Friday, 28 October 2011

Interview: Jason Beineke

I'm very pleased to welcome Jason Beineke, author of Blackstone: Drawing the Circle, to my blog today for a grilling. Jason was kind enough to send me his book after it featured on Leighanne's Lit's Best of the Bunch September 2011 and I thought it was a brilliantly written piece of epic fantasy. Here's the blurb:

Blackstone is a mercenary sorcerer who does not rule any valleys and has yet to be bound to another sorcerer. Undertaking work for the sorceress queen, Spiral, he finds himself the expendable pawn in an assassination mission. Turning against the queen he fights Spiral’s loyal sorcerers and finds himself tasked with the guardianship of the marked man’s son. As the two flee from Spiral they have to work through their mutual bitterness and distrust of each other. A new tangle is thrown into their relationship when Blackstone frees a werewolf from her cage set in a town square and reverts the werewolf back to a young woman, cursed since childhood with lycanthropy.

Fleeing from the townsfolk who had previously kept the young werewolf, Loralune, captive, the three person band must confront Loralune’s transformation under the full moon, the posse that runs them to ground and a sorceress looking for revenge against Hiroe and Blackstone. Survival against these threats leaves them vulnerable to other, more insidious dangers.

Click to read my full review of Blackstone: Drawing the Circle.


How would you describe Blackstone: Drawing the Circle in a tweet (140 characters)?

A mercenary sorcerer, an orphaned squire, a cursed werewolf, running from tyranny, falling into nightmare.

How did the idea for Blackstone come about?

As with most of my writing I was first gifted with the image of a single scene in the book while I was doing data entry and listening to heavy metal music one night at work. The scene is now incorporated in the chapter, "Bitter Spaces", in the book. Often I come up with an ending to a story or novel first, then the opening and work on filling in the spaces in-between in my mind. This can be a long process, as evidence by the fact that Blackstone: Drawing the Circle was first dreamed up in the late 1990's.

Blackstone, Hiroe and Loralune are a wonderful group of misfits, how did these characters come to you?

Blackstone was heavily influenced by the character, Gats/Guts, from Kentaro Miura's Berserk manga. It is, by far, one of the best fantasy mangas I have ever read. It is still an on-going series, but it is definitely NOT for children. To learn more, please check out the following Wikipedia entry.

I am unsure what the influence for the character of Hiroe was. He appeared in the same original scene snippet as Blackstone did. Often, there is a mental relationship between myself and the characters that I write. It is possible that Hiroe represents an idealized version of what I wish my own adolescence had been. I cannot be sure. His name is also unusual and really did not fit the cultural setting I put him in. However, I would have been extremely hard-pressed to have come up with a different name for him. He has always been "Hiroe" to me. His hair queue, however, was not always a part of him, but came to “grow” on him over the years that the series gestated in my mind.

Loralune the Moonhavoc was the third character to come to me and I think she was there to help balance things out between Blackstone and Hiroe, injecting the feminine into the trio. I also knew that I wanted her to be a vibrant and active character in her own right and not shunted aside into the background. She will definitely have a powerful role in the second novel as more of her own past is revealed and she asserts her dominance. I am looking forward to see how readers react to her.

Spiral was influenced by the Hindu god, Shiva, in the form of Nataraja, "The King (Lord) of Dance". Her appearance was influenced by Freya from the manga series, Ragnarok, even though the character of Freya only appeared for a few pages in the series.

Snowflake just came to me one day while I was struggling with the first major battle scene. In the world of tropes, she is the most "tropy" of the characters in the series, but her impact has definitely been lasting!

Is there much research involved in writing epic fantasy? Did you find out anything interesting in your research for Blackstone?

It might surprise people, but there is a LOT of research to be done in epic fantasy! I model the setting for the series on the Asian continent and while to date there has not been that much in common between the Phoenix continent and the Asian continent, it will become a bit more apparent in the coming books. The second book is largely situated in a mirror of the country, Dagestan, a southern Russian Republic in the Caucasus. To learn about the cultures of the Caucasus I read a lot of novels and non-fiction related to the area, history and cultures. Among my research material was Nicolai Gogol's Taras Bulba, and Quiet Flows the Don by Mikhail Sholokov, Voyage to the Caucasus by Alexandre Dumas (pere).

One must never forget that topography and geography play such a vital role in fantasy fiction. These two things take on their own characteristics in a good story and deeply influence the living characters of a work.

The scientific level of a fantastical society is probably the most difficult thing to work with. How much science/technology is there? Is it consistent throughout the book or the cultural segment in the book? Future Blackstone novels will deal with this somewhat, but most particularly when the group travels to an equivalent of Sun Ce's court during the Three Kingdoms period of China. By the first century AD, China had invented and forgotten an incredible amount of technology that 1400 AD Europe would have been hard-pressed to copy.

One almost needs a degree in Medieval History in order to properly convey the fantasy world when it is set analogous to Medieval Europe. What were the customs, the clothing, the foods, the environmental stressors on a people, the role of religion in everyday life, political structure and hierarchies, etc.? Patrick Rothfuss has done a wonderful job of scene setting for his books, Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear. I am deeply envious of him for this.

Tamora Pierce has done a lot of travel in regards to researching for her novels. Her Circle of Magic series is based in a Mediterranean setting and also pulls in Chinese culture as well. Allison Goodman’s Eon and Eona were also set in a Chinese Empire world and one could tell that there was a LOT of research done on the part of Ms. Goodman to convey the social subtleties involved in the novels.

Lastly, what is the structure of magic in a world? Readers might well think that writers just make this up as we go along. To a large extent we do. However, the good epic fantasy writer will map out the magical system of a world. Is it Chaos manipulation, invocation, tapping of ley lines, weaving, etc?? It can become quite complicated. With Blackstone, I have not set too many definitions as I wish the story to be more character and plot driven than driven by the magic. To that end, I have also had to focus on making sure that magic is not a deus ex machina. As the series progresses, one will see that having magic definitely does NOT solve all that many problems (like transport).

I’m always intrigued to know how writers of epic fantasy go about building their world. How do you create a whole new world? Do you make maps or notes on the world to help you?

The first thing a fantasy writer has to think of is how does the world/geography impact the story and its characters? In the Blackstone world I make general use of the Asian map and have tweaked it in my head to suit my purposes (such as changing the overall shape to roughly resemble a rising phoenix, with the Indian subcontinent taking the place of the phoenix’s tail). As with magic, set locations are a bit fluid. I will not be creating an actual map to go with the Blackstone series, but will be descriptive where I feel it needs to be.

For my upcoming NaNoWriMo project I will be carefully constructing a map (based on Southeast Europe, particularly Bulgaria, Hungary and Turkey), filling in names and producing notes on different features. This will be a very "set" landscape and will create definitive boundaries for me to work within.

It should not be assumed that most fantasy writers work as I do in setting up their worlds. Since I was first writing as a teenager, I have usually "borrowed" geography from a real-world setting and restructured it for my own purposes. I know that many fantasy writers do not do this and take time to create their own, original maps.

As for populating a world, there is a lot of leeway to a writer. What are the racial, social, cultural, musical, historical and environmental impacts on a race? One also cannot forget religion and ethos and how they affect society. (I purposely removed religion from Blackstone as sorcerers fill much of the space that would otherwise be taken up by a "belief system", which will be explored in depth with the fourth novel.)

One of the best books to show archetypes of creating worlds was Frank Herbert's Dune. On the one hand it always rankled me that each world had such an overarching archetype applied to it. However, I feel that Mr. Herbert was trying not to bog the reader down in too much detail and information. We had the sands of Arrakis and its spices, the waters of Caladan that produced rice, the industrial wastelands of Geidi Prime, etc.

When and why did you decide to take the plunge and self publish your book? Did you always plan to publish it?

Basically, I was getting tired of receiving instant rejection notes from agents. Most of them were not interested in a male-centric YA series and one can see something of a dearth of male-centric YA books on the market. At one time adolescent males read--a lot! I know I did and was influenced strongly by some really great fiction from a lot of writers with both female and male lead protagonists. Nowadays our adolescent males are too involved in video games and mindlessly wandering malls, among other pointless endeavors.

So, being tired of knocking on doors and having the doors slammed in my face, I said to heck with it and took the plunge. It has been expensive (my cover artist may be in China, but he ain't cheap!), required a major investment in time and placed me on a rather steep learning curve. However, I have found myself immersed in many communities, made many friends and had my writing skills challenged, which has forced them to grow. Would I like someone else to take care of the marketing, promotion, submissions to reviewers and sending me a royalty check? Yes! Am I in a hurry for that to happen? Not really.

Blackstone was always meant to be published. When it appeared more and more likely that the life of the book hinged upon a small group of people controlling the classic publishing industry I said to heck with it and went to the Amazon Kindle Self-Publish route. Many thanks to Jeff Bezos for again blazing the trail! Other services are now out there, such as Smashwords, but it was Bezos who freed many writers from the constraints of the publishing world.

What kind of writer are you? Do you have any rituals? Do you plan a story from start to finish or just see what happens?

As stated earlier, I usually get hit out of the blue with the finale of a story, then backtrack to create the beginning and work on filling in the spaces in-between. That is why it took a decade to write this book. I also had writer's block for most of that period as well. I would come up with the scenes, the dialogue, etc., but could not bring myself to type it up. Since that block has finally fallen away (circa 2009), it is like the dam has burst for me, creatively.

When it comes to the actual writing, I find that I do my best work at night and the later the better. Most of Blackstone: Drawing the Circle was written after midnight (I had an evening job so that worked out well). I have to write in chronological order, I can't bring myself to skip around and then sew it all together. Particularly tough scenes or chapters will hold up the entire work until I slog through it. Not the smartest way to do things, but it's how I find myself writing. Having a beer next to me doesn't hurt and I also listen to a lot of music, most of it being instrumental and from movie soundtracks. Hans Zimmer has become one of my muses!! My recent novelette "Night of the Tower" was scripted in time with a number of pieces from Vanessa Mae's Choreography album.

The Blackstone series has a lot of books lining up in my brain, waiting to be birthed. The next books will be Butcher’s Winter, Masquerade of the Black Sun, Fields of Gold and City of Shadow, Alone and Jade Tiger. This will be followed by the second set of novels, the series entitled Love’s Dread Wage. Outside of the Blackstone world I have at least a dozen other writing projects swimming in my head. The question right now is finding the time to get these works done.

What is the story behind the cover?

One of the reasons that I went with the indie publishing route is because of book covers! Some book covers are absolutely horrid and have little writer input to them. This was one of Glen Cook's gripes about his Black Company series, the covers often had little do with the books (he had other issues with the publisher as well). Patrick Rothfuss's Kingkiller series have much better foreign covers than domestic American covers. The cover used for Name of the Wind in France just blew me away, it was gorgeous! The one used in the States was an utter travesty and I nearly didn't read the book because the cover put me off so much.

In regard to the cover for Blackstone: Drawing the Circle I had the picture drawn up in my mind, but I have no artistic ability (which is why I am not a manga-ka). I was able to relate what I saw in writing and thankfully I found an incredible artist in Lin Bo (http://0bo.deviantart.com/) who was able to bring off the cover beautifully. I differ a little bit with Lin on how Hiroe and Corvus look on the cover, but I am not complaining as the overall cover follows what I wanted.

Seated upon the thrones are the different adversaries particular to each of the protagonists. For Blackstone it was Spiral, whom he first employed himself to, then turned against her. For Loralune the Moonhavoc it is the Warden of Wachen, who had caged her and tormented her. In one of the rough drafts for the cover, the Warden was holding a chain in his right hand that appeared to dangle from him backwards towards Loralune, implying the "leashing" of the Moonhavoc. It subsequently disappeared in the final version >_< For Hiroe, all of the antagonists featured here have caused him troubles, but the most lasting effects are from the Dream Reaver seated before him. The children in front are the different versions of Corvus, the fetch that serves Spiral. He was fun to write about, and I had fun killing him, too :) Should I ever get the back cover done one will see that Blackstone, Loralune and Hiroe are each holding a sword behind their backs, as though getting ready to plunge the tip of the blade into the breast of their antagonist.

If you had room on your shelf for only 3 books, what would they be?

Dune by Frank Herbert
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Mask of the Sorcerer by Darrell Schweitzer (this was a huge influence on the Blackstone series, and it also has one of the worst cases of Crappy Cover Curses every seen!)

Do you have any hints for what we can expect from the next book?

The second book has been written and is currently awaiting proofing, editing and the cover (and funds for cover art are not really present at the moment). The title of the second book will be Blackstone: Butcher's Winter.

Surviving the tribulations of an angry werewolf and the dreaded dream reaver, Hiroe and Loralune manage to bring the badly injured Blackstone to the town of White Oak. White Oak is a sanctuary valley where all are welcome so long as they harm none. Here they are introduced to the sorcerer, alchemist and troubadour, Musty, who oversees the healing of Blackstone and the lifting of Loralune's curse. As Blackstone recuperates, Hiroe finds himself drawn into brotherhood with other youths of the town. From there he falls in love and contemplates spending the rest of his life in the quiet valley.

But the bliss of sanctuary never lasts and Blackstone's band learns that Musty has his own enemies and they have followed him to White Oak. Driven into exile, the quartet slog their way through snow covered lands as winter tightens its grip upon the world.

One day they come upon a runestone and halt to assess their path. Before they can complete their plans they are driven past the runestone by a presence so powerful as to make all three sorcerers quiver in fear. What they run to is not any more pleasant for they have crossed the boundary into the lands of Darbeni, home of Blood Eye.

Maintaining his life force and power by feeding on the blood of children, Blood Eye has reduced the populous of his nation into cattle, overseen by the animated bodies of their own stolen children.

Unable to leave Darbeni until Blood Eye is brought down, Blackstone and his band find themselves ushered to the forefront a rebellion not of their choosing or liking.

Even fighting the combined might of Blackstone, Loralune the Moonhavoc and Musty, Blood Eye proves able to resist them and only their combined cunning will buy the group any hope of surviving this winter of butchery and horror.


A huge thanks to Jason for doing the interview, I hope everyone enjoyed it!

If you'd like to know more about Jason and his books then stop by his blog at jasonbeineke.wordpress.com or follow him on Twitter at @JasonBeineke. Blackstone: Drawing the Circle is available to download now from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.

2 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed reading this! I'm also super excited about the next in the series! The first was so fantastic. Great interview! Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks again for the kind reviews and for taking the time to do the interview. I greatly appreciate it. All the best to you and to Leighanne!

    ReplyDelete