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Author Interview: JC Rycroft Chats about A Hired Blade

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Get ready to learn more about the book A Hired Blade in this discussion with sapphic author JC Rycroft.

Join us for an exclusive peek behind the scenes as we quiz JC Rycroft about A Hired Blade, writing, reading, and more.

This book is part of the Fantasy category in the 2024 IHS Reading Challenge.

Why did you write A Hired Blade?

The Blood-Born Dragon, to which this book is a prequel, contains a throwaway line in it which actually spoils the ending of A Hired Blade (this is NOT a romance!!). But I was kind of ‘backfilling’ that backstory a bit.

The other side of it was that I had been thinking about the complexity of being a woman in a profession dominated by men (sellsword is a profession right?!). There’s a complexity I don’t think is often acknowledged which is that a) men doubting women’s abilities will often make women doubt themselves, second-guessing themselves out of promotions, leadership and so on; but b) even where she *is* capable, often at least some of the men will undercut and undermine her – so that taking on a leadership role won’t result in the outcomes she deserves.

So if you can imagine a story like that only in a fantasy world with hard-drinking mercenaries and sapphic spice… yeah, that.

Who is your favorite character in the book?

I really like Karina in this story. She’s the love interest and she’s not backwards in coming forwards. She’s smart, and more experienced in the ways of the world than our MC Des, especially when it comes to how to handle men.

She also knows how to pretend to be pissed off just enough to heighten sexy times and, well, that might be a familiar trait 😝

How did you come up with the title for your book?

It took a long time! It started out as ‘Des’s Mistake,’ but in the end I chose A Hired Blade because the story is about Des, who is a hired blade in the way fantasy fiction talks about mercenaries… but it’s also about a weapon that winds up utterly transforming her forward path. That’s probably all I can say about that one without spoilers except… keep the tissues handy.

What is your favorite line from your book?

I pause a long moment, her lips barely a hair’s breadth from my own, her breath tickling my mouth, drawing out the agonizing pleasure of the *almost*.

What is your writing process like?

Interestingly, I plotted this novella pretty tightly, and wrote unusually short for me. There’s a lot I like about the style of the result, but I do also love sinking deep into story. This is 21k, and the book I’m about to release is 155k… so yes, quite different!

I really do think I’m better as a plantser: enough plotting to give me some structure, but not so much it loses its novelty… quite the balancing act! Not sure I always achieve it but thank goodness we can always fix it in post!

If you could spend a day with another popular author, whom would you choose?

I would choose Ursula LeGuin I think (for today anyway!) A speculative fiction author with both sci fi and fantasy stories under her belt, she was also the child of cultural anthropologists and her works are often exploring how we make different kinds of meaning: gender, property, the nature of power.

She has such a bone-deep appreciation for the why of fiction, especially fantasy, and consistently pushed back against the dismissal of the genre. She knows how to frame a story to explore new ways for us to live lives and to organise worlds.

A quick quote: “We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.” I think that resonates especially for those of us writing queer fiction.

Have you ever cried when writing an emotional scene?

So… yeah. The ending to A Hired Blade kinda did kill me to write a lil bit. I found myself wanting to pull my punches, to make it less awful, to find a way to let the fun and joy of the story continue… and I probably would have, except that I had committed myself in the book, and it was important that Des’s backstory wound be a kicker.

So I teared up – mostly writing the reactions, actually – and then was a bit… fragile and stunned for a few days.

Have you ever hated one of your characters?

My main antagonist in this book, Cap, is probably someone I hate. He’s petty and arrogant and a misogynist – y’know, the shitty kind where you’re not sure whether it *is* because you’re a woman or whether he’s right and you’re too cautious/uptight/whatever. He’s also so far from unusual.

I suspect that many women will recognise elements of Cap. The worst bit of it is how much effort it takes both Des and Karina to manage him – effort that they shouldn’t have to put in. I wanted to redeem him but the reality is that this is a very rare phenomenon; so instead, I wrote in The Timeless Legion (book 2 of the series that A Hired Blade is the prequel to) about him being abandoned by his men. That at least felt a little like justice!

What type of books do you enjoy reading the most?

I’ve always loved character focused storytelling. A good plot is great but if I don’t care about the person going through it, then I can’t stay engaged.

I probably liked plot-heavy books once upon a time – or they were what was available perhaps? Reading fantasy in the 90s meant lots of high powered people having adventures… so it’s telling to me that some of my favourite books are character focused and often challenge the idea that the hero is the one you expect…

Do you only read books in one genre or do you genre hop?

Fantasy. I rarely read outside it. I think it gives me the blend of escapism and the exploration of what could be that I long for. I should say that I also have read a LOT of philosophy, cultural theory, queer theory, feminist theory and so on in my life – but I rarely read fantasy at the same time. I think perhaps they scratch that same deep itch for me of wanting to understand how the world works – and whether it could work better otherwise…

Meet JC Rycroft

JC Rycroft is a fantasy author living on unceded Wadawurrung land. Their work draws on high and epic fantasy tropes, mixed with a dollop of queer romance, humour and wit, flawed but fabulous feminist heroes and diverse-in-all-the-ways characters, liberally sprinkled with philosophical concepts brought to life. She loves bringing together the apparent contradictions: high theory and silly humour, profound political concerns with a rollicking good story, and ordinary people with unexpected demands to heroism that somehow only they can answer.

Visit JC’s Website

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Author Interview