JKapp: Today I’d like to welcome J D Abbas, author of Shattered by Shadows, to the interview hot seat. Shattered by Shadows launched August 10th and is the first book in the Innocence Cycle series. This book is a psychological fantasy that follows the story of Giara, a girl who’s suffered immeasurable pain, and the utopian world that’s turned upside down when the Guardians discover someone is destroying the innocence in the realm.
Jacket Blurb for Shattered by Shadows:
“Giara’s mind tumbled, fighting to find its way back into her body. As her eyes slid open, she searched for clues as to how long she’d been gone this time…”
Bred and raised as a Gille d’Zhajh, a pleasure girl, Giara has spent seventeen years enslaved to the perversions of others. When patrons carry her off to a secluded, magical forest for a week of brutality, Giara attempts to end her life. But woodland spirits intervene, leading two Guardians of the realm to set her free.
Celdorn, the Lord Protector of the Shalamhar, thinks he must be hallucinating when the swarthy woman they rescue runs away from them and transforms into a teenager then a small child, who wordlessly lays her hand on his heart and awakens emotions he thought long dead. Tortured by past failures, Celdorn has never married, never thought about being a father—until now.
When the Guardians take Giara to a training stronghold full of men—kind, respectful warriors who want nothing more than to help her recover—she is certain she has gone mad. Not only is she losing time again, but the Guardians think she is a Rahima, a shifter, a race not seen in over a millennium. Giara must learn to trust Celdorn and his men—and more importantly, her own mind—in order to stop Anakh, the woman who crushed her life, before she destroys any more innocents. The journey will take Giara into the darkest places of her soul to reconnect with fragmented parts of herself and uncover the powers hidden there—arcane powers for which she is now being hunted…
JKapp: The story is not for the faint of heart, and while it takes place in a fantasy realm, the story addresses the hard truth that sex trafficking is real and continues to be prevalent today. Can you tell us what motivated you to write this story?
J D: When it started, I just had a scene stuck in my head for weeks. A friend suggested I write it down and see where it ended up. The story and characters just took on a life of their own. 500,000 words later and into the fifth book of the series, the story is still going. That’s the final one, though, so it will be a quintet. I guess the origin of the story, as with many stories, was my subconscious. I have a severe abuse history of my own, and I worked for ten years as a counselor with survivors of all types of abuse. I felt I needed to do something with my history, something to make a difference. Counseling did some of that, but I wanted to help on a larger scale. That’s when I made the decision that part of the sale of every book would go to help other survivors of abuse, and specifically survivors of Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST).
JKapp: How is that different from Sex Trafficking in general?
J D: Many people are aware of the international crisis of Human Trafficking for labor or sexual purposes, but fewer people are aware of the U.S. domestic problem. Yes, people are imported from other countries to the U.S. for these purposes, but we also have a home-grown problem. DMST is a label used to describe U.S. children who are being sold for sexual purposes. The DOJ estimates 300,000 children are at risk of being exploited each year in this country alone. That’s a whole issue about which I could go on for hours. But suffice to say, it’s a big problem and not enough is being done about it.
JKapp: Giara has been brutally assaulted and has to learn to trust the Guardians who’ve helped free her from her captors. Why did you choose this as a theme?
J D: I know some of my readers wanted my character to “trust faster” or “get stronger more quickly” but I chose to make the journey a little more realistic. How does a girl learn to trust again when all the people who should have protected her didn’t? And how does she learn to judge who is trustworthy when she’s never experienced that? I think this is an issue that many people can relate to. Trust is the first developmental task according to Erikson’s model. If we don’t have trustworthy adults to help us learn the world is a safe place, then our development is stunted. It is really difficult to relearn something so core to our being. Giara portrays that struggle. She wants to trust, but part of her is so scared of being hurt again.
JKapp: Can you tell us more about her character and what it means to be a Rahima, a shifter in this world?
J D: The original Alraphim were the first Guardians of the world in my novel. No one quite knows what their abilities were because they are supposed to be extinct. They were supposedly able to shift their forms into say a rock or an animal to hide from aggressors. They developed the ability to cohabitate with other life forms by entering into the body of another and sharing consciousness. They were also believed to be accomplished in what we might call telepathy, astral projection and empathic abilities.
Giara is a different sort of shifter. Due to her psychological damage and lack of training in her abilities, she shifts into different forms of herself when she experiences intense emotions. Picture a person with a dissociative disorder who shifts into a different part of her personality, that person may talk and behave differently, but those outside her still see the same person. For Giara, she actually becomes the image she has in her mind. So when she feels like a frightened child, she becomes a small child. When she pictures herself as a warrior, she becomes a physically larger, stronger, darker version of herself. Unfortunately, she is unaware of the changes and unable to control them. That’s why she needs some outside help.
JKapp: Along with Giara, this series includes an array of interesting characters with special powers. Tell us about the Guardians of the Shalamhar and their role in the story.
J D: At the time the story takes place, which is second world pre-industrial, the Guardians are a different race than the original Guardians. They have some empathic abilities, and a few have telepathic, but not to the level of the original Guardians. As the story progresses, Giara seems to draw out gifts in those around her. Braiden, a young healer, develops the ability to enter the body of his patient and “listen” for direction as to what the problem is, as well as to heal it directly, not by conventional methods. Mikaelin develops the ability to absorb the wounds of others. Elbrion develops the ability to hear thoughts. Shatur is able to see through glamours or disguises, which Giara’s enemies are adept at using.
JKapp: The world building is fantastic, and it seems like the Shalamhar is just a boat ride away. How do you prepare to write fantasy and how much research do you do before you create fantastical worlds?
J D: I’ve read a lot of medieval fantasy over the course of *mumble* years, plus I love to collect books with castles, medieval weapons, famous monoliths, etc. My family loves to do marathon viewings of the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit extended versions. So I guess I’ve been “doing research” for a long time.
Mostly I asked myself a lot of questions about how I wanted my world to work, and other people helped me with things I hadn’t thought of. I know there could be more world building, but I didn’t want to distract from the story. I’ve read some popular, best-selling authors that I think overdo it, and I end up skimming pages to pick up the story again. I hope no one feels the need to do that with mine.
JKapp: This book stirs up a lot of emotions. As the author, what was the hardest part about writing book 1?
J D: I think the hardest part was not getting squeamish and glossing over the abuse scenes or the emotional aftermath. It’s uncomfortable to write and uncomfortable to read, but I can’t portray the truth of the ugliness of sexual trafficking/abuse and how it destroys people by being afraid to speak the difficult parts. It also made me face emotions I wanted to bury and ignore. My characters called me out on that one.
JKapp: Celdorn, one of your main characters, did not have dogs in the original draft. Likewise, you added a stutter to another character. How did you come up with the idea to add these elements to your storyline and how hard was it to incorporate them?
J D: Because I wanted Giara to have an authentic struggle with trust in relating to people, I thought it might help her to have an animal ally early on. It also became a way to show Giara’s innate gentle, loving nature, which was not as visible interacting with the humans. Dogs are good judges of character, even in fiction.
As for Braiden and his stutter, I was well into editing book three (and had written most of Book 4) when I suddenly realized he had to have a stutter. I also decided Shatur needed to be missing a hand about the same time.
It was a real pain to incorporate these elements so late in the game. Book 1-3 are each about 130,000 words, so that’s a lot of editing. But I’m happy with the result.
JKapp: What is the one thing you hope readers gain from your series?
J D: Wow, that’s a big question. If readers are survivors of abuse of any kind or have been broken by the harshness of this world, I want them to come away with a sense of hope—that someone understands, that recovery and love are possible. I had a friend tell me that while she was reading she discovered she carried some of the same internal messages as Giara, and she found healing along with my character. That’s why I write.
For people who have not been abused or have not yet experienced brokenness, I hope they come away with a deeper understanding of what other people carry inside of them and not shy away from it. Perhaps then they can choose to be the one to offer the love and friendship that is needed.
I have a hard time putting this third one into words. I want readers to experience a deeper understanding of the interconnection among human beings, and between humans and nature. When atrocities like human trafficking are allowed to continue, all humans suffer, even the natural world suffers. Maybe some of the uproar we see in nature is more than global warming. Perhaps the earth is revolted by the things we humans do—enslaving others, abusing others, killing in the name of God, etc. Could there be a collective consciousness in nature? I don’t know how we could possibly know or measure that, but it’s just something about which I wonder.
Okay, that was three things. Sorry.
JKapp: Are you a plotter or a pantster?
J D: Pantster, most definitely. I’m of the Stephen King archaeological book development camp. I feel like I uncover the story as I go, never quite sure what I’ll find.
JKapp: Rumor has it you’re a grammar guru. Can you tell me about your writing experience and how you continue to hone your skills?
J D: Nasty rumor mill. Lol. I was raised in the Midwest. I had grammar drilled into me from a young age. It’s one of those things I’ve always enjoyed and been good at. (For you other grammar gurus out there, I do realize I’ve ended several sentences with prepositions, but I’m trying to keep my tone conversational, not formal.) I’m a bit of a word geek. I get daily emails from grammar forums and word-of-the-day sites. I also keep my Chicago Manual of Style nearby and look up things on the internet all the time.
JKapp: Do you write to music? And if so, can you share a playlist that goes with this series, or at least a few songs that motivated you while you were glued to the keyboard?
J D: I don’t listen to music while I write because I stop and read aloud all the time. Music just distracts me. I have too much noise in my head already.
I do have a playlist I listen to when I’m on my treadmill or bike and thinking about upcoming scenes or rewrites. A couple of Josh Groban songs have been kind of core songs for me. One has to do with an event near the end of the series, which hasn’t even been written yet, but makes me weep every time. I see it like a movie scene.
Here’s a few of the songs I listen to: “In Her Eyes” and “To Where You Are” by Josh Groban; “Piece of Glass” by Caedmon’s Call; “Hero” by Nickleback; “Broken” by Seether & Evanescence; “Lost” by Anouk; “Oh, My God” by Jars of Clay; “All Alone” by Kutless; “A New Day has Come” by Celine Dion.
JKapp: This series is an epic, psychological fantasy. What draws you to this genre, and do you have any other material you’ve published or are working on that you’d like to share?
J D: Though I write epic fantasy, I lean toward the literary side. My novels are character-driven and theme oriented, grounded in our common experience as humans. So, in that way, there’s a lot of realism. I’m fascinated by the human mind and how it processes brokenness. Sadly, the older I get, the more broken people I meet. This life is hard for so many of us, and I don’t want to gloss over that in my writing.
I also love the freedom I have with fantasy to just let my subconscious loose, and I find the challenge of creating my own worlds and the rules to my universe invigorating. Being creative helps me feel alive. It’s part of my own recovery process, I suppose.
This novel is my first published work here in the U.S. I have one novella that was translated into Arabic and published in Egypt entitled “Azora: the Healing Journey.” I am rewriting that for the American market in novel length. I also have a novel started that deals with a minor Greek Goddess, and another about a girl in early 1600s Ireland. All of those have to wait until I finish The Innocence Cycle quintet, however.
JKapp: When you’re not writing, how do you like to spend your time?
J D: If I’m not writing, I’m editing my own work or that of my critique partners. Outside of that, I spend time with family, walk, hike with my husband, or travel with friends.
JKapp: This book is the first in a series. Can you tell us when we can expect more from the Innocence Cycle?
J D: Book 2 is due out in mid October. Then I hope to have the print version of Books 1 and 2 out in November and December.
JKapp: A portion of the proceeds from the Innocence Cycle goes to support survivors of sex trafficking. Can you tell us about the charity you’ve selected and how people can get involved?
J D: I’ve chosen the Genesis Project in Seattle. This is a service started by a police officer who worked a night beat in South Seattle. He got frustrated with arresting underage prostitutes and having no services to offer them to help them get off the streets. With the help of others, he opened an emergency shelter to which those picked up could be taken, instead of arresting them. They provide shelter, clothing, food, and help girls connect with whatever services they need and are willing to use. This is their website: https://genesisnow.org or you can connect with them on Facebook: The Genesis Project Seattle. Recently they posted a list of needs for August on their Facebook page, many of them are simple, practical items. And, of course, you can buy my book.
I chose the Genesis Project because I spent the first four years of my life in Seattle, and it is, and has been for a long time, a major hub for traffickers
JKapp: Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about your book, J D! We’re glad you could stop by!
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Shattered-Shadows-Innocence-Cycle-Book-ebook/dp/B013P6THLI