Monthly Archives: January 2013

Fantasy Worldbuilding 101, Or How To Make Your Setting More Like Middle Earth, And Less Like A Ren Faire

by Jennifer Allis Provost

The term worldbuilding gets used with some frequency when discussing fantasy, and, to be fair, if your worldbuilding isn’t up to par, your story will fall flat. What’s the point of investing all those long hours at the keyboard, crafting finely nuanced plots and flawed yet lovable characters, if the place they live in – whether it’s a castle, wattle and daub cottage, or even an igloo – rings about as true as the set from a high school production of Camelot?

Before you send that manuscript off into the abyss of querydom, compare your world against the following checklist. While adhering to these points won’t ensure that your setting is perfect, they will go a long way toward keeping your world consistent.

Food: What do your characters eat? If the story takes place in a medieval setting, I would expect to see more joints of meat and loaves of dark bread than chicken nuggets and side salads. Also, how is the food served? On metal platters, in wooden bowls, or on trenchers of bread? Are the bones thrown to the dogs, or saved by a thrifty kitchen maid for tomorrow’s stew?

Clothing: Pre-industrial societies tended toward two broad categories of clothing: spare and utilitarian for the working class, ornate and cumbersome for the nobility. Also, due to the labor involved with spinning and weaving, only the very wealthy owned several sets of clothing. If your peasant keeps showing up in pristinely clean shirts without any mention of Ye Olde Laundress, your readers will smell something fishy.

Even if your fantasy has a modern setting, you should still consider clothing carefully. If the character’s on the run, they’re going to get dirty. Also, what are they wearing while avoiding the Feds/evil vampires/rabid bunnies? Good clothes for going on the lam: jeans, t-shirts, flat soled boots or sneakers. Not so practical choices include flimsy dresses or blouses, spiked heels, and lacy lingerie.

Locomotion: How are your characters getting around? In a modern setting this isn’t as much of an issue, since we have all the requisite planes, trains, and automobiles. But, in those pesky pre-industrial societies, your characters are pretty much limited to animal-based transportation (horses, elephants, camels), boats, or some sort of magical device, such as a portal. Boats are, well, boats. If your characters have access to portals or time dust or whatever, please make it a grounded, working magic system.

If your characters rely on the animal-based transportation, please keep one thing in mind: remember to feed the animal! A quick Google search can give you valuable information about how much a horse needs to eat, how often it needs to rest, etc. While this might not be such a big deal for one or two characters on a short jaunt about the countryside, traveling for a significant distance requires either packing feed, or stopping at a stable for the night.

How do you worldbuild? What do you consider to be the vital details?



Jennifer Allis Provost is the author of the fantasy series Chronicles of Parthalan, available now, and an urban fantasy series, Copper Legacy. The first installment, Copper Girl, will be released June 2013 by Spence City.!/parthalans/view/19702

Jennifer Allis Provost is a native New Englander who lives in a sprawling colonial along with her beautiful and precocious twins, a dog, two birds, three cats, and a wonderful husband who never forgets to buy ice cream. As a child, she read anything and everything she could get her hands on, including a set of encyclopedias, but fantasy was always her favorite. She spends her days drinking vast amounts of coffee, arguing with her computer, and avoiding any and all domestic behavior.


Blurb for Copper Girl:


Sara had always been careful.

She never spoke of magic, never associated with those suspected of handling magic, never thought of magic, and never, ever, let anyone see her mark.  After all, the last thing she wanted was to end up missing, like her father and brother.

Then, a silver elf pushed his way into Sara’s dream, and her life became anything but ordinary.

Available in print and e-book June 25, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-939392-02-2

Leave a Comment

Filed under Guest Blogger

What’s in a World?

by Gail Z. Martin

World building is arguably the most fun—and most difficult—part of writing.  Get it right, and your world becomes as memorable as your stories and characters, a place that lives on in the imagination of your readers, as tangible as somewhere they grew up or went on vacation.  Get it wrong, and you’re no more memorable than a truck stop on the highway—or worse, you’re memorable for all the wrong reasons.

I’m guessing there are as many ways to world-build as there are authors, and no single right way as long as readers like the outcome.  So I’ll just share how I do it, and let you take it from there.

For me, world building, plot and character are all inextricably linked.  I may begin with an idea about a plotline, or have a clear “vision” for a character whose story I’d like to tell, or a place that would be a great setting for an adventure.  Whichever one I start with, I need to find the right two components to go with it so that it all goes together seamlessly.

If I start with a character, then I have to ask myself, “What society and landscape shaped this character?”  We’re all influenced by the place in which we grow up, or make our home.  What influences would have produced a person with my character’s values, interests, world view, prejudices, belief systems, abilities, fears, likes and dislikes?  That’s going to go a long way toward helping me create the right kind of environment for the story, and it’s going to shape the story itself, because certain types of stories are more plausible in some situations than in others.

If the original inspiration comes from the plot, then I have to figure out what type of setting/environment will make the plot situation likely—even possible.  I have to think about how my choices of setting could enhance—or dampen—the plot and whether I can envision those settings in a way that make them different from places that readers have been before.  (The truck stop analogy again—we’ve all been to at least one, and they all look alike.  Nice if you want consistently clean restrooms, but zilch for ambiance.)

And if the setting is what I begin with, then it’s going to be unusual, and there’s something about it that draws me.  Certain types of stories are more likely in specific types of places—crowded cities full of transients and intrigue, for example, versus a rural setting where no one leaves home and strangers are automatically suspicious.   In this case, there’s something about the setting that will inevitably suggest the plot and sketch out the characters.

The fourth component is time/technology.  London in 2150 is very different from London in 1250.  This will determine everything from types of communication, speed of travel, methods of warfare, and other crucial details.  Will your characters be spending gold coins or swiping a debit card?  Is information known instantaneously around the world, or at the speed of sailing vessel (or horse)?

For me, the best kind of research mixes both books and experience.  I’m a museum junkie, and I have been going to living history sites since I was a kid, so I’ve grown up with the sound and smell of a blacksmith’s shop, rudimentary knowledge of cooking on an open hearth, horse-drawn conveyances, and everything from period clothing to old-fashioned medicines, entertainment and art.  If I can’t go a museum, there’s always the History Channel, or the Travel Channel, web sites, travel guide books, and even old-fashioned travelogues given at your local AAA, library or community center.  It’s amazing how the smallest details that seem insignificant can end up adding to the texture of your next book.

It also helps to be a “critical” consumer.  When you watch a movie or TV show/series or read a book, pull back enough to think about whether or not the world building is working for you.  Does it immerse you in the story, or jar you out of it?  Is it a distraction, or so integral the story wouldn’t be the same without it.  What is memorable?  What is clichéd? Could the characters be anywhere, or are they so much a product of time and place that they could be nowhere (and no-when) else?  Plots can be recycled (think about Hamlet done in Shakespeare’s time and re-done into modern adaptations), but each time, the time/place alters the story—if it doesn’t, something’s missing.

Most importantly, have fun with it! If you’re not fascinated by your world, your readers won’t be, either.  Enjoy!

Please enjoy this excerpt from my short story, “Among the Shoals Forever”, excerpted from The Mammoth Book of Women’s Ghost Stores:

And this scene from “Buttons”, excerpted from Magic:



Leave a Comment

Filed under Gail Z. Martin

Why I Still Write About Heroes

by Gail Z. Martin

We live in a cynical, jaded age.  There aren’t a lot of heroes left unsullied.  Sports icons turn out to be hiding secrets.  Celebrities are mere mortals.  Politicians—well, don’t even get me started on that one.  Historical figures, once the researchers are through with them, turn out to be less than god-like.  And of course, as we all get older, we look back on the people who loomed so large in our lives, parents, grandparents, mentors and teachers, and realize that they were fallible people who sometimes made mistakes or could not transcend the prejudices of their era.

Heroes are an endangered species.

There’s a trend in certain circles to write “realistic” protagonists who may be interesting, memorable and entertaining, but who fall short of being heroic, or even admirable.  I’ve heard people say this is a nod to the way the world really works.

I say, balderdash.

I still believe in heroes—real and fictional.  To me, that’s not naïve or hopelessly idealistic.  But it does require a caveat.  Here it is: no hero will be heroic in everything he/she does.  And the corollary to that caveat: Even heroes make mistakes.

The hero-bashers want perfection.  They’re always going to be disappointed, because no one is perfect.  What that means in real life is that someone who is a fantastic athlete (and a hero to fans) may not be a good husband or father.  A talented celebrity (who is a role-model to aspiring artists) may not be an otherwise nice person.  A soldier or first responder who shows great valor in dangerous situations might not be a great co-worker or next-door neighbor.  These people have all earned the title of “hero” in a specific setting, but they’re not flawless, and I don’t think that to qualify as a hero, perfection is necessary.


Heroes are important.  We need people to admire, people who inspire us to do our best, to go beyond what we think is possible.  We need to see examples of the best that the human race can do, because we so often see the worst (and our modern media tends to enjoy serving up heaping helpings of negativity).  And as we give our real-life heroes their due, we also need to keep the adult perspective that reminds us not to expect any human being to be heroic in every aspect of life.  Expect the imperfection, and give real life people the space to be flawed.  That’s not jaded perspective, it’s a mature one that goes beyond child-like faith to admire the admirable and have compassion on the imperfect.


That’s why I enjoy writing adventures where it’s still possible to tell the good guys from the bad guys.  None of my characters is perfect, and some of them have done things to survive that will haunt them all the days of their lives.  They’re flawed human beings, people who have survived the fire and have the scars to prove it, and they make mistakes.  Sometimes, they do things that aren’t admirable—or even legal—because it’s the best choice among bad alternatives.  And while they may have the talents or abilities that make them a hero in one setting, they may not seem very heroic to their friends, lovers, neighbors or families.  In other words, they’re the good guys, but they’re not perfect.  And that’s ok.


I write about heroes because we need heroes.  We need to be reminded what humans can be like at their very best.  We have the evening news to show us what we are like at our worst.  We need opportunities to cheer for the winning team, because in real life, sometimes clear wins are few and far between.  And we need good guys to nudge us toward the everyday heroics that are within our reach, whether it’s showing kindness to someone who needs a hand or helping a child or telling the truth.  The real truth is that we are all capable of far more greatness than we give ourselves credit for.  Heroes encourage us to live up to that potential.


So I’ll go on writing about good guys and heroes, no matter what the cynics say.  I hope you’ll join me.


Grab an excerpt from Ice Forged here:


Ice Forged won’t be in stores until January 8, but you can preorder here:


Leave a Comment

Filed under Gail Z. Martin

Paranormally Speaking


Tina R. McSwain

Many paranormal research teams employ the use of a “psychic” on their investigations.  Why not check out a local Psychic Fair to see what this mystic is all about.  CAPS will be there too, so come by our table and meet the team, tell us your ghost story, or get information on CAPS (The Charlotte Area Paranormal Society) and what we do.

CAPS to Appear at The Traveling Psychic Fair

The first Traveling Psychic Fair of 2013 will be held at Muggs Coffee on Park Road (near Selwyn intersection) in Charlotte, NC on Sunday – January 13, 2013 from 12 NOON until 5PM.

The Fair features the following:

Gina Spriggs – Master Tarologist

Lisa Jenkins – Intuitive Readings

Karen Yoder – Tarot With a Twist

Jenn Vivian – Aura Readings

Linda Backes – Mystical Fochaadams

Azera – Intuitive Tarot Reading

Dawn Petalino – Personalized Chakra Readings

Iesha Hoffman – Messages from Spirit

Bea Gordon – Angel Readings

Tina Heckman – Animal Communicator/Intuitive

Sherrie Avitan – Channeled Psychometry

Andy Silver – Spiritual Mediator

All Readers will offer introductory 15 MINUTE sessions for $25.00. There will be vendors as well.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Conventions, Tina R. McSwain

Ice Forged is Now in Stores!

Ice Forged: Book One in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga is now in stores!

Condemned as a murderer for killing the man who dishonored his sister, Blaine “Mick” McFadden has spent the last six years in Velant, a penal colony in the frigid northern wastelands of Edgeland. Harsh military discipline and the oppressive magic of the governor’s mages keep a fragile peace as colonists struggle against a hostile environment. But the supply ships from Dondareth have stopped coming, boding ill for the kingdom that banished the colonists.

Now, McFadden and the people of Velant decide their fate. They can remain in their icy prison, removed from the devastation of the outside world, but facing a subsistence-level existence, or they can return to the ruins of the kingdom that they once called home. Either way, destruction lies ahead…

I’m going to be partying with readers to celebrate Ice Forged’s release throughout January and February—and beyond. Here’s where to find me!

I’m hosting three Ice Forged launch parties with refreshments, prize drawings and book signings—join me for the fun and surprises at Arisia (Boston), Chattacon (Chattanooga) and Mysticon (Roanoke)!

• Jan. 9 – 16 I’ll be hosting a discussion on Goodreads about end of the world fiction—join us!
• Jan. 11 I’ll be signing Ice Forged at the Barnes & Noble at Birkdale, Huntersville from 5 – 7 pm
• Jan. 12 I’ll be signing Ice Forged at the Books a Million in Concord Mills NC from 1 – 3 pm
• It’s official! I’ve been invited to Arisia in Boston Jan. 18 – 20—Ice Forged Launch Party is Saturday night 9:30 – 11:30!
• Also official! I’ve been invited to Chattacon in Chattanooga, TN Jan. 25 – 27—Ice Forged Launch Party is Saturday night!
• Feb. 1 I’ll be signing Ice Forged at the Barnes & Noble Morrowcroft (South Charlotte) from 7-8:30
• Feb. 2 I’ll be signing Ice Forged at Park Road Books in Charlotte from 2 – 4
• Look for me at Shevacon in Roanoke, VA Feb. 8 – 10
• Feb. 15 I’ll be signing Ice Forged at the Books a Million at Cotswold from 1-3
• Feb. 16 I’ll be signing Ice Forged at the Barnes & Noble in Pineville, NC from 2-4
• I’ll be back in Roanoke for Mysticon Feb. 22 – 24—Ice Forged Launch Party is Saturday night!
• It’s official! I’ll be at Lunacon March 15 – 17 in Rye Brook, NY
• Look for me at the Arizona Renaissance Festival (near Phoenix) signing books March 23-24
• It’s official! I’ll be at Ravencon in Richmond, VA April 5 – 7.
• Come see me at ConCarolina in Charlotte, NC May 31 – June 2
• It’s official! I’ll be at Dragon*Con Labor Day weekend!

I’ve got some more surprises coming for you in 2013!

• Be part of the conversation on Goodreads as I host a new discussion every month. We’ll talk about writing, publishing, fantasy, favorite books and more—and you’re invited!

• I’ll be bringing out all-new short stories throughout 2013—a new one every month on Amazon. Explore my Deadly Curiosities universe of cursed objects and intrepid thieves (think American Pickers meets The Exorcist across 500 years).

Jonmarc Vahanian is back! Find out how the brigand lord of Dark Haven became the most feared warrior in the Winter Kingdoms in my new series of short stories—new on Amazon in early 2013!

• If you dream of writing your own bestseller, join my Thrifty Author Meetup Group—now both live and virtual so you can participate wherever you are! We meet live once a month in Charlotte, NC, but starting in 2013, Meetup group members can join in on the Goodreads discussion as well—new topics each month!

• “Like” my Winter Kingdoms page on Facebook and follow me @GailZMartin on Twitter—I post live from cons and signings, and let you know where there are extra signed copies!

• My will introduce a whole new slate of author readings and interviews—drop by and meet the pros!

• If you like the paranormal, drop by my blog, where I post each week along with my co-bloggers J.F. Lewis (urban fantasy), Crymsyn Hart (paranormal erotic romance), and Tina McSwain (a bona fide ghost hunter).

I’ll be a guest on these blogs over the next few weeks, so please visit and comment!

• RT Book Reviewer

• Civilian Reader

• BookLifeNow

• Fantasy Book Critic



• Monday, January 14

• Monday, January 14,

• Wed. January 23rd

• Thurs. January 24th

• Thurs. Jan 24

• Fri. January 25th

• Mon. January 28th

• Tues. January 29th

Read an excerpt from Ice Forged here:


Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Middle Ages Crisis: Apocalypse Then

by Gail Z. Martin

Usually when we think of a middle age crisis, we picture sports cars, trophy wives or plastic surgery.   And when we think of apocalyptic adventures, they tend to be set in the here-and-now.

I tend to like my crises on an epic scale.  So while a lot of apocalyptic fiction is set present-day or in the future, I like the idea of tackling a post-apocalyptic scenario medieval style.

Here’s where my liberal arts education comes in handy (I was a history major, and now I’m making a living with what I studied.  Woot!).  The real Middle Ages had plenty of end-of-the-world events, times when people really thought that the end was near.

Of course, the Black Plague probably tops the list for real-life apocalypses.  Not only was the disease itself fearsome in its savageness, but the sheer magnitude of the death toll was the death knell for feudalism and fundamentally altered European society and power structures.  Let’s not forget the “Little Ice Age” when temperatures across Europe were much colder than usual, with devastating impact on crops, economies and health.

Natural disasters can also be cataclysmic.  Volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, heat waves, droughts, floods and pestilence (think swarms of locusts or potato blight) have humbled empires, killed millions,  and made entire civilizations vanish.

In many cases, the people who experienced and fought to survive these apocalyptic events were very similar to our oh-so-modern selves.  Many of them lived in empires or kingdoms that were the pinnacle of political power and technological sophistication for their era.  Since humanity has a bad track record for acknowledging what they don’t know, these ancestors thought they had everything all figured out—before war, disaster or bad luck rocked their world.

Modern-day cataclysms don’t interest me much.  Maybe that’s because I grew up in the Cold War, just after the duck-and-cover days, when we were all looking over our shoulders for the “big one.”  Maybe it’s a defensive mechanism in an era of AIDS, Ebola, Bird Flu, Mayan Calendar fears, Y2K hysteria and the general Internet “sky is falling” crisis du jour.  I grew up with people who were certain that catastrophic death was imminent—and they were wrong.  So maybe my nerve endings are burned out for modern doomsday scenarios.

But Medieval apocalypses—now those intrigue me.   And in Ice Forged, I’ve found a whole new “end of the world as we know it” story.  Hang on.  It’s going to be a bumpy ride!

Please enjoy this excerpt from Ice Forged:

And an excerpt from “Buttons”, my short story in the Magic: An Anthology of the Esoteric and Arcane here:


Leave a Comment

Filed under Gail Z. Martin