Book Tour Q&A: No Land for Heroes by Cal Black
Today we're taking part in the book tour organized by Escapist Book Tours for No Land for Heroes by Cal Black! Continue reading for the book blurb and a Q&A with the author.
About the book
Mildred Berry is down to her last four bullets…
In a wild west where the only things more dangerous than outlaws are dragons, Deputy Berry is struggling to protect her town and keep her family fed. As a last resort, she robs a train for ammunition only to find that the cargo she needs so badly was owned by war hero Frederic Rousseau.
The same Frederic Rousseau whom she served during the Amelior Civil War. The same Frederic Rousseau she’s been hiding from for the last five years.
Millie knows a secret that could ruin Rousseau’s life, and he’ll stop at nothing to keep her from telling the truth. With her violent past bearing down on the life she’s built for herself, Millie has to decide how far she’ll be willing to go to keep her town safe.
On to the interview...!
Thank you so much for joining us for this Q&A! We’ll start off with one of our standard podcast opening questions–tell us something great that’s happened recently.
I just discovered the shipwreck corner of YouTube and I’m hooked. I’ve always loved learning about the ships that went down and what went wrong in those situations. I love these highly detailed history videos.
What are you currently reading or what’s up next on your TBR? What made you pick up this book?
I’m currently reading a bunch of nonfiction books right now about the history of New Orleans and voodoo. I just find that stuff fascinating.
Fiction-wise, I just picked up Shadow of a Dead God by Patrick Samphire. I haven’t made it too far yet, but I appreciate a good snarky character.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to start writing?
I’ve always loved stories. I made my mother write down stories I dictated to her when I was four, and by eight I had ‘published’ a short story in a chapbook my local library put out that halloween. It’s just part of who I am, and even when I’m not writing to share my stories, I’m still dreaming them up and planning them out.
I started writing more seriously around 2012, focusing on short stories. But by 2014, I realised I wasn’t happy with anything I was writing. I kept trying to adopt a voice that didn’t fit, because that’s what I thought publishers wanted. It wasn’t until I started writing for myself and a few friends, that I found my love of storytelling again.
How do you spend your free time when you’re not reading or writing? Do you have any hobbies or interests that you can talk to us about?
I enjoy going for walks in the woods all year round except for blackfly season. For hobbies, I sew and make resin dice that I sell through an Etsy shop. I find having different hobbies helps prevent me from burning out on one in particular. I used to cosplay quite a lot, but between health issues and the pandemic, that’s fallen by the wayside.
Who are your favorite current writers and who are your greatest influences?
Pratchett, always. When I first discovered his books as a twelve-year-old, I loved the humour. Now, as an adult, I appreciate the social commentary that he weaves through the jokes. They’re one of the few books I can go back and re-read. I hadn’t realised until I was done polishing No Land for Heroes, that some of that has crept into my own work. There’s humour but also a deeper level to things the characters say.
Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth was also a huge inspiration. I’ve been writing semi-seriously for a long time now, but was discouraged by how I could never find a book that resembled how I wrote. Then along came this weird book about space necromancers that had humour and darkness and worldbuilding all in one. Reading Gideon was the final push that I needed to write No Land for Heroes.
If you could collaborate with any one author, who would it be and why?
Oh man, I don’t know. It’s not really something I’d considered, to be honest. Cherie Priest, maybe? Although No Land for Heroes is on the brighter and lighter end of the spectrum, I do love dark stories and horror.
What is one thing that you love about the current state of SFF and what is one thing that you wish you saw more of?
I’m blown away by the vibrant indie community. Through SPFBO, I’ve found so many interesting books and authors that my TBR has tripled. I love high-concept stories, and weird genre mashups, which indie has aplenty.
What are your favorite types of stories? Of characters?
I love stories that are about the characters. Chuck Wendig has said that plot is made of people, and I agree. Without a connection to the character who is facing down obstacles and complications, a story is just a list of events. While that can still be interesting, I’m drawn to exploring how those situations affect a person, and how characters will respond to difficult situations. How does it change them? What are they like after the big battle? What is the shameful secret indulgence that they treat themselves to? But best of all, what are the consequences of decisions these characters make over the course of the book? How will they face those consequences?
How much do you plan when you write? What’s your writing process like?
I’m a plantser, I come up with the general idea and write a beat sheet or an outline, then I write. The beat sheet is usually a living document, getting updated as I change my mind about an event, or if I come up with a better solution to a plot issue. I sometimes plan chapters in groups of five, listing the main events in a few bullet points per chapter, so I have a guide of where to go without being constrained by it.
Is this your first book? If so, what lessons have you learned from writing it? If not, what lessons did you learn from writing earlier books that you brought into this one?
This is my first completed and published book. Before this one, I was trying to write more serious fiction in a misguided attempt to fit the market. There’s a reason those books were never completed, though one came close before I realised it was not a story I should tell as a white woman. That one got trunked.
Most of what I learned while writing No Land for Heroes was self-growth stuff. That if I stopped trying to write what I thought someone else wanted me to write, I could put together a story that I was proud of. Even if the original concept was silly (I mean, cowboy elves? Really?)
What do you think characterizes your writing style?
I think there’s a certain informality that comes through. My voice is mostly conversational, and I really put in effort to nail the voices of the characters. I want them to feel like distinct people, and that goes all the way down to word choice in their dialogue.
I’m still at the start of my writing career, so I’m sure more characteristics will emerge as I write a greater variety of books.
How much of yourself do you write into your stories?
I try not to write too much of myself into the story, but it often comes out as themes that repeat across different books and characters. The one thing I consciously included in No Land for Heroes was that I modeled Millie’s experience with PTSD after my own experiences. The source and severity is significantly different, but I wanted to come at a difficult subject from a place of lived experience. She deals with insomnia, distorted dreams, hypervigilance, and intrusive memories. Like me, Millie is chasing something better: growth after trauma.
Sometimes after living through something traumatic, we can realise that our lives are not the way we would like them to be. That we are not the way we would like to be. Change is incredibly difficult, but extremely rewarding.
What comes first to you when you’re writing, the world, the characters, or the storyline?
It depends on which story, to be honest! No Land for Heroes popped up as a concept first, then characters and finally story, while a few other of my projects pop up in the reverse order, or even fully fleshed out. Those I have to write down immediately, to make sure I don’t lose any of the details.
I think every story is different, and each will need a different approach that best serves the story you’re trying to tell. A whodunnit will be plot heavy, while a slice of life fantasy will be character focused.
They say to never judge a book by its cover, but a cover is still a marketing tool that helps sell books. Can you tell us about the idea behind the cover of your book?
This is actually the second cover of the book, though very similar in theme to the first. I wanted to tell potential readers a few key things about the story. The dragon and elf ears communicate that this is a fantasy, while the western gear and badlands background tell the reader that this is also a western. I went for vibrant colours, since this story is more of an adventure fantasy in tone than it is dark.
Can you give us an elevator pitch for your book?
Deputy Mildred Berry has the kind of past that can destroy lives. She’s spent years on the frontier hiding from it, and from the people she left behind. After a botched robbery, men from the city arrive in her town and start asking questions. Millie not only needs to get them gone, she needs to decide how far she’ll go in the process.
Describe your book in 3 adjectives.
Exciting, fun, and cathartic.
How different is the final version of this book from the first draft?
I rewrote the whole thing aside from half of Gilbert’s introduction chapter. Over the course of one Nanowrimo. Then I slept for a week. Characters were pruned, recast, events changed, major decisions reversed, all kinds of stuff. It’s a different book than the first draft, and a much better one.
Can you tell us a little bit about your characters? What are your favorite kinds of characters to write?
I love writing women who are healing from some traumatic event. Where they are on that healing journey varies, but they have a past that they are grappling with and I love exploring how that affects their present and future.
I also have a tendency to write about women who are equipped with training to survive a harsh world. I think that’s wish fulfillment, unfortunately. So much of life is unpredictable and hostile these days that having a skillset to keep you alive in most situations is a dream rather than reality.
If you could choose one worldbuilding detail (a place, ability, or creature, for example) from your book to exist in the real world, what would it be and why?
They would cause all kinds of chaos, but the lizards who set themselves on fire (and aren’t harmed by it!) are my favourite. They’re just little guys hanging out in warm places that have found a defense mechanism that accidentally burns down towns.
They’re pretty cute when not on fire.
In your opinion, what kind of reader would like this book?
If you liked Brendan Fraser’s The Mummy movies, you’ll like No Land for Heroes. It has a mix of action, adventure, dark secrets and emotions that are comparable to the two movies. (At least I hope so!)
What would you like readers to take away from this book?
Insurance fraud is bad.
Well, that and even after you’ve done things you regret, you can still change for the better. It’s a hell of a lot of work, but you can do it.
Do you have a favorite quote from your book that you can share with us? What about this quote in particular makes it your favorite?
“That won’t be a problem, will it, Sheriff Collins?” Isaiah asked. He grinned, his attempt at a beard made him look like he had mange. “You keep your attack dog over there with your furry friend, and I’ll be happy to pay you with a good time.” He reached down with his free hand and wiggled his belt buckle suggestively. Ryan made a face at the suggestion.
“You bring a babysitter with you?” Millie ‘the attack dog’, asked.
“One man against four women. Odds are still good,” Isaiah said. He looked at her and pulled a face as he noticed the heavy scarring on her back. “Messiah’s tits, Deputy, do you fight bears for fun?”
“Not bears,” Millie said, deadpan.
I love this interaction between Millie, who has just survived a dragon attack and is injured, and a kid who thinks he’s the scariest thing around. Not only do we get some descriptive hints at Millie’s past regarding her scars and her perceived role as being ‘the attack dog’, but we also see she responds to being threatened.
Millie is unimpressed, tired, and even the jokes she makes are barbed. She asks the would-be bandit if he has a babysitter, then implies she fights for fun… just not against bears. Isaiah is missing all the cues she’s giving off that she’s the one in control of the situation, not him.
Is there anything you can tell us about any current projects you’re working on?
I’m currently drafting the sequel, No Port in a Storm, which I hope to release in early 2023. After that, I have a bunch of projects waiting in the wings, from neon noirs to cozy adventures. I might need to roll a die to decide which I work on next.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions for us! Do you have any parting thoughts or comments you’d like to leave for our readers?
I hope you’ll enjoy reading No Land for Heroes. It’s proof that if you can’t find the story you want to read, you can write it yourself. Write your weird ideas and don’t be afraid of putting them out there. There’s no better feeling as an author than seeing a reader connect with your story.
And finally, where can you be found on the internet if our readers want to hear more from you?
I’m mostly active on twitter at https://twitter.com/thatcalamity/ and have a newsletter https://calblack.substack.com/ where I share book news. I sell my dice and other crafts at https://craftedbycalamity.com
Where to buy the book:
Universal Link: https://books2read.com/NoLandForHeroes