B2BCyCon SciFan & LitRPG Blog Hop—Stop #1: The Insider’s Guide to A Wizard’s Forge: Influences and Themes

Congratulations! You just stumbled across the next stop in the B2BCyCon SciFan & LitRPG Blog Hop. Thanks for stopping by my blog and checking out my novel A Wizard’s Forge.


A Wizard’s Forge is the first in a series called The Woern Saga, and it’s an onion, with a lot of layers of a plot that developed over a lot of years. The tone is dark; the story thought-provoking. If you read it in a book club, Vic’s troubles and how she deals with them should inspire some rousing debate. In fact, I hope you will read and discuss it with a group of friends. So go ahead and prepare the cheese plate and chill the wine, and to prepare yourself, here is some cool intel to drop on your friends.


  1. Anne McCaffrey’s Pern. Knownearth and Pern are a lot alike in terms of climate and ecology (minus the deadly Thread) as well as the way the spacefaring settlers lost all their advanced tech and now live in a quasi-Medieval society. Victoria (or Vic, as she prefers) and Lessa share a lot of personality traits, and the structure of Latha’s Minstrels Guild owes a lot to Pern’s Harpers Hall. The main difference between the worlds (beside the absence of Thread and dragons) is that gender equality prevails on Knownearth.
  2. Star Wars. Vic’s telekinetic and Geram’s and Wineyll’s telepathic powers are straight out of the Jedi Knighthood. A key difference is that everyone on Knownearth is capable of telepathy, or mindspeech as they call it. Geram and Wineyll just have a strong talent for it. Meanwhile Vic gains her telekinetic powers (called wizardry by Knownearthers) after drinking a mysterious concoction given to her by Knownearth’s native intelligent insect species, the Kragnashians. To learn more, check out my other B2BCyCon blog post on the Powers and Politics of Knownearth.
  3. Rapunzel. The story is littered with allusions to the Grimm Brothers’ “Rapunzel,” from long hair to a sexual awakening to imprisonment in a tower (and elsewhere) to someone being blinded. The Rapunzel underpinings continue in the next book, A Wizard’s Sacrifice.
  4. Star Trek. There’s a transporter device…which is called the Device. And it’s tech, not magic.
  5. Star Wars again. One line: “Luke, I am your Father.”
  6. Lord of the Rings. There’s a quest. There’s a talisman. There’s an evil guy with global ambitions who’s obsessed with the one person who holds the power to defeat him. (OK, this is basically every epic fantasy every written…so yeah, there’s that.)
  7. Dangerous Liaisons. Valmont of Les Liaisons dangereuses and Lornk (the villain of A Wizard’s Forge, and the evil guy from #6 with the global ambitions) both like to use seduction—aka sexual abuse of minors—to control their victims, and Lornk employs this technique to devastating effect against Vic.


  1. Grimdark tone. One of the Wikipedia definitions of “grimdark” perfectly describes my approach:

Grimdark fantasy has three key components: a grim and dark tone, a sense of realism (for example, heroes are flawed), and the agency of the protagonists: characters have to choose between good and evil, and are “just as lost as we are.”

Vic is as flawed as they come. Her experiences with Lornk break her, and as she remakes herself, she becomes fixated on achieving her goals at any price—much like him. She makes some questionable choices, some of which will haunt her throughout the series.

  1. Feminism. Vic is a badass action hero who lives in a world where gender equality is the norm. This has allowed me to let my female and male protagonists swap roles: Vic (short for Victoria, so if you hadn’t noticed, she’s a she) is the hero of A Wizard’s Forge, and Prince Ashel (a guy) is the heroine in the sense of he’s the one who passively resists the villain rather than actively fights him. Confused? Outraged? Read more about my reasoning here.
  2. Female empowerment. Vic starts out as a victim of sex trafficking, and she struggles with the legacy of those experiences even after she becomes her nation’s most renowned warrior. Yet she also keeps moving forward, becoming stronger inside and out, and by the time she acquires her telekinetic abilities, she has nothing to fear from anyone—except herself.
  3. The forge process. The book is divided into four parts–Ore, Smelt, Forge, and Temper–and each section details Vic’s transformation from the raw material (the ore) of a smart but inexperienced teenager into the tempered steel (or in Vic’s case, bronze) of a strong woman with deadly power.

I hope these insights inspire you to take a closer look at A Wizard’s Forge. It’s available from Amazon and other major retailers.

Thanks for stopping by my blog! To continue along the blog hop, please head back to the B2BCyCon Blog Hop Hub.

Why I’m Marching in DC

I’m not a joiner and certainly not an activist, yet today I’ll drive myself and my daughter to Washington, D.C., to march in the Women’s March on Saturday. I don’t have a pink pussy hat or a T-shirt, but my presence will be my sign of protest against the new administration. Dozens of my friends are also going to DC or marching in their own cities. One of my friends, Debra Gordon, and healthcare writer and activist, was quoted in Salon about why women are marching this weekend. She gave her answer; here’s mine.

My daughter and I are going to add our small voices and two bodies and four hands and four feet to the tens or hundreds of thousands, to the millions of small voices and bodies and hands and feet that will be chanting, clapping, and marching in protest of a government that seems poised to lead our nation toward disaster. It’s not that the incoming Administration is a Republican one. Although I’m a proud liberal, I was raised in a Republican household and still believe that individuals are responsible for their own success in life. As I’ve grown older (and wiser), however, I’ve come to recognize that institutionalized bias against minorities and women exists, so while individuals are responsible for their own success, they aren’t necessarily responsible for their own failures. I learned this first-hand when a boss–a generally good boss–refused to raise my salary to the same level as an older male colleague. My male counterpart and I held the same title, and my boss acknowledged that his work was inferior to mine, but he would not give me a raise because the man “had a family.” I wasn’t asking for special treatment, I was asking for equal pay based on merit–you can’t get more Republican than that. Yet institutional bias not only kept me from getting my raise, it had me meekly accepting my boss’s refusal as “reasonable.”

I refuse to accept this paradigm now, which is why I’m marching tomorrow. We face a government that will likely undermine our universal education system, which is the foundation our country’s greatness. Education is already widely undervalued, contributing to widespread misunderstanding and under-appreciation for science. Hence, the mistrust of scientists which contributes to the rejection of climate change legislation. Reversing what little we’ve done to stall climate change, and doing nothing more to address it, will surely endanger my daughter’s generation and their descendants. There’s nothing reasonable about that.

I’m not a joiner and not an activist. I’ve never called a politician’s office, or stuffed an envelope during an election. To be honest, I’ve skipped voting in many, many off-year elections. But for me, Saturday’s March will be the first steps in a new paradigm of resistance to the current Administration as a means of restoring the principle, and hopefully the practice, of equal footing for all.

Guest Post: Author A.M. Justice Reflects On Her Literary Idol

Today the Genre Minx hosted my thoughts on my literary idol, Ursula K. LeGuin. Read on to find out why I love this author so much.

The Genre Minx Book Reviews

Author Ursula K. Le Guin, Copyright © by Marian Wood Kolisch Author Ursula K. Le Guin, Photo Credit: Copyright © by Marian Wood Kolisch

Every author has their literary idol; Ursula Kroeber Le Guin is mine. I discovered her work in high school, when I would prowl the science fiction/fantasy shelves at the mall bookstore. I still have the paperback edition of The Wizard of Earthsea that I bought because I liked the cover featuring a dragon curled around the ruins of an island city. I can’t remember if I bought only Wizard that day and went back later to get The Tombs of Atuan and The Farthest Shore, or if I went all in and purchased the whole trilogy at once. I do know I fell in love with Ged, the titular wizard, as soon as I began reading. So began a lifelong admiration for Le Guin’s work.

Le Guin’s first novel, Rocannon’s World, appeared in 1966. When…

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The Problem with Male Protagonists


Recently on Writer Unboxed, Jo Eberhardt wrote about “The Problem With Female Protagonists.” She cites some research in which both men and women perceive women to “dominate” conversations in which the women speak substantially less often and for less time than men, and also relates an anecdote in which her nine-year-old son asked, “Why do we only ever read books with girl main characters?” The question caused Eberhardt to count books in the family library featuring male vs female protagonists, and she found that the majority of books on both the children’s and adults’ shelves were headlined by males. The difference between perception and reality was the “problem” Eberhardt refers to in her title. Many readers believe female protagonists dominate the bookstore shelves these days, but in fact male authors and male MCs still hold the majority and the advantage when it comes to readers’ acceptance and accolades.

A few days later, I saw the above Star Wars meme and its accompanying threads. I left my name uncovered, so you can see where I weigh in on Leia’s role in defeating the Empire (and I stake an early claim on the Kylo Ren is a mole theory), but look at the other comment I’ve highlighted: “Nobody cares about the girls.” This remark was tongue in cheek, but the lively discussion following Eberhardt’s piece (325 comments and growing) suggests quite a few people agree with it.

Eberhardt’s piece and the accompanying discussion talk a lot about the insidious nature of sexism and how it creeps into everything. I’ve prided myself on writing speculative fiction from a feminist perspective. Vic, the titular wizard of my Woern Saga series is a woman, and she is no shrinking violet. I would in fact call her the hero—not the heroine—of this series. But, after participating in several discussions related to Eberhardt’s article, I realized something:

“He insinuated himself into every part of me.”

Vic says this line in A Wizard’s Forge, referring to the villain who holds her captive and tries to brainwash her into utter devotion. Years after escaping his physical clutches, she cannot shake free from his psychological hold. Yet while Vic speaks of a specific individual here, there’s also a universal “he” that directed some of the choices I made as an author. That was quite an epiphany, because I went out of my way to create a world where gender neutrality was the norm (Knownearth’s men and women are equally likely to be soldiers, political leaders, or prostitutes), yet I have to admit A Wizard’s Forge barely passes the Bechdel Test:

  1. Does the book have at least two named female characters?
  2. Who have a conversation with each other?
  3. About something other than a man?

The answer is yes to all three questions, but

  • The majority of named characters are men, and three out of the four point of view (POV) characters are men.
  • And while Bethniel and Vic do discuss many things, including Vic’s destiny, they do talk an awful lot about Beth’s brother Ashel.

I, the proud feminist, surrounded my female protagonist with an all-male supporting cast of POV characters. I stand by the decision from a narrative perspective: each one undergoes a life-changing transformation in the novel. I also remind myself that three of the five POVs will be women’s in A Wizard’s Sacrifice (the next novel in the Woern Saga). Yet, I’m still amazed that so many men feature so prominently in my work. You might even say they dominate the conversation.