Sunday, July 23, 2017

Sunday Inspirational Interview: Steel Blood

Taking a bit of detour with today's post. While there's plenty of inspiration in the cover image below, there's also an interview to go with it!
J.L. Gribble, my friend and author published her third novel in the Steel Empires series, Steel Blood, on July 19 (you can order it through these links at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or directly from the publisher, Dog Star Books) and since I know she’s a gamer (she's spent a fair bit of time at my table) I wanted to talk to her about how gaming has influenced her writing.

Let’s jump right into it: How has gaming influenced how you write?
JLG: As a table-top gamer since high school, I think the other players have influenced me more than the mechanics of gaming itself. Gaming involves working together with other people to solve problems, so I’ve never been one for the “lone wolf’ protagonist. My characters are surrounded by friends and loved ones and allies of convenience, who must all work together to solve conflict or escape their current situations. The variety of characters, played by such variety of people, that I’ve experienced over the years definitely helped me realize that relationships are just as important as plot.
In most games, magic systems need some fairly explicit rules to keep the game from imploding. Have you figured out how magic works, or are you winging it, or something in between?
JLG: Definitely somewhere in between. I have structure for how magic exists in my world: different classes of magic, who can use each, what each class specializes in. But the little stuff like spells and shields are more free-form, make it up as I go. The most important rule that I write by, however, is that magic always has a price or cost. Power doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and has to come from somewhere. There is no waving of wands to make problems disappear with no effort.
While I know you’ve written some fanfiction, the Earth of the Steel Empires series is something you developed on your own. You’ve got weredragons ruling your version of China, werewolves ruling the British Empire, and vampires running things in Rome, plus a tiny little Greek-like city-state down at the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay. Can you tell me about how you decided on what to include and how to fit it all together?
JLG: I wish you’d asked me that 15 years ago! Now, it’s all just in my head, as if that’s the way it’s always been: especially the British and Roman Empires. Now, as my world keeps expanding, I pick what I want to write about and then decide how it got there (most other alternate history writers are now very uncomfortable and are not sure why). Once I do decide something, I do the research I need to either back it up or throw the idea out and start fresh. For example, I’m currently writing a later book in the series and I want to introduce the basic ideas of “angels” and “demons.” But how do you incorporate those in a world that doesn’t have major monotheistic religions? So, I wish I could give you an answer that shows how nicely I’ve planned out my entire world, just like I plan every scene in every book before I start writing page one. But nope: I’m mostly making it up as I go.
And speaking of werewolf brits, did you snag that from Doctor Who? And how do you feel about “appropriating” little things like that in books and games? Cheap trick, or fun nod to the other things you love?
JLG: Funny story—I created my world in the late 1990s. I didn’t start watching Doctor Who until 2007. Some things just aren’t original, no matter how hard you try. But I didn’t let that stop me! In my latest book, Steel Blood, I did intentionally incorporate a reference one of my other favorite television series, Stargate. It’s incredibly subtle and nerdy, so I don’t expect very many people to get it. But I know it’s there, and it amuses me, and writers should always write for themselves first.
When running games, you’ve always got to keep on your toes since players will never do what you expect. Do you ever run into that with your characters?
JLG: Since I’m a “plotter,” someone who figures out each scene in the book before I start writing, this doesn’t usually happen in dramatic fashion. I know where I’m going, but I don’t always know how I’m getting there. This is where my characters sometimes surprise me with snippets of dialogue or actions that solve problems I was having with the story. Sometimes they create entirely new problems!
What’s the most applicable part of world building for books that you’ve gotten from games? What’s the best bit you’ve gotten from writing that you’d like to see applied to games?
JLG: As I wrote above, the most applicable thing is that magic should always have a cost. That’s not as clear-cut in fiction, where characters don’t have a mana bar or list of daily spells. But it’s a lesson that I think has made my stories stronger. Conversely, I wish modern video games had more opportunities for diversity in character creation. Some game designers are already doing this beautifully, that’s probably why I love games such as Dragon Age. But I really wish I could play an Assassin’s Creed that features just a female character, not a game that feels like it still needs a male playable option to be acceptable to the masses.
And last question: why would gamers want to read your books?
JLG: Because they’re fun! I play games to relax and turn my brain off. I wouldn’t call my books mindless popcorn, because I don’t shy away from heavy subjects, but I’m not here to teach you life lessons or bludgeon you with political ideaology. I write genre fiction because I want to entertain people, give them an escape from the mundane, and let them explore a world different from our own. Part of why I’d love to see my books adapted for a table-top RPG is because the possibilities are endless. Would you be a mage with water powers? A grizzled half-elven mercenary? A werewolf noblewoman? A vampire politician? In a world as expansive as the Steel Empires, there’s room for everyone. Let me know where you fit.
About the book:
As her children begin lives of their own, Victory struggles with the loneliness of an empty nest. Just when the city of Limani could not seem smaller, an old friend requests that she come out of retirement for one final mercenary contract—to bodyguard his granddaughter, a princess of the Qin Empire.
For the first time in a century, the Qin and British Empires are reopening diplomatic relations. Alongside the British delegation, Victory and her daywalker Mikelos arrive in the Qin colony city of Jiang Yi Yue. As the Qin weredragons and British werewolves take careful steps toward a lasting peace between their people, a connection between the Qin princess and a British nobleman throw everyone’s plans in disarray.
Meanwhile, a third faction stalks the city under the cover of darkness.
This is not a typical romance. It’s a good thing Victory is not a typical vampire.
Buy links:
About the author:
By 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).

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