Inside the World of The Butterfly Stone, an Interview with Laurie Bell

Laurie Bell is a once upon a time former teacher and is now an administrator full time. She is regularly featured in the Antipodean Science Fiction E-Magazine. (Both with her short stories and as a member of the narration team.) A lover of fantasy and science fiction of all kinds, she volunteers at her local theatre company and is often found in coffee shops or on trains, writing madly in one of her many notebooks. Oh, and she loves chocolate and coffee!

Welcome Laurie Bell! Before we dive in to the nitty gritty, what is The Butterfly Stone about?

“DON’T LET THE SHADOW TOUCH YOU.”

Beware! Something is after Tracey Masters, a Mage-kind teen in a mostly non-magical world—a world where people like Tracey are often feared and oppressed. Add to this stress a crazy family life, the schizo pressures of school, friends, and bullies, and working a boring job as an assistant at her uncle’s detective agency for magical types, and life isn’t just hard, it’s chaos! That is, until a mysterious woman walks through the door with a case about a missing necklace known as the Butterfly Stone.

The case seems to be the big break Tracey is looking for to prove herself and her abilities as Mage-kind. But she unexpectedly finds herself dangerously connected to it when the evidence takes a turn that reveals secrets from Tracey’s past, and places her friends and family in mortal danger.

She also discovers that she’s being hunted by a shadow that senses her magic is the key to unlocking the power it’s after.

The magic within the Butterfly Stone is too powerful to be contained, but if Tracey doesn’t learn how to control it, and escape the threat of the shadow that surrounds it, she could lose everything and everyone she cares about … beginning with her younger sister, Sarah.

Tell us about a couple of your characters and what makes them special/unique/intriguing/integral to the story.

Tracey Masters is Mage-kind in a world where Mage-kind are powerful (magically) but in the minority (politically). Magic exists, but the world is run by and controlled by Norms (people without a magical ability.) Thus Mage-kind are “identified” with bracelets and must hold a license in order to practice magic. Tracey is a student in a mixed school and spends her time negotiating her ordinary life of school, homework and bullies while also dealing with her wildly out of control magic, mage training and working part time for her uncle, a Mage-kind detective. Sometimes it’s a volatile mix.

Speaking of… Uncle Donny Is Tracey’s uncle and is a Mage-kind detective. But he’s not very good at either. Tracey often helps him with his magic as he is not very strong. He is a little untidy, completely unorganized, but entirely well meaning. Tracey works for him part time in his detective agency and desperately wants to help him with his investigations. So, when a case about a missing butterfly necklace comes along, she jumps at the chance to help.

Prince Henry is the actor prince who has come to Tracey’s hometown to film his new movie and quickly becomes embroiled in the mystery of the missing butterfly necklace, as it belongs to his ex-girlfriend, the mysterious Miss Tearning.

Agent Malden and Agent Striker are Mage-kind police officers. M-force is sent in when there is a crime involving Mage-kind or magic. Agent Malden is very by the book, but also well intentioned. And he is Uncle Donny’s friend. Agent Striker suspects everyone… including Tracey, of being up to no good.

Does language play any role in your world? Does everyone speak the same language, or is there a variety? Did you invent any new slang or terminology during your world-building process?

I did invent some magical terms for mage-kind and mage-kind magic. Also, the strengths of mage-kind abilities, such as low, moderate and significant. I have a few other magical terms too, objects spelled with magic and the like, but you need to read the story to find out more.

What do people in your invented world do for fun? Are there sports, games, music, or other activities they do in their free time?

Pretty standard stuff, music and social media, movies and TV. Though there is the M-Net which is the Mage-kind version of the internet… dedicated to Mage-kind resources and people. Tracey loves her shows on the streaming networks and is pretty good at gaming.

Are there any interesting creatures in your world? 

The Shadowman is a creature that attacks Tracey to get to the necklace first. It is made of shadows and magic in the shape of a man, when it’s not a cloud of smoke. It is a hunter and will go through anyone to get what it wants.

Laurie’s Process

What usually comes first when you have an idea for a book, the main character, the plot, or the world/setting?

In this case, The Butterfly Stone was based off a short prompt piece I wrote that is posted on my blog somewhere (you can hunt for it and read it as it is still there.) I then expanded on the story when I realized how much I loved Tracey as a character. Even in the short piece she was determined, honest, a little bit scared and a whole lot angry. It’s been a dream to write her story.

When you build a world, what is your process like? Do you do a lot of research upfront, wing it completely, or something in between?

In the Butterfly Stone, the world is basically our own modern-day world – with a little magic thrown into the mix. For things like the political reaction to Mage-kind, I speculated with what would happen, in our world, if we suddenly discovered people who have magical abilities.

For those that don’t have a magical talent, I figured there would be a fear of those that do, and therefore a need to control those that have magic. After all, those that can use magic have the potential to be dangerous, right? It’s a very X-men concept but taken in a slightly different direction.

That idea then fed into the idea of licenses and having to take a competency test (like with driving a car or flying a plane.) Out of that came the idea for camp style training for Mage-kind students. Kids who are tested and found to have the Mage-kind gene would be sent to “magic” camp in the summer and Norm school during the rest of the year. (Which of course – leads to a potential for bullying.) After all… children and adults don’t always react to difference in a positive way. It led to a character who has a desperate need to be accepted for who and what she is.

I figured that along with having a license would also come some form of identification to prove you have a license to practice magic and that’s where the “bracelets” came from. And, of course, the idea that if you are caught using magic without a license or as a student, there would have to be some sort of punishment. Thus M-Force, and Uncle Donny’s Mage-kind detective agency.

I explored many of these ideas as I wrote the first draft. I’m a bit of a pantser in that regard. Once I had the inklings of the world and what drove my characters, I sat down and fleshed out the plot with story boards and post it notes on what did and didn’t exist in this world, and what the limitations were. I played with the what ifs. (Something I learned from listening to Neil Gaiman speak) What if Tracey’s magic was affected by her moods? I think it adds layers and realism to her story. What if…? It’s a great question. My first draft had a lot of questions. With the help of my CPs (Critique Partners) and Beta Readers, I fleshed out and answered a lot of those questions in later drafts. Though, I have kept a few questions unanswered for now…

As to the “magic” in the story. It is very much senses based and elemental based. There are some spells using tools, words and magically enhanced objects but ultimately the strength of the magic, the strength of the spell comes from the user. The stronger you are the easier it is to use and perhaps that’s what makes it so dangerous.

I also have a thread running through the story about the effects of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease on families. Tracey’s Nana has it. As she is Mage-kind, this leads to an illness where she is not only losing herself but also losing the ability to control her magic. My Nana has dementia (she’s not magic though) and I have friends who have first hand experience with the disease. It is insidious, destructive and has no cure. As the population ages, more and more families are being affected by it first-hand. And more and more children are having to deal with the emotional toll on themselves and their family members. How do you talk to a beloved grandmother who sometimes doesn’t recognize you?

How central is the setting of your story to the story itself? Is it more of an interesting backdrop, or is it integral to the events of the story?

The story is centered around Tracey’s life and family. Thus, it is also centered around her hometown. (A totally fictitious place that is based on an amalgam of places I have lived.) It’s a story about Tracey, and her hometown is Tracey’s entire world. It’s what she knows the best. Everything that happens, happens in her small patch of the world, from the mountain near her home, to the school, to the town, to the city (via the train) and the university. Tracey is underage… so everywhere must be accessible via public transport. Buses and trains, walking distance and family who can drop her off at various locations. 

When helping the reader get to know the world you built, what techniques do you use? 

Senses and the occasional flashback sequence. I also incorporate a bit of “show, don’t tell.” Tracey’s use of magic is very “ordinary” to her, (while it might be extraordinary to her friends). The story is told from close POV. We only see and experience what Tracey sees and experiences. Her journey is our journey and therefore we only learn things when she does.

How do you keep all of the details of your world and characters straight? Do you have a system for deciding on different factors and keeping it all organized, or does it live more in your head?

Oh. Hahahaha. Great question. A lot of Post-it notes that I can move around all over the place. My writing for The Butterfly Stone was mostly linear. And we, as the reader, learn things as Tracey does. It helped me unravel a lot of the plot in a steady line. I have a rough outline that I start with, sort of a Plot A starts X and ends up in Z. Plot B starts at Y and ends up at Z and so on. I did have a lot of moving post it notes that were color-coded and labeled by time of day and day of the week to help me keep track.

Did you experience any difficulties while building your world? Any facts that refused to cooperate or inconsistencies you needed to address while editing?

Info dumping. I had to really limit what I explained while making sure I explained enough for the reader to know what was going on. That was hard. I cut out a lot of “exposition.” I also wrote and rewrote the opening chapters more than a few times. Editors and assessments really came in handy for that. And my CPs and Beta readers are everything! I adore them all! 😊

Where can people find you on the web?

I maintains an active blog of science fiction, fantasy, and flash fiction pieces. Discover more about Laurie Bell on Twitter at @Laurienotlori, plus on Facebook and Instagram.

And you can get your copy of The Butterfly Stone from Amazon.

Hey readers! Did you enjoy this deep dive into the world of a book? Check out more posts in the World-Building Showcase to visit more fantastical lands.

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