In our final interview of 2023, head to the wastelands with Bast and Gabriel in this new interview from Jaimie N. Schock. Celebrate Jaimie's brand new release, The Wasteland Kings, as well as her seven-book series, The Talisman War, by finding out all about the inspiration and journey behind Jaimie's queer-led sci-fi and fantasy worlds below!
Hi Jaimie and thanks for joining us! First of all, tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a fiction author with nine books published. The books feature LGBTQIA+ characters, along with other types of diversity like mental health and disabilities. Before I began writing novels, I was a journalist and editor for ten years. I am married, disabled, and bisexual. I have three cats that I absolutely adore.
Your newest release came out in November! Tell us about The Wasteland Kings and what inspired you to write it.
The Wasteland Kings is a story about two people from domed futuristic cities who, for different reasons, end up in a wasteland environment. One is a gay hacker named Bast, and the other is a bisexual accountant named Gabriel. Though they don’t know it, their fates are intertwined.
Can you tell us a little bit about your characters? Which, if any, did you identify with most and why?
There is a small cast of characters in The Wasteland Kings, but I do identify with two of them. Gabriel is protective of others, kind, and stubborn (like me!). Delphi, a woman born in the wastelands who helps Bast survive, is also similar to me, in that she is a strong leader and hard worker with humble beginnings. In previous books, I would say I identify the most with Dakota from The Talisman War series, because of his mental and physical health struggles.
Your story is set in a high-tech world surrounded by a dangerous wasteland, which encompasses most of the former United States. What does the world-building process look like for you as a sci-fi author, and is it inspired by any other places, real or fictional?
I “pants” my stories, which means I don’t outline or plan ahead of time. Much of the world-building came organically as I went along, and then, after the first draft was finished, I went back and added more. Also, initially, the story only followed Bast. To lengthen it and make it more interesting, I added Gabriel’s point of view.
As for the places, I did use real cities. Philadelphia, Seattle, Chicago, “New” Atlanta, and others are all featured. I’ve been to Philly many times and grew up just north of it, so I wanted to include a place I know. The wasteland locations were based on rural areas like the one in which I grew up.
The book features a lovely MM romance. What are your favourite tropes to read in sci-fi and romance genres, and do any make an appearance in this story?
I don’t really have any favorite tropes, though I love a good friends-to-lovers romance. Bast has three different partners across the book, each with a different dynamic. The first one is an unhealthy, largely physical relationship with a married man. The second is a healthy (although strange) romance with the support of an entire town. The third is a rocky one with a friend. I tried to show a range of relationships in the story.
What initially drew you to sci-fi and what do you love most about writing in a cyberpunk setting?
I started writing urban fantasy, but when I finished my series The Talisman War, I wanted to branch out. My second project, Visions of Iotan, was my first dabbling in sci-fi, and it featured benevolent aliens, a talking capybara, and interstellar travel. As for The Wasteland Kings, I wanted a story of extremes, featuring a battle for survival juxtaposed with cushy life in the cities. I loved writing the tech aspects of the story, such as the body modifications and the robotic dogs. I also liked developing a self-sufficient town that, while less cyberpunk than the cities, hopefully involves an almost comforting feel for the reader.
Did you find any challenges while writing The Wasteland Kings? How did you overcome them?
My biggest challenge was incorporating the second point of view after writing the first one to completion. It had to feel natural and at the same time, different from the main plot. I rarely make such massive changes to my stories after the first few drafts, so it was a new approach for me. I overcame it through writing it down, getting a beta reader, and then editing it substantially.
You already have a long and magnificent backlist, including seven-book SFF series, The Talisman War. Tell us how these books came to be and what readers can expect to find in them! Will The Wasteland Kings also become part of a larger series?
I started writing The Talisman War in 2013 after quitting my job as a print journalist due to health problems. The primary main character is an initially suicidal young man named Dakota. He is introduced to a world where magic can be cast through special necklaces (talismans) and quickly must help defend those he cares about from a nameless but terrifying foe. Later in the series, a girl named Kenna becomes the secondary main character. The main plot lasts six books, and then the seventh, which features a new main character named Cameron, takes place twenty years after the end of the sixth. The plot follows these characters as the world is ripped apart by magical war. Disabilities, mental health, queer relationships, and more are all prominent aspects of the series.
Having worked for years on The Talisman War, I am not eager to write another series, and I think The Wasteland Kings fits neatly into one book. With that said, there is always room for a prequel or sequel if I feel so inclined and if I have the support from readers.
We’d love to know more about your passion for queer and disabled representation. Why is this important to you, and is there any rep you wish you could see more of in literature?
I love writing queer and disabled characters because I relate to them more. I also want others to experience them as different points of view from what they might be familiar with. Dakota has depression and M.S. Kenna has PTSD. Both are queer. In Visions of Iotan, the main character Cillian is a gay man with a husband and a daughter. There is also a trans woman. And in The Wasteland Kings, Bast and Gabriel and several side characters are also very queer. I included a non-binary character, as well. It just feels right to me to include these types of characters in my stories.
I would love to see more disabled representation in mainstream stories. Characters with chronic illnesses that never get cured and physical or mental disabilities that cause real problems would be preferable. More queer rep for main characters would also be wonderful.
We’d love a hint about any of your current projects! Anything that might surprise your readers?
I have a mostly finished Middle Grade children’s story that will be queried to agents shortly. It is a portal fantasy featuring a ten-year-old queer girl who ends up in a world with talking animals. There is a possum mage and a very helpful raven. I plan to publish it under the pseudonym Angelina Price. (Angelina is my grandmother’s name, and Price is the last name of one of my favorite characters in The Talisman War). I chose a pen name because I want to keep my adult books and any material for younger audiences separate.
I also have an adult, lesbian high fantasy on the backburner that I hope to eventually mold into a good story.
Have any shows, movies, books, or games influenced your own work at all?
Absolutely. Early seasons of The Walking Dead influenced both The Talisman War and The Wasteland Kings. A movie about an android called Outside the Wire also influenced The Wasteland Kings. I drew on aspects of The Last of Us, too. Additionally, I watched a documentary on “killer” robots and did a lot of research for all of my stories.
If you could give any advice to SFF authors about to dive into the genre, what would it be?
Don’t worry about publishing. Don’t worry about originality. Worry about the writing and the story. Write from your heart. Write from your experiences. Research everything. And definitely get beta readers during the editing process.
Most importantly: Don’t write a seven-book series as your first project!
Our podcast focuses on media we’re currently loving. Are there any books, shows, movies, or games you’re enjoying at the moment? Any recommendations for our audience? Bonus points if it includes sapphics!
I love the cozy fantasy stories by Travis Baldree (Legends & Lattes and Bookshops & Bonedust). There is a sapphic element. I also love the horror show From, which features a sapphic couple in Season 2. And though it was canceled, Hannibal the TV show will probably always be my favorite (it has both MM and FF storylines).
Jaimie N. Schock is an author, editor, and journalist with nearly two decades of professional experience. She has been published in newspapers and magazines and has released nine fiction novels, including The Talisman War fantasy series (The Pyre Starter, The Fired Gun, The Circus Crown, The Queen’s Pain, The Crystal Call, The Magic Pact, and The Burning Key) and the sci-fi books Visions of Iotan and The Wasteland Kings.