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.

 

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The Virtual Fantasy Con Is October 15-21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Guest Post

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

Realistic Fantasy

by Suzanna Linton

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

This is true. Up to a point.

Suspend Your Disbelief

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

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

And it’s freaking Tolkien.

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

What Should Be Real?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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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.

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.”

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.

 

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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.

Cover Story

Great covers are forged, not born.

 

A_Wizards_Forge_cover_Text_FINAL

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And it’s a collaborative process. I love the cover for A Wizard’s Forge (to be released September 19, 2016). Long ago, when I first imagined what the cover of this book would look like, I wanted the focal point to be Vic’s hair. I envisioned it flowing down her shoulders and twisting into the point of the totemic dagger that symbolizes her quest for vengeance. The novel, after all, chronicles Vic’s unlikely transformation from a bookish teenage girl to the most powerful and dangerous person on her planet. It also has some thematic roots in the Grimms’ “Rapunzel,” so the hair also has its own totemic symbolism.

The final cover is better than that, because it captures Vic’s grit, determination, and general bad-assery, as well as suggests her transformation isn’t easy. It’s hot and hard; it’s painful, and it’s going to leave scars.

In a technical brief on the design process published on Fstoppers, artist Steven Meyer-Rassow writes:

In the book, Vic is forged into life through both external and internal events, and the author and publisher were keen to use this idea of forging and bringing to life as the visual vehicle for the cover composition. We all agreed Vic should be poured into life somewhat similarly to molten metal or lava pouring out of a furnace and creating a fiery weapon.

revenge-tv-show-seriess-posterYep, that’s all true. We had several brainstorming discussions to arrive at this idea, however. First I told everyone my idea with the hair twisting into a dagger. We also talked about the world of Knownearth and my preferences for fantasy and scifi artwork. Initially, if the hair-to-dagger idea couldn’t be executed well, I wanted to go for a more abstract cover design with a single symbolic object on the front, similar to some of the Song of Ice and Fire covers. Some of the first spit-ballery images we used for brainstorming appear on one of Steve’s Pinterest pages, and we all became fixated on the poster art for the first season of ABC’s Revenge.

Because AWF is thematically structured according to the forging process (it’s divided into four parts: Ore, Smelt, Forge, and Temper), we arrived at the molten metal idea. After the first brainstorming session, Steve roughed out some sketches that involved Vic either sitting in a forge fire or being cast from molten metal. However, Patrick–my project manager at Wise Ink Creative Publishing–worried that this approach would make people think the book was about a male wizard creating women, like some sort of golem or Frankenstein’s Bride. The book is really about how Vic recasts herself–it’s her self-actualization. Then Patrick and his colleagues proposed the artwork capture the pouring into being concept as portrayed in the title sequence of Netflix’s Daredevil.

That idea inspired Steve to propose this piece of art as the inspiration for AWF‘s cover. After that, we were off to the races. As Steve describes, he sent out an online casting call, and we chose Michelle Duckett. I couldn’t have asked for a better model–Michelle perfectly captured Vic’s complexity, toughness, and vulnerability in that hunched, over-the-shoulder frown.

 

The final cover wouldn’t have come into being without this team effort. It’s so good I want hurry up and to finish AWF‘s sequel, just so I can work with this awesome team of people again, and see how the cover for A Wizard’s Sacrifice turns out.

The eBook of A Wizard’s Forge is available for pre-order on Amazon now, or if you’d like to purchase a signed copy of the physical book, please contact me through my website.

Crafting Back Cover Copy: Don’t Try It Alone

First of all, let’s clarify some terms. The text that appears on the back cover of a printed book and on any webpage offering the book for sale is not called a blurb, it’s called back cover copy or book description. A blurb is a quote from another author or celebrity touting the book. Blurbs also go on the cover (front or back, depending on the fame of the blurb source) and are awesome marketing tools (and anyone wishing to blurb my book, please contact me!), but after the cover art, the first taste of a book most readers see and attend to is the back cover copy. Thus, getting it right is essential.

When traditional publishers release a book, they rarely allow the author to write the novel’s back cover copy; usually someone in the marketing department crafts it. Back in the last century, when I trained for a career in publishing, we were taught that the person writing the back cover copy will frequently not have read the book—you can chalk up every misleading book description you’ve ever read to that practice. Despite the risk of inaccuracies, however, there’s value in having someone else write the book description. As authors we can be blinded by our own vision, where another person can see through the forest to the particular trees that will hook readers’ interest.

I recently went through this process with the back cover copy for my upcoming novel A Wizard’s Forge. As I’ve already described here, AWF is a reboot of a previously published novel, which had this description:

BladeofAmber_final_sized for SWScorned by her teenage peers, Victoria studies the ship’s logs of her spacefaring ancestors and dreams of other lands. She regrets her wish the day slavers arrive. Sold as a concubine to a cruel sovereign, Vic escapes and finds refuge with his enemies, among whom she learns the art of war. In time, she becomes the Blade, a soldier-assassin renowned for cunning and daring, and the woman who captures the heart of the charming Prince Ashel. When the sovereign who once owned her imprisons the prince who loves her, Vic undertakes a quest to rescue Ashel and wreak her vengeance. Along the way, she meets mysterious creatures who make a strange offer: drink the Waters of the Dead and become a wizard. As Vic’s powers manifest, she realizes she has been forged into a weapon—but for what purpose?

I worked and reworked that description over months, including running it past other writer friends and working hard to find the essence of the novel. I didn’t anticipate a substantial revision to this copy for AWF, but when I sent it into Wise Ink, my publishing partners for the rebooted novel, my project manager Patrick came back with this alternative suggestion:

Scholar. Slave. Warrior. Wizard.

Victoria of Ourtown has been a lot of things.

On a planet far from Earth, the descendants of marooned space travelers are fighting a decades-long war. Vic is dragged from her peaceful homeland and sold to a sadistic warlord who keeps her locked in a tower and naked. After months of psychological torture, she seizes an opportunity to escape—and uses her newfound freedom to join the fight against her former captor. As new powers manifest in Vic, she realizes she has been forged into a weapon—but for what purpose?

My eyes popped and heart raced when I read this, and my first reaction was denial—I couldn’t put that on the cover! You see, even though I wrote a novel about a woman seeking revenge for sexual and psychological abuse she endured as a teen, I’m pretty discomfited by the content of my own story, and I previously hid the details of the plot’s driving force behind the relatively genteel concubine. However, once I caught my breath and my heart rate slowed down, I decided to build from Patrick’s more provocative version. He had, after all, found the trees that would likely draw readers into my forest.

Patrick and I passed the description back and forth for several more rounds, getting input from writing and publishing colleagues. Altogether, the description went through half a dozen rounds of revision. I’m thrilled with the final product:

A_Wizards_Forge_cover_Text_FINALScholar. 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, end the war, and wreak the vengeance she craves, but she might also destroy her only chance for peace.

A Wizard’s Forge will be released September 19, 2016. I can’t wait, and I hope you’re as excited as I am.

Crime and Privilege

Like a lot of people, I’m outraged by the light sentence—essentially a slap on the hand and a shake of the finger—given to the Stanford student and swim team star who was convicted of three counts of sexual assault for raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, who received six months jail time plus probation from a judge who said a longer sentence would have a “severe impact on him.” Half a century ago, we might have expected this incident to be shrugged off as “boys will be boys.” The rape would have been just as wrong half a century ago, but more concern for the rapist’s welfare than the victim’s would have been normal fifty years ago. How sad it is that in the Twenty-first Century we’re still blaming victims for not being pure and demure and well behaved enough. This same attitude in other countries leads to the sisters of rapists being raped in kind, as “justice” for the original crime.

What do I think should have happened to the rapist in this case? The maximum sentence under the law. The rapist’s status as a swim star at an expensive private university shouldn’t have carried any weight in this case. A privileged upbringing should not entitle one to commit crimes, period.

Sexual abuse and its lasting effects are a major theme of my upcoming scifi/fantasy novel A Wizard’s Forge, in which Vic, the protagonist, is held captive by the sadistic Lord of Relm, Lornk. She escapes and  joins the Lathan army in a war against Lornk’s forces, but is captured again during her first battle. This time, she escapes with the help of another Lathan soldier named Maynon, and they discover Vic isn’t the only young woman caught in Lornk’s dragnet…


 

A_Wizards_Forge_cover_Text_FINALThey broke out of the hollow, running across a flat expanse of grass at the bottom of the hill. Maynon puffed beside her, his strides limping, then grabbed Vic’s arm and tugged her down. The beam from a hooded lantern swung over them. Maynon grimaced, his face almost black in the darkness, his blood an ugly shadow. “My knees are sore,” he grumbled.

“We’ll never make it back to the Lathan lines tonight,” Vic whispered.

“Brilliant deduction.”

Suppressing a growl, she looked toward the Relman fires. At how many campsites did other girls lay bound, ready to be taken to Lordhome and Traine. “Look,” she said suddenly, her voice assuming the authority of a Logkeeper. “All this business capturing young girls is because of me—”

“What?” Maynon scoffed. “The Relmlord have a personal vendetta against you?”

“You can do what you want tonight,” she went on, “but I’m going to try to rescue other prisoners. The Relmlord will sell them in Traine, and I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.” Not even Kara.

Maynon lay speechless. He looked at the fires, at the stars, his mouth grim. “Madness,” he muttered. “Crazy insanity.” Then he eyed her. “Wish I’d looked the other way when I saw those two hauling your ass off the field. But since I can’t sit by a fire with my pipe, I might as well help you.”

Vic smiled, but a lump blocked her throat. Swallowing hard, she pointed across the grass. “If we head for that gully—”

“What gully?”

She blinked at him. “The one on the map. We’re about a league south of the battlefield—there was this string of hills like a necklace, then this flat area—”

“You memorized all that?”

Shouts echoed across the grass, lamps bouncing among running figures. “We need weapons, Maynon. Can we ambush them in the gully—is that a good plan?”

“As good as any, kid.”

They sprinted, diving and lying still whenever a beam rippled their way. Reaching an embankment, they leapt down, splashed into water, then ran downstream, hoping the burbling creek would wash footprints away. In a stand of trees, Vic hid behind a curtain of exposed roots while Maynon grabbed a heavy stone from the creek bed and swung himself into some overhanging branches. They waited, hoping their pursuers would split into small groups when they reached the stream. Orders echoed toward them. Minutes later, a pair of troopers ran along the rim of the gully, a third splashing through the stream, lamps flashing on the water. Vic pressed herself deeper into the shadows, her breath still in her throat. As the man in the creek passed beneath his tree, Maynon dropped on top of him, knocking him facedown in the water, and slammed his rock into the man’s skull.

The other Relmans leapt at Maynon, and Vic sprang from her hiding spot and stabbed one in the back, the razor sharp stone sliding easily through the woman’s ribs. Maynon sparred with the other, water flying around them in black droplets. The woman fell, coughing blood into the stream; Vic swiped the bow off her back, yanked her quiver free, and climbed the embankment. Arrow nocked, she took aim, but Maynon already had the third trooper down.

Stripping the Relman weapons, they doused the lamps and sprinted toward the center of the Relman line. In a copse, they paused to catch their breath. Vic’s ears pricked, and she held her breath, signaling Maynon to quiet his own gasps. Jeering laughter filtered through the leaves, voices egging each other on. Muffled whimpers and choked screams punctuated the glee. Vic knew that suffering; even if Kara had submitted to Lornk, Vic never had in that room in Traine. Ears burning, she hissed, “I thought Relmans were supposed to be just as prudish as Lathans.”

Maynon’s spittle thwacked against a fallen trunk. “Rape’s a killing offense, but folk still do it.”

Stealing toward the noises, they stopped outside a circle of firelight. A Relman man and woman lounged near the coals, giggling while a third, trousers pushed to his knees, pressed himself into a dusky woman, gagged and stripped, each hand bound to an ankle.

“Think of it as training, honey,” the woman taunted.

“Training for Traine,” the watching man laughed.

Cold rippled from the roots of Vic’s hair, encasing her heart in ice. Her fingers tightened around the hilt of the stoneknife, then loosened, sure of their grip. The shadow of Lornk’s hand encircled her throat, and her nostrils flared at the rutty stench pervading the campsite. Never, she promised herself. Never his. Striding into the circle of light, she jabbed the stoneknife through the ear of the woman, leapt over the fire and rammed the blade through the eye of the man, then straddled the rapist, pressing the knife edge against his throat.

“Pull out—gently,” she whispered. He complied, eyes rolling between her and his dead companions. “Maynon, I want him bound like her.”

Maynon’s eyes were just as big as the rapist’s, but he stepped over to the captured woman. “You’ll need some twine.” Cutting her loose, he pulled off his tunic and gave it to her, then tied the Relman hand to foot while Vic kept the knife at his throat.

Once he was bound, Vic went to the Lathan woman. “What’s your name?”

Shivering, she huddled within Maynon’s tunic. Her eyes darted between Vic, Maynon, and the Relman, then she pressed her lips together and answered. “Silla of Pilagg. I was with the Thirty-second. Can I kill him?”

Vic shook her head. “I need him to give a message to the Relmlord.” Facing the Relman, she said, “You caught the wrong girl. But if you had got the right one, do you have any idea what he would have done to you?”

The man’s eyes flicked to Silla, then to his shriveled privates.

“He might have started there.” Vic smirked, tapping the blade against her palm. Ice still enveloped her heart, but she felt a heat in her loins she hadn’t felt since those last moments in Traine. “In fact, he might still. Maynon, hold him down.”

“Vic—”

“Hold him!”

Silla strode over and pushed the Relman into the dirt. She pressed her palms into his shoulders, Maynon’s tunic falling over his face. “Enjoy the view, asshole,” she grated, giving Vic a grim nod.

Maynon grabbed the man’s legs, and Vic sliced open his 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, relished 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. She’s a Lathan now.”