A.M. Justice is a Brooklyn-based author, lover of science and wit, sporadic scuba diver, and once and future tango dancer. Her characters live only in her head, but they’re real, and she puts them through hell.
1.Why storytelling? What made you yearn to tell a good story, and how long was this story within you before it came out?
This is embarrassing, especially on the blog of a guy with such a stunning scope of work, but I’ve been writing different versions of the Woern Saga for almost 40 years. Vic and her story have grown up alongside me, and we’ve traveled quite a distance from a naïve teenager longing for adventure to someone who tries to be a wise and compassionate observer of the human condition. (Of course, Vic is also a badass warrior, which I am decidedly not!)
I wrote the original version of Vic’s story when I was fifteen. Writing was a way of putting myself into the sort of adventures I loved to read and watch. In that early draft (which was handwritten in spiral notebooks and is lost in a landfill somewhere), Vic was a normal American teenager kidnapped by space Nazis (uh-huh, that’s right, space Nazis). I honestly don’t remember what else happened in that original story, but it’s hard to forget space Nazi aliens.
In my early twenties, I completely rewrote the book using a traditional hero’s journey motif in which I took the tropes of fantasy and remolded them to suit a story with a female protagonist as the “chosen one.” Then I shopped it around under the title Blade of Amber. I signed with an agent, but unfortunately the novel never found a home with a publisher. When self-publishing became a thing, I decided to go that route, because I believed however many rejections I’d gotten, Vic’s story was a really good one. At the same time, I recognized that book had some flaws, but ones I didn’t know how to fix. I went ahead and released Blade of Amber in 2012. Initial feedback from readers was good, but the flaws still ate at me. A good friend and terrific writer named Colleen Aune (The Ill-Kept Oath, a real undiscovered gem of the indie fantasy world, which I think everyone ought to read) read it and gave me some notes I wish I’d gotten before releasing the book—or even trying to get it traditionally published. I rewrote the novel again and released it as A Wizard’s Forge in 2016.
2.What is it about your genre that speaks to you?
I have always been drawn to speculative fiction and the way it uses different depictions of reality to show humanity at its worst as well as its finest. Along with speculative fiction (especially fantasy), historical fiction excites my imagination. I love imagining how people might live (or did live) in circumstances entirely different from mine. In contrast, contemporary Western fiction, however beautifully written it may be, fails to inspire me, and I have a very hard time staying interested in it.
3.Without giving any spoilers, what is your favorite thing about this book?
I love a lot of things about Vic’s story in A Wizard’s Forge. I love how she transforms herself to fit her changing circumstances (Forge is a story about a woman’s literal empowerment). I love how Forge subverts fantasy tropes and is a retelling of the fairy tale “Rapunzel.” I also think it’s cool how these elements crept into the story through subconscious rather than conscious intention (the inner workings of the mind are fascinating!). I love how Vic is an atheist in the midst of a very religious people. I also love how she and the people closest to her simply accept each other’s different beliefs without any malice. Finally, I love how no matter what she achieves, she sees herself as a failure because of the mistakes she makes in her journey and because people she cares about get hurt.
4.If I were stuck in a room with your main character, what would we be doing?
That depends on a lot. Vic is first and foremost a scholar, so you might simply be reading quietly, hopefully in a comfortable chair beside a crackling fire. However, if you happened to be her enemy and she had come to that room to kill you, you should arm yourself and hope you’ve met her before she’s acquired her telekinetic powers. Otherwise you’ll be tangling with somebody who’s quick and deadly with a knife but who also can simply crush your skull with her mind.
5.When you are writing, tell me about the emotions that are running through you and what it takes to work alongside them.
The movie Romancing the Stone came out around the time I started writing stories, and my favorite moment in the entire film is the scene in the beginning where Joan Wilder (played by Kathleen Turner) sits back from her typewriter and says, with tears streaming down her cheeks, “That’s really good.” I have been chasing that writer’s high since I began crafting fiction, and in the best moments, especially when the story takes an unexpected yet super cool turn, my heart races and there’s a tingle in my belly and I become a reader of my own work, even as I’m typing it.
Lately, however, more often than not, I’m fighting the frustration of the scene not coming out the way I want it to, or the prose not flowing the way I wish it would. I know very well there’s nothing for it but to just keep working and push through until it gets better (which it inevitably does), but knowing and doing are two very different things.
While I mainly write for the joy (and fun!) of it, I also find it very cathartic. I write some dark material, and for me writing is a way to expunge negative emotions and explore dark fantasies without anyone getting hurt.
6.Everyone has at least one specific challenge that holds them back. What is that challenge in your work and how do you overcome it?
I’m afraid envy is the main demon I struggle with. I have a little bit of imposter syndrome, but I’m also pretty clear-eyed about where I stand in the pantheon of authors. I wish I were a literary genius like my idol Ursula Le Guin, but I’m not, and I’m mostly OK with that. However, I also believe I’m a better writer than many more successful authors, and that frankly grinds away at my soul. I know the correct reaction is to try harder and forge on, but I’m afraid envy has hamstrung me ever since Blade of Amber failed to find a publisher when my agent was shopping it around in the 90s. I think this is why I explore the theme of failure so much in my work. Some of my characters deal with it in a healthy way, by learning from it and doing better, but others are really knocked down by it, and have to struggle very hard to move past their mistakes and get on with life.
7.You’re going to go back and visit yourself when you first started writing, at whatever age it was, and you can give yourself one piece of advice. What would it be?
Hang onto how much fun you have when you write. Don’t let envy hold you back, and don’t be afraid to break the rules. (Being too much of a rule-follower is a big reason why I think I haven’t gone as far with this authorship thing as I think I could or should have.)
8.Describe your muse.
That unreliable bitch? I’d rather not talk about her.
9.If we reach beyond the written word into visual media, and you could choose how your story is consumed, would you want a television show, a movie series, or anime to tell the story of the book and the world it takes place in?
I honestly think the Woern Saga would make a great live action series. First, it’s got great visuals: it’s an epic story set on an alien world, where the characters’ travels take them through a wide-ranging geography from tundra to the high seas to deep forest, arid sand dunes, wide plains, and rugged mountains. There are Heinleinian giant insectoid aliens, which play a peripheral role in the first book but a major role in the second novel.
It’s also a very character-driven narrative. Although Vic is the principal protagonist, Ashel’s story wraps around hers, and the backstory involving Ashel’s parents and the antagonist Lornk Korng provide another layer of the onion which would be delightful to reveal over several seasons. Plus, a character like Lornk deserves to be on screen, especially in the era in which we live. He’s a powerful, hubristic sociopath who gives Tywin Lannister a run for his money and who cannot understand why anyone would object to his methods. After all, he wants to save the world!
10.If you are casting your protagonist in a movie, what actor would you choose and why?
My favorite daydream game is “cast the movie”! In fact, I’ve written blogs and posted to Instagram about it. As of now, my casting director would be on the phone with Saoirse Ronan for Vic, Michael Fassbender for Lornk, and Eka Darville (from Jessica Jones) for Ashel. I’d want Thandie Newton or Zoe Saldana for Elekia, maybe Zendaya for Bethniel, and John Boyega for Geram. All these actor choices are subject to change with the times, of course!
11.Can we expect an audio book from you, and if you had the ability to choose anyone to narrate it, is there someone in particular you would hire?
A Wizard’s Forge is already available as an audiobook narrated by Leah Casey. I loved Leah’s work on the book and wish I was finished with A Wizard’s Sacrifice just so she could be recording it!
12.Do you have any regrets about the story you told? Would you make any changes to its telling or did you capture exactly what you were looking for?
I think no author ever has looked back on a book and thought it was perfect, even if on publication day they didn’t think they could have written it any better. That said, after having rewritten Vic’s origin story three times over as many decades, I don’t have any regrets about the story or storytelling in A Wizard’s Forge. In fact, I’m quite proud of it.
13.What element of this story can we expect in your future work?
In A Wizard’s Sacrifice, the sequel to A Wizard’s Forge, Vic will face her destiny and Ashel will grapple with the aftermath of his ordeal in Forge. The ground will also be laid for the third novel in the series, A Wizard’s Legacy, which will be set roughly 15-20 years after the end of Sacrifice and will chronicle the blowback from an action taken at the end of Forge. In addition, I am planning a prequel featuring a young Lornk as the protagonist, to show how he came to care about the things he does and perhaps explain why he’s so ruthless and relentless in carrying out his plans. The consequences of our actions is pervasive theme of all these works and most of my short stories, so readers can keep an eye out for that subtext.