Keith, welcome to Lavender Lass Books. Thank you for agreeing to this interview and best of luck in the competition!
The Girl Drank Poison is the third book in the Vecris series. Here’s the blurb:
A magic potion may spoil; its intended effects lost to time. The power of a potion, however, never fades. It contorts, deforms, and mutates, often leading to something monstrous. Thus tragedy befalls Zellin Percour, a young woman tricked into drinking an expired love potion. Now, transformed into an abomination, she’s rampaging her way toward the town of Sleeping Bear, hellbent on finding the man who deceived her.
Horace is enjoying his quiet life. He loves his wife, his children, and his shop in Sleeping Bear. He’s grateful that his violent past is buried deeper than the bodies left in his wake. But when a fool leads disaster to his door, he must revive his lethal talents or risk losing everything.
Griever wields a weapon of untold power. She’s also only two feet tall. This makes her both the deadliest and most easily overlooked bounty hunter in the world. She’s caught the scent of her hero, legendary pirate Lorenzo Blade, and is eager to discover if the man lives up to his myth. Her trail leads her to Sleeping Bear, where she’s about to discover all manner of hell lying beneath the surface.
And now to the interview:
1. Is this your first time entering #SPFBO? Why did you decide to enter this book?
This is my second time entering in the #SPFBO. I submit my novel, Necromantica, last year. That book is a hybrid first- and second-person narrative about a necromancer and her rogue companion fighting through a battle between men and orcs. They’re trying to steal an amulet from a holy king that will enhance her powers. It’s an action packed, haunting, non-chronological story. I’ll be honest, most feedback I’ve received is that it takes a while for readers to really click with it. The style takes some getting used to. So no shock that it was axed in the first round. But it was still worth entering. Even being cut, I received some great reviews on Goodreads. I made a lot of decent connections with other authors. The#SPFBO is a lot more about that. I’ve been self-publishing for twenty years, and this is one of the coolest writing communities online. Sure, we’re all competing. Who doesn’t want an illustrious selfie stick? But it’s more about supporting one another. Most online writing groups have a tendency to become a pit of persistent self-promotion. This bipasses all that crap while giving us a shared experience, or reason to bond. How do I put this… It’s not enough to say that most of my favorite books came out of last year’s #SPFBO. More accurately, all my favorite authors came out of last year’s competition.
So this year, I entered The Girl Drank Poison because I kind of want the selfie stick. You know, not enough to pay money for one. Like if I see a magic wand in a store I think, “That’s neat, but do I really need one?” So if I win, that scratches the itch.
Really, I just entered my book because I’m excited to share it. The Girl Drank Poison is a quirky, layered romp. It started with the silliest premise. Do magic potions ever expire? It was supposed to be a goofy ten or twenty page story. Next thing I knew I had this ridiculous, over-the-top adventure about a ferret battling a kaiju because she wants to impress a pirate. The story is such a bizarre animal, but it’s a blast,and I’m hoping everybody will check it out.
2. Why do you write in the fantasy genre? What make this genre particularly appealing to you?
Fantasy really lets you take the gloves off. Whatever you’re interested in, whatever fascinates you, fantasy lets you totally geek out and build entire worlds around the subject. You have the stories that are about exploration and discovery. There are the authors who love political dramas and go nuts building entire systems of government. Others are all about action scenes and strange creatures. If you’re really into geology and cookware, go nuts! Write a fantasy story about geology and cookware. Fantasy is LEGO. It can take any shape. It can be whatever you need to express yourself.
3. Why did you decide to self-publish?
Lots of reasons. I’ve been self-publishing for almost twenty years. I started, like many young authors who hadn’t developed their craft, with the notion that I could. And I don’t mind saying f’d that up. Hard. The short version is that I was twenty and stoned. Back then a vanity press would publish any old thing for about a hundred dollars. I didn’t have to format or anything. They’d just do it.. Surprise, surprise, the book was awful. Just a bunch of unedited garbage. They say you should never destroy your old writings, but if anyone reading this happens upon my first book, like on the street or something, you now have a moral obligation. You have to burn that POS and scatter the ashes over some cat litter. It’s that terrible. I’m not a religious man, but if you’re compelled to incorporate some holy water into that book’s destruction, it can only improve your odds in the afterlife.
That said, I tried going the more traditional route for a while. You know, lesson learned and all. But it wasn’t for me. The entire process felt defeatist. I’m not knocking anybody who chooses that path. There’s certainly a sense of prestige and success in having your work accepted by an agent or publisher. But for myself, I kept asking, “Why am I spending all this time and effort getting my work into the hands of agents and publishers, just to pretend I’m excited if the rejection note is personalized? Why am I spending five months on a story, followed by two years of sending it around, for the payoff of thirty bucks and five free copies of the magazine that accepted it?” For my own mental health, I couldn’t base my entire future as a writer on the hope that someday, somebody might like my work enough to print some copies. Especially with how the industry was reshaping through the Internet.
4. Are there advantages to self-publishing? What about the challenges?
The obvious challenge is the entire process involves a ton of trial and error. You could watch every YouTube tutorial about becoming a successful author and still only have a vague notion of what it takes to build your audience or find a reliable editing service. You’re on your own, and it can take a lot of failure or a ton of minor successes to find a path that’s right for you. There’s no tried and true method, no matter what anybody sells you.
What works in self-publishing for me is mostly just control. When I’m writing, I’m not hoping somebody, one day, will accept my book. I’m making the book. I’m forming a marketing strategy. I’m coming up with concepts for cover art. I’m auditioning audiobook narrators. I’m seeking out editors. It’s like having two full time jobs. Writing is a full time job. Publishing and marketing is another. It’s a ton to put on yourself, along with whatever you’re doing for financial stability, but it’s always worth it. You’re actively building your own career.
5. As a reader, and now author, how has the fantasy genre changed over the last several years? How has it stayed the same?
I don’t know if the genre has changed or I’ve just been exposed to a lot more. Growing up, fantasy books were always quest books. You have your plucky band of heroes, some greater evil, and a journey through assorted obstacles toward victory. There are still plenty of books like that. Never Die by Rob Hayes is everything I look for in a good fantasy adventure. But the genre has also broadened significantly. Certain elements are always there. A bit of magic. A medieval flare. But you look at the The Heartsmith’s Daughters by Harry Campion and, even while being traditional, fairy tale lore, he brings this totally new spin to it. Then you have stuff like Robert Bevan’s Caverns & Creatures series. It’s all about crass humor and vulgarity. He’s not reinventing the wheel, but it’s hilarious watching him throw sticks into the spokes.
I’m seeing a lot more inclusion and representation in the genre. Again, that might be my own limited perspective. Lately, I’m actively seeking out more authors from other ethnicities or the LGBTQ+ community. This morning I started a book by Kristen S Walker. My recent favorite, which I think I’m going to go back and read for a fourth time, is NK Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy. If you’re looking for something to crack open your perspective of what fantasy can be, she’s brilliant. She’s eloquent. She elevates the entire genre. She weaves a narrative so epic and intimate. I could go on and on. I have such a writer crush on her. It’s embarrassing.
6. Do you write (or plan to write) in any other genres?
I dabble all over the place. I have modern day horror-adventures out there. A few sci-fi stories. I’m constantly debating on writing some satirical David Sedaris style essays. I used to write blogs similar to that. I kept inadvertently offending loved ones so I stopped. But I’ll write pretty much anything. When crafting a story, I always start with a topic and let the world and characters evolve from whatever my eventual thesis is. I have one story, Black Friday, that’s a sci-fi comedy about the commercialization of holiday traditions and family values. My Roadside Attraction series is a bunch of monster stories that poke fun at alpha male toxicity. As long as I have a topic to explore, any genre is on the table….Maybe not erotica. …But now that I’ve said that, I could see myself writing the sultry tale of a right wing, pharmaceutical lobbyist and some liberal pushing for stricter gun regulations screaming at each other from across the room. All the congressmen in the room keep picking up on the sexual tension, and things fall off the rails. Yep. That’d be some quality fiction right there.
7. What do you look for in a story? Especially in the fantasy genre? (Original ideas, plot lines, character development, world building, etc.?)
Character is everything. You could have the most fascinating world or unique story line, and it doesn’t mean jack if I’m not interested in the people suffering through your narrative. That goes double for indie writers. Even with limited resources, maybe not the best editing or stuff along those lines, I will suffer through any poorly written book as long as I’m fascinated by the characters.
That said, I have finished and even recommended books in spite of hating the main characters. I know so many people who love The Name of the Wind. I just couldn’t get behind Kvothe. The whole book was a power fantasy where he was the perfect man for every situation and it drove me up the wall. When he’s not saving the pretty girl, he’s making the townspeople weep with his sick guitar solos. It was way too much. But if somebody asks if they should read it, the prose was well written. The world was fascinating. There are plenty of elements to enjoy. I just think it’d have a better ending if Kvothe stubbed his toe at the end. That’s all.
8. Are you working on a new book? Can you share any details?
Technically, I’m working on four. I’m editing the third book in my Roadside Attraction series. It’s called Ruff Stuff. The whole series is about an immortal hillbilly, Gus, and his lesbian sidekick, Millie, hunting and battling assorted campy, b-movie monsters. The last book, Tramp Stamp Vamp was about how Millie met Gus. This next book is going to elaborate on Gus’s past and show how Millie got stuck with him.
I’m also working on three other books in my Vecris series. One is a novelette about a sword enchanted by the god of love. He hated seeing people suffer when they were stabbed in battle, so he created a sword that makes people feel blissful when they’re cut by it. So the story is more or less about addiction. It was sort of a palette cleanse I wrote while self-isolating at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It fits into the Vecris world, but is just a little side story.
There’s a coda at the end of The Girl Drank Poison. One of the protagonist’s, Griever, is an immortal ferret. In that book it’s mentioned she has a baby brother. This next book is both a prequel to The Girl Drank Poison and a direct sequel to Necromantica. Griever’s brother is charged with investigating the events of Necromantica. So it’s going to weave those books together and start expanding into the series’s overall narrative.
If that’s not enough, I’m also working on a book that takes place a few centuries after The Girl Drank Poison. It kicks off another era in the narrative, introducing a wizard named Callum Cloone. He’s one of the main protagonists of the series. This adventure follows him on a diplomatic mission in a remote part of the world. It’s a little early to discuss the plot, but the story is about as far from The Girl Drank Poison as I could get. It’s a slow, philosophical burn. Very meditative.
9. Do you have any advice you would offer to writers who plan to self-publish in the fantasy genre?
On your first day as a self-published fantasy author, find the biggest, baddest looking writer around, and deck him across the jaw. No words. No warning. You just start swinging and don’t stop until the bloggers and Ingram-Spark staff pull you off his battered, twitching body. Even as they haul you away, get loud. Cackle. Make eye contact with the next biggest writer and blow a little kiss. Show everybody you’re not to be messed with. That’s how you get respect.
You can find Keith Blenman’s book on Amazon! https://www.amazon.com/Girl-Drank-Poison-Vecris-Book-ebook/dp/B084KXB6YY