Hipster Heroes: Talking Navigation and Necromancy with Graeme Ing

During the Virtual Fantasy Con, a Facebook event that ran from October 15-21, 2017, I had eight guests stop by my booth to talk about their work. The first was friend and fellow fantasy author Graeme Ing, and here is a transcript of our discussion. We were joined by another friend and fantasy author, Edward Buatois. (Look for a blog post featuring Ed next week!)

I loved Graeme’s YA fantasy Ocean of Dust, and I’m looking forward to diving into his adult fantasy Necromancer.

OOD400x600I wanted the Dust Ocean to be like another character. It is mysterious, has a personality of its own and features heavily in the plot and the development of hero Lissa’s character.



Necromancer400x600Necromancer was inspired by two premises: 1. What if a Necromancer was a young, hip hero, rather than the cliched evil, grey-bearded wizard summoning the dead in his dungeon. 2. I wanted the book to be written First Person to bring to life hero Maldren’s sarcastic, overconfident personality. Then I proceeded to break down that confidence over the course of the book.

AMJ: I want to start off with Ocean of Dust, which I loved. How was the Dust Ocean “another character”?

GI: It was one of the first ideas I came up with on this book, and I wanted it to influence hero Lissa’s thoughts and actions as if it were alive somehow, especially when it “talks to her” during the book.

AMJ: Is it alive? There are definitely creatures living inside it, but does the dust itself have awareness?

GI: That’s a great question and I want to save that for the sequels I’m writing next year.

AMJ: OK, fair enough. 🙂

GI: Sorry, I know that’s sneaky. We’ll also find out more about the creatures.

AMJ: One of the things that struck me about Lissa’s development as a character is how her powers begin as an illness. What made you think to set things up that way?

GI: She has a real connection with the dust and the creatures. Because she’s lived on land all her life, suddenly coming into contact with the dust ocean overwhelmed her body. That continues to happen later in the book when she gets closer to the dust in the little boat. She still has to adapt to the powers of the dust ocean.

AMJ: I know you sail–do you get seasick?

GI: A little. Sometimes. Apparently even super-experienced sailors do now and then. Have you ever sailed?

AMJ: I did in college and loved it. Nothing but novice stuff in tiny 12 or 15 foot boats on lakes, but it was fantastic. I’ve always wanted to take real lessons, but never got around to it. I do dive, however, so I’ve spent a fair amount of time on motor boats, and I do get quite seasick in anything rougher than 2-3 foot swells. What other aspects of your sailing experience informed the story of OOD?

GI: Navigation. Sounds boring, I know, but as a kid I was fascinated with maps and exploring. I wanted to follow my dad into the Royal Navy and become a navigator. That’s why one of the major plots of OOD is her learning about navigation. The viewing device on the bow is clearly inspired by the sextant, etc. 🙂

AMJ: And how did you come up with the mechanism that drives the ship through the dust? I imagine it as a sort of giant egg beater.

GI: Interesting. What it actually does is take the “flux” energy that runs through the Dust Ocean. The metal fins they lower off either side of the ship attract the flux, almost like a magnet, and that generates a form of electricity that powers the propellers. I totally wanted to get away from the sailing ship that fills fantasy books.

AMJ: I thought it was super cool that the ship is essentially motor-driven. That played into my science fantasy sensibilities.

GI: I’m a big fan of science fantasy too. Fantasy with technology makes a great read

EB: SF and fantasy can really synergize. SciFi makes it relatable/almost real, and fantasy adds a sense of wonder. Engineering by itself can be boring.

GI: As a reader, I love to try to figure out how the tech works. Is it forgotten and appears like magic to people, or is it basic science

EB: I admire/like what you’re doing with the flux-powered ship, and your motivation to get away from standard sailing ships.So, the ship takes its power from the flux the dust generates, in order to drive through the dust?



GI: Yes, it’s the flux that powers the ship, which is why finding the channels of flux becomes so important in the book

EB: Ok so it’s not a feature of the dust per se but rather almost like the tradewinds. I know not “exactly” but it sounds like it functions the same way.

AMJ: Lissa is pressed into service against her will. Historically, this used to be somewhat common for folks in the wrong place at the wrong time, as Lissa appears to be when the novel opens. I’m curious if a) this practice of essentially kidnapping vessel’s crews off the street will have implications in later stories, and b) if you were thinking of historical examples when you put it in the book.

GI: The kidnapping was important to casting the crew in a bad light. I want readers to see how dangerous the ship and its crew are, but also how relationships change over time as everyone gets to know each other. And yes, press-ganging was a very common recruiting method centuries ago 🙂

AMJ: You have children and teens being swept off the street. It seems like society in general would start to protest that. Drunken sailors nabbed from taverns is one thing, but children is another.

GI: Very good point. Horrible for the parents, if indeed they ever figure out what happened to their poor children.

AMJ: I kept wondering if there was a particular reason that one obnoxious rich kid was taken…that did not seem like a random kidnapping. Of course, I also thought the kid’s parents might just want to be free of his spoiled brat self. 😉

GI: I think the clue to that is when they are looking at the urns in the ship’s hold The boy isn’t entirely innocent. Yeah, he’s a total brat, isn’t he

AMJ: Now, let’s talk about Necromancer. I haven’t read this book yet but I love the premise. Would you classify Maldren as an antihero or a reluctant hero?

GI: There are elements of being a reluctant hero for sure, but he definitely regards himself as a hero, but then he’s a bit cocky, and needs being pulled down a peg or two.

AMJ: I recently discovered the GRIMDARK fantasy subgenre. Would you say Necromancer falls into that category?

GI: I didn’t come across that term until after writing the book. I don’t think Necromancer is grimdark. It’s not THAT dark, not dystopian, and not depressing that I always thought grimdark was. There’s actually humor in Necromancer. 🙂 Some readers have even commented that it’s not even true dark fantasy but regular fantasy.

EB: I also like the idea of a “young, hip” necromancer rather than the dust/crusty kind. That’s the ultimate “what if,” when you’re willing to break with the “tradition” of a character paradigm that’s been fairly well-mined by other authors and add your own spin to it.

GI: That’s exactly what I was going for. A fresh twist.

AMJ: I agree. I like the idea of taking a vocation that’s typically done by old bearded guys with evil intent and making it more of a regular guy’s job, or a job that a young hipster might do as a way to get by or because it’s fun, or whatever, rather than as something motivated by malice or greed.

EB: Maybe it’s true what they say that coffee will rot your brain, hence the necromancing. Old crusty necromancer = young hip necromancer, add latte.

GI: Which makes sense to me. After all, how did those crotchety old beard guys learn their skills before they became old 😉

To learn more about Graeme and his work, visit his website or follow him on Twitter.



The Virtual Fantasy Con Is October 15-21

From October 15-21, 2017, I will be participating in the Virtual Fantasy Con, a Facebook event involving over 100 fantasy authors, bloggers, podcasters, artists, and other magicians. My booth will be open for business 24-7 during that time, with a contest for a grand prize that includes some free books and a $25 Amazon gift certificate. The Con is running its own contests, including a Truth or Lie competition that runs across the all the virtual booths of all the authors.

I’m inviting friends old and new to come hang out with me in the booth, so come on by and learn about them and the work they’re doing. The list is still growing, but here’s the schedule so far (all times Eastern US):

Sunday, October 15, 12-1 pm. Graeme Ing

Graeme is the author of Ocean of Dust, a YA fantasy that sails through a–you guessed it–sea of made not of water but of dust (very cool concept),  and Necromancer, a dark fantasy featuring a young sorcerer battling a city-wrecking demon and a secret society intent on murdering him.

Sunday, October 15, 2-3 pm. Edward Buatois

Ed writes urban fantasies featuring succubi with hearts of gold. Ed’s stories are emotionally authentic and action packed, and I’m thrilled to introduce readers to his work.

Monday, October 16, 3-4 pm. Mary Woldering

Mary’s Children of Stone series is set in Ancient Egypt and follows a shepherd whose discovery of a strange collection of crystals transforms him into a god. With great power, comes great responsibility, and a whole lot of trouble.

Tuesday, October 17, 5-6 pm. Rob Matheny

Rob hosts the Grim Tidings Podcast and founded the Facebook group Grimdark Readers and Writers. The podcast has been running for nearly 2 years, with over 100 episodes featuring interviews with the masters of grimdark fantasy, including Joe Abercrombie, R. Scott Bakker, R.A. Salvatore, Raymond E. Feist, and Richard A. Knaak.

Wednesday, October 18, 3:30-4:30 pm. C.C. Aune

It’s no secret C.C. Aune and I are friends, and I have the privilege of beta-reading her novels. The Ill-Kept Oath was my favorite read of 2016, and readers are in for a real treat with The Regrettable Gambit when it’s released next year. This series, the Druineach Legacy, follows cousins Prudence Fairfeather and Josephine Weston and their friends, lovers, and enemies as they become embroiled in a magical rebellion occurring under the noses of Regency-era British Society. It’s Jane Austen meets J.K. Rowling, and it’s wonderful.

Wednesday, October 18, 6-7 pm. Mark McQuillen

Mark is the coauthor of an action-packed urban fantasy series that begins with Valkyrie, in which one of these battlefield wardens recruits a PTSD-suffering veteran named Gil to fight an ancient enemy named Malice. The story then continues with Legends, where we follow Malice as she tries to put the world to rights–as she sees it.

Thursday, October 19, 2-3 pm. Sarah Lockwood O’Brien

Sarah blogs as The Critiquing Chemist, and has one of the most entertaining–and busy–blogs around. She’s a working scientist, beekeeper, crafter, and reader, and her blog is a nonstop source of deep thoughts and beautiful photography featuring the things she loves.

Friday, October 20, 10-11 am. Jennie Ivins

Jennie is a fantasy writer and the Editor of Fantasy Faction, one of the Internet’s most popular fantasy sites. I’ll be joining Fantasy Faction as a contributor in November, so of course I had to invite my new boss to come and chat with me during VFC!

Stop by my booth throughout the week to see who else drops by!



Rip It or Ship It Book Tag

It’s Vic’s birthday (A Wizard’s Forge came out one year ago today), and Cassopeia’s Moon once again honors Vic with a mention in her blog. This time she has her paired up with Celaena Sardothien from Throne of Glass. Celaena and Vic have a lot in common (love of books, badass fightin’ spirit) but I agree there might be too much yang and not enough yin in that relationship for them to work as life-partners. It could be a beautiful friendship, though.

A Very Fantasy Corner of Books

So, I filmed a bookshelf reorganisation video, and it went really well (at least at 12 minutes the clock was till ticking. But when I finished and checked, nothing was saved! *crying inside* This means that the wonderful reorganisation cannot be shown. But I am very happy with how my bookshelves turned out 🙂

Now I have to think of something else to write a blog post about. And what better than to do a tag that went around everywhere quite a while ago? I wasn’t tagged, but no one cares about that, so here we go – The Rip it or Ship it Book Tag!

Round 1
Celaena Sardothien (Throne of Glass) & Victoria (A Wizard’s Forge)

This is a tricky one… It might work, but I do think hey both are a bit too headstrong to be a good fit. I could see them having an…

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Power Plays: Journeys in the Zemnian Empire with E.P. Clark

I came across E.P. Clark’s work when I participated in the Brain to Books Cyber Convention last April. Like Guy Gavriel Kay (one of my favorite authors), Clark writes not-quite-historical fantasies, and her Zemnian Trilogy is inspired by Russian history and geography. Each story in the Zemnian Trilogy is divided into two volumes; Clark has just released the second story, The Breathing Sea, Parts I and II, and I recently finished reading both volumes in the first story, The Midnight Land, which follows a princess called Krasnoslava Tsarinovna, aka Slava, as she journeys above the Arctic Circle and finds confidence and power through her dealings with malevolent spirits, bandits, gods, courtiers, and her own sister, the Empress of Zem.

I loved The Midnight Land (see my reviews of Part I and Part II on Goodreads), and found the story so thought-provoking I asked E.P. to join me here for an interview. Her answers made me even more excited about her work, and I can’t wait to dig into The Breathing Sea.

Q: I see from your bio that you’re a professor of Russian language. What led you to that profession?

My “day job” is teaching Russian language and literature, which people have let me know is a pretty unusual profession. My family moved from Kentucky to central Russia shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and I studied Russian quite intensely while I was there. When I came back to the US and started Russian, I already had this rare and rather difficult skill under my belt, but I wasn’t planning to go into academics. I was much more interested in international relations and things like peace and security studies, and then later, translation. I decided somewhat on a whim to apply to an MA program in Russian translation, and rather to my surprise, I got in. I didn’t realize that Columbia University was an Ivy League school until I went to visit it after being admitted, and everyone was like, “Oh my God! You got into Columbia! Tell me your secret!” After graduating, I was going through the painfully slow process of applying for government jobs in security and intelligence, and while I was waiting I applied, once again on a whim, for a couple of PhD programs. I got into the one at UNC-Chapel Hill while I was still cooling my heels waiting to hear back from various agencies, so I decided to go do that for a while.

I’d like to say that getting my actual teaching job was equally serendipitous, but it wasn’t. By the time I had finished my PhD I had drunk the ivory tower Koolaid, and I applied mainly for academic jobs, despite the fact that the job market had imploded and thousands of PhDs were collecting public assistance even though they had teaching jobs. The only thing less successful than my struggles to get academic jobs, however, were my pathetic attempts to get non-academic jobs, and unfortunately, I have never been able to completely kick my eating habit, and bankruptcy doesn’t make student loans go away, so getting some kind of employment was essential. Through several years of intense and unremitting effort, I did get an academic job in my field of specialization.

Which is a long-winded way of saying that when my heroines slog through a lengthy series of painful adventures, that’s a pretty accurate reflection of my actual life experiences, only in the books I add magic.

Q: Your bio also mentions some “unexpected adventures” in Russia. Can you tell us about some of these and how it might have inspired some aspect of The Midnight Land?

Hmmm…adventures in Russia…where to begin, where to begin…Well, this is actually a conflation of two different adventures, but there’s a scene in The Midnight Land Part I in which Slava, the heroine, is skiing through thick snow and she accidentally goes off the road and she gets scared and tells herself that all she has to do is turn around and she’ll end up back on the path. When we lived in Russia we used to go cross country skiing all the time, which was a big deal for me, since hitherto I had spent most of my life in Kentucky and couldn’t even begin to comprehend what real winter was. I remember walking across town with my class (I attended a local high school) the first January I was there and seeing my breath freeze on the back of the coat of the person in front of me, and literally not being able to believe how cold I was. Anyway, we used to go back country skiing all the time, which was great fun and often ended up with us floundering around up to our waists in snow. So one of the things I wanted to convey in the book was that very visceral sense of skiing through the deep woods, in heavy snow, with a cold so intense it would cause your breath to freeze your hair to your hat.

The second part of the experience was actually in Belgium, not Russia. We had gone there to renew our Russian visas, since you had to leave the country to do that. I was traveling around Brussels on the metro, which was the first time I had traveled around a strange city by myself. At the time I didn’t speak any French or German, so I was basically helpless. I got on a train going the wrong way, and I still remember the moment of panic, like a lightning strike to the chest, when I realized what had happened, and how I calmed myself down by telling myself all I had to do was get off the train, walk across the platform, and get on the train going the other way. So Slava experiences both those things at that moment, although her adventures end up being a lot more exciting than mine.

There was also some getting used to having automatic weapons pointed at you on a regular basis, but to be honest that didn’t bother me as much, and I haven’t worked it into my stories yet. Most of my memories are about semi-magical times in the woods, the physical hardships we underwent along with the rest of the country, and how incredibly welcoming most people were to us even though they had very little themselves and most Americans did nothing to endear themselves to their Russian hosts. Seeing things from a Russian perspective was a fundamental change in my understanding of the world.

Q: Did you ever go above the Arctic Circle or to Russia’s north coast?

I did go above the Arctic Circle—but in Finland, not Russia, and in the summer, not the winter. There was still snow, though! Those experiences are the basis for some stuff in The Breathing Sea and The Dreaming Land. While in Russia, one of the most significant experiences I had that influenced a number of things in the books was a trip I took with my family out to Lake Baikal, in central Siberia. For example, the prayer trees with their ribbons (something that becomes a central motif in the later books) were something I encountered for the first time out there. And it was just dang cold, even though it was already spring! The intense cold and darkness in The Midnight Land mainly come from my experiences in central Russia, though, where even though it was below the Arctic Circle it got down to -40 degrees our first winter there.

Q: About a year ago, I (re)read Ursula Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness, which like The Midnight Land Part I, contains a long journey on skis. Did any books inspire Slava’s journey, or did the whole story emerge from your own experiences?

It’s a cliché, but I admit I was inspired to start the whole thing in part by reading A Game of Thrones. I got an advance copy through no merit of my own and was just stunned by how amazing it was. The adventures of the Black Watch in the cold were in the back of my mind—or sometimes in the front—as I wrote about Slava’s journey through the snow.

Another important well-known fantasy book that inspired me was The Golden Compass, in which the characters make a trip up to Svalbard. I actually re-read the book on my first flight to Finland, as I was preparing to go to the Arctic for the first time.

But the main literary inspiration were stories and movies about the Arctic and Antarctic explorers, especially things I read and watched about Shackleton and The Endurance, and Kim Stanley Robinson’s Antarctica. There were some unsuccessful attempts to reach the South Pole using skis, but the first successful attempt was with sled dogs, half of whom were killed for food, something that was planned ahead of time. So my characters take sled dogs and worry about having to eat them.

Q: One of the most fascinating things about The Midnight Land was the reversed gender power relationships, where the institutional and internalized biases of society and individuals favored the female over male. We live in a world of men, where grammar books tell us that we may use “man” to mean “human.” Zem is a world of women, where “woman” equals “human.” What inspired you to create the female-centric world of Zem?

The gender reversal was something I knew I wanted to do right from the beginning, but it was by far the most difficult thing to work into the story, and I only feel somewhat satisfied with how it turned out. Which means it was an excellent exercise, since it forced me to confront all the gender biases embedded in our culture and our language, even for people like me who have considered themselves committed feminists from childhood.

I wanted to do it because I had always resented very strongly the sexism and misogyny I encountered starting in early childhood, and I just couldn’t believe that women were naturally “inferior” to men, and meant to be submissive to them. I myself didn’t feel very submissive at all, and inferiority is a matter of perspective. Inferior at what? At tasks designed to showcase male superiority, that’s what. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy and a vicious circle that I wanted to break out of.

At the same time, most of the gender-reversal stories I’d read were profoundly unsatisfying, and upheld misogynistic stereotypes rather than dismantling them (role reversals tend to do that). And none of it reflected the reality of how the people I knew actually thought and behaved. Also, once again my exposure to Russian culture was eye-opening, because it tends to uphold strict gender roles and explicitly macho behavior in men, but women and femininity tend to get a lot more power and respect than Westerners would expect. Some of the original tribes in what is now Russia were matriarchal, and you can still see the pagan matriarchal underlayer beneath the macho, male-dominated overlayer of Vikings and Mongols, Christianity and Islam.

So as I wrote, I tried to create a society where gender roles remained similar to what we know, but the power dynamic was reversed, and I tried to come up with the kind of logical reasons for female rule that have been used to prop up male dominance—e.g., women live longer, they learn to speak and read more quickly, descent through the female line is much easier to keep track of, and so on. And then I tried to present it with the same uncomplicated acceptance that we accept our own gender power dynamics in our own society. Which was much harder than I thought it would be, something that was enlightening and frustrating in equal measure.

Q: The uncomplicated acceptance was an aspect that intrigued me, because bias favoring males is so deeply entrenched in our contemporary society. Another writer friend and I were commiserating over the fact that we had set out to write books that met the Bechdel Test, and we still had more male than female POV characters! As I read The Midnight Land, I thought about present-day societies where women’s roles are still severely proscribed, and how it’s the mothers who probably do the most to enforce and propagate women’s subjugation. Was this something you thought about as you crafted this piece of your world?

Yes, it’s so difficult to pass the Bechdel Test even when you’re really trying! That’s something I thought about a lot, and it’s also something that’s a recurring theme in Russian literature—the oppression of oppressed people by other oppressed people, and particularly the oppression of women by other women. I wanted to explore that thought, and in particular explore the possibility that maybe women’s good qualities, such as the ability to love unselfishly someone different from yourself, like, say, men, could lead to the oppression of other women.

Q: As a reader I never came across a depiction of your gender reversals where I thought, “oh, that was a slip-up where she failed to flip the power dynamics.” Can you give us an example of one of the difficulties you encountered in making this swap, or alternatively, an example of something you wish you had done better?

Glad to hear that! I did struggle a lot with the gendered nature of language, especially since I was writing in English but trying to think as much as possible in Russian, which is an even more gendered language than English. I had to go back and fix a lot of places where I had made the default for “human” as male, and change that to female, and then reconcile myself to the fact that it looked “weird” to me.

Something that was much more difficult, though, was trying to make the male characters. I wanted them to be recognizably masculine/male, but with some of the negative personality traits that we associate with women but that are the result of being second-class citizens. And I wanted to make the male characters who were unhappy with their assigned roles both sympathetic and stridently silly, kind of like how early (and modern) feminists are often depicted. That turned out to be super-difficult, and I’m only sort of satisfied with how it turned out, but since we don’t really have any role models for me to work from, it’s hard to say how well I did. I also wanted to make my male characters complex and sympathetic, and wouldn’t you know it, that’s actually quite easy to do—but it just sucks you right back into a male-centered worldview. Our default is that men, especially men with problems that make them act out and misbehave, are worthy of our sympathy and understanding, but women are evil, even women with problems that make it difficult for them to be selfless and kind, so I kept falling into the “poor man, mistreated by the mean women” trap and having to claw my way out of it.

I also tried to think seriously about how men would really be treated in a matriarchal, female-dominated society, and how that would differ from how women are treated in a patriarchal, male-dominated society. I decided that they would probably be restricted and infantilized, and their opinions discounted, but there would be much less overt violence and hatred aimed at them. So most of the violence and mistreatment that the men face in my society is something they do to themselves. My depictions of it are heavily based on Russian/Soviet military and prison camp writing, which takes a good hard look at male-on-male violence and blames a lot of the abuse that occurs in these all-male institutions on the fact that they are all-male.

Which brings us to a great big elephant in the room for a lot of contemporary Western gender theory, at least as far as I can tell, which is the problem of male violence and the worrisome probability that men really are just much more prone to physical violence, as well as hierarchical forms of government (Putin’s infamous “vertical of power,” for instance). So my women do have very real and pressing reasons to police their men’s behavior and restrict their access to power, since all the male-run societies they see around them are incredibly dangerous and hostile, especially to women. How to integrate men into society as full citizens and give them access to power is something my characters wrestle with throughout the series, because it’s something they attach increasing importance to, but they are not blind to the dangers.

Q: Slava’s powers are centered around an impulse toward mercy rather than violence. What inspired you to explore this theme in your work?

Slava’s focus on mercy was part of my attempt to reverse gendered valuations of behavior. I wanted to create a hero whose heroism was in her unselfish, selfless behavior—a very “female” hero, especially in the Russian tradition, which values female mercy highly. I was particularly thinking of Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita as I wrote it. I wanted to show mercy as a positive trait, but at the same time examine how you need some backbone as well in order for it to have meaning. Slava has to learn how to stand up for herself and take what is rightfully hers—to “act like a man”—while still retaining the mercy that is at the core of her nature.

Q: Slava’s adventures take her from the intrigue-filled halls of her sister’s palace to encounters with bandits, malevolent and benign tree and animal spirits, pagan gods, and the forces of nature, and back to palace intrigue. What can we expect in The Breathing Sea?

The Breathing Sea, the next installment in the series, as well as The Dreaming Land, the last part, which is still in the editing and revision phase, all follow there-and-back-again narrative arcs in which the central heroine leaves Krasnograd (“Beautiful City”), has adventures in the wilderness, and comes back to the city a changed woman, better able to occupy her place in the difficult world of high-court intrigue that she must navigate whether she wishes it or not. The difference is in the heroines, who are all distinct characters, in the seasons, and in the magic. The Breathing Sea begins in spring and ends at midsummer and follows a teenage girl who must learn how to control her magical gifts, which are much stronger than Slava’s. The Dreaming Land follows a headstrong warrior princess who has to learn how to put down her sword and cultivate the mercy in her heart, and begins in midsummer and ends in autumn, thus completing the cycle (The Midnight Land begins in early winter).

I suppose the biggest development in The Breathing Sea, other than the continuing development of the series-long plot arc, is its heavier focus on magic. Dasha, the heroine in The Breathing Sea, has out-of-control magical gifts which she spends a lot of time working to master. There is also a greater focus on human-animal relationships and what we would now call ecology and environmentalism. Although gender relations still play a major role, I move somewhat away from that to contemplating human interactions with non-human beings and the natural environment.

Q: You allude to some troublemaking foreign influences in The Midnight Land, both in the capital and out in the provinces. Do these forces play a role in The Breathing Sea?

Yes, those troublesome foreign influences play a major role in The Breathing Sea! That’s another difference between it and The Midnight LandTBS is less insular and more international, with several non-Zemnian major characters. I actually went back and added in hints to future developments in The Midnight Land after I had finished the later books in the series. Again, I try to reverse Western expectations and present things from a Zemnian (read: “Russian”) point of view, although Zem is only loosely related to the real Russia, especially in the foreign policy realm—it’s much more benevolent than the real Russia (Zemnians would say that’s because Russian women let their men get out of hand and apply their militaristic values to the entire society).

One thing that comes up as a major theme in both The Breathing Sea and The Dreaming Land in relation to troublesome outside influences is the issue of slavery and freedom. Our English/Western word “slave” comes from “Slav,” and Eastern Europe has historically been a center of slavery, both within its borders and as an exporter of slaves to other, more affluent regions. This is still the case, in fact: for example, while it’s hard to track exact numbers of sex trafficking victims, the largest number of them seem to be from Russia and Ukraine. So in the later books the Zemnians find themselves in a fight against slave trafficking even as they live in an unequal and exploitative society that forces people to turn to slavery as the best out of a set of bad options, just like in the real Eastern Europe.

Q: What’s next for EP Clark?

What’s next? Well, I’m working on getting The Dreaming Land, the final part of the series, out by next year. Then I also have some other projects in the pipeline, one a series of short (I bet you weren’t expecting that!) stories set in an alternative Renaissance Florence, and another that I suspect may turn into another epic fantasy series, this time about dragons. I’m still mulling that one over in my mind, but it’s starting to come together and I’m hoping to be able to begin writing a first draft as soon as I finish revising The Dreaming Land.


Fight Like a YA Girl Book Tag

Wow! Tremendous thanks to Cassiopeia’s Moon for including Vic and A WIZARD’S FORGE in her “Fight Like a YA Girl” list. We’re very honored.

A Very Fantasy Corner of Books

Be prepared for a lot of tips on strong female leads…

So I was not tagged by The Book Prophet to match YA girls to some descriptions, but I saw her do it and really want to do it. I just really hope I’ve read enough YA to have enough characters… Tend to read everything from children’s fantasy to adult fantasy so it might be a challenge. Let’s see how it goes!

  • Thank the person who tagged you
  • Mention the creator Krysti at YA and Wine
  • Match at least one YA girl with each of the themes below
  • Tag as many people as you’d like!

It is so important for everyone to see examples of strong women in books, television, and movies. There are so many ways in which women exhibit strength, so this tag is meant to be a celebration of some those strengths.

Warrior Girls

Raisa ana’

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How to Make a Clichéd High Fantasy Cover

Nicola at Thoughts on Fantasy puts together an absolutely brilliant instruction manual on how to make a cliched fantasy book cover. #Designtip!

Thoughts on Fantasy

I’m not averse to a few fantasy clichés on a book cover – they let me know at a glance that I’m looking at a fantasy fiction novel, and can be nice if used in creative or appealing ways. As with all clichés, however, they become eye-roll-worthy when used en masse, i.e. when several standard tropes are all packed into the one artwork. If a book tries to cover too many bases, it can start to look a little silly.

I’ve encountered a few covers that take it a bit far, but I thought it’d be amusing to go even further, and have a bit of fun with the tropes of my favourite genre… so here is my recipe for a no-holds-barred, all-boxes-ticked, epic high fantasy book cover (accompanied by examples from the most clichéd design I can muster). I’m no graphic designer, but I imagine that will add a…

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Victory Takes Center Stage–a Guest Post by J.L. Gribble

About a year ago, I met a young author named J.L. Gribble who reminded me so much of myself I began calling her my Internet doppelganger. After an exchange of books and author interviews, we became friends, and I was thrilled to be asked to host J.L. here on my blog.

The Steel Empires series features a vampire named Victory who doesn’t sparkle and can be violent and voracious when the need arises, but who also loves her adopted human family deeply and will do anything to protect them. Victory is a consummate warrior, an astute politician, and a patient and loving mom. She’s my favorite character in the series, so I’m really excited about the release of Steel Blood. In this third novel in the Steel Empire series, Victory faces a whole new load of problems involving political intrigue, imminent danger, and wayward young people. What’s a fanged mother to do?

I also love the world J.L. created for this series, an urban fantasy/alternate history in which Rome and Britain are the world’s two superpowers and in which humans, vampires, werecreatures of all sorts, and elves live openly (though not necessarily harmoniously) in the independent city-state of Limani. The Steel Empires series opens upon the stirrings of a new conflict within this world, but I was intensely curious about the fascinating alternate history we glimpse throughout the narrative. Therefore I asked J.L. to write something about her inspirations and the backstory behind the founding of Limani.

History of Limani

by J.L. Gribble

When I asked my friend and author A.M. Justice whether I could stop by her home on the internet as part of the blog tour for my latest novel, I told her that I was open to write about pretty much anything. She quickly returned with a request for a very specific topic: How the home city in my alternate history world came to be.

Trust me, I wish I could respond with something as amazing as “spaceships,” as in A.M.’s excellent fantasy novel A Wizard’s Forge. Alas, my fantasy series is rooted much more in the, well, fantastical. In a world that has evolved where the common person has always known and coexisted with the supernatural, historical evolution has taken some wacky turns while still staying very much familiar to what we know in our own world.

The independent city-state of Limani, home to the main characters of my series, started life as Greek colony. The alliance of Greek city-states in Europa joined in the rush to settle the “New Continent,” managing to establish a foothold along the coastline near a major bay along the middle of the eastern coastline. They snagged space between the British colonies to the north and the newly claimed Roman territories to the south.

But while the British settlements were funded by second and third children of the werewolf nobility, and the massive Roman plantations were supported by corporations led by wealthy Roman vampire lines, the Greek colonists embodied the nature of their origins. These disparate colonists, from multiple Greek cities, maintained the ideals of equality and democracy that linked their alliance back in Europa. The major factor in their favor was that a larger proportion than expected of the original group of colonists consisted of mages from every elemental faction. These were mages schooled in the Greek magical academies held in esteem throughout Europa, looking for adventure and new beginnings.

And it was what saved Limani, in the end.

Bolstered by resources pouring in from their new territories in the New Continent, the Roman Empire set its sights on expansion at home once again. In a few short years, the last Greek city-states that had existed for thousands of years finally fell. Some fought for their independence to the bitter end and ended up in ruins, while others saw the writing on the wall and signed treaties with Roma that would ensure certain freedoms for their people.

Suddenly cut off from all support from home, as the city-states suddenly had bigger issues to worry about, Limani almost failed as a colony. But the mages, already spread throughout the colony and trying to establish lives for themselves, helped to keep the farms growing food and the small manufactories creating goods needed for the survival of their city. Those who were more combat-inclined helped the colony defend itself from incursions from the north and south. But every time the British and Roman settlements in the New Continent thought they smelled blood in the water, Limani proved itself more than willing to depend its staunch independence.

Later, the British and Romans established Limani as a neutral zone between their lands. Once it heard the news, Limani kind of shrugged and kept going about its day. It had better things to do than play politics with great powers across the ocean. By now, it already had trade deals with the nearby Romans and British and was as self-sufficient as possible.

It might have been easy for the mages to say, “Hey, we kept this city running. We should be in charge.” But Limani never forgot its roots, keeping to the ideals of democracy and fair representation. Over the years, a family of werewolves showed up and sought sanctuary from their noble families who’d disapproved of a marriage made for love. Other werecreatures drifted in, found a society where they weren’t automatically second-class citizens under the wolves, and made themselves at home.

Two vampires moved in one day. One of them started a bar. The other announced plans to found a university. Limani tolerated its eccentric immortals, until they chased off another pair of vampires who killed in the city with abandon. Then Limani heaved a sigh of relief when one of the vampires finally acknowledged that she was the Master of the City. They gave her a seat on the city council with a partial vote, like the werewolf alpha and representatives of the other werecreatures.

Elves had lived in the city since shortly after its founding, but more moved in once it had a functioning university, mage school, and Mercenary Guildhall—three of the modern hallmarks of civilization. Though short a Qin weredragon, Limani was now a microcosm of the greater world. Even surrounded by empires, the city existed as a quiet power in its own right.

The city is certainly not without its share of drama. At one point, the werepanthers fought for equal representation with the werewolves on the city council. Later, a new Roman emperor thought he could march in and take over the city (see Steel Empires Book 1: Steel Victory). The city more than proved him wrong. But overall, it’s been a quiet town on a river, with opportunities for education and occupation. Limani would be happy to welcome you home.

Steel-Blood-Jacket.inddThough the vampire Master of the City leaves Limani for a short time in Steel Empires Book 3: Steel Blood, she’ll never forget her adopted home! About the book:

As her children begin lives of their own, Victory struggles with the loneliness of an empty nest. Just when the city of Limani could not seem smaller, an old friend requests that she come out of retirement for one final mercenary contract—to bodyguard his granddaughter, a princess of the Qin Empire.

For the first time in a century, the Qin and British Empires are reopening diplomatic relations. Alongside the British delegation, Victory and her daywalker Mikelos arrive in the Qin colony city of Jiang Yi Yue. As the Qin weredragons and British werewolves take careful steps toward a lasting peace between their people, a connection between the Qin princess and a British nobleman throw everyone’s plans in disarray.

Meanwhile, a third faction stalks the city under the cover of darkness.

This is not a typical romance. It’s a good thing Victory is not a typical vampire.

Buy links:

Amazon: http://amzn.to/2pPShZH
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/steel-blood-jl-gribble/1126268372
From the publisher: http://rawdogscreaming.com/books/steel-blood/


About the author:

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).

News from the Front Lines, or Where Have I Been the Past Month?

How is it that a month has passed since my last blog! Well, I’ve been busy putting A Wizard’s Forge in book shows, picking up an award medal, and doing a partial preview release of A Wizard’s Sacrifice on RoyalRoad. Take a walk backward through my calendar of the past several weeks.


I just got back from chaperoning my daughter’s fifth grade senior trip to Gettysburg, PA, site of the largest battle in the U.S. Civil War. The kids had the time of their lives (my daughter reports it was “one of” the highlights of her life). Not only did the kids enjoy staying overnight in a hotel (four to a room–one great big slumber party and one stalwart vice principal who roamed the hallways all night to put the kibosh on noisy horseplay), we slipped some educational activities in too, at the exhibits at the National Military Park Visitor Center, a guided battlefield tour where I peppered the guide with questions about artillery (a fascination of mine), a walk through the National Cemetery where Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, a visit to Dwight and Mamie Eisenhowers’ farm, and my favorite, the Seminary Ridge Museum, complete with life-size dioramas depicting field amputations (I love a good gory wax museum, don’t you?). The kids in our group received battlefield training from both the docents at the Seminary Ridge and our battlefield tourguide.


A Union canon


Brooklyn fifth graders visiting monument to the 14th Brooklyn Regiment.


A bunch of Yankee kids prepare to reenact Confederate General Pickett’s Charge while teachers and chaperones nervously await the onslaught near the Union cannons.

I gleaned some background knowledge that will come in handy for my work on A Wizard’s Sacrifice, which contains some massive battles. Knownearth artillery is medieval–catapults, trebuchets, and ballistae–but it’s still good to learn how the tools of death were employed in real-life battles.


IMG_5254The New York BookExpo and BookCon runs for 4 days and is the largest book fair in the U.S. A Wizard’s Forge appeared on the BookLife shelf through the Combined Book Exhibit. I put Forge in the show hoping it’d catch some attention (especially with it’s shiny Finalist sticker–see below!), although I had some concerns it’d be lost in the sea of books. It almost certainly was, especially since the Combined Book Exhibit organizers put it on a low shelf (authors have no say in books’ placement). Still, I had a good time touring the exhibit hall, chatting with folks from Ingram Spark (my ebook distributor), networking at a publicity firm, and listening to some of the presentations, including a great one sponsored by Tor focusing on women science fiction authors. I also saw this awesome display for an upcoming Spinal Tap book (which I have already preordered for my husband–shhhhh, it’s a surprise!)IMG_5255

Next Generation Indie Book Awards Ceremony


The first week in May I received an exciting email: A Wizard’s Forge had been chosen as a finalist in the 2017 NGIBAs! I entered it into the fantasy and science fiction categories, and it made the cut in the science fiction group–I love it when Forge is recognized for its science fiction elements.

June2017_0AWFListingPageA listing for Forge also appeared in Locus magazine, the editors of which correctly identified its genre as science fantasy. This tiny little blurb was almost as exciting as the award, since Locus is the bible of speculative fiction. Fingers are crossed that somebody sees it and thinks, hey, that sounds cool. Maybe I’ll order some copies for my bookstore!

Work on A Wizard’s Sacrifice

AWSCoverRR.v1Several author friends in the Science Fantasy society are regular users of RoyalRoad, a free-read website authors use to build fanbases. In order to motivate myself to finish A Wizard’s Sacrifice, the sequel to A Wizard’s Forge, I decided to put the draft version of the book up on RoyalRoad and to treat readers’ reactions as a kind of virtual focus group/collective beta read (and frankly I’m hoping some RR readers will be motivated to buy a copy of Forge). You can find the first fourteen chapters there now, with more to come. I hope you’ll stop by and tell me what you think (I really want to know!).


The Other Stuff Keeping Me Busy

In the midst of all these goings-on, I had a birthday, saw Wonder Woman and loved it (check out Locus Mag’s review), went on a stargazing weekend with my husband and tried out our new Schmidt Cassagrain telescope, found out my award-winning short story has been up on the Writers Digest website since March(!), and started an exciting, high-profile/high-pressure day job assignment.

Coming up I have my daughter’s birthday party, my husband’s birthday, other family events, and…well, there’s a lot more work in the trenches.

Why I Marched in DC, Again

Back in January I drove from Brooklyn to Washington, DC, with my daughter for the Women’s March. As I described previously, there were a host of reasons why I made the 6-hour drive down, but the importance of science for the future of humanity was certainly among them. Sadly, the Trump Administration has proved itself as much the enemy of science as a foe of women’s equality. The President’s funding and staffing priorities are strong evidence that Mr. Trump believes curtailing scientific research is to his benefit.

So, two weeks ago, my daughter and I drove down to DC again to meet up with friends and add our voices to the hundreds of thousands marching in protest of the Administration’s policies.  It rained that Saturday, and we spent a cold, soggy morning waiting in line to get into the rally, then taking shelter in the Kids Place tent where our children made bracelets that changed color when exposed to ultraviolet light (sunlight works best!) and tested different substances for the presence of iodine. The gee-whiz factor worked its magic, but the rain was relentless, and we left the rally to seek refuge in another place of science, the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum.

IMG_5079Admission to the Smithsonian museums is free to all–a true wonder to this New Yorker who maintains a membership in the Museum of Natural History merely so we can bypass the line and get discounts on special exhibit admission, and who is used to paying the “suggested” admission price of $20 when I visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (To be fair, the Met admission is a donation, and you can pay as little as you want so long as you can bear the ticket sellers’ derision.) As we entered Air and Space, I wondered how long admission would stay free in the present climate in which military spending is ratcheted up while funding for education and research dwindle. True, a lot of the Air and Space exhibits are devoted to war machines, and even the Apollo spacecrafts were birthed from Cold War conflict, but I still couldn’t help think what a poor business man Mr. Trump actually is, that he would prioritize the short-term profits of the military-industrial complex over the long-term gains of investing in the future of this nation by supporting public education and scientific research. If only the wealthy have access to a quality education, and economic policies concentrate wealth in a shrinking portion of the populace so that fewer and fewer people can gain the education needed to conduct science, then we won’t have the human resources we need to navigate our way through the crises looming on the horizon.

GilaBasic research often doesn’t have an immediately apparent value, but scientific knowledge is incremental, and minute discoveries in one field often have a butterfly effect and can lead to major innovations decades later. (The 1980s PBS series Connections, as well as both the Carl Sagan and Neil Degrasse Tyson editions of Cosmos beautifully describe these linkages.) An example from my direct experience is exendin-4, a protein found in Gila monster venom that was developed into the first glucagon-like peptide 1 receptor agonist, a type of diabetes medication that helps reduce weight and blood pressure as well as blood sugar. I don’t know the exact progression from southwestern lizard biologist to Walgreen’s pharmacist, but it’s a good bet the biologist didn’t set out to find a diabetes medication when he or she started analyzing the composition of lizard venom.


Thirteen reasons why climate change is important: Dancewave Young Movers Ensemble, April 29, 2017

Because my daughter had a dance performance, we didn’t join the climate change march on April 29, but climate change is the biggest threat humans face, whether we choose to believe it or not. For those who said “no” to the New York Times poll about whether climate change will affect them personally, I’d point to the Middle East refugee crisis and the rise of ISIS, to the increase in tornadoes in the Midwest, longer and more severe hurricane seasons in the Gulf and Eastern Seaboard, and the droughts in the Southwest and California, not to mention the flipside flooding and mudslides experienced by Californians this year. Bee colonies are collapsing, corals are dying, and Zika- and West Nile–carrying mosquitoes are infiltrating farther north each season. Plus sea levels are rising, so coastal property owners would do well to consider the long-term value of a home that might be good only for housing boats in ten or twenty years. (I joke about how the Prospect Expressway, which is a sunken highway running past my front windows, will one day be like the Grand Canal in Venice. It’s not really that funny, because it may well become true.)

IMG_5092What’s the value of all these protest marches? Well, the budget deal wrought in Congress over the weekend preserved funding for the NIH and some other important science-based programs. Environmental regulations are still in severe jeopardy, but incremental progress is still progress. We’ll have to do this one rain-soaked step at a time.