Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Author Interview - Alex Bledsoe

Dear readers, 

You are in for a real treat today. I'm very excited about this so I sincerely hope you enjoy it. 

This year I've had a goal to do some author interviews. Doing author interviews really terrifies me. I think the reason why is because I see so many interviews online that are long and evolved wherein the blogger asks a wide range of thought provoking questions and the author answers in kind. I just don't have time for that kind of interview, or the research it requires. I have a baby who demands a nearly constant change of scenery and a house to run. I don't have time to think of long and evolved interviews with funny/thought provoking questions that span a wide range of topics. So, in order to achieve my goal I had to think about how I could do interviews that fit into my lifestyle. I decided the best way to do them is to ask about ten questions to an author about one specific topic. 

Hopefully by focusing on one topic, or book, I can raise awareness of this book/topic/author. 

The first author for me to interview (and thus, my "test subject") is Alex Bledsoe and the topic is (mostly) about his book The Hum and the Shiver. I absolutely love this book. I just finished reading it a second time and realized that I had some questions I'd love Bledsoe to answer. Thankfully, he was kind enough to take time out of his busy life to do so. 

A little about the author (you can find out more here). 

Alex Bledsoe grew up in west Tennessee an hour north of Graceland and twenty minutes from Nutbush. He's been a reporter, editor, photographer and door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman. He now lives in a Wisconsin town famous for trolls, writes before six in the morning and tries to teach his two sons to act like they’ve been to town before. He is well known for his Eddie LaCrosse series, The Hum and the Shiver as well as Memphis Vampires

The Interview

1.   I have only read two of your books, Dark Jenny and The Hum and the Shiver. I absolutely loved both of them but what really struck me was the absolute shift in tone and atmosphere between the two books. Dark Jenny is a fun romping adventure with lovable characters set in a secondary world. The Hum and the Shiver is more serious, subtle, lyrical and set Tennessee. The diversity of these two books really shows how capable you are as an author. Is it hard for you to switch gears like this?

One thing I learned from writing short stories is that each story kind of dictates its own approach.  For example, not every story (whether short or novel-length) needs to be written in first-person.  Dark Jenny did, because the entire story is told through the main character’s perspective.  The Hum and the Shiver, however, switches among the characters.  You simply couldn’t tell that story if you limited it to the main character’s POV.  So once I accept these differences, the writing is no harder or easier.  It’s just writing, which is my job.

2.  The protagonist, Bronwyn, is very multi-faceted. She's stand-offish, but the reader automatically feels for her due to all her inner struggles in regards to the war in Afghanistan as well as her community. Her struggle is incredibly believable and has a really raw quality that really resonated with me. She's a character I carried with me long after I finished the book. How did you manage to make her, and her inner torment, so believable? Was it hard for you to accomplish that? Was there a reason you chose to make your protagonist a soldier?

Bronwyn is one of those characters who really appeared full-blown in my imagination.  Once I decided her nickname was “The Bronwynator,” I knew exactly who she was.  I was a little leery about writing a female protagonist, but this story simply wouldn’t have worked with a man.  So I just tried to stay true to her personality, which is sort of independent of gender (and sort of not, but that’s another discussion).  As for being a soldier, she was inspired by, but not based on, Jessica Lynch, who went through a similar ordeal in the early days of the Gulf War.  One of the first inspirations for the story was the Melungeons, which I mention below, and when I first heard about Lynch, a light went on and I thought, what if she were a Melungeon?  The whole novel came from that conjunction of two unrelated things.

3.  Despite the fact that Dark Jenny and The Hum and the Shiver are so different, there were some similarities, namely your focus on developing believable, well rounded characters and your ability to create wonderful atmospheres. What are some aspects of your writing, like characters and atmosphere, that you try to carry through all of your books?

The most important thing is to be honest about the world you create.  Whether it’s faux Camelot or the Tufa community, you have to deal with the same questions.  What are your characters’ roles in their worlds?  How do they interact?  What do they do all day?  One thing that bugs me about some fantasy worlds is that people don’t seem to have jobs or duties, they’re just there when the plot needs them.

An example: two of my heroes are writer William Faulkner and film director Howard Hawks, who worked together several times, including on an epic costume drama called Land of the Pharaohs.  It was not a success; Hawks later said he couldn’t work with the material because, “I didn’t know what a pharaoh did.”  I try to make sure I always know what my characters do.

Atmosphere is trickier, because it’s hard for me to be objective about it.  In Dark Jenny and the other Eddie LaCrosse novels, it’s easier because it’s all down to what Eddie would notice.  In The Hum and the Shiver, though, I was really flying blind and trusting that the tone and atmosphere would come out of the characters and situations, if I did them right.

4.  The Hum and the Shiver largely focuses on music, instruments and the like. Are you musical? Do you play instruments? If not, how did you learn enough about the instruments and music in this book to be able to write about it?

You know the old saying that rock and roll is “three chords and the truth”?  I know two chords and some gossip.  I don’t play anything well enough to do it in front of people, but music has always been important to me.  A well-turned lyric is as hard to do as a brilliant line in a novel.  And music has the advantage of going straight to our emotions in a way prose just doesn’t.  For example, if I were to set out to write a story of three generations of hillbilly lawbreakers, starting with moonshining, then bootlegging, and finally pot farming, it might take me 150,000 words.  Steve Earle does it in less than five minutes in his song, “Copperhead Road.”

As for the technical details, I’m fortunate enough to know a lot of musicians who have been generous with their time and expertise.

5.   You managed to make the Tennessee mountains seem mystical, magical and incredibly vivid for the reader. However, Dark Jenny was written in a secondary world. Was there a reason you chose to set The Hum and the Shiver in our modern world?

The influences and inspirations for the story were all modern, so I never really considered setting it anywhere else.  Besides, I think one of the most interesting things about the story, certainly one of the most interesting things about writing it, was finding ways to show the magical in the mundane.  In a world of kings, queens and wizards, magic is a given.  It’s much less common among tractors, convenience stores and small-town churches.

6.   You manage the Tufa very mysterious, which keeps the reader turning the pages to learn more about these secretive people. Due to their fantasy and mythological aspects, I'd be very interested in hearing a little about what possibly inspired you to create these people.

They were inspired by stories of the Melungeons, a real group of people who still live in parts of East Tennessee.  I’ve always been fascinated by them, and wanted to do a story about them, but when it came down to it, it seemed a better idea to make up my own isolated group.  Not only can I then do anything I want to them, but using the real Melungeons as characters just seemed...rude.

7.   Your biography says that you've been a reporter, photographer, and door-to-door vacuum salesman. How have these previous jobs, as well as the job of being a father and husband, influenced your writing?

I think the years of menial jobs, along with the economic situations that accompanied them, have given me a solid understanding of human nature and the things people do to get by.  It’s the kind of thing you can’t get from writing classes, no matter how well-taught, and it’s something that fantasy especially needs, since you’re already working with things that don’t happen in the real world.  I mean, even some fantasy classics are missing this.  What are the job prospects for graduates of Hogwarts, for example?  Or, who provides the basic infrastructure for Hobbitton?

8.  You seem to enjoy toying with themes. You write the Eddie LaCrosse novels, The Hum and the Shiver, and two books about vampires in the '70s. Are there any other gear-switching works in your future?

Right now I’m working on the second Tufa novel and the fifth Eddie LaCrosse book.  Depending on how quickly that goes, I do have some other ideas for different genres, although there’s probably an element of the fantastic to everything I write.  I’d like to try full-blown horror in the near future, too.

9.   Is there anything you'd like to say to your fans and readers?

Mainly, thank you!  I wrote for a lot of years with little or no encouragement, worrying that my take on things was too weird and different for anyone else to “get.”  Now I know others do “get” it, and I’ll always be hugely grateful for that.

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions! I really appreciate it!

Thanks for having me.

3 comments:

  1. Great interview! I've heard of Bledsoe but not read any of his novels. This interview has intrigued me enough to add him to my ever-growing TBR list.
    I also did my first author interview (Gail Carriger, who was an absolute delight!) earlier this year, so I totally understand the "terrified" feeling you mentioned. Hopefully now that you've got the first one under your belt the next will be easier!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hello Sarah.

    I've not read any of Alex's books (I own Sword Edged Blonde). I mentally rejected the idea of reading Hum and the Shiver as "not my thing"

    However, listening to the Squeecast today, I might have to reconsider that stance, since it really does sound intriguing. Your interview here dovetails with what Lynne was talking about.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm yet another reader who's not read anything by Alex. This is not through want of trying - I've just never seen any of his novels in a bookstore! (I don't know why I don't just order them from Amazon, come to think of it...) I'm a Brit, so the fact that he doesn't have a UK publisher (that I'm aware of) can explain the lack of copies over there, but I've spent a lot of time in the US since July, visited more bookstores than is probably healthy, and yet have STILL not seen a single copy of his novels on the shelves!

    What's up with that?!

    Great interview, too. :)

    ReplyDelete