Ned Marcus — Blog

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Dec 01, 2022

Short Story Challenge—Part 2

I've written almost 10 short story fragments over the past 10 days or so. None are finished (I’m only writing them for 20-30 minutes a day) but some are more complete than I expected.

I wrote the first on a rattling and squealing bus as it bounced its way down from the mountains into Taipei. I was trying to think what the story would be about when I was jolted in my seat. The squeals coming from a worn fan belt (perhaps—I’m not an expert on vehicle mechanics) made me think of basilisks. Don’t ask why. The bus became a carriage. We were trying to escape the basilisks.

The protagonist feared for his life. They were getting closer. I’ve not finished yet. The basilisks will kill, but it won’t be as the poor protagonist expected.

Nov 29, 2022

Substack Question

Does anyone here use Substack? Particularly for reading fiction?

Along with my discovery of AI-generated art, I've learnt more about Substack—I've known about it for a while but only recently looked more deeply. I'm thinking about starting my own channel there and serialising some of my fiction. I'd release short chapters weekly with fantasy art attached. It would be free, but with the option of paid subscriptions offering something more.

Would you be interested?

Let me know via the contact form above or by clicking reply to any of my newsletters.

Nov 27, 2022

Red Dragon

Here's another AI-generated dragon based on the cover of Fire Rising.

Red dragon

Nov 25, 2022

New Short Story Challenge!

The last time I challenged myself to write a fantasy flash fiction story every day for 30 days, I created a lot of stories. Not all were finished, of course, but since then, I've polished many of them into complete stories.

Now it's time to set myself another challenge. I'm not sure how long I'll continue this time, but I hope to start (and sometimes finish) a lot of new short stories. They won't all be good, of course, but in my experience, some of them will be worth publishing.

I'm devoting 20-30 minutes a day to this, which is outside my regular writing schedule. When I can, I'll work on this challenge when travelling or in the intervals when I'm waiting for something else to happen.

I'll be writing the stories by hand.

Nov 23, 2022

AI Dragon Based on Cover of Fire Rising

A friend created AI-generated images based on the cover of Fire Rising, and this was one of the results. I plan to experiment, too. What do you think?

Dragon based on cover of Fire Rising

Oct 29, 2022

A-Z of SF/Fantasy (Z) The Zaniest SF Series

The zaniest SF book I've read is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. It's just very funny. Actually, I think the radio series (BBC Radio 4) is the best. The book comes second. I'd place the TV series in third place. The worst of the franchise is the film, which I didn't enjoy and didn't finish watching.

I don't normally like comedy in fantasy/SF, but here it works well.

Oct 26, 2022

A—Z of Fantasy (Y) Best Yacht Stories in Fantasy

This is a hard choice, but I'm going to pick Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb. It's #1 in the Liveship Traders series. Althea Vestrit is denied her inheritance, a sentient sailing ship. It's a story of family politics and power, one that I didn't think I'd enjoy, but I did.

The rest of the Liveship Traders series is worth reading, too. Other sailing fantasy books I've enjoyed include The King's Buccaneer by Raymond E. Feist, and The Ice Schooner by Michael Moorcock, which is pulp fiction but fun. The Odyssey by Homer is obviously a classic, too.

Oct 23, 2022

A-Z of Fantasy/SF (X) Best Story Involving Xenology

This one has to be SF. I can't think of any 'x' for fantasy, except perhaps, Xena, warrior princess.

Xenology is the scientific study of alien biology and cultures, and the most enjoyable novel I can think of that involves the study of alien culture is The Interpreter by Brian W. Aldiss. Earth is enslaved by an alien race, and the protagonist is the chief interpreter. He's a person with a deep understanding of the alien race, and he has the chance to help free the planet.

Although I don't rate The Interpreter with Hothouse, one of Alidss's classics, I enjoyed his portrayal of the alien species.

Oct 07, 2022

A-Z of Fantasy (W) Favourite Fantasy Woods

The Old Forest at the edge of the Shire, with Tom Bombadil, and Fangorn, the home of the Treebeard and the ents are still two of my favourites, even though I don't read Tolkien so much nowadays.

Read more in Magic Forests in Fantasy and Myth.

Continue reading "A-Z of Fantasy (W) Favourite Fantasy Woods"

Sep 11, 2022

Spin Span Spun

Good to know that Douglas Adams in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and J. K. Rowling in Harry Potter, use span as the past tense of spin.

I'm in good company!

Sep 07, 2022

A-Z of Fantasy (V) Favourite Fantasy Villain

I once asked why many fantasy readers love villains in an online fantasy forum.

I was immediately attacked. I think I broke some sort of fantasy reader code. Perhaps I'm risking the same again, but with very few exceptions (my favourite is named below) I dislike fantasy villains because I don't like people who use and abuse other humans for their own gain.

My experience of real-life criminals has been negative. And what I see around me in society is even worse. They're self-centred, cynical, and selfish. Organised crime is very destructive, so I dislike anything romanticising it. Even autocratic kings and queens are more attractive to me—although I don't love them (I do love them as characters!).

I understand that most people are not thinking of this when they enjoy a fantasy villain. The attraction is identifying with someone living outside the law, unconstrained by rules and regulations. I like this part, too. But I'd rather the fantasy villains be antagonists.

But there is one I like.

Who is my favourite fantasy villain?

I like Jimmy the Hand in Raymond E. Feist's Riftwar Cycle. Not the novel named after him, but the part he played in The Riftwar Saga and later books. His character's attractive to me because he actively improved himself and his life, becoming someone great, even if he still had some connections to his old world.

What do you think of fantasy villains?

Let me know in the comments (way down at the bottom of the page) or just reply to one of my newsletters.

Sep 04, 2022

Giant Hairy Caterpillar

Along the river near my house, there's a pagoda style shelter that I see as my creative office.

Any creative block vanishes when I come here.

Recently, I spent a few hours writing a short story when a giant hairy caterpillar fell on my head and then walked around the edges of the shelter for the next hour, starting a lively conversation with other people resting there.


Aug 04, 2022

Why I stopped swearing

I’ve never used a lot of swearing in my fiction. Perhaps eight or nine times in my first novel, four or five times in the second, and only about twice in my third. When I wrote my fourth novel, I had one swear word. That made me stop and rethink my use of language. It was obvious to me where this was going.

Unconsciously, I'd started to reduce swearing in my fiction. While I don’t care if other writers use swear words and can read fantasy containing swearing without pain, I no longer feel the need to use it myself.

I asked myself, why leave the swearing in my old books but not have any in the new ones?

So I went back and cut out all swear words.

I’m not a prude and don’t care if you swear (I do sometimes, too, in my life) but in my writing it’s gone.

Does this make my writing better or worse? Overall, probably neither, but looking at the specific sentences I changed, I think about 60% of them now read better, about 30% are neither better nor worse. In a couple of cases, I lost some humour, but not that much.

Some famous fantasy writers use swearing. George R. R. Martin is an example, and I enjoyed his novels. Some don’t (not much). Brandon Sanderson is a good example of this, although he may throw in the occasional ‘damn,’ which I hardly consider a swear word, to be honest. I’ve enjoyed some of his stories, too.

What are your thoughts about swearing in fiction?

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Jul 28, 2022

Short Stories

I have several weeks of writing short stories while I'm waiting to send my latest novel to my editor at the end of August.

Just had some positive personal rejections from fantasy and sci-fi magazine editors. One loved my writing style, and another called my writing professional standard and my story excellent. At least it made the final round of consideration.

And yet, I've also just received a couple of bizarre comments. One magazine told me to "reign in the reality" in my story because "Bots can only do what humans can ask them to do."


Isn't there at least a possibility (in science fiction) that bots might develop autonomy?

Jul 20, 2022

When the Forest Spoke to Aina

From the novelette, Young Aina, which is available for free on all major online bookstores.

"The forest spoke to me in whispers, but I couldn't understand it clearly. When I told my father, he went quiet. I think it made him uneasy." Ned Marcus, Young Aina.

Jul 18, 2022

What made Aina the way she is?

Aina began learning natural magic at a young age. The tragedy of her early life was a preparation for what was to come. But what happened to make her into the person she is?

Continue reading "What made Aina the way she is?"

Jul 17, 2022

Young Aina

Young Aina Ned Marcus

Jul 14, 2022

A-Z of Fantasy (U) Favourite Underground Sci-fi

As I've mentioned before, I've always loved fantasy and sci-fi set deep beneath the planet's surface. My favourite is Edgar Rice Burroughs' Pellucidar series. Here's the cover of one of my old paperbacks. The series is pure adventure taking place in the centre of the Earth. The molten core becomes the sun. I adopted a similar idea in The Darkling Odyssey.

Apart from Burroughs, I also like Jules Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth, which was partly the inspiration for The Darkling Odyssey. And although the sci-fi film The Core received a poor critical response, I still enjoyed it. Perhaps I could like any story with this theme.

Land of Terror

Jul 07, 2022

Frank Herbert Quote

“When religion and politics travel in the same cart, the riders believe nothing can stand in their way. Their movements become headlong - faster and faster and faster. They put aside all thoughts of obstacles and forget the precipice does not show itself to the man in a blind rush until it's too late.” Frank Herbert, Dune

Continue reading "Frank Herbert Quote"

Jul 03, 2022

A-Z of Fantasy (T) Favourite Stories with Trolls

I've always enjoyed fantasy with trolls, and I particularly liked the rock trolls in Terry Brooks's Shannara series. They were sometimes allies to the druids and sometimes not. Kermadec was one troll I liked; a leader intensely loyal to Grianne Ohmsford, the Ilse Witch.

Terry Brooks's trolls were warlike and tribal, originally coming from humans exposed in the apocalypse. They influenced mine, although the trolls I write about are elemental creatures, and not descended from humans. My first novel, Blue Prometheus, introduces a troll who proves a formidable ally to the heroes.

Jul 01, 2022

Smashwords Sale!

A variety of my books are on sale! Some are heavily discounted. I don't promise that they'll remain this price the whole month, so if you're interested, it's better to buy sooner. Just saying.

Continue reading "Smashwords Sale!"

Jun 18, 2022

30% Off the Blue Prometheus Boxset (books 1-3)

Get 30% off the Blue Prometheus boxset on Kobo in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand for the next few days!

The promo code is JUNE30

Continue reading "30% Off the Blue Prometheus Boxset (books 1-3)"

Jun 11, 2022

A-Z of Science Fiction (S) Short Stories You Enjoyed or Made You Think

'S' again. A few days ago I published short fantasy stories I've enjoyed. I thought I'd do a science fiction post, too. One of the stories might sound and feel like fantasy, but it's actually soft science fiction.

The first one is Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (first published in 1959). It was later expanded into a novel and eventually became a film.

Scientists discover a way to increase intelligence. They test this on a mouse (Algernon). It works. The mouse becomes incredibly intelligent. Then they replicate this on Charlie, a man with an IQ of 68. His intelligence drastically increases, and he realises that the people he thought friends were really mocking him. He becomes one of the top scientists in the world, but then he notices a problem with Algernon. The mouse is returning to what it was before.

Sad but worth reading. And don't be put off by the poor spelling—it improves as Charlie gains intelligence.

Here's a free version on the Internet Archive. It's a PDF of a physical version of the story.

Flowers for Algernon on the Internet Archive

The final story is The Smallest Dragonboy by Anne McCaffrey. It's a positive and uplifting story. From the title, it sounds like fantasy, and it feels like fantasy, too. But actually, it's not. I think most fantasy fans would still enjoy reading it. It's a moving and entertaining story. In many ways, it's my favourite of the four.

You can read it here:

The Smallest Dragonboy

Jun 07, 2022

A-Z of Fantasy (S) Short Stories You Enjoyed or Made You Think

Here are two short fantasy stories that I enjoyed. I'm not saying they're the best I've read, but they were fun to read. The first came quickly to mind, and the second I found on a quick internet search and enjoyed. Always good to discover new stories/writers.

I've linked to free versions of each story. Let me know if you like them. Here they are.

The Weird of Avoosl Wuthoqquan by Clark Ashton Smith.

This is an old one, first published in 1932, but it still reads well. Fantastic purple prose. It's a strange story, a little dark, but also quite funny. It's the story of a usurer who meets a sticky ending.

Help Me Follow My Sister into the Land of the Dead by Carmen Maria Machado.

This one's written in the style of a crowdfunding campaign to help fund the protagonist who needs to go to hell to find her sister. Interesting read. Published in 2014. You can read it in Lightspeed magazine.

May 29, 2022

A-Z of Fantasy (R) Biggest Reading Regret

My biggest reading regret is that between the ages of about 30 and 36 I hardly read a single book. Throughout my childhood, teenage years, and twenties I read a lot. Every day. From 37 onwards I've read a lot, but for some reason, I almost completely stopped for about 6 years. I'm not sure why, but I remember feeling bored whenever I read. I clearly remember the joy I felt when I started reading again. In fact, for the first five or six years of my return to reading, I read an enormous amount, and that reading gave me so many ideas for books of my own.

May 26, 2022

Orange Storm is Now $2.99

Orange Storm is now $2.99, reduced from $4.99. Link to the books page and all retailer links...

Continue reading "Orange Storm is Now $2.99"

May 24, 2022

Nebula Awards

The Nebula Awards are out. Mostly new writers for me, although Ben Bova won a posthumous award. I've submitted Blue Prometheus for an SFWA story bundle later in the year. See how that goes.

Continue reading "Nebula Awards"

May 20, 2022

A-Z of Fantasy (Q) Favourite Fantasy Quote

Okay, this is not strictly a fantasy quote, but I think it relates to fantasy. “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life's coming attractions.” Albert Einstein

May 15, 2022


I've entered Orange Storm into the Self Publishing Fantasy Blog Off—organised by Mark Lawrence. This is the second time I've entered. The first time was with Blue Prometheus in SPFBO5.

The contest usually skews towards a darker fantasy than I write, but it's certainly popular with fantasy writers. The 300 places were taken in less than 9 hours. Over 100 places went in the first 20 minutes. Dust, blood, and shadow are the most popular words in the combined titles entered. I'm the only one with orange in the title.

May 06, 2022

Young Aina No.1 on Amazon Bestseller Lists

Young Aina is No. 1 on the Amazon Bestseller one-hour sci-fi and fantasy short reads category. Not the whole store, unfortunately. Still, it's a first for the novelette.

Young Aina

May 01, 2022

The 7th SPFBO—Indie Fantasy Contest

The 7th SPFBO (self-publishing fantasy blog-off) is an indie contest for fantasy writers. The winner this year is Reign & Ruin by J.D. Evans. The contest is one of the few dedicated to fantasy, although the slant is towards a darker fantasy than I normally write. But still some good stuff comes from the contest. The prize is a selfie-stick and publicity, which all writers want. The contest is run by Mark Lawrence. Here's a link to the SPFBO7 on his blog.

Apr 22, 2022

A-Z of Fantasy (P) Preferred Place To Read

In my old armchair. I also like reading on the bus, however bumpy. I hate reading on the beach—too much sun and sand. For some reason, I can't read in bed either.

Apr 17, 2022

A-Z of Fantasy (O) One Fantasy Book You've Read Multiple Times

It's hard to say which fantasy book I've read the most times, but Daughter of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist must be one of the books I've reread the most. This is a book that divides opinion. Some people just see nothing special in it, but I love the protagonist, Mara, and the intricate network of people she builds around her as she fights for her family's survival.

Apr 11, 2022

A-Z of Fantasy (N) Number of Books in Your House

How many books do you have?

I know. It's something that varies over life. My books include paperbacks, hardbacks, and ebooks. Not all of them are fantasy or sci-fi, but quite a few are. If I'd saved all the books I've ever bought (or even worse, read) then there would be no room for me in the house. Of course, I sell, give away or (on rare occasions) recycle books I don't want.

But how many books do I have? I've just counted them. Here are the numbers (in reverse order):

Hardbacks 106

Paperbacks 326

Ebooks 1,284

The ebooks are mostly on Amazon, but well over 100 are on Kobo, too. Only a handful on Apple.

How many books do you have? I always like to hear from readers. Leave a comment at the bottom of the page or hit reply on one of my newsletters and let me know.

Apr 06, 2022

Free Fantasy Promotion

If you're reading this, you may have already read ( or at least downloaded) Young Aina, but you may be interested in one of the other fantasy books being offered in the promo. No sign up required.

Continue reading "Free Fantasy Promotion"

Apr 03, 2022

A-Z of Fantasy (M) Most Memorable Magicians in a Fantasy Story

No.1 from Raymond E. Feist's Riftwar Cycle

This one’s hard, but I have to choose Pug (later known as Milamber) from Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar Cycle. Pug appears in most of the 30 books in the cycle; he plays a minor role in the brilliant Empire trilogy, but otherwise is one of the main characters in almost all the other books.

The story starts with Pug outside Castle Crydee as a child, when he’s rescued from a storm by the magician Kulgan, to whom he later becomes apprenticed. Together, they fight against an empire that attacks through a rift in the universe.

I love the development of Pug from a boy to a simple magician of the lesser way, to a magician of the greater way who becomes involved in exploring the nature of the universe in order to save it.

No.2 from Alan Dean Foster's Spellsinger Series

Although I think Pug’s the most interesting magician, I have to give honorary mention to Jonathan-Thomas-Meriweather and Clothahump—the turtle magician, from Alan Dean Foster’s funny Spellsinger series.

The wizard Clothahump searches across dimensions for a magician who can defeat an invading army. He finds Jonathan-Thomas Meriweather, an aspiring rock guitarist, and brings him into his world. He makes magic from rock songs on an instrument he finds in his new world. His magic is hit and miss and funny.

Apr 01, 2022

Fire Rising

Fire Rising is the final book in the Blue Prometheus series by Ned Marcus. Can magic overcome the advanced technology of an expansionist empire?

Continue reading "Fire Rising"

Mar 24, 2022

Tolkien Reading Day

Today's Tolkien Reading Day and an excuse to talk about Tolkien. The Hobbit wasn't the first fantasy I read, but it was one of the books that drew me into fantasy as a child (along with the Narnia books—actually, as a child, I preferred Narnia).

My favourite version of The Hobbit is the BBC audio version that I used to have on cassette, but which unfortunately disappeared years ago, although it doesn't really make a difference as I no longer have a cassette player. Usually, I'm not keen on audiobooks, but The Hobbit's perfect for listening to.

Later, I read The Lord of the Rings. Like many fantasy fans, I loved it. I liked the films, too, although I'm not sure I'd watch them again. Nor am I sure I'd reread The Lord of the Rings. I think I read it to death. But never say never.

Except when I'm talking about The Silmarillion.

I've never managed to read more than five or six pages. Strangely (I think) I once met someone who claimed The Silmarillion was his favourite book. He said he liked the detail. It may be the perfect fantasy book for that.

Mar 21, 2022

International Day of Forests

Today, 21st March is International Day of Forests, designed to raise awareness and celebrate the importance of all types of forests. I love forests, and they're the setting of many of my stories. But being a fantasy website, I want to celebrate the importance of magic forests in fantasy and myth.

Here's a link to one of my more popular articles on magic forests...

Continue reading "International Day of Forests"

Mar 18, 2022

A-Z of Fantasy (L) Longer—Novels I Wished Were Longer

It’s rare that I wish a novel were any longer than it is; sometimes it’s the opposite. Although many of my favourite novels are the perfect length.

But Michael Moorcock was an author who wrote many fantasy novellas, and I often wished his books were longer. Any of the Books of Corum, for example.

What about you? Are there any novels you wished were longer?

Mar 15, 2022

A-Z of Fantasy (K) Kinds of Books I Won’t Read

Horror of any kind, whether it's psychological horror or graphic, bloody horror. Either way, I just don't see the point in reading it. I sometimes enjoy dark fantasy, but not horror. Sorry to any diehard horror fans out there!

Mar 12, 2022

New Quotes

Added some book quotes to my fantasy quotes. Here's Groucho Marx...

"Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read."

Continue reading "New Quotes"

Mar 09, 2022

A-Z of Fantasy (J) Just Finished

I've just finished reading the novella 'The Emperor's Soul' by Brandon Sanderson. It's more tightly focussed than most of his books, telling the story of a prisoner held by the empire. She's a master forger. Using her magic, she can copy objects. She's given the task of copying the emperor's soul after an assassination attempt.

She needs more than two years to create a new soul. Even then, she's not sure it's possible. She's given weeks.

I like the relationships between the characters in this story. I can't say much more without giving the ending away. It's my favourite of his stories so far.

Mar 07, 2022

A-Z of Fantasy (I) Influences on My Writing

Not all of the influence on my writing comes from fantasy writers, although I've been influenced by some, and not all the influence and inspiration has yet found its way into my published stories. I have unpublished stories where the influence is sparking new ideas right now.

Psychology has influenced some of the concepts I've written about, particularly in my short stories (mostly, as yet, unpublished). Ideas on consciousness and the unconscious, and how at certain times in history, decisions were made to discourage individuals from accessing their own unconscious, instead, they were encouraged to seek spiritual help from the church hierarchy. I'm interested in how this shifted thinking from being more subjective to something more objective—which science then adopted and adapted for its own use. Carl Jung discusses this in his book Psychological Types.

Milton's Paradise Lost is an epic poem that reads like fantasy. I took some ideas directly from Paradise Lost and used them in The Darkling Odyssey. The poetry of Emily Dickinson, and William Blake; especially his Proverbs of Hell, and The Four Zoas. The King James Version of the Bible influenced and inspired these writers, and me too, not least, the rhythm of the writing.

Blake's Four Zoas

From William Blake's Four Zoas

Philosophically, Heraclitus and Lao-Tzu have influenced the outlook of some characters. It's in the background of course—nothing explicit.

But for fantasy? Raymond E. Feist, Michael Moorcock, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Lois McMaster Bujold are some authors that come immediately to mind. I'm not saying I write like them, but I've read and reread their stories many times. With Edgar Rice Burroughs, I like the sense of adventure. Moorcock has incredible imagination. I enjoyed Feist's long adventures which he mixes with the characters' philosophical ramblings on the universe—fun, even when I don't agree with them. Lois McMaster Bujold wrote science fiction as well as fantasy, and I actually prefer her science fiction. Epic adventures in space.

I've reread most of the above many times. Some have excited my imagination, some have given me ideas to explore. I'm not saying that I write like these writers, but something of their work has touched me.

Mar 06, 2022

My Books on Smashwords—Sale!

Here's the link to my book page on Smashwords if you want to pick up a few discounted books. The discounts range from 25% to 50% off. Young Aina's free!

Continue reading "My Books on Smashwords—Sale!"

Mar 06, 2022

Smashwords Sale!

The Smashwords store has a sale at the moment. All my books are available at a discount.

The link below is to the sales page of the Smashwords store. Use the menu on the left to choose fantasy or whatever genre you want.

Continue reading "Smashwords Sale!"

Feb 28, 2022

Fantasy Quotes

"Besides, I like libraries. It makes me feel comfortable and secure to have walls of words, beautiful and wise, all around me. I always feel better when I can see that there is something to hold back the shadows."Roger Zelazny, Nine Princes in Amber

Continue reading "Fantasy Quotes"

Feb 25, 2022

A-Z of Fantasy (H) Hidden Gem Book

There are several hidden gems that I've come across in SPFBO (Self-publishing Fantasy Blog-Off) contests over the years, although most of the books I enjoyed failed to reach the finals. Here are two of them.

First, Nectar and Ambrosia by E. M. Hamill. It's set in an inn that straddles our world and a mythological one. The protagonist, Callie, is chased by a monster when she comes across the inn. She enters. Strangely, the monster is blocked from entering. Inside, she encounters gods from mythology...

The second hidden gem is The Ember Child by Anthony Mitchell. It's an epic fantasy without much magic, but a good read if you like epic adventures. I don't think the author promotes this book—so it's a very well-hidden gem.

Feb 24, 2022

My Thoughts are with Ukraine

My thoughts are with the people of Ukraine and their fight for their country.

Ukrainian flag

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