Our publishers at Penguin have generously cited us as the “writers behind Magnus Flyte,” or made reference to Magnus Flyte as a pseudonym for “writers Christina Lynch and Meg Howrey.” We are not going to contradict them, but we generally prefer to think of ourselves as Magnus’s handlers. Or wranglers. Believe us, this is not always an easy task. The elusiveness of Mr. Flyte is legendary. We’re always thrilled, therefore, when an opportunity arises to sit down with Magnus for a conversation. By “sit down” we mean that we were sitting. We have no idea what position Magnus was in. Judging from the background noise we heard through the walkie-talkies, Magnus was in transit. He could have been flying his Piper airplane. Or rafting. Or playing a vigorous game of badminton in a Tibetan nunnery. In any case, he was amenable to answering a few questions. Below is the transcription.
Wranglers: Magnus, your novel, City of Dark Magic, has been called “genre-bending.” It’s a mystery, a thriller; it has science and history and music. Romance. Comedy. Time-travel. What are your thoughts of what makes fiction “genre”?
Magnus: Mystery, excitement, love, music, a twist, and a sense of humor: all good novels should have these things. All good short stories should have them, all good poems. All good graffiti. I once ate a risotto in Venice that had all of these things.
Wranglers: What do you think about the phrase, “guilty pleasure”?
Magnus: I prefer the phrase, “acknowledged naughtiness.”
Wranglers: The action of the book takes place in and around Prague. What about the city did you find so inspiring?
Magnus: The moment I first arrived in Prague, many years ago, I knew that I would set a story there. Form dictates content. The city is enigmatic and intimate and epic and very peculiar. Frankly, I am surprised that people are able to visit the city, and not feel compelled to write a novel. Perhaps the variety of affordable and tasty lagers has something to do with that.
Wranglers: Can you talk about the element of time-travel and history in the book?
Magnus: When I was a small boy, I stayed overnight at a 16th century Schloss in Austria. I remember lying awake in bed, looking up at the ceiling, which was painted with allegorical scenes, and realizing, in quite a profound way, that many, many people had been in this room before me. They had laughed, and cried, and loved, and hated, and wondered where they put their hat and whether or not there’d be pheasant for dinner. I sensed that while the trivial feelings might have passed into ether, the stronger emotions lingered. I felt that only my limited ability to perceive separated those events from myself.
Wranglers: We get glimpses throughout the novel of some of Prague’s most colorful characters. People like the astronomer Tycho Brahe. He seemed like a pretty interesting guy.
Magnus: Indeed. And he made all of his discoveries without the use of a telescope. Of course, he wasn’t always correct, but his work was significant. At the time he was working, the distinctions between the different branches of science were very thin. Something we have returned to in our own century. Modern neuroscience is deeply philosophical. The language of genetics is hilarious. 16th century alchemists would not feel terribly out of place today. Particularly in Northern California.
Wranglers: Moving on to the contemporary characters in the book. The heroine, Sarah Weston, is far from perfect. She’s got some skills, but she gets in a lot of trouble.
Magnus: She has many escapades. I have never met anyone who has told me that they wished they had had fewer adventures when they were young.
Wranglers: Sarah and Prince Max make an unlikely, but quite…dynamic couple. A few of their more exciting interactions take place in public places. As we head into the colder season, do you have any advice for the art of love in the great outdoors?
Magnus: This is a question I am asked constantly. As the temperature drops, time is of the essence, as some find sub-zero temperatures to be inhibitory. But this will not stop the passionate, who are willing to risk all for love and let the ski pants fall where they may.
Wranglers: The following question was posed to P.G. Wodehouse in a 1975 interview in The Paris Review: “You were very fond of spats, weren’t you? Tell me a little about them.” What would your answer be?
Magnus: Please let’s not discuss the sartorial dark ages we’re living in. Imagine the effect on our morale not to mention our economy if men were suddenly to re-embrace spats, gloves, hats, ties, vests, walking sticks, and pinces nez. I won’t go as far as powdered wigs, but really, wouldn’t that make a day at the office a bit less dreary?
Wranglers: Many writers are obsessed with their childhoods. Describe your childhood.
Magnus: A long time ago.
Wranglers: Are there characters from fiction, yours or others, whom you would like to have known?
I feel I do know them. They’re always staring over my shoulder. I can’t paint a watercolor without Charles Ryder criticizing my overuse of Winsor green. When I ended up in a Thai prison once over a slight misunderstanding, Joe Harman from A Town Like Alice got me through it. The other day in the supermarket Maigret put some very lovely lambchops in my cart. Good characters are a gift that stays with you.
Wranglers: What are you working on now?
Magnus: I’m stirring up trouble here and there where it needs to be stirred. Evenings when I don’t run out of candles and the lions are quiet, I tap out a few pages of the sequel to City of Dark Magic, which is an equally rich stew of history, mystery, sex and science, all of which needs to lived before it can be described.
Wranglers: Given your earlier criticism of fashion, what are you wearing right now?
Magnus: Joie de vivre.