The Story Behind the Story: Deadly Curiosities

by Gail Z. Martin

My dad was into antiques, old stuff, and collectibles that reminded him of the Old West, his childhood in the 1920s and anything else that caught his eye. He was also a hoarder. When he went into a nursing home for Alzheimer’s and we had to clean out his house, it was packed to the gills. Some of the stuff was trash, some went to Goodwill.

And then there was the weird stuff. Halberd axes. Old-fashioned bear traps six feet long with huge teeth. Hundreds of Baby Ben alarm clocks. Dozens of antique sewing machines, manual typewriters, huge coffee grinders, and a really strange black box that didn’t seem to have a way to open it. We all agreed felt evil so we got rid of it without trying too hard. He had sold the cannon off years ago, so at least we didn’t have to deal with that.

There were books–thousands of them. And old mother-of-pearl pair of opera glasses. Native American artifacts. Mirrors and glassware, old textiles and two player pianos. And more. When he passed away at age 90, it was my job to get rid of everything.

I had grown up getting dragged around as a kid to antique shops, used book stores (the musty kind that look like something out of Diagon Alley), swap meets, flea markets and steam engine shows. (He used to have several hundred steam engines, but thankfully those were sold off by the time I had to deal with things.) Point being, I spent a lot of formidable years around old stuff, odd things and items that might once have been useful or precious but where now reduced to cast-offs.

So maybe it was fate that I was going to write about a centuries-old antiques and curio shop with a hidden mission to get dangerous magical items off the market and out of the wrong hands. Even as a kid, I knew that all those old things had stories. They had belonged to someone, mattered to someone, and were now being passed along–and they took their stories with them, silent, mysterious histories. Sometimes there were clues to their past life–a monogram, a name plate, an engraved set of initials, an inscription in a book. Most of the time, it was just the object, cast adrift, and I used to make up stories about them to amuse myself.

I like ghosts and accounts of ghostly phenomena. I like vampires–ever since I was a pre-schooler watching the old Dark Shadows TV show. And I liked Charleston, SC when I visited and toured it. Charleston is one of the oldest cities in the US, with a complex history that is both genteel and scandalous, and it’s one of the most haunted cities in the country. It was ripe for urban fantasy, and wasn’t overly familiar to readers. And it’s only a few hours away from where I live, so research trips wouldn’t be too difficult. So it just made sense for me to put all those elements together, shake it around and see what happened.

What emerged was the Deadly Curiosities novel, plus the short stories and novella that I’ve done in that universe that span a 500 year period of time. I’ve woven in a number of the objects we encountered in my dad’s collection, and given them a supernatural twist. It’s been fun to play with all the different strands and weave them into something new. The idea that the most mundane object might harbor secret magical power or a deadly curse is intriguing, especially if something unexpected might trigger that power, or raise its long-dormant mojo. Once you read Deadly Curiosities, you might be eying those heirlooms from grandma a little bit differently!



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