Mystery writer, Aaron Blaylock, is on a blog tour to get the word out about his new release - The Land of Look Behind. I sent Aaron some questions that intriqued me about the new book and this is what he had to say:
KIM: What inspired the setting of Jamaica? Have you spent time there?
AARON: I lived and worked in Jamaica for two years as a volunteer missionary. The island is truly remarkable. I chose the cockpit country in particular as a focal point of the book because of its unique ascetic qualities but also due to its history and the many unknowns that still exist both on and beneath the surface. An interesting unknown is an author's playground as we get to fill in the void with whatever we chose, that's what made setting this story in the cockpits of Jamaica so much fun.
K: What about Jamaica and her people caught your imagination?
A: First off, I love Jamaica and her people. There is a quality that permeates everyone and everything on the island. The vast majority of the people you meet are friendly, warm and welcoming. They live together on this rock in the middle of the ocean and with that comes a connection to those around them. They see one another if that makes sense. There's no disconnected rushing from here to there with little regard for the other human beings around them. Whatever is happening around them they notice and usually have something to say about it. I love that. As for the physical landscape, it lends itself to an adventure. Whether it be the crowded and often chaotic streets of Kingston or the remote jungle wilderness of the cockpits, there is so much to explore. That means a lot in this day and age where it is easy to believe that we've seen it all and the days of exploration and discovery are over. Adventure is there to be had if we will but seek it out.
K: The protagonist in The Land of Look Behind is a former missionary. Would you consider the story to have a religious theme?
A: I made Gideon a former missionary for two reasons. One, I drew from my own experiences as a jumping off point and two, I wanted to place the protagonist as a guide that the readers could trust but one who didn't have all the answers. He is familiar with the island and the people because of his time as a missionary but he is not a Jamaican and therefore there is still that tension that comes from a stranger in a foreign land.
As far as a religious theme I would say yes and, well, yes. The overarching theme in the book is light and darkness, both their relationship to each other and the struggle between the two. Darkness limits our view and thus our capacity to choose is diminished. Light dispels darkness and as things are brought to light all becomes clear and our choices are innumerable. Many of Gideon's choices are with a yearning for illumination but, as is the case for us all when the way ahead is uncertain, his faith guides him through the darkness. This is first and foremost a story of adventure and mystery but there are subtle religious themes for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.
K: How much historical research went into this book?
A: The Land of Look Behind follows two timelines over three hundred years a part. Although I used much of my own experience for the present day timeline I really wanted to get the 17th century correct. Along with scores of Internet resources I read two books, The Iron Thorn by Carey Robinson and The Maroons of Jamaica by Mavis C. Campbell, that were full of valuable information. I took a handful of characters straight from the history books and used actual events as the backdrop for Lieutenant Jarvis's quest. Jarvis is our 17th century protagonist whose journey parallels Gideon in many ways. The history of Jamaica, particularly in the sixteen and seventeen hundreds, is fascinating to me. There is so much adventure and conflict and a rich tapestry of culture along with a depth of tragedy that I really wanted to explore. From the invasion of 1655 straight through the Maroon wars and the treaty of 1739, there are so many stories that I could have told and so many left that I would love to tell but The Land of Look Behind felt like the right place to start. The events in the book pick up five years after the British invasion of 1655 which was a pivot time in Jamaican history and, for better or worse, would prove to shape much of their way of life today.
K: Did any source provide added inspiration or change the direction of the story in an unexpected way?
A: Actually the final version of this story is quite different from where I intended to go but there was one source that was both added inspiration and provided an unexpected change in direction. Initially I wanted to use a symbol as a sort of Macguffin to drive Gideon and Jarvis back to a cave in the middle of the cockpits. I imagined one myself and drew a rough sketch that I hoped a real artist could clean up for the final product. I even built this elaborate back story behind it but largely it was a plot device that ultimately held no real significance. Then I watched a TED talk on ancient Africa alphabets and discovered a real symbol of tremendous significance that not only fit the story but completely changed where I thought it should go. The symbol, symbols actually, even brought forth a character who became integral to the story. Without giving anything away, the meanings behind these symbols gave depth to this story that I'm not sure I would have been able to reach without them.
Thank you, Aaron, for answering questions about your writing process. If you'd like to find out more about Aaron Blaylock and his books - visit aaronblaylock.com.
When Gideon, a former missionary, discovers a mysterious drawing tucked in an ancient journal he returns to Jamaica with dreams of finding a centuries old treasure. He quickly learns there are those who would kill to keep the treasure secret. This thrilling adventure takes you deep into Jamaica's treacherous cockpit country and back in time for a spine-tingling mystery you won't be able to put down.