Category Archives: Gail Z. Martin

Manga Maniac Café Talks to Gail Z. Martin

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Describe yourself in five words or less.

A: Writer, author, scribe, imaginer, storyteller.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about Deadly Curiosities?

A: Deadly Curiosities takes place in historic, haunted Charleston. Welcome to Trifles & Folly, an antique and curio shop with a dark secret. Proprietor Cassidy Kincaide continues a family tradition begun 350 years ago – acquiring and neutralizing dangerous supernatural items. It’s the perfect job for Cassidy, whose psychic gift lets her touch an object and know its history. Together with her business partner Sorren, a 500 year-old vampire and former jewel thief, Cassidy makes it her business to get infernal objects off the market.

When a trip to a haunted hotel unearths a statue steeped in malevolent power, and a string of murders draws a trail to an abandoned section of the old Navy yard, Cassidy and Sorren discover a diabolical plot to unleash a supernatural onslaught on their city.

It’s time for Kincaide and her team to get rid of these Deadly Curiosities before the bodies start piling up.

The novel will be out in June in bookstores everywhere and online. I also have a free novella, The Final Death, set in the Deadly Curiosities world that’s available free on Wattpad here: And I write short stories in the Deadly Curiosities universe (including several time periods in the past) available on Kindle, Kobo and Nook, with more to come.

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  How did you come up with the concept and characters?

A: I visited Charleston a few years back for a conference, and then took my family back for a longer visit. It’s a beautiful place with a rich history and a lot of scandal and salaciousness beneath all the propriety. I loved the city, and I realized that it hadn’t been overdone as an urban fantasy setting. I started brainstorming right then about what kind of a series would be a good fit. Charleston’s one of the most haunted cities in the US, so ghosts fit right in, along with other supernatural creatures. An antique/curio shop also was a natural, because Charleston is full of them, and it would be the obvious place to bring an old, haunted object. From there, the characters took on a life of their own.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What gave you the most trouble with the story?

A: I wouldn’t say it was “trouble”, but Deadly Curiosities is my first series set in a real place in the modern time, so that means I can’t just make everything up! It required deciding what elements to make fictitious and where to draw on real people/places/history. And it also took a lot of research and fact-checking!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What’s one thing you won’t leave home without?

A: A book to read. I don’t mind waiting in line if I’ve got a book.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Name three things on your desk right now.

A: Cup of coffee, smartphone, to-do list.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you could trade places with anyone for just one day, who would you be?

A: My dogs. They have it good! Lounge around all day, go for a walk, be waited on paw-and-paw, then on to evening snuggling while watching TV. That’s the life!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] You have been granted the use of one superpower for one week.  Which power would you choose, and what would you do with it?

A: Super-speed (as long as it came with super-dexterity), so I could finally get caught up on everything I need to do!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are some books that you enjoyed recently?

A: Lately I’ve been alternating through the Harry Dresden books by Jim Butcher and the Secret Histories series by Simon R. Green. (You can actually see most of what I’ve read in the last couple of years on Goodreads. It’s missing older stuff and some ebooks, but it’s got 500 or so of my latest reads!)

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Looking Around the Corner From Epic to Urban and Beyond

by Gail Z. Martin

What’s it like making a jump from epic to urban fantasy (and beyond that, to steampunk)? Exciting, scary and fun–sort of like your favorite amusement park ride. And best of all for a writer, challenging.

I’ve written eight epic fantasies, big, thick 600 page adventures sprawling across kingdoms and continents, filled with necromancers and mages, monsters and magic, armies, battles, intrigue and scandal. The most recent is Reign of Ash, sequel to Ice Forged, in my Ascendant Kingdoms series from Orbit, and before that, my Chronicles of the Necromancer series from Solaris.

It’s so much fun to paint with words on the huge canvas that epic fantasy requires. Story arcs are big, enemies are ruthless on a large scale, problems have to be, well, epic in size. It’s an absolute blast to be the man behind the curtain, the wizard of your own Oz, pulling the levers and running the show. I have no desire to stop writing epic fantasy–and there are still several more books under contract.

But there were other stories that I really wanted to tell, and they demanded different settings. My Deadly Curiosities urban fantasy novel/series from Solaris is set in modern-day Charleston, SC. It grew out of a short story I wrote for their Magic: Esoteric and Arcane anthology, and a world I developed for stories I had done in many other anthologies. Deadly Curiosities is about a 350 year-old antique and curio shop that exists to get dangerous magical items off the market and out of the wrong hands. And it absolutely required a setting other than epic fantasy in order to do the stories justice.

Then there’s the steampunk novel, Iron and Blood, coming up in 2015 with Solaris and I’m co-authoring with my husband, Larry N. Martin. It’s grown out of a fascination with a particular city and it takes a supernatural twist on steampunk. It had to be a certain “when” and a certain “where.” The story wouldn’t settle for anything else.

One of the things that is so much fun about all this is that as an author, it’s a bit like having to shift between ballet, tango and hip-hop styles, or between three different style of martial arts, or speaking three different languages sequentially. It’s a hell of a mental exercise, creative jujitsu, and it’s an exciting challenge.

The epic fantasies and the steampunk are third-person narrative. The urban fantasy is first-person. The epics and steampunk have male protagonists and strong female secondary characters. The urban fantasy has a female protagonist/point-of-view character with some seriously kick-ass male secondary characters. In the epic series, the worlds were entirely of my own creation, so I didn’t have to reconcile anything with real historical facts. The urban fantasy is set in a real city, and while I take some liberties and fudge some details for the sake of artistic license, I still have to respect the bulk of Charleston’s history and its past and current geography in order to be true to the city as a setting. In the steampunk book, I’m doing an alternate history of the city, but I that means tweaking and twisting its history, not ignoring it all together. When it’s all said and done, it still has to feel authentic to the people who live there now.

Even magic changes its flavor as I dance between the genres. Epic fantasy magic is on as grand a scale as the rest of the story, with sorcerer-caliber power that can destroy armies or whole kingdoms. In my urban fantasy, the magic is more subtle, sneakier, a combination of curses, restless ghosts, emotional resonance, and stone tape as well as demons, demonic minion monsters, Voodoo priests, psychometry and more. In the steampunk books, magic takes a Victorian sensibility, dangerous but with decorum, a Marquis of Queensbury death dealing that tips its hat before trying to blow you into the hereafter.

At the end of the day, my goal is to make sure that readers have even more fun reading the books than I have writing them. I want to take you on a wild ride, show you some wonders, and skid full-speed into the conclusion so that you’ve got one thought: “Damn that was fun–let’s do it again!”

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Books, Bones, Buffy Interview with Gail Z. Martin

1. Deadly Curiosities is your first foray into urban fantasy, after writing very successfully in the epic fantasy genre. What were the challenges of writing something completely different?As a writer, it’s always fun to switch things up a bit to avoid getting stale or burned out. So while I love epic fantasy, and will continue to write new epic fantasy novels and short stories, it was time to add something new to the mix.

With urban fantasy, one of the challenges is that you’re writing in the modern day, in an existing city where real people actually live. So you’ve got to give people a reason to believe that magic and supernatural things are real in your book, and you’ve got to get the details right about the city.

While quite a bit of the Charleston in Deadly Curiosities really exists, I have added fictional businesses and locations just because it’s easier that way and sidesteps some hassles. Understandably, real businesses don’t want to be linked to supernatural mayhem, so I’ve created some fictional stand-ins. Likewise, I do my best to check on character names to avoid accidentally getting the same name as someone locally well-known. It’s a whole new twist to writing!

2. There are lots of ghosts in Deadly Curiosities. Have you ever had a ghostly experience yourself?

I have not, although I know a lot of people who have had some very intense experiences. I’ve loved ghost stories since I was a very small child, and have read a lot of them. I’m a huge ghost fan!

3. One of my favorite things about Deadly Curiosities is the authentic southern feeling I got while reading the book. The Charleston, SC setting is steeped in history and ghostly lore. What sort of research did you do for the book?

I’ve been to Charleston a number of times and fell in love with the city. It’s absolutely beautiful, with so much history and so many ghosts. Visiting the city absolutely helped me to get it clearly in mind. Also, I’ve done a lot of research into periods in the city’s history, specific buildings—I’m always looking information up to try to get the details just right.

4. Deadly Curiosities ends very neatly and all the plot points seem to be wrapped up. (And by the way, thank you for that! Cliffhangers are so overrated…) But are you planning other books set in the world of Cassidy, Teag and Sorren?

Yes. We’re talking about a series, with a second book in 2015. In the meantime, you can read more about Cassidy, Teag and Sorren in my Deadly Curiosities Adventures—short stories on Kindle, Kobo and Nook, plus my free novella The Final Death on Wattpad. Some of the short stories are further adventures of Cassidy and the gang in modern times (either before the novel or between the novels) and some are about Sorren in centuries past, always working for the Alliance to get rid of dangerous magical objects!

5. What’s a “Day in the Life” of Gail Z. Martin like? Do you write full time, and if so, what sort of writing hours do you keep each day?

I get up, work out, usually take care of errands in the morning, and then get down to writing in the afternoon through early evening. I can do things like email and social media in the morning, but the creative brain doesn’t really kick on until around 2 pm, and goes to around 8 pm or so.

6. I noticed that your touring schedule on your website is very busy, and includes lots of stops at various Cons. (although I sadly noticed that Comic Con isn’t on the list! The one Con I’ll be attending…). What is your favorite part about attending Cons? And I’ll ask the question that I know everyone is thinking about: when you attend Cons, do you have a special costume that you wear?

I would love to go to Comic Con sometime! And no, when I go to Cons I’m not in costume, but catch me as guest author at the Arizona Renaissance Festival or the Carolinas Renaissance Festival, and I’ll be in full medieval garb!

My favorite part of attending Cons is seeing old friends and making new friends. It’s a time for me to connect with other authors, to hear publishing news and maybe get invited to anthologies or promotional events, to hang out with long-time readers, and to introduce new people to the books. Plus, I was a fan long before I was a pro author, so I’ve been attending Cons as a fan since I was in high school. And sometimes, I have a total fangirl moment. Like the first time I met Katherine Kurtz, or when I met the actresses who played Angelique and Josette on the original Dark Shadows. You never know who you’ll meet in the elevator!

7. I know from your website that you have pets. I’m an animal lover myself, and I’d love to share some pet photos with my readers! (Only if you want to, disregard this question if you aren’t interested)

I have a Maltese and a Golden Retriever, and a Himalayan cat. The cat is rather grouchy about photos, but I’m attaching a couple of the dogs—they think they’re brothers.

8. Please tell my readers three things about you that can’t be found on your website.

I absolutely love going to museums—and usually find my way to their creepiest collections. I enjoy cooking when I’m not in a rush. I once went parachuting and fell off the airplane.

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The Haunting of Charleston: Setting Deadly Curiosities in the Real World

By Gail Z. Martin

My new urban fantasy novel, Deadly Curiosities, is set in modern-day Charleston, SC. Charleston is one of the most-visited tourist cities in the U.S., and it deserves its fame. It’s an old city in a young country, and it’s played a big role in history, from the American Revolution through the Civil War and into the current headlines. It’s beloved for its food, its architecture, its horse-drawn carriage rides and its multitude of ghost stories. And when I visited Charleston a few years ago, I thought that all of those features made it a perfect setting for an urban fantasy series.

So how does an author handle writing fantasy in the real world?

Carefully, and with a lot of fact-checking.

In my Chronicles of the Necromancer series and my Ascendant Kingdoms Saga books, the setting is entirely of my own making. Yes, the kingdoms have a medieval, somewhat Western European look to them, but their history, their geography, everything about them is completely out of my imagination. There’s no historian who can gainsay me that I got the dates wrong for King So-And-So’s reign, or that some other historic point is incorrect. My world, my history.

That all goes out the window when you’re writing about a city where hundreds of thousands of people actually live, and many thousands more have visited.

I remember talking to someone who actually lived in Hawaii when Hawaii-Five-0 was on TV back in the 1970s. When I asked about the show, he said that people who lived in Honolulu regularly had a good chuckle when the cops on TV went to the corner of streets that didn’t intersect, buildings that didn’t exist, etc. Some of those “errors” might well have been intentional to avoid causing problems for real businesses. (There have been horror stories about companies or individuals who had an address or phone number used in a movie, TV show or song.) But whether intentional or not, the locals noticed.

On one hand, there’s no point setting a book in a real city if you aren’t going to use real landmarks and snippets of the city’s actual history. Otherwise, you might as well just make the whole place up and be done with it.

On the other hand, as an author you don’t want to accidently cast aspersions on real people (living or dead—unless they are so famous that they are essentially in the public domain, like Abraham Lincoln). And if you’re looking for a location for a gruesome murder, vicious ghoul attack, human sacrifice or some other less-than-flattering activity, it’s reasonable to think that private businesses don’t want that kind of thing linked to them, even in fiction. (Public sites, like monuments, parks, government buildings, etc. are fair game.)

So while the locale in which a major event happens in the book does exist (the old Navy yard), the buildings I reference are completely fictitious. So are the businesses that Cassidy patronizes as well as their owners. On the other hand, landmarks like the Charleston City Market, Battery Row, and White Point Garden do exist, grounding the story in some reality and giving visitors to Charleston a clear image of where the action takes place.

Some of the historical figures I mention (like the famous murderess Lavinia Fisher) are real. Others I created based on historical precedent, but not on a single historical person. When writing in a modern-day setting, I Google names to avoid accidentally using the name of a local person, and I’m cautious about using references to influential people from the past since they may well have living relatives in the area. None of these were things I had to worry about in my epic fantasy!

I’ve taken some liberties with the city’s history as well. If I can find an interesting event in history that works into the story, that’s great. But if I need something to advance the plot, I’ll insert a little alternate history to make it work. After all, if magic is operative and Charleston is filled with vampires and Voodoo, adding a new pirate or an extra hurricane here or there is not such a big stretch!

At the end of the day, I want the series to feel comfortable and familiar to those who know Charleston well. Maybe the Charleston in my books isn’t exactly the city they’ve visited or lived in, but all the right touchstones are there to make them feel at home. And with luck, the ways I’ve altered the city and its history to meet the needs of the story feel authentic, the Charleston that could be or might have been. After all, this is fiction!

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What We Collect

By Gail Z. Martin

In my new book Deadly Curiosities, Cassidy Kincaide is the proprietor of Trifles and Folly, a 350 year-old antique and curio shop that exists to get dangerous magical items off the market. Behind the idea of antique shops and shows, flea markets, swap meets, even garage sales, lies the concept of the collector, the person who is continually seeking that perfect piece to complete a set, or who wants to have the biggest and best assortment of something.

Why do we collect what we collect, and what does it say about us?

My father was a collector and a hoarder. I grew up going to antique shows, curio shops, flea markets, used book stores (the musty kind, not the cool kind) and any gathering where old stuff was for sale. And I never cease to be amazed at what people collect.

At various times, my dad collected old VW Beetles, antique steam engines (the huge ones from sawmills), Native American artifacts, books about the Old West, Baby Ben alarm clocks, Smith-Corona typewriters, old Singer sewing machines, 1920s oscillating fans and bear traps. Yes—bear traps.

When it came time to clean out his stash after he went into a nursing home, I had the chance to think a lot about collectors and collections. Not everyone lets theirs get as far out of hand as my father did, and unless it takes over your life, collecting can be a fun hobby. But why do we collect things, and what makes us pick particular collections?

I can’t back this up with more than anecdotal evidence, but I suspect that nostalgia heavily influences the choice of collection. As we dug through all the things dad bought, I could link many of them to stories he had told about things he remembered from his childhood. The Baby Ben alarm clock from his grandmother’s house—he had over 100 of them. The treadle Singer sewing machine from the early 1900s that his mother had used when he was a child—45 of those. The steam-powered engines he remembered from his youth working on a neighbor’s farm, the Model-T Ford from his childhood, and the Native American artifacts and Old West books that reminded him of listening to The Lone Ranger on the radio…he had them all.

Collecting involves strong emotions. Consciously or not, I think many collectors pick items that take them back to a happy or safe memory or a pleasant time in their past. Maybe the object reminds the collector of a beloved person, or a favorite place, or a less complicated time in life. Seeing, touching or using the objects sparks that momentary connection, that flash of dopamine in the brain that is comforting in a very deep way.

I think the same factors are at work when we decide what to keep and what to throw away. The concert ticket from a special date, the trinket you picked up on a favorite vacation, the crayon-scrawled picture from a child now grown—these also cause that hit of happy juice to the brain as one-of-a-kind treasures.

Which brings me back to Deadly Curiosities. Cassidy is a psychometric, able to read strong emotions and memories by touching objects. Not all objects have a resonance, but those that do usually pack a psychic wallop. Many of the antiques and curios that find their way into Trifles and Folly have supernatural qualities as well, including dangerous dark magic. It’s up to Cassidy and her team to get those objects off the market and keep them out of the wrong hands.

Think about the way you feel when you pick up a memento that reminds you of a particularly special time. Now imagine having that feeling augmented by magic, being able to re-experience that moment as if you were there, even for someone else’s memories. Most of us keep knick-knacks that remind us of the good times. Many of the objects that find their way into Trifles and Folly hold the resonance of tragedy, evil or supernatural mayhem.

So the next time you see a tempting object at an antique shop or yard sale, scan how you feel when you handle it. Because as Cassidy Kincaide knows, everyday objects can have a dark side.


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Why Short Fiction Still Matters

By Gail Z. Martin

Not too long ago, short fiction terrified me. I didn’t flinch at a contract requiring 175,000 words, but 8000 – 10,000? Horrors! Then a friend invited me to be in her anthology, and I said yes—with trepidation. Turns out I enjoyed writing the story, which was required to have both pirates and magic in it.

That started the ball rolling. Since then, I’ve said yes to fifteen anthologies, and I’ve started to write two series of direct-to-ebook short story series, with a new story every month on Kindle, Kobo and Nook. One of the anthologies that included a short story of mine, “Magic: Esoteric and Arcane” went on to win a British Fantasy Society award for Best Anthology and be nominated for a Nebula award for Best Anthology. And from those anthologies have come other invitations to participate in new anthologies, plus a contract for my “Deadly Curiosities” novel/series, which expands on the characters and world I created in “Magic”.

Some folks love writing short stories and don’t worry about novels, in the same way some authors only write long fiction. I’ll also admit that I take a little different approach to short stories, since mine tend to be stories in a series with continuing characters, somewhat like a serialized novel. That’s very different from the friends of mine who have sold hundreds of stand-alone short stories to magazines. I’ve also heard it said that “Novelists are failed short-story authors and short-story authors are failed novelists.” While I get the humor in that concept, I think it does an injustice to most authors.

In my opinion, a short story is more difficult to write than a novel because you’ve only got about twenty or so pages to fully convey plot, character and setting with enough skill to emotionally engage your reader and spin a memorable tale. There’s a lot more wiggle room in a novel, more set-up time, more space to expand and flesh out. While writing a novel poses its own challenges, short stories aren’t “easier” just because they’re short.

For authors, short fiction offers several benefits. Anthologies are a “sampler platter” where readers who might not take a chance on a full novel from an unknown author can take your writing out for a low-risk test drive to decide if they want to go further. Depending on the anthology, short stories can also provide a nice advance check—from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Being in an anthology can put an author in esteemed company, a nice boost for a new author to be among more established peers. And as in my own experience, a successful short story can spawn a new novel or series. Not only that, but short stories allow an author room to experiment with concepts and characters that may not warrant a whole novel, but are interesting to explore. They permit an author to grow and stretch.

The two series of short stories I publish direct to Kindle, Kobo and Nook gives me the ability to keep a narrative going in two worlds that weaves around and in-between my books. My Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures series explores the background of a popular character from my Chronicles of the Necromancer books, essentially building a prequel one story at a time. Likewise, my Deadly Curiosities Adventures are tied in to my new “Deadly Curiosities” urban fantasy   Plus, writing to the theme of an anthology is just plain fun, forcing me outside my normal comfort zone.

For readers, short stories have that “sampler platter” benefit in reverse, providing access to bite-sized fiction by authors you might have heard about but not tried yet. It’s a great way to discover a new author without committing to an entire book. Themed anthologies can be lots of fun as you see authors create stories with unique variations on the central concept. And as many readers tell me, short stories are nice to read on a commute because they don’t leave you hanging mid-chapter until the end of the work day!

There seems to be some debate on whether or not anthologies are good for publishers. Magazines of short fiction have certainly seen a tough market, with many long-established publications going out of business, moving completely online, decreasing the number of issues per year or raising prices to make up for a diminished readership. Editorial cut-backs at the big publishers have left editors with less time to take on anthology projects, and budget constraints have made the big publishers wary of projects that don’t have slam-dunk potential.

On the other hand, many small presses embrace anthologies and seem to do quite well with them (based on the fact that they keep bringing out more and more anthologies). Anthologies do well on Kickstarter, since the publisher has perhaps thirty collaborating authors to promote the campaign instead of just one. Many of these anthologies are published without author advances, or with very low advances but the promise of royalties. What the small press can offer is a combination of at-convention sales to a core of engaged fan readers, as well as the flexibility to explore niche themes. An anthology with a winning theme and a few dozen authors may well seem less risky for a small press to produce than a novel with a single author, since a reader who loves the theme and loves most of the anthology writers perceives a success, where the sales of a novel hinge on a single author’s skill.

Despite what you may have heard, I think that short fiction is going strong, and will be around for quite a while. So the next time you feel like snacking on a story instead of a full sit-down meal of fiction, grab a short story and dig in!

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In Praise of Escapism

By Gail Z. Martin

I read a lot of both fiction and non-fiction. When I read non-fiction, I read to learn and sometimes that takes me into unhappy or unpleasant territory. Many a time when I’ve finished a non-fiction book about some depressing period in history or an analysis of one of the world’s ills, I’ve felt worse than when I started the book. I accept that as the trade-off for gaining knowledge that I need for a purpose. That kind of reading is akin to work—I don’t do it for fun.

But when I read fiction in my limited spare time, I want to have fun. I want a book or a movie or even a TV show to get me away from the cares of the real world for a little bit, to thrill me and let me see the good guys come out ahead. I unabashedly want a dose of escapism, and frankly I think escapism gets a bad rap.

I’ve heard some reviewers or some “influential” thinkers dismiss a book or a movie as “mere escapism,” as if there was something unhealthy about wanting a mental vacation from the cares of everyday life. In some circles, it’s not cool to admit having read a book that won’t out-tragedy or out-angst everyone else’s reading list. But the truth is, I can get tragedy and angst by turning on the evening news. There’s no shortage of it, and wallowing in it doesn’t mean you’re more sophisticated.

In a country that consumes more than its share of prescription antidepressants, alcohol, pot and illegal drugs, getting your break from reality in the pages of a book seems like a sane and reasonable choice.

Recently, I read an interview with a very famous author who went on record disliking happily-ever-after endings and having the good guys win and the bad guys lose. The author didn’t think that was realistic. And I thought, how sad.

I immediately thought of the iconic pictures of the spontaneous celebrations at the end of World War II when total strangers danced and kissed in the streets of New York City. There were tickertape parades and lots of champagne corks (and beer bottle tops) popping as the people who lived through an awful darkness celebrated the fact that the good guys won and the bad guys lost and it felt like happily-ever-after.

And of course, after the confetti was swept up and people slept off the hangover, we woke up to the Cold War, but that was a story for another book.

See, we all have “happily-ever-after” moments in life, times when—just for an hour or a day or a few lucky weeks or years—the good guys win and the bad guys lose. You get married, have a child, get a diploma, get your dream job, build a home, buy a dog, go on the perfect vacation, get back a medical test that says the cancer is in remission, find out the cyst is benign. And you dance and kiss someone and pop a few corks and in that wonderful moment, the good guys come out on top and it feels like happily-ever-after.

Of course, tomorrow there will be bills to pay and car repairs and hassles at work and more bad guys and battles, because the story continues.

And that is why I don’t find it “unrealistic” when a book ends on a high note. Because the author is picking an arbitrary point in time for the ending. End the book a day earlier, and the skies might still be dark and uncertain. End the book two weeks later, and there will be new threats. But end in the moment of celebration when one threat has been overcome and the characters are taking a well-deserved victory lap, and it’s made all the sweeter because we know that “ever-after” is ephemeral.

We live in a culture that feasts on the dark, bitter, ironic, and unhappy. Personally, I think it’s partly the voyeurism of a generation that hasn’t had to live through any real hardship, and partly the old “freak show” effect where seeing someone less fortunate makes the viewer say, “wow, my life sucks but at least it’s not that bad!” Neither is a particularly healthy world view. There’s a strain of schadenfreude that runs wide in our culture, loving the chance to say “I told you so” when someone stumbles or a hero fails. Some people have given up in believing in heroes or good guys because they don’t want to be disappointed, which is like giving up on falling in love because the divorce rate is 60%.

Which brings me back to escapism. Why the hell not? How is it more adult to pop a Prozac than read a book with a happy ending, or see a movie that makes you want to cheer and shout? I do believe that you become what you feed your mind. Feed it depressing stories full of morally bankrupt people and you’re not likely to feel chipper and ready to take on the next challenge. If I have to choose, I’ll take happy over fashionable every time. Escapism is a healthy, well-adjusted, no-side-effects, non-damaging response to the ups and downs of everyday life.

I’ve had letters from readers who read my books while sitting vigil at a bedside in a hospital, or in a tent somewhere during a military action with shellfire in the distance. They thanked me for giving them somewhere to escape into, a place where—at least for a moment in time—they knew who the good guys were, a hard and desperate struggle turned out to be worth the cost of the scars and blood, and things ended up more right than not.

In my dark moments, reading about characters who struggled through desperate times and won helped me make it out of my own discouragement. Those happily-ever-after (at least for a while) endings, those stories where you could tell the good guys from the bad guys, they are the pick-me-up after a stressful day or a hard week.

So here’s to escapism. Long may it live happily-ever-after.

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Haunted Heirlooms

By Gail Z. Martin

Anything you keep for sentimental reasons has a hint of haunt to it.

Deadly Curiosities, my new urban fantasy novel from Solaris Books, is centered around a 350 year-old antique and curio shop that exists to get dangerous magical items off the market and out of the wrong hands. The proprietor, Cassidy Kincaide, is a psychometric, someone who can read objects by touch and sense strong magic and memories.

While Cassidy’s talent goes far beyond the nostalgia most of us experience, there’s more truth to her magic than you might feel comfortable acknowledging.

The word “memento”, one we often use to mean sentimental knick-knack, actually means “remember death,” and described the Victorian penchant of making jewelry to memorialize their dead. While we no longer make death jewelry, the items that we keep for sentimental reasons are more similar than not to those old Victorian lockets–a memorial to memories and emotions that we don’t want to forget.

Think about the treasures you’ve got stashed away in a box in your closet or under your bed—or maybe in a storage unit. You keep things that have little or no monetary value because they bring back a strong vision of the past. Pictures, jewelry or personal possessions of those who have passed away serve to extend the influence of the dead over the living, even if it’s just the power of memory.

The items we hang onto—as individuals and collectively (museums)—not only remind us of the past, they shape our understand of that past by what we choose to keep, and what we throw away. Because what we keep is selective, our heirlooms tend to reinforce the memories we value and erase the things we don’t want to remember. Many families have been sundered by vicious squabbles over heirlooms with no monetary value for this very reason. As a society, the items we enshrine in museums reinforce a code of conduct, a view of national identity, a worldview. Old objects have power.

Even the dialog over historic items and national treasures taken in antiquity posits that what we are is influenced by the objects we own and that those objects are linked to our very essence. When I’ve been in the Smithsonian, the Vatican Museums, the Louvre, the British Museum, I see items taken from one empire by another because of what those items signified, the psychological and sociological power invested in them. The recent movie “Monuments Men” shows the lengths to which nations will go to acquire or rescue their treasures. The extensive efforts by First Nations peoples to regain their artefacts suggests just how much importance we attach to heirlooms.

Go to any religious shrine, and you’ll see more objects with a hint of haunt. Relics and religious artefacts are invested by our belief with power. We look to them for clarity, luck, protection. Wars have been fought over such objects because on a deep instinctive level we sense imbued power. Think of the feeling of awe that you get in a historic site/shrine/museum, a sense that because of the objects housed in that place, the past isn’t gone, it’s just thinly veiled.

Which brings me back to Deadly Curiosities. A place that exists to find the powerful old items linked to bad mojo and black magic, run by a secret coalition of immortals and mortals who are trying to protect the world, one cursed heirloom at a time.


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Why Book Covers Still Matter

by Gail Z. Martin

Back when the only place to get books was in bookstores, browsing the shelves for new and interesting covers could be a pleasant Saturday afternoon pastime. Even before bookstores added coffee shops, it was easy to while away several hours just perusing the covers of books, looking for a hidden gem, a new adventure, or a tempting tome.

Now, much of our book buying has moved online, either to purchase paper books via Internet booksellers, or to download ebooks. It’s gotten harder to leisurely browse, in part because there are fewer brick-and-mortar bookstores than there used to be, and in part because those physical stores that do exist have often cut back on their range of books in order to feature profitable extras like gifts, music, movies and coffee.

So in an age when shoppers may only see the cover as the size of a webpage thumbnail, do covers really matter?

I believe they do. I know that some people lament the death of book covers in the same way they lament the passing of music album covers in the age of CDs and iTunes. And I agree that books do face some of the same threats that music has faced, although there are significant differences. All the same, I think that the reports of the death of book covers, to paraphrase Mark Twain, has been greatly exaggerated.

We’ve often been exhorted to not judge a book by its cover, yet covers are often the first connection an author makes with a reader. This is especially true if the author has not yet reached the superstar ranks of name recognition, or if the reader has never read anything by the particular author in the past.

It does appear true that the better known an author is, the less effort goes into their covers. Make it to the pinnacle of success, and covers often feature only the author’s name and the book title with a solid color background. But for most books, the cover signals the reader that this book is part of a particular genre, like other books the reader has enjoyed, and begins the job of shaping expectations before the book even gets lifted off the shelf.

A good cover–one that accurately signals the reader as to the genre and type of story–plays a major role in attracting an audience for the book. The quality of illustration and bookbinding also tells a reader something about the book, as many small press and self-published authors will attest. Watch readers move through a book festival or the vendor room at a genre convention, and notice which books get handled more often, and which ones never get picked up. Good covers make a difference.

What makes a good cover? It’s a complex mix of elements that starts with a professional quality illustration. Poor art is a stumbling block few books can overcome. Appropriate illustration is the next hurdle. Readers understand the visual shorthand that signals mystery, thriller, urban fantasy, epic fantasy and other genres. Send a miscue, and you’ll lose many potential readers while disappointing those who buy expecting a different sort of book.

Type font, placement and color matter, just as it matters to have a catchy title for the book. I’m not a graphic artist, but I can tell when the placement of the words on a book cover doesn’t look professional. Traditionally published authors don’t have to think about these things, but it’s a detail that many small press and self-pubbed authors struggle with as they strive to gain legitimacy in the reader’s eyes.

The back cover matters, too. I have my books face up on the table at signings to attract readers, but when I engage prospects in conversation, I’ll hand the book to them back cover up, encouraging the person to read the book summary and endorsement quotes. A gripping teaser of a recap goes a long way toward pulling in a reader and building a hunger to read the rest. If the reader has never read a book by a particular author, endorsement quotes by familiar authors or publications decreases perceived risk. While not every reader is swayed by blurbs, those quotes matter a lot for a certain type of book purchaser, and as an author, we want to send good cues on as many different levels as possible.

Authors like to believe that it’s the words between the covers that really matter, and they do. But without a cover that grabs the reader’s attention and makes them pick up the book, those words never get read. I can’t count the number of times a reader has told me, “Your cover made me buy your book.” I make sure to profusely thank my cover artists, and I work as closely with them as possible to provide the details necessary to do justice to the story inside. Covers matter!

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What’s coming up in 2015?

War of Shadows comes out in April. It’s Book 3 in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga continuing the quest of Blaine McFadden and his convict friends to restore the kingdom of Donderath after the Great Fire and Cataclysm lay waste to their homeland. You’ll get a first look at the amazing cover right here.

Then in late June, Iron and Blood: A Jake Desmet Adventure debuts. This is the new steampunk series that my husband, Larry N. Martin, and I are co-writing, and it’s set in 1898 in an alternative history Pittsburgh. Airships, amazing gadgets, and supernatural threats—it’s going to be a wild ride. I’ve got the cover art for you to take a look at—it’s pretty awesome!

In November, the second Deadly Curiosities book will be on shelves. It doesn’t have name yet, but it’s already well on the way to being written. We’ll pick up with Cassidy, Teag, and Sorren as they keep dangerous magical items off the market and keep supernatural threats from destroying Charleston, SC.

And of course, the Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures and the Deadly Curiosities Adventures series of short stories will continue in 2015. For Jonmarc, “Season 2” finds him fighting as a mercenary in Principality, where he just might attract the attention of the Eastmark army. The Deadly Curiosities Adventures follow the exploits of Cassidy, Teag, and Sorren before and between the books.

Anthologies!! I was crazy and lucky enough to be featured in a lot of anthologies in 2014, and the trend continues for 2015! Dreams of Steel 5, a steampunk anthology from Dark Oak Press features one of our Sound and Fury short stories, a tie-in to the Iron and Blood series. Big Bad 2, also from Dark Oak Press, will have a horror story from Yours Truly unrelated to any of my series. The yet-unnamed space-themed Origins Gaming Convention anthology will also feature one of my stories. And I’m sure there will be more to come! (For a full list of the anthologies that are available for purchase, please check out the Anthologies link on my website.)

Some anthologies will straddle the dateline, being Kickstarter-funded in 2014 but squeaking in just before or just after the new year. That includes Heroes, an anthology from Silence in the Library which features not-your-average superheroes and story illustrations by comic book great Mark Dos Santos. Icarus: A Graphic Novel, also from Silence in the Library, features my add-on story in that universe illustrated by LucasArts/Marvel artist Joe Corroney. Expect to see these somewhere mid-winter!

Conventions and Notable Dates for the rest of 2014 and 2015! Here’s what I have confirmed so far:

  • 2014 World Fantasy Society, Washington, DC
  • 2014 Atomacon, Charleston, SC
  • 2014 Philcon, Cherry Hill, NJ
  • January   Arisia in Boston, MA
  • January   Illogicon in Raleigh, NC
  • February Mysticon in Roanoke, VA
  • March AZ Renaissance Festival in Apache Junction, AZ
  • April War of Shadows launches!
  • April Ravencon in Richmond, VA
  • May ConCarolinas in Charlotte, NC
  • June Origins Gaming Convention in Columbus, OH
  • June Hawthorn Moon Online Event
  • June ConTemporal in High Point, NC
  • July Iron and Blood launches!
  • July ConGregate in Winston-Salem, NC
  • Nov Deadly Curiosities Book 2 launches! (I promise we’ll have a better name by then!)

I’ll update the list as I hear more about conventions for Fall, 2015. And of course, my Thrifty Author Publishing Success Meetup group continues to meet monthly in Charlotte—check out the site for details.

My Days of the Dead blog tour runs through October 31 with never-before-seen cover art, brand new excerpts from upcoming books and recent short stories, interviews, guest blog posts, giveaways and more! Plus, I’ll be including extra excerpt links for stories and books by author friends of mine. And, a special 50% off discount from Double-Dragon ebooks! You’ve got to visit the participating sites to get the goodies, just like Trick or Treat! Details here: www.

Trick or Treat: Enjoy an excerpt from my short story, The Low Road, here:

Extra bonus excerpt from Michael Ventrella’s Arch Enemies here:

And even more excerpts and freebie wallpaper from Danielle Ackley-McPhail’s Badass Faeries series here:

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