• Featured Novel: 'Altaica' (The Chronicles of Altaica, #1) by Tracy M. Joyce

    Author Tracy M. Joyce's love of history, fascination with Ottoman and Mughal weapons, and her hobbies of archery and horse riding, all fueled the inspiration she needed to craft her stories that emerged from her dreams.

    As she was writing her Book 1 of her fantasy series, Altaica, she strove to create something unique, something that deviates from the formulas of traditional fantasy or young-adult fiction. She has experimented in developing her main character and narrative contraction while addressing moral issues that typically other authors may not want to tackle; and because of her unique approach, her series has developed a fan base amongst readers who don’t normally read fantasy

    Joyce says that Altaica's landscapes are inspired from places she has unraveled from her research. She wanted to construct a culture that would resonate with her readers.


    'Look at her – she’s Hill Clan. Even the Matyrani don’t like them …'
    Isaura – little is known about her race, but much is whispered. Born to refugees, she grows up enduring racism and superstition within a community that fears her. She has few friends, and those she treasures. Trapped, she longs for escape to a different life.

    Escape is only the beginning of her troubles. Having fled an invading army with her friends, Isaura is faced with heinous choices in order to survive. Secrets from her past emerge to torment her and threaten to destroy all she holds dear. Her struggles forge a bond with an ancient power – a power which may transform or consume her. Old hatreds and superstitions are renewed and at her most vulnerable she learns the true nature of those around her.

    Her only hope lies in a foreign land – a land rich in tradition; ruled by three powerful clans. A land with a history marked by warfare; where magic as we know it does not exist. Instead what is here, in abundance, is a more primal power.

    Survival carries a high price.

    Welcome to Altaica.

    Interview with Tracy M. Joyce

    How do you deviate from the formula of traditional epic fantasy?
    At one point I make the decision to have the main character, Isaura, take a less active role in Altaica. However, everything is still focussed around Isaura. Everything happens because of her. She is still integral to the plot. This is unusual, but it allows the reader to get to know the other characters in more detail and focusses on their points of view. It also highlights the tangled backstories and old rivalries that exist amongst this group of friends as they flee an invading army. It lets you get right into their heads, with some disturbing results.

    Part of the reason I did this is because I wanted to highlight how fragile people are both mentally and physically and how tenuous moral behaviour is when individuals are faced with survival. I really wanted to give you characters you would love and think are wonderful decent people and then see what happens when they are pushed to the limit. Who gives up? What will they do? What will they stoop to? Also there is always more than one story within a book. Often we choose to focus on one character because it is easier for the readers, and it is certainly less risky to do so, but I want you to know all the supporting cast and cheer or bawl like a baby depending on what I do to them. The other characters I focus on are all important to the main character Isaura

    What makes a "strong female character"? Are your characters strong in their own way?

    The short answer is, “Yes”. The women in Altaica are all strong in their own way - some are of them are carers, some are fighters - all are resilient. They all have flaws and some of them may not have all the skills they need yet, but they acquire them, they adapt. (Even the one you will hate has her own strengths. However, more of her backstory emerges in my next book Asena Blessed.)

    I’d like to add that a strong character is strong regardless of gender – or should be. All strong characters must be written in a way that gives them emotional depth. They should never be written as perfect. Just as we are flawed, so too should they be and it is how they manage with their flaws and the problems the writer throws at them that makes them strong or not. It’s great to write a character that has not only physical challenges thrown at them, but moral ones as well. I like to see my main characters emerge at the end of a story stronger than when they went in. They need to have learned and to have grown as a character.

    In this regard, I’m not just talking about the “good” characters either. You can have strong “evil” characters too, because for me it’s about showing more than one side to your characters, resilience of spirit, and the capacity to express a variety of emotions within the one character. The trick is in the delivery of this as you don’t want to write a character that’s “over the top”. Sometimes you can be too subtle and slow to reveal other depths to them due to plot developments – it can be a juggling act to show everything you want as soon as all readers would like - particularly in a series,

    The question is, do I write female characters in a particular way based on existing stereotypes? I don’t want to perpetuate story lines of women having to be saved by men or swooning at the first sign of danger, but I honestly don’t give it much thought when I’m writing. I write female characters based on the women I know and I’ve grown up around capable, strong, resilient women. I was raised in the country, on a farm, where regardless of gender, you worked your tail off. The women I grew up around drive tractors, bikes, round up cattle, cart hay “till all hours”, tend sick animals, “pull” calves – you name it they do it. I’ll add this - that they do it without diminishing their femininity, they are still capable of being wonderful mothers and partners. I saw a meme on the internet recently that said “Don’t look for a princess who needs saving, look for a queen who can fight by your side.” I try to write the women I know.

    How do you individualize each of your four main female characters? And what binds their stories together?

    Isaura is the binding force of the entire novel for all the characters. Everything is connected because of her.

    Each character, of course, looks different and hopefully each emerges with a unique voice. Their histories create different goals, desires and character traits. I think about their backstories and envisage what influence that will have on their psyche.

    Isaura is governed by a strict sense of duty, yet feels trapped and has a deep well of repressed anger. She longs to feel as if she truly belongs somewhere and often tries to hide many of her emotions as a form protection.

    Elena is plagued by neurosis and jealousy. She is undoubtably a racist, but fuelling her hatred is her insecurity. Her moods fluctuate, and she often genuinely struggles to maintain her grip upon her thoughts. Her voice is quite unique in its instability.

    Umniga stands apart due to her age. She’s well over sixty years old, feisty, cranky and active. She is the senior Kenati in Altaica. At times manipulative and ruthless, at others caring and compassionate. She is one very goal driven old woman and a bit of a “kick arse granny.”

    Asha is the youngest Kenati. She has what Isaura has never had – she belongs. She has the confidence and assurance of her place in society. She is a skilled archer, but lacks the ruthlessness of her mentor. She is still young and her character is not yet jaded.

    It sounds fascinating how you combine elements from different cultures and histories. How do you develop the cultures and traditions of "Altaica"?

    Wow, I’m trying to think of a way to make this sound erudite, but I really just took what I loved and mixed it up in a way that resonated with me.
    I started with researching many basic creation myths and looking at ones that I thought would work, such as mother and father deities, versions of the underworld, heaven etc and decided what would be easiest and suit future plot developments for this story. (Later we will meet cultures with an expansive pantheon, but not in Isaura’s homeland or in Altaica).

    Also, when you do this research you notice certain similarities between these myths , so I figured I could combine bits and it would hopefully feel new, yet real, something that would resonate with many people. This seems to have worked, because I’ve had readers from opposite sides of the world tell me it reminds them of their cultural heritage.

    I had numerous discussions / arguments about civilisation development ie “If you have buildings like this, then of course they’re going to have to have some form of currency and roads and etc etc…” (That prompted a bit of re-think at the time)

    Because I loved the weapons of the Ottomans and Mughals, that was a starting point for some of my world building and description. However because Altaica had three distinct clans, I decided to alter building designs based on local resources which also helped highlight their differences. (You discover more of this in subsequent books.) This of course meant I could research different building techniques. I pored over Vitruvius’ Ten Books on Architecture for all sorts of building tidbits and prowled through history books and Pinterest for further info, pictures etc. I read about the Turkish myth of the Asena and it so clearly worked with my story that I’ve taken it and manipulated it to my own ends.

    Some of the cultural practices of the Altaicans simply made sense when I thought of them as a war-like race where each clan has struggled and fought to survive for generations. Some of their religious rituals were inspired by plant mythology / symbolism which then caused me to associate certain trees with the mother and father deities. The ritual at the end – well that just sprang into my head from who knows where!

    Did you have to do extensive research on history?

    I needed to be able to write fight scenes in an exciting way, but still make them realistic. (There is always a lure with writers to indulge in too much poetic license with fight scenes, but hopefully I’ve tempered that.) I am a traditional archer, and rode and owned horses for 25yr, so that helped.

    I read Richard Clements’ book Medieval Swordsmanship: Illustrated Methods and Techniques and have access to HEMA scholars to discuss issues that I think need clarification. (This probably sounds over the top and I certainly don’t use all my research in my writing, but it all helps you write with confidence. If the snippets you use are accurate, then you’ve added to your world building.

    For hand-to-hand combat I get a lot of inspiration from Fairbairn’s All-in Fighting. Still sitting on my desk are Osprey books: The Mounted Archers of the Steppes, The Moors, Sassanian Elite Cavalry, The Longbow, Siege Weapons of the Far East, Japanese Castles, Indian Castles, Ottoman Fortifications and Armies of the Ottoman Turks. Also Hyland’s Training the Roman Cavalry, Fighting Techniques of the Oriental World by Haskew et.al. Also, books on European castle construction, the history of ships, research into tidal estuaries, Herbology and Bushido. I also have access to fabulous books which illustrate various ancient battle formations and tactics. (I’ve put a lot of these books on my Goodreads profile.

    These books span a long time frame and cover a variety of cultures, but Altaica deals with two different cultures and some of these books will be used later in the series where another culture is introduced. I take the bits I like and try and combine then in a new world in a way that fits. Some stuff you have to discard, no matter how much you like it, because it just won’t meld with the rest of the culture in any kind of believable way.ie. you wouldn’t put iron age weapons into a stone age culture as it simply wouldn’t make sense.

    Of course be readers who might find fault with my amalgam of a world, but it is a fictional world, after all. This is not historical fiction, it’s fantasy. All I want is to write a world that feels as if it could be real to the reader.

    What are your tricks to make the battles realistic?

    I try to plan battle sequences, so that I write them in a clear way. It starts with drawings on paper, discussions of terrain and the feasibility of my overall goal for the battle. For instance I might want a victory in a setting where that is unlikely and that will result in me altering my landscape description or altering the type of battle. These discussions usually involve my husband who’s doing his MA in Military History. Often we’ll “war game” various scenarios to see which works best.

    I will put a caveat here: There is one battle scene where I indulged in poetic license a great deal, but it is a retelling of a legend and, as we know, such stories grow in the telling through successive generations.

    In addition, I don’t skimp on the gore. This is war, there will be gore! Limbs and heads will be severed; horses will die – to the shock of my horse loving friends. (“How could you!” they cried.) Easy. It’s war. It’s brutal.

    What kind of moral choices does "Altaica" explore?

    Isaura is put into a position where she must make life or death decisions for those around her – some of whom have never liked her. She’s not prepared for this and could never foresee the all the consequences of her actions. Some readers will find her choices immoral, but rather than examining whether her choices are right or wrong, I’ve focussed on the impact her choices have on her as she realises the far reaching effects of her choices.

    Isaura is also a victim of racism. Through a quirk of fate and an over active conscience and sense of duty, she winds up as healer for her community, yet despite her work to help them, there are those who never forget her origins.

    also looks at how we treat the most vulnerable in society – in this instance, refugees. Other characters are in positions of being able to help people in dire need and will often do so only from ulterior motives. Very few people in this story act out of altruism, which sadly is a reflection of real life. Much of what transpires in Altaica due to war could easily be placed in a modern setting

    What advice would you give to aspiring authors when it comes to writing fast-paced action scenes?

    I always think that the perfect combat should be short, sharp and brutal – you want to win at all costs as quickly and efficiently as possible. I do like writing scenes where characters get the opportunity to use stealth to kill quickly, coldly and efficiently. It can help to highlight the brutality and if you’re dealing with professional warriors / soldiers, it can be realistic. I think it’s always great if a character you love is capable of such a thing. Of course, life’s not always like that, you get epic battles and you get well matched characters where the fight takes longer and the outcome is not certain.

    An uncertain outcome is the key. No one wants to read a fight scene where you know who’s going to win from the outset. Even where stealth is involved there has to be a real risk that the character will get caught and things will go awry. You have to build up tension and that applies not just to your fight scene. Your fight or epic battle may be the culmination of all the other tensions in the book. It’s a package deal keep the pace up throughout your story and accelerate it for the fights. There is always something at stake.

    In all your writing you want your readers to be able to visualise what you are writing. The passage has to flow logically and you’ve got to put tension into the scene – it is after all, a fight. Watch fighting (HEMA schools have some good Youtube videos) research techniques, work out what’s feasible. If you’ve got a large scale battle, plan it so that you can work out the sequence of battle and the best way to describe it so that it makes sense and is easy to visualise. You need enough technical terms to make it seem real without bogging people down in jargon. Of course, the consequences of loss should be dire: either death, capture, torture, humiliation – or all of the above. Don’t be squeamish about the gory details, yet refrain from putting so much in that your reader will be turning green. After all, you do want them to finish the book.

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