Thursday, August 27, 2009

Jackie Gamber's Redheart Beats Strong and True!

I first met Jackie Gamber while attending MidSouthCon27 in Memphis, TN, which is where I was introduced to the book Redheart, the first installment in the Leland Dragon Series. The publisher of Redheart is the rising Meadowhawk Press, which is one of only four small press publishers to ever win the Phillip K. Dick Award (for the novel Terminal Mind, by David Walton ).

Jackie is, without a doubt, one of the more vibrant and genuine personalities that you will encounter in the arenas of writing and publishing. She often participates in panels, workshops, and lectures covering the writing realms, gladly willing to share her experiences and expertise with aspiring and established writers alike. She keeps a busy schedule, and even started a dragon-support network called Humans Against Dragon Stereotypes!

Based out of Memphis, TN, Jackie has a number of published short stories, including one relatively recently that is set in the same world as Redheart (“The Time Scar”, which appears in Dragons Composed, an anthology from Kerlak Publishing that was launched at MidSouthCon27).

As I often say, there are a lot of gems to be discovered in the small press world, and Jackie Gamber is a prime example of what I’m talking about. Redheart was a greatly enjoyable reading experience, and I am definitely on board when the second one in the series comes out.

So let’s visit with Jackie for an interview, and then we’ll give you my review of Redheart!

-Stephen Zimmer for Seventh Star Press Blog/Interview Series, August 27, 2009

SZ: Did Redheart start out as a stand-alone project, or did you conceive of a full series from the start?

JG: Redheart began as a single book idea. I began to sense, though, as I worked on it, that some of characters weren't going to be fully developed by the end of it. Also, the over-arching theme of war between dragons and humans felt "unfinished" as well. Somewhere around the 3/4 point, I realized I was going to have to write more Leland books to see some really satisfying character experiences.

SZ: How long did it take you to complete the first book?

JG: Well, this is a little embarrassing to confess, but I spent a number of years with the first 7 or 8 chapters languishing on yellow legal pads, and then on an old green-monitored word processor my dad gave me. When my husband and I invested in a real, honest-to-goodness computer with a word processing program, I learned I could visit my chapters, fiddle with them on and off, and call it "writing". I spent a number of years doing that! Once I finally decided to really study the craft of writing and then finish Redheart as a sort of promise to myself, it took about eight months. This final version of the novel is only vaguely similar to my original chapters.

SZ: How did you approach the creation of your dragon characters and the society they have in Redheart? How did you seek to distinguish them from previous usages of dragons in fantasy?

JG: I really started with the main characters, and worked to define their personal conflicts. In doing so, there was a natural need to establish a world where fears and failures are a part of the whole shebang. And I remembered some advice I'd picked up along the way--that for research, one of the best ways to get information is to pick up a children's book about a topic! Back before our now-familiar "Life for Dummies" sorts of books, it was a way to get good details written clearly and easily. For Redheart, I read a book entitled "Inside a Real Castle" or something like that...and so many things clicked!

In fact, I still often rely on children's books for research.

SZ: Prejudices between dragons and humans play a significant role in Redheart, and you founded an advocacy group for dragons, called Humans Against Dragon Stereotypes. Tell us a little about HADS.

JG: It turns out that as I delved into research, and established some tenuous relationships with dragon friends (they're very shy, but incredibly kind once you get to know them), I came to see how the media has really fed the stereotypes of dragons as fearsome beasts, or greedy treasure-hoarders, or maiden-stealers and the like. There is a lot of misinformation out there, and I felt it was time someone took a stand. It's why I became the founding member of Humans Against Dragon Stereotypes. Specism just shouldn't be tolerated.

SZ: In terms of quality, Redheart belongs side by side on a bookstore shelf with anything being put out by major press. When you have a quality book, but are faced with the obstacles put in place by several of the big bookstore chains, how are you working to get past the hurdles faced by small press authors in raising awareness of your series?

JG: Thank you, Stephen, for the compliment! I believe strongly in the "grass-roots" approach in finding readers. I look to connect with them as often as I can on a handshake level. Book signings are great, but I love science fiction conventions where I really get to connect with people. I have started spending more time speaking with teens at public schools and homeschool groups. Plus the online community is a real tour-de-force when it comes to spreading the word!

SZ: Why did you choose small press? What are some advantages that you see in
small press?

JG: I have strong convictions about small press having a legitimate and powerful presence in the publishing industry; the science fiction genre itself has deep roots in independent publishing. One important advantage for authors in small press is *time*: to establish readers, to grow a reputation and backlist, to build momentum. With the more modest advances and inventory investments of small press, an author doesn't need to feel the pressure of the 6 week window for success or failure, do-or-die demands of publishing.

Most books rely on word-of-mouth to garner attention; a book with a small press can take advantage of a slow but steady pace, long after a Big House Publisher would cut a book to "out of print".

SZ: Who are some of your writing influences?

JG: Ray Bradbury is my hero. I read him as a teen, and have continued to read and admire his work to today. Also Terry Brooks, and Orson Scott Card.

SZ: What's next for Jackie Gamber? And when will book 2 in the Leland Dragon Series be out?

JG: Just out is my novella "Hologram Bride", published in two parts in Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show. And my dark tale "Rose-Colored Eyes" will be available in the next issue of Shroud Magazine.

I've also just finished an alternate history/time-travel novel involving a romance between Adam Worth (the mastermind criminal who was Doyle's inspiration for Sherlock Holmes's nemesis Moriarity) and Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire: two people born one hundred years apart. It was a two-year project of research and writing.

And I'm currently working on book 2 for the Leland Dragon series! We're aiming for publication around Summer of 2010.

SZ: For those that wish to purchase Redheart, learn more about you, or explore HADS, what are some ways to connect on the web or on social networking sites?

JG: Redheart can be purchased at,,, or can be ordered from any local bookstore. - For information about my publications, appearances, or tidbits such as my blog. There are also links to my social networking venues. I enjoy chatting with my readers on Facebook, MySpace, or Twitter. Drop me a note! - For sample chapters of Redheart, plus other stories related to the Leland world. - For dragon safety tips and positive articles for spreading dragon awareness. Have you hugged a dragon today?

Redheart Soars Into The Skies of Compelling Fantasy Literature
Review by Stephen Zimmer, for Seventh Star Press Blog Site, August 27, 20009

It is always wonderful to take the first steps upon the road of an enticing, well-crafted fantasy series. Redheart (Meadowhawk Press, ISBN:978-0-9787326-0-8), Book One of the Leland Dragon Series by Jackie Gamber, takes readers on the first strides of what is going to be a very satisfying foray within fantasy literature.

The story itself centers around a couple of key characters.

One is a young girl, named Riza, who is working to find her place in the world after leaving the choking confines of a rigid, mundane village life. She can no longer tolerate an existence where one’s place in the world is set firmly from the beginning, and even mild curiosity is discouraged.

The other is Kallon, a young red dragon who is enduring a largely self-imposed exile following the traumatic loss of his father years before. His interactions are largely limited to a solitary wizard named Orman, and he initially has no desire to return back to live among dragon-kind.

The backdrop of Redheart features a world in which dragons have a fully developed society, much like humans, though the relationship between the two races has been anything but tranquil over the course of the years. Mistrust, rumors, and wars litter the history of dragon and human-kind.

Leland Province, where the dragons live, is undergoing a very troubling time in which the land is drying up in the midst of a terrible drought, adversely affecting humans and dragons alike.

The story begins when Riza finds herself in mortal trouble in the woods with a band of hooligans bearing unsavory intents. When Kallon hears her outcry, their paths intertwine as they both begin a path of adventure and self-discovery. This journey has some very unexpected twists and turns, as the reader soon comes to find out.

Jackie Gamber has done an excellent job of taking popular fantasy creatures, dragons, and making them live and breath with a fresh air. She infuses the kind of depth and character that gives each of them a very unique identity. The dragon Blackclaw, who holds the highest position in dragon-society at the time of the story, is particularly malevolent in nature, and proves to be a very effective villain. Others in the supporting cast, such as Whitetail, Grayfoot, and a female Brown dragon, are very distinctive, fleshed out characters that contribute significantly to the dynamics and tension in the plot.

One of the most fascinating characters in Redheart is Jastin Armitage, who I found to be very enigmatic throughout the story. When we first meet Jastin in the book, the scene plays out like the beginning of the arrival of a gunslinger in an American Old West tale. A mercenary dragon hunter, Jastin encounters Riza not long after she has met Kallon. He takes an interest in her early in the story. It is difficult to tell whether his intentions and interest in Riza are of a more honorable nature or not. At times he comes across as a rogue, and at other times more endearing, and perhaps his motivations are a blend of both. The way the story ends up has me really wanting to see where Jackie takes this character in future installments of the series.

The book also has subtle undercurrents of the mystical and spiritual, centering in the story upon a sagely Gold Dragon. This touch of things more supernatural gives Redheart an added dimension that is all too often lacking in speculative fiction. Spiritual or religious elements are prevalent in the genre, but quite frequently seem like window-dressing within the greater story. This is not the case in Redheart, where the hint of something profound and greater, and the light of hope, beckon at the edges of the plot without becoming too overindulgent.

The beginning of a very promising fantasy series has certainly been achieved in Redheart. It is a series that I feel will have a strong appeal to a number of types of fantasy readers, from those that enjoy world-building elements, to those that focus more solely on characters, to those that seek surprises and good plot twists.

There is a good balance of action, humor, and the dramatic, and the characters are very believable and consistent. I am certain that fans of popular-selling fantasy series such as E.E. Knight’s Age of Fire would definitely find themselves embracing the Leland Dragon Series, with its thoroughly developed dragon characters.

Jackie Gamber is a fantasy author who most definitely is an emerging force to be reckoned with. Redheart hooked me instantly for the Leland Dragon Series, and I am eagerly anticipating the next step of the adventure!

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