Author Interview: Jaimie N. Schock

I first met Jaimie on Twitter and was immediately tempted into reading the first book in her Talisman Wars series, The Pyre Starter. The book boasts LGTBTQ+ characters, realistic representation of disability, and oh yeah, it’s a modern fantasy. What’s not to love?! It was like all the neurons in my brain were screaming ‘BUY IT’ and I found myself staring at an Amazon receipt on my screen before my mind could catch up. Regrets? None.

You can read my review of The Pyre Starter here. I rated it ‘Wildfire’ for the combination of action-packed scenes and heartwarming interludes that warmed my soul like a campfire.

I was also honored to have a discussion with Jaimie about her writing and her future plans.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I was a print journalist for more than ten years before becoming an author. I have three cats, a lovely husband, and several children that call me “aunt.” I also have PTSD and am a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

Has your experience as a print journalist influenced how you write/what you write in any way?

I think it has to an extent. I learned a lot while writing in the science and engineering fields, which has been helpful with my current work-in-progress sci-fi story. I wrote pieces that were designed to get into people’s heads and understand them. That has definitely helped me write characters. Also, I did professional editing along the course of my career, helping me edit my own stories later on.

What is your favorite novel, and has it inspired how you write? How?

I actually don’t currently have a favorite. When I was younger, however, my favorite was “Bedlam’s Bard” by Mercedes Lackey. It was a simple two-part book featuring an elf in the real world and a moody Renaissance Fair musician. I connected with the characters on a deep level and felt that I could write characters that were equally relatable. I was also inspired by Lackey’s success and her large amount of published works. I thought to myself “I can do that!”

Tell us about your series, The Talisman War.

The series features multiple main characters as they navigate a growing war between powerful magic necklace users. It has seven books. Book one The Pyre Starter begins with a handful of characters trying to prevent a single bad guy from taking away everything they care about. In the later books, the antagonists become more frequent and more powerful, and it’s up to the characters to try and stop them as society degrades and destabilizes.

What are some key takeaways you’re hoping readers get from your books?

One of the biggest themes in the books is the overpowering need to protect those you love. Dakota, the first main character, adopts a little girl named Kenna and begins to raise her amongst the chaos. He is willing to do anything to protect and provide for her. He acts similarly for his love interests and another daughter he adopts in book five. Later, Kenna does the same thing for her love interest, as does Cameron in book seven The Burning Key.

What is different about your novels?

I have LGBTQ+ people as the main point-of-view characters and their loved ones. My books also feature interracial romance, disabled characters, mentally ill characters, and other diverse characters. Beyond that, the series evolves over time. The stakes change from book to book, and the characters do, too. Dakota and Kenna are unrecognizable to their former selves by the end, but they grow substantially. I also don’t skimp on the intimate scenes or violence. I like to provide all the information needed and not skip over things.

What are your plans for future novels?

Right now, I’m working on a sci-fi story with fantasy and romantic elements. It follows a group of humans and bison-sized, benevolent aliens as they make a trip to a nearby solar system to investigate a planet for life. The main character Cillian ends up with hallucinations, which, among many other things, allows him to “speak” with a capybara. The antagonist is a lovesick priest whose negative attributes change dramatically across the book. I plan to finish it this year.

What inspires you to write?

My husband and my readers. I’ve been a writer for a long time, but for fiction, I want to provide a journey that is enjoyable and engaging. I also try to weave my own experiences in now and then. For instance, one character has PTSD while another attempts suicide (in the first scene of the first novel). These are real problems I have experienced.

What do you enjoy about publishing, and what do you struggle with?

I enjoy seeing my books out there, holding them, and listening to people who have read them. I struggled with finding an agent, and in the end, went with small press companies without one. I queried more than 100 agents and was ignored or turned down by every single one. I believe the sensitive content and LGBTQ+ plot line in my first book was the reason for the rejections and not the writing itself. Thankfully, two press companies accepted the books directly, and all seven are published now.

Mercedes Lackey is also known for diversity and tackling a variety of characters and plots, something you seem to value as well. You say you were rejected by many agents due to the sensitivity and diversity in your content. What made you want to continue on that path even knowing it would be more of a struggle?

I felt my story needed to be told. The characters deal with real issues that are important to me, such as mental health, love, disabilities, etc. I wanted other people to know about these issues and experience them alongside the characters. I also wanted people to enjoy the series I wrote. I spent so much time on it, from 2013 to 2019; I wasn’t going to just give up on it. I would have queried 100 more agents if I thought any would bite. In the end, I’m so glad that small press companies took an interest and published my work.

What has been your greatest struggle in the writing process, and how would you inspire other writers to overcome it?

My own mental health was the biggest struggle. I began writing my series in 2013 and finished in 2019, but I took a year off in the middle because I was simply too sick to focus or find enough energy to write. Now, with therapy and proper medication, writing comes naturally again.

You mentioned that your mental health became a barrier to your writing. What advice do you have for other writers in similar circumstances?

Take your time. Write on your better days. Give yourself breaks. Your mental health is more important than anything you’re writing. If you can, seek therapy and medication. It will help. Once you’re feeling better, it’ll be easier to write, I promise. And if you feel so inclined, write what you know. Your mental health journey is important and can be incorporated into your writing if you want to. I recommend doing that, because it acted as an additional form of therapy for me. Whatever you do, take care of yourself, and your writing will be better for it.

How can we purchase your book?
My books are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, JMS Books, and others.

You can also visit my website at: https://www.jaimieschock.com/

Book Review: The Pyre Starter

With the strike of a match, the flame is lit— but the flames can turn all you love into a pyre.

The Pyre Starter by Jaimie N. Schock is full of heartfelt dialogue, engaging action scenes, introspection on what family means and what lengths we’ll go to in order to protect the ones we love.

We begin with a despondent Dakota, living a jaded and meaningless life while sporadically attending classes at a university. We dive right into his lowest moment—attempting to end his own life.

A college acquaintance, Terrell, attempts to persuade him to give life another go by sharing with him a secret kept behind locked doors for thousands of years: magic is real.

A disbelieving Dakota follows Terrell on an adventure of love and misfortune that spans a cross-country road trip, monumental loss, and new beginnings. The ending will shatter your heart to pieces, then put the broken remains back together again. Not ever the same, but for all it’s mismatched and worn-down edges, still whole.

The Good:

I fully enjoyed the wild ride Schock takes us on. While predictability and tropes are an acceptable vehicle for story in genre fiction, Schock relies on none of them. As a result, I couldn’t predict the next steps of the story as it emerged, let alone the outcome, something I normally pride myself on being able to do.

It was like a puzzle with disparate pieces, until the last ten pages where it all came together in the only way it could. I can’t imagine what Schock has in store for the other six books in the series.

Though The Pyre Starter has a solid plot, the story is very much carried by the genuine and relatable characters.

Dakota sees nothing left to live for at the beginning, but through love, found family, and necessity, he transforms into a character with the fortitude and charisma to carry the series as a protagonist. I related to Dakota on a deeper level than I do most protagonists, and found many of his thoughts echoing my own. The dark places the author goes to is presented without melodrama, but with a tactical observance that allows the reader enough space not to go down that road themselves while reading.

Terrell starts as a character that exudes joy and curiosity, but his obsession with the talismans and revenge blind him to the possibilities of love and healthy companionship. All of the characters experience a transformation, but it’s up to their own personal proclivities as to whether it’s for better or worse.

Should You Read It?:

I’d like to give a forewarning to watch for the triggers if you are prone to having problems reading about certain issues.

That said, what I liked about The Pyre Starter is it’s a modern fantasy novel where diversity is a feature but not the main event. Diverse representation means along with having stories that deal heavily with those topics, we have stories where diversity exists but is not the plotline. While those stories absolutely need to be told, especially from Own Voices, there also a need for stories where diversity is normal and celebrated.

In this book, the issues of homophobia, racism, and ableism aren’t ignored, but it doesn’t become the impetus of the story. The diversity is just a backdrop to the main plot and themes. Diversity naturally exists around us if we let it, and Schock lets it. It’s refreshing.

If you are instead looking for a story where diversity becomes the crux of the conflict, this story may not be for you. There are many wonderful reads by Own Voices that do this, including The American Street by Ibi Zoboi, Dreadnought by April Daniels, and I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver.

Spark Level:

I rated The Pyre Starter, The Talisman War Book 1, as Wildfire. It’s a heavy-hitting coming of age story with a combination of action-packed scenes and heartwarming interludes that warmed my soul like a campfire.

The Trigger Warnings: Major Depression, Suicidal Ideation & Attempt, Explicit Violence, Sexual Content