Treating Magic With Historical Respect: Author David Liss and Historical Fantasy

You may know David Liss as the author of the Black Panther comic books, but today we talked to David Liss, the author of historical fiction novels. It's the same guy, using the same writing muscles, just with a slightly different focus.

San Antonio-based Liss is in Houston today to launch his latest novel, The Twelfth Enchantment. This is the first novel in which Liss has added an element of fantasy, specifically magic. Lucy, the main character, is a young woman living in the early 19th century. She's in a rather unfortunate situation; her father is dead and she's been sent to live with an uncle who's in a hurry to marry her off. Lucy, who's based on the youngest daughter in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, is about to accept a loveless match when Lord Byron (yep, that one) shows up at her door begging her not to marry him but to go looking for the pages of an ancient book and save the world instead.

Hmm, marry a guy she doesn't love or go off on an exciting adventure...do we have to tell you which one she chooses?

While the plot sounds fanciful, Liss based the novel on actual historical events. "I always say that there are two kinds of historical novels," he tells Art Attack. "There are the novels that turn history into fiction; in other words, you write about historical actors and actions as if they were in a novel. Then there are novels that are set in history. I'm more interested in telling a good story with a historic backdrop."

Liss had been thinking about telling a story that included magic and other otherworldly factions for a while, but he was determined to base it in historical facts. "I don't make things easy on myself," he says. 'With the growing popularity of supernatural fiction and urban fantasy... I wanted to write something that treated magic with a historical respect, and show magic as it was historically practiced by real people who believed in it.

"Throughout history, anybody could learn magic. It's only in the last 50 years or so that we've begun to portray magic as something supernatural. I wanted to return magic to its historical roots and show what people were doing, and how they understood the world to work. So I took actual magical text and actual magical practices and treated them as if they were real."

Liss says he plans to include magic and fantasy in future titles. "I definitely liked playing around with it and it is something that I would like to do again. I know that I annoy my publisher by jumping around so much, doing different types of things. If I'm lucky enough to make a living writing, then I'm going to write what I want, when I want, for as long as I can get away with it."

He isn't, however, going to read any of his novels, though, not even The Twelfth Enchantment. "I never go back and reread things once they're published, because it's too horrifying to read something and not be able to revise it. Writers are revisers. Once you no longer have the ability to revise something, it becomes disgusting," he says, laughing.

Liss discusses and signs The Twelfth Enchantment today at 6:30 p.m. Murder by the Book, 2342 Bissonnet. For information, call 713-524-8597 or visit www.murderbooks.com. Free.

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