did you get the idea for "House-Hunting"?
Dr. Archer is featured prominently in the third book of the series, making me think about elements of his life that I haven't been able to fit into the novels but would like to share with readers. Thus, this story focuses on Dr. Archer and his son Donovan. It's really more about their father-son relationship; anything serious enough to be a real threat to a master magician like Dr. Archer would be too big for a short story.
The main surprise in this story was actually something that came out of nowhere. I knew I wanted a surprise, but had no advance plan for what it would be, and I just sat pondering until an idea came to me. Then I had to go back and add foreshadowing and make sure the humor was properly balanced.
Q. Why is there a sample of The Ghost in the Crystal in this book?
As I said in the foreword, it's there so that people will get interested to buy The Ghost in the Crystal. I don't consider that this means paying 99 cents for a sample, because I provided what I consider three very high quality short stories for the 99 cents which are particular to the sample.
Q. Why is there a comedy Christmas column in this book?
I was writing it as a promotional piece for Saffina Desforges' blog, and it was Christmas-themed, so I added it in. In New Orleans, they call that a lagniappe. It's like a free item you pick up at the checkout counter of a store. Not only did you buy something cool, but you can take something you didn't have to pay for, just as a bonus for being a customer. Everyone likes lagniappes, yo.
Q. Why did you add in a story you wrote in high school?
I was looking for ways to add value. It's a marketing strategy to deliver more than you promise, so that customers come to you expecting some cool surprises. "The Sphinx" isn't a great work, but more of a curiosity. I know that something I wrote at sixteen is not of the same quality as something I wrote at forty-two, but it might still be interesting to someone.
LEVEL THREE'S DREAM
FAQ for School of the Ages: Level Three's Dream
Q. What inspired this story?
A. I had two major sources of inspiration. I have wanted to put a contemporary character into Lewis Carroll's Alice world since the 1990s, when I was in grad school and attempted several times to write such a thing under the title “Alex in Wonderland” (which was accidentally lifted from Philip Roth). No wonderland parts of that novel were ever written, but when I was planning the second book in the School of the Ages series, it came to me to resurrect that idea and have Simon go there. I drafted Simon at the Mad Tea Party, and then with that draft (partially still used in the finished version) I found myself writing Mermelstein with Humpty Dumpty, and I said to myself: the School of the Ages series is character-driven, and I have a lot of cool characters who deserve an adventure, so why don't I use a bunch of them?
The second inspiration was my work with learning-disabled students. I find that a very large number of young people these days are learning-disabled in one way or another, and it seems to me that this should be reflected in any depiction of a 21st-century school setting. I wanted a student with disability in one of my School of the Ages novels, but I faced a problem: how would a student with learning difficulty be able to handle School of the Ages' rigorous intellectual disciplines? I opted for Asperger's Syndrome, which allows for immense talent joined with crippling social difficulty. I've seen Aspies be almost totally unable to manage a social situation but get straight A's in AP classes. It seemed like a good fit.
Q. What kind of research did you do into Asperger's?
Besides the usual web research, I interviewed a close friend who has mild Asperger's and socializes with people who have more severe cases. This friend advised me that it would be insensitive to treat Asperger's as an illness needing cure and advised me to treat it as an identity and affirm it. I also used my own experience of dealing with Aspies in a professional context, although it is more limited than my friend's. Also, when the book was done, I watched Mozart and the Whale, a film about Asperger's adults, to check my work against that of a master screenwriter and see if I had done a respectable job.
Q. What kind of research did you do into Lewis Carroll and the
I am a lifetime fan of these books. I have forgotten more than most people know about them. Martin Gardner's Annotated Alice is the best resource out there.
Q. You are openly admiring of Lewis Carroll. React to the assertion that Lewis Carroll (Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) was a pedophile?
There's no evidence that he inappropriately touched little girls. He photographed them naked, but that was a popular art form of the time and their parents always gave permission first. We don't approve of that these days, but it was socially acceptable at the time and there is no evidence that the girls were upset by it. I have seen some evidence that Dodgson might have been romantically linked to
Q. What does the title Level Three's Dream mean?
Level Three is Linus Luther Lopez, a boy magician with Asperger's Syndrome. He has the unusual power to create a mental fantasy world and project people into it. This is extremely dangerous, so he is sent to School of the Ages in the hope that the school can cure him in some way. Dr. Archer assigns the job to Simon and Goldberry. You can say that his dream is the mental fantasy world he creates, or you can say it's something else. Literature, you know -- read between the lines.
Q. Who is Avery?
Avery is a new student who has a special connection to animals and elemental spirits of wind. She's a black girl from
Q. Who is Lorena Lopez?
Lorena, Level Three's older sister, is sent to the school to help keep him under control. She becomes a love interest for Rocco, a minor supporting character in Ghost in the Crystal who becomes a more prominent character in this story.
Q. Will my favorite character from Ghost in the Crystal be back?
Almost everyone is back. The Rambal and Simon's parents take on more prominent roles, and there is more with the Dean as well. You will have to wait till book 3 for Mr. N. Otis, and there are no plans for Yeishu ben Pandeira to return.
Q. Who is the villain in this story?
William Goodenough is still up to his usual stuff, of course. There are some minor villainous types as supporting characters, but mostly this is a book without a villain. It's about ways that people struggle with emotional pain, focusing on Simon, Mermelstein, and Level Three.
Q. Are there any fights? I like fights.
Yes, there is a real humdinger of a fight in this book. It happens in
Q. Is there any romance? I like romance.
There's a lot of romance, but Simon is alone throughout this book because he's grieving. Other characters will take on the romantic parts in this story.
Q. What is the point of the long sequence in
There are multiple reasons for it. A story about magic should have some wonder: things that are present just because they are cool. I devoted extra space to Les Halls Souterrains Des Objets Façonnés Mystiques Sous Le Musee d’Orsay for this reason. Simon's encounter with Hélène La Méduse has long-term implications for his life, and the characters overall needed to be "blooded," as it were, with some combat experience, before the War against Love in their third year. There are other important elements introduced also.
Q. Do you think what Hélène did to Simon belongs in a young adult novel?
One of the most widely taught YA novels taught in the high schools these days is Speak by Laurie Halse Andersen, which is about a girl being raped and dealing with the consequences. Another is The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold which opens with a child being murdered by a sexual predator. Simon is a very strong hero, so he needs to have some tough problems to overcome.
Q. How did you decide what kind of material to put in the Wonderland section?
I used all the popular characters, but I decided to give them more character development. Some are radically changed (Caterpillar, Gryphon) and some are just about identical (Queen of Hearts, Mouse) and some are amped-up versions of Carroll's (Mad Hatter and March Hare, Humpty Dumpty). All the characters have one or two roles. All have an entertainment function, and most of them are also there to advance the plot by teaching the kids lessons about the situation or themselves.
The songs and poetry in the Wonderland section fall into four categories. There are responses to Carroll's poetry, which are sequels or stylistic imitations. There are parodies of popular songs (for example, "Smells like Veggie Spirit" to the tune of Nirvana's "Smells like Teen Spirit"). There are pastiches (admiring imitations) of some other light comic poets (you can figure out which ones yourself). And there are original songs and poetry.
Q. What are your ideas on humor writing?
Humor writing is widely known to be difficult, and of course, I'm nervous about mine. I followed the policy of throwing a lot of jokes at the wall in the hope that some stick. The best humor is character-driven; if you love the person, you are more likely to be invested in comic situations that the character is dealing with. To find that in another magic-based fantasy, read Robert Asprin's Myth Adventures series, which I have read avidly (until he began collaborating, which isn't working well for me as reader). I have some of that type of humor. I also have a lot of puns and other jokes that will make you groan. However, most of the humor in the Wonderland section is straight up Monty Python style humor, in which a character is doing and saying ridiculous things to which a "straight man" character reacts. ("Cheese shop" and "argument clinic" are favorites of mine from the Python oeuvre.) Carrollian humor is a close second for its frequency in this book. Other influences on my comedic style include Robert Benchley, Woody Allen, and in the song parodies, Weird Al Yankovic.
There are very few jokes in Ghost in the Crystal. Having a hundred pages of jokes is definitely a change of pace, and a necessary one, I think. It makes a good contrast with the emotional pain of nearly everyone in the book. The humor in this book has a serious effect -- it is blocking the efforts of Simon's team to do something important.
Q. How long did this book take to write?
Two to three years. I have material from 2007-2009, when the final draft was finished. Due to my peculiar way of writing series novels (doing multiple books at the same time) I wrote part of this one before Ghost in the Crystal was finished and wrote large chunks of books 3 and 4 while Level Three's Dream was still unfinished.
Q. What’s coming up in the School of the Ages series?
The third book is School of the Ages: The War Against Love. This book exists in a completed first draft. In the book, Simon and Goldberry join Dr. Archer to fight against the Gott im Himmel cabal, a group of Nazi magicians in Europe. Simon is diverted from the war when he meets the tempestuous Czech magician Ana Vorkina, about whom he says, “She was so perfect for me, it hurt to live.” But will Ana ever love him back? And who is Avery’s mysterious enemy whom Robbie has pledged to oppose at all costs? And will Goldberry ever recover what the enemy has ripped away from her? The War Against Love will be published in 2012.
The fourth book is School of the Ages: Simon Geeta. A rakshas – an Indian demon – promises to destroy Simon’s entire family. As he struggles to find an answer to this threat and to work through the pain and loss of the magicians’ war, Simon will meet many characters from Indian culture and history, including the Pandava brothers from the Mahabharata and many others. And whom does Goldberry love? And can Mermelstein really make a golem? I am writing this book now and it will be done sometime in 2012.
The fifth book is School of the Ages: The Wonderful Carol. The magic students, now seniors, will take on the challenge of a lifetime as they travel the world gathering what they need to summon a mythological being to teach them a magical song. Standing in their way is an equally powerful team of magic students led by the brilliant and determined sorceress Vulnavia, who will sacrifice anything to recover her time-lost mother. This book is slowly emerging in my mind, with some elements decided and many still unplanned.
New General FAQ
Q. Why do you have typos and formatting errors?
I am a strong grammarian and in fact a skilled proofreader, but it is notoriously difficult to spot errors in one’s own work. I have been fortunate to have some other writers work with me this time around.
The formatting tools at my disposal, software-wise, create unexpected faults. Word’s various types of indent create unsatisfactory results, when Word documents are converted to PDF or to HTML and then mobi files, results that somewhat equate in my mind to involuntary anal exploration. I will continue to refine my software skills in the hope that this crap will eventually stop happening.
Q. What do you think of some of the popular YA writers of recent days?
I devoured Hunger Games. Its attention to detail is magnificent, and I was strongly rooting for Katniss. Taking established high-quality genre elements (in this case from 1984, Battle Royale, The Handmaid's Tale, etc.) and re-imagining them in your own style is an honorable enterprise, I think. Eventually I will read the rest of that series. I was not so strongly impressed by Twilight. I enjoyed the characters and the plot, but I find Stephenie Myers' writing style lacking. Accordingly, I haven’t read the rest of that series. As yet I have not tried Amanda Hocking. I guess I should, but I haven’t. The best YA book I have read in years is Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Aside from the quality writing, it’s also excellently illustrated. We teach it in my high school, and the kids don’t want to put it down.
I read one book by Jenny Nimmo, the first Charlie Bone book, and I thought that was cool. I read several Artemus Fowl books by Eoin Colfer and found that
Q. How do you feel about being an “indie” writer?
There are various places that we independent writers can socialize as well as helping each other. I have had no difficulty joining various groups and participating and have met a variety of other writers. Some are quite nice, some obnoxious, and some are just there. I don’t know which category I fall into although I aspire to be helpful and friendly. I do most of my socializing in a facebook group which is open to all kindle authors. I will use this website to promote some of them along with myself.
Q. How does being a teacher affect how you write your novels?
I think my depiction of young people is about 80% based on my memories of being young and only about 20% upon being a teacher and observing the present generation. I don’t consider that a fault, however. I think that is true for most writers. It doesn’t pay to try to be trendy. I do have some topical material – it is part of my process to fit my stories into history – but I’m not trying to capture the zeitgeist, or spirit of the times, for the early 2000s. I’m telling a story about a lot of kids that I enjoy writing about. To be honest, I’m worried about 21st-century American kids. I have to keep in mind that adults are always doubtful of the younger generations, and that they often turn out all right despite the concerns.
Being a teacher has affected some of my overall decisions for how to draw my characters. Specifically, I’ve made a conscious choice to have all the teachers and parents be what teachers and parents ideally should be – well-intentioned, caring, courageous, and an admirable mix of strength and understandable human weakness. I’m not really interested in using the school setting to show adult hypocrisy or cruelty; that’s J.K. Rowling’s territory, but certainly not mine. At School of the Ages the teachers and the students are allies against the challenges of dangerous magic and outside forces. In the third book, they will actually fight side by side against enemy magicians and their enemies.
Q. Can I be your friend in the social media?
Adults are welcome to do that. Because I'm a public school teacher, I can't really mingle with school-age kids online. I only do that if the child's parent is a friend. However, if you are a young reader, you are welcome to post messages here and I will answer you.
GHOST IN THE CRYSTAL
ABOUT THE CHARACTERS
Q. Who is Simon Magus?
My protagonist is Leicester Moore, a kid from Bayside, Queens who discovers that he is able to become a magician and does. He calls himself Simon Magus, after the Biblical villain, which gets him into trouble. Simon is a very serious kid, not very fun-loving, extremely loyal to people he cares about and willing to act boldly and take risks to help others. He is a small, handsome boy with a dark complexion due to being one-quarter Asian Indian.
Q. Who is Goldberry Tinker?
Originally from England, Goldberry is the daughter of two strong British magicians who becomes Simon's study partner. She is distinguished by her ability at divination (magical information-gathering) and by an unwillingness to suffer fools gladly. Goldberry is tall and dark-haired, elegant and stylish. Her parents named her after a character from Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring.
Q. Who is Robbie Ravitz?
Robbie is Simon's roommate. Not a very good student, he focuses on summoning elemental spirits and getting them to give him special abilities. While he's a little bit socially awkward, he's good at keeping on top of the latest gossip.
Q. Who is Leah Ritz?
Leah is a pretty young Orthodox Jewish girl who studies Talmud and Cabala. She is very sweet, but has plenty of steel in her character also.
Q. Who is Yakov Mermelstein?
The son and grandson of Chasidic rabbis, Yakov is a big and magically powerful kid who is uncomfortable mixing with non-Chasidim. He and Simon do not get along. Keep reading for how that turns out.
Q. Who is Dr. Archer?
Solomon Archer, who guides Simon and Goldberry's growth as magicians, is the school's primary fighting magician. He is a tightly wrapped, well-spoken scholar with a very formal manner.
Q. Who is William Goodenough?
He's a slick, dangerous second-year magic student who puts the moves on Goldberry and doesn't like Simon.
Q. Who is Yeishu ben Pandeira?
Yeishu is the ghost of a dead Jewish heretic. He wanted to be the Moshiach (the anointed one, God's appointed savior of the Jewish people) but wasn't. When he died, his ghost was bound to a memento (a physical object) forcing it to remain close to Earth. As a result, he makes trouble and becomes the main bad guy in this story.
ABOUT THE ORIGINS OF THE BOOK
Q. What writers influenced you growing up?
As a preteen and a teen, I read a lot of genre fantasy. I think J.R.R. Tolkien influenced me most, although I am not writing epic fantasy myself at present. In a sequence in the third book of this series, I will identify a lot of the other books I read at that time, but generally, the stuff written in the 70s and 80s is the fantasy that shaped me.
Q. What writers influenced this book?
I credit my understanding of paranormal studies principally to the works of Colin Wilson. If you read Wilson's work and then mine, you will see lots of material to which I am indebted to him. This particular book was also influenced by Chaim Potok's The Chosen, as Yakov Mermelstein and Danny Saunders share a spiritual core. (Fortunately, I will have more than one book to tell about Mermelstein's personal evolution.)
Q. Where did you get the ideas for this book?
I was working in a yeshiva high school on Long Island and had daily interaction with the Orthodox community. I felt there were a lot of stories that could be told by bringing the literary tradition of writing about magic into interaction with the yeshiva environment. I also found out about Yeishu ben Pandeira as a result of talking to a rabbi and felt he would make a good villain. I decided to aim for a "melting-pot" atmosphere, with lots of culture clashes, and made my main character an ethnically mixed character so that he could mix in many cultures.
I created characters who would interest me to write about, then decided what their relationships would be. Although this book took five years to write, the basic framework was there at an early stage.
Q. What is the origin of the magic system?
I have been studying magic and the paranormal for years. I took the best material out of my memory and research and created a system to incorporate the stuff that I liked. My goal was to have a system that felt more realistic and less mythical.
Q. Are the characters based on real people?
All the characters are based on my own personality.
Q. Why shouldn't I dismiss your book as a ripoff of Harry Potter?
Once you move beyond the concept of the magical boarding school, the two series don't have much in common. J.K. Rowling established a genre, but now it is left to other writers to better her effort. Lev Grossman knocked it out of the park with The Magicians. You can decide for yourself how well I have done.
Q. Why did you incorporate 9/11 into your novel? Isn't that disrespectful?
It's not intended to be disrespectful, callous, or commercial. My novels are situated among real-world places and events. My intention is to show respect for the event by indicating how heavily it affects my characters and their world. If you continue to read about School of the Ages, you'll see what I mean.
Q. Aren't the elements of magic a little too realistic? Could kids wind up trying this stuff?
Kids don't try things only because they read them in a book. Monkey-see monkey-do is not a valid psychological model, regardless of what Frederic Wertham wrote in The Seduction of the Innocent. (Yes, I've read it.) A mentally healthy child knows the different between entertainment and reality. Anyway, if kids try what is described in my book, it will not hurt them. If they try meditation and visualization, which are not banned by any religion that I know of, they will even become stronger adults.
The kids I work with at my job, who sometimes have problems with drugs, violence, gangs, depression, cutting classes, general lack of motivation are following models set by real-life people around them. The solution to kids who are screwed up is dedicated parenting in which the parents put the child first and devote tremendous time and energy into knowing and helping that child and being a companion who guides without being punitive or judgmental.
Q. Are you a magician or a psychic?
I think many people have some degree of psychic ability. I have a small trace of it. I have met people with massive amounts of it. People who call themselves magicians have an elaborate setup they use, with lots of rituals and tools. I have studied that stuff, but I don't do it. If I have a problem that I can't manage using my daily life strategies, I pray to Hindu gods and say Sanskrit mantras.
Q. My child is a Christian, so I don't want her reading your book.
I think this novel offers opportunities for you and your child to discuss scripture together. After she reads my book, sit down together and discuss topics such as the differences between Jesus (true Messiah) and Yeishu (false Messiah); the differences between my Simon Magus and the one in the Book of Acts; and whether praying to God can really enable a girl to fly (viz. St. Teresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Siena, etc.). How is it in God's plan for someone to die young, as an important character does?
Q. Aren't you an anti-Semite for the way you depicted Jews in this book?
No, I love Jews. I am writing from an "insider" view of the Jewish community as a former yeshiva high school teacher. Writing about Jews "warts and all" is not intended to be disrespectful, any more than it was when Isaac Bashevis Singer did it, arguably the best writer on Jewish themes who has ever lived.
Q. Why didn't you include Wicca (witchcraft) and some other occult traditions in your book?
I am working on a way to incorporate Wicca somewhere late in the series. The first three books are totally overstuffed with material already. My magic system, which blends Eastern traditions with Hermeticism, is more than sufficient for now, and I'm not interested in writing an occult textbook that squeezes in every possible variation. My characters and their story are more important to me.
MORE WRITING BY MATT
Q. Are you going to write more books about these characters?
I already have. I'm not going to put them on the market all at once, but the second book of this series is all but done, and the third is close to done. I am planning five books total, to cover the five years of Simon's participation in magic school, at the conclusion of which I will not have a cheesy ending eleven years later with a bunch of children named after characters who died during the main action, some of whom died just for the sake of demonstrating the human cost of resisting evil in a bunch of Manichean balderdash, er, cough, cough, excuse me, got off track there.
Q. Tantalize me with the titles of the other books.
School of the Ages 2: Level Three's Dream
School of the Ages 3: The War Against Love
School of the Ages 4: Simon Geeta
School of the Ages 5: The Wonderful Carol
Q. Why did you self-publish for Kindle rather than trying to get this book in print?
I got tired of trying to get a literary agent. I got really tired of trying to get a literary agent. I got really really tired of trying to get a literary agent. I got tired of unthoughtful form rejections that stated "keep trying as it is just a matter of personal taste" or "we aren't equipped to handle this kind of material" or "I have to feel a personal commitment to something before I can take it on." I believed in my work, and I felt that no one who seriously looked at my material would give me such a mindless response. I got tired of feeling I would have to walk on eggshells and follow some rigid format and fastidious set of individualized, idiosyncratic expectations for submission format, or be rejected without due consideration on a matter of form not content. I wanted to take the approach, "I'm a person with a quality product and I deserve respect for its commercial potential," instead of taking the approach "Oh, please, please, give me the time of day, Ms. Important-Literary-Agent Person." I came to feel I could no longer tolerate the elusiveness and other negative vibes that literary agents generate in order to ward off those they perceive as delusional non-talents trying to entangle them and waste their time. I was tired of getting lumped in with such individuals just because of a numbers game and winding up with the dismissive advice "Don't give up; be persistent and patient and wait until you finally make the right connection." The power should not be with agents. It should be with talent. Yes, I have a chip on my shoulder about this. I'll get over it when someone in that line of work wants to do business with me, but honestly, I'm not holding my breath.
E-books are taking the power out of the hands of print publishers. I love physical books and own many and will always buy them, and it would be my proudest day to hold a physical copy of my novel issued by a major press, but the print publishing industry has become warped by big media ownership so that they will only take on books that they expect big profits from -- they simply don't feel they can afford to do otherwise. That means book publishing is like movie production -- not an analogy I'm happy to make. The point is, print publishing is conservative in its business strategy, and as such, it has become risk-averse, and it will only survive with this model as long as e-book readers like Kindle and Nook are not yet widely accepted. I think amazon.com's print-on-demand model shows some potential, and print publishers should look at it as it would enable editors to take more risks.
Q. Would your book make a good movie?
Yes. If anyone reads The Ghost in the Crystal, then I will eventually publish a screenplay for it as well, containing sufficient variety from the original novel to make it of interest.
Q. Do you do personal appearances?
If you are in the New York City area, you should book my avant-garde band, The Exploration Project. We are on Facebook, or you can contact the band's founder, Scott Rifkin, using his website, http://www.explorationproj.com/. The group features Scott's environmental guitar and synth machines, my original poetry and percussion, and the creation of an original oil painting by the world-class artist Eric Henty. We also have guest musical performers.
I am available to give readings, to be a paid lecturer on topics unrelated to my book specifically, and to appear at F&SF or gaming conventions. You will need to pay my expenses, including airfare or gas money, hotel room, and food, but I won't charge any other fee. In return, I will do as many readings, panels, guest appearances, and musical performances as makes sense. As a professional teacher, I'm used to speaking in public and like doing it. At a gaming convention, I can be a guest participant in any type of game. I am particularly good at AD&D, Vampire, BattleTech, Hero System, and Magic the Gathering.
Q. Will I read your book and tell you my opinion?
I have an MFA and am qualified to be a professor of fiction, but I can't afford to donate lots of time to that kind of activity. So while I'd like to help you that way, and I find it cheesy to charge for doing it, I have to say: I can't do this for you right now, but if you post general questions about writing technique in my guest book, I will answer them. Down the line I may have some promotional contests and stuff like that which will enable you to show me samples of your work and get feedback.
Q. Do you read comics?
Yes, since the 1970's, though less now than I used to because the recent material hasn't pleased me as often as older stuff did. My favorite writers are Neil Gaiman, Kurt Busiek, and Peter David (who writes comics exactly as I would write them).
Q. Is it OK to write fanfiction using your characters?
Absolutely. I used to write Ranma 1/2 fanfictions, so I know what the fanfic world is about. If anyone actually does this in a respectful manner and I come across stories, I will try to read them and comment if I have time.
Q. What kind of music do you like?
If I am shopping for music, I go first to the World Music category. I like Asian fusion, Arabic music such as bellydance, bhangra, and some African and Latino music (such as Gypsy Kings). I was raised to like classical music, and it is still a favorite. My taste in pop music is spotty and unpredictable. I dislike most hip-hop and all R&B, although I do like a little old school rap.
Q. What would happen if Simon Magus fought various other fantasy magicians and wizards?
Assuming the equivalent stage of experience, the following.
Simon vs. Harry Potter: draw. Simon vs. Gandalf: Gandalf. Simon vs. The Great Skeeve: Skeeve
Simon vs. Quentin Coldwater: Simon Simon vs. Belgarion: Belgarion Simon vs. Dr. Strange: Dr. Strange
Simon vs. Zantanna: Zatanna Simon vs. Raistlin: Simon Simon vs. Prospero (The Face in the Frost): Prospero
Simon vs. Tim Hunter: depends on whether Goldberry is around
Q. Are you related to singing star Mike Posner?
No, but I think I'm cooler than he is.
Post other questions in the guestbook. I will answer them in my blog (the news section).