On the verge of a new anthology, we are celebrating IN THE AIR with a behind the scenes view of authors and their stories. Here’s a look at Blake Jessop and his story “A Funeral for Crows.”
ABOUT THE STORY
Tell me a little about your story and the world you’ve created.
“A Funeral for Crows” takes place in a familiar near future. The US still teaches it’s best and brightest to fight and still sends them to war. They come back with the same sort of damage, but the kind of retail therapy they can use to deal with it is a lot sexier.
What came first, the plot or the characters?
The crows came first. While I was struggling to come up with a story idea for Transmundane’s call for submissions, I ran across a short documentary about the memory and social intelligence of crows. The fact that they are capable of recognizing their own dead and learning from experience got me thinking about why it is some birds just drop out of the sky. Major Madison Collins and her prototype stealth fighter are my attempt to run a crow funeral in reverse, and see if it’s possible to get your wings back.
If you had to describe your protagonist in three words, what would they be?
Madison is driven, haunted, and curious… or alternatively just “post-traumatically stressed.”
Which scene was the most difficult to write and why?
Early on in “A Funeral for Crows,” there’s a scene between Madison and her friend Marcus, another disabled veteran, that leads her to purchase the corvus drone that drives the story forward. Madison’s injuries are mostly physical, but Marcus has pretty severe PTSD. I did a lot work to make sure that I was portraying post-traumatic stress as honestly as I could. The extremely personal and private nature of how vets suffer was not something I wanted to get wrong, and the dynamics of Madison and Marcus’ relationship required at least as much research as all the cyberpunk technology.
What were you trying to achieve with this story?
A cool near-future cyberpunk story about what it feels like to fly and then lose your wings. What it might feel like to struggle and get them back. Everything I write seems to be about characters confronting themselves; that probably says something about me as a human being, but I’m ignoring it and writing stories instead.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Honestly? Nothing important. Buy “In the Air,” and you’ll be reading all the good bits.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your stories?
I knew crows were smart, but I didn’t know just how smart. We’re all animals of one kind or another, and we ought to spend more time learning from our kin.
Do you have any suggestions to help others become better writers? If so, what are they?
There are thousands of guidebooks with millions of rules about how to write well. In the end, I think only two are universal. If you want to be a good writer you have to read widely and write a lot. Everything else is negotiable.
What do you think makes a good story?
Characters and communication. I like kung-fu and complex metaphors as much as the next reader, but I need someone to relate to and some way to do it. I would rather read a sketchily-written story with great characters than a gorgeous one that doesn’t care if I get the point.
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
I was lucky enough to know that I wanted to be a writer in the same way some people want to be firefighters. Actually executing that plan has proven complicated, but I still have faith.
What is your favorite writing tool or technique?
When I discover an author I really like, I often spend some time trying to write exactly like them. That helps me figure out what they did so well and whether I can adapt some of it to my own voice. During my master’s degree I spent months trying to precisely imitate William Gibson, and if anyone ever notices small similarities in style I will be very flattered by the comparison.
How would you describe your general writing voice and tone?
I have a grad school degree in creative writing, and genuinely love the fancy, navel-gazing style that is the frequent stereotype of MFA writers. I also love action movies and heavy metal, so my aim is to write beautifully… while still telling kick-ass speculative fiction stories.
Share something fun or interesting (pick one)
I listen to a lot of music while I write, and some of my characters have specific theme songs. I can’t pinpoint exactly when Major Collins flew into view, but I was on a pretty serious Insomnium kick while I was writing her story!
Blake Jessop is a Canadian author of science fiction, fantasy and horror stories with a masters degree in creative writing from the University of Adelaide. You can read more of his speculative fiction in “Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Summers” from World Weaver Press, as well as in anthologies from Otter Libris, Zombies Need Brains, and Parsec Ink, among many others.