Welcome back to a wonderful Sunday of happy adventures, grimdark treks through villages seeped in blood and. . .other things. I really need some coffee.
So it’s one week until Booknest’s Award voting ends, so get voting!
The Thousand Scars is longlisted as Best Debut. The categories are chock full of amazing authors and great books, so visit the website by clicking on the fancy image below. Voting ends on the 14th October. Pick the best.
So today I bring you an awesome interview I held with Amanda M. Justice, author of The Wizards Forge and her SPFBO entry! Click on the Amazon link down below and check her out. These people are pretty awesome!
First of all, tell me about yourself! What do you write?
The Woern Saga is a blend of science fiction and fantasy (aka science fantasy), with a setting similar to Anne McCaffrey’s Pern novels. The world is a lost space colony where advanced technology has disappeared, and most people believe their off-world origin is a myth (a central tenet of the world’s main religion is that the documents remaining from the world’s settlement period are metaphorical parables rather than historical facts).
I like to play with the tropes of fantasy and science fiction and write stories that use those elements, but with very realistic characters and plotting. Vic, the protagonist of A Wizard’s Forge, my SPFBO entry (and the first book in the Woern Saga), appears to be a typical young fantasy heroine in chapter 1: she’s a smart, skinny 15-year old girl with low self-esteem. She’s also a chosen one who, by the end of the first chapter, is pulled into world events. However, Vic’s story quickly departs from fantasy norms, and over the course of the book she grows into a complex adult woman dealing with PTSD, who makes some very questionable choices in her quest for revenge.
How do you develop your plots and characters?
What comes first, the plot or the character? I’m a pantser (meaning I rarely outline or have a plot in mind when I start writing), so my plots and characters tend to develop together. If the plot requires that a character take a particular decision or action, it must be plausible that the character would make that choice. Sometimes this requires a lot of rewriting to reshape the narrative up to that point—and sometimes it requires replotting the course of the story, because you say to yourself, “well, he simply would never do that.”
One thing I’ve learned to do as a writer, and which I’ve come to prefer as a reader, is to develop the story using only point-of-view characters who themselves have a narrative arc within the novel. My earlier books introduced point of view characters at late stages who would pop into the narrative to betray one element of the story, then disappear. I’ve come to believe this is lazy storytelling, and to try to avoid it (although it is occasionally necessary).
Tell us about your current project.
I’m working on A Wizard’s Sacrifice, the sequel to A Wizard’s Forge. Forge is Vic’s origin story and focused pretty narrowly on her development from a shy, awkward teenage scholar to a grown woman who is the most powerful person on the planet. Sacrifice has a much broader, epic fantasy feel, with a larger assortment of POV characters (who all have narrative arcs!) and intertwining plot threads.
Who would you say is the main character of your novels? And tell me a little bit about them!
The titular “wizard” in the Woern Saga is Victoria of Ourtown, aka Vic the Blade. She was a victim of sex trafficking at a young age, and she carries the scars of that experience into her adulthood, when she becomes first a warrior and then acquires the power of wizardry. In my world, wizardry doesn’t refer to magic-wielding that one learns in a school, but rather it’s what people call the telekinetic powers conferred by infection with a neurologic parasite called the Woern. Woern infection is deadly to most people, and Vic only risks it because she’s not given a choice about it.
What advice would you give new writers on how to delve into creative fiction?
Take classes if you can, and whether you can or not, find a good critique group (either in person or online) and listen to their advice. Most of all, be willing to revise.
What real-life inspirations did you draw from for the worldbuilding within your book?
Because I’m writing science fantasy rather than fantasy, I like to have at least a pseudo scientific rationale for the supernatural aspects of my world. Thus, a wizard’s power comes from a biological source (infection with the parasitic Woern—similar to the midchlorians of Star Wars). I also like positing an Earth-bound ancestry for the people in my fantasy world, rather than simply placing humans in a strange land that includes purely imaginary creatures (the usual fantasy suspects of elves, dwarves, dragons, etc).
Knownearth’s governing systems are loosely inspired by historical governments. Traine (the largest city on the world of Knownearth) roughly similar to Ancient Rome. Latha (where Vic spends most of the novel), is a monarchical republic very loosely based on the British parliament and monarchy (although there is no landed gentry). The guilds, which control the economy in Latha, are a combination of medieval guilds and modern-day co-ops—basically imagine if each industry was union-owned and managed, with both the good and negative aspects of that system.
What inspires you to write?
The desire to escape to other worlds!
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
The sex abuse passages were a challenge to write because I am squeamish about those topics (nice girls don’t talk about that stuff!). In an earlier version of the novel, I glossed over the abuse with glancing allusions rather than explicit depictions. Several friends encouraged me to overcome my inhibitions and show exactly what happened to Vic because it has such a profound impact on her psyche—it is at the core of the main conflict in the book.
I suppose I was successful because those scenes provoke very strong reactions among readers. They comprise less than 1% of the narrative (just a handful of paragraphs), but nearly every reviewer comments on them, whether they hate them or appreciate how they shape Vic’s character and story.
What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?
A Wizard’s Forge is very dark and pretty grim, but in the middle of the book there is a courtship chapter that offers a break from all the heavy material before and after. One of my favorite scenes is when Prince Ashel volunteers to help Vic with some housekeeping, in order to see her laugh.
Did you learn anything from writing this book and what was it?
How to streamline narratives. My first drafts can be very wordy—in this book I really focused on writing tight by not overwriting actions or repeating information.
It’s sometimes difficult to get into understanding the characters we write. How do you go about it?
I approach it somewhat like method actors do. I imagine myself as that character—put myself in his shoes—and really think about the situation from his or her perspective, then write accordingly.
What are your future project(s)?
Once I can get my brain out of Knownearth, I plan to return to a historical novel I started a while ago but haven’t finished. It takes place in the early 1600s and bears the working title Galileo’s Doctor.
If you couldn’t be an author, what ideal job would you like to do?
I’m already doing my ideal job (outside of being an author). I make my living as a freelance medical writer.
What is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you (i.e., website, personal blog, Facebook page, here on Goodreads, etc.) and link(s)?
Many thanks for the great opportunity Amanda, and best of luck in the contest!
I intend on submitting the next interview up on Wednesday, but it might be earlier. I’m also working on an article exploring The Elder Scrolls games and my comparisons between the Big Three. Stay tuned!