I first read The Wizard's Dilemma about three years ago. I sporadically read the rest of the series, and finally, this summer, I ordered every one. Young Wizards has a large place in my heart. So I wanted to ask you, what was your inspiration for the books?

It was a joke.

Preliminary to the joke: often enough I’d thought (first while young, and then while in nursing school) that it was really a shame that human beings didn’t come with a user’s manual, because it would make everything so much simpler. …Just one of those ideas you get and smile at, and put aside.

Now: the joke. I knew the So You Want to Be A… series of books quite well, having read through them all in the local children’s library. I still can’t remember what caused this particular bit of humor to arise, some time around 1979, but somehow or other the phrase So You Want to Be A… suddenly acquired the word Wizard at the end.

I laughed… and then started to wonder. What if there was a book like that? What would it look like? What would be in it? And the more I thought about it, the less like the original books it looked in my mind — an overview, a general guide — and the more it started looking to me like an instruction manual. 

It has to be said that books like this, which on reading tell you what’s really going on in the universe and how to manipulate it, are hardly a trope that’s original with me: they’re scattered all over the landscape in both popular fiction and the myth-and-legend part of the spectrum. You find them everywhere from ancient Egypt to Oz (Glinda the Good has one, obviously a recension of the Manual intended for a very senior wizard indeed, somewhere between Continental and Planetary status). My take on it simply looks a bit more concrete (in the psychiatric sense of the word).

But just about everything in the YW universe (excepting the characters, some of whom are based on old friends, others of whom are originals) comes from thinking about the Manual itself, what’s in it, where it comes from, and what those facts say about the universe and the powers inside it. And it all derives, at root, from that single joke. Even now, when starting to build some new piece of business into the series, I tend to return to the basic concept of what the business — whatever it might be — would look like in the Manual: how the data would be explained, organized and set up for manipulation.

That’s all I can tell you for sure. Beyond that, as with many other writers, the interior creative process is something of a black box. But I remember the joke. Which is good, since it seems to me that  any joke that keeps producing results even thirty years after it first occurs to you must be worth remembering.   :)