The following is a brief January 2009 Interview with author Ray Blackston
1. Hi, Ray.Where did you get the idea for Last Mango in Texas?

It actually began as the “prequel” to Flabbergasted. I started to write about the formative years of Jay Jarvis but got sidetracked with his younger cousin, Kyle. So I just ran with Kyle Mango’s story. I also loved writing about west Texas, and in the midst of it all a romantic comedy developed.

2. Interesting. So Kyle is related to Jay?

I believe so. I think I heard that Kyle’s mom and Jay’s mom are second cousins. But Jay does not appear in this story. Sorry. Kyle insisted on this.

3. Readers often wonder how long it takes you to pen a novel. Care to elaborate?

About four months to create a bad first draft. Then two more months to improve it to where it’s a mediocre second draft. Then I go back and forth with my editor for a couple more months. So, I’d guesstimate anywhere from eight months to a year. New challenges await each time a writer takes on a new project. As I said six years ago, the fact that you’ve completed previous novels does not impress your laptop.

4. Would you say that Last Mango in Texas has a similar feel to Flabbergasted?

Yep. But replace the beach with west Texas, and add some bar-b-que sauce to the meals. Oh, and I can tell you that you’ll likely find Kyle, Chang, and Gretchen just as quirky and entertaining as Jay and the gang.

5. What's next for you? Another novel to pen in 2009?

Possibly. But I’m also working on a non-fiction project that excites me. It’s based on the early chapters of Genesis and deals with God’s design for relationships. It’s pretty hush hush at this point, so I’d better not say any more!

The following is a August 2006 Interview with author Ray Blackston
1. Okay, Ray, give us a short synopsis of A Pagan’s Nightmare.

How about “the last few pagans on earth, running desperately from legalistic zealots who hope to capture and “convert” them.

2. Sounds interesting enough. But where does the chase take place?

It begins in Atlanta on a routine Monday morning, but the story will move to Florida and perhaps even to the Bahamas at some point. Those zealots are pretty tenacious!

3. In your debut novel, Flabbergasted, there is a legalistic character named Stanley. Are these “zealots” any relation to him?

Put it this way: If you multiplied Stanley’s personality by a thousand, you’d have a proper perspective of these people.

4. Oh my. That bad?

Ever heard of a zealot-owned gas station charging non-converts $6.66 per gallon for gas?

5. Whoa . . . that’s bad. But let’s shift gears a bit. You changed publishers for this novel, correct?

Yes. I was fortunate to have several publishers interested in acquiring this one, but Time Warner Book Group (now called Hachette Book Group) seemed the “best fit.” I love working with the editorial staff there. But then I also had a great experience working with Baker Book Group as well. I’ll always have special memories of working on my first novel, Flabbergasted, with Jeanette, who is now with Waterbrook.

6. Sounds like lots of name changes and job changes go on in the book industry.

You have no idea. But through it all, I’ve somehow kept my own name. Praise the Lord.

7. Here’s a question I’d bet you get asked a lot. Will you ever work with the characters from Flabbergasted again?

I’m giving that a lot of thought. “Possibly” is my best answer for right now. However, I can tell you that two of the characters may make a small guest appearance in the book I’m working on now. A certain car may show up as well. This story will be set in Charleston, one of my fave cities.

8. Narrated by a single male?

But of course!

9. What’s the coolest thing that has happened to you since you began interacting with your readers?

The international emails are always fun. I’ve received an Aussie flyswatter from Perth, Australia, testimonies from both married and single people, pictures of lime green stuff, notes from missionaries, and even a miniature toy kangaroo. But the most surprising event happened at a book signing here in Greenville. A self-proclaimed ”Number 1 fan,” who lives in the Midwest and is all of 16 years old, was vacationing with her dad on the coast of North Carolina, and the two of them drove five hours each way to make it to the signing. I had never met them before, but we all went out to get burgers after the signing and had a big time. That a family would drive that far to meet me was quite flattering.

10. Are many of your fans that young?

I think the largest group is the 20 – 50 age range. It’s a pretty diverse group. I’ve been blessed to get emails from grandmothers and grandfathers, a number of college students, married couples, lots of singles, and some high-schoolers as well. Oh, and one 11 year-old from California who claimed that she “read above her age level.”

11. Are you writing full time now?

I’m giving that a lot of thought. “Possibly” is my best answer for right now. However, I can tell you that two of the characters may make a small guest appearance in the book I’m working on now. A certain car may show up as well. This story will be set in Charleston, one of my fave cities.

12. So, sometimes you don’t work a full day?

Not always. But I’m pretty disciplined about keeping to the schedule. Then again, I think it’s healthy to leave room for some “play time.” Which, for me, often involves my nephews, my brother, my dad, and a golf course.

13. One last question. What’s the best and worst thing about working as a novelist?

The best would have to be the freedom to create, allowing my relationship with God (the ultimate creative mind) to work in and through me to try and produce work that is original and entertaining. The worst is reading a review from someone who just doesn’t “get” my stuff.

14. Thanks, WriterRay! May your nouns love your verbs.

Metaphors be with you.

The following is a April 2004 Interview with author Ray Blackston
Award winning, critically acclaimed novelist Ray Blackston offers A Delirious Summer as the highly anticipated sequel to his popular novel, Flabbergasted. The new book releases May 1 from Revell. Billed as an entertaining “beach read” full of quirky characters looking for love in all the wrong places, the novel fostered a Q & A perspective from Blackston, courtesy of (periodicals/Internet media are encouraged to reprint Q & A):

Ray Blackston – A Delirious Summer
A Perspective From The Author

1. What fears did you have to face down in doing such a risky thing as leaving your job to write full time?

Two fears were paramount: that I would not be able to wiggle my way back in to the corporate world if I failed, and that no woman would want to date me because I was now in the category of "unstable." Leaving the corporate cubicle was a decision that was made over a long period of time, after I had worked seven years in jobs that were not fulfilling. From these jobs I was able to save a little money month after month and invest it with the knowledge that these funds would one day provide the sustenance I'd need in order to take a risk. It just so happened that the 1999 and early 2000 run-up in the stock market paralleled my timing to begin writing. This, of course, was really God's timing, working in and through my decisions. I prayed hard and long before making the leap. But with two or three years of living expenses salted away, I figured this was the time to go for it. So I did.

2. How did you learn to write fiction? How long did it take you to craft your first book?

It took me a lot longer to CRAFT the book than it did to write the first draft! The art of writing really is in re-writing. Studying some world-class novelists and learning technique, then applying some of those techniques to my own bucket of nouns and verbs, was how I learned. I'd write for five hours in the morning, then read and study good writing in the afternoon. I just immersed myself in the world of sentences. That's the key right there—you gotta love sentences, the building material of a novel. For with good sentences one can build a paragraph; with good paragraphs, chapters; and with good chapters, books.

3. What other types of writing have you done or are currently doing?

Prior to Flabbergasted I had written um, emails and whatever papers were assigned in high school and college! Really, no short stories or articles for me. I just jumped in with both feet, kind of half-blind, half ignorant of what I was getting into. I felt like I had exhausted my other vocational options, so I just thought back to what my second grade teacher had told my parents: that I had a knack for stringing words together. Took me thirty years to heed Mrs. Kretzer's advice. But then, those thirty years contained the raw material from which I would draw ideas for the novel. I'm currently in the early innings of book three, which is the final book in a loosely connected "Flabbergasted Trilogy."

4. What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

My advice is this: Make sure that your goal is to improve as a writer, not to gain the status of "getting published." That's what I hear at so many conferences and writers groups—"How do I get published?" or "How do I get an agent?" To me, those are the wrong questions. You first want to compare, as objectively as possible, published works with your own. Look for every possible way to note what you are doing wrong. Believe me, you are doing some things wrong. We all are. Too many passive sentences? Unrealistic dialogue? Introducing too many characters too quickly? No sense of "place?" Cardboard characters that are mere mouthpieces for your message? Those are five of the most common errors I see. So start there. If you will devote yourself to the task of being the best writer you can be, and always but always continue to learn, and only submit a manuscript after you honestly cannot think of a single improvement, then, and only then, might some agent or publisher notice you. This is a very competitive business, and the monies that it takes to bring a new author and his book to market are only going to get risked on manuscripts that sparkle and impress and entertain. Perseverance is key.

5. What did you learn in between writing the two books? How have you developed your craft?

I learned that each book is a marathon run on a new route, and the fact that you completed one marathon earlier does not impress your laptop. In other words, you have the feeling of "starting over," but with that comes the knowledge that "I did it once, and I can do it again." Working with some of the same characters in the second book helped too, as I already knew their quirks and mannerisms.

6. Are you a seat of the pants writer or do you plot out your books?

Seat of the pants, seat of the gym shorts, seat of the blue jeans. I wing it like my friend Sandy makes gumbo—just toss things in and see what works. I've never plotted anything beyond writing on a single sheet of paper, "This is where I might like this story to go between now and seven months from now." In this second novel, A Delirious Summer, the character of Alexis just leaped out of the screen of my laptop and told me that she was going to steal every scene she's in. And she does. She's the most high-energy girl I've ever met, and the story's narrator, Neil, can barely keep up with her.

7. Why CBA? Why not the secular market?

Why not both? My CBA-published novel is on the shelves of Barnes and Noble, Books a Million, Wal-Mart, and Target Stores, so God in his grace has allowed it be a crossover novel. I wrote Flabbergasted as real as I could write it without offending my Biblically based values and what I determined to be the CBA's parameters. I can't stand cheesy storylines and characters who are just mouthpieces for doctrine. My sensitivity to this is very high, and so red flags go up when anything like that creeps into the narrative. There were one or two CBA insiders who told me that a story of a guy going to church to meet girls would not make it in their markets. But God lined me up with the right publisher. The Revell staff is a fun bunch, highly focused and willing to take a risk when others were not. I've felt a loyalty to them as I wrote the second book, and now again as I begin the third. (By the way, "Flabbergasted Trilogy" is my unofficial name for this entire project.)

8. What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started?

I wish I had known that Flabbergasted was going to sell 36,000 hardcover copies in its first five months. Then I would have gone ahead and put in my new kitchen floor earlier! Seriously, I'm glad I jumped in half-blind and ignorant, as that made the journey a lot more fun. Kinda like swimming in the ocean at night.

9. What spiritual message are you trying to impart to your readers?

One would be that people who own lots of "stuff" are not necessarily the ones who are having the most fun.

"A Delirious Summer"

1. How long did it take you to write the second book?

I wrote 300 pages in seven months, then spent three months polishing and cutting and polishing some more. My editor’s advice (she usually points out something to expound on and basically tells me to "write it in my own voice") was crucial in the later stages. My editors at Revell have steered me wisely.

2.Can you tell us a little bit about what the sequel to Flabbergasted is about?

Flawed singles trying to find their way in the world, all of them traveling at blazing speeds through the intersection of Faith and Impatience.

3. How does it differ from your previous book "Flabbergasted?"

The minor characters from the first novel are now major, and the major characters from the first novel are not quite as major as before, yet very much a part of the story. And a new character, Neil, is introduced very early and will narrate the rest of the story. All of the geography from Flabbergasted—Ecuador; Greenville, S.C.; and the Carolina coast—are part of the background again, though in different quantities.

4. Are there any themes you are exploring in this book?

Hey, when you have flawed singles traveling at blazing speeds through the intersection of Faith and Impatience, what more theme do ya need?!

5. Had you always planned to write a sequel? Or was this something the publisher requested after seeing the success of "Flabbergasted"?

Actually I saw two books after finishing the first. The strange part is that I envisioned the third book, which I just started, more clearly than the second. So it took lots of "think time" to plan it all out.
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6. Where can readers find "Delirious" and "Flabbergasted"?

Any Christian bookstore or mainstream chain should have it.

7. Your books have unique titles how did you come up with the titles for the books?

I thought the word "Flabbergasted" best summed up Jay's experience at the end of the novel. As for A Delirious Summer, well, after the situations these characters get themselves into, there is really no other way to describe their journey.


1. This book goes against conventional CBA fiction- it’s written in first person, it’s quirky, it’s not easy to categorize or pigeonhole, and it’s in hardcover. What do you think is its main appeal? Why do you think Revell decided to take a chance on this particular story?

To be honest, I had no idea what "conventional CBA fiction" was when I started. I just knew that no one had written a novel from the perspective of a non-Christian going to church to meet girls. Also, I knew that it had to be written in first person because only then could a reader be inside Jay's head to an extent where they could sense his alarm bells, enjoy his slightly irreverent perspective, and relate to his attraction to the missionary girl who is very much his opposite. As for being "not easy to pigeonhole," well, Jay Jarvis and Allie Kyle and Darcy Yeager are just too unique to be pigeonholed. They would never allow it. Neither would Maurice the janitor or Preacher Smoak. Ditto for Ransom the surfer dude. They are all very much anti-pigeon hole. As for the appeal—I'm just guessing here—the reader gets to see church through unchurched eyes, and romance through a guy's perspective.

2. How much of Flabbergasted is based on your own life and experiences?

About 34%. Most of the beach scenes are fairly close to the truth.

3.How was it received in your hometown?

Well, in a community where the churches outnumber the bars by a 20 to 1 margin, word of mouth spread quickly that there was a novel out that began in their fair city. I've had lots of encouraging words from the home crowd, and a few concerns over whether a certain character is really someone they know. Trust me, it isn't.

4.What has been the most gratifying response you’ve received regarding the book?

I heard from the father of the missionary pilot who flew me into the Ecuadorian jungle. Dan Osterhus, the young pilot, was killed three years after my visit, while he was in the midst of a rescue mission in some very mountainous terrain. In the acknowledgements of Flabbergasted I noted his help and asked that God "send blessings to his widow and young daughter." (she was three at the time). So Dan's father wrote me and told how Dan had sat in his lap as a child and learned to fly, and that he (Dan's father) had also flown with Mission Aviation Fellowship. Then I found out that Dan's wife, Phoebe, has since remarried to a youth pastor in Wisconsin, and just had a new baby. In the hospital, before she went into labor, someone gave her a copy of Flabbergasted and she got to read how her first husband was used by God to fly me into remotest Ecuador and help inspire the book. I doubt anything will ever top those emails. Brought me to tears.



1. Hobbies outside of writing? Beach weekends; fishing; golf; reading; volunteering at a coffeehouse; coaching my nephews in T-ball and Little League.
2. Book you’re currently reading? The Four Loves, by C.S. Lewis
3. Music you’re currently listening to? Third Day, Allison Krauss, and Duran Duran.
4. Film you’ve most recently seen? Hidalgo.
5. If you could invite two people to dinner, who would they be and why? Billy Graham and Bono— two men who believe the same things but handle themselves (and fame) very differently. The three of us and a pot of my mom's shrimp creole would make for an interesting evening, methinks.

For more information, interviews, photos, etc., contact: Rick Hoganson, Hoganson Media Relations, 615-459-9870,

The following is a May 2003 interview with author Ray Blackston


WriterRay, why did you write this novel?

Flabbergasted came together for several reasons:

1) To honor God and tickle the Bible Belt. (I wanted to write a captivating “beach read”).
2) To exalt missionaries, who are, in my opinion, under-appreciated.
3) For the sheer challenge of it all. Could a guy who had taken no creative writing classes and a background in finance write a publishable novel? Only one way to find out.
4) To satisfy the contrarian in me. In late 1999 I was in Books a Million, and I wandered over to the Inspirational section and saw there a book called I Kissed Dating Goodbye. I had never heard of it, but the title got me to thinking. I thought ‘what would be the antithesis of I Kissed Dating Goodbye?’ The obvious answer was some version of “I Went to Church to Meet Girls.” It could be hysterical. So I discussed it with God, and it seemed like, as long as He got the glory, I could be just the guy to write such a story.

So I did. (And He does.)

How difficult was it to write this book?

Novel-writing is fairly complex. There are many wrong tangents that leap out during the process, and new problems appear as you construct each scene, each chapter. Someone once said that writing a novel is like trying to stuff an octopus into a shoebox—just when you think you got it, another tentacle pops out. That was certainly my experience.

 How did you get started?

I went to a writers conference (The Blue Ridge Writers Conference. It’s a five-day event, held at Ridgecrest, above Asheville, NC, every April) soon after I’d written the first 30 pages, and the thing won first place. I could not believe it. I hadn’t even bothered to indent the paragraphs! But that little award gave me enough confidence to continue. Also, I had become bored and a bit frustrated with eight years of cubicled existence. Every Monday to Friday seemed the same. There was not much going on relationally either—I had no wife or children for whom to be responsible. But I see now that God had to keep me single in order to get this book written. I don’t think I would have attempted this had I been married. As it was, I cashed in my retirement plan in April of 2000 (the week of the writers conference) and that turned out to be just days before the start of the Nasdaq crash. I owned only tech stocks, so I would’ve gotten killed if I’d held on. But God showed me that those monies were his modern day manna, and that I was to live off of it while I wrote Flabbergasted. I figured it would take me 12-15 months. It took 26. So I exhausted about 80% of my savings.

Also, my dad built me a great writing table. I can’t stress this enough to beginning writers: have a space—a table and/or a room—where all you do there is write. No bill-paying or Play Station or crossword puzzles. Just write. Get something down on paper. Then either improve it, move it , or chunk it. Identify the hours of the day when you are at your creative best, and then devote those hours to the craft. From all the revisions of Flabbergasted, there are over 5,000 pages of self-edited manuscript piled in the corner of my writing room. On the bottom of that pile is some pretty awful writing. But those pages represent the husk that needed to be peeled away.

 What is the background for the story?

For five straight years I planned and coordinated a Memorial Weekend Beach Trip for a group of 60 “church-singles” here in Greenville. I’d collect monies, call the rental agency down at Litchfield Beach, and reserve us some houses. One year everyone invited friends (who invited even more friends) and we ended up with 101 people crammed into seven beach houses. It was a circus. Me and my buddy Sandy got to the beach before anyone else, then he and I went and bought 600 dollars worth of groceries to distribute. There was even one married couple that came along and they had to sleep in different houses.

Also, there is an older guy in the story, a preacher who lives at Pawleys Island, who is based on my grandfather. The Reverend A.F. Smoak was pastor of Pawleys Island Baptist Church before he was called heavenward.

Thirdly, I was part of a summer mission team to Ecuador. We spent a lot of time refurbishing an orphanage, then we took a tour of the rainforest. Although I try to describe the beauty of Ecuador in the book, it is truly a place you have to see in person. From the Andes mountains and their snow-covered peaks, down around twisting roads so skinny that we had to back up and allow a bus to pass, then driving thru a waterfall, it was the most scenic geography I’d experienced. We were paddled in a dugout canoe to “Palm Beach,” that legendary sandbar where Jim Elliot et al were killed in 1956. Absolutely the most remote place you will ever encounter. The grass on the side of the river was 10 feet tall, and the elephant ears (a type of thick leafy plant) could play umbrella to a Volkswagen. It was also very hot! The Waorani Indians still live there in a village, and as we were walking thru the jungle toward the river someone was translating Waorani to Spanish, and then Spanish to English. That day is the one of the most memorable days of my life. It still saddens me to know that the Mission Aviation Fellowship pilot who flew us into the rainforest was killed a couple of years later while attempting a rescue mission. I only spent that one day with Dan Osterhus, but what a glorious day it was.

Lastly, a friend who works for Intervarsity Christian Fellowship invited me to their huge, tri-annual Urbana Missions Conference. There were 100 nations represented there, 20,000 people total, and through that organization I know several missionaries, including two young ladies who toil on college campuses during the school year and go overseas during the summer. These servants are some of the most fascinating and down-to-earth people on the planet, and they all played a role in my developing the character of Allie, who, in my mind, is the real hero of the novel.

 How much of Flabbergasted is autobiographical?

Well, there’s a good chunk of Ray in Jay, and vice versa. I don’t think I ever went to church just to meet girls, but I will admit that if I were in Jay’s shoes, I would likely do the same thing he did. (Hint to single guys: there is likely an Allie right there in your own congregation. You just gotta look...)

 How much of the story REALLY happened?

About 34 percent. I’ll let you guess which parts. Act 1—which is almost all set at the beach—is kinda accurate and kinda not. Several friends of mine swear they are in the book. (I thought I’d disguised them so well.. )

Now that ‘ol Asbury—catching fish in the surf and writing his sermons on the beach at Pawleys Island—yeah, he was known for that while he was still with us. Great man. Great fisherman too.

 What are your future writing plans?

Since I so enjoy writing about wacky people, I’ll go ahead and confess that there is a sequel in the works. It will include some of the minor characters, especially the single women, from Flabbergasted, plus one new male character.

 Are you surprised by the early success of the book?

I’m a bit stunned by the attention that Flabbergasted is getting, given that I had never tried this before. Perhaps the most rewarding aspect is that God is allowing it to be featured in the mainstream bookstores. I wished I had gotten started earlier! As I note in the book, my 2nd grade teacher, a Mrs. Kretzer, saw something in my stories and poems when she had us write, and she told my parents that I should pursue writing. But I was the shortstop on my Little League team, and so I looked upon writing as somewhat, um, sissy-like. I just took it for granted that whenever I needed to write something for a class, the gift was there. Taking your gift for granted does not honor God, so I had some lessons to learn. When I began the novel, little did I know how much honing my gift required. God doesn’t usually allow our gifts to arrive all spit-shined and polished. Mine certainly didn’t.

Writing a novel was the hardest thing I’d ever attempted, but it is also the most rewarding. Perhaps one day I will have the chance to be a “Mrs. Kretzer” to some young, creative minds.

 What do you do for fun out there in South Carolina?

Besides coaching my nephews in T-ball and setting up community work projects for our missions committee, I go to the beach! Seriously, each summer my friends and I rent a house—at Pawleys or Litchfield or the Isle of Palms or Fripp Island. A few of us are pooling our money to buy a surfboard this spring. I am probably going to hurt myself since I have not surfed before, so I’m getting as much writing done as possible before June.

I do love beach music and South Carolina’s balmy climate of April to September. I go into withdrawals during winter. I get through the cold months by writing about the warm ones. Oh, I do like convertibles too. (I just bought a ’75 Cadillac convertible that is the same model as on the cover of the book. It is bigger than a tugboat, gets 9 miles per gallon, but seats at least 6 and is ideal for Friday-night cruisin’).

 Any last thoughts?

A bear hug to Baker Books for taking a chance on me.
A shout out to “Poet Holly” for all her insightful critiques.
Kudos to Roger for inventing the lime green Caddy on his graphic arts machine.
High-fives to Sandman and the Bellheads for the annual beach adventures.
And praise God for Brian and Debi Ponder who prayed me thru this thing.
And yes, Mom, your shrimp creole will always be a bestseller.

 Thanks, WriterRay. This must be an exciting time for you...

I’m just flabbergasted, dude.

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