Could you take a minute and explain what The Sword-Edged Blonde is about?
It’s sword-and-sorcery high fantasy written as a 1940s pulp detective novel. Instead of a private eye, my hero Eddie LaCrosse is a “sword jockey” who gets 25 gold pieces a day plus expenses for taking on your case. In the novel, he’s hired by an old friend, now king of the country where they both grew up, to find out whether the queen committed a particularly heinous crime. To solve the case, Eddie has to come to terms with some difficult things in his own past.
There’s also magic, and sword-play, and smart-ass dialogue.
From your website it appears there’s an interesting story behind what inspired you to write the novel. Would you mind explaining this?
The original inspiration was the Fleetwood Mac song, “Rhiannon,” and the original impetus to write it was a crush I had on the hot new teacher my senior year in high school. The book is dedicated to her, even though I never had the nerve to show it to her back in the day. The first third of the current novel is, in fact, pretty close to what it was back then, although much better written. The rest of it went through more revisions and permutations than you can imagine.
Have you since been able to show it to her? If so, what was her reaction?
I dedicated the book to her, and tracked her down through some of my other old teachers to let her know about it. She was very gracious and said she loved the book. So that made me happy.
Stepping back a bit, what the process was like for you in getting your first book published?
It consisted of years and years of tedious legwork, submitting to publishers and agents while working on short stories to build my CV. I never went through any MFA programs or writing seminars, and I didn’t attend a convention until I was in my 40s, so I had no network of industry connections to fall back on. I just kept at it. From the time I made the decision to make writing my priority to the publication of “The Sword-Edged Blonde” was eleven years.
First I landed an agent, Marlene Stringer, who did the unthinkable and stuck with me for two years before making that first sale. Ironically the book she signed me for is still unsold. But I found her based on the query letter/sample chapters/full manuscript process, without any outside influence, so it can be done.
Were you a big reader as a child/young adult? What were some of your favorite books and/or authors growing up?
I was a huge reader. Well, okay, I only weighed about 180 back then, so there were some readers a lot bigger than me. Rim shot! Tip your waitress.
Seriously, I grew up in a tiny little town in western Tennessee. Out of a population of 350, I was related to about 250 of them. There was no high school, no newspaper, no library, no cable TV, nothing like that. And the social scene consisted of drinking beer, driving around and killing small animals (and I mean that in a very broad definition, because some of these good ol’ boys will kill anything that crosses their path). I had no social skills to speak of, so when I found out I could drink better than most of my friends, that became my new hobby. I think I was 14.
Anyway, yes, I was a big reader. I loved all things science fiction and fantasy when I was a teenager. What I remember most were Edgar Rice Burroughs, Alan Dean Foster’s multitudinous SF movie adaptations, HP Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. I tried some of the hard-SF, but it was too technical for me. I remember one about a black hole that actually included mathematics tables and formulas. In a novel.
On the other hand, I have particularly fond memories of a 1980 book called Shiva Descending by Gregory Benford and William Rotsler, because it combined an Earth-destroying asteroid with fairly graphic descriptions of sex, at least in my small-town experience. I haven’t re-read it since then, so I have no idea if it holds up, but man, it kept my attention then.
And what do you spend time reading these days?
Anything that catches my eye, really. I don’t stick to a specific genre or topic. Within the last year I’ve discovered the amazing fantasy works of Ekaterina Sedia, especially The Alchemy of Stone, which I can’t say enough good things about. I’m a huge fan of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels and Andrew Vachss’ Burke series. Charles de Lint is a big favorite; in fact, Memory and Dream is on my short list of favorite novels ever. At the moment I’m reading an ARC of Erica Hayes‘ urban fantasy Shadowfae and really digging it.
Are you or have you ever been a gamer? What has your gaming experience been like (board games, pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)?
I played all the usual board games growing up, although to this day I don’t know how to play backgammon. My favorite was, and is, Battleship.
But as the above description of my home town implies, there weren’t a lot of people sympathetic to things like science fiction, fantasy and the like. In fact, it could be downright dangerous to your health on the playground if word got around. I did know one kid who played D&D, ironically the Baptist minister’s son, but he definitely had power issues about it. I was hugely excited the first time I sat down to play, but his iron-fisted DM’ing sucked all the fun out of it. I never really tried again.
In college–this would’ve been the mid-80s–I had a fraternity brother whose little brother (the biological kind) had one of the first text-based adventure games. I don’t recall the title, but I remember thinking, “This is just like writing a story.” Except that, at the end, you had nothing to show for it. That realization stuck with me. I was excited by the idea of the game in theory, but when I tried to play it myself, my sense of narrative kept getting in the way of what the game expected you to do.
Have you ever ventured into online worlds? If so, please explain what that experience has been like.
No, I haven’t. I’ve looked over shoulders while other people have done it. The big problem was that, until a month ago when I got my new iMac, I never had a computer reliable and/or fast enough to run them. I was always three years or so behind the cutting edge. Now I’m too busy with deadlines and children to develop any proficiency.
Would you mind sharing an interesting and/or amusing story from your gaming past?
The only game I ever beat was the Sega James Bond game back in the 90s. I don’t know what I expected at the end, but what I got was just a girl coming out and kissing Bond. The End. Not even a huge explosion or anything. Very anticlimactic.
Would you say there is grind involved in the writing process? Please explain.
If you talk to even a few writers, you learn pretty quickly that every writer’s process is different. The grind, for me, is the first draft. Getting the story out of my head and into text is the “work” part of it. Revisions are easy, and even fun most of the time. I know a lot of writers who feel the exact opposite, though.
By contrast, what would you say is one of the most rewarding things about being a writer?
I actually had an epiphany about that when I was reading through the ARC of Burn Me Deadly for any last-minute changes. I realized that, whether it got good reviews or sold well or anything, that it was exactly the kind of book I always wanted to write: it deals with the things that I, as a writer, always wanted to explore, both narratively and thematically. It was a level of satisfaction that took me entirely by surprise.
When do you find time to write?
The simple answer is when the kids are asleep, or someone else is watching them. We have two sons under age 5, and they require a lot of attention. I’m lucky to have a wife who’s 20% smarter than I am, and who’s willing to put up with my artsy pretensions.
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m revising the sequel to Blood Groove, titled The Girls with Games of Blood. It will be released in May 2010.
Would you have any words of advice for the would-be-writers out there?
Think about writing the way an athlete thinks about his or her sport. You practice that jump shot to be ready for the Big Game; in the same way, a writer should write something every day, polishing and developing their skills so they’re ready for the Big Idea.
You wake up to a world where The Sword-Edged Blonde has been made into a massively multiplayer role playing game. What class would you play and why?
See, the problem with that is that Eddie is the only POV in that world, and I’m not sure I could function as any other character. And one of Eddie’s core skills is knowing when he can’t win a fight. So I might just spend a lot of time running and hiding from the more experienced gamers until my lives run out.