Monthly Archives: April 2017

Necromancy Light and Dark

by Gail Z. Martin

I mostly write about necromancers who are good guys.

Tris Drayke, the main character in my Chronicles of the Necromancer/Fallen Kings Cycle series, struggles to control his power as he rises to be the strongest Summoner of his generation. Tormod Solveig, a secondary character in my Ascendant Kingdoms series, wields his power as a warlord and a necromancer with his sister Rinka, a fearsome warrior, watching his back. Archibald Donnelly, in my Deadly Curiosities dark urban fantasy series, takes the low key approach to necromancy with the misleading demeanor of a laid back archivist. They’re the good guys, wrestling with the temptations of fearsome power to remain on the side of light.

Now let’s go dark side. In the steampunk world of Iron & Blood, which I co-write with my husband, Larry N. Martin, we meet the dark necromancers, the Resurrectionists, Francis Tumblety and Adolph Brunrichter, as well as the Dollmaker, who try to uncover the secrets of clockwork-driven immortality. Scaith, a dark necromancer, also appears in The Sworn and The Dread in my Chronicles/Fallen Kings series, and the devotees of the dark goddess Shanthadura also move into the territory of dark necromancy. In Vendetta, part of my Deadly Curiosities series, Sariel calls on dark magic to control reapers and nephilim who in turn feed on the spirits of the dead.  And in The Shadowed Path, we meet Foor Arontala, a blood mage. He is not an necromancer himself, but he is sworn to freeing the soul of the Obsidian King, a powerful dark necromancer whose soul was imprisoned after he nearly brought the Winter Kingdoms to destruction.

Intent is everything.

I’ve written about hero necromancers because I don’t believe power is intrinsically good or evil; what matters is what you do with the power. And as Spiderman knows, with great power comes great responsibility. What makes the responsible use of great power very difficult is imperfect information and human nature. Without complete information, it’s easy to draw incorrect conclusions, come to bad decisions, and believe you’re using the power to do the right thing when in fact, you’ve been badly misled. Worse, dire circumstances can tempt the best people to wonder if in this particular case, the end justifies the means. And of course, ego, denial, fear, anger, and the need for vengeance can blind us and send us down the road to hell with plenty of good intentions.

Which means that to remain serving the Light, a necromancer must be as vigilant about his/her actions as about the threats from the enemy. More so, perhaps, because self-delusion is easy and comfortable and the consequences of wrong choices affect both the living and the dead.

So the distinction that I draw between good and evil when it comes to necromancy comes down to respect for free will and volition. A necromancer who serves the Light will not force an unwilling spirit into a dead body, nor trap a spirit in a corpse that wants to be free. He or she will not keep a spirit from crossing to its final rest, nor trouble the spirits of the dead for personal gain or selfish reasons.

A good necromancer might call summon the spirits of the dead to learn information that benefits the larger whole. In battle, he/she might make it possible for the willing spirits of dead soldiers to reanimate their corpses or give their ghosts form and substance to fight. It is permitted to bind a spirit that wants to be healed to its dying body long enough for the body to be healed. A Light necromancer would be duty-bound to release spirits held against their will by curses or Dark magic.

So what about Dark necromancy? That gets into ‘evil legions of the undead’ territory. Dark necromancers are willing to use the souls of the dead and their ravaged corpses as shock troops, or to bind the souls of tortured and broken prisoners to their dying bodies and send them first into battle as sword fodder. The darker side of necromancy traps spirits and forces them into servitude, either as revenants or as zombies. Dark necromancy acts for selfish purposes and the aggrandizement of power without regard for agency, free will or self-determination.

Dark necromancy considers the spirits of the dead to be tools, nothing more than means to an end, without respect for them as human beings or immortal souls. A dark necromancer may serve a god or goddess and/or owe a deity a debt for assistance, but the practice of dark necromancy essentially sets the mage outside of and above humanity by meddling with human souls. Dark necromancy, in my worlds, is tied to blood magic, which requires forbidden magic and usually either human or animal sacrifice. Once again, intention is key, since the willingness to sacrifice another living being for the accumulation of power marks and sullies the soul of the practitioner.

In the end, the same choices that make a dark necromancer also make a monstrous human being: the disregard for freedom of choice and the value of human life.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Books, Gail Z. Martin

Cursed Objects and Haunted Relics

by Gail Z. Martin

“Look but don’t touch.”

If you ever find yourself in one of my fictional worlds, that’s good advice.

Personally, I blame my fascination with cursed and haunted objects on a childhood spent being dragged around to antique shows, flea markets, swap meets and used book stores. While my dad explored the cast-off treasures, I passed the time making up stories to amuse myself about the oddities and old items set out on display.

My imagination had plenty of fodder looking at old books in crumbling leather bindings, vintage clothing, antique personal items, even huge, working steam engines. Our house was littered with dad’s finds, from halberd axes and old-time bear traps under the eaves in the attic to big steam-driven engines from saw mills and factories that filled up our yard. It’s never been difficult for me to imagine the people who owned the items, to picture their lives and the circumstances that led them to buy the object or discard it.

It’s no real wonder that cursed and haunted objects turn up frequently in all of my book series. In my Deadly Curiosities dark urban fantasy series, my main character Cassidy Kincaide is a psychometric who can read the history and emotional resonance of objects by touching them. I don’t claim that kind of ability, but I’ve always been able to imagine what it would be like to know something about an object’s ‘experiences’ and previous owners on contact.

And on a darker note, to feel their pain, their loss, their madness and the turbulence of their lives by touching objects that accompanied them on their journey.

In my epic fantasy, I’ve used haunted swords, magical amulets and jewelry, crowns that convey kingship via magic as well as symbolism. Even in the Iron & Blood Steampunk series that I co-write with my husband, everyday objects like dolls, necklaces and other items become supernaturally dangerous either because of intentional spell work, intrinsic evil, or because they have ‘soaked up’ the disquieting experiences of their previous owners.

As I’ve browsed antique stores and yard sales over the years, I can think of instances when I instinctually gravitated toward some unremarkable items, and shied away from others. Perhaps it was just my imagination, but there have been pieces that I wouldn’t touch on a bet, that I did not want to make a connection with. When I browsed through a shop in New Hope/Lambertville that specialized in Victorian memento mori hair jewelry and death photography, I kept my hands clasped in front of me.

When we worked through my father’s collections after he died, there were a number of items that gave me or my husband ‘the creeps’–seriously bad vibes.  A psychic family friend singled out a few objects of dad’s collection he had no way to know even existed and advised us to remove them from the house because of their negative mojo. I can’t prove there was anything substantial to those warnings or my feelings, but I felt better being rid of the items, and I’ve learned to trust my gut.

The idea that the objects that we keep close to us throughout our lives, things we wear next to our skin and over our hearts, items that accompany through the poignant moments in our personal history might soak up some of our emotions doesn’t seem that far-fetched. It’s certainly a concept many other people have had throughout history, and the thought behind the lore of religious relics, sacred objects and protective amulets. Many–if not most–of the objects in my Deadly Curiosities series are based on pieces I inherited–and got rid of–from my dad’s collection. I’ve been up close and personal with the items. That made them a natural to work into my fiction.

So the next time you wander into an out of the way curio store or eye the offerings on a table at a flea market, pause before you reach out to pick up that tempting treasure. You might find that it comes with a dark–and unwelcome–supernatural something extra.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Books, Gail Z. Martin

Beginning, Ending and Extending Book Series

by Gail Z. Martin

With six different book series in various stages, it seems like I’m always contemplating beginnings, endings and extensions.

I’ve got a new epic fantasy series coming out in 2017 from Solaris Books (which I’m not allowed to name or reveal details about), so beginning a new book and starting a brand-new series have both been on my mind as I finish up that manuscript. In March, Shadow and Flame marked the final novel in my Ascendant Kingdoms epic fantasy series (Orbit Books), so wrapping up not just a single book but a story arc and a series is also fresh in my thoughts. The Shadowed Path (Solaris Books) is a collection of eleven of my Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures short stories that are prequels to The Summoner and my Chronicles of the Necromancer series, which has wrapped up (for now).

With a little time until the next Iron & Blood Steampunk novel or the next Deadly Curiosities dark urban fantasy novel comes out, the short stories and novellas tied into those series help to bridge the gap for readers with an extended universe of additional adventures. That sixth series? It’s a space series that’s currently in development, with some hints dropped in the Origins Gaming Fair anthologies, so we’re beginning both another book and another series.

Beginning a series is exciting and a little terrifying. Before I can sit down to write, I’ve got to do a lot of mental world-building to create the setting for the books, flesh out the characters, plan the series story arc, and develop the history, legend, belief/magic systems and lore of the world so that the reader gets a multifaceted, immersive experience. I want to make sure I’ve thought everything through, because once I’ve written the first book, canon is set and I don’t want to paint myself into a corner with limitations I’ll regret later. Most importantly, I want to make every series the best books I’ve ever written to make them fun and memorable for readers. And of course, I want the books to do well in the marketplace, which makes both me and the publisher happy. No pressure.

Whether a new book is the first in a series or somewhere else in the sequence, each one begins with a blank computer screen. No matter how many times I do that, it’s always a little intimidating, and there’s a thrill of fear that crawls through my veins at the thought of transforming six hundred blank pieces of paper into a book. I can be armed with a thorough outline and lots of great ideas, I can be antsy to put ideas down in words, and I might even be mid-series with well-established characters and a world I know well. It’s still scary and exciting, because while I’m taking my characters on a new adventure, I’m embarking on an unknown journey right along with them. I know that, despite my planning, I’ll run into unanticipated obstacles and places where I have to sit back, re-read and re-evaluate in order to get the plot right. And I also know that, out of the blue, inspiration will strike when I least expect it and there will be scenes, characters and action that show up full-blown in my imagination and that is a wonderful thing. Writers live for those moments.

Ending a series is as sad for an author as it it is for readers. It’s gratifying to get to the end of an adventure, and there’s a sense of accomplishment to wrapping up an epic journey. But when I’ve kept company with the characters every day for the years required to write a multi-book series, it’s disappointing to think that they won’t be hanging out in my head as often moving forward.

Craft-wise, it’s important to make sure all the loose ends and plot bunnies have been handled by the end of a series, so readers aren’t left thinking, ‘whatever happened to…’.  I want to be sure to leave readers with a satisfying conclusion that may be bittersweet, but feels authentic and organic.

Thanks to electronic publishing, series never have to completely end so long as there are readers interested in continuing adventures. We write short stories and novellas that are extended adventures for all of the series. Some are prequels, like the Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures. Others are extra ‘episodes’, like the Deadly Curiosities Adventures and the Storm and Fury steampunk adventures tied into the Iron & Blood universe. And some fill in a ‘gap’ in the main books that wasn’t part of the main story arc but begs to be told, like the Blaine McFadden Adventures that tie in to the Ascendant Kingdoms books.

With extended adventures, I get to dig deeper into my world-building, reveal more about both main characters and secondary characters, and give readers extra stories that are part of canon but go beyond what’s in the novels. The stories stand alone, and obviously don’t have as large or complicated a story arc as the novels, but they flesh out the people, places and world, and help to bridge the time between new books.

I’m thrilled that it’s easier than ever for adventures with favorite characters to continue indefinitely. And that’s a win for readers and writers.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Books, Gail Z. Martin

Swords and Shotguns: Writing Characters in Epic and Urban Fantasy

by Gail Z. Martin

People are people–how much of a difference does a couple hundred of years make?

A lot–and less than you might think.

I write epic fantasy and urban fantasy, and co-authored with Larry N. Martin, steampunk. That’s a pretty broad time span, from roughly the late fifteenth century to the Victorian era, to modern day. The protagonists are all human, though some have enhanced abilities and immortality. And while being human doesn’t change over those centuries, other factors that influence how we define our humanity and our place in the universe certainly do.

It’s true that people remain much the same in their love, hate, ambition and failures. In every age, human beings fall in love, cherish their family and value friends, suffer betrayal and grief, take risks and make mistakes. Yet our times and our surroundings, as well as our world view, inform and constrain the choices that occur to us to consider, and shape the courses of action we believe are open to us.

My two epic fantasy series–The Chronicles of the Necromancer/Fallen Kings Cycle and The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga–take place in worlds other than our own, but with roughly the social structure and technology of late fifteenth century Western Europe. Monarchies and the nobility hold resources and power. Most people remain in or close to the villages where they were born. The lowest classes are bound to the land, and the highest classes owe fealty to a lord. Religion, alchemy and magic define how the cosmos function, and inform one’s view of where one fits in that cosmology. Duty to one’s king or liege lord supersedes individual choices.

Existential questions are seen through the lens of dedication to the gods and goddesses, or the teaching of clergy. Most peoples’ destiny is determined by birth and caste order, as well as whether or not they can do magic. Defying convention and culture is possible, but carries heavy social and personal consequences. A great deal of personal identity is determined by group identity: family, kingdom, religion, gender, ethnicity, caste, profession. Individualism as we think of it in modern times is a radical notion which threatens the status quo. Myriad social obligations to one’s family, clan, village, Guild, and kingdom define one’s use of time.

In the Iron & Blood Steampunk series, it’s the height of the Victorian age, and human self-confidence is at an all-time high. Science overcomes new obstacles and solves old mysteries every day, and it seems like just a matter of time until the secrets of the universe are laid bare. Technology emerges to meet every challenge, and inventions are proof of limitless creativity. Every day, in every way, the world is getting better and better.

And yet, cholera and malaria and typhus and Yellow Fever scourge cities. Life is good for the upper classes, and, well, ‘Dickensian’ for those who aren’t. Infant mortality and childbed fever kill civilians while thousands die in places like Gettysburg and Antietam. Colonialism and racism take a horrendous toll which will not be seen or grasped for another century. Victorians bow under the weight of grief, and spiritualism is on the rise, seeking the answers science can’t provide. Strict social etiquette and suffocating class and gender roles restrict and constrain, and being openly LGBTQ earns prison or worse. People are people, but the Victorian lens through which the self and the world is viewed is narrow and particular.

My Deadly Curiosities dark urban fantasy series is set in modern-day Charleston, SC with a secret coalition of mortals and immortals who eliminate supernatural threats and get haunted and cursed objects out of circulation. Cassidy is our modern contemporary, shaped from our current culture, yet her psychometry enables her to sense a whole additional reality as she reads the history of objects by touch, and her knowledge that the supernatural is real informs her choices and world view in a way that sets her apart from those who don’t share her secrets. Sorren, a nearly 600 year-old vampire, knows how to adapt to changing times, yet his reactions and insights are a product of six centuries of enculturation and observation, and he will never again be part of his own time period.

When you’ve come face to face with Voudon loas and ancient god-like beings and battled monsters and creatures right out of legend and myth, your existential framework is going to be a little bent. When you know that the things that go bump in the night are real, when you’ve saved the world a couple of times though no one knows it, that changes your reactions to what’s on the news, shifts your perspective about what’s important, and changes your priorities.

How are the characters different among the subgenres? For me, they’re a combination of the familiar and the unfamiliar. The aspects that make them human–love, hate, passion, the need for connection and the desire to complete a task, make a difference or right a wrong–make the characters identifiable and relatable. The aspects that are influenced by culture impart believability within the timeframe of the story and make them interesting and memorable, truly a part of their era. For an author, it’s a fun challenge to bring off a mix in a way that forges an emotional connection for the reader. And as a reader, when that mix is done well, it opens a gateway to experience different lives and different times.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Books, Gail Z. Martin