The Big Idea: Kat Howard
Some stories beg to be written, and sometimes characters do the same. In author Kat Howard’s case, she intentionally left a door open for her character to walk through so she could write her again. Read on to see how this turned into her newest novel, A Sleight of Shadows.
I’m afraid this post must open with a confession: I am here under fraudulent pretenses. A Sleight of Shadows did not start with a big idea. It started with a very small one.
Look. I know. But I can explain.
A Sleight of Shadows is the second book in my now-complete Unseen World duology. The first book, An Unkindness of Magicians, was sold – and written – as a standalone. I thought I was finished! I knew what I was writing next. I was ready to move on.
Okay, that last bit is sort of a lie, too. I wasn’t all the way ready to move on. I loved writing Sydney and I felt really badly about how I left her at the end of An Unkindness of Magicians. So I left the tiniest door cracked open, there at the end, just in case I could maybe someday find my way back into the story.
Then circumstances came together so that I could write a sequel. Which was great! I was so excited! There was only one slight problem: I had written an entire book thinking that was the entire story. I had tied up storylines, I hadn’t saved anything for later. I hadn’t even set up a later! And all I had to start the next one with was that very tiny cracked-open door.
That door, perhaps unsurprisingly in a series about magicians, opened onto magic: People who wanted magic. People who wanted more magic than they had. People who wanted magic to be easier, and who were willing to be utterly ruthless to make sure that it was.
And that led me into wondering what magic wanted, because magic, in the Unseen World, is more than just a tool. If not quite an entity (or is it?) it is at least a presence. It is absolutely something that can want. There it was, finally: My Big Idea.
There is a concept in landscape architecture that’s known as “desire lines.” These are places where foot traffic tends to go, sometimes even wearing a path, even when there is an alternate paved path or sidewalk. In the Unseen World, magic sometimes follows desire lines – a spell that is particularly old, or particularly large begins to have wants of its own, including the desire to continue existing. These wants – as one might expect in fiction – cause complications. Because sometimes what a magician wants and what magic wants is very, very different – sometimes, even within the same spell.
A Sleight of Shadows wrangles with other ideas as well, like, “what happens when you change a society in a way that makes things much more difficult for its most powerful members?” (Spoiler: Nothing good.) Like, “what does it mean to sacrifice?” and “what happens when the skeletons of the past literally come back?”
But it started with wanting. And with a cracked-open door.