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!

Rules:
  • 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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The Epic World of Knownearth by A.M. Justice

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

Our Epic Worlds

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Scholar. Slave. Warrior. Wizard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AMJ: What was the fan fiction piece about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AMJ: Tell us about your next book.

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

Featured #SciFan Author:

Science fantasy is a genre that blends science fiction and fantasy, just like A Wizard’s Forge. And today I’m a featured author on SciFan.org.

SciFan™ Magazine

P1010396.smaller.jpegSciFan author A.M. Justice dabbles in Tango, star gazing, and scuba diving… but first and foremost, she’s a traveler. She loves to explore: whether it’s the park near her home, a unique neighborhood, a new country, or the frontiers of the mind. She’s been imagining strange worlds and the people in them since high school, and she’s particularly loved Science Fantasy since reading Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series and discovering that a world where people ride dragons and use medieval tech could have a scientific explanation for all its wonders.
In A Wizard’s Forge, the first book of The Woern Saga, Justice follows in McCaffrey’s footsteps by setting a classic fantasy hero’s journey on a lost space colony called Knownearth. The humans of this world descended from the marooned crew of a spacefaring mining vessel.a_wizards_forge_cover_smallerfilesize Time and lack of resources have eroded advanced technology, and after thousands of years human society…

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The Wisdom of Opposites: a Review of The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin

lohdcoverIn 1970, Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness won the Hugo Award, the first book written by a woman to do so. LeGuin is my literary idol, and every few years I reread at least one her novels. I had last read Darkness as a teenager in the 1980s. I didn’t understand it then, and before the reread I couldn’t remember what happens except that it features a hermaphroditic race of humans. I also vaguely knew (or assumed) that Darkness inspired “The Outcast,” an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation that aired in 1992 that features a similar nongendered species. So I began my reread as if I’d never looked at anything more detailed than the Cliff’s Notes summaries that appear in every LeGuin biography. This time around, I found Darkness to be a compelling masterpiece that examines how binary opposites create unity within and between individuals and societies. It’s also a resonant read that, nearly 50 years after it was written, remains highly relevant today.

Darkness takes place on the planet Gethen, which is populated by people who exist in a nongendered state except during “kemmer,” a period lasting about a week out of each month, when they develop either male or female reproductive organs so they can mate. A Gethenian might be female during one kemmer and male in another, and any given individual might have sired some children and borne others. The novel’s primary protagonist, Genly Ai, a cis-gendered male visitor from Earth, observes that because all individuals can experience childbirth, everyone is sensitive to the risks and rigors of child bearing. Birth control and sexual promiscuity are well accepted in society, but life-long monogamy is equally common. Finally, because there are no permanent genders, there is no gendered division of labor.

Genly is an emissary of the Ekumen, a loose federation of planets that forms the backdrop of most of LeGuin’s science fiction novels, and his mission is to convince Gethen’s rulers to join the federation. Prior to Genly’s arrival, Gethenians thought themselves alone in the universe, and because Terrans (aka, Earthlings) and Gethenians superficially resemble each other, many Gethenians think Genly is a fraud. Others believe in Genly’s off-world origin but view the Ekumenical invitation as a threat rather than an opportunity. One exception is Therem, the prime minister of the nation of Karhide and the novel’s secondary protagonist. Therem’s support for Genly’s mission turns the political winds against him, and he flees under threat of death to Orgoreyn, a rival country. Meanwhile, Karhide’s ruler rebuffs Genly’s proposed alliance with the Ekumen. Believing this diplomatic failure is the result of Therem’s machinations, Genly travels to Orgoreyn to try his luck there. At first, he is warmly received but then imprisoned. Therem undertakes a daring rescue, and the pair escape back to Karhide, traveling across a vast frozen wasteland on foot. Along the way, Genly learns to trust Therem, and the two develop a strong bond of friendship and love.

Like all LeGuin’s fiction, Left Hand of Darkness is beautifully written and offers a deeply sympathetic portrait of its protagonists. The plot is a slow burn, and the story didn’t really grab me until I was about a quarter of the way in. The storytelling, however, is brilliant, and the theme of duality is explored on every level. The backdrop involves a pair of rival nations with diametrically opposed systems of government: Karhide is a monarchy with titled nobility (Therem goes by the title “Estraven” and is a sort of baron), and Orgoreyn is an authoritarian collective. Karhide’s monarch and nobility make all public policy decisions, while the common people live beneath them in a free-wheeling society. In contrast, Orgoreyn was founded upon egalitarian ideals, but a vast bureaucracy and secret police keep iron control over people’s day-to-day lives. The landscape is a portrait of opposites as well. Gethen is in the midst of an ice age, and there is a constant opposition of cold and warmth in the novel. In their flight from Orgoreyn, Genly and Therem pass through an area of heavy volcanic activity at the edge of a glacier, where the clash between ice and fire almost derails their escape.

The opposing narratives of Genly and Therem form the core of the story. Each tells his tale in first person, although Therem’s narrative consists of diary entries while Genly’s story is a traditional, first-person point of view, as if he were recounting it later (in other words, there’s an opposition between written and oral forms of storytelling). Genly is young, peaceable, and guileless, but also arrogant, impatient, and physically larger and stronger than the Gethenians. Therem is middle aged and wily, but also wise, disciplined, and graceful. During the pair’s long journey across a continent-wide glacier, Therem enters a sexual cycle and manifests as female, highlighting his status as Genly’s “opposite” as well as his partner.

Some critics have faulted LeGuin for presenting a binary view of human sexuality rather than a broader framework that leaves room for trans individuals. However, Therem’s manifestation of female traits is integral to the book’s theme and Genly’s character growth. Genly is a courageous and sympathetic protagonist, but he is also a misogynist who dislikes working with women and believes they are conniving and weak, and who expresses fear about seeing and acknowledging “female” traits in the Gethenians. LeGuin consistently uses male pronouns (he, him, his) and referents (e.g., all offspring are “sons”), solidifying Genly’s worldview, where males represent the norm and females the “other.” As a reader, I found the book’s misogyny shocking and off-putting, but after thinking about it, I realized that the viewpoint is not LeGuin’s, but Genly’s. In fact, the novel turns on Genly’s misogyny. It is the reason his mission initially fails, and overcoming it will be the key to his success.

As a writer, I’m in awe of LeGuin’s technical mastery in how she worked the binary theme into every layer of the novel. The lynchpin comes when overcast skies and a smooth glacial plain create an area of diffuse light without shadows. Traveling through this white void, Genly struggles against despair caused by an inability to gauge progress without a reference point. In response, Therem quotes a Gethenian poem:

Light is the left hand of darkness

And darkness the right hand of light

Two are one, life and death, lying

Together like lovers in kemmer

Like hands joined together

Like the end and the way

Through the journey, as Genly learns to trust, like, and (platonically) love Therem, he not only overcomes his fear and dislike of the “female,” but recognizes how male and female represent two equally necessary halves of a whole. The coin has two sides, and doesn’t exist without both. His worldview expands, and as a result he becomes a better person and diplomat when he resumes his mission for the Ekumen in Karhide.

I reread Left Hand of Darkness in September and October, but didn’t feel an urgency to review it until after the US election. For the past week, I’ve been sad, fearful, and furious, and searching for some way to channel my feelings into something positive. Writing this, I am struck by the message that opposition creates unity, and that to move forward, we have to listen and learn from those not like us. We also have to look for the shadows, because it will be the darkness that will guide us forward.

A Wizard’s Forge Review

Wow! Thanks Meagan Ashley for this lovely review of A Wizard’s Forge..

Echoes of a Firebird

13020595_10153816100656144_131136232_nWhere has this book been all of my life??

I have never read anything like it before. So this book is about a girl named Victoria (Vic) and it takes place in the future of our own real world (takes a good while to figure this out). They are existing on some world far away from ours. Some don’t even believe the stories of a space ship of humans landing on their world after leaving their own, and think the people that do believe it (Vic) are heretics and loons. Anyways, Vic is living her life, minding her own business and she is kidnapped along with other younger adults like herself to be sold into slavery: Miners, workers and in her case, a Trainer Mistress. This means she wakes up with jewel encrusted bands around her arms, ankles and a belt around her waist and that’s it. The man who…

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Review: A Wizard’s Forge by A.M. Justice (no spoilers)

Thank you Joana Duarte for this wonderful review of A Wizard’s Forge, and giving me another review to add to my favorite reviews page on my website.

Bookneeders

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A Wizard’s Forge by A.M. Justice

Published by Wise Ink Creative Publishing

Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult, Fiction

Pages: 326

Format: Ebook

My Rating: 1464306995_star_full1464306995_star_full1464306995_star_full1464306995_star_full1464306995_star_full

Scholar. Slave. Warrior. Wizard.

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

As the Blade, Vic gains glory raiding her enemy’s forces, but the ordeal in his tower haunts her. Bitter memories keep her from returning the love of the kindhearted Prince Ashel, whose family has fended off the tyrant’s invading army for a generation. When enemy soldiers capture Ashel, Vic embarks on…

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Interview with Author A.M. Justice

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

The Genre Minx Book Reviews

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

Author A.M. Justice

A Conversation with A.M. Justice

Q. Tell us a little about yourself?

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

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

Growing up, I couldn’t decide whether I…

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

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

J.L. Gribble Online

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

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


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

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