Retired reviewer Robert Rhodes recently had a chat with Alex Bledsoe, author of the Eddie LaCrosse Mysteries and the Memphis Vampires novels. His third Eddie LaCrosse novel, Dark Jenny, will be available in print (Tor) and audio (Blackstone Audio) next week. Tor has generously offered a couple of copies of Dark Jenny for FanLit readers who live in the United States. If you’d like one, just leave a comment below and we’ll randomly choose two winners. Be sure to check back next Tuesday to see if you’re a winner.
Robert Rhodes: I’ve had the pleasure of reading (and reviewing) the first two Eddie LaCrosse novels, The Sword-Edged Blonde and Burn Me Deadly. Dark Jenny is high on my reading list. What’s familiar in the newest tale? What’s different?
Alex Bledsoe: The tone is familiar from the other books, but both the structure and the setting are different. In this case, Eddie tells the story to a group of people snowbound at Angelina’s Tavern, so it’s a flashback to events that happened prior to The Sword-Edged Blonde. The story proper finds Eddie in an isolated island kingdom, where he knows no one, and under suspicion of murder.
RR: Which sounds highly promising. Eddie is a memorable character and narrator. A quick way to describe him might be as a blend of Conan (the Cimmerian primarily, with a dash of O’Brien) and Sam Spade, but that might be an oversimplification. How did you ‘meet’ Eddie? What were your first impressions of him, and were they accurate?
AB: I first thought of Eddie in high school. He was inspired by the laid-back, scruffy Captain Dallas in the original Alien movie. He’s changed over the years (and hopefully gotten deeper), but the mellow world-weary attitude and the deliberately disreputable appearance have remained.
RR: Why a medieval-fantasy setting for Eddie’s adventures – versus a historical-medieval setting, for example, or a Jazz Age-fantasy setting?
AB: I think there’s something primal about the lone hero, sword in hand, facing the bad guys. There’s that direct contact you don’t get with guns or more modern weapons, plus the sense that the individual combat might truly change things for a lot of people. As for fantasy, it allows the presence of magic and otherworldly beings that you couldn’t have in a strictly historical setting. And it makes a nice contrast with the character’s world-weary, pulp detective voice.
RR: One of the distinctive and refreshing features of the first two books was your evocation of the setting. Even though swords and horses abound, you manage to evoke, through dialogue and descriptive details, something other than a generic, medieval-European atmosphere. Are there particular places that have informed or inspired your world-building? Places in your native Tennessee, perhaps?
AB: I want the background to be just that: background. I’ve read a lot of fantasy where the worlds were so incredibly detailed that (a) you couldn’t keep up without a map, index, and glossary and (b) the writer often shortchanged the characters and story. I try to find analogs for the contemporary world, so that even if it’s a little odd, the reader will know immediately what it’s supposed to be without footnotes. For example, I often give “make” and “model” names to Eddie’s swords; it’s clearly an echo of the way a modern detective might talk about guns, but it also tells you a bit about how the society as a whole views their weapons.
RR: Speaking of weapons … in the first two books, Eddie gives and takes his share of wounds and flat-out beatings, and I have to say that the combat scenes seem quite realistic. How do you, or do you, ‘choreograph’ the combat scenes? Do you act any out, with or without your kids? Do you have any personal experience with weapons or martial arts?
AB: I’ve taken some fencing classes, and anytime you have sons, lightsaber battles often occur. I’ve also had a couple of edged-weapon injuries that stuck with me – no pun intended. But the main thing is to just think through cause and effect, remembering the character and what’s been established about him, and to keep it realistic. Eddie doesn’t fight on a whim, and when he does fight, he’s out to win as quickly and efficiently as possible. That means his fights tend to be very short, because if he’s not sure he can win quickly, he won’t fight.
RR: What kind of (gentler) research have you done for Eddie’s stories?
AB: Often it’s not the kind of research you’d expect. Historical detail isn’t really a priority, since I’m creating my own world, but I’m also deliberately working with archetypes and variations of folklore. That means that, for example, in Burn Me Deadly I had to not only create believable dragons, but I had to decide what they meant to the societies that encountered them and kept their memories alive. I read many books on dragons, and learned a lot about what they represented to the people who believed in them.
For Dark Jenny, I read a lot about the meaning of Arthurian stories, how they developed, and what the various societies got from them. The book that let me see the story as I wanted to tell it was The Betrayal of Arthur by Australian author Sara Douglass. It was her nonfiction take on what the legends mean, and while I don’t share her conclusions, her book showed me how I should be thinking about them.
RR: Which leads to three reading questions: Which works do you consider your core, primary influences in terms of fantasy writing? What’s a recently published fantasy novel you’ve enjoyed? What are a couple of your favorite non-fantasy books?
2. The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia.
3. Joseph Conrad‘s Heart of Darkness and Ceremony by Robert B. Parker.
RR: Tell us a little about your writing process. Do you prefer a particular desk or coffee shop? A particular time of day? Any special books or knick-knacks you like to keep nearby?
AB: I get up early before everyone else so I can have the house to myself for a while. Because I’m a stay-at-home parent of two small boys, I have to be able to work pretty much anywhere. Often I’ll write in the body of an e-mail so I can easily retrieve it from the nearest computer. When I’m revising, I print out the pages and go to a local coffee shop, where the white noise of conversation helps me concentrate and the lack of distractions (TV, internet, etc.) keeps me on task.
RR: Returning to Eddie … who would be a good candidate to play him in a movie? And does Stefan Rudnicki, the voice of the audiobooks for the series, sound like him?
AB: As I said, he was originally inspired by the 1979-era Tom Skerrit, so that’s who I still see in my mind’s eye. Fans have mentioned Sean Bean, Gerard Butler, and Clive Owen, but among actors in the right age range, I’m partial to Paul Gross, the Canadian actor who starred in the awesome series “Slings and Arrows.”
And Stefan is great. He gets the weariness and the slight amusement perfectly right. I can’t tell you how pleased I am each time a new book comes out and Stefan returns to narrate it.
RR: And finally, assuming Eddie survives in Dark Jenny, can you share anything about his possible further adventures? About how much of his past has been fully explored?
AB: I’m currently writing Eddie IV, which I can summarize in one word (pirates!) and which will give a lot of background, not of Eddie, but of one of the other recurring characters. It also introduces a new professional partner for Eddie, a woman who’s his equal and perhaps even tougher. I’m trying not to repeat settings, story elements and themes, so hopefully it’ll be a whole new ride for my long-time readers.
RR: And a wild, fun ride it’s been so far. Many thanks, Alex, for your time, and on behalf of the FanLit community, congratulations on Eddie’s success and the release of Dark Jenny. Cheers!
Readers, leave a comment below if you’d like a copy of Dark Jenny. We’ll choose two United States readers. Check back next week to see if you’ve won.