Firstly, a bit about Jason in his own words.
I live in Calgary, Canada at the moment though I was born in Cape Town, South Africa but grew up in Johannesburg. My heritage is Welsh, Irish, English, and as much as I have a thirst for justice, I’m not as funny or as tough as Anthony Carrick.
I’ve spent a couple of years at art school. Alberta College of Art here in Calgary and I have an English degree from the University of Calgary. The only award I’ve won of note is Best Dad of 2005, but I think the jury (my son) might have been biased.
I live with 4 cats, my wife and my son and somehow “still getz to rite over furry fingerz”. I’ve done a bunch of different jobs from school bus driver, coffee shop manager and cop, though none of them have given me the satisfaction I get from writing for very little pay.
I have 2 novels out right now, both available in paperback and a variety of eformats for most ereaders. Dust on His Soul is my literary novel and First Feature is my first Anthony Carrick mystery. There is also a short story mystery starring Anthony Carrick called Money Ain’t Nothing (all available on Amazon US, Amazon UK, Smashwords).
Now for the questions.
When did you first think of becoming a writer and who or what got you interested in writing?
I started thinking of becoming a writer probably around grade 5 or 6 when I wrote a poem that got really great reception from my English teacher at the time. I had always been artistic and to this day I still love to paint. But the idea of painting with words, of conjuring up imagery in a reader’s mind through words was and continues to be very intoxicating.
I have always had a great fondness and interest for poetry, and I owe a debt to the great poets who helped me understand the intricacies of life and how to give expression to that. Dylan Thomas, Walt Whitman and Charles Bukowski come to mind, but they are certainly not the only ones.
How would you describe your books and style?
I write 2 types of books or in 2 different genres and so I think there is some difference between the 2. I started writing poetry and from there literary fiction, my first literary novel being Dust on His Soul. My literary fiction is very much about the character more so than the plot or story. Through my literary fiction I’m trying to explore the fragility and difficulty of human life but at the same time the ability of the human spirit to always triumph.
I think with both my literary fiction as well as my mystery fiction, I enjoy to paint pictures with words and this is perhaps imbued from my artistic background and being a painter. For me, words are just a different medium with which to paint pictures.
With my mystery novels, the first one being First Feature, I’m still very much driven by the character, but here the plot and the mystery plays a much larger part than in my literary novels. Though to be fair, my private investigator Anthony Carrick seems to suggest the mystery or story from his character. I’m not sure if that makes a lot of sense. But if you look around at your closest friends, if they got into a certain situation you’d “get” it, it would seem right for them to get into that situation. It’s the same with Anthony Carrick, it just seems right that he is tasked with investigating certain mysteries because of who he is.
My mystery novels are also very much in the hardboiled genre of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. I loved their books and wish they had written more. They didn’t, so I got to writing my own : D
When you write do you have a particular routine you follow, and what do you find the most difficult part of writing a book?
I don’t have a particular routine that I follow when I write. No talisman or other habits. I don’t have a special pen although I do have to chug 7 fingers of Scotch before I start… just kidding!
I do however find writing hard. It is a labour and if you’ll forgive me for the simile, I find it to be very much like a birthing labour. The pain and the anguish and the work is incredible, difficult and at times seems like it’ll never end. But the outcome, just like a baby is beautiful and unique and very much worth it.
So the most difficult part of writing a book is the actual writing. When I’m starting a book I have to commit to it and do it everyday whether I want to or not. I don’t leave my chair until I’ve written my 1,000 words for the day. Some days that takes several hours and other days it seems to come easier. But it’s a grind. I sit down and do it regardless, with maybe the occasional day off on the weekend.
Many writers seem to flow with their muse. I wish. In my dreams that would be the case for me. Writing for me is a bloodbath, at the very least a bloodletting.
Do you start a book knowing what the beginning, middle and end will be or does it take on a life of it's own as you write?
This depends on the genre. For the literary novels I write about, the character carries the story and I write it as it unfolds. I generally have an idea of the beginning and the overarching theme of the story I want to tell. For example, in Dust on His Soul I knew what I was going to write about. I was inspired by the life of Stephen Biko so I wanted to try and explore the character of such a man. The beginning was there and the general idea of what happens at the end was there, though not necessarily the specific ways it happened.
With my mystery novel First Feature, I find that the plot must be developed ahead of time. So I come up with it in more detail. I try and think about why the person murdered was murdered, and I come up with some folks who could have done it, each with a valid reason, and then I choose the person who will be the actual killer and from there I have only rough outlines for the chapters. But as I said, the mystery must be known to me before hand. I must completely understand the who done it of the whodunit before I can write the book.
I think that having worked as a cop for some time certainly helps with some of the technical aspects, but I think having a natural curiosity about people and their motivations gives me an understanding of why people do the things they do.
Are you self-published or traditionally published, and what has been the best and worst thing about the route you have taken?
I am self published and I think it is becoming a more viable option as time goes by. It happened because I really felt that DoHS was a story that needed to be told and made available to the reading public and after more than 300 rejections (I stopped counting at that point), I decided to publish it myself. Now that I’ve done that I’m comfortable with the process and will continue in this vein unless something exceptional comes my way.
The best thing about it is the complete control you have over the entire process. But this is a double edged sword as it is also the worst thing about it. The amount of work involved in marketing, proofing, cover design, publishing it etc, etc, can be quite overwhelming.
If this isn't too much like asking a dad which of his children he likes best, which of your characters is your favourite?
I like Anthony Carrick, my mystery PI the best. He’s just a really cool guy who I’d love to hang out with. Though I admire my protagonist in DoHS for his passion, ethics and sacrifice.
What do you like to read and do you have any other passions?
I love reading good books generally, though I tend to stick with what I like to write about which is literary fiction and mystery fiction. Currently I’m reading Janet Evanovich. I also love reading poetry. Poetry to me is like a big buffet of tapas where you can find so much tasty goodness and it’s not filling. I love the quick serving that poetry can offer.
I have several other passions. I love painting too as I mentioned. It was painting where I started with my artistic pursuits. I really enjoy running and I love cooking and baking. I’m always trying new and unusual vegan recipes and I make damn good New York style boiled bagels. I’m really enthusiastic about coffee and I roast my own coffee beans, favouring African and South American beans as rule, but as they say about rules, there are always exceptions!
Finally, what are you working on at the moment that you can tell us about?
I’m sort of working on 3 projects at the moment. The first is a literary novel that is told backwards in time. The idea being that if we start at the end and work backwards perhaps we can prevent the end from happening in the first place.
Then there is the second Anthony Carrick novel which brings Anthony to New York to solve the murder of one of the Philharmonics violinists. This is a story that arcs through 70+ years and takes place in Europe and New York. Grudges can be held for a long time before they find their outlet. I’m hoping to have this out early in 2012.
Finally, I’m percolating the idea of a new series of books that will be a mix of the A Team meets Jason Bourne. These will be pure action adventure, adrenaline, over the top stories for just pure entertainment and escapism. Expect the first one out in the middle to late 2012.
Another very busy author with a coffee habit! I'm beginning to think the two go hand in hand. A man with a really interesting background, you can find out more about Jason and his writing at jasonblacker.com and he writes a daily haiku at Haiku, and says "you tweet me if you’re a sweetie" (groan) @JasonBlacker (his groan not mine!)