Published by Two Lions on August 18th 2015
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Ronan Truelove barely survived his first encounter with his father and the Bend Sinister. Now, he’s determined to become one of the Blood Guard, a sword-wielding secret society sworn to protect thirty-six pure souls crucial to the world’s survival.Eager to prove he’s got what it takes, Ronan is sent on his first mission with his friends Greta and Sammy to visit a weird-sounding school and take a series of tests called the Glass Gauntlet. Paper and pencils and nerdy scholarship—where’s the life-or-death challenge in that?But the Glass Gauntlet is actually something much more dangerous: head-to-head competitions against ruthless opponents. Nothing and no one are what they seem. Who can he trust, and who will kill him? Ronan has to figure it out fast because his enemies are multiplying, and soon he will have to pass the ultimate test: facing his father again and standing up to those who threaten not only him and his friends but also the world.
Interview with R.E. Carter, author of The Blood Guard series
Can you talk a little about what the book is about?
Sure. The Glass Gauntlet continues the story of thirteen-year-old Ronan Truelove, who recently discovered that his mother is a sword-wielding, death-defying, not-to-be-messed-with member of an ancient league called the Blood Guard. Now he and his friends are trying to become members of the Guard themselves, but before they can do that, they’re given what at first glance appears to be a boring assignment: a series of scholarship tests called the Glass Gauntlet. The kids expect multiple-choice exams with paper and pencil, but instead find themselves in a desperate series of winner-take-all physical challenges that reward cheating and ruthlessness. The prize? An actual glass gauntlet, a device more than a century old with sinister magical properties. Whosoever wields the glass gauntlet can turn the tide in the Blood Guard’s favor—or against them.
Where did you get the idea for the book?
The idea for the series came from something I’d read years ago—an idea of thirty-six pure souls in the world, whose existence betters the rest of us on the planet, and because of whom, the world isn’t destroyed by God in a second Flood. That is a very poor paraphrase of the kabbalah notion of the Tzadikim Nistarim, but conveys the seed of the premise. Ronan and his mom are part of a league of warriors devoted to protecting those thirty-six precious souls—which would be easy were it not for a group that would like to eliminate those people and scour the world clean.
As for the Glass Gauntlet—the central device in this book—that came about through a bit of seat-of-the-pants writing. I was playing around with book titles and knew that a “gauntlet” could be a series of harrowing tests. But once I matched it up with the last name of the host of the tests, it suggested an actual Gauntlet, which was too nifty an idea to leave on the table. Once I had that, everything else in the story was reworked to be about that groovy yet impractical device. (A glass glove is a ridiculous fashion accessory.)
Is there any message you want readers to get from reading the book?
I’ve long been a proponent of Samuel Goldwyn’s advice: “If you have a message, send a telegram.”
That said, the book is about something, of course—to do with taking charge of one’s life and making wise decisions. But I would hope that any message would take a backseat to an enjoyable story—after all, story is the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine (message) go down.
How long did it take to write the book?
The whole process took much of a year, but that makes it sound like I was laboring away at it morning through nightfall for 365 days straight. The intensive writing sessions in that year’s time were each a few focused months for each draft, with time off in between.
Who is your favorite character, or what character was the most fun to write?
My favorite character is named Jack Dawkins, a two-hundred year old Blood Guard operative who appears to be only nineteen or so. Because he is technically an adult but apparently a teenager, he is also the most fun to write. Everything about him is more interesting than the other characters, from his vocabulary (he grew up in Dickens’ England) to his weird obsessions (he always seems most concerned about where his next meal is coming from) to his breezy take on everything life throws at him. It’s shameful to admit that a character you are writing makes you laugh, but Dawkins does that for me—I fairly cackle at the stuff he says. (And then later have to cut it way back, because he is not the focus of these novels.
Can you talk about how you wrote it? Did you do any outlining? Did it take you in any unexpected directions?
I write using a combination of methods—I outline in great detail, often filling in snatches of dialogue and the beats of action set pieces, as well as chapter endings. And then, as I write, I throw a lot of that out the window. For example, two big revelations in the first book weren’t part of the outline at all, but were, in fact, planned for book two. And yet it became clear both that book one wanted those revelations—they upped the tension dramatically. Better yet, those revelations sent the story into a more interesting direction.
That sort of thing happens all the time when you write from an outline. So long as you have that outline as a safety net, you are free to range far and collect odd bits to bring into the story—knowing that no matter how far afield you may go, you have a map back to where the story needs to be.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I never actually knew it, more I just sort of started doing it and nobody ever told me to stop. Isn’t it like that for most writers?
What was the first story that you ever wrote?
It was called The Night My Pillow Talked to Me, and it was written for an anthology my elementary school put together. I was in first grade, and that story marked my debut as a writer … and as a plagiarist. The story was my brother’s, and I’d retold it as my own. I’m happy to be able to report that while I continued as a writer, I stopped plagiarizing. My brother made sure of that.
Are there any books you are absolutely inspired by?
There are books I turn to again and again and which I find to be perfectly balanced marvels of craftsmanship and art: Holes by Louis Sachar. Half Magic by Edward Eager. From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsberg. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. Jennifer Murdley’s Toad by Bruce Coville. Anything by Roald Dahl. Gosh, but it’s a long list once you start to really think hard about it.
What are you working on next?
The third and final book in the Blood Guard series, which wraps up everything in ways that are surprising even to me. As well as a standalone novel called Very that is in the revision stages. I’m excited about both.
What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Two parts to this answer. Part one:
First, you must write. Preferably every day, because inspiration responds to habit, and there is no better way to beat a path to the well of inspiration than to make the trek a daily sacrament. Second, it works best if you set yourself a daily goal and then neither fall short of it nor exceed it. I aim for a thousand words—no more, no less. Graham Greene used to do 800 and stop mid-sentence once he reached his day’s goal. What’s the point of this? It leaves something in the tank for the next day’s writing. It is far easier to get started again and to have a head of steam if you already know some of what you’re going to write. Do that, and you’ll find that the material to come after that—which you don’t already know—has taken care of itself, thanks to a day’s work by the subconscious. Third, and this is the key to any good writing, you must revise. (Preferably after your draft is all done and you’ve taken a break, because you need time to gain distance on your own work.) You must revise again and again, cutting out dead language and replacing it with sharper, stronger, shorter prose. The best writing is done in revision, when the baggy vision you got down the first time around is subjected to the refining focus of the editor and re-writer.
The second part of the answer comes from someone else: Raymond Carver, from the final paragraph of his introduction to the Best American Short Stories 1986:
“Writers write, and they write, and they go on writing, in some cases long after wisdom and even common sense have told them to quit. There are always plenty of reasons—good, compelling reasons, too—for quitting, or for not writing very much or very seriously. (Writing is trouble, make no mistake, for everyone involved, and who needs trouble?) But once in a great while lightning strikes, and occasionally it strikes early in the writer’s life. Sometimes it comes later, after years of work. And sometimes, most often, of course, it never happens at all. Strangely, it seems, it may hit people whose work you can’t abide, an event that, when it occurs, causes you to feel there’s no justice whatsoever in the world. (There isn’t, more often than not.) It may hit the man or woman who is or was your friend, the one who drank too much, or not at all, who went off with someone’s wife, or husband, or sister, after a party you attended together. The young writer who sat in the back of the class and never had anything to say about anything. The dunce, you thought. The writer who couldn’t, not in one’s wildest imaginings, make anyone’s top ten possibilities. It happens sometimes. The dark horse. It happens, lightning, or it doesn’t happen. (Naturally, it’s more fun when it does happen.) But it will never, never happen to those who don’t work hard at it and who don’t consider the act of writing as very nearly the most important thing in their lives, right up there next to breath, and food, and shelter, and love, and God.”
Which pretty much sums it all up.