Frequently (and not-so-frequently)
Where did the idea for the Blood Guard come from?
About fifteen years ago I was working on another writer's novel (a book which is nothing like The Blood Guard), and in that story someone mentioned the idea of the "thirty-six righteous ones." This intrigued me, so I did some research on it.
While the Blood Guard is completely made-up, the notion of the thirty-six is real. According to the traditional belief system called Kabbalah, there exist thirty-six special people whose purity of soul redeems the rest of humanity. (Kabbalistic folklore calls them tzaddikim or nistarim, though elsewhere—and in The Blood Guard—they are known as the thirty-six Pure.) If the souls of enough of these pure ones were somehow to be extinguished, our world would supposedly come to an end.
What if, I wondered, there were an elite guard whose job it was to protect these people? Eventually, I sat down and wondered about it on paper, and it became the first book.
where did you grow up?
I grew up near San Diego, California, in suburbs a lot like you see in eighties Spielberg movies, though a whole lot less prosperous. Our neighborhood was made up of tract houses with small yards side by side with one another, often with a car up on blocks in the yard, or with a home addition that somehow never got completed. The people in those houses were mostly immigrants and military families, and ours was both, though we never thought about such things. My best friend spoke Spanish and English and that seemed to me back then as it should be. (And still seems a good idea to me now—I wish I had fluency in another language.)
What was your childhood like?
It was a pretty happy one, all things considered. Like a lot of children of that era, I was a latchkey kid, meaning I wore my house key on a chain around my neck and used it to get into the house when I got home from school. My much older siblings all did things after school, so often it was just me for a bit before I'd get to work folding the newspapers that I delivered each day so that I could have some spending money. We were always desperate for money, and my brothers were nearly always in trouble for one thing or another, but all in all, it was a happy childhood.
Where did Jack Dawkins come from?
He's sort of "borrowed" from a novel by Charles Dickens called Oliver Twist, a story of kids who run in a gang of pickpockets in mid-nineteenth century London. But as my story took shape, Dawkins' character changed more and more, until he stopped being recognizable as the character from Oliver Twist and very much became his own person. My character of Dawkins began to insist that he actually had known Dickens, and that he'd told Dickens his story while sharing a pint in a public house. Because he also lifted Dickens' purse, the writer later got his vengeance, creating a shady character bearing Jack's name (if not quite the shadiest character in that great book).
How long does it take to write a book?
Depends on how you define "write." I do a lot of very detailed outlining of the Blood Guard novels, so that I know everything that happens before I ever begin to properly write out the story. These outlines can be as long as forty single-spaced pages.
On the other hand, I began drafting my first novel (which I am calling & at the moment) back in the year 2000, and it will be published in 2015 or 2016 after I do one more revision (the 8th). Most of those 15 or 16 years I spent not writing that book. Do they count?
The simplest answer is that it takes anywhere from six months to 16 years, start to finish. A long time!
which authors inspire you?
It is difficult to pin down where inspiration comes from. Certainly I've always been a big reader and moviegoer. When I was twelve, I was a huge fan of the novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs—he gave us Tarzan as well as a half-dozen other characters whose adventures spanned this world and others. I also loved the science fiction stories of Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Leigh Brackett, and dozens of other writers of fantasy. I didn't pay attention to where books were shelved in the library— I mixed up those books (supposedly "adult") with novels by Edward Eager, E. Nesbit, and E.L. Konigsburg (supposedly for kids). Labels didn't matter; I just wanted a good story.
Did you do research for the series?
Not as much as I probably should have done. I did read a great deal about London in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, primarily in Peter Ackroyd's amazing London: A Biography and London Under.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I don't know that I ever made a conscious decision to become a writer. I just sort of always was. I wrote stories and plays all through grade school, and then film scripts and stories throughout junior high and high school. I can't think of a time when I wasn't working on some sort of story or other.
What’s your daily writing routine?
I only wish I had a routine! But when I am working hard on a book, I find it is best to get up early (four to six in the morning), make a pot of coffee, turn on an internet-blocking program I have called Freedom, and work steadily for as long as I can. I find that morning is the best time for new material, and afternoons the best time for editing and revising what I've written earlier in the day.
Why write books for kids?
I sincerely believe that novels for kids matter more than novels for adults. Ask any adult to name his or her favorite book. More than half the time that book will be one first read in late childhood. There's a reason for that. The right book at the right time when you're younger can change your world. Once you're an adult, books matter a whole lot less.
do you write books for adults, too?
Nothing I can talk about quite yet, but there are projects in the works.
What book almost convinced you not to be a writer?
Sometimes you read a book that is just so good, so wonderful, so incomprehensibly perfect that you can't conceive of even hoping to write anything near as worthy of being published. Truly great books can be discouraging that way. We love them, and they make us look all squinty-eyed at our own feeble efforts.
I've certainly felt that way after reading occasional novels—books so good they made it hard to look at my own work and believe it should have a place in the world. The list is a long one: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White. All Alone in the Universe by Lynne Rae Perkins.
I could go on and on; every reader has his or her own list of books that knocked 'em for a loop.
But eventually we pick ourselves up and got back to work. Because the only thing to do is try. There is room for many kinds of novels in the world, even the ones you and I write. And who knows? Maybe one day we'll create something that knocks some other reader for a loop.
Are Tesla guns real?
I sure hope not! No, these were just something I made up. I don't like real guns at all and didn't want them to have any role in these novels. So I had to make up some sort of weaponry to take their place. Nikola Tesla was a scientific genius who invented many devices during his lifetime, including Tesla coils—those strange poles that shoot off bolts of lightning that you may have seen in old-timey monster movies.
In the back of book 1, you thank your cat, Raoul, who passed away. what's the story there?
I just missed him. I still do. Raoul was a few months shy of seventeen years old when he died, and he'd been the most loyal of friends that whole time. Yes, he was a cat, but so what? How many friends last that long? Darn few, that's for sure. Not a day goes by that I don't think of the little guy and wish he were still here.
That's him in the picture below, interrupting me while I work. And if you press the PLAY button inside the picture, you can hear him purring.