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The Immortal Nicholas Flamel is Back: An Interview with Michael Scott

ThesorceressIrish-born author Michael Scott has written more than 100 books--fantasy, folklore, horror, nonfiction--for adult and young adult readers. (He's even written quite a few under the pen name Anna Dillon.) But none of his books have come close to the success of his wonderfully imaginative series, The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel. Inspired by the real Flamel, a bookseller and reputed alchemist who lived in Paris between 1330 and 1418, the series starts (in The Alchemyst) with Flamel and his wife Perenelle still alive and running a bookstore in current-day San Francisco. Each book takes Flamel, along with teenage twins Sophie and Josh, on to subsequent adventures. In The Magician they're in Paris fighting John Dee (who was also a real person) and Machiavelli. In the latest book, The Sorceress, they're in London, and you'd be surprised at the famous immortals they bump into this time.

I love this series--with its historical twists, diabolical beasts, and edge-of-your-seat fight scenes in iconic places around the world--so I was thrilled for the chance to ask the author a few questions:

Photo by Perry Hagopian. What was your inspiration for the series? Was it the legend of the Flamels and the Book of Abraham? Did Dee figure in from the start?

Michaelscott Michael Scott: The story really started with Dr. John Dee and, for a long time, he was the hero of the series. I had written about Dee before in my horror novels, Image, (Sphere, UK, 1991), Reflection, (Sphere, UK, 1993) and then The Merchant Prince (Pocket Books, USA, 2000). Dee was a fascinating man, but he was never “right” for the lead character: he was always too dark, too troubled.

I know I started to develop the series on May 18th 1997 because that is the first time the word “Alchemyst” with the “Y” appears in my notebooks. However, it was really three years later, in late September 2000, when I was in Paris and stumbled across Nicholas Flamel’s house in the Rue de Montmorency that the series really came together. I knew a lot about Flamel and the legendary Book of Abraham and, sitting in Flamel’s home, which is now a wonderful restaurant, I realized that here was the hero for my series.

Nicholas Flamel was one of the most famous alchemists of his day. He was born in 1330 and earned his living as a bookseller (which was the same job I had for many years.) One day he bought a book, the same book mentioned in The Alchemyst: the Book of Abraham. It too, really existed and Nicholas Flamel left us with a very detailed description of the copper-bound book. Although the book itself is lost, the illustrations from the text still exist.

Over the course of his long life, Flamel became extraordinarily wealthy, and used his wealth to found churches, hospitals and schools. Both he and his wife, Perenelle, were very well known in France and across Europe. The streets named after them, the Rue Flamel and the Rue Perenelle, still exist in Paris today. I was excited to see The Sorceress showing off more of Perenelle. How much does the real Perenelle Flamel influence the character of Perenelle?

M.S.: We know little about the historical Perenelle. There are a few solid facts however and I have incorporated them into the story: she was older than Nicholas, (there is even the suggestion that she might have been a widow when she married him), and she was also wealthier. It is also abundantly clear that she was the dominant character in the marriage and there is some evidence to suggest that she was an alchemist in her own right. I’ve read that you visit and thoroughly research all of the real places in your books (in Ojai, San Francisco, Paris, London) where Flamel, Sophie, and Josh’s adventures take place. Do the scenes come to life for you while you’re in the place, or do you have an idea, like, “Wouldn’t it be great to have a battle scene at Notre Dame,” and then you travel there? Can you give us a hint of some of the places we might get to see in future books?

M.S.: It is a combination of both. I first create a very detailed outline of the series, and then individual outlines of each book. So I know in advance what I see to see and where I need to go. However, once I’m there, scenes and situations will suggest themselves. For example, the battle scene at Notre Dame was always there as were the Catacombs under Paris. However, although I knew Ojai was going to be part of the story, it was only when I stayed there that I realized that Libbey Park was perfect for the finale.

Similarly, I knew I wanted to use Alcatraz, but I had to visit the island five or six times to properly map out where all the action would take place. Often this information is not included in the text, but I need to see it clearly to be able to write about it. And of course I photograph everything so I have a enormous visual record of all the places I’ve been to.

Coming up next... well, book 4 brings up back to the west coast of America and San Francisco. And then we head south towards LA, (but if I tell you any more I’ll reveal a couple of big surprises!). However, I will tell you that I am just back from a weekend in London where I spent most of Saturday wandering around Covent Garden. You’ll find out why in The Necromancer. The most fun thing about the series, I think, is how you reveal new immortals as you go along (e.g., Machiavelli, Joan of Arc… I won’t spoil your reveals in The Sorceress, but they’re surprising). How do you decide which famous figure from history will be your next immortal?

M.S.: Once I had plotted the series, I had a rough idea of the type of characters I wanted to include. My settings--the United States, France and England--suggested certain types of characters. I could not write about Paris, for example, and not include Joan. But there were other characters--Scathach is the perfect example--who was there right from the very beginning. Again, she was someone I was written about before in my early collections of Irish folklore and knew that I wanted to use again.

Also, because this series is based upon legend, mythology and history, it put in place certain rules: the only “created” characters in the series are the twins, Sophie and Josh. Everyone else existed. You’ve written for adults and young adults--and this series certainly seems to have crossed over into an adult readership. Is the experience any different when you’re writing for younger readers? Do you find that younger readers have a stronger connection to the work, for example?

M.S.: I have always written for both adults and young adults, but you are right, the Flamel series has crossed over in an extraordinary way. Writing for young adults requires a certain precision in language. Adults have a body of shared knowledge and information that young adults do not. I can make allusions and references in my adult writing that young adults might not get. My young adult writing tends to be much more descriptive and I will take the time to describe people, places and situations to allow the younger readers to become fully involved in the world.

Younger readers are certainly attracted to the adventure and are thrilled to realize what when they go online they can find out all sorts of additional information about all the characters. The older readers tend to ask more specific questions about the mythological characters. How is this series different from other young adult books that you’ve written?

M.S.: This is the most intricate and ambitious work I’ve done. The six books will take place in less than a month so everything has to knit and mesh together. The notes for this series are now bigger than the books themselves. I have said before that there is nothing accidental in the books. What might look like an inconsistency for example, is often a clue to something that will happen later on. Because I’ve plotted the entire series, it gives me huge freedom to plant seeds and clues to later events. I noticed on your website that you had to shut down your email link last October because you were answering 2,000 emails per week. Will you be going back to that, or are you able to continue that connection with your fans on Flamel’s Immortal Portal and other forums? What has it been like to see so many people connecting with your books so passionately?

M.S.: What started as a trickle became a flood. A couple of weeks after the publication of The Alchemyst, the emails started. There were around 150-200 per week and that was manageable, but after the publication of The Magician, the floodgates opened. I was getting around 1000 emails during the week and then another 1000 would come in on Saturday and Sunday. Most were fairly straightforward--“When is the next book coming?” was the most common question. However, there were many really intricate and detailed questions about the mythology. I always answered the emails myself, but I started to slip further and further behind as I wrote and researched books 3 and 4, and toured for the series. I decided to suspend the email link simply to allow me to catch up--and I am, albeit slowly. The link will go back up soon, I promise.

The fan forum has been a huge boon. A lot of the questions I was asked were on a similar theme, and the forum has provided an environment for people to ask questions and debate points. It is fascinating reading the postings to see how close some people have come to the truth. I pop in every day, check out the questions and answer and comment and I will continue to do that. Very recently, the fans voted and decided that they would like to be called Humani. I was thrilled with that.

I have had reaction to my novels before, but never anything as passionate as this series. It can be a little daunting to discover that the fans know more about the series that I do, or spot tiny clues. When I was in Salt Lake City on a recent book tour, two young men quizzed me at length about black auras and which characters might have that particular color. There is only one fleeting mention of black auras in the book, but they had picked it up and puzzled it out. Of all the forms you write in--novels, scripts, nonfiction--do you have a favorite?

Novels. It is the only one of the three where you are in complete control. With a script, for example, everyone has a say and what you see on screen only vaguely resembles what you’ve written. What’s your favorite genre (to write and to read)?

M.S.: I love writing fantasy – and it’s what I read most. However, my rule is when I’m writing fantasy, I will read anything but fantasy. So I end up reading a lot of crime--I’ve got the new John Connolly on the desk to read next--and I’m a huge John Sanford fan. The research for this series is huge (but it’s the part I really enjoy), so I do find myself reading some terribly odd non-fiction. Have all six of the books in the series already been written? If so, what are you working on now? Is it strange to revisit each of the books as they come out?

They have all been plotted, but not written. I’m close to the end of The Necromancer now and little bits of book 5, The Warlock and even the end of book 6, The Enchantress, have been written.

I am also writing and researching a new series, not linked to the Flamel series, which I’m having a lot of fun with. All I’ll say is that is also has its roots in myth.

The oddest part of revisiting the books is when I tour. Usually I am touring and reading from a book I finished many months previously. I have to be careful not to reveal any of the forthcoming surprises when I take questions. What’s the status of The Alchemyst movie?

M.S.: There is a script – in fact there is even a second draft of the script, which is incredibly positive. The writers strike in LA slowed everything down and then New Line, who originally bought the rights, were absorbed by Warner Bros. I keep checking in on IMDB! That’s where I’ll get my news!

Thanks, Michael!

The Sorceress comes out May 26.--Heidi


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Loved these books, cant wait for the next one

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