A few weeks ago, a lovely speculative fiction author contacted me out of the blue with an interesting proposal. She had stumbled across me on the Internet and thought it would be fun if we did a bit of cross-promotion since we had so much in common. She featured me with an interview on her blog and today I’m happy to return the favor! Check back here next Tuesday for my review of A.M. Justice’s excellent fantasy novel, A Wizard’s Forge.
How much do we have in common, exactly? Besides both being medical writer/editors and military brats, today we even discovered that we share the same wedding anniversary and are married to men with the same name!
As someone who also writes crazy genre-bending speculative fiction, I’m always interested in other author’s perspectives. What made you decide to introduce elements of science fiction in a story that could easily stand alone as high fantasy?
In my day job as a medical writer, I’m required to back up every statement with documented evidence. I want what we call an evidence base to exist in my fiction too, because I like to understand why things happen. Setting A Wizard’s Forge on an alien planet rather than a fantasy world allowed me to give the humans who live among weird creatures like the Kragnashians a “documented” reason for being there. It also allowed me to let my imagination run wild and invent whole new species, rather than populate the world with elves, dwarves, and the other usual suspects of fantasy. Finally, a science fiction setting lets me play with science and religion as belief systems as Vic, the atheist, argues with her religious friends about human origins.
The next book, A Wizard’s Sacrifice, dives deeper into some of the science fiction elements. Readers will learn the biological nature of Vic’s power, which involves neurological parasites called the Woern. The fact that wizardry comes from an infection has major implications for Vic’s developing romance with Ashel, as well as her relationship with his family members. In fact, how the Woern are transmitted and their beneficial and negative effects on people is a main plot driver in Sacrifice. Readers will also see the Devices used a lot more, and will glimpse something of the nonmagical origins of these transporters. There will be a lot more interaction with the Kragnashians, Knownearth’s indigenous and highly intelligent giant insects, and lastly, there will be time travel!
I have Victory and Toria. You have Victoria! But our girls are nothing alike. Tell us about any inspirations that helped you develop Vic’s character.
Vic is a totally badass, but also severely messed up, version of me. Her interests and inclinations are mine, as are the hang-ups she has at the start of the book. As a teen, I was also that nerdy, boyfriendless girl who longed to go someplace and become someone when she grew up. Thankfully, I’ve never experienced anything resembling the trauma Vic goes through, but I imagined how I might react if placed in those horrific circumstances. As I wrote about recently on my blog, Vic doesn’t suffer “just” sexual abuse from Lornk, but systematic punishment and reward intended to make her his disciple. He’s very close to succeeding when she escapes, and she flees not from him as much from the person she fears becoming under his influence. In crafting her character, I imagined how this trauma might have deep, long-lasting effects on a person’s psyche—effects that are borne out by studies of hostages and domestic abuse survivors.
What made you decide to commit to a series rather than a single novel?
So much happens in A Wizard’s Forge that it was difficult to contain in a single volume, and Vic hasn’t even met her destiny yet! The next book in the series, A Wizard’s Sacrifice, is quite a bit longer and a lot more complex, as Vic’s story expands from a solo quest for vengeance to an epic, “the world is at stake” sort of adventure. The third book in the series, A Wizard’s Legacy, takes place roughly two decades after Sacrifice ends and contracts back to a narrow focus on the consequences of Vic’s not-so valorous actions near the end of A Wizard’s Forge.
Even with writing a series, there’s so much potential in your world. Have you considered writing any prequels, such as the “real” story of the Elesendar?
Readers familiar with Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books will see a lot of parallels between her work and mine. The Dragonrider and Harpers Hall series were formative reading for me, and my ideas about the descendants of the Elesendar’s crew were inspired by McCaffrey’s work. That said, I only have a bunch of anecdotes about the early settlers—nothing that would work as a novel or novella. Samantha Farrak, who is an important figure in Lathan mythology, could be a good central character, but none of my thoughts have gelled into a narrative arc for her or any of the other crew members.
However, readers will learn a little more about the first settlers in A Wizard’s Sacrifice. Book 2 includes excerpts from the personal logs of Franklin Wong, the Elesendar’s captain, and his observations of a science officer named Craig Nash, who became Knownearth’s first wizard.
In terms of other Knownearth-based work, I have toyed with writing a prequel in which the villain of A Wizard’s Forge is the protagonist. I also have a few short stories involving peripheral characters from the series. If I accumulate enough of these, I will publish them as a collection, but I have to finish the main series first.
Do you have any other projects currently in the works, outside of The Woern Saga?
My biggest regret in life is that I have left the main character of a historical novel called Galileo’s Doctor stranded at the top of the Campanile in Venice for almost ten years! The poor girl has been stuck up there while various life events and the muses have pulled me in other directions. I plan to rescue Francesca from her predicament, but I am not sure when that’s going to happen.
And finally, leave us with an excerpt from A Wizard’s Forge that will make everyone want to go out and read the book!
A Wizard’s Forge is dark matter—there’s sexual abuse, bloody battles, torture, and revenge, with a lot of angst and PTSD thrown in for good measure. However, the book lightens up whenever Vic and her foster sister Princess Bethniel are together. In honor of J.L.’s two leading ladies, Victory and Toria, I’m sharing a snippet featuring mine. Granted, Bethniel is only a supporting cast member in Forge, but she’ll share the spotlight with Vic in the next book, and this scene hints at some things to come for her.
In this scene, readers will also meet the Kragnashians—eighteen-foot-tall intelligent insects reminiscent of the creatures humans fight in Robert Heinein’s Starship Troopers. Vic is leading a military mission through a barren desert to rescue Prince Ashel, Bethniel’s brother and the man Vic wants to love (but can’t, because…read the book). The party is nearly out of water and food when they run into some Kragnashians, with whom they try to bargain for help reaching their destination.
From Chapter 22, “The Rewards of Greed,” A Wizard’s Forge
The leader faced them, thousands of tiny facets on its eyes sparkling in the white glow. Each segment of its underbelly bore stylized paintings of horses and hammers—the trades it had profited from, Vic guessed. How had the Wizard Meylnara enslaved these creatures? They made Vic sorry for every bug she’d ever stepped on.
The leader clacked mandibles and snapped wing covers as Drak translated: “I welcome you to my nest. Please tell us your desire, and we shall try to make an agreement.”
“I thank you for your hospitality,” Bethniel replied, clapping and snapping fingers, “and formally convey greetings from my mother, Elekia of Reinoll Parish, Ruler of Latha. As stated by Marshall Victoria of Ourtown, we are headed to Relm and have been promised your aid reaching it.”
The Kragnashians chittered among themselves, and then the leader spoke again. Bethniel’s eyebrows furrowed, she touched the curls spilling out the top of the headwrap bearing her diamond sigil. “It claims to know nothing of Mother’s agreement, but it wants to buy my hair.”
Vic suppressed a shiver as her scalp recalled the pull and saw of Lornk’s scissors. “Why?”
Beth shrugged and shook her head, eyes going to the Kragnashian as it spoke again. “It’ll give us five barrels of water.”
The princess’s mouth tilted in consternation, then shook into a smile. “For my hair. Hair of the Heir.” She quickly unwound the headwrap, combing her fingers through the black mane to shake it loose. Vic marveled at how months of sweat and sand had hardly dampened the luxurious spirals. The leader squealed, and one of the others approached, a bundle of its legs twisted around a shining steel dagger.
“Your Highness, no!” Drak exclaimed, putting himself in front of her.
“I said I’d sell it, Captain. Stand aside,” Bethniel commanded.
“Beth, how do you know they won’t cut your throat?”
The princess cast Vic a scathing glance. “If they wanted to kill us, they’d have snapped our heads off the moment they saw us. Captain, stand aside!”
Drak reluctantly dropped back, and the Kragnashian set to work, pulling small bundles of hair taut and slicing it inches from Beth’s scalp. The princess grimaced and winced, but otherwise held still and silent until only black fuzz covered her head. The Kragnashians put some of the hair in another white bowl, chittering excitedly as they poured a viscous liquid over the hair and stirred it around.
Bethniel tied the diamond back round her forehead. “How do I look?”
Vic exchanged wry glances with Drak. “Still gorgeous.” Then a lump formed in her throat. “You look even more like Ashel.”
The Kragnashian leader clacked another question, and Bethniel looked at Vic quizzically. “It wants yours now.”
Vic shook her head emphatically. “No. I’m not going to let it shear me like an erin.”
Bethniel huffed indignantly. “I did!”
“You enjoyed the attention.”
“If you weren’t my sister . . .” Bethniel grumbled, then spoke to the Kragnashian, her lips curving petulantly at its response. “It must really like red, because it said it’ll provision the company all the way to Relm, for a single lock!”
Vic glanced at Drak, who stared suspiciously at the Kragnashians. “I should have gone back for the spears,” he growled.
Scowling, Vic wished she had enough saliva to spit. “Tell them they can have some hair for the provisions and if they take us across the Plu. But I’ll cut it myself.”
Beth nodded approvingly and passed on the demand. The Kragnashians conferred, then handed over the dagger. “We will give all aid required to cross the Plu.” Admiring the balance and gleam of the steel, Vic pulled the thong off the end of her braid and shook it loose, slicing off a lock from behind her ear. Looping the hair round her hand, she offered it to the leader and reluctantly returned the dagger. They put her hair in another bowl, poured the same liquid over it, and squealed as they stirred it.
“I see a whole new opportunity for Lathan merchants,” Bethniel said thoughtfully as the creatures pressed their heads together, antennae beating wildly and mouthparts clicking. The leader’s tail curled upward, and filigreed wings fanned from another creature’s back.
“What are they saying?” Vic asked.
“Not sure—they’re talking very fast. Captain?”
Drak shook his head. “It’s hard to make out. Something about a fulcrum?”
Bethniel nodded. “I heard that too, but it’s so odd that can’t be right. But, yes, they’re saying, ‘The one and fulcrum are confirmed. We must take them—’” The princess blanched.
Two of the creatures moved to block the pavilion’s opening, while the leader loomed over them…
ABOUT THE BOOK
Scholar. Slave. Warrior. Wizard.
On a planet far from Earth, descendants of marooned space travelers fight a decades-long war. Shy scholar Victoria knows nothing of this conflict until pirates kidnap and sell her to the sadistic tyrant behind it. He keeps her naked and locked in a tower, subjecting her to months of psychological torture. After seizing an opportunity to escape, Vic joins the fight against her former captor and begins walking a bloody path toward revenge.
As the Blade, Vic gains glory raiding her enemy’s forces, but the ordeal in his tower haunts her. Bitter memories keep her from returning the love of the kindhearted Prince Ashel, whose family has fended off the tyrant’s invading army for a generation. When enemy soldiers capture Ashel, Vic embarks on a quest to rescue him and, on the journey, discovers a source of spectacular power. With wizardry, Vic can rescue the prince, end the war, and wreak the vengeance she craves, but she might also destroy her only chance for peace.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I have danced tango beneath the wings of angels, played hide and seek with harbor seals, and sought distant galaxies from dusk to dawn. It’s been a while since I’ve donned my tango shoes, but I still scuba dive and star gaze whenever the seas are calm enough and the skies dark enough. Hiking to isolated swimming holes, exploring ancient cathedrals, and dining with friends are among my favorite things, but I really love sitting with a cat on my lap while a beloved movie plays on TV.
My young life was defined by restless parents who moved us every two to four years, but I’ve found stability in a Brooklyn apartment where I’ve lived more than a decade with my husband, daughter, and my cats.