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Monday, November 7, 2011

Welcoming John Blackport Discussing His Military Fantasy Release: Raingun

This week John Blackport is here to tell us about his recent release Raingun, a mix of military fiction with fantasy The book has a haunting cover, and an even more haunting excerpt.

Rick Rivoire is flush with money, women, and prospects. He protects his country as one of the Rainguns, an elite regiment of spellcasting cavalry.

But national policy drifts ominously into slavery and religious persecution, sparking rebellion. Joining the rebels could land Rick on a prison ship, in slave-irons --- or atop the same gallows where he watched his father hang.

The alternative looks no brighter. The status quo imperils Rick’s hard-won self-respect. Supporting tyranny would doom his dream to emulate the valiant swordswoman who braved a den of monsters to rescue the lonely, terrified nine-year-old boy he once was.

Rick can’t stay above the fray forever. He must either defend a government whose actions disgust him --- or risk everything he has.

This story unfolds in a world of bloodthirsty pirates, brave musketeers, and vile monsters. Its target audience is anyone who has ever wrestled with questions of whether, and how, to risk opposing the actions of their country.

Can you tell us a little about why you wrote Raingun?

Raingun’s  protagonist is a dragoon in the light cavalry, sharing battlefield with lancers, pikemen, musketeers --- and wizards.  Most magic in this world is economical: after an initial investment, it’s cheap and renewable.  Wizards can give enemy units a bad time all by themselves, but they’re one in a million.  Most magic is cast by “mages”, who hold their own but are often overshadowed by sabers, muskets, cannon, and even arrows. 

Rick Rivoire  is born poor.  He is offered a commission --- and money to buy it --- by a combination of luck and courage when his hometown is attacked by pirates.  He takes pride in protecting his country.  But as his country’s policies become cruel, he risks his new-found rank and privilege, by considering rebellion. 

Raingun doesn’t focus on what it’s like to be a soldier. Instead, it focuses on the struggles ordinary people face when they doubt the honesty and sincerity of their government.  What freedoms do you trade for security?  When you disapprove of your government’s actions, when do you speak out?  When do you draw lines in the sand?  And when do you rebel?  What do you do if those close to you choose to stand apart?

Where did you develop your expertise on military fiction? 

I guess my expertise, if you can call it that, comes from reading a lot of history and historical fiction. My favorites are Bernard Cornwell and George Macdonald Fraser.
I've enjoyed O'Brian and Forester... I especially like the way they call attention to the challenges their heroes face outside of battle. They can't assume today will be easy just because they don't smell powder smoke.

And are these stories loosely based on any historical events, time, or place?

I've gone out of my way to avoid getting too allegorical. If I wanted to write about slavery in, say,New Orleans or the Barbary Coast at specific points in time, I'd have done that. That's a worthy pursuit, but it is not a necessary part of making entertaining stories with entertaining characters.

Yes, that is what it feels like to me. I recognize a lot of parallels to history and to certain places, but just can't place them. David Anthony Durham did that with Acacia.

John, can you tell us why you're donating half of this e-book's royalties will go to the Scleroderma Research Foundation? My cousin had scleroderma.

My brother-in-law Perry suffered from scleroderma, and died tragically at a young age. I want this book to help fight the disease that killed him.
The Scleroderma Research Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to finding a cure. 

Where can readers get a copy of Raingun?

It's available in most electronic formats and on 

They can read a sample here

The website, with contact information is

Stop back soon, John, and let us know when the rest of the series is published.

Yes, I will. Resolution will be next.

John Blackport is a New England attorney who prefers to keep his writing and professional identities separate.


  1. Hi John,

    Could you tell me more about how your literary influences - Cornwell, Macdonald Fraser, O'Brian, Forester - influenced 'Raingun'?

    You mention the military background of their works, and also how O'Brian and Forester give their heroes challenges outside the battlefield.
    Did those writers also inspire other aspects of your work - such as writing style, structure, the series concept?


  2. With regard to writing style: It seems to me that O’Brian and Cornwell don’t put you too deep into their hero’s heads. They switch point of view, and O’Brian even splits the spotlight between two separate “heroes” with different strengths and styles. On the other hand, Forester and Fraser make sure you are in the head of Hornblower or Flashman all the time. So in that respect, I suppose I try to channel the experience of reading whichever authors I need for Rick Rivoire’s current level of intensity (or isolation).

    As far as “structure” goes, I try to follow their examples with pacing as well. I believe the ideal story is a dance where it’s best to go for unpredictable variations between fast pace and slow pace. O’Brian and Forester seem to put their fast-paced stretches and their slow-paced ones in bigger chunks. It’s taught me how to try to anticipate what a reader wants at the next point in a story to keep them reading. . . but always succeeding at this, of course, is another matter!

    The “series concept” of The Raingun Chronicles is complex. I boil it down to five steps:

    1) I don’t want to shrink from how horrible battles and combat are. But having never fought in a battle myself, if I set such a story in the modern age I would be telling a story best told by someone else. The obvious solution is to set the story in an age where no one who fought in that age is now alive: I chose an imaginary era I loosely refer to as “musket and pike”, where magic holds its own.
    2) I wanted one thing that would make my hero very different from Richard Sharpe: I wanted him to care --- deeply --- about the principles he was fighting for. The way I addressed this was to make the fight not about territorial expansion, but about personal freedom. I chose to make it all happen within the hero’s home country, which he loves: civil wars never lack for passion.
    3) I also wanted my hero to have a freedom of movement that most soldiers just don’t have, to follow hunches, or even pursue private concerns. My solution was to make the hero a commissioned cavalry officer. These soldiers bought their commissions, and enjoyed luxuries far above those available to most infantry and artillery. Many of these officers were capable, dedicated and brave, but many were none of those of things and only bought their commissions to ensure themselves a comparatively soft life. As a Raingun, Rick Rivoire is sometimes “confined to barracks”, or posted in a specific place under a specific commander . . . but many times, he is not and is only required to periodically “check in” to barracks unless he is summoned.
    4) I was inspired by the espionage missions O’Brian gave to Dr. Maturin, to show the intricate interplay between how people affect history, and how history affects people. Since soldiers in wartime rarely have “all the facts” about a situation in the way a novel’s hero can, I decided a good way to facilitate this was to include magic, and put the story in a fantasy world. There would be no objective historical facts to get wrong.
    5) When deciding what kind of fantasy world to create, I took another cue from Cornwell’s Sharpe series. I didn’t want grand, metaphysical explanations of magic --- I wanted magic spells that either hit or missed, and that their casters considered as mundane as Sharpe’s Rifles considered their bullets. I wanted the hero to have to worry that his gun might get wet, or about getting foot rot. I wanted my fantasy world to look and smell and taste like a place Bernard Cornwell would be comfortable in. So I tried to put mundane, everyday concerns right alongside the magical, earth-shaking ones.

    I guess that’s it!

  3. This is fascinating, John. Thanks for your detailed and thoughtful reply.