Scott Drakeford’s highly anticipated release of Rise of the Mages has many fantasy lovers buzzing about the intricate storytelling, revenge plot, and gripping fight scenes. Scott was kind enough to sit down with us and tell us a bit about Rise of the Mages and the path he took to get the story released.
[BWG] First, thank you so much for taking some time and answering these questions for us! Rise of the Mages is a fantastic book, and I am happy we get a chance to talk a bit about it with you.
Thank you! I’m honored by your interest in my work. Thank you for giving me and Rise of the Mages a shot.
[BWG] You have a degree in mechanical engineering, which uses a different kind of logic and creativity than writing and story creation. Do you feel like your experiences in mechanical engineering complement your ability to write and put scenes together?
Honestly, engineering was extremely boring for me. I thought I’d get to solve problems and build awesome machines, but it was so much more mundane than that. Like, imagine studying advanced math and science for years and years just to end up on a team of people designing screws or fancy zip-ties as wiring harnesses. And that’s your life. You spend years calculating the best material, size, thread count and pitch. Then you pray to whatever god you believe in that when the rocket/car/plane/whatever blows up, it was something else that failed, not your screws. God, I hated it.
I did, however, learn to pay great attention to detail. I learned to value extreme consistency, continuity, and logic. Engineers have great use for creativity in solving problems or applying technology but have no use for the implausible. I think that heavily influenced my brand of writing, and certainly it affected how I write. With everything from my fictional magic system and characters to my plot and prose, logic and details matter. Maybe a little too much.
[BWG] What is a significant way Rise of the Mages changed since the first draft? Did the story organically evolve as you worked on it?
This book changed a lot over the years. I learned to write with the first ten or so drafts of this story that only I ever saw. I learned to edit and rewrite when I let my wife, dad, and brothers read it to tell me what worked and didn’t. That probably resulted in another draft or five. I then did another three or four drafts with my awesome agent Matt Bialer and his talented assistants (one of whom is now a bestselling author). Then I did another two or three drafts with my editor Jen and her awesome team (thanks Molly!). It has been a long journey, a ton of work, and I’ve had a lot of help.
Another big factor in the evolution of the story was my own evolution as a person. I changed a ton over those ten years. I completely switched careers, had a child, left a religion, and changed my entire worldview. We moved across the country, and I quit my job two years ago to be my child’s primary caretaker during the pandemic (poor kid) so my wife could take her dream job.
So… yeah. Rise of the Mages evolved A TON as I evolved both as a writer and as a person. I would guess that every single word in the book has been rewritten at least two or three times. I even threw away the middle 50% or so and completely replaced it with a new story at one point. Just about the only constants from beginning to end of the process were Emrael, Ban, and Jaina’s roles as core characters.
[BWG] Did you have to do any research for the story? If so, did you go down any interesting rabbit holes?
I did some research on earth’s magnetic field, what we think causes it, and why ours is far too weak to use as an energy source. I learned how radios in particular work on a theoretical level, which is neat. Human discovery of electromagnetic energy and subsequently using it to create technology like radios, televisions, the internet, etc, is just crazy when you take time to consider all the different discoveries that had to happen. For all the current reasons to doubt the merits of humanity in general, our history of progress is amazing. I hope to see many more breakthroughs in my lifetime. I just hope we can continue to stay ahead of our mistakes.
[GdM] What was your writing schedule like when writing Rise of the Mages?
Well, it has changed a lot depending on my life circumstances. I started writing in the early evenings when I didn’t have a child. In the thick of raising a child and working long hours at a corporate job, I wrote a lot at lunch when I had time to take lunch off-site. Basically, anytime a normal person would be relaxing or socializing, I tend to be writing, editing, or similar.
[BWG] Scott Drakeford is a nom de plume and an ode to your father. How did he influence you and turn you into a reader?
Well, my dad reads more than just about anybody I know, and certainly faster than anyone I know. A 400-page book probably takes him a few hours at most. When I was about eleven years old, he convinced me to read The Belgariad. Ever since, we’ve shared a love of reading, fantasy in particular. We still share books and recommendations often.
[BWG] The Rise of the Mages reads like the classic fantasy I read and was excited about growing up. Books like The Belgariad and the Wheel of Time had a significant impact on me as a reader. What classic book influenced you as a writer?
I have to tell you, I’m ecstatic to hear that Rise of the Mages evoked some of the same feelings as The Belgariad and The Wheel of Time. Those two series were really key in my formative adolescent years. I’m pretty open about this, but the Wheel of Time in particular became my happy place. I was very, very into that series and I still love it.
L.E. Modesitt’s Recluce series is another that I consider “classic” that I’ve been reading for decades. He’s very, very good at crafting an entire life for his characters, and at showing the everyday details that go into even figures who end up changing their world. One of the best authors out there.
[BWG] I read that Rise of the Mages took a total of ten years from start to finish. Can you tell me about the beginning? What was the impetus of the series?
There are many catalysts that resulted in different characters, storylines, and themes in Rise of the Mages. But the thing that got me to put pen to paper in the first place was simply feeling stuck in a career I didn’t love (see: engineering discussion above). I needed an outlet for creative expression. I needed to feel like I was creating something that mattered. And few things have mattered more to me than the wonderful stories that have inspired and influenced me throughout my life. So shortly after I graduated from college in 2012, I started writing the story that would become Rise of the Mages.
[BWG] What did you do to celebrate finishing the final draft of Rise of the Mages after a decade of hard work?
Well, in publishing it’s really difficult to ever really feel like anything is truly done, I think. When my editor told me I couldn’t change things anymore, it was honestly kind of painful. I did buy a bottle of Glenlivet 18 that I opened that night, but it didn’t feel as celebratory as I would have liked. I’m hoping launch day will be more fun.
[BWG] Can you tell us a bit about the plot of Rise of the Mages?
Two brothers attend a school for engineers and military leaders. A powerful political leader from a neighboring province seizes the school in order to use their technology to bolster his own international war efforts against a technologically advanced nation, Ordena. One brother, an engineer, is captured and enslaved. The other brother, a student of military arts, sets out to rescue him.
It’s a story about relatively powerless individuals banding together to fight against the injustices of the current power structure. Of course, there are political, social, and personal complexities involved, but that’s the primary purpose of the plot. Rage against the machine, as it were.
[BWG] Rise of the mages has an elaborate magic system. Can you talk a bit about its creation and how it works?
The magic system in Rise of the Mages is very closely related to the primary energy source, called infusori, that powers most of the world’s technology. I’m far from being an expert on biology, chemistry, or physics, but the roles of chemical energy and electromagnetic energy (and even the processes that convert one into the other) were something I wanted to explore.
In Rise of the Mages, the core idea is: what if humans evolved to be able to metabolize electromechanical energy in a similar fashion to our chemical metabolism? And further, electromagnetism being inherently less contained in nature, what if humans could use said energy to affect the world around them?
I think the basic laws of physics as we currently understand them in our world play very well here with what makes an interesting magic system in second-world fantasy, and that just felt right to me. I had to take some further liberties, of course, but I like that the tech and magic are at least somewhat close to obeying the natural laws that govern our current reality.
[BWG] Along with an intricate magic system, you also have political machinations and upheaval of warring factions and cultures. I found the Ordenan culture fascinating. Did you model it after any known cultures or histories?
The Ordenans are probably my favorite culture as well, and they feature more and more heavily as the series goes into books two and three. I’ll try not to spoil too much for you, but where this first book is very solidly an action/adventure quest, the following books expand to incorporate more political intrigue and larger-scale conflicts.
The inspiration for Ordena wasn’t so much any single culture in our own world as much as it is a symbol of imperialism and the cultures throughout our world’s history that have propagated such philosophies and policies. You could point at Britain, ‘Merica, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Rome, the Crusaders, Japan, China, the Soviet Union, France, the Ottomans, the Egyptians, even ancient American societies; really any civilization that reached a point where they had the power to take advantage of another population, or eradicate them to take what they had, or even those who engaged in such conquest for religious reasons. Ordena is a little bit of all of those: their religion is centered on preserving and furthering ancient knowledge that they believe to be from their two Deities, the Silent Sisters. A big part of that is a holy war against another civilization they believe to be evil, and to some extent they are right. But I hope to explore how such stark beliefs and “justified” conflicts often turn out to be not so purely motivated after all, and why much of such conflict is due to a willful misconstruction of “the enemy” – optics, as it were – to hide the true motives.
Or are their gods really behind all of this mess? Read and find out, I guess.
[BWG] Have you worked out how many books will be in Age of Ire?
For now, it will be three books. Book two has been written and is in revisions – it doesn’t have a firm pub date just yet, but will likely be out sometime in 2023. Book three should close this phase of the story, and in a relatively timely manner.
[BWG] One of the most compelling characters in the story for me was Jaina. She was both a master of fighting and war and a teacher and a devout believer; she had a significant depth of character. Was she modeled after anyone specifically? How did her character come about?
I try very hard not to project myself too much on any one character, and I similarly try not to model any given character after a particular person in my life.
That said: I can’t speak for other authors, but I believe that each of my primary characters logically must come from somewhere inside me, or at least from somewhere inside my conscious (or unconscious) experienced reality. At the very least, it’s easier for me to write convincingly when I understand motivations and personalities on some level.
As for Jaina’s character? I can be a very stupid person on occasion, and particularly in my younger years, I was prone to strong (often incorrect) opinions and brash actions. Intelligent, strong, amazing women in my life have always been there to show me a better way, to provide an example of leadership, accomplishment, and relationships done right. My mother and my wife, in particular, are just unreasonably good at life and I am so lucky to have both of them in mine. But I’ve had incredible grandmothers, aunts, female cousins, bosses, mentors, just so many women that have been anchors at various stages of my life. Jaina is all of them, and none in particular.
She is my hero, and so are the women in my life.
[BWG] Finally, what exciting things are you currently working on?
Book two revisions! I really love how the second book turned out, but now it’s time to make sure that my editor, agent, and all of my beta readers can connect with it as well. I find it best to edit myself to at least the point that grammar is correct, the prose flows well at all levels, and at least the core elements of character and plot are in place and work for me. Then Kailey (my wife), Matt (my agent), Jen (my editor), my dad, my three brothers, and a small group of other superb beta readers all get their turns tearing my soul to shreds. Then I rebuild myself and my book, and hopefully, neither process takes too long.
Interview Originally Appeared in Grimdark Magazine
READ RISE OF THE MAGES BY SCOTT DRAKEFORD