Welcome back to the blog, dear traveler! Happy April, too. 🙇🏻♀️ I am pleased to be presenting my first author interview on Sophie and Their Stories: a chat with my good friend and incredibly talented speculative author Jameson Rivera about his debut fantasy novel, Broken Stone, which is available for pre-order on Amazon.
Join us as we discuss worldbuilding, character arcs, LGBTQIA+ representation in the media, funky tunes, and all things in between! The interview will be entirely spoiler-free.
Ruiz Gravenor longs to destroy the Kingdom of Lygos, to finally revenge himself on the imperialist regime that subjugates his homeland, the island of Fieroe. In a trick of fate, he is chosen by the eldritch god hibernating beneath the island and bestowed with otherworldly powers. As Ruiz travels Lygos, he uses his talents to incite resistance. Still, he is but one man with many enemies 一 including the Lygian Saint-King’s right-hand man, Gideon Minmose.
Despite their animosity, both are far from home, haunted by traumatic memories. And Gideon, burdened with responsibility, is also chosen by a god. For all that Ruiz and Gideon appear as enemies, they have forged a secret partnership to eliminate Lygos’ reign. When forgotten rituals to revive the ancient gods are suddenly unearthed, they must risk everything for a chance at victory. With the gods’ rebirth comes the promise of freedom, but failure means certain death. What’s more, the gods are old and unknowable, and meddling with them could tear reality apart.
- Transmasc, Puerto Rican/mixed-race author
- Neurodivergent author and characters
- Queer author and characters
- Trans characters
- Latino-coded protagonist
- Black protagonist
- BIPOC-coded characters
- mlm and wlw characters
- Mental illness rep
- Alcoholism/Alcohol dependence
- Allusions to CSA and nonexplicit discussions of abuse
- Consensual sex/explicit sexual content
- Body horror
Let us take flight!
The Interview Commences
Yo, Jamie! I’m so excited for Broken Stone’s release! First thing’s first: for the readers out there, how would you describe your story? What’s it all about?
Thank you, Sophie! I’m really excited too, thank you for giving me this opportunity! Now for Broken Stone: It’s an adult fantasy that follows a group of revolutionaries called the Blessed, who have been given powers by a pantheon of old gods, the Named angels. Their enemy is the Empire of Lygos, which is a militaristic power with colonial land holdings. They are led by a doctor named Ruiz Gravenor, who originally hails from the colonized island of Fieroe, although each of them has been affected by Lygos in their own way.
Over the course of the story, Ruiz and his allies must revive the Angels from a 500-year hibernation under the surface of the earth so they can stand a fighting chance against the Lygian Saint-King and his armies.
Also, unbeknownst to him, the Saint-King’s closest ally is also one of the Blessed. Praetor Gideon Minmose is technically the king’s right-hand man, but he has made a secret pact with Ruiz in order to betray the kingdom he supposedly serves and fight for justice. He and Ruiz pretend to be enemies, but really they are friends… and who knows, maybe they could be more!
What inspired you to write Broken Stone? How has your novel changed since you first drafted it?
That’s a fascinating question, because every time I think about it, the answer changes slightly. I’ll just make a small list! Puerto Rican folklore, cosmic horror, various poems, the whole ~plague doctor~ aesthetic, and my love for books, libraries and the idea of stories as strength.
Branching off of that, it’s changed SO much! My first draft was written in 2017, and initially the Blessed were supposed to be like travelling librarians. They each had their own interests, which were tangential to what their Angel stood for. Ruiz and Gideon’s relationship also developed way later in the narrative, and in a somewhat different manner. Vasilissa and Sujitha were both part of the main cast, but Calix was originally one of my (many, many) side characters.
I just got so attached to them that I had to pull them into the main cast in draft two! For reference, the current version of the manuscript is the fourth. If I listed every wild change, we might be here a while!
Broken Stone has some wonderfully complex worldbuilding. What’s your worldbuilding process? What informs your worldbuilding? How did you research for Broken Stone?
Oh, for sure it has to do with me being a History major. I love trying to craft intricate structures and cultures, doing all I can to make them seem as ‘real’ as possible, even in a fantasy world. Some aspects of Broken Stone’s world might feel familiar, and it’s certainly because I drew on lots of ancient history and tried to combine that with aspects of our world that are deeply relevant to us in the present.
As for process, I think what comes first for me is the geography of a place, and how that landscape and what resources exist there would contribute to the society and cultures that exist there.
Funnily enough, the thing I had to research the most for this world was the technical skill of how to make bells. There’s a bell in this book that plays a pretty large role, and I had to read so many articles about how bells used to be made and watch all these Medieval YouTube videos about it.
One of my favorite parts of your book is the inclusion of Angels and magic. Were the Angels always a part of Broken Stone? Tell me more about them! They’re awesome!
They have! And they were one of the first things I came up with! I wanted there to be these tiny, mysterious and shadowy creatures that filled up this world, and usually I think that takes the form of something ‘demonic’ in a lot of fantasy.
But why not Angels? It kind of flips the whole script of good and evil, the dichotomy between light and dark. What if ‘darkness’ wasn’t an evil force, but something enigmatic and curious and powerful?
Originally, I had this idea of going through all seven “choirs” of angels, like Principalities and Archangels etc, but in the end I cut it down to just two types: the immense and primordial Named, and the small, creeping Little Angels.
On that note, I absolutely adore the characters in your book — Broken Stone has a diverse all-queer main cast, which is awesome! To you, what makes a good, compelling character?
Hm, this is slightly challenging, but mostly because I’ve never been asked this before. Perhaps it’s a simple answer! I think a good character has passions, specific triumphs and things they love, but also their downfalls and pain and things they loathe. Even if you’re not detailing every single thing that’s happened in their life in the story, you (as the writer) still have to know what those things are and how they affected the character.
A good character might also be visceral and complex, they change their mind and opinion just like we do.
Let’s talk more about your characters’ wonderful queerness! (In particular, I love Calix, a non-binary member of the primary group in Broken Stone.) How did you craft your characters’ identities in the normalized-queerness environment of your novel?
I wanted to write a story where the character’s gender and sexuality wasn’t the biggest problem they had to face; they have much bigger fish to fry here! Also, I was working off the preconceptions of a world where there isn’t any Christianity, and none of the major belief systems would really hold such a powerful disdain for non-normative sexuality. I wanted to combine that with much looser and ‘performance-based’ conceptions of gender that are present in so many societies across history.
People are not defined by the characteristics of the body, which are hardly understood, but by their performance and the way they carry themselves in the world.
Who’s your favorite character in your story, and why? 😋😈
First of all, how dare you. I love them all the same!
Second of all, Ruiz. He’s just very meaningful to me, and he was the first character I created for this book. But if I wasn’t being forced to pick, I’d stand by my first answer!
What themes and takeaways do you hope for readers to receive from reading your book?
This is tough, because I raise a lot of questions in the story that I do not think there’s an easy answer for, or even an answer at all. But for sure, here are some of the things I was thinking about while writing: fate versus free will, the connections between speech and action, what it means to be part of a diaspora and how everybody’s experience in that is different, ditto for being mixed-race.
And wrapped around all of that, how do we process trauma? How do we talk about and think about the things that hurt us?
Explain the meaning behind your book’s title. Why Broken Stone?
I will fully admit that it’s from a poem. There’s a stanza in T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men” that goes ‘At the hour when we are / trembling with tenderness / lips that would kiss / form prayers to broken stone.’ The poem as a whole kind of dwells on these themes of death and war and looking for meaning, and this line in particular has a cosmic resonance for me. It’s haunting and sad but also human and tender.
Although, Broken Stone was not always the name! For the first two drafts, I was calling it The Dark Planet, which now I have conveniently re-used as the title of another WIP.
What is your writing process? Are you a plotter, a planner — or a plantser, as they say? 😉 What was your favorite part about creating your novel?
I think it’s different for every project I work on! This one was a little weird because I had almost no physical notes, I just tried to hold it all in my mind. There were so many drafts, and from draft to draft I took what bits ‘worked’ and just carried them over. But more lately, I’ve been using a LOT of notes to write. For my current WIP, I’ve practically made my own Wikipedia for the world I’m working in! My favorite part of writing Broken Stone was just getting to live in the space of it, immersing myself in the world and really getting to know each character.
Despite the overarching plot, the story itself is character-driven and introspective. The main cast is very real for me, I know them intimately, and I’ll never get them out of my head.
Do you plan for Broken Stone to have a sequel? 😱
If you asked me this before I made my final round of edits, the answer would have been a resounding no. I just wasn’t sure it needed a sequel, despite leaving some things open-ended, but now I’m certain that even with the resolution of Broken Stone as it stands, there are far too many things to leave alone, and I’m not done with these characters or this world yet. So stay tuned for that! I only envision one other book, but who knows?
In the future, what sort of stories do you hope to tell?
This might sound vague, but ones that take much less introspection on my part. I loved this story, but writing it was physically and mentally sort of grueling. There were so many things I had to put into words, things I can’t put into my own voice, but that the characters had to figure out for me.
Not that any story I ever write will be devoid of struggle, just maybe not to this extent. I’m looking forward to writing something more lighthearted, where the number of times I have to get in with pliers and yank myself open is closer to zero.
Do you listen to music while you write, or while you’re brainstorming? What’s the soundtrack to Broken Stone?
I pretty much always listen to music while I write, it helps me get in the zone. And while I’m just walking around, shopping, going to class, etc., I listen to music to brainstorm as well. Sometimes I’ll use a particular song or mood to form the backdrop of a scene, so I can “play” that scene over and over again in my head and make adjustments.
And it’s funny you ask, because I actually have a Spotify playlist, a semi-official soundtrack for the book! It has a lot of songs that I listened to while writing, and songs I feel like fit the whole mood.
Here is that:
Just for fun! What are your favorite books and movies?
Oh man, how can I narrow it down? For books: Ninefox Gambit (Yoon Ha Lee), The Baroque Cycle (Neal Stephenson), the Inheritance series (NK Jemisin), The Brothers Karamazov (Dostoevsky), The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch (Daniel Kraus) and A Tale for the Time Being (Ruth Ozeki). Also, every play Shakespeare ever wrote.
For movies: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the Soviet version of War and Peace, Princess Mononoke, the animated Anastasia and Into the Spider-verse.
Hey, thank you so much again for the chance to do this, it was a lot of fun! I did my best with these questions, but I’m always happy to answer more, from anyone who has one. You can find me on Twitter @rivera_jameson!
About the Author of Broken Stone
Jameson Wesley Rivera (he/they) is an undergraduate at Cornell University studying Russian History. They are mixed Puerto Rican and Polish; they love pirogies and tostones in equal measure. He is a diehard reader of science fiction and fantasy, but he’ll finish almost any book he starts out of moral obligation. They couldn’t live without writing, and they do it every day, but their other favorite hobbies include: performing in Shakespeare plays, playing violin, getting too deep into archaeology Wikipedia holes, and riding long-board. He currently lives in Ithaca, NY, in an apartment with four roommates and his pet catfish, Prometheus. This is his first published novel.
Everyone, say, “Thank you, Jamie!” 🧡
They were an absolute delight to talk to, and they’re such a brilliant, eloquent storyteller. Plus, it’s always so fun to discuss authors’ craft and inspirations.
(Side note: this isn’t my first all-A-assonance title! 🙈 Gotta love those literary devices!)
Be sure to support his debut by pre-ordering his novel! Broken Stone will be officially released on May 1, 2021. You don’t want to miss this breathtaking fantasy work!
Bonus content: Here are two Broken Stone-themed online quizzes you can take in your free time:
Let me know what you get in the comments! According to these quizzes, the character I’m most like is Calix (hooray!), and I am blessed by Astet; Angel of Love, weaver of flames, defender of thresholds!
I hope you enjoyed this interview, traveler! Until next the time we meet, stay safe and hydrated! 💙
Don’t miss a post! Coming up next on Sophie and Their Stories: more book reviews!
Let’s connect across the Net! 💖