Deborah Blake

From Russia with Love (and More than a Little Magic): Guest Post from Deborah Blake

Deborah Blake and I have been internet author friends for a while now, though we haven’t yet met in person. (Note to self: Meet Deborah Blake in person one of these days.) A year and a half ago, I read, enjoyed, and reviewed her first Baba Yaga book, Wickedly Dangerous. From the look of things, the paranormal romance series has been doing quite well, and yesterday marked the release of book three: Wickedly Powerful.

Jim, reading Wickedly PowerfulTo celebrate, we’re doing a blog swap today. I’m over at her place talking about…okay, I forget what I wrote my guest post about. And Deborah’s here discussing fairy tale retellings and how she developed the Baba Yaga books.

She’s also giving away an autographed copy of the new book. Just leave a comment, and we’ll pick a winner at random. It will look just like the book I’m reading here, but this one is mine. You’ll have to just win your own.

Or if that fails, you can pick up a copy at Amazon, B&N, Indiebound, and the usual suspects. You can find Deborah on Twitter, Facebook, and at her website.

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Jim and I are book twins this week. His book REVISIONARY (the fourth and final installment in his fabulous Magic Ex Libris series) came out on the same day as my WICKEDLY POWERFUL, the third book in my Baba Yaga series. Since we are huge fans of each other’s work, we decided to swap blogs and talk about how wonderful the other one is. Er, and chat a bit about our own books, too.

Wickedly Powerful coverJim was, in fact, part of the inspiration for the Baba Yaga series, although I’m not sure if I’ve ever mentioned that particular fact to him (you know, in case he wanted a cut of the royalties). I’ve always loved updated fairy tales, and Jim is one of the authors I read who did a terrific job taking an old classic tale and making it into something completely original and not a little kick-ass.

When I decided to do something along those lines, though, some people had already used up most of the better known fairy tale characters, like Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and the rest. I decided to find a story that was a bit more obscure. And featured witches, because that’s kinda my thang. So my books are based on the Russian fairy tale witch, Baba Yaga.

Yeah, I know. A bunch of you just said, “WHO?” Hey—if everyone knew about her, I wouldn’t have been the first one to write new stories featuring her as the protagonist, now, would I?

The traditional Baba Yaga might seem to be an unlikely heroine (unless you asked her, I suspect). Although she had roots as an elemental goddess, by the time she became a tale to scare children into finishing their borscht, she had iron teeth and a long nose, lived in a wooden hut that ran around on giant chicken legs, flew through the forest in a mortar steered by a pestle, and kept such dubious company as a dragon named Chudo-Yudo, and three mysterious men called the White Rider, the Red Rider, and the Black Rider.

Seriously—what writer could resist playing with that kind of material? The stories even talked about the Baba Yaga’s sisters (also called Baba Yaga), which gave me the perfect opportunity to write a trilogy about three different characters, all with the same basic job—guard the door between our world and the magical Otherworld, keep the balance of nature, and occasionally (if it was absolutely unavoidable) come to the aid of a worthy seeker.

Of course, things like movable huts, flying kitchen implements, and dragons would probably stand out these days, so I had to update my Baba Yagas a bit. So instead of huts on chicken legs they have cool traveling houses. Barbara, the first Baba you meet (in WICKEDLY DANGEROUS) lives in an Airstream trailer. Beka (from WICKEDLY WONDERFUL) is more of a California hippy type, so she has a funky refurbished school bus. Whereas Bella, who is the protagonist of WICKEDLY POWERFUL, has a cool modern traveling caravan.

The dragons are disguised too, of course. Barbara’s Chudo-Yudo is a gigantic white pit bull, Beka’s is an oversized black Newfoundland, and this time around (at the insistence of my five cats), Bella’s companion is a huge Norwegian Forest Cat. Mind you, no matter what form they take, you’re going to want to have some good fire insurance…

One of the things that drew me to Baba Yaga as a character was that even in the traditional stories, she wasn’t a “bad” witch or a “good” witch, as scary as she might have appeared. It all depended on how you approached her. If you are pure of heart and strong of will, she will almost certainly help you with your task. If you’re not, well, can you say ribbit?

Mind you, it’s not easy being a Baba Yaga. Poor Bella has this tiny problem with setting things on fire when she gets upset. Probably not the best issue to have when you are dealing with a mysterious arsonist and a flame-shy former Hotshots firefighter in the midst of a Wyoming national forest. Still, it’s all in a day’s work if you are a mystical, magical witch out of Russian fairy tales.

I loved reading fairy tales as a kid, and I’ve really enjoyed reading updated tales by authors such as Robin McKinley, Pamela Dean, Patricia McKillip, and oh, some guy named Jim Something or other. (Editor’s Note: That’s Jim C. Something or other, thank you very much!) I wanted to write my own books that would add something different to the genre, and maybe bring a little bit of magic to those who read them. You’ll have to let me know if I succeeded.

Thanks to Jim for letting me share release day with him. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a new book called REVISIONARY to go read. If you’re curious to learn more about me or the Baba Yaga series, you can check me out at www.deborahblakeauthor.com or find me on Facebook or Twitter, usually talking about books, cats, or (on a good day) dragons.

Wickedly Dangerous, by Deborah Blake

Wickedly Dangerous CoverWickedly Dangerous [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] is the first book in a new paranormal romance series from debut novelist Deborah Blake, coming out in five weeks on September 2, and it’s a lot of fun. From the publisher:

Older than she looks and powerful beyond measure, Barbara Yager no longer has much in common with the mortal life she left behind long ago. Posing as an herbalist and researcher, she travels the country with her faithful (mostly) dragon-turned-dog in an enchanted Airstream, fulfilling her duties as a Baba Yaga and avoiding any possibility of human attachment.

But when she is summoned to find a missing child, Barbara suddenly finds herself caught up in a web of deceit and an unexpected attraction to the charming but frustrating Sheriff Liam McClellan.

Now, as Barbara fights both human enemies and Otherworld creatures to save the lives of three innocent children, she discovers that her most difficult battle may be with her own heart…

As some of you might know, I have a bit of a weakness for updated/retold fairy and folk tales, so seeing Baba Yaga brought into the 21st century with an enchanted Airstream trailer (complete with a fridge that at any given time might contain anything from baked chicken to an endless supply of cherry pie), a dragon disguised as a big old pit bull, and a load of magic, was pretty much guaranteed to draw me in.

Barbara is a great protagonist, powerful and compassionate, but also a bit out-of-touch with her human side. That happens when you spend most of your life moving about, hanging out with the supernatural, and never building any long-term relationships with mortals. Her love interest, Liam, was engaging as well, being a small-town sheriff with a good heart and some romantic/emotional scars, dealing with the double-barreled crap gun of corrupt politics and a case he’s not equipped to understand. They make a good team, and Blake definitely creates some good chemistry between them.

I winced a little at the treatment of Liam’s ex-wife. She’s quite broken, and at times it felt like she was there more as a plot device than as an actual character.

It looks like each book in the series will follow a different Baba Yaga, which I like. It means the book has a satisfying ending and a full plot arc, but also promises more to come. The epilogue sets up the next book, Wickedly Wonderful, which comes out in December 2014 and tells the story of Beka Yancy.

Wickedly Dangerous is a fun, fast-paced read with heroic protagonists, a clear battle of Good vs. Evil, love and romance, a happy ending, and a lot of nice little details. And also a dog-dragon. (Yes, I really like Chudo-Yudo.)

More info is available on Blake’s website.

Thursday Miscellany

I’ll be at the Durand Fantasy Expo this Saturday, for anyone in the area.

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I missed a friend promo yesterday, ’cause my brain sucks.  Yesterday was the release date for my friend Deborah Blake‘s new nonfiction book Witchcraft on a Shoestring [B&N | Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon].

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Fixing one problem with a car should not require trips to four separate car repair places.  I’m just saying…

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Signal boost from cloudscudding from yesterday’s post:

I just launched “The Circus of Brass and Bone”, an apocalyptic steampunk serial story and podcast that follows a circus traveling through the collapse of civilization.  I’m doing this to raise money for my mother’s cancer treatment–she was diagnosed with Stage3c ovarian and endometrial cancer while working at a school in India, so she doesn’t have health insurance. Coming back to the United States for treatment means both my parents had to give up their jobs,too.  And because of their choice of careers–helping others–they don’t have much in the way of savings to fall back on.  All donations go to pay for my mother’s cancer treatment and related costs.

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Finally, I haven’t done a LEGO bit in a little while.  My Facebook friend Karen Gould sent me a link to her husband’s recreations of medieval castles in LEGO. What makes this especially cool is that he’s done Harlech Castle, which was my starting point when I designed Whiteshore Palace where Danielle et al. from the princess books live.

Whiteshore Palace is, well, white, and I modified the scale and design a bit, but this is probably the closest I’m going to get to a LEGO set for one of my worlds.  Click the pic for more.

Jim C. Hines