Author Archives: disq2332

About disq2332

I'm Gail Z. Martin and I write epic fantasy, urban fantasy and steampunk--so far! My newest series is Scourge: A Novel of Darkhurst. I'm also the author for the Chronicles of the Necromancer series, The Fallen Kings Cycle, The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, the Deadly Curiosities urban fantasy series and co-authored with my husband, Larry N. Martin, the steampunk series Iron & Blood.

Epic Fantasy: More Than Just Swords

by Gail Z. Martin

What makes epic fantasy so … epic?

Some of it is scope. Epic fantasy series tend to think big: the rise and fall of kingdoms, the machinations of kings, huge battles, the fate of the world in the balance.

Epic fantasy, almost by definition, tends to be in a medieval setting. Monarchs, walled cities, pre-industrial technology, battles with trebuchets, catapults and … swords.

Swords and sword fights are definitely part of epic fantasy, along with knives, crossbows, longbows and other medieval armaments. If you think that limits the inventiveness of battle, take a look sometime at Leonardo DaVinci’s schematics for war machines. I’ve used some of those machines in conflicts in my prior books, and they were fun game changers.

There’s so much more to epic fantasy though than just the swords. Sure, understanding the battle tactics and weapons that are period-authentic is important for credibility, and necessary in order to be able to write exciting and realistic combat sequences. But battles take place within a larger world, impacted by technology, medicine, magic–or the lack thereof, geography, and so much more.

In order to make an epic fantasy book and series compelling, it has to offer a window on a unique world, to take the reader somewhere he or she has not been before. World-building is a huge part of epic fantasy, because even if some elements are familiar from the real world, essential differences in history, magic, resources and politics provide the core of the story and the setting for the conflict.

Compelling epic fantasy ushers the reader into a world filled with sights, smells, sounds and textures, complex and multi-dimensional. It’s my job as an author to help you find your way around, understand what makes the world unique, experience it for yourself through the eyes of the viewpoint characters.

Those characters are products of their world, and they move through it native-born, forged from its history, politics, losses and conflicts. We understand the world through the eyes of those characters, through the lens of their experiences, through their reactions. The characters would not be who they are if they existed in any other reality. They have been shaped by their environment, and they are uniquely suited to fight and survive because of that.

In order to create a believable epic fantasy world, it helps to be well-versed in our own world’s medieval history. Real world history is a good starting point for insight into the politics, intrigue, battle techniques, weaponry, medicine, lore, superstitions, belief systems and even cooking techniques of a world with technology and scientific understanding on a pre-seventeenth century level.

It requires thinking about everyday life in a time of slow communication, no antibiotics, poor sanitation, travel limited to the speed of horses or a walking pace. It also requires understanding a very different web of human connection than we experience in our modern world. Most people never strayed beyond the village where they were born, and spent their whole lives around the same couple of hundred people unless they lived in a large city. Depending on their social status, they might owe fealty to a lord, or be bound to the land, might be slave or free, and would be obligated to conform to a set of social and religious conventions we moderns find difficult to comprehend.

All of those components are part of what I’ve always loved about epic fantasy, whether it’s as a reader or as a writer. Epic fantasy worlds are as real as our own history, but different thanks to magic and essential shifts in fate and fortune. I studied medieval history in college, and continued that education unofficially ever since, through books and travel. Walking through castles in Wales, wandering ruins in Rome, exploring walled cities in Malta or Croatia made it clear to me that while that history was unquestionably ‘real’, it was also as far removed from my personal experience as the magic-infused worlds of my epic fantasy. It took just as much imagination for me to think of myself navigating the everyday world of those real places as it did for me to think of myself inhabiting my own epic fantasy settings or those of my favorite authors, and that was without factoring in magic.

So for me, all of those elements make epic fantasy compelling. The swords are important, but they’re just part of a larger whole, a world apart, somewhere that reminds us of our own past, but with crucial differences. And magic. Swords–and magic.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Books, Gail Z. Martin

Extending Book Series with Extra Episodes

by Gail Z. Martin

TV shows go on hiatus between seasons, but what do you call the time between when novels come out in an ongoing series? (OK, most of the time, what we readers call that break doesn’t use polite words, but work with me on this.)

I write four different fiction series–two epic fantasy series (Chronicles of the Necromancer/Fallen Kings Cycle and the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga), an urban fantasy series (Deadly Curiosities), and the Iron & Blood Steampunk series co-authored with Larry N. Martin. Lately, I’ve been bringing out a book a year in at least three of the series. But what about the other 11 months between books?

How about tie-in ebook short stories and novellas with additional adventures featuring the characters from the novels for a more detailed, in-depth look at the world and the people?

I started writing tie-in short stories with my Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures, which will eventually be the equivalent of three serialized novels that are prequels to The Summoner, the first book in my Chronicles series. Jonmarc is a favorite character from the Chronicles series, someone who plays a major role, but whose back story is not fully explored in the books. Solaris Books, the publisher of the first four Chronicles books, has now published The Shadowed Path, a collection of the first 10 Jonmarc stories plus an exclusive eleventh story, in print and ebook. There are 18 Jonmarc stories (the equivalent of the first two serialized novels), and I plan to have the last three novellas finished this year.

My Deadly Curiosities novels are dark urban fantasy, set in modern-day Charleston, SC with an alliance of mortals and immortals that battle supernatural threats, fight monsters, and get cursed objects off the market and out of the wrong hands. There are two novels so far in the series, and 18 short stories in my Deadly Curiosities Adventures tie-ins on ebook. The short stories function like extra ‘episodes’ for a TV series, with lots of action and adventure. Modern Magic: Twelve Tales of Urban Fantasy, the new 12-full book, 13 author ebook boxed set, is currently the only place you can get Trifles and Folly, the collection of 10 Deadly Curiosities short stories.

For my Ascendant Kingdoms post-apocalyptic medieval epic fantasy series, the extra novellas fill a six year ‘gap’ at the beginning of Ice Forged, the first book in the series. Something major happens, there is a six year fast-forward, and the main action of the book begins. Readers wanted to know more about the gap, so three novellas–Arctic Prison, Cold Fury and Ice Bound–tell the story of Blaine McFadden’s imprisonment in Velant (collected as King’s Convicts on ebook), with three more novellas to come about Blaine’s years as a colonist on Edgeland. And along the way, readers get to know main and secondary characters better and find out how the key relationships formed that affect the rest of the series.

Iron & Blood, the Steampunk series I co-write with my husband, Larry N. Martin, also have a tie-in series, The Storm and Fury Adventures, which feature Mitch Storm and Jacob Drangosavich, agents with the Department of Supernatural Investigation. Mitch and Jacob are secondary characters in the books, but are the protagonists (so far) in the short stories and novellas, which also add more ‘episodes’ and further explore the alternate history 1898 Pittsburgh and environs of the novels.

Expanding a series with short stories and novellas works for authors and readers. Readers don’t have to wait a year or more before the next book comes out to get more of favorite characters and adventures. Authors create a chance to attract new readers and keep current fans happy with extra, shorter adventures, and create indie-published content that can be used in collections, anthologies and used in promotion. Publishers benefit from increased sales of the original series as new readers find their way to the novels. It’s a win for everyone.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Books, Gail Z. Martin

The Long Road to The Shadowed Path

by Gail Z. Martin

Some stories are a long time in coming.

The Summoner launched my Chronicles of the Necromancer series back in 2007. Right now, there are six novels in that series (including the two Fallen Kings Cycle books that are really part of the same saga). The Chronicles/Fallen Kings books are Tris Drayke’s story, and he’s the main protagonist as he rises from exiled prince and fledgling mage to embattled king and powerful necromancer.

But in those books, an important secondary protagonist, Jonmarc Vahanian, captured the hearts of a lot of readers, and has always been one of my favorites. We meet Jonmarc when he’s twenty-nine, with a lot of hard years behind him, and plenty of scars, both physical and emotional. We get glimpses of his backstory, but not the whole tale. Readers wanted more, and the details were all clear in my mind.

So a few years ago, I started releasing ebook short stories in the Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures, which will eventually add up to three serialized novels about how Jonmarc becomes the man you meet in The Summoner. Solaris Books, the publisher of the Chronicles series, asked to publish the first ten of those stories–and an eleventh story exclusive to the collection–in ebook and paperback as The Shadowed Path. Of course, I said yes.

If you’ve read the individual stories, The Shadowed Path offers that extra eleventh story you can’t find anywhere else. If you were putting off reading the stories because they were only in ebook, the paperback version eliminates that obstacle. If you’ve read the Chronicles series, think of The Shadowed Path and the other short stories as a prequel. (There are also eight additional individual stories beyond those in the collection available online with more to come.) And if you haven’t read the series, The Shadowed Path is a great place to start, knowing you can dive in deep with the books when you’re done.

It’s been interesting coming back to write in a series after taking a few years off. Maybe it’s true that you never forget your first love, because as soon as I sat down to work on the stories, it all came back to me in a rush. I’m still as passionate about the characters as ever, and the world is still as vivid. (That’s good, because I still have six more books in the series in my head that will get written at some point, picking up after a 17 year break in-world time.)

Since The Shadowed Path begins 14 years before The Summoner, readers not only get a unique glimpse into Jonmarc’s past, but also into the past of Margolan and the Winter Kingdoms in the heyday of King Bricen’s reign. So when Jonmarc runs into other characters who appear briefly in the novels, he’s encountering them at a very different time in their personal history and in the history of the kingdom. In these stories, readers get to see Maynard Linton, the mage Alyzza and even the bounty hunters Chessis and Vakkis from a whole new perspective, gaining a different, deeper understanding of why they act as they do in the book series.

Not only that, but by beginning Jonmarc’s journey at its start, my goal is to make many of Jonmarc’s actions, comments and reactions in the book take on a much deeper resonance. My goal was to show readers the circumstances and situations that forged Jonmarc’s fears and opinions, and the loss and pain that built his walls, as well as the memories and connections that helped him find a path to redemption.

So walk a few miles in Jonmarc’s boots, see the events that forged his nightmares, the battles that gave him his scars.

Soldier. Fight slave. Smuggler. Warrior. Brigand lord. If you’ve met Jonmarc Vahanian in the Chronicles of the Necromancer and Fallen Kings Cycle books, you don’t really know him until you take his journey.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Books, Gail Z. Martin

Terra Incognita—Heading into a new Epic Series

By Gail Z. Martin

I’m very excited to have a new epic fantasy series coming out from Solaris in 2017. I’ve been referring to it as the Epically-Epic Epic Fantasy That Cannot Yet Be Named (or E3F for short) because we haven’t released the book or series names or the concept. Book one is in the middle of edits, so we’re closing in on a final version, and I’ll be starting on book two soon.

E3F marks the third completely new epic fantasy world I’ve created. My goal in developing this series was to come up with something very different from what readers have experienced in my Chronicles of the Necromancer/Fallen Kings Cycle world or my Ascendant Kingdoms Saga world. Likewise, I wanted to go in a fresh direction with the characters, the magic and the approach to religion.

How does a writer return to familiar territory (in this case, the quasi-Medieval epic fantasy setting) and still take the reader somewhere they haven’t been before?

The answer is: look at history. While many kingdoms coexisted in the same time period in real life, they were hardly identical. Their unique history, culture, political structure, religion (and interpretation of that belief system), geography, economic situation and climate all produced very different settings. Dial forward or backward by a few years, and you see more permutations in the waging, winning and losing of wars, exploration, conquering and colonizing of new territory, the impact of plague or political instability, invasion, natural disaster, and other variables that all dramatically affected the nature of the kingdoms, the choices of those in positions of power, and the stressors on the common people.

Those factors are the ‘ingredients’ I take into consideration as I’m building a new epic fantasy world. They determine what day-to-day life is like in the kingdom and surrounding territory, the fears and expectations of the powerful and the commoners, the decisions to be made and the ripple effects of those decisions. Are we coming off several years of stability and prosperity, or a decade of war, famine, poor harvests and plague? Is the king’s position secure, or are there rivals and threats both foreign and domestic? Are the army and the mages supportive of the king, or is treachery afoot? And what big incident is going to upset the status quo and start the plot ball rolling for the action in the book?

In the Chronicles series, the ‘big incident’ was the assassination of the royal family and the rise of Jared the Usurper. In the Ascendant Kingdoms series, it was the night of the Cataclysm, when the world burned and magic failed. In E3F, the incident that sets events in motion isn’t nearly as huge and important, but the repercussions grow into actions that change the course of history, very much in the tradition of the rhyme about how a kingdom was lost for want of a nail.

I can’t say much about the characters in E3F yet, but I will let slip that they’re not royals or nobility. They’re regular people, just trying to get through the day, until a sequence of events magnifies the consequences of their actions. Remember, ‘may you live in interesting times’ is actually a curse.

Stay tuned! We’ll be revealing more about the new series as we get closer to the summer launch!

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

Read an excerpt from my Deadly Curiosities short story Redcap

A free excerpt from my Deadly Curiosities short story Spook House

Creepy! Free excerpt from our Steampunk Storm and Fury Adventures short story Resurrection Day (set in the world of on our Steampunk novel Iron & Blood)

Sweet! Here’s an excerpt from my new urban fantasy novel Vendetta set in my Deadly Curiosities world here

Good stuff! An excerpt from my Jonmarc Vahanian Adventure story Raider’s Curse, part of The Shadowed Path

Check out the book video for The Summoner and The Blood King

Use your free Audible trial to get my books! Deadly Curiosities is now available!

Leave a Comment

Filed under Books, Gail Z. Martin

Collections and Obsessions

By Gail Z. Martin

Collections weird me out. Whenever I hear about someone who has the ‘world’s biggest collection of’ fill-in-the-blank, I get a little cold chill down my spine, because dedicated collectors are obsessive, and coming from my viewpoint as a fantasy author, obsession is the root of madness.

Maybe I’m unduly influenced by my father, who was a collector and a hoarder (that’s really a spectrum of the same set of actions, defined by how high your collections are piled and the eye of the beholder). When he died, dealing with his collections took months, and ended up inspiring my Deadly Curiosities urban fantasy series about cursed and haunted objects. Most of the objects mentioned in Deadly Curiosities and Vendetta (as well as the tie-in short stories and novellas in the Deadly Curiosities Adventures) are pieces dad owned which I had to deal with, and some definitely did come with seriously bad vibes. My short story, Collector, even features one of those objects on the cover.

Some of my wariness about collections also stems from the ones I’ve seen donated to museums. The Mutter Museum, the Ripley’s Believe it or Not museums and the Warren Occult Museum are some of the creepiest collections of anatomical oddities, strange phenomena and potentially evil objects. But go through any major museum and you’ll see groupings of ancient objects like Roman curse tablets, Victorian post-mortem photography and memorial hair jewelry, odds and ends purchased as mementos on the Grand Tours of the Gilded Era back when anything could be bought for a price. I don’t claim any psychic ability, but I’ve more than one stood in front of the display case and shuddered, wondering “who thought it was a good idea to bring this stuff home with them?”

That touch of obsession that fuels hard-core collectors is the inspiration for a lot of fictional bad guys, from The Collector in Simon R. Green’s Nightside series to Vincent Price’s character in House of Wax, to characters like Bela Talbot and Cuthbert Sinclair in TV’s Supernatural. True obsession breeds ruthlessness and maybe a few glimmers of sociopathic behavior, the willingness to do anything to complete a collection or obtain a coveted object.

I come back to the concept of obsession and collecting in some of my other series aside from Deadly Curiosities. The Iron & Blood steampunk series, co-authored with my husband Larry N. Martin, features main characters Jake Desmet and Rick Brand whose import company acquires the hard-to-obtain (and sometimes ill-gotten) objects of desire for the Robber Baron captains of industry in 1898 Pittsburgh, along with some of the city’s powerful supernatural denizens. The Storm and Fury Adventures short stories and novellas that extend the series often deal with the ramifications of dangerous and paranormally tainted collections and the madmen behind them. And collecting several high-powered arcane items is an important element of my Ascendant Kingdoms epic fantasy series.

Collections of real-life objects may be a way to preserve history or recreate an emotional reaction with old memories, and most are certainly harmless. But it’s those outliers that give me the willies, and definitely reinforce the warning, ‘look but don’t touch.’

Check out my collections of a whole different sort! Trifles and Folly is a collection of the first nine Deadly Curiosities Adventures short stories, available for the first time on Kindle, Kobo and Nook! The Shadowed Path is a collection of eleven Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures short stories and serves as a prequel to my Chronicles of the Necromancer series—available in ebook and print. And King’s Convicts is a collection of three Blaine McFadden Adventures novellas that fill in a gap of time in Ice Forged from my Ascendant Kingdoms Saga—also available in ebook.

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

Creepy! Free excerpt from our Steampunk Storm and Fury Adventures short story Resurrection Day

An excerpt from Collector, the Deadly Curiosities short story I mentioned above

Trick Or Treat w excerpt from my Jonmarc Vahanian Adventure short story Raider’s Curse from The Shadowed Path

Hot stuff! Look at my video for Ice Forged and Reign of Ash

Use your free Audible trial to get my books! The Summoner

Read free excerpts from all of Falstaff Books’ new releases!


Leave a Comment

Filed under Books, Gail Z. Martin

The Voodoo and Hoodoo that You Do

By Gail Z. Martin

My Deadly Curiosities dark urban fantasy series of books, novellas and short stories is set in Charleston, SC. Charleston is a beautiful city with a bloody past, one of the oldest cities in the United Sates, and one of the most haunted.

I draw on a broad range of magic in Deadly Curiosities—everything from Cherokee shamans to Voodoo (some practitioners prefer Voudon) mambos and houngans, and root workers along with a secret society of kick-ass Episcopalian priests, witches, a necromancer, supernatural hit men, a paranormal special ops guy, clairvoyants, a psychic medium, and more.

Many of the characters associated with magic are recurring cast members for the series, showing up in both books and throughout the short stories and novellas. Lucinda is a Voudon mambo and Caliel is a houngan, both descendants of Mama Nadedge, a mambo who lived in the 1700s and whose ghost still haunts Charleston’s alleys. Father Anne is an unorthodox Episcopalian priest, a member of the secret St. Expeditious Society, and a friend to the Alliance, always happy to help come kick some demon ass. Ernestine Teller is a root worker and a weaver of sweetgrass baskets. She and her daughter, Niella, use their abilities with Hoodoo to help Cassidy and the team take out the bad guys. These are just a few of the magic-wielding allies that Cassidy, Sorren and Teag call on through the Alliance. You’ll meet more, but I don’t want to give anything away!

In addition to the inherent hauntedness of Charleston, I’ve added a lot of magic and supernatural traditions. Most people connect Voodoo (or Voudon as some practitioners prefer) with New Orleans, but forget that slaveholding families would have moved back and forth between Charleston and New Orleans to visit relatives, or slaves would have been sold between plantations. That makes it reasonable to me that Voodoo practitioners could have been in Charleston, and that their descendants might be there today. Voudon plays a big role in the Deadly Curiosities novels and in a lot of the short stories, and the Loa—powerful spirits—are very active.

Hoodoo (sometimes called ‘conjure’) is another folk tradition with strong African and Caribbean roots that came with enslaved individuals. Hoodoo is particularly well-known in the Lowcountry region of South Carolina and is often referred to as ‘putting a root’ on someone. Practitioners are known as ‘root women’ or ‘root workers’. Spells, powders, rituals and potions abound for blessing, cursing, bringing good fortune or warding off evil.  Conjure workers often deal with attracting love, happiness and wealth, or causing misfortune to someone who did somebody wrong. Even today in the South Carolina Lowcountry, it is no idle threat to ‘put a root’ on someone! You’ll see more of Hoodoo and Voodoo in both Deadly Curiosities and Vendetta and in the ‘extended episode’ short stories and novellas.

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

Excerpt from my book Ice Forged

Try this excerpt from Collector, a Deadly Curiosities story

Use your free Audible trial to get my books! DeadlyCuriosities

Enjoy this excerpt from Bad Blood, a Jonmarc Vahanian Adventure

Sweet! An excerpt from Stuart Jaffe’s Southern Bound Max Porter Paranormal Mystery:

Double Dragon Sampler #3

Spooky! An excerpt from John Hartness’s Bubba The Monster Hunter story Hall & Goats

Have you seen the Vendetta video?

Read free excerpts from all of Falstaff Books’ new releases!

Leave a Comment

Filed under Books, Gail Z. Martin

Defying Categories

by Gail Z. Martin

Writers, like actors can get pigeon-holed.

If you’re very successful writing one type of fiction, publishers, agents and readers want you to continue to write that same type of fiction, sometimes indefinitely. While it’s great to have ongoing series, most creative people like to experiment, stretch their wings, try something new. Creating a new series that is in the same genre is often an easy sell, because since you’ve succeeded with that genre before, people expect continued success.

But what if you’ve got ideas for other types of stories, outside that genre? Then it can get dicey. Publishers and agents worry about risk. Readers of one genre might not read the other genre. Even your gender might be an asset in one genre and a liability in another. Some genres are considered to be more competitive than others, and certain genres have overall higher sales figures/readership than others. All of those things factor in to potential profitability of a new series, the impact on your track record/reputation, and future opportunities.

Ideally, you want to have the freedom to keep doing what made you successful, while being able to risk venturing into new territory. Some authors achieve this by writing in the other genres with separate publishers, or by working with a small press. Others use indie publishing to bring out series in genres where they haven’t previously made a name for themselves. Still others choose to use a pseudonym, either to separate their sales in one genre from those in another, or by or because they don’t want to confuse readers whose preferences might not cross over. Lingering stereotypes about author gender lead some writers to assume one persona for one genre (like romance) and a different personal for another genre (like suspense). I’m looking at you, Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb.

I’ve been very lucky to have had supportive publishers who have enabled me to write epic fantasy, urban fantasy and steampunk. I’m currently working on new books that fall into the horror, dark urban fantasy and space opera categories. I don’t know whether those will find a home with a publisher or whether we’ll bring them out indie, but they are tales I want to tell. I know up front that not every reader will follow me across the genres, but I believe there will be some degree of overlap, and welcome the chance to develop relationships with new readers.

Writing is about creativity as well as earning a living. If you keep writing the same kind of things without a chance to explore new ideas, you’re likely to get bored, resentful or stale, none of which will do good things for your fiction. So write what you want, and eventually those stories will find a home and an audience. They might not succeed equally, but you’ll learn something in the process, have some fun, try out new skills, explore new place, meet new people. That journey is just as important as the destination.

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

Excerpt from Caves of the Dead in my Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures

Enjoy an excerpt from Coffin Box, one of my Deadly Curiosities Adventures short story

Hot stuff! Look at my video for Ice Forged and Reign of Ash

Hey! My Ascendant Kingdoms series is on Audible! Start w Ice Forged here


Leave a Comment

Filed under Books, Gail Z. Martin

Mining History

by Gail Z. Martin

How can you ever get writers’ block when there’s history?  History is the ultimate reality show. It’s the best gossip in the world.

Once you get past the pallid caricatures of historical figures presented in high school textbooks, you realize that the famed forebears who forged history were flawed, broken, selfish, pig-headed, inspired, visionary, brilliant, horny, bigoted, exceptional, obsessive hot messes, and that makes them fascinating.

Need a role model for your character? Ideas for political schemes? Plans to take over the world? History’s got them all. Anything you can dream up has been done, and history is ready to dish the scoop and tell you all about the winners and the losers. Take something that happened in history, twist it a little, add magic or monsters, move it to a different geographic area, shift a pivotal outcome–and you’ve got the basis for a whole new series.

A caveat–history is often re-written by the winners, or they make certain their version of accounts survive and dominate. So it’s key to also look for the holes in the narrative, because that’s where people without power have been consciously erased by those who want to own and control the story. Ever wonder why the narratives we grew up with had few if any women, people of color, LGBT people? It’s because their contributions were intentionally excised from the main narrative. Yet they definitely existed and did amazing things–and you can find this ‘hidden history’ through journals, letters and personal accounts.

Mining history has never been easier, thanks to the wealth of digitized records museums, archivists and individuals are bringing online on a daily basis–much of which is free to access. Photographs, letters, official documents, the census, maps, out of print books, newspaper articles–it’s all there, and it’s a wonder to behold. So many ideas in those yellowed pages!

When I get stymied by a plot point, I research. It might be Googling random ideas and seeing where it leads me, or following links in Wikipedia, or watching something on the History Channel. Inevitably, I find the perfect elements that I didn’t even know I was looking for. It’s magic–and so addictive. Sometimes I think writers write as an excuse to research. Time can get away from you so easily!

Then again, I was a history geek even before I became a writer. I’d still love history if I didn’t write, but since I do, I find it to be my killer app, the Swiss Army knife of writing tools. You’ll never run dry of ideas so long as you’ve got history!

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

Here’s an excerpt from Bad Memories, one of my Deadly Curiosities story

Read a free excerpt from Among the Shoals Forever, A Deadly Curiosities short story

Enjoy this excerpt from my novel The Summoner

Use your free Audible trial to get my books! Ice Forged Audible


Leave a Comment

Filed under Books, Gail Z. Martin

Writing Real People into Your Fiction

by Gail Z. Martin

If you’re going to use real people in your fiction, make it easy on yourself and be sure they’re dead.

Dead people don’t have as many rights as living people (or corporations). Public figures have fewer privacy restrictions than private individuals. If you’re going to make a character be something really terrible, pick someone who is long dead, long enough that close relatives won’t feel inclined to sue. I’m not a lawyer, but if you think you’re going to use a real person in a book in a way that might make someone related to that person annoyed enough to make your life miserable, you might want to create a fictional character instead. Remember that the laws differ from country to country, so err on the side of caution if you don’t want to fork over legal fees.

That said, using real public figures who have been dead for a hundred years ago are fair game. They won’t have spouses, children or grandchildren around who might fear a tarnished reputation if you make great grand-daddy a serial killer. Hence, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter.

What about using people you know? This is dangerous territory. If the person paid to be written in (called a ‘Tuckerization’), it’s still good to get a signed release form, in case memory lapses years down the road. While we all learn about people by watching the folks who are around us on a daily basis, resist the urge to write in the kid who bullied you in fifth grade or the roommate from college who stole your best sweater. Fiction should be more than cheap revenge, and there’s more to building good characters than wholesale copying. It’s one thing to assemble a mixture of traits from a variety of real people and another thing to make a real person easily identifiable as the model for your character. Unless you like settling legal disputes, avoid causing harm.

In general, I will use real people and places in my urban fantasy and our steampunk to create a sense of time and place, often as walk-on or secondary characters. I treat long-dead public figures with less care than modern celebrities and politicians, and generally avoid using the latter unless it’s a cultural reference (and even then, such things can date your book).

It’s the same courtesy I use for real places. Historic, public and government buildings, sites and organizations are safe to use as locations. On the other hand, I don’t like to use a real, existing business in my fiction because they might not be in business by the time the book is printed, and they might not be happy about being used as a crime scene or alleged to be run by a supernatural monster that eats children.  I figure my life is chaotic enough without dodging legal problems that can be easily avoided. In writing, as in medicine, it’s good to follow the concept, “first, do no harm.”

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

Use your free Audible trial to get my Deadly Curiosities!

Here’s an excerpt from my novel The Summoner

Enjoy this free excerpt from Bounty Hunter, one of my Jonmarc Vahanian Adventure short stories

Try an excerpt from Wicked Dreams, a Deadly Curiosities short story

Leave a Comment

Filed under Books, Gail Z. Martin

Making Magic: Creating a Magical System

by Gail Z. Martin

How does a writer go about creating a magical system when magic isn’t ‘real’?

Fortunately, we have centuries worth of books, letters, writings and documents detailing all kinds of magical systems by people who believed them to be very real. Lift the hood on modern magical practices and the structure of religions, and you’ll find food for thought. The trick is taking those elements and making them something unique to your world, rooted in your special brand of magic.

Mystical practice–whether occult or religious–has a core need to create a sense of altered and heightened reality in its devotees. The means of doing so is well documented, and validated by psychology. Trance states can be induced by repetitive actions (chanting, rocking, dance), by chemicals (peyote, wine, hallucinogens), by physical hardship (fasting, grueling initiation rites), by sleep deprivation or extended solitude. Once the right mental buttons have been pressed, susceptible initiates will have visions, hear voices, feel non-existent stimuli, believe themselves to be flying. Most ritual initiations have some element of acting out a form of death and resurrection. These are the stuff of belief and religion–and the same building blocks of magic.

Liturgy has as its intent the opening of liminal space, thinning the veil between our world and the next. Blood and sacrifice often factor in at some level, literal or metaphorical. There is power in speaking the old words in the old ways, dressed in clothing that denotes being set apart from daily occupations, in a space deemed to be sacred, with the intent of achieving a mystical connection with something greater than ourselves and tapping into that power.

Think about the rules for the magic you create. Who has magic and who doesn’t? Must you be born with it or can it be acquired? Can you learn to improve your magic, or do you come ‘factory-equipped’? Do abilities differ in type and power? Is magic permitted in the society? Desired? Feared? Persecuted? Do people with magical abilities hold special positions and do they have a choice about being inducted into those roles? How can magic be misused and what are the consequences? Who are considered the ‘bad’ people with magic, who are the ‘good’ people and why? Is magic hidden or openly used? What are the limits and costs of using magic? Where does the power come from? How has the use/understanding of the magic changed over time or vary depending on the status of the user? Always build in a Kryptonite for your mages so that they don’t become all-powerful. Magic must have a price, both to learn and to use or else you’ve got a lot of godlings running around throwing lightning bolts and it’s bloody boring.

Study what makes ritual and religion tick, and you’ll understand the psychological drivers necessary for a convincing magical system. I can usually spot when an author has no first-hand experience with a faith tradition or is contemptuous of anything mystical because their attempts at written magic fall flat. They are missing the heart, the transcendence. Magic has rules and structure, but it is also emotional and transcendent. Miss that, and all you’ve got is a shopping list for odd ingredients and some funny words in bad poems.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Books, Gail Z. Martin