The Big Idea: Rucker Moses & Theo Gangi
They say that parallel universes exist; what about universes that are pockets and echos? Authors Rucker Moses and Theo Gangi take you on a tour of their version of other realities in this Big Idea for their newest novel, Kingston and the Magician’s Lost and Found.
A few years back, Emmy nominated screenwriters Craig Phillips and Harold Hayes and I decided to collaborate on this great idea they had for a portal-magic book series. The wind-up for Kingston and the Magician’s Lost and Found had me hooked. Kingston is a twelve-year-old Black boy determined to find his father, Preston—a famous magician who disappeared into a mysterious portal. He returns to his off-the-wall family of magicians and trick-builders in Echo City, a past-its-prime hub of Brooklyn magicians to uncover the mystery of the vanishing dad.
The one tiny detail of this portal-magic books series we hadn’t quite worked out was the portals themselves. Namely, where do the portals go?
There was plenty of story to tell without revealing what’s on the other side of these enchanted doorways. We had a name—The Realm. There were colors and crystals. But a concept? Not quite yet. There has to be some Chekov’s Gun sort of rule about portals introduced in the first act having to lead somewhere by the third, but we were stumped. Chekov’s Magic Portal was going nowhere.
Part of the challenge was squaring our own loves as readers and fantasy fans with what could work for this story, in this world, for this young audience. The three of us dug some really high-concept sci-fi, but were concerned about losing our target reader, who is age twelve and up. We were drawn to big, meta-genre ideas like what we were reading in NK Jemisin’s Broken Earth series and Johnathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four/Avengers run. Ideas that seemed fresh because they met the reader at their expectations and then took them further. Like, okay you know you’re reading a sci-fi series—so instead of one world-ending event, how about several? How about hundreds? How about a universe-destroying event every day? Or, instead of one alternate reality, how about infinite recurring versions of reality? Something about this kind of playfulness felt fresh to us. Why enter a portal just to go somewhere we’ve already been?
The first inkling of our idea came from the name of our invented Brooklyn neighborhood, Echo City. Turns out, the tag came from Echo Park, a neighborhood in Los Angeles where my cowriters were living when they came up with the series. But something about the “echo” concept kept repeating—pun intended—and grew.
What if these portals created echoes of reality, every time one was opened? They could be discrete moments, self-contained, and they could exist in perpetuity. So when you enter an echo, it’s a preserved instant in time—but it’s not time travel. You can’t change the past when you mess with an echo, only a copy of the past. So anywhere these magicians made portals, our heroes could visit. Even an echo of the night Kingston lost his dad.
So the idea came into focus, but could we pull it off? A multiverse story, with several realities existing in a single narrative, presents some unique challenges. Could we explain echo copies of characters coming through portals? Or how you could visit an echo of the past, without affecting the past? It was super fun for us, but was it just too confusing, too high concept for a young audience?
Then in 2018, a film called Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse hit the public consciousness. It was like a revelation for us with the simple and fearless way they unrolled the concept. It had that genre self-awareness we craved and there was never any doubt that a young audience could follow.
Seeing the Spider-Verse on-screen gave us the permission to explore our own Echo-Verse, so to speak. We realized, maybe ages twelve-and-up was exactly the life stage where a multiverse concept might make sense. Who is more willing to go with the mental gymnastics of repeating realities and magic doppelgangers than a young reader? We reconnected to why we wanted to write for young readers to begin with. The impact an adventure book can have on kids is unique and extraordinary, and the imagination of a developing mind can exceed all our expectations.