Today’s interview is with mystery author James Blakley. He’s in the hot seat talking about his new thriller, The Diamond Head Deception.
James Blakley was educated at Missouri Western State College and Washburn University. While at MWSC, he was a local and national award-winning columnist and section editor of "The Griffon-News." Blakley worked 10 1/2 years as a page and as an Assistant Librarian for the River Bluffs Regional Libraries of St. Joseph, MO. He currently lives in Topeka, KS where he worked for The Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library and several years in clerical and customer support capacities for international computer companies, such as EDS and HP.
Please tell us about your current release.
The Diamond Head Deception is the second book in a mystery series that involves a freelance Cherokee Indian insurance investigator named Luna Nightcrow (who is always armed with a concealed .38 caliber revolver and a Yellow Jacket mobile phone stun gun). She also brandishes brains and beauty that are more formidable. In "The Diamond Head Deception," Luna puts Iowa crop insurance cheats out to pasture, and then heads to Hawaii to find a "lost" rare diamond called "Pacific Splendor." The trouble is that she's not the only one looking for the diamond. Secessionists, sportsmen, and other suspects might sink to any level to recover or smother "Pacific Splendor."
What inspired you to write this book?
The inspiration for choosing a non-white female as the leading character and solving offbeat insurance frauds as her métier came from the stylish, often groundbreaking, TV crime fighters of my youth. Whether it was "Get Christie Love," "Hawaii Five-O," or "Miami Vice," a lot of minority sleuths cropped up in the 1970's and early 80's. Also prevalent were then-exotic locations and professions for these crime fighters. Honolulu, Hawaii and Des Moines, Iowa serve as two rather unusual settings for "The Diamond Head Deception": Made so by the fact that neither has a historic connection to diamonds.
I liked the old NBC Wednesday mystery series "Banacek", starring George Peppard as the titular Boston bon vivant who handled high-end, hard to solve insurance frauds. Though white, his Boston base and jet-setting sleuthing were refreshing changes from the usually hardboiled, urban gumshoe image. Thematically, Luna Nightcrow is more in the vein of "Banacek", minus the Polish proverbs and doting chauffeur. She is witty and charming, but equally determined, daring, and even caring.
Luna also draws conceivable inspiration from the then avant-garde TV show "Charlie's Angels." You might say that she exhibits Sabrina Duncan's brains, Kelly Garrett's penchant for dressing to impress, and Jill Munroe's...well, everything else. (lol) Coupled with Nani Nyoko (a jewelry appraiser) and Narmata Buddhiman (an Indian interpreter) and you have a nice multicultural trio of female crime fighters for "The Diamond Head Deception." This also allows more glamor and even romance to creep into this outing, thus appealing to a broader range of readers.
As far as Luna's cases themselves, they often come from actual fraud scenarios (like identity theft, heists, arson, et al.). I take license with certain aspects (to punch up the pace or make the characters more interesting). A way that Luna Nightcrow is made into a colorful, non-cookie cutter character is making her Native American: A still often underrepresented racial group in a variety of literary and cinematic settings. But instead of relegating her to traditional Native American regional settings, she travels across the U.S. and is very cosmopolitan. Some aspects of her Cherokee heritage are explored, but they don't drive the story.
So, Luna Nightcrow is a stylish literary heroine whose modern sensibilities have roots in 70's and 80's entertainment. She's a beautiful, middle-aged woman who cracks cases and the gumshoe glass ceiling by using her head first, and whose often underrepresented lineage presents an additionally fresh feel.
Excerpt from The Diamond Head Deception:
When dispatch confirmed, Valerosa hit the brakes and twirled a U-turn. The squad car took off in the opposite direction and didn’t stop, until it reached a small, red-and-white colored light house state park off the highway. And parked on the road that led to the historic marker and small picnic area was a battered, gray cargo van with a blown back tire.
Valerosa brought the squad car to a screeching halt. She drew her Smith & Wesson 9 MM pistol and got out. Luna followed, but Valerosa signaled for her to stay back. The Detective Sergeant moved swiftly toward the van. Once there, she peeked through the driver’s side window. No one was inside. Then, Valerosa proceeded to search around and below the van.
Meanwhile, Luna decided to try the light house. She crept down the narrow dirt path to the cliff on which the old structure stood. Once there, she noticed the door was ajar. The insurance investigator drew the Browning semi-automatic handgun from her back pocket. She pushed the door open and stepped inside.
What exciting story are you working on next?
There are two, actually.
One is another Luna Nightcrow entry that sends the insatiable insurance sleuth to Alaska on a case. It will feature plot twists aplenty and Alaska Native characters, in addition to Luna and other races and ethnicities.
The other "exciting story" is a departure from purely geocentric mystery to deep space sci-fi. Called "Moon Buggy," it will either be a short story (as part of a NYC indie film producer's podcast pulp fiction heroine "Atomic Annie") or an original Inkwater Press novel. Either way, the sci-fi story deals with an exotic substance called "helium 3" that is all the buzz in real-life energy production circles. It is roughly a component source for "clean" commercial fusion; and while rare on Earth, is in comparatively higher abundance on the Moon (hence the plot of "Moon Buggy").
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
As young as 8 years old, I wrote mainly short sci-fi, horror, and adventure stories on ruled paper, illustrated them with magic markers, and stapled everything together. I must have written nearly 100 of them and gave most to friends and family. I have about a dozen left that I look back fondly on.
Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I write full-time, in so far as always formulating new stories, but not as a "full-time" job. If I were writing professionally, in say Hollywood, more than likely, I would have to conform to trends and fads (as writing professionally is about making a living--money). So for over a decade, I was an Assistant Public Librarian and for many years afterward continue to do research and high-level customer service work for a variety of private sector businesses, some even Fortune 500 caliber. So, I am always "writing" and researching, if only sometimes for business or consumer reports.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I always strive for a diverse cast of characters in my stories. Whether black, Asian, Native American, etc., as minorities we enjoy seeing ourselves represented "differently" in popular media, as well as in sectors of real life. As action and romantic leads, leaders of nations, or defenders of interplanetary federations, for example.
Luna Nightcrow, Sonny Busco, Rupee Sabal, Nani Nyoko, and Salvador Khan are but a few of the myriad of nontraditionally-cast multicultural characters that inhabit my novels.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
An astronaut, until I discovered I was too tall (for the then Space Shuttle program requirements) and didn't possess essential higher math skills.
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
The Diamond Head Deception was recently awarded Finalist status for Multicultural Fiction in the international 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards." I attribute this success to God, who gave me a wonderful, hard-working family, who raised me, supported me when I was nothing, and encouraged me to achieve my first feat of fiction. For the blessing of tremendously talented teachers, professors, friends, and colleagues who helped broaden my mind. For the flair for fiction and for the guts to go where I've had to in order to make it grow. And finally, for three great states: Missouri (where I learned what I know); Kansas (where I've used it to survive); and Oregon (where Inkwater Press has given me the opportunity to thrive)."
Thanks for being here today, James!