Thursday, September 10, 2015

Jason Vail - combining martial arts with Medieval mysteries

Jason Vail is a writer of historical fiction and a martial artist who blends rich historical detail with realistic martial action. His martial arts career includes training in karate, jujutsu, judo, boxing, wrestling and mixed martial arts. Since 2001, he has been a student of historical European martial arts and is an avid longsword and backsword/broadsword fencer. However, his primary focus has been in reviving the dagger combat techniques found in the European fighting manuals dating back to 1409 not only because of their historical interest but also because of their usefulness in modern self-defense. The result of this study is his book Medieval and Renaissance Dagger Combat, published by Paladin Press.

In addition to Lone Star Rising: Voyage of the Wasp, Mr. Vail is the author of the Stephen Attebrook action/mystery series set in 13th century England, whose titles include The Wayward Apprentice, Baynard's List and A Dreadful Penance.

MJN: Stephen Attebrook, the protagonist of your mystery series, is first presented as a broken man. I think modern audiences can make the connection, with so many injured soldiers struggling to find employment and re-enter the mainstream society. Did you have that on the back of your mind when you were shaping your main character?

JV: I really wasn't concerned about making some sort of statement about anything having to do with the present day. I came to understand Stephen through a sort of revelation, or a process of gradual discovery over a long period of time. He is a man knocked out of place by terrible events that he has not yet fully recovered from, cast down from his place in society so that in a sense he is outside that society, and he is forced to see things in a different light than he would have before. For instance, now, after his injury and his misfortune he can see himself in Harry, who has suffered far more than he has, and Stephen can sympathize with Harry in a way he could not before. Although neither of them could ever voice it, it is part of the bond between them.

MJN: You have training in martial arts which enhances the authenticity of your fight scenes. Have you ever thought of choreographic fight scenes for various historical reenactments?

JV: I don't generally get involved personally in historical reenactments. They are mainly entertainment, even where there is a martial aspect to them. I am a straight martial artist with little aptitude for entertainment. I have trained people to put on demonstrations for such enactments, however, and would do so again if asked. Mainly I just don't have the time to go all over doing that sort of thing. Also, the gear for reenactment can get really expensive!

MJN: One of the reviewers labeled your work as "historical noir" and "a looong way from your friendly Renaissance fair". It seems that gritty realism has been the standard for historical fiction. Are there still authors who make the Middle Ages look cartoonish and SUV-driving family friendly?

JV: I'm not sure if the problem with depictions of the Middle Ages by other others is a matter of cartoonishness. I tend to think people over rely on cliches about the times which often are not true. I've done a lot of research on the era, and the times were far more complex and, I think, very different than people normally think. I have tried to stay as true as I can to what is in the historical record (with a little imaginative speculation to fill in critical gaps). I wanted to create a time portal, to give people the sense of being there. (One example: on a writer's forum I used to frequent, one of the posters asked me about swords of the period, a subject with which I have some familiarity, although I do not claim to be an expert like Oakshott. She wanted her hero to have a jeweled sword. Some swords of the period of course could be very decorated, but her hero was unlikely to be rich enough to have one. Swords are just tools, after all, and you wouldn't put jewels on your hammer today any more than they did swords 600 years ago. Swords were valued not for the doo-dads on them but for their temper, their edge, and their handling qualities. She was very disappointed when I told her this, and I am sure she ignored me.)

MJN: Do you have to apply different tools when writing a medieval mystery versus a contemporary one? I imagine, in the 13th century people did not have access to the same forensic technology as they do now. On one hand, it limits your latitude with plot twists, and on another hand it opens up opportunities. Would you agree?

JV: As far as the solving of mysteries, naturally the tools available to the detectives of the 13th century are vastly different than today: no fingerprints, no video cameras, no DNA, no autopsies, no complex medicine or toxicology. Mainly Stephen and Gilbert rely on dogged persistence and common sense, and a lot of luck. So, you are quite right, Stephen and Gilbert are limited by their circumstances and use their wits. Which in turn presents some interesting story opportunities, or so I hope.

MJN: You are what they now call a hybrid author, meaning some of your books are published through a third-party traditional publishers, and some are published independently by you directly. Do you deliberately choose which books will do better with a publisher, and which will do better independently? Clearly, you have built quite a following for yourself, so you must be satisfied with your current business model.

JV: To a large degree, I have despaired of New York and the publishing industry. I've had an agent twice for different works, the first Stephen Attebrook novel, The Wayward Apprentice, and the prequel, The Outlaws. In both cases, the agents were really enthusiastic at first, but both of them sent the manuscripts out to only four or five houses and then gave up. I then tried marketing them myself without success. Finally, because I believed in the stories, I decided to take a fling and go indie with Apprentice. It was well received by readers, which is really really satisfying, so I did book 2, and so on through book 5, Saint Milburga's Bones, the latest Attebrook mystery. I also went indie with Outlaws for the same reason. I don't think I'd turn down a NY deal if one came my way, but that doesn't seem likely.

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