We're kicking things off with Jeff Blackmer, author of the historical fantasies Draegnstoen and Highland King, as well as the upcoming Gears of Uriel.
Q: Thanks for taking the time to stop by today. For those who haven't yet had a chance to enjoy your first two novels, please tell us a little about yourself and what we can expect.
I’m an author of Historical Fiction/Fantasy with two novels published on Amazon; Draegnstoen and Highland King. Both of these novels are set in 5th century Britain. I enjoy looking for times and places in history where there are ‘gaps’, niches were there may be untold stories, where, if told well, seem as if they could have actually happened.
Q: The journey from 'aspiring' to 'accomplished' can be a long one, even in the era of small presses and digital publishing. When did you begin writing, and what has the journey to publication been like?
I still remember the first day of Kindergarten. The teacher asked what we wanted to learn in school. My hand shot up and when she called on me, I proclaimed “I want to learn how to read and write.” Nothing else mattered to me but that. Actual writing began within a year or two later, but I always felt the official beginning was when my mother let me use her typewriter. I got about one page into a science fiction story and then she needed the typewriter back. I focused a lot on writing in High School, but after that life got in the way for many years. Finally it would wait no longer. I started back up in about 2004 and have been writing ever since.
Q: I can certainly sympathize with life getting in the way, but congrats on starting back up! In terms of writing, what comes easiest for you, and where do you struggle the most? Is it the title? The first paragraph? The last chapter? The cover blurb?
The most difficult part is usually after I get a chapter or two in. The beginning comes fairly easily, but getting beyond that; it seems I’m building with fairy dust. It’s so ephemeral. For awhile, each time I go back, it seems so intangible. And then finally there’s the day when I go back to work on it and I don’t have to gather mist and fog to build again. What I left from the last time is magically still there; it’s become something of substance, somehow existing independently and apart from me. There’s an anchor to build on and I know I’m going to be okay.
Q: Sometimes, characters can take on a life of their own, pulling the story in directions you hadn't originally anticipated, especially when developing a series that touches on multiple genres. Were there any twists or turns in your writing that surprised you, or really challenged your original plans for the story?
The biggest surprise for me came when I was writing Highland King, the sequel to Draegnstoen. I seldom write in chronological order (it’s more fun that way) and one of the characters I was waiting on was Aengus (also in Draegnstoen). I really liked this guy and was excited to get him into the new story. He was the father of Doncann, my main character after all! Finally, he showed up, just in time for his son to be born. But a bad omen predicts danger in Doncann’s future. And all of a sudden I can see the next few chapters laid out before me and I realize Aengus is going to sacrifice his life to save his son. I was furious! “Oh no you are not!” I declared. I really liked this character and I wasn’t going to let him do that. I stopped working on that part of the book and went to a different chapter and wrote for a couple weeks. But every time I came back to Aengus I could see how it was going to go. Finally I gave in. “Fine, have it your way!” And it happened the way I feared. I shed some tears as I wrote it. I know that sounds crazy to someone who is not a writer, but in the end, it made for a better story. It all sounds like we have multiple personality disorder, but the characters write the book. I’m just a bystander who writes it all down.
Q: I love the idea of being a bystander who write it all done - nice! When writing, do you ever consider how a reader or reviewer will react, or do you write solely for your own satisfaction?
Some of both. I realize that I understand the story on a deeper level, so I have to write for the reader too. I want the writing to make an emotional impact, but I want to earn it. I refuse to manipulate the reader’s emotions by taking shortcuts.
Q: In terms of reader reactions, what is the strangest or most surprising reaction to your work that you've encountered to -date?
That’s an easy one. I wanted Highland King to feel as real as possible. The story is about the Picts, the ancestors of the Scots, and I went to painstaking lengths to write the story with a Scottish brogue (which totally blew up my spell check and grammar check). One of the best compliments I received was from a Native reader who said I’d managed a pretty decent Glasgow accent. But one reviewer said the book was completely unreadable since I’d done such a poor job on the Pictish accent. It made me laugh, because we know less than 150 words of Pictish (mostly proper names and place names) and the language has been extinct for over a thousand years, so no one has any idea what it sounded like.
Q: To turn from pen to page for a moment, is there a particular author who has influenced or inspired your writing? Somebody who either made you want to write in the first place, or who just refreshes your literary batteries?
Ray Bradbury. I loved how he added fantasy to science fiction and I always thought his writing was poetic.
Q: Assuming you had total creative control over the production, who would you cast as the leading roles, were your work to be optioned for the big screen?
When I write I always go online and find actors who look like I imagine my characters. It’s fun and an acceptable way to procrastinate. I don’t necessarily look for a particular actor so much as a certain look.
Q: Before we let you go, what can we look forward to from you next? Is there another story yet to be told in your latest world, or perhaps something completely different on the horizon?
A: I’m doing final edits on my latest novel, Gears of Uriel, another historical fiction/fantasy with a spiritual/metaphysical flavor to it. It’s somewhat different, but I've already begun the sequel to it – Tyrian.
About the Author
Early indications predicted Jeff would focus on science fiction since he devoured all the local library had to offer. After begging his mother to use her typewriter at age eight he even began to write his first story, but the stories of Ray Bradbury threw an element of fantasy into the mix, and a sudden and unexpected fascination with ancient history added yet another dimension to his ideas.
After receiving his BA in English with a minor in writing he worked for several years as a technical writer, but the novels would wait no longer. He published Draegnstoen, a historical fantasy, in early 2011, followed by the sequel Highland King before the end of that same year.
Gears of Uriel goes into far greater depth with spiritual ideas first hinted at in Highland King. The first of a trilogy, the next one being Tyrian. Jeff hopes to someday get back around to Science Fiction, this time without the typewriter.
About the Book
forthcoming, by Thorstruck Press
It was a time when the old gods demanded the worship of men and divine messengers brought a message that promised freedom instead of submission.
How far would you go? What would you be willing to do to protect the truth?