Welcome to the latest installment of my newsletters, where I share special news about my books and my writing. They come out on the first week of each month.

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The Cost of Magic

Newton's Third Law tells us that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

In my version, I believe that worthwhile fiction requires that for every action there is an appropriate cost. If you take a chance, you may lose. If you fight, you may be killed. If you use your strength, you may exhaust it. Most importantly: there can be no power, no magic, no spell without cost.

A character like Superman has seemingly inexhaustible power, and writers have to give him offsetting emotional or psychological quandaries to keep us from being bored with him.

All superheroes have this problem. Without vulnerability, without something at stake, it's hard to be drawn into their stories. Godlike powers do not necessarily make us sympathetic with the beings that have them. The elephant needs to be terrorized by the mouse before we can sympathize with him.

We all know this, in real life. We recognize that our every action comes with a cost, and it's part of the reckoning we make in our daily lives.

But what if we have magic powers?

There are many stories about the moral cost of doing magic — forbidden power from a tainted source that requires payment, as Faust discovers.

But I write in worlds without the notion of demonic temptation. I write stories that are focused on a science of magic. It takes knowledge to understand the workings, and it takes effort to carry them out. Some people may be more naturally gifted than others, but magic comes free to no one. Instead, it's another tool in the toolbox of approaches to solving problems, surviving danger, or exploring the “natural” world.

And it's fun designing these worlds! I have to create systems of magic that are internally consistent, interesting, and not entirely known to the practitioners. Usually this is part of the background of the actual story, but in my new series, The Affinities of Magic, it's part of the primary goal, as Rushalentar is intent on discovering exactly where the magic comes from, and precisely how it works — and how to stay alive while he's doing it.

I still have to finish the 3rd book of the series before I begin releasing them, but the world-building is just as much fun as the trouble the characters get into.

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