INTERVIEW: Rajan Khanna, author of “Card Sharp”

Tell us a bit about your story. What’s it about?

It’s about Quentin Ketterly, a man adrift, who stumbles upon a secret world of magicians with great, but limited, power, and it’s about what he chooses to do with that power. It’s also about revenge, cards, and a riverboat.

What was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

I don’t actually remember what sparked it, but the idea came to me at Readercon in 2009. I just had this image of wizards who used cards instead of spellbooks and who only had the one deck to work with. When I heard about this anthology, I had originally intended to do a more traditional urban sorcery story, but this idea wouldn’t let go, so I wrote it.

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

I wouldn’t say it was easy, but it doesn’t stand out as particularly challenging. And I had members of my writing group, Altered Fluid, to help me work out some of the snags.

Most authors say all their stories are personal.  If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

This story was perhaps one of the least personal I wrote. I’m certainly very different from Quentin. But I think that we all deal with limitations, in whatever worlds we inhabit, and in particular, the choice between serving yourself and serving others can be a struggle. I live in New York, and there are times when you actually start to have to weigh these things and that’s something that I can relate to with Quentin, even if I don’t truly know what it’s like to be in his situation.

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

I researched the history of playing cards and learned quite a bit about them. I learned that the four suits I took for granted differed in different countries (replaced by bells, acorns and leaves in Germany, for example) and that they are associated with a variety of different meanings. I also learned that in all likelihood, playing cards predated Tarot.

What is the appeal of wizard fiction? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about it? Why do readers love it so much?

I think that the appeal, for me, of wizard fiction is in the choices such characters make. Wizards have, whether through hard work and study or quirks of fate and destiny, access to great power. But it’s what they choose to do with that power that is the truly interesting part. I think the best wizard fiction involves some kind of sacrifice on the part of the wizard and the juxtaposition of that element of tragedy with wondrous power can be compelling.

What are some of your favorite examples of wizard fiction, and what makes them your favorites?

My favorite wizard of all time would have to be Merlin. He’s the original, in many ways the archetype, and his legend has endured for hundreds of years. Gandalf is cut from similar cloth and is, of course, a classic, though his use of magic is of course limited. I grew up reading about Terry Brooks’ Allanon, David Eddings’ Belgarath, Weiss and Hickman’s Raistlin Majere, and Raymond Feist’s Pug. But my favorites now skew a little differently. Elric is one, because he’s also a warrior, and because his magic mostly concerns summoning or calling on demonic entities to work for him. John Constantine, from the Hellblazer comics is another — British, working class, and tremendously flawed. I also enjoy the wizarding world of the Harry Potter books as envisioned by J. K. Rowling.