Jessica Van Oort

jess-profileJessica Van Oort is a writer and editor who manages social media for The Five Wits Press. She loves writing internal dialogue, tormenting her characters, and deleting unnecessary adjectives. A long-time game master, she has written and copy-edited for the gaming industry. Right now she is on a Star Wars kick and is getting the chance to play in a game instead of run it. She is also an academic who teaches dance and writes about dance history.

Apocalypses and Armageddons

I was thinking this week about nuclear weapons. And yes, this was before my phone blipped with the headline news about North Korea and certain inflammatory remarks. I was remembering how, even though I’m a little too young to have hid under my desk during the height of the Cold War, fear of nuclear Armageddon was the big specter of doom hanging over my childhood. I remember seeing graphics about how many times over we could destroy the world with the current arsenals of the US and the Soviet Union. Today I looked up the exact number—at the height of the nuclear arms race there were more than 64,000 nuclear warheads on our planet. That was in 1986. I was ten. I don’t remember what television shows and films I saw at that time, but I clearly remember the image of ICBMs streaking across a radar map of the world, the American ones in blue and the Soviet ones in red. Going in opposite directions. I’m sure I didn’t see this image only once. Of course in most movies a spy disarmed the nukes, or a superhero stopped them, or there was some amazing last-minute diplomacy and they all blew up in the sky. (more…)

Nedira short story


Khiratu Nedira City of Zarachar, Naidjat, Year 1048 Post Downfall Nedira picked her way through the gardens in full court robes, stepping carefully over a curving bank of ferns and some low-growing roses. She hitched her train up over her shoulder to keep it from getting stuck on the thorns. Normally her woman navigated her train through awkward spots, but one didn’t bring company on unauthorized escapades. Nedira glanced over her shoulder—no one was following her, or watching out any of the house’s many windows—and pressed on past the topiaries of courting cranes, toward the men’s wing.

She had talked to her brother through his window plenty of times before. Even though she didn’t think herself especially stealthy, no one had yet caught her. Or perhaps they had, and were too polite to mention it.

This is the first of five short stories by Jessica, set in the world of Madrahar before the events of the Orphaned Gods series. Illustration by Ruth and Birdy! The whole story is available for patrons over on our Patreon.

Ready for beta readers!

The Beasts and Hunters draft is ready for beta readers! Jessica has found a few already but is looking for a couple more. If you’re interested, email us at Beta readers will receive the draft in installments, along with a list of questions Jessica would like you to consider as you read. If you have a novel draft of your own that is at a stage for beta reading, Jessica would consider a beta reading swap with you.

Here’s a snippet from chapter 1 to pique your interest:

Adreth stood. "It's good to see you, friend." He stepped over and pulled Djaeva into a hug. Djaeva made irritated noises and didn't hug him back, which was very rude. Aturi slid down lower on Adreth's back, trying not to touch the Nai Umae man.

"I knew you would come," Adreth said, letting Djaeva go, but leaving one hand on his shoulder. Even though Djaeva wasn't a short man, Adreth was a head taller.

"I failed you," Djaeva said. "And I'm here to make up for it. But I'm not your friend. How many times do I have to say it before you get it through your thick skull?"

There was a smile in Adreth's voice. "You say it every lifetime. I'll never believe you. Are you ready to fight beside me, Lynx?"

Djaeva clapped Adreth's hand, hard. "Always."

“Not to ruin this tender moment,” Saresska said, looking through her lens again, “but the demon’s coming this way.”

Editing Beasts and Hunters

Jessica is continuing work on revisions to Orphaned Gods Book 1, Beasts and Hunters. The first draft of this book is pretty old--won’t say how many years--so the characterization is off in lots of places, and some things about the world and the magic system have changed since the early days. Chapters 1-7 in particular needed complete reworking of many scenes, deletion of others, and some new additions. She’s working on chapter 12 right now, and the chapters in the second half of the book aren’t needing such extensive changes. Here’s a snippet from chapter 4.

A clatter at the door of the coffeeshop announced the entrance of someone in a hurry. Aturi turned just as Ubashi called out, "Ready to go, lads? We don't have a moment to spare."

"You're alive," Aturi said, with relief. And uninjured, seemingly. "Did you find—?"

Ubashi cut him off, sweeping into their little alcove. "I've booked us passage on a fast ship. We leave with the tide, which is—"

"Just past noon," Livalii said. She always knew about tides, and boats, and things like that. "Which leaves everyone sufficient time to explain themselves." She gave Ubashi a dubious glance, then looked across the table at Tiiro. "I take it this is the crazy old Han Khiru mage?"

Ubashi seemed to notice Livalii for the first time. "Well, hello there." For a man who didn't have a moment to spare, he spent several long moments looking Livalii up and down. "Do I smell the warm air of the islands? I wasn't expecting to meet a Fanaloan flower so far from its native shore."

Tiiro rolled his eyes. "I'm Fanaloan, too." He introduced them with a vague wave.

"Livalii, this is Mage Ubashi. Ubashi, Livalii."chapter four of Beasts and Hunters illustration by S.A. Hannon

"Literally named after a flower." Ubashi clasped his hands together. "How charming! I haven't visited Fanaloa this lifetime, but I do recall the highlights. Laholo, my dear."

"It's Lahora." Tiiro sighed. "And pretty much everything in Fanaloa is named after a flower or a fish."

NaNoWriMo Update

Sons and Houses cover sketch by S.A. HannonJust an update on Jessica's NaNoWriMo--she's a winner! In November she wrote just over 50,000 words of Sons and Houses, the fourth book in the Orphaned Gods series. That's less than half of the book done, so she's going to keep plugging away at it, though at a somewhat diminished pace. She also plans to keep editing Beasts and Hunters, the first book of the series, which got put on hold during November. Also keep your eyes open for some short stories about the characters in Orphaned Gods, from before the events of the main plotline. We'll be releasing those here as Beasts and Hunters gets closer to its release date. Art by S.A. Hannon.


Khai, a character from Orphaned Gods. Khai by Ruth Lampi

"I . . ." Khai swallowed, and pulled a handful of black powder from the pouch at his waist. "I'm here to kill you."

Gailan gave him a long, slow look. "I know."

"You should--" There were words for this sort of thing. Khai felt that he ought to know them, that he'd heard them before in some heroic story. "You should meet your death with courage and honor. For your name and your House. Lynx will reward you and take you up in glory and you'll be reborn as, as . . . as someone great."

Gailan almost smiled. It looked awful, on that ruined face. "Do I have Lynx's blessing, then?"

Khai sucked in his breath, hard. It kept catching in his throat. "Not if you just stand there crying. Come on, fight me!"

Writing by Jessica Van Oort, art by Ruth Lampi.

Consortium Service Academy

consortium service academy

Take the Service Academy exams! Have you always dreamed of leaving the dirt behind and working among the stars?

The Consortium Service Academy is your path to cutting-edge jobs in space exploration.

The new Spire program needs recruits in all areas of specialization. Command crew: Authorized Captains have already been assigned to all available Spires, but positions for junior officers remain open. Clean gene-scans preferred. Engineering: Lead and support positions available. Must be certified in fusion engines, six-space interface, and artificial intelligence. Hydroponics technician: Also responsible for maintenance of seed and embryo banks. Cryogenics technician: Psychological screening required for these positions, as all cryogenics technicians will be awake for the duration of the Spire’s mission. Surgical officers and technicians: Appropriate medical implants and up-to-date certifications required. Dedication inspector: B-level security clearance and impeccable service record required. Clean gene-scans preferred. Due to new advancements in neurological grafting, we are not recruiting Spire pilots at this time.

Writing fight scenes, part 2

Two more thoughts about writing fight scenes.
  1. Stay in your POV character’s head.
This is always important no matter what you’re writing. In a fight scene, though, it matters a lot whether you’re writing from the point of view of a person who’s never been in a fight before and is terrified and confused, or a person who is used to combat and knows what to expect and watches for their enemy’s tells, or even a robot or other non-human person who observes the entire thing without emotion. The same fight could look very different from different points of view. (more…)


oba by ruth lampiOba, one of the characters from Orphaned Gods.
The great Wei La was audible down on stage, arguing with the orchestra leader about some timing in the score, so Oba dove into her room first. The diva wouldn’t miss a few snacks she probably wouldn’t even eat. Oba helped herself to an application of blush from the makeup table, a rose dumpling, and a quick glass of wine. She sang a few bars of Wei’s aria from the second act, and winced at the high bits. She tried on a scarf from the gifts pile and decided it suited her coloring far better than Wei’s. She’d just stacked her coat, hat, scarf, sweets box, and a few delicious tidbits into a manageable parcel when in walked one of the props lads.
“What are you doing here, with Wei downstairs?” the lad demanded. “Who are you?”
“I’m the one trying to tidy up,” Oba gestured at her pile of things, “and I’m the one who runs off young scamps here trying to nick my lady’s underthings. No more silks are going missing on my watch. Out, you. Out!”
“It weren’t ever me!” the boy yelped.
Written by Jessica Van Oort, illustrated by Ruth Lampi.