Interview with Gears of Faith Author Gabrielle Harbowy

Saturday, May 21, 2017

In the madness of the Starfinder launch, I wasn't able to do my usual blog about the new Pathfinder Tales novel, which was a real shame, given that Gabrielle Harbowy's Gears of Faith is a novel that's been so eagerly awaited by fans here on the Paizo boards! Fortunately, Pathfinder Tales author Liane Merciel (of Nightglass, Nightblade, and Hellknight fame) swooped in to save the day, interviewing Gabrielle on what it was like to write the novel. For my part, I'll just say that I knew since the very first installment of "Inheritance," Gabrielle's web fiction story that introduced the main characters of Gears of Faith, that Keren, Zae, and the bold riding dog Appleslayer, were going to star in a novel someday—there was something so deep and genuine about all three of them, and their relationships with each other. So it was gratifying but not surprising that the fans felt it, too! And now, 3.5 years and a new publishing partner later, the book's finally hitting shelves, and I couldn't be happier about it. But enough from me—let's hear from Liane and Gabrielle!

Liane Merciel: What inspired the two main characters in this piece?

Gabrielle Harbowy: I love Pathfinder's take on gnomes, which was why I wanted to feature one in the first place. In Pathfinder, gnomes crave novelty and don't have many hang-ups about how they get it. They're long-lived, fey-tied creatures, so they have an outsider perspective on humanity. I had a great time diving into the gnome mindset. I've come to love Zae's skewed perspective on the mostly human world around her. She gives me an opportunity to take things to their literal extreme, to question things people don't question, to think about the names of things, and to approach a fascinating world with the kind of wide-eyed wonder that we all eventually lose when we live in a place and see it every day.

Illustration by Roberto Pitturru

Keren came into being because a character like Zae has to have a contrast to work off of. Keren gave me an opportunity to explore and chip away at the stereotype in our culture of holy knights as emotionless, unquestioning valor-machines.

When I write Zae, I bring out that playful, questioning side of myself, and I often channel Dr. Walter Bishop from Fringe as my guide. When I write Keren, I bring out that using-cynicism-as-a-shield side of myself. My hope is that both characters ring authentic because both of them are driven by sides of me. There isn't a me-analogue and then "the other main character." This is especially important because the novel is the first time we get to see Keren's point of view.

I originally envisioned Keren as spending more time on horseback, so Zae also needed a mount to ride if they were going to adventure together. I decided early on that I wanted her to ride a dog, but it was a generic dog at first. It wasn't until I met Rufus, a friend's Samoyed puppy, that Appleslayer got a personality and a name. At eight months, Rufus was big enough for a 3'6" child—already taller than a gnome—to ride. He was a goofball, and he wasn't finished growing. (As of now, full-grown, his paws are bigger than my hands.) I knew this was the dog for Zae.

LM: What inspired the story itself? What part of it came first—plot, characters, setting, or something else? And how did you build the rest from there?

GH: The characters got their start in the short story "Inheritance," to really great reader response. When it came time to build a novel I knew I wanted to tailor it around them. I'd only written short stories, though, and I had trouble coming up with a book-sized plot—especially if Keren was tied to Lastwall and her vigilance against the Whispering Tyrant.

James Sutter and I brainstormed quite a bit on where else a Knight of Ozem could go without feeling like she was neglecting her calling, and James suggested Absalom. As a bonus, even though it's the biggest city in the world, it hadn't been featured in a novel yet. I was very excited to have the chance to bring it to life. Especially fun was the Clockwork Cathedral, and the structure of its cognates. Very little is written about it, so I got to think about what it would be like to work there, to flesh it out and make it feel real... all without revealing any of its secrets.

The plot was harder. I'd never written anything as complex as a novel has to be. Just by virtue of having to take up so many words, a novel has to have a lot more going on than a short story does. And I didn't want them to be super powerful, so the threat had to be something they could face, but that still had some far-reaching consequences to make it important. As it stands, the conflict in the story provides a physical, intellectual, and emotional challenge to Keren and Zae, and they have to fight their way into the team that confronts it.

A random aside: the villain got his name from a kid my niece hated at school that year. (I got serious aunt-points.)

LM: What made you decide to pair up Zae and Keren?

GH: What I really wanted most was to normalize their diversity. Here's a couple who've been together a while and aren't in the new romance phase of a relationship, and they've obviously made it work. It's not a coming out story, because coming out isn't the only story. And there's no way to dismiss it with "well, it won't last." It's lasted. It doesn't matter to the story that they're both female, or that they're not both human, or whatever. They're people having genuine emotions and genuine quirks and flaws. It's not the big reveal or the punch line or the plot twist. It's just people being honest with themselves about who they are and/or who they love.

In our world, people are still marginalized for these things. And because they're not who our society sees as its default, it's rare for people who identify in diverse ways to be able to find themselves depicted in fiction. My intent was for diverse readers to find the perspective refreshing, and for readers who hadn't come across much of that sort of thing to maybe find their horizons widened and assumptions challenged.

LM: How exactly did they meet? I've always wondered that.

GH: I think they met in Vigil, while shopping. There's a line about Keren helping Zae by reaching something on a high shelf for her. :)

LM: There was a long gap between the release of the short story and the release of the novel. What kept you enthusiastic through that?

GH: The Paizo forums helped so much. The readers loved Zae and Keren and Appleslayer—Apple in particular has some devoted fans!—and the clamoring for a novel never really stopped. Not to mention the requests for miniature figures, cards, and other accessories. (And yes, I would love to see Appleslayer as a mini.)

Publishing is a strange beast. Between turning in the manuscript for Gears of Faith and seeing it come out in print, I wrote, sold, and published another whole novel (Hellmaw: Of the Essence). And that's honestly pretty normal. Working for publishers, I saw delays happen all the time, and that helped me keep from taking it too personally. They can only put out so many books in a year, and they've got to balance the list, is what it comes down to.

In the end, I think that the experience was good for Zae and Keren. I learned a lot from writing my second first novel, after I had the confidence from having already finished one, and that ultimately helped me come back and strengthen this book.

Illustration by Remko Troost

LM: Where did the title of the novel come from?

GH: From [Pathfinder Tales author] Chris A. Jackson, actually. I'm great at coming up with titles for other people, but awful at coming up with titles for myself. There were words and phrases I had to avoid, because they were either too similar to other titles or because they gave too much away, so of course the moment someone says, for instance, "Don't use the word blood," all your ideas include the word blood. I had a two-column list of Pathfinder-title-sounding words to mix and match, I was so desperate, and I sent it to Chris with a short synopsis of the book. That was the one he came up with, along with a prediction that James Sutter would like it. I sent it along to James with a list of five or ten others, and sure enough, Chris's title was the one.

LM: Do you think there's a central theme to Gears of Faith? If so, what is it, and how do you see it reflected in the story and its characters?

GH: I think at its core, the book is about overcoming fear of failure.

Keren is afraid of failing—failing Zae, failing her father by learning magic, failing her deity by not believing well or strongly enough. The villain is not afraid enough of failing. He's convinced himself that he can become a god. Between the two extremes is Zae. She's never really cared about failing before, but through her relationship with Keren (and the events in "Inheritance") she's learned that failure can impact others and have an emotional cost.

Gabrielle Harbowy got her start in the publishing industry as a Pricing Analyst at Scholastic. Since leaving the corporate side of publishing in 2006, she has edited for publishers including Pyr, Lambda Literary, and Circlet Press, and spent a decade as the managing editor at Dragon Moon Press. She copyedits professionally and is a submissions editor at the Hugo-nominated Apex Magazine. Her short fiction can be found in several anthologies, including Carbide Tipped Pens from Tor. She is the author of two novels: Hellmaw: Of the Essence (TEGG), and Gears of Faith (Paizo). For more information, visit her online at @gabrielle_h or

James L. Sutter
Creative Director

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Tags: Gabrielle Harbowy Liane Merciel Pathfinder Tales Remko Troost Roberto Pitturru
Dark Archive

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Great to see this story finally out would love to see more storys with the pair (And more art of the two as well.)

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Also, Paizo, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE consider giving us a manual with stats of all the protagonists of your novels! I would be in heaven if I could use Keren, Zae, and Appleslayer as heroic NPC's in my campaign! :D

Liberty's Edge

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Starfinder Superscriber
When I write Zae, I bring out that playful, questioning side of myself, and I often channel Dr. Walter Bishop from Fringe as my guide.

Heh! That was a very fun character. My wife and I still regularly quote "I like LSD![/i]"

Zae actually seems much more grounded to me than Walter. Or, perhaps, she at least has some idea where all of her marbles are.

Thank you for the humanizing of Paladins. The novel Hellknight does this as well.

Silver Crusade

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BWAH! This just makes me want to read it even more, it's sitting in my desk looking at me like a sad puppy :(

That does it. I'm reading it as soon as I get home.

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Please tell me the Knight of Ozem pictured on this blog post will be released in a future Pathfinder Pawns set, pretty please?!

<3 <3 Appleslayer

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