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May 8, 2023
By Marian Amo
An indie author gives a fairy tale classic a dystopian twist.

In Bearly Gold, N.D. Jones does a masterful retelling of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” set in a dark and dystopian world where nothing is as it seems. PW reached out to the indie author to learn more about the inspiration behind her Fairy Tale Fatale series.

What inspired you to write a dystopian version of Goldilocks?

To a reader of Bearly Gold, it might be strange to learn that I did not set out to write a dystopian fantasy fiction novel. The same would be true for Crimson Hunter: A Red Riding Hood Reimagining, the first book in my Fairy Tale Fatale series. Yet, both novels are, without a doubt, dystopian.

The inspiration behind my version of the popular children’s tale had less to do with my wanting to tell a dystopian story and more with my desire to explore societal conditions under which child trafficking develops and flourishes. What societal factors contribute to the vulnerability of children? What role do individuals, organizations, and governments play in the continuance of child trafficking? Moreover, what role should these same entities play in addressing the crime? I sought to answer these questions and more.

"I would argue that culture is at the heart of most dystopian novels. "
I would argue that culture is at the heart of most dystopian novels. Bearly Gold is no different, as culture defines every aspect of our lives, including our values, beliefs, and behaviors. When an aspect of our culture clashes with someone else’s or even [something else] within ourselves, the story of conflict and resistance begins.

So it is for our veteran soldier protagonist, Fayola, on what should be a routine final mission. Instead of business as usual, Fayola experiences a sort of cognitive dissonance—do as her military government demands or engage in an illegal but moral act of empathy. Ultimately, my inspiration for this novel came from the real-life horrors that are child and human trafficking and the global need for awareness, accountability, and action.

What are the three major lessons you’ve learned in the process of writing a novel?

One: research throughout the writing process, especially the prewriting phase, is essential. Even when penning a fantasy novel, research is a critical component. Such research could be as simple as using a fantasy name generator to help brainstorm authentic-sounding names for a mythological creature or more time-consuming, such as watching documentaries and reading books and articles about a contemporary event, historical figure, or political ideology.

Two: every novel component does not need to be plotted or even known before an author can begin writing. For some authors, detailed plotting must happen prior to sitting down to write or dictate. However, for others, a detailed outline is not necessary to begin. Personally, I fall in the middle of plotters and pantsers. I require a solid foundation, such as a clearly defined protagonist, setting, and antagonist. Names, relationships, personality types, driving forces, and power sets are also important character details for me to know before writing. However, I also leave room for the story to unfold naturally.

This practice leads me to the third lesson, which is to trust my intuition. Some of my best ideas have not come to me while plotting or researching a book but while taking a shower, buying groceries, or watching the news. Basically, while doing everyday stuff. My work in progress always plays in the background, latching on to seemingly random and irrelevant facts. In truth, they are sparks that, when I pay attention and mold them to fit my purpose, have added depth to a scene or character, solved a plot point, connected two or more disparate pieces of the novel, or laid a foundation for a future event in the book. Being able to trust my intuition is a great comfort when I approach a book without already knowing every detail that will appear in the novel.

What made you choose self-publishing over a traditional publisher?

I initially chose a traditional publisher. In fact, my first three books were published by a full-service, royalty-paying publishing company that accepts submissions from non-agented authors.

What changed after those first three publications were my knowledge of the publishing industry and my desire to have more control over my products. As a result, I founded Kuumba Publishing, a limited liability company I use to self-publish my books and original character art prints from my novels and fantasy coloring books. However, I have not ruled out the option of publishing again through a traditional publisher.

Which character in your novel do you relate to the most?

I share character traits with many of the characters just as they are also dissimilar from me. However, much of my identity is that of a parent, a mother. Parenthood shows up strongly in my books, with my protagonists having an active and important relationship with one or both parents. In many respects, the parent–adult-child relationship is a character in itself.

But it is Raicho, Fayola’s father, I relate to the most. He loves his daughter and supports her dreams and actions but does not devalue her fears. He leads by example while trusting Fayola to make thoughtful, empathetic choices. He is imperfect and uses his life lessons in his interactions with Fayola and others. In general, this is how I view myself as a mother to my two young adult children. Being a parent means growing along with your child, staying firm when necessary but knowing when to pivot and, sometimes, going back entirely.

Raicho does not receive as much page time as other characters. But when he does appear, his scenes are impactful for how much they reveal about the character of Fayola—her past and current selves.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers looking to break into science fiction/fantasy/horror?

For aspiring science fiction, fantasy, and horror authors, I advise them to read widely in their chosen genre, including authors from diverse backgrounds and books with characters and themes not traditionally given a public platform. Doing so will create a knowledge base, such as tropes, story and style elements, reader expectations, cover designs, blurb structures, and so on. Having a foundational understanding of a genre will also help aspiring authors determine if it is the right choice for them.

What are you working on now?

A month ago, I started writing Harriet’s Escape. It is the first book in my Seizing Freedom fantasy trilogy. Each book will be loosely based on a historical Black freedom fighter and their efforts to gain freedom for themselves and their communities.