When is it Criminal to be a Magician? The Making of a Noir Fantasy: THE LORDS OF POWDER (part 1)

This is part 1 of a series of posts describing how I wrote my noir fantasy, The Lords of Powder (check the book out at Amazon link: https://amzn.to/3mUhRbD ).  

So what’s a ‘noir fantasy’? Authors and critics alike have tried to define it with varying levels of success. To me, it’s a fantasy incorporating darker, sometimes violent aspects of human nature. More importantly, a key feature of these stories is moral ambiguity, the hero is morally suspect (even to themselves), the romance doesn’t look like anything from a fairy tale, the criminals may be hard to separate from the ‘good guys’, and everyone is painted in shades of grey. Usually, the setting is in modern times. And sometimes, but not always, there are detective story tropes blended in with the fantastical story elements. Now, add a layer of magic on top of all this and you’ll get what I was trying for in The Lords of Powder.

While there are no supernatural detectives in the The Lords of Powder, there any number of narcotics detectives and they’re all after the novel’s hero, Bradan. He’s a near-immortal magician who has led a long and eventful life before winding up in 1978 Miami at the height of the cocaine wars. In Miami, Bradan drives a haunted Volvo station wagon, keeps a high-strung wolf, and collects art. However, he needs money for his lifestyle. Lots of money. While questioning his own motives, he uses his magical talents to organize a lucrative smuggling ring, but success brings him to the attention of violent players in the drug trade as well as the afore-mentioned narcotics detectives, the Coast Guard, and the DEA. He’s also forced to balance the profitability of his vocation with its consequences for his relationships, humanity, and survival.

Part of the fun of The Lords of Powder’s 1,500-year-old protagonist is that the author can plunder history for exciting times and places to deploy in the story. To that end, most of the novel takes place during the “cocaine wars” of 1978 Miami. However flashbacks are set in tenth-century Spain, eighth-century Lindisfarne in England, and fifth-century Cornwall.

In Miami, many of The Lords of Powder’s scenes are adapted from events that actually occurred in and around that city in the late 1970s and early 1980s. An author is hard pressed to create incidents more vivid and violent than reality. However, besides being appalled at the level of bloodshed, it’s edifying to consider the organizational and logistical acumen displayed by smugglers in moving their product around the Caribbean and United States. Interested readers can explore documentary films including Billy Corben’s Cocaine Cowboys, and books including Black Tuna Diaries by Robert Platshorn.

Part 2 of this series will further explore the making of this novel.

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