Sometimes when you write a character, the character don’t just meekly walk off the page when you’re done with the story; they stick around, poking at you and saying “hey, I’m still here. What now?” J.A. Pitts concocted just such a character in his debut novel Black Blade Blues — now here he is to tell you what happened next.
Black Blade Blues is my first published novel. Actually, it comes out tomorrow, so be gentle.
I struggled with the thought of this essay, curious if anyone would really care what my internal theme for the novel was. I mean, the story will stand on its own, right? There is a theme, something I wanted to discuss through the story and characters, and I have it on pretty good authority I pulled it off.
We are a society that bases our self-worth and self-esteem on what we think the world wants us to be, living up to some artificial standard we glean from the media and peer pressure. Unfortunately, few ever learn to look beyond that and live comfortably in their own skin. It is those who defy the common norms and accept themselves for who they are who find true happiness. That’s the idea behind Black Blade Blues: learning to accept the world for what it is, not for what you wish it to be. And with that: learning to accept yourself.
The novel started out as a short story I wrote on spec. I wanted to stand out in the field of competitors, so I decided to follow Wilhelm’s rules and delve deeper, past the obvious choices and reach for the ideas further in the psyche.
The anthology was looking for stories about magic swords, so I decided on the Norse blade, Gram, used to slay the dragon, Fafnir. I thought it a good idea, since I hadn’t seen any new fiction based on Norse mythology. Of course, several good books have come out recently, but I’m pretending they don’t exist.
Next, I considered my main character for this fantasy tale. I wanted a tight-in point-of-view and a character the audience wouldn’t expect. Instead of the typical warrior or wizard, I decided to go a different way. Almost no one writes about the supporting cast. The blacksmith creates the swords and supports the hero. Why not bring the blacksmith out of the background and make her the hero?
Yes, I said her. I decided that the blacksmith should be a woman. A strong woman, a maker who wields fire and steel. That was a heroine worthy of a tale.
Finally, mix in my love of urban fantasy and the setting of modern-day Seattle—it seemed a natural fit.
Now I had something I felt was unique. Urban fantasy, Norse mythology, and a female blacksmith who had to reforge the sword Odin himself shattered, in order to save the day.
Sarah Beauhall came to life in my head — cocky, mid-twenties, loves Doc Martens and punk rock. It wasn’t until I had nearly finished the first draft of the short story that I realized Sarah was a lesbian. A young woman with a sheltered upbringing who struggles to understand the world she lives in and along the way, discovers who she is.
And isn’t that what all stories are about — discovering who we are, and how we deal with the world?
I sold the short story to the anthology Swordplay, which came out in 2009. But the story would not go away. As soon as I wrote it, Sarah clamored for more time on the page. Everyone who read the story wanted more.
Sarah had more to her life than this simple tale of reforging a broken blade. She needed to see the dragons, do battle with the giants and trolls in her life, and learn who she was.
The book sang to me in my sleep and filled my head during my day. It possessed me. Every thing I did became an exercise in how Sarah would handle that situation. I found myself hunting down punk venues and black smithies. Day after day I swam in the waters of Sarah’s world, discovering the pain of her struggle and the intricate web of her life. Along the way she comes to terms with it all in order to save the ones she loves and become the woman she was meant to be.
The story colored everything in my life. I started listening to different music, researching and reading books that I’d dabbled with in college — women’s studies, sexual identity, Norse mythology, on and on.
I made it a point to discuss more openly my understanding and misunderstanding of the GLBT world around me, especially with the friends I’d come to know and care about in the community.
It continued the process I’ve been working through for decades: the expanding of my horizons and the better understanding of the world I live in.
That’s what Sarah has to do. She comes from a narrow background, filled with fear and caution, to discover a world where dragons exist and the world order isn’t what she’d always thought it was.
Paralleling her discovery of magic and dragons is her own struggle to accept her sexuality despite society’s unbending expectations of who she should be.
Along the way I learned more about myself than I thought. I’d always been an open-minded individual, but the process of researching and writing this book allowed me to explore my life and world beyond the boundaries I’d previously put in place. Now I find myself stepping out of the comfort zone to learn things I’d lamented missing as a kid. I’ve joined the Girl Scouts, as an example, and am learning to be an Outdoor Specialist. Recently I finished my Girl Scout/Red Cross certified Wilderness First Aid training. I never thought I’d do anything like this. Sarah taught me that. By writing her journey to self discovery and open her eyes to the way the world was, it allowed me to do the same.
It’s a rocking good tale. I hope you like it.
Black Blade Blues: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s