I met Henry Neff at last year's NCIBA Fall Discovery show, where I not only learned about his Tapestry series, but I found out about IMPYRIUM, the first book in his new MG fantasy series. Anyone who loves intricate world-building should be sure to pick this one up:
Hazel, the youngest member of the royal family, is happy to leave ruling to her sisters so that she can study her magic. But the Empress has other plans for her granddaughter, dark and dangerous plans to exploit Hazel’s talents and rekindle the Faeregine mystique. Hob, a commoner from the outer realms, has been sent to the city to serve the Faeregines—and to spy on them.
One wants to protect the dynasty. The other wants to destroy it. But when Hazel and Hob form an improbable friendship, their bond may save the realm as they know it…or end it for good.
You are an artist as well as an author. What do you love about both mediums?
For me, they really work hand in glove. Writing involves sequence and structure, the plotting of character and story arcs that stretch across many pages and trials. I love language, its sound and cadence and that jolt of triumph I experience when the right word pops into my brain. It's hard to express the sense of pride and satisfaction I feel when I've completed a chapter and know that its bones are solid. But when I reach the end of a hefty manuscript like IMPYRIUM, I’m ready for a break from the intense focus that writing requires. I’m ready to use some different muscles and tap into a different part of my brain. I’ve been drawing since I was old enough to hold a crayon and find that it's invaluable to my process. My visual imagination shapes my story, which in turn informs the illustrations. It’s a virtuous cycle, and one that lets me recharge my creative batteries. It’s strange, but I no longer view writing and drawing as discrete pursuits. For me, they’ve become two sides of a single coin. Together, they allow me to paint whole worlds with words and images. Pursuing both isn’t just fun, it’s a compulsion that makes for better work.
And I love the world you've created. IMPYRIUM has wonderful humor and great voice. What would you say was the most enjoyable thing about writing IMPYRIUM and what was the most difficult?
I'm glad you touched upon the humor. My books tend to have big stakes and dramatic moments, and if one isn't careful that can veer into territory that's too dark and self-serious. Humor is the perfect antidote. I've found that readers are willing to go a lot further with an author if they know there will be some laughs along the way. When it comes to the most enjoyable and challenging aspects of writing IMPYRIUM, I'd say they involve the world building. It's so much fun to create a world, to brainstorm all these little aspects of its geography and politics, social classes and creatures. It's a treat, but it can also be a trap if the writer isn't discriminating about what they choose to share with the reader. Authors intent on explaining every aspect of their world—even details that aren't central to the story—can quickly become Tour Guides from Hell. I certainly didn't want to be one of those and relied on my editor's wisdom to strike the appropriate balance.
It shows. I've gotten stuck in some of those Tour Guides from Hell--I love Tolkien, but once I got into Moria, I couldn't get out again. Your other series, The Tapestry, follows the adventures of Max McDaniels. In what ways did Max's world develop, and what would you say influenced his story the most?
IMPYRIUM is built on The Tapestry's world but takes place 3,000 years after Max's tale concluded. Those familiar with The Tapestry know that our world changes dramatically over the course of that story's five books. My goal in that series was to deconstruct the world we know and build a fantasy setting upon its foundations; to combine the familiar with the new and strange. When The Tapestry concluded, mankind is entering a fundamentally new age — an age where magic is no longer confined to the fringes and humans will have to share this world with other intelligent beings. As far as what influenced Max's tale, it's really a combination of Irish mythology (Max is a modern incarnation of the hero/demigod Cúchulain) with some philosophical questions regarding identity and the use/temptations of power. SPOILER ALERT: As the Dàme Rascha says in IMPYRIUM, The Hound's greatest act was not slaying Astaroth but leaving this world before he became its master...
I love the Irish mythology connections! The sequel to IMPYRIUM doesn't have a title yet, but is there anything you can tell us about it?
I don’t want to give away too much, but rest assured there are political upheavals, an ancient sect of demons, a machine that can dispel magic, and two friends trying to keep the realm from splitting at the seams. We might even visit another world. In my biased opinion, Book Two is a really fun blend of fantasy, horror, and even humor. Several chapters are written from the villain’s perspective and I’ll only say that necromancers have a dark but surprisingly funny take on the absurd situations that can arise in their profession. It can be rather awkward to forget whose identity you’ve stolen...
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