Making the Magic Work: Epic Fantasy and Urban Fantasy

by Gail Z. Martin

Epic fantasy is medieval, full of sweeping battles, world-altering conspiracies, and the rise and fall of kingdoms and civilizations, reminiscent of real history and yet altered. Urban fantasy brings the supernatural into something akin to our own world, recognizable and familiar but with key–dangerous–differences.

Magic is the most important of those differences and alterations. But while magic is present in both urban and epic fantasy, the magical systems, its invocation and use are often handled differently, and its practitioners treated differently between the two types of fantasy. Those differences are a key part of the world building, and the treatment of magic helps to define both the world and the characters.

Think about magic in an epic fantasy setting, and most people picture a wizard like Gandalf–robed, larger than life, with wild hair and a staff, casting lightning bolts and working spells. Part of that draws on the medieval setting. Lots of people wore what we would now call ‘robes’, especially if they held a priestly or expert role–like a wizard, who was scholar, alchemist and mage, perhaps even a conduit for divine power.

Magic in epic fantasy is heavily liturgical, couched in elaborate spells and rituals with powerful relics and arcane materials. Grounded in a time when science was alchemy and superstition rivaled rationality, epic fantasy magic feels grand and elaborate. Magic might have been frowned upon by religious authorities, feared by kings, or sought by devotees, but it was not alien to the understanding of how the world functioned, was not antithetical to the foundations of the wide-spread belief systems. Magic in epic fantasy might be rare or common, hidden or openly practiced, but its existence was not unbelievable, nor did the possibility of it seem counterintuitive to the people of the time. For medieval thinkers, it wasn’t a stretch to believe magic was possible; they questioned whether it ran counter to morality and divine decree.

Magic in urban fantasy still has aspects of mystery, ritual and lore. After all, magic and the supernatural are all about the boundary with the unknown and the hidden. Yet in urban fantasy, the people wielding the power are our contemporaries, products of the modern world, as much a product of science and culture as the reader and the author. Using magic for a modern practitioner requires being able to set aside contemporary presuppositions about what is and isn’t ‘real’ or possible. It’s less of a religious objection than a scientific one, the sense that it shouldn’t be possible to set aside or alter the laws of physics. Invoking magic in urban fantasy may draw on ritual, relics and lore but those elements are handled through the lens of modern rationality, not superstition.

And for the record, magic in a steampunk world draws on the Victorian sensibility that everything was ultimately knowable, and that science could conquer everything–even the supernatural, or at least explain it and reduce it to a knowable system.

I write epic fantasy, urban fantasy and steampunk. The magic is different among the genres in important ways, and yet much about the power and its use and costs remains similar.

In my Chronicles of the Necromancer/Fallen Kings Cycle epic fantasy series, necromancy and blood magic are two ends of a spectrum separated by the ethics and intentions of the practitioner. The magic of the nomadic Sworn is shamanistic, while the Nargi priests attribute their magic to their dedication to the Crone aspect of the Sacred Lady and are sure all other magic is infernal. Magic is a force of nature that some people can tap into and control. It is known and accepted, but most people do not have any ability, and necromancy is the rarest magic of all.

In the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga epic fantasy series, a devastating war destroys two kingdoms and knocks out the artificially-imposed control over magic, leading to massive destruction as wild magic causes deadly storms and opens portals for monsters to come through from other realms. The loss of the ability to control magic in a magic-dependent culture where most people have at least a little talent wrecks havoc on an everyday scale as well. Hero Blaine McFadden must not only gain military control to regain order, but also reimpose the binding on magic to save his people.

Switch to my dark urban fantasy series, Deadly Curiosities, and modern-day Charleston, South Carolina is a hot spot for supernatural perils. I draw on a variety of magical traditions including Voodoo, Hoodoo, Native American, old Norse and European magic, with a main character who can read objects by touch and supporting characters with a variety of supernatural abilities. It’s our world, with a twist, and the characters believe in the supernatural because they have seen and experienced its reality. Ritual and lore are often part of focusing concentration and harnessing power, but magic is not superstitious or necessarily an issue of religious faith; it is grounded in its own rules and systems.

And then there’s the Steampunk series, Iron & Blood, with the ever-optimistic Victorians who relish exploring the unexplained. Science and magic are at odds as the old ways and the new sensibilities vie for dominance, but beneath it all is Victorian rationality, the belief that the truth is out there. Inventors like Edison create machines to record the voices of the dead, while Nikola Tesla harnesses energy in ways that put wizard lightning to shame. It’s a brave new world, but it straddles both old and new ways of thinking, and the tension between those realities is part of the fun.

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Top Down, Bottom Up–The View Depends on the Perspective

by Gail Z. Martin

Same kingdom, different perspective. And what a difference that makes.

In The Summoner, the first book of my Chronicles of the Necromancer series, main character  Tris Drayke survives assassins sent by his half-brother, Jared, who has implemented a palace coup, killing all of the rest of the royal family except Tris. When Tris and three friends escape, Tris discovers quickly that as the youngest son of the king, he knows little of practical value and even less about survival outside his sheltered existence.

Since Tris is the focus of the Chronicles books, much of that story is seen through his eyes as he gains a whole new appreciation for the reality of the lives of the common people of Margolan, and experiences first-hand the Usurper’s iron-fisted rule. The lessons are humbling and hard, but they make him the king he will eventually become.

Jonmarc Vahanian is both bodyguard and unwilling mentor, becoming a loyal friend and unintentional king-maker. In The Shadowed Path, my newest release from Solaris Books and the first new book in the Chronicles/Fallen Kings series in five years, we find out the details of Jonmarc’s back story and the journey that makes him the bitter, scarred, smuggler and former mercenary we meet in The Summoner.

Jonmarc knows the hardscrabble life of the Margolan commoner from personal experience. His family was comfortable in their small fishing village, with a father who was a blacksmith and a mother who was a weaver. When his family was murdered, Jonmarc found himself alone and running from dangerous enemies from the age of fifteen. He learned how to survive on his own and navigated the underbelly of the kingdom, the taverns frequented by cutpurses and assassins, the grungy inns that provided havens for mercenaries and brigands. He made his first kill in self-defense the night his family died, and learned his sword skills fighting for his life against sell-swords twice his age.

In The Shadowed Path, through Jonmarc’s eyes, we see a very different view of Margolan than the one Tris Drayke knew or recognized. Not only do we see the kingdom differently, but we also see characters differently as we meet them under very different circumstances in a prosperous kingdom under a sane and enlightened king, long before the dark times of the Usurper.

I started writing Jonmarc’s back story several years ago as sequential short stories, released individually, that add up to several serialized novels. The first 18 stories are currently out, with several novellas yet to come. Solaris Books wanted to do a collection of the first 10 stories plus commissioned an exclusive eleventh for the book, and of course, I said ‘yes’.

Readers who remember the books will recognize the milestones. I intended the stories to trigger strong deja vu for fans of the series. If you’ve read the books and certain junctures don’t make you want to yell a warning, you aren’t remembering the details!  For those who haven’t read the books, The Shadowed Path is a perfect starting point. Either way, events in the books will have a whole new meaning once you’ve read the collection and the additional short stories.

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Coming Home Again: Returning to a Series When You’re Not Who You Were

by Gail Z. Martin

The Shadowed Path is the first book-length return to my world of The Summoner, in my Chronicles of the Necromancer series, in five years.  That makes it a homecoming of sorts, and coming home after a journey is both comforting and a time for a little introspection. Because while home is familiar, neither you nor home ever stay the same.

My new book, The Shadowed Path, is a collection of eleven Jonmarc Vahanian Adventure short stories, ten that have been previously released and an exclusive eleventh story only in this volume.  They are the first third of Jonmarc’s backstory, sequential stories that were written as a serialized novel, and something of a prequel to The Summoner.

I started bringing out Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures short stories a few years ago, wanting to share the story behind the character who is a favorite of many readers. We get glimpses of Jonmarc’s past in the Chronicles and Fallen Kings books, but not the full tale, and I figured it was time to fix that. After I’d written quite a few of the stories, Solaris asked to do a collection of the first ten plus an exclusive extra story, and of course, I said yet.

Thomas Wolfe said, “You can’t go home again.” Actually, you can, but don’t expect it to be the same. Both you and the people back home have changed, so home will not be the same place you left. Technically, even if you stayed, change would have still continued, but you would have been part of that change, instead of coming back and trying to merge with a stream that has moved on in its own way, even as you changed too.

We all experience this situation when we decide to re-read a book that spoke to us when we read it at a certain age, only to find that it reveals layers of new meanings and nuance to us at a difference point in our lives. Or we discover that a beloved or familiar song or a movie had a deeper, different theme than we realized because we didn’t have the life experience or cultural reference points to understand.

I wrote the first draft of what eventually became The Summoner when I was in college. I was 19, the same age as my main character, Tris Drayke. I worked on the book through many, many revisions, and both Tris and the plot changed dramatically. I finished college, went to grad school, got a job, got married, had kids, moved, changed jobs, and continued to work on the book when life permitted. In 2007, when I was 45, the book became an overnight success. Go figure.

Over the years that it took to bring The Summoner to life, the character and plot certainly changed and evolved, but there’s still an aspect of innocence to Tris in those first books that remains from who I was when I first wrote the story that I think would be harder for me to recapture it now. I’ve gone from being the same age as my protagonist to having kids the age of my heroes, which is one hell of a perspective shift.

I’m still writing about characters who are at an age when all the heroic action comes naturally (and the damage heals faster) and who have the invincibility and energy of people in their twenties and early thirties. But over the years, those characters have grown more world weary and knowing. By The Dread, Tris has shouldered the weight of the world with the burdens of kingship, and while Jonmarc achieves a redemptive arc, Tris heads toward a future where dark omens still loom. Blaine McFadden’s series, the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, is much darker and grittier, post-apocalyptic medieval, with characters who have already survived both family trauma and hellish conditions. In Iron and Blood, several key characters are military veterans who saw action during the Rancher Wars, and others are reeling from personal loss. And in Deadly Curiosities, Cassidy’s innocence is an early casualty as she learns the secrets behind the family business she has inherited and its real role in eliminating supernatural threats and saving the world.

Since I’m not 19 or 23 or 25 anymore, I can view those characters not only through the lens of my own remembered self, but also now by watching my kids and their friends and significant others, asking myself how they would handle a situation, what choices and alternatives might occur to them given their perspective and life experience. And in subtle ways, that changes how I understand the characters, how the characters make decisions, and how they process the repercussions. I know more about choice and ramifications than I did when I was younger, about good intentions and the road to perdition and unintended consequences, about preparation and sheer damn luck–good and bad. And I grasp now in a way I couldn’t back then, bone deep, that sometimes bad things happen to good people, and sometimes grace smiles on the unworthy and valiant, and that the greatest heroism lies in surviving.

The world has changed as well. I started the book that became The Summoner in the last years of the Cold War, before the Wall fell. Wars between kingdoms felt familiar, because war between superpowers was always looming in the background. Then 9/11 happened, and the American mind finally grasped what the rest of the world had lived with for a long time, the idea of free-floating, constant insecurity and vulnerability, the fear of a stateless enemy, the existence of amorphous evil with a human face.

I see those changes in my writing, from the conflicts in the first four Chronicles books to the non-aligned threat of The Dread, to the warlords and nomadic raiders of the Blaine McFadden books, to the supernatural terrors of Deadly Curiosities and Iron & Blood that hinge on obsession and vengeance. I guess I’ve been trying on variations of the apocalypse to check the fit.

As Indiana Jones said, “It’s not the years; it’s the mileage.”

My personal world changed too, and that played out through the books. My relationship with my father was painful and complicated. I did not realize until much later that in four series, my main characters’ fathers die tragically. Writing that into the books wasn’t conscious or intentional, but it still managed to surface. I was writing Deadly Curiosities when my father passed away and we cleaned out his house and handled his affairs. Many of the objects from his collection and the storage facility I spent that summer in cataloging and appraising odd collectibles found their way into the books with a few dark twists.

Moving forward, I imagine those changing viewpoints will continue to affect my writing, since we have tie-in short stories and novellas that extend all the series as extra ‘episodes’. For me, it’s a natural progression since the characters themselves need to evolve and change as they experience wins and losses and grow into new phases in their lives. I can already see where those factors affect the new epic fantasy series I’m writing for Solaris, and the characters that are developing there.  I’m very intrigued by the possibility of having characters, old and new, approach their challenges with evolving perspective, even as my readers change through their own life stages and as I experience the shifting perspectives that come with time, constantly changing, but still finding our way home to the things we love.

After everything, we do eventually attempt to go home once more, prodigals all of us. Because as Robert Frost once wrote, “Home is the place that, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

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Epic Fantasy: More Than Just Swords

by Gail Z. Martin

What makes epic fantasy so … epic?

Some of it is scope. Epic fantasy series tend to think big: the rise and fall of kingdoms, the machinations of kings, huge battles, the fate of the world in the balance.

Epic fantasy, almost by definition, tends to be in a medieval setting. Monarchs, walled cities, pre-industrial technology, battles with trebuchets, catapults and … swords.

Swords and sword fights are definitely part of epic fantasy, along with knives, crossbows, longbows and other medieval armaments. If you think that limits the inventiveness of battle, take a look sometime at Leonardo DaVinci’s schematics for war machines. I’ve used some of those machines in conflicts in my prior books, and they were fun game changers.

There’s so much more to epic fantasy though than just the swords. Sure, understanding the battle tactics and weapons that are period-authentic is important for credibility, and necessary in order to be able to write exciting and realistic combat sequences. But battles take place within a larger world, impacted by technology, medicine, magic–or the lack thereof, geography, and so much more.

In order to make an epic fantasy book and series compelling, it has to offer a window on a unique world, to take the reader somewhere he or she has not been before. World-building is a huge part of epic fantasy, because even if some elements are familiar from the real world, essential differences in history, magic, resources and politics provide the core of the story and the setting for the conflict.

Compelling epic fantasy ushers the reader into a world filled with sights, smells, sounds and textures, complex and multi-dimensional. It’s my job as an author to help you find your way around, understand what makes the world unique, experience it for yourself through the eyes of the viewpoint characters.

Those characters are products of their world, and they move through it native-born, forged from its history, politics, losses and conflicts. We understand the world through the eyes of those characters, through the lens of their experiences, through their reactions. The characters would not be who they are if they existed in any other reality. They have been shaped by their environment, and they are uniquely suited to fight and survive because of that.

In order to create a believable epic fantasy world, it helps to be well-versed in our own world’s medieval history. Real world history is a good starting point for insight into the politics, intrigue, battle techniques, weaponry, medicine, lore, superstitions, belief systems and even cooking techniques of a world with technology and scientific understanding on a pre-seventeenth century level.

It requires thinking about everyday life in a time of slow communication, no antibiotics, poor sanitation, travel limited to the speed of horses or a walking pace. It also requires understanding a very different web of human connection than we experience in our modern world. Most people never strayed beyond the village where they were born, and spent their whole lives around the same couple of hundred people unless they lived in a large city. Depending on their social status, they might owe fealty to a lord, or be bound to the land, might be slave or free, and would be obligated to conform to a set of social and religious conventions we moderns find difficult to comprehend.

All of those components are part of what I’ve always loved about epic fantasy, whether it’s as a reader or as a writer. Epic fantasy worlds are as real as our own history, but different thanks to magic and essential shifts in fate and fortune. I studied medieval history in college, and continued that education unofficially ever since, through books and travel. Walking through castles in Wales, wandering ruins in Rome, exploring walled cities in Malta or Croatia made it clear to me that while that history was unquestionably ‘real’, it was also as far removed from my personal experience as the magic-infused worlds of my epic fantasy. It took just as much imagination for me to think of myself navigating the everyday world of those real places as it did for me to think of myself inhabiting my own epic fantasy settings or those of my favorite authors, and that was without factoring in magic.

So for me, all of those elements make epic fantasy compelling. The swords are important, but they’re just part of a larger whole, a world apart, somewhere that reminds us of our own past, but with crucial differences. And magic. Swords–and magic.

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Extending Book Series with Extra Episodes

by Gail Z. Martin

TV shows go on hiatus between seasons, but what do you call the time between when novels come out in an ongoing series? (OK, most of the time, what we readers call that break doesn’t use polite words, but work with me on this.)

I write four different fiction series–two epic fantasy series (Chronicles of the Necromancer/Fallen Kings Cycle and the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga), an urban fantasy series (Deadly Curiosities), and the Iron & Blood Steampunk series co-authored with Larry N. Martin. Lately, I’ve been bringing out a book a year in at least three of the series. But what about the other 11 months between books?

How about tie-in ebook short stories and novellas with additional adventures featuring the characters from the novels for a more detailed, in-depth look at the world and the people?

I started writing tie-in short stories with my Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures, which will eventually be the equivalent of three serialized novels that are prequels to The Summoner, the first book in my Chronicles series. Jonmarc is a favorite character from the Chronicles series, someone who plays a major role, but whose back story is not fully explored in the books. Solaris Books, the publisher of the first four Chronicles books, has now published The Shadowed Path, a collection of the first 10 Jonmarc stories plus an exclusive eleventh story, in print and ebook. There are 18 Jonmarc stories (the equivalent of the first two serialized novels), and I plan to have the last three novellas finished this year.

My Deadly Curiosities novels are dark urban fantasy, set in modern-day Charleston, SC with an alliance of mortals and immortals that battle supernatural threats, fight monsters, and get cursed objects off the market and out of the wrong hands. There are two novels so far in the series, and 18 short stories in my Deadly Curiosities Adventures tie-ins on ebook. The short stories function like extra ‘episodes’ for a TV series, with lots of action and adventure. Modern Magic: Twelve Tales of Urban Fantasy, the new 12-full book, 13 author ebook boxed set, is currently the only place you can get Trifles and Folly, the collection of 10 Deadly Curiosities short stories.

For my Ascendant Kingdoms post-apocalyptic medieval epic fantasy series, the extra novellas fill a six year ‘gap’ at the beginning of Ice Forged, the first book in the series. Something major happens, there is a six year fast-forward, and the main action of the book begins. Readers wanted to know more about the gap, so three novellas–Arctic Prison, Cold Fury and Ice Bound–tell the story of Blaine McFadden’s imprisonment in Velant (collected as King’s Convicts on ebook), with three more novellas to come about Blaine’s years as a colonist on Edgeland. And along the way, readers get to know main and secondary characters better and find out how the key relationships formed that affect the rest of the series.

Iron & Blood, the Steampunk series I co-write with my husband, Larry N. Martin, also have a tie-in series, The Storm and Fury Adventures, which feature Mitch Storm and Jacob Drangosavich, agents with the Department of Supernatural Investigation. Mitch and Jacob are secondary characters in the books, but are the protagonists (so far) in the short stories and novellas, which also add more ‘episodes’ and further explore the alternate history 1898 Pittsburgh and environs of the novels.

Expanding a series with short stories and novellas works for authors and readers. Readers don’t have to wait a year or more before the next book comes out to get more of favorite characters and adventures. Authors create a chance to attract new readers and keep current fans happy with extra, shorter adventures, and create indie-published content that can be used in collections, anthologies and used in promotion. Publishers benefit from increased sales of the original series as new readers find their way to the novels. It’s a win for everyone.

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The Long Road to The Shadowed Path

by Gail Z. Martin

Some stories are a long time in coming.

The Summoner launched my Chronicles of the Necromancer series back in 2007. Right now, there are six novels in that series (including the two Fallen Kings Cycle books that are really part of the same saga). The Chronicles/Fallen Kings books are Tris Drayke’s story, and he’s the main protagonist as he rises from exiled prince and fledgling mage to embattled king and powerful necromancer.

But in those books, an important secondary protagonist, Jonmarc Vahanian, captured the hearts of a lot of readers, and has always been one of my favorites. We meet Jonmarc when he’s twenty-nine, with a lot of hard years behind him, and plenty of scars, both physical and emotional. We get glimpses of his backstory, but not the whole tale. Readers wanted more, and the details were all clear in my mind.

So a few years ago, I started releasing ebook short stories in the Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures, which will eventually add up to three serialized novels about how Jonmarc becomes the man you meet in The Summoner. Solaris Books, the publisher of the Chronicles series, asked to publish the first ten of those stories–and an eleventh story exclusive to the collection–in ebook and paperback as The Shadowed Path. Of course, I said yes.

If you’ve read the individual stories, The Shadowed Path offers that extra eleventh story you can’t find anywhere else. If you were putting off reading the stories because they were only in ebook, the paperback version eliminates that obstacle. If you’ve read the Chronicles series, think of The Shadowed Path and the other short stories as a prequel. (There are also eight additional individual stories beyond those in the collection available online with more to come.) And if you haven’t read the series, The Shadowed Path is a great place to start, knowing you can dive in deep with the books when you’re done.

It’s been interesting coming back to write in a series after taking a few years off. Maybe it’s true that you never forget your first love, because as soon as I sat down to work on the stories, it all came back to me in a rush. I’m still as passionate about the characters as ever, and the world is still as vivid. (That’s good, because I still have six more books in the series in my head that will get written at some point, picking up after a 17 year break in-world time.)

Since The Shadowed Path begins 14 years before The Summoner, readers not only get a unique glimpse into Jonmarc’s past, but also into the past of Margolan and the Winter Kingdoms in the heyday of King Bricen’s reign. So when Jonmarc runs into other characters who appear briefly in the novels, he’s encountering them at a very different time in their personal history and in the history of the kingdom. In these stories, readers get to see Maynard Linton, the mage Alyzza and even the bounty hunters Chessis and Vakkis from a whole new perspective, gaining a different, deeper understanding of why they act as they do in the book series.

Not only that, but by beginning Jonmarc’s journey at its start, my goal is to make many of Jonmarc’s actions, comments and reactions in the book take on a much deeper resonance. My goal was to show readers the circumstances and situations that forged Jonmarc’s fears and opinions, and the loss and pain that built his walls, as well as the memories and connections that helped him find a path to redemption.

So walk a few miles in Jonmarc’s boots, see the events that forged his nightmares, the battles that gave him his scars.

Soldier. 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 take his journey.

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Terra Incognita—Heading into a new Epic Series

By Gail Z. Martin

I’m very excited to have a new epic fantasy series coming out from Solaris in 2017. I’ve been referring to it as the Epically-Epic Epic Fantasy That Cannot Yet Be Named (or E3F for short) because we haven’t released the book or series names or the concept. Book one is in the middle of edits, so we’re closing in on a final version, and I’ll be starting on book two soon.

E3F marks the third completely new epic fantasy world I’ve created. My goal in developing this series was to come up with something very different from what readers have experienced in my Chronicles of the Necromancer/Fallen Kings Cycle world or my Ascendant Kingdoms Saga world. Likewise, I wanted to go in a fresh direction with the characters, the magic and the approach to religion.

How does a writer return to familiar territory (in this case, the quasi-Medieval epic fantasy setting) and still take the reader somewhere they haven’t been before?

The answer is: look at history. While many kingdoms coexisted in the same time period in real life, they were hardly identical. Their unique history, culture, political structure, religion (and interpretation of that belief system), geography, economic situation and climate all produced very different settings. Dial forward or backward by a few years, and you see more permutations in the waging, winning and losing of wars, exploration, conquering and colonizing of new territory, the impact of plague or political instability, invasion, natural disaster, and other variables that all dramatically affected the nature of the kingdoms, the choices of those in positions of power, and the stressors on the common people.

Those factors are the ‘ingredients’ I take into consideration as I’m building a new epic fantasy world. They determine what day-to-day life is like in the kingdom and surrounding territory, the fears and expectations of the powerful and the commoners, the decisions to be made and the ripple effects of those decisions. Are we coming off several years of stability and prosperity, or a decade of war, famine, poor harvests and plague? Is the king’s position secure, or are there rivals and threats both foreign and domestic? Are the army and the mages supportive of the king, or is treachery afoot? And what big incident is going to upset the status quo and start the plot ball rolling for the action in the book?

In the Chronicles series, the ‘big incident’ was the assassination of the royal family and the rise of Jared the Usurper. In the Ascendant Kingdoms series, it was the night of the Cataclysm, when the world burned and magic failed. In E3F, the incident that sets events in motion isn’t nearly as huge and important, but the repercussions grow into actions that change the course of history, very much in the tradition of the rhyme about how a kingdom was lost for want of a nail.

I can’t say much about the characters in E3F yet, but I will let slip that they’re not royals or nobility. They’re regular people, just trying to get through the day, until a sequence of events magnifies the consequences of their actions. Remember, ‘may you live in interesting times’ is actually a curse.

Stay tuned! We’ll be revealing more about the new series as we get closer to the summer launch!

Let me give a shout-out for #HoldOnToTheLight–100+ Sci-Fi/Fantasy authors blogging about their personal struggles with depression, PTSD, anxiety, suicide and self-harm, candid posts by some of your favorite authors on how mental health issues have impacted their lives and books. Read the stories, share the stories, change a life. Find out more at www.HoldOnToTheLight.com

Read an excerpt from my Deadly Curiosities short story Redcap http://bit.ly/2eenhgz

A free excerpt from my Deadly Curiosities short story Spook House http://bit.ly/2dH25iy

Creepy! Free excerpt from our Steampunk Storm and Fury Adventures short story Resurrection Day (set in the world of on our Steampunk novel Iron & Blood) http://bit.ly/2efV7nF

Sweet! Here’s an excerpt from my new urban fantasy novel Vendetta set in my Deadly Curiosities world here http://bit.ly/1ZXCPVS

Good stuff! An excerpt from my Jonmarc Vahanian Adventure story Raider’s Curse, part of The Shadowed Path http://bit.ly/12s119H

Check out the book video for The Summoner and The Blood King https://youtu.be/1BaaGqiXqiE

Use your free Audible trial to get my books! Deadly Curiosities is now available! https://amzn.com/B01IITFPZE

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Collections and Obsessions

By Gail Z. Martin

Collections weird me out. Whenever I hear about someone who has the ‘world’s biggest collection of’ fill-in-the-blank, I get a little cold chill down my spine, because dedicated collectors are obsessive, and coming from my viewpoint as a fantasy author, obsession is the root of madness.

Maybe I’m unduly influenced by my father, who was a collector and a hoarder (that’s really a spectrum of the same set of actions, defined by how high your collections are piled and the eye of the beholder). When he died, dealing with his collections took months, and ended up inspiring my Deadly Curiosities urban fantasy series about cursed and haunted objects. Most of the objects mentioned in Deadly Curiosities and Vendetta (as well as the tie-in short stories and novellas in the Deadly Curiosities Adventures) are pieces dad owned which I had to deal with, and some definitely did come with seriously bad vibes. My short story, Collector, even features one of those objects on the cover.

Some of my wariness about collections also stems from the ones I’ve seen donated to museums. The Mutter Museum, the Ripley’s Believe it or Not museums and the Warren Occult Museum are some of the creepiest collections of anatomical oddities, strange phenomena and potentially evil objects. But go through any major museum and you’ll see groupings of ancient objects like Roman curse tablets, Victorian post-mortem photography and memorial hair jewelry, odds and ends purchased as mementos on the Grand Tours of the Gilded Era back when anything could be bought for a price. I don’t claim any psychic ability, but I’ve more than one stood in front of the display case and shuddered, wondering “who thought it was a good idea to bring this stuff home with them?”

That touch of obsession that fuels hard-core collectors is the inspiration for a lot of fictional bad guys, from The Collector in Simon R. Green’s Nightside series to Vincent Price’s character in House of Wax, to characters like Bela Talbot and Cuthbert Sinclair in TV’s Supernatural. True obsession breeds ruthlessness and maybe a few glimmers of sociopathic behavior, the willingness to do anything to complete a collection or obtain a coveted object.

I come back to the concept of obsession and collecting in some of my other series aside from Deadly Curiosities. The Iron & Blood steampunk series, co-authored with my husband Larry N. Martin, features main characters Jake Desmet and Rick Brand whose import company acquires the hard-to-obtain (and sometimes ill-gotten) objects of desire for the Robber Baron captains of industry in 1898 Pittsburgh, along with some of the city’s powerful supernatural denizens. The Storm and Fury Adventures short stories and novellas that extend the series often deal with the ramifications of dangerous and paranormally tainted collections and the madmen behind them. And collecting several high-powered arcane items is an important element of my Ascendant Kingdoms epic fantasy series.

Collections of real-life objects may be a way to preserve history or recreate an emotional reaction with old memories, and most are certainly harmless. But it’s those outliers that give me the willies, and definitely reinforce the warning, ‘look but don’t touch.’

Check out my collections of a whole different sort! Trifles and Folly is a collection of the first nine Deadly Curiosities Adventures short stories, available for the first time on Kindle, Kobo and Nook! The Shadowed Path is a collection of eleven Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures short stories and serves as a prequel to my Chronicles of the Necromancer series—available in ebook and print. And King’s Convicts is a collection of three Blaine McFadden Adventures novellas that fill in a gap of time in Ice Forged from my Ascendant Kingdoms Saga—also available in ebook.

Let me give a shout-out for #HoldOnToTheLight–100+ Sci-Fi/Fantasy authors blogging about their personal struggles with depression, PTSD, anxiety, suicide and self-harm, candid posts by some of your favorite authors on how mental health issues have impacted their lives and books. Read the stories, share the stories, change a life. Find out more at www.HoldOnToTheLight.com

Creepy! Free excerpt from our Steampunk Storm and Fury Adventures short story Resurrection Day http://bit.ly/2efV7nF

An excerpt from Collector, the Deadly Curiosities short story I mentioned above http://www.wattpad.com/story/25330063-collector

Trick Or Treat w excerpt from my Jonmarc Vahanian Adventure short story Raider’s Curse http://bit.ly/12s119H from The Shadowed Path

Hot stuff! Look at my video for Ice Forged and Reign of Ash https://youtu.be/RPXi27GnSO4

Use your free Audible trial to get my books! The Summoner https://amzn.com/B0032COUQS

Read free excerpts from all of Falstaff Books’ new releases! http://bit.ly/2eoLwJu

DoubleDragonSampler#4 http://www.double-dragon-ebooks.com/sample/DDPSAMPLE004.mobi

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The Voodoo and Hoodoo that You Do

By Gail Z. Martin

My Deadly Curiosities dark urban fantasy series of books, novellas and short stories is set in Charleston, SC. Charleston is a beautiful city with a bloody past, one of the oldest cities in the United Sates, and one of the most haunted.

I draw on a broad range of magic in Deadly Curiosities—everything from Cherokee shamans to Voodoo (some practitioners prefer Voudon) mambos and houngans, and root workers along with a secret society of kick-ass Episcopalian priests, witches, a necromancer, supernatural hit men, a paranormal special ops guy, clairvoyants, a psychic medium, and more.

Many of the characters associated with magic are recurring cast members for the series, showing up in both books and throughout the short stories and novellas. Lucinda is a Voudon mambo and Caliel is a houngan, both descendants of Mama Nadedge, a mambo who lived in the 1700s and whose ghost still haunts Charleston’s alleys. Father Anne is an unorthodox Episcopalian priest, a member of the secret St. Expeditious Society, and a friend to the Alliance, always happy to help come kick some demon ass. Ernestine Teller is a root worker and a weaver of sweetgrass baskets. She and her daughter, Niella, use their abilities with Hoodoo to help Cassidy and the team take out the bad guys. These are just a few of the magic-wielding allies that Cassidy, Sorren and Teag call on through the Alliance. You’ll meet more, but I don’t want to give anything away!

In addition to the inherent hauntedness of Charleston, I’ve added a lot of magic and supernatural traditions. Most people connect Voodoo (or Voudon as some practitioners prefer) with New Orleans, but forget that slaveholding families would have moved back and forth between Charleston and New Orleans to visit relatives, or slaves would have been sold between plantations. That makes it reasonable to me that Voodoo practitioners could have been in Charleston, and that their descendants might be there today. Voudon plays a big role in the Deadly Curiosities novels and in a lot of the short stories, and the Loa—powerful spirits—are very active.

Hoodoo (sometimes called ‘conjure’) is another folk tradition with strong African and Caribbean roots that came with enslaved individuals. Hoodoo is particularly well-known in the Lowcountry region of South Carolina and is often referred to as ‘putting a root’ on someone. Practitioners are known as ‘root women’ or ‘root workers’. Spells, powders, rituals and potions abound for blessing, cursing, bringing good fortune or warding off evil.  Conjure workers often deal with attracting love, happiness and wealth, or causing misfortune to someone who did somebody wrong. Even today in the South Carolina Lowcountry, it is no idle threat to ‘put a root’ on someone! You’ll see more of Hoodoo and Voodoo in both Deadly Curiosities and Vendetta and in the ‘extended episode’ short stories and novellas.

Let me give a shout-out for #HoldOnToTheLight–100+ Sci-Fi/Fantasy authors blogging about their personal struggles with depression, PTSD, anxiety, suicide and self-harm, candid posts by some of your favorite authors on how mental health issues have impacted their lives and books. Read the stories, share the stories, change a life. Find out more at www.HoldOnToTheLight.com

Excerpt from my book Ice Forged http://bit.ly/1oCHuNP

Try this excerpt from Collector, a Deadly Curiosities story http://bit.ly/1t8XMy7

Use your free Audible trial to get my books! DeadlyCuriosities https://amzn.com/B01IITFPZE

Enjoy this excerpt from Bad Blood, a Jonmarc Vahanian Adventure http://bit.ly/1uQXtVd

Sweet! An excerpt from Stuart Jaffe’s Southern Bound Max Porter Paranormal Mystery: http://www.stuartjaffe.com/mp-sample/

Double Dragon Sampler #3 http://www.double-dragon-ebooks.com/sample/DDPSAMPLE003.mobi

Spooky! An excerpt from John Hartness’s Bubba The Monster Hunter story Hall & Goats  http://bit.ly/1Lok7PC

Have you seen the Vendetta video? https://youtu.be/u72GIQlBAoU

Read free excerpts from all of Falstaff Books’ new releases! http://bit.ly/2eoLwJu

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Defying Categories

by Gail Z. Martin

Writers, like actors can get pigeon-holed.

If you’re very successful writing one type of fiction, publishers, agents and readers want you to continue to write that same type of fiction, sometimes indefinitely. While it’s great to have ongoing series, most creative people like to experiment, stretch their wings, try something new. Creating a new series that is in the same genre is often an easy sell, because since you’ve succeeded with that genre before, people expect continued success.

But what if you’ve got ideas for other types of stories, outside that genre? Then it can get dicey. Publishers and agents worry about risk. Readers of one genre might not read the other genre. Even your gender might be an asset in one genre and a liability in another. Some genres are considered to be more competitive than others, and certain genres have overall higher sales figures/readership than others. All of those things factor in to potential profitability of a new series, the impact on your track record/reputation, and future opportunities.

Ideally, you want to have the freedom to keep doing what made you successful, while being able to risk venturing into new territory. Some authors achieve this by writing in the other genres with separate publishers, or by working with a small press. Others use indie publishing to bring out series in genres where they haven’t previously made a name for themselves. Still others choose to use a pseudonym, either to separate their sales in one genre from those in another, or by or because they don’t want to confuse readers whose preferences might not cross over. Lingering stereotypes about author gender lead some writers to assume one persona for one genre (like romance) and a different personal for another genre (like suspense). I’m looking at you, Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb.

I’ve been very lucky to have had supportive publishers who have enabled me to write epic fantasy, urban fantasy and steampunk. I’m currently working on new books that fall into the horror, dark urban fantasy and space opera categories. I don’t know whether those will find a home with a publisher or whether we’ll bring them out indie, but they are tales I want to tell. I know up front that not every reader will follow me across the genres, but I believe there will be some degree of overlap, and welcome the chance to develop relationships with new readers.

Writing is about creativity as well as earning a living. If you keep writing the same kind of things without a chance to explore new ideas, you’re likely to get bored, resentful or stale, none of which will do good things for your fiction. So write what you want, and eventually those stories will find a home and an audience. They might not succeed equally, but you’ll learn something in the process, have some fun, try out new skills, explore new place, meet new people. That journey is just as important as the destination.

Let me give a shout-out for #HoldOnToTheLight–100+ Sci-Fi/Fantasy authors blogging about their personal struggles with depression, PTSD, anxiety, suicide and self-harm, candid posts by some of your favorite authors on how mental health issues have impacted their lives and books. Read the stories, share the stories, change a life. Find out more at www.HoldOnToTheLight.com

Excerpt from Caves of the Dead in my Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures http://bit.ly/12s2f4T

Enjoy an excerpt from Coffin Box, one of my Deadly Curiosities Adventures short story http://bit.ly/SDCIjx

Hot stuff! Look at my video for Ice Forged and Reign of Ash https://youtu.be/RPXi27GnSO4

Hey! My Ascendant Kingdoms series is on Audible! Start w Ice Forged here https://amzn.com/B00EP1C1HK

DoubleDragonSampler#1 http://www.double-dragon-ebooks.com/sample/DDPSAMPLE001.mobi

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