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Saturday, July 6, 2024

Fantasy Author: Jean Marie Ward - Something Old, Something New – Assembling a Collection from the Inside + excerpt

Something Old, Something New – Assembling a Collection from the Inside
by Jean Marie Ward

When I received Ginger Blue Publishing’s offer to publish a collection of my short fiction, I thought I’d landed on the publishing equivalent of Easy Street. After all, I have published A LOT of short fiction. How hard could it be to copy and package the highlights in a single document?

There were the three Lord Bai stories. Who doesn’t love a shapeshifting foodie dragon scouring Imperial China in search of dim sum, sweet buns, and the occasional dancing girl? There was the science fiction story about the quantum-enabled refrigerator that was an Asimov’s Award finalist and translated into Chinese. There was the good-time god navigating his way through a pandemic with a little help from a brand ambassador in sneakers and a tutu, and that one scifi con guest of honor who was stranger than her fiction. There were contemporary stories of romance, mystery, and one about a young girl trying to save her best friend’s dog, all set in the real world. Together, they amounted to more words than contained in most supermarket paperbacks.

“Not enough,” decreed my editor. “You put cats in the title.”

I put cats in the book. A cat named Pandora plays her part in that dog story I mentioned. The collection also boasted a flash fiction about my cat’s price for saving me from a really bad dream, and two stories about a paranormal investigating team of…cats. They weren’t enough for my editor or, apparently, anybody else on the production team. So, three more, never before published cat stories made their way into the mix, including two about a kitten who’s a real demon. But adorable. Of course he’s adorable. How could he be anything else?

New and never-before-published material turned out to be A Big Deal. By the time we were finished, ten of the twenty-seven stories in the collection were brand new, including a high-stakes dragon adventure in medieval Mongolia, a small nod to The Arabian Nights, and a vampire story set in 1723 New Orleans that had been kicking around inside my head since my first visit to the Crescent City in 1997. That last one is my editor’s favorite. I think she would have asked for more stories about the protagonist, but the book had entered production, and my brain was already panting like it had run the equivalent of the original Marathon. In hoplite armor.

In short, the process was a lot more challenging than I ever imagined. But I think the results justify my aching typing fingers. It doesn’t hurt that every one of those twenty-seven stories is adorned with its own illustration. Some of my characters are getting swelled heads. Perhaps my head expanded a little bit too. The introduction to the collection by Jody Lynn Nye is everything a writer could ask for. But my editor will never let my head get too big. Several hundred miles from their desk, I can hear their foot tapping impatiently.

The writing never stops. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Dragons, Cats, & Formidable Femmes
By Jean Marie Ward
July 16, 2024
Genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Romance, Mystery, Dragons, Cats, Vampires
Meet Lord Bai, a very classy dragon, two cats who channel a top paranormal investigative team, very spiritual flies, a kitten who’s a real demon, a dedicated lover of gold, some wild Greek demi-gods, and many more fun, fierce, and fascinating characters, including a refrigerator that is far more than it appears to be.

This witty, gritty, and whimsical collection brings together a plethora of offbeat and unexpected tales, some never-before published, to entertain and amuse. Flash fiction, short stories, novelettes, and novellas all combine to create a collection that’s perfect for whatever reading mood you’re in.

Don’t delay – flights of fancy, daring deeds, and all manner of exploits and adventures await you. Curl up with this collection and your beverage of choice and enjoy your travels into the imagination of Jean Marie Ward. (With an introduction with Jody Lynn Nye.)

Amazon-B&N-Kobo-Apple Books

Read an excerpt

 Animate paper centipedes and shape-changing foxes aren’t standard fare at a government conference. But then, neither is Lord Bai.

Nanjing, 1421

“What do spells, copying, and writing have to do with pirates?” Lord Bai, White Dragon of the West, whined—no, repined in a light baritone befitting his human form.

It was a reasonable question for a gathering that billed itself as China’s First Imperial Conference on Magic Piracy. But he could have misunderstood the conference’s keynote speaker. Professor Yeoh was orating at the front of the hosting restaurant’s second floor banquet hall, while Bai hid among the sorcery students at the back.

“Not ‘copying and writing’—copy rights,” whispered the student beside him. “Like Professor Yeoh said: All magicians are endowed as creators with certain unalienable rights, including the right to profit from all original spells, amulets, and charms.”

“Even if somebody else does the copying?”


But didn’t writers pay printers to publish their work? Or was it the other way around? Who knew with humans? The longer Bai spent at the conference, the more at sea he felt.

Based on the invitation sent to Master Lao, Bai’s self-appointed human teacher, Bai assumed the conference concerned pirates and magic treasure—subjects dear to every dragon’s heart. When Lao forbade him to attend under threat of several exceptionally creative dooms, Bai had grown even more excited, certain it was one of those conferences—a four-day, Mandarins-only orgy of dim sum and dancing girls. But Bai had searched the venue from foundation to rafters and found no pretty women, no pirates, no treasure.

No food.

None for the students anyway. The attending scholars lounged around capacious tables, feasting at the Emperor’s expense on every delicacy on the restaurant’s menu. But between the professionals’ gourmet paradise and the students’ hellishly hard benches lay a wide aisle patrolled by waiters more vigilant than soldiers on the Great Wall. Bai couldn’t even savor the aromas thanks to the mages’ fondness for patchouli and the absence of anything resembling a breeze. The sliding doors to the loggia had been shut for “security reasons.” In the middle of summer!

Concealed within his perspiring human form, the spirit of Bai’s dragon tail thrashed irritably. He was experiencing a growth spurt and overdue to molt, magnifying his discomfort. He longed to depart, only he couldn’t risk drawing attention to himself. Lao didn’t look like much, but his sorcery could boil a dragon’s eyeballs in their sockets.

That’s when Bai saw it: the answer to his unspoken prayer. A fat red centipede—his favorite treat from the time he was a little wyrm—wriggled into the aisle.

Another steam basket-laden waiter barreled toward the door. Caution fled. Lunging off the bench, Bai snatched his prize from under the very shoe of doom. He popped it into his mouth.

It tasted like paper. He spat it into his hand. The centipede was paper—cheap red paper covered in smeared black ink. What was a paper magic centipede doing crawling around a magicians’ conference? Was it some kind of joke?

Bai glanced at the students. As far as he could tell, they were all enraptured by Yeoh.

Could it be a message? Bai scanned the tables for a likely sender. Officials of the Department of Rites, their blue-violet robes emblazoned with the embroidered panels of their respective ranks, fanned themselves with painted silk paddles. Shaven-headed Buddhist monks traded superior looks with Daoist priests in crimson coats. Women physicians from the Imperial Palace held court behind latticework screens. At the foreigners’ table, Arab scholars and Delhi astrologers scribbled notes with reed pens instead of brushes. No one was looking at the back of the room, not even Lao. The scrawny old reprobate rested his cheek on his upraised hand. Faint snores ruffled his wispy moustache. From the platters and wine pots massed around him, he had, as usual, consumed enough for three.

“That’s the least of what we can expect if this deplorable state of affairs is allowed to continue,” Yeoh warned. The silver gilt designs on his wide purple sleeves flashed as he thrust a pearl-ringed forefinger overhead. “The criminals engaged in the unlicensed reproduction, distribution, and sale of our spells, philters, and talismans are pirates as surely as the Wokou marauders of the Eastern Sea. Magic piracy is not a victimless crime. These spells are our livelihood. Every unauthorized copy is theft and should be punished as such. By stealing our intellectual property, they steal the rice from our mouths, strip the altars of our ancestors, and beggar our children. They must be stopped!”

Applause thundered in the closed room. Conferees jumped to their feet, including several at Lao’s table. Lao jerked awake. Bai lowered his head and clapped furiously.

Another red centipede crawled into the aisle.

“Thank you, Professor Yeoh, for your brilliant summation,” the master of ceremonies boomed as the centipede inched across the floor. “Friends and colleagues, the issues are clear. The stakes couldn’t be higher. Now, let’s hear some solutions!”

A wizened scholar jumped from his seat. He jerked a brass wand from his sash and sliced the air in a wobbly arc. “There can be only one!”

Everybody ducked, including the students. Bai bisected the centipede with a discreetly extended claw, hoping to learn its origin. The halves reverted to paper. Each scrap sported the partial outline of a centipede and the characters of a basic animation spell, which only established it wasn’t made by Lao. His perfectly scissored paper servants needed no ink.

“Close the printing presses!” the old scholar bawled.

The crowd shifted. The papers skidded away on the draft. Not good.

“Professor Deng,” the master of ceremonies soothed, “we want to protect legitimate printers, not close them down. We need printers to publish our books. More importantly, we need them to print the money for our salaries.”

“Paper money! Bah!” Deng flapped his wand. “Silver was good enough for my daddy, and it’s good enough for me.”

“I hope your daddy’s silver was good enough,” Lao drawled. “He ran the Imperial mint.”

Deng squawked as laughter burbled across the room. The master of ceremonies bleated, “Gentlemen! Gentlemen…and ladies!”

Phantom spines rippled uneasily under Bai’s human nape. Paper servants had no will of their own. Someone directed those centipedes his way. But who? The why was easy. Many magicians coveted a dragon’s abilities—to fly, to summon storms and disperse them, to speak any tongue—and the medicinal value of their individual parts.

Maybe he owed his tutor an apology. Maybe Lao’s threats were a misguided attempt to protect him. From paper centipedes? They were spelled for motion, not poison.

Besides, how would anyone know there was a dragon to find? Other than a faint smoky tang to his perspiration, practically imperceptible amid the patchouli-pickled primates, there was nothing to distinguish Bai’s current guise from that of a young human man. Unlike lesser species, dragons transformed completely, including their shadows. A powerful mage might detect the subtle difference in his aura, but only if they concentrated. But who, other than Lao, was strong enough and knew to look?

Engrossed in a quarrel about the cost of astrology manuals, none of the assembly seemed aware of his presence. Then again, anyone using something as inconspicuous as a paper centipede was trying hard not to be noticed. They wouldn’t reveal themselves if they thought anyone was looking. Bai needed to act oblivious.

He pretended to stifle a yawn and slumped forward. Several overlong moments later, a russet-robed wizard with a fat topknot of white hair eased a bamboo tube from his sleeve. Shielding his face with one hand, he angled the tube under his mustache and inflated his cheeks. A red pellet dropped to the floor, unfurled into a centipede, and crawled toward the aisle.

The dragon waited until the centipede was a hairbreadth from his shoe before “accidentally” grinding it into the floor. The wizard’s shoulders fell. Color drained from his face. One of his companions mouthed a question. Bai retrieved the centipede and snuck across the aisle.

He hadn’t realized the aisle acted as a metaphysical barrier as well as a physical one. Once he crossed it, a dozen powerful magical auras blazed in his dragon sight like New Year fireworks. Crap. That changed everything. If the owners of those auras trained their occult senses on him, magic centipedes and Master Lao would be the least of his problems.

He was considering a strategic retreat when Deng hoisted his wand again. Suddenly everyone was too busy dodging the professor’s swings to notice the dragon in the middle of the room. Bai hurried to the wizard’s table. There was something odd about the group’s magical auras—not strong, not bad, just…musky.

Bai could handle musky. He bowed.

“Did you lose something?” He dropped the centipede on the table.

The wizard squealed and sprang from his seat. The master of ceremonies called for order, Bai peered at the wizard’s incongruously delicate hands. He didn’t smell like an old man, either. Bai seized the wizard’s whiskers. Beard and mustache came away in his grasp, revealing a smooth, sweetly rounded face with lips too pink and ripe for any man. The wizard was a woman. A very pretty woman.

All thoughts of danger and centipedes fled from Bai’s head. “Hel-lo,” he purred.

The young woman screamed. Her voice rang like a giant bronze bell, vibrating through muscle, bone, and brain. Bai’s vision blurred. Humans rocked in their seats. Some lost control of their bladders.

Hoisting her robes over her shapely legs, the woman darted toward the paper-screened doors to the loggia. Bai gave chase, muscling aside the dazed magicians staggering from their seats. The woman burst through the latticed panels and leapt onto the railing overlooking the street.

He lunged. She jumped. Her robe grazed his fingertips as she plunged out of reach.

Hair spilled from her topknot, darkening to black as the strands swirled around her shoulders. Her robes billowed. For an instant she seemed suspended midair. Then she vanished. Her garments crumpled against the road in front of the restaurant. A three-tailed fox scuttled from under the pile. She dashed between the feet of the nearest sedan-chair driver, lashing her tails against the man’s bare legs. He started. The poles on his shoulders pitched dangerously.

The woman was a fox? That made no sense. Foxes were masters of illusion, but even the strongest was no match for a dragon. Why tease him with centipedes, then run away?

Behind him, Lao yodeled, “Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaiiii—”

About the Author
Jean Marie Ward writes fiction, nonfiction and everything in between, including novels (2008 Indie Book double-finalist With Nine You Get Vanyr) and two art books. Her stories have appeared everywhere from Asimov’s to the anthologies of Zombies Need Brains. The former editor of Crescent Blues and currently author interviewer for, she co-edited the six-volume, 40th anniversary World Fantasy Con anthology Unconventional Fantasy. Learn more at

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