Revealing the Magic Trick

by Stuart Jaffe

From time to time, I get asked how something like the Max Porter mysteries came to be.  How did I come up with the idea of mixing true, odd, North Carolina history with witches, ghosts, curses, and such? And, over that time, I had developed a standard response. I had been living in Winston-Salem for several years and was curious to know more about it. My wife was a grad student at Wake Forest University, so one day, while stuck there waiting for her, I decided to hang out at the library. It was there that I stumbled upon a bit of WWII history I had never heard of before (that we shipped German POWs onto US soil to labor for the tobacco industry), and it screamed for a story. Max Porter was born.

That is the truth. But it’s also not.

See, it depends on who you are and why you’re asking. If you’re a reader who just wants to know what sparked this ever-growing series that has (hopefully) thrilled you, then yes, the above answer is the truth. And if that’s who you are, if you don’t like to know how a magic trick works or how the sausage is made, then I urge you to stop right here. Because there be dragon below.

Now — and this part took me years to figure out — if you’re a new writer, then you mean something quite different by the question. What you’re really asking me is how the Max Porter mysteries came to be — as in, the entire series. I see this when new writers discuss any long-running series. They marvel at the complex interplay between characters, how fully-developed each personality is, and how little details in an early book become massively important later on. How, they wonder, did the author know to do that?

My standard answer above does not answer that question.  Because no writer, no matter what PR line they spout, has an entire series fully formed in his or her head. Doesn’t happen. She might have the beginning, some key points in the middle, and a killer ending in mind, but the entire run of a 7 + books series?  Nope.

Those characters you marvel at were not so well-developed in the beginning. The complex interplay grew over the course of all those books. Each mystery they solved, each baddie they vanquished, each love they cherished and loss they endured, all built upon each other so that when Heroine nods with narrowing eyes at Hero, we all know what that means — all the history behind it — which sends chills through our delighted reader hearts. And that little detail which became huge later on — well, the author didn’t plan it that way when she wrote that detail in. But four books later, when she needed something to call back from a previous book, she read over her work, found that detail, and neatly clicked into place.

It’s part of how a writer’s mind works. We are constantly putting together the puzzle pieces that make up a novel, and sometimes we set a piece aside based on nothing but gut reaction, only to discover later exactly why we did it. We know that if we’re patient and consistent, our books will build upon themselves and create that full-world experience you crave. That’s why Book 1 or Book 2 of a series can be so much more difficult than Book 5. But it can be super-exciting too!

It’s all part of the magic trick that we perform.

What’s really cool is that with the Modern Magic deal, you get 12 novels that are almost all Book 1 of a series. You can start now and see how the groundwork for the trick is being set down. Then keep reading those series you like and watch the magic!

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I love superheroes.

By James Maxey

I love superheroes.

Like most people, this started when I was a kid. I’d watch the Superfriends on Saturday morning. I got excited at the I Love Lucy episode that guest starred Superman. Later, the Hulk and Wonder Woman had their own shows. I watched every episode.

Then I picked up actual comic books and things got seriously geeky. If your knowledge of superheroes comes from TV or even movies these days, you can name, what, fifteen superheroes? A couple of dozen, tops? Dive into comics and there are enough superheroes to fill encyclopedias. I used to make lists in alphabetical order cataloging all the members of the Legion of Superheroes, the Avengers, the Defenders, the Justice League. Teen Titans. X-men. Doom Patrol! Outsiders! Invaders! All-Star Squadron! Holy moly, the rosters were endless. In the days before Wikipedia, you had to really work to figure out who some obscure character appearing for a single page on the Avengers might actually be. (Jack of Hearts, anyone? Dr. Druid?) I would dig through boxes of musty, torn up comics at flea markets trying to assemble the various universes.

Unlike most people, this interest in superheroes didn’t vanish as I grew up. Instead, when I got to college, I started to place these heroes into a broader context of historical literature. Superheroes were the foundation of a modern mythology, a worthwhile evolution of the fairytale. The Justice Society used to sit around a round table; they were Arthurian Knights in a modern context.

Despite occasional tip toes into television, superheroes wound up identified with a single medium, the comic book. In the era of pulp fiction, superheroes could be found in prose, headlining their own magazines, like the Shadow. Once comic books came around, the costumed heroes packed up their bags and moved to the new, more visual medium, where their bright colors and miraculous feats found a natural home.

By the 1950s, prose super heroics had almost vanished. By the end of the millennium, only a few licensed properties, like Batman and Spiderman, still appeared in the occasional novel.

Which provided me with a dilemma when it came time for me to write my fourth bookl. The most fundamental advice for any writer is, write what you know. I knew superheroes. But superheroes didn’t appear in prose, and I wanted to write a novel, not script a comic book.

I finally obeyed an even more fundamental rule than “write what you know.” That rule is “do what you love.” So, with no hope whatsoever of seeing it in print, I sat down and started writing a superhero novel. I wrote the book I wanted to read that no one else had yet taken the time to write for me.

The main reason I wrote it was, when you really love something, you hate seeing it done badly. Let me be blunt: the vast majority of superhero fiction in any genre is pretty crappy. Characters that belong to the major publishers are property, and can never truly grow or change. The monthly nature of comic books means they get cranked out on a deadline whether the writers and artists feel inspired or not. They sell to a closed circle of readers, so there’s not much reason to change what they’re doing. The readers already know the characters, so there’s not that much exploration of character’s inner lives, and what little there is superficial. Most characters motives gets summed up in a single sentence: Batman fights crime because he watched his parents die. Wonder Woman was sent to man’s world to bring a message of peace. Aquaman… um, actually, I’m not clear on what his deal is. I know his powers. I don’t know his angels or his demons.

Of course, during the 80s and 90s, there was an effort made in some comics at treating superheroes as real people, peeling back the masks as it were. Unfortunately, treating heroes seriously somehow translated into treating them grimly, stripping away all joy, taking all their bright colors away to paint them in shades of dark gray and even darker gray. Every seemingly good action was shown to have some dark motive. We finally saw the demons on their shoulder, but the matching angels on the other shoulder were missing.

Having had my fill of heroes who were either two dimensional or joyless, I wanted to try my hand at a middle path. I wrote Nobody Gets the Girl treating the characters as realistically as possible, given that some of them fly, some are invisible, and others juggle tanks. But realistic doesn’t have to translate as grim. The hero, Richard Rogers, has his life erased by a time machine accident, trapping him as a ghost in a world where he was never born, a literal Nobody. Having your life erased would be a good excuse to spend the whole book moping, and he does have to deal with the grief over all he’s lost. But, he also takes spark as he begins a new life as an invisible, intangible spy for a family of superheroes. He processes his tragedy with humor and stoicism, working hard to find a path forward after encountering the worst roadblock ever thrown into a person’s life. Like most people, he stubbornly struggles toward joy.

More than joy, I also wanted to capture a sense of wonder. Superheroes are friends with gorillas and robots. They routinely talk to aliens and travel through time. For the heroes, the extraordinary becomes the mundane, but I want my readers to sit back from time to time and think, “Holy cow! That’s cool as hell!”

In the years since Nobody Gets the Girl first saw print, superheroes have become even more culturally dominant than they were. But I hope readers still find it to be a fresh experience, a balanced blend of the everyday and the miraculous, a perfect framework, I think, for understanding life as it truly is.

I’m pleased that Nobody has found a home in the new Modern Magic collection. Hopefully, it will open the door for readers to delve further into my weird and wondrous worlds.

For my excerpt, I going to break from my usual pattern of previewing the first chapter and instead preview something a bit closer to the middle of the book. I like this section because it has most of the major players on the stage. For the good guys, there’s Nobody (our invisible man), the Thrill (Sarah, who can fly and has mind control powers), and Rail Blade (Amelia, who’s ferrokinetic). Also, lots of UN Peacekeepers. Representing the forces of evil are the Panic (an unassuming looking teenage boy who causes panic in anyone who sees him), Sundancer (a woman who controls heat and radiation), and Pit Geek, who’s powers are just too weird to go into now and don’t really play much of a role in this passage anyway. You should also know that the bad guys can teleport away at any time just by saying “exit.” Finally, there’s a whole army of terrorists with stolen tanks, helicopters, etc., showing up to rain death down upon the crowds gathered to celebrate the signing of a peach treaty in Jerusalem.


“LIVE FROM THE Apocalypse!” said the Panic, facing the camera. “Citizens of Earth! Rise up! It’s time to riot in the streets! It’s time to take what you deserve! It’s the End Time, Armageddon, the Great, Big, Final Smackdown! Waaaaa­hoooo!”

Nobody’s stomach twisted in knots. All around him, panicked people were stampeding, trampling those too young or too old to move out of the way. Sundancer rose into the air, flinging glowing balls of plasma at the United Nation guards, who screamed as their weapons melted in their grasps. Pit Geek belched, bringing up a buckle to his lips. He tugged on the buckle, and dragged out a bandolier of hand grenades.

“Crap,” said the Thrill, her voice crackling over the radio. “Trouble. A dozen helicopters just popped up from nowhere. They—shit! Missiles fired! Missiles fired!”

“On it,” said Rail Blade.

In the distance, loud explosions could be heard. “Sarah, get down here and calm the crowd,” said Nobody. “People are dying.”

“Oh no,” said the Thrill. “Tanks. We have tanks moving in on the edges of the Old City.”

“Do what you can with the crowd,” said Rail Blade. “I’ll stop the hardware.”

High overhead, a glimmer of light, a daytime star, grew brighter and larger. In seconds, the image had resolved itself into the Thrill, clad in mirror armor, wielding her glowing sword.

The Panic looked up.

“Ex—” he said, and vanished, just as the Thrill reached him, slashing the air where he had stood. With grim satisfaction, Nobody noted a stream of blood whip from the sword as the Thrill pulled from her dive and shot back into the sky. Apparently, the Panic had been a little slow.

“Think I got him,” the Thrill said, her voice strained. “Felt like I got a solid hit.”

“Watch out!” said Nobody.

Sundancer blazed a trail behind the Thrill, slamming into her back with a hard tackle. The Thrill went into a spin but pulled up before hitting the ground.

“Monday’s pulled out all the stops,” Rail Blade complained over the radio. “Every tank I tear apart, two more pop up. I’ve never seen him use his teleporter so aggressively.”

Nobody wasn’t exactly focused on her words. Even with the Panic gone, the crowd was still going crazy. By now, Pit Geek had strapped on the bandolier and stood on the edge of the stage, lobbing grenades into the mob, laughing.

Nobody raced onto the stage, banging his fists on the treaty table to get Pit Geek’s attention. It didn’t work.

He noticed the treaty on the table. The formal, gold-rimmed parchment had vanished. In its place was a sheet torn from a notebook, with words written in red marker: “Screw it! Let’s just fight!” Beneath it were three neat signatures.

“Doc,” said Nobody. “The clerics. When Monday teleported them, could you follow them? Can you track them?”

“They reappeared beneath the ocean,” said Dr. Know. “They died in seconds.”

The platform shook as though an earthquake had struck. Nobody was thrown from his feet. The Thrill lay beside him, among shattered boards, shaking her head. She still had her shield, but had lost her sword.

“I’m so sick of this bitch,” she grumbled.

Nobody rolled aside as a ball of flame smashed into the Thrill’s shield. The Thrill flew into the air, deflecting another ball of flame, then buzzed over a UN guard who was trying to carry a wounded child to safety.

“A little help here,” she yelled. “Shoot her.”

The guard dropped the child and placed his rifle to his shoulder, unleashing a stream of bullets toward Sundancer. Sundancer motioned toward the gun, melting its barrel, causing it to explode in the guard’s hand.

The Thrill swooped in, using the momentary distraction, screaming her best kung fu yelp as she delivered a powerful kick to Sundancer ‘s head. The burning woman spun backward, looking surprised and disoriented. The Thrill pressed forward with her attack, continuing to deliver savage kicks with her metal boots. The boots glowed red hot, but if the Thrill felt any pain, she didn’t show it. Instead, her features locked in an angry grimace as she struck Sundancer again and again.

“Come on, Sunny,” Pit Geek screamed. “Take her! You’re making us look bad.”

Sundancer didn’t have anything witty to say in response. Instead, she crashed to the ground, hard, rolling to a stop on the pavement stones. The Thrill swooped down, continuing her assault.

Pit Geek pulled a pin on a grenade and lobbed it toward the fighting women. It bounced on the stones, and burst open in a loud flash. Nobody ducked and covered his eyes as shrapnel ricocheted around him.

He blinked, trying to make sense of the smoking aftermath. The Thrill had been thrown back, lying still against the pavement, though her armor appeared to be intact. Sundancer was screaming. Her left leg was gone from the knee down, and jets of flame spurted from her wounds with each heartbeat.

“Oops,” said Pit Geek.

Nobody spun around, running toward the filthy bum. Pit Geek didn’t notice him. Nobody passed through him, and turned around. There were grenades on the back of the bandolier as well. Gritting his teeth, he pulled one, two, three pins, then ran. He was knocked to the ground by the explosion seconds later. Pit Geek’s head bounced to the ground in front of him, his eyes blinking wide, his lips mouthing words that Nobody couldn’t make out.

Then, the head vanished.

Looking back, Sundancer was gone as well.

Nobody raced over to the Thrill, who had risen to her hands and knees.

“You all right?” he said. “Are you hurt? Burned?”

She shook her head. “Amelia makes good armor.”

He helped her to her feet.

“No rest for the weary,” she said. She rose into the air, two dozen yards over the platform.

“Listen up!” she said. “Yo! Look at me!”

In unison, the hundreds of people within the sound of her voice stopped their panicked flight and looked to her. “We’ve got a lot of wounded people here. I don’t know how long it will be until help arrives. I want everyone who knows anything about first aid to stay and help those too hurt to walk out under their own power. Everyone else, I want you to leave, slowly! Stay calm, don’t step on anyone, and get to safety. Let’s move it, people.”

A pleased murmur came from the crowd, a chorus of “Great idea,” and, “She’s so clever!”

“Ground zero’s locked down,” the Thrill said, dropping down to grab Nobody. “Let’s see if Amelia needs a hand.”

It quickly became evident that things were even more chaotic outside the plaza. Everyone in the streets appeared to be armed, and firefights were blazing from every window and doorway. A millennia’s worth of frustrations and anger had apparently boiled over, and the ancient buildings of the Old City were slowly being chipped to gravel by the relentless spray of bullets.

“Stop shooting,” the Thrill said, flying low and slow over the streets. “Go home! Be nice!”

She left a small wake of peace and quiet, but the sound of gunfire was still omnipresent.

“It’s hopeless,” she said. “We’re never going to put a lid on this.”

“Don’t say that,” said Nobody. “I signed on as one of the good guys. We don’t give up.”

Ahead of them, a tank flew into the air and disassembled itself, sending its astonished crew screaming toward the ground.

The Thrill darted forward, placing a free hand on one of the falling men, and lowered him to the ground. He stood, staring at her, his eyes wide.

“You’re welcome,” she said.

Then he pulled a pistol and thrust it into her stomach.

He pulled the trigger. His hand dissolved into red mist as the gun disintegrated. The bullet flashed backwards with a loud crack, punching a jagged hole through the man’s chest. With a gurgle, he toppled.

“Don’t show them mercy,” said Rail Blade, sliding up behind them on her gleaming steel beam. “Everyone signed on for this intending to kill or be killed. I say we don’t disappoint them.”

“How many more tanks?” the Thrill asked.

“None. I’ve taken apart over fifty of them. All the helicopters are down. I’ve detonated all the missiles.”

“Then all that’s left are the small weapons,” said Nobody. “It’s down to people shooting people now.”

Rail Blade’s track crumbled to rust, dropping her to the dusty street. “You have no idea how tired I am,” she said.

Nobody knelt beside her, placing a hand on her shoulder. “You’ve done good work. You’ve saved a lot of lives. Maybe we should go. The peacekeepers can get all this under control. Eventually.”

“No,” said Rail Blade. She sucked in a deep, long breath. “No. I’m the only one who can stop it. I just need to catch my breath. Just need to think.”

“What—” Nobody cut his question short as Rail Blade closed her eyes. Her body trembled, as if about to explode.

Suddenly, the cacophony of nearby gunfire dimmed.

“I can feel them,” Rail Blade whispered, opening her eyes. “All around me. The guns. I can feel the atoms, agitated and hot. They’re singing to me. Can’t you hear the singing?”

“Um,” said Nobody.

“And I can silence them.”

She breathed deeply once more.

“Triggers snap,” she whispered.

The gunfire lessened further.

“Barrels snake into knots,” she said, sweat beading on her brow. The gunfire grew even dimmer. Angry and confused shouts could be heard.

“Bullet jackets rust,” she said. And all the gunfire stopped. But the shouting continued.

“They… they pull their knives,” she moaned. “So many knives.”

Nobody placed his arms around her as she tried to sit up. She slumped against him, her eyes focused somewhere he would never be able to see.

“And the knives crumble to dust,” she whispered.

Suddenly, even the shouting began to calm. Nobody could see men stepping from their hiding places, looking down at their empty hands, their faces confused.

Rail Blade went limp, her face falling against his shoulder. “It’s over,” she said, quietly. “That’s all I have. It’s over.”

He stroked her hair. “You did fine,” he whispered. “You stopped it. You just stopped the Apocalypse.”

“Wow, Sis,” said the Thrill. “You kicked butt.”

One by one, the confused men in the streets looked at one another, bewildered. Then, with growls, they lunged at each other, fists flying. They lifted paving stones and hurled them with angry curses.

“No,” whispered Rail Blade. “No.”

“Don’t sweat it,” said Nobody. “They can only do so much damage. You’ve stopped the killing.”

“I haven’t stopped the hate,” said Rail Blade, pushing him away. She rose on wobbling legs. “I’m too tired now. I could slap everyone in handcuffs, I guess, but I’m beaten. I don’t care anymore. Let them kill themselves. I’ve done all I can.”

Nobody nodded.

“Don’t beat yourself up,” said the Thrill. “What you did was amazing. You did good.”

Rail Blade’s shoulders drooped. “I’m so tired.”

Nobody looked at the fighting in the streets. In a way, it was comical—the flabby, middle-aged men kicking and cursing, slapping each other like children on a playground.

From the crowd of men, an actual child appeared. He looked to be about ten years old. His features were dark, his eyes red, as if he had been crying. He wore torn, tattered, dirty clothing, and he walked slowly toward them, his eyes focused on the two colorfully garbed women.

Nobody started to point the boy out to Rail Blade, to let her see that her work had possibly saved this boy’s life. Perhaps that would make her feel better. But something about the boy’s eyes made him think differently. They were too hard, too full of hate. The madness that had infected the adults also seemed to be gripping him, though he was too small and powerless for his anger to find any outlet.

He kept walking, until he was only a few yards away. He reached into his coat and pulled out a hand grenade.

Nobody’s mouth dropped open as the boy pulled the pin.


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Beneath the Surface

JenniferStGilesby Jennifer St. Giles

What lies beyond our ability to see and touch? Have you visited a spirit laden battleground? Have you sensed the ghosts in a haunted house? Have you seen an aura of goodness glowing around a person or a place? Have you felt the chill of evil in the air?

If you can answer yes or even a maybe to those questions. Or if you’ve had a different experience with the beyond-our-world mysterious, please share with me here. Whenever I am writing in my Shadowmen Series, paranormal romantic thrillers, I get to dive beneath the surface of life and let my imagination go free. I can explore things we miss in the world around us because of our limited knowledge or narrow perspectives.

In my Shadowmen world, I can explain spontaneous combustion. I can give reason to the violent forces of nature like tornados and hurricanes. I can delve into the different ways the battle between good and evil might play out in heaven and on the earth. I can create my own lore behind warring factions of werewolves and vampires. I can enter the realms of heaven and the depraved recesses of hell. But more than all of these things, I can create a new story about the redeeming power of love—the greatest gift to be given or received.

I love writing and the magic that story brings into people’s lives. I love the connection that story brings to all of humanity. Another aspect of life that lies beneath its surface is the untold story of each person’s life. My grandparents and great-grandparents have passed and never wrote the story of their lives down in any sort of journal or other communication. Their amazing stories departed this world when they did. I will never know the depths of their hearts and the truths of their journeys. Those will forever remain below the surface of life, lost in time. So I always encourage people to write for themselves and for their loved ones. Share your story in life because you matter. No, I am not suggesting every person become a writer. I will explain why in the next paragraph. I am suggesting that every person shouldn’t be afraid to put their own hearts and thoughts and experiences on a page where those treasures can be found and not lost.

touch a dark wolf jenniferstgilesWriting, the creation of story that drives a book or inspires a movie is a solitary, painstaking task. We pull words from our hearts and we figuratively bleed on the page for months at a time to write a book. Not necessarily for any real monetary gain. Very few writers achieve financial success with their efforts. Because even in this digital age where the cost of a book can be relatively low, most people will spend more for a cup of coffee than a book. Writers write because they are compelled to create story. And our reward is learning our story touched another person’s heart, for therein is the true measure of success. So share your appreciation by letting your favorite authors know if they’ve touched you. Give a shout out to their hard work in a review. And if their story wasn’t your cup of tea, then be kind.

Touch a Dark Wolf, book one of the Shadowmen Series, is a quick plunge into a unique world that lies beneath the surface of our own world today. I begin my take on how vampires, werewolves, and otherworldly beings might exist and what role they could play in the battle between good and evil. So even if creatures of lore aren’t your thing and the label of romance makes you shake your head—I won’t tell you that almost every story ever told is a romance at heart—I encourage you to delve beneath the surface of the story and connect to the truths that play out in the series.

Don’t forget to share your beneath the surface experience here.

Happy reading
Jennifer St. Giles/ Jennifer Saints/ JL Saint
Reach me at or on twitter @jenniferstgiles

Link to excerpt.

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2016 Hawthorn Moon Blog Tour is Bigger and Better Than Ever!

The Hawthorn Moon Banner
It’s time for the annual Hawthorn Moon blog tour to celebrate new books  plus share some guest posts, do some fun giveaways and online parties and connect!

The Shadowed PathWhat’s all the fuss about? Well, two new books and more! The Shadowed Path, a Jonmarc Vahanian collection (and the first new book in my Chronicles of the Necromancer series in 5 year) came out June 14 and Modern Magic: Twelve Tales of Urban Fantasy, a 12-book multi-author dark urban fantasy ebook boxed set came out June 1.

(And of course, Vendetta—the second Deadly Curiosities novel and Shadow and Flame—the fourth and final Ascendant Kingdoms novel, are still new!)

Do you need more? I’ve got new upcoming conventions and signings, new short stories and novellas, new giveaways and cool stuff! It’s a week-long party, and my readers get all the goodies!

12-book box setThe blog tour got its name from a holiday in The Summoner, my first Chronicles of the Necromancer book, which took place on the summer solstice. And the name stuck. So–celebrate the solstice with some new books, new insights, and plenty of goings-on!

On June 29, I’m hosting a Facebook Launch Party with a few dozen of my author friends. Plan to show up for some fun conversation, free excerpts and great giveaways!   23 authors are part of the Facebook launch party! That’s Christina Henry, Josh Vogt, Stuart Jaffe, Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Faith Hunter, Michael J. Sullivan, Jean Marie Ward, Nancy Northcott, Jaym Gates, Nicole Givens Kurtz, Vonnie Winslow Crist, Valerie Griswold-Ford, Michael A. Ventrella, Matthew Saunders, Jennifer St. Giles, Samantha Dunaway Bryant, Clay and Susan Griffith, James Maxey, Karen E. Taylor, Eric Asher, Darin Kennedy, Tee Morris, Philippa Ballantine and me! Chat with your favorite authors, meet new authors, and enjoy giveaways, goodies and surprises! Look for times on the party page!

Two awesome Goodreads giveaways for The Shadowed Path and Vendetta now through June 30!

978-1-939704-60-3What’s a blog tour without blog posts? I’ll be a guest on a bunch of blogs throughout North America and Europe over the next week or so–here are some of the sites that are hosting my posts! Check on Twitter, because I’ll add links to the posts as they go live. Some also include excerpts and giveaways!

No More Grumpy Bookseller
Fantasy Book Review
Romance Bandits
SFF World
Geek Mom
Ragnarok Publishing
Beauty in Ruins
Fantasy Book Critic
I Smell Sheep
We Geek Girls
Bryan Thomas Schmidt’s blog
Night Owl Reviews
Magical Words
Disquieting Visions
Sci Fi Bulletin
Mighty Thor
Civilian Reader
SciFi Now
Solaris Books
Fantasy Faction
Jennifer Brozek’s blog

That’s what’s coming up–you won’t want to miss a thing! And if you want to catch up with me live and in-person at a convention or signings, check out my schedule on the events page.
See you at the online party!

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The Shadowed Path is Out! New Chronicles of the Necromancer Book!

The Shadowed PathThe Shadowed Path, the first new Chronicles of the Necromancer book in 5 years, is now available in print and ebook!  It’s Jonmarc Vahanian’s back story, how he came to be the embittered warrior readers met in The Summoner, and provides eleven sequential short stories (including an exclusive story not available anywhere else) that tells the first portion of his history.

Here’s the scoop: Jonmarc Vahanian was just a blacksmith’s son in a small fishing village before raiders killed his family. Wounded and left for dead in the attack, Jonmarc tries to rebuild his life. But when a dangerous bargain with a shadowy stranger goes wrong, Jonmarc finds himself on the run, with nothing ahead but vengeance, and nothing behind him but blood.

978-1-939704-60-3Soldier. Fight slave. Smuggler. Warrior. Brigand lord.  If you’ve met Jonmarc Vahanian in the Chronicles of the Necromancer and Fallen Kings Cycle books, you don’t really know him until you walk in his footsteps. This is the first segment of his journey.

Order here and read an excerpt!

And check out Modern Magic: Twelve Tales of Urban Fantasy, the new 12-full book, 12-bestselling author ebook boxed set that includes my can’t-get-it-anywhere-else collection of Deadly Curiosities short stories, Trifles and Folly—all for $1.99 for a limited time!

12-book box setDark fantasy tales from modern masters of Urban Fantasy, including: Jeanne Adams; Erik Asher; Christopher Golden; Rick Gualtieri; John G. Hartnessr; Stuart Jaffe; Julie Kenner; Nicole Givens Kurtz;  James Maxey;  Jennifer St. Giles;  Karen E. Taylor; Thomas E Sniegoski—and me!

Grab it here, only on Kindle!

That’s what’s coming up–you won’t want to miss a thing! And if you want to catch up with me live and in-person at a convention or signings, check out my schedule on the events page.

The June short story will be late! With luck, I’ll have two new short stories or novellas in July to make up for it!

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Modern Magic, Gaslight and Unlikely Heroes

Are you ready for summer reading? I’ve got some suggestions for you!

12-book box setFirst of all, check out Modern Magic: Twelve Tales of Urban Fantasy, an ebook boxed set exclusively on Kindle for a limited time. I’m talking about 12 book-length works by authors (including me) who know their way around the dark side, who can put a shiver down your spine and who dream up stories to give you nightmares. It’s a walk on the wild side, into the shadows, where things go bump in the night and the hour of the wolf never ends.

You don’t even have to sell your soul to get this deal. Just $1.99 only on Kindle, only for a limited time,

It’s the ONLY place to find Trifles and Folly, the first-ever collection of the initial 10 Deadly Curiosities Adventures stories with Cassidy, Teag and Sorren, all in one volume!

Here’s what’s included in Modern Magic:

THE TENTACLE AFFAIRE: A Slip Traveler Novel by award-winning and RT Recommended bestselling author Jeanne Adams–He doesn’t believe in aliens. She doesn’t believe in magic. They’re both wrong.

DAYS GONE BAD (Vesik, Book 1) by Eric Asher – An urban fantasy about a necromancer and his vampire sister. And chimichangas.

THE NIMBLE MAN by New York Times bestselling author and Stoker Award winner Christopher Golden, first book of The Menagerie series. They are beings of myth and legend. They FC JONMARC COLLECTIONpossess powers beyond imagining. They are our only hope.

BILL THE VAMPIRE (The Tome of Bill, part 1) by Amazon Top 100 author Rick Gualtieri – Bill Ryder was a dateless geek, but then he met a girl to die for. So he did.

HARD DAY’S KNIGHT – by award-winning author John Hartness– A pair of comic book nerds get turned into vampires, and now they have to save the world. The world is so screwed.

SOUTHERN BOUND (Max Porter, Book 1) by Top 100 Kindle author Stuart Jaffe – When Max Porter discovers his office is haunted by the ghost of a 1940s detective, he does the smartest thing possible — starts a detective agency.

TAINTED by New York Times bestselling author Julie Kenner—In the demon world it’s sometimes hard to tell your ally from your enemy… 

978-1-939704-60-3THE SOUL CAGES: A Minister Knight Novel by Nicole Givens Kurtz -Sarah risks everything to save her soul and be reincarnated back into flesh. Now, the real adventure begins…

TRIFLES AND FOLLY (Deadly Curiosities Adventures) by #1 Kindle Top 100 bestselling author Gail Z. Martin – A Charleston, SC antique store is the cover for a coalition of mortals and immortals who have sworn their lives and magic to saving the world from supernatural threats and cursed relics.

NOBODY GETS THE GIRL by 2016 Piedmont Laureate and award-winning author James Maxey — The fate of the free world is at stake as the superhuman battles escalate, wiping entire cities from the map, threatening the survival of all mankind. Who can save us from the looming apocalypse? Nobody!

TOUCH A DARK WOLF (Shadowmen Book 1) by USA Today bestselling author Jennifer St. Giles–Poisoned by evil, Jared fights to save Erin before the murderous darkness in him claims them both .

CELLAR  by Bram Stoker Award-nominated author Karen E. Taylor– If Laura Wagner’s inner demons don’t get her, the real ones just might…

So load up on your beach reading in one easy ebook boxed set for less than the price of a cup of coffee! Pre-order now and be first in line when it goes live June 2!

G&GRed-Gold LeafNow if you still like a good bedtime story, check out Gaslight and Grimm, a collection of Steampunk fairy tales including one by Larry and me, The Patented Troll, which is our clockwork retelling of the story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff. With tales by James Chambers, Christine Norris, Bernie Mojzes, Danny Birt, Jean Marie Ward, Jeff Young, Gail Z. and Larry N. Martin, Elaine Corvidae, David Lee Summers, Kelly A. Harmon, Jonah Knight, Diana Bastine, and Jody Lynn Nye. Order here:

Unlikely HeroesReady for some Unlikely Heroes? If you’ve heard me read from the story about the lady in the parking lot having a really bad day, this is for you. The Breaking Point, A mother has one of the worst days ever as everything seems to go against her until she finally snaps and takes charge. In Windows on the Soul you meet an unusual superhero, they call her in when they want to minimize collateral damage. She’s not showy and won’t be on the evening news but she’s the one the other superheroes fear and avoid. Finally you meet Old Nonna, part legend, part myth, no one likes to speak of Old Nonna out loud but they know she’s there – waiting for those who need to find her.  Grab it here:

And coming June 14, the first new book in the world of The Summoner (Chronicles of the Necromancer), The Shadowed Path—a collection of the first 10 Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures short stories PLUS an exclusive 11th story you can ONLY find in this collection. The Shadowed Path will be available in PRINT as well as ebook, so for everyone who’s been asking for dead-tree edition Jonmarc stories, here it is! Pre-order here:

How do you like to connect with authors at conventions? Answer my May survey and let me know! Plus, you’ll be entered for a chance to win 4 ebook short stories!

And don’t forget to catch up with Gaslight and Grimm authors David Lee Summers and JeanMarie Ward on my blog, and with more authors on the blog!

I’ll be at a bunch of summer conventions, and holding launch parties at many of them. Watch for a Modern Magic/The Shadowed Path room party at Balticon on Saturday night, plus I’ll be part of the Gaslight and Grimm launch party on Sunday. Larry and I will both be at ConCarolinas and Congregate, and I’ll be at Origins Gaming Fair as well. Hope to see you soon!

And don’t forget—The Shadow Alliance is my street team of awesome readers who get insider information, extra contests and giveaways and lots of fun, and help me boost the signal about new books. Come play with us—it’s free!

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Q&A with Jean Marie Ward

JMWard-WRW150What is the title of your newest book or short story? What’s it about? Where can readers find it?

My next release will be “The Clockwork Nightingale” in the Steampunk fairy tale anthology Gaslight and Grimm, coming from eSpec Books in May 2016. It’s currently available for pre-order at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and your local bookseller. Starting at Balticon, which will be held in Baltimore over the Memorial Day weekend, you’ll also be able to buy it directly from eSpec Books at selected SF/fantasy cons.

How did you choose to become a writer?

It happened so early, I’m not sure it was a conscious choice. Part of it was my parents’ love of reading and the scope of things they read me at bedtime—everything from army regulations to Greek mythology to Shakespeare. Part of it was certainly my dad’s unrealized literary ambitions. He was a born storyteller, but he never got the chance to write professionally. In any event, I started inventing my own fairy tales before I hit kindergarten. I wrote a play about the theft of Thor’s hammer in fourth grade. Then I discovered Brenda Starr in the newspaper and Lois Lane in the comics, and my fate was sealed.

What’s your favorite part of writing a new book or story?

Seeing all the parts of a shiny new story come to life in my head.

What do you like the least?

Trying to get all that shiny on the page. Somehow, it never reads the same as they did in my head. In addition, as I’m slogging my way toward “The End”, I always reach a point where I’m sure my current effort is the worst story ever written. It’s so bad, somebody’s going to sneak into my house in the middle of the night and take away my writer card. And maybe my cat.

They haven’t succeeded yet, but I suspect it’s only because the cat hides from strangers.

What inspired your new book or story?

Equal parts desire and desperation. I knew I wanted to write a story for Gaslight and Grimm from the moment I heard about it. Unfortunately, my first choice for a story had already been taken…and my second…and my third. Then co-editor Danielle Ackley-McPhail said she was open to classic fairy tales from other sources, at which point my wayward brain proposed setting Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Nightingale” in a frontier saloon, complete with bare-knuckle bullies, love-struck engineers and a singer with a diamond heart. Somewhere along the way a little Casablanca crept in there, too. I’m still not sure how that happened.

How do you research your stories?

Like a sponge—no kidding! Once I have a vague idea of the story I want to write, I’ll grab everything that looks fun or useful from the internet, my local library, TV, radio, the movies, my bookshelves and local color. I take notes and photos, assemble electronic and hard copy files. I’ll even draw maps. Then I’ll start writing, discover I’ve missed something, and back to the books and Internet I’ll go. I won’t say research is the best part of writing, but sometimes it comes close.

Where can readers find you on social media?
Twitter: @Jean_Marie_Ward

Jean Marie Ward writes fiction, nonfiction and everything in between, including novels (2008 Indie Book double-finalist With Nine You Get Vanyr) and art books. Her stories appear in numerous anthologies, such as The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity, The Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs. Aliens, and Tales from the Vatican Vaults. The former editor of Crescent Blues, she co-edited the six-volume, 40th anniversary World Fantasy Con anthology Unconventional Fantasy and is a frequent contributor to Her website is

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Making a Connection to Fairy Tales via Steampunk

Steampunk-Dave-2-150by David Lee Summers

Grimm’s Fairy Tales were among the first stories I remember hearing.  My grandmother read me such stories as “Hansel and Gretel,” “The Elves and the Shoemaker,” and “Rumpelstiltskin.”  Among the first movies I saw were Disney’s Snow White and Cinderella.  Of course, I can’t forget The Bullwinkle Show whose “Fractured Fairy Tale” segments featured delightfully twisted versions of “The Fisherman and his Wife” and “Rapunzel.”  The problem is, timeless as these tales were, I always felt separated from them by the gulf of time and space.  I grew up in a land with no kings or princesses, much less enchanted fish or cobbler elves.

Fairy tales have a long history. When first told, the people hearing them could relate to the pastoral settings.  Relatives might know characters like those in the stories.  “A long time ago, in a land far away” is a phrase invented to connect those of us who don’t have those experiences back to that distant time.  However, the original audience of fairy tales didn’t need that link.  For all they knew, the time was only a generation or two ago and the land of the story could be just over the hill.  The stories were meant to be relevant to the audience.

My paternal grandfather was a World War I veteran. I inherited the pith helmet he wore in the service.  After the war, he went to work for the railroad during the last years of the steam era.  My maternal grandparents homesteaded in Northeastern New Mexico. They worked on ranches and in a general store, living in the real Wild West.  I spent time on that land as a kid and I’ve ridden on trains pulled by steam engines through the mountains of Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado.  The steam era is not my era, but I feel personally connected to it.

Steampunk is a genre that looks at the not-so-distant past through a magical lens.  Some authors invoke literal magic while others imagine technology taken to such an extreme it becomes magical in its own right.  Either way, it’s easy for me to imagine those steampunk worlds as ones that existed just over the hill from the places my grandparents experienced and shared with me through their stories.  My Clockwork Legion steampunk series which begins in the novel Owl Dance and continues in Lightning Wolves is set in a west inspired by the west my grandparents homesteaded.

G&GRed-Gold Leaf-150When Danielle Ackley-McPhail asked me to pitch a story for the collection Gaslight and Grimm, one of the stories I suggested was a steampunked retelling of the Grimm Fairy Tale, “The Dragon and his Grandmother.”  It was the story of soldiers escaping a terrible war through the aid of a duplicitous dragon. I easily imagined soldiers in pith helmets like my grandfather used to wear.  A huge dragon belching smoke and fire, reminded me of a powerful locomotive and I had a flash of a mechanical monster that could have been.

Steampunking a fairy tale might not bring it completely up to date, but it brings it up to my grandparents’ generation.  I can imagine the stories in Gaslight and Grimm taking place in a world parallel to the one they inhabited.  As a result, those stories give me another connection to my grandmother and allow me to smile again as I remember her telling me those stories.  I honor her memory by continuing the tradition and telling you stories.  I hope you’ll drop by my website at and learn more about the stories I tell.


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New Cool Stuff!

It must be spring, because I’m heading to The Steampunk World’s Fair, followed by Balticon, and then ConCarolinas—you can see the summer schedule at the end. It’s nice to get back on the road and back with the tribe—and I’m hoping you’ll come say hi if you’re heading to one of summer cons.

GZM_Shadow_and_Flame_205x330Shadow and Flame, the fourth and final Ascendant Kingdoms (Blaine McFadden) novel, is out in paperback, ebook and audiobook. Bookwraiths says, ‘a wild ride … never a dull moment!’  Watch book video here  and buy it now!  Shadow and Flame on Audible for the audiobook lovers!

Now about that six year gap in Ice Forged, when Blaine gets sent to Velant Prison … You already know that I cover those years in three Kings Convicts Draft 1novellas: Arctic Prison, Cold Fury and Ice Bound. Now you can get all three novellas in one collection for a special price in King’s Convicts.

Do you like a little Steampunk with your fairy tales? Gaslight and Grimm Journey with us through the pages of Gaslight and Grimm to discover timeless truths through lenses polished in the age of steam. With tales by James Chambers, Christine Norris, Bernie Mojzes, Danny Birt, Jean Marie Ward, Jeff Young, Gail Z. Martin and Larry N. Martin, Elaine Corvidae, David Lee Summers, Kelly A. Harmon, Jonah Knight, Diana Bastine, and Jody Lynn Nye. Our story is a Billy Goats Gruff riff, “The Patented Troll.”

G&GRed-Gold Leaf-150The May survey wants to know the ways you like best when it comes to interacting with authors at conventions! Take the survey and enter for a chance to win a sampler platter of 4 ebook short stories, one from each of our series!

Have you pre-ordered The Shadowed Path? Eyes and Books reviews calls it ‘crammed full of nonstop action, great characters and fast-paced writing! See the review here  and pre-order here.

And I’ve been on a few blogs lately, talking about this and that….

When the End Comes—I share some thoughts with author Juliet McKenna on ending a series FC JONMARC COLLECTION

Anarchy sucks. Bibliosanctum gives me the mic to talk about the end of the world.

Ever wonder about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in fantasy novels? Catch my musings at SciFi Now.

And the Barnes & Noble blog had me on as a guest to talk about how we might never be Aragorn, but on our best days, we might be Sam.

How to find us:

• May 7 Book Festival in Rutherfordton, NC
• May 13 – 15 Steampunk World’s Fair, Piscataway, NJ (Iron & Blood party—Larry will be there with me!)
• May 27 – 30 Balticon, Baltimore, MD (launch party)
• June 3-5 ConCarolinas, Concord, NC (launch party—Double trouble—Larry’s coming, too!)
• June 15 – 19 Origins Gaming Convention, Columbus, OH
• June 21-28 Hawthorn Moon blog tour
• June 14 The Shadowed Path comes out!

Reviewers and media—The Shadowed Path is now on NetGalley. And if you missed getting a review copy for Shadow and Flame or Vendetta, just let me know and I can arrange it.

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When the end is nigh, take another look at your characters’ “victory conditions”

JeMcK-col1-smallBy Juliet E McKenna

Preparing the ebook edition of the final volume of The Aldabreshin Compass set me thinking about the challenges I faced when writing this particular story as well as the wider questions which authors must answer when they’re wrapping up a multi-book series. Because there are some significant pitfalls to be wary of.

There’s a fine line to tread between ‘and they all (eventually) lived (more or less) happily ever after’ and ‘they all came full circle and hit the Reset Button’. The first can and arguably should be satisfactorily achieved, because ending a series with overall failure is hardly rewarding the reader for their time and commitment. On the other hand, hitting the Reset Button treats the reader just as badly, when an entire series ultimately fails the ‘So What?’ test. What was the point in following those characters through all that travelling, learning and struggle if nothing has really changed?

Quite apart from anything else, if your characters have been on a multi-volume journey, whether that’s literal or metaphorical, they’ve been planning for anticipated challenges as well as facing unforeseen threats. Surely they themselves will have changed? Real life, in fiction as well as in fact, is all about emotional growth and learning through experience. And the best fiction is always ultimately grounded in reality.

Which brings us to “victory conditions” which is an expression wargamers will be familiar with. If it’s new to you, it’s most satisfying when it’s far more complex than simply ‘beat the other guy and/or his army’. It can be ‘defeat a certain percentage of his army within a certain timescale’, like Napoleon at Waterloo needing to break the British army before the Prussians arrived. It can be ‘fight the other guy to a standstill’, like the Russians at Borodino who managed to mostly-not-lose-entirely rather than win that battle. That was still enough to mean Napoleon couldn’t force the Czar to surrender completely. Some games offer variations on victory conditions. We’ve been playing the tabletop Firefly game as a family recently, where winning the introductory scenario requires amassing a certain amount of credit and making two key allies. The longer scenarios for more experienced players have far trickier requirements for success.

In real life, as well as in gaming, and in fiction, victory conditions can change. Something I’ve seen time and again in martial arts is a shift in perspective once people attain their black belt. Starting out, every grading and each new coloured belt is generally seen as a rung on the ladder to that ultimate goal of black. That’s the summit of their ambition. However, by the time they’ve reached that level of experience, their understanding has usually developed so that they now recognise a First Dan grade isn’t anywhere near the end of their journey. Rather that achievement marks the point where they’ve laid a sufficiently solid foundation of skills and knowledge to appreciate the far deeper and more complete learning that’s still to come.

All this informs my writing. As the Aldabreshin Compass series begins with Southern Fire, the central character Kheda, warlord and absolute ruler of a tropical island realm, faces vicious invaders backed by brutal sorcery. In subsequent books, he realises that was merely the first of successive challenges stemming from all this upheaval. In Northern Storm, fighting magical fire with fire is not so easy when wizardry of any kind is forbidden in the Archipelago on pain of death. Add to that, in a feudal society full of rivalry and intrigue, there will always be those who’ll pursue their own, short-term advantage over and above any commitment to the greater good.

Such behaviour may be contemptible but those people can’t be ignored, by characters and authors alike. Turn your back and they’ll be sure to stab you between the shoulder blades. So keep your eye on them, and take a good hard look at their own victory conditions while you’re at it. Working out what they ultimately want may well show you the key to defeating them. Ideally achieving your own victory in ways that readers won’t be expecting at all, because the all-too-easily predictable end to a story is another writerly pitfall lurking at the end of a series.

Kheda’s journey is both literal and metaphorical throughout these books. He travels the length and breadth of the Archipelago as well as voyaging to an unknown land far beyond in Western Shore. Along the way, he meets new people and new ideas which profoundly alter his world view. he’s a very different person by the time Eastern Tide sweeps him back to more familiar waters. His personal victory conditions have become something very different indeed.

Northern Storm-smallWhile he’s doing all this, life for everyone else left behind goes on. All those people are still pursuing their own victory conditions. This highlights another fatal flaw of any ‘Hit the Reset Button’ conclusion. A realistic scenario will simply not allow for characters returning to easily slot back into holes and roles in other people’s lives which have been waiting for them, unfilled. Characters having to fight physically or emotionally to regain their former place can work but that’s another story.

Will Kheda achieve his new ambitions? You’ll have to read the books to find out. If you want to get a taste of these stories first, you can find the opening chapters via my website, along with some short stories about some of those characters getting on with their own lives while Kheda’s away.

Juliet E McKenna is a British fantasy author, living in the Cotswolds, UK. She has always been fascinated by myth and history, other worlds and other peoples. Her debut fantasy novel, The Thief’s Gamble, first of The Tales of Einarinn was published in 1999, followed by The Aldabreshin Compass sequence and The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution. Her fifteenth book, Defiant Peaks, concluded The Hadrumal Crisis trilogy. She writes diverse shorter fiction ranging from stories for themed anthologies such as The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity and Tales from the Emerald Serpent to a handful of tales for Doctor Who, Torchwood and Warhammer 40k.  Exploring new opportunities in digital publishing she wrote a serial novella The Ties that Bind for Aethernet e-magazine and her Challoner, Murray and Balfour: Monster Hunters at Law short stories are now available in an ebook edition from Wizard’s Tower Press. She also reviews for web and print magazines and promotes SF&Fantasy by blogging, attending conventions and teaching creative writing. Learn more about all of this at



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