Guest Post: Autumn M. Birt

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Myrrah

Autumn M. Birt is an author, educator, world traveler, conservationist, and dog lover. We met on Twitter, proving that one can make connections and form lasting friendships through that behemoth of a social network. Autumn graciously agreed to review my first novel, and later brought me into the fantasy authors collective Guild of Dreams. I’ve always admired her dedication to her craft, her discipline, and her imagination! Her fantasy series Rise of the Fifth Order follows Ria, a teen girl whose unique magic abilities threaten the Church of Four Orders–Water, Fire, Earth, and Air–and thus condemn Ria to death. She and her friends must flee across the breadth of their homeland Myrrah, and somehow secure Ria’s salvation.

 

Autumn and I have both constructed original fantasy worlds with unique creatures and races not found in standard epic fantasy, and we decided to trade blogs to talk about our creations. My post on the scifi creatures of the fantasy world of Knownearth will appear soon on her blog, Autumn Writing. In the meantime, here Autumn shares some of her thoughts behind her unique fantasy peoples!

Growing the Legacy of Fantasy

Autumn M. Birt

I grew up in the era of Dragonlance and the Elfstones of Shannara. Mercedes Lackey and Anne McCaffrey were two of the first author names I searched bookstores to find. I knew more about the lives and history of elves, dwarves, trolls, and ogres than I did tribes in Africa or the Mayan Civilization.

So when I wrote my first fantasy novel was full of these paragons of high fantasy? No.

In my epic fantasy novel Born of Water, when the four unlikely friends seek help and refuge with a group who live in a mysterious forest, I immediately thought of elves. And then I immediately thought of elfin politics and attitudes. I love them, but they are a little vainglorious, aren’t they? Individualistic and aloof, those are two other words I’d use to describe most elfin characters; even when they are helpful, they are rarely warm.

For my story, I wanted helpful, warm, and mysterious.

It was all that history of what had already been written that turned me away. So I created my first fantasy race, the Kith. They live in a vast forest of massive trees, but they aren’t elves or elf substitutes. What would the point be in that? They are something totally new. My little addition to the realm of fantasy creatures. Well one of them.

Once you start, it is rather fun to craft new races that fit your story, rather than crafting your story to fit existing fantasy races. I’d love to share a few of mine with you!

The Kith

In the northern forest of the world of Myrrah a vast forest of towering trees grows. It isn’t just any forest…

As Ria’s eyes adjusted, she could make out the aerial houses that looked like massive thickets of mistletoe lit from within. Between them, branches arched as living pathways, swooping slowly downward. Houses made from limbs and vines grew at all levels, even a few along the ground visible by their lights in the evening shadows between the tree trunks.

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A Kith woman

Living among the great trees, and soul-bound to them, are the Kith. When a Kith child is born, a seedling also sprouts. The two are inextricable. If the tree dies, so does the child, or vice versa. And he or she will live as long as her tree, for however long that may be. And these are very large, very slow growing trees. The bond marks them in other ways as well…

 

 

Lavinia waited, knowing someone was nearby. Slowly, she scanned the small woodland opening. Then he became clear to her.

A man who looked about her age stood in front of a wide tree trunk twenty feet from her. His skin was patterned and striped like bark. His hair, a russet brown, blended into the forest around them along with the browns and greens of his clothes. She blinked, finding his green eyes staring back into hers. Lavinia let her sword point waiver. She had finally found the Kith.

Those who meet the Kith mistake the natural, and individual, patterning on their skin as tattoos. But it is more than that. In a world of many races and people, the Kith stand apart. Because they are also Earth Elementals and more.

In a world where elemental magic occurs in about 20% of the population, the Kith are one of the few groups where every child is gifted. And unlike most Earth Elementals who can shape rock to create cities from bedrock, they can also control living plants because of their connection to the forest.

But that bond creates as many problems as benefits. You see, if a Kith leaves the forest, the longing to return to it, to his tree, is intense:

“Being Kith is not all wonder. I feel a call back to my tree in Lus na Sithchaine so deep it wakes me from sleep,” Laireag admitted. “There are times I need to see it more than I need to breathe.”

The Kith are not elves. They are not even close to being elfin, preferring simple clothing and shunning metal as too much metal can poison a tree. But that is just one race that peoples my world.

The Ishian

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An Ishian boy

The Ishian live in a vast grassland, but the surface of their home is water and not earth. The waters of the Marsh of Isha rise and fall with the strong tides of the Bay of Tiak to the west, but within the heart of the wetland there are only the reeds and the stilted houses of the Ishians.

 

The square platforms hold wide decks with overhanging roofs to protect them from storms, as well as to create more roof space for the gardens grown above the houses. Walkways of woven reed rope and bamboo trace pathways between the lofty platforms but usually the Ishian wander through their watery home on reed boats. Or they swim. They can swim very well thanks to fine webbing between fingers and toes.

The Nifail

The Nifail are a tribe of people who live on the vast steppes and whose native language consists of condensed whistles and clicks used to carry over the windswept miles of the grasslands. The scattered clans meet once annually in a great celebration where fights are held to determine tribe leadership for the year. Both men and women fight for the right to lead.

But all of those are cultural traits. What makes the Nifail different is their hair. There are very fine feathers in it. Why stems from a long story that involves a not-so-mythical large bird that nests in the grasslands. It is a creature they hunt … usually.

The Torek

The Torek are one of two races considered myths in Myrrah. The other are the Aquinians, who are said to inhabit the islands, or the sea, in the far east of the Ocean of Illaiya. The Torek live in the Alin Mountains in deep caves they call hoves. Well they think the word hoves, because they are telepathic. Did I mention they are giant birds of prey? Actually, I’m pretty sure they are the legendary birds the Nifail hunt … and the reason the Nifail have a few feathers mixed with their hair because the Torek have some strange and amazing abilities!

The Aquinians

The only known reference to the Aquinians is from when the Temple of Incendia was destroyed by sea and earth. The island fell beneath the waves and all would have died but for the Aquinians, who came as dolphins and rescued many of the Fire Elementals from the water and trembling rock. Or so goes the story told by the survivors. Unless you believe sailor’s tales of naked women seen on island beaches, there one minute and gone into the waves the next. But who can believe sailors?

 

Those are a few of the people and races who inhabit my fantasy world of Myrrah, a world full of elemental magic and adventure. You can enter Myrrah for free! Born of Water is free on all platforms or you can pick it up here.

Born of Water

bofw-niri-5-2-15_250In the buried archives of the Temple of Dust may lie the secret to defeating the Curse, a creature which seeks to destroy 16-year old Ria for the forbidden gifts she possesses. But it is from among the ranks of those who control the Curse where Ria will find her best chance of success.

Only the Priestess Niri can save Ria from the forces that hunt her, if Niri doesn’t betray the girl first. Along with Ria comes Ty and his sister, Lavinia, both bound to defend Ria from the Church of Four Orders. However, Ty has been living a life less than honest and keeping it from his sister. To survive a journey that takes them across the breadth of their world, the four must learn to trust each other before pursuit from the Church and Ty’s troubled past find them.

Born of Water is the first book in the Rise of the Fifth Order Saga full of elemental magic and epic fantasy adventure. Welcome to the mythical world of Myrrah, ruled by the Church of Four Orders–Fire, Earth, Water, and Air.

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Interview with Author A.M. Justice

The lovely Genre Minx and I converse about writing, life, and who I’d like to see cast in the film version of A Wizard’s Forge. Kate Mara, Ricky Whittle, and Michael Fassbender, expect a call from your agent!

The Genre Minx Book Reviews

With her debut book just publishedI wanted to introduce you to up and coming author A.M. Justice. I enjoyed reading A Wizard’s Forgeand you can read my review here. I am truly looking forward to reading more of the Woern Saga series!

Author A.M. Justice

A Conversation with A.M. Justice

Q. Tell us a little about yourself?

I scuba dive and dance tango recreationally, though family life has tripped up the latter habit, and the cold, turbulent oceans of the East coast limit the former to an annual trip to warmer seas. My Brooklyn apartment holds the record for longest duration of residence: 12 years and counting. Before moving here, I’d lived in sixteen different homes in four states. I’m married, have one child, currently one cat, and watch too much TV.

Q. What started you on the path to writing for a living?

Growing up, I couldn’t decide whether I…

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A Walk Through Knownearth

A Wizard’s Forge is finally available!

On launch day, as the earthbound get their first look at Book One in the Woern Saga, I’ve decided to walk readers through Vic’s world, Knownearth.

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Line art by Steven Meyer-Rassow

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Oreseeker steppes

Vic’s journey begins in Ourtown, a small community of Oreseekers, a people who settled the far northern steppes of Knownearth, in an area so remote it’s called the Unknown by the world’s other societies. The Oreseekers began as a survey party sent out from a group of marooned spacefarers to find mineable metal ores on a planet where iron, copper, and other metals are rare. Thousands of years before Vic’s birth, the Oreseekers failed in their quest and settled lands so far from their shipmates that the rest of humanity forgot about their existence. In Vic’s time, only the Caleisbahnin–dreaded pirates and slavers who rule Knownearth’s seas–know where the Oreseekers live. A Wizard’s Forge begins when Vic falls prey to Caleisbahn greed.

 

AWF_map_v3Trapped in a slave ship’s hold, Vic sails hundreds of miles south and east to the city of Traine, Knownearth’s grandest capital and home to the Citizens of Betheljin. Betheljin is ruled by a despot known as the Commissar, and Citizens are the wealthy elite of that land. Traine resembles ancient Rome with its high hills and a wide gulf between the fabulously rich and desperately poor. Vic hears about a slum full of thieves and brigands and escaped slaves–most of whom are Oreseekers, like her–but she never sees this place. All she knows is the home of her master, Lornk Korng, the Lord of Relm.

AWF_map_v3 – Version 2Although Lornk keeps a home in Traine, he rules Relm, a nation thousands of miles to the south, and he travels between the two lands via a transporter called the Device. No one knows who made the Device or whether it works by magic or some imperceivable technology, but the Korng palazzo was built on top of it, and it’s permitted the family to travel instantly to Relm and other places for generations.

Lornk tries very hard to make Vic his, body and soul, but before he succeeds, she escapes through the Device to Latha, a nation at war with Relm. The Lathan royals give Vic asylum from their common enemy and welcome her into their family.

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A cerrenil

They also send her on walkabout in Kiareinoll Fembrosh, a vast forest full of trees that are aware. Lathans do not believe that Knownearth’s humans arrived via spacecraft; instead they think people were born from cerrenils, a strange tree species that seems able to move as well as communicate to people through their dreams. While sojourning through the forest, Vic dreams of herself as a warrior, and so she joins Latha’s fight against Lornk.

 

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Kragnash

Years pass, and Vic’s prowess as a soldier grows but her memories of her time as Lornk’s slave fester, preventing her from accepting the love offered by the kindhearted Prince Ashel. When Lornk’s forces capture Ashel, however, Vic doesn’t hesitate to embark on his rescue. Aiming to attack Lornk’s Relman stronghold by surprise, she travels through Kragnash, a land of endless sand dunes occupied by a society of enormous intelligent insects. Their capital city, Direiellene, is a vast complex of hives normally forbidden to humans, but upon meeting Vic, the Kragnashians proclaim her the One–a figure from their mythology–and force her to drink the Waters of the Dead. These Waters contain the Woern, microscopic parasites that confer telekinetic abilities on those who survive being infected with them.

 

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Relman badlands

AWF_map_v3 – Version 2Vic survives, and leads her war party into the Relman badlands, a near impassable maze of box canyons and ravines. Desperate to reach Ashel, Vic makes a bad decision that will have lasting consequences for her and her companions.

Yet the choice permits them to move quickly through the badlands and up into the mountains surrounding Olmlablaire, an elaborate castle carved out of a mountain face and Lornk’s seat of power. To rescue Ashel, Vic will need to find not only a way into the castle but the strength to confront her old master without losing herself to him.

Readers can find more about Knownearth by checking out the Explore and FAQ pages on my website!

Many thanks to Steven Meyer-Rassow for the beautiful map of Knownearth.

Author Interview with A.M. Justice: Parallel Paths Redux

Last week author JL Gribble and I chatted about her Steel Victory series. This week, I answer her questions about The Woern Saga. Check it out for my thoughts on the science in my fantasy, an excerpt from Wizard’s Forge, and hints of things to come in the next volume!

J.L. Gribble

A few weeks ago, a lovely speculative fiction author contacted me out of the blue with an interesting proposal. She had stumbled across me on the Internet and thought it would be fun if we did a bit of cross-promotion since we had so much in common. She featured me with an interview on her blog and today I’m happy to return the favor! Check back here next Tuesday for my review of A.M. Justice’s excellent fantasy novel, A Wizard’s Forge.

How much do we have in common, exactly? Besides both being medical writer/editors and military brats, today we even discovered that we share the same wedding anniversary and are married to men with the same name!


As someone who also writes crazy genre-bending speculative fiction, I’m always interested in other author’s perspectives. What made you decide to introduce elements of science fiction in a story that could easily…

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A Wizard’s Forge by A.M. Justice

Many thanks to the Genre Minx for her thorough and thoughtful review of A Wizard’s Forge. I’m thrilled to share it today!

The Genre Minx Book Reviews

Title: A Wizard’s Forge (The Woern Saga #1)

Author: A.M. Justice

Author Website: http://www.amjusticeauthor.com

Release Date: September 19, 2016

Publisher: Wise Ink Creative Publishing

Format: e-book

Source: NetGalley

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ of 5 stars

This review is based on an eARC I received from NetGalley. It is an honest review and the advanced receipt of it in no way affected my review or rating.


“We do not seek to understand” the Master Logkeeper always reminded her, “only to preserve.”

Setting: Three thousand years ago a crew of mineral miners set out on a mission from Earth to the planet of Gomorrah but due to sabotage were not able to make it to their destination. With the mission a failure Captain Wong of the shuttle Elesendar was forced to make an emergency stop in the orbit of what is now referred to “Knownearth.” The crew came down to the planet to…

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A Remembrance

img_4180A couple days ago, a beautiful article about the 9/11 jumpers appeared in Esquire. To me, the jumpers epitomized the terrible human struggle that went on that day. When you think about it, choice is probably the thing all of us want most out of life, and when facing certain death, perhaps choosing the manner of death is all we have left.

A few years ago, I wrote a short story about the choice made by some fictional 9/11 jumpers. I realize this is a painful subject for many, but as the Esquire article says, the jumpers’ experience wasn’t a lurid side show but a central element of the horror. Nevertheless, I imagine at least some of the jumpers did not take the leap out of despair, but hope. That is an important element of this story, and in that spirit I share it once a year, on this day.

September Blues

 

“Misery is my middle name,” I mutter, putting the handset back in its cradle. Fear wraps around my chest, squeezing like a python. All that keeps me breathing is the forced intake of air that comes after a fit of coughing.

“What did they say?”

My heart is a butterfly, erratic, doomed. “They’re not coming.” The gaping mouths demand more. “They can’t land on the roof. There’s too much smoke. They said something about the heat making the air too unstable for the rotors.”

Hunkered down under the conference table, we feel that heat. The floor as warm as a caldera, bland, beige office carpeting acts as a potholder, protecting skin from searing. The stench of burned plastic thickens the air, tickling alive the memory of that camping trip when Tim swiped the Barbie out of my hand and tossed her into the middle of our fire. Underneath my butterfly fear boils the same rage: what kind of monster would do such a thing? I want to scream now as I did then, watching Barbie’s hair glow and crisp, her pink lips and blue eyes melt into smoke.

“Do we just wait here?”

I shrug, shake my head. A pair of loafers retreat through the doorway, appearing and vanishing in the smoke billowing across the floor. Two red high heels follow, glossy and bright amidst the swirling black plumes, their owner crawling, her sobbing broken by coughing. When Nora was dying, she went missing for a day and a half—we thought she’d gotten out somehow, looked in the stairwell, the basement laundry, at the bodega beneath us and the hardware store next door. We finally found her under our bed, behind the storage bins where we keep our heaviest sweaters. She was hunkered under the mattress, breath labored, waiting to die, just like we’re huddled under this table.

“I think we should jump.”

Eyes snap to Omar. The IT guy, the office geek, the one who proudly displays a statue of Jar Jar Binks on his computer monitor and who, when asked to fix broken email, yanks away the keyboard with such bored contempt.

“We should jump,” he repeats. “The odds are better.”

“Better?” squeaks Julie. Mascara smeared and broken around her eyes, dirt and sweat streak through her foundation.

“Why don’t I go get the gun in my desk drawer?” Doom hasn’t killed Geoff’s sarcasm.

“Miller’s got a fifth of single malt in his.” I have a fit of longing for that hot scalding smooth smokiness.

“That wouldn’t be enough to kill us,” Todd chokes. Maybe he’s crying, maybe it’s just the dense air.

“I am not committing suicide.” Julie’s chipper voice cuts ice-hard.

Muttered agreement ripples around the group. Heads shake, foreheads press to knees, lips murmur prayers.

“We should jump.” Omar gazes at the thumbnail-sized display on his phone. “Look, I found the odds. About a tenth of a percent of people who fall from over a thousand feet survive the fall. It’s documented—skydivers and such.”

“A tenth of one percent?” Geoff’s sneer is ruined by hacking. “That’s way too high.”

“If it’s a thousandth of one percent, it’s more than zero,” I say. The air burns as we swallow it into our lungs. It feels like breathing Miller’s whiskey.

With a screeching groan, the floor shifts and tilts. The room echoes with yelps and screams, then tears. I never saw The Towering Inferno, but I wonder if they got the sounds right. There’s no way they captured this terror and this awful grief. That argument we had last night, the silence in the kitchen this morning, the slam of the door. I shut my eyes, pray you’ll find some solace, pray you’ll remember the bright sunshine of other Septembers and not this one day with its horrible cloudless blue clarity.

“I’m going for the gun in my desk,” Geoff says, crawling for the door.

“What’s that mean?” Julie asks. “He doesn’t really have one?”

I feel my shoulders shrug, glance at Omar and find him studying the windows. “I think he’s right—the glass, we won’t be able to break it.”

“The heat could be weakening it—surely the blast weakened it.” I speak with my usual authority, but I don’t know anything about glass curtain walls.

Roaring like a linebacker, Todd scrambles out from under the table, picks up a conference chair, and hurls it at the window. The chair smacks the glass, bounces off and tumbles to the floor. The pane unmarred, the chair’s wheeled pedestal lies next to the seat, and next to that Todd is doubled over with wheezing, hacking breaths.

“I hope Geoff really has a gun,” Omar says.

“I hope he’s bringing it back here,” I add.

We wait, shirts and blouses pulled up over our noses and mouths, crouched over in child’s pose, postures humble before fate, noses searching for those few inches of air not saturated with smoke. Are we waiting to die or for one slim chance of life? Even if one of us lived through the fall, how much would he or she be alive afterward? Paraplegic, quadraplegic, amputee, vegetable. Maybe the loafers and the red shoes made the right choice, to go find a dark hidden corner and wait alone for death. A hand slips around mine, fingers clamping as tight as a vice, and I find Julie’s eyes on me, beseeching. “Will you do it?”

I nod, my cheek rubbing against the carpet. I wonder if the pattern of my tears mirrors hers. “If Geoff comes back with a gun, yes.” The slimmest chance is better than no chance.

The gun’s report strikes the glass, a noise louder than the explosion that ripped a hole in this building. A second shot, and glass nuggets cascade and bounce across the carpet like blue garnets. Wind howls inside, sweeping out the smoke. Geoff shuts the conference room door and we are pulling clean air into our lungs in deep gasping breaths. Omar climbs to his feet. “We should jump.”

Todd and Geoff stand beside him, and Julie and I crawl out from our hiding spot. Wind whipping hair around faces, we hug, crying, like the last episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show, when my brother and I got to stay up and watch it because it was television history, and Mom and Dad were out that night and the babysitter wore the same belted wool pantsuit as Mary. When that show ended, Tim’s hand was in mine, and for once we didn’t repel affection with insults and shoving.

“Julie?” Todd clears his throat. “Will you go out with me?” Glancing at me, she nods and takes his hand, showing her teeth. Without hesitation the pair steps up onto the air conditioner and out into the blue.

Omar and I turn to Geoff, but he backs away, holding up his gun. “I’d rather go for quick surety than those long odds.” He barks half a laugh. “Plus I’m terrified of heights.”

Omar holds out his hand, his eyes shining. “We should jump.”

I nod, and we step up to the window frame and look into the perfect clarity of blue. The sky is a sapphire today, no degrees of color, just one solid field as deep as the ocean. The python loosens from my chest, and I can breathe again.

 

Legacy of Sex Abuse and Terror

The past week I’ve been thinking a lot about a headline from Tor.com:

Do Better: Sexual Violence in SFF

In this article, Sarah Gailey bemoans the fact that sexual violence is the default character-building motif authors use when they need their heroines to suffer or overcome a challenge. Why not physical violence, or mental or emotional difficulties, or another form of negative personal experience? She lists several books where the female protagonists do not experience sexual abuse, then asks authors to:

Look at them and ask yourself why their imaginations are strong enough to let their female characters have stories that don’t include sexual violence. Ask yourself why those stories are so rare.

Ask yourself, and do better.

cover92828-mediumSuch admonishment puts me on the defensive, since I’m one of many authors whose female protagonist experiences sexual abuse. In A Wizard’s Forge, sex abuse is the driving force behind Vic’s quest for vengeance.

Except, it’s not. Early in the novel, Vic’s nemesis purchases her from slavers and undertakes a program of psychological abuse to gain control over her. Sexual abuse is one tactic in his strategy, but he also starves her and hangs her by an ankle out of seven-story window. On the flip side of his strategy, he rewards “good behavior” with food and sexual pleasure for her. Perhaps his most effective tactic is to isolate her from any other human contact for three months and make himself the center of her world:

The first weeks in Lornk’s tower, she spent the days copying out all she remembered of the Logs onto the table, her fingertips writing an invisible record across the wood. But summer’s heat soaked through the walls, shimmering from the table, the mattress, the glass in the windows. Over time, her thoughts smoldered away, leaving lethargy like ash. She lay on the bed, gasping at the whispers of air sifting through the slats above the windows, waiting for him.

Sometimes as he approached her, his hands, his head, his arms and legs would grow to a gigantic size, and as time passed, she felt herself grow smaller, to the size of a doll who sleeps until the child plays with it and gives it life. The light through her windows dimmed whenever his key turned in the lock, the door opening like the world turning toward the rising sun.

At one point, Lornk and Vic discuss his strategic goals:

Her head shrank into her shoulders, while his eyes grew larger, bluer as he watched. “You want me to have nothing but you,” she said, her voice clearer than she would have thought.

He laughed softly, stretching his arms out, then twining his fingers behind his neck. “I told you once—I want you to crave me. Why do you think that is?”

“So I’ll obey you.”

“Oh, I’ve had your obedience for months. What I want now is your devotion. The day may come when you will have the world in your hands, and I want you to hand it to me, without reservation.”

Lornk doesn’t want Vic as merely his sex slave. He wants her as his, wholly and completely. Not because it suits his ego to have a young woman fawn over him, but because he knows something about Vic’s destiny, and he wants her to pursue it in a way that will benefit him.

I’m certainly not the first author to explore punishment and reward as a means of mind control. In the Taming of the Shrew, Petruchio gains Kate’s submission by killing her with kindness. In television’s Homeland, alternating imprisonment, torture, and mercy lead patriot soldier Nicholas Brody to turn terrorist and don a suicide vest with the aim of killing American political leaders. There are plenty of real-life examples too, from Patty Hearst to Hedda Nussbaum to the bank hostages who gave the Stockholm Syndrome its name.

Vic escapes Lornk’s clutches, fleeing not her life as a sex slave, but as a devoted slave.

Panting, heart beating wildly, she felt loathing churn in her belly, not for him, but for the clockwork doll he’d make of her. The bookcase swung back; she clenched her fists and ran down the passageway. Oblivion, Earnk had said. A protest gibbered in her stomach, but she clamped her jaw shut and moved forward. Oblivion was better than life as his toy.

She finds safety among Lornk’s enemies, yet she fails to shake off his grip. Even years later (most of the novel occurs five years after Vic’s captivity), when she’s fighting Lornk’s troops on the battlefield and has vowed to kill him if she gets the chance, she still feels the urge to submit to him, and her shame over desires she cannot suppress cripples her, making her unable to move forward with her life.

The sensations and desires she had known in a white room at the top of a tower had begun to slip out, an insidious corruption of the blood that pulled her thoughts away from death toward—toward what? Why did life frighten her more than a battlefield packed with enemies? Why did she shrink from love to embrace hate? Ashel, beautiful and kind and perfect, had professed his love for her, a broken, used, pitiful creature whose desire for another man infected her like a parasite. Ashel knew that and had offered to wed her anyway. Wouldn’t life with him be a better way to purge that infection than more bloodletting?

“I don’t know.” Angrily, she wiped her cheeks dry. Shrine, she was the Blade, and she was gibbering in terror at simply going up a flight of stairs and talking to a man.

This was a deliberate choice I made as an author, to show how Lornk’s fingers have dug deep into Vic’s psyche. Some of AWF’s Goodreads reviewers haven’t bought this premise, or they simply don’t like heroines with this sort of weakness. Yet although I choose fantasy as my medium, I’m interested in telling stories with real emotions. Harboring mixed feelings for an abuser happens all the time in real life—think how many abused women stay with their abusers and refuse to press charges when police are called. As one woman recently wrote of her own experiences with domestic abuse,

From the outside, terror and control looked a lot like love.

I suppose many readers like heroines who stand strong and do the right thing, no matter what they’re up against. They want Katniss Everdeen. I gave them Lisbeth Salander.

Because of Lornk’s influence, Vic does not always do the right thing, and she doesn’t always stand strong either. In fact, her vulnerabilities play out in ways that lead to tremendous harm. But Vic’s story isn’t over, either. There will indeed come a time where she’ll hold the world in her hands, and I guarantee what she does with it will be her choice.

Parallel Paths—an Interview with Author JL Gribble

Once in a while you run across a kindred spirit on the Internet, someone whose life has followed a path similar to yours. Such is the case with former military brat, cat lover, medical editor, and scifi/fantasy author JL Gribble. She and I even gave our protagonists similar names (hers is Victory, mine is Victoria). After that, however, JL’s highly imaginative Steel Empires series bears little resemblance to my work. She posits a post–nuclear apocalyptic future where vampires, werecreatures, elves, and human mages drink lattes, go to dance clubs, and defend their city from a Roman emperor’s invading army and a group of rebels led by a conniving bigot with a “humans-first” agenda.

JL and I chatted recently about her influences and creative process. I’m pleased to share our discussion with you, and encourage you to check out the first two novels in her series, Steel Victory and Steel Magic.

 

AMJ: On your blog you’ve mentioned a group of writers and artists you with whom you meet in person regularly. How important is this group to your work?

Gribble photo colorJLG: It’s more of a social/support group than a cohort of fellow writers, but it’s just as valuable to me as my critique partners and beta readers. It’s important to me personally, because it’s a dedicated evening each week where I have somewhere to be, with space to get whatever I need to focus on completed, whether it’s more words on my current project, blog posts, or critiques.

AMJ: How do you support each other, if it’s not strictly a critique group? Are there nonwriters/readers in the group?

Gribble photo colorJLG: Everyone in the group is definitely a reader, especially a reader of speculative fiction, and that’s our major common bond. But we also have a person who writes just for the love of writing, a person who writes as part of his love of table-top gaming, and an artist. I think the fact that we are on such separate paths helps us be supportive of each other, because there is never any competition or risk of jealousy. On the other hand, this is why I also value my critique partners and beta readers, because they are all on my path and know exactly what is important for us each to succeed.

AMJ: That kind of support is vital. My critique group is cross-genre, which removes a lot of the competition, since we’re largely aiming for different audiences. But we still help each other a lot with the technical aspects of writing and storytelling. Speaking of storytelling, how long have you been making up stories and writing them down?

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JLG: Since middle school! I got my start writing fanfiction (which I spontaneously invented before discovering the internet about 2 years later). I branched out into original work in high school and have been writing fantasy ever since.

AMJ: What were your first fanfic pieces based on?

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JLG: Of all things, Highlander: The Series, which is what sparked my interest in writing about immortals of various kinds. It’s my greatest inspiration for why I write vampires as people first and “monsters” second.

AMJ: Oh, I loved that series almost as much as the original film. (The second film, however, should be burned, the ashes encased in lead and dropped into the deepest abyss of the ocean.) Do you remember a Canadian series about the vampire police detective?

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JLG: Forever Knight! I missed the show, but I read a bunch of fanfic about it back then as well, so sometimes I feel like I watched it.

AMJ: It was great; highly entertaining and one of the first shows/films to show the human side of vampires. Anne Rice’s work was all the rage back then, so it was a natural outgrowth from there.

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JLG: I was definitely reading her Vampire Chronicles as well.

AMJ: Did any of these programs or books provide any inspiration for Victory’s character [the vampire who headlines JL’s series]?

Gribble photo colorJLG: Absolutely, along with the worlds of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Anita Blake novels. One of the major inspirations for my first novel, however, was the idea that I wanted to write a vampire book that didn’t focus on the sexuality of vampires.

AMJ: So you made Victory a mom.

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JLG: Yep! An adult in a committed relationship seemed like a novelty in the genre.

AMJ: That was one of the most interesting things about Steel Victory…that your MC was first and foremost a mother, and secondly a politician with a more or less ordinary job.

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JLG: Thanks! I liked the concept of her being a retired mercenary. Future book hint: Book 3 in the series is about her returning to that profession and finding out how much she’s changed in the meantime.

AMJ: Cool! And you also allude to a lot of interesting things in the past—particularly the family’s recent past, from the rescue of Toria in the Wasteland to Toria saving Victory’s life from an old foe…will you be exploring any of those events in a deeper way, either through flashbacks or prequels?

Gribble photo colorJLG: I actually wrote 4 short stories for my senior thesis in undergrad that cover events such as Victory and Mikelos meeting, Toria’s adoption, and Toria and Kane meeting. I’m currently in the process of rewriting them to my current standards, and considering what to do with them.

I definitely have plenty ideas for prequels, and one of my beta readers frequently reminds me of her demand that I write about characters referenced in the first book that are deceased by that time, such as the man Toria’s college is named after—who is an important person from Victory’s past.

AMJ: You do have a really rich backstory—a lot of good stories lurk just behind the steel curtain (ha ha).

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JLG: I’m totally stealing that.😉

AMJ: Let’s talk about your upbringing. Did your parents’ military careers influence your work? Is that why mercenaries play such a big role in Steel Victory?

Gribble photo colorJLG: I think the mercenary thing stems from reading so much fantasy and science-fiction and playing a lot of table-top RPGs (such as Dungeons & Dragons). I’m one of those military brats who hated moving around so much, and swore I’d never have anything to do with the military when I grew up. So of course I married a guy in the Air Force!

AMJ: My dad was in the Air Force. We moved a lot too, and I also played D&D in high school and college. Then computer games started to emerge and I played a lot of narrative RPGs like the Sierra Online Kings Quest and Gabriel Knight series.

Did you end up adapting any of your RPG characters into your fiction?

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JLG: In a way. My concept of the warrior-mage stems from dual-classing in D&D.

AMJ: Right! You have a unique mix of modern-day and futuristic tech plus old school magic in your world. What was your inspiration for that, or the philosophy behind it?

Gribble photo colorJLG: I read a lot of post-apocalyptic stories, but so many of them take place either during or soon after the apocalyptic event. I thought it would be neat to see a world that has survived a devastating event and rebounded in a positive way.

AMJ: And what inspired you to have elves come into the story along with vampires? It’s a curious, and cool, bit of genre-blending.

Gribble photo colorJLG: Because I already had werecreatures (werewolves, werepanthers, etc.), so why not? That’s literally it. Just me challenging myself to evolve my world in increasingly complex ways while still adhering coherent world-building.

AMJ: And you did such a fine job of that too! Thanks for joining me for this talk, and good luck with the continued work on your series.

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JLG: Thank you so much!

JL Gribble Bio

Gribble photo colorBy day, J. L. Gribble is a professional medical editor. By night, she does freelance fiction editing in all genres, along with reading, playing video games, and occasionally even writing. She is currently working on the Steel Empires series for Dog Star Books, the science-fiction/adventure imprint of Raw Dog Screaming Press. Previously, she was an editor for the Far Worlds anthology.

Gribble studied English at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. She received her Master’s degree in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, where her debut novel Steel Victory was her thesis for the program.

She lives in Ellicott City, Maryland, with her husband and three vocal Siamese cats. Find her online (www.jlgribble.com), on Facebook (www.facebook.com/jlgribblewriter), and on Twitter and Instagram (@hannaedits).

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That’s What Matters — Tatyana – 8/24/2016

My friend Tatyana is an admirable woman and a talented writer with things to say. Today she wrote with passion and vehemence about a topic that concerns us all, but on which she speaks with great authority.

One Year of Letters

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August 24, 2016

Do you believe black lives matter?

Do you believe white lives matter?

Do you believe all lives matter?

Well, I’m here to tell you that your answers, be they affirmative or not, don’t matter. Why? Because those questions don’t matter. And since this is the case, no answer you give matters either. But why am I saying this?

I am a young black woman. Growing up in America, I have lived through thousands of mass shootings and hate crimes. Many I’ve never even heard about. Recently, however, I’ve become hyper-aware of them. It seems like every single day when I open my laptop and check my email, there’s another one in the news. Black man, armed or unarmed, shot and killed. A young black boy, shot and killed. While some focus on guns, others focus on race.

I focus on reactions.

There is emotion on both…

View original post 1,353 more words

The Problem with Male Protagonists

Leia

Recently on Writer Unboxed, Jo Eberhardt wrote about “The Problem With Female Protagonists.” She cites some research in which both men and women perceive women to “dominate” conversations in which the women speak substantially less often and for less time than men, and also relates an anecdote in which her nine-year-old son asked, “Why do we only ever read books with girl main characters?” The question caused Eberhardt to count books in the family library featuring male vs female protagonists, and she found that the majority of books on both the children’s and adults’ shelves were headlined by males. The difference between perception and reality was the “problem” Eberhardt refers to in her title. Many readers believe female protagonists dominate the bookstore shelves these days, but in fact male authors and male MCs still hold the majority and the advantage when it comes to readers’ acceptance and accolades.

A few days later, I saw the above Star Wars meme and its accompanying threads. I left my name uncovered, so you can see where I weigh in on Leia’s role in defeating the Empire (and I stake an early claim on the Kylo Ren is a mole theory), but look at the other comment I’ve highlighted: “Nobody cares about the girls.” This remark was tongue in cheek, but the lively discussion following Eberhardt’s piece (325 comments and growing) suggests quite a few people agree with it.

Eberhardt’s piece and the accompanying discussion talk a lot about the insidious nature of sexism and how it creeps into everything. I’ve prided myself on writing speculative fiction from a feminist perspective. Vic, the titular wizard of my Woern Saga series is a woman, and she is no shrinking violet. I would in fact call her the hero—not the heroine—of this series. But, after participating in several discussions related to Eberhardt’s article, I realized something:

“He insinuated himself into every part of me.”

Vic says this line in A Wizard’s Forge, referring to the villain who holds her captive and tries to brainwash her into utter devotion. Years after escaping his physical clutches, she cannot shake free from his psychological hold. Yet while Vic speaks of a specific individual here, there’s also a universal “he” that directed some of the choices I made as an author. That was quite an epiphany, because I went out of my way to create a world where gender neutrality was the norm (Knownearth’s men and women are equally likely to be soldiers, political leaders, or prostitutes), yet I have to admit A Wizard’s Forge barely passes the Bechdel Test:

  1. Does the book have at least two named female characters?
  2. Who have a conversation with each other?
  3. About something other than a man?

The answer is yes to all three questions, but

  • The majority of named characters are men, and three out of the four point of view (POV) characters are men.
  • And while Bethniel and Vic do discuss many things, including Vic’s destiny, they do talk an awful lot about Beth’s brother Ashel.

I, the proud feminist, surrounded my female protagonist with an all-male supporting cast of POV characters. I stand by the decision from a narrative perspective: each one undergoes a life-changing transformation in the novel. I also remind myself that three of the five POVs will be women’s in A Wizard’s Sacrifice (the next novel in the Woern Saga). Yet, I’m still amazed that so many men feature so prominently in my work. You might even say they dominate the conversation.