Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.
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. Her current work focuses on the urban fantasy/alternate history Steel Empires series, in which her debut novel, STEEL VICTORY, was her thesis novel for Seton Hill University’s Writing Popular Fiction graduate program in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Previously, she was one of the co-editors for FAR WORLDS, a speculative fiction anthology. She lives in Ellicott City, Maryland, with her husband and three vocal Siamese cats. Find her online (www.jlgribble.com), on Facebook (www.facebook.com/jlgribblewriter), and on Twitter and Instagram (@hannaedits). She is currently working on more tales set in the world of Limani.
Thanks so much, J.L., for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
J.L. Gribble: I often refer to my book series as “nontraditional urban fantasy.” I take a lot of the familiar tropes of the urban fantasy genre and flip them, both overtly and subtly. This results in a world where the supernatural and magic exists for all, which is obvious from the story and plot for all readers, but I also buck the trend by writing in third-person point of view rather than the stand first-person that is more common in urban fantasy. My main goal has always been to write the best story possible, even if it means twisting reader expectations where necessary.
JSC: What was your first published work? Tell me a little about it.
JLG: Steel Victory, the first book in the Steel Empires series, started life as the thesis novel for my graduate program. I knew upon graduation that finding a home for it would be difficult, but a few years later I found Raw Dog Screaming Press, a small publishing company known for supporting stories that buck trends. I was honored to be one of the earliest authors selected for their science-fiction adventure imprint, Dog Star Books, and I’ve loved working with them throughout my series.
JSC: Do you use a pseudonym? If so, why? If not, why not?
JLG: I chose to publish under my initials because my full first name (Johanna) is not pronounced the way it is spelled in American English, nor is the nickname (Hanna) that I go by. I’ve trained myself to answer go “J.L.” at in-person events, but I’m also rarely mad if people pronounce my name wrong, especially if they’ve mostly only seen it in text form on the internet.
JSC: Are you a plotter or a pantster?
JLG: I am very much a plotter. I’ve experimented with different plotting methods for pretty much all of my books, but by the time I start writing, I have a scene-by-scene outline that I work from. I’m never afraid to change things, but I having a roadmap to follow takes a lot of stress out of the journey for me.
JSC: How did you choose the topic for Steel Justice?
JLG: I wanted to try my hand at a mystery, and while I got the murder part down, my characters were quick to inform me that they were definitely not detectives! Nevertheless, I had still had fun infusing the adventure story with plenty of the tropes of that genre and blending them into my urban fantasy world and unique characters.
JSC: Let’s talk to your characters for a minute – what’s it like to work for such a demanding writer?
Toria: I’ve continually asked to speak to the management about my repeated emotional trauma.
Kane: Only emotional trauma? Don’t get you stabbed by a robot in this one?
Toria: At least I didn’t run off and get a spur of the moment tattoo.
Kane: It was your night to watch Zhinu.
Zhinu: I still want to know why I need bodyguards when I’m a literal dragon.
Toria: Because you love us, obviously.
JSC: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
JLG: I was absolutely going to be an astronaut when I grew up. Went to Space Camp and everything. Unfortunately, a contentious relationship with calculus and chemistry and high school was a deterrent to that plan, but I still love following advances in rockets and space travel. Elements of that passion even show up in Steel Justice, because I firmly believe science and magic can (and should) coexist in the urban fantasy genre!
JSC: What pets are currently on your keyboard, and what are their names? Pictures?
JLG: I have three Siamese cats, and they are currently not on my keyboard. The heat is on, so they have scattered to sit on heating vents instead. Nicki is a chocolate point, Lucy is a seal point, and Alex is a blue point. My clowder consists of sibling and half-siblings and they are each 12 years old and love to snuggle. If they’ve never met you before, but they definitely miss you.
JSC: Star Trek or Star Wars? Why?
JLG: Stargate! It goes hand-in-hand with my love of urban fantasy in that it deals with science fiction in a contemporary time period. Stargate Atlantis is my favorite of the television properties, but SG-1 will always come in at a strong second. My spouse and I joke that one of the reasons the show holds up so well is because the Air Force uniform hasn’t changed since SG-1 premiered in the mid 1990s.
JSC: What are you working on now, and what’s coming out next? Tell us about it!
JLG: I’m currently working on the final book in the Steel Empires series, Steel Legacy. It’s my most ambitious story yet and will pull in elements, themes, and characters from every previous book in the series. I’m about halfway done with the first draft, and I hope to release it sometime in 2022.
And now for J.L.’s latest book: Steel Justice:
Warrior-mage partners Toria Connor and Kane Nalamas have reached the pinnacle of their mercenary career, known far and wide and offered their pick of jobs. Mixing business with friendship, they accept a long-term contract across the ocean in Londinium, even though it means a six-month separation from their loved ones in Limani. Lady Zhinu Wallace has no actual need for bodyguards, with her ability to change form into a dragon, but she wants the status and support of her long-time friends as she makes her official debut into British noble society.
What should be a simple job, escorting the client to teas, business meetings, and galas, grows complicated when Zhinu is accused of murder. Her arrest thrusts Kane and Toria into the mystery of a dead scientist, a pickpocket with intriguing tattoos, and a magically encoded notebook.
Toria and Kane split up to untangle all the threads that lead to a lab filled with impossible technology. But to save lives, the partners must work closer together than ever before — merging not only their magic, but their very souls.
Toria Connor assumed the Mercenary Guild’s official guidelines frowned upon the client protecting the bodyguard. But when the body was a genuine weredragon, over ten feet long from snout to tail, with talons the length of daggers, the official guidelines could sod off. “Zhinu, watch your left!”
The blue dragon lunged to the side, catching another robotic dog with her claws and crushing its bladed fist. The knives crumpled in her grip like tin foil. That took care of one attack method, but it caught Zhinu’s forelimb with its frontal limbs. Metal pounded her scales, and Zhinu hissed through her fangs at the brute force of the blows.
“We have to get out of here, Tor!” Kane swept his blade at another robot, throwing his weight behind the blow. Sparks flared, and the robot jerked to the side. It crashed against the window glass, where spiderweb cracks formed.
Toria dropped to one knee as the fifth limb swiped in her direction, and she used both hands to force her sword point into another exposed joint. This time, she threaded power through the blade itself. The energy met no resistance, and the machine froze mid-movement as Toria’s magic fried the electronics with prejudice. She wrenched her sword away as the construct collapsed, unable to compensate for its unbalanced state.
The harsh tang of burnt plastic mixed with ozone swept through the room. Toria sneezed.
Her brief moment of inattention almost proved fatal. One of the robotic dog forms waiting in reserve crept forward at its brethren’s demise. This one did not have a fifth limb extending from its torso and instead used one of its legs to sweep at Toria’s crouched form. Zhinu launched herself at the creature. They skidded across the floor in a tangle of limbs, biological and mechanical, until they collided with the table holding the computer.
The screen toppled and shattered, but the beeping continued unceasingly.
The countdown ticked lower.