Gail Z. Martin
Dying might be the only way to ever get free of your cell phone. So far, neither Verizon Wireless nor Vodaphone have come up with a signal that can reach across the River Styx.
It’s not for lack of trying. I suspect that people have been trying to talk to the dead and bring them back to life since the very first death. Some want to reunite with loved ones. Others want the secrets the dead took with them to their grave, or want to enslave them for labor or armies. Whatever the reason, necromancy—magic that gives the user power over the dead—never goes out of style.
For someone who’s pretty normal (twitch, twitch), I spend a lot of time thinking about necromancy. My first epic fantasy series was the Chronicles of the Necromancer. The main character, Tris Drayke, learns that he is a Summoner, with the ability to intercede between the living and the dead, and he has to learn to control that magic before it destroys him in order to avenge his family.
Over the course of the four books in the Chronicles series and two more in the Fallen Kings Cycle, Tris becomes the most powerful necromancer of his generation. Along the way, I had to figure out how to create a system of magic that was believable and yet breathtaking in its power.
In my Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, Tormod Solveig is a necromancer, and his take on the magic comes with a whole different sensibility and set of moral constraints than Tris’s magic did.
In my Deadly Curiosities series, all manner of evil nasties want to get their hands on human souls or use the dark magic generated by shedding blood to increase their own power. Not only that, but since I draw on Voudon (what Hollywood calls Voodoo) in the series, we run into supernatural figures like Baron Samedi and his Ghedes, beings that escort souls into the afterlife. And even in the new Iron and Blood series which I’m co-writing with my husband, Larry N. Martin, there are resurrectionists who want to pick up where Dr. Frankenstein left off.
I don’t think it’s an accident that Mary Shelley and the novel Frankenstein is often hailed as the originator of the science fiction genre. Our desire to raise and control the dead is very primal. For one thing, no one really wants to die. So if we can validate what lies beyond, we remove the fear and mystery from death. And if we can control resurrection, we become gods.
Or not. Tris Drayke struggles with how to use his necromancy and remain a Light mage. He learns that there are rules to using his power which he cannot break at the risk of his own soul. One of those rules is that a spirit cannot be forced to return, and that it is immoral to force a spirit back into a rotting corpse. Spirits may not be enslaved. Corpses should be treated with respect. On the other hand, he also finds that the dead have their own agendas, and he must be wary of spirits who would seek to control him or trick him into doing harm. And more than once, Tris discovers that old grudges, deep-felt emotions and loyalty transcend death, making the dead powerful allies if they can be won to the cause.
The peril of necromancy is also clear in the Chronicles books. The Obsidian King, a necromancer from a prior generation, gave in to the lust for power and not only paid with his life and soul, but plunged the kingdom into a devastating war. Blood mages use minor necromancy to torment and bind spirits. In The Dread, Tris comes up against Scaith, an enemy necromancer who allows no constraints on his magic, giving Tris the choice between compromising his own soul and honor and protecting his kingdom.
Tormod Solveig, whom we meet in War of Shadows, the third book in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, plays by different rules. He has no compunctions about raising corpses like puppets in the midst of battle, using the reanimated dead as shock troops in battle, or compelling the spirits of dead warriors to fight on his behalf.
In Deadly Curiosities, both the book and the short story series, we run into a number of creatures that can manipulate the dead. Voudon loas like Baron Samedi and Papa Legba open and close the gateway to the afterlife, and a person does not die, it’s said, unless the Baron consents to dig his grave. The short story Wicked Dreams involves someone trying to control the spirits of the dead with blood magic, and we’ll run into people with necromancy and spirit magic in the second book of the series as well.
Since the steampunk era gave us the scientific version of necromancy in Frankenstein, it only seemed fitting to revisit resurrectionists in Iron and Blood. Grave robbing as big during the Victorian era, as were clandestine experiments on corpses as doctors tried to gain forbidden knowledge. Our two mad doctors, who make an appearance both in the upcoming novel and in the short story, Resurrection Day, attempt to create clockwork copses with horrific results.
Necromancy and the line between the living and the dead will intrigue storytellers as long as there are people telling stories. So stoke up the fire, gather round, and let’s tell some scary tales about people who just won’t stay dead.
Mark of the Necromancer
Book jacket front for MOTN
is out on September 1st, 2015, by yours truly, and it has been a whirlwind of a ride for a book that I never intended to write in the first place.
It started the beginning of June, 2014, when I returned from ConCarolinas with the book, Magical Words; A Writer’s Companion tucked into my luggage. I began to read it my first week back to work, during my commute on the train here in NYC, and BAM! I had this fun idea for a short story. The primary protagonist was REALLY loud in my head. So much so that I began to write it in first person, single perspective (that’s new for me since the Windfire saga is an ensemble POV in third person).
Anyway, I had just gotten a new puppy days previous, so I had no time to really write at home. So I was just typing this little thing for fun (just for me) with one thumb on my cell phone while in transit. That is, until I let my cousin read the first few chapters. Thing is, she loved it, and wanted more. So as I got a wee bit more written, I’d transfer the section from my Notes App to my email. Once in Word doc form, I’d send it to her, and it became our private story. Quickly we both realized it wasn’t a short one (no surprise there…haha) and so I wrote until Sabrina was done telling me her tale…for both my cousin and me…but mostly for my cousin because she was enjoying it so much.
Book jacket back for MOTN
Even when I was close to done in September, I had no intention of putting this book out. Hell, it didn’t even have a name. Then I was asked by John Hartness to read something during his hour reading at Dragon Con (last year
) and all my ambivalence changed. Between hearing Sabrina’s voice aloud and the positive feedback I received on the writing, I changed my mind then and there. Then I mentally sat down and contemplated if I would self publish it OR try my luck with a publisher or agent.
This is always the big question for me. I desperately want to move to the next level (an agent & a publisher that’s not me), but was this the book for that? I’d heard that a lot (if not most) major publishers weren’t currently taking on new Urban Fantasy authors, so I had to decide. Because once you publish it yourself, unless it sells really well (for example, Hartness’ Black Knight Chronicles), no one else will pick it up and publish it. In the end, I obviously opted to put it out on my own, but it was a definite moment in my world when I debated where it should go. (Side Note: In the end I opted to use my Historical Fiction novel I’m working on as what I would pitch to agents/publishers, vs. this book. )
Mark of the Necromancer (MOTN) is for ages 16 and up (14 and up, depending on the maturity of your child, like most YA), and one of the first review words I’ve seen from someone on it have been, “Mark of the Necromancer is a really good book! It has a lot of imagination, originality, and quite a complex plot.” I’ve also been told it’s a quick read by more than one person as well. All of which make me happy, and not just because they are positive feedback.
This book is a triumph for me in a lot of ways. First of all, it’s a brand new world, with new magic, new rules…new everything. All the writing I have out there in the universe right now (other than my Historical Fantasy short, The Curse of Scáthach) fall into the Clandestine World I created twenty years ago (Yee gads!). It’s also a triumph because it’s my first attempt at first person, single perspective POV.
But here was the rub…
Sabrina side of the MOTN bookmark
Since I was accepted as an Attending Professional for Dragon Con 2015 (my first year as such, so YAY!) I wanted something new to bring. There were three options, but MOTN won out the battle in my head and so I had little time to make that happen if it would be ready to go to print by August. So in January I posted an ad for models (for the book cover – see that process HERE) and began editing. This was going to have to be a tight turn around, so I hired two separate editors (Sharon Stogner & Melissa Gilbert) so I’d get a double look at the work, and created my timeline of due dates…and basically gave up most of my summer. Why? Because writing equals sacrifice, and anyone who tells you something else is selling something.
To be honest, I haven’t seen much of my friends for the past six months, and almost not at all since I got back from Con Carolinas at the top of June because I had to have this done. This leads me to the thing I want to impart to those of you who are working to put out a book on your own: Be strict with yourself but do not berate yourself. There were days I couldn’t sit and work either because the day job was too busy or my puppy really needed me more than my computer did…or I needed to stare at a TV for an evening. It happens because you’re human and you have to allow for this. If not, you’ll burn out and nothing will get done. You’ll throw it aside with a few choice curse words and never go back, and the trash is not the place you want your work to go. Mind you, when I create my timetable I allow for this. I didn’t used to…but I used to have an old man dog who didn’t need to go play in the park or play tug with me at 8pm at night. So keep LIFE in mind when you create your schedule. You’ll thank yourself in the end.
Alex side of the MOTN bookmark
Side Note: I also gave myself permission to only have the ARC (Advanced Readers Copy) done by DragonCon. I told myself that I could always do that and release the final around Christmas. Doing that created a relaxing headspace to work in. So, between that and leaving time for life to interfere, it worked out that my team (for this book is SO very not just me) finished early. I wanted to be creating a pre-order by mid August, instead, I created it on July 24th.
Anyway…this whole process pushed me to my limits, took away my social time, yanked away two months of my summer, and had my head buried for six months. But it’s worth it. I know that when you look at projects and they feel HUGE and unmanageable, you think, “There’s no way this’ll ever happen!” That’s not true. They will. Even the ones you never intended to become big projects…they will, if you take it one deadline at a time, will come to fruition. Stay focused on what you want, stick to your timeline as best you can, forgive yourself for falling of the wagon (so to speak), and remember it’s not life or death. Enjoy the process and the fruit’s of your labor…I plan to!
That all said…I want to quickly address something John wrote about the other day…The Ugly Truth About Self Publishing and Money: To be punny about it, he’s on the money with this! And I am falling short in this area, only putting out one book a year. I need to publish more. I’ve written them, don’t get me wrong, I just need to be faster at the back end of the process. Working on MOTN showed me I can do that, so I plan to take this advice and up my game in 2016. *crosses self*
Now, as previously stated, I built MOTN for Pre-Order. So…seeing as my birthday was this past Sunday, if you have $5 to spare, please go pre-order Mark of the Necromancer HERE.
To tantalize you into considering it, I’ve pasted the first page of the book below. ENJOY!
That’s it for me this time around…write hard, bathe in imagination, and even though life might have you down or you may feel like there are too many obstacles, don’t let yourself be one of them…you can do this! GO! WRITE! PUBLISH!
xoxo – Tamsin
As the blood drained from my body, I wondered the oddest thing: did I leave my flat iron on? Don’t judge. It’s a legitimate concern. If I burned down my apartment, how would my grieving friends divvy up all my clothes? How would my parents have anything to remember me by? If I survived this, whatever this was, would I have a home to go back to?
Soon I didn’t care about those things, though. As the man’s teeth sunk deeper into my neck, all I could hear was the pounding of my heart. My thoughts tunneled to a single focus—keeping my heart pumping.
On that thought, a war cry ripped through the night air and he let go. I began to fall, slowly I went down, like the crooning voice of Sinatra, until I landed on my back with a splat in a puddle. Staring up at the sky as the world cried down on my face, I noted movement above me that appeared so fast it was a blur. All I knew was that someone leapt upon my attacker and as they fought, I attempted to cry out to no avail.
Things were going dark, but all I could do was lie there with my mouth open, fighting stay alive. Feeling pathetic in what were likely my last moments, I was surprised to taste blood as it landed on my tongue. Before I knew it, my mouth was full of the hot, coppery substance, and I swallowed it.
Attempting to focus on the one figure leaning over me, I noted the sound of wet footsteps slapping the pavement as the other hurried away, a mere memory in a second. Unsure which still stood with me, my attacker or savior, I whimpered as he picked me up in his arms. Gasping for air, my neck wound burning like the sun itself, I tried to ask him who he was, but it never escaped my lips.
Then, simply put…I died.
I was now a New York City statistic: Dead in Central Park. All because Bryce broke up with me and I’d been dramatic enough to go for a walk in the rain.
All. Bryce’s. Fault.
What an asshole.
I’ve always thought that the English language, in its grammar, bubbles with tension. Why? Because unlike several other languages (primarily romance languages), we put some of our adjectivals before our headword nouns.
Example: the sharp, biting watermelon …. (what? what is it!) … wine burned his tongue.
See? we can delay our nouns, making the moment more tense when we don’t know for sure what the noun is going to be. It’s small, grammatical tension, but it’s still tension.
Pre-noun modifiers are exactly what they sound like: words/phrases that describe and come before a noun in a phrase.
There are three kinds of pre-noun adjectivals* I’m going to look at today: adjectives, nouns, and participles.
Single word adjective and noun modifiers do come in a specific order. We usually see adjective(s), noun(s), headword. There can be multiple adjectives or nouns, and they can be mutli-word phrases (like mutli-word).
Adjectives: the black chair. The old shoe. The first test.
Nouns: the company car. The high-school musical. Her diamond eyes.
Both together: the red brick house. The cute kitten-heel shoes. The first practice test.
The third adjectival is the pre-noun participle. I’ve discussed participles before, in adverbials, so it’s not really a surprise that they can be used as adjectivals as well.
Participles: the babbling brook. A crying baby. A spent cartridge. A knotted rope.
Because participles are made from verbs, our participles can have adverbial modifiers.
Participles with adverbial modifiers: the quietly babbling brook. A sadly crying baby. A treacherously spent cartridge. A skillfully knotted rope.
Adjectivals provide lots of ways to add color and detail to writing. That said, of course it’s not hard to get carried away with adjectives, and sometimes over-using adjectives confuses the sentence or phrase. Also, adding too many adjectivals (or any modifiers, really) can lead to very purple prose. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is something to keep in mind.
Next time, I’ll talk about post-noun adjectivals: prepositional phrases, participle phrases, and relative clauses.
* See Kolln and Funk, Understanding English Grammar, 9th edition. New York: Pearson, 2012.
Today we welcome friend of Magical Words Lauren Harris, who’d like to tell you all about an exciting project she’s heading. So heeeeeeere’s Lauren!
Hi! I’m Lauren Harris, IGMS Assistant Editor and author of the Millroad Academy Exorcists series. (You might remember me from a past post on MW, Eight Ways to HOKWOP.) I come to you today with an anthology and a Magical Words EXCLUSIVE giveaway!
It’s my pleasure today to introduce a new anthology I brainstormed, ELYSIAN SPRINGS: ADVENTURES FROM THE NURSING HOME FOR AGING SUPERHEROES
, which explores the twilight years of heroes, villains, and sidekicks in ten tales and one comic. The stories are both hilarious and heartbreaking as authors make the complex subject of aging accessible through the modern-day mythology of superheroes. It includes stories from MW’s very own Misty Massey, as well as authors like Gail Z. Martin, Tee Morris, Ken Scholes, and Jared Axelrod.
I wanted stories that were both moving and funny—stories that include themes like loyalty, reconciliation, coping with disability, and the effects of the discrimination 20th Century heroes might have gone through. I know how important representation is, and we’re trying to hit as many levels as we can: race, gender, sexuality, though especially age and ability. My superpower as editor is being able to ensure (forgive the pun) that this kind of representation happens.
Here’s an interview with one of our amazing Super Seniors, Elias King (aka Black Hawk).
Q: Where were you living/working before Elysian Springs? What made you decide to move here?
A: I served for forty years as a member of Eagle Flight, the official power-suit squad for the United States Air Force. For the last twenty of those, I was the director of the program, but I still got in the suit from time to time, just like General Pierce did before me. I suppose men like us don’t cotton to sitting still. <chuckles>
How’d I come here? Well, I was leading a training exercise at our headquarters in Nevada. One of our young recruits had some trouble with his suit. It started going down, so I had to go up there and help him land in one piece. Unfortunately, we landed kinda rough — smashed my legs and the lower part of my spine all to hell. Been in this wheelchair ever since.
Q: What was your biggest success as a hero?
A: Back in ’89 the Loma Prieta quake hit San Francisco, and the President sent us in as a fast-response force ahead of the National Guard. We helped a lot of people there — it could’ve been a lot worse without us. I honestly think we did more good in that one disaster than we did in all our Cold War deployments in Europe and Southeast Asia.
Q: What was your biggest mistake?
A: Sitting out the Civil Rights Movement. Being a Black man in a prominent military unit, serving alongside other fine men and women of all kinds, I thought being a good example was enough. But society doesn’t change because you’re polite and noble and serve with honor. Jim Crow didn’t fall because of men like me — it fell because good men and women were willing to raise a little hell. I had friends who spoke out for change, and paid the price for it — and I always wondered how things might have been different if I had done the same. Might be that it wouldn’t have mattered much, but I’ll never know.
Q: How has the media portrayed you, and is it accurate?
A: Oh, I try not to pay too much attention to that sort of thing. Everything we did as Eagle Flight was filtered, censored and sanitized for the benefit of the viewing public, at least back during the war years. Later, after the Soviets fell, people started asking hard questions about what we’d been up to, especially in places like Cambodia and Afghanistan. A lot of that I still can’t talk about. But you know how it is: first you’re a hero, and then you’re a villain … and then you’re just a name in a history book. And that’s fine by me.
Q: How have the power suits changed since you started with Eagle Flight?
A: Oh, Lord, what hasn’t changed? We were tweaking those suits constantly. It ain’t easy to make something man-shaped stay in the air, and it’s even harder to make ‘em do anything worthwhile when they’re up there.
I think the biggest change during my time in Eagle Flight was in the avionics. It was real seat-of-the-pants flying when we started — we had a radio, a compass and an altimeter, and that was about it! These new suits have hundreds of little computers in them, with live satellite data feeds connected to the Internet. The flyboys joke that they can call home to their girlfriends and watch a skin flick while directing a raid on a terrorist bunker. Seems to me like too much information for one mind to handle, but then I’m old, as everyone keeps reminding me.
Q: Do you ever use a power suit around Elysian Springs?
A: I haven’t been in a suit since the accident, but I have some friends who are fixing to change that. The new suits connect straight into your spinal cord, so if they can connect it up above where the damage happened, I might be able to walk again. That’d be nice.
Q: How have your superhero relationships changed since your golden days? Is there anyone at Elysian Springs that you have a history with?
A: There’s this one lady, Sharon, who’s also in a wheelchair. She’s made of stone, though, so hers has to be a lot sturdier than mine. Anyway, we knew each other when she was in WODJE, and Eagle Flight worked with them on a few missions back in the ’80s. Truth is, we flyboys didn’t care too much for capes who weren’t attached to some kind of official government service. I suppose being a costumed vigilante and being a military man are just about as far apart as two people can be, and still be on the same side. But these days I care a lot less about that sort of thing. Like I said, if you want to get the world to change, sometimes you have to raise a little hell.
Q: If you could choose to have a super power, what would it be?
A: Shoot, there’s only one power that I care about! I’d want to be able to heal myself, so I could get out of this chair. <sighs> But life doesn’t give you what you want. If you’re lucky, it gives you what you need. Me, I think I needed to slow down a piece. You learn things about the world when you can’t run away from it.
Q: If you could change someone else’s power, who and to what?
A: So, you know Valkyrie, right? The Chosen of Odin, has that magic spear? One of the perks of that job, she ages at about a quarter the rate of you and me. If I could have one wish, I’d like her to be able to share that power with her partner, Barbara. Those two deserve all the happy years together that life can give them.
Chris Lester is the author of the award-winning Metamor City Podcast, which ran from 2007 to 2010. His current project is The Raven & the Writing Desk, a weekly podcast in which he shares freshly-written fiction in the genres of fantasy, science fiction and more. His books are available at Amazon.com, Smashwords.com and BarnesandNoble.com, and his author page is at chrislester.org. He lives in Montana with his partner and far too many pets.
NOW, THE GIVEAWAY!
As writers yourselves, I’m sure you’ll appreciate the desire to pay my authors and artists professional rates. To do that, of course, I need the help of Kickstarter backers. Therefore, I’m offering one Handy Caped Parking sign as a special prize to any Magical Words reader who donates at the $5 level or higher. All you have to do is comment on this post with your name and backer level, and provided the Anthology funds, I will choose one backer from this post and add a Handy Caped Parking sign to your swag pack.
We’ve been backed on Kickstarter by SFWA president Cat Rambo, and even been chosen as a Kickstarter Staff Pick! I have high hopes for funding, but we need a big push in these last few days. The Kickstarter ends on August 5th
, so don’t delay! Back the Elysian Springs Kickstarter here!
I wish you all smooth sailing and swift typing.
About Lauren Harris
Lauren Harris, Editor of Elysian Springs, is the author of the Millroad Academy Exorcists series and assistant editor at Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show magazine. Her fiction has appeared in Ministry Protocol: Thrilling Tales from the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences and the Pendragon Variety Podcast.
John G. Hartness
Note – I’ll be at MonsterCon all weekend starting Friday morning, so I’ll try to check in on comments, but if it takes a little while for me to reply, forgive me, I’m trying to sell books!
So let’s do something we almost never do here on MW, and very seldom at all in the South – let’s talk about money. I’ve certainly spent a fair amount of my time the past month thinking about money, since at the end of June I found myself involuntarily freelance again (that’s unemployed for the non-subtle amongst us). When this happened to me last year, it was ugly. I had very little cushion of savings, not a whole lot in the way of prospects, and I hadn’t been very productive, writing-wise in a while. I was out of work for three months, and there was a fair bit of credit card living, a few ramen noodle weeks, and a good bit of stress.
Things were different this year. For one thing, I kinda knew it was coming. The company I worked for gave me a year to build business to a sustainable level, and for a variety of reasons, some market-related, some company-related, and some Hartness-related, it didn’t happen.But I knew pretty much in March that the writing was on the wall. The good news was – the writing was also on the page.
You see, at the end of 2014, a few things happened. First, I got a job that covered my monthly bills. Hooray! Huge boulder off my shoulders. Then my mom died. Huge bummer, obviously, but there was a twinge of relief there as well. She had suffered from dementia for the better part of a decade, and when she finally went, it was good to see her suffering end. And the last thing was, I got on with my life. I’d spent a lot of 2014 on hold, for various employment reasons and my mom’s health. So when the dust settled, I got back to work. And I got back to work with a vengeance.
I may have posted this here before, or maybe it was over on my site, but here are the six years I’ve been doing this and the number of titles I’ve released each year.
2010 – 2
2011 – 11
2012 – 17
2013 – 5
2014 – 6
2015 – 13 (so far, with two more in edits and one almost complete)
So as you can see, 2011-12 were pretty productive, 13-14 not so much, and 2015 has so far been going gangbusters. That probably has some relation to these numbers.
2010 – $93
2011 – $36,307
2012 – $28,501
2013 – $9,174
2014 – $6,102
2015 – $16,340 (as of 7/23/15)
None of these numbers include any of my traditionally published work, but that usually is around $5,000/year. So it’s easy to see why I was a little less terrified this year when I lost my job than last year. The Affordable Care Act also helped quite a bit (Thanks, Obama!). When I left my day job in 2012, health insurance for my wife and I cost $923 each month through COBRA. Right now, since I’ve had a change of life situation or whatever they call it, insurance for the two of us is less than $100/month. Much easier to swallow when insurance doesn’t cost more than your mortgage.
So what does all this mean? It means that if you’re self-publishing, quantity is king. You can’t just write well, you must write well the first time, and you must write quickly. I currently project a shortfall between my writing income and our monthly expenses, so I’ve turned to a few other revenue sources, like eBay and hanging out my shingle for developmental/story editing. But the other thing I’ve done is turned up the flow on my word count. I’m hitting 4,000 words most days, up from 2,000 most evenings when I was working. That allows me to complete a novel-length work each month. Jake Bible is my inspiration for that. He jams out 5,000 words every day, and that turns into a novel each month. And they’re good.
But I must write tight. I cannot diverge too much from my fairly detailed outlines. This picture is of the outline for Book 6 of The Black Knight Chronicles, and it’s six hand-written pages. I’ve gone through the book and dropped in the action for each chapter, now I just need to write it. I’m doing that for everything I’m writing now, and the discipline helps when I get stuck, and it also allows me to jump to another section and come back if I find one section is hard for whatever reason.
I’m also no longer self-publishing short stories. That was another contributing factor to low sales in 2013 and 2014 – I self-published almost exclusively shorts, particularly Bubba short stories. And selling stories at $.99 doesn’t make me any money. So I switched to writing novellas, at about 25-35,000 words, they are about triple the length of one of my $.99 short stories, and so far people haven’t minded the length for $2.99. And at $2.99 I get $2.09 per sale, as opposed to $.35 per $.99 short story. Makes is a lot easier to keep food on the table when you’re selling more expensive items that pay you a higher percentage.
If you’re a Bubba fan – don’t panic! I’m still writing Bubba stories, they’re just going to be longer and come out quarterly instead of being short and coming out kinda monthly.
So if you’re interested in self-publishing, and you want to make a reasonable amount of money at it, there are two ways.
1) Catch lightning in a bottle and be the next Hugh Howey. Since Hugh doesn’t know why Wool became such a huge success, it’s doubtful that this will be any easier than being the next Pat Rothfuss in traditional publishing.
2) Work your ass off. Write a lot, write fast, write clean, and get a bunch of product out there. If you want to make $50,000 in a year as a self-published author, you need to sell 23,924 books at $2.99. That’s roughly 1,994 books each month. Or 67 books each day, or 3 books every hour of the year. What are you waiting for? You should be writing.
Howdy, folks. Today I’m talking about those weird punctuation marks that people often either avoid or misuse. Three that I will be including in particular are (parentheses), [brackets], and . . . ellipses . . .
The Chicago Manual of Style says that parentheses as “stronger than a comma and similar to the dash” (336).
Some of the things you can use parentheses for are to set off text that doesn’t grammatically fit with the rest of the sentence such as a translation, explanation, afterthoughts, labels, and minor digressions.
Now, there are some good guidelines that we can follow to help us make these as smooth as possible.
- Don’t overuse them. If you’re drafting a novel and find that you have a lot of afterthoughts, that’s okay, but move them in your revisions to where they should be rather than as an afterthought.
- In some cases, you come across a time when you need parentheses within parentheses. So, what do you do? Chicago style prefers using brackets within parentheses, but British style and most law publications prefer parentheses within parentheses.
- Avoid enclosing more than one sentence within another sentence.
- If you need to include several bits of information, you can separate them with a semicolon.
- Punctuation should come inside if it belongs to the parenthetical information but outside if it belongs to the main sentence.
- Example: She’s watching TV (Who’s Line Is It Anyway?) tonight and tomorrow night (The Walking Dead).
Brackets aren’t used too much in fiction, but they’re often used in academic or scholarly work. Some of the reasons you might use brackets are as follows:
- Translations or pronunciations of unfamiliar terms
- Explanations of pronouns or other missing information in quoted text
- Any materialized by someone other than the original writer
Punctuation and other guidelines for brackets follow suit with parentheses.
The dot dot dot . . . it’s often used to indicate trailing off speech, interruptions in thought, an omission in quoted material. (Technically, they’re called suspension points when you interrupt thoughts.)
These fellas are useful, but they do need to follow some rules.
- Be careful not to skew the meaning of the passage if you omit information.
- They should appear on the same line even if they have spaces between them.
- You do add a period after the third dot when you’re starting a new sentence.
- There is no space between the last ellipsis point and a closing quotation mark.
- Don’t overuse them.
The spacing of the ellipses is a matter of style. AP style does it this way … with a space on either side and no spaces between, but Chicago style does it this way . . . a space on either side with spaces between.
Well, that’s it for today. I’ll be back in two weeks with more fun stuff! (Note: there is no sarcasm in that exclamation.)
Today is release day for Dead Man’s Reach, the fourth and final (for now) novel of the Thieftaker Chronicles. I’m incredibly excited about this book for several reasons, not the least of which being that it represents, I believe, some of the finest work I’ve ever done. I hope you enjoy reading it every bit as much as I enjoyed writing it.
All of the Thieftaker novels demanded that I interweave fictional story elements with actual historical events. That has been one of the great challenges of writing these books, and one of the great pleasures as well. And I think that most fans of the series would agree that the interplay of fiction with history is part of what has drawn them to the Ethan Kaille stories.
In no book has that blending of history and make believe been more demanding, more complex, and more intricate, than in Dead Man’s Reach. Beginning on the morning of February 22, 1770, the morning after my opening scene, the town of Boston entered a crisis of bloody violence, tragedy, and mutual provocation between Boston’s citizenry and the occupying British soldiers (whose arrival in the city in the fall of 1768 provided the backdrop for Thieves’ Quarry, the second Thieftaker novel). This cycle of confrontation and bloodshed followed a twisting but traceable path of causality, and I needed to insert my storyline into it.
That February morning, supporters of Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty staged a demonstration against a loyalist merchant who had been importing products from England in violation of nonimportation agreements. Through nonimportation — an agreement among merchants not to import any goods made in Britain — the colonists hoped to pressure King George III and Parliament into lifting the various taxes and tariffs that had been levied on the colonies. Those merchants who supported the Patriot cause readily agreed to nonimportation, but loyalists opposed the agreements, calling them bad for business. They sought to circumvent the agreements at every opportunity. As punishment, the Sons of Liberty and their supporters resorted to mischief, vandalism, and public demonstrations intended to shame violators of nonimportation. This particular protest quickly turned violent, and during the melee a loyalist — a friend of the merchant targeted by the demonstration — fired a musket into the crowd, injuring one young man, and fatally wounding a boy named Christopher Seider.
In the days following Chris Seider’s death, confrontations between citizens of Boston and occupying soldiers escalated. Young toughs harassed soldiers, pelting them with snowballs and ice, rotten food, and rocks, and shouting insults and obscenities. Rope workers at a rope yard near one of the barracks where the British regulars were billeted, engaged in violent brawls with the soldiers. Several men on both sides were injured, at least one critically. And, of course, on the night of March 5, a confrontation on King Street between a huge, unruly mob and a small number of soldiers led to the shootings later dubbed the Boston Massacre. Five men died and six more were wounded.
That historical narrative (with a couple of other real-life events thrown in — a public funeral for Seider, a massive blizzard that crippled the city for a few days) provides the framework for the fictional plotting of Dead Man’s Reach. It’s a complicated story, made even more challenging by the fact that the key events stretch over a span of nearly two weeks. By way of comparison, the events described in each of the other Thieftaker books take place over the course of a few days. I had to find a way to blend Ethan’s magic into the storyline, and plausibly connect Ethan, his magic, and his past, to the violence gripping the city. I can’t really describe exactly how I did this without spoiling a good many plot points for you, my potential readers. It’s enough to say that another conjurer manages to take control of Ethan’s magical power and use it to deepen the chaos.
I like to envision my historical fantasies as literary lasagnas (an image that Faith first came up with, though in a slightly different context). I am layering truth on top of fiction on top of fact on top of magic on top of detail, etc. If I do it right, and make the ingredients work together as they should, I no longer have a mix of historical and fictional timelines. I have a single, seamless story, one in which it is all but impossible for my readers to see where the real ends and the fictional begins. Nutritious, and delicious . . .
This was harder to do with Dead Man’s Reach than with any other book I’ve written, which makes the result that much more satisfying. I hope you’ll pick up a copy today, and I hope you enjoy it. Thanks!
David B. Coe/D.B. Jackson is the award-winning author of eighteen fantasy novels. Under the name D.B. Jackson, he writes the Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical urban fantasy from Tor Books that includes Thieftaker, Thieves’ Quarry, A Plunder of Souls, and, the newest volume, Dead Man’s Reach, which will be released on July 21. Under his own name, he writes The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, a contemporary urban fantasy from Baen Books. The first volume, Spell Blind, debuted in January 2015. The newest book in the series, His Father’s Eyes, comes out on August 4. He lives on the Cumberland Plateau with his wife and two daughters. They’re all smarter and prettier than he is, but they keep him around because he makes a mean vegetarian fajita. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.