Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Using Real People and Places in Fiction

Guest Post By Gail Z. Martin

(NOTE: Check below for details on Gail's DAYS OF THE DEAD blog tour giveaways and Trick or Treat fun through Oct. 31!)

Until I began writing my Deadly Curiosities urban fantasy series, I made up all the settings for my books. That’s easy to do in Epic Fantasy, dealing with fictional kingdoms and rulers. But location matters in urban fantasy, and Deadly Curiosities is set in Charleston, South Carolina, a fantastic place with plenty of haunted history.

Likewise, the new Iron and Blood steampunk series my husband, Larry N. Martin, and I are co-writing is set in an alternative history Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. So we’ve gotten very interested in the issues around how to use real people and places in fiction.

There’s a reason for the disclaimer in the front of books that reminds readers that the book is a work of fiction and that resemblances to people living and dead are unintentional. Not only does it provide some legal cover, but it helps to separate factual stories from fictitious ones.

Still, we’ve all read books or seen movies where the main character meets famous people or takes part in famous events, or just has dinner at a famous landmark. How does that work?

Here’s my basic rule. If the action is going to be negative, make up the person or business.

Corollary: The longer a person has been dead and the more famous he/she was, the less you have to worry about it.

So, if you wanted to allege that Alexander the Great was actually a drug smuggler, odds are his family and estate wouldn’t come after you. On the other hand, if you allege the same thing about a recently-departed public figure, especially one who passed away in living memory, you’re probably on shaky ground.

Likewise, if your character has a fun and happy day out at Disney World or Six Flags, and it’s not the setting for your book, you might be ok to mention it in passing. (I’m not a lawyer, check with someone who passed bar exams before doing any of this.) On the other hand, if your story revolves around a serial killer in a theme park, save yourself a lot of grief and legal expenses and create a fictional setting.

Bottom line: If the context for mentioning the person or business might damage his/her reputation or branding, make up a fictional replacement. If it’s a walk-on role, like your character shaking hands with President Nixon, you’re probably off the hook. And if the site is publicly owned, like the Grand Canyon, you’ve probably got more wiggle room than if the location is privately owned. Likewise, if you’re having a monster swing from the top of a real place like the Empire State Building, that’s different than alleging that the property managers were involved in some kind of wrongdoing or illegal activity.

Believability matters. Readers are less likely to believe that a famous building as a supernatural rift in the basement allowing aliens from another dimension to enter our world than they might be to believe allegations that the building’s owners had links to a drug cartel. One is impossible, and the other is only improbable.

People and businesses spend substantial money and effort on their branding, so they are understandably touchy about anything that might damage their public reputation. Unless you’ve got the deep pockets of a movie producer to work out a deal to use a real location for a sketchy or potentially unflattering setting, skip the drama and make up a place tailor-made to your needs.

That’s why in Deadly Curiosities, I mention walking past famous locations like the Charleston City Market, but locations where the big supernatural battles happen are fictitious. Likewise, I’ve made up restaurants and other locations that I want to be able to use as ongoing parts of the story’s setting. I don’t want to have to change names every time a locale changes hands, or worry about what the new owners might think. It’s easier and safer to make it up, and then the location can be a permanent part of my world.

In Iron and Blood, we use a lot of real buildings and locations. Some are already famous or infamous. Others were well-known back in the late 1890s, but are long gone. Some are still standing, and are historic landmarks. Others have changed names and usage, but still exist.

If there already was a documented serial killing at a location that doesn’t exist anymore, using that location in your story probably isn’t going to cause problems. So if there was a murder at a real hotel which has since been torn down and replaced with a parking lot, using the murder site is probably okay, because it’s not going to hurt the property’s existing owners. However, alleging that the location’s owners were complicit in the killings is not okay. The building is gone, but the people or their descendants might still be around and could be damaged by those claims.

Using real people is trickier, because they can have descendants. The farther removed you are in time, the less likely people are to take it personally. Hence Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.

Can you say that a historic figure was something unsavory if there is a body of published documentation and the weight of history holds it to be fact? Probably, because fact is generally a defense against claims of defamation. (Again, I’m not a lawyer, so you should check with someone qualified for your own situation.) For example, mentioning Ulysses S. Grant’s drinking problem is probably safe, since it was well-documented by historians.

When in doubt, make up a person or place to fit your needs. It’s always easier to invent a character or location than it is to respond to a lawsuit, especially once your book is on shelves.
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:

Trick or Treat: Enjoy an excerpt from Deadly Curiosities here:
And a bonus excerpt from Bad Memories, one of my Deadly Curiosities Adventures short stories here:
And a second bonus audio from Literate Liquors podcast by my friend John Hartness discussing what best to imbibe while reading Deadly Curiosities:

Gail Z. Martin is the author of the new epic fantasy novel War of Shadows (Orbit Books), the Deadly Curiosities urban fantasy series set in Charleston, SC (new book November 2015 Solaris Books), and Iron and Blood: The Jake Desmet Adventures a new Steampunk series (July 2015, Solaris Books) co-authored with Larry N. Martin. She is also author of Ice Forged and Reign of Ash in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, 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) 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 16 US/UK anthologies. 
Find her at, on Twitter @GailZMartin, on, at blog and, on Goodreads and  free excerpts on Wattpad

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Almazan: Making Your Gods Unique

Guest post by Sandra Ulbrich Almazan

I became a diehard Beatles fan after watching the Anthology miniseries in 1995. Their group dynamics inspired me to write a fantasy story (though by now it’s evolved into a series) about a group of four people who perform magic together. Each of these magicians, called Avatars in my book, obtain their power from a God or Goddess associated with a season. (Spring and fall have goddesses, while summer and winter have gods.) I thought this was a unique approach. 

Then a friend recommended I read Bujold’s The Curse of Chalion series. I didn’t get around to it until January 2013. Although the start was a bit slow, the ending was amazing. However, I was a bit chagrined to learn Bujold also has deities associated with the seasons. Another unfortunate similarity involves country names: her main country is called Chalion, and mine is called Challen. Part of me feels I should change that since her books came out first, but I’ve lived with the name since the late 90s and find it hard to shift. I suppose I could stage a takeover or revolution to change the name if necessary

So, what makes my Four Gods and Goddesses different from Bujold’s deities, or any other deities? Well, I didn’t base my Four on a specific mythology but developed them from scratch. (Of course, everyone has mythology floating in their unconscious, so there may be some hidden influence from that.) One thing that is different about my Four is that They do not present Themselves as a family. While the Goddess of Spring and the God of Winter are close, there is no mention anywhere of Them actually marrying each other. Spring and Winter are older than Summer and Fall (Fall appears as a girl between ten and twelve), but the former are not the latter’s parents. The Four have a unique origin, but this is not described in Their religion or made known to Their followers. Kron, the main character of Seasons’ Beginnings, suspects the Fours’ power is related to that of Salth’s, his arch-enemy. The Fours’ origin won’t be made explicit until the last book of the series. 

The Four are not the only gods and goddesses in my world. Each country has its own God, Goddess, or combination, and each deity has a certain sphere of interest that affects the country’s history. The Four of Challen have chosen Their interests specifically to help Their people. Spring has the gift of healing, Summer, plants; Fall, animals; and Winter, weather. The Four have each gifted three Avatars with Their associated magic and directed the Avatars to use this magic on Their behalf. Some of the Four have secondary interests. For example, Winter is associated with death (Challens speak of the dead as visiting the God of Winter before they are reborn), and Fall protects women.

How do Challens worship the Four? Every solstice and equinox, there is a soltrans (ceremony of season change) at the main temple in the capital city, during which the Avatars for the old and new seasons stage a mock combat. (The Four don’t fight among Themselves, but the show pleases the audience), and everyone reaffirms their links to the God or Goddess of their birth season when they get married.

There may be many other weather gods or animal goddesses out there, but they are all tied to specific times and place. Each deity, whether fictional or historical, has a unique meaning in the culture He or She is part of. If your fictional world features religion, it’s important to show how that affects the culture. A deity imported from a conquering culture will have a different impact than a native one. If you develop your gods and goddesses with as much care as you do your other characters, and you weave Their influence into your world, your gods will be unique.
Sandra Ulbrich Almazan started reading at the age of three and only stops when absolutely required to. Although she hasn’t been writing quite that long, she did compose a very simple play in German during middle school. Her science fiction novella Move Over Ms. L. (an early version of Lyon’s Legacy) earned an Honorable Mention in the 2001 UPC Science Fiction Awards, and her short story “A Reptile at the Reunion” was published in the anthology Firestorm of Dragons. Other published works by Sandra include Twinned Universes and several science fiction and fantasy short stories.

She is a founding member of Broad Universe, which promotes science fiction, fantasy, and horror written by women. Her undergraduate degree is in molecular biology/English, and she has a Master of Technical and Scientific Communication degree. Her day job is in the laboratory of an enzyme company; she’s also been a technical writer and a part-time copyeditor for a local newspaper. Some of her other accomplishments are losing on Jeopardy! and taking a stuffed orca to three continents. She lives in the Chicago area with her husband, Eugene; and son, Alex. In her rare moments of free time, she enjoys crocheting, listening to classic rock (particularly the Beatles), and watching improv comedy.

Sandra can be found online at her website, blog, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads

SEASONS’ BEGINNINGS: Kron Evenhanded is an artificer, able to enchant any man-made object, but he finds people more difficult to work with. When he visits the city of Vistichia, he encounters Sal-thaath, an extremely magical but dangerous child created by Salth, another magician Kron knew at the Magic Institute. Kron attempts to civilize Sal-thaath, but when his efforts lead to tragedy, Kron is forced to ally himself with a quartet of new deities and their human Avatars. Together they must defend Vistichia as Salth attempts to drain its life and magic. But Salth has Ascended halfway to godhood over Time. Will Kron’s artifacts be enough to protect the Avatars, especially the woman he loves, or will Time separate them?

Amazon (Kindle):
Createspace (paper):

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Searching for the facts: A day in the life of a beat cop, SWAT, and medic

If you’re writing a story that involves emergency medical services, law enforcement, or the military, don’t miss the St. Louis Writers Guild workshop on Saturday, Nov. 1, featuring Brian L. Bardsley Jr. of the Chicago Police Dept.--SWAT Team. Held from 10 a.m. to noon at the Kirkwood Community Center, 111 South Geyer, Kirkwood, Mo., 63122, it’s free to Guild members and $5 for non-members.

Brian began his career in the United States Marine Corps from 1988–1994, including deployments in support of Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm and Operation Restore Hope. More recently, Brian completed a year tour in Iraq with the Illinois Army National Guard, where he served as a medic with a rifle company in Baghdad and was awarded a Bronze Star and Combat Medical Badge.

He served as a Medical Specialist in the United States Army Reserves from 1996 to 1999 and has been a Paramedic since January 1999. He has worked as a single role Paramedic, Firefighter/Paramedic, HazMat Technician, Arson Investigator, and Lieutenant with several municipal fire departments, including the Stone Park Fire Department. He served for a year as a single role paramedic with the Chicago Fire Department.

Brian has been with the Chicago Police Department since September 2004. He started as a patrolman in District 015, and upon his return from Iraq was moved to the Education and Training Division, where he worked as an Anti-Terrorism instructor, as well as a marksmanship and tactics instructor. He is currently attached to the SWAT Team as a senior team medic and Emergency Medical Services coordinator.

He is also an experienced instructor. In addition to his experience with the Chicago Police Department, Brian is affiliate faculty at the Loyola University Medical Center Program for Prehospital Medicine, where he has taught in the classroom and served as a Field Internship Preceptor.  He has given numerous invited presentations on Tactical Medicine, Emergency Medical Services, Hazardous Materials, and disaster preparedness.

Learn more about the St. Louis Writers Guild at

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Join the Guild at Lit in the Lou festival

St. Louis Writers Guild members: Bring your books for sale to the SLWG tent, open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 11. The outdoor festival is from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Scheduled SLWG-member book signings on Oct. 11 in SLWG tent:

Carol McAdams Moore
Butch Drury
George Sirois
Peter Green  & T.W. Fendley
Braxton DeGarmo
Denise Elam Dauw
Claire Applewhite

Monday, October 6, 2014

George Sirois: The Serialization of "From Parts Unknown"

Guest Post by George Sirois

It wasn't supposed to be a serial.

From Parts Unknown - a five-part science-fiction sports serial now available for the Amazon Kindle (Parts 4 & 5 will be released on November 5 and December 3) - started out as a video game concept conceived in 1994 and written in 1998, then a film treatment, then a screenplay (over 10 drafts), then a novel in 2002. When I wrote the novel, I could have sworn that I would never write this particular story again. Even when I did another draft of the screenplay in 2005, I was content with giving the screenplay a few extra elements that the novel didn't have.

But then, iUniverse called, and I kinda sorta owe what's happening now to them.

When I first published From Parts Unknown through iUniverse, eBooks hadn't caught on yet. The only formats they had available were paperback and hardcover. Eight years later, I got a call from iUniverse's sales department. They told me that if I bought 25 paperback copies of my book at half-price, then they would give me an eBook upgrade for free.

I took the plunge, got my 25 copies two days later, and waited.

And waited.

And continued to wait for almost an entire year. Meanwhile, Excelsior was released through Infinity Publishing in paperback and through me as an eBook, and I became involved with some fellow indie authors who offered support, encouragement, and advice.

One of those authors was Carolyn McCray, who has since become an indie author superstar through her involvement with Amazon. (It doesn't hurt that she's driven enough to keep churning out one book after another. I'm still in awe of her catalog.) When she asked me about any other titles I had, I told her that I was developing a sequel to Excelsior, but other than that, there's From Parts Unknown, but it's tied up with iUniverse. She told me that I could get the rights to that book back and release the eBook on my own.

What a great idea! Once I get the rights back, I could do whatever I want with it. I could release it at a much better price, I could do whatever touch-ups I felt I needed to do, and I could even incorporate the extra ideas that were introduced in the 2005 screenplay.

I called iUniverse, got the rights back, and started reading what I wrote almost ten years before.

And I could have thrown up.

Wow, I thought. This doesn't hold up at all, does it? While I still believed in the overall story, and felt that it had potential, I knew that what was released in 2002 needed to be blown up and put back together. So in September of 2011, I started the long and painful process of rewriting.

Something interesting happened during the months of work. I really started to like what was on the screen. The basic storyline from the very beginning was still there, but now the world in which it took place was no longer occupied by cardboard cut-outs masquerading as people. They had dimension, they had their own personal issues, and they were fun to explore. In fact, I was having so much fun that I reached the page number where the 2002 novel ended and I wasn't even 3/5 of the way through.

Here is where everything changed. I knew that this particular storyline was a hard sell to a lot of people. I knew it ever since I sent it to an agent I knew at the time and he recommended that I self-publish it since it caters to a very niche market: wrestling fans who would enjoy reading a comic book style of story about a fictitious promotion set in the future. (I'm sure there are many here who are tempted to x out of this page right now just by reading that.) However, I knew that once they get to know these characters just as I had in the past year, they would at least be willing to see where the story takes them, but I didn't want the book to come off as intimidating, length-wise.

Then, just as the original "what if wrestling wasn't pre-determined" premise did almost twenty years ago, an image suddenly popped into my head. The image was of me in my pre-teen years, watching "G.I.Joe," and enjoying the five-part miniseries that opened each season. The format freed the writers from the restrictions of a typical episode (a beginning, middle, and end in just 22 minutes), and the stories were always better because of it.

That was when I realized the best possible way to tell this story: as a five-part serial. Some stories just work better as a series of smaller bites rather than one big one, because it doesn't seem as daunting a task for less experienced readers. They can get through the first part, and if they get to the cliffhanger and they don't want to go any further, they can just stop right there, no worries, and they only spent 99 cents on the book. Plus, the eBook format is an ideal way to tell a story in a serialized way since you're not setting up five smaller paperback books.

Once I decided to go with the serial format, the pacing picked up, and I had a new objective: to find the ideal spots for the cliffhangers that would end each book. It gave "From Parts Unknown" a whole new life, and it's been a true joy to discover this whole new way to tell this story that's been in my head for so long.

Now that I knew how to tell my story, where was I going to put it? There was only one answer for me: Amazon. I was asked about why I didn't submit it to Wattpad, and all I can say is that I wasn't as experienced with them as I am with Amazon. (But I am intrigued by them and may use that site in the future.) Also, I gave some thought about Smashwords, so all the different eBook formats would be covered, but Smashwords wouldn't publish serials. So I took the plunge and, when Part 1 was edited, polished, and ready to go, I sent it out into the world on August 6, my birthday.

With all this in mind, how have the books been going sales-wise? Honestly, not too well. But at the same time, only the first three parts have been released so far, Part 4 comes out in November and Part 5 comes out in December. (You can buy all five parts as an eBook gift for someone who's getting a Kindle for the holidays) It's possible that the sales could pick up once all five parts are released, but I'm not really worried about how From Parts Unknown will do. Obviously, I want everything I write to be big sellers, but this story's not for everyone. I get it. It's Rollerball meets RoboCop meets No Holds Barred. To say it's for a niche market would be an understatement.

However, everyone who read Parts 1 & 2 really enjoyed where the story was going and they wanted to read more. They're not wrestling fans, but they are invested in the characters. That gives me hope for From Parts Unknown to find the audience that I believe it deserves, and a big reason for this is because I chose to go with the serialized format. It's given the story, as well as myself, a much-needed boost, and I'm very proud of how it's developed after all this time. It's exciting to know that this December, I'll finally be done with writing this story, and I'm glad to have chosen to go with this particular format.

Oh, and as an added bonus, Rocking Horse Publishing - the same publisher that re-released Excelsior in November of 2013 - will be releasing From Parts Unknown in March of 2015. It will be all five parts combined into one paperback, so here's another reason for you to try writing a serial. You present your readers with different options. They can read the first part and then choose to either continue buying the rest of the story on eBook, or they can wait for the "omnibus edition" to be released on paperback.

I hope that those of you who are curious about whether or not to try writing a serial gives it a shot, and I also hope that you find it as fulfilling as I did.

Part 4 will be released on November 5, 2014.

Part 5 will be released on December 3, 2014.