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Posts Tagged ‘Redheart

What I like best about Redheart are its misfit characters. There’s Kallon the dragon, who turned his back years ago on his own kind as well as humans, after his father was killed by a human. Kallon mopes around his cave, waiting to die, except when foraging for food. Then there’s the maiden Riza, who’s turned her back on her family and town because she doesn’t think like everyone else. After her fiancee cautions she’ll get “a burnin’ platform to stand on” if she keeps asking dangerous questions like whether the sky is just the beginning of the world instead of the end, she packs her bags and leaves. Finally, there’s Jastin, who hasn’t turned his back on anyone but tries to use both humans and dragons for his own revenge. One day they all meet and so begins Redheart, a great fantasy adventure by Jackie Gamber.

The relationships between these characters is another aspect that works well. At the forefront is the one between Kallon and Riza, whom Kallon rescues. A couple of years ago I tried to write a fantasy about the first encounter that a teenage girl had with a fairy in her backyard. Capturing the wonder and surprise of it all proved my biggest challenge. Next to that, I struggled most with showing how a friendship could even develop between two different species—especially two which were enemies. Gamber faces and quite successfully overcomes these obstacles. Riza’s relief at being rescued soon turns to shock upon realizing her savior was a dragon. Kallon himself wavers between regretting his choice to get involved and hoping Riza keep him company. For several chapters, their visits are similar to that  feeling one has when picking at a scab to see if the skin below has healed, in being sporadic and cautious. Eventually though, their true feelings emerge and solidify. A second relationship develops about the same time between Riza and Jastin, a human who proves gentler and more protective than her earlier attackers. Jastin sets her up with a job as a cook at a local tavern. One thing leads to another and soon Jastin is courting Riza. Yet as in real life, friends sometimes let each other down and even betray one another. Will it be the dragon Kallon or the human Jastin who betrays Riza just when she’s beginning to feel safe again? And which one will need to change their ways the most if Riza is to be saved? While I won’t share those answers, I will tell you that I appreciated that Gamber didn’t make any of her main characters all good or all bad. Both Kallon and Jastin actually do forge true friendships with Riza, but the prejudice of one endangers them all.

Another fabulous feature of Redheart is Gamber’s light-hearted touch. Book-lovers, upon discovering I like fantasy, often offer me adult examples, few of which I finish because I find their hardcore treatment of the fantasy realm to be dull. In contrast, Gamber had me sold on Redheart by the end of the first chapter. Kallon had frightened off Riza’s attackers, which is easy enough for a dragon to do, but less easy is deciding what to do with her. He puts his claw to his cheek and then he mumbles “Going to regret this” flying her back to his cave. I love his insecurity! In the second chapter, Gamber switches to Riza’s perspective. Kallon leaves to fetch her a drink, but Riza is suspicious about his motives. After all, he’s a dragon. At the same time, Kallon had saved her. “Maybe it brought her back as some sort of pet. Pet Riza. She giggled, imagining herself romping on all fours, chasing a stick thrown by a great, curled dragon paw.” For those of you who don’t appreciate cute, Gamber’s humor also shows up in sarcasm. Consider the scene where Kallon meets up with his wizard friend Orman. The two are talking about how things used to be when the Redhearts (Kallon’s family) were in power. Kallon tells Orman, “The Reds are dead.” When Orman rebuts with a disagreeable observation, Kallon blows a puff of breath that causes Orman to stumble. Orman mutters, “Still got plenty of breath for a dead dragon.” Most of Redheart’s humor however arises from Gamber’s style. Riza whispers to Kallon, “Riza, that’s my name, in case you were wondering.” Kallon “must not have been wondering, because he didn’t react.”

There’s so much in Redheart that makes me smile, I almost hate to mention its flaws. For example, although I appreciated the major characters, I can’t say the same for all the minor characters. Kallon’s wizard friend Orman initially reminds me of the silly monkey in The Lion King, who helps Simba realize that he must reclaim his kingship. Both the wizard and monkey grow on me, but they also seem more like comic relief than real characters. I never did understand the significance of Layce Phelcher, who seemed ridiculous speaking to Jastin from within his horse. Then there’s the descriptions. For the most part Gambler does a good job of setting the lay of the land or evoking atmosphere, but at times her descriptions are overwritten: “He nodded toward the wispy half-breed Blue standing in as a recorder, who dipped his claw into red ink….” Last—and this is admittedly personal preference—I didn’t care for the constantly switching viewpoints. Sometimes we’re following Kallon, other times Riza, then we switch to Jastin, and finally we even hear the perspective of the dragon council. The change in view only happens with a new chapter, but I still don’t care for this literary technique. I like to get inside the head of one character and stay there; but I realize many readers will be more accepting than me on this point. And so really what flaws I found were minimal.

Redheart is promoted as being about friendship, which is a sure sell.  In writing about two species who have a tenuous alliance, Gamber is also able to subtly tackle the issue of prejudice. Redheart is about something else too, which its young adult target audience should appreciate, and that is discovering one’s own destiny. Riza is expected to be like everyone else. Kallon is expected to follow in his father’s footsteps. Both resist those pressures and in doing so find a better path. Seventh Star Press has already promised to send me the next book in the Leland Dragon Series. You can trust I’ll be back with a review!

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

With very little online about Jackie Gamber, I found myself in the unusual situation of wondering what to ask her in an interview. I could ask the traditional questions one asks an author such as: “Why did you become an author? ” Or I could ask more unusual questions such as: “What is your favorite Skittle color?” I think I ended up asking a little of both kinds. And I received a fun and informative interview! To get to know more about the personal life, writing tastes, and other tidbits about the author of the Leland Dragon series, read on.

Allison: If you could relive one moment as a child, what moment would you pick?

Jackie: Wow, that’s a tough one. I don’t really look back at my childhood much, I often remind myself to keep looking ahead, keep planning ahead. I was pretty misunderstood as a kid; a sensitive oddball who saw things from a different angle than most. If I were to relive anything, I might choose a moment where I had the opportunity to punch someone in the nose, but didn’t. I would do it, this time. Might help me learn to stand up for myself better.

Allison: How early did you know you wanted to become a writer?

Jackie: I’ve been writing since I was old enough to hold a pencil. To me, it was as natural as laughing at a funny joke, and I thought everyone did it. I tried a few writing contests as a teen, and wrote so much poetry I filled journals. But it wasn’t until I was a mom, with both my kids in elementary school, that it dawned on me I could really try writing as a profession.

Allison: Often people either hated or loved their teen years. How did you find adolescence?

Jackie: Wow, another tough question. I think my teen years were where I really relied on my mantra “Keep looking ahead. It isn’t always going to feel like this.”

Allison: What is the best part for you about writing for young people?

Jackie: I enjoy the thought of encouraging all people to hang in there. To see that life changes, sometimes in a moment. You have to find what gives you strength, and make your choices toward that strong life for yourself.

Allison: What are your favorite creatures or places in the fantasy genre?

Jackie: Some of my favorite fantasy stories involve regular folks stepping into a world of make believe. I like the way those tales flip “extraordinary” with “normal”, and help a reader get perspective on his or her own paradigms.

Allison: Why did you start writing fantasy? Why dragons in particular?

Jackie: Most of my stories have involved an element of science fiction/fantasy/the paranormal. I think because that’s where I get to break some rules and rewrite society’s expectations. It’s fun to examine life through the eyes of an alien, or a mythical creature, and to examine why, in our everyday life, we either believe or don’t believe the things we do.

Allison: Your resume lists a few different jobs. What was the most unusual? Tell about the highlights of a typical day on that job.

Jackie: People tend to be surprised when I tell them I was a soldier in the United States Air Force. I processed awards and decorations, and also processed benefits and death notifications. You know how in the movies, people in uniform knock on a home to tell loved ones a soldier has been killed? That was my office. I never had to do that, thank goodness. But I once helped a Vietnam vet by digging out his award records, and I provided him with the medals and commendations he’d never been given. That was a highlight for me.

Allison: You co-established a writers’ group. How did that come about?

Jackie: For the one in Michigan, I had searched and searched for a writers’ group in my area, but couldn’t find one. So, I figured there must be others out there looking, too, and if we were going to find each other, I’d have to start a group, myself!

Allison: When you are not writing, what do you most like to do?

Jackie: I do a lot of reading, when I’m not writing. Also, I learned to knit a few months ago, and I really enjoy fiddling with that whenever I get the chance. But one of my most favorite activities is riding on the back of a Suzuki V-Strom motorcycle (my husband drives) and taking off for hours without quite knowing where we’re going.

Allison: Your resume also notes that you write reviews and plays. How did you get start writing reviews?

Jackie: I do something called “Booktasting”, where I pair a book (usually a classic science fiction novel, but not always) with a certain tea you should drink while reading. It started out as something I was just doing for fun, for myself, since I love both reading and tea. But then tea drinkers, or book readers, began asking me about it, as well as authors, who were interested in knowing what tea I might choose for their book, and I decided to start sharing my Booktastings with the world. It’s been so much fun!

Allison: Talk about your experience as a playwright and having your scripts performed. How is this different from being a novelist?

Jackie: I’ve had children’s plays performed, as well as a high-budget, multimedia play. Most recently, I’ve been writing screenplays, and have produced short films, with more on the way. It’s an entirely different sort of experience to see an actor live out a character I’ve created. With novels, I don’t actually see readers living out my stories. With plays or films, the world is right there, in front of me. I really enjoy that.

Allison: Redheart came about because of a dream. How did you turn this inspiration into a full-length book?

Jackie: It took a number of years for me to take myself seriously as a writer, and then for me to take my world of Leland seriously enough to start writing it down. Once I set the goal of doing this, for real, it took learning the craft, practicing it, and the discipline to keep writing, keep working. Of course, once a book is written, that’s when the real work of editing begins!

Allison: There are now three books in the Leland Dragon series. Would you share a little about the publication process of getting Redheart into print and receiving a contract for additional books?

Jackie: The publishing industry can be pretty brutal on a sensitive soul. Publishing is a business like any other, and yet its product is subjective art, and so how does combining the two make success? It’s a mystery, both to those inside and outside the publishing world. There are no formulas, and no real repeatable patterns. The best thing to do is to keep writing, keep submitting, and keep networking. Which is how “Redheart” and the following books came about for me. I shook hands with someone from Seventh Star Press who took the time to read my work, and to believe in it. Those are magic words to a struggling writer: “I believe in you.”

Allison: What’s next?

Jackie: Next is more stories! Always more stories. In addition to Book Three of the Leland Dragon Series, I’m also writing a steampunk fantasy novel for New Babel Books. I’ve written a feature-length paranormal thriller screenplay, as well as several short film screenplays based on my published stories. I also edited a special issue of the dark fiction magazine Shroud, due out in the coming weeks.

Meet Jackie elsewhere on the world-wide web at:

In April, I received an email from a small publishing company called Seventh Star Press. The company expressed in working with me as a reviewer. While I rarely turn down a review request, when I let the company know that my schedule was full through the spring, I expected them to lose interest in me. After all, there are lots of reviewers out there. They graciously didn’t, accepting my timeframe of August for reviewing two of their publications.

Dragon from PSF D-270006.png

Dragon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first I’ll post this week. Redheart is a young adult fantasy about a dragon! It’s written by Jackie Gambler, about which I couldn’t find much online. I do have a request in for an interview. It’ll appear here on Friday.

For now, let me tell you a little about Gamber’s childhood. According to her website, she spent a lot of her youth writing. It just her a while to figure out that writing has always played a part in her life.

Along the way to becoming a full-time writer, Gamber received employment as a soldier and later a secretary. Then she became a mom. And now she’s a versatile writer.


Looking at Gamber’s resume, I believe her when she says that’s always dabbled with writing. She’s written flash, short stories, novellas, and full-length novels. Starting a few years ago in 2008, several of her publications have won awards. She’s also written scripts for children’s plays and seasonal vignettes and even produced a multi-media passion play. In addition, you can catch her reviews at EnglishTeaStore. Besides all these, Gambler created a writers’ group, ran a writers’ conference, taught a ten-hour seminar on science and fiction, and helped with student writing contests.

English: Ray Bradbury autograph.

English: Ray Bradbury autograph. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When asked what authors inspired her, she listed three: Ray Bradbury, Charles Dickens, and Mary Shelley. For her, Shelley was ahead of her time, tying dark themes to emotional issues. As for Bradbury, he wrote fantastic stories with such conviction one must believe them. This quality would be important to someone like Gamber, who writes about mythological creatures such as dragons.


No doubt, part of the inspiration behind the Leland Dragon series is Gamber’s personal interest in genre stories. However, credit must also be given to a dream she had one night of a dragon. That dream stuck  in her mind, even after she woke. Eventually, that dream became an introduction to characters, and from those characters, a world.

When asked by Fantasy Review which characters she most identifies with, she responded that “I’m sure bits of me go into all my characters, in secret ways even I don’t understand.” Specifically though, Kallon and his child Sela share her “woe is me” attitude that turns up in the challenges of life. Gamber admits that she doen’t deal well with discouragement, which is perhaps why she tries to find answers in her fiction.


I’ll leave you with one last tidbit. Most authors have outside interests. Gamber is no exception. She loves to knit! She notes in Fantasy Review that so far she’s only tackled scarves and hats, but then she doesn’t do it for the size of the project, rather for the soothing rhythm. Also, her husband and her love weekend motorcycle trips into the country.

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