Guest Post: Author J.L. Gribble

Maria here. Please give a warm welcome to author J.L Gribble as she makes a guest appearance on my blog! The latest book in her Steel Empires series is about to be born, and I’m pleased to have her talk about her monsters. Take it away, J.L.!

A major reason why I probably don’t write horror is because I think monsters are people, too.

This isn’t to say that I dislike reading or watching horror because I’m too busy sympathizing with the monsters to root for the humans. It’s fairer to say that humans can be equally monstrous, so pinning evil and villainy on a creature just because they are “other” never interested me.

Instead, urban fantasy allows me to explore that sense of “otherness” using the supernatural, just as science-fiction has been teaching us about humanity through the lens of alien races for decades. Though still incorporating elements of monstrousness, supernatural creatures can be an equal part of society in open-world urban fantasy. That unique facet draws me in, and challenges me to create well-rounded characters no matter their species.

For example, in many urban fantasy stories that include the quintessential vampire “Master of the City,” they are often cast as antagonists to the main character, or at least road blocks that add conflict to the narrative. To be completely honest, my hero Victory (a vampire) became the Master of the City because, well, she was the only vampire in the city. What started out as an in-joke in my own head instead developed into flipping genre norms and humanizing the traditionally monstrous. Instead of shadowy underworld leader, I had a professional politician with a seat on the city’s ruling council, and echoes of that decision have rippled through each installment of my series.

Of course, it would have been easy to take the obvious road and make all of the “bad guys” in my series human. But that would have been boring and a little too on the nose. And even though I have vampire heroes, I certainly also have vampires who create conflict. But the fun thing about writing monsters, even when they’re also people, is figuring out what makes them monstrous. The four “worst” characters in my published books include two humans (one with magical powers and one without), one elf, and one weredragon. The weredragon is the most literal monster, but he fights for his family, whereas one of the humans fights because of prejudice and fear. The elven character plots for control over the world, but the other human has an evil born of selfish desire for power.

One day, I would like to challenge myself to create a truly villainous monster of a character and tilt a little more toward the horror genre, in the lines of Maria Alexander’s incredibly creepy “Mr. Wicker.” But for now, I’m happy to keep exploring what makes monsters human, and humans monstrous, through the scope of urban fantasy.

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About the book:

Steel-Blood-Jacket.inddAs 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:

Amazon: http://amzn.to/2pPShZH
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/steel-blood-jl-gribble/1126268372
From the publisher: http://rawdogscreaming.com/books/steel-blood/

About the author:

Gribble photo colorBy 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 (www.jlgribble.com), on Facebook (www.facebook.com/jlgribblewriter), and on Twitter and Instagram (@hannaedits).

Dear Family, I’m Not Writing About You

The other day, I got a call from a relative who was very upset. Based on my interest in and amusement over a personal anecdote they’d recently shared, this person decided that I was “writing a book” about them. They went on to threaten me in such elaborate and specific ways that, had they been a stranger, I might have been worried. As it turns out, I’m not concerned. Why? Because of this:

Dear family, I’m not f*&king writing about you.

Seriously, you guys. I’m not.

It’s common for family members to worry that their writing kin are mining domestic secrets and personalities for material to exploit. Two reasons come immediately to mind:

1. Memoirs

There’s always that jerk in the family who, after a family quarrel shouts, “I’m going to write a memoir! Just you people wait!” Of course, then everyone’s scared that their jerk brother or aunt or whoever is going to make them look bad. And it’s true that entirely too many would-be writers think, “My family is SO CRAY-CRAY. The whole world will be lining up to read this!”

(Dear would-be writers, it’s not bloody likely.)

You might be disappointed to hear that an author is protected legally by the First Amendment when writing a memoir because they’re discussing events that happened to themselves. But if they’re scribbling random anecdotes about things that happened to siblings, parents, and other kin, they could fall into muddy legal terrain. And in either case, if it’s something that puts the subject in a criminal light, the writer could be in legal hot water. In fact, this is one of the dangers of self-publishing. A legitimate agent and publisher would recognize the legal risk. An inexperienced writer — like your jerk brother — might not. But don’t worry. Your jerk brother’s chances of getting a major publishing deal are slim to none. And getting noticed through Amazon self-publishing is just as unlikely. That’s if he ever finishes his magnum opus, of course. So, let him scribble.

(For the record, I’ve written a memoir. And none of you family lot are in it. So, just chill, okay?)

2. The Belief that Creativity Is a Soulless, Marrow-Sucking Ghoul

Another big reason family members fear they’re being “written about” is because people who aren’t writers don’t understand how creativity works. Many think writers are constantly on the prowl for “inspiration,” that everything they write comes from outside of themselves. Some even see writers as intellectual leeches that exploit any interesting event they hear about to make a buck or simply get attention.

People are afraid of being exploited and thereby exposed. I get it. But creativity doesn’t have to — and often doesn’t — work that way.

Dear family, it’s about me, not you.

I can’t say there aren’t people out there trawling their family history for material (or at least trying). However, I can speak for myself as I say that I’m inspired far more by what happens to me rather than by what happens to other people. My short stories tend to be somewhat autobiographical. In those cases, I take a true story — something that happened to me personally — and then introduce a supernatural element that, by the time I’m done, has fictionalized everything. So, if I’m a ghoul, I’m sucking my own tasty, tasty marrow.

My books are wholly made up. There’s very little of me or anyone I know in them. That’s just how it is.

I’ve only once explicitly written about something that happened to a family member, which was when I wrote that essay about my sister Danielle’s tragic accident. Not only did her tragedy and profound disability deeply affect me, I felt Danielle’s story was important to share since distracted driving is epidemic, and teens are especially susceptible to lifelong disability from traumatic brain injury. Plus, numerous people over the years have asked me how she’s doing. The essay is an effective way to convey the reality of her situation, especially since she’s unable to do it herself.

Dear family, READ WHAT I WRITE.

Had this family member read anything of mine to start with, they’d have realized that their particular life event is totally out of my wheelhouse (among other things). Of course, fear is blinding. Perhaps they would have suspected the worst no matter what they knew about my writing. Or me.

I reminded this relative that I loved them and would never do anything that might expose them to harm or ridicule, but that didn’t help. At all. It just goes to show that fear is irrational and you can’t allay anxieties once they’ve risen. This blog post is meant to be prophylactic against future questions.

I just ask that, if someone in your family is a writer, read what they’ve published before worrying that they’re mining your life for material. And if they’ve never published anything, rest assured whatever they write might not see the light of day, even if they self-publish.

Remember, it’s about them, not you.

And, Jesus, please get a grip, okay?

 

P.S. Dear family, I love you!

The Gift of Love — Or, How a Dildo Wound Up on Our Front Lawn

Earlier today, I was out picking up bits of trash that blow into our front yard. Except for the last two weeks, which have been insanely hot, I actually spend a lot of time watering the trees and cleaning up our front yard, even though we have gardeners come every week. I like to spend time with the apple tree especially, as we’ve had lots of apples this year.

Today, I found this.

Dildo

We get a lot of weird stuff in our front yard, mostly thanks to a guy who, one year later, still has it out for us because we had his car towed when it was blocking our driveway overnight. Since we got security cameras, this giant man-baby has been tossing things into our yard from stage left, just off camera. But a good amount of detritus blows into the front yard, having been dropped by lazy jerks wandering the neighborhood.

Security Cameras to the Rescue!

I was certain if I checked the security cameras I’d find the culprit. Not that it would matter. LAPD detectives are kind of busy with other, more serious problems than dildo dumpers. But I still needed to see what in the world had happened. The least I could do is post it to NextDoor.com and see if the neighbors could identify the culprit. I half expected to see it sailing from somewhere stage left into our yard, having been thrown by the giant man-baby.

Grandma?

I checked the cameras and found that yesterday a grandmotherly lady with three children wandered past our house going toward the main street. As she walked by, Grandma did a double-take at our property. When they came back and passed our house again, Grandma stopped and poked at something that was lodged in our fence.

The dildo had been lodged in the top of the fence, pointing outward to the street. Which made me wonder:

Just how long was that thing stuck in our fence? 

Thankfully, it’s glow-in-the-dark (!), which made it easy to see on the security cameras at night. I figured the culprit had stuck it in our fence the night before. Logical assumption since I’m out there watering and picking up wind-blown garbage, right? Okay, maybe not so often these last two weeks, but the gardeners would have noticed, wouldn’t they? They were just here on Wednesday.

The Giver of the Gift of Love

With growing horror, I clicked back day after day on the security cameras until I hit the magic day and discovered the truth.

The dildo had been stuck in our fence taunting passersby FOR TEN DAYS.

And here’s how it got there.

For some reason, a random dude drinking out of a paper bag staggered past our house and decided a good place to stash his glow-in-the-dark dildo — that he just happened to be carrying around?!? — was on our fence.

I just…can’t.

All I know is that we’ve got to spend more time on the sidewalk outside the front of our house — that is, if we’re going to retrieve any other prominently placed weapons of ass destruction in a timely fashion.

If not, I guess people are just going to have to think we’re dicks.

Wonder Woman: Escape from the Sword Girl Ghetto

I was worried about Wonder Woman. Not about Gal Gadot being fit for the part, nor even if the story would continue the dismal DC parade of failed narratives. (Okay, maybe the latter a little.) No, mostly I was worried I’d have to watch reams of stupid sword stuff like this.

I covered why this sword-on-the-back thing is terrible in my essay, “Four of the Dumbest Things Done with Swords in Fiction and Film.” It applies to both katanas and beefy, quasi-gladii like “The God Killer.” This photo appears all over the Internet whenever anyone talks about Wonder Woman. It makes the movie look dumb as dirt. (To me, anyway.)

Fortunately, this image didn’t appear in the movie at all. I remember one scene where the sword had been fastened to her back with leather thongs, only to magically appear in her hand a few moments later after a scene cut, but that was about it. In an earlier scene, she wears the sword at her side, where it’s actually accessible. As for the dance scene, I’m going to pretend that didn’t happen…

…because, for the most part, this movie was glorious.

Robin Wright: From Buttercup to Butt-kicker

I don’t want to add any more photos or details in case of spoilers. Suffice it to say that, as I watched the Amazons fight, it was so beautiful I cried. The Amazons were chiefly comprised of professional female athletes. They absolutely killed it with the battle choreography, making every moment breathtaking. And they looked frightening in battle. In fact, I didn’t even recognize Robin Wright as Antiope, not until long after the movie was over when someone online pointed out who she was. Gotta say, to see thick scars snaking over Antiope’s body made me swoon.

(Also made me swoon: Chris Pine tied up with the Lasso of Truth, kneeling before the Amazons as he winced with pain. Ahem.)

(Hee!)

As for Diana Prince, Gal Gadot fit the part perfectly, bringing a believable naïveté to her courageous personality. God, I loved her. The No Man’s Land scene is already a classic.

My congratulations to the stunt and fight choreographers and coordinators: Damon Caro, Wayne Dalglish, Allen Jo, Tim Rigby, Marcus Shakesheff, Lee Sheward,  and Rudolph Vrba. Amazing work.

But most of all, thanks to Patty Jenkins. You made the heart of this swordwoman sing.

 

On SNOWED’s Anthony Award Nomination and a Giveaway

I won’t lie. When I was notified that Snowed had received an Anthony Award nomination for Best Children’s/YA Novel, I got a bit emotional. I was just coming off the high of the book winning the 2016 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a Young Adult Novel, which was awesome enough. But the Anthony’s speak to a whole different part of me as an author.

Mysteries: My First Literary Love

When I was a child, we didn’t have much money, and only very few books at home. My elementary school here in Los Angeles didn’t have a library, but it did have a Book Mobile that restricted me to books in my age group. That was extremely frustrating because I was easily reading six grades above that. My friends in first grade teased me for reading “grownup” books because they didn’t have pictures in them.

The Gift of Books that Changed My Life

Those “grownup” books I was reading? My mother worked as a clerk at Thrifty Drugs. I was in first grade when a coworker, who’d heard that I liked to read, gave my mother the first 50 Hardy Boys books. I was in heaven! I quickly moved onto Agatha Christie and Edgar Allan Poe, buying Christie paperbacks with birthday money. I also loved the more “age appropriate” mysteries of Zilpha Keatley Snyder. Although I saw The Fly at three years of age (thanks, big brother!), I didn’t discover monster movies, vampires, and ghost stories until a few years later. But meanwhile, I devoured Encyclopedia Brown and The Great Brain books. I loved puzzles, and mysteries scratched that itch.

How it Started

My childhood and I didn’t know it.

Part of my love of crime stories in particular came out of my troubled childhood. My father was an investigator for the Franchise Tax Board. While my mother worked weekends, he used to make my baby sister and I scrunch down in the back seat of his Dodge while he went dumpster diving in the Hollywood Hills. I thought it was terribly exciting. When I told my mom, she thought it was entirely TOO exciting. Those trips ended there. We wound up leaving Los Angeles just after my dad helped bring down a major narco in L.A. by getting him on tax evasion. I never understood half the things my parents talked about until many years later as I was watching Narcos on Netflix. Boy, was that a surprise.

Anthony Awards and Bouchercon

But I only started writing mysteries and crime fiction myself in the last few years. Being involved in the mystery writing community has been a pure joy. At my first Bouchercon, I found vintage Sherlock Holmes novels in the dealer’s room and quickly discovered the rapture of reading Arthur Conan Doyle, something I’d somehow missed growing up. I quickly became a fan of many modern mystery and noir authors such as Megan Abbott, Laura Lippman, J.C. Lane (nom de plume of Judy Smucker Clemens), Kelli Stanley, Thomas Harris, Donna Moore, and others.

Anthony Awards

As you might guess, it boggles my mind to be on an awards nomination slate with Megan Abbott, Laura Lippman, and JC Lane. To say it’s an honor just to be nominated is an understatement. Here are my fellow nominees in the Best Children’s/YA Novel category:

  • Snowed – Maria Alexander [Raw Dog Screaming]
  • The Girl I Used to Be – April Henry [Henry Holt]
  • Tag, You’re Dead – J.C. Lane [Poisoned Pen]
  • My Sister Rosa – Justine Larbalestier [Soho Teen]
  • The Fixes – Owen Matthews [HarperTeen]

I wish everyone the best of luck! And I thank the Bouchercon attendees for this enormous honor with all my heart.

Goodreads Giveaway and Kindle Sale

In celebration, I’m offering a Goodreads giveaway of a hardcover copy of Snowed. Please enter and share with your friends!

And the publisher Raw Dog Screaming Press is offering the Kindle for only $2.99.

Click for Kindle Sale

Thank you!

 

SNOWED Wins the 2016 Bram Stoker Award for YA Novel

It was a totally surreal weekend.

First, StokerCon 2017 was held on The Queen Mary. If you’ve read my short story “Some Divine,” you’ll have some idea of the spooky-crazy stuff that I’ve experienced on that ship. The experiences were so powerful that I had to fictionalize them. Otherwise, who’d believe it?

I’m not asking that question anymore.

Anyway, I’d agreed in advance to play Werewolf: The Apocalypse onstage that Friday with George R.R. Martin, Stephen Graham Jones, Chuck Wendig and Nancy Holder. I couldn’t have asked for a more prestigious, hilarious, creative group of people. Our Storyteller Bill Bridges brought us on a fun adventure battling Black Spiral Dancers (mais bien sûr) and The Wyrm they serve. Someone in the audience was sweet enough to lend me and Stephen fuzzy wolf ears to wear as we played. I just about DIED when I saw the photos.

(Speaking of dying, I was suffering the worst allergies of my life. I’m surprised my eyes don’t look even puffier in this photo, although the right one looks swollen for sure.) Anyway, Patrick Freivald took this group tabletop photo as proof of the madness. That’s me next to GRRM on the far left.

After the game, I was so sick from allergies that I crawled back to my room, totally forgetting I had a YA panel to be on at that time. Ugh! It was the first time I’d ever missed a panel in my life. I began self-flagellating between power sneezes. I eventually got some “severe” cold medication from the gift shop, which seemed to dam the tide for slightly longer intervals than double-Sudafed doses. (Which is bad, I know.)

Saturday was looking better now that I had some almost workable meds. I was on Lee Murray’s terrific panel about Collaborations in Horror, and then the equally awesome Libraries and Authors panel moderated by the wonderful JG Faherty. There, I at last met the librarian Becky Siegel Spratford, whose blog I’d read without even realizing it!

After the afternoon signing, I had to get ready for the Bram Stoker Awards banquet. This year, I wrote a speech, which some folk might think would jinx the whole thing. But for all my woo-woo beliefs, I actually don’t believe you can “jinx” something that was decided by other people five weeks ago. I’m really glad, too, because I freaking won!

This award meant a lot to me. As far as my stories go, Snowed is the love of my life. It’s the best thing I’ve published to date, and I’m really proud of it. That said, I’m truly humbled and honored by the award. The ballot was fierce, you guys. I’m grateful that my peers found my work worthy. To everyone who read and voted, you have my heartfelt thanks.

snowed_web

SNOWED Nominated for the 2016 Bram Stoker Award!

What an exciting day!

snowed_webI learned this morning that my debut YA novel, Snowed, was nominated for the 2016 Bram Stoker Award® for Superior Achievement in a Young Adult Novel:

Superior Achievement in a Young Adult Novel

Alexander, Maria – Snowed (Raw Dog Screaming Press)
Brozek, Jennifer – Last Days of Salton Academy (Ragnarok Publishing)
Cosimano, Elle – Holding Smoke (Hyperion-Disney)
Roberts, Jeyn – When They Fade (Knopf Books for Young Readers)
Sirowy, Alexandra – The Telling (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)

I’m deeply humbled and honored to be on such a strong list of nominees in my category, as well as the list as a whole. It’s amazing company to be in!

Great thanks and much love to John Lawson and Jennifer Barnes at Raw Dog Screaming Press, my wonderful agent Alex Slater, all of my teen beta readers and their parents, as well as my adorable husband who’s the best first reader anyone could ever ask for. Most of all, merci mille fois to the readers and voters who made this possible.

Other Nominations

And to sweeten things even more, both of the anthologies that published my short stories last year were nominated, as well!

Superior Achievement in an Anthology

Bailey, Michael – Chiral Mad 3 (Written Backwards)
Manzetti, Alessandro – The Beauty of Death (Independent Legions Publishing)
Monteleone, Thomas F. and Monteleone, Oliva F. – Borderlands 6 (Samhain Publishing, Ltd.)
Mosiman, Billie Sue – Fright Mare-Women Write Horror (DM Publishing)
Murano, Doug and Ward, D. Alexander – Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories (Crystal Lake Publishing)

My story “Hey, Little Sister” appeared in Gutted, and a reprint of “The Dark River of His Flesh” appeared in The Beauty of Death. So, major thanks and grazie mille to Doug Murano, David Ward, and Alessandro Manzetti for the opportunity to have my work in such exceptional publications.

Finding Danielle

Image result for finding dory

We watched Finding Dory night before last on Netflix. It was harder for me to watch than I thought it would be. Dory’s “re-mem-bory” problems have been a reality for my sister, Danielle, since her tragic car accident at the age of 17 thanks to a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that changed her life forever.

Finding Dory is about the Pacific regal blue tang in Finding Nemo trying to find her family. As I watched, I kept flashing back to times when Danielle had said something for the 500th time, or had misremembered something, even made up entire histories to compensate for missing memories. While I found Dory’s sweet disposition and guilt about her shortcomings endearing, it also stung knowing that in real life people with TBI’s or dementia do not necessarily take being corrected about things very well. In fact, some people with TBI’s can get agitated and even violent if you tell them they have a memory problem.

But I did love how the story teaches children to have compassion for people with disabilities, to incorporate them into their community, and ultimately to see the value that disabled people bring to every situation because of their unique perspective. It even showed how “abled” people can have a restricted view of the world that limits their coping strategies. That’s because people with disabilities live outside the box. Therefore, they think outside the box on a regular basis.

This was beautifully illustrated when Nemo asks his father, Marlin, “What would Dory do?” and his father lists his own narrow-minded problem-solving strategies. Nemo gets frustrated with him. “That’s what you would do. What would Dory do?” he replies, recognizing that Dory’s approach to the world, however unorthodox, is often innovative.

Image result for finding dory disabilityThis sharp Verge review describes many of the film’s best points, especially around Dory learning to cope with her disability and the depression that accompanies it. But even if Finding Dory isn’t a vital addition to the Pixar canon, it’s an incredibly important addition to children’s films. While the story might lack the emotional gravitas of Finding Nemo for most folk, it packed a much harder emotional punch for those of us who have loved ones with profound disabilities. We need more movies like this that tackle disability in such a compassionate and healthy way, showing families and communities loving disabled people as much as the abled.

This subject matter is critical not just for children but for our continued growth as adults. The fact that the U.S. has elected a man to the presidency who mocks disabled people is proof enough that many grownups in America are in dire need of a soul. Since they won’t listen to fellow adults, a children’s film might be the only way of convincing them to grow one.

So, thanks, Pixar. You don’t know it, but this might be your most important film yet.

SNOWED Makes the Bram Stoker Award® Preliminary Ballot

I’m pleased to announce that my YA novel Snowed has advanced to the Preliminary Ballot in the Young-Adult Novel category for the Bram Stoker Awards®. This isn’t an official nomination. Those will be announced February 23, 2017. Wish me luck! 

This is my eighth appearance on the Bram Stoker Awards® Preliminary Ballots since 2001: six times for short and long fiction, and twice now for novels. In fact, in 2001 I had two short stories on the same ballot.

Awards Eligibility for Bram Stoker, Anthony & Hugo

Just a short post listing what I’ve published this year that’s eligible for awards:

snowed_webSnowed — My YA novel released November 2, 2016 by Raw Dog Screaming Press is eligible for:

  • Bram Stoker Award in the “Young Adult Novel” category
  • Anthony Awards in the “Young Adult Novel” category
  • Agatha Awards in the “Children’s/Young Adult” category
  • Hugos in the “Best Novel” category
  • Thriller Awards in the “Young Adult Novel” category (2018)

Read some of the rave reviews it’s gotten to see why it’s worthy. If you’re a Bouchercon or Worldcon attendee, let me know and I’ll see if I can get review copies for your consideration. The publisher has already submitted it to the jury for the Andre Norton Award, which is a YA award given by the SFWA.

The Witches of Winter — Posted December 15, 2016 on Tor.com. This essay is eligible in the “Best Related Work” category for the Hugos.

“Hey, Little Sister” — a short story that appeared in Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, June 2016 from Crystal Lake Publishing, edited by Doug Murano and D. Alexander Ward. I love this story, but I haven’t been promoting it because I want voters to focus on Snowed. However, reviewers have mentioned it frequently when reviewing the anthology. It’s a nice reminder that I haven’t lost touch with my love for writing short fiction.

That’s all I can recall offhand. Thanks for your kind consideration!