Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Release day for DARK JENNY

Today is the official release day for the third Eddie LaCrosse novel, DARK JENNY. It drops as a trade paperback, e-book for all the usual platforms, and audiobook, read once again by Stefan Rudnicki.

And how, you ask, does this novel stack up to the previous ones?

"Bledsoe skillfully combines humor, action, deduction, and emotion to make the material fresh and engaging for fans of both fantasy and noir." --Publishers Weekly starred review

"Bledsoe’s clever combination of noir and myth makes for an engaging story, and placing investigator Eddie at the center offers a fresh twist."--Booklist starred review

"The third Eddie LaCrosse adventure delivers a skewed version of the King Arthur legend that is at once both tongue-in-cheek and strangely powerful."--Library Journal

"Dark Jenny is unlike any fantasy novel I have ever read before."--Bookworm Blues

"Bledsoe's latest is a superb work of fantasy; he treats the Arthurian Legend template with respect, and does some great imaginative updates."--The Agony Column

"Dark Jenny is a lot like the movie Clue on a twisted date with The Princess Bride."--The World in the Satin Bag

"(It can) heal the sick, raise the dead, make the little girls talk outta their heads."--Jerry Lee Lewis (okay, he was talking about himself, but I like to quote the Killer whenever possible)

DARK JENNY is available at all major online and brick-and-mortar outlets.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Wicked Day: the weight of legend

It's no secret that my new Eddie LaCrosse novel Dark Jenny (which hits stores tomorrow, March 29) draws its inspiration from Arthurian sources. So on the eve of its release I'd like to write about the straight Arthurian novel that's so good, I wish I'd written it: Mary Stewart's The Wicked Day.

Stewart's first three Arthurian novels (The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment) were about Merlin, who I find the least interesting of the major characters. There's something ineffably smug about him as he toys with destinies and then fails so spectacularly he takes Camelot down with him. In a sense he's the Karl Rove or James Carville of the Arthurian world (or maybe Lee Atwater, if you want to stretch a point), and a novel with that approach might be fun. As it is, and despite Stewart's skill, after three books I was ready to seal Merlin in a cave myself.

But Stewart switches gears entirely for The Wicked Day. This novel is about Mordred, Arthur's bastard son by his half-sister Morgause. Unlike the first-person narration of the prior books, this one is in third person, so all the characters we've previously seen through Merlin's eyes are now shown from a different perspective. Stewart makes Mordred a complex, driven but honest young man who both fights his destiny and embraces it. His relationship with his father is fascinating, since both know of Merlin's prophecy that Mordred will bring down Arthur's kingdom, and yet they forge a close friendship.

The first time I read the book, I admit I was disappointed in the ending. Not that it was a surprise: it's the ending that the Arthurian legend must have, one way or another. But up until then Stewart had fleshed out the characters and situations so well that the inexplicable events actually came to make sense. And then comes the final battle at Camlann, where Arthur and Mordred meet, and die. Instead of giving us their final confrontation, held in a futile attempt to make peace, she retreats and falls back on:

None of those watching was ever destined to know what Arthur and Mordred spoke of.
(first edition, p. 302)

This sudden distance from the climactic moment is jarring, and when I first read it, it well and truly pissed me off. I felt cheated, all the more so because I loved the rest of the book. For years I called it "99.9 percent of a good book."

But as time passed (and I made my own run at Arthurian-ish characters) I realized her choice made sense. No matter what she came up with for this climactic scene, it pales next to the weight of a thousand years of legend. By leaving this moment to the reader's imagination, she gives the story the sense of inevitability and tragedy that a more literal depiction could never have done. Ultimately it doesn't matter what they said, because the end of the story was written by Fate long before either Mordred or Arthur came along.

So I've come to fully love The Wicked Day, to the point that I'll probably never attempt a straight Arthurian novel. And besides, Dark Jenny covers all the bases I wanted to touch. It's my Camelot, skewed and tweaked to fit in the world of Eddie LaCrosse, sword jockey.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Sword-Edged Blonde eBook for only $2.99!

Right now the good folks at Tor Books have the eBook of my first Eddie LaCrosse novel, The Sword-Edged Blonde, on sale for $2.99. So all you Nookies/Kindlers/iPadders, there's never been a better time to see what a mash-up between high fantasy and hard-boiled pulp looks like.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Review: Alice Hoffman's The Red Garden

If Alice Hoffman was a painter, her brush strokes would barely touch the canvas, yet her pictures would be as vivid as Monet's. She crafts delicate stories that always seem on the verge of wafting away until they come back to earth with some devastating, perfect detail.

The Red Garden is something new from her: a book pitched somewhere between a short story collection and a novel. The individual tales stand more or less on their own, but the cumulative effect is much more novelistic. The continuing character is Blackwell, a Massachusetts town that she tracks from its settling in 1750 through the present day. Founded by a woman so tough and determined that she milks a bear to keep the settlers alive, the town remains home to strong-willed women who either choose duty over love, or find love's solace fleeting. The men are often confused, aimless, seeking a direction in life that many of them find in the wilderness of the nearby mountain. Bears are a recurring motif, as are bees and eels in the river. The titular garden grows plants that inevitably turn red for reasons that the reader knows, but not the inhabitants.

And there are elements of overt magic, specifically in the story "The Fisherman's Wife." But for the most part, the supernatural elements remain subtle, hidden, easily explained to the characters with more mundane explanations. Only the reader, with the perspective of history, sees them for what they truly are. And it's that gentle, cobweb-light push/pull of magic and reality that defines the book's tone.

Stylistically, Hoffman goes for something equally subtle. Characters weave in and out of the stories, and Hoffman plays with narrative voice when it suits her ("The Truth About My Mother," for example, is told in first person). There's a sense that the penultimate story, "The Red Garden," resolves threads left from the very first tale, "The Bear's House." But then there's a final story, "King of the Bees," that thematically says no story ever ends, not even when we think we understand it. Blackwell's tales go on, just as life continues past our own moments of epiphany.

As a reader, I try to expose myself to things vastly different from what I write. The Red Garden has virtually nothing in common with my own stories, but I hope it teaches me to be a hair more subtle, or to risk a moment of delicacy amongst the swordplay and carnage.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Rio Bravo approach to world-building

I’m often asked about “world building,” the term for creating the environment for fantasy novels. Most tend to be much more elaborate than mine, which may be one reason why my books are so much shorter. I usually respond with some variation of, “I’m more interested in people building,” which is true but can understandably sound a bit facile.

Still, I can't deny I’m far more interested in the details of character than in aspects of society that don’t impinge on the story. So I cast about for another example of that approach, and found it in one of my favorite movies, Howard Hawks’ classic western Rio Bravo starring John Wayne, Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson.

The setting is as generic a Western town as you can imagine: it's nameless (although it's assumed to be "Rio Bravo," no one ever actually says so), isolated, and the only institutions shown are the jail, the hotel and the saloon. Contrast this to the unique, incredibly detailed sets of The Wild Bunch or the specific geographical settings of The Searchers. At the time (1959) television was filled with Western series the way we now have reality shows, and nothing about Rio Bravo's setting is substantially different from the backlot towns people saw every week for free on Bonanza, Gunsmoke and Have Gun, Will Travel. So what did the movie have to make them pay to see it?

Characters. Archetypal to be sure, but developed with detail and skill, played by actors at the top of their games and laced through with humor. In other words, the exact opposite of world-building. People-building. And if I have to err, that's the direction I'd rather go. I can live with an underdeveloped or generic setting, as long as it's populated by compelling and interesting characters.

What do you think? How much setting is enough, and how much is too much?

Admit it: this picture really makes you want to see the movie, doesn't it?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Monday, March 7, 2011

Reality...what a (necessary) concept

Reality may seem a strange concern for a writer who focuses on fantasy and horror. After all, how can you claim anything is "real" in tales of faux-medieval warriors, disco-era vampires and supernatural hillbillies? Yet it's an overwhelming concern to me, and one that leads me repeatedly back to the films of John Cassavetes.

His work--among them Shadows, Faces, the seminal A Woman Under the Influence, my current favorite Opening Night--created the American independent film movement. Their sometimes ragged natures are often perceived as the result of improvisation, in the same vein as the films of Christopher Guest or Henry Jaglom, but that's a misperception: Cassavetes may have based his screenplays on rehearsal improvisations, but the final films are the result of tightly scripted and deliberately constructed performances. Within them, of course, are moments of invention, but not so many as you might think.

This approach is made clear in A Constant Forge, a lengthy (140 minutes) documentary by Charles Kiselyak. Cassavetes died in 1989, so the majority of the interviews are with people who worked with him, along with excerpts from print interviews read by Sean Penn. It's also obvious in Cassavetes Directs, a fly-on-the-wall account of the filming of his last movie, Love Streams, in 1984.

So what's the point of this approach? Simply, it allows an almost total breakdown of the line between performance and documentary realism. There are moments in A Woman Under the Influence that feel so real, so uncomfortably genuine, that even with famous actors like Peter Falk and Gena Rowlands onscreen, you can forget you're watching a movie and feel like you're spying on real people. For an audience used to dramatic signposts (THIS is a serious scene, THIS is a humorous line, you should feel TERROR here), a movie like this can be a hugely uncomfortable experience.

So what can a prose writer get from this? I hope it serves as a reminder that no matter what's happening in the story, whether your hero is facing a dragon or a vampire is learning that sunlight will not destroy her, the reality of the moment lies in reactions that are unanticipated but undeniably genuine. In Cassavetes' work, he strove to get beneath the surface responses people give, the "performances" that get us through real life, in order to present something original that the audience nevertheless responds to as genuine. As writers, we should do the same. As writers of fantasy, horror and science fiction, it should be a priority.

Here's a clip of Cassavetes in action, talking about the release of Opening Night but finally going off on some interesting tangents.