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.
Today: Joyce Reynolds-Ward has been called “the best writer I’ve never heard of” by one reviewer. Her work includes themes of high-stakes family and political conflict, physical and digital sentience, personal agency and control, realistic strong women, and (whenever possible) horses.
She is the author of The Netwalk Sequence series, the Goddess’s Honor series, and the recently released The Martiniere Legacy series as well as standalones Klone’s Stronghold and Alien Savvy. Samples of her Martiniere short stories/novel in progress and her nonfiction can be found on Substack at either Speculations from the Wide Open Spaces (writing), Speculations on Politics and Political History (politics), or Martiniere Stories (fiction).
Joyce is a Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off Semifinalist, a Writers of the Future SemiFinalist, and an Anthology Builder Finalist. She is the Secretary of the Northwest Independent Writers Association and a member of Soroptimists International. Find out more about Joyce at her website, http://www.joycereynoldsward.com. Joyce is @JoyceReynoldsW1 on Twitter.
Amazon Author Page*: https://www.amazon.com/kindle-dbs/entity/author/B00HIP821Y
*Note: her old Netwalk Sequence books are still up, will be taken down. Life in the Shadows is the first 2022 Author Preferred link.
Thanks so much, Joyce, for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
Joyce Reynolds-Ward: I’m somewhat odd in that while I write speculative fiction, how I write and my subjects are shaped by contemporary US Western writers and writing. The Pacific Northwest is a significant influence in my settings, both in science fiction and fantasy. My most recent series, The Martiniere Legacy, and its alternative world offshoots are all set in and around Oregon, with occasional expeditions to Los Angeles and Paris.
But there are other influences as well. My “big ideas” tend to be about the impact of something external on relationships—whether that external influence is technology, as in my two science fiction series (The Netwalk Sequence and The Martiniere Legacy), or magic gone wrong and battles between Gods (Goddess’s Honor and the forthcoming Goddess’s Vision, in 2023).
I also have a weakness for family sagas, and am thoroughly indulging it in The Martiniere Legacy. The Netwalk Sequence has some elements of that, but not to the same degree that The Martiniere Legacy books do.
I also like grounding my characters in certain aspects of everyday life. One of the best things I learned in a workshop with Jamie Ford (Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, among others) was to write sketches about my characters preparing food. Food prep ends up being a major part of the plot in the Martiniere books, just because I wanted to show that these billionaires hadn’t been brought up to be leeches on society, and because they were interacting with real people who didn’t have servants. And—surprise, surprise—during the process of food preparation, major plot elements pop up.
The first sketch of this sort that I wrote during that particular workshop is in the last book of my Goddess’s Honor series. My character Witmara, on the brink of challenging the Emperor who has oppressed her family and her peoples, decides that she wants pancakes for breakfast, before she and her troop ride the last stretch to the town of Adalane. Now this is campfire cookery, something I’ve observed in hunting camp. But Witmara is another leader who isn’t afraid of getting her hands dirty or doing something mundane like cooking. She scandalizes a recent follower by doing so. Well, guess what? Even as Empress, you’ll see more of this behavior from Witmara in the Goddess’s Vision series.
JSC: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
JRW: One of the worst pieces of advice that I received from someone I thought was a friend was to focus on nonfiction instead of fiction. This was during a difficult time in my family life during the 1990s, when my autistic son was young. Oh, I did it. I got stuff published in the Portland, Oregon zine scene, and even earned a little money from it.
Ultimately, it did nothing to advance my writing career. Sure, I can write essays. But I can’t sustain the quality or quantity of nonfiction that I can in fiction. I’m not temperamentally suited to do the sort of writing that makes money on Medium, for example. I’ll do anything to avoid it—“oh, I need to write a blog post right now? Um, wait, there’s this scene in the latest story that needs to be written first!”
If I had concentrated on writing and submitting fiction instead, I would be much further along in my writing career than I am now.
JSC: How long have you been writing?
JRW: I have been writing and submitting work off and on since the 1990s. Well, that’s not exactly true. I wrote short stories in the 1970s, during my high school years. I got enough rejection slips to paper my locker my senior year. I didn’t tell any editor that I was a high school student, and maybe I should have.
I wrote nonfiction during the 1990s, and again when attending grad school in 2003-2004. I had a regular column in the Portland State Vanguard, up until spring term when I was student teaching in a highly challenging special education, self-contained classroom setting. Then I didn’t write until about 2007, after a spell where I did a lot of technical writing as a special education case manager (writing Individual Education Plans is tech writing, period). I clearly remember staring at my work computer one day after cranking out IEPs and evaluation reports, and muttering “I want to write fiction again.”
So I did. I had some moderate success in Writers of the Future, earning a semifinalist placement before I decided not to participate further. I sent out book manuscripts, resulting in the infamous “love your voice, love your work, can’t sell it” rejects. In 2011, I decided to go the self-publication route with my books.
I don’t regret that decision one bit.
JSC: What was the hardest part of writing Life in the Shadows?
JRW: Life in the Shadows is part of an extensive update, revision and reissue of my first series, The Netwalk Sequence. About half of Shadows is new material, either previously published but not included in the original version, or from worldbuilding work I had created while working on the series.
I did not realize just how dark that book and this series was. Shadows is a chronicle of the deteriorating relationship between a mother and daughter who are both powerful corporate leaders engaged in bioremediation work. External forces in the shape of a technology later discovered to be alien end up causing the final break between them.
But the progress of rupture is not steady. Sarah Stephens and her daughter Diana Landreth veer back and forth between trust and suspicion. Sarah eventually ends up choosing political power—but the pathway there is fraught.
The book also spans thirty years, which means I had to pick and choose between incidents and materials. I could easily have created still another book focusing on parts I skipped over. It was best for my sanity that I didn’t go there, however. The Netwalk Sequence was created during a very difficult time in my work life—lots of upheaval and drama—and revisiting those books brings back a lot of the mood of that time.
However, I think that the revisions are worth it, because the themes are very timely, more so than they were in that era.
JSC: Who did your cover, and what was the design process like?
JRW: I did the Shadows cover myself. Originally, I was going to work with a designer, but that person ran into a rough patch in their personal life. At first, I laid it out in PowerPoint. Then the writing organization that I belong to, Northwest Independent Writers Association, sponsored a BookBrush seminar. After going through the seminar, I subscribed to BookBrush.
I purchased a set of related photos from Depositphotos that captured the mood I wanted to convey with this series. One of the reasons for redoing The Netwalk Sequence is the reality that I had several different cover artists working on the series, and I wanted to redo them with consistent branding. BookBrush made the layout and design fairly simple.
JSC: What’s your writing process?
JRW: All over the place! Seriously, I’ve found that each series or book seems to require a different process. Lately, I’ve been drafting chapters in Word, then pasting them into Scrivener. I find that putting chapters into Scrivener makes it easier to figure out continuity issues—instead of scrolling through the entire work, or pulling up individual chapters in Word, I can look over at Scrivener and click into a chapter.
Additionally, all my worldbuilding stuff goes into the Research tab in Scrivener. Again, that’s a quick and easy reference. Timelines. Character notes. Scene notes. Plot notes. I always have both Scrivener and Word up on the screen (I work on an iMac) so it’s easy to go back and forth.
When I’m done with the first draft, I export it back into Word. At that point I’ll do a review and revision pass, then send the manuscript off to beta readers.
Organization-wise, I tend to be a plantser—I do write outlines and plans. But that is also shaped by the geography of my story and how many different POVs I have. If I have more than two POVs, I’ll create a scene matrix and note the scenes I want to write—then decide which scene is best viewed from which character’s POV. If the characters are separated by great distances and travel times are issues, then I also tend to do more organization, just so I know who is where. It saves me a lot of rewriting and continuity work….
JSC: What are some day jobs that you have held? If any of them impacted your writing, share an example.
JRW: I’ve been a waitress, movie theater snack bar attendant, political organizer, administrative assistant, paralegal, and special education teacher. I’d say that the political organizing, and paralegal experiences have had the most impact on my writing. Paralegal work in complex securities litigation and political organizing have given me inside looks at how people in power actually function when they aren’t performing in public. I’ve seen how the sausage is made, and believe me—I’m watering things down when I write about corporations and politics.
I’d like to say that teaching had an impact as well, but sadly, those influences don’t tend to be what seems to be of interest to readers.
JSC: Which of your own characters would you Kill? Fuck? Marry? And why?
JRW: Oh, this question is fun and easy! Keep in mind that I’m cis het female, so that’s reflected here.
Kill—well, if I want to kill them, I generally do so in the story. I think the most hated character is Philip Martiniere. He is a thoroughgoing, exploitative psychopath whose greatest dream is to become like his Medici and Borgia ancestors. He has imperial ambitions, and is ruthless in his treatment of family and colleagues alike. He deliberately sets out to destroy his children—all except his adopted son Joseph, and he ultimately destroys Joseph as well.
Fuck/marry—oh, hands down would be Philip’s son Gabriel from The Martiniere Legacy, followed by my secondary character Heinmyets in the Goddess’s Honor series. Both men hew to a code of honor that demands those in a position of power must treat others right.
Gabriel has a lot of flaws, including the ability to lie to himself about his reasons for doing things. His intentions are good, although he suffers from a savior complex that ends up getting him into trouble. His overprotective notions end up causing a divorce from the love of his life, and they spend twenty-one years apart before they unite against Philip.
Heinmyets is driven by a vision that isn’t fully articulated in Goddess’s Honor, but will come out in Goddess’s Vision. After he’s lost everything dear to him—his wives, his son, one of his heartsdaughters—in Goddess’s Honor, he finds a means to become relevant again late in life, during the Goddess’s Vision series, through service to his heartsdaughter Witmara as she deconstructs the failing Daran Empire.
JSC: What’s your drink of choice?
JRW: I have two. Single malt Scotch, neat, or else a very nice, high-quality absinthe.
JSC: What are you working on now, and what’s coming out next? Tell us about it!
JRW: Right now, I’m in revisions for my alternative Martiniere Legacy series. A Different Life—What If? originates from a scene in the last mainstream Martiniere Legacy book, Repairing the Legacy (also a work in progress). Gabriel and his wife Ruby place flowers on the graves of Gabe’s family, killed in a plane crash when he was twelve—which put him under Philip’s control. They speculate about how his life would have changed had that not happened, and whether they would meet.
The scene kept niggling at me, until I started writing. Gabe and Ruby in that series are much more damaged than they are in the mainstream series, because despite not losing his family, Gabe’s life isn’t all sweetness and light, mainly because of Philip sticking his nose back into it.
I’ve started scribbling on a sequel to What If? as well. Linda’s Story is about Ruby’s friend Linda, and how she gets drawn into the Martiniere circle. I plan to start serializing it over on Kindle Vella in a week or two.
What’s coming out next is the revised Life in the Shadows, which will be out on March 17, 2022. This book lays out the foundation for the rest of The Netwalk Sequence, as it chronicles the events that lead to the estrangement of Sarah Stephens from her daughter Diana Landreth. They share goals, but the aftereffects of capturing the destructive, city-killing Disruption Machine destroy their relationship forever. Sarah chooses politics. Diana chooses research and family. What happens after that changes the future.
And now for Joyce’s new book: life in the shadows:
IN A TECH-DRIVEN BIOREMEDIATION FUTURE, HARD CHOICES MUST BE MADE.
Powerful mother. Powerful daughter.
Sarah Stephens and her daughter Diana Landreth run bioremediation companies dependent upon neural nets and nanotechnology to operate complex biobots. Sometimes competitors, sometimes collaborators, while they disagree, they are still mother and daughter.
And then the Disruption Machine begins its campaign of devastation.
In the process of their collaboration to stop the Disruption Machine, the shadows in their lives force their paths into a dangerous divergence.
Sarah chooses politics and power.
Diana chooses research and family.
What happens when their choices collide?
Even before the overhead motion-cued light flicked on, Diana Andrews registered the presence sitting calmly in the darkness, whoever it was breathing lightly and steadily.
Hacked the security sensors—trouble!
She dropped her ski bag and whirled toward the corner where the person was, shaking the highly illegal zapper made by her boyfriend Will Landreth out of her wrist holster, sighting down the barrel toward—her mother.
Sarah Stephens stared steadily back at Diana, legs crossed and hands relaxed on the arms of the old wooden captain’s chair Diana had borrowed from her father.
The other option.
Diana softened, sighed and dropped her hands, flicking the zapper back into its case.
I don’t know which is worse, Mother or a kidnapper.
“I do hope I didn’t see what I thought I saw,” her mother said dryly.
Diana swallowed hard and picked up her ski bag. Sarah Stephens could make trouble for Will if she pushed it. Best to distract her and not fight.
“What are you doing here?” Diana ran her finger down the bag’s seam and started dragging out her wet equipment. It had been a thoroughly mucky day on the slopes, temperatures barely above freezing, fog and mist and gloppy sticky snow that grabbed skis and snowboards.
But glorious nonetheless, because days like this were when she could meet Will with little risk.
“You’ve been out late, for conditions like they are today.” Sarah steepled her fingers and touched her index fingers to her lips.
“I’m an adult.” Diana grabbed a towel. As she dried her skis, she laid them on the sawhorses that served her as a waxing station in the condo. “I’ll be at work on time tomorrow. That should be all that matters.”
“You expose yourself needlessly.” Still no emotion in her mother’s voice.
“I had company. I wasn’t alone. I had Security—Brenda, and she brought others—and friends. Zoë Wright. Zoë had her own Security.”
Sadly, she hadn’t much time alone with Will. But given the recent visibility of Stephens Reclamation in the news, bringing Security along not only gave Diana protection from anti-Third Force guerillas seeking to find leverage to blackmail her mother, but provided cover for her time with Will.
“And William Landreth. I warned you about him.” Now the tiniest bit of anger crept into her mother’s voice, a sharp tone matched by a scowl and furrowed brows.