Game of Thrones Season 2 has ended. The Winds of Winter won't be out 'til who knows when. Seven hells, I hate waiting! That said, A Song of Ice and Fire is reaching a popularity threshold I'm not entirely comfortable with. Ask me some other time about the Daenerys "fans" I met at my last Cubs game. Ugh.
To help with your pseudo-Medieval cravings, allow me to introduce local author Blake Hausladen. His premiere outing, Ghosts in the Yew, is told from the perspectives of four fantasy characters. The tale has all the right ingredients- a banished prince, a faraway land, a deadly supernatural force, civil war, and a touch of magic. For 600 pages, it's a surprisingly light read. I tackled the entire thing easily before assembling this interview.
Please enjoy Blake Hausladen's musings on religion, research, women, favorite books, and more.
Geek Girl Chicago:
You didn't go to school to be an author, and writing isn't your "day job." When did you know you wanted to write, and how did you begin down that path?
Blake Hausladen: I knew I wanted to write in high school. I went to college convinced that the book I was writing was fantastic. After college, I realized it wasn’t as good as I’d thought it was. When I got to my one-hundredth rejection letter on book number two, I stopped writing and went to graduate school. It wasn't until I had a career, a failed marriage, and finally a happy one, that writing resumed. Experience was my teacher.
GGC: What advice do you have for upcoming authors specifically in Chicago? How can they break into the industry?
BH: The first thing I would say is that writing fiction will not pay the rent--ever. You need to make life work without writing as a source of income. Once you have that sorted out, you will never find yourself in a position where you have to compromise. This is probably not very good advice for someone who wants to be a "successful" writer, but being a "happy" one is a better goal, in my opinion. And for those who are convinced they know best and are certain they are going to make it, do yourselves a favor and prove it. Write 1000 words every day for one hundred days. If you can't do that, then your writing’s just a hobby. If you can, you've just finished a novel.
GGC: Religion plays a strong role throughout Ghosts in the Yew. It drives some to lie and kill, and others to blossom. What is your viewpoint on religion, and how was it important to this book?
BH: I tried very hard to separate my own views on religion from the story. The setting is a fantastical place with a god who can be objectively demonstrated to exist. This makes it difficult to compare to modern religions and hopefully takes the reader far enough afield that discussions of religion can occur in the book without drawing in any of the modern conflicts. I have discarded books that push a point of view and hope never to be accused of the same. That said, I did what I could to let my characters tell me how they felt about the religion that so pervaded their world.
GGC: You give very full descriptions of diverse topics- swordplay, negotiations, fashion, and the pain of horseback riding. What of this knowledge did you already possess, and what did you research specifically for this project?
BH: A mix. Life is not long enough or kind enough to have allowed me any degree of mastery in the hobbies I have claimed over the years. I have broken enough bones in sword fights, fallen from enough horses while barrel racing, and worked on enough contracts to say I am writing from experience. Fashion was something I had to research (same for apple farming, dye making, well construction, working timber, making bows, and winterizing a castle.) Did I mention that I love research?
GGC: The pace of your book is sometimes rapid- Leger conquers alcoholism quickly, Barok's personality flips after his encounter with the ghosts, love is born in a moment, etc. What portions of a tale do you feel should be told slowly, vs. quickly?
BH: Ohh, great questions. It was very hard to decide in each instance whether to delve and give the reader an extra 600 words... But in many instances, because this is a collection of first person stories, unless a character wanted to give up those details, those parts of the story did not get told. The ones you mentioned are perfect examples. My characters did, a time or two, lie to the reader or gloss over weaknesses in their own character. It became the job of the other first person characters to reveal them.
GGC: Several ethical choices are revered in Ghosts in the Yew- military veterans, monogamy, the payment of debts, and respect for the planet, to name a few. Are any of these your personal beliefs, intentionally chosen to be shown in the novel?
BH: Yes, in part. My characters drove a number of ethical viewpoints, and many like the ones you list are ones that I share a reverence for. I did not agree with my characters in all instances, however, and found myself very unhappy with the choices they were making a time or two.
GGC: Were there any real-life inspirations for your characters?
BH: I drew extensively from the stew of personal wreckage and triumphs of those around me. None of my characters is entirely crafted after one person, but each took on parts of those I know and love (or hate).
GGC: Books themselves are very present in this story. Leger reads a romantic drama, Geart learns to read, etc. Tell me about your love of reading, and some of your favorite works.
BH: Reading is just fantastic. I don't read fiction while I am writing, but between projects I consume it in great gulps. The entire Horatio Hornblower collection and everything by David Brin and Glen Cook filled the last break. My all-time favorite fiction titles include Earthclan, the first chapter of Eragon (and not one page more), and Twain's Life on the Mississippi--each for what they taught me about what writing can be, what it shouldn't be, and what it is to write what you know.
GGC: What role did women play in the creation of Ghosts in the Yew, and your writing in general?
BH: Ghosts in the Yew would not have been finished, nor would it be worth reading, if not for my wife, [illustrator,] and editor, Allison. There are many who have written while alone and isolated. I do not recommend it. Writing needs an audience,and my partner is the best kind of fan there is--the kind who can make me get to work and convince me that I am wrong.
I would also suggest, that as far as first person female fantasy characters go, Dia is rare. Her beauty is the means by which she gets to participate in life, but her similarity to other females in fantasy ends there. She is a real person and a tragically flawed heroine of metal and fire.
GGC: The ending of the book is clearly setting up a sequel. Are you working on another piece??
BH: The sequel to Ghosts in the Yew, titled Native Silver, is well underway. The publication date is shifting a bit right now, but should be in the first half of next year.
I recommend Ghosts in the Yew to adults new to fantasy. It covers many of the genre's bases without its more complicated and bizarre tropes. The constant change of voice keeps things engaging, and many aspects of medieval life have been well-researched. Explanatory pictures drawn by the author and his wife break up the text. A few characters experience unbelievably fast changes of heart, but this is to be expected in both a fantasy novel and an author's first venture. I ended up rooting for an entire nation.
Doesn't it feel great to discover something before it's a powerhouse fandom?
Ghosts in the Yew by Blake Hausladen. Available on Amazon.
Get your copy signed this Saturday at the Printers Row Lit Fest (Sunday, June 10th, 2-4 PM. Tent H. FREE.)