Author E.J. Blaine resides in a suburb of Washington, DC with his wife and brand new baby daughter. He’s so prolifically busy that he resisted our requests for an interview for some time, and has rarely been photographed in his native habitat. Finally, we tied the enigmatic Mr. Blaine to a villainous contraption of slow, painful death and forced him to answer our questions. He answered wisely. He is free to go… for now.
Q: What’s your background in genre writing? How did you get started?
A: I think, like most writers, I got hooked on stories at an early age and just never got over them. I soaked up anything I could get my hands on, especially science fiction and fantasy. And eventually I wanted to make stories of my own.
I’ve been writing genre fiction since middle school. I published a handful of short stories over the years, I did story editing in the film industry. I even did a few oddball projects like a some comics, an audio drama, a couple short films, and (cough) some game writing. At the end of the day, though, it’s prose fiction that I think gives you the most direct channel for pushing your own creative vision out to the world. Eventually, I always end up back there.
Q: What made you decide to start your own publishing company?
A: The publishing world is so different now than when I was trying to break in writing short stories for Asimov’s and Analog! Back then, self-publishing typically meant vanity presses, and it generally meant you weren’t good enough to get a real publishing deal. But eBooks and online distribution have changed everything. It’s a much more open field now, in terms of both business and creative channels. So much is possible now that just wasn’t a few years ago. I finally decided I had to get involved. Publishing your own material gives you the ability to find your own audience and gain a level of control over your career that very few writers used to have. It’s an exciting world, and I had to be part of it.
Q: Why the pen name? Any particular significance to E.J. Blaine?
A: My real name is just astonishingly common. I’m completely un-Google-able. In fact, when I was publishing short stories, I was actually mistaken for a different writer with a variation of my name. Right now there’s a very successful fantasy novelist out there with yet another variation.
So when I decided to start publishing, I figured I needed a pen name. Coming up with one was surprisingly complicated. My wife and I had less trouble naming our forthcoming daughter! But in the end, to be honest, there’s no significance to E.J. Blaine beyond the fact that I could get the domain name and some social media usernames for it. In fact, the E.J. doesn’t even stand for anything. You’re welcome to imagine any particular name you like for those initials. Just be kind!
Q: How did you get involved with the Airship Daedalus property? How has the experience been, and do you think there might be more of those stories in the hopper from Blaine?
A: I’d worked with Deep7 Press on projects in the past, doing some writing for the Bloode Island and Red Dwarf RPGs. I’d always liked their stuff, and enjoyed working with them. When they did a pulp game, it was a natural for me because I’ve always loved retro-pulp stuff. Right about the time I was returning to the idea of writing novels, Todd [Downing] was looking to build the Airship Daedalus franchise. So one thing kind of naturally led to another, and we were off.
And it’s been a real blast writing in the Airship Daedalus setting! It’s got everything you could want. Globe-trotting adventure, creepy occult terrors, square-jawed heroes and really great villains. It’s a great setting to play in. In fact, when we were working on the plotting for Assassins, so many other story ideas just kept popping up. We ended up working up outlines for two other stories before settling on Assassins. So one of those may well make it into the world one day!
Q: What do you enjoy about writing in the pulp genre/format?
A: Well, the surface trappings of classic pulp are a lot of fun, obviously. Airships and super-weapons and swashbuckling heroes squaring off against evil. Beneath the surface, though, I think it’s that, at its best, the pulp setting is sincere. Good is good, evil is evil, and the heroes are fighting evil because that’s the right thing to do. It’s simple, maybe over-simplified for a complicated world where things aren’t really so clear-cut, but at least it’s sincere. There’s nothing ironic about it.
Of course, the pulps were products of their time. There was a lot of jingoistic national, racial, and gender stereotyping that really doesn’t go down well today. But that’s one of the things I especially like about the Airship Daedalus setting. It’s built from the ground up to support diversity and representation while still retaining all the really great elements of the genre.
Q: Who are some of your favorite writers (in pulp and/or generally)?
I sort of came into pulps through the back door. I discovered The Shadow through the comics in the ’80s and ’90s. And then I realized I’d been reading pulp for years and never quite realized it. I’d been reading writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard, but they were just writers who wrote adventure books I liked.
There were sort of two worlds in pulp, I realized. Some of it was about the writer as a writer. Burroughs was Burroughs whether he was writing Tarzan or the John Carter/Barsoom books (which are huge favorites, by the way). Then there were pulp heroes where it was about the character, and they might have been written by any number of people. Sometimes you aren’t even sure who wrote what you’re reading because they’d all be done under a house pen name. So I like Burroughs and Howard, but also The Shadow and Doc Savage.
With more modern writers I tend to be all over the map. I like Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan books. Lisa Goldstein’s sort of slipstream-y fantasy. On the grittier, trashier end, I’m really enjoying Chuck Wendig’s Miriam Black series these days. And I read a lot of crime fiction. There’s a thriller author named Thomas Perry who I buy on sight. I’m pretty sure I’ve read everything he’s published. And I pick up Jack Reacher books at random in airports and have a lot of fun with them.
Q: What pop culture or media do you indulge in? Film? Television? Comics? Bestsellers? What are some of your favorites?
A: Uh, yes! I basically soak up everything I can. But there’s so much material and I’m so busy these days that I miss a lot of things I want to check out. I have phases with comics. I had my Shadow and X-Men phase. Then a few years later I had a translated manga phase. About the only comic I’m reading these days is Saga. I’m really loving the Marvel films, but there’s not a lot I can get myself to a theater for these days.
But Netflix has changed the world. That’s not just because I can see European genre movies that I never would have seen before (movies like the French zombie film Mutants, and Spanish SF like Timecrimes and The Last Days. They’ve also created what amounts to almost a new medium of long-form TV storytelling. One of my favorite things of the last year or so was the Wachowskis’ series Sense8, which is very pulp in its way. The longer form is a perfect medium for the Wachowskis and it basically didn’t exist a few years ago. We really are in a golden age for storytellers.
Q: What’s next on the horizon? Any teasers for upcoming works?
A: The main project on deck is a space opera serial called Smuggler’s Log. It’s sort of a coming of age story set in the shabby underbelly of the galaxy. The hero starts out living a pretty rotten life as an indentured gas miner on a station in the upper atmosphere of a gas giant. He stumbles across an old wrecked starship that’s been drifting around in the lower cloud layers for twenty years, and he secretly salvages it with the help of an alien on the station. They don’t have much reason to get along, except that they need each other’s skills to get the ship working again and fly it out of there. So the hero escapes his rotten life, only to find out there’s a reason why that ship was scuttled in a remote gas giant and forgotten for twenty years. He realizes he’s gone from the frying pan into the fire. And maybe there’s a reason he ended up stuck on a two-bit mining station in the middle of nowhere too.
Beyond that, it’s hard to say. There might be some other Airship Daedalus projects in the future. The ideas are certainly there. I guess it depends on what Todd thinks. And what the readers think…