Gail Z. Martin discusses Why we collect things & What we collect

June 27, 2014 Author Feature, Discussion, Giveaway, Guest Post 25

by Gail Z. Martin

So who doesn’t collect a few oddities here and there?

Deadly Curiosities

Maggie’s review of DEADLY CURIOSITIES


What We Collect

In my new book Deadly Curiosities, Cassidy Kincaide is the proprietor of Trifles and Folly, a 350 year-old antique and curio shop that exists to get dangerous magical items off the market. Behind the idea of antique shops and shows, flea markets, swap meets, even garage sales, lies the concept of the collector, the person who is continually seeking that perfect piece to complete a set, or who wants to have the biggest and best assortment of something.

Why do we collect what we collect, and what does it say about us?

My father was a collector and a hoarder. I grew up going to antique shows, curio shops, flea markets, used book stores (the musty kind, not the cool kind) and any gathering where old stuff was for sale. And I never cease to be amazed at what people collect.

At various times, my dad collected old VW Beetles, antique steam engines (the huge ones from sawmills), Native American artifacts, books about the Old West, Baby Ben alarm clocks, Smith-Corona typewriters, old Singer sewing machines, 1920s oscillating fans and bear traps. Yes—bear traps.

When it came time to clean out his stash after he went into a nursing home, I had the chance to think a lot about collectors and collections. Not everyone lets theirs get as far out of hand as my father did, and unless it takes over your life, collecting can be a fun hobby. But why do we collect things, and what makes us pick particular collections?

I can’t back this up with more than anecdotal evidence, but I suspect that nostalgia heavily influences the choice of collection. As we dug through all the things dad bought, I could link many of them to stories he had told about things he remembered from his childhood. The Baby Ben alarm clock from his grandmother’s house—he had over 100 of them. The treadle Singer sewing machine from the early 1900s that his mother had used when he was a child—45 of those. The steam-powered engines he remembered from his youth working on a neighbor’s farm, the Model-T Ford from his childhood, and the Native American artifacts and Old West books that reminded him of listening to The Lone Ranger on the radio…he had them all.

Collecting involves strong emotions. Consciously or not, I think many collectors pick items that take them back to a happy or safe memory or a pleasant time in their past. Maybe the object reminds the collector of a beloved person, or a favorite place, or a less complicated time in life. Seeing, touching or using the objects sparks that momentary connection, that flash of dopamine in the brain that is comforting in a very deep way.

I think the same factors are at work when we decide what to keep and what to throw away. The concert ticket from a special date, the trinket you picked up on a favorite vacation, the crayon-scrawled picture from a child now grown—these also cause that hit of happy juice to the brain as one-of-a-kind treasures.

Which brings me back to Deadly Curiosities. Cassidy is a psychometric, able to read strong emotions and memories by touching objects. Not all objects have a resonance, but those that do usually pack a psychic wallop. Many of the antiques and curios that find their way into Trifles and Folly have supernatural qualities as well, including dangerous dark magic. It’s up to Cassidy and her team to get those objects off the market and keep them out of the wrong hands.

Think about the way you feel when you pick up a memento that reminds you of a particularly special time. Now imagine having that feeling augmented by magic, being able to re-experience that moment as if you were there, even for someone else’s memories. Most of us keep knick-knacks that remind us of the good times. Many of the objects that find their way into Trifles and Folly hold the resonance of tragedy, evil or supernatural mayhem.

So the next time you see a tempting object at an antique shop or yard sale, scan how you feel when you handle it. Because as Cassidy Kincaide knows, everyday objects can have a dark side.

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About the Author: Gail Z. Martin writes epic and urban fantasy, steampunk and short stories. She is the author of the Chronicles of the Necromancer series, the Fallen Kings Cycle series and the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga series of epic fantasy books, as well as the Deadly Curiosities urban fantasy world and coming in 2015, Iron and Blood, a Steampunk novel, co-written with Larry N. Martin. Gail is a frequently contributor to US and UK anthologies. She also writes two series of ebook short stories: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures and the Deadly Curiosities Adventures.

Find her at, on Twitter @GailZMartin, on, at blog and She leads monthly conversations on Goodreads and posts free excerpts of her work on Wattpad An original novella set in the Deadly Curiosities universe, The Final Death, is available free on Wattpad here:


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Tabitha (Pabkins)

When I'm in the zone I can flip book pages faster than the eye can see - screaming "More Input!" I'm a book, yarn, & art supply hoarding goblin who loves to draw, make toys and craft all sorts of creepy cute things. My current habit is to listen to audio books while I'm arting it up!
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25 Responses to “Gail Z. Martin discusses Why we collect things & What we collect”

  1. Wendell

    Interesting concept for a character. I’ve never read a story with that sort of focus. Sounds intriguing.

    As for the collector bit, I absolutely agree, since I tend to “collect” things linked to good memories or fun times in my life as well. I do get rid of lots of things after a few years though, so maybe I’m not a true collector. My theory is that if I still want it after a few years I guess it’s a keeper. Plus my son’s have already told me they intend to sell all my collectible at my death in the far future, so I can’t use the “keeping it for the next generation” excuse.

  2. Danya @ Fine Print

    Great guest post! I agree that nostalgia heavily influences what we collect – except when it comes to spoons. I don’t really get why people collect spoons, but to each their own! The only things I collect are classic Nancy Drew novels, a definite nostalgia hold-over from my childhood.
    Danya @ Fine Print recently posted…Tough Travelling: MinionsMy Profile

  3. Anya

    Oo, I love this sort of magic power and am now even more determined to find time to read my copy of Deadly Curiosities! I have been collecting snowglobes since childhood and a lot of them are therefore from friends and family that traveled and brought one back for me. I also used to always pick one up when I was traveling and they are usually themed after the location. I definitely get a dopamine hit when I look at ones in my collection since I just think they are so freaking pretty for reasons I can only kind of explain 😉
    Anya recently posted…Sci-fi and Fantasy Friday {ARCs and $5 Giftcards Weekly!}My Profile

  4. Mogsy

    If I’d had a less nomadic life growing up (my family would move like ever four years because of my dad’s job!) I might have become more of a hoarder/collector. But thinking about how much we’d have to pack and transport every time we moved, that habit sort of fell away over the years, and it’s stuck with me to this day. But it would be so cool to have a family member who did collect, I think looking through it all would be like going back in time! Something very cool to leave to your children or your children’s children, imo!
    Mogsy recently posted…Book Review: The Shadow Throne by Django WexlerMy Profile

  5. Kirsty-Marie

    Trifles and Folly, a 350 year-old antique and curio shop that exists to get dangerous magical items off the market That kind of sounds like Warehouse 13, which is awesome. Collecting involves strong emotions, definitely, and memories. I still have concert tickets and some train tickets to places. And, I have this whole box full of cards and letters from a friend who I’ve known for 9 years now but have never met.
    Kirsty-Marie recently posted…Review: Only Ever YoursMy Profile