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How Did You Come Up With The Rithmatist?

The Rithmatist is a YA novel I wrote in 2007, right before the Wheel of Time deal hit me like a freight train.

I wrote it when I was supposed to be working on other things back in 2007.  I have often stopped my main projects for side ones. It is part of what keeps me fresh.

The book is technically gearpunk—which is not steampunk, but more Da Vinci-era technology, extrapolated hundreds of years into the future. It’s very whimsical. I actually pitched Rithmatist at one point to myself as, “The story of the muggle at Hogwarts.”  I wanted to write it precisely because so many people had read so much about the child who discovers he’s a wizard. But what of the son of the cleaning lady?  A kid with no magical talent, but who gets tuition to the magic school because his mom works there?

The Rithmatist. It started with some drawings and a purely creative week sketching out a world, characters, and magic. That week is the exact sort that turned me into a writer in the first place, and was a distinct contrast to the grind I was feeling on the project I was supposed to be working on.

I sat down and started sketching. I don’t do a lot of drawing. The last time I did some sketching that started a book was Elantris, where I did all the symbols for the Aons. For Rithmatist, I just started sketching, and I started imagining this story where people would duel with these chalk circles. You draw this chalk circle around yourself, and then you draw little beasties, little creatures that would crawl across the ground and attack your opponent’s circle, and when your circle got breached that was the end of the thing. It’s like a magical version of a tower defense game or something like StarCraft. I imagined these kids playing this game and thought, “Where do I go from this?”

The first thing I wrote was the scene—now late in chapter one—where Joel watches Fitch get defeated by Nalizar in the classroom. It started out on a chalkboard, but I eventually moved it to the floor because that made more sense. As I was writing these chapters, I developed the Rithmatic lines and let the story feed the magic and the magic feed the story in a way that some writers call “discovery written.”

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