Since I enjoyed Sand of Bone from the storybundle, I decided to pester blairmacg with some questions! I found her answers fascinating, so I’m sharing!
Knowing your background as a martial arts teacher, I wasn’t at all surprised at the authenticity of the fight and training scenes in your novel. What did surprise me was how well you captured the military culture! Do you have any background in that, or is it something you picked up in some other way?
I’ve never served in the military, but those who serve and have served are a big part of my life. I work with National Guard families through my dojo, my adult students have included many military folks, and my late husband served in the Army.
But the biggest military influence came from my father, who continued in the Naval Reserves for more than twenty years. I grew up watching war movies and documentaries, reading books by Ernest Gunn, and visiting military museums and battlefields. We talked frankly about duty, honor, commitment, and sacrifice.
Martial arts also played a role. I teach and train within a tight-knit family system, so though we often socialize (including a week-long camp every summer) rank is still observed. Over twelve years, I’ve gained a small sense of what it feels like to function within a rank-based system—how to disagree and argue, how to find unspoken boundaries of etiquette, and how to immediately shift interactions from two friends to sensei and student when we bow onto the mat.
When developing the culture for Sand of Bone, I knew I wanted a strong martial tradition, but didn’t necessarily want to recreate the expected military atmosphere. The Blades are most certainly ruled by rank and experience, but commanders are expected to cooperate as well as command. Since the command units tend to be small, the rank-and-file are expected to debate with their superiors, and to know when to instead obey without question. Personal relationships within and between the ranks—from platonic friendships to life-long sexual partnerships—are expected and accepted. Men and women train and work side by side. While the structure is solid, there is flexibility as well.
But the questions of loyalty and honor and promises kept in the face of moral ambiguity, ethical questions, and brutal combat… All of those remain. No command structure can make them go away.
Desert fantasy: pretty rare! What inspired you to create a hot-weather fantasy?
My grandparents owned a one-room cabin set in the middle of some acreage in the southern Mojave desert. Many childhood weekends were spent there and, since those weekends were in the 70s, I was permitted to explore the incredible landscape on my own. I got to peek into abandoned mine shafts, catch snakes with my bare hands, and swim in a hot springs oasis. In my young adulthood, I’d camp and backpack in parts of the Mojave and around Sedona, and in the dry mountains of central and southern California.
Before moving to the Midwest, before I was surrounded by constant moisture and vegetation, I didn’t understand how much I loved open, dry, clean horizons. There is an incredible sense of freedom and isolation, standing on a rocky crest to gaze over an open and wind-blown landscape that is home to all sorts of tough and resilient life. It wasn’t the heat that attracted me. It was the quiet. The alone-ness. The crystal-dusted nighttime sky and the unshaded light of day.
Deserts give you few places to hide and exceedingly thin margins of error. That atmosphere best suits the story of Sand of Bone.
As far as I know, all your work is indie-published. Can you tell us about your publishing journey? What made you choose the path you did?
Other than the three short story sales from a few years ago (Writers of the Future, Speculon, Cicada), yes—I’m indie. It was a twenty-year journey. I’ll try to cut out the boring parts.
I was fortunate to learn the craft of writing from some exceptional authors: Laurie Marks and Sherwood Smith, then Tim Powers and K.D. Wentworth through Writers of the Future, and (much later, at the end of the journey) the instructors and students of Viable Paradise. And they taught me what was then the only game in town—queries and synopses and exclusive submissions and long, long waits. I danced the submission-go-round for a decade, and have some of the most lovely, detailed, and flattering rejection letters you can imagine. Hearing again and again, “I love it, but it’s not right for me now, so send me the next one, and I won’t take so long to get back to you next time!” made my writing career seem like the can everyone had decided to kick down the road.
Then along came The Years of Great Turmoil, when the personal life spent much time under a scorched-earth assault. Near the end of it, my husband urged me to resume writing if I still loved it. And I did love it! And missed it so much! So I applied to the writing workshop Viable Paradise and was accepted. But I still had a dilemma: I wanted to write stories, and I wanted readers to enjoy them, but the thought of dealing with trade publishers and the submission process again was… less than joyful.
I stumbled onto Kris Rusch’s business blog, had a couple “Omigod, is this really a thing?” conversations with writers whose judgment I trusted, and had mostly made up my mind by the time I attended Viable Paradise. But what solidified my decision was a pro giving the standard response to authors querying or withdrawing a submission after an exceptionally long wait: “If you want the answer now, the answer will be no.”
And very quietly, the last of my indie-publishing doubt settled. I wasn’t going to invest another two, three, or five years waiting for someone else to make a decision. My answer was no, and it pleased me.
You see, life is short. Those years of turmoil I mentioned? They came to a crashing end. In less than five months time, my husband had three heart attacks, was diagnosed with end-stage liver and lung cancer, entered at-home hospice care, and passed away.
Life is that short.
So I set to work learning all I could about the new and evolving independent options, and attended the “Think Like A Publisher” workshop taught by Dean Smith and Scott Carpenter. It certainly helped that I’d been self-employed as an actor, speaker, and freelance writer since my late teens. I made a couple “practice runs” with short stories and novella. In late 2012, I published my first novel, and in 2013, participated in my first Indie Fantasy Bundle with StoryBundle. Sand of Bone came out last summer, and its sequel is scheduled for an April release.
I have never once regretted the decision.
And now some silly questions! Animal that would best represent you:
I’d love it to be something sleek or exotic, but I’m a mutt dog. I’m made up of a jumble that somehow fits together, I believe in playing hard and taking naps in the sun, and while some folks might wander in and out of my life, my family pack is forever. And big, thick steaks are most marvelous things.
In the morning, it’s coffee brewed with a dash of cinnamon or cardamom, then it’s water with a little lemon or lime for the rest of the day. For relaxing, it’s whisky. For the beach, it’s a mojito.
Pick a team! Ninja, pirate, cowboy, or alien:
I’m too klutzy to hang out with ninjas, get seasick too easily to be a pirate, and like the home planet too much to choose aliens. Since I love the open range and campfires, can still sit well in the saddle, am a decent shot with a rifle, and cried when John Denver died, I’ll pick cowboy.
So there you go. There’s still 7 days to pick up the storybundle with Blair’s story (and mine!), if you haven’t already!