The Big Idea: A.J. Larrieu

Things have a cost. You buy a coffee, you pay the price for it. You stay up all night drinking, you pay for it with a hangover. But what cost comes from using magic — and how do you pay the price? A.J Larrieu is here to tell you how tallied the cost for her novel Twisted Miracles — and how that price affects her story.


I’ve always been drawn to speculative fiction that requires power to have a price. The price can come in different forms, but without it, the world just won’t feel real. In the Harry Potter books, one price of power is the training witches and wizards need to harness their innate abilities. In the Game of Thrones series, no one gets away without paying the “iron price,” and often paying more than they owe. Giving power a price creates natural balance in a fictional universe—and it makes things a lot more interesting.

The world of my debut novel, Twisted Miracles, is populated by shadowminds, humans with supernatural mental powers. They aren’t strictly telekinetic—they’re actually energy converters, able to use their minds to create motion, light or heat. This makes for some fascinating possibilities, but I knew I couldn’t let their powers be limitless. To make their gifts feel real, I had to understand how they worked. Not on a detailed level—it’s made-up magic, after all—but in a practical way. What’s possible, and what’s not?

I’m a scientist by training, so I began with one of the most fundamental, unbreakable laws of the universe, the First Law of Thermodynamics. It’s a famous one—simply put, it states that energy cannot be created or destroyed. As I move my fingers to type this post, I’m using energy I banked this morning in the form of peanut butter on toast and some disappointing strawberries.

I wanted the same general rule to apply to my converters. They can lift things with their minds, sure, but they can’t go around tossing SUVs like used tissues. If they don’t have the power to do it with their hands, they don’t have the power to do it with their brains. They have limits.

Of course, some of them can go beyond those limits. My heroine, Cass, can lift anything she wants, no matter how heavy, but that energy still has to come from somewhere. If she can’t find it in herself, her gift goes looking for it somewhere else, and the cost of stealing energy isn’t always one she’s prepared to pay.

It was this cost that led me to the thematic core of the story, the one I didn’t know about when I started writing. As it turns out, the big idea behind Twisted Miracles is a question: What are the limits of forgiveness? Cass’s dangerous gift has led her to do terrible things, some of them by accident, some of them not. Over the course of the story, she’s forced to make soul-rending choices about the price she’s willing to pay for justice. In the end, Cass’s journey is about learning how to live with her personal tab of decisions and mistakes—and learning that forgiveness might be the one thing in life without a price.


Twisted Miracles: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Google|iBooks|Kobo

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s blog. Follow her on Twitter.

13 Comments on “The Big Idea: A.J. Larrieu”

  1. “As I move my fingers to type this post, I’m using energy I banked this morning in the form of peanut butter on toast and some disappointing strawberries.”

    Haha, love this!! Strawberries should never be disappointing. They should suffer a cost for that, methinks?

    One of the things I enjoyed about the book was that there IS a cost for everything, and sometimes it’s not the individual who uses the ability who has to pay the price… and that is a difficult thing to learn to be okay with, especially when you’re learning to control your abilities.

  2. “The price of magic use” is one of the things I like about Tim Powers’ fantasy, and that I found disappointing in mid-career Zelazny.

    As to “others paying the price”, all you have to do is look at the 1%ers to see how that works in the real world.

    Economics almost always contributes to a more engaging, more interesting built world.

  3. Just bought the book on the old iPad. Thoughtful magic. Hmmm. There’s a magic to finding good fantasy books these days, and it definitely cost me a moment of Scalzi this morning. I like the price…

  4. I have almost given up on finding new contemporary/urban fantasy that I enjoy, but this intrigued me and I hopped over to read the excerpt. Then I bought it. Thoroughly enjoying it so far; I like the characters, and the setting rings true to my memories of living in New Orleans some years ago.

  5. @DVK: Yes–I should chucked those strawberries into the garbage disposal. But I kept hoping they get better.. :) It’s awesome that you picked up on that aspect of the “cost” in Twisted. I’m fascinated by the responsibility that comes with power, and what happens when we really do make big mistakes. Thanks for your comment!

    @Eric: I’ll have to check out Tim powers. I haven’t read his work before, but I just glanced at his booklist and it looks very intriguing. Thanks for the rec! (And yeah, costs apply to whole societies, too…I love Mary Doria Russell’s THE SPARROW for this.)

    @Shawn: Thank you! I hope you like the story.And YES. Also nutella.

    @Chris: Thanks so much for buying! Thanks for taking a risk on a new author. :) I hope you like it.

    @Otter: Wow! I’m so glad you liked the excerpt, and thank you so much for buying! I hope you continue to enjoy the story. Awesome that it brings back memories of your time in New Orleans. I really tried to capture the city’s native, non-tourist-y identity.

  6. I just want to say I love the cover image. Imagine that, a tough chick who doesn’t have to be in some ridiculous contorted pose with her boobs about to fall out, no tight leather, no spiked heels.

    I’m going to go buy it right now, it sounds like a good story.

    I have to say the Big Idea posts are stretching my book money to the breaking point. But money for books is a cost I willingly pay.

    Happy reading!

  7. Its a cool idea, one that seems could scale in interesting ways, I mean could you hook one of these shadowminds up to a nuclear reactor?
    Also why shadowminds? This is an urban fantasy right? So why not a more scientific name?
    Also I just can’t get over that cover illustration it looks like the cover to a pulp romance :/

  8. AJ, if you’re going to sample Tim Powers, I recommend starting w/”The Anubis Gates”. If you don’t like that you can probably skip him. (Although talks/readings by him are always hilarious– standup comedy missed a talent there.)

  9. Huh, Amazon has a new/new-to-me thing called Amazon Smile. 0.5% of eligible purchases will be donated to a charity of my … chosen. Where was I? Right. Sonofabitch, not sure? But I may have to dump amazon for smile dot amazon for that to work. Ok, so who is Tim Pow I don’t live alone, gotta go.

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