Eleven Questions for: Axel Blackwell

TWW
Timeless love.
Brutal cruelty.
An impossible decision.
So, The Timeweaver’s Wager, you guys. This book. People talk about page turners all the time, but this sort of redefines the term. It’s also dark and lovely and haunting and will stay with you long after you put it down. Do yourself a favor, and check it out. But do not open it until you have time to read it, because you will be really mean to anyone who makes you close it to do other stuff.
I was lucky enough to convince author Axel Blackwell to answer eleven questions about The Timeweaver’s Wager, writing, publishing, and life in general.

Q:
The Timeweaver’s Wager is the very definition of “couldn’t put it down.” Pacing is something a lot of writers struggle with. What’s your best tip for keeping the reader turning pages?
A:
If it’s boring, skip it. That’s what the readers are going to do, anyway. Save them the trouble. Both of my novels had a huge brick of text about halfway through—long boring explanations of backstory. This information was necessary to move the plot forward, but it sucked. In both cases, I slashed about half the scene, then broke up the rest by interrupting with current events or using other devices to keep the reader interested while I slipped the backstory in. It’s kinda like hiding your dog’s meds in a wad of ground beef.

Q:
You are being sent to live in the fictional world of your choice for one year. Upon your return, you may bring one thing back with you from that world. Where do you go, and what do you bring back?
A:
I’d probably go wherever they have dragons and bring one of those back. If you have a dragon you can pretty much get anything else you want.

Q:
Your books can get pretty dark at times. Have you ever scared yourself while writing a scene?
A:
When I was 19, I actually stopped writing (for several years) because I upset myself. The story was about an introvert who finally finds love. Unbeknownst to our MC, his other personality was very jealous, so he takes his girl on a moonlit walk through fresh snowfall at his mountain cabin—then chops off her foot and leaves her to die. It all made this horribly beautiful picture when I thought it up—the white snow, her white skin, the silver moon and a bright red blood trail to add a splash of color. But once I had created her character and his character, I couldn’t bear to do that to them. Fortunately, I have matured since then.

Q:
Planner or pantser?
A:
I have always been a pantser. Half the fun is finding out what happens next. When I sat down to write my previous novel, Sisters of Sorrow, all I knew was that Anna was hiding under a beached rowboat while the world was exploding around her, and something on the island wanted her parts. I had no idea, whatsoever, what the rest of the book was about, and no other characters in mind. However, The Timeweaver’s Wager is a rewrite of a story I first wrote in 2006 or 2007. The original, which was only about 12,000 words, acted as an outline for the final version. I was impressed with how much faster and easier the process went when I had a map to follow. So I am planning on experimenting with outlining my next project.

Q:
Fill in the blank: I cannot write a book without _____.
A:
Coffee. A good playlist helps, too.

Q:
Indie vs. trad is always a lively debate. What advice would you give writers who are just looking into publishing for the first time?
A:
I would advise them to ask someone who knows more about it than I. Seriously. There is an unbelievable amount of information available in various forums and online groups. And I would tell them none of that information will do them much good until they have written and published wrong a few times. There is so much to learn, and things change so quickly, OTJ training is probably the only way to get the hang of this gig.

As far as indie vs. trad, if you are just starting out I would say the traditional publishing route is a good idea IF you are willing to wait years for your first book to be published, willing to accept a pittance for your years of hard work and waiting, and willing to accept the high likelihood that your book will never be presented to a single reader, even if it is an excellent piece of work. But that’s just my opinion for beginners. If you make it big and the trads come knocking on your door, it might be worth your time to talk to them then.

Q:
Without getting into spoiler territory, if you were to sit down with Glen at those railroad tracks at the opening of The Timeweaver’s Wager, what would you say to him?
A:
“Just eat the damn casserole.”

Okay, I’d probably say a bit more, but Glen was on a good path. He was putting his life back together. He had realized that his grief had gone from serving Connie to serving himself, and he had come to the point of decision. Most of the time, tragedy in the past cannot be repaired. One must learn to accept life on the terms it presents. Glen was just on the cusp of doing this, which is why the Timeweaver’s wager is really a dilemma for him. I guess if I had any words for Glen in the opening chapter they would be, “Hang in there, buddy. This is gonna suck. Big time. But you’ll be glad you did it.”

Q:
Which of your own characters would you have dinner with, and why?
A:
I’d have to say Alan. That guy is just a joy to be around, makes you feel good about yourself, laughs at all your jokes, and somehow, no matter what life throws at him, he always seems to come out on top. Also, he’d probably spring for dinner at a much nicer restaurant than I could afford. I’ll just have to remember not to ask him about his past.

Q:
The Timeweaver’s Wager is a very different book from Sisters of Sorrow, but at their core they have some things in common. What would you say draws you most to a story? What kinds of stories are you most interested in telling?
A:
The world is full of darkness. It is dangerous and it is scary and if you encounter the darkness you will be permanently changed. Violence and disorder are the default setting for the human race. The artificial safety bubble we are born into is fragile as frost. But with sufficient courage and love and the proper application of force a hero can repel the darkness. The life that acknowledges and confronts this truth is much more vibrant than one built on ignorance and wishful thinking. Kinda like how the blacker the black on your LCD TV, the more brilliant the colors. I love stories in which innocence and evil come face to face, in which the heroes struggle to the very last ounce of their existence in defense of innocence, in which—live or die—the hero knows they did not capitulate or concede to the darkness.

Q:
Who are your biggest creative influences?
A:
My biggest influence, by far, is Stephen King, which I guess makes me a bit of a plebe, but the dude is popular for a reason. He is a master of his craft and he understands people—which is critical if one intends to invent people and direct their activities. I am also a big fan of Dean Koontz. My early influences were Bradbury and Lovecraft.

Q:
Best writing snack?
A:
Right now I’m really into Costco muffins. They are necessary to soak up all the coffee I drink. I also like Costco trail mix. But I pick out the almonds—one of the little ways I confront and repel the darkness.


If you’re an indie author and you’re up for answering eleven questions, email me.

Five for bingeing

First of all, can we talk about how weird the word bingeing looks? I had to look it up and make sure it was right. Apparently both bingeing and binging are correct, although spellcheck doesn’t like either, and I can’t say I blame it.

Anyway. Sometime last fall, I began to realize that I had, not to put too fine a point on it, lost my shit. The problem with being self-employed is, you’re always at work. And since you could always be working, you feel guilty whenever you’re not. I’m also still a stay-at-home-mom, a job I value and that I’m not about to let slide (I mean, except for the laundry and the vacuuming, obviously). But apart from that and forcing myself to take time to read when I could manage it, I was doing nothing but working all the time.

Which is ridiculous and, frankly, self-important. Because while it’s important for an indie author to publish regularly and frequently (and I’m still not fast enough, more’s the pity), I’m not curing cancer, you know? There’s no reason to get burned out and strung out and all snappy with people and refusing to have lunch. Just saying.

But I was snappy and refusing to have lunch. I was also not spending time with friends, not gaming (gasp!), and one of the first things to go? TV and movies. This is where the I-never-watch-TV crowd will sniff, noses high, and say good riddance to bad rubbish. But, you know, I’ve kind of dedicated myself to storytelling. I value stories.

So one of the things I did this winter to add more balance back to my life was start carving out an hour at bedtime to acquaint myself with the delights of Netflix and Prime TV. Even if bedtime was 2 AM, I’d make the time for one episode, because it’s hard for me to go straight from work to sleep anyway. Here are five of my favorite discoveries.

Once Upon A Time. Wow, this show is bananas, in the best possible way. Just a big goofy mashup of every Disney movie ever made, every fairy tale trope ever invented, and every small town cliché ever to appear in a Frank Capra film. I was completely obsessed with it, often letting that one episode thing slide until it was, um, more like six. Now I’m caught up to the present season, and I can only get it once a week, which is a shame.

Of course, the problem with watching fantasy when you also write fantasy is, you get all mad when you see them using an idea that you also happen to be using at the time. But that’s okay, because trust me, if you’re seeing it on this show, it’s old news anyway. Their whole gimmick is that they’re not doing anything for the first time. They’re presenting you with familiar things in new contexts, and that juxtaposition is exactly why it works.

OUAT Protip: The first season is by far the strongest.

 

Dead Like Me. This show seems to be really old, so I guess I’m the only one who didn’t know about it? Looks like it came out when I had a newborn, so that probably explains that. Anyway, it’s like Office Space meets Dead Bridget Jones, and it’s hilarious. The performances really help make this one shine, and the writing is clever and spot-on, deeply irreverent yet always managing to reel it in and smack you over the head with something lovely just as you think they might go too far.

DLM Protip: Watch out for those moments when, right when you’re laughing and having a good time, George’s family makes you cry.

 

Reign. Netflix recommended this to me based on Once Upon a Time, which was weird because they are nothing alike, but I checked it out because I love history. Um, except there is no history here. It claims to be about Mary Queen of Scots, and there is actually a character named Mary. And a dauphin. Other than that, you’ve got a teenage love triangle and modern music and strapless gowns, and then along comes some sort of vampire in the woods and I don’t think the historical drama crowd is really the demographic they’re going for. But hey! The costumes are spectacular, and it’s not every day you get to see Anne of Green Gables playing a de Medici! Megan Follows, you are fantastic as always, and I will always love you.

Reign Protip: Watch this only when you are fully prepared to eat ice cream and take nothing seriously.

 

Grimm. This one wasn’t a late night indulgence, but an evening and weekend one with my daughter, who was equally into it. We love us some Captain Renard. A fun show about fighting monsters, with lots of possibly made-up German words and the occasional bit of trivia about clock-making. What’s not to love?

Grimm Protip: The episodes James Frain guest stars in are the best, because James Frain is awesome at everything.

 

Supernatural. My daughter and I moved on to this after we caught up with Grimm, and I can see we’ll be at it for a while, because holy crap there are a lot of seasons. I know it’s a cultural phenomenon, and it’s in my genre wheelhouse to boot, so it’s kind of a crime I haven’t seen it before. I predict it will become a household favorite.

Supernatural Protip: I don’t have one, because we’ve only seen maybe half a dozen episodes so far. I’m hoping one of you will tell me that Sam will cut his hair at some point, though, because I find myself distracted by how much it needs to get out of his face.

Wake-Robin Ridge

wake robinIn the comments to one of the posts below, Marcia Meara describes her novel Wake-Robin Ridge as “romantic suspense with a touch of spooky.” Well, let’s consider this post my open letter to Marcia requesting something full-out spooky, because if this is her “touch” of it, I’d love to see what it’s like when she goes whole hog.

Don’t get me wrong, the love stories this book does focus on are very sweet. From a purely subjective standpoint, they run a little sentimental for my usual taste, along the Notebook/Bridges of Madison County end of the romance spectrum, but even for a morbid horror girl like me there is some lovely stuff here. I especially enjoyed the letters from one of the star-crossed lovers to another. And dogs! Several dogs. I’m choosing to ignore the presence of the cat.

But it will surprise nobody who knows me that I found the scenes with the ghost, and the hours leading up to the ghost becoming a ghost, to be the strongest in the book. They are expertly paced, and the imagery is first-rate. That phantom red Impala, making its awful way around an isolated cabin in the woods, and that rabbit–that rabbit!–are the things that will stick with me after I’ve put this book away.

I happen to live in Charlotte, not far from where this book is set, and the descriptions of the mountains and woods of North Carolina are very well done. I had a small nitpick or two with the details, but the important thing about that is, she got the barbeque right. [EDIT: to the surprise of absolutely no one, those nitpicks turned out to be my mistakes, not the author’s.]

Two thumbs up for this book, and I’ve already bought Ms. Meara’s other currently released novel, Swamp Ghosts.