B2BCyCon SciFan & LitRPG Blog Hop—Stop #1: The Insider’s Guide to A Wizard’s Forge: Influences and Themes

Congratulations! You just stumbled across the next stop in the B2BCyCon SciFan & LitRPG Blog Hop. Thanks for stopping by my blog and checking out my novel A Wizard’s Forge.

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A Wizard’s Forge is the first in a series called The Woern Saga, and it’s an onion, with a lot of layers of a plot that developed over a lot of years. The tone is dark; the story thought-provoking. If you read it in a book club, Vic’s troubles and how she deals with them should inspire some rousing debate. In fact, I hope you will read and discuss it with a group of friends. So go ahead and prepare the cheese plate and chill the wine, and to prepare yourself, here is some cool intel to drop on your friends.

Inspirations

  1. Anne McCaffrey’s Pern. Knownearth and Pern are a lot alike in terms of climate and ecology (minus the deadly Thread) as well as the way the spacefaring settlers lost all their advanced tech and now live in a quasi-Medieval society. Victoria (or Vic, as she prefers) and Lessa share a lot of personality traits, and the structure of Latha’s Minstrels Guild owes a lot to Pern’s Harpers Hall. The main difference between the worlds (beside the absence of Thread and dragons) is that gender equality prevails on Knownearth.
  2. Star Wars. Vic’s telekinetic and Geram’s and Wineyll’s telepathic powers are straight out of the Jedi Knighthood. A key difference is that everyone on Knownearth is capable of telepathy, or mindspeech as they call it. Geram and Wineyll just have a strong talent for it. Meanwhile Vic gains her telekinetic powers (called wizardry by Knownearthers) after drinking a mysterious concoction given to her by Knownearth’s native intelligent insect species, the Kragnashians. To learn more, check out my other B2BCyCon blog post on the Powers and Politics of Knownearth.
  3. Rapunzel. The story is littered with allusions to the Grimm Brothers’ “Rapunzel,” from long hair to a sexual awakening to imprisonment in a tower (and elsewhere) to someone being blinded. The Rapunzel underpinings continue in the next book, A Wizard’s Sacrifice.
  4. Star Trek. There’s a transporter device…which is called the Device. And it’s tech, not magic.
  5. Star Wars again. One line: “Luke, I am your Father.”
  6. Lord of the Rings. There’s a quest. There’s a talisman. There’s an evil guy with global ambitions who’s obsessed with the one person who holds the power to defeat him. (OK, this is basically every epic fantasy every written…so yeah, there’s that.)
  7. Dangerous Liaisons. Valmont of Les Liaisons dangereuses and Lornk (the villain of A Wizard’s Forge, and the evil guy from #6 with the global ambitions) both like to use seduction—aka sexual abuse of minors—to control their victims, and Lornk employs this technique to devastating effect against Vic.

Themes

  1. Grimdark tone. One of the Wikipedia definitions of “grimdark” perfectly describes my approach:

Grimdark fantasy has three key components: a grim and dark tone, a sense of realism (for example, heroes are flawed), and the agency of the protagonists: characters have to choose between good and evil, and are “just as lost as we are.”

Vic is as flawed as they come. Her experiences with Lornk break her, and as she remakes herself, she becomes fixated on achieving her goals at any price—much like him. She makes some questionable choices, some of which will haunt her throughout the series.

  1. Feminism. Vic is a badass action hero who lives in a world where gender equality is the norm. This has allowed me to let my female and male protagonists swap roles: Vic (short for Victoria, so if you hadn’t noticed, she’s a she) is the hero of A Wizard’s Forge, and Prince Ashel (a guy) is the heroine in the sense of he’s the one who passively resists the villain rather than actively fights him. Confused? Outraged? Read more about my reasoning here.
  2. Female empowerment. Vic starts out as a victim of sex trafficking, and she struggles with the legacy of those experiences even after she becomes her nation’s most renowned warrior. Yet she also keeps moving forward, becoming stronger inside and out, and by the time she acquires her telekinetic abilities, she has nothing to fear from anyone—except herself.
  3. The forge process. The book is divided into four parts–Ore, Smelt, Forge, and Temper–and each section details Vic’s transformation from the raw material (the ore) of a smart but inexperienced teenager into the tempered steel (or in Vic’s case, bronze) of a strong woman with deadly power.

I hope these insights inspire you to take a closer look at A Wizard’s Forge. It’s available from Amazon and other major retailers.

Thanks for stopping by my blog! To continue along the blog hop, please head back to the B2BCyCon Blog Hop Hub.

B2BCyCon Fantasy Blog Hop—Stop #22: The Insider’s Guide to A Wizard’s Forge: Politics and Powers

Welcome to the B2BCyCon Fantasy Blog Hop! Thanks for stopping by my blog and checking out my work.

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A Wizard’s Forge is the first in a series called The Woern Saga, and it’s an onion, with a lot of layers of a plot that developed over a lot of years. The tone is dark; the story thought-provoking. Knownearth, the world of A Wizard’s Forge, has complex power structures, both magical and political.

Powers

“What’s your magic system?” is one of the first questions you hear when you’re a fantasy author. Because my fantasy is rooted in science fiction, my first response when someone asks me this question is, “there is no magic system, because there’s no magic.” At least, the people of Knownearth don’t consider their supernatural powers magical. Yet, they do have supernatural powers! In the novel, they’re called mindspeech and wizardry, but we would know them as telepathy and telekinesis.

Mindspeech

When Vic, the protagonist of A Wizard’s Forge, is sold as a slave in the city of Traine, she doesn’t speak the local language, but she can nevertheless understand Lornk, her new master:

“How come I understand you?” she asked flatly. “I hear strange words come out of your mouth, but I know what they mean.”

“I speak to your mind as well as your ears, darling.”

The first people Vic meets who have mindspeech use it as a sort of universal translator to facilitate communication with people from other lands. When Vic escapes slavery and flees to the nation of Latha, she finds a whole society who use mindspeech as their primary means of talking to each other.

“Mindspeech is a nice power,” Vic said. “The people who had it in Traine, they spoke with their thoughts and their voices. But you use only your thoughts?”

Bethniel shrugged. “We do use our voices when we get excited. You heard the children yammering earlier. And we always speak aloud on formal occasions like funerals and on Landing Eve, to honor Elesendar.”

All Lathans use mindspeech for everyday communication, and Vic herself eventually learns to use it as well. However, some Lathans, known as Listeners, have a particular talent for mindspeech. The most powerful Listeners can do more than Hear a person’s secret thoughts, they can implant illusions in their minds.

Vic’s eyes darted to Wineyll. “How many people can you deceive at the same time?”

The girl disappeared. Carl cursed and leapt to his feet as Drak stumbled backward off the edge of the cliff, arms pinwheeling. Vic caught him in a net of air and set him down on the rock. Breathing heavily, he nodded his thanks.

“Do you see her?” Bethniel asked. When Vic shook her head, the princess said, “That’s at least four.”

Wineyll reappeared, and Vic gave her a hard look. “How many illusions can you do at the same time? How long can you maintain them, and in how many people?”

“I’m not sure, Marshall, but this is why you brought me, isn’t it?”

The source of Knownearthers’ telepathic powers is unknown, although everyone on the planet has the ability to learn mindspeech, just as all people on Earth can learn any spoken or sign language. However, some Knownearther scholars have speculated that mindspeech and wizardry share a common origin.

Wizardry

Wizardry is the term Knownearthers use to describe the telekinetic powers possessed by people who survive drinking a concoction variously called the Elixir or the Waters of the Dead.

“Why would they kidnap us?” Vic asked.

The princess shook her head, mouth grim. “I’m guessing the Waters of the Dead.”

“What are those?”

Bethniel cast her a scathing look. “Some history buff. They called it the Elixir in the time of wizards? You’ve never heard of it?”

“Beth, I studied real history, not the fancies of poets and hucksters. Frankly, I only accepted that your mother’s powers might be real last winter, and I’ve been too busy fighting a war to study up on how she might have gained them.”

Bethniel’s glare softened. “Well, the Waters are how. The Kragnashians make anyone who comes to Direiellene drink it.”

“So they make you a wizard?” Vic’s mind leapt at the advantages Elekia’s power, weak as it was, could give.

“It’s not a boon.” Bethniel’s shoulders hunched around her ears. “The Waters are the price of entry into Direiellene, and the price my mother paid for my father’s throne. The merchants who trade with the Kragnashians, they never leave the beach because the Waters kill most people, and it’s a horrible death. Of those who don’t die, most go insane.”

“Your mother didn’t.”

Bethniel shrugged. “I guess she was one of the lucky few.”

The Waters of the Dead contain a neurologic parasite called the Woern, which give those few who survive initial infection the ability to manipulate matter and energy with their minds. Vic can create fire and electricity and move objects as small as atoms and as large as boulders. However, Vic also suffers from severe migraines. She learns the nature of her power in A Wizard’s Sacrifice (due out in 2018):

“How do you feel?” Elekia asked. “Any sickness or headache?”

Vic’s fingers grazed a temple and the hollow space where pain usually throbbed. Her belly growled softly with appetite. “I actually feel normal this morning.”

The queen’s eyes shot to Bethniel, then returned to Vic. “I prayed you would survive taking the Waters of the Dead, but I learned long ago not to depend on prayers alone. That is why I sent my daughter to the desert with you.” Beth’s jaw dropped while Vic’s eyebrows knitted over the stirrings of a fresh headache. Elekia continued, “The Waters contain a parasite called the Woern, which kills most who consume it. Most of those whom it does not kill become wizards, like you and I.”

“But you’re not sick.”

“No. My father traces his family line back to Saelbeneth, leader of the very Council for whom your namesake fought in the war against Meylnara. She was reported to be immune to the ill effects of the Woern, and so am I. Last night I gave you an infusion of my Woern, which Saelbeneth would do for her allies on the Council, and which was said to heal them of their ills. So it worked between me and you.” Elekia nodded at Bethniel. “The Woern can be passed from one wizard to another through sweat, blood, tears, saliva—any fluid of the body. They are also passed from mother to infant in the womb. This is why I sent Bethniel with you—to help you survive.”

“I have no power,” Beth cried aloud.

“No, your Woern remained dormant, which has been a blessing. But you can pass them to Vic.”

Knownearth’s history includes a period when wizardry was quite common, but that era ended when the Wizards Council engaged in a pogrom to kill everyone, regardless of age or degree of power, who possessed the Woern without the Council’s permission. A thousand years later when Vic drinks the Waters, she and Queen Elekia are the only ones in Knownearth with wizardry.

Politics

Knownearth includes seven major nations, each with a different system of government and one composed of a nonhuman species.

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Latha

Latha is a republic with an elected monarch who serves for life, assuming no crimes or misdemeanors force him or her off the throne. The Lathan Senate chooses each succeeding Ruler—usually the designated Heir—but the Senate often chooses another candidate. Latha’s current Ruler, King Sashal, gained the throne through a backroom deal orchestrated by his wife, Elekia, when she was seventeen years old. For almost twenty years, Sashal and Elekia have waged war—or, as they would say, defended the nation—against Lornk Korng, the Lord of Relm.

Relm

Relm is an inherited dictatorship ruled by a single individual styled the Lord or Lady of Relm or, informally, the Relmlord/lady. A Council composed of trade guild leaders, wealthy merchants, and the Relmlord/lady’s spouse—known as the First Councilor—provide advice and oversee government functions. The current Relmlord, Lornk Korng, is well regarded despite the long war with Latha and the fact that Lornk himself was born in Betheljin and only inherited the Relman Seat when his cousin and predecessor died without issue. Moreover, Lornk has never married, and his only heir is his bastard son Earnk. Relmans would normally be outraged by these indiscretions, but Lornk is a consummate politician, and his charisma, ruthlessness, and governing abilities have made him popular with the Relman people.

Insider Fact: Lornk and Elekia courted when they were young; at the same time, Lornk and Sashal were as close as brothers. Then, the brilliant and beautiful Elekia shocked the world by jilting the equally brilliant and handsome future Relmlord in favor of his humble wingman, Sashal. In revenge, Lornk seduced Elekia’s sister but refused to marry her, even when she bore his son Earnk. This scandalous breach of Lathan and Relman customs drove a permanent wedge between the friends and led to the decades-long war between Latha and Relm.

Betheljin

Betheljin is an oligarchy ruled by a single despot called the Commissar. The capital, Traine, is similar to Ancient Rome, with a huge wealth gap between the iron-mine-owning Citizens and everyone else. Coups, rebellions, and backstabbing chicanery are commonplace among the Citizenry. Whereas the traditions and political machinery of Latha and Relm generally ensure peaceful transfers of power from one ruler to the next, the Commissar often must secure his or her rule through violence. When they’re not betraying or killing each other, the Citizens revel in opulence and debauchery, and they keep slaves to perform menial labor as well as to satisfy their basest whims.

Insider Fact: Lornk Korng is a Citizen as well as Relmlord, and he divides his time between his family’s ancestral palazzo in Traine and the Seat of Relm. How does he manage to travel roughly 3000 miles between the two locations with only horses and sailboats? There’s a transporter called the Device in both his homes. Humans have used these portals for centuries, though no one knows who built them or how they work. The Master Device is in the Kragnashian capital, so it is likely the Device is a Kragnashian invention.

Kragnash

A vast, barren desert, Kragnash is the home of Knownearth’s indigenous people, a species of eighteen-foot-tall intelligent insects who possess not only the Master Device but also control access to the Woern. Nearly all Kragnashians live in their capital city, Direiellene, an oasis the Kragnashians created after the Wizards Council destroyed the rain forest that once covered their land. Despite this environmental disaster, the Kragnashians appear to bear no malice toward humans and enthusiastically trade with them. They do, however, force any humans who stray too deep into their territory to drink the Waters of the Dead, which leads to madness and death in nearly everyone.

Insider Fact: The Kragnashians have been waiting for centuries for “the One,” the embodiment of the wizard who freed them from enslavement by another wizard they call the Oppressor. Vic happens to bear the same name as the Kragnashians’ savior: Victoria of Ourtown.

Caleisbahnin

The Caleisbahn Archipelago is home to a seafaring nation of traders, pirates, and slavers. The government is structured along naval command lines, with a head of state known as the First. Caleisbahnin and Betheljin are usually closely aligned, with the pirates acting as a mercenary navy for the Commissar. During the time of wizards, the Caleisbahnin considered service to them a sacred duty, but since wizards disappeared from Knownearth, Caleisbahn society has been mostly closed to outsiders.

Eldanion

Eldanion lies between Latha and Betheljin and is renowned for its wines and horses. A titled nobility famous for their frivolous and extravagant lifestyle leave the governing to the prime minister and parliament.

Semeneminieu

Proud of their nation’s tongue-twisting name, Semena citizens elect their leaders in Knownearth’s only direct democracy. The nation is home to the steeds, a migratory species of giant insects that Semena herders raise for meat and hides.

I hope these insights inspire you to take a closer look at A Wizard’s Forge. It’s available from Amazon and other major retailers.

Thanks for stopping by my blog! To continue along the blog hop, please head back to the B2BCyCon Blog Hop Hub.

B2BCyCon Fantasy “Behind The Scenes” Tour—Stop #8

Guest Post

I’m thrilled to host fantasy writer Suzanna Linton as part of the Brain to Books Cyber Convention activities this week. She’s dropped by here to talk about laying the groundwork for readers to suspend their disbelief (a favorite topic of mine).

Realistic Fantasy

by Suzanna Linton

It doesn’t seem right for reality to go along with fantasy. It’s fantasy for crying out loud. It’s totally fine for things to happen that are unrealistic.

This is true. Up to a point.

Suspend Your Disbelief

In order to get readers to swallow a giant who crushes towns for fun, a writer needs to make the reader suspend disbelief. This means they accept something they normally would not. However, if the giant is the cherry on top of a cake of the unbelievable, then the reader finds it difficult to stay with the story.

For example, in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy a few of the characters run for miles at great speed, for days, without needing rest. This pushes the boundary of credulity, making it hard for readers to accept it, because an average person would not be able to do that. Especially not a person carrying weaponry and wearing armor. The only reason why a reader would swallow it is that these are otherworldly characters and not the average person.

And it’s freaking Tolkien.

If another fantasy writer did that, involving regular humans who don’t make it a habit of running marathons, then credulity would be stretched. Readers would lose trust in the reliability of the author and disbelief could no longer be suspended.

What Should Be Real?

I sent my novel Willows of Fate to beta readers prior to publication, as one does. One of the readers had a hard time with a scene where my main character, Desdemona, is about to bathe. By this point, Desdemona has left our world for a more fantastical world that’s still stuck in the Middle Ages. Prior to her bath, someone gives her an oval bar of soap to use. My beta reader couldn’t swallow it. She could accept they would have soap in a medieval-esque world but not oval bars.

Now, soap-like mixtures have been in use since Sumerian times but hard, cake-like bars didn’t come into being until the 12th century, which fits the novel. I knew I was right about that, though maybe not about the shape. It sounds more possible that the soap makers cut their product into crude rectangles. For the sake of credulity, I changed the scene slightly.

When I wrote my latest novel, Clara’s Return, I made it a point to research how far a horse can reasonably travel in a day. I used that to plan the pacing of the novel. By being realistic about travel, not only was I able to establish credulity with my readers but I was also able to use it to my advantage.

What writers need to get right, as much as possible, are the little details. Most fantasy is based off a real time period. In terms of social structure and everyday life, what can be carried over into the novel? What things would make the fantasy world more believable?

Some things are pet peeves, like carrying swords into battle while they’re strapped to the back. Swords, particularly great swords, may have been transported that way but warriors didn’t make it a habit of wearing them like that all the time, mostly because they would have been impossible to draw. And women’s armor was no different from men’s armor. (Looking at you, Dragon Age.)

Not every reader will know the difference. Not all readers know about the minutia of a particular historical period. However, that doesn’t lessen the importance of research and getting it right, at least in part.

When a writer gets the little details right, it creates a believable world that makes it easier for the reader to accept the bigger things, like giants and magic. Fantasy grounded in reality is not only still fantasy but also makes for a better read.


Suzanna J. Linton grew up in the swamps of the South Carolina Lowcountry, where she was fed a steady diet of books, tall tales, and catfish. She started writing poetry from an early age before transitioning to fiction. While in high school, she was introduced to the Dragonriders of Pern Series by Anne McCaffrey, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The Animorphs. From those Suzanna gained a deep desire to write about tough women heroes.

In 2002, she attended the summer program at the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts of Humanities and graduated from Francis Marion University in 2007. She has three books published and her latest novel is Clara’s Return. Suzanna continues to live in South Carolina with her husband, their two dogs, and a cat.

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Print [to] Screen

I love movies and TV. In fact, I watch far, far more than I read these days. My readers also know I like to paint pictures in my prose, and I’d love to see this passage framed in film:

Vic started climbing again, her knees scraping against the stone. The rock was cool, smooth, almost clammy, but the handholds offered a solid grip. The darkness of the cleft soothed her eyes, but she forgot the throb in her temples when her head emerged into the light.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Bethniel sat cross-legged beside the opening; the captains lounged beyond.

The sinking sun blazed over a cacophony of arches and pinnacles towering above flat-topped mesas, ragged fissures, fluted ridges. Blue and gold, orange, purple, red, even pale green striped and swirled in intricate patterns toward distant blue peaks capped with white.

I’d also love to see my beloved characters brought to life, and while I’m indulging in the book-to-film fantasy, I’ll give myself a say in who should play whom.

Victoria of Ourtown

Vic sliced open the soldier’s shirt, handing Silla a swath of fabric to force between his teeth. “I hope they find you in time,” she said as she cut. Shrieks muffled, the man jolted and bucked, but her comrades held him. “I almost wish I could be there when the Relmlord sees this. I hope you’re still alive, so he can tell you what your punishment would have been, had it been me you found. Knowing him, he probably won’t tell you—he’ll show you.”

“You’re the one they wanted?” Silla asked over the man’s gagged scream.

Vic pointed to the name carved into the man’s bloody chest. “That’s what he called me.”

“Kara. Like the wizard.”

Vic shrugged, then read aloud the message she’d cut into the man’s skin. “I raped a girl I thought was Kara.” Standing, she touched her tongue to the blade, relishing the iron. “I really hope you’re still alive when your comrades find you. If you are, when you see Lornk Korng, tell him Victoria of Ourtown will never be his.”

Vic is intellectually brilliant, hard as nails on the outside, and fragile as glass on the inside. Michelle Duckett, a London model and photographer, captured that mix of smart, tough vulnerability beautifully on the cover, but who could replicate that on film? Vic is also petite—her diminutive size in relation to her enemy, her lovers, and her extraordinary telekinetic power is a deliberate contrast. I’d love to have Kate Mara or Saoirse Ronan read for the role.

Lornk Korng, Lord of Relm

Lornk had just taken her father from her, as he took her clothes, her hair, her self. 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 is a charismatic sociopath, and he would make a delicious role for any actor to sink his teeth into. In days past, Jeremy Irons or Ralph Fiennes would have played him spectacularly. During the Schindler’s List and English Patient era, Fiennes even looked exactly how I imagine Lornk. Fiennes would still be great, though he has perhaps aged a bit past the role; Michael Fassbender would now top my list to play Vic’s nemesis, even though he’s a bit young for it.

Ashel, Prince of Latha

“We meet again, Highness,” Lornk Korng said. “I regret under less comfortable circumstances.”

Fearing the Relmlord would see the recognition in his eyes, Ashel ducked his head. “I don’t know what you mean,” he said.

“Oh, stop,” Lornk said irritably. “This ruse might have worked if we hadn’t met, but don’t insult me by pretending it to my face.”

“I’m not Prince Ashel—”

“Highness, it’s very simple. I have a document I want you to sign.” The guard held the paper so Ashel could read it.

I, Prince Ashel of Narath, wish for peace between the people of Relm and the people of Latha. I call upon my mother, Elekia of Reinoll Parish, elected Ruler of Latha, who came to her position through subterfuge and malicious intent, to end hostilities and withdraw all Lathan troops from Relman territory.

“You’re mad to think the prince would sign that,” Ashel said.

Committed to art over politics, Ashel loves music and revelry, but as the story unfolds, empathy and courage emerge as his defining characteristics. The actor who plays him must have the presence to stand as Lornk’s equal and opposite, as well as jaw-dropping good looks and a fantastic singing voice. I don’t know whether he can sing, but Ricky Whittle looks like Ashel, and would be phenomenal plumbing the depths of the character.

Los Angeles premiere of 'Pacific Rim'

Ricky Whittle

Geram of Alna

On the edge of the campsite, a Relman with arms thick as a ship’s mast dragged the prince into the trees. A wiry man and burly woman trotted alongside, eyes darting for pursuers. Whatever happens, don’t let him be captured. Idiot. Henrik let a green prince loose in Fembrosh with that stupid harp and tells me, don’t let him get captured. Geram followed them out of the copse and watched from behind a tree as they bound Ashel hand and foot in a dry creekbed. Listening, he picked out the voice of the Relman commander from their memories.

“Daniy,” Geram cried into their minds, “come here!”

The big one jumped and dashed off. Slipping from behind the tree, Geram put an arrow in the woman’s eye and another in the man’s chest. A slice across the throat finished him.

“It’s me.” He knelt and cut Ashel free. “Are you hurt?”

Muffling his thoughts, the prince sat up, rubbing his wrists. Blood seeped from a cut on his back, but he took a stoneknife off a Relman and headed back into the copse.

“No.” Geram held him back. “It’s all over now. We have to run for it.”

Selfless, stalwart, and supremely skilled, Geram is the one you want beside you in a battle or when your worst nightmare unfolds. One of Latha’s strongest Listeners—people with profound telepathic abilities—he’s a consummate warrior, and you can count on him to do his job, regardless of the cost to himself. I’d like to have Nick Cannon or Michael B. Jordan come in and read for Latha’s most loyal soldier and friend.

Earnk Korng

Pallid and sweating, his father raised himself onto an elbow and sipped water laced with harlolinde. In the frigid air of the cabin, he wore only a nightshirt, damp and soiled with seepage from his wound. “You know who did this to me?”

Earnk gazed out the window. “Yes.”

“Do you still think you love her?”

Earnk’s head swiveled to face his father. Lornk was grinning, his teeth and eyes cloudy, his face now shining with fever. Clenching his fists behind his back, Earnk shook his head. “Of course not. I’ve—that was an infatuation.” He cleared his throat. “I know my duty—to Relm as much as you. Count on it.”

“I’d like to.” Father’s smile relaxed, followed by Earnk’s shoulders. “But can I? You’re your mother’s son more than mine.”

Earnk is trapped between his fear of Lornk and his ambition to succeed him as Relmlord, but his unrequited love for Vic gives him the strength to defy his father. The actor who takes this role should excel at befuddled angst. Ryan Gosling or Max Thieriot both have a wounded, dreamy quality that would make them great fits for the role.

Bethniel, Princess and Heir of Latha

“The Senate took my birthright and handed it to my mother. They’re not going to take it away from her, and she’s not going to give it up until she’s dead. It’s what she’s wanted her whole life.”

Vic crossed her arms, a beat of sympathy in her throat. “This could be a suicide mission, and being captured is worse than being killed, when it comes to Lornk Korng.”

“But the title Heir only means something if the Senate agrees to the inheritance. They didn’t elect me Ruler because they believed I couldn’t handle it. I need to prove I can, or when the time comes, the Senate will pass me over again, and the throne could pass out of my family altogether.”

“Lornk broke me into pieces, Beth, and if I hadn’t escaped, he would have put me back together the wrong way round. I’m terrified what he’ll do to Ashel. I do not want him doing anything to you.”

“There’s no reward without risk, not for me anyway.”

Ashel’s sister Bethniel loves fashion and parties, but she hides a will of steel beneath her frivolous mask. Heir to Latha’s throne, she already has a ruler’s willingness to do the unthinkable, if the outcome will be in the national interest. Zoe Saldana looks exactly how I imagine Bethniel, although she is nearly twenty years older than the character (not that you could tell). I’d also like to see Zendaya or Jessica Lucas read for this part.

Elekia, Queen of Latha

“I’ve done nothing but test you since the day you arrived. But you passed, Vic. This is your prize.”

Trembling, Vic retrieved the dagger. Its blade was finer than any crystal; it balanced marvelously in her palm, but the sight of it sent hysteria beating up her throat. “It’s filthy. I can’t.” She sank onto the queen’s bed, itching with the memory of Lornk’s fingers.

“Don’t look at it.” Elekia pressed the velvet into Vic’s hands. “Don’t touch the metal. But when you get to Lordhome, cleanse it with his blood.” The queen pulled Vic’s chin up. Her fingers warm, they soothed the hysteria creeping across Vic’s skin and up her throat. “You are my youngest child, who came to me almost grown. I didn’t bear you, didn’t rear you, but you’re no less mine than the ones I nursed from my breast. I know you have the strength to do what you must, because you have my strength. Show it to Lornk. Then bring my son and daughter safely home.”

Elekia hides her passions and worries behind an impassive hauteur. She’s played a lifelong chess match against Lornk, and will use every tool and stratagem, including her loved ones, to thwart him. Thandie Newton, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Gina Torres all have the presence to portray this ice queen; Torres has the height too.

Wineyll of Narath

“How old are you? Fourteen?” The girl was only a hair taller than Vic, with eyes as wide as a harrier’s.

“I’m sixteen and I’ve been to Fembrosh. Like you, I went early, Marshall.”

“I doubt you went early for the same reason I did,” Vic retorted.

“Show her,” Beth interrupted.

Wineyll nodded curtly, and Ashel appeared in the room. Vic yelped and hopped backward, her stomach lurching. He wore his Guild robes and beamed at her, his eyes fixed on hers. Pulse throbbing, she tore her gaze off the image. “Is that wizardry?”

“Illusion. It’s entirely in your mind. I can trick your brain into seeing what’s not there.” Ashel vanished, and so did the princess. “Or make you think you don’t see something that is.” Bethniel reappeared.

“Wineyll is the most powerful Listener in Latha.” The princess grinned.

A young musician with spectacular telepathic powers, Wineyll is the ringer in Vic’s plan to rescue Ashel and wreak her revenge on Lornk, but this talented teen has a tragic past that may set the stage for Vic’s undoing. The reigning queen of troubled—and troublesome—teenagers is Maisie Williams, and I’d love to see what she’d do with the role.

MaiseWilliams

Maisie Williams

Did any of my choices surprise you? Who would you suggest play your favorite character(s) in A Wizard’s Forge?

Authors: Don’t Rush; Revise

These days, every “how to succeed in as an author” blog you read advises you to release as many books as you can as quickly you can. All successful indie authors (that I know) have multiple books–or series–on the market, and several have parlayed their methodology into side businesses focused on telling other indie authors how to write, publish, and sell indie books–advice that boils down to, “write a lot of books and bring them to market fast.”

This strategy isn’t unique to indie authors. Many traditionally published authors, both famous and obscure, push work out quickly too, especially if they’re writing series. Being prolific works if you want to sell books, and if you can produce a page-turner in six months or less, you’re awesome.

But…

An awful lot of authors can’t really produce a gripping story as a first draft, or a second. When they try, the work ends up being substandard, or not as good as it could have been if the author had taken the time to look critically at the work and address the narrative shortcomings. You especially see this a lot with series, where the first book might be mind-blowingly good, and then the quality drops off.

Exhibit A: the Hunger Games Series

51zkheo7x8LSo, Suzanne Collins wrote this dystopian page-turner called The Hunger Games. It was action-packed, suspenseful, heart-breaking, and thought-provoking–pretty close to a perfect book, in my view. Catching Fire, the sequel published by Scholastic a year later, suffered a bit as a segue story with a cliffhanger ending, but was nearly as suspenseful and action-packed as its predecessor. The following year, Scholastic released Mockingjay. Alas, Mockingjay was loaded with characters talking instead of doing. In the first two books, Katniss, the protagonist, lives at the center of the action, but in the third book, Katniss only hears about many important events during the planning or aftermath stages. Frankly, this read as lazy writing. Collins could have (and should have) rejiggered her plot to keep Katniss in the center of the action; instead Katniss spends many chapters sitting around waiting for news of other characters’ doings. As a result, the third Hunger Games book was the opposite of the first–instead of devouring page-turning suspense, I slogged through a bunch of dull conversations leading to a series of irritating anticlimaxes. Now, I don’t know whether the published Mockingjay text was the first draft or the twentieth (and it still sold a bajillion copies), but I suspect it was an early draft and that deadline pressure from Scholastic, or perhaps just Collins’s own desire to release the book quickly, led to a substandard novel.

Authors: Please Put Narrow Escapes and Important Discoveries in the Book

How many times have you read a story where the protagonist slips into a safe space, breathes a sigh of relief, then discusses that close call with a companion–and the close call itself isn’t in the book! I have seen this reliance on dialogue to convey action a lot, especially in books by fellow indie authors which I know to be produced quickly. All too often, the author releases what is essentially his or her first draft, with only minimal revisions. It pisses me off when I see good writers do this, because I know they can do better, if they’d only invest the time in revisions.

Monkeyyawn

See, I often describe an event through dialogue in my first draft of a scene, and then I have to check myself: “God, that’s boring! Don’t have them talk about that fight–back up and write the fight!” Backstory action can be described through dialogue, but if the event is important and occurs within the timeframe of the story, the author should take the time to craft the scene and weave it into the book. Sometimes this means rewriting the lead-up scenes, so that the main characters remain in the center of the action. Sometimes it means simply taking the time to backfill an action sequence instead of just plowing forward with the plot and getting the book done. Sure, an indie author’s success depends on having multiple books on the market. But if your first book (or your third) is just a bunch of dull conversations leading to a series of irritating anticlimaxes, your readers won’t be likely to pick up your next book, and that defeats the purpose of having all those books out there.

Speculative Fiction Cantina Podcast

Do you like speculative fiction? Strong female protagonists? Work by A.M. Justice or C.C. Aune? Then tune into the Speculative Fiction Cantina podcast at 6 pm Eastern tonight. My good friend and fellow author C.C. Aune (who wrote my favorite book of 2016) and I will be reading excerpts from our work and talking about fantasy and writing with the podcast’s host, S. Evan Townsend.
As readers of this blog know, A Wizard’s Forge is about a young woman, descended from marooned space travelers, who slowly uncovers a magical destiny while she seeks revenge against the man who abused her.
C.C.’s novel, The Ill-Kept Oath (which I reviewed here) is a Regency era historical fantasy featuring an underground group of mages plotting against the crown. Two young women with blossoming magical abilities–without anyone to explain their powers or how to use them–seem to be the only ones who can stop the plot.

Diverse Fantasies

One month into the Trump Administration, at the close of Black History Month and as our social media feeds become ever-more contentious, I’ve been thinking about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Half a century ago, in December 1964, King accepted the Nobel Peace Prize. He spoke of the ongoing struggles of the Civil Rights movement, when people who only wished to exercise their right to vote were confronted with firehoses, police dogs, and murder. Then he said:

I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the “isness” of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal “oughtness” that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

“The eternal oughtness” is really key here. When we talk about race and racism in America, we all too often point at the other side and say, “they ought to….” We all too rarely look at ourselves and thinking about what we ought to do. King gave us the answer in the same speech:

Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.

Unfortunately, right now, we’re in a period where revenge, aggression, and retaliation are presented as virtues, and love and empathy are disregarded and despised. I’m an optimist and believe that the current U.S. Administration’s policies are the step backward that precedes the two steps forward of human progress. That doesn’t make living through this regressive period any easier, when King’s children are openly judged by the color of their skin. As a white woman, I have never felt their humiliation, but as a human being, I have empathized with it. And I have suffered the shame of racism, when I’ve listened to relatives speak in hateful ways and, more directly, when racist assumptions about strangers and friends have crossed my thoughts. All my life, I’ve fought an internal war between a rational belief that people of color are not different from white people, and an irrational suspicion, rooted in my upbringing, that nonwhites are less (less smart, less trustworthy, less…you name it). I have always tried to speak and act according to my rational beliefs rather than my irrational suspicions. I haven’t always succeeded.

knownearthI suppose this internal struggle is why I’ve approached race the way I have in my fiction. The inhabitants of Knownearth descended from the racially diverse crew of a marooned spacecraft, and over the three thousand years that passed between settlement and A Wizard’s Forge, people have forgotten their earthbound ancestry and cultures and formed societies where skin color is no more remarkable than hair color. Moreover, the majority of Knownearth’s people (and most of the principal characters in A Wizard’s Forge) have dark complexions and wiry hair (so, in contemporary terms, they’re black). I wanted to posit a world where, as King hoped in another speech, people really are judged “not by the color of their skin.” This is motivated less by liberal bleeding heartism than by wishful thinking—I’d like to live in that world where black people aren’t unjustly arrested or killed simply because they’re black.

Does that mean I posit a culture where people are always nice to each other? No. In fact, the plot of A Wizard’s Forge is all about “revenge, aggression, and retaliation.” Cultures still clash, and Knownearth’s people haven’t found a way to “live in peace,” as King hoped for humanity. This is partly because a good story requires conflict, but also because I also think that human beings will always struggle between violence and nonviolence. But I do believe we, as a species, will in time overcome the “is” and achieve some measure of the “ought.”

The Epic World of Knownearth by A.M. Justice

Our Epic Worlds has posted a worldbuilding feature about Knownearth. Look for M.L. Spencer’s review of A Wizard’s Forge on the same site!

Our Epic Worlds

map

Scholar. Slave. Warrior. Wizard.

On a planet far from Earth, descendants of marooned space travelers fight a decades-long war. Shy scholar Victoria knows nothing of this conflict until pirates kidnap and sell her to the sadistic tyrant behind it. He keeps her naked and locked in a tower, subjecting her to months of psychological torture. After seizing an opportunity to escape, Vic joins the fight against her former captor and begins walking a bloody path toward revenge.

As the Blade, Vic gains glory raiding her enemy’s forces, but the ordeal in his tower haunts her. Bitter memories keep her from returning the love of the kindhearted Prince Ashel, whose family has fended off the tyrant’s invading army for a generation. When enemy soldiers capture Ashel, Vic embarks on a quest to rescue him and, on the journey, discovers a source of spectacular power. With wizardry, Vic can rescue the prince…

View original post 1,207 more words

The 100

No, this isn’t a blog about the CW show The 100 (although I do enjoy that show). It’s just a short, celebratory note to say thank you to all the book bloggers, Goodreads reviewers, fellow authors, and cherished readers who have read A Wizard’s Forge and left a rating on Goodreads. AWF received its 100th rating on January 26, and it’s earned a few more since.

To celebrate this milestone, I’m offering a $10 iTunes gift certificate in a random drawing on Rafflecopter. Why iTunes? That’s to thank the iBook community, which has provided the greatest level of support (i.e., the majority of my sales have been through iTunes).

To enter, all you need to do is go to Rafflecopter and follow the directions there.

Thank you, readers!

Finding Meaning in Footnotes: An Interview with Author Jane Rosenberg LaForge

USPrincessAn Unsuitable Princess: A True Fantasy | A Fantastical Memoir, Jane’s debut novel, is an unusual mix of fantasy and memoir that builds slowly but steadily in intensity to a climax that will have you reaching for the tissue box. A poet, former literature professor, and journalist, Jane ties together lovely, lyrical fantasy and hard-boiled memoir to say something about love, loyalty, and the damage we do to ourselves when we don’t live up to our ideals.

A few weeks ago, Jane interviewed me on her blog about A Wizard’s Forge—the sort of deep-rooted questions about character motivation and literary influences that an author loves to chew on. Here we turn the tables and I ask Jane about some of the things that intrigued me about An Unsuitable Princess. I hope you’ll pick up a copy of her book and look for the next one when it appears in 2018.

AMJ: Why did you choose to blend memoir and fairy tale/fantasy in An Unsuitable Princess? Can you talk about your literary as well as your personal reasons?

JRL: Since the memoir covers a lot of ground—my family life, my neighborhood in the 1960s, the birth of Renaissance Fairs, and this one friend I had—I had to find one theme that would unite them all. And I think that uniting factor is my imagination. All of these things have had an impact on my imagination. And if you look at my imagination, you can see how ordinary it is; it’s been influenced by the same things that influence everybody’s imagination: childhood, old jealousies, movies and TV (and for my generation, rock ‘n’ roll). I was trying to say something about how imagination works, how everyone’s imagination works, and I thought that if I was really going to reveal something in my memoir, since I’ve had a pretty good life without much tragedy or abuse and then redemption etc., I would have to reveal how my imagination was constructed. Besides, going to or participating in a Renaissance Fair is the ultimate in trying to make your imagination or your daydreams tangible, or real.

I have to admit, though it is probably obvious, that I was influenced by David Foster Wallace and other innovators of the contemporary footnote—Nicholas Baker—because the use of footnotes makes the reader question just where the story is. At least that’s what I think footnotes do. Is the story the main text that the writer wants you to read? Or is it really in the footnotes, which in my case were messy, personally revealing, nothing like the pretty little story the main text was trying to tell.

AMJ: So, it sounds like the memoir came first in the writing. Was your purpose then to embellish your real experiences with the fantasy, or frame the fantasy with the real-life story? If the former, it’s interesting how you used the footnotes to tell the memoir, because when presented as footnotes, the memoir seems like the embellishment.

JRL: I wrote the two of them together, because I don’t think that either one stands that well on its own. You can read them separately, but they really need each other. The memoir is very self-centered and was even called narcissistic by one critic; the fantasy is very formulaic, though I sort of meant to make it that way, as a commentary on how books and movies shape our imaginations. My idea for a story with footnotes came about as I was considering writing a piece of fan fiction; my idea was to write the fan fiction and then footnote points in the story where I could explain why I had chosen to take the plot in a particular direction. I wanted to show scholarly precedent for my decisions. I had the whole thing plotted out when I realized it was too much “inside baseball,” and that no one would probably want to read it.

I’d like to note that another criticism the book received (this time from a literary agent) was that the footnotes had nothing to do with the fantasy. But there were themes in the fantasy that were also developed in the footnotes and I tried very purposely to develop those parallels. If no one saw them, well, mea culpa, but I put them in there for a reason.

AMJ: What was the fan fiction piece about?

JRL: It was “The Prisoner,” a 1967 television series from the UK. The “prisoner” is a retired secret agent who is always trying to escape from “the village,” where he’s been sent because he knows too much. I was trying to write something in which he actually escapes; he isn’t brought back, because he is always failing and in the end, you wonder if he is a prisoner of the government or his own imagination. The footnotes would have justified how I chose to get him out, because there’s a lot of speculation among fans about where the village is, who runs it, etc.

AMJ: That is so cool! I’ve never seen that show (since it was on when I was a baby) but I know of it.

JRL: Definitely the coolest thing ever broadcast on television. My family and I watched it as we were traveling up California, Oregon, and Washington to Canada, and we always had to make sure our hotel rooms had televisions so we could see what was happening. I was obsessed, [and] so was my mother. I’m still obsessed. Greatest show ever.

AMJ: I’ll bet fans would love to see and discuss those footnotes.

JRL: True, but it would be like a discussion board on the Internet, lots of back-and-forth and disagreements over whether I had it right or whether I had the right to even enter the discussion.

AMJ: Getting back An Unsuitable Princess, both Jenny and Samuel suffer greatly. Why was their suffering necessary in your tale, and why do you think it’s such a universal element in the stories we tell each other?

JRL: Well the Buddhists would say that everybody suffers… I guess it’s what makes us human, this ability to feel and possibly learn from it. Samuel suffers because he’s sick and then he goes to war, which is some real first-class suffering. Jenny suffers because of the circumstances of her birth, which really isn’t too pretty either. But Jane hasn’t really suffered at all, and that’s the point. When I was a kid, I thought that no one suffered more than I did, in terms of feeling physically ugly, emotionally strange, out-of-control, unwanted, unloved, out of place—you name it. This must be a normal, developmental stage in human growth, at least in the United States. I believe we call it adolescence. But is that real suffering, or do we even know nowadays, with all our sanitizing conveniences, what real suffering is? I don’t know the answer to that, but having Jenny and Samuel suffer was important to show how little suffering I went through as a kid. And what does the human imagination do with that? That was one thing I was trying to explore.

AMJ: I was struck by the stark difference between Jenny and Samuel’s devotion to each other, and the casual convenience of your relationship with your high school boyfriend—who himself suffered quite a lot in real life. What were you trying to say by crafting the imagined story as the inverse of memoir, in terms of the climactic events?

JRL: That’s the point! There’s the first high school boyfriend, who is called Slayer in the memoir, who makes mincemeat out of Jane, and that is pretty much the extent of Jane’s suffering. Jane can’t realize what true suffering is—whether it’s Samuel’s or Jenny’s or Sam Waynert’s—because she’s a pretty self-involved adolescent. She is the self-involved adolescent. The dictionary definition. That was what I was trying to illustrate.

AMJ: You’re a poet and you go to readings. How has that informed your fiction?

JRL: One way to test out whether a poem is working is to read it out loud, in front of an audience. That’s why it’s so important for poets to read their work publicly. I think this affects my prose in a number of ways, although I’m not aware of all of its impacts. One thing I do know is that sound is very important to me; it needs to sound, if not poetic, round and full. There needs to be a rhythm or that rhythm needs to be consistent throughout the work so that the reader can settle into it. Reading aloud also lets you know when you are going on too long or when you are repeating yourself too much, [although] repetition is sometimes necessary. [Reading aloud] should make your sentences cleaner, but I’m not going to claim that my sentences are stronger or cleaner than other writers’, only that I aspire to have them be so.

One time I was just gossiping in my office and someone asked me if I was a writer or a mom, because of the rise and fall of my voice. That person said everything I said came out like a fairytale, beginning with “once upon a time,” and ending with “they lived happily ever after.” I really wasn’t writing then, since I was a new mom, and I was just trying to get through the day. But I was telling my daughter a lot of stories, usually involving her stuffed animals or characters from other stories we had read, so I guess that’s what that woman heard. I found it to be very reassuring, because I was both unable to write and to publish. I guess it gave me a bit of confidence to keep going.

AMJ: Your work involves a lot of magic. How does that work as a literary device, or in other words, how do you define fairy tale, fantasy, and magic realism? Do these distinctions matter to the story telling—in other words, do these literary forms serve different purposes?

JRL: Some of these are easy, and some are hard. Magic realism is real things happening but by magical means. So in One Hundred Years of Solitude, it’s all believable—wars, elections, romance, people isolating themselves with their strange thoughts, aging and insanity—but taken together it’s all a little weird. A better example, or more current one, is Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, where the railroad may be magical, but all of the things that happen in the book are truly rooted in fact. Magic realism involves a certain point of view, or at least I think so. I think that you could write the same book without magic realism, and have the same story propelled by different means.

I could be wrong in saying this, but I think fantasy is about world-building. That said, you might consider all novel writing world building. But fantasy, or what we have come to know as fantasy, has a medieval flavor, I guess so the stakes are so clearly defined, and science fiction, pure science fiction without other elements, is relatively contemporary in setting. But I don’t know. I’m thinking that the LOTR trilogy is the primogenitor for 20th-century fantasy, because I haven’t read the Gormanghast novels, and in The Hobbit, nothing really happens that could not happen realistically. There’s one section where Gandalf works his magic by simply throwing his voice. Of course, the ring is magic, so what does that mean? Perhaps fantasy gets its legitimacy from grounding itself in these medieval elements, in the lore and voice of previous fantasies.

Ellen Kushner once said to me that fairytales were a way of helping children cope with the impossible circumstances they faced—being powerless in a world of malevolent adults and a social order they don’t understand. That sounds like a pretty good definition to me. There is debate over whether Christianity influenced fairytales, or whether they were old pagan stories remade with a Christian ethos; you can probably argue all day about that. What interests me now is the contemporary fairytale, which uses practically none of these elements, but is instead based on the morals or the plots of classic fairy tales. That’s where you get Roxane Gay and Helen Oyeyemi and of course Kate Bernheimer, and I think their work is just wild, really inventive.

AMJ: Tell us about your next book.

JRL: It’s called The Hawkman: A Fairy Tale of the Great War, and it will be published by Amberjack Publishing in 2018. It’s based on a Grimm’s fairytale called “The Bearskin,” with a little of “Beauty and the Beast” stirred in. If you read a lot of Grimm’s all at once, you’ll see that there are certain tropes, mechanisms, similes, or metaphors—or whatever you want to call them—that repeat themselves, and these two fairytales have a lot in common. I hope people will see that the book touches on many topics, including war since it takes place before and after World War I, and ultimately comments on the act of storytelling itself.