Off The Press
September 14, 2010
By David Hayes
I’ve been reading books lately like they’re going out of style. (With all the e-book readers on the market, they just might be.)
I’ve read the gamut, from biographies (Ozzy Osborne) and social commentary (The Obama Diaries) to historical fiction (the Temeraire series, featuring a dragon air corps during the Napoleonic wars) and nonfiction (“Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joseph McCarthy,” fascinating).
But it’s urban fantasy that has kept my eyes glued the most to the printed page. Unfortunately, I was getting a little burned out on vampires and werewolves in the oversaturated market of fantastical creatures in modern times.
So, I was pleasantly surprised to find a new novel with a plot revolving around Norse mythology and a protagonist normally relegated to sidekick status in other fantasy novels — the blacksmith.
I was further surprised the setting for “Black Blade Blues,” by first-time novelist J.A. Pitts, was the Seattle area. It had to be written by a local author as it featured specific locales from Everett to Kent.
Then, to my total shock and delight, the main character goes for a run, parking in Gilman Village, in front of the White Horse Toy Store, and heads off down the East Lake Sammamish Trail to Redmond.
Now, I had to track down the author.
My first surprise was, with the urban fantasy market cornered by female authors, J.A. Pitts is actually John Pitts — a Kentucky transplant, living in Bellevue with his wife and two children, toiling in his day job as a computer consultant.
The nom de plume was actually a suggestion by the publisher, Pitts said.
“They could call me Susie for all I care, as long as the check clears,” he said.
His debut novel, “Black Blade Blues,” is based upon one of Pitts’ several short stories. Its development progression started with a writing group assignment to develop a story about a famous sword. While others went the obvious route with Excalibur, Pitts chose Gram from Norse mythology, the famous blade that Sigurd used to slay the dragon Fafnir.
Next, Pitts crafted a protagonist, Sarah, a lesbian blacksmith who unknowingly re-forges the mythical blade, when things really get crazy with dwarves, trolls and dragons, just as she’s trying to come to grips with her own inner turmoil of coming out while maintaining a burgeoning relationship.
Then, he mapped out the setting.
“I decided if I was going to write about a fantasy work within a modern setting, why not make it Seattle?” Pitts said. “There’s a lot of magic in this area.”
The tale just fit, he said, after having driven around much of the region. Just be careful when reading the novel about spots you think you might recognize. I fell into that trap when I thought I knew exactly which out-of-the-way Mexican restaurant in Everett he set a scene in.
“Totally made that one up,” he confided.
But the Issaquah location was real. Pitts needed a lengthy trail for Sarah to run down to work through a personal crisis. Looking at a map, Pitts discovered the East Lake Sammamish Trail was the perfect length for her to exhaust herself by the time she reached Marymoor Park in Redmond.
However, Pitts discovered the perils of using real locations in a work of fiction. He admits he had a “brain fart” when he wrote “Cascade Peninsula” instead of “Olympic Peninsula.”
It kills him that, he said, that after all of the research he did, from the blacksmith profession to medieval re-enactors from the Society for Creative Anachronism, he gets a regional geographical name wrong and none of his team of editors, publishers or friends caught it.
Regardless of the small snafu, Pitts has penned a well-crafted debut novel, receiving overwhelming feedback leaving readers eagerly anticipating more.
“For my next book,” he said, “everyone I know wants to be in it and says, ‘Can I die?’”
As he pours over maps to discover the next out-of-the way location to set an epic battle, Pitts has outlined the plot all the way through the fifth installment, with book two already in the publisher’s hands. If ever Pitts needs a template for a local reporter, he’s got my number.
David Hayes: firstname.lastname@example.org, 392-6434, ext. 237. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.