Last weekend, in an undisclosed location on the East Coast, I managed to track down the elusive Pseudonymous Bosch as he received his morning coffee and oatmeal. Mr. Bosch, who concluded his bestselling Secret Series in 2011, has a new book. It’s called Bad Magic.
Years have passed since Max-Ernest, Cass, and Yo-Yoji finally triumphed over the Masters of the Midnight Sun. But for Max-Ernest’s little brother Clay, things are getting bad. First, Max-Ernest disappears. Second, a graffiti mural bearing the words “Magic Sucks” appears on the wall at school – with Clay’s name on it. Clay didn’t do it. He did, however, write the words “Magic Sucks” in a worn leather book his language arts teacher gave him. But how did the words get from the book to the wall?
Clay is suspended from school, threatened with repeating sixth grade, and sent to Earth Ranch, a summer camp for struggling youth that happens to be on an isolated volcanic island in the Pacific Ocean. The story unfolds in the bizarre, unconventional, hilarious, and highly enjoyable manner that only Pseudonymous Bosch can deliver (and aptly footnote as well).
It’s been approximately 3 years since you finished the Secret Series. When you were finishing it, did you know that you were going to continue the adventure with Max-Ernest’s little brother Clay?
No…as far as I was concerned, the series was done. I’d gone through all 5 senses, and it seemed senseless to continue. That’s the first time I’ve made that joke [laughter]. But I kept hearing from readers wanting to hear more because of course, the last book in the Secret Series, You Have to Stop This, was so complete and answered all questions and left nothing dangling and was such a perfect book in every way that all the readers were totally unsatisfied and wanted to hear more [laughter]. So a few of them asked me “Well, if you’re not going to continue the Secret Series, what about a new series with Max-Ernest’s little brother Clay?” And I said “No way, I never take ideas from readers. I have my artistic integrity.” Anyway…I decided to write a series about Clay.
Did you go to an isolated volcanic island to research this book?
In truth, I did go to a volcanic island to research the book. However, it isn’t all that isolated. Some people know it as “Hawaii.”
Did you go on a hike with a llama?
I went on a llama walk. Not a hike, a walk. There’s a llama ranch in California that offers llama walks. Which is much like, it turns out, walking a dog. The llamas are on leashes and you don’t ride the llama. You walk the llama. [laughter] It was an eye-opening llama experience.
Did you spend time at a camp for juvenile delinquents?
Ah…I’ll take the fifth.
The Secret Series ended up being 5 books and took you over 4 years to write. What’s it like to stand on the edge of another writing project?
Even more intimidating because I know how hard it is. For me, writing never gets easier. It just changes.
How have you changed as a writer since you finished the first series?
I’m a much more self-conscious writer in every way now. That’s good and bad I guess. The Secret Series was very spontaneous. As you might remember, I wrote it as part of a volunteer program at an elementary school and I wrote it in installments through the mail with no particular plan or idea that the book was even going to get finished.
And there was a certain kind of wacky zaniness that lasted throughout the Secret Series. Once, in an interview, someone noted that it didn’t seem like I had any rules in my universe [laughs]. I didn’t know quite what to say to that because it’s a truism in fantasy fiction that your universe is supposed to have a very strict set of rules, and that’s what gives it believability. I guess the “rule of rules” is the rule that I’ve broken.
But now as a more experienced, as it were, writer…there’s more of a sense of the marketplace, more of a sense of my readership, more of a sense of how stories work, there are a lot more conversations running through my head as I’m writing. In some ways, it makes me more confident, but it other ways, it can be stifling to creativity.
Is it difficult to write as the narrator and the character? Do you ever struggle with the balance between the two?
Bad Magic is, I would say, a little bit more character-driven than the Secret Series – certainly it’s more inside one character’s head. Actually, the first draft was written almost entirely through Clay’s perspective. It was a different way of storytelling – because the voice of Pseudonymous Bosch is so strong in the other books. I wanted to try my hand at writing more of a conventional novel. Then, as I revised the book, I found myself adding more of the wacky Pseudonymous voice until I ultimately had to dial it back again.
Do you still love chocolate?
I still love chocolate.
Do you still hate mayonnaise?
I still hate mayonnaise.
In five words, describe the next book.
Is it really about dragons?
If, by the way, you’d like to hear Mr. Bosch chat about his Secret Series (including admirably holding his own in a flurry of free association) you can find the interview here. He doesn’t have a website or blog. This site was obviously made by an imposter.
Cover art and illustrations by Gilbert Ford are used with permission of Little, Brown and Company.