Friday, April 15, 2016

Books, Chocolate and Wine with Karen McCullough

My Own Take on Magic
I’ve been reading fantasy and science fiction for as long as I can remember, which is broad research for writing any story that includes magic. Throw in that I have a degree in Cultural Anthropology, which involved a lot of reading and research on myths, legends, and lore of other cultures, and magic has been part of my life longer even than writing has, since I didn’t start writing seriously until I was well into my twenties. I suppose it was pretty inevitable it would show up in my stories.
Magic in fiction comes in a lot of different flavors. There are probably as many different approaches to thaumaturgy as there are authors writing about it.  Depending on the author, magic can be a religion, a science, a myth, a technology, or simply a fact of life.
And the way magic works tends to vary depending on the genre. In other-world-set fantasy, it’s frequently an integral part of the world and the way it functions. Everyone knows it exists even if only a few can use it. It generally already has a culture built around it and may be the basis of the world’s religion. No technical details are given for how it works and none are expected.
On the other hand in urban fantasy, magic often has a more arcane, secretive flavor. It’s usually a rare power, and those who have it often try to hide it for fear of the reactions of those without it.  Think Harry Potter or any of the gazillions of vampire books.
I’ve written it both ways.  In my fantasy novels, Wizard’s Bridge and Witch’s Journey, the magic is the magic of another world, a fact of the environment, and a gift that some people can access while others can’t. I don’t try to explain what it is or how it works, though I try to show how my characters interact with and make use of it.
Still, I wanted to try a novel set in our contemporary world, where a secret group of people have magical abilities.
According to science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”  I’ve always been fascinated by that suggestion.  It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out why, and we’ve seen it in action often enough when more technologically developed cultures first come into contact with more primitive ones.
A riff on that idea formed the basis of my book, The Wizard’s Shied
If an advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, why couldn’t what we might call magic now actually be a technology or even a biological possibility that we don’t really understand?
Which led me to wonder, what kind of technology might that be? 
After some debate, I chose to go with an invisible force, but I wanted it to relate to something that most of us are at least vaguely familiar with.  In the book, I posit that magic is a kind of subatomic psychokinesis (the ability to move objects using just the mind).  My wizards, of whom only a small number are actually strong enough to do anything useful with this inborn ability, are psychokinetics who can view and move things on a microscopic level, but can do a lot of it on a scale that lets them do things that look like magic to everyone else.
In the excerpt included I try to show how my heroine uses her power. Beyond the question of whether psychokinetic ability is even real, I try to ground the way it works in reality as much as possibility. It takes a great deal of energy, first of all, so when my characters do magic, they have to rest more and eat more to compensate. And the larger the object they try to move or the greater the force in opposition, the more power it takes to manipulate them.
In most ways their powers obey the laws of physics. And I use that idea as the basis of the plot, when the hero, a physicist with a specialty in micro-circuitry uses his knowledge to build a shield to keep anyone else’s magic from affecting him. He was once tortured by other wizards and he doesn’t plan to let that happen to him again. But he hasn’t thought through all the ramifications of what such a device might do in others’ hands—until it’s stolen from him.

To solve a murder and retrieve a stolen magical shield, a pair of wizards journey into a dangerous, magical underworld, where the weapons of choice might be guns... or lightning bolts.

Back Cover Copy of The Wizard’s Shield: A powerful wizard with a physics degree and a checkered past invents a shield to ensure he'll never again be tortured almost to death.

The wizarding powers-that-be fear the repercussions of such a device and send his former girlfriend, an accomplished wizard herself, to retrieve the device or destroy it.

When the shield is stolen by the magical mafia, Ilene McConnell and Michael Morgan have to set aside their differences and work together to recover it. Michael claims he needs the device as insurance against the kind of injury and injustice he suffered once before. Ilene maintains its potential to upset the delicate balance of power makes it too dangerous and that it needs to be destroyed. But none of that will matter if they can’t retrieve it before a ruthless, powerful wizard learns how to use it for his own ends.

Buy Links for The Wizard’s Shield

Reviews for The Wizard’s Shield
"I truly enjoyed this book. The characters are wonderful. Michael is the all-around good guy, gone bad, but on his way back around and Ilene is the broken-hearted girl trying to make it on her own despite never getting over her lost love. They are great as individual characters, but fantastic together.
The storyline is original and well done. The descriptions are vivid and I love the new twist on magic. The science behind the magic is great. The plot is clever and creative. The book is well written and nicely paced.
There is a load of emotion coursing through the entire story. We get love and anger, betrayal and mistrust, all mixed together with desire, longing, magic, and of course shifting balance - - on so many levels!"
~ Beverly at The Wormhole   Full Review
"If you like romance blended with science facts and fantasy, you’ve hit the mother lode. Wizards Michael and Ilene battle a powerful evil wizard using air, fire, water, and earth as weapons throughout the story. The close proximity and united front brought on by their partnership is complicated by unresolved feelings from their youth.
Strong characters, a solid plot, and realistic dialogue blend into a compelling fantasy."
-Muddy Rose Reviews on Amazon
Excerpt from The Wizard’s Shield
The rush of a sudden, fierce wind outside drew Ilene to a window to watch the shrubs and palm trees flapping wildly. Sand blew over the pavement and splattered against walls and trees. Dead leaves, loose papers, and other debris danced in the air. A livid, purple-tinged darkness turned the day grotesque. Tendrils of indigo-shaded power floated along with the dark storm clouds.
A flash of lightning seared its way from sky to ground just beyond a row of houses across the street, followed closely by a crack of thunder that rattled the windows.
A man and woman hurried three small children along the boardwalk that led over the dune from the beach to the street. They toted coolers, bags, boogie boards, and buckets. The youngest trailed a towel flapping behind him in the wind. More lightning zig-zagged from sky to ground, not far away. Ilene sucked in a sharp breath.
The father looked up and flinched. Fear tightened his muscles as he dropped a cooler and turned around to snatch up the straggling toddler. His voice carried over the rushing wind. "Get to the van. Quick!"
He nodded toward a vehicle parked down the street. His wife and two older children raced on ahead.
Ilene’s hands clenched into fists. Too much energy crackled in the air. It wasn’t directed at the family, but that didn’t guarantee they wouldn’t get hurt by it. Collateral damage. Some of the more ruthless mages cared little for who else was affected by their activities.
Two flashes hit nearby, one right after the other. The child let out a frightened wail as his father, bent low over him, dashed off the wooden walkway and down the street. Even they could sense the danger building.
Ilene couldn’t trust their fate to chance. She roused her own power, feeling for charged particles in the area. Gathering them in, she rolled and pushed them into position, building a lattice of force around the family. It wouldn’t keep out the wind or the rain—she could have done that with air, too, if she’d had time—but it should keep the lightning from reaching them. For the moment, that mattered most.
Even at a distance, the rush of oppositely charged particles prickled in her brain. The growing polarization signaled an impending strike.
What formed out there made her gut clench in fear. It was so close to the father and child the hair on their bodies must have been standing on end. The man looked around wildly, searching for shelter. The panic in his eyes radiated across the fifty feet or so that separated them.
Would her barrier be enough to protect them? The ground charge was forming so close it could jump right through it if she’d left even a small opening. Ilene reached out toward the building charge differential. Playing with lightning was tricky business. Choosing her positions carefully, she pushed in various weak spots to move the polarizing field.
It sucked a lot of energy out of her to divert its course. Her ribs and head ached as she herded protons in a subatomic cattle drive to get the charge well away from the family. Those minuscule bits of potential energy were every bit as ornery and uncooperative as cows were reputed to be.
Even as the bolt formed, she didn’t know if she’d succeeded. Her breath stopped in her throat for a long, long moment as she waited.
The streak of lightning followed the diverted path to the beach, a safe distance away.
The man ran to the van, getting there just moments behind his wife and older children. He pushed the toddler into the back seat and ran around to the other side, while his wife slammed the rear door and got into the front. Ilene didn’t let out the breath she held until they were all safely inside the vehicle. She released the protective field. The van’s headlights flicked on and moments later it chugged off down the street.
More lightning singed the sky. An inflatable ring rolled down the street like a runaway tire. Ilene shuddered, though it wasn’t entirely the weather that set it off. The storm was a natural thing, but someone—a powerful wizard—was using it.
Using it to attack. The island or the house or its occupants. Brilliant, livid streaks of orange and red mixed with violet and deep blue swirls riding with the clouds. The smells of ammonia and ozone and peppers burned her nostrils.
Lightning flashed brighter and closer. Dangerously closer.
The grumble of thunder grew almost constant. The rushing downpour of rain added to the chaos and noise. Driven by the wind to blow almost horizontally, it splattered against the window in big drops that spread out, then slid down the glass like groping hands trying to claw their way in.
Something was out there. The swirls of lividly hued power grew deeper and more intense. It rode on the storm in frightening concentrations. Why here, though?
About the Author
Karen McCullough’s wide-ranging imagination makes her incapable of sticking to one genre for her storytelling. As a result, she’s the author of more than a dozen published novels and novellas, which span the mystery, fantasy, paranormal, and romantic suspense genres. 
A former computer programmer who made a career change into being an editor with an international trade publishing company for many years, she now runs her own web design business to support her writing habit. Awards she’s won include an Eppie Award for fantasy; three other Eppie finals as well as finaling in the Daphne, Prism, Dream Realm, Rising Star, Lories, Scarlett Letter, and Vixen Awards, and an Honorable Mention in the Writers of the Future contest. Her short fiction has appeared in several anthologies and numerous small press publications in the fantasy, science fiction, and romance genres. She lives in Greensboro, NC, with her husband of many years.
You can reach Karen at:
Social Media Links: Twitter  Facebook  Pinterest  Amazon Author Page  


  1. Great information and an interesting excerpt with a compelling hook.
    Thanks you for sharing this post.

  2. Thanks, Sandy! And thank you Ruth for inviting me onto your blog!