Why fandom matters now more than ever

by Gail Z. Martin

Now, when the world feels more hostile and frightening than it has in a long time, I believe fandom (the creators and organizers who enable it, as well as the fans who participate) is more important than ever because when we are afraid, we need our tribes.

It is perfectly reasonable to seek comfort and encouragement from those who share a love for the same stories and our fandom mythologies.

In my experience, fandom shares a deep belief in honor, loyalty, friendship, integrity, courage, family (both family by blood and family by choice), and in spite of apocalypses and dystopias, a conviction that we will survive if we keep faith with each other and refuse to leave anyone behind.

Fandom has also been a shelter for those of us who don’t always fit in out there. We’re different, and we belong together. That means right now many of us feel vulnerable and at risk. Be gentle with each other, support each other, and protect each other.

If you’re a creator, keep telling stories, making movies and shows and videos, writing songs and acting, cosplaying and making art. If you’re a fan, gather your tribe and immerse yourself in the stories that sustain you. If you’re a convention organizer, blogger, site admin, keep bringing us together.

Fandom is fierce. We’ve got the biggest damn BAMF heroes who stand for truth, justice, and most importantly, the idea that humanity’s better self can ultimately prevail. Our heroes are flawed and scarred, they make mistakes and they pay a price, but they do not give up, give in, or give way. They inspire us to find the hero inside of ourselves.

Science fiction and fantasy has a long history of being subversive to tyrants. SF was the language of dangerous ideas behind the Iron Curtain. We speak the truth in myth. There’s a reason so many of our sacred tales are about rebels. We aim to misbehave.

We are the people of Aragorn and Galadriel, of Sam, Frodo and Arwen, of Mal and Zoe and River, Kirk, Janeway, Sisko and Picard. Of Sulu and Spock and Uhura. Of Harry and Ron and Hermione, McGonagall and Dumbledore. Of Captain America, Wonder Woman, Batman and Black Widow. Of Sam & Dean and Team Free Will. Of Frozone and Mulan and Moana (yes, I count Disney as part of fandom). Of Leia and Han and Lando, Finn and Rey, Jyn and Cassian. Sheridan and Delenn. The Doctor and Capt Jack Harkness. We are strong, and we fight for what we believe in, shoulder to shoulder.

So take heart in Aragorn’s speech at the Black Gate. Close your eyes and repeat Paul Atreides’ Litany Against Fear. Be ‘proud of us’. Stand up for what you believe in and stand up for each other. Take your place at the Battle of Hogwarts, or Yavin 5, Sector 001, Stull Cemetery, Serenity Valley, Demon’s Run or the Battle of the Line. We come from a long, proud heritage of people who don’t want to be told the odds.

And if you haven’t read my personal story about how fandom saved my life, it’s here https://holdontothelight.com/…/fandom-takes-care-of-its-ow…/

#AlwaysKeepFighting #HoldOnToTheLight #YouAreNotAlone #FamilyAlwaysHasYourBack #YANA #AKF #FAHYB

Leave a Comment

Filed under Fandom, Gail Z. Martin

Starting a Series from Scratch

by Gail Z. Martin

Nothing is more intimidating than a blank screen or an empty page. I don’t care how many books you write, I’m not sure it ever gets any less scary to sit down and stare at that vast expanse of empty whiteness waiting for your words.

After you’ve got a few books under your belt, you do come prepared to face your fears with foreknowledge. You know it’s going to be difficult to get started, so you spend time mentally crafting your opening scene so you can jump right in. Or maybe you console yourself with the knowledge that you’ve done it before and you can do it again.

Of course you have an outline, and when you wrote the outline, it seemed like a good idea. The publisher signed off on it, so they thought it was a good idea too, and so did your agent. But then you sit down at the computer and that outline suddenly seems anemic. (I can’t speak for the authors who are said to write outlines of the same word count most authors write books. Maybe it’s easier for them, but that’s kind of like writing the book before you write the book, so cheating a little.)

For me, there are several issues that need to be settled as I build out a new series. They are 1) characters; 2) magic and religion; 3) political/economic structure; 4) climate/geography/history; 5) map and location of story action; 6) technology. All of those generally come to me based on the plot. So I’ll usually get an idea for a particular character with a certain kind of challenge/problem/danger. Then the question becomes: In what kind of a world could that happen? How would their world have to work for that to be an issue? How would those threats arise from that world and what would the ripple effects be?

I majored in history, so I know the importance of all the elements that come to a confluence in order for historical turning points to occur or pivotal leaders to surface. So I’ll think through the political situation and think about the rival forces and their competing visions, the economic system and who stands to profit or lose from the Big Problem. I’ll think about how history, myth, religion, magic and culture either support or pull against those trends. I’ll consider the various internal and external factions, what they want, what they stand to lose, and what they’re willing to do to win.

Geography matters, because it determines where roads and cities are built, where trade routes and money travel, where people will be isolated and where there is a natural crossroads. A map helps me keep it all straight. Then I have to go back and reconcile whether the characters and plot I originally envisioned have what they need to move forward in this new world, and if not, it’s back to the drawing board.

Building the world is as much fun as populating it with characters and writing the story. It’s a little like playing God, but without the mess.

I’m not permitted to say much yet about the new series I’m writing for Solaris Books that will come out in 2017 except to call it the Epically-Epic Epic Fantasy That Cannot Yet Be Named (or E3F for short). It’s my third foray into building an epic fantasy world. I’ve done my best to make all of the worlds I’ve created very different from one another in as many ways as I can. So the magic works differently and comes with new rules and a different source. The politics and the backstory are coming from a very different focus. All new gods and a new understanding of religion. Mixing it up keeps it fresh for me as well as for readers. Even though epic fantasy has its tropes (Medieval, castles, monarchies, swords, magic) there are so many ways to play with the details that it never gets boring. And if I need inspiration, real history is nearly limitless in the ideas!

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

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

Free excerpt from my Jonmarc Vahanian Adventure short story Raider’s Curse http://bit.ly/12s119H

Don’t miss out! Here’s the War of Shadows book video video https://youtu.be/DgCgrTto9WY

Use your free Audible trial to get my books! War of Shadows Audible https://amzn.com/B00WAFNG6I

DoubleDragonSampler#7 http://www.double-dragon-ebooks.com/sample/DDPSAMPLE007.mobi

Leave a Comment

Filed under Books, Gail Z. Martin

Which Comes First–Character or World?

by Gail Z. Martin

Ask three writers how they do their worldbuilding, and you’ll get four opinions. Maybe more, if our characters get to give their own answers.

That is to say, there’s no wrong way to worldbuild as long as the final product ends up satisfactory to readers. The trick is to come up with an approach that works for you, that creates a realistically detailed and nuanced setting, and–most importantly–seamlessly and believably supports your plot and characters.

How detailed should your worldbuilding be? That reminds me of the old joke about how long a man’s legs should be–long enough to reach the ground. You want your world to have age and depth and weight to it. It should feel like it’s been thoroughly lived in and hard used, not like one of those false-front fake Wild West villages at amusement parks. Your characters and plot should feel as if they rise organically from your world, as if they couldn’t possibly happen anywhere else or be the same in any other setting.

If you’ve ever traveled somewhere unfamiliar, whether it’s across the state or across the world, it’s the little things that made you aware that you were someplace far from home. The menu choices were unfamiliar. The brands of soda were different. The money looked odd and came in strange colors and sizes. People went about their daily routines a bit differently than back home. Signs are not what you’re used to seeing. All those little details aren’t important by themselves, but collectively they are the stuff of authenticity, and to the extent that you have thoroughly thought these things out, your readers will have a richer, more immersive experience.

I believe that immersion was part of the genius of the Harry Potter books. In a million different little details, J.K. Rowling signaled that we weren’t in our own mundane world but someplace wondrous and frighteningly different. The best books give us enough of these nuanced details that we don’t feel infodumped or overwhelmed but we do grasp that we’ve been whisked away to somewhere new.

As for which comes first, character or world, that’s like the chicken/egg dilemma. If you think hard about the circumstances and experiences that shaped your character, you’ll know a lot about the world he/she came from. And if you build out your world convincingly, you’ll know what kinds of characters arise from its climate, history, culture and society. Start wherever you please; you’ll end up in the same place.

How do you drill down to those details? Some writers like to ‘interview’ their characters, sitting down and having a mental chat with their creations who proceed to spill their guts. I’ve used that successfully. Sometimes, either the world or the character just comes to you full-blown, and you have to figure out the rest around the edges. I’ve also built series that way as well. For me, I want my world to be a character in its own way. For example, in my Deadly Curiosities urban fantasy series, things happen that are quintessentially Charleston, SC so that if the action were to happen somewhere else, it would have to be different. The city of Charleston is woven into the fabric of the story in a way that can’t be undone.

If you’re still struggling with worldbuilding, think about the places you’ve been (or go on a day trip somewhere new) and note the details. Jot them down and pay attention to everything you notice that differs from back home. Now think about how you might pull that kind of nuance into your fictional worldbuilding. It could be easier than you think!

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

Here’s an excerpt from my Deadly Curiosities Adventures short story Buttons http://bit.ly/1v5t9Zf

A free excerpt from my Deadly Curiosities Adventures short story Coffin Box Deadly Curiosities short story http://bit.ly/SDCIjx

Use your free Audible trial to get my books! Ice Forged Audible https://amzn.com/B00EP1C1HK

Try a free excerpt from my Reign of Ash http://bit.ly/1oCEa5j

Leave a Comment

Filed under Books, Gail Z. Martin

Getting Real with Trifles and Folly

by Gail Z. Martin

At the heart of my urban fantasy series Deadly Curiosities is the antique store Trifles and Folly. Trifles and Folly has been run by members of my main character’s family since Charleston, SC was founded nearly 350 years ago, always in tandem with its secret silent partner, a nearly 600 year-old vampire named Sorren.

Trifles and Folly is really a front for The Alliance, a secret coalition of mortals and immortals that eliminates supernatural threats and gets cursed and haunted objects out of the wrong hands. My main character, Cassidy Kincaide, is a psychometric who can read the history and magic of objects by touch.

The books are set in Charleston, SC but the storefront that I picture when I think of Trifles and Folly is in New Orleans, LA, just down the street from the famed Hotel Monteleone. I took one look and knew it was exactly what I had in mind, although I described Trifles and Folly years before I ever visited the Big Easy.

What makes the NOLA store perfect? The storefront appears to date from the 1800s, with black wood, old-fashioned awnings and big windows reminiscent of Victorian style. Two large, ornate carriage lanterns hang on either side of the facade, giving it an elegant but gothic feel. Gold lettering has the ideal old-time feel. Peering through the windows, the inside it suitably gloomy and underlit. It looks like the perfect place to buy needful things.

I grew up going to a lot of antique stores, swap meets, flea markets and yard sales because my dad couldn’t resist them. Most of the stores were dusty and junk-laden, a hoarder’s storage space excused as a business. But then there were the special ones, the ones that sent a tingle down my spine, the ones that I just knew held special–and perhaps dangerous–treasures.

Sometimes those treasures were estate jewelry or old silver tea sets, and other troves were full of clocks, leather-bound books, or vintage clothing. Those stores smelled of dust and mothballs, and hinted at obsession, curated with purposeful madness. They were the dangerously alluring shops where it didn’t seem impossible for an item to harbor magic–or a curse.

I always kept my hands to myself. Some things are best left untouched.

So far, I haven’t been able to take the time to go inside the store in New Orleans. When I do, I assure you that I won’t be handling the merchandise, or making any deals with the owner. After all, I know how these things work.

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

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

Spooky! Free excerpt from my Deadly Curiosities short story Shadow Garden http://bit.ly/2efTfev

Use your free Audible trial to get my books! The Sworn Audible https://amzn.com/B004KSWCEU

DoubleDragonSampler#3 http://www.double-dragon-ebooks.com/sample/DDPSAMPLE003.mobi

Leave a Comment

Filed under Books, Gail Z. Martin

Paths to Publication

by Gail Z. Martin

In today’s market, authors have more choices than ever before on how to bring their book to readers. Traditional big publishers, small press, self-publishing–what’s an author to do?

Each path to publication has pros and cons. There are a few considerations to factor in as you’re looking at options. What do you want out of publishing? If you have your heart set on becoming a New York Times bestseller, that’s more likely for a book put out by a big traditional publisher (and even then, it’s far from guaranteed). Likewise, if you’re hoping to pay all your bills with your advance check, a big publisher is the way to go. Large traditional publishers have national (and sometimes international) bookstore distribution, still a factor with today’s readers. You may also find more marketing resources with a big press, though that is debatable as staff cuts continue.

On the other hand, if you want someone else to handle the details of publication (editing, layout, cover design, some marketing) but you’re not worried about fame, bookstore placement or an advance, a reputable small press could be a good fit. Small presses can put out books of equivalent (or better) quality as large publishers, and tend to invest more editorial time in working with authors. Their marketing clout might not be as substantial, but marketing is an iffy proposition even for large publishers. Bookstore distribution and lack of an advance are the biggest drawbacks, but even big houses are paying smaller advances nowadays and bookstores are not as plentiful as they once were.

If you enjoy total control, self-publishing (also called indie) might be a good fit. Or, if you believe in a book and haven’t found a home for it, self-publishing with today’s online tools and Amazon can still make sure your book reaches the right readers. Self-publishing no longer carries the stigma it used to when the only choices were unscrupulous vanity publishers. A growing number of authors who have enthusiastic fan bases are finding it possible to make a living with self-published books (though it is still not guaranteed, even for established authors). The biggest caveat is that when you self-publish, you are both author and publisher. You write the book, hire the copy editor and proofreader, arrange for the cover art and the layout, handle the audio rights, set up the accounts with Amazon, Nook, Kobo, etc. A lot of behind-the-scenes work goes into bringing a book to life after the writing is done, and the type of work required is not everyone’s idea of ‘fun’. Succeeding with self-publishing takes a lot of effort and attention to detail, but it’s more possible now than ever before.

Most of us pursue ‘hybrid’ careers, meaning that we play in all three arenas. If you can snag a contract and an advance with a big publisher, grab it. If a small press wants to include you in an anthology or bring out a niche novel, do it. And if you want to bring out some series on your own or self-publish short stories/novellas tied in to your series with other publishers, go for it. Working with big publishers, small presses and some self-publishing makes you more resilient to fate, since you don’t have all your eggs in one basket. I’m seeing more and more authors going this route, and it’s the path I’ve personally chosen because it allows the greatest range and ‘security’ in a highly volatile business.

The greatest thing about your writing career is that you get to chart your own way, making the decisions that are best for you and your books. Know your options and then pick what works for you. And be sure to enjoy what you do every day!

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

Enjoy excerpt from Reign of Ash http://bit.ly/1oCEa5j

DoubleDragonSampler#2 http://www.double-dragon-ebooks.com/sample/DDPSAMPLE002.mobi

Check out the Iron & Blood book video! https://youtu.be/MZ_0Zm7OSIY

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

Leave a Comment

Filed under Books, Gail Z. Martin

Researching the Macabre

by Gail Z. Martin

When people ask me ‘where do you get your ideas for your books’, I’m never sure whether they are curious about my writing habits or checking to make sure I haven’t been stashing bodies in my basement. (Silly–we don’t have a basement. We have a crawlspace.)

That’s because I write bloody, scary stuff with lots of dark magic and undead creatures. That holds true whether I’m writing epic fantasy, urban fantasy or steampunk. I love ghosts and monsters, and I’ve always gravitated toward the macabre. Finding inspiration is easier than you might think.

Museums are treasure troves of cool, weird, creepy stuff. When I visit a city, I do my best to go through the local museum. To say that I’m excited about going through a museum like the Metropolitan Museum of Natural History in New York City or the Field Museum in Chicago or any museum in Europe is an understatement. I am *giddy*. I like to have plenty of time so I can read all the little descriptions. Inevitably, I wander into the off-jog room that has the creepy death jewelry or the plague artifacts or the collection of Victorian death photography. It can be best if I go by myself so no one gets impatient as I linger.

Lots of museums are building online exhibits with photos, video, audio and descriptions, so this expands the number of museums I can visit. When I go to a new city, I also like to find the cemeteries and dungeons, go on ghost tours, or the ‘scandals and dark side’ tours. It’s all fodder!

I love to read the blogs and web sites on magic, Voodoo, paranormal research and urban exploration. I’ll read urban legends and news accounts of old tragic accidents or weird occurrences. Sometimes I’ll follow up on something I’ve heard about on The History Channel or A&E and then I go down the rabbit hole clicking links from one fascinating strange thing to another. It’s a toss-up whether I know what I’m looking for or being guided by serendipity, but it always works out. I also read a lot of books on myth, the occult, medieval warfare, and related topics. History is the best source for strange-but-true stuff you couldn’t possibly make up. I’ve found inspiration in Ripley’s Believe-it-or-not collections, living history museums and national parks.

Researching the macabre is easier than you might imagine if you keep your ears open, look for the unusual things tucked away in corners, or ask your guide “did anything really strange ever happen here” or “are there any ghost stories about this place”?  You won’t believe what docents will tell you ‘off the record’ if you ask the right questions! Truth really is stranger than fiction!

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

Steampunk & spooky! Free excerpt from our Storm and Fury Adventure short story Rogue http://bit.ly/2dH4SrR

Hey—did you see the video for The Sworn and The Dread? https://youtu.be/teyvxnIEITg

Use your free @Audible trial to get my books! Reign of Ash Audible https://amzn.com/B00JBD1GRS

DoubleDragonSampler#6 http://www.double-dragon-ebooks.com/sample/DDPSAMPLE006.mobi

Leave a Comment

Filed under Books, Gail Z. Martin

Happy Winterstide!

vendetta-audioBy Gail Z. Martin

I hope however you spend the Solstice season, that you are warm and well.

holdontothelight-fb-bannerOctober and November were a little crazed finishing up the #HoldOnToTheLight campaign—100 sci-fi and fantasy authors blogging about their own experiences with depression, anxiety, PTSD, suicide, bullying, self-harm, suicide and other mental health issues to help fans and show solidarity. You can read all the posts here: www.HoldOnToTheLight.com. The holidays can be a hard time for folks, and hearing how your favorite authors cope or how they, their work and their characters have been influenced may be just what someone needs to hear.

redcapWe were also busy finishing up the first book in the new Epically-Epic Epic Fantasy (aka E3F).  E3F actually does have a name, and a description (no cover reveal yet) and it’s available for pre-order on Amazon (although it won’t be out until July). If you’re curious, or want Santa to reserve it for you, look for Scourge: A Novel of Darkhurst.

And now for something really important! I’m planning to work on books in four new series (with another couple of new series waiting in the wings) and I want to be on top of my game. I need feedback from the people who know my books the best to do that. So I’ve come up with a little survey, and if you complete it, you get a free novella.

Seriously, this is very important to me. I really want to know what you think, and your comments will impact the new books. Thank you in advance. Here’s the link: http://survey.constantcontact.com/survey/a07edk6ld2hiwf37whi/start

Holiday stories are always fun—if you haven’t read Spook House (Halloween), Fatal Invitation (Thanksgiving) and Redcap (Christmas) in my Deadly Curiosities series, now’s a perfect time to enjoy a ‘bloody’ good holiday!

While you’re filling out your list for Santa (or finishing up Santa’s shopping for someone else), don’t forget that all my books except Iron & Blood are available on audiobook! You can even use your Audible free trial!  Here’s the master link: http://www.audible.com/search/ref=a_search_tseft__galileo?advsearchKeywords=Gail+Z+Martin&x=0&y=0

WebAnd if you haven’t already joined my Shadow Alliance street team, you’re missing out on all the fun!  It’s free to join and you get cool stuff no one else does! http://on.fb.me/1ltkpMR

It’s the holiday season of giving, so let’s start with some gifts!

We’ve extended the deadline for free book swag! Goodies from Faith Hunter, Laura Anne Gilma, Jennife Estep and me, for the price of a stamp and envelope. Details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/541375496052205/

swag-2016

HoHoHo BOGO! Buy 2 or more of my Ascendant Kingdoms Epic Fantasy books get a free novella! http://conta.cc/2fJlTUe

Buy our Iron & Blood Steampunk novel, get a free Storm & Fury tie-in novella! http://conta.cc/2epRXwr #BOGO

Holiday spirits! Buy my Urban Fantasy novel Vendetta, get a free Deadly Curiosities novella #BOGO http://conta.cc/2fL3lky

I’m also firming up my 2017 con calendar, so here are some places you can find me next year!

  • Jan 13-15  Illogicon, Raleigh, NC (room party)
  • Feb 2-5 Coastal Magic, Daytona, FL
  • Feb 16-19 Capricon, Chicago, IL
  • Feb 24-26 Mysticon, Roanoke, VA
  • Mar 23-24  AZ Renaissance Festival, Apache Junction, AZ
  • April 1  Library Sci-Fi Festival Shelby, NC
  • May Balticon, Baltimore, MD (launch party)
  • June ConCarolinas, Charlotte, NC (launch party)
  • June 21-28  Hawthorn Moon blog tour
  • June   My FB launch party
  • July, Libertycon, Chattanooga, TN (launch party)
  • July 11—new Epic Fantasy novel launches!
  • July Congregate, High Point, NC (launch party)

Happy Holidays to everyone, whatever you celebrate! See you in 2017!

Leave a Comment

Filed under Gail Z. Martin

In the Dark Hours of the Night–a #HoldOnToTheLight guest post by Charles E. Gannon

holdontothelight-fb-banner

Hold On To The Light is probably advice that all of us c/should live by. But for those whose lives have been harrowed by one or more mental/emotional/behavioral challenges, this phrase achieves the status—and significance—of a mantra. Because in the dark hours of the night, when sleep does not come to draw its blackout curtain across the notional gargoyle-presences spawned by those challenges, the afflicted have only one recourse: determination and raw guts, anchored to the light of a seemingly distant hope, seen at the end of a long tunnel of isolation.

We all have some experience with that outlook. There is no broken heart, no worrisome diagnosis, or pending medical test, that has not cost us a night’s sleep, somewhere along the timeline of our existence. But I dedicate what I have included below to those who daily awaken to the knowledge that they are once again rising into a state of siege: that the adversary cannot be surgically removed or excised, and that their battle is endless, for that foe is always ready to pounce upon any loss of resolve, any sideways stumble, any weakness.

I have seen numerous family members grapple with many such conditions. And if the bestiary of those adversaries is diverse—depression, anxiety, addiction, PTSD, any of the conditions now linked under the unified genera “autism spectrum”, more—these variform demons all evince this dark commonality: that those whom they haunt must live with a weight that they cannot shed. Rather, their victims can only carry the burden with as much determination, strength, and grace as human nature allows.

This excerpt from the forthcoming web-serialized novel The Gathering Storm (with Eric Flint, Kevin J. Anderson, and Marko Kloos), is my brief, awkward attempt to honor all their ongoing struggles in the form of one veteran’s battle with PTSD and addiction.

*     *     *

Opium. Reflex turned Conrad von Harrer’s head toward his battered wooden night table. Resting on the stained top, a cracked and yellowed meerschaum imp adorned the Hungarian-made bowl he had purchased for his opium pipe. His two eyes locked on the imp’s one. If only he could outstare it, then he could reject it. But the meerschaum imp was like the opium; the more one tried to defy it, the more one realized that there was nothing to defy except oneself. It was a game, the type a child plays when trying to trick its own reflection in a mirror.

A honey-thick torpor overcame von Harrer while his gaze was still fixed on the pipe. Time passed and the difference between seconds and minutes—or hours—became indistinct, meaningless. He watched as the imp’s face lost its yellowish glaze, gradually deepened to amber as the sun moved from the center of the sky toward the horizon. The one laughing eye still glared upward: puckish, sardonic, leering. A leer like those worn by the fire-bleached skulls outside Mafeking, Kimberley, and in the ruins of Johannesburg: leers which evoked no mirth, only desolation.

When Conrad’s eyes once again showed him the world of the present, he saw that the last light was fading, giving way to darkness. The orange sun had grown larger and murkier, diffusing itself across the light-smeared horizon. On his first approach to Al Qahira, von Harrer had tarried to sit on the sands at Giza and watch the sunset glaze the pyramids: fading triangles that sat squat and timeless on the horizon. His mind’s eye could still make out the cowl of the sphinx, the faint light limning its supine contours. It was an enigmatic posture, a recline that did not suggest rest but, rather, endless watching. A pitiless gaze which had seen the death of many an age, perhaps many a species. It was easy to believe that such blank eyes had always looked out on barrenness, knew nothing else, could augur nothing else.

Von Harrer let his own gaze slip from the window and back into the room, rolling like a lazy ball from one empty corner to another. His eyes touched the spaces that had once been occupied by his possessions: a lamp with crystal pendants, a little mahogany liquor cabinet, a roll-top desk, and a dresser. Faint shadows on the floor marked their old territories, darker where the boards had been spared the bleaching stare of the sun.

All gone now. All gone to the same place. He turned his eyes back to the meerschaum pipe-bowl. All gone there.

Cravings jumped up at the thought, the sight, of the pipe. The meerschaum eyes laughed, invited: just once more.

He turned away, looked at the bare wall on the opposite side of  his bed. He could still feel that mocking leer boring into his back, the dull ivory eyes promising: you’ll almost forget.

You’ll almost forget the clusters of dart-shaped steel rods that screamed down from nearly twenty miles above Johannesburg, glowing with heat when they impacted, the ground vomiting upward in waves, shot through with flame—right before the blast knocked everything flat.

You’ll almost forget the airships hovering out of rifle range, dropping bomb after bomb, only leaving to get more from Rhodes’ secret arsenals of death, hidden safe behind the British lines.

You’ll almost forget the endless litter of civilian dead on the retreat back through what was left of Johannesburg, particularly the children, their little bodies blown apart by the concussive forces, their little heads—blonde, brown, and black—rolled up against walls or into ditches like those of decapitated dolls.

You’ll almost forget the defeat, the camps, the dysentery, the hunger, the vengeful African guards and, finally, the stumbling silhouettes of the internees who were evicted due to disease or frailty. Within the first one hundred yards, each one unfailingly attracted a loping cluster of cape dogs or jackals, whose patience was invariably rewarded by a taste of human flesh.

But opium’s promise of forgetfulness was a lie. The memories never evaporated; they were simply disordered. Even when his head was filled to the point of nausea with the musk-sweet fumes, visions of the past always trespassed upon the present. But instead of complete scenes of the so-called Greater Boer Insurrection, they came as splintered flashes of carnage, each image frozen onto a shard of the shattering mirror that was his mind, his memories.

*     *     *

For those interested, The Gathering Storm is set in 1903, but in a world where a single alteration of physics—that the Michaelson-Morley experiment at Carnegie Mellon did in fact detect the expected existence of aether—began changing history in the 1880s. The aether-assisted air-craft and even space-craft changed history in this universe where alternate physics has created a Dark Edwardian downturning. Characters as diverse as Churchill, Tesla, Wells, Roosevelt, Rhodes move among the shadows of a past tinctured by both streampunk and hard sf sensibilities.

I hope you’ll keep an eye out for it, starting in 2017.    ——Chuck Gannon

cegannonprofilepicAbout the author: Dr. Charles E. Gannon is a Distinguished Professor of English at St. Bonaventure University, where he was the Director of Graduate English until he became a full-time author in 2007. A Fulbright Senior Specialist in American Literature and Culture from 2004 to 2009, his most recent non-fiction book is “Rumors of War and Infernal Machines: Technomilitary Agenda Setting in American and British Speculative Fiction.” Now in second edition, it won the 2006 American Library Association Award for Outstanding Book, and was the topic of discussion when he was interviewed by NPR (Morning Edition).

Among various media appearances, his most recent was as an expert commentator on The Discovery Channel’s second installment of its premier series “Curiosity”.  Along with 45 other SF writers (such as David Brin, Ben Bova, Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Bruce Sterling), he is a member of SIGMA, the “SF think-tank” which has advised various intelligence and defense agencies since the start of the millenium (including the Pentagon, Air Force, NATO, DARPA, Army, the Department of Homeland Security, and several agencies which may not be disclosed). For more information on SIGMA and its work, go to www.sigmaforum.org .

Leave a Comment

Filed under #HoldOnToTheLight

The Other End of the Situation–A #HoldOnToTheLight guest post by Stuart Jaffe

holdontothelight-fb-banner

When I was first asked to write this blog post for #HoldOntoTheLight, I agreed without hesitation. Then I tried to write this thing. But it hurt, so I put it away. I tried again, sitting in my office, thinking, staring at the screen. But I couldn’t. Not yet. Put it away, I thought. I’ll get back to it. By the time other authors had started posting, I should have had this done. I read their blogs, saw how open and honest many of them were, but still, I couldn’t.

I finally decided that hey, I’m a writer. I should be able to do this in some form that works for me — like fiction. So I wrote a thousand-word piece about a man and a woman reaching the point where they realized they had a trauma to deal with.

And I shelved it.

See, the problem here isn’t that I’m embarrassed or ashamed or anything of the sort. The problem is that the depression I deal with on a daily basis is not mine. I don’t want to betray a trust. I don’t even know if I have to right to discuss the issues of a depression that isn’t mine.

What I can discuss, however, is what it is like to be on the other end of the situation. I can reach out to the spouses, parents, and friends of those who suffer.

Because we suffer, too.

We are just as caught in a world of silence and sadness. We are the ones making excuses for our loved one’s absence at parties, events, and family gatherings. We are the ones running interference between our loved one and the demands of the world. We take on the tasks and burdens of two. And we hurt when we see the dark place our loved one has gone to, when we reach out to help and nobody reaches back, when day after day turns to year after year and it gets harder to maintain a connection.

It’s like watching an enormous ship — a life — slowly sinking in the ocean. We want to help. We try to help. But we rarely have the ability to jump aboard and patch the holes. Even when it seems like we can succeed, those holes reopen the moment we step away.

We’re stuck watching.

I’ve been fortunate, so far. My loved one is still alive. But for many, that ship sinks. Many watch as depression ends in suicide. And regardless of what outcome we find ourselves in, we feel guilty. Because no matter what, we always think we can do more than watch. No matter how often we try, no matter how often we are rejected, no matter how many slivers of good days we cling to, in the end, we can only stand there, hold out our hands, and hope that our love will raise a hand to reach back. We can watch and wait.

And we do.

That is the thing I want those of you with depression or PTSD or any mental illness to understand. We are there for you. We are holding your hands. We want you back. So much that we’ll suffer for you, too. We don’t give up on you. Ever. So, you shouldn’t either.

Because that’s the way love works.

About the campaign:

#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

 To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to http://www.HoldOnToTheLight.com and join us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/WeHoldOnToTheLight

stuart-jaffe-headshot2014About the author:

Stuart Jaffe is the author of the Nathan K fantasy-thrillers, The Max Porter Paranormal-Mysteries, The Malja Chronicles, a post-apocalyptic fantasy series, The Bluesman pulp series, the Gillian Boone novels, FoundersReal Magic and After The Crash as well as the short story collections, 10 Bits of My Brain and 10 More Bits of My Brain. Numerous other short stories have appeared in magazines and anthologies.

Leave a Comment

Filed under #HoldOnToTheLight, Guest Blogger

Unlocked–a #HoldOnToTheLight guest post from Tracy Chowdhury

holdontothelight-fb-banner

“Are you big, hairy, and scary?”

I’ll never forget those words as long as I live, words asked to me by the meanest girl in my class back in 5th, maybe 6th grade. I don’t really recall anymore since I’ve long forgotten most of those two years of my life.

“Well? Are you?”

“N…no.”

The girl laughs. “So you don’t have any pubic hair yet? You’re not developing?” More laughter.

My face becomes red with embarrassment. Of course I was. Wasn’t everybody at that age?

A few days later the same girl approaches me. Her eyes twinkle. “Are you big, hairy and scary?”

I know the right answer this time even though it seems so wrong. “Y…yes.”

The girl laughs raucously. “Eeew, that’s gross.” She leans in close and deepens her voice. “You are BIG and HAIRY!” Other kids standing nearby snicker at my expense and I crinkle my nose because her breath stinks.

The girl approaches me for a couple more days after that, but I ignore her. Finally she leaves me alone, but those aren’t the only taunts I received as a young girl in elementary school. Rather, they were only one of many, meted out by both the kids, AND the teachers.

I think back on it now and I’m sad. I was that puny kid that let everyone pick on her and kick around like she was a piece of trash. I was that ugly girl, the weird one that liked unicorns, dragons, and faraway places. I was the girl who wore her mother’s old clothes because they made her feel better during the hardest days at school, the one who daydreamed in class, praying that one day she would be away from that place. I was that dumb girl that made bad grades and felt like she was nothing.

Looking back, I realize that I just didn’t feel like I was nothing. I WAS nothing.

Fast forward to the end of my senior year in high school. Somehow I had managed to drag myself out of that hole. I was on the honor roll, had friends, and had even managed to bag myself a college boyfriend. But in my eyes, I was still that dumb girl because I had to study so hard, and I wondered what was wrong with my boyfriend because he liked someone who wasn’t all that pretty.

Fast forward through college, the first years of my marriage, and having my children. I knew I suffered from bouts of depression because I was medicated for it after the birth of my first son. That was scary, because I was either unable, or unwilling, to take care of myself.

Fast forward a few more years. I had my fourth child….and I became terribly ill. The stomach pain was hideous, and I was in the bathroom all the time. I went to the doctor. They ran multitudes of tests only to finally settle on IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). I saw a couple more doctors and they determined the same. However, it was one of the last ones that told me she wanted me to do something other than take a bunch of meds. She wanted me to do something about my mental health, determined that much of my problem was because of that.

I resisted. I mean, who wants to believe they have a mental illness? But I did it. I went to see a psychiatrist. It was only in his office that I remembered my struggles at school, not just with the kids and my grades, but my anxiety. Every day was an epic battle to talk myself up enough just to function. Everything was stressful, especially how I’d deal with the other people I’d see there. I always felt like I was alone, with no one to tell my fears. And I was sad.

I never told Mom and Dad. I didn’t realize I had anything to tell them.

I’ve been diagnosed with Type 2 Bipolar Disorder. Instead of getting those manic highs I get intense anxiety. My lows are clinical depression. I’ve been taking medication for a few years now, and it feels like a part of me has become unlocked, the part that was always afraid to stick up for herself.

The days of being kicked around like trash are over.

I’m glad that someone finally told me to seek help. My IBS isn’t gone, but it’s better because I’m not struggling with debilitating anxiety every day. The depression is still there, but manageable.
For everyone out there like me- never give up. You never know what may lie unlocked within you, just waiting to be freed.

About the author: Tracy Chowdhury is the author of Shadow Over Shandahar – Child of Prophecy and Warrior of Destiny. She is the co-author of Dark Mists of Ansalar – Blood of Dragons, and is a contributing author to the anthologies, Missing Pieces – Volume 1 and Missing Pieces – Volume 2.

About the campaign:

#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to http://www.HoldOnToTheLight.com and join us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/WeHoldOnToTheLight

Leave a Comment

Filed under #HoldOnToTheLight