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Q: Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic and thank you very much for agreeing to participate in this interview. To start with, could you introduce yourself for our readers and tell us how you came to be a writer?
Blake: I was born and raised in North Carolina. Moved out to Colorado almost ten years ago after finishing college because I love the mountains, love to ski, hike, etc., and I was tired of the South. In terms of becoming a writer, there are several key moments:
a) 10 years old and telling my brother stories to scare him before bedtime...
b) 8th grade, when I turned in a short story for an assignment that offended my teacher, the entire class, and led to a parent-teacher conference. It was my first bad review, but I loved the experience of having people read and respond to my work. A pivotal moment for sure.
c) Working on my first-to-be-published novel, Desert Places, at Chapel Hill with my professor, Bland Simpson back in the winter of 2000 in an independent study class.....will never forget him coming in one morning when we were going to meet. He'd read the first 40 or 50 pages, and he said, "Blake, I think you might actually sell this thing."
d) Next big moment would be getting a contract for Desert Places which was in 2001.
e) And strangely enough, I'd have to mark 2011 as a big moment for me as a writer. The e-book revolution has broken down so many creative and financial doors for me, I'm still not 100% sure this is all really happening.
Q: My first introduction to you was via your collaboration with J. A. Konrath, “Serial Uncut”. How did you and Joe first meet? What was the spark that lead to the both of you writing “Serial” and combining your written worlds?
Blake: I met Joe in El Paso, Texas, at a book conference called Left Coast Crime in 2005. He said, “You want to come up to my room and drink some great scotch?” We were good friends for several years and then he wrote me one day and suggested we write something together. That became “Serial.” I think it was maybe a year ago, maybe a little more, when I suggested to Joe that we conclude his Jack Daniels series and my Andrew Z. Thomas series in a single collaborative novel. Once we decided to do that, we started actively combining our universes, culminating in Serial Killers Uncut.
Q: How does it feel to be a part of the Jack Daniels universe after being named in Fuzzy Navel, joining the ranks of various luminaries such as Barry Eisler & James Rollins? Your thoughts on this rather (in)famous character credit?
Blake: It’s probably better not to appear in a Jack Daniels novel if you’re a friend of Joe’s, because he just uses it as an opportunity to humiliate you.
Q: In each of your books, the environment is a veritable factor in the plot. How much of this is a conscious decision? Do you set your plots with specific environments in mind or is it the other way around?
Blake: Environment certainly plays a factor in my work. For instance, with Snowbound, that book began because I had been to this salmon fishing lodge in Lake Clark National Park, and I wanted to write a book set in Alaska. For Locked Doors, I loved the atmosphere of the North Carolina Outer Banks, and actually went there for Thanksgiving back in 2002, trying to figure out if the island would lend itself to what I wanted to do structurally (luckily it did). In fact Locked Doors is exactly the book it is because of where it’s set. Abandon, same story. It’s my Colorado book. I wish I knew why I work this way, but it’s probably best not to overthink it.
Q: You have written both short stories and novels. Do you have a schedule which you tweak depending on the length of the story?
Blake: It’s all dependent on the idea. I keep a running list of short story ideas (they’re so hard to come up with). I’ll often be working on several things at once, bouncing back and forth between what’s intriguing me most at the moment. Otherwise, there’s really no set schedule, other than write, write, write when an idea is working.
Q: Usually when an author writes a series, it features a protagonist. In your case, you came up with Luther Kite, an antagonist, whose role has progressively increased throughout each successive book. What lead you down this route? Also, you are currently writing Stirred which is supposed to be the end of the Luther Kite saga. How does it feel to conclude Luther’s story who has been with you since your debut?
Blake: It’s strange; I’ve known Luther since 1999. And he’s certainly grown with me. In a lot of ways, he’s still a mystery, and I like that aspect of him. But I’m ready to bring some closure there with Stirred. I’ve got a thousand other characters I want to write and explore. Can’t spend all my time on this one psychopathic monster!
Q: You have written a very informative essay about Jack Ketchum’s “Off Season” in the 100 Best Thrillers list. Did you volunteer to write about that specific book or were you chosen? If it’s the former, why did you choose that book specifically?
Blake: No, Hank Wagner and David Morrell brought Ketchum’s Off Season to me, which I hadn’t read, and asked if I’d be interested in contributing an essay based on that title. It was a blast (and hard work) and really fascinating to read. Ketchum was putting out some mind-blowingly nasty stuff way before it was cool. He was a true pioneer.
Q: I believe the titles of your first two books were taken from poems by Robert Frost and Anne Sexton, while the novella “Break You” had its origin in a U2 song. What is it about certain words or phrases that makes you pick them as titles? Why did you pick these specific ones?
Blake: Typically, I’ll use phrases that have always stuck with me, such as the case in the epigraph for “Break You”. That phrase comes from their song, “Peace on Earth”:
“They say that what you mock/will surely overtake you/and you become a monster/so the monster will not break you.” There is no more perfect summation of “Break You” than that beautiful lyric from Bono and the lads.
Q: Where do you find the inspiration for your stories (i.e.: nature, events, people, etc.)? And is there a particular life experience that influenced your writing?
Blake: For novels, it’s usually a slow realization of a long-burning idea….like Abandon, where I’d always wanted to write a ghost-town thriller, and only three years after moving to Colorado, did I finally realize how to tell it.
With short stories, it’s often weird things. Like for instance, I was sitting in a hot spring pool in Pagosa Springs, Colorado last week, and overheard these two old Romanian guys having a conversation, and the opening to a wicked little short story presented itself that I’ll probably write when I get a moment. It’s all about constantly being open to inspiration, even from the strangest places and circumstances.
Q: This is perhaps an odd question so forgive me for asking it, but why do you write thrillers? If not thrillers, are there any other genres you plan on writing would like to explore?
Blake: All I can say about what I write is that I write the type of books I would want to read. I’m considering a project now that may edge into sci-fi, possibly even fantasy. We’ll see what happens. I have no commitment to a particular genre. The common thread running through my writing is that I explore characters who are at the end of their rope, because that’s where interesting things begin to happen.
Q: As a writer, what still challenges you and what do you want to accomplish?
Blake: I still find it a challenge to start a novel I’m excited about. There’s this hesitation, always, because I don’t want to spoil the perfect idea I have in my head.
In terms of future goals, I want to find those stories that haven’t been told, that blow my hair back, and communicate those to readers. I also want to use the emerging technology afforded by e-readers to enhance the way stories are told. We’re attempting our first stab at this with the double-novel Serial Killers Uncut, which has a number of brand new features that all work toward interconnecting this book with all of our other novels.
Q: What are some of your favorite books?
Blake: Here’s the 10 that come to mind at the moment:
“The Prince of Tides” by Pat Conroy
“Blood Meridian” by Cormac McCarthy
“The Sun Also Rises” by E. Hemingway
“Red Dragon” by Thomas Harris
“Cottonwood” by Scott Phillips
“Savages” by Don Winslow
“Deliverance” by James Dickey
“A Wrinkle in Time” by L’Engle
“Mystic River” by Dennis Lehane
“Night Dogs” by Kent Anderson
Q: You and Joe Konrath were recently featured on the cover of Crimespree magazine and I noticed curiously that the books being burned in it, were your own publications. Can you tell us more about this?
Blake: That Crimespree Magazine cover photo just sort of came together when I was visiting Joe Konrath last summer. We were trying to make a statement about what was beginning to happen with e-books and the possible implosion of the traditional publishing infrastructure. Little did we know how far along that process would be when the magazine actually came out last January!
Q: You have a top 10 list of your various moments while touring in 2004. After so many years, can you add any new additions to that list?
Blake: No new ones, because thankfully, with e-books, I don’t have to tour. I do miss visiting bookstores and seeing the fans, but I don’t miss being away from my family.
Q: I believe that both you and your wife are hiking enthusiasts. What are your favorite areas for hiking?
Blake: Well, we live in Colorado, so hiking and climbing is what this area is all about. We love to spend time in the La Plata Mountains and the San Juan Mountains just outside of Durango.
Q: You are also a Tar Heels fan. What’s your greatest memory of the team?
Blake: Ha! The 1993 championship when they beat Michigan.
Q: In closing, are there any final thoughts or comments that you'd like to share with your readers? What can we look forward to you in the future?
Blake: I think it’s an amazing time to be a writer, but more so, a reader. The stuff Konrath and I are doing, interconnecting our universes, is the kind of thing I WISH my favorite writers had done, and if the readers of the blog enjoy just one of our books, they’re going to love the entire catalog.
I’m working on a few things at the moment, including a new novel, Stirred with Konrath, and laying the groundwork for two new collaborative works that will be a ton of fun.
Thanks for having me!