Jeff Stoner Author Interview

Author Interview: Jeff Stoner

We sit down with the author of the sci-fi novel Made in His Image and its new sequel!


Jeff Stoner is the creator of Reversed Black Maria, an original Theopunk science fiction universe.

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The Unwilling Goddess, sequel to Made in His Image by Jeff Stoner, released in March of this year!

I greatly enjoyed the first book. In my review, I called it a “driving sci-fi tale that interweaves well-crafted characters, an intriguing sci-fi world, enigmatic religious imagery, and a sensual romance all into an exciting adventure!”

The Unwilling Goddess by Jeff Stoner Book CoverPublisher’s Description

The planet-busting sequel to Made In His Image!

No one said being a goddess was going to be easy. Raina Von Ekaterinburg fled legendary Valhalla, her mad uncle Jørgen, and her unwanted divinity only to discover that she has become the most wanted woman in the galaxy.

She soon finds herself facing her enemies in a no-holds-barred conflict with only her Nelitza lover Largo, three deserters from the Galactic Legion, and the galaxy’s least cunning space pirate for allies. Can the galaxy survive the caprice of the Unwilling Goddess? Moreover, will she survive it?

Unfortunately, I was sick in March, when this sequel first released, but I am excited to have the opportunity to share about it with Jeff, even belatedly!

We talk science fiction, his larger-than-life female character, and what we can look forward to in The Unwilling Goddess and the Reversed Black Maria series! 

I think this interview demonstrates his enthusiasm for characters and highlights his goal of delivering a fun sci-fi adventure to his readers.

I hope you will enjoy hearing his responses to my questions!

How did you start writing this story?

The Unwilling Goddess (TUG) is less a sequel to than a continuation of Made In His Image, so we’ll need to take them both together. The characters have been in my head since high school, but the published iteration of their story was begun in 2013 when I needed a writing prompt for NaNoWriMo. The manuscript quickly grew from the target 50K words to 200K words, and Reversed Black Maria was born. Most of those early words have since been rewritten many times, but the plot has remained surprisingly intact.

What do you enjoy about the sci-fi genre?

The sheer creative freedom. In a sci-fi setting, nothing is prescribed, and every bit of context is the writer’s to control.

TUG could have been written as fantasy, a thriller, or even as historical fiction, but each of those choices would have imposed narrative constraints that I chose to avoid. To put it simply, in sci-fi no one can tell you “that’s impossible”. Of course it’s impossible, and that’s okay. It’s supposed to be impossible.

Are there specific stories in this genre that made an impact on you as a writer?

My formative years were dominated by the works of Ray Bradbury, Frank Herbert, and Larry Niven.

The latter in particular impressed young me, and I ferreted out and devoured every story of his Known Space universe—not an easy task in the days before the internet! His World of Ptavvs and Protector had especially intriguing and complex narratives populated with sympathetic characters.

Oddly enough, Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes had the greatest lasting effect on my imagination, and there are subtle echoes of this wonderful work of weird fiction throughout Reversed Black Maria.

What were some challenges and highlights of writing The Unwilling Goddess?

The final manuscript of TUG was completed during a time of great uncertainty and personal loss. My mother passed away a few months before the original publication target of September 2023, and for three or four months I simply could not get my head into the proper space to finish the work.

My beta reader pulled me through in the end. I’ve always immensely valued and enjoyed his feedback, especially the oft-repeated “oh no, you are not going to go there… Oh crap, you did!”

Do you have a favorite scene that you are excited to share with your readers?

The hasty coronation of Pangloss as Emperor of the Galaxy is the climax of the book and simultaneously the biggest potential shock. I hope the reader feels a twinge of awe—and at least a little pity for the old demigod when he gets put in his place.

Will we see the return of any characters—beyond the main heroes? What about new characters?

Almost everyone makes a return, and there are some new faces, too.

Raina’s resourceful but treacherous foster-brother Jaroslav Von Ekaterinburg makes his obsessive and thoroughly disagreeable debut, as does heroic Andre Dumiel, Bishop of the Diaspora Catholic Church, Colonel of the dreaded Guardia, and accomplished mech pilot. Readers may recall meeting the latter’s ancestor Reverend Mother Dumiel in the pages of Cirsova magazine.

Would you share a bit about your faith and how it influences your stories?

I’m a Christian with roots in the Baptist tradition, but who also has Reformed leanings and great affection for the Catholic Church. Most writers write what they know, and I’m no different. The theological underpinnings of Reversed Black Maria come from my decade-long stint teaching church history to adult Sunday school students.

Rather than tell an overtly (and potentially tedious) Christian story, I have chosen to leave the religious elements beneath the surface, to be slowly uncovered by the characters as the narrative unfolds.

Raina is an undeniably female / feminine character. Can you talk a bit about how you developed her?

Raina’s roots are the deepest of any of the characters. The first recognizable “Raina” stepped into my scribblings all the way back in 1985. She was, then as now, immense, headstrong, impulsive, and femininely pulchritudinous to the extreme (give me a break, I was 17).

The challenge in presenting Raina to readers was not fleshing her out—she lacks for nothing in that department—but in preventing her from becoming an oversexed caricature, a cookie-cutter girlboss, or—worst of all—an insufferable Mary Sue, all while maintaining her established character.

Strangely enough, the solution was to make her a literal goddess. This provided both an excuse for her prodigies and a source of supernatural conflicts that challenge her very existence as a woman.

Made in His Image is a great example of a genre-defying book (sci-fi, Christian elements/themes, sensual content). Can you comment on the challenges that poses?

I would like to claim that the genre-defying thematic tension of TUG is the result of years of careful research and planning, but the truth is quite the opposite: I mixed up a bunch of elements I found interesting inside a big blender of a story and threw the switch.

If the result has internal contradictions (and it certainly seems to), I like to imagine that they mirror the contradictions of an ordinary Christian life. After all, many of us are presently trying to figure out how to live Christian lives in a cyberpunk dystopia while being bombarded with strong temptations, sexual and otherwise.

Like us, some of my characters rise to the challenge while others fail ingloriously (I’m looking at you, Jaroslav!)

What did Made in His Image do well that you hope to continue or build on in The Unwilling Goddess?

I’ve always felt the strength of Made In His Image was its characters. Much thought and care went into building each of them, even the ones who play only small parts. It is my hope that they continue to develop through the events of The Unwilling Goddess, and that the new characters I’m introducing are as equally compelling as the old familiar faces.

What can we look forward to as the series continues?

Each book of Reversed Black Maria answers a question about Raina. Made In His Image told what Raina was. The Unwilling Goddess tells what she did with this knowledge, and the next book will tell what the galaxy does with Raina.

It’s a fait accompli that the unwilling goddess remains unwilling, but as the stakes rise towards infinity, powerful new enemies appear at every hand, and otherworldly fates threaten her and her friends, can Raina afford not to take up the crown of power? On a more mundane but no less motivating level, she wants a baby, but her inviolable flesh perfectly resists the Flower of Life. With Jorgen Pangloss presumed dead, how can she hope to overcome these challenges?

What do you hope readers take away from your writing?

First and foremost, I want my readers to have fun. TUG has plenty of action, thrills, chills, and of course—this is Reversed Black Maria, after all—a bit of blood and spice.

If there is a message, it is that loyalty is first among the virtues, and friends always come first.

The Unwilling Goddess by Jeff Stoner Book Cover
Read The Unwilling Goddess today!

Did you enjoy this author interview with Jeff Stoner?

If you want to hear more about Made in His Image before you decide if it is right for you, check out our detailed review! Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed Made in His Image, and I have confidence in Jeff’s ability to continue the series satisfactorily in The Unwilling Goddess. I encourage you to check them out if you haven’t yet!

Already read Made in His Image? Go to our review page and click the “♥ Recommend this book” button at the top of the page or scroll down and leave a comment with your own review!

I also did a video interview with Jeff. We had a great time talking a bit more conversationally about his work. I think you will enjoy it!

Made in His Image by Jeff Stoner Book Cover
Read our review of Made in His Image!
Michael Kane Author Photo
Meet another great author!

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