Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Strong Female Hero Stereotype: Talking Urban Fantasy with Guest Author J.L. Gribble

This week I am lucky to be hosting the wickedly talented J.L. Gribble on my blog! Gribble is the author of the urban fantasy Steel Empires series. The third book in the series, Steel Blood, just released this week, and of course I already have my autographed copy.

If you’re a fan of the series, go get your copy of the third book now, what are you waiting for?? If you’re new to the series, start with book one, Steel Victory.

J.L. Gribble and I were talking about the now almost cliché staple of the urban fantasy genre—the Strong Female Character. It’s asinine to me that this has to be a *thing.* Can’t we just have female leads with strengths, without them being called out as something unique?
Here, Gribble offers her thoughts on the Strong Female Character issue, and discusses how her lead, a vampire named Victory, differs from the stereotypical lead of modern urban fantasy. Take it away, J.L.!

“I’ve only been participating in programing at conventions for a handful of years, but I’ve already lost track of how many times I’ve been asked to be on the “Strong Female Characters” panel. I guess the theory is that, as a female urban fantasy author who writes female protagonists, I can easily contribute to the discussion. Though not every hero of urban fantasy stories is female, it’s interesting how they’re automatically assumed to be part of that trope.
Male heroes, I guess, are supposed to be strong as a given.

I read an excellent blog post recently: “On Urban Fantasy” by Lucy A. Snyder, who has a history in writing urban fantasy herself. Much of her definition of the genre is pulled from expectations set by major publishing companies, which is certainly useful for those looking to be published by one of the “Big Five” (or Four, or Three, or whatever the number has shrunk to by this point). Since I write for a small press that specifically embraces books that break the mold, it was interesting from an academic standpoint to see where my books diverge in terms of protagonist.

According to Snyder, urban fantasy stories will often “feature a strong female protagonist who is a loner (but has friends),” “be written from a first-person point of view (“I woke up…”),” and “contain a love story or romantic subplot” (presumably involving the main protagonist.”
And I do…absolutely none of that. Sort of. I consider my leading lady Victory to be strong, and she’s cisgender female, but as for the rest of it? The cool thing about writing for a small press is that rules are meant to be broken.

Because interesting stories revolve around interesting characters, the first thing I did to flesh out the world Victory lives in was create even more interesting characters to surround her with. Instead of the expected burgeoning romance subplot, conflict develops through Victory’s long-term relationship with her daywalker Mikelos. “Meet-cutes” are, well, cute, but it can also be fun to the explore the drama that can arise when two characters have been together for nearly a century. They have an adopted daughter, acquired a foster son, and Victory’s sire keeps hanging around the place. Victory is many things—mother, politician, retired mercenary—but “loner” is definitely not one of them.
All that, and I write in third-person rather than first.

I certainly don’t hate “traditional” urban fantasy. Two of my favorite series are much more faithful to the criteria listed above, and it certainly doesn’t cause detriment to the stories in any way. Kitty Norville, written by Carrie Vaughn (first book: Kitty and the Midnight Hour), and Kate Daniels, written by Ilona Andrews (first book: Magic Bites), are inspirations to me personally, just like their creators are inspirations to me professionally.
Despite their differences, I bet Kitty, Kate, and Victory would have a great time sitting down with a beer together. And despite the differences in my books, I think urban fantasy readers will still find interesting characters and fascinating, exciting plots—the most important parts of urban fantasy, regardless of rules set forth by industry standards.”

To get more insights from J.L. Gribble and to learn more about her Steel Empires series, check out her website and her follow her on her current blog tour:
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).

Interested in Steel Blood? Here’s the rundown:

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:
*From the publisher*: 
(Support Small Presses!)

Thank you for visiting, J.L.!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Why Does Kayla Use Kris Daggers in the Empress Game Trilogy?

27 days until Cloak of War releases, and I can’t wait! Today I’ve got something special for you: an excerpt from Cloak of War! And not just from the beginning, either.

Today, Kayla answers something you may have been wondering about for a long time. (Or not!)

Here it is, in her own words, when she’s asked that very question by IDC Agent Hekkar Tial, Second in Command of Malkor’s Octet:

“Why kris daggers?” Hekkar finally asked, as if the question had been bugging him since they met. He gestured to the pointed tip. “I mean, they’re sufficient for stabbing, and the curves give it a wider blade track without the weight of a wider weapon, but. . . .”

Kayla chuckled. “Believe me, I know. Kris are rarely sharpened and hardly hold an edge. When it comes to cutting and slicing, a straight-edged dagger beats them for sheer utility.”

“Why would you use a blade that is less than perfectly efficient?”

“Credits. It’s all about the credits.” At least it had been when she was on Altair Tri and desperate for a way home. “This isn’t a ro’haar ceremonial weapon or anything. It’s an affectation, pure and simple. Showmanship.” Kayla looked at the wavy edges of the weapons that had surprisingly become her dearest possessions. “On Ordoch I trained with every type of weapon conceivable—and even things that you’d never think of as a weapon.” She smiled at the memories of fighting with a rolling-pin, a shoe, and musty piece of fabric. “You never know what you’ll have at hand when your il’haar needs protecting.” She shrugged her shoulders. “Sure, I went around armed with a plasma blaster, but my people had long ago figured out how to disable advanced weapons electronically. I couldn’t count on that. So I also wore two knives. Armed with low-tech and high, like a true ro’haar.

“When I landed on Altair Tri and realized the only way to get Corinth home was to earn an obscene amount of credits and purchase a ride back to Wyrd Space, I adopted the Shadow Panthe persona.”

“And fought in the pits,” Hekkar said.

“Exactly. Fighting in the pits isn’t about skill. I could have beaten most of my opponents armed with a pickle.” Kayla set her kris aside, its edge perfectly sharp. “Fighting in the pits—and drawing the biggest purse per fight—is all about showmanship. I learned that early on.”

“And so the kris?”

She nodded. “No one fought with kris daggers. They were unique. Exotic. They played into my mysterious Shadow Panthe persona. I made them work. And in the end, I could demand more credits per fight based on my ‘alluring mystique.’”

Hekkar seemed to take that in. It was refreshing to discuss weapons with a person who understood the balance between form and function, who valued lethality above all. Just as she’d been taught. One did not plan to detain your il’haar’s attacker. A ro’haar killed first, and investigated the attack after your il’haar’s safety was assured.

Wait until you see what Kayla and the octet are up to in Cloak of War, Book 2 of the Empress Game!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Sneak Peek at Cloak of War's Acknowledgements!

Today’s sneak peak for Cloak of War is a look at the Acknowledgements for my book. Not quite as exciting as the dedication, but still crucial. I love having the opportunity to thank people who helped me, but also, I can include a nugget of information helpful to other authors looking to be published!

Here is the acknowledgement section:

Every book of mine starts with a huge “thank you!” to my critique partners, Jen Brooks and Diana Botsford. These two wonderful writers and friends improve my writing with their insightful critiques. In addition, they keep me accountable for meeting my goals. I couldn’t do this without them! I’m also lucky to have a supportive network of writers in my SHU family – the alumni and faculty of Seton Hill University’s graduate program in Writing Popular Fiction.

Thanks must go to the wonderful people at Titan Books who have been so supportive of the Empress Game trilogy – you make me feel like a rock star. A special thanks to my editor, Natalie Laverick, who took the reins on book two and helped me sharpen everything. Thanks to my agent, Richard Curtis, for all he does behind the scenes to keep things moving, and for all he does to keep me sane.

Most importantly, thank you to my family and my husband. I wouldn’t be who I am today if not for all of you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

Now, you might be wondering why I mention my agent and editor by name in the acknowledgement section, when I could just say “agent” and “editor.” I use their names because of a piece of writing advice I see given to new authors all of the time. The advice is, “Check out other authors who write what you write, look at their agent and editor, and submit your manuscript to those people. They are the most likely to accept your manuscript because they clearly enjoy your particular subgenre and style. I’ve always been told, “Look at the acknowledgements to find out who their agent is,” but so few people include that info!

So, for all you newbies out there, I am including Richard’s and Natalie’s names. I hope this helps you in your pursuit of publication! :)

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Cloak of War Releases in 45 Days!

Cloak of War, Book 2 in the Empress Game trilogy, releases in 45 Days! You know what that means…. It’s time for some exclusive content to get you psyched!

First up: The dedication.

Cloak of War is the book that was never meant to happen. I initially wrote The Empress Game as a standalone novel. (Due to the fact that my earlier fantasy novel received rejections that said, “We love your writing and this book, but it can’t stand alone, it ends on a cliffhanger. Send us a different book!”) I was pretty pleased with myself for wrapping EG up in one book. (Even if the ending was cheesy.)

Naturally, Titan Books said, "Can you make this a trilogy?" /d’oh!

I really struggled while writing Cloak of War, and it wasn’t until close to the end of the first draft that I fell in love with the story. After wrestling with this book for a year, it’s finally done and off to the printers.

And who, you ask, is this very crucial second book dedicated to? The book built upon my sweat and blood and tears?

Here’s the official dedication:

This book is dedicated to my amazing husband, James Douglass. 
Not only is he my biggest supporter and best friend, but he also gave me the greatest gift a writer could ask for: Time.
Dear James, I hope you hear all of the unspoken words in my heart when I say, “I love you.”

How did he give me Time? Easy. He convinced me to quit my day job and write full time so that I could make my deadlines. I took a 75% cut in pay when I made the transition, but James didn’t worry about it for a second. He knew writing made me happiest in the world, and he was willing to sacrifice so that I could work my dream job :)

It’s no wonder that this book is dedicated to him!

Until later,

-Rhonda :)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Cover Reveal – STEEL MAGIC

I am very excited to reveal the cover of J.L. Gribble’s second novel, STEEL MAGIC. Isn’t it fantastic??

Pre-order the book now, you won’t be sorry J

This is the second novel in her STEEL EMPIRES series, published by Dog Star Books. Here’s the synopsis:

STEEL MAGIC, by J.L. Gribble

Funerals are usually the end of the story, not the beginning.

Newly graduated warrior-mages Toria Connor and Kane Nalamas find themselves the last remaining mages in the city when a mage school teacher mysteriously falls ill and dies. But taking over the school themselves isn't in the cards. They're set to become professional mercenaries-if they make it through the next 18 months as journeymen first.

The debate over whether to hunt mutated monsters in the Wasteland or take posh bodyguard jobs is put on hold when a city elder hires them to solve the mystery of the disappearing mages. Toria and Kane's quest brings them to the British colonial city of New Angouleme, where their initial investigation reveals that the problem is even greater than they feared.

But when a friend is kidnapped, they'll have to travel to the other side of the globe to save her, save themselves, and save magic itself.

The first novel in the series, STEEL VICTORY, met with great acclaim.

Some of my favorite reviewer quotes for STEEL VICTORY:

“High Fantasy, Alt-History, and No Apologies”

“The most unique feature of this debut novel is the setting--a highly creative mélange of genres (contemporary, fantasy, mystery, alternate history, to name a few) best described as postmodern urban fantasy.”

“Steel Victory has everything you want in a first novel. Strong female characters (multiple!), a love story (that violin!), action (sword fights!), espionage (battles!), politics (just enough!). It is a quick read with a writing style that sucks you in and makes you crave more.”

About J.L. Gribble:

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).

And last but not least, check out Bradley Sharp, the ultra talented cover artist:

Bradley Sharp was born in 1977 in Oxfordshire, UK. From a young age he filled many sketch books, so it only made sense to study Graphic Communication at Nene University, where he received a BA Honors degree in 1997.

But the real world called Sharp away from academics, so he traveled around the globe a couple of times, working as a graphic designer. Now he makes a living by designing magazine spreads, but freelances with vector illustrations, allowing him to create something far-removed from what he does in his nine-to-five job.

Sharp finds vector to be an easy tool and believes anyone can use it. "I'd say my artwork is nothing more than glorified doodling. I like the logical inconsistencies of surrealism and find inspiration from many places such as music or the science fiction genre. Dog Star's novels lend themselves well to my style. I look forward to working with DSB in the future, and hope fans will like the imagery as much as they enjoy the words." Find Sharp's work online at

Monday, March 14, 2016

Debra Dixon, GOAL, MOTIVATION & CONFLICT, and Plotting

This last weekend I was lucky enough to attend a workshop headed by Debra Dixon and hosted by the Southwest Florida Romance Writers.

For those of you who are writers, you probably know who Debra Dixon is. She wrote GMC: GOAL, MOTIVATION & CONFLICT, from Gryphon Books for Writers. I consider this to be an essential text for writers, and especially those writers just starting out.

When I first started writing fiction, I was finishing my BS in Geology, starting my Masters in Writing Popular Fiction, and perpetually broke. Buying GOAL, MOTIVATION & CONFLICT at that time, a hardcover book at $20 a pop + shipping, was a splurge for me. But I had heard it referenced time and time again by writers, so I took the plunge and bought it.

Thank the void I did!

No writing book is a bible. No one book will give you all the answers. As writers, we’re all looking for a formula, a magic bullet, a 1, 2, 3 step-by-step guide to best seller fiction.

That does not exist. (Sadly!)

However, this book is one of the VERY BEST tools you can add to your writing toolkit.
I have read it cover to cover at least 4 times over my writing career so far. That is the max number of times I have read any writing book.

What I love about this book:

  • Basic language, very approachable. It is not wrapped up in theory.
  • Excellent examples that perfectly illustrate the concepts Dixon is preaching.
  •   Worksheets. I’m a sucker for something tangible I can take away from a book, and Dixon’s GMC worksheets are excellent.

I have used Dixon’s GMC worksheet on every character, minor or major, in every book I’ve written or worked on, since I first read GMC. It’s not a magic formula, but it is a great jumping off point.

But, I’m not a plotter, I’m a pantser! This book is useless to me!”

Not true! Dixon takes no concrete stance on whether you need to do this first, mid-book, or when revisions start. She just lays out a basic formula that resonates with the human experience (based on Joseph Campbell’s and Christopher Volgler’s works on storytelling and myth).

The idea of GMC is worth considering no matter what stage of the draft you’re at.

The book is now (finally) available in ebook, if you want that format. Otherwise, if you want the physical book, like me, you want to go directly to the publisher’s website: It’s cheapest there.

 Now here I am, a decade after I started out as a very poor college student writer, and you can bet your sweet bippy that I STILL have that book, and that I very proudly, like the fangirl that I am, got it signed by Debra Dixon.

Go Forth. Read GMC. And Conquer. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Quinton Hoover Died???

The homework for the first week of drawing class was to pick a favorite artist and draw a replica of something of theirs. Now, I’m a reader/writer and gaming nerd, not an art history buff, so my favorite artists are all book cover artist and Magic: The Gathering card artists. So, it’s no surprise that Michael Whelan, Quinton Hoover and Rebecca Guay.

I decided against Michael Whelan b/c, while he might be my favorite, what I love most about his book covers is his use of color. For instance, look at this gorgeous cover series for Tad William’s Otherland.

Quinton Hoover was probably an easy first choice because he illustrated one of my all-time favorite MTG cards, Archangel:

That had waaaaaay too much going on for me to draw though, so I looked at some of Rebecca Guay’s stuff. I love her style, it’s very flowy and feminine, but I feel like the power of the image is so color-based that drawing it really wouldn’t look like much.

Quinton Hoover’s style is more graphic, imo. So while I was looking at some of my favorite cards of his, I learned that he had died!!! I had no idea!! He was only 49 when he died. Here’s a great article about Quinton Hoover.

I was heartbroken, and decided that of course I had to draw one of Hoover’s cards! I debated between many, but in the end I settled on Pixie Queen.

Quinton Hoover’s Pixie Queen

My pencil drawing of it, week 1 of class.

Obviously, my Pixie Queen eats a little better than Hoover’s does ;-) She likes her sweetmeats! But overall, for having zero training, I’m pretty happy with it. It’s not 100% done, but I think I’m calling it “done.”