Q&A With Wes Blalock
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Q&A With Wes Blalock
This week’s Q&A is with the author of mystery thrillers that keep you on your toes Wes Blalock. I had the pleasure of reading his short stories starring main character Birdie McLaren.
Q: Wes what is it about the mystery thriller genre that intrigues you so much? I know it excites me whenever I read it.
A: When I was young, I wrote horror stories. I wanted to be the next Stephen King, but after college, I got a job and started a family and I put my writing away. I always dabbled a little, but that was just for me. But after almost thirty years as a police officer, and nearing retirement, my wife told me that I should start writing again. When I returned to writing, I started with thinking back to the mysteries that we could never solve, or that we knew the answer to, but couldn’t prove. And I was reading more and found how much I loved the police procedurals, the whole “write what you know” theory pushing at me to solve the mysteries the way that I wanted them to come to fruition, not just dangle there, like in real life. So ultimately, I found mysteries or incidents that I wanted to solve in the news and I wrote them the way they should be solved, in my mind, and in my heart.
Q: What is the process of creating characters and places like?
A: I’m told by my writing friends that I’m a “pantser,” meaning that I write from the seat of my pants. I don’t outline. I see the story that I want to write and I start writing it, when that happens, the characters just sort of come out at me. With Birdie McLaren, I wanted a small, diminutive woman who could hold her own, like the women in my own life, someone who refused to back down and who knew what was right and did it, even when it hurt. But just writing her down didn’t tell me who she was; she evolved on the page all by herself into a full-fledged person. And even though family and friends think she might be based on my wildlife biologist daughter, she’s actually much more like my wife.
But some characters don’t require that level of work, some just pop right out. I have a short story, “Battle of Arroyo Escondido” published in the online magazine Uncharted, where a minor character, Wilson Yazzie, an older Navajo Nation police officer, just jumps off the page at you. He is neither cardboard nor stereotype and demands his space on the page. I have no idea where he came from, he just showed up on my doorstep, figuratively.
And as for places, I use real locations, but alter them to fit my stories. I had originally wanted Birdie to be based at Yosemite, but the things I wanted her to do and the places I wanted her to go didn’t all exist in Yosemite, so I created a fictional Cary Valley National Park, which allowed me to do whatever I wanted in terms of location and setting. I could include portions that were more like Sequoia Kings National Parks, or Death Valley National Park, or I even have ideas for a story taking place in the area of the Auburn State Recreation Area, when the area was being prepared to be a reservoir by the Bureau of Reclamation. I really have all the areas of the Sierra Nevada’s at my fingertips.
Q: Are you writing more short stories now or are you planning on writing a longer work such as a novel? I wouldn’t mind reading a whole book about Birdie. I enjoyed the short stories about her.
A: I actually have several things in the works currently. I am editing a group of Birdie and Birdie adjacent short stories into a single collection for publication, and I have three Birdie novels in the works, at various levels. I have The Wolf You Feed, a novel about human trafficking near the park that I have finished, but it still needs some fixing and editing. I have Wrecking Crew, about a group of meth heads creating havoc, which I had originally written as a novella, but was told by several of my advisors that it should be a novel, so I’m working on adding another 60,000 words to that, and I’ve just started another novel, Dreadful Sorrow, about a missing young man who simply disappeared into the wilderness, leaving all his things behind in his car.
Q: Where is your favorite writing spot or spots where you sit down and plot, write and edit?
A: When I was younger, I wrote everything in notebooks wherever I happened to be, but I also took typing in high school, so I’m actually a pretty quick typist. Now that computers are the things we use to write with, most of my actual work is done on the computer in my office. Now, it is actually a laptop, so I can take it with me anywhere, and I do have a travel laptop that I take on vacation, but most of my work is done in the office.
But a lot of my thinking takes place when I’m riding my bicycle or driving and listening to music. Music helps me fashion my plots and imagine the scenes. Sometimes, when I’m riding my bicycle and listening to some particularly relevant piece of music, I’ll see a scene change or evolve into something I hadn’t even realized was there. I remember once, imaging a scene between two of my bad guys and they suddenly and subtly reach out and hold hands and I almost shouted out loud, “I didn’t know they were gay!” Of course that changed the whole tenor of the story.