For today’s Author Spotlight, I’m delighted to be joined by Speculative Fiction author, and book reviewer, J.L. Gribble! We talked breaking genre tropes, queer mercenary warrior-mages and building LEGO.
So, without further ado…
First things first, please introduce yourself!
Hi, I’m J.L. Gribble, speculative fiction writer and voracious reader! I fell in love with writing back in middle school, when before that I wanted to be an astronaut. I literally started my first book while at Space Camp. These days, I support my writing habit through my day job as a medical editor in the HIV care and LGBTQ healthcare field (and to keep my three Siamese cats in the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed). When not writing, playing video games, or arguing with the spouse about what to watch next on streaming, I also spend a significant amount of time reading all of the queer romance (bonus points if it’s paranormal, kinky, nerdy, and/or poly) and reviewing books on my blog.
Tell us a little bit about your writing style.
I love to nerd out about genre tropes and then break all the rules. My urban fantasy has a healthy dose of alternate history, I base my magic system and supernatural creatures on physics principles, and focus more on character than spectacle. As a speculative fiction writer, I understand that romance writers are the real magicians of the field. That being said, I make sure that relationships are the soul of my stories and have the most fun when there is nothing “traditional” about them.
Describe your books in only three words.
Nontraditional. Adventure. Family.
What’s your next book about and when is it coming out?
The sixth (and penultimate) book in my Steel Empires series, Steel Justice, goes live on July 28. This murder mystery features a weredragon, robot dogs, codebreaking, and magic tattoos, starring two queer mercenary warrior-mages you probably should not hire for your private investigative needs.
Out of all your books, which one are you most proud of?
Steel Time (Steel Empires #4) is where I tackled time travel, one of my personal favorite fiction conceits. Which meant figuring out how it would work within the confines of the magic systems I’d already constructed for my world and dealing with a functionally immortal character running into her past self. This is also where I started to delve into mental health as a main theme in my writing and faced a lot of my own demons about living with anxiety in the process.
What or who (or both) has influenced you most as a writer?
The work of Ilona Andrews showed me that it’s possible to create multi-faceted fantasy worlds that focus on character and family dynamics as much as plot.
What inspired you to start writing?
I spontaneously invented fanfiction back in middle school after watching Highlander: The Series and falling in love with immortality and swords (two recurring tropes in my current fiction). Once I discovered this was already a thing on the internet, I knew I’d found my tribe and never looked back. I’m still in contact with some of those friends, almost 25 years later, who encouraged me to branch out into original world building and storytelling.
What’s your writing process like? Do you have a typical “writing day”?
I try to write about a thousand words a day at least 3 or 4 days a week, which I accomplish through 10 or 15 minute writing sprints. I generally intersperse those sprints with editing work, since I’m usually working on multiple projects at once, and catching up on book reviews. And all of that fits around work for the day job, since I work from home.
What comes first for you – the plot or the characters?
The characters definitely came first when I wrote Steel Victory (Steel Empires #1), which was my thesis novel for my graduate degree in creative writing. Since then, I’ve had fun figuring out how those characters and their world would fit into different plots for the later books in the series — such as a coming of age story, a Shakespeare retelling, time travel shenanigans, and the latest, my murder mystery.
What’s a book that you wish you’d written?
The Old Guard, which is actually a movie and graphic novel, not a book. But contemporary action-adventure with a significant fantasy element, strong female characters, positive queer representation, and SWORDS? This story was basically scooped out directly out of my brain, and discovering it in 2020 was what got me through that clusterfuck of a year.
If you could only write one trope for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
Found family. Characters don’t exist in a vacuum, so I love surrounding them with loved ones who support and challenge them in equal measure.
What would be your three desert island books?
Currently, Full Contact by Kelly Fox (enemies-to-lovers action adventure with a dash of crazy), Breathless by Cara Dee (kinky and poly and angsty with a dash of taboo), and Magic’s Pawn by Mercedes Lackey (the book that taught me I can combine fantasy world building with queer characters and set my own path as a writer).
If one of your books could be made into a movie/TV series, which would you choose and who would you cast?
Since I only have the one series (so far!), it makes sense to start with Steel Victory, which is where the main characters in the upcoming Steel Justice are first introduced. Warrior-mage partners Toria Connor and Kane Nalamas should be played by Lauren Cohen and Michael B. Jordan, respectively. (Find the rest of my fan cast ideas on my website at https://jlgribble.com/homepage/worldbuilding/fan-cast/)
What do you like to do when you’re not writing? Do you have a secret passion or hobby that we don’t know about?
When I’m not writing, I’m usually reading, which I do voraciously (I’ve already hit 400 titles for 2021 according to Goodreads). The secret passion, however, is definitely LEGO. I like ships and buildings, primarily, so the guest room holds shelves with sets such as Hogwarts, the Saturn V, the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier, lots of familiar Star Wars vehicles, Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum, and a decent number of the Creator Expert builds.
Finally, what’s your favourite dinosaur?
Since the saber tooth tiger (kitty!) probably doesn’t count, I have to go cliché with the velociraptor. Pack animals with murder knives for hands!
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). You can also sign up for her newsletter. She is currently working on more tales set in the world of Limani.