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When I sat down to brainstorm my first novel, I knew I wanted my main character to be a wizard, and that became my starting point. If wizards really existed in our world, what kind of people would they be? How would they organize?
I decided early on I didn’t want any secret societies or stuffy old cabals or covens. That’s been done. I needed someone who could exist on the margins of society, feeding off its underbelly and mostly escaping the notice of everyday citizens. Really, I wanted a whole world like that, one that could exist alongside or underneath our own.
And I realized there was such a world—the criminal underworld. We know it’s there, but most of us have no real knowledge or understanding of its personalities, customs, history, or activities. We can read about it in the news—and in books, of course—but we can’t help thinking we don’t really know that world. After all, that veil of secrecy and mystery is what makes it so irresistible!
I’ve had a lifelong love affair with gangsters and outlaws. One of the first real adult books I read was The Godfather. I must have been about eleven or twelve, and I found it on my aunt’s bookshelf when I visited for the summer. Of course, the novel had a powerful effect on me at that age, but what stayed with me wasn’t the sex and violence—it was the image of the petitioners coming before Don Vito in the first chapter, bowing and kissing his ring as if he were a pope, a king…or a wizard.
With that image fixed in my mind, the rest all fell into place. One of the best things about urban fantasy is that it’s a mashup genre. You can find a place for just about anything in an urban fantasy, as long as you can make it work as a seamless part of the whole. This often means mixing different mythologies and folklores in the world-building and characterization, but it also means crossing genres. We have urban fantasies with noir detective elements, horror elements, and romance elements, and my vision for Mob Rules was to create an urban fantasy that drew on the rich tradition of crime fiction.
So I would write about the underworld, but it would be a mythologized image of that world, one that drew upon both ancient and uniquely modern myths. And if I was going to write about the criminal underworld, my sorcerous protagonist would have to be a gangster. This would be a supernatural underworld dominated by criminal outfits. These outfits would be secretly ruled by sorcerers. And the criminal rackets we’re familiar with—drug trafficking, prostitution, gambling, extortion—would be mundane cover for the real name of the game: tapping and controlling magical power.
I realized I could put a supernatural twist on all the pop-culture trappings of the criminal underworld. Prison tats and graffiti became magical symbology. The arcane power flowing through the streets became “juice,” and the crack houses and strip clubs controlled by the outfits became juice boxes. Prostitution rings were practicing sex magic, and gambling rackets were numerology rituals.
And Domino Riley became a mob sorceress, a lieutenant in one of LA’s strongest outfits. The ritual execution of an outfit soldier got things started, and I was off to the races.
Welcome to the underworld. I hope you enjoy your stay!
- Cameron Haley
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