My Favorite Bit: Brandon Crilly Talks About CATALYST

Brandon Crilly is joining us today to talk about his novel, Catalyst. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Street magician Mavrin Leed doesn’t believe in what he can’t see or prove. His performances are mere tricks; the only true magic in Aelda comes from the benevolent, god-like Aspects circling it. As long as They keep the Lifesphere intact, he stays out of Their way.

Labeled a heretic, Eyasu Temergon is convinced that Aelda’s true history was hidden, even from the Aspects. He scours forgotten shadows for proof of the Raw, creatures of energy tied to the fracturing of his world. When their sudden emergence leads to destruction and chaos, Eyasu puts aside his estrangement with his old friend, and hopes Mavrin can do the same.

Ex-soldier Deyeri Renn has a mystery of her own: why are her city’s leaders so interested in the Raw? She spent too long fighting in the Winds to let a myth harm her city, and too many years alone to accept the life-worn man who bumbles back into her home, with no right to ask for her help.

As Deyeri, Mavrin, and Eyasu unpack the secrets that once drove them apart, every seal in their relationship means one more crack that could unravel Aelda’s very existence.

What’s Brandon’s favorite bit?

Book cover of Catalyst by Brandon Crilly

Brandon Crilly

You ever had a moment where you’re waiting for someone to answer their phone, respond to a DM, or come to the door, and you’re really hoping that they just … don’t?

Raise your hand if you’ve lost count of how many times.

I’ve been trying to figure out another descriptor for this sort of scene that doesn’t make me sound like a highbrow elitist of an author, but really the “please don’t be home” thought is one of those innately human experiences that I love injecting into my work. And sometimes, the sillier the better. If a work can balance those tiny moments of everyday human silliness with the epic adventure and compelling worldbuilding of science fiction or fantasy, then I’m hooked. A serious epic like The Rings of Power is fabulous in its own right, but something like the interplay between Riker and Worf in Star Trek: Picard or See-Threepio rapping on the entrance to Jabba’s palace and immediately turning away, declaring “I don’t think they’re going to let us in,” can be the perfect way to break some tension and make the characters feel like real people.

That Threepio example was probably in the back of my mind when I wrote my favorite scene in Catalyst, where two of my central characters reunite for the first time in sixteen years. Mavrin Leed and Deyeri Renn have the sort of long and complicated history that we as readers can grasp immediately: they were a couple, something scared him and he left, and they haven’t seen each other since. Deyeri has started a whole new life in that time, which Mavrin has only just learned tiny bits about, and he’s arrived at her doorstep in a strange city, not simply to reconnect but to ask for her help. If anything, he’d rather not reconnect, but he doesn’t have much of a choice.

I like boxing my characters in sometimes, too.

Mavrin’s arrival at Deyeri’s home in Farglade is only a couple paragraphs, but it’s consistently the part of the book that makes me laugh every time I read it. He’s standing on her front steps, dusk settling in around him, and working up the courage to knock on her door. Since he’s a traveling magician – a showman, really – without even thinking he falls into what he would normally do before stepping out on stage. Right there in the open, for Deyeri’s neighbors to see:

First, he shook his hands out and took deep, measured breaths. Second, he checked his pockets to account for every item on his person, smoothing out his tunic and cloak when he finished. He cleared his throat a few times, swept his cloak back and forth, to loosen it for potential flourishes. The entire suite of pre-performance routines, which he hadn’t combined in years, didn’t help him feel any better.

By the grace of disappearing rings and illusory flame, walk up those damn steps and get this done.

Mavrin squared his shoulders, smoothed out his tunic one last time, relaxed his shoulders, and then climbed the steps to Deyeri’s residence.

I think the reason why I love this scene so much is how this is a genuinely significant moment – sixteen years of estrangement, about to be addressed – but how he addresses it is so abjectly ridiculous. At least on the surface. The truth about Mavrin is that he can’t help but fall back into performance, to cope with the things that scare him. It’s the shield he puts up between himself and anyone around him, including the people who he’d still consider his closest friends, despite how long they’ve been apart. 

My absolute favorite line in this scene, though, comes after Mavrin finally works up the courage to knock on Deyeri’s door:

Oh dammit, what if she isn’t home?

Because despite his constant avoidance strategies and running away from what’s difficult or uncomfortable or frightening, now that he’s arrived at her doorstep and worked up the energy to talk to her, Mavrin would be crushed if Deyeri wasn’t home. There’s this split second that didn’t make it into the scene (but is part of my head canon) where his mind is spinning through a bunch of other scenarios, like needing to find her at the local keep, or at a tavern down the road, or most horrifying, with a current partner he’s sure is far better than him. Even if he suspects their reunion isn’t going to be fun – spoiler alert: it’s a bit tense – he doesn’t want to miss it, now. See-Threepio might be ready to scurry away from Jabba’s as fast as his servos can take him, but Mavrin? Once he’s stepped onto the stage, it’s on.

Fun and silly as this moment is, under that shield Mavrin puts up is this intense longing for connection. That’s what I hope readers realize about him, between his silly antics and sometimes frustrating stubbornness. The poor guy is a bit of a mess, but watching him figure that out and how to fix it is as much fun for me as when he spins his cloak around. Which he does … a lot.

He is a magician, after all.


Catalyst Books Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop, Indigo, Kobo





An Ottawa-based teacher by day, Brandon Crilly has more than thirty published short stories to date, involving things like carbon footprint taxes, a bookstore that knows what you need, and selling your soul for a love ballad. He’s a conference organizer, Twitch streamer, an award-nominated podcaster, a snake parent, and clearly needs more things to fill his time.

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