Jess Corban graduated college with a degree in Communications and, perhaps more instructive, thirteen stamps in her passport. After college, a chance interview at a small publisher for an even smaller position sparked a love for writing that turned into twelve nonfiction books (under various pseudonyms). Now Jess lives with her husband and two daughters in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, where she finds inspiration in a sky full of stars and hiking the Canyon of the Kings.
In this interview, Jess talks with us about her latest book, A Brutal Justice, the follow-up to her debut novel, A Gentle Tyranny.
FF: What inspired the storyline, setting, and characters found in the Nedé Rising Series?
A Gentle Tyranny began with a question. I was feeling the weight of what seemed to be an endless string of worldwide news stories reporting heinous crimes against women, and in a quiet moment wondered, What if we could do something about it? Before I finished showering, the concept of the series was born.
The characters and setting were fleshed out as time went on. While I was deliberating over the location, I took a family trip to Belize. I’ve loved Central America since studying there in college, but traveling through the lush jungle and unique features again, I knew exactly where Nedé belonged.
FF: What kind of research did you do while writing this series?
All the best kinds! For this series, I sailed the Caribbean, explored jungles on horseback, kayaked through dark caves, learned archery, climbed ancient ruins, and gave myself permission to eat every tropical fruit I could get my hands on. Of course, there were countless hours of online research as well, but I’m a firm believer that the best descriptions are birthed from hands-on experience. That was my excuse, anyway.
FF: How have the main characters grown since they were introduced in the first book, A Gentle Tyranny?
Spotting and confronting others’ injustice is one thing; facing your own shortcomings forces a person to decide who they want to be. Reina had to address both in A Gentle Tyranny, and in A Brutal Justice she—as well as other main characters—will be tested further, as they wrestle with what defines virtue and whether the ends always justify the means.
FF: Tell us about some of the core themes of A Brutal Justice. How do they build on themes introduced in A Gentle Tyranny, the first book in the series?
In this series I aimed to take a story-first approach, letting the themes develop naturally. In other words, I didn’t come to the pages with a pre-planned agenda. As I wrote, A Gentle Tyranny introduced questions about the corrupting nature of unchecked power, the unique strengths men and women each possess, and the age-old debate over whether the ends justify the means. In A Brutal Justice, I had to personally wrestle with the difficult questions A Gentle Tyranny raised, and then allow the characters to draw their own conclusions. The depth of A Brutal Justice really reflects that challenge, and I’m thrilled with where it landed.
FF: How is the perspective of your Nedé Rising Series unique compared to other novels in the dystopian YA fiction genre?
There’s a reason YA dystopian is so popular, and I love it as much as anyone. But from the start I wanted my protagonist to be believable. I’m all about strong female characters, but I was also growing tired of the I’m-an-invincible-female-who-can-do-everything-better-than-a-man trope. I’ve tried to strike a more realistic balance between strong and dependent, remarkable but still human.
Nedé itself is also unique because it’s rooted in a blending of cultures and races from around the world, so you get this very inclusive, diverse sisterhood. Although prejudices unfold, they manifest a bit differently than the tensions we see today. And rather than take a futuristic dystopian approach, I think readers will find the more rural ambiance, combined with Latin flair and horses, fresh and inviting.
FF: How do you hope this series will resonate with and challenge your readers?
The books that have most impacted me are stories that got me thinking without my even realizing it—tales that kept me so engrossed, I didn’t even notice my preconceptions were being challenged and my worldview broadened until I closed the back cover. I hope readers of the Nedé Rising Series will be similarly engrossed in the story—the characters’ struggles and triumphs, the plot’s twists and turns—sailing along without immediately realizing the powerful, invisible thematic currents beneath the surface.
FF: How would you describe the role religions play in this story?
To my knowledge, every civilization in history has wrestled with questions about how we got here and where we go when we die—religion, if you will. Nedé is no different. The diverse ways Nedéans practice religion, or abstain from it, reflect the myriad cultures of the original foremothers. Although Reina wrestles with questions about the Virtues, and her mother makes decisions based on her beliefs, religion isn’t a main focus.
FF: Which scene in A Brutal Justice did you most enjoy writing?
Soon after I decided on the Central American region that would inspire Nedé, I had the chance to visit a little-known, secluded waterfall in Belize. I immediately knew that location would set the stage for a powerful scene, so I studied every feathery fern, the marbled pebbles under the water, the sound of water falling, and followed a circling blue morpho butterfly. When I started writing the series, I counted the words until just the right moment—which happened to land in A Brutal Justice—for the scene to take shape. I’m sure part of the reason I love the waterfall scene between Reina and Rohan is because it transports me to that magical, real-life location, but hopefully I’ve painted a vivid enough picture that others are transported there too.
FF: As you were crafting the characters in A Brutal Justice, did any of them surprise you?
Brishalynn. Hands down. I really didn’t know beforehand what role she was going to play in this sequel, but in the very first chapter, she waltzed onto the page like she owned the place and I just laughed, thinking, Of course you did. Her journey in this book is one of my favorite character arcs.
FF: What are some challenges that come with writing a duology, rather than a standalone novel?
It’s challenging to create two distinct stories that also fit together as a whole. But perhaps the hardest part was making sure that every minute detail—from character ticks to big revelations—stayed compatible and consistent. However, having the space to really develop and fall in love with characters and set up bigger twists was definitely worth the challenges.
FF: Where do you often go for writing inspiration? What’s your antidote for writer’s block?
Travel, good books on writing, epic movies, and brainstorming with other storytellers or well-read friends reboots my creativity. I also keep a fat notebook with tidbits, sketches, ideas, timelines, etc., and will often turn to that to refresh my inspiration. And if all else fails, a long drive down country roads does wonders to chart a fresh plot course!
FF: What advice would you give to young writers today, especially those interested in writing fiction?
Whether writing fiction or nonfiction, the timeless advice of my college writing professor still stands: Writers write. The first hundred thousand words or so are rarely any good, so flush them out any way you can by writing articles, short stories, fan fiction, journal entries, novellas, etc. Second piece of advice is to have thick skin. The only way to grow as a writer is to accept critique and learn from it. It’s never fun to hear something you wrote didn’t have the intended effect, but better to hear that while you can do something about it than post-print.
Protect the weak. Safety for all. Power without virtue is tyranny. Nedé has a new Apprentice, and now Reina Pierce must come to grips with what she sacrificed to secure Matriarch Teera’s favor. As secrets unfold and danger mounts, Reina will test the bounds of trust and be forced to answer the question that has haunted her since her first night in the jungle: Which is better—Gentle or Brute? And how far will she go to ensure tyranny is eradicated from Nedé? In this fast-paced conclusion to the Nedé Rising Series, A Brutal Justice weaves action, romance, and provocative questions into a finale that readers won’t be able to put down.
A Brutal Justice
Nede Rising Series #2
Genres: YA/Teen, Fantasy, Dystopian
Release Date: August 17, 2021
ISBN-10 : 1496448391
ISBN-13 : 978-1496448392
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