15 September 2010

Author Interview: P.L. Blair

P.L. Blair is the author of four fantasy/detective novels, the first of which was published in March 2007. She also writes for a local newspaper in the Coastal Bend area.

Let’s have a look at what drives/compels this author to write.
  • Tell us a bit about yourself.
Native of Texas – born in Tyler. Spent 10 years or so on the Texas coast (Corpus Christi and Rockport) before moving to Sheridan, Wyo., in the late 1980s. Now I'm dividing my time between Rockport (where my sisters live) and Sheridan.
I got degrees (A.A. and B.A.) in journalism, because I knew I wanted to write books, but I also knew I needed to earn a living. Then I got kind of sidetracked by newspaper work (a little more than 30 years), until in 2006, at age 59, I decided if I was going to be a novelist, I'd better get busy. I wrote Shadow Path, the first book in my fantasy/detective Portals series that year.
As it turned out, a friend of mine in Sheridan wanted to launch a publishing company, and she wanted Shadow Path to be her first book. Studio See incorporated in January 2007, and Shadow Path was published in March that year – then reprinted with a new (and better) cover in 2008.
Also in 2008, I finished Stormcaller, which was published that year, then Deathtalker. Book 4 in my series, Sister Hoods, was released June this year.
  • As a child, what did you want to do when you grow up?
Before age 8, I was probably reasonably typical – nurse, doctor, cowgirl (I was a nut over horses). When I was 8, I wrote a story about a witch, which my teacher urged me to read to my classmates. I did, and – wonder of wonders – they liked it! So I was like, wow! I can entertain people with this stuff!
So 8 years old, I decided I wanted to be a writer. I did havebrief flings with other career choices as I got older – historian, paleontologist, archeologist, geologist. But I could never settle down to any one choice, and I finally realized, as a writer, I could dabble in all those things too. I loved doing research!
Best of all, as a writer, I never really had to deal with the issue of what I was going to be when I grew up. Which is probably a good thing, because I've never really grown up either.
  • What inspired you to write your first book?
A lifelong interest in mythology and folklore, coupled with heavy doses of Tolkien and a dash of the CSI television shows. I was kind of kicking around the idea – not as a book but just as a concept – that common motifs run through most of the world's folklore: nearly every culture has dragons or the equivalent … elves or elf-like beings … some type of magic-wielders …
So I started running this “what-if” scenario in my mind: What if the world of magic really does exist? What if it's adjacent to our world, and the reason we have all these stories of elves and dragons and wizards, trolls and ogres and so on is because our distant ancestors actually came in contact with these creatures? What if our world and the realms of magic are separated by portals … and the portals at some time were closed – which is why we think of these beings as products of our ancestors' imaginations?
And what if … at some point in the near future … these portals opened again, and we humans of the 21st century found ourselves face to face with ogres and pixies, fairies and elves and dragons?
And while this was going through my head, I actually saw an image of a herd of unicorns meandering across Everhart Street, which is a heavily-trafficked thoroughfare in Corpus Christi.
And I thought – I have to write this book.
That's where the CSI shows come in. They influenced my decision to make my main characters detectives.
  • What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
I'm a morning person, up between 5 and 5:30, feed dogs, feed cats, feed me, spend some time with my sisters before they head off to work. I'm usually at the computer between 7 and 7:30, and I'll write for two or three hours – unless the book is going well, in which case I may put in another half-hour or so. But I love to write – or driven, depending on point of view. I've told my publisher, you probably don't have to be obsessive-compulsive to be a writer, but it doesn't hurt.
I do write for a local newspaper, a weekly, in the Coastal Bend area, so on Mondays and Tuesdays (deadline days for the paper), my schedule changes a little. I write at least a few paragraphs on the books nearly every day – I have to. It's like an addiction; if I go more than a couple of days without putting in book time, I start feeling cranky, restless … withdrawal symptoms.
  • Where do you get your ideas for your books from?
From my own head – which is pretty scary when I stop to think about it. Everything is in there – from my main characters, who are good and caring, to my villains, most of whom I wouldn't want to meet even on one of their good days.
But they come from me!
Sometimes, the book starts out as the flash of an image – as with Sister Hoods, when I “saw” a band of uzi-toting little nymphs holding up a bank. “Deathtalker” was the result of extrapolation: What would happen if a creature of legend, known for incidentally leaving corpses in his wake, should decide to deliberately kill his victims.
Sometimes it's a matter of knowing that, now or later, I want to use a particular creature from legend. I want to do something with Baba Yaga, a witch who figures in Russian folklore; I just haven't worked out what yet.
And I know at some point, I'll take my Corpus Christi detectives to the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming, because I want them to deal with a dragon. And maybe a few Dwarves.
I did manage to get some Black Dogs into “Leprechauns.”
  • What does your family think of your writing?
My sisters think it's great! They're very supportive – sharing their copies of my books with friends, letting friends and co-workers know when I have book events coming up. My youngest sister posts copies of book reviews outside the door of her office, for her colleagues to read.
If you're really determined to be a writer, you can probably succeed without the support of your family, but having that support is absolutely fantastic!
  • How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
I really don't. I sit down and start writing. It's a seat-of-the-pants style that doesn't work for everyone, but it's a good fit for me. I'm not a sit down and plan things out kind of person. I like setting things in motion and let situations build on each other.
My style goes back to my school days – to those term papers where we were required to have an outline for our term papers. I was one of the kids who wrote the paper – then did the outline based on the finished document.
  • Do you ever come up with anything so wild that you scare yourself, that leaves you wondering where that came from?
Oh yeah. Which is why I don't write straight horror. I scare the daylights out of myself.
I do incorporate elements of horror into my Portals series. The Deathtalker, as I've mentioned, is a kind of psychic vampire. And in Stormcaller, I introduce a sentient, and somewhat hostile, forest that creates creatures that harass Kat, Tevis and their allies. On one occasion, they find themselves confronted by a giant spider that disintegrates into hundreds of smaller, but equally deadly, spiders. On another, Kat is attacked by a giant anaconda intent on making a meal of her.
I was quite pleased when my publisher said I'd given her nightmares about spiders and giant snakes ...
  • Do you have any advice for other writers?
Write. And keep writing.
At book events, I'm always approached by at least one person who says, “I've got a book in my head.”
Get it out of your head and onto paper!
The other comment I hear: “I want to write a book, but I can't find the time.”
If you wait to “find the time,” your book will never been written. Time can't be found these days. It has to be seized by the throat and wrestled into submission.
My mentors, Michael and Kathleen Gear, at one seminar I attended, asked what are you willing to give up to become a writer. They actually lived in a log cabin without amenities for a while. My own “sacrifices” weren't quite so extreme: I got up an hour earlier in the mornings and gave up some lunches while I was writing Shadow Path.
  • What are your current projects?
I'm attending book events to promote Book 4, Sister Hoods – heading for FenCon, an SF/fantasy convention in Dallas, Sept. 17-19. Book 5, A Plague of Leprechauns, is with my publisher – set for late November/early December release; can't do much about that except wait, which I can do, but not too well. So now I'm working on Book 6, Unholy Cause – 17 chapters in, although I'm currently revising some earlier chapter.
  • Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Sister Hoods begins with a bank robbery (in Rockport, Texas), perpetrated by nymphs and satyrs. It started with an image – a lot of my books start with images – of nymphs armed with uzis, holding female bank tellers at bay while the bank's male employees tripped over themselves to load the bank's money into bags for the nymphs.
After I brought in the satyrs, I didn't need the uzis. Ah well … But the bank robbery serves to bring Kat, Tevis and their allies (including a Wizard, Arvandus) into the investigation – and they discover the incident is much more than it seems. The nymphs need money to keep a greedy developer from taking over the woodlands in which they live …
Because the woodlands, on the Lamar Peninsula on Texas' coast, are extremely magical – and being sought by a group of evil Wizards who want to bend the magic to their own dark purposes.
And if the woodlands are destroyed, a wyvern will be released. Wyverns are distant kin to dragons, their lives regulated by only three imperatives: to eat, to sleep, to breed. The one in the woodlands is sleeping, but if he wakes, he will be ravenously hungry.
And wyverns' favored food is humans ...
  • How did you come up with the title for your book?
All my titles are puns or word plays. My first book, Shadow Path, deals with a necromancer, a wizard who deals in death magic and the dead. The villain of Stormcaller is Tlaloc, an ancient Aztec god of storms, agriculture and fertility - who could summon (“call”) storms.
Book 3, Deathtalker, is the play on “lovetalker,” a creature in Irish folklore who seduced young women then left them to pine away and die. The Deathtalker of my title is a lovetalker turned serial killer, who deliberately coerces women into killing themselves so he can feed on their life force as they die. Kind of a psychic vampire.
Sister Hoods suggested itself to me because the nymphs are sisters - and criminals (“hoods”).
  • Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I don't do messages. I write purely for entertainment. I sometimes think books are another variation of those inkblot tests, where you look for images, and the psychologist analyzes you according to what you tell him you see.
I'm delighted when people tell me about some insight or other they've discovered in my characters, or in a situation or plot line, but it isn't there on purpose. At heart, I'm a storyteller. If I can give a reader a few hours of pleasure and escape, that's good enough.
  • Are there parts of the book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
No – and yes. My human character, Kat Morales, is kind of the me I'd like to be – strong, intelligent (well, I'll admit to that), young, good-looking and gutsy.
Tevis, her elven partner, is something of a cross between Illya Kuryakin (the old Man From Uncle TV series), on whom I had a crush, and Sherlock Holmes, the first fictional detective I met.
I suspect after 30 years of working for newspapers, I've incorporated bits and pieces of just about everyone I've ever met or heard of into one or more of my characters in all of my books.
  • Where can we find you online?
Books can be ordered directly from my publisher's web site, http://www.studiosee.com/
Since I always have a few of my books with me for promotional purposes, Pam has on occasion called me and asked if I would sign a book to someone and send it to them. I'm always happy to do that.
You can read more about me on my website: http://www.plblair.com/

Thank you, Pat!