FAN EXPO: Author Blake Northcott Discusses ARENA MODE (HDN Exclusive)

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Canadian author Blake Northcott has made quite the name for herself over the last couple years. In a short amount of time, she’s gone from online blogger to self-publishing superstar; her novels becoming Amazon Kindle bestsellers while also receiving praise for her work from people such as KICK-ASS creator Mark Millar. While at the Fan Expo in Toronto, I was not only able to take the opportunity to chat with Northcott about her past, present and future endeavors, but she also generously donated a signed, hardcover copy of her new novel, ARENA MODE, to be given away to one lucky HDN reader (details below).

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HI-DEF NINJA: Before you were known for your works of fiction, you were (and still are) a blogger and Twitter-er, “ComicBookGrrl”. Do you ever miss the simplicity of your written works appearing exclusively on blogs and newsfeeds?

BLAKE NORTHCOTT: No, not really. I always had stories I wanted to tell, and the goal was to get them out there in comic book or novel format.

Social media is fun, though. It’s a way for me to get a quick thought out there in 10 seconds rather than half a year. Writing books isn’t the quickest way to get something out of your head!

Author Blake Northcott

Author Blake Northcott

HDN: From there, you began a series of novels titled VS. REALITY that took Amazon by storm once you self-published them for the Kindle. Was there ever a time during the writing process of the first VS. REALITY novel where you knew that you may have a major hit on your hands?

BN: No, not at all.

VS. REALITY was kind of raw and experimental; me taking a stab at writing a novel without any previous experience, or even an outline to work from. Of course I had an idea of the beginning, middle and end, but I just ran with this concept of superhumans who need to take an addictive drug in order to manifest their powers.

I definitely got a lot of praise, and had positive reviews, which was amazing. It rubbed some people the wrong way though because it wasn’t a ‘typical’ book; it’s written in present-tense, it’s dialog-heavy, and reads more like a screenplay than a novel. Some loved it, others hated the format. But I guess enough people enjoyed it because there was demand for a sequel, and it took off from there.

HDN: VS. REALITY was originally written to be a four-part comic book series. Was transitioning the story from the comic book format to that of a novel very difficult for you?

BN: It was pretty easy because I kinda cheated. I basically did a direct translation from one medium to the other. I had no real grasp or understanding of the moving parts involved in making a story work within a novel format, so I had to learn as I went along.

Not that I know much more now, but I know a little. I know enough to know that I have a heck of a lot more to learn!

HDN: After VS. REALITY became a digital phenomenon, your Twitter fan-base skyrocketed to nearly 25,000 people, a following that rivals a fair amount of Hollywood celebrities out there. Does the realization of that ever overwhelm or pressure you, or does it drive you to work yourself harder?

BN: Oh, for sure. The most valuable asset we have is time, and when you sit down with a book, you’re giving a large chunk of that to the author.

I think it comes down to trust. If someone dedicates their time to one of my books, I want to make sure they don’t feel it was a bad investment. I never want to break that trust, so it drives me to deliver the best experience possible.

HDN: VS. REALITY and its sequel, RELAPSE, have obviously been very successful for you. Is there a part of you that ever wishes that they could’ve been comic books instead and, if the chance arose, would you like to adapt them into comic books?

BN: Comics are a completely different ball of wax. I think it’s attractive as a writer to see the pictures and characters in their imagination come alive in sequential panels, but there are so many challenges in making it happen. You need an amazing penciler, inker, colorist, cover artist…as you know, the list goes on and on. It’s very much a group effort, where writing a novel is a solitary endeavor right up until the editing phase. I like that control and freedom.

But I love comic books, and I have one that could be on the way as early as Q1 if 2014. I don’t want to say anything else just yet because I don’t want to jinx it! It’s not a VS. REALITY comic – it’s a totally new storyline.

I don’t think my existing novels will end up as comics, but never say never.

ARENA MODE follows the story of Matthew Moxon (art by Derek Laufman)

ARENA MODE follows the story of Matthew Moxon (art by Derek Laufman)

HDN: Moving on to ARENA MODE – your most ambitious project to date – what made you decide to fund it through Kickstarter?

BN: An acquaintance introduced me to the concept in September of 2012. I was probably the last person on earth to hear about this emerging crowdsourcing phenomenon. He’s an author who had some amazing success with a Kickstarter campaign of his own, so with his advice I decided to give it a shot. Amazon publishing had been going well, but I felt it was time to take the next step – a full length novel with all sorts of fancy bells and whistles.

To be honest, I was kind of playing Russian Roulette with my career. Not many people are aware of this, but if ARENA MODE hadn’t been a success, I don’t know if I would still be writing at this point. I’d put so much time and effort into the previous books – and especially ARENA MODE in its early stages – that if it didn’t do well I couldn’t have continued my career as an author. The people who backed me have no idea how much they helped!

HDN: With a pledge-total of over $35,000, your Kickstarter campaign was nearly just as successful as your self-publishing career through Amazon. What do you think is the secret to drawing in such a loyal fan-base (we won’t think you’re shallow, so feel free to gloat)?

BN: (Laughs) I have no idea. If I knew, I would tell you.

I just try to be as hands-on with my online friends as possible, and maybe that’s part of it. I don’t really like the term ‘fans’…not that it’s a derogatory term, but I feel like I just have 25,000 online buddies, and a bunch of them like it when I Tweet and write books.

I let everyone know that I appreciate them whenever I can. I try to write people back whenever possible, and I read every single Tweet and Facebook post. That’s also why I do Con appearances; I pay for all my travel, hotels and expenses out of my own pocket, and I don’t really make any money going – I just feel it’s important to meet the people who support me one-on-one, give them a hug, or just say ‘hi’. Meeting awesome people is my favorite part of this job – I wish I had more time to do it!

I see some authors treat their online friends as ‘customers’, and as soon as you boil it down to a simple transaction where money is exchanged for goods, you take some of the soul out of what you’re doing. I want personal interactions, where we exchange ideas and concepts and really connect – even if it’s just a brief exchange through Tweets.

HDN: ARENA MODE is your third novel and just like your VS. REALITY series before it, the story deals with super-powered people. What is it about the genre that you find so interesting?

BN: In a fictional world where superpowered people exist, the possibilities are endless. If you’re writing a crime drama, or a political thriller or a romance – whatever the genre – you just end up with a finite number of narrative obstacles. That can get stale and repetitious.

Not that someone can’t write a really original, compelling story in any of those genres. Of course someone can. It’s just that I probably can’t. My mind is always wrapped around these concepts about science-fiction and futurism and wild possibilities that could one day exist, or just having fun with the notion that some fantasy could exist. I find that a lot more intriguing.

HDN: Your upcoming agenda consists of a second ARENA MODE novel – ASSAULT OR ATTRITION – as well as LEGACY, the third part in your VS. REALITY series. While it may be a little early to look past those books, which genre would you like to tackle most next (other than sparkly vampires, of course)?

BN: (Laughs) No, definitely no ‘paranormal romance’ in my future. I think other authors have that covered.

I have a few ideas in the works, and I’ll be delving into some more sci-fi stuff, as well as more occult-y things that maybe skew away from superhumans in the traditional sense, but still have that same vibe.

But if you were waiting for a Blake Northcott western or historical drama – I’m sorry. You have a long wait ahead of you.

Northcott's first novel, VS. REALITY, is available through Amazon exclusively for the Kindle

Northcott’s first novel, VS. REALITY, is available through Amazon exclusively for the Kindle

HDN: Explain to the audience at Hi-Def Ninja why they should be reading ARENA MODE and why they should be fighting over the free, autographed hardcover copy that we’re giving away.

BN: I had some amazing people, who are much more talented than myself, from MARVEL, DC and IMAGE COMICS create the characters for the book. You can see 13 full-color illustrations in the back of the hardcover edition that’s being given away. And the wrap-around cover? Wow.

Oh, and there’s a story, too. With words and stuff. But the pictures are awesome.

HDN: The last two questions… both fun, I promise. First, growing up, Joss Whedon was a hero to me. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER was one of the most relatable, fun and inspiring shows to watch as a teenager. As a fellow BUFFY fan, why do you think that show was so important to its viewers at the time (and even today)?

BN: Wow, that’s a big question. I don’t know…there was just something special about it. It was the dialog, the stories, the continuity that never stopped paying off – Joss Whedon seamlessly mixed genres in a way that had never really been done before, and it just fit perfectly for some reason. He’s a magician – I don’t know how he does it!

You also have to remember that not only is BUFFY great by today’s standards, but it debuted back in 1997. BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, THE WALKING DEAD, GAME OF THRONES and all these incredible sci-fi/fantasy shows were a long way off. In the mid-90s and earlier, we had STAR TREK and THE X-FILES…but that was about it. Joss crafted this must-see hour long show that was unlike anything we’d seen before, and then did it again with ANGEL a few years later. It was the best two-hours of TV ever – I used to plan my whole week around being home to see it every Tuesday night.

Man, I’m getting nostalgic just thinking about it!

What was the question? Right – so it was a seminal show in the sense that it was just that good, especially for its time. But it also showed you can have strong female characters that are just as bad-ass and flawed as the men. And that was the brilliance of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: dudes could watch it without the stigma of ‘this is a chick show’, because it really wasn’t. It was a show about a reluctant hero growing into her role, maturing into that weird time in our lives between high school and adulthood, and living a normal life whenever she could – and she just happened to be a chick.

HDN: Finally, give us a synopsis of what a Ninja-centric story by Blake Northcott would be like.

BN: (Laughs) Oh my god, I don’t even know how to answer that. Probably something in a modern setting with a bunch of MMA sequences, swearing and random explosions.

So basically VS. REALITY with ninjas.

HDN: Thanks for your time, Blake. I think that you’re becoming just as inspirational to young writers today as Joss Whedon was to young writers in the ‘90s/2000s and I wish you nothing but absolute success in both your career and your personal life!

BN: Wow…if you’re comparing me to Joss Whedon in any small way, then that’s the nicest, and most unjustified, thing anyone has ever said to me – but it’s a wonderful compliment so I’ll take it!

Thanks so much, Kenneth. It was fun!

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For more information on Blake Northcott and her written work, you can visit her personal Web site, BlakeNorthcott.com, or check out the official Web site for Arena Mode. Her novels are self-published exclusively through Amazon for the Kindle.

To enter the giveaway for a FREE signed, hardcover copy of ARENA MODE, visit its official thread on the Hi-Def Ninja forum here. To enter, you must be a member of HDN with at least five non-spam posts. Good luck!

~K

About the author

EIC NINJA | Ken loves comics, video games, and film -- especially creature features and giant monster flicks. When he's not stalking the shadows as part of the Ninja Clan, he spends his time obsessively collecting ThunderCats, King Kong, and Pacific Rim memorabilia.