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Our SPFBOX interviews continue with J. L. Odom,  author of By Blood, By Salt.

SPFBO (the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off) is a free online contest run by author Mark Lawrence. 300 authors compete across ten judging teams to see who will be the winner! You can read more about the contest here.


Cover for J. L. Odom's By Blood, By salt. A desert scout spies on enemy forces from a high outcrop in a mountainous desert region. The scout wears a blue tunic and has a sword and a pack on their back. Their curly, salt-and-pepper hair is tied back in a bun. They're wearing leather boots. A low-growing tree helps hide the scout. The cover is painted in rich warm colours and the sky contains swathes of red.



Tell us a little about yourself and let our readers know which blog you’ve been assigned to for SPFBOX!


I’m J.L. Odom, author of By Blood, By Salt. I’m a Marine Corps Vet, former Arabic translator, military spouse, mom of 5, and Jiu Jitsu enthusiast. I love Fantasy, History, War stories, languages, and translation and all of these things feature heavily in my book, or have influenced it in some way. Some of my favorite SFF books are Till We Have Faces, A Canticle for Liebowitz, and The Blue Sword.

What inspired you to write this book?

So many things: War History (Killer Angels by Michael Shaara is a favorite), my experience in the Marine Corps, specifically as a linguist and translator. My time living/working in Israel, Egypt, and Iraq. Mara Daughter of the Nile. The book of Isaiah. C.S. Lewis. The history of the Jewish Diaspora. My own weaknesses, failures, struggles, and doubts. And living in the desert.



When I get stuck, I go back to the characters and make sure I’m not manipulating them or contriving circumstances, because that’s usually where it goes wrong.


Can you tell us a little bit about your writing or editing process? What’s most exciting to you about writing or editing?

It was a long haul for me. Some 17 years ago I wrote a 1200 page manuscript over the course of five years. There was no particular process, except that it was very gradual. I wrote on deployments and in dialect class. When I finished, I realized that the “book” was actually 3 books and I revised them with the help of a friend, and later with the guidance of a literary agent (Yes I did have an agent for a few years before they left the industry). I’m a slow mover, to be honest. I have to write in short stints (30-60 minutes) because that’s all I can usually set aside. When I get stuck, I go back to the characters and make sure I’m not manipulating them or contriving circumstances, because that’s usually where it goes wrong.

Right now, it’s all about consistency. 30 minutes in the morning before the kids wake up. 45 minutes in the afternoon when they watch a show. Sometimes another 30-45 minutes in the evening. Often a lot of pauses to slow down and make sure I’m saying what I really want to say. I let things steep if I have to.

For editing I do a lot of reading aloud. I want to taste and hear the natural flow. See if I get bogged down. See if it makes sense. I love reading aloud.

Who or what have been your major literary influences?
C.S. Lewis, L.M. Montgomery, Jane Austen, Eloise Jarvis McGraw, John Donne, Chaim Potok, Robin McKinley, Stephen R. Lawhead

What makes your SPFBOX book unique?
Two of the most common things mentioned by reviewers are the complex characters and the immersive world. It’s a story that’s willing to take its time, sink its teeth in and leave a mark. I also think my personal experiences give it a depth and breadth and a unique angle on the subjects it tackles.

Do you have a favourite character from your SPFBOX entry? Tell us about them!

I don’t know if I can’t answer this, without dipping into spoiler territory. So without naming names, there is a character who uses language and translation as both a weapon and a tool and is rather unscrupulous. And this character has been so compelling and so wonderful to explore.


[By Blood, By Salt is] a story that’s willing to take its time, sink its teeth in and leave a mark.

How does your work fit into (or challenge) its genre?
It fits into the genre by exploring a world not our own, yet often reminiscent of our own, dealing with war and Empire and danger on an epic and adventurous scale. It skirts its genre by focusing less on wielding magic and more on how everyday things–like skill and language and cultural knowledge–can have as powerful an effect as magic does.

What do you hope readers take away from your SPFBOX entry?

I hope they walk away moved by the characters, fascinated, hopeful, and eager for the next book.

What are you currently working on?

Finishing up revisions on the follow up to by SPFBOX book, book 2 in the Land of Exile series. Then on to re-writing book 3!

By Blood, By Salt

Azetla has served the Maurowan Army for thirteen years. There are seven left to pay. A pariah and a debt soldier, he is a commander with no rank, a soldier without citizenship, and wears a sword that it is unlawful for him to either own or use. He has learned to hold his tongue or risk losing everything.

When Azetla’s battalion is sent into the desert to catch a Sahr devil—one of the famously brutal inhabitants of the region—his tenuous position is threatened. He discovers that there is far more to this mission than catching a fiend. For the Emperor of Maurow, it is a way to prove that he fears nothing, not even devils. For the Emperor’s brother, it is a stepping-stone to rebellion. For Azetla it could be deadly either way, as he is cornered into choosing a side in the coming coup.

But the devil that Azetla finds in the desert is not what anyone expects or wants. As the conspiracy against the Emperor becomes entangled with the simmering ambitions of the desert tribes, Azetla must decide if he’s willing to strike a bargain with a devil in order to survive.

Naturally, she is not to be trusted. But then again, neither is he.


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J.L. Odom

J.L. Odom hails from Oklahoma. After a five year stint in the Marine Corps as an Arabic linguist, she graduated from George Washington University with a degree in International Affairs, focusing on Conflict and Security. She lives with her husband and five children wherever it is that the U.S. Army happens to send them. Her hobbies include running, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and cooking meals for a crowd. Her inspirations are C.S. Lewis and Robin McKinley, war history (and history in general), middle eastern languages, and desert landscapes. She can be found on instagram with the handle

Steve Hugh Westenra

Steve is a trans author of fantasy, science fiction, and horror (basically, if it’s weird he writes it). He grew up on the eldritch shores of Newfoundland, Canada, and currently lives and works in (the slightly less eldritch) Montreal. He holds advanced degrees in Russian Literature, Medieval Studies, and Religious Studies. As a reader, Steve’s tastes are eclectic. He enjoys anything that could be called speculative, including fantasy, sci-fi, and horror, but has been known to enjoy a good mystery as well as literary fiction. He’s always excited to try something new or that pushes boundaries, particularly from marginalized authors. Steve is passionate about queer representation, Late Antiquity, and spiders.

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