Monthly Archives: August 2012

When the room is spinning….


Crymsyn Hart

After finally recovering from an inner ear infection that left me reeling for six weeks, I think the room has finally stopped spinning enough for me to focus on things. It was hard though to make the ground stay put when I was on vacation a couple of weeks ago, but I firmly told it not to move and it did. At least for a little while.  However, it did not work so well with my characters.

While all I wanted to do was write and let my muses have full run of my hands, that did not work out so well. Every time I sat in front of the computer, it went a little fuzzy and my eyes seemed to cross. So I recommend when you are dizzy not trying to type anything out unless you can deal with the spinners.  It gets even worse when your muses decide to twirl and twirl inside your mind, which made me even dizzier and then they wanted to talk to me and write. So I ended up with a pen and a notebook.

In many ways writing by hand is cathartic and I enjoy it a lot. On the other hand, I can only do it for so long before my hand cramps up and I get more work done by typing rather than by writing longhand. But it is great because that is all I used to do when I was writing in high school.

So my lesson while being sick, even if the room is spinning and your muses resemble a whirling dervish, writing is still possible, even if I can’t read my own chicken scratch.

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The End of the World As We Know It

by Gail Z. Martin

My newest book, The Dread: Book Two in The Fallen Kings Cycle, confronts a medieval world on the brink of a “War of Unmaking.”  Plague, famine, civilian unrest, pretenders to the throne, usurpers, traitors and a foreign invasion—along with betrayals large and small—have set the monarchies of the Winter Kingdoms on a collision course with war.  The stakes are huge, and no matter who wins and who loses, neither the kingdoms nor the main characters will ever be the same.

Sure, I drew on ancient Asian, Sumerian, and Celtic/Norse mythology, as well as my own fevered imagination to conjure up this war-torn world, but I’m certain that the angst in modern headlines had some subconscious influence over the decision to set in motion a cataclysm that changes the course of history.

I also blame some of it on my undergraduate training as a historian, taught by professors who saw flashpoints in history more as a confluence of trends rather than the handiwork of a single “great man.”  Where a single individual rises to such prominence as to seem capable of personally changing history, I’ve been taught to look deeper, to see the societal, religious, financial, cultural and other shifts that made it possible for the “great man” to come to the fore and achieve such prominence.

Personally, I find this a more interesting reading of history than seeing an endless procession of heroes and villains who are larger than life.  And as an author, I think that the idea that those who become heroes and villains stand astride the crest of a great flow of other circumstances makes a story much more intriguing as well.  While my characters always have choices, both they and the readers should feel that other forces are pressing toward particular options, or making other choices unsatisfactory.  Sometimes, the hero chooses to swim against the tide. In other situations, he (or she) rides the swell, realizing how little control they have over the rushing torrent, trying to make the best of it.  Throw magic, active deities, and two groups of immortal enemies into the equation, and all bets are off.

Part of the fun for me with epic fantasy is having a big enough canvas to set up this kind of cataclysm and bring the reader along for the ride.  The story that begins in The Sworn: Book One of the Fallen Kings Cycle, finds its conclusion in The Dread, but those who have been with me for all four preceding Chronicles of the Necromancer books will find old loose ends tied up and unfinished business brought to a close.

So is this the end of adventures in the world of the Winter Kingdoms?  No.  But my surviving characters do deserve a little rest!  So while the survivors rebuild, I’ll be bringing out a brand new series, The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, from Orbit in 2013.  Time to start the mayhem all over again!

You can find The Dread in stores and online everywhere.  For more about my books, please visit, and like me on  I blog at, host author interviews at, and tweet @GailZMartin.

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What are some things you learned from writing fantasy?

by Gail Z. Martin

Q:  What are some things you learned from writing fantasy?

A:  One thing I’ve learned is a definite respect for the hardships which our ancestors endured—plague, famine, lack of clean water, lack of indoor plumbing and central heat, high mortality rates from curable conditions, etc.  At the same time, I’m intrigued by how much joy they were still able to take from life through family and friends, small comforts and conveniences, celebrations and holidays, and good food when there was food to be had.

I’m in awe of what they were able to do with the technology that they had to work with, whether it’s the invention of war machines such as those DaVinci designed, or the creation of complex water and sewer systems, or the sheer temerity to sail across an ocean without modern communication and navigation tools.  And then there’s the cooking.  I’m amazed at the complicated recipes they created to be cooked over open flames or in “ovens” without any reliable temperature control!

I’ve learned a lot about medieval weapons and society, not in a bookish sort of way, but by needing to apply what I learned from history and then live with it in the skin of my characters.  It’s one thing to read about something.  It’s another to put yourself into the moment and have to live with it.

I’ve also learned how much contemporary stories rely on instantaneous communication and modern travel speeds, neither of which were available in the medieval world of epic fantasy.  This has major plot ramifications.  If something happens on one battlefield, there is no way to get word to someone hundreds of miles away faster than a horse and rider can travel, unless you use magic (but magic must be unreliable to avoid being a cheat).  We don’t think about those kinds of delays today, but they were very real throughout most of history.  If a character needs to go to a distant place, they’re constrained by how fast a man can walk or how fast a horse can sustain a gallop.  Especially in battle scenes, these two issues are crucial, because there is no good way to communicate among far-flung  battlefields, no way to know real-time information, no fast way to move an army from here to there.  These kinds of things make a big impact on how you can tell the story, what can be known by your characters, and what options are open to them.

I’ve also learned fun things, like word origins.  For example, people have been retching since 1540,  puking and heaving since the 1600s, but only barfing since the 1960s.  They’ve been pissing since the 1300s and leaking since the 1500s, but they didn’t start to pee until 1788.  If your character needs to do one or the other, you’ve got to get the historically correct term. These things are important for a writer to know!


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Warrior Queen Mommy Wars

by Gail Z. Martin

I survived the Mommy Wars of the 1990s.

Back then, it wasn’t enough to make a decision on what was right for your individual family in terms of going back to work after having a child.  According to the media-induced frenzy, it was necessary to state your choice as a moral absolute, and to regard those who made a different choice (regardless of their rationale or circumstances) as the enemy.  Oddly enough, when about 80% of women with small children went back to work in some capacity, the Mommy Wars lost steam as a polarizing issue and we all went on with our lives without experiencing the apocalypse.

I bring this up because while it takes a village to raise a child in the most positive sense, those same villages often impose tight culturally-proscribed limits on how “good” mothers are supposed to act.  What happens when your vows as queen and heir to the throne conflict with your responsibilities as the mother of a young infant?

Most of the kick-butt female characters in modern fantasy are conveniently single and childless (with the exception of the Carpe Demon series).  In my book, The Dread, one of my main characters, Kiara Sharsequin Drake, must make a no-win decision.  When her father, King Donelan of Isencroft is murdered by a usurper’s assassin as the kingdom stands at the brink of war with a looming foreign invasion, Kiara, as heir to the throne, is the only one who can unify and lead her people.

Seems like a clear choice. Except that Kiara is married to King Martris Drake of Margolan, a marriage that is both love match and political arrangement, and she has just given birth only a few months before.  Her infant son is not quite “right,” and no one knows exactly why.  She is also a few months pregnant with a second child, one who might stand to inherit both thrones if the first son is incapable of ruling. The crowns of two kingdoms hang in the balance.

“Family” issues make it even harder.  The two kingdoms have a long history of mistrust.  Many within Margolan view their new queen as an outsider with questionable motives.  Many in Isencroft view the marriage and resulting joint throne as tantamount to treason.  A usurper backed by a powerful foreign force has landed to stake his claim to the Isencroft throne.  Martris Drake has already taken Margolan troops to fight a multi-pronged foreign invasion.

Should Kiara stay or should she go?  If she stays, she abandons her own kingdom in its moment of dire need.  But by doing so, she could remain with her infant son and protect him amid the instability of what has become a world war.  If she goes, leaving her son with trusted protectors, her new subjects will consider it desertion, and her political enemies will brand her both a faithless queen and a bad mother.

As I wrote The Dread, I realized that while kings are rarely censured for their suitability as fathers, history makes many judgments about how well queens performed as mothers.  (Remember the criticism lodged against Queen Elizabeth II during the Princess Diana years?)  This made Kiara’s subplot all the more interesting to me because she not only had political choices to make and physical hardship to face, she also had to confront personal, social and cultural expectations around her role as a mother. There’s no way she can make everyone happy.  No matter what she chooses, she’ll feel agonizing guilt (ain’t in the truth), and she will be her own harshest critic.

To my thinking, bringing in the Mommy War dynamic makes Kiara easier for readers to identify with, because while few people in real life are warriors and fewer still are royalty, if you have children, you’ve felt pulled apart when one set of urgent duties conflicted with your beliefs about how a “good” mother should act.

How does she resolve it?  Imperfectly.  As most of us, I suspect, have done in real life, she weighs her options, looks at the pros and cons, tries to envision the long-term repercussions and potential damage, and then makes her choice, knowing that no matter what she chooses, a part of her  heart will break, and half of the onlookers will vilify her.  If you’re reading this and you’re a mom, you’ve been there, and so have I.

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