My latest novel is called A CRIMINAL MAGIC: it’s a historical fantasy that takes place in an alternative Prohibition-era America, where magic instead of alcohol is prohibited. The pitch sounds fairly straightforward, right? Unfortunately, coming up with it wasn’t 😉

The idea came to me through what I like to call stress-induced brainstorming: I had signed a two-book deal with Simon & Schuster for my first novel, CITY OF SAVAGES, and an “UNTITLED BOOK TWO.” But when it came time to pitch my editor, Navah Wolfe, a second book idea, I found myself floundering, unable to settle on a concept I was excited about. I must have started and stopped three or four synopses before finally realizing I needed to do some top-down brainstorming.

So I took a step back and tried to think about what I really wanted to read. I made this five-page list of everything I loved (as a child and as an adult) – books, TV shows, films, franchises, time periods, historical events – you name it. And then I poured over that list until my brain just started making fun and interesting connections – until the words sorcerers, magic, and Prohibition started to congeal together on the page.

The concept went through various revisions during my own writing process, as well as afterwards with my editor. For some reason, I was initially very hesitant to completely depart from real Prohibition – in an early draft, both alcohol and “sorcered spirits” (aka sorcerer’s shine) were illegal, but that ended up producing a muddy concept, and led to far more world-building questions than answers.

It was only once I was willing to break completely from reality (and make alcohol legal in A CRIMINAL MAGIC’s alternative world), that I started thinking, what if magic – as a practice, along with all of its byproducts – was what was illegal?

From there my mind started spinning all of the analogies I could draw from the Prohibition era: speakeasies became “magic havens,” smugglers brought in “fae dust” and “obi” instead of whiskey and rum from overseas, gangsters used magic in horse-racing and bank robberies, and so on.

I had a blast writing this novel – so for anyone who hasn’t tried brainstorming what they personally love to write and read, before jumping into writing, I highly recommend it!

Lee Kelly is the author of A CRIMINAL MAGIC and CITY OF SAVAGES. She has wanted to write since she was old enough to hold a pencil, but it wasn’t until she began studying for the California Bar Exam that she conveniently started putting pen to paper. An entertainment lawyer by trade, Lee has practiced in Los Angeles and New York. She lives with her husband and children in Millburn, New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter at @leeykelly and on her website at


About A Criminal Magic

A Criminal Magic
by Lee Kelly
Publisher: Saga Press
Publication Date: February 2nd 2016
Genre: Fantasy, Historical, Young Adult


THE NIGHT CIRCUS meets THE PEAKY BLINDERS in Lee Kelly’s new crossover fantasy novel.

Magic is powerful, dangerous and addictive – and after passage of the 18th Amendment, it is finally illegal.

It’s 1926 in Washington, DC, and while Anti-Sorcery activists have achieved the Prohibition of sorcery, the city’s magic underworld is booming. Sorcerers cast illusions to aid mobsters’ crime sprees. Smugglers funnel magic contraband in from overseas. Gangs have established secret performance venues where patrons can lose themselves in magic, and take a mind-bending, intoxicating elixir known as the sorcerer’s shine.

Joan Kendrick, a young sorcerer from Norfolk County, Virginia accepts an offer to work for DC’s most notorious crime syndicate, the Shaw Gang, when her family’s home is repossessed. Alex Danfrey, a first-year Federal Prohibition Unit trainee with a complicated past and talents of his own, becomes tapped to go undercover and infiltrate the Shaws.

Through different paths, Joan and Alex tread deep into the violent, dangerous world of criminal magic – and when their paths cross at the Shaws’ performance venue, despite their orders, and despite themselves, Joan and Alex become enchanted with one another. But when gang alliances begin to shift, the two sorcerers are forced to question their ultimate allegiances and motivations. And soon, Joan and Alex find themselves pitted against each other in a treacherous, heady game of cat-and-mouse.

A CRIMINAL MAGIC casts a spell of magic, high stakes and intrigue against the backdrop of a very different Roaring Twenties.








About the Author

Lee Kelly has wanted to write since she was old enough to hold a pencil, but it wasn’t until she began studying for the California Bar Exam that she conveniently started putting pen to paper. An entertainment lawyer by trade, Lee has practiced law in Los Angeles and New York.  She lives with her husband and children in Millburn, New Jersey, though after a decade in Manhattan, she can’t help but still call herself a New Yorker.  She is the author of A Criminal Magic and City of Savages.  Visit her at


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