Revealing the Magic Trick

by Stuart Jaffe

From time to time, I get asked how something like the Max Porter mysteries came to be.  How did I come up with the idea of mixing true, odd, North Carolina history with witches, ghosts, curses, and such? And, over that time, I had developed a standard response. I had been living in Winston-Salem for several years and was curious to know more about it. My wife was a grad student at Wake Forest University, so one day, while stuck there waiting for her, I decided to hang out at the library. It was there that I stumbled upon a bit of WWII history I had never heard of before (that we shipped German POWs onto US soil to labor for the tobacco industry), and it screamed for a story. Max Porter was born.

That is the truth. But it’s also not.

See, it depends on who you are and why you’re asking. If you’re a reader who just wants to know what sparked this ever-growing series that has (hopefully) thrilled you, then yes, the above answer is the truth. And if that’s who you are, if you don’t like to know how a magic trick works or how the sausage is made, then I urge you to stop right here. Because there be dragon below.

Now — and this part took me years to figure out — if you’re a new writer, then you mean something quite different by the question. What you’re really asking me is how the Max Porter mysteries came to be — as in, the entire series. I see this when new writers discuss any long-running series. They marvel at the complex interplay between characters, how fully-developed each personality is, and how little details in an early book become massively important later on. How, they wonder, did the author know to do that?

My standard answer above does not answer that question.  Because no writer, no matter what PR line they spout, has an entire series fully formed in his or her head. Doesn’t happen. She might have the beginning, some key points in the middle, and a killer ending in mind, but the entire run of a 7 + books series?  Nope.

Those characters you marvel at were not so well-developed in the beginning. The complex interplay grew over the course of all those books. Each mystery they solved, each baddie they vanquished, each love they cherished and loss they endured, all built upon each other so that when Heroine nods with narrowing eyes at Hero, we all know what that means — all the history behind it — which sends chills through our delighted reader hearts. And that little detail which became huge later on — well, the author didn’t plan it that way when she wrote that detail in. But four books later, when she needed something to call back from a previous book, she read over her work, found that detail, and neatly clicked into place.

It’s part of how a writer’s mind works. We are constantly putting together the puzzle pieces that make up a novel, and sometimes we set a piece aside based on nothing but gut reaction, only to discover later exactly why we did it. We know that if we’re patient and consistent, our books will build upon themselves and create that full-world experience you crave. That’s why Book 1 or Book 2 of a series can be so much more difficult than Book 5. But it can be super-exciting too!

It’s all part of the magic trick that we perform.

What’s really cool is that with the Modern Magic deal, you get 12 novels that are almost all Book 1 of a series. You can start now and see how the groundwork for the trick is being set down. Then keep reading those series you like and watch the magic!

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