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Knowing F.J. Blair

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Hello Wottareaders! today we are interviewing F.J. Blair, author of Bulletproof Witch a Fantasy Western series. Yes, you heard well! this story has the usual western traits combined with magic and demons, what else you need?

Let’s know more about F..J Blair and his books:

The man

Who is F. James Blair, not the writer, the man. What can you tell us about you?

I suppose the fact that I never intended to write is a good place to start. I’m a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) by trade, and when I’m not busy with that I spend time with my family, or work to keep up my farm (with everything from an orchard to a chicken run), or go out for long, looong runs. In other words, I’ve got a fair bit on my plate as it is. Somehow I manage to balance everything, but it’s not always easy. Of course, if it was easy, it wouldn’t be much fun, either.

You live in Washington with your family. What do you love the most about your Country? Has your Country influenced your stories somehow?

Just to be pedantic, let me specify that I live in Eastern Washington, USA. There are essentially three “Washingtons” that people reference: Washington DC, Seattle, and Eastern Washington. Eastern is as far removed from Seattle as it is from DC. For one thing, most of it is a desert, which people don’t usually realize when they think of the constant rain that plagues Seattle. It’s also much more sparsely populated, with its largest urban center of Spokane only having about 250,000 people. Both of these facts are what attracted my wife and I to live here, since we have more space for our family, and actually can enjoy the warmer months of the year without constantly checking a weather forecast. We do get a lot of snow in the winter, but it’s a minor tradeoff.

The climate also played a major influence in my first book’s setting. Although I envisioned the area Temperance travels through to by more like northern Texas, I drew a lot of inspiration from the wilds and woods that surround our home here. Places where pine trees grow scraggly and separate from each other, where light green lichen clings to rocks, almost bleached dry in the summer air. There are stretches between the Cascade mountains and Spokane where you can stand and see all the way to the horizon, nothing but gray-brown grass stretching out as far as you can see. There’s so much beauty here, but it’s a stark kind of beauty, one that is all the more precious because of its transient nature.

Writers are such for different reasons, which was your thing that made you decide you wanted to become a professional writer?

Mostly, it was because one day I got an itch to tell a story, and the more I ignored it, the worse the feeling got. I fought that first story for almost three years, trying to gnaw away at the meaty surprises it had in store for me. Eventually I finished it, which was such a euphoric feeling that all I wanted was to do it again and again and again. I haven’t been able to stop since.

While that particular piece of writing has been shelved indefinitely, it taught me many valuable lessons, ones that I applied to the next project, the one that eventually became Bulletproof Witch. Hopefully one day I’ll learn enough that I can return to that story and do it justice.

Any non-book related hobbies you want to share with us?

I already mentioned the farming and the running, both of those keep me pretty occupied for what little free time my children allow me. The running is worth expanding on, I suppose. I read a book in college called “Ultramarathon Man”, by Dean Karnazes, and fell in love with the idea of running all day and night nonstop. I ended up running out of my dorm room in Ellensburg, and didn’t stop until I got to Yakima (about 30 miles away). I ended up pulling a calf muscle and had blisters covering the bottoms of both feet, but I’ve never felt more alive.

Since then I’ve done a number of long distance races, including the 100 mile 24 hour race Pine to Palm, which I proudly DNF’d (Did Not Finish), passing out somewhere around the 60 mile mark due to dehydration. It was a blast, and while I’ve had to dial back my miles in recent years, once my children are older I’m looking forward to getting back into the game.

One book, one movie, one song, one food, one sport and one videogame?

Oh man, so many things . . . let me try and break this down.

Book: “All The Pretty Horses” by Cormac McCarthy. It is the tale of an American boy who travels to Mexico and gets a job breaking wild stallions. More than any other book, this story is why I love westerns, although it is neither the usual time period or character typical to the genre. The story spoke to me on a level I’ve never experienced before, darn near broke me by the end of the telling.

Movie: I’d love to name some art house nouveau film with subtlety and meaning behind it, but if we’re being honest . . . “Scott Pilgrim vs the World”. It’s just ridiculous, entertaining, zany fun.

Song: “The Mariner’s Revenge” by the Decemberists. It tells a tale of revenge between two men who, at the start of the song, are trapped with each other inside of a whale. It’s almost an entire novel in itself wrapped up in a five minute song.

Food: Macaroni and Cheese. None of that box stuff, I make mine from scratch using around two pounds worth of five different cheeses, and it is absolutely divine. Sometimes I’ll add a bit of bacon to it for company, but for just the family I like it pure and unadulterated.

Sport: I . . . actually don’t watch any sports. I am into e-sports, particularly League of Legends, although I’ve fallen out of the habit of watching in the last year or two. Another sacrifice on the altar of progress.

Videogame: Subnautica, all the way. You basically play a survivor of a spaceship who crashlands on an ocean planet, and has to piece together everything he needs to survive and escape. I suffer from a rather bad case of Thalassophobia (fear of open water), so playing that game is both therapeutic and terrifying on a level that few other things are.

Your series, Bulletproof Witch, is a western fantasy series, what do you like the most about cowboys?

Aw man, do I only get to pick one thing? There are so many . . . probably the simplicity of their conflicts. In so much of fantasy, fight scenes tend to drag on, especially large battles describing one combat after another. Westerns are much more cut and dry. You might have two people facing off against each other, just staring for endless time calculating their opponent’s movements, but once the action starts it’s over almost before you have a chance to notice. Bullets fly, somebody dies, and that’s it.

The writer

I’d like to know about your first steps, the very first day you decided to become a professional writer, what made you do it?

Am I a professional? I certainly don’t feel like one. Semi-professional, maybe. Minor league, to be sure. What was the question again?

I’ve always been a vivid dreamer, very lucid, realistic dreams. In August of 2015 I had a dream about a man wandering through a forest, carrying a baby in his arms. Even while the dream was going on, I started wondering about what I was seeing. Who was this man? Why did he have this baby? I could tell they were running from something, and the need to know what it was gnawed at me after I awoke. I think a day or two later I pulled out my laptop, created my first Google Doc, and started writing at a madcap pace, working to get all the thoughts that were suddenly exploding inside of my skull out of it as quick as possible.

That’s basically been my problem ever since: if I go too long without writing, the stories inside my head start to build up pressure, and soon it gets to the point where I can’t even function until I write them down in some way.

Do you have any ritual for writing? any kind of habit or goals to achieve every day?

My weekday ritual is rather set in stone, mostly due to the time restraints of my other obligations than anything else. I have exactly one hour every night between when my children go to sleep and my wife and I turn in for the night. I use that time to get down as many words as I can. Even when I’m tired and just want to turn in early, I usually try to at least review pieces of writing, or add to the databases I maintain for my various story worlds.

Weekends are a little better, and sometimes, if all my other work is done and my kids are engaged elsewhere, I can get in almost an entire day of writing. I usually save such special occasions for when I’m nearing the end of a project and just want to push through to the end.

Do you take real people you know and put them in your stories?

I’m pretty sure every author does this, even if it’s only subconsciously. It’s hard not to let what you know influence your ideas. That said, I try to avoid doing anything blatant, usually just borrowing a personality trait or two, and obfuscating the rest.

If there’s anything in real life I draw heavily from my own experience, it’s horses. So many of the little personality quirks that I try and include are drawn from real life animals, or stories that my friends and family share with me. I’ve had a few people come up to me and talk about how much Astor reminds them of their own horse in one way or another. Little details like that are what make all the hard work of storytelling worthwhile.

What are you writing right now?

I just finished the first draft of book three, titled “Arkton At High Noon”, so after I finish cleaning it up and getting it to my beta readers, I’ll be launching straight into book 4, titled “Death Rides at Sunset”. After that I’ll be taking a year off from Bulletproof Witch to work on another SECRET project (not actually that secret, just another story I’ve been itching to get onto paper).

If you had to define yourself just using one sentence of your novels, which one would be?

“Life wasn’t fair, but everyone had to make the best of it, anyway.”

Which would you say was your best and your worst moments as a writer?

My worst moment usually comes around the time I’m hitting the halfway point on writing a book. By then I’m invested enough that I can’t turn back, but I still have so much to write that I can’t see the finish line. I start to spiral into self-loathing and doubt, questioning why I bother putting words on paper at all. At its worst, I’ll start going through other authors books, trying to find that “secret” that makes their writing so much better than my own. I usually break free of this bleak mood after a week or two, but I’m a physical and emotional mess until it passes.

In contrast, the best moment (so far) was when I gave my wife the preview copy of “Curse of the Daemon Beast”, and she saw the dedication to her at the front. My wife is more than just my best friend, she’s also my editor, and a writer with a following of her own. We try to be supportive of each other’s projects, so I really wanted to show her how important it was that she believed enough in my books to give so much of her own time and efforts to them.

The Books

Bulletproof Witch is a Fantasy Western, or a Weird Western, what do you think is the most appealing trait of this series?

Do you mean the most appealing trait to me, or what I think it might be to my readers? Because in speaking to the first few people who gave my book a chance, it became apparent rather quick that everyone was taking something different away from the story. Some liked it for the action, some for the magic system, and more than a few refer to it as “the talking horse story”.

Personally, I think the story’s most appealing trait is the evolution of its main character, which admittedly is just getting started. In the beginning, Temperance sort of sees the world in black and white. Her grandfather is this holier-than-thou figure who represents everything she wants to be, and she blames the rest of the country for his death as much as she does the daemon that killed him. Even in the first book, though, you start to see some cracks in this assumption. Peter shows her a side of the Federation she never really experienced before, and there are a few hints that her grandfather may not have been this perfect saint after all. I’m really looking forward to where this journey is going to take her.

This series’ main character, Temperance Whiteoak, is the granddaughter of a famous pistol warlock. Does Temperance shoot first and ask questions later?

It sort of seems that way at first, since the story jumps in when Temperance is already a somewhat experienced gunfighter. Each book shines a bit more light on both her past and the code of ethics that guides her, such as in the second book where she talks about how a Pistol Warlock is meant to save people, not to kill them.

Also, while Temperance has a creed that she adheres to, it doesn’t always lead her to make the right decisions. Everything she does is through the lens of her experiences so far, and as she evolves with each book, there are going to be more than a few beliefs that get challenged, or thrown out entirely. So I guess to answer your question- it depends if she has any questions worth asking, or if she just wants to make sure she stays on the right side of the dirt.

Your books include illustrations by artist Jin A. Lee, How did you come up with such fascinating idea of adding illustrations?

When I was younger, I loved reading a Japanese book series called “Vampire Hunter D”, about a half-human, half-vampire traveling through a post-apocalyptic world. These were the books that established a genre in Japan known as “light novels”, chapter books aimed at younger audiences that included artwork. The art in D though was beyond anything being done in the West at the time, and those drawing captivated me as much as the stories they accompanied. When I first started envisioning what I wanted the Bulletproof Witch novels to look like, I kept coming back to this light novel format.

F.J Blair shared with us some of the amazing illustrations included in his books:

The second book in the series, Curse of the Daemon Beast, was released quite recently (in May,2019), in this Temperance Whiteoak will have to track down Belial, a demon hiding in a remote mountain town, Shady Hollow. Sounds really interesting, in this second installment Temperance is playing more the role of a detective while at the same time

There’s definitely a detective aspect to the story, but it’s a very minor one. Temperance isn’t really solving a mystery so much as following a trail the daemon leaves behind. The whole thing is still pretty action heavy, but with the focus on only a single opponent, the story had to adapt with it.

Lots of Amazon reviews praise your series, congratulations! Here’s an interesting excerpt of one of the reviews I liked the most:

This was an excellently fun Western-style fantasy. My first note after beginning the book was “Wild, wild west with daemon-hunting witch and talking horse, love it already”. And I continued loving it throughout.

Would you say this is a good description of Bulletproof Witch?

Yep! Definitely one of my favorites. Although Wild, Wild West had a fair bit more technology than my story (at least for the moment. Buhahaha . . . .)

Bulletproof Witch is short for the Fantasy word count standards. By breaking this “rule” you made the story being more fast-paced and straight to the point, which somehow portraits better the setting of a western.

I never really set out do anything different with this story. When I started, I wrote the first book the exact length it felt like the story needed to be. I’m glad that it worked with the feel of this particular story, but I’m not opposed to having something lengthier or more involved in the later books. Case in point, book two is about twice the length of book one, and the third book will be as long as the first two combined.

Hopefully a longer book won’t lose the earlier story’s fast-paced action or western feel. I’m pretty confident though that they’ll be just as enjoyable as the first one.

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