After reading Flabbergasted, Ray Blackston’s debut novel, I knew I was hooked on his writing. Blackston has this rare ability to craft characters that are so real, it’s scary. But they’re also hilarious, too. Poking fun at human nature, how we relate to one another, and a bit of the silly rituals we have at church, each of Blackston’s books are a slam dunk. So I was especially exited to learn about his new book, Last Mango in Texas, which was unleashed in stores on March 6. Review by yours truly forthcoming. By the way, if you click here, you can read a sample chapter from the book.
Here’s a little Q&A Ray Blackston did with the fine folks at FaithWords::
Okay, Ray, why did you choose Texas for the setting of this novel?
I attended high school in Texarkana, Texas, and had thought I might go to college out in Lubbock, at Texas Tech University. But we moved across the country to South Carolina. After I began a writing career I still longed to set a story among the wide open spaces and tough-but-friendly nature of Texans. Somehow in the land of armadillos and oil wells, a romantic comedy developed.
We get to see the main character, Kyle Mango, at an earlier age than your other protagonists. Any particular reason?
Yep. Kyle is from a broken family—and I wanted to show that in the opening scenes, when Kyle is just a teenager, and then do a slight “Forrest Gumpish” leap in time to Kyle’s college years, which is where he meets Gretchen. About eighty percent of the novel is set in adulthood, while Kyle is a twenty-something trying to make sense of an unexpected job and a somewhat unpredictable young lady.
Would you say that Last Mango in Texas has a similar feel to your popular first novel, Flabbergasted?
Yep. But replace the beach with some dirt and a few cactus, and add some bar-b-que sauce to the meals. You’ll likely find Kyle and Gretchen just as entertaining as Jay and the gang. And though the humor is there in good dosage—and a quirky Texas vibe flows through the entire story—a couple of deeper themes also weave themselves into the narrative.
More humor than sadness?
Oh definitely. I’d say Last Mango contains at least four laugh-out-louds for every dab-at-the-eyes.
Okay, give us a snapshot of a day in the life of WriterRay.
Sure. WriterRay rises at 6:30, makes the long, ten foot commute from his bedroom to his writing room, makes a pot of coffee (the good stuff), pours a bowl of cereal (Quaker Oat Squares), says a prayer, does five push-ups, throws a handful of sunflower seeds onto the back deck for the co-dependent cardinals, then takes the coffee and cereal to his writing desk, devours them with haste, and immerses himself in the world of words.
Readers often wonder how long it takes you to pen a novel. Care to elaborate on how long it took to write Mango?
About five months to create a mediocre first draft. Then two more months to improve it to where it was a readable second draft. Then I went back and forth with my editor for a few more months. So, I’d guesstimate anywhere from nine months to a year. New challenges await a writer each time he or she takes on a new project. As I said a few years ago, the fact that you’ve completed previous novels does not impress your laptop.
Ever try writing to music?
Yes I have. But I’ve found it is bad form to write sweltering Texas scenes while listening to “Frosty the Snowman”; funeral scenes while listening to “Copacabana”; or church scenes while listening to The Police. (“Poets priests and politicians, have words to thank for their positions” somehow just lacks reverence).
Ah, okay Ray. Got it. One thing you’re known for is writing funny dialogue. If you were allowed to write dialogue for any TV show, which one would you pick?
“The Office”. You see, before I was WriterRay I was CorporateCubicleRay, and during those years I experienced just about every scenario brought up on that show.
Even the secretive inter-office romance?
Okay, not that. Well, back in high school, when I had a summer job at Sears stocking shelves and bringing out clothes to the display areas, there was this girl named Lisa…
And you two had a secretive inter-office romance?
No, but we did buy the new Police cassette and sang along to “Poets priests and politicians, have words to thank for their positions.”
Thank you, Ray. If Last Mango in Texas is as interesting as interviewing you, I can’t wait to read it.
You’re quite welcome. I do my best to write entertaining novels, and look forward to the feedback.
* More information regarding Ray Blackston and Last Mango in Texas can be found at RayBlackston.com.