Today, we’re talking with Blake Jessop, the author of “Cuirassiere,” one of the stories that will appear in Battling in All Her Finery.
DV: Tell us a bit about yourself!
Blake Jessop: I’m a thirty-seven-year-old Canadian author of fantasy, horror, and science fiction. I majored in English literature and political science at McGill in Montreal, and lived in Australia for a few years to get a master’s in creative writing from the University of Adelaide. While I was there, I met and worked with some excellent writers, notably Dominique Wilson and Emmett Stinson, who bought into the style I wanted to develop; action-packed speculative fiction in a fancy and literary style. My beard is getting grayer all the time … but I remain convinced it’s a good idea.
DV: What inspired you to write “Cuirassiere” for Battling in All Her Finery?
BJ: I like using calls for submissions as writing prompts, and Battling in All Her Finery leapt out at me the second I read the requirements. Leadership in the first person feminine is a wonderful premise, and it gave me the feeling the heroine was dictating her story to me. The action and heroic tone owe much to Bernard Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe series, of which I am an unashamed fan. As for Colette herself, many of my stories have a soundtrack, and she strode into my mind, fully formed and gripping her sword, while I listened to a power metal song about the Battle of Poltava.
DV: Your story is alternate history, but it rings very realistic as well. Are there aspects of the story that the casual reader might not realize are historical, or that they might not realize are fictional?
BJ: I went mildly off the deep end researching “Cuirassiere.” My understanding of Napoleon’s 1805 campaign was hazy, so I did a lot of reading, and Alistair Horne’s How Far From Austerlitz ended up being my bible. I took some liberties with the battle itself to keep the narrative brisk, but otherwise the way Colette fights her war is a fair facsimile of the real thing, right down to the weather and bicorne hats.
As realistic as I tried to make the story, I like blurring the line between history and myth. The story’s villain is as historical a figure as Napoleon … but only in Russian legends. The details of his appearance are accurate and carefully researched. Was he actually at the Battle of Austerlitz? Horne doesn’t seem to think so, but it was a long time ago, and I have an open mind. Either way, the mixture of historical battle and Russian mythology allowed me to tell Colette’s story in giant theatrical strokes.
DV: Your story is structured to alternate between the present and flashbacks told in diary entries. Was this the structure that you knew you would work with from the beginning, or did it fall into place as you wrote?
BJ: The first draft of “Cuirassiere” didn’t have the diary entries, just recollections by the heroine about her brother and training her men. It was clunky and there was a lot of exposition. I wrote the first few diary entries to give myself a better idea why Colette was so determined to go to war, and found they were my favorite parts of her story. They made her human. I kept them, and later put them in reverse chronological order so we can discover Colette’s past at the same time she admits it to herself. The process of creating this structure was difficult enough that I seriously considered giving up entirely, but once I had it in place, the story worked.
The earliest diary entry was the very last thing I wrote, after even the battle’s grand finale, and it made me feel like I had managed to genuinely figure out who Colette was.
DV: What’s on the horizon for you?
BJ: I’m currently writing a lot of short stories with the aim of building the reputation and relationships required to seriously undertake a novel. I have a habit of writing heroines, so some of my recent work will certainly appeal to readers of Battling in All Her Finery. “Halo of Storms” in The Razor’s Edge is military science fiction about drones, rebellion, and a lonely cyber-soldier named Violet. I also have a steampunk fantasy story out this month in Fire: Demons, Dragons and Djinns. Both are very different from “Cuirassiere,” but if you want fiery lady heroes … I can guarantee that a lot of things will get set ablaze. You can also follow me on twitter @everydayjisei.
As a closing note, I’d like to extend a firm thanks to everyone reading, and to all the good souls who Kickstarted Battling in All Her Finery. Without you, Colette wouldn’t be battling at all. Cheers!
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