Honorable Mention – Writers of the Future

Certificate from Writers of the Future, denoting Honorable Mention for the Story Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble.I posted this on Facebook last week, but forgot to mention it here: I just received my certificate from Writers of the Future for my story, Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble. It’s a wonderful little tale about witches who create the best steel cauldrons in the world–but their entire operation is put in jeopardy when the dragons fail to produce fire hot enough to make the steel.

I had a lot of fun writing it.

I’ll be sending it off to other markets in hope of placement. Keep your fingers crossed!

Writing Prompt – What’s In The Box?

Vintage MatchBox with the Cover Faded and PeelingThe blizzard dropped a lot of snow on us, and we were digging out for days. As a consequence we hadn’t had mail delivery for nearly a week. But I finally got something in my mailbox yesterday.

There was the usual accumulation of junk newspapers and circulars, but there were also two padded envelopes and a larger box.

“What’s in the box?” asked the Husband of Awesome™.

And I couldn’t remember what I might have ordered.

That’s what happens when a blizzard comes along and all you do is dig out for a week. Brain white-out. Snow blind. You forget about the things you ordered. Or the stuff you didn’t order, but you knew was coming. Or that you’re awesome enough that someone sent you a surprise. (It could happen.) 😉

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Imagine you’ve just received something in the mail. What’s inside?
     
  • Imagine it’s spring! You’re digging in your garden, and the shovel hits something hard. You realize you’ve struck a tiny wooden chest. What’s inside?
     
  • A woman packs a lunch for her (you choose) loving/cheating/scandalous/insane/generous/abusive/virile husband. What did she pack? What happens when he finds it?
     
  • A man pick’s up his spouse’s/sister’s/niece’s purse and it accidentally empties onto the floor. What’s inside? What happens when he’s caught handling that object?
     
  • Because it’s cold outside, you order dinner and have it delivered. It arrives, you pay the delivery service and they leave. And then you open the box. It’s not what you ordered. It’s not even dinner. What’s inside? And, what are you going to do with it?
     

Good luck!

(Oh, and in the box? The Christmas-gift yarn I’d ordered to knit a cardigan–my first try at sweater making. Wish me luck!)

Fairy Tale Interview over at eSpec Books

Brown leather textured background wiith the words Gaslight and Grimm, Steampunk Faerie TaleseSpec Books has posted an interview with me about my favorite fairy tales. It’s to promote the new “Gaslight and Grimm: Steampunk Fairie Tales” anthology coming out in the next few weeks.

Here’s the link, if you’re interested in reading the interview:
https://especbooks.wordpress.com/category/author-spotlight/

I’ve read some excepts, and I think it’s going to be fabulous.

Every story in the book is going to be illustrated in a “woodcut” style to mimic old-fashioned fairy tales books. Danny Birt is the artist.

Here’s the rough outline of a clockwork bird which will illustrate my re-telling of Hansel and Gretel (called, All for Beauty and Youth).

Clockwork Bird drawing (rough sketch) by Baltimore Artist Danny Birt.

The anthology is being funded by Kickstarter, but it’s already a done deal. So, if you’d like to get involved with a winning project–to be delivered soon–you should check it out here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/e-specbooks/gaslight-and-grimm-steampunk-faerie-tales. (Only six days to go!)

Writing Prompt – The Big Snow is Coming

Grace, a solid-white German Shephard, stands in the snow.

This is Grace. She loves the snow.

Winter storm Jonas is coming tonight.  I’m one of those lucky people whose area is likely to received more than a foot — quite possibly two feet — of snow, if the forecasters are correct.

I’m looking forward to sitting by the fire, sipping martinis, and plotting out my next novel.  I’ve also got a “snow to-do list” to tackle:

  1.  Build my first snowman of 2016
  2. Try out my new snow shoes
  3. Bean the Husband of Awesome™ with a snowball before he gets me
  4. Get in some snowy-wildlife photography
  5. Build an igloo

Okay, that last item on the list is pure dreamery. It’s possible—my siblings and I built a HUGE one when we were kids. But there were three of us, and I don’t think I can scrounge up that many willing folks in the neighborhood to lend me a hand this weekend.

Still, I can hope. That long-ago igloo takes up a lot of real estate in my fond memories.

Grace, a solid-white German Shephard, stands in the snow.Here’s Your Prompt:

  • The obligatory easy prompt: write an essay — My Favorite Snow Memories, My Least Favorite Snow Memories, etc.
  • Write about a snow-related accident: avalanche, skiing accident, fifty-car pile up on the highway–even getting lost in the snow. Write how the snow makes things worse. Is there a way the snow ameliorates the problem? Can you use this sketch in your current WIP? Or write a short story based on it? How about a poem?
  • Will you be in the snowfall area today? If you can, find a protected area where you will be out of harm’s way. Watch and listen to the snow fall. How does it sound? What other things do you hear, or not hear? What do you observe about how snowfall changes nature? Write your observations and your feelings.
  • Will you be alone and isolated this weekend? (If not, can you pretend?) During your isolation, write your Personal Manifesto for 2016. If you’re not feeling that ambitious, take the time to jot down goals and aspirations for the year. (It’s proven that people who write down their goals are more likely to achieve them!)
  • Good luck!

Writing Prompt – Prohibition

New York City Deputy Police Commissioner John A. Leach (right) watches as Prohibition agents pour illegal liquor into a sewer in 1921.

New York City Deputy Police Commissioner John A. Leach (right) watches as Prohibition agents pour illegal liquor into a sewer in 1921. ~ Photo from History.net.

On January 15, 1920 the “Dry Law” went into effect in the United States. It was the 18th amendment to the Constitution and banned the production and sale of alcoholic beverages.

The law was intended to reduce the crime rate. But there were several loopholes. For instance, manufacture and sale of alcohol were prohibited, but drinking was not. A person could obtain a prescription from his doctor which allowed him to get and drink alcohol. Alcohol could also be consumed in church for religious reasons.

The law brought about the “unintended consequences” of the rise of bootleggers and gangs. These gangs hired “rumrunners” to buy rum in the Caribbean and bring it back to the US. Or, they brought in whiskey from Canada. Al Capone created the largest bootlegging operation in the US.

Thirteen years later, the law was repealed, and cities all over the US erupted into riotous, joyful, celebration.

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Write about a time when you were prohibited from doing something. Had you always been able to do this, but were suddenly stopped? Or, did you want to try something for the first time, but a parent–or employer–told you no. What happened?
  • Drinking in the US is prohibited until age 21. Write about your first time having a drink. Did you over do it?
  • Write about a time you prohibited yourself from doing something. Why did you do this? Did the prohibition work for you? Why or why not?
  • Write about the last time you were tanked, inebriated, foxed, sloshed, intoxicated, under the influence, or blind drunk.
  • Have you ever been forced to throw something away–like when prohibition agents poured beer into the streets to get rid of it? Write a poem about your feelings on the matter. Did your feelings change over time? How do you feel now? Have you ever forced someone else to discard anything? Why, or why not?
  • Write about the time you were the lone, stone-cold-sober person surrounded by drunks. Why were you there? How did you feel?

Have fun!

Writing Prompt – New Beginnings

Colored PencilsIt’s still early enough in the new year to be thinking about new beginnings. I don’t know if its my innate love (obsession?) for office supplies, but new beginnings make me think of sharpened pencils and blank spiral notebooks. Or, blank, pristine papers waiting for me to desecrate them with words.

I try to do my organizing in December:

  • clearing off the desk to start the year fresh
  • reviewing all the notebooks page by page:
    • making to do lists for things which never got done
    • copying ideas into my Ideas Folder (adding as much detail as possible, so I’m not left with cryptic phrases later)
    • Adding phone numbers and addresses to my Contacts
    • etc.
  • Organizing the to-do lists
  • Creating a “master plan” of what I want to accomplish for the year
  • Scheduling the time on the calendar now, so I can’t complain about not having time for it later.

Here’s Your Prompt:

  1. Write the “new year” scene of the main character in your book. Or, write the “new year” scene of a brand new character you intend to use in a story. How does the new year affect him or her? Does he buy fresh stationery? Does she regret the passing of another year and nothing to show for it? Does your character have some annoying (or meaningful, silly, prolonged, secret) ritual he must accomplish before the new year starts?
  2. Write your own new year scene. How does the new year affect you? Did you accomplish what you set out to do? Are you wondering how you’ll make this year better than last? Are you chomping at the bit for a fresh start?
  3. Write a poem: Ode to the New Year, or, Good Riddance to the Past.

Enjoy!

Writing Prompt: What Would You Give Yourself?

Pile of wrapped gifts.Happy New Year!

It’s been a while since I’ve added any writing prompts to these pages, and I hope to get back to doing them weekly as I’ve done in year’s past. I hope today’s is as thought-provoking for you as it was for me.

Since it’s the holiday season, my mind has been on gifts lately: what should I purchase for whom? I’m still in that frame of mind, since I still have celebrating to do. Most of my gifts have been purchased, wrapped and given, but there are one or two more items that I still need to attend to.

When I was driving to work the other day — in silence, as I’ve been trying to do lately (more on that later, I think) — a thought popped into my head: If you could gift yourself anything, what would it be?

And there’s your prompt: if you could gift yourself anything, what would it be? Why that? Here’s the catch: you can’t answer with something obvious: a new car, more money, a different job. What’s your true heart’s desire? What would it take to realize it? What steps could you take today to make it reality?

Year End Schedule

A photo of the Bel Air Armory.Hi All!

My schedule is filling up for the end of the year! Here’s where I’ll be, in case you’re interested.

Baltimore Book Festival
Downtown Inner Harbor, Baltimore
September 25 – 27, 2015
http://baltimorebookfestival.org/home

Hallowread
Ellicott City, MD
October 23-24, 2015
http://hallowread.com/

Carroll County Authors Day
Carroll County Farmer’s Market
Westminster, MD
November 7, 2015
http://www.carrollcountyfarmersmarket.com/page/page/7165898.htm

ChessieCon
Radisson North Baltimore Hotel.
November 27-29, 2015
http://chessiecon.org/

Bel Air Authors and Artists
Bel Air Armory
December 2015
http://md-belair.civicplus.com/361/Bel-Air-Armory

Mother, Matron, Crone: The Case for Female Characters Beyond the Ingénue

A guest post from Gail Z. Martin

Granny Weatherwax, Minerva McGonagall, Polgara,

Gail Z. Martin

Gail Z. Martin

Fiction, like TV, movies and advertising has an interesting, skewed view of the human race. In general, females show up briefly as children, mostly as adolescents or lusty and busty 20 and 30-somethings, and then vanish almost completely from view. Even ads for products clearly used by people over seventy (hello, home stairway elevators!) show female models who can’t be a day over 40. It’s like Logan’s Run, only without the jumpsuits.

Now go to any suburban grocery store or shopping mall. Wow, where did all the women come from? Who knew there were women older than 39?

Hollywood–and to an extent, big publishing–buys into the Madison Avenue-fueled belief that women have an expiration date stamped on them, just like yogurt. A freshness date, after which they’re no longer saleable. For some reason, they’ve concluded that although women buy the majority of books and manage most household spending, we only want to see stories about women the same age as our daughters.

Well? Are they right? It’s said that the only genre that can successfully pull off a female character over 40 is mystery/crime. Yet I see the line between mystery and urban fantasy blurring with every paranormal crime detecting novel that hits the shelves. Does the willingness to read about a main character over age 30 end when a reader changes aisles in the bookstore?

I suspect there are several biases at work here. The first is our culture’s obsession with youth. We’ve been told that unless we’re Botoxed and face-lifted to within an inch of our lives we lack value, because young is good and old is bad. However, this obsession primarily applies to women, since Sean Connery was still getting accolades for being sexy into his seventies, when his wrinkles were considered to be ‘craggy’ and his gray hair to be ‘distinguished.’

Secondly, there’s consumers’ presumed vanity and insecurity. Madison Avenue presents us with models for everything from Cadillacs to retirement cruises who look twenty years too young because the ad-makers believe that’s what we want to see. It’s assumed that we don’t want to see women (again, never men) who actually look old enough to be someone’s parent or grandparent in a leading role except perhaps in a secondary, minor role or in something on the Hallmark Channel. And maybe consumers share some of the blame. It’s one thing to claim we want to see a full age spectrum of women characters. But it’s another thing to put our money where our mouths are and actually purchase products that live up to what we said we wanted.

IronandBloodThere have been some notable exceptions. Movies like Reds and The Expendables showed older characters kicking ass. Other stories like Momma Mia and even the Harry Potter series featured women of a variety of ages, in different life stages and roles and of differing economic classes. Arguably, all were successes. So why don’t we see more such stories, especially since in real life, real women come in all ages?

As authors, we can easily make an effort to create and develop secondary and leading characters that are not in the ‘action hero’ stage of life and make them interesting, active, insightful, complex and realistic. Populate your fantasy worlds with female shopkeepers, sorceresses, fighters, seamstresses, queens, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, mothers, neighbors, healers and others who show the same range of ages you’d see at the supermarket. Show them as decision-makers, business owners, farmers, mages, social leaders, members of educated and influential religious orders, teachers, scholars, scientists and adventurers, because women have filled all those roles and more at a variety of ages all throughout history. (This is where it helps to read real history, not just watch what’s on TV.)

Not only does developing characters like these make fantasy more faceted and realistic, it presents a much more believable world, one where more readers can see characters like themselves. It’s a pleasant departure from all the lusty wenches and brawny heroes. And before someone chimes in that older characters can’t tackle action scenes, I’d suggest you look at cultures where people are physically active in their everyday life instead of working at desk jobs, and you’ll see men and women who remain spry well into their ‘golden’ years.

In my Chronicles of the Necromancer series, my main character, Tris Drayke, gets valuable guidance from his grandmother, a mage who helped to defeat the greatest threat of her time. In the Ascendant Kingdoms series, Blaine McFadden’s mother and a number of recurring secondary characters show resilience, ingenuity and strength as they help lead a shattered kingdom back from the ashes. Mrs. Morrissey and Mrs. Teller are just two of the characters in my Deadly Curiosities books on whom main character Cassidy Kincaide relies for advice and, in the case of Mrs. Teller, magical protection. And in the Iron and Blood steampunk books, Jake Desmet’s mother, Catherine, is a force to be reckoned with.

Bottom line: If consumers vote with their pocketbooks, viewership and readership for books that showcase characters–male and female–in a wide variety of ages and stages, then publishers, producers and ad agencies will finally get the hint.

Check out my new Steampunk novel Iron and Blood, co-written with Larry N. Martin, set in an alternative history Pittsburgh in 1898. In stores July 7!

The Hawthorn Moon Sneak Peek Event includes book giveaways, free excerpts and readings, all-new guest blog posts and author Q&A on 28 awesome partner sites around the globe. For a full list of where to go to get the goodies, visit www.AscendantKingdoms.com.

Gail Z. Martin writes epic fantasy, urban fantasy and steampunk for Solaris Books and Orbit Books. In addition to Iron and Blood, she is the author of Deadly Curiosities and the upcoming Vendetta in her urban fantasy series; The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven, Dark Lady’s Chosen) from Solaris Books and The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn, The Dread) as well as Ice Forged, Reign of Ash, and War of Shadows in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga from Orbit Books. Gail writes two series of ebook short stories: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures and the Deadly Curiosities Adventures and her work has appeared in over 20 US/UK anthologies.

Larry_N_MartinLarry N. Martin fell in love with fantasy and science fiction when he was a teenager. After a twenty-five year career in Corporate America, Larry started working full-time with his wife, author Gail Z. Martin and discovered that he had a knack for storytelling, plotting and character development, as well as being a darn fine editor. Iron and Blood is their first official collaboration. On the rare occasions when Larry isn’t working on book-related things, he enjoys pottery, cooking and reading.

Find them at www.JakeDesmet.com, on Twitter @GailZMartin or @LNMartinauthor, on Facebook.com/WinterKingdoms, at DisquietingVisions.com blog and GhostInTheMachinePodcast.com, on Goodreads goodreads.com/GailZMartin free excerpts, Wattpad http://wattpad.com/GailZMartin.

Do You Like Dragon Stories?

Cover of "The Draon's Hoard" AnthologyI’m pleased to announce that my story, “The Dragon’s Clause,” has been reprinted in The Dragon’s Hoard, edited by Carol Hightshoe.

Here’s the back copy text:

Dragons are well known for their hoards—but not all hoards are created equal.

A young dragon starts his hoard with some very precious gifts.
One dragon shares her complaints about taxes with a friend as they wait for a lunch delivery.
Another dragon defends her most precious treasures against a group of greedy goblins.
And yet another may hold the solution to saving the Earth after a devastating apocalypse in his collection of bottled treasures.

In addition to the normal gold, silver and jewels here you will find dragons who collect many different treasures.

28 storytellers invite you to enter The Dragon’s Hoard and share the treasures within.

If you’re interested in purchasing, here are the links:

Amazon Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Dragons-Hoard-Carol-Hightshoe-ebook/dp/B00YSITPD8/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1433515171&sr=8-7&keywords=the+dragon%27s+hoard

CreateSpace Paperback: https://www.createspace.com/5542170