(This interview has been lightly edited
and to delete a few obscene,
incendiary, and/or defamatory remarks.)
Washington, D.C., June 15, 2023
Oglethorpe: What on earth possessed you to choose the name “Sedigitus Swift” as your nom de plume?
Swift: What on earth possessed you to name your company “Archelaus”?
Swift: “Sedigitus” is a Latin name that means “having six digits.” Although I have the customary five, when your Dr. Hurlbutt drew “Sedigitus” to the attention of the baby-naming public some years ago, I thought it was a fine name that deserved to be used. “Swift” is a tip of the hat to Jonathan, not Taylor.
Oglethorpe: Who are some of your favorite authors?
Swift: In order of seniority: Saki, P. G. Wodehouse, Dorothy L. Sayers, Sarah Caudwell, Douglas Adams, Jasper Fforde, Jonathan L. Howard. I recently enjoyed Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series. In fact, it was while I was reading the first of those books that I dusted off the first six or seven pages of what would become The Eye of Ksera (which I must have begun in the late eighties or early nineties) and decided to try to do something with them.
Oglethorpe: Why did you choose to write a novella? Most commercial publishers shun them.
Swift: That’s just how long the story turned out to be. I wanted the narrative to move briskly along, and I wasn’t going to pad it out to fit some preconceived notion of how long a fantasy novel should be. There are enough turgid 700-page-per-volume series out there already without my writing another. If the novella form was good enough for the likes of Franz Kafka (Metamorphosis) and George Orwell (Animal Farm), I figure it’s good enough for me.
Oglethorpe: Fantasy is a wide-ranging genre. What subgenre would you say The Eye of Ksera belongs to?
Swift: Unfortunately I find that a hard question. The two BISAC [Book Industry Standards and Communications] subject headings that seemed like the closest fits were “Fantasy / Action & Adventure” and “Fantasy / Humorous.” Still, while action and adventure are key elements of the book, I didn’t want to take them implausibly over-the-top the way I think many fantasy writers do. Similarly, while I hope readers will find the book funny, I would say it is suffused with quiet humor, rather than being overtly comedic or jokey.
Oglethorpe: What about “sword and sorcery” as a subgenre?
Swift: The book definitely has both of those elements, but most of the works one associates with the term glorify mindless violence and indulge in rampant sexism, both of which I would rather avoid.
Oglethorpe: I appreciated the fact that your book had strong female characters. In particular, the sorceress Valdira is both smart and decisive.
Swift: Thank you! But at the same time, like many smart and decisive people, she is also capable of making mistakes, because she can be too quick to act upon the assumption that she must be right.
Oglethorpe: You mentioned violence. There is a certain amount of that in the book.
Swift: Yes, but it is not mindless. The soldier Colmar, in particular, seeks to avoid violence when he can, because he understands its consequences. Especially in a world that has not yet developed antibiotics or modern surgery.
Oglethorpe: Tell me about your approach to world-building. In some ways Ondiran seems quite familiar.
Swift: Indeed, it does. I had no wish to create a completely alien world, as I am more interested in developing my characters than in exploring the endless variety of ways I could choose to make things strange and fantastical. My world is thus in many respects similar to medieval Europe, though in a few key ways decidedly not. It has medieval European technology and European flora and fauna. It has a recognizably medieval European social structure. But it also has magic. Five different systems of magic, in fact. And it has nothing like the single dominant religious authority of the medieval Church. Rather, there is a wide range of different religious traditions, including people who worship magic itself. And, of course, its geography and languages are different from ours.
Oglethorpe: One thing I noticed was your focus on some of the everyday aspects of your characters’ lives.
Swift: Yes, I thought it was helpful to ground a story filled with magicians and spells and enchanted gems in a certain mundane reality. People need to eat and sleep, even when they are in the midst of thrilling adventures. The story opens with Colmar waking up in a prison cell at dawn. Naturally, one of the first things he does is make use of the latrine bucket. When Valdira spends the night at an inn, she first casts a spell to eliminate any bedbugs, lice, and fleas. If three travelers dig a grave to bury the men two of them killed during an ethnic riot, there should be a reason they have a shovel along, and their muscles are going to ache afterwards.
Oglethorpe: To conclude, you’ve selected a short scene to share. Could you please set it up?
Swift: It’s from near the end of the first chapter, when we meet the necromancer Rendor and his pet lizard.
Oglethorpe: Thank you for speaking with me!
Swift: Yes, well, I had my own reasons.
Back in the marketplace, the morning crowd was thinning. Crouched near the fountain, examining the entrails of a large rat he had just killed with his staff and cut open with a knife, was a tall man, clad in black leather, a crested green lizard perched on his left shoulder. Several of the beggar children were watching him from a safe distance. Aggressively pale, with short-cropped blonde hair and bleak blue eyes, he had the haggard look of a necromancer who, though still young, has nevertheless spent too many years exhuming corpses, burning poisonous pulvers, and divining recent events from fresh rat gut. After a time, he stood erect and laughed grimly. “Ha! So, Angvar, the fools let him escape!” Hearing its master’s voice, the placid reptile on his shoulder slowly blinked its large vacant eyes and briefly protruded its dry tongue. The ominously attired magician rinsed the blood and viscera off his hands and knife, fed Angvar a grub from a pouch at his belt, and strode away, leaving the beggar children to take quiet possession of the dead rat, which might yet be sold to a dishonest sausage-maker.