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Cast spells, pass your exams, and save the world! Blackstone is more than a magic school: you’ll compete for glory in the sky sailing tourney, find love, and steer the fate of magic itself.
Blackstone Academy for the Magical Arts is a fast-paced 188,000-word interactive YA fantasy novel by Alana Joli Abbott, author of Choice of Kung Fu, Choice of the Pirate, and Showdown at Willow Creek. I sat down with Alana to talk about her history with interactive fiction and world-building.
Blackstone Academy for the Magical Arts releases this Thursday, April 9th. You can try the first three chapters for free today.
Blackstone Academy for the Magical Arts is your fourth Choice of Games title. That puts you in a very elite club, with I think only three other authors who have written more than three games for us. Can you talk a little about your evolution as an IF writer?
Oh, goodness, I didn’t realize there were that few of us! It’s an honor to have been involved with Choice of Games for that many projects, and my thinking about interactive fiction has certainly evolved with the Choice of Games audience. With Choice of Kung Fu, I tried to model the game play very closely after the previously published Choice of Games titles structurally, which I think worked well, but meant I didn’t take as many risks. In Showdown at Willow Creek, I drew more deeply on my tabletop role play design experience, and I think it shows; that one feels (to me) more like a tabletop game than any of my other games. Both Choice of the Pirate and Blackstone Academy for the Magical Arts lean into the wide variety of identities you can have as a PC, and I hope that I’ve given players there a broader choice of who and how they can exist within a world, without constraints or judgment. I’ve absolutely learned something new on each game, and tried something different than in previous stories, and I hope that experimentation is successful for players to have a fun experience!
Blackstone is a really fun story, with lots of unexpected twists. What did you most enjoy writing? The fantasy elements around the magic, the school setting, or the way different world mythologies come into it?
I have actually been working on the Thimbleport setting for more than a decade, so the most exciting thing about this project for me is finally breathing life into this place I’ve already invested in so heavily. The Liminals, in particular, are characters I’ve known for a long time, and though you only get a peek at them in the game compared to where they live in my imagination, I am so excited to have them get to exist somewhere outside my brain.
There are a lot of supernatural elements in the game, so it’s not just that magic exists, but vampires and werewolves do as well. Can you tell me a little more about the world?
Blackstone Academy draws on a lot of world mythologies, as well as pop culture incarnations of different creatures. Some of that is just the genre: once you’ve added one part of contemporary fantasy, it’s fun to have the rest of it in your sandbox as well. One of the things I really wanted to make sure of, though, was that an American-set school didn’t just ignore the folklore and tradition native to the area. Several of the characters in the story come from different Native American tribes (federally recognized and not), and the supernatural or spiritual creatures from the legends and folklore of the indigenous peoples of the Americas were always on my mind as I was creating the world. I wanted Blackstone to be a really diverse school, because I think magic isn’t just limited to one group of people, so there are hints at other world mythologies and creatures as well.
The magic itself is broken down into two types: innate (magic you’re born with) and learned (spells and rituals). To me, a lot of talents come that way: you can be naturally good at it, or you can train yourself really hard to learn a skill. I wanted both of those aspects to play a role in how magic worked, too.
If you had your own powers within the world of Blackstone, what would they be?
I think I’d probably be more like Jules, who doesn’t have an innate talent, but does the book learning to keep up. When I was a student myself, I wouldn’t have done at all well in Coach Rogers’s classes, but I think now learning combat skills and sky sailing would be my favorite subjects!
Was your own school experience anything like the Academy? Sans skyboats, of course.
I definitely haven’t gotten to fly in a boat, although I have gotten to take sailing lessons as an adult! My high school was not very much like Blackstone Academy, but I went to college after tenth grade, to this little college nestled in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. Although I stepped back from the college level work to make Blackstone Academy fell like a private school, there are definitely aspects of Simon’s Rock that show up in Blackstone Academy, especially in Mr. Delgado’s classes. Most of the Blackstone Academy teachers are named after teachers I had in either high school or college (or after teachers of my friends).
What are you working on next?
One of my other hats is as an editor, and I’m really excited to be working on editing some anthologies for Outland Entertainment. Where the Veil Is Thin, which I co-edited with Cerece Rennie Murphy, will be published later this year, and APEX: A Dinosaur Anthology, which I am co-editing with Jonathan Thompson, is going to be Kickstarted later this summer. I’m also looking forward to working on a Greek-mythology RPG project with Jonathan. But who knows? Now that Blackstone Academy is in the world, I might have to dig up those drafty old stories about the Liminal Agency and about Vi Cole (and her end-of-the-world playlist) to see if I can breathe some new life into them!