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Writing Historical Fantasy: Interview with author Gail Z. Martin

I had the pleasure of meeting author, podcaster, and PR wizard Gail Z. Martin earlier this year at Lunacon.  During the conference, we had a very cool discussion about writing fantasy series, and also talked about writing about women in fantastical settings — and I wanted to bring a condensed version of our discussion to you.

Without further ado, let me introduce you to Gail Z. Martin, her fabulous NECROMANCER series, and her insights into the perils and pleasures of writing historical fantasy!

Meet Gail Z. Martin: 

Gail Z. Martin

Gail discovered her passion for science fiction, fantasy and ghost stories in elementary school.  The first story she wrote—at age five—was about a vampire. Her favorite TV show as a preschooler was Dark Shadows. At age 14, she decided to become a writer.  She enjoys attending science fiction/fantasy conventions, Renaissance fairs and living history sites.  She is married and has three children, a Himalayan cat and a golden retriever.

Please tell us more about your Necromancer series, including the history/setting that inspired it:

The books are set in an alternative world that is roughly equivalent in technology to late 15th century northern Europe.  The key differences are that magic is both real and openly acknowledged.  Not everyone has it, but everyone believes in it and it is practiced openly (for the most part).  Another key difference is the open existence of vampires and werewolves, along with other paranormal creatures.  In many areas, the vampires and werewolves remain part of the society, living with their mortal families and remaining in the community.  In other places, they are hunted or persecuted.  A third difference is the existence of a rare form of magic, summoning, the ability to intercede between the living and the dead.  Necromancy in my world is not automatically evil, as it is in many series and games.

Why did you choose an alternative world rather than our own for a setting? What kind of research did you do, and how much do you take from our world to build the world of your story?

Well, I wanted to make the changes I mentioned above, which are pretty major!  But I also didn’t want to get bogged down in really detailed research to make it fit into known history.  I was a history major in my undergraduate work, and I’ve always read ancient and European history, so that level of research is fun for me.  My goal was to evoke  the feel of a Northern European medieval setting, but I didn’t want to have to do a doctorate to get every date and name right!

What advice would you give a writer who is writing historical fantasy: would you warn them away from fantasy set in our own world?  Why or why not?

It depends.  If you set your historical fantasy in this world, realize that there will be a host of readers who really are history geeks (in the kindest sense of the term) and they know EVERYTHING about that time/place, so they’ll be ruthless about errors.  If you’re still set on doing it, I’d consider joining a Society for Creative Anachronism chapter and learning by doing.  SCA folks are amazing in their applied knowledge about medieval life.  And then start reading!  By the way, Writers Digest Books have some good books on writing in different time periods.  You just really have to know your stuff.

Gail Z. Martin is the author of The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven and Dark Lady’s Chosen  (The Chronicles of The Necromancer series).  A new series set in her world of the Winter Kingdoms, The Fallen Kings Cycle, debuts from Orbit Books in 2011 with  Book One: The Sworn. For book updates, tour information and contact details, visit www.ChroniclesOfTheNecromancer.com
You can also find Gail at www.Twitter.com/GailZMartin , and her podcast at www.GhostInTheMachinePodcast.com  Pre-order with bonus gifts at www.TheWinterKingdoms.com

Thanks for a great interview, Gail!

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