Characters on the Couch: Gail Z. Martin’s Jonmarc Vahanian

This week I’m excited to bring Gail Martin and one of her most popular characters, Johnmarc Vahanian, to the couch. I met Gail at DragonCon and participated in her #HoldOnToTheLight mental health awareness campaign. She’s a super nice person and a very prolific author, and I’ve just started reading her steampunk series. Without further ado, here’s the interview of Jonmarc Vahanian, star of one of her fantasy series, and a very interesting guy, as you’ll see. I wonder where I can get some of that mind healing talent…

1. If your character were to go to a psychologist – willingly or unwillingly – what would bring them in? Yes, a court order is a valid answer.

Jonmarc lives in a medieval world, so psychologists aren’t really an option, but a mind-healer is. He is resistant to getting help for a long time, because he doesn’t think he deserves to be fixed, that the pain is a punishment he has earned. It’s only much later in his story arc when he falls in love again and has someone to urge him to heal old wounds that he is willing to let go.

2. Is the presenting problem one of the main internal or external conflicts in your book? If so, how does it present itself?

Both. Jonmarc killed his first man when he was 15, one of the raiders who killed his family. The raider cursed him in his dying breath to lose all that he loved to the flames. He marries, but she and the baby she’s carrying are killed by magicked monsters he believes he accidentally called to the village. He flees with a traveling caravan and makes loyal friends, but misfortune continues to dog his heels. Jonmarc becomes a mercenary, and then is betrayed by his commander when he refuses to burn down a village and slaughter civilians. The men under his command are killed as he’s forced to watch, and he is condemned to burn to death, a fate he narrowly escapes. When he tries to run, he’s caught by slavers and forced into combat-to-the-death fighting matches, on which his captors bet. He finally does escape, and becomes a smuggler, which is where we meet him at the beginning of The Summoner. So his internal turmoil shapes his choices, which determines his story arc.

Jonmarc’s got a whopping case of PTSD, unresolved grief, suicidal and self-destructive tendencies, he’s bitter, sarcastic and drinks too much, and he doesn’t let anyone get close to him because ‘friends and lovers are just hostages to fate, waiting to be taken’.

3. It’s always interesting to see how people act when they first enter my office. Do they immediately go for my chair, hesitate before sitting anywhere, flop on the couch, etc.? What would your character do?

He would probably go stare out the window and talk without looking at you.

Does your character talk to the therapist? How open/revealing will your character be? What will he or she say first?

He wouldn’t have to talk with a mind-healer. The healer would just have to touch him to be able to read his memories, with his permission, and then use magic to reduce the pain and guilt.

Jonmarc doesn’t like to talk about his past. The only one he’s been fully open with is the woman he falls in love with the second time, and that’s mostly to convince her she could do better, that he’s too broken to love. (She’s a healer, with some mind-healing ability. By the time he tells her, she already knows about the scars.)

Your character walks into the bar down the street after his/her first therapy session. What does he/she order? What happens next?

He’d probably have a couple of shots of whiskey and get into a fight.

When you’re building characters, do you have any tricks you use to really get into their psyches, like a character interview or personality system (e.g., Myers-Briggs types)?

There’s usually some splinter of myself in characters, however filtered and twisted it might become, so I look for the places I can empathize and try to imagine the world from their perspective. Sometimes I start with the character, who shows up in my head and demands a book. In other cases, I start with the scenario and then need to think about why kinds of characters would inhabit that world and be right for the story I want to tell.

Let me give a shout-out for #HoldOnToTheLight 2017, back for more with new authors and fantastic new posts! 130+ Sci-Fi/Fantasy authors blogging about their personal struggles with depression, PTSD, anxiety, suicide and self-harm, candid posts by some of your favorite authors on how mental health issues have impacted their lives and books. Read the stories, share the stories, change a life. Find out more at

About the Author

Gail Z. Martin writes epic fantasy, urban fantasy and steampunk for Solaris Books and Orbit Books. Vengeance: A Darkhurst novel, is the second in a new epic fantasy series for Solaris (coming April, 2018). Her Deadly Curiosities urban fantasy series set in Charleston, SC has a new novel, Vendetta, and a new collection, Trifles and Folly. Spells, Salt, and Steel is the first in another new urban fantasy series set in upstate Pennsylvania.

Other work includes the Chronicles Of The Necromancer series, the Fallen Kings Cycle, the Ascendant Kingdoms series, the Deadly Curiosities urban fantasy series, and Iron & Blood (co-authored with Larry N. Martin)

Find her at, on Twitter, on Facebook, at the blog and on Goodreads.


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