Q&A with Tom Doyle

1) What is the title of your newest book or short story?  What’s it about?  Where can readers find it?

My debut novel from Tor, American Craftsmen, is a contemporary fantasy of military intrigue with a cryptohistorical backstory that imagines that Poe and Hawthorne wrote thinly veiled nonfiction. It’s available everywhere books are sold in hardcover and e-versions (e.g., http://www.amazon.com/American-Craftsmen-Tom-Doyle/dp/0765337517). The mass-market paperback will be out at the end of June 2015, and the sequel, The Left-Hand Way, will be out in August 2015.

2. What inspired your new book or story?

To my own surprise, one of my initial inspirations for this book was L. Frank Baum. When he began telling children’s stories, he had the notion of discarding the existing European folk tales and building a fantasy that was modern and distinctly American. That’s how we got The Wizard of Oz.

I wasn’t going to write a children’s story, but the thought of confining myself to a U.S. mythos for an adult fantasy was oddly exciting. With plenty of books retelling European myths and folklore, it seemed like our own stories had been neglected. I looked at American folklore, but I ended up spending more time with the great early American writers of the fantastic.

3. How do you research your stories?

For American Craftsmen, I had to read or re-read a lot of the American classics of the fantastic or uncanny. I also had to check on various historical incidents where I have my craftspeople at work. For my research on special ops, besides general histories and first-person accounts, I consulted a childhood friend who had served in special forces during the First Gulf War.

4. Where can readers find you on social media? (Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Library Thing, Redd It, etc.)

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tom.doyle

On Twitter: @tmdoyle2

On Goodread: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6576853.Tom_Doyle
On Google+:  https://plus.google.com/u/0/+TomDoyle
My website: www.tomdoylewriter.com

Click here to listen to a reading of American Craftsmen on our sister site.

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The Story Behind the Story: Deadly Curiosities

by Gail Z. Martin

My dad was into antiques, old stuff, and collectibles that reminded him of the Old West, his childhood in the 1920s and anything else that caught his eye. He was also a hoarder. When he went into a nursing home for Alzheimer’s and we had to clean out his house, it was packed to the gills. Some of the stuff was trash, some went to Goodwill.

And then there was the weird stuff. Halberd axes. Old-fashioned bear traps six feet long with huge teeth. Hundreds of Baby Ben alarm clocks. Dozens of antique sewing machines, manual typewriters, huge coffee grinders, and a really strange black box that didn’t seem to have a way to open it. We all agreed felt evil so we got rid of it without trying too hard. He had sold the cannon off years ago, so at least we didn’t have to deal with that.

There were books–thousands of them. And old mother-of-pearl pair of opera glasses. Native American artifacts. Mirrors and glassware, old textiles and two player pianos. And more. When he passed away at age 90, it was my job to get rid of everything.

I had grown up getting dragged around as a kid to antique shops, used book stores (the musty kind that look like something out of Diagon Alley), swap meets, flea markets and steam engine shows. (He used to have several hundred steam engines, but thankfully those were sold off by the time I had to deal with things.) Point being, I spent a lot of formidable years around old stuff, odd things and items that might once have been useful or precious but where now reduced to cast-offs.

So maybe it was fate that I was going to write about a centuries-old antiques and curio shop with a hidden mission to get dangerous magical items off the market and out of the wrong hands. Even as a kid, I knew that all those old things had stories. They had belonged to someone, mattered to someone, and were now being passed along–and they took their stories with them, silent, mysterious histories. Sometimes there were clues to their past life–a monogram, a name plate, an engraved set of initials, an inscription in a book. Most of the time, it was just the object, cast adrift, and I used to make up stories about them to amuse myself.

I like ghosts and accounts of ghostly phenomena. I like vampires–ever since I was a pre-schooler watching the old Dark Shadows TV show. And I liked Charleston, SC when I visited and toured it. Charleston is one of the oldest cities in the US, with a complex history that is both genteel and scandalous, and it’s one of the most haunted cities in the country. It was ripe for urban fantasy, and wasn’t overly familiar to readers. And it’s only a few hours away from where I live, so research trips wouldn’t be too difficult. So it just made sense for me to put all those elements together, shake it around and see what happened.

What emerged was the Deadly Curiosities novel, plus the short stories and novella that I’ve done in that universe that span a 500 year period of time. I’ve woven in a number of the objects we encountered in my dad’s collection, and given them a supernatural twist. It’s been fun to play with all the different strands and weave them into something new. The idea that the most mundane object might harbor secret magical power or a deadly curse is intriguing, especially if something unexpected might trigger that power, or raise its long-dormant mojo. Once you read Deadly Curiosities, you might be eying those heirlooms from grandma a little bit differently!

 

 

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Things you didn’t know about Gail Z. Martin

An Interview with Gail Z. Martin

Q: Myths and beliefs that we would consider fiction or fantasy in modern literature once upon a time shaped history (think of all the hunts for unicorns & dragons). Do you see modern fantasy fiction affecting human cultures today and how?

A: Fantasy and science fiction hold up a mirror for us to try on different futures and pasts. Sci Fi often serves as a cautionary tale of where we might end up if we aren’t careful. Fantasy lets us play in the past or present that isn’t but should have been. And sometimes, when we experience something in fantasy, we start wondering why we can’t alter reality. That’s why sci fi and fantasy have always had a bit of a subversive edge, questioning the status quo and wondering what else might be possible. Sometimes it’s easier to approach a controversial topic from a fresh perspective outside of the real world. Star Trek did this all the time. I think that’s also something that happens with today’s dystopian fiction. Once you start people asking why something has to be the way it is, you’re opening the door to change.

Q: What fictional world would you like to visit for the holidays? Is there a fictional holiday that you would like to take part in?

A: For the holidays? Hogwarts! I’d love to be part of that awesome Yule feast and the Yule Ball.

In my Chronicles of the Necromancer books, I talk about a mid-winter holiday called Winterstide on the Solstice, which I think would be a nice, quiet alternative to the Christmas chaos to try some year.

Q: Reality in my fiction: how important is it? Lengthy travel, cussing, and bathroom breaks happen in real life. How do you address these mundane occurrences in your writings?

A: I don’t think you have to mention every time someone stops to use the bathroom, but throwing things like that in occasionally makes the world feel more real. (In one of my books, a character overhears an important bit of news taking a pee back behind the tavern.) It goes right along with throwing up, food poisoning, and lice.

Cussing depends very much on the individual character. Some will used “minced oaths” (the equivalent of ‘darn’ instead of ‘damn’), some will be vulgar, and everyone else will be in between. Cussing is actually an interesting way to explore what a society finds sacred and profane, what they consider vulgar and acceptable, and what behavior is tolerated of different social classes and in different social occasions. Try coming up with a suitably vulgar/blasphemous outburst for a religion that doesn’t exist! It’s harder than it looks to make it believable and not funny. Likewise, if you have a person from a rough background, they’re going to cuss. You don’t always have to repeat what they say, but not having someone like that swear is inauthentic.

My characters complain a lot about lengthy travel, especially when it rains and the taverns have bedbugs. Talking about the hardship of travel in a fantasy setting reminds readers that this was before you could hop on a plane and be across the country in a few hours.

For me, these kinds of details make a world feel more lived-in and real. It’s the difference between a movie set and actually being there. And it can make you very thankful for central heating and indoor plumbing!

Q: Conventions, book signings, blogging, etc.: what are some of your favorite aspects of self-promotion and what are some of the least favorite parts of self-promotion?

A: I love doing conventions as a pro, because it’s even more fun than it was when I wasn’t a pro. I get to talk to readers and be on panels and hash out cool topics like “Writing real magic” or “Are werewolves the new vampires?” with some of my favorite authors. Conventions are like family reunions, only with better relatives.

Blogging is fun, although sometimes I feel like I’ve said everything and it’s hard to come up with a new topic. I really enjoy conversations on Twitter and Facebook and Goodreads. Book signings are fun when the store has good traffic and there are lots of people. When you’re in a strip mall bookstore on a very rainy day, all you can do is make the best of it by getting to know the bookstore staff—which can be a lot of fun.

Probably the least favorite part is that you really don’t ever get to take a break from reminding people that you and your books are out there. It’s so easy for readers to go on to the next big thing and not remember that they were looking forward to the new book in your series—especially when they have to wait a year. So there really isn’t any time off from being out in the public.

Q: With the modern popularity of ebooks, a book is no longer limited to a specific genre shelf. It is now quite easy to label place an ebook in multiple genres (i.e. YA, Fantasy, Horror). How do you see this affecting readers? Have you been inadvertently lured outside your reading comfort zone?

A: On the plus side, readers may stumble upon books they wouldn’t have found wandering through a bookstore. On the minus side, it can be harder to discover books in a specific genre because they’re not helpfully shelved together, and the covers are smaller online and therefore not always as tempting.

I think readers find ways to cope, and overall they will find what they’re interested in, either by browsing, using the Amazon suggestions (which can be funny sometimes if you’re searched for some odd things), and tapping into word of mouth sites like Goodreads.

Ebook categories can also be humorously off-base. My epic fantasy The Blood King once accidentally got categorized on Amazon under “erotica”. I guess that’s the next category down from “epic” on the menu and someone picked the wrong one! I suspect there were a few very confused readers until we got it straightened out!

Q: From your own writings, are there any characters you would like to cosplay?

A: I might be tempted to do something from the upcoming steampunk book….

Q: As a young reader, unspoiled by the realities of this world, what stories and authors drove you to delusions of grandeur, expecting to be swept up into a magical tale or a laser battle?

A: As a kid, I loved Nancy Drew, Meg, Trixie Belden and the Hardy Boys, along with Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators. I read a lot of ghost stories, including Macbeth and Hamlet. Of course there was Dracula, Frankenstein and anything about King Arthur, ranging from the Mary Stewart books to the more scholarly texts. Anything with ghosts, castles, and monsters was big on my list!

Q: If you could sit down and have dinner with 5 dead authors, who would you invite to the table? What would they order?

A: Mary Shelley, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Agatha Christie, Jules Verne, and probably William Shakespeare.

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Have Vampires Lost Their Mojo?

by Gail Z. Martin

Vampire stories have been around a long time, especially if you count folklore in addition to stories like Dracula. Recently, we’ve had a vampire-palooza in fiction, movies and TV, where you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a bloodsucker. If a crowd of vampires is a scourge (personally, I like “murder” as in crows), then have vampires become the scourge of fiction, and have they worn out their welcome?

Personally, I don’t think the undead are going to ride off into the sunrise any time soon. The vampire mythos is just too compelling, too primal, too tragically human. But I do think that how we portray vampires will continue to shift, and we’ll cycle through various popular depictions with new twists.

I’ve loved vampires since I was a kid, watching the old Dark Shadows TV show before I was old enough to go to school. The very first story I made up, when I was five years old, was about a vampire. Vampires, witches and ghosts were my preferred story elements in anything I read all the time I was growing up–and if I could get all three in one, that was a happy day.

Vampires appear in all of my fiction, but I’ve tried to put my own mark on them, reinterpreting them for the setting and culture of the story. In my Chronicles of the Necromancer books, the vayash moru are not hidden–everyone knows they exist, although they are welcome in some places and persecuted in others. Most want to stay on with their families after they are turned, so that gramp the vamp keeps working on the family farm, just doing his chores at night, watching over generations of descendants. When a few ambitious vampires try to change the balance of power, it adds another destabilizing element to kingdoms already on the brink of descending into dynastic war.

For my Ascendant Kingdoms books, including Ice Forged and Reign of Ash, the talishte are content to be silent partners in the power structure, kept in line by an oligarchy of their elders, working behind the thrones under long-established rules. For them, reading the blood of a human servant imparts that person’s memories, and creates a two-way bond, the kruvgaldur, between the talishte and either the mortal servant or the fledgling. When war destroys the ability to control magic and plunges the kingdoms into anarchy, the talishte must decide whether they can afford to remain behind the scenes any longer.

Modern-day Charleston, SC is the setting for Deadly Curiosities, my new urban fantasy series, and Sorren is a nearly 600 year-old vampire who works with his mortal partners to get dangerous magical items off the market and out of the wrong hands. Once again, I’ve drawn on the idea of vampires as oligarchs, many of whom have amassed power and wealth over their long lifetimes, choosing to act from the shadows to direct the fate of history.

I’m much more interested in the tragedy of the vampire myth than the romance. I’ve heard that the vampire-as-dark-lover may be a trope that’s due for a rest, but I suspect that good examples will continue to be written, since the shadow lover appeal is long established. But I do think we are seeing more of the vampire-as-monster story, and more stories that focus more on vampire’s supernatural abilities than their come-hither seductive power.

The storytelling pendulum had to swing back toward the monster side of things eventually. I won’t say that vampires had lost credibility, per se, but there have been so many undead Lotharios of late that to my thinking, vampires had begun to lose their edginess, their danger, their predator status–their otherness. It’s fun to be reminded, even shocked, into seeing that vampires aren’t just the bad boys your mother warned you about. And for humans used to believing themselves to be the top of the food chain and the apex predator, vampires are and should be a good reason to worry about things that go bump in the night.

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Manga Maniac Café Talks to Gail Z. Martin

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Describe yourself in five words or less.

A: Writer, author, scribe, imaginer, storyteller.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about Deadly Curiosities?

A: Deadly Curiosities takes place in historic, haunted Charleston. Welcome to Trifles & Folly, an antique and curio shop with a dark secret. Proprietor Cassidy Kincaide continues a family tradition begun 350 years ago – acquiring and neutralizing dangerous supernatural items. It’s the perfect job for Cassidy, whose psychic gift lets her touch an object and know its history. Together with her business partner Sorren, a 500 year-old vampire and former jewel thief, Cassidy makes it her business to get infernal objects off the market.

When a trip to a haunted hotel unearths a statue steeped in malevolent power, and a string of murders draws a trail to an abandoned section of the old Navy yard, Cassidy and Sorren discover a diabolical plot to unleash a supernatural onslaught on their city.

It’s time for Kincaide and her team to get rid of these Deadly Curiosities before the bodies start piling up.

The novel will be out in June in bookstores everywhere and online. I also have a free novella, The Final Death, set in the Deadly Curiosities world that’s available free on Wattpad here: http://www.wattpad.com/story/15334006-the-final-death. And I write short stories in the Deadly Curiosities universe (including several time periods in the past) available on Kindle, Kobo and Nook, with more to come.

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  How did you come up with the concept and characters?

A: I visited Charleston a few years back for a conference, and then took my family back for a longer visit. It’s a beautiful place with a rich history and a lot of scandal and salaciousness beneath all the propriety. I loved the city, and I realized that it hadn’t been overdone as an urban fantasy setting. I started brainstorming right then about what kind of a series would be a good fit. Charleston’s one of the most haunted cities in the US, so ghosts fit right in, along with other supernatural creatures. An antique/curio shop also was a natural, because Charleston is full of them, and it would be the obvious place to bring an old, haunted object. From there, the characters took on a life of their own.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What gave you the most trouble with the story?

A: I wouldn’t say it was “trouble”, but Deadly Curiosities is my first series set in a real place in the modern time, so that means I can’t just make everything up! It required deciding what elements to make fictitious and where to draw on real people/places/history. And it also took a lot of research and fact-checking!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What’s one thing you won’t leave home without?

A: A book to read. I don’t mind waiting in line if I’ve got a book.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Name three things on your desk right now.

A: Cup of coffee, smartphone, to-do list.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you could trade places with anyone for just one day, who would you be?

A: My dogs. They have it good! Lounge around all day, go for a walk, be waited on paw-and-paw, then on to evening snuggling while watching TV. That’s the life!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] You have been granted the use of one superpower for one week.  Which power would you choose, and what would you do with it?

A: Super-speed (as long as it came with super-dexterity), so I could finally get caught up on everything I need to do!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are some books that you enjoyed recently?

A: Lately I’ve been alternating through the Harry Dresden books by Jim Butcher and the Secret Histories series by Simon R. Green. (You can actually see most of what I’ve read in the last couple of years on Goodreads. It’s missing older stuff and some ebooks, but it’s got 500 or so of my latest reads!)

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Looking Around the Corner From Epic to Urban and Beyond

by Gail Z. Martin

What’s it like making a jump from epic to urban fantasy (and beyond that, to steampunk)? Exciting, scary and fun–sort of like your favorite amusement park ride. And best of all for a writer, challenging.

I’ve written eight epic fantasies, big, thick 600 page adventures sprawling across kingdoms and continents, filled with necromancers and mages, monsters and magic, armies, battles, intrigue and scandal. The most recent is Reign of Ash, sequel to Ice Forged, in my Ascendant Kingdoms series from Orbit, and before that, my Chronicles of the Necromancer series from Solaris.

It’s so much fun to paint with words on the huge canvas that epic fantasy requires. Story arcs are big, enemies are ruthless on a large scale, problems have to be, well, epic in size. It’s an absolute blast to be the man behind the curtain, the wizard of your own Oz, pulling the levers and running the show. I have no desire to stop writing epic fantasy–and there are still several more books under contract.

But there were other stories that I really wanted to tell, and they demanded different settings. My Deadly Curiosities urban fantasy novel/series from Solaris is set in modern-day Charleston, SC. It grew out of a short story I wrote for their Magic: Esoteric and Arcane anthology, and a world I developed for stories I had done in many other anthologies. Deadly Curiosities is about a 350 year-old antique and curio shop that exists to get dangerous magical items off the market and out of the wrong hands. And it absolutely required a setting other than epic fantasy in order to do the stories justice.

Then there’s the steampunk novel, Iron and Blood, coming up in 2015 with Solaris and I’m co-authoring with my husband, Larry N. Martin. It’s grown out of a fascination with a particular city and it takes a supernatural twist on steampunk. It had to be a certain “when” and a certain “where.” The story wouldn’t settle for anything else.

One of the things that is so much fun about all this is that as an author, it’s a bit like having to shift between ballet, tango and hip-hop styles, or between three different style of martial arts, or speaking three different languages sequentially. It’s a hell of a mental exercise, creative jujitsu, and it’s an exciting challenge.

The epic fantasies and the steampunk are third-person narrative. The urban fantasy is first-person. The epics and steampunk have male protagonists and strong female secondary characters. The urban fantasy has a female protagonist/point-of-view character with some seriously kick-ass male secondary characters. In the epic series, the worlds were entirely of my own creation, so I didn’t have to reconcile anything with real historical facts. The urban fantasy is set in a real city, and while I take some liberties and fudge some details for the sake of artistic license, I still have to respect the bulk of Charleston’s history and its past and current geography in order to be true to the city as a setting. In the steampunk book, I’m doing an alternate history of the city, but I that means tweaking and twisting its history, not ignoring it all together. When it’s all said and done, it still has to feel authentic to the people who live there now.

Even magic changes its flavor as I dance between the genres. Epic fantasy magic is on as grand a scale as the rest of the story, with sorcerer-caliber power that can destroy armies or whole kingdoms. In my urban fantasy, the magic is more subtle, sneakier, a combination of curses, restless ghosts, emotional resonance, and stone tape as well as demons, demonic minion monsters, Voodoo priests, psychometry and more. In the steampunk books, magic takes a Victorian sensibility, dangerous but with decorum, a Marquis of Queensbury death dealing that tips its hat before trying to blow you into the hereafter.

At the end of the day, my goal is to make sure that readers have even more fun reading the books than I have writing them. I want to take you on a wild ride, show you some wonders, and skid full-speed into the conclusion so that you’ve got one thought: “Damn that was fun–let’s do it again!”

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Books, Bones, Buffy Interview with Gail Z. Martin

1. Deadly Curiosities is your first foray into urban fantasy, after writing very successfully in the epic fantasy genre. What were the challenges of writing something completely different?As a writer, it’s always fun to switch things up a bit to avoid getting stale or burned out. So while I love epic fantasy, and will continue to write new epic fantasy novels and short stories, it was time to add something new to the mix.

With urban fantasy, one of the challenges is that you’re writing in the modern day, in an existing city where real people actually live. So you’ve got to give people a reason to believe that magic and supernatural things are real in your book, and you’ve got to get the details right about the city.

While quite a bit of the Charleston in Deadly Curiosities really exists, I have added fictional businesses and locations just because it’s easier that way and sidesteps some hassles. Understandably, real businesses don’t want to be linked to supernatural mayhem, so I’ve created some fictional stand-ins. Likewise, I do my best to check on character names to avoid accidentally getting the same name as someone locally well-known. It’s a whole new twist to writing!

2. There are lots of ghosts in Deadly Curiosities. Have you ever had a ghostly experience yourself?

I have not, although I know a lot of people who have had some very intense experiences. I’ve loved ghost stories since I was a very small child, and have read a lot of them. I’m a huge ghost fan!

3. One of my favorite things about Deadly Curiosities is the authentic southern feeling I got while reading the book. The Charleston, SC setting is steeped in history and ghostly lore. What sort of research did you do for the book?

I’ve been to Charleston a number of times and fell in love with the city. It’s absolutely beautiful, with so much history and so many ghosts. Visiting the city absolutely helped me to get it clearly in mind. Also, I’ve done a lot of research into periods in the city’s history, specific buildings—I’m always looking information up to try to get the details just right.

4. Deadly Curiosities ends very neatly and all the plot points seem to be wrapped up. (And by the way, thank you for that! Cliffhangers are so overrated…) But are you planning other books set in the world of Cassidy, Teag and Sorren?

Yes. We’re talking about a series, with a second book in 2015. In the meantime, you can read more about Cassidy, Teag and Sorren in my Deadly Curiosities Adventures—short stories on Kindle, Kobo and Nook, plus my free novella The Final Death on Wattpad. Some of the short stories are further adventures of Cassidy and the gang in modern times (either before the novel or between the novels) and some are about Sorren in centuries past, always working for the Alliance to get rid of dangerous magical objects!

5. What’s a “Day in the Life” of Gail Z. Martin like? Do you write full time, and if so, what sort of writing hours do you keep each day?

I get up, work out, usually take care of errands in the morning, and then get down to writing in the afternoon through early evening. I can do things like email and social media in the morning, but the creative brain doesn’t really kick on until around 2 pm, and goes to around 8 pm or so.

6. I noticed that your touring schedule on your website is very busy, and includes lots of stops at various Cons. (although I sadly noticed that Comic Con isn’t on the list! The one Con I’ll be attending…). What is your favorite part about attending Cons? And I’ll ask the question that I know everyone is thinking about: when you attend Cons, do you have a special costume that you wear?

I would love to go to Comic Con sometime! And no, when I go to Cons I’m not in costume, but catch me as guest author at the Arizona Renaissance Festival or the Carolinas Renaissance Festival, and I’ll be in full medieval garb!

My favorite part of attending Cons is seeing old friends and making new friends. It’s a time for me to connect with other authors, to hear publishing news and maybe get invited to anthologies or promotional events, to hang out with long-time readers, and to introduce new people to the books. Plus, I was a fan long before I was a pro author, so I’ve been attending Cons as a fan since I was in high school. And sometimes, I have a total fangirl moment. Like the first time I met Katherine Kurtz, or when I met the actresses who played Angelique and Josette on the original Dark Shadows. You never know who you’ll meet in the elevator!

7. I know from your website that you have pets. I’m an animal lover myself, and I’d love to share some pet photos with my readers! (Only if you want to, disregard this question if you aren’t interested)

I have a Maltese and a Golden Retriever, and a Himalayan cat. The cat is rather grouchy about photos, but I’m attaching a couple of the dogs—they think they’re brothers.

8. Please tell my readers three things about you that can’t be found on your website.

I absolutely love going to museums—and usually find my way to their creepiest collections. I enjoy cooking when I’m not in a rush. I once went parachuting and fell off the airplane.

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The Haunting of Charleston: Setting Deadly Curiosities in the Real World

By Gail Z. Martin

My new urban fantasy novel, Deadly Curiosities, is set in modern-day Charleston, SC. Charleston is one of the most-visited tourist cities in the U.S., and it deserves its fame. It’s an old city in a young country, and it’s played a big role in history, from the American Revolution through the Civil War and into the current headlines. It’s beloved for its food, its architecture, its horse-drawn carriage rides and its multitude of ghost stories. And when I visited Charleston a few years ago, I thought that all of those features made it a perfect setting for an urban fantasy series.

So how does an author handle writing fantasy in the real world?

Carefully, and with a lot of fact-checking.

In my Chronicles of the Necromancer series and my Ascendant Kingdoms Saga books, the setting is entirely of my own making. Yes, the kingdoms have a medieval, somewhat Western European look to them, but their history, their geography, everything about them is completely out of my imagination. There’s no historian who can gainsay me that I got the dates wrong for King So-And-So’s reign, or that some other historic point is incorrect. My world, my history.

That all goes out the window when you’re writing about a city where hundreds of thousands of people actually live, and many thousands more have visited.

I remember talking to someone who actually lived in Hawaii when Hawaii-Five-0 was on TV back in the 1970s. When I asked about the show, he said that people who lived in Honolulu regularly had a good chuckle when the cops on TV went to the corner of streets that didn’t intersect, buildings that didn’t exist, etc. Some of those “errors” might well have been intentional to avoid causing problems for real businesses. (There have been horror stories about companies or individuals who had an address or phone number used in a movie, TV show or song.) But whether intentional or not, the locals noticed.

On one hand, there’s no point setting a book in a real city if you aren’t going to use real landmarks and snippets of the city’s actual history. Otherwise, you might as well just make the whole place up and be done with it.

On the other hand, as an author you don’t want to accidently cast aspersions on real people (living or dead—unless they are so famous that they are essentially in the public domain, like Abraham Lincoln). And if you’re looking for a location for a gruesome murder, vicious ghoul attack, human sacrifice or some other less-than-flattering activity, it’s reasonable to think that private businesses don’t want that kind of thing linked to them, even in fiction. (Public sites, like monuments, parks, government buildings, etc. are fair game.)

So while the locale in which a major event happens in the book does exist (the old Navy yard), the buildings I reference are completely fictitious. So are the businesses that Cassidy patronizes as well as their owners. On the other hand, landmarks like the Charleston City Market, Battery Row, and White Point Garden do exist, grounding the story in some reality and giving visitors to Charleston a clear image of where the action takes place.

Some of the historical figures I mention (like the famous murderess Lavinia Fisher) are real. Others I created based on historical precedent, but not on a single historical person. When writing in a modern-day setting, I Google names to avoid accidentally using the name of a local person, and I’m cautious about using references to influential people from the past since they may well have living relatives in the area. None of these were things I had to worry about in my epic fantasy!

I’ve taken some liberties with the city’s history as well. If I can find an interesting event in history that works into the story, that’s great. But if I need something to advance the plot, I’ll insert a little alternate history to make it work. After all, if magic is operative and Charleston is filled with vampires and Voodoo, adding a new pirate or an extra hurricane here or there is not such a big stretch!

At the end of the day, I want the series to feel comfortable and familiar to those who know Charleston well. Maybe the Charleston in my books isn’t exactly the city they’ve visited or lived in, but all the right touchstones are there to make them feel at home. And with luck, the ways I’ve altered the city and its history to meet the needs of the story feel authentic, the Charleston that could be or might have been. After all, this is fiction!

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What We Collect

By Gail Z. Martin

In my new book Deadly Curiosities, Cassidy Kincaide is the proprietor of Trifles and Folly, a 350 year-old antique and curio shop that exists to get dangerous magical items off the market. Behind the idea of antique shops and shows, flea markets, swap meets, even garage sales, lies the concept of the collector, the person who is continually seeking that perfect piece to complete a set, or who wants to have the biggest and best assortment of something.

Why do we collect what we collect, and what does it say about us?

My father was a collector and a hoarder. I grew up going to antique shows, curio shops, flea markets, used book stores (the musty kind, not the cool kind) and any gathering where old stuff was for sale. And I never cease to be amazed at what people collect.

At various times, my dad collected old VW Beetles, antique steam engines (the huge ones from sawmills), Native American artifacts, books about the Old West, Baby Ben alarm clocks, Smith-Corona typewriters, old Singer sewing machines, 1920s oscillating fans and bear traps. Yes—bear traps.

When it came time to clean out his stash after he went into a nursing home, I had the chance to think a lot about collectors and collections. Not everyone lets theirs get as far out of hand as my father did, and unless it takes over your life, collecting can be a fun hobby. But why do we collect things, and what makes us pick particular collections?

I can’t back this up with more than anecdotal evidence, but I suspect that nostalgia heavily influences the choice of collection. As we dug through all the things dad bought, I could link many of them to stories he had told about things he remembered from his childhood. The Baby Ben alarm clock from his grandmother’s house—he had over 100 of them. The treadle Singer sewing machine from the early 1900s that his mother had used when he was a child—45 of those. The steam-powered engines he remembered from his youth working on a neighbor’s farm, the Model-T Ford from his childhood, and the Native American artifacts and Old West books that reminded him of listening to The Lone Ranger on the radio…he had them all.

Collecting involves strong emotions. Consciously or not, I think many collectors pick items that take them back to a happy or safe memory or a pleasant time in their past. Maybe the object reminds the collector of a beloved person, or a favorite place, or a less complicated time in life. Seeing, touching or using the objects sparks that momentary connection, that flash of dopamine in the brain that is comforting in a very deep way.

I think the same factors are at work when we decide what to keep and what to throw away. The concert ticket from a special date, the trinket you picked up on a favorite vacation, the crayon-scrawled picture from a child now grown—these also cause that hit of happy juice to the brain as one-of-a-kind treasures.

Which brings me back to Deadly Curiosities. Cassidy is a psychometric, able to read strong emotions and memories by touching objects. Not all objects have a resonance, but those that do usually pack a psychic wallop. Many of the antiques and curios that find their way into Trifles and Folly have supernatural qualities as well, including dangerous dark magic. It’s up to Cassidy and her team to get those objects off the market and keep them out of the wrong hands.

Think about the way you feel when you pick up a memento that reminds you of a particularly special time. Now imagine having that feeling augmented by magic, being able to re-experience that moment as if you were there, even for someone else’s memories. Most of us keep knick-knacks that remind us of the good times. Many of the objects that find their way into Trifles and Folly hold the resonance of tragedy, evil or supernatural mayhem.

So the next time you see a tempting object at an antique shop or yard sale, scan how you feel when you handle it. Because as Cassidy Kincaide knows, everyday objects can have a dark side.

 

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Why Short Fiction Still Matters

By Gail Z. Martin

Not too long ago, short fiction terrified me. I didn’t flinch at a contract requiring 175,000 words, but 8000 – 10,000? Horrors! Then a friend invited me to be in her anthology, and I said yes—with trepidation. Turns out I enjoyed writing the story, which was required to have both pirates and magic in it.

That started the ball rolling. Since then, I’ve said yes to fifteen anthologies, and I’ve started to write two series of direct-to-ebook short story series, with a new story every month on Kindle, Kobo and Nook. One of the anthologies that included a short story of mine, “Magic: Esoteric and Arcane” went on to win a British Fantasy Society award for Best Anthology and be nominated for a Nebula award for Best Anthology. And from those anthologies have come other invitations to participate in new anthologies, plus a contract for my “Deadly Curiosities” novel/series, which expands on the characters and world I created in “Magic”.

Some folks love writing short stories and don’t worry about novels, in the same way some authors only write long fiction. I’ll also admit that I take a little different approach to short stories, since mine tend to be stories in a series with continuing characters, somewhat like a serialized novel. That’s very different from the friends of mine who have sold hundreds of stand-alone short stories to magazines. I’ve also heard it said that “Novelists are failed short-story authors and short-story authors are failed novelists.” While I get the humor in that concept, I think it does an injustice to most authors.

In my opinion, a short story is more difficult to write than a novel because you’ve only got about twenty or so pages to fully convey plot, character and setting with enough skill to emotionally engage your reader and spin a memorable tale. There’s a lot more wiggle room in a novel, more set-up time, more space to expand and flesh out. While writing a novel poses its own challenges, short stories aren’t “easier” just because they’re short.

For authors, short fiction offers several benefits. Anthologies are a “sampler platter” where readers who might not take a chance on a full novel from an unknown author can take your writing out for a low-risk test drive to decide if they want to go further. Depending on the anthology, short stories can also provide a nice advance check—from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Being in an anthology can put an author in esteemed company, a nice boost for a new author to be among more established peers. And as in my own experience, a successful short story can spawn a new novel or series. Not only that, but short stories allow an author room to experiment with concepts and characters that may not warrant a whole novel, but are interesting to explore. They permit an author to grow and stretch.

The two series of short stories I publish direct to Kindle, Kobo and Nook gives me the ability to keep a narrative going in two worlds that weaves around and in-between my books. My Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures series explores the background of a popular character from my Chronicles of the Necromancer books, essentially building a prequel one story at a time. Likewise, my Deadly Curiosities Adventures are tied in to my new “Deadly Curiosities” urban fantasy   Plus, writing to the theme of an anthology is just plain fun, forcing me outside my normal comfort zone.

For readers, short stories have that “sampler platter” benefit in reverse, providing access to bite-sized fiction by authors you might have heard about but not tried yet. It’s a great way to discover a new author without committing to an entire book. Themed anthologies can be lots of fun as you see authors create stories with unique variations on the central concept. And as many readers tell me, short stories are nice to read on a commute because they don’t leave you hanging mid-chapter until the end of the work day!

There seems to be some debate on whether or not anthologies are good for publishers. Magazines of short fiction have certainly seen a tough market, with many long-established publications going out of business, moving completely online, decreasing the number of issues per year or raising prices to make up for a diminished readership. Editorial cut-backs at the big publishers have left editors with less time to take on anthology projects, and budget constraints have made the big publishers wary of projects that don’t have slam-dunk potential.

On the other hand, many small presses embrace anthologies and seem to do quite well with them (based on the fact that they keep bringing out more and more anthologies). Anthologies do well on Kickstarter, since the publisher has perhaps thirty collaborating authors to promote the campaign instead of just one. Many of these anthologies are published without author advances, or with very low advances but the promise of royalties. What the small press can offer is a combination of at-convention sales to a core of engaged fan readers, as well as the flexibility to explore niche themes. An anthology with a winning theme and a few dozen authors may well seem less risky for a small press to produce than a novel with a single author, since a reader who loves the theme and loves most of the anthology writers perceives a success, where the sales of a novel hinge on a single author’s skill.

Despite what you may have heard, I think that short fiction is going strong, and will be around for quite a while. So the next time you feel like snacking on a story instead of a full sit-down meal of fiction, grab a short story and dig in!

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