Today we interview Bill Blais, author of No Good Deed!
What inspired you to write No Good Deed?
Actually, the story was inspired by a scene that punched me in the head on the way home from Readercon a few years ago. Seriously, it was that strong. I knew immediately that I had to write the whole story to find out what was going on there. That particular scene, however, involved a character and situation that didn’t actually end up in No Good Deed, appearing instead in Hell Hath No Fury. That was the first time that had happened and it was a surprise and a hurdle for me to get over, but I’m glad I finally listened.
I’ve always wondered how authors keep so many characters/creatures straight in their heads. How do you manage?
To be honest, I don’t always. More than I like to admit, I find myself herding the characters through ‘stock’ situations, flat dialogue and heavy-handed plot developments, forcing these vibrant, dynamic, interesting people to conform to my own perceptions of how a story should proceed. At worst, this results in poor writing; at best, it results in me ultimately realizing what I’m doing and chucking the offending pages (in the best scenarios, this is only a few paragraph or a couple pages, but I’ve thrown out quite a few entire chapters because they/I was too bull-headed to recognize the junk I was creating).
On good days, though, I listen. Once these characters hit the page, they are their own people; I am no longer ‘in charge’ — directing who goes where, says what, reacts how — but a fellow discoverer. It certainly helps to have a good idea who the characters are ahead of time, with character sketches and such, but I rarely write something where a new character doesn’t just step on stage and start talking, so listening honestly is critical for me. I’m responsible for paying attention, observing, and recording, and if I can’t do that AND be director at the same time, it just doesn’t work for me.
I don’t know that I can explain it better than that. In a very abstract sense, I see it in the same light as trying to describe the internal experience of having a child. It’s impossible to accurately express, but it’s one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. The fact that it keeps happening is something of a miracle which I remain grateful for each day.
Yes, sometimes it gets a little noisy, but that just means I have to write faster, really.
How many books do you have planned for this series?
Currently it’s open-ended. This is often the way with me. I tend to start with a very specific idea, but in the process of writing the story I find new doors leading to bigger rooms with more doors and more rooms and so on. It drives my wife a little crazy when I come down from the garage all buzzed because I got a new idea about a future book or how short story XYZ is going to become novel (or even a trilogy!). It’s a good thing she’s there, though (for many, many reasons, of course), or I wonder if I would ever finish anything, excited as I am to run off onto new tangents, ideas, etc.
For this series, though, I always envisioned it as extending into several novels (though I’ve already spec’d out a few short stories and a spin-off series — see? I told you.). I emphatically do NOT want to write even a single book more than the characters warrant. This goes back to listening honestly and maintaining the ‘reality’ of the storylines and the characters. I have a pair of main arcs in mind which should take perhaps 6 or 7 books, but since this is my first try at this kind of series, don’t hold me to that.
Are all of your storylines planned out for this series?
The final outline for #3, currently titled The Devil You Know, is finished and waiting for me to start the first draft (as soon as I finish re-reading #2, Hell Hath No Fury, to make sure I’m caught up) and I expect it to be available this winter. The main plot for #4 is also already done, and a recent interaction has sparked a very cool idea for #5, though, as usual, not in the way intended.
I really identified with the lead character. How did you come up with a heroine that is so relatable to everyday women?
Thank you very much! That right there is perhaps what I most hoped to achieve with this series. I love the fantasy and the action and the magic and the darkness, but I wanted to write about someone people could genuinely identify with. I believe very strongly in everyday heroism and I believe that trait is a hallmark for more ‘overt’ heroism, particularly when the dangers involved are recognized on a personal level. Saving the world is great and all, but it’s abstract; saving the people we love is concrete, immediate and, in many cases, irrational (which is one of the things that makes it so powerful, I believe).
Sorry, running off a bit, there. Basically, writing Kelly and keeping her relatable goes back to listening honestly. I’m not terribly original, to tell the truth, but I’ve found that my best lies are based in truth, so I used elements of people I have known as grounding points for Kelly’s personality, for the positives (from other people) as well as the negatives (mainly from me). From these disparate pieces, Kelly quickly took on a life of her own, making her own choices and speaking with her own voice. My job, as usual, was to make sure I was listening closely.
What are you reading right now?
Well, I put Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls aside when I realized I had to re-read No Good Deed and Hell Hath No Fury ahead of writing The Devil You Know (because it’s been a couple years since I read them all the way through and I want to make sure I don’t miss any of the little things), but I’ll be returning to it when I’m done. I’ve found it important to read outside the genre I’m actively writing in.
I’m also re-reading Dick King-Smith’s lovely The Sheep Pig (basis for movie Babe) — a chapter, or two to our infant daughter in the mornings.
Who is your favorite author?
Generally speaking, I go for older (usually dead) authors when it comes to my favorites, the ones I will actually re-read, such as Jane Austen, Henryk Sienkiewicz and Patrick O’Brian. No-one is perfect, of course (me least of all), but I find something effortless and lyrical in their writing (something I’m admittedly jealous of and constantly striving for — which is, I suppose, a bit self-defeating…) and many of their characters have taken up permanent lodgings in my mind, heart and soul. Each time I pick them up, I enjoy them nearly as much as I did the very first time I discovered them.
Tell us one thing about the character of Kelly that we won’t find on the internet.
Her favorite color is blue; specifically, the clear, cool, perfect blue of the sky on a crisp fall morning. Okay, so that’s probably not terribly interesting, but this is hard without giving spoilers. That, or I’m just bad at interviewing, which is probably more likely.
About No Good Deed
Kelly McGinnis has spent her adult life trying to do the right thing, but as a newly down-sized mother of twins and the wife of a man living with Muscular Sclerosis, she also knows that trying isn’t always enough.
While interrupting a scene of police brutality, Kelly unwittingly releases a real, live demon. After she manages to kill the creature through gut instinct and blind luck, she is approached to join a secret group of demon hunters who reveal an underworld of monsters and magic. Kelly’s mill town upbringing proves an unexpected asset and the pay more than covers her husband’s treatments, but the work begins to undermine her sense of right and wrong as she struggles to maintain her ‘normal’ life.
When she encounters Umber, a compelling incubus with an unexpectedly human story, Kelly learns that the truth is far stranger and more terrifying than she imagined.
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About Bill Blais
Bill Blais is a writer, web developer and perennial part-time college instructor. His novels include Witness (winner of the Next Generation Indie Book Award for Fantasy), and the Kelly & Umber urban fantasy series. Bill graduated from Skidmore College before earning an MA in Medieval Studies from University College London. He lives in Maine with his wife and daughter.
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