Before the Tri-Alliance, Jangbahar was plagued by warfare. The bloodiest of these was the Border Wars, a series of battles over the borders of Kitoi and the seven kingdoms of the Sand Sea. Gregor the Great, a powerful war king used magic to seize control of the land until he was defeated by Josper the Usurper who was, at the time, simply a charismatic merchant with powerful friends. Josper and his followers infiltrated Gregor’s fortress and Josper shoved a spear through Gregor’s throat, effectively ending his reign and ushering a new era of peace. Josper went on to found the current democracy of the Republic as well as drafted the Tri-Alliance, thus ensuring peace with the nation below. With well-established borders and a firm trade policy in place, the people began to flourish.
The Tri-Alliance is still in place today and is an integral part of maintaining the peace between the Republic and Kitoi. In recent years, hostility has grown from the nation of Kitoi as they have remained stagnant in their borders while the Republic has been able to expand and widen their territories increasingly until it hit the wilds. The Tri-Alliance does not forbid peaceful expansion but Kitoi is pinned under the border of the Republic and the nomadic warriors in Shrivo would never allow for a “peaceful expansion.” The Tri-Alliance also forbids individual unregulated trade between the citizens of the Republic and any other nation. In order to purchase exported goods, citizens must use third party vendors approved by the Thirteen, although any kind of contraband can be found in the underground market. The Sea People have the least to gain through trade, their primary imports being livestock and glass. Their constant supply of fresh water and fish make the Sea People invaluable to the success of the Republic.
In recent years hostilities have grown as the Republic has continued to thrive under the Tri-Alliance and Kitio’s government has called for an amendment session and resigning of the alliance with a reassessment of Kitoi’s borders.
Introducing Justine Laismith who has recently signed her middle grade fantasy novel set in modern day rural China called Secrets of the Great Fire Tree with RCP. It is slated for release in November of 2018 under the imprint RadiantKids. Get to know Justine Laismith as an author.
1. First, tell us a little about yourself. When did you want to become an author? What inspires you to do what you do? Who are you?
I first wanted to be a writer when I was seven. However, I never did well in English Language or Literature at school. This discouraged me. When it came to choosing subjects, my teacher expected me to take the Arts subjects, because “girls are better at them, while boys are better at Math and Science.” So I chose the Science options to prove a point. Nevertheless, I wrote poems and stories as and when they came to me, but these were for my eyes only. On rare occasions I shared them with a couple of close friends.
A few years later, a local boy, not many years older than me, made me cry. Afterwards, I knew I wanted to be like him. He made me cry with words on a page. Over the years, even though I pursued a Science career, the enjoyment of turning blank pages to words never left me. I channeled this into my work and wrote scientific papers on my research. After some years, I took a career break. With a break from science, the logical side of my brain took a back seat and let the creative side of my brain dominate. I started writing fiction again.
My writing inspiration comes from what I see around me, with a simple “What if?”. Then I try and answer that question.
2. What are some quirky and or unique aspects about you and your writing?
I grew up in Singapore, a country proud of its multicultural identity. This exposed me to a plethora of languages and Chinese dialects. While I call myself bilingual, I can understand, to varying degrees, Cantonese, Hokkien, Malay, French and Japanese. I am also part-Paranakan, which is a unique blend of two cultures: ethnic Chinese people who speak and practice Malay customs. When I wrote Secrets of the Great Fire Tree, I have subtly incorporated all these diversities.
3. RCP “was founded in 2016 to showcase quality fiction, diverse stories, and unexpected protagonists.” What does that mean to you?
I grew up reading books like Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers and Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. These took me to a world I never knew. I also read poorly English-translated books of Chinese stories, books highly rated in their original language but clearly lost in translation. For an English-speaking Chinese girl living in tiny Singapore in the Far-East, these reading experiences sent the message that good English books are only made up of authors and characters from traditionally Western culture. If I wanted to read books in English, I had to settle for stories I could not directly relate to. In other words, I had to read them as an outsider. At this point, I lost interest in reading.
Over the decades, globalization and immigration has resulted in several third-culture kids, never truly knowing their roots, nor knowing their mother-tongue at the same level as a native. By showcasing the stories and voices of protagonists from your conventional western worlds, RCP is filling a gap for readers seeking identifiable characters. At the same time, diverse writers can tell a story that, although is in a setting familiar to them, is not the traditional western backdrop. With good narration and an intriguing plot, they will take their readers along. In doing so, they open the readers’ eyes and break down the cultural and language barrier.
4.What do you think makes a great middle grade fantasy? How do you think your piece Secrets of the Great Fire Tree fits into or varies from that description?
I like stories that take me to a different world, but with links to our own world to make it relatable. This is why Secrets of the Great Fire Tree is set in modern day China. I decided to use superstition as a gateway to fantasy because they are deeply-rooted in many traditions. Pushing these boundaries allow me to be creative with something we practice out of habit; never questioning but no longer fearing the consequences. However, Secrets of the Great Fire Tree deviates from middle-grade fantasy because it is also, in part, a realistic fiction. Left-behind children is a reality in China, the flip-side of economic growth in the cities.
5. How has writing affected your outlook on things? Has it made you take chances or see things in a different light?
I now pay a lot of attention to my surroundings and how it makes me feel. Then I challenge myself to describe it in words. When I watch a movie or show, I don’t just take a seat and enjoy the ride. I think about what makes me root for the characters, or hate them. I also analyze how and why two personalities who started off with nothing in common come together as the story develops.
6. What are you most excited to share when it comes to Secrets of the Great Fire Tree? Ex). The world, the characters, a specific scene?
I am most excited about sharing the rural life in China. As I mentioned earlier, I see myself as a third-culture kid, who never really knew her roots. When writing this book, I carried out a lot of research and even traveled to China. China holds a quarter of the world’s population and consists of over 50 ethnic minorities. Naturally, I cannot tell everything in one story, but I hope I managed to give a flavor of this fascinating culture.
7. Finally, do you have any advice and or tips for aspiring writers out there, especially women and those writing middle grade fiction?
Writing is a journey. Enjoy it. Turning a blank page into words that tell a story is special, because you’ve created something new. Once I was told by a consultant that women don’t give themselves enough credit for their achievements. So this is especially for women writers: don’t be daunted by the fear that no one will like your work. Write what is in your heart. That passion will come out in your story and someone, somewhere out there will love it and feel glad that you wrote it.
The Bariq Sea
The Bariq Sea stretches along the southern borders of the continent and is most noted for its large, natural port that gives access to Kitoi’s and the Republic’s only seaside markets. The sparkling sea has naturally calm waters and shallow depths less than 4,000 feet.
The Orreram Ocean
Harsh coral and rock face deny any ship access to its southern borders and few citizens wish to venture beyond the border of the sea and into the Orreram Ocean, the territory of the Sea King. Due to the Tri-Alliance, trade between the people of the Is’Le’ Spar Islands ensures the people of Kitoi and the Republic have steady access to the plentiful fish found in the Orreram Ocean. The ocean stretches along the western coast of Jangbahar and beyond, boasting depths nearly 40,000 feet. The people of the Is’Le’Spar Islands provide a vast variety of fish and there are whispered rumors of other much larger more dangerous creatures that make the ocean their home.
The Ese Ed Ocean
On the eastern side of Jangbahar, another vast ocean meets the jagged coastline inaccessible to any ship. Little is known of the Ese Ed Ocean and the sea peoples do not speak of it during trade so its depths and creatures remain unknown, although there are several varieties of shark meat offered through trade from Shrivo. The gray churning waters of the Ese Ed and harsh cliff side waves give the ocean a dark reputation that is undampened by its howling winds.
Strange creatures and evil beasts prowl beyond the borders of the Republic in a land known simply as the Wilds. There have been several expeditions funded by rulers, the last from Vaneera of Friis, but no survivors have ever returned with tales of what lay beyond. Though the Republic does not strictly forbid such travel, the Thirteen would never approve the ration of water it would take to travel there and it has been nearly a hundred years since anyone has even tried.
Language: Friisan and Jangba
Symbol/Flag: Two hands, pointing at one another.
Nork is a large valley located south of Friis and along the border of the Edge. Nork was once part of the nation of Friis but split from its motherland a few hundred years ago over a succession dispute. Isolated in their valley, little is known of Nork although it is believed their culture still mirrors that of Friis. The country is self-sufficient and prefers to rely on their own resources although dragon meat garners a heavy price for any merchants willing to cross the mountains to reach them.
Located north of Nork and to the east of Friis is a jagged and inhospitable mountain range known simply as the Edge. The mountain range is host to the highest peaks recorded in Jangbahar and it’s nearly impassable, making trade routes irrelevant and the border lines muted between its neighboring nations. Fierce winds, heavy snows and whispers of dangerous creatures prevent any from exploring it fully and not even the richest monarchies can be convinced to fund expeditions for the foolish. The people of Nork speak of a time long before, an age where a great bird flew in the currents of the wind. With the flap of her wings mountains would crumple, tornadoes would ripple across the land. The people who lived at the base of the mountain sang to the bird, soothing it above so that it would cease its havoc on those down below. Eventually, the people on land forgot about their winged companions.
Introducing J. Lyon Layden who has recently signed his young adult heroic fantasy filled with ogres and ancient Chinese lore entitled The Unnamed Bears Favor with RCP. It is slated for release in September of 2018 under the imprint Legion. Rio will handle cover design. Editing, map-making, and more will soon be underway. For now, get to know J. Lyon Layden as an author.
First, tell us a little about yourself. When did you want to become an author? What inspires you to do what you do? Who are you?
Being told I should be a writer and wanting to be an author are both among my earliest memories, so it’s foggy which came first. I used to create stories for my toys and make up skits with my siblings, and I’d tell ghost stories to scare my cousins. I remember being told I should be a writer when adults looked at my drawings as well, so I’m glad I took their feedback the right way! Later on in school, I made up stories with my spelling words instead of just writing sentences for each one, and we had to read those assignments aloud in class. The kids got a kick out of it and the teachers encouraged me, so maybe those early nudges set me on the path.
What inspires you to do what you do? Who are you?
I dropped out of college as an English major going into his senior year because I’d found a new love—music. Also because I could barely afford to take the bus to class. I worked as a freelance music journalist and musician for years while also holding a job as a cabinet designer or installer, and gave up the construction and journalism about the time the housing bubble burst. People always need music and bars, even during a depression, so music kind of saved me financially. These days I tell ghost stories or play music for a living, depending on the night, and this gives me my daytime hours to write.
But the real reason I began writing fiction again is because I finally have the information I need to tell the story that’s been bugging me since I first learned about Neanderthals and Megafauna as a child. I was first made aware of these prehistoric creatures by the same person who’d read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings to me, my dad. One night, while we watched Ripley’s Believe it or Not or something like it, my dad said “With all these different cultures describing ogres and trolls and goblins living in the woods, there had to be something to it. It was probably Neanderthal Man…or something like him.”
At the time, however, civilization was only supposed to be 5000 years old, whereas Neanderthal Man was thought to have died out 35 thousand years ago, so no one would have taken such speculation seriously. But the more I learned about ancient hominids and megafauna, the more I realized they’d eventually be found at much younger dates. So I sort of had to wait until the science caught up with my dad’s theory in order to write these novels.
In the 20th century, man tried to use science as a tool to disprove the myth. In only the first few decades of the 21st century, science has proven many aspects of myth a reality whether man likes it or not. I believe science will continue to do so in the years to come. It’s about time—like Joseph Campbell said, modern man is in dire need of myth and legend. I’m compelled to share the great news with my fellow fantasy fans that the creatures they’ve dreamed about since youth were real after all, and that magic does exist, despite what the 20th century tried to tell us.
I feel driven in this endeavor because the scientists aren’t doing a great job of explaining the implications of their recent findings to the public yet. A few of them have called our prehistoric world a “Stone-age Middle Earth” or a “Fantasy World” in news articles, but no one has really connected the dots for the public or brought the findings into the limelight. No one has really brought it home to the fantasy fans like it should be, and I believe the best way to do this is through fiction. So my stories are the result of over 20 years of research into our mythological and prehistoric past, and I’ve worked hard to make sure every creature, technology, and culture depicted therein actually existed on the same continent during a particular period in our prehistory.
The Unnamed Bears Favor is set sometime between 8000 B.C.and 10,000 B.C. in a Pengtoushan village on the Yangtze River, where giant megafauna and archaic hominids still roamed the forest just miles away from walled settlements with primitive moats. The people inside these settlements practiced types of spiritual technology now lost to us, and in fiction, we can call this “magic.”
What are some quirky and or unique aspects about you and your writing?
Not only is the world in these stories based on conservative, peer-reviewed science but there’s a small chance the stories themselves could be true. I consulted the I Ching about the character arcs and plots.
Stan Gooch lost his tenure and died in a camper because he insisted we’d mated with Neanderthals in the 20th century when it wasn’t cool to say so, and predicted many other things we’re only now discovering to be true after all. He believed the I Ching to be one of our only surviving remnants of the neanderthal’s “intuitive” technology. I thought it would be fitting to let the oracle tell it’s country’s tale if it could, so I’ve used it for the outlines of all the stories in this series. The I Ching has its roots in oracle bone fortune telling, and what the oracle bones tell the boy at the beginning of the story is similar to what the I Ching told me about him when I began to write his arc.
RCP “was founded in 2016 to showcase quality fiction, diverse stories, and unexpected protagonists.” What does that mean to you?
I know you guys publish quality fiction because I had the good fortune of winning a critique from Amber Duell on Twitter, and she gave me some excellent suggestions. A few months later, you can imagine how stoked I was that RCP liked my pitch during one of the Twitter events, especially when I saw you’d only picked a few from the thousands posted that day.
Diverse fantasy to me can mean the work is outside the cliche of the European medieval setting. Neolithic China, with its walls and moats, seems on the surface to have similarities with the feudal society that’s become familiar to fantasy fans, but underneath the veneer, the cultures are vastly different. The peoples of this time period were unlike any who exist today, in both appearance and behavior.
Diversity can also be about giving a voice to the cultures and peoples who have gone extinct, who don’t have a voice to be heard anymore, mostly because our civilization silenced them. Remnants of their genes and traditions can be found scattered among many different modern populations with diverse backgrounds, but as a people, these populations are gone forever. There’s still a lot to learn from them, however, and their story is not only fascinating but may prove useful to our own society in the future.
My protagonist in The Unnamed Bears Favor is an altogether unexpected hero, but that’s also part of the twist I can’t reveal, and I’m thinking this may have been the reason the tale caught RCP’s eye.
What do you think makes a great historical fantasy story?
I like the fantasy aspects to be just on the edge of civilization, just on the edge of reality in a sense but it needs to be plausible fantasy. I’m with George Martin when he says dragons should have only two legs, at least if they evolved on the same planet as the two-legged amniotes, whether someone wants to insist they’re really wyverns or not. I want at least pseudo-scientific explanations for fantasy elements, whether it’s the creatures or magic systems, in order to retain my suspension of disbelief.
But a great story also needs a powerful character arc and a mind-blowing twist. The latter can be tough when you’re trying to stay true to reality, but when I have a good one I know I also have the potential for a great story.
How do you think your piece The Unnamed Bears Favor fits into or varies from that description?
I can tell you that even though this will seem like a bizarre fantasy world to most readers, such a world existed right here on Earth not too long ago. I believe my protagonist’s transformation will resonate with most readers because their ancestors likely went through something similar and a piece of our ancestor’s experiences remains inside of us if Rupert Sheldrake’s experiments and Carl Jung’s archetypes are any indications.
I don’t want to give away the twist though—that’s the whole problem with convincing people your story really has one!
How has writing affected your outlook on things? Has it made you take chances or see things in a different light?
Many people use the terms “prehistoric” and “primitive” interchangeably when talking about human culture, but those two words aren’t really synonymous. The cultures I write about existed in the Neolithic or Paleolithic Periods, both considered prehistoric because they predate recorded history or the written word. I think it’s important to remember that some of these cultures only predate written records because we haven’t been able to decipher their forms of proto-writing yet.
Paleolithic man had symbols we can’t translate, cultures in Neolithic China used a type of proto-writing called Jiahu script, and other East Asian and Pacific cultures used a form of artificial memory involving the knotting of string. It may have been similar to the Celts use of leaves on a string to make sentences.
Many aspects of civilization arose during our prehistoric period, and the ancients used methods of making glue, fire, cement, and megaliths that were either unable to duplicate or only just now learning to duplicate in the 21st century.
For some of these cultures, like the Pengtoushan of China or the Natufian of West Asia, we’ve recovered as many artifacts as we have for historic cultures, who’s writing we are able to read. However, we know history is written by the victors and is often exaggerated, so it’s possible we don’t know any more about what really happened 5000 years ago on the Tigres and Euphrates than we know about what happened 10,000 years ago on the Yellow River. Yet one is historic and the other prehistoric.
Paleoanthropologist don’t speculate like historians do, and they rarely combine scientific sources to paint a vivid picture of what life might have been like for a neolithic priestess. We think we know what ancient Romans looked like. In contrast, scientists are loath to speculate on what Pengtoushan people looked like before 90% of Y DNA haplogroups died out during the spread of later agricultural societies. Likewise, at least one population of hunter-gatherers in Spain had blue eyes and brown skin before the Agricultural Revolution.
Their fossils are 10,000 years old and we’ve extracted their DNA, but their Y Haplogroup is present in only a fraction of a percent of modern Europeans. Scientist only found the marker in living people after they extracted the DNA from fossils. They then did a search for the haplogroup in modern peoples.
This represents a whole genomic population that was absorbed by the spread of agricultural, and their innovations and struggles are lost to us. Europeans didn’t look anything like modern Europeans until the Iron Age and the invasion of the Beaker culture or later. The paternal ancestor of most modern Europeans lived in Central Asia during the Ice Age, and before that in South-East Asia, and before that in Africa. So there are whole populations of people in our prehistoric past whose cultures were wiped away by the Agricultural Revolution and later events.
I think these lost cultures are important, and I think a lot of speculative fiction writers subconsciously try to fill the gaps in our past often using clues from our mythos.
Even more amazing, Archaic hominids survived in Sri Lanka, China, Mongolia, Africa, and South East Asia, and maybe even Europe and the Americas right up until the dawn of civilization. We don’t even have names for all of these peoples yet, mainly because some are thought to be homo sapiens sapiens/archaic hominid hybrids. They may or may represent separate subspecies from homo sapiens sapiens.
The public has no idea about many of these new finds, and scientists vehemently debate their various implications. So, since science has refused to give us an adequate model of these time periods, even though the evidence is available in scattered sources, I’ve been forced to use logic and reason to deduce which scenarios prove most likely. That’s the only way I could piece together a sufficient model to write novels with.
Because I’m looking at these things from a perspective of a writer and journalist rather than as a scientist, I can use the laws of probability, logic, and reason rather than just the scientific method, so I think it’s given me a unique perspective that’s allowed me to figure out some really intriguing realities about mankind’s mysterious past.
What are you most excited to share when it comes to The Unnamed Bears Favors? Ex). The world, the characters, a specific scene?
The ogres of Chinese legend existed, as did other cretures of myth. The ogres liked to steal women just like the myths told us. They began transporting homo sapiens sapiens women into the Tibetan plateau 10,000 years before the first male descendant of Mito Eve and Y Adam even arrived there. Because of this, modern Sherpas have a Denisovan gene that allows them to thrive at altitudes at which most of us would not be able to survive. But similar occurrences happened the world over during our prehistoric past, and from this we may derive our fear of the dark. Also, ancient rights of adulthood held more magic than the modern mind gives those rituals credit for.
Finally, do you have any advice and or tips for aspiring writers out there, especially those who are experimenting with multimedia?
I believe we live in an exciting time for writers, not just because publishing has become easier and we have more ways to market ourselves, but because tools to enhance and draw attention to our work have become more available. We have freeware like GImp, Blender, and Audacity to produce quality videos and audio. If you can’t read your own audiobook or create art and music to supplement your work, you can find talented artists for cheap on Fiverr.
Fiverr is a good place for Beta readers if you need something critiqued in a rush. I’d also encourage everyone to embrace social media, from Twitter to Youtube. Whether you’re going the indie, traditional, or self-publishing route you’re going to need to grow a following if you want staying power. Plus, Twitter still has many opportunities for writers. Both presses publishing my works next year found me on Twitter Pitch Parties. I’d also encourage spec fiction writers to enter the Writers of the Future Contest. Concentrating on short stories can really hone your skills, and winning is probably one of the easiest ways to a publishing deal.
Language: Friisan and Jangba
Symbol/Flag: A pair of holding hands.
Friis is located on the Eastern edge of the Republic, just outside the treacherous mountain range known as The Edge. Made up of foothills and blocked from the severe winds coming off the Ese’ed Ocean, the fertile landscape is perfect for growing its two chief exports, grapes and cocoa. Friis has a solid trading economy and boasts several vineyards. Its chief import is dragon scrotum, a delicacy for the Friisans, is traded heavily in their black market. Friis is ruled by a monarchy with the kingdom passed down to the youngest daughter. It is currently ruled by Vaneera, a senile geriatric who has ruled for the last seventy years. Vaneera’s youngest daughters are twins and the country is divided in their approval of either daughter.
The 2017 Neuri Award winner is m.a. nicholson!
BIO: m.a. nicholson is a writer of children’s literature and speculative fiction, producing stories that connect topics of magic, mental illness and animals with relevant social-political issues.
First, tell us a little about yourself. What inspires you to do what you do?
I am inspired to do what I do, to write, because I truly believe storytelling is one of the most powerful forces for changing the world. Everything and everyone has a story, but it is up to us whether we listen and if we choose to participate in shifting the narratives we live by each day.
Tell us about the book you are currently writing. How did it come about?
Currently, I am writing a book of science fiction about the apocalypse happening in the modern day. As worldwide devastation continues to be ever-present in news-media, rather than repeating tired clichés and tropes, this story is about characters who endure the crisis and do so with opposing interpretations of the events. This idea came about because there are so few depictions of dramatic social change occurring where, instead of violent dystopias, there are honest and beautiful transformations that arise.
The Neuri Award wants to “cultivate literature from the margins about the margins.” What does that mean to you?
Cultivating literature from the margins about the margins means actively resisting the ideologies of capitalism, white supremacy and domination that coopt so much creativity and inspiration to help and acknowledge one another as inherently valuable. It means acknowledging complicated identities and relationships among us all while still striving for a new vision that empowers us all.
How has writing affected your outlook on things? Has it made you take chances or see things in a different light?
Writing has changed my outlook quite a bit actually – previously, I had been far more involved in public activism and community organizing. But with my own chronic illness and general fatigue, I desperately needed a new outlet not only to continue with my efforts of helping others but a means of better articulating and sharing the possibilities I imagine. I see things differently only insofar that I believe a true metamorphosis of the human spirit is possible – not in politics, media or other institutions, but through recognizing ourselves in others, animals and the Earth. That mutual recognition happens most often in stories.
Finally, do you have any advice and or tips for aspiring writers out there, especially disabled writers?
My humble advice for other aspiring writers would be to persevere with integrity. What I mean by that is find in life what makes your heart flutter and breath vanish, what excites you with chills, and work your hardest to capture that moment in a way that others can experience it too. Our time in life is forever uncertain, but finding a way to be really heard and cherished through what you have to say is probably one of the noblest achievements and gifts we can leave behind.