I first met this week’s author, Deborah Blake, in 2011, when we joined with several other authors to form the now defunct writers’ blog collective, Black Ink, White Paper. Although we were a varied group, Deborah stood out from the rest of us because she is, you see, a self-proclaimed witch. I mean that in the esoteric sense. In fact, I was a student of the white arts in my younger days, so I was as pleased when she joined as I was disappointed when her other obligations forced her to depart from our company. You can imagine, then, how pleased I am that she has agreed to grace my website with her presence.
Deborah Blake has published seven books on modern witchcraft with Llewellyn Worldwide and has an ongoing column in Witches & Pagans Magazine. When not writing, Deborah runs The Artisans’ Guild, a cooperative shop she founded with a friend in 1999, and also works as a jewelry maker, tarot reader, and energy healer. She lives in a 120-year-old farmhouse in rural upstate New York with five cats who supervise all her activities, both magical and mundane.
Her latest title, WICKEDLY DANGEROUS – book 1 in the Baba Yaga series, is a paranormal romance. Look for its release on September 2, just one week and one day after this interview launches.
Known as the wicked witch of Russian fairy tales, Baba Yaga is not one woman, but rather a title carried by a chosen few. They keep the balance of nature and guard the borders of our world, but don’t make the mistake of crossing one of them…
Older than she looks and powerful beyond measure, Barbara Yager no longer has much in common with the mortal life she left behind long ago. Posing as an herbalist and researcher, she travels the country with her faithful (mostly) dragon-turned-dog in an enchanted Airstream, fulfilling her duties as a Baba Yaga and avoiding any possibility of human attachment.
But when she is summoned to find a missing child, Barbara suddenly finds herself caught up in a web of deceit and an unexpected attraction to the charming but frustrating Sheriff Liam McClellan.
Now, as Barbara fights both human enemies and Otherworld creatures to save the lives of three innocent children, she discovers that her most difficult battle may be with her own heart…
Wow! That’s quite an intriguing premise, Deborah, and it compels me to ask if there is a story behind the story.
I suppose there are two stories: the original Russian and Slavic fairy tale that the character is based on, and my story of how I came to write this particular book. The Baba Yaga is a classic Russian fairy tale which featured a witch (of the typical ugly old crone variety) who was sometimes depicted as evil and scary, but other times could be petitioned for aid by a worthy seeker. She lived in a wooden hut in the woods, and the hut ran about on huge chicken legs (so it was rarely in the same place), and often turned its back to the visitor. Baba Yaga flew in a large mortar steered by a pestle, and used her broom to sweep away her tracks. She was sometimes found in the company of a mystical dragon named Chudo-Yudo, and there were some versions where there was more than one Baba Yaga (she often referred to her “sisters”).
When I decided I wanted to write an updated fairy tale, I didn’t want to use any of the better-known stories, such as Beauty and the Beast or Sleeping Beauty, which many authors had already crafted stories about more than once. So I chose to use Baba Yaga, who was more obscure, but whose name was still familiar to many people, and update her for the modern world. (Plus, of course, make her a cool and powerful kickass protagonist.)
For all of us writers, one story always leads to another. What are you working on now?
My current work in progress is a complete change of pace. Instead of being a paranormal romance, it is a humorous contemporary romance. I’m having a lot of fun writing it. I always use some humor in my writing, but intentionally writing a book that is supposed to be funny is giving me a much greater scope for snark. And shockingly, there is nary a witch to be seen. Also, I have a fabulous Sekrit Project for Llewellyn, the publishers of my nonfiction work, which I can’t talk about just yet.
Why have you chosen your particular genre?
I’ve always loved fantastical stories. I grew up devouring fantasy, fairy tales, science fiction, and anything else that created different worlds or showed a secret side of the so-called real world. Plus, as a practicing witch who also writes about modern witchcraft, it made sense for me to write about witches!
Would you tell us why your writing is different from other authors in this genre?
I’ve found that there has been a trend for some time for paranormal romances to be very gritty and very sexy. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I like to read a few of those too. But for people who prefer their paranormal with a slightly lighter touch and a little less naked, I tried to offer something a bit different. Also, of course, there is a very cool dragon disguised as a giant white pit bull. You don’t see a lot of that.
You began your career as a published author before many of us did, before the publishing world changed. Will you tell us a bit about your path to publication?
It was damned long J. I wrote my first nonfiction book for Llewellyn back in 2005 (it came out in 2007), and started working on fiction about that time. I wrote my first novel—about a witch, of course—and spent a couple of years polishing it. I entered a number of contests, got some great feedback and a lot of enthusiasm, and started sending it out to agents. Wherein I got 67 rejections. Yes, you are reading that number right. Mind you, many of those were rejections of partials and fulls, so the manuscript was making it a lot further down the line than just an initial rejection. And a number of the agents said, “Not this one, but I’d look at another.” So I wrote another, and got some more rejections. I looked at all the feedback I’d gotten over the two years or so of writing, revising, re-revising, and re-re-revising (plus some amazingly generous advice from agents along the way) and set out to make my third book a lot better. By that time, I’d narrowed down my agent “wish list” to five names. I sent the third book out to three of those people. One said he wasn’t taking on any new writers. Another said she didn’t like the voice. The third said she’d just sold a book too much like it, and couldn’t take it on—BUT she loved it. That was Lucienne Diver, and she passed the manuscript on to another agent at The Knight Agency, Elaine Spencer, who read it on a Friday/Saturday and called on Monday night to offer representation. Then we didn’t sell that book. Or the one after it. This novel is the seventh one I’ve written, and the third we sent out. Never say die. At least not in publishing.
Amen! Since you are an experienced hand at this craft, do you have a writing routine?
I try to write every day (although in reality, it is more like 5-6 days a week). Since I have a day job, although thankfully not one that is 40 hours a week, I usually write in the evening, from about 6:30 until 9:30 or 10. Once I’m in the zone on a book, I often do two stints on Saturdays and Sundays. I probably average about 1,000 words a day, although on a good day, I can manage 3,000 or more. I have a whiteboard that I use to track my daily word and page count, and monitor my progress. It can either inspire or depress me, depending on how things are going, but it gives me a nice concrete way to watch the book slowly growing.
Do you have another job outside of writing?
I manage an artists’ cooperative shop with 50 local and regional artists; a potter friend and I started it about 15 years ago. I also make gemstone jewelry that I sell at the shop, and do some professional tarot reading and energy healing on the side.
Would you care to share something about your home life?
I live in a 120 year old farmhouse with a large garden, five cats, and a sacred circle out behind the barn. I’m perilously close to being a witchy cliché. But I really value the relative calm and quiet of being in the country, since I find it hard to write when it is noisy. And working in the garden is good therapy, especially when coming home from juggling the needs and various quirky personalities of 50 artists.
Do you have a favorite quote?
“Humor, har.” (From Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer) Or anything from The Princess Bride movie. “Bye bye, boys. Have fun stormin’ the castle.” “Will it work?” “It would take a miracle.” “Wuv, tru wuv.” Jeez, don’t get me started. Oh, wait, you probably wanted something inspiring and intellectual. In that case, Einstein’s definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
Hah! I LOVE your sense of humor. I need to move on to something else, or you’re apt to get me started. You must forgive me, then, if I turn us to something more serious. What is your greatest life lesson?
Being positive is always better than being negative. When faced with a tough situation, I would rather laugh than cry, rather assume the best possible outcome, rather be a force for growth and change than for stagnation and destruction. When life kicks you in the teeth (and it will), pick yourself up, give it the finger, and keep on going. (If necessary, judiciously apply chocolate and wine as needed to make this possible.)
What are a few of your favorite authors?
How long do you have? Jennifer Crusie, Lani Diane Rich, Trisha Ashley, Katie Fforde (all humorous contemporary romance, the last two are Brits). C.E. Murphy, Carol Berg, Kim Harrison, Jim Butcher, Patricia Briggs, Patricia McKillip, Alex Bledsoe, Jim C. Hines, Maria V. Snyder and Lisa DiDio (she’s my CP—not published yet, but pretty soon everyone will know her name!)
For the uninitiated, Lisa was also part of Black Ink, White Paper. OK. Lightning Round.
The one thing I cannot do without is:
In one or two words, what is your defining trait?
Loyalty and dependability
Hard copy or ebook?
Hah! You’re doing it again. Favorite book:
Faking It by Jennifer Crusie
The Princess Bride
Do you have a parting thought you would like to leave us with?
Writing is a gift that authors share with their readers. Reading is the gift that is given to us in return. Amazing how well that works out for everyone.
Before I close, here is an excerpt from WICKEDLY DANGEROUS, followed by the links you will need to follow Deborah and purchase her books:
Plopping his hat on over his dark blonde hair, Liam strode up to the door of the Airstream—or at least, where he could have sworn the door was a couple of minutes ago. Now there was just a blank wall. He pushed the hair out of his eyes again and walked around to the other side. Shiny silver metal, but no door. So he walked back around to where he started, and there was the entrance, right where it belonged.
“I need to get more sleep,” he muttered to himself. He would almost have said the Airstream was laughing at him, but that was impossible. “More sleep and more coffee.”
He knocked. Waited a minute, and knocked again, louder. Checked his watch. It was six AM; hard to believe that whoever the trailer belonged to was already out and about, but it was always possible. An avid fisherman, maybe, eager to get the first trout of the day. Cautiously, Liam put one hand on the door handle and almost jumped out of his boots when it emitted a loud, ferocious blast of noise.
He snatched his hand away, then laughed at himself as he saw a large, blunt snout pressed against the nearest window. For a second there, he’d almost thought the trailer itself was barking. Man, did he need more coffee.
At the sound of an engine, Liam turned and walked back toward his car. A motorcycle came into view; its rider masked by head-to-toe black leather, a black helmet, and mirrored sunglasses that matched the ones Liam himself wore. The bike itself was a beautiful royal blue classic BMW that made Liam want to drool. And get a better paying job. The melodic throb of its motor cut through the morning silence until it purred to a stop about a foot away from him. The rider swung a leg over the top of the cycle and dismounted gracefully.
“Nice bike,” Liam said in a conversational tone. “Is that a sixty-eight?”
“Sixty-nine,” the rider replied. Gloved hands reached up and removed the helmet, and a cloud of long black hair came pouring out, tumbling waves of ebony silk. The faint aroma of orange blossom drifted across the meadow, although none grew there.
A tenor voice, sounding slightly amused, said, “Is there a problem, officer?”
Liam started, aware that he’d been staring rudely. He told himself it was just the surprise of her gender, not the startling Amazonian beauty of the woman herself, all angles and curves and leather.
“Sheriff,” he corrected out of habit. “Sheriff Liam McClellan.” He held out one hand, then dropped it back to his side when the woman ignored it. “And you are?”
“Not looking for trouble,” she said, a slight accent of unidentifiable origin coloring her words. Her eyes were still hidden behind the dark glasses, so he couldn’t quite make out if she was joking or not. “My name is Barbara Yager. People call me Baba.” One corner of her mouth edged up so briefly, he almost missed it.
“Welcome to Clearwater County,” Liam said. “Would you like to tell me what you’re doing parked out here?” He waved one hand at the Airstream. “I assume this belongs to you?”
She nodded, expressionless. “It does. Or I belong to it. Hard to tell which, sometimes.”
Liam smiled gamely, wondering if his caffeine deficit was making her sound odder than she really was. “Sure. I feel that way about my mortgage sometimes. So, you were going to tell me what you’re doing here.”
“Was I? Somehow I doubt it.” Again, that tiny smile, barely more than a twitch of the lips. “I’m a botanist with a specialty in herbalism; I’m on sabbatical from UC Davis. You have some unusual botanical varieties growing in this area, so I’m here to collect samples for my research.”
Liam’s cop instincts told him that her answer sounded too pat, almost rehearsed. Something about her story was a lie, he was sure of it. But why bother to lie about something he could so easily check?
“Do you have some kind of ID?” he asked. “Your vehicle didn’t turn up in the database and my dispatcher couldn’t find any record of a permit for you to be here. This is county property, you know.” He put on his best “stern cop” expression. The woman with the cloud hair didn’t seem at all fazed.