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.

 

Advertisements

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.

 

Speculative Fiction Cantina Podcast

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

Parallel Paths—an Interview with Author JL Gribble

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Gribble photo color

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

AMJ: What were your first fanfic pieces based on?

Gribble photo color

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

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

Gribble photo color

 

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

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

Gribble photo color

 

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

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

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

AMJ: So you made Victory a mom.

Gribble photo color

 

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

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

Gribble photo color

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

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

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

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

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

Gribble photo color

 

JLG: I’m totally stealing that. 😉

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

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

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

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

Gribble photo color

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gribble photo color

 

JLG: Thank you so much!

JL Gribble Bio

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

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

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

SteelVictoryARC_cov.indd

Click to find it on Amazon

_Steel Magic-Jacket.indd

Click to find it on Amazon