Below are the most recent posts on NedMarcus.com.
I've decided to write an A-Z of (mostly) fantasy on the blog and publish them once or twice a week.
A is for 'Author You've Read the Most Books From.' For me, there are several authors I've read extensively since I was in my teens or twenties.
Terry Brooks wins with 41 books. I loved his books, and still like them, although not nearly as much as I used to. Still, they're good fantasy adventure stories, and his Magical Kingdom for Sale series kept me occupied during a long (13+ hour) flight, so I'll always appreciate that.
Honourable mentions go to Raymond Feist (31 books), Lois McMaster Bujold (21 books), and Michael Moorcock (21 books).
I still find Feist readable, and particularly like his original Magician books and the Empire Trilogy (which I love). The rest of the series rambles in an enjoyable way, and I always find it interesting when his characters launch into philosophical discussions on the nature of the universe and life. I don't have to agree with them, of course; I just enjoy listening to them.
Lois McMaster Bujold has written some good fantasy, but I most love her science fiction. The Vorkosigan Saga, with Miles Vorkosigan's adventures in space I've read and reread several times.
Michael Moorcock was my introduction to fantasy; I began reading him when I was about 14. I loved the Eternal Champion concept and followed the character in most of his incarnations. I still find them fun to read.
B is coming shortly!
I've just read an article in BBC Futures (The forgotten medieval habit of 'two sleeps') that describes how people in the ancient and medieval worlds slept twice a day. Like those people, I too get up from my first sleep in the early hours of the morning, and then take my second sleep in the late morning or early afternoon. I'd heard of the practice, but didn't realise it was so common in the past. It's strange how something that was so normal is now so rare. Personally, I feel good with this pattern, and waking up in the middle of the night's not normally a problem. I just get up and start working. I understand that having a regular job would make this hard, but it works if you can control your schedule.
The article surmises that biphasic sleep may have allowed richer dreaming in the past because there were two opportunities to wake up from a dream. Perhaps. I certainly remember many dreams. The article also says that there's no way of going back to this situation. I'm not so sure. If people have control over their schedules, then the habit may spontaneously appear again. The pandemic has introduced working from home for many, giving, sometimes at least, the opportunity to control your own schedule.
One of the language learning apps I've used is Duolingo—the most popular language-learning app in the world at the moment.
I use it for Mandarin Chinese and French, but they've got options to learn three constructed languages, including two fictional ones: High Valyrian (Game of Thrones) and Klingon (Star Trek).
Spanish, French, and Mandarin Chinese have (27.2M) (16.9M) and (5.52M) learners respectively using the app. But the numbers for fictional languages is surprisingly high. High Valyrian has 504K learners, and Klingon has 303K learners. More than several 'real' languages. Although I doubt if many can speak them—learning a language is quite hard.
The other constructed language, for anyone interested, is Esperanto with 291K learners. One of the first members of my writers' critique group spoke Esperanto—fluently from what I heard.
Does anyone here have plans to learn a fantasy or sci-fi language?
I once thought I'd write epic fantasy without a trace of science or technology (I mean modern technology because even the plough and sword are basic forms of technology). I still like the idea of creating an epic fantasy—unlike the magic in the contemporary Britain of the Orange Storm series or the mix of sorcery and science in the world of Blue Prometheus—but I've realised that I like playing with (and reading) stories where there's a conflict between scientific thinking and magical or intuitive thinking.
I doubt I'd ever put high-tech in an epic fantasy setting, but I may include steam power or alchemists experimenting with basic chemistry. Perhaps mechanical flame lances containing the oil of some explosive plant. But it's the difference in thinking between these two approaches that interests me the most.
Read the best of Ned Marcus blog 2021.
I've finished the first draft of the second novel in the Orange Storm series—The Orange Witch. It looks like it'll be slightly longer than the first novel. At present, it's at just over 84,000 words.
I plan to rest if for a few weeks while I work on a short story I want to finish, then I'll start work on the second draft, which will involve tightening up the story.
Orange Storm is now on sale at Smashwords. I'm new to this store, but I quite like it. It has a different feel to the major online booksellers.
If you have a new e-reader to fill or just feel like a bargain, it's a good time to buy the first book in an exciting series. Blue Prometheus is reduced from $2.99 to $0.99 until new year's day.
Visit my books page for all links...
I wrote this story in 2019 for a Fantasy Faction contest. It came second. Now it's been reprinted in the speculative fiction magazine Metastellar.
My books are now available on the Smashwords store. Blue Prometheus is currently on sale on there, reduced from $2.99 to $1.49 until Jan 1st. Click the link below to go to Smashwords.
I’m reducing the time I spend on social media. I don’t use Twitter, Instagram, Tic Tok etc anyway—just Facebook (and LinkedIn for some freelance writing work). Even FB is a distraction that reduces the time I spend on focussed activities such as reading, thinking and writing. I’d rather spend half an hour reading a good book than browsing a social media site—it makes me feel better.
The extraction of personal data is also something I dislike.
For now, I’ll still visit once a week. I may cut back further, it depends how I feel after a month of reduced usage.
This means my FB page will not be updated so often, and if you’d like to follow my work, then signing up for my newsletter or reading this blog is the best way. If you want to contact me, just reply to one of my newsletters or use the contact form above. I like to hear from readers and fellow writers.
Orange Storm is on sale on Kobo this week. Reduced from $4.99 to free. This will probably be the only time I offer this book for free, so it's a good opportunity if you'd like to try my new series.
My latest novel is set just before Christmas—a seasonal story. Read more here...
At the weekend we had a day of sunshine, and I decided to take a walk along the river to Wutuku, a small town in one of the valleys adjoining the one where I live. A beautiful walk between the river and bamboo forest.
I've recently been rereading several Michael Moorcock novels, including his History of the Runestaff series and the Books of Corum. I originally intended to read small extracts in order to write a few list articles (the top ten fantasy novel type of articles) but have become hooked and have ended up reading much more than I'd intended. His novels are really novellas, and many writers nowadays would put the books of each series together to form a single novel, but it doesn't matter. I'm enjoying my 'research.'
Here's the cover of one of the books: The Knight of Swords. It's an old paperback and badly foxed, but I keep it because it's good and because of the cover. You don't see many covers like this anymore.
The Darkling Odyssey is the second book in Ned Marcus’s Blue Prometheus trilogy, which takes place deep beneath the surface of Prometheus.
It's been a long time since I've read The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks, but I'm creating a list article of fantasy books (perhaps more than one) and I'm rereading the beginnings of fantasy novels I once loved. I've read a lot of criticism of this book, and some of it's justified, but despite its dryness and lack of humour, the book still hooked me.
A one-minute fantasy flash fiction story. Ideal to brighten your commute!
I usually take Sundays off. It's good to have a complete break from writing (or any other work) at least once a week. But this Sunday, I've been busy preparing two short stories (one fantasy and one science fiction) to submit to fantasy and sci-fi magazines next week.
A change does feel like a rest; working on something very different is sometimes quite relaxing.
I'm just over 53,000 words into the second novel in the Orange Storm series. The protagonists have just discovered that more lies beneath the streets of London than they'd imagined.
I only sometimes listen to music as I write, but recently I've been listening to John Dowland—Renaissance lute music. Good for relaxing, too!
The link's to YouTube.
First, I found out that it's not possible to write a bad story every day.
Second, when you don't care whether the story's going to be good, you free your creativity, making it more likely the story will be good.
Third, my mind works in longer stories (longer short stories or novels).
Fourth, there are times when a story can come out almost fully formed.
If you'd like to read more, click to read the full article.
I recently asked the above question on a fantasy forum. Almost no one regularly reads them—most people occasionally or never read them. It seems that reading fantasy magazines is a very minority activity.
The commonest comment was that they're too literary, which leaves people cold. Another comment was that there's a sameness of stories chosen by the magazines.
The fact that the list of submission requirements that most magazines have are very similar also increases the chances of stories being very similar in length and style.
Almost no one said they never read short stories.
I've added comments to the bottom of this blog. It's FB comments, and I know some people are allergic to them. I use them because they're free and wouldn't mind changing, but other options I've seen are quite expensive.
Comment below if you know of good alternatives!
In my 30-day flash fiction challenge, I set out to write a story a day. Here are the results.
NaShWriMo looks more likely than NaNoWriMo this year. I know a few other writers who may join me in writing a new short story over the month. The story I hope to write is called "The Long Night of Sasha 12" and is science fiction set on another planet.
It might seem strange that I plan to do this over the month after I've recently completed a flash fiction challenge, writing a flash fiction story almost every day for a month, but many of them were incomplete, and all of them were very short. This story will probably be 3,000-4,000 words, and I hope it will be polished by the end of November.
My main focus is still the second novel in the Orange Storm series. That's coming on quite well, but I like to also write short stories because they give me a change of pace. Mostly, I just work on the short stories in the evening when I can't concentrate on my novel anymore (I write my novel in the mornings usually) and on Sunday when I want a change of pace.
I recently read an article on hearing an inner voice. The article discussed research in neuroscience and looked at the ways in which people hear, or do not hear, an inner voice. Just as some people have clear mental imagery—if they wish to imagine an apple, they can see one clearly in their mind's eye, whereas other people have no mental imagery—aphantasia. It's a continuum. I'm on the side of not having either. I wrote a short fantasy story based on the experiences of an aphant.
This is a topic that we seldom discuss openly. I was shocked to discover, in a psychology class at about the age of 20, that some people literally had mental imagery. I'd always believed they were speaking metaphorically when talking about picturing something in their minds.
I've tried, on a few forums, to initiate discussion on the topic. Psychology is an interest of mine. Slowly, people spoke about it. I think it's a little tricky because there's the idea that if you hear a voice you must be insane. I don't think this is true. I'm not talking about when someone speaks to another person who isn't there, but they believe is. That's different. I'm just talking about a literal aural representation in the mind.
Of the people I spoke to, about half have a clear inner voice. The other half have a vague or partial voice. My sample size is only 7 including myself. Although I don't have literal visual or aural imagery while awake, I do possess both in my dreams.
One point brought up was whether people have inner representations of other senses. Touch (a few of us do), smell, and taste. Nobody claimed any inner representation of the last two. I imagine that there are people somewhere who do have inner senses of smell and taste.
Today's the final day of my 30-day flash fiction challenge. I found inspiration for my final story from a post on a fantasy forum I belong to.
I've written a story on all but two days (days on which stuff just happened). Three other days I spent deepening one of my stories, Flowers With Deep roots, which (after feedback from my critique group) I'll probably make into a longer short story. Deep down I knew this, but it was good to get confirmation.
So in total, I have twenty-five new flash fiction stories. Of course, they need polishing. I plan to write a more detailed article on my flash fiction challenge—both the good and bad parts of it—later this month.
Overall, it was a good experience. I won't continue with it, but I may write a flash fiction story every Sunday and continue as long as it's fun.
Today is Day 28 of my 30-day flash fiction challenge. The premise for today's story is what if some habits are caused by alienness or magic that's unknown to the person involved.
Perhaps not the most successful of the flash fiction I've written this month, but it's given me what I hope is a better idea for tomorrow's fantasy flash fiction story.
Time differences account for the seemingly strange disparity between dates and days!
Today's day 24 of my 30 day challenge. I've written a piece of flash fiction every day except one.
Today was a short piece inspired by The Interpreter by Brian Aldiss—a science fiction novel about a human interpreter working for an alien race that has taken control of the world, which is well worth reading.
I added some fantasy elements to the (unfinished) story.
Today I wrote the first 700 words of a food-related fantasy story, partly in response to a magazine inviting theme-related short stories this month. Dace refers to the fish. I didn't have the time to finish it as I still need to get in the time on my main writing project—the sequel to Orange Storm.
It is taking some time from my novel writing, and I probably won't continue past the 30 days I set myself, but I'm enjoying the flow of ideas I'm generating. And I'm building a collection of unfinished short stories—some of which I'll finish later.
Today is Day 16 of my personal flash fiction challenge. Yesterday and today I spent time polishing two of the short stories in preparation for a critique group meeting next weekend. Tomorrow, I'll be starting a new story.
Pausing to go deeper into two of the stories, led to some research. One of the stories is set in a village in England around 500AD. I wanted some Old English words to convey the atmosphere. I now know that in Old English poppy had several translations: popæg, papæg, popāg, papāg, and popig. I went for popig. I also learnt that the expression about the tallest poppy getting its head cut off comes from a story about the last king of Rome, Lucius Tarquinius Suberbus, who apparently ran around his garden cutting the heads of the tallest poppies to demonstrate what he wanted doing to his enemies in Rome.
I read a couple of interesting articles recently, which I linked to on my Facebook page, which discuss the drop in the number of animals and nature words in fiction.
First, there's a general drop in the number of these words. Stories are simply not involving animals or nature as much.
Second, specific animal or nature words, such as Labrador or oak, are being replaced by generic words, such as dog and tree.
I don't know the reason for this, but seems to show some increase in the disconnect between writers and the natural world.
Today's short story, which I wasn't able to finish (I think this one's going to become much longer than flash fiction) is science fiction. A spaceship crash lands on a remote desert planet and the crew are faced with the problem of no water or food. The only thing on the planet, apart from its vast deserts, is the strange oases that expand each day and disappear during the long nights of the planet.
This is one of the stories that I'll polish later and perhaps try to get published.
I'm now writing a short series of flash fiction pieces, trying to make each story distinct, but they're flowing on from each other. I'm taking this as it comes.
Abandoned by the ghost of the man he killed, the protagonist encounters light in the netherworld. A giant scarab with a solar disc on its back leads him through the forest.
Today's flash fiction story is set in a netherworld that surrounds the protagonist's country. He's guided by the ghost of the man he's murdered.
In case anyone has noticed, the days of my challenge (and my real days here in East Asia) are out of sync with the posting days. That's because the website system I use uses North American time.
My inspiration today came from a stationery blog I came across. I was surprised to see a short story featured on any kind of blog, and I wondered what sort of story I'd have written for a stationery or planner website.
It ended up being the longest short story of the challenge so far—just over 900 words, and it took me 45 minutes, 15 more than I'd intended. But I was up early enough that it didn't matter.
It's now Day 4 of my flash fiction writing challenge. So far, I've written a story a day, taking about 30 minutes for each. I know that if I spent more time than that, I could write something more polished (and I may go back later and polish my favourites) but for now, speed is good.
Writing a short story every day requires fresh inspiration every day, too. For the first two days, I looked out of the window and wrote about what my eyes fell on first, or used a tarot card instead.
For Days 3 and 4, I decided to start with the title. Very few fantasy shorts have titles that begin with x, y, or z. So that's what I decided to do. Restricting myself brings out more creativity than allowing complete freedom. Day 3 was 'y', Day 4 was 'z'.
I'll decide on tomorrow's inspiration tomorrow.
I'm on the third day of my 30-day flash fiction challenge—to write a short short story a day. The stories are incomplete, but I'm managing to get a first draft down. The word counts are 519, 560, and 544. I'm mostly sticking to my 30-minute limit but did go 15 minutes over on day 2.
The protagonist in today's story is called Ælfswiþ. After writing the story, which is set in the fifth century in the north of England, I had to work out how to type the Old English/Old Icelandic 'thorn' character þ. It doesn't seem to be possible on a Mac, but I found some good online resources.
I started the morning with a 30-minute flash fiction story. It's incomplete, of course, a fragment really. I just wanted to see what would happen. The story was inspired by the Moon tarot card and a glance at the forest across the river from my house. A shaded area appeared like a throne occupied by the ghost of a lost god. The god leaves something on the forest floor for the hero to discover...
I may polish it later, but it's made me curious. What will happen if I do this every day—a 30-day challenge to write short short stories each morning before I do anything else?
I'll tell you later.
40% off the Blue Prometheus boxset (the complete trilogy) + over 40 boxsets by other fantasy/sci-fi writers, for Kobo readers in the UK, Canada, Australia, & New Zealand. Enter the code BOXSEPT.
This November I won't be attempting to write 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo as I did last year. I like the community feel and enjoy talking to other writers, but it just doesn't suit my style of writing. It makes me rush when I should be going more slowly. The beginning of a novel is the time when I go slowest. I like to think through the story and get it off to a good start. Rushing at the beginning means I have to spend time later correcting the mess I made because I went too fast too soon.
So instead, I've decided to do a NashWriMo. 'Sh' being for short story. I think I can manage that. More later...
Blue Prometheus is now on sale at most online booksellers. Reduced from $4.99 to $1.99 until Friday.
See my books page for all links!
This novel by Robert Holdstock won the World Best Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 1985. It's been a few decades since I've read it, and it's different from the fantasy I usually read—different from most fantasy, I think.
It's mythic fiction, set in a wood in England just after the end of World War 2. A first-person story about the strange happenings in and around the wood. The wood is populated by mythagos, magical creatures created from ancient memories and myths that interact with the unconscious minds of humans.
It's worth reading. I might write a review after I've finished rereading it.
I have two sales coming up next week. A three-day sale on Blue Prometheus; and for Kobo readers in the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, there's going to be a special sale on the boxset.
I'll give more details later.
A witty quote by Kurt Vonnegut:
"Kilgore Trout once wrote a short story which was a dialogue between two pieces of yeast. They were discussing the possible purposes of life as they ate sugar and suffocated in their own excrement. Because of their limited intelligence, they never came close to guessing that they were making champagne." Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (Breakfast of Champions)
Read more short story quotes on the short stories page...
I've updated this page, adding short story quotes from Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut Jnr, and others, and I talk about how long a short story should be.
Not the same page as the one below.