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Interview with JA Bland

The Legend of Burroughs’ Rangers combines a lot of things — high adventure, drama, and an apocalyptic vision of a geologic event that alters the world. What draws you to these types of stories as a reader — and what do you feel makes them so popular?
People seem to have an innate fear of the unknown.  Following the characters through the unknown, I think, gives readers an opportunity to safely navigate the imagined danger.  Their fears are at first heightened then resolved, fostering feelings of excitement and satisfaction through vicarious participation.

You set the book in North San Diego County, and utilized your considerable familiarity with the places and landmarks there. What prompted you to set it on and near the coast?
I grew up in the area. Being a closet survivalist myself, I often pondered the “what ifs” of a geological event of great magnitude.  Having a great love of the ocean, it seemed the perfect way to begin the association the characters have with the ocean at the onset of the story.

There are a lot of operational and tactical discussions and actions in the book, all in the name of survival. Could you tell us about your military background, and how you feel such a background would serve others if there were to be a calamitous event?
I enlisted in the Army as an Airborne Ranger at 18.  At that time, everyone in that situation was training for, and shipping to, Vietnam.  While I did not receive my Ranger tab, the training added greatly to my survival instinct and built upon it.  The structure required in the military was essential for me as I learned self-reliance and the understanding that you can go much further than you think your body will go.  Self-reliance will keep you alive long enough to find the essentials for survival.

One of the most compelling character threads is the relationship you establish between hard-edged Bill Burroughs and Jimmy. It’s an incredibly loving and gentle mentor-apprentice relationship, one that really puts heart into an otherwise hard-edged experience. As you wrote this, how did you feel Bill’s relationship to Jimmy evolving? And vice versa?
Using the threat of annihilation as the backdrop, coupled with the loss of and separation from loved ones, the old man and the boy see something in each other that draws them together from their first encounter.  The boy’s love and admiration for the old man grow as the old man realizes that the boy’s needs play into his own need to protect and nurture.

Another compelling character is Hector, and his decision to revert to his native Chiricahua Apache ways. You also got into the emotional landscape of how he arrived at that decision. How did you sort through all the various responses people would have in a catastrophe, and put together the particular combination you used with your characters — including Hector?
I wanted to show that we can remove prejudice from our lives, especially in a border region, hence the Native American and Mexican influences.  In the case of Hector, half Mexican and half Apache, he agonizes over the realization that he may well be the last of his tribe which drives him to revert to, and try to sustain that culture. In developing the various characters and their particular reactions to the changes around them, I choose people from the various social sectors and struck impromptu conversations about their reactions, fears and desires they may experience in a calamitous situation.  Each character is a montage of these viewpoints.

You paint a very compelling — and sobering — picture of the aftermath of a world-altering cataclysm. You also capture decisions, good and bad, made in the first few days that set up the story to follow.  Were this to happen — even something like the 9.0 earthquakes that recently hit Chile and Japan — what would be our most important decisions?
Safety, first and foremost.  Then water, shelter, food.  In the book, safety initially takes the form of getting to high ground.  Then it evolves into the acquisition of the means to survive; water, shelter and food.

Throughout the struggle for survival, further cataclysms and fights against opposing forces, Bill Burroughs is trying to get home to Colorado. Yet, he forms a strong allegiance with and dedication to his fellow survivors in Southern California after reluctantly taking charge of the group. What were you showing about Bill and the aftermath of a changed world in this difficult decision process?  
The concept of the reluctant hero captured my heart as a boy when I first saw the the now-classic western High Noon. Will Kane (played by Gary Cooper) found himself on the very sharp horns of a dilemma. He knew the killers he had sent to prison, now released, vowed vengeance against him.  Though he could have run to safety, he inexplicably returned to town to face their fury and protect the town.  He knew all along he could expect no assistance from the towns’ people. In my book, Bill Burroughs agonizes over that same complex set of emotions. He simply cannot leave when there is a need that only he can fulfill.

Which writers did you like most growing up — and what types of adventure or sci-fi stories and authors did you read most?
As a boy, my brother introduced me to many sci-fi writers; Andre Norton, Robert Heinlein, and Ray Bradbury among many others.  But I simply devoured the entire volume of works by Edgar Rice Burroughs (no association), J.R.R. Tolkien and Louis L’Amour.  I read The Iliad and The Odyssey when I was 9 years old, which launched me into the world of the Greek heroes and philosophers.

One of the outstanding features about The Legend of Burroughs’ Rangers was the way you always sprinkled in something positive against the face of one setback after another. What were you endeavoring to show about the changes in one’s character when faced with such daunting challenges?
That is a good question. As children, for the most part, we see every day and every event as new and enlightening, enjoyable, fun, or whatever you want to call it.  As adults, we tend to see less and less of the “fun” and get buried in the roadblocks we run up against.  But, when faced with seemingly unending dangers and discomforts, we can get beyond those difficulties by striving to find the positive.  If you can’t find it, you put on a good face and lead by example.

Can you give us a sneak preview of the next installment in this series?
The last scene of The Legend of Burroughs’ Rangers defines the realization of continued danger near at hand.  Our troop of characters now face untold rigors as they attempt to make their way across a shattered landscape to what might remain of the Rocky Mountains and the home of Bill Burroughs, where his wife awaits his return.  Encounters along the way with other survivors, both good and bad, influence each person’s character.  Each encounter provides an opportunity to rebuild hope where it has been lost.