Jennifer Blackstream - Exciting New Urban Fantasy
USA Today bestselling author Jennifer Blackstream calls herself…odd. Putting aside the fact that she writes her own author bio in third person, she also sleeps with a stuffed My Little Pony that her grandmother bought her as a joke for her 23rd birthday, and she enjoys listening to Fraggle Rock soundtracks whether or not her children are in the car. As our Author of the Day, Blackstream tells us all about her book, Deadline.
Please give us a short introduction to what Deadline is about.
When village witch Shade Renard agrees to investigate a possible haunting for the FBI, she thinks she’s found the perfect first case to launch her private investigative services. She did not expect to end up working for Cleveland’s notorious undead crime lord, trying to find his missing book of blackmail before a bigger bad can use the information to start a war.
Fortunately, Shade has an enchanted fanny pack, a sarcastic pixie familiar, and an ancient mentor who’s always ready to point out where she went wrong. What more could a witch need?
Tell us more about Shade Renard. What makes her tick?
In the past, Shade did something she wasn’t proud of and took advantage of someone she loved. When her mentor Baba Yaga took her under her wing, and Shade learned more about being a witch, she realized a lot of creatures from the Otherworld got away with their crimes against humanity because humans don’t have the knowledge or the resources to stop them. That’s when Shade’s dream of being a private investigator was born.
Now she works with her FBI partner to close cases that were unsolvable without Otherworldly assistance, giving her life a new purpose and simultaneously allowing her to work off some of her guilt for her own crimes.
What inspired you to write about an undead crime lord who is missing his little black book?
The vampire crime lord in question is actually a hero from one of my paranormal historical romances. I can’t say too much about the details without spoiling some of the Blood Prince series, but suffice it to say the events of that series gave me an opportunity to connect all my series into one world (and, trust me, it’s not easy to connect paranormal historical romance with modern day urban fantasy). And the vampire is one of my favorite characters, so I like to work him in whenever I can…
Why did you name this book "Deadline"?
I wanted this series to have strong, punchy names that would fit in among mystery titles as well as urban fantasy. Deadline works on a few levels, referring both to the fact that Shade has limited time to solve her first case, and hinting at the dead, or undead, nature of the man who hires her.
Your heroine starts out inexperienced and has plenty of weaknesses. Why did you create her this way?
This is an excellent question. I did worry that readers would have a hard time accepting a heroine who didn’t jump out of the box with mad martial arts skills, firing a gun with one hand and clutching a bottle of whiskey with the other. But I know where the Blood Trails series is going, and I know it’s going to take at least eleven, probably more, books to get there. If Shade had started out a badass, then she would have either ceased to grow halfway through the series, or she would have become ridiculously overpowered by the end. I level her up the same way I would level up a character in one of my RPG games, so you will see her getting a little stronger and smarter with each new book.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I can handle my nine-year-old son’s mood swings. When he goes into a sad/mad spiral, I can get him out, and I can usually do it in twenty minutes or less. This probably doesn’t seem that impressive, but some parents out there are clapping for me right now.
Who are some of your favorite authors in fiction and why?
Sir Terry Pratchett and Laurell K. Hamilton are at the top of my list. Sir Terry Pratchett was a scathingly brilliant man, and I am ever envious of his skill to blend deep philosophy with humor in an endless series of quotable lines that I never get tired of. I don’t think I’d have Mother Hazel without Granny Weatherwax.
And Laurell has an incredible gift for writing urban fantasy with layers of mystery, humor, violence, and sexual tension so that I can re-read them over and over and still get something new out of them each time.
Deadline is Book 1 of your Blood Trails series. Can it be read as a standalone? How do the other books in the series tie in with this one?
Every book in the Blood Trails series, including Deadline, has a mystery storyline that will be wrapped up by the end of the book. If a reader wanted to pick up a book in the middle of the series, it would stand alone as its own story.
However, as all great series do, Blood Trails also has a few plotlines that are unveiled piece by piece throughout the series. To appreciate those, and avoid spoilers, it’s best to read the series in order. I would especially not read book six (coming fall 2019) or beyond before reading the first five, because that will have larger spoilers than the others. I do try not to reference the killers from previous books in a way that gives away the whodunit, but that gets more difficult as time goes on.
Does writing about surreal worlds and enigmatic scenes present any particular problems?
No. I use an RPG to give me a baseline for logic insofar as my system of magic, so I don’t worry about explaining how it all works with actual science (never my best subject). So you can count on my rules about magic and creatures to be consistent, if not scientifically sound.
What’s been the most challenging for me for this series is writing the mystery. I use a formal whodunit/mystery structure, meaning I give enough clues and I introduce the villain early enough in the book, that the reader should be able to solve the crime at the same time, or possibly before, Shade does. This means that I need to be careful about what information is revealed when. It also means that any small change in the editing process can snowball mercilessly throughout the book. I lost the first 60k of book five last fall when I realized a change needed to be made, and there was no saving any of it because that detail was connected to too many others.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I get to write the books I want to read. As a voracious reader, there’s nothing like being able to customize your next read to fit to your exact taste.
What is the best writing advice you’ve received?
The first draft of the book is like shoveling sand into a sandbox so you can build a castle later. You can always edit a bad draft, you can’t edit an empty page. So, basically, keep writing, write even when you don’t really feel like it.
Do you have any interesting writing habits, what's your average writing day like?
At one point in my writing process, I use Alexandra Sokoloff’s index card method. I LOVE office supplies, they make me happy, and having a phase of writing that’s a little more tangible than typing on a computer helps get more of my brain involved in the process.
So at one stage of a book, I’ll be on the floor with a pack or two of index cards laid out in the proper format and I’ll be crawling around with different colored Post-its adding notes about what suspect was implicated when and where, what time of day it is (this is important, otherwise I end up with a full day spent questioning one suspect, or a vampire walking around in the middle of the afternoon), and whether or not a scene could be added/removed depending on where the pacing is. It’s both chaotic and beautifully organized, and I love it.
What are you working on right now?
Right now I’m editing book six of the Blood Trails series. There’s a big reveal in this book, and I have to remember that it’s not coming out until late summer/early fall 2019 and I have to keep my spoilers to myself.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
The best way to interact with me is through my newsletter, which you can sign up for at http://www.jenniferblackstream.com/newsletter/. You can respond to any newsletter I send and you’ll get a response.
I’m also active in my Magic, Mayhem, and Murder Book Club Facebook group, which you can find here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/841840115987533/ You have to read Deadline before you can join, because I don’t require spoiler warnings for that book.