IT’S A KINDA MAGICK! – Urban fantasy best sellers made in Gibraltar

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Husband-and-wife writing team Lee and Stephanie Dignam made two ambitious New Year’s resolutions: to publish one novel each and every month in 2017, and to become ‘USA Today’ bestselling authors – a dream soon made reality when their vampires-versus-werewolves novella ‘Pixi Poison’ ranked #119 as part of the international multi-author boxed set Legends of the Damned.

After the release of Magick Reborn in January, the first of their Blood and Magick series, which rocketed to Amazon best-seller status within a week, the challenge continued with Demon’s Kiss in February, Mr. Bear in March, Pixi Poison in April and The Dead Wolves in May, the first in a series of what they describe as a ‘brand-new series of dark urban fantasy thrillers’.

Lee explains how the alternative spelling of the all-important word ‘magic’ comes from Aleister Crowley, the occultist who codified in 1904 the religion of Thelema based on the work of previous philosophers like monk François Rabelais and Hellfire Club founder Sir Francis Dashwood. Lee adds: “Crowley would spell magic with a ‘k’ in his writings to mark a firm difference between stage magic performed by tricksters and illusionists, and the occult magick he claimed to be able to perform. In marketing terms, a lot of urban fantasy books feature the word ‘magic’ in their titles, so the alternative spelling helps us stand out from the crowd.”

Prolific authors Lee and Steph work around the clock to publish their urban fantasy novels to a thousand-strong fanship, and have actually made it their fulltime job, besides caring for their six-year old daughter. Lee says: “We devise together the plot and the characterisation, then I write for hours on end up to seven thousand words per day, which virtually allows me to complete one book in less than a fortnight, if the inspiration is right. Stephanie reviews and proofreads what I write day by day and suggests amendments to the storyline and the style of narrative. Not all material passes her test: if it doesn’t, we scrap it and start from scratch, no matter how tight the deadline is.”

Under the penname Katerina Martinez (“We liked the ring of it, plus my middle name is Katherine” Stephanie explains, to which she juxtaposed a widespread Spanish surname), the Dignam duo conjures up in your mind the adventures of young writer and powerful good witch Madison in the magical city of New Orleans, where she has recently moved to escape her past, only to find herself entangled in the mysteries of a Victorian mansion with a mind of its own situated in the alluring French Quarter where black magic is as much as home as the budding romance with dark and handsome Remy, while equally dark forces are awakened by her loitering.

The authors visited New Orleans recently to experience first-hand its topography, folklore, cuisine and climate, flora and fauna, in order to realistically describe smells and flavours around the city, and the true colours of the natural landscape, to provide ‘that extra level of authenticity’ in their fantasy fiction’s future publications.

The rest of their research relies on Google, Google Maps and on popular literary or cinematic fiction set in New Orleans. They insist that incantations described in their books are mostly, if not entirely, fictitious and don’t aim at realistically reflecting or describing the actual voodoo or animistic rituals widely believed to be practised in the US Deep South region that has earned a reputation in pop culture for alternative takes on mainstream Christianity. For this reason, they picked New Orleans as setting, because it is immediately acknowledgeable as an ideal location for an intense plot in which, no matter how dark the dark forces burst out to be, light, colour, sound and aromas will always come through triumphantly at the end.

Contrariwise, it is wholly imaginary the location of their classic Half-Lich and the new Cursed and Damned trilogies: both are set in Ashwood, an American metropolis made up of districts, boroughs and suburbs conveniently tailored to fit the drama that there unfolds. This literary ploy isn’t uncommon in urban fantasy, in order to better accommodate the action, Lee explains: usually the topography is a mixture of landmarks inspired and adapted from different cities, introduced when they serve a purpose or set a mood. A bit like Gotham City in Batman, Lee compares, as he recounts how he actually drew a detailed map of Ashwood on which he visualised his heroine’s every move.

Advertised in the pitch as a ‘grim, unforgiving metropolis’, Ashwood surely is a worthy contender to Gotham for dark atmosphere, albeit no caped masked heroes are in sight – only Alice Werner, the supernatural bounty hunter, styled on the cover of Dark Siren as a college beauty rock chick, who feeds on the souls she captures with her special camera lens.

The lich, conventionally described in horror literature as cadaverous, is here portrayed as an attractive and lively woman instead, who projects the positive image of modern independence, without bordering into harridan, as she actually makes time to find romance between soul-catching jobs. “70% of fantasy literature readership is female and we keep that in mind when we outline our synopses, however, we don’t make romance the centre of the story, hence our novels cannot be pigeonholed as fantasy romance,” Stephanie says. Plots bank on superpowers acquired in various ways, whether genetically, randomly or by heightened consciousness, and on supernatural creatures that have populated legend and urban myth for centuries. “We focus mainly on adventure and thriller, but we don’t disdain a bit of intimacy, since our target circulation is virtually anyone willing to sit through 200-300 pages.”

The Dark Siren pitch enthrals potential readers of this ‘otherworldly series starter’ with the promise of ‘fast-paced suspense’ and ‘conflict-ridden romance’ in the person of Alice’s old flame, closely followed by intriguing titles like The Void Weaver, in which Alice is caught in a cat-and-mouse hunt with Nyx, and the self-explanatory Night & Chaos, where it is high time for showtime between Alice and her nemesis.

Lee Dignam and Katerina Martinez’s novels are available as e-books, or print-on-demand paperback and even as audio-books, a practical idea for those who have little time to sit down but still like the thrill of a story well told by professional actors. Indie publishing is an ever-growing phenomenon around the globe, and Lee and Stephanie are enjoying the ride, especially when it takes them right at the top of the charts. They advise anyone with a novel in their hearts to put pen to paper, follow the indie publishing model, and share their dream with the world (wide web). Earlier in the year, as part of World Book Day, Lee and Stephanie held talks with local students about how to do just that, and hope to hold more such presentations throughout the rest of the year, in an attempt to bring Gibraltar writers into the fold.

Get in touch with Lee and Stephanie and sign up to their mailing list by typing this link in your browser: subscribe.supernalpublishing.net/magazine. And visit www.katerinamartinez.com to keep in touch with the latest issue in their sagas!

words | Elena Scialtiel