Authors: Don’t Rush; Revise

These days, every “how to succeed in as an author” blog you read advises you to release as many books as you can as quickly you can. All successful indie authors (that I know) have multiple books–or series–on the market, and several have parlayed their methodology into side businesses focused on telling other indie authors how to write, publish, and sell indie books–advice that boils down to, “write a lot of books and bring them to market fast.”

This strategy isn’t unique to indie authors. Many traditionally published authors, both famous and obscure, push work out quickly too, especially if they’re writing series. Being prolific works if you want to sell books, and if you can produce a page-turner in six months or less, you’re awesome.


An awful lot of authors can’t really produce a gripping story as a first draft, or a second. When they try, the work ends up being substandard, or not as good as it could have been if the author had taken the time to look critically at the work and address the narrative shortcomings. You especially see this a lot with series, where the first book might be mind-blowingly good, and then the quality drops off.

Exhibit A: the Hunger Games Series

51zkheo7x8LSo, Suzanne Collins wrote this dystopian page-turner called The Hunger Games. It was action-packed, suspenseful, heart-breaking, and thought-provoking–pretty close to a perfect book, in my view. Catching Fire, the sequel published by Scholastic a year later, suffered a bit as a segue story with a cliffhanger ending, but was nearly as suspenseful and action-packed as its predecessor. The following year, Scholastic released Mockingjay. Alas, Mockingjay was loaded with characters talking instead of doing. In the first two books, Katniss, the protagonist, lives at the center of the action, but in the third book, Katniss only hears about many important events during the planning or aftermath stages. Frankly, this read as lazy writing. Collins could have (and should have) rejiggered her plot to keep Katniss in the center of the action; instead Katniss spends many chapters sitting around waiting for news of other characters’ doings. As a result, the third Hunger Games book was the opposite of the first–instead of devouring page-turning suspense, I slogged through a bunch of dull conversations leading to a series of irritating anticlimaxes. Now, I don’t know whether the published Mockingjay text was the first draft or the twentieth (and it still sold a bajillion copies), but I suspect it was an early draft and that deadline pressure from Scholastic, or perhaps just Collins’s own desire to release the book quickly, led to a substandard novel.

Authors: Please Put Narrow Escapes and Important Discoveries in the Book

How many times have you read a story where the protagonist slips into a safe space, breathes a sigh of relief, then discusses that close call with a companion–and the close call itself isn’t in the book! I have seen this reliance on dialogue to convey action a lot, especially in books by fellow indie authors which I know to be produced quickly. All too often, the author releases what is essentially his or her first draft, with only minimal revisions. It pisses me off when I see good writers do this, because I know they can do better, if they’d only invest the time in revisions.


See, I often describe an event through dialogue in my first draft of a scene, and then I have to check myself: “God, that’s boring! Don’t have them talk about that fight–back up and write the fight!” Backstory action can be described through dialogue, but if the event is important and occurs within the timeframe of the story, the author should take the time to craft the scene and weave it into the book. Sometimes this means rewriting the lead-up scenes, so that the main characters remain in the center of the action. Sometimes it means simply taking the time to backfill an action sequence instead of just plowing forward with the plot and getting the book done. Sure, an indie author’s success depends on having multiple books on the market. But if your first book (or your third) is just a bunch of dull conversations leading to a series of irritating anticlimaxes, your readers won’t be likely to pick up your next book, and that defeats the purpose of having all those books out there.


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.

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.





Unpublished Epilogue to A Wizard’s Forge


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s all the rage in Direiellene.”

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

“Is he dead?” Bethniel asked.

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

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

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

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

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

1. How are Earth and Knownearth alike?

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

2. How does Knownearth differ from Earth?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parallel Paths—an Interview with Author JL Gribble

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Gribble photo color

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

AMJ: What were your first fanfic pieces based on?

Gribble photo color

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

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

Gribble photo color


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

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

Gribble photo color


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

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

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

AMJ: So you made Victory a mom.

Gribble photo color


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

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

Gribble photo color

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

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

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

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

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

Gribble photo color


JLG: I’m totally stealing that. 😉

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

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

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

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

Gribble photo color

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gribble photo color


JLG: Thank you so much!

JL Gribble Bio

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

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

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


Click to find it on Amazon

_Steel Magic-Jacket.indd

Click to find it on Amazon
















Somebody Is Reading My Book!

A_Wizards_Forge_cover_Text_FINALI don’t know about you, but nothing turns on my OCD more than releasing a new book. A Wizard’s Forge won’t be released until September (although you can preorder it now), but my publishing partner (Wise Ink Creative Publishing)  posted an advance review copy on NetGalley, a site where book reviewers and bloggers can download free Ebooks. AWF has been posted for about a week and it seems to be doing well. The cover has garnered several dozen thumbs-up signs, and there have been roughly twice as many review copy requests. That should make me happy.

I’m a wreck.

Grace Kelly—or her modern day incarnation, Eva Green—would file this information away and let the chips fall over the next several weeks and months. Neither would betray the slightest concern at that

Oh my God somebody in the world is reading my book!


Grace Kelly reveals the contents of her valise to Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window. He’s confused; I’m awed.

I adore both actresses because I aspire to their consummate cool (I also desperately wish I was as lovely—something as a feminist I’m not supposed to admit, but which I still feel). Rear Window is my favorite Hitchcock film because of Grace and her overnight bag (when those slippers pop out of all that chiffon, be still my heart!), and Eva…well, if I ever met her, I’d probably lose more than my cool, kinda like this lady meeting the late great Heath Ledger.


I’ve certainly lost my cool now, because

Oh my God somebody in the world is reading my book!


and it’s interfering with my life. I can’t help thinking, what passage is this stranger reading? Has she reached the part where Vic escapes from Lornk? Chapter 7, “Asylum,” may be my favorite in the book. What does he think of the chapter where Ashel decides to join the war effort? That chapter is such a turning point for Ashel, where he becomes a deep thinker full of conflicting emotions. Has anyone posted a progress report on Goodreads or, good heavens, a review yet? (A couple speedy readers have already posted reviews on Goodreads: 4 and 5 stars!)  I have a jam-packed week at the day job and a big trip coming up. I’m supposed to be contacting other authors and book bloggers to set up a blog tour. My new website requires attention as Jennifer and Mike at RockdotVoss finish its fine-tuning. And oh, yeah, I have a sequel to rework, which is turning out to be a bigger job than I anticipated. But I can’t stop checking on the status!

Confident authors are supposed to release their books on the world and never read reviews or, indeed, look back. I can’t do that (after all, I rewrote the damn series). The bottom line is, as much as I wish I were Grace Kelly or Eva Green, I’m really Sally Field. I write first for me, and I write what I like, but I sooo want you to like it too. My fingers are crossed that you will.

A Wizard’s Forge will be released to the general reading public September 19, 2016. You can preorder your copy now on Amazon.

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.

Mulligans, Market Research, and Masterpieces

A_Wizards_Forge_cover_Text_FINALSecond chances don’t come often. When we’re kids, sometimes generous coaches, teachers, and friends will allow a do-over, but an extra at-bat or stroke at minigolf is the best we can expect.

A decade ago, before the era of indie authors, if a book came out and didn’t do well in the marketplace, the author moved on to new projects. It’s what creative people do: we keep creating, and we keep creating new things.

Yet…not all of us. In 2012-2013, I released a pair of indie fantasy novels called Blade of Amber and A Wizard’s Lot. They garnered positive reviews, but didn’t sell many copies. They also languished on a lot of to-be-read lists, and a lot of people never finished the first book, or didn’t pick up and read the second one. I knew in my bones the story was really good, so I was disappointed in the reception. Where did I go wrong, I wondered?

While I was marketing these books, I stumbled across a group of stellar writers and joined their critique group. I paid attention to their feedback, and my skills increased manifold. I also paid attention to the reviews for the two books. Most were positive, but the lukewarm and negative reviews highlighted some weaknesses. Finally, Colleen Aune, whose fiction I love (The Ill-Kept Oath, a Regency-era historical fantasy, will be released this September), offered to read Blade and provide a deep critical review. Her advice, along with the lessons learned from other excellent writers and the virtual focus group feedback from Amazon and Goodreads book reviews, led me to decide to rewrite the series.

The bottom line is, my first two novels weren’t ready for prime time. Before releasing them, I wish I’d had the critical feedback I received after they were on the market. My husband (a songwriter), a filmmaker friend, and others advised me to apply the lessons learned to new projects, but as I said, I knew this story was really good. I also knew I could tell it better.

So, using my virtual market research (the reviews) and my amped up skills as a writer, I took a mulligan. In the past year I’ve powered through a massive rewrite. I also found a publishing partner—Wise Ink Creative Publishing—to help me produce a beautiful, professional-quality book. The cover design by Steven Meyer-Rassow is phenomenal, and a substantive edit by Amanda Rutter has brought the narrative quality to a first-class level. A Wizard’s Forge, Book One of The Woern Saga, will be released September 2016.

In the meantime, I’d like to share two key lessons I learned about pacing and point of view (POV) characters.

1. Pacing.

Blade of Amber was a hefty 175,000 words, which made the printed book almost 400 pages (in a large trim size with small type). Common wisdom recommends novels be about 100,000 words, which typically puts the book size under 250 pages (depending on trim size and layout density, which dramatically affect page count). Being a fan of long epic fantasies, I scoffed at the idea that a big word count would deter readers, and I still don’t believe that buyers—especially ebook buyers, who have no sense of a book’s doorstop-ability—pay attention to book length when making a purchase. If the story holds their attention, they’ll read it.

But there’s the rub. The story must hold readers’ attention, and Blade failed to hold too many readers. Several friends and family members tried it and stopped reading before the halfway point. By swallowing my pride and asking those who gave up, I discovered why, and then I got to work. I crafted some guidelines for myself, and by following them, I cut the word count down to 120K without losing any story. In fact, A Wizard’s Forge contains many new scenes showing events occurring off-stage in the original version, and it’s still almost 50% shorter than Blade of Amber.

  • Rule 1.1. Something relevant should happen in every scene. Put another way, every scene should advance the plot. There doesn’t have to be a battle or hair-raising escape in every chapter, but each event should connect to other events in the book. World building, character development, scene setting—these are all important, but they must be done in the context of plot. For example, Blade contains a banquet scene where the characters are told an interesting story about their world. However, the story has nothing to do with the plot, and nothing else happens at the banquet that affects the plot either. That scene had to go—getting rid of it also helped me address a few major plausibility issues, so there was a dual benefit.
    • Rule 1.1.1. Dialogue should advance the plot. Characters sitting around and shooting the shit might be fun to write, but readers won’t necessarily find it fun to read. Banter should convey crucial information, not colorful but irrelevant anecdotes. Real life discussions about dirty underpants are boring; don’t make readers read them, unless underpants directly relate to the plot.
    • Rule 1.1.2. No important event should occur offstage. If something happens to a POV character that has bearing on the narrative, that event should be in the book. In Blade and in Wizard’s Forge, the queen gives Victoria, the protagonist, a bronze dagger forged from a belt Vic had been forced to wear while held captive by the queen’s enemy. The dagger symbolizes Vic’s quest for vengeance and freedom—the driver of the plot—and this talisman features strongly in the book’s climax. Yet in Blade, there’s only a passing reference to an offstage event in which Vic gives the queen the belt—the symbol of her captivity—in thanks for granting her asylum. In A Wizard’s Forge, I wrote that offstage event into the book. Now we see Vic give the queen the belt, and when the queen returns the same item—recast as a dagger Vic can use to exact vengeance—the exchange has much greater impact.
  • Rule 1.2. Avoid redundancy and superfluous information. When I embarked on the rewrite and cast a very critical eye over my prose, I lost count of how many times I found two or more sentences repeating the same information. Simply confining each thought to a single sentence saved me tens of thousands of words. Secondly, I gave an overwhelming amount of information about things that weren’t relevant to the plot (see Rule 1), and cutting extraneous detail also saved hugely on my word count. Here’s an excerpt from the same scene in the first chapter of both books. The new version is 44% shorter but conveys the same information:

Blade of Amber (252 words)

As Vic blushed, Martha smiled and patted her shoulder. “Don’t worry, dear. Pretty’s a common thing.”

Vic blinked. “My father always says that.”

The innkeeper nodded. “Wise man.”

After she dressed, Vic learned that the villagers weren’t out just to take advantage of the daylight. The tide would ebb that night well beyond the usual low, stranding shellfish galore. Martha explained this as they walked down past the boat moorings. All the boats tilted on their sides now in the sand, the masts’ shadows slanting across the beach to kiss the base of the cliff.

“You see, we all run out to the waterline and the men scoop up all the crabs and mussels they can while the women run behind and catch the men’s catch in their skirts. See?” She formed a scoop. “We’ll have to find a partner for you, though. Do they have fish scoops in Ourtown?”

Vic shook her head. “Sounds fun, though.”

Martha giggled and joined her husband. They jabbered at each other a bit, then Martha waved Vic over. “Justin will find you a partner. Just follow him.”

Smiling at Vic, Justin grumbled under his breath as he led her through the gathering crowd.

“I had no idea so many people lived in this village,” Vic said.

“Oh, they’ve come from all over for the fish scoop.” As if to confirm his words, a child Vic remembered from Melbourne darted past.

“You there,” Justin tapped a black-haired man on the shoulder. “Samson, you got a partner?”


A Wizard’s Forge (163 words)

Vic blushed, and the woman smiled. “Don’t worry, dear. Pretty’s a common thing.”

“My father always says that.”

The innkeeper nodded. “Wise man. Now hurry and dress—you’ve arrived just in time for the Solstice Scoop!”

At the shoreline, boats tilted on their sides in the sand, shadows slanting across the beach to kiss the base of the cliff.

“While the tide’s out,” the innkeeper explained, holding her apron in the shape of a basket, “we all run out to the waterline and the men scoop up crabs and mussels while the women run behind and catch them in their skirts. Do they have Scoops in Ourtown?”

Vic shook her head.

The innkeepers whispered at each other, then the woman turned to Vic. “Go with Justin and he’ll find you a partner.”

Smiling wanly, the husband grumbled under his breath as he led her through the gathering crowd. “You there.” He tapped a black-haired man on the shoulder. “Samson, you got a partner?”

2. POVs.

The POV characters make or break a novel. They tell the story, and if their experience isn’t compelling, the book will fail. My market research told me people loved Vic. She’s not actually a likeable character—she’s an arrogant, unforgiving hardass—but I put effort into going deep into her thoughts and emotions so readers would empathize with her struggles, and I know I succeeded based on reader feedback. But my other POV characters had some problems. Once again, I had to follow some rules in the rewrite.

  • Rule 2.1. Every POV character should have a narrative arc. Throwing in a new or solo POV late in the book is lazy storytelling, and I’m guilty: Blade of Amber contained several solo POV scenes or chapters from supporting characters in the second and third acts. I deleted all of these scenes from A Wizard’s Forge and wove the plot-crucial information back into the book within the context of my main characters’ (MCs’) chapters. Now all the MCs experience change over the course of the book and also learn vital information along with the reader. The resulting narrative is far more compelling.
  • Rule 2.2. POV characters must emote to be sympathetic. Prince Ashel, Vic’s romantic interest, is handsome, brave, talented, and kind. I gave him every characteristic I like in a man, and in my mind, falling in love with him was as natural as breathing. Yet my virtual focus group did not love him. Few reviewers mentioned him, and those who did said he was weak and not worthy of Vic. No author wants to hear that reaction to her romantic lead! I realized that the Ashel who lived in my head was a completely different person from the one appearing in my prose. Far from being weak, Ashel is the strongest, most resilient person in the series. He undergoes tremendous suffering and retains his honor, his commitment to his family, and his love for Vic. Yet, I’d failed to show this. Doing so meant overhauling nearly every one of his scenes as well as adding several new ones. I had to get deep into his head, expose his thoughts, his insecurities, and the complexity of his emotions so that readers would want Vic to fall for him.

Here again are two comparison scenes that show some changes made, in this case switching Vic and Ashel’s “first date” into his rather than her POV, which allowed me to explore his attraction for her in a deeper way. Meanwhile, by switching the scene out of Vic’s POV, I avoided rehashing thoughts and feelings already covered in detail elsewhere (see Rule 1.2).

Blade of Amber (Vic’s POV)

Her shoulders began to shake, her hands covering her face on their own. This man loved music, gambling, fun. She was his sister’s friend, and he had never offered her more than cordial, lighthearted courtesy. They had never crossed the boundary marking the intimacy of truth. Embarrassed, she didn’t want to cry in front of him, but as she tried to swallow the tears, they spilled out. Helpless to explain them, she released her story with them. It came out jumbled—her sickness at Winterquarters, her discovery that Geram was a Listener assigned to spy on her, how she teased him at the Relman camp, Henrik giving her the crystal dagger as a medal, that Lornk survived. Moving his chair closer, Ashel patted her shoulder, asked her leading questions calmly, until she finally told him that she had stabbed the Relmlord. “Why didn’t I kill him?” she asked at last, looking up at him. “I’ve killed hundreds of people, and every time, I imagined they were him. Why couldn’t I actually kill him when I had the chance?”

“I’m so sorry,” he told her. “I wish—”

“And I was so, so hysterical. Geram was right, I should have been rejoicing when I thought he was dead. I hate him, Ashel. No one could ever understand how much.”

“Mother.” His hand, hovering for a moment by her hair, came to rest on her fist. “Mother hates him that much. You should go see her.”

“Ugh,” sniffing, she wiped her eyes. “That’s the last thing I expected to hear from you.”

He drew back a little, his chair squeaking on the polished floor. “Even I’ll admit she gives good advice, sometimes. She told you to go into the army, right? I thought that was a big mistake, but now you’re famous. Laelin even wrote a song about you—‘Exploits of the Blade.’”


A Wizard’s Forge (Ashel’s POV)

Her shoulders began to shake, her hands covering shimmering eyes. She struggled to master herself, but tears spilled past her fingers. “Every day since we found Silla, tasting his blood was all I thought about. I imagined myself dancing on his corpse. And instead I folded up and wanted to die.”

Ashel’s heart stuttered. The conversation had veered into a place far beyond his ken—Guild politics and Heralds’ gossip were the worst problems he ever faced. His mind raced through excuses to go back downstairs. But you asked, he chided himself. Swallowing the exit lines, he sat still as a jumbled narrative spilled out: an illness at Winterquarters, an unexpected camaraderie with someone assigned to spy on her, an undeserved medal for bravery. Her story, confused and agonized, netted his sympathy and pulled him into an intimacy of truth. As he crossed the threshold, his breath came easier and his heart beat freely again. He moved his chair closer, patted her hand, asked questions in the same level tone he used with apprentices frustrated over a complex piece of music, leading her to pull the threads together.

Finally she revealed the heart of the tale: she had stabbed but failed to kill the Relmlord. “Why couldn’t I?” she asked, meeting his gaze with bright green eyes. “I’ve killed hundreds of people, and every time, I imagined they were him. Why couldn’t I actually kill him when I had the chance?”

“I’m so sorry,” he said. “I wish—”

“And I was so, so hysterical. Geram was right, I should have been rejoicing when I thought he was dead. I hate him, Ashel. No one could ever understand how much.”

“Mother.” He reached toward a loop of bright hair, but put his hand over her fist instead. “Mother hates him that much. You should go see her.”

“Ugh.” She wiped her eyes. “That’s the last thing I expected to hear from you.”

He drew back, his chair squeaking on the polished floor. “Even I’ll admit she gives good advice sometimes. She told you to go into the army. I thought that was a mistake, but now you’re famous. Laelin even wrote a song about you: ‘Exploits of the Blade.’”



Lizzie Harper. Botanical Illustration – Tips on painting sketchbook-style studies of leaves – May 4, 2013

Did I create a masterpiece when I rewrote my flawed first novel? My good girl upbringing simply won’t let me make that claim, but I’m proud of A Wizard’s Forge in a way I never was of Blade of Amber. I knew Blade’s story was good, but I also knew the telling of it was flawed. In a post last year on the Guild of Dreams, I likened my decision to rewrite to J.R.R. Tolkien’s short story “Leaf by Niggle.” Every artist is always striving to paint that one perfect leaf. I know I’ve come a lot closer to it now.


Update: A Wizard’s Forge will be released September 19, 2016. You can preorder a digital copy on Amazon.