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.

Gettysburg

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.

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A Union canon

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

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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.

BookExpo

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.

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.

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?

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!

A Deep Dive into A Wizard’s Forge

Last week author Jane LaForge interviewed me about A Wizard’s Forge. Jane’s debut novel, The Unsuitable Princess, is a beautifully written blend of memoir and fantasy that speaks to the power of love and loyalty to bring redemption (you can read my review here).

Jane has worked as a journalist and a literature professor, and she posed deeply incisive questions that uncovered some things I, as the author of A Wizard’s Forge, didn’t know about it. That’s exciting, and I had a great time answering her questions.

Leaps of Faith: World Building, Religious Disquisition and Science Fiction

An Interview with A.M. Justice by Jane LaForge

A Wizard’s Forge by A.M. Justice is primarily an exercise in fantasy that presents challenges that might occupy literary purists. Aside from the nods to science fiction, fairytales and fantastical world building, this story of a young woman’s many transformations deals with what could be said to be a contemporary problem. The inhabitants of Knownearth are divided between two religions based on the same founding text. Heretical to each other, they are engaged in both a long war of attrition and a cultural battle that ensnares the protagonist. The mix makes for an  intriguing disquisition on the consequences of religious and irreligious practices, and a prescient discussion on the fear of the unknown, and what happens when that unknown accumulates too much power….

Read the interview here.

Spoiler Alert! The Unpublished Epilogue to A Wizard’s Forge

13020595_10153816100656144_131136232_nI read all my reviews. I cringe at the bad ones (I’ve received some doozies!) and rejoice in the good ones. I also occasionally respond to issues reviewers bring up, such as questions about the worldbuilding in Knownearth or about Vic’s difficulties overcoming past trauma.

Today I’m responding to another frequently mentioned topic: the so-called cliffhanger ending of A Wizard’s Forge. Every time a reviewer refers to the end as a cliffhanger, I think, “Huh? It’s not a cliffhanger!” In fact, I meant for AWF to stand on its own, and when I wrote the end, I thought the outcome was pretty clear. Nevertheless, as writers we’re taught that if a lot of people make the same comment about your work, maybe you didn’t achieve your vision the way you thought. And after thinking about it, I can see how people might think Vic’s immediate fate is in question.

So, as a thank you to the many book bloggers and readers who have taken the time to review AWF, I’m posting the book’s epilogue here. My editor and I decided to cut this denouement because we wanted to end the novel with that kickass last line. But for those of you hungry to know what happens next, here’s a tidbit.

 

SPOILER ALERT. IF YOU HAVEN’T READ A WIZARD’S FORGE AND DON’T LIKE KNOWING THE END OF THINGS, STOP READING THIS NOW AND READ THE BOOK INSTEAD (here’s where you can buy it). THEN COME BACK HERE AND READ THIS IF YOU WANT MORE

 

 

Unpublished Epilogue to A Wizard’s Forge

mt-olm

Bethniel watched the darkened entrance to Lordhome, her fists clenched at her sides, her heart fluttering unevenly in her chest. Everyone had fled when Vic shot through the ceiling, triumph and defeat forgotten in the shower of stone. After that, terror and need imposed a truce among the people pouring out of Lordhome. Drak’s and Carl’s squads repelled out of high windows, then stood below, catching children cast to safety by their parents. Bethniel ordered a team back into the kitchen to find tablecloths or tarps, and soon Relman and Lathan hands stretched catch-cloths taut between them.

The earth shook for long minutes while fugitives tumbled out of Vic’s fury and onlookers ran up from the lower valley. As newcomers gaped and survivors wailed, Relman officials conferred, splitting gestures between Bethniel and the road leading out of Lordhome. Drak and a knot of Lathan troopers surrounded her while the Relmans talked. “Keep your weapons sheathed,” she said, “until they start a fight or Vic comes out.” Drak nodded. A moment later, a pair of Relman officers broke away from their conference and pelted down the road.

They waited. Fathers hugged children; mothers comforted babies; friends wept in each other’s arms, mourning the missing, shivering in the night. Bethniel’s heart staggered through each beat. She had little hope that Ashel lived, but she would not grieve, not yet. Please let Vic find him, she prayed. Let my sister find my brother, and let them both be well.

At last the tremors stopped. Everyone froze, eyes fixed on the gaping hole in their mountain home. A child’s whimper broke the silence, and another’s scream echoed off the courtyard walls. As parents hushed the children, a new party arrived at the gate. The Relman officials flocked round a ragged young man, bowing and kneeling. Ignoring them, he looked straight at Bethniel and inclined his head. Trepidation seized her bowels, but she straightened her shoulders and dipped her chin in return.

The young man started across the courtyard, officials in tow. Lathan hands seized weapons, ready to draw, but the Relman party halted as the young man offered a shallow bow. Dungeon stench flared Bethniel’s nostrils. “Your Highness,” he said, “I am Earnk Korng. These officers believe my father dead or captured.” He chortled grimly. “They they want my head before theirs in the line to the chopping block, so they’ve decided I should speak for Relm.”

Bethniel returned a cold gaze. “Do you surrender, my lord?”

He split a glance between several warleaders. “Olmlablaire is yours.”

Bethniel nodded curtly then turned toward the ruined stronghold, her fists beating against her thigh. Long minutes ticked by while the Relmans wept. At last four people stumbled out, covered in gray dust, pale as ghosts. A body floated behind them.

An anguished scream wailed up the rockface; gasps and warnings rippled through the crowd. The Relmans scrambled out of Vic’s path as she guided Geram through the rubble. Ashel followed, slumped over Wineyll’s shoulder. A blood-stained cloth covered his hand. Her breath stuck, Bethniel’s knees began to buckle, but she locked her legs straight and fought the swoon that had kept her from Latha’s throne. When Vic’s party reached her, her spine was stiff enough to slide under her brother’s arm and kiss his cheek.

He laughed softly, tugging her closer. “Sis. You cut your hair.”

“It’s all the rage in Direiellene.”

Vic dropped the Relmlord’s body face down in the snow.

“Is he dead?” Bethniel asked.

“No.” Vic’s gaze landed on Earnk, and they exchanged nods.  “Lornk Korng’s crimes extend beyond me, or Ashel, or anyone standing here. He’ll answer for them in Latha.” Anguish welling in her eyes, she sagged into Geram.

The war with Relm had lasted Bethniel’s lifetime. Now Lornk Korng lay at her feet, but she saw this triumph drown beneath the defeat writ on Vic’s face. Yet, her foster sister had lived up to her name—Victory was theirs. She pressed her cheek against Ashel’s shoulder, hugged him tight around the waist. Her brother lived; the war was won. “Well done,” Bethniel assured Vic. The war was won, but not yet the peace. “Now it’s my turn.”

Knownearth vs Earth: Another Look at the World of A Wizard’s Forge

wizard's forgePeople seem to have a lot of questions about the world where A Wizard’s Forge takes place, so I’ve been hitting this topic a lot lately. A few weeks ago, I traced Vic’s path through her world, and last week I wrote a post on AutumnWriting about Knownearth’s native inhabitants (humans are the aliens on that planet). Lots of additional details about  Vic’s world can always be found on the Explore and FAQ pages of my website. But you may still wonder, what are some of the similarities and differences between the earth we know and Knownearth, Vic’s home.

Most of these details are mentioned, or at least hinted at, in A Wizard’s Forge, but in case readers missed them, here we go:

1. How are Earth and Knownearth alike?

Knownearth and our earth are pretty similar in atmosphere, climate, and ecology. I designed the planet this way because human survival in a marginal environment was not a story I was interested in telling. I wanted to write a revenge narrative involving a young woman, her tormentor, and a long-standing feud between her nemesis and her adoptive family, and I wanted to keep the focus there, without the distraction of a daily battle for food, water, or breathable air. Some readers have asked, why not make the ocean yellow or give the planet a couple of moons or something to make it seem “different” from earth?  To live well, humans need lots of liquid potable water, an oxygen-rich atmosphere that doesn’t have a lot of toxic gases, and arable soil. Knownearth has these things in abundance, and life there has evolved along an evolutionary path similar to life on earth. Hence, the skies are blue (and so is the ocean, since large bodies of water reflect the color of the sky); most organisms get their energy through the Krebs Cycle,  and plants use chlorophyll for respiration, and so tend to be green or blue or red, just like here on earth.

2. How does Knownearth differ from Earth?

There is no moon. The only notable night sky object is Elesendar, which looks like a very bright star but is the empty hulk of the spacecraft that brought human settlers to the planet three thousand years before the events depicted in A Wizard’s Forge. As noted in the book, Elesendar passes overhead two to three times per night.

The planet rotates in the opposite direction from earth. The book contains numerous references to Knownearth’s sun rising in the west or setting in the east.

The diurnal cycle is roughly 40 earth hours, which readers can deduce from Vic’s thoughts about how long she has for her night missions. The original settlers kept the earth hour as their main unit of time measurement, and redesigned their clocks to accommodate a  40-hour day. By the time A Wizard’s Forge takes place, the human circadian cycle has adapted to this long day, but readers may notice reference to “morning tea” and other meals beside breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The people of Knownearth can easily stay awake for 35 hours straight and sleep for 15, but they still like to eat every four or five hours.

Metal is relatively rare. Iron and copper are particularly uncommon, and a bronze belt-cum-dagger has totemic significance in the book’s plot.

There are no indigenous mammals, but there are reptilian and insectoid creatures on land, and fishlike creatures in the sea, so it’s as if Knownearth never left its equivalent of the Permian period. Humans call the aquatic animals fish and the indigenous flying reptiles birds, but humans brought all the feathered fowl as well as cats, cows, and horses with them. There were dogs too, but the entire canine population had died off long before A Wizard’s Forge takes place.

3. Is A Wizard’s Forge science fiction or is it fantasy?

I’d say it’s both (you might even call it science fantasy), but readers will need to decide this question for themselves. Hardcore scifi readers may miss the tech–faster than light (FTL) space travel is alluded to, but in the 3000 years that have passed since Vic’s ancestors were marooned on Knownearth, postindustrial technology has all but disappeared, at least among the humans. Thus, people live in a vaguely medieval society without electricity or, in Knownearth’s poorer regions, indoor plumbing.

Fantasy readers, on the other hand, may miss a magic system that is the highlight of the book. Nevertheless, the cerrenils, Latha’s sacred trees, appear to have magical characteristics, and the power Vic gains at the end of the book is similar to a Jedi’s or an Aes Sedai’s in some respects. She’ll learn all about the source of her power, and how it connects to Knownearth’s sentient plants, in the next book, A Wizard’s Sacrifice. But that book won’t be all fantasy either–scifi lovers will get more intel on Vic’s ancestors as well as a glimpse of the technological revolution Knownearth will undergo before the third book in the series (A Wizard’s Legacy) begins.

More on Knownearth

themFans of A Wizard’s Forge and the world of Knownearth should check out my blog on the inspiration for the creatures appearing or mentioned in the book at Autumn B. Birt’s blog, AutumnWriting. There’s as much science fiction as fantasy in Vic’s world.

And for more information about Knownearth, don’t forget to check out my previous walk-through, or go explore it on my website.

A Walk Through Knownearth

A Wizard’s Forge is finally available!

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

AWF_map_v4

Line art by Steven Meyer-Rassow

tundra

Oreseeker steppes

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

 

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

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

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

cerrenil

A cerrenil

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

 

kragnash

Kragnash

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

 

relman-badlands-gc-sunset

Relman badlands

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

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

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

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