With Smoke & Summons (hardcover, Kindle), writer Charlie N. Holmberg is kicking off a high fantasy trilogy she’s calling The Numina Series, which will continue April 16th with the release of Myths & Mortals (hardcover, Kindle), and conclude September 17th with Siege & Sacrifice (hardcover, Kindle). In the following email interview, she discusses the origins and inspirations for this first book and the series as a whole.
To start, what is Smoke & Summons about?
Smoke & Summons is about a young woman who serves as a human host for ethereal monsters. She’s used as a weapon for her evil master, but when her friend is killed in an experiment, she runs for it, despite slim chances for success. She runs into a man who owns a device that allows him to be immortal for one minute each day, but his illegal activities have landed his mother in jail. They find in each other unlikely allies and must work together to break free from the evil encompassing them.
Where did you get the idea for Smoke & Summons, and how did the story evolveas you wrote it?
I got the idea because my agent and editor pressured me to write another series. I needed to come up with a story big enough to take up multiple books, so I started harvesting ideas anywhere I could get them: my brainstorming folder, my Pinterest boards, even old novels. I started with the idea of bizarre monsters and immortality that could be turned on and off. I’ve always liked the summons in Final Fantasy games, and I wondered, what if they had to take over a human body to be summoned? It all spawned from there. As I moved along, I “discovered” a depth to the magic that could make the series really interesting. Hopefully it does.
In the press materials for Smoke & Summons, it says the story includes elements of slavery, child labor, and mass incarceration. Did you set out to write a story with these topical, uh, topics, or did you come up with the plot and, as you were writing it, realized that it needed to touch upon these topical, well, topics?
I never set out to write a story with political implications or societal critique. But the story I wanted to write needed these elements. Who would willingly volunteer to be possessed by a monster and used as a weapon? No one, so they would have to be forced, thus the slavery. I wanted to make the city the characters live in dark and undesirable. It’s a place that’s nearly impossible to leave. I could raise the stakes by making a high-kill prison. Dresberg is obsessed with industry, and they employ anyone who can work, regardless of age. This is a dark fantasy; I didn’t want to paint a pretty picture. It’s unfortunate that so many of those dark elements are so notable in today’s world.
As you said, Smoke & Summons is a dark fantasy tale. But are other genres — or subgenres, or combinations of genres — at work in this story as well?
I consider Smoke & Summons to be high fantasy, though the story does take place in a cityscape. It’s otherworld, but with elements we’ve definitely seen in history, especially in the industrial revolution. The great thing about fantasy is its ability to incorporate other genres. There’s definitely some romance and mystery in the story, as well as a little thriller.
Smoke & Summons is not your first novel. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on this book, but not on anything else you’ve written?
On this book specifically? Each one I can think of touched another book, so I’m not sure. I definitely channeled some[of Elizabeth Gaskell’s] North And South into this, though that book also inspired another tale on sub [i.e., being sent to editors for submission] called Her Majesty’s Teeth. There’s some inspiration from [Brandon Sanderson’s] Mistborn in there as well, but Brandon inspires a lot of what I write.
What about non-literary influences, such as movies, TV shows, and video games; did any of them have a big influence on Smoke & Summons?
Smoke & Summons is the first book of The Numina Series. Given that the second, Myths & Mortals, will be out April 16th, and the third, Siege & Sacrifice, is coming September 17th, some people will wait until Siege & Sacrifice is out before reading any of them. Do you think this is a good idea, or should they read Smoke & Summons now for some reason?
If a reader hates cliffhangers, they should wait until all three books come out, because cliffhangers there be. But for those who are a little more patient — I am not a patient reader, myself — jump on the train now!
Now, unless something has changed, the books in your Paper Magician series have already been optioned by some movie people. Where do things stand with that?
Yes, the first three books in the series have been optioned by the Walt Disney Company. I’m very excited about it. Right now the project is still in development. Last I heard there was a rough draft of the screenplay, but that was a little while ago.
Has there also been interest in making a movie out of Smoke & Summons and the rest of The Numina Series?
I would love the Numina series to be on screen, [but] there are no rights sold as of right now. I think it would make a great TV series, to be honest. I’m not picky; anyone willing to put in the TLC would do well with it.
If Smoke & Summons was to be made into a TV show, who would you like them to cast as the main characters?
I’ll admit right off the back that I’m terrible with casting. I don’t keep up much with Hollywood and it takes a lot of IMDB searching to find actors and actresses that fit what’s in my head. I will admit that Rone was partially inspired by Mark Ruffalo [Avengers: Infinity War], though he’s too old to play the character now.
And if it was made into a game…?
Admittedly, my favorite video games are RPGs, so I’d want an RPG-style game were one to be made. So maybe Bethesda [Fallout 76]? Though if I had my choice, I’d love it to be a TV series.
Lastly, if someone enjoys Smoke & Summons, which of your other novels would you suggest they read while waiting for Myths & Mortals and Siege & Sacrifice to come out?