Archive for February, 2018

Welcome to the March 2018 issue of my newsletter, “News from the Crypt,” and please visit Carter’s Crypt, devoted to my horror, fantasy, and paranormal romance work, especially focusing on vampires and shapeshifting beasties. If you have a particular fondness for vampires, check out the chronology of my series in the link labeled “Vanishing Breed Vampire Universe.” For my recommendations of “must read” classic and modern vampire fiction, explore the Realm of the Vampires:
Realm of the Vampires

Also, check out the multi-author Alien Romances Blog

The long-time distributor of THE VAMPIRE’S CRYPT has closed its website. If you would like to read any issue of this fanzine, which contains fiction, interviews, and a detailed book review column, e-mail me to request the desired issue, and I’ll send you a free PDF of it. My e-mail address is at the end of this newsletter. Find information about the contents of each issue on this page of my website:

Vampire’s Crypt

A complete list of my available works, arranged roughly by genre, with purchase links (gradually being updated as the Amber Quill and Ellora’s Cave works are being republished):

Complete Works

This is my Facebook author page. Please visit!
Facebook

Here’s my page in Barnes and Noble’s Nook store. These items include some of the short stories that used to be on Fictionwise:
Barnes and Noble

Go here and scroll down to “Available Short Fiction” for a list of those stories with their Amazon links:
Kindle Works

Here’s the list of my Kindle books on Amazon. (The final page, however, includes some Ellora’s Cave anthologies in which I don’t have stories):
Carter Kindle Books

Here’s a shortcut URL to my author page on Amazon:
Amazon

This is issue number 150 of the newsletter! Hard to believe I’ve been doing it for so long. Thanks for sticking around! In celebration, I’ll give a free PDF of my story collection DAME ONYX TREASURES to anyone who requests it between now and March 10. I’d gratefully appreciate some Amazon reviews if you have time. E-mail me at: MLCVamp@aol.com.

I’ve compiled a collection of fantasy tales by my husband, Leslie Roy Carter, and me, most of which were published in the webzine SORCEROUS SIGNALS (now closed). A few are spin-offs from our “Wild Sorceress” series but can be read completely on their own. You can check it out here:

Harvest of Magic

I’m happy to report that FROM THE DARK PLACES, my urban fantasy / horror novel with Lovecraftian elements and a romantic subplot, has just been re-released:

From the Dark Places

It’s been lightly re-edited, mainly to change the setting from explicitly the late 1970s to the indefinite past. When Dr. Ray Benson and Father Michael Emeric warn young widow Kate Jacobs that she and her four-year-old daughter have become targets of dark forces from beyond our space-time continuum, Kate at first thinks they’re deranged fanatics. Then a sinister attack on her little girl changes Kate’s mind. An excerpt from that incident appears below.

This month I’m interviewing fantasy author C. J. Bahr.

*****

Interview with C. J. Bahr:

What inspired you to begin writing?

My love of reading. I grew up in a household where my parents and older sisters always had a book in hand, which set a great example for me. As I grew older, sometimes I didn’t find the stories I wanted to read, so I started to write my own. I think it was around junior high and have been writing ever since. It wasn’t until my late twenties I decided to try and get my work published. I managed to sell a short story to a Marion Zimmer Bradley anthology. I thought I was a one hit wonder until almost twenty years later I sold my first novel.

What genres do you work in?

I write mostly fantasy, in the sub-genres of contemporary and paranormal romance.

Do you outline, “wing it,” or something in between?

I’m mostly a “seat-of-the-pants” writer. I really wish I could outline, I think it would make me a faster writer, but no matter how I try, I just can’t make myself accomplish it. I always know how my story starts and the ending, but getting from the beginning to the conclusion is always an adventure.

What have been the major influences on your writing?

First, my fellow author and friend, Marla. She’s so inspiring and such a cheerleader, she kept me going through the drought of not being published. Second, the authors I avidly read, who I’d love to be when I grow up, so to speak. In fantasy, it would be Raymond E. Feist, Mercedes Lackey, Barbara Hambly and Kevin Hearne. In paranormal, such authors as Jeaniene Frost, Ilona Andrews, Jim Butcher, Nalini Singh and Karen Marie Moning.

Your bio mentions that you’ve done music editing for television. What does that entail, and has it affected your writing career?

Music editing is part of post production just like film and sound editing; however, instead of pictures or effects, I work with music. I help build the soundtracks you hear in television and films. I work directly with a composer and collaborate with the show’s creditor to build and supervise the music that goes into shows. It’s super fun and uses both right and left-brain skills because there is a creative side of making music but also a technical side of the computer software I use to build the soundtracks.

My day career hasn’t really affected my writing except for making time to write, which can be difficult at times. Another way my job influences, I tend to “score” my writing, lol. I always write with music playing in the background. It has to be instrumental because vocals distract me. If I’m writing an action scene, I’ll cue up some fun battle music from various movies to help get me in the groove, or something dark for my villain scenes or bouncy music for my bantering dialogue. It’s like creating my own personal soundtrack for my book.

Please tell us about your experience with having Walking Through Fire released as an audiobook.

My publisher, The Wild Rose Press, gets the ball rolling by posting it to the group of narrators they use. When a narrator picks it up, they give a short sample and I get a say if I like them or not. Once the narrator is chosen, the chapters come in for approval and corrections, which I do on my own. I developed quite the relationship with my narrator, Ben Eastman, because he actually got seriously ill during the recording; it was scary there for a bit. He’s all better now and the audiobook was released on February 15th. Currently Ben and I are collaborating on book 2 of the Fire Chronicles, and we’re having fun figuring out all the different characters’ voices.

What is your latest or next-forthcoming book (or both)?

“Forged In Fire”, book 2 in the Fire Chronicles series released this past November. It’s a time travel romance set in 1795 in Yorkshire, England. I finally got to write a handsome, roguish highwayman story!

Here’s the blurb:

Beth Leighton moved to Scotland to marry the love of her life. But then he betrays her and she is fatally shot. However the Archangel Remiel interferes, and she awakes to find herself in 18th century England. Alive but confused and lost, she wants to go home. Despite a roguish and handsome highwayman.

Christopher “Kit” Locke is haunted by his past mistakes and lives on danger’s edge, not caring if he lives or dies. He will leave that choice to Fate. Intrigued by the spirited Beth, he is drawn from his spiraling descent and is enlisted to help steal an evil artifact, the Viper’s Eye, a demonic soul-stealing jewel.

While the Archangel and the Duke of Hell battle it out, both Beth and Kit must also fight evil. When the stone seeks Kit’s soul, can Beth’s love keep him from falling victim to the Viper’s Eye or will she lose Kit to Hell’s fire?

I’m also taking the plunge into self-publishing and hope to have my first contemporary fantasy, “Valley Fever”, released in a few months. It’s set in Southern California and it’s super fast paced and taking place across seven days. It has monsters, elves and an earthquake.

What are you working on now?

Currently I’m working on book 3 of my Fire Chronicles series, which has the potential of seven books, all meant to be stand alones (though book 2 has a bit of a cross over…). It is tentatively called “Playing With Fire.” This time, it is set in present day New Orleans and hopefully I’ll write this one faster! When I get stuck, I jump over to an urban fantasy I’ve been playing around with starring a kick-ass time cop.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Two things… First, find a fellow writer friend. It has helped me so much to have a trusted and talented friend to bounce ideas off of and someone who will give me her honest opinion and critiques. My writing improves dramatically being able have her insight. Second, never give up! I was first published in 1994 with a short story, and I didn’t strike again until 2014. It would have been so easy to throw in the towel, but I believed in myself and hung in there. It helps that I love to write, so I was going to continue whether I published again or not. Dreams can come true, you have to be persistent and keep growing and improving. It will happen.

Website:
C. J. Bahr

Blog:
Blog

Twitter:
@cjbahr (https://twitter.com/cjbahr)

Facebook:
Facebook

Goodreads:
Goodreads

Bookbub:
Bookbub

*****

Some Books I’ve Read Lately:

BECOMING MADELEINE, by Charlotte Jones Voiklis and Lena Roy. A life of Madeleine L’Engle by her granddaughters, aimed at teen readers. It isn’t a comprehensive biography; the main body of the work ends with the publication of A WRINKLE IN TIME, because the authors felt (as explained in the afterword) that young readers would find L’Engle’s early years most interesting and because WRINKLE marks a major turning point in her career. The rest of her life is summarized in the epilogue. BECOMING MADELEINE is a quick read and very engaging, illustrated by numerous photos of L’Engle and her family as well as excerpts from her letters and journals with photocopied samples of those and other relevant documents, even school report cards. While the authors don’t gloss over her flaws, mistakes, and periods of discouragement and depression, on the whole they offer a highly positive and deeply loving portrait of their grandmother. This is a short book, though, omitting many of the details that can be found in L’Engle’s own autobiographical memoirs such as TWO-PART INVENTION and SUMMER OF THE GREAT-GRANDMOTHER. My own most significant disappointment is that, as a biography for teens, it doesn’t delve into contentious matters such as the extent to which L’Engle re-shaped her life in retelling it. (Was her father actually gassed in World War I? According to other sources I’ve come upon, there is some doubt.) There’s no mention, understandably, of her husband’s rumored drinking problem and infidelity or the fact that their son’s early death resulted from alcohol abuse. When an author incorporates so much of her own life into her works, I think it’s reasonable to want to know how closely the writings correspond to the events they’re inspired by. I had especially hoped for a discussion of her children’s negative reaction to some of her novels, such as MEET THE AUSTINS; the fact that they felt hurt by her fiction and she never fully understood why is briefly alluded to but not explored. Still, until an in-depth biography for adults comes along, this is a delightful and insightful book any fan of L’Engle’s work will enjoy reading.

THE CACKLE OF CTHULHU, edited by Alex Shvarstman. The title of this mostly-reprint anthology is self-explanatory: It contains 22 humorous tales based on Lovecraft’s mythos. Contributions come from such distinguished writers as Neil Gaiman, Esther Friesner, Jody Lynn Nye, Mike Resnick, and Yvonne Navarro, among others. Friesner’s “The Shunned Trailer” is as funny as one would expect from her. Other standouts, in my opinion, include Nye’s “My Little Old One,” Kevin Wetmore’s “Tales of a Fourth-Grade Shoggoth,” Shaenon K. Garrity’s “To Whatever” (notes to “the thing that lives in the walls”), “The Innsmouth of the South,” by Rachael K. Jones, and “In the Employee Manual of Madness,” by G. Scott Huggins. A few, such as “But Someone’s Got to Do It,” by Konstantine Paradias, and “A Stiff Bargain,” by Matt Mikalatos, impress me as more disturbing than funny. My favorite is Gaiman’s “Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar,” featuring a clueless American tourist who, while hiking across the English countryside, stumbles upon an isolated village with a pub frequented by decidedly odd customers. The dialogue sparkles with dry, British-style humor. (Glossing the iconic phrase “Strange Aeons,” one of the batrachian locals explains, “We are not talking your normal Aeons here at all.”) A must-read tome for dedicated fans of the Cthulhu Mythos.

DARK IN DEATH, by J. D. Robb. I especially liked this latest Eve Dallas mystery because of the subject matter. Two seemingly unrelated murders turn out to have nothing to do with the victims personally at all. The murderer is reenacting crimes from the works of a bestselling mystery author in order to “rewrite” them to make the villains win. She (we learn the antagonist’s motive and probable gender early in the story) chooses the victims solely on the basis of how well they match characters from the published novels. So her ultimate target is the author, not the individual victims. Eve and her team unearth letters and e-mails that chart the killer’s progress from devoted fan and aspiring writer to a bitter enemy who feels betrayed by the author she’d deluded herself into considering a friend and mentor. The motive comes across as all too believable. I enjoyed the inside glimpses of the publishing business and the writing life. Especially pointed is the absurdity of the criminal’s notion that the author’s latest novel was plagiarized from an unpublished manuscript the author sent back unopened and unread—only four months before the publication of the novel. All the favorite secondary characters make appearances except Summerset, who’s on vacation. The anticipated scenes play out as usual—banter between Eve and her partner; interviews with her reporter friend and the department’s psychological profiler; sex with her multi-billionaire husband, Roarke; suspenseful, narrowly missed opportunities to nab the culprit; and finally Eve’s interrogation of the captured murderer. As always, Eve’s New York feels to me like a thoroughly believable picture of the 2060s, just futuristic enough.

THE WILD GIRL, by Kate Forsyth. The author of “Rapunzel” novel BITTER GREENS offers a fictional exploration of the early life of Dortchen Wild, wife of Wilhelm Grimm, from her initial crush on him at age twelve up to their marriage in their thirties. Their families were close neighbors. Their relationship, as told by Forsyth, suffered many bumps in the road until they acknowledged their mutual love, and even then many years passed before they married. Through Dortchen’s viewpoint, we witness the Grimms’ financial struggles, her difficult family life with an always stern and authoritarian father who became outright abusive after his wife’s death, and the cultural and political atmosphere of the German states in the early nineteenth century. Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm often found themselves in political hot water while trying to find jobs that would enable them to support their siblings. Their trailblazing collection of tales took a long time to find a publisher and still longer to win the acclaim it deserved. Dortchen’s father opposed her relationship with Wilhelm, but even after her father’s death, the couple waited ten years to marry. Forsyth theorizes, on the basis of changes from original to published versions of certain tales, that Dortchen may have been molested by her father. Contrary to popular belief, the Grimms did not travel around the countryside collecting fairy tales from old peasants. Many if not most of their stories were told to them by informants, mainly women, of their own class and social circle. Dortchen contributed at least a quarter of the total. Her family’s long-time servant “Old Marie” serves as an example of a bridge between the middle-class informants and the original folklore sources. The novel includes the texts of many tales, with the geographical source, who supplied them to the Grimms, and the date they were recorded. Although this book, unlike BITTER GREENS, doesn’t contain any fantastic elements outside the fairy tales themselves, it makes a fascinating read. One can’t help yearning for the Grimms’ success and Dortchen’s happiness.

*****

Excerpt from FROM THE DARK PLACES:

Kate dashed to the telephone in the kitchen. Just as she reached it, the doorbell buzzed. She scurried to the front door. “Who’s there?” Her voice sounded shrill, like a stranger’s.

“Ray Benson.”

Momentarily forgetting his betrayal, she scrambled to unfasten the locks. When he stepped inside, she remembered her fury at his breach of trust. “What are you doing here? I told you–”

“I had to come.” He clutched her arm. “What’s happened? Something is terribly wrong, isn’t it?”

“Oh, God, yes! It’s Sara!” Together they hurried to the back bedroom. “How did you know?”

“A few minutes ago I woke up out of a dead sleep and knew you needed me. I had a feeling of urgency. What’s wrong with Sara?”

She pulled him into the room and flicked the light switch. “Look at her!”

Ray bent over the bed, flexing Sara’s limbs, checking her pulse.

“She woke me up, screaming,” said Kate, “and when I got here, she was like this.” Her voice shook, along with her hands. She intertwined her fingers, struggling for control. “Shouldn’t I call an ambulance?”

“No.”

“No! Have you lost your mind?” The cry tore from her throat.

Without answering, Ray stood up, glanced at the window–open, Kate suddenly realized, though she had locked it. He gazed bleakly at her. “Kate, you must gather all your courage and try to believe me. This is not Sara.”

Paralyzed by the incomprehensible words, she simply stared at him. In a harsh whisper she said, “What are you talking about?”

“I’m sorry to have to do this, but I can’t explain. Just watch.” He placed his left hand on the little girl’s forehead.

Kate grabbed his right arm and cried, “Don’t touch her, you maniac!”

“Please, Kate.” His eyes held such anguished appeal that she no longer doubted his sincerity. While he might still be insane, he meant her no harm. He cared about her and Sara.

When Kate released his right arm, he raised it as if taking oath in court. He muttered a phrase in a language she didn’t recognize. At the same time, he traced a cross on the child’s brow.

Sara’s shape collapsed like a deflated balloon. Her features withered. A stick figure with hair and clothing like dry leaves lay on the bed. Within seconds, it crumbled into a scattering of gray dust.

Kate screamed. She continued screaming as Ray half-carried her from the bedroom. Blackness swirled before her eyes. She felt hands shaking her. When she opened her eyes, she was sitting at the kitchen table. Ray pressed a glass into her fingers. She drank. Sherry.

He clasped her head between his hands and made her gaze into his eyes. “Listen to me. That was not Sara. Sara is alive.”

She had to take a longer swallow before she could process that remark well enough to respond. “What makes you think so?” The room lurched around her. Was he lying? How she yearned to believe him!

“Because if they only wanted her dead, they wouldn’t have gone to all that trouble to take her. They’d have killed her on the spot.”

“They?” Conspiracy again. God, could it all be true?

“Wait here.” He patted her shoulder, then left the room. She closed her eyes, trying to blank out what she’d seen. Shortly Ray reappeared. He pulled her to her feet. “Come with me.”

She guessed where he wanted to lead her. “No! I can’t go in there!”

“It’s all right. There’s nothing terrible to see.” He put his arm around her shoulders.

Letting him guide her, she forced herself to look at Sara’s bed. To her relief, Ray had stripped it. “I want to show you the window,” he said. When he pushed the window down to give her a view of the four panes of glass, she saw that the top right had a circular hole in it. “Glass cutter and suction cup,” said Ray. “Standard burglary skills. Someone broke in this way, took Sara–probably after giving her some kind of sedative by injection –and left a golem.” Until that moment, she’d still half feared that the thing on the bed was her daughter. The marks of a break-in supported Ray’s theory.

“How?” Shuddering, Kate hid her face on Ray’s shoulder and burst into tears.

He held her for a long time. When her mind cleared again, they were sitting together on the living room couch. “What was that thing?” she whispered.

“A decoy to give them a head start on us. If you’d depended on ordinary medical knowledge, you might not have realized Sara was gone for days, until the thing disintegrated on its own.” He clasped her hand with a gentleness in marked contrast to the grim expression on his face. “A very old trick. The late medieval inquisitors claimed a witch on her way to the Sabbat could deceive her family by leaving a poppet, a lifelike image of herself, in bed in her place. Looks like the legends have a bit of truth in them.”

“You’re talking about magic.” She pressed her knuckles to her mouth to keep from screaming again. After a few deep breaths, she could speak coherently. “Literal black magic, right here in modern San Francisco.”

“I’m not surprised you didn’t believe it when we tried to explain this afternoon.”

For a fleeting instant, she wondered whether Ray and Father Emeric had set up this bizarre disappearance to convert her to their views. But she immediately dismissed the idea. If Ray’s concern wasn’t genuine, she couldn’t trust any of her perceptions about anything. Then that means I have real enemies–supernatural enemies. “I’m sorry I accused you of such terrible things.”

-end of excerpt-

My Publishers:

Writers Exchange E-Publishing: Writers Exchange
Harlequin: Harlequin
Hard Shell Word Factory: Hard Shell
Whiskey Creek: Whiskey Creek

You can contact me at: MLCVamp@aol.com

“Beast” wishes until next time—
Margaret L. Carter

Fiction:

Vampire’s Tribute:
Contains “Payer of Tribute” and “Demon on the Hill,” in the Vanishing Breed Vampire Universe.

Nonfiction:

Welcome to the February 2018 issue of my newsletter, “News from the Crypt,” and please visit Carter’s Crypt, devoted to my horror, fantasy, and paranormal romance work, especially focusing on vampires and shapeshifting beasties. If you have a particular fondness for vampires, check out the chronology of my series in the link labeled “Vanishing Breed Vampire Universe.” For my recommendations of “must read” classic and modern vampire fiction, explore the Realm of the Vampires:
Realm of the Vampires

Also, check out the multi-author Alien Romances Blog

The long-time distributor of THE VAMPIRE’S CRYPT has closed its website. If you would like to read any issue of this fanzine, which contains fiction, interviews, and a detailed book review column, e-mail me to request the desired issue, and I’ll send you a free PDF of it. My e-mail address is at the end of this newsletter. Find information about the contents of each issue on this page of my website:

Vampire’s Crypt

A complete list of my available works, arranged roughly by genre, with purchase links (gradually being updated as the Amber Quill and Ellora’s Cave works are being republished):

Complete Works

This is my Facebook author page. Please visit!
Facebook

Here’s my page in Barnes and Noble’s Nook store. These items include some of the short stories that used to be on Fictionwise:
Barnes and Noble

Go here and scroll down to “Available Short Fiction” for a list of those stories with their Amazon links:
Kindle Works

Here’s the list of my Kindle books on Amazon. (The final page, however, includes some Ellora’s Cave anthologies in which I don’t have stories):
Carter Kindle Books

Here’s a shortcut URL to my author page on Amazon:
Amazon

Happy Candlemas / Imbolc / Groundhog Day! Also Valentine’s Day, the only thing that makes February in the northern hemisphere slightly better than January.

My annual vampire fiction bibliography update is ready. If you’d like a copy of the file, please contact me through the e-mail address at the bottom of this newsletter.

For fans of the fairy tale “Rapunzel,” below is a short excerpt from my fanfic of the story based on S. M. Stirling’s Shadowspawn trilogy, which begins with A TAINT IN THE BLOOD (reviewed in issue 59 of this newsletter, August 2010). In my version, the witch, Gothel, wants the baby because Rapunzel is the illegitimate daughter of Gothel’s brother, and the witch plans to bring up the girl as a true Shadowspawn. The story can be read here:

Shadowspawn Rapunzel

This month our interview guest is romance author Nancy Holland.

*****

Interview with Nancy Holland:

What inspired you to begin writing?

I read my first adult fantasy novel (as opposed to children’s stories about magic, which I always loved) in junior high — The Lord of the Rings. I was immediately inspired to write something like that, only more “female friendly.” It took a few decades (and I still do not in any way pretend to be in Tolkien’s league), but that’s where the original spark for THALGOR’S WITCH came from.

What genres do you work in?

Short contemporary and fantasy romance.

Do you outline, “wing it,” or something in between?

Although THALGOR’S WITCH was mostly a case of winging it, I generally write with what I call sign posts — not a full plot, but major turning points figured out before I start, so I’m not entirely flying into the dark. Since I’ve started to use Scrivener® (a writing program), I use their “index cards” to mark the sign posts, and then to fill in what needs to happen in each chapter to get from one sign post to the next. Stuff changes, of course, but it helps me write a preliminary synopsis to run by my agent before I begin writing the book.

What have been the major influences on your writing (favorite authors, life experiences, or whatever)?

I’ve already mentioned J.R.R. Tolkien as a favorite author. Other big influences are C.S. Lewis, Ursula K. LeGuin, and T.H. White. Nora Roberts, Barbara Samuel (who now writes as Barbara O’Neal), and Michele Hauf have been major influences on the romance side.

Please tell us about the world of your novel THALGOR’S WITCH. And is it part of a series?

The world of THALGOR’S WITCH was nearly destroyed long before the story opens by a war between witches (who are all female) and men. With the old civilization in ruins, people now wander in bands that battle each other for livestock, goods, and women. Because of the war’s devastation, witches who live among men (not all do) are generally distrusted, but are also seen as useful because they are healers and seers. It’s an open question at this point as to whether there will be a series and/or other stories set in this world.

Do you find different challenges or follow different processes in writing fantasy and contemporary romance?

World building is much more of a challenge in fantasy. Compare the above (very bare bones) description of the world in THALGOR’S WITCH with the description of the world in the contemporary I’m currently writing: upscale locations in Paris and London. Many of the other differences for me are more due to the fact that my fantasy novels are much longer than my contemporaries. That means they have subplots, more and more fully developed characters, and richer descriptions.

What is your latest or next-forthcoming book (or both)?

A follow-up to THALGOR’S WITCH is in the works, but I don’t have any details as yet.

What are you working on now?

I drafted another short contemporary during NaNoWriMo and am deep into revisions right now.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Two words:
(1) Read. A lot. Read what you write, but also read great authors in other genres and sub-genres.
(2) Write. Every day if you can. Set yourself small word count goals (100 words is where I started), learn how to meet them, then set yourself bigger ones (I’m up to 500 words as a pretty regular thing). And have a healthy, ergonomically correct workspace, even if it has to go back to being the dining room table when you’ve done your words for the day. (I had horrible lower back and neck/shoulder problems until I put together a set-up that worked for me.)

What’s the URL of your website? Your blog? Where else can we find you on the web?

My website is nancyhollandwriter.com; I’m on Twitter as NancyHolland5 and on Facebook. I don’t have a blog, but my next project is a very occasional newsletter to share forthcoming books, cover reveals, publications dates, and other news with readers. People can sign up for it on my website.

*****

Some Books I’ve Read Lately:

YEAR ONE, by Nora Roberts. Not a romance, although it includes romantic subplots, this post-apocalyptic fantasy is subtitled “Chronicles of the One, Book 1.” Fortunately, this installment comes to a satisfying enough conclusion rather than ending on a cliffhanger, even though the mysterious “One” is still unborn. When I first read the blurb for YEAR ONE—a plague of unknown origin destroys civilization, groups of people travel west in search of a safe haven, magic re-enters the world, and a primal conflict between good and evil arises—I wondered how it differed from Stephen King’s THE STAND, with a touch of S. M. Stirling’s DIES THE FIRE. But since Roberts is a quite different writer from either of them, of course, her take on these tropes isn’t the same. For one thing, in the world of YEAR ONE magic appears openly from the beginning. It’s hinted that the plague itself may have a supernatural origin, a question that isn’t answered in the first volume. Large numbers of people, soon labeled the Uncanny, develop paranormal powers. Some transform into shapeshifters, elves, or faeries (who can sprout wings at will). Not all of the Uncanny use their gifts for good. Some turn to the dark side and revel in evil. To complicate the plight of the gifted trying to master their abilities, factions among the ungifted condemn all Uncanny as demons in human form and try to exterminate them. And naturally old-fashioned, mundane nastiness rears its head in the general chaos. The principal characters are: Lana and Max, a Wiccan couple who embrace their newfound powers while struggling to escape from a devastated New York City; Arlys, a journalist, with Fred, a female intern from the same radio station who becomes a faerie; Rachel, a doctor; Jonah, a paramedic. They all find their way to an enclave of peace and relative abundance, where the community begins to thrive in a new way of life until the familiar problems of human nature and petty politics crop up. Meanwhile, Lana becomes pregnant with a baby identified by their local seer as “The One.” Roberts vividly portrays the horrors of the plague and the terror of trying to survive amid a disintegrating society but also highlights the resilience of humanity and the basic goodness of people striving to work together for the common welfare. I rooted for her characters and will definitely read the next volume.

MAD HATTERS AND MARCH HARES, edited by Ellen Datlow. As the title of this anthology hints, it comprises stories (and two poems) inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice books. Contributors include, among others, Delia Sherman, Jane Yolen, Andy Duncan, Jeffrey Ford, Genevieve Valentine, and Seanan McGuire. Although some of the tales struck me as too surrealistic—admittedly, in keeping with the atmosphere of the original—for me to become emotionally engaged with the characters, I discovered enough favorites to make me glad I’d bought the book. McGuire’s “Sentence Like a Saturday” reads like a spinoff from her “Wayward Children” series (beginning with EVERY HEART A DOORWAY). A little girl from a Nonsense world, possibly Wonderland itself, wanders through a door into our world, dominated by Logic. At first baffled by the rules this realm follows and requires her to obey, she gradually adjusts and becomes a loving daughter to the childless couple who take her in. This tale has a poignant and entirely right ending. “Mercury,” by Priya Sharma, takes place in Victorian England. A literal mad hatter, deranged by the fumes of the mercury required for his craft, languishes in debtor’s prison while his daughter, Alice, struggles to make a living for both of them. She interacts with various other people analogous to characters in the Carroll novels. At the end, the plight of Alice and her father is magically relieved—unless the conclusion merely proves she, too, has gone mad, which I choose not to believe. Ford’s “All the King’s Men” offers a fresh twist on the shattering and reconstruction of Humpty Dumpty. Matthew Kressel’s “In Memory of a Summer’s Day” envisions what guided tours of Wonderland might be like. “The Flame After the Candle,” by Catherynne M. Valente, tells two parallel stories, of a discontented girl named Olive, who finds her way into a version of Wonderland, and of a meeting between the elderly Alice Liddell and Peter Davies, the young man who in childhood inspired the character of Peter Pan.

BENEATH THE SUGAR SKY, by Seanan McGuire. Third book in the “Wayward Children” series. This one doesn’t stand alone so well as the second, DOWN AMONG THE STICKS AND BONES, but although it helps to have read EVERY HEART A DOORWAY, it’s not absolutely necessary. A girl named Rini falls out of the sky into a pond on the grounds of Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. Met by two girls (Nadya and Cora) who seek doorways back to their water worlds, Rini tells them she’s looking for her mother, Sumi. Since Sumi died in EVERY HEART A DOORWAY, a temporal dissonance between two worlds must be involved. Unless Sumi can somehow come alive and eventually return to Confection, Rini’s birthplace, a Nonsense world where everything is made of sugar in some form, the girl will have never been conceived and will fade out of existence. Rini, Nadya, Cora, Christopher (whose bone flute animates skeletons), and Kade (Miss Eleanor’s assistant) undertake a quest to restore Sumi. Christopher pipes her skeleton out of her grave. The bones of her severed hand, preserved in the cellar of the house, are reattached. The group then visits the land of the dead to bargain for Sumi’s spirit. Finally, Rini’s magic takes them to Confection, where they hope to find the Baker and petition her to craft a body for Sumi. To achieve their goal, however, they must battle the evil Queen of Cakes, who has usurped rule over Confection. The logic of the worldbuilding, even in the Nonsense realm of Confection, is fascinating. This short novel provides a fast, absorbing read, with quirky, sympathetic characters. I hope it won’t be the end of the series.

THE CRUEL PRINCE, by Holly Black. This fantasy novel takes place almost entirely in the realm of Faerie but begins with a prologue in an ordinary American suburb. A strange man appears at the house where seven-year-old Jude lives with her parents and two sisters. He murders her parents and abducts the three girls. After the prologue, told in third person from Jude’s viewpoint, the story picks up ten years later, narrated by Jude in first person (and present tense, annoyingly). It transpires that her mother had lived for a while with the elven warrior, Madoc, in Faerie, and conceived her oldest daughter, Vivienne, by him. She then fled back to the human world and married the father of Jude and the other sister, Taryn. Madoc tracked down “his” woman, killed the girls’ parents (when his former lover refused to return with him), and claimed his daughter, bringing Jude and Taryn along rather than abandoning them. Vivi detests their situation and sneaks to the human world as often as she can get away with it. Jude, having only dim memories of her original home, has an uneasy love-fear relationship with Madoc. She dutifully studies her lessons but reserves the most enthusiasm for her warrior training. She aspires to become a knight in the king’s court. Many of the fae hold her in contempt, and a clique of young elven nobles persecutes her, led by one of the king’s sons, Cardan. A tense atmosphere pervades the court while everyone waits for the king to choose his successor from among his sons. Jude gets drawn into their convoluted intrigues, as she accepts an invitation to be trained as a spy rather than a fighter. Meanwhile, Taryn falls in love with a faerie noble whose identity she keeps secret, and Vivi finds love with a human girl and schemes to move permanently back to the mundane world. Tangled in a web of plots and counterplots, Jude learns that nobody in Faerie can be fully trusted and the “cruel prince,” Cardan, isn’t entirely what he seems. Black portrays the sheer visual alienness of Faerie and its inhabitants (a multitude of different species) with lavish detail, while the emotions and ambitions of the fae, however deviously expressed, turn out to be not so different from human desires. Surviving numerous dangers and ordeals, Jude ultimately attains a kind of victory if not precisely a happy ending.

*****

Excerpt from “Rapunzel: A Shadowspawn Tale”:

The enchantress carried her off to a solitary tower in the middle of a forest. The tower had no doors, only a high window. Paintings of fantastic beasts decorated the walls of the chamber, and the ceiling showed the courses of the moon and stars. The witch entered and departed through the window in the form of a giant bird. The child, whom she named Rapunzel, grew up without ever seeing any other person besides the witch. Lady Gothel fed and clothed her in luxury and tutored her in the secrets of magic suitable to her tender age. She also taught her such maidenly arts as reading, writing, music, spinning, and embroidery, for she wanted her foster daughter to be worthy of her in all ways. She had already betrothed the child to a noble Shadow Lord whose friendship she wished to keep.

She nourished the girl’s half-blood gifts with an elixir red as rubies, which she brought in a crystal vial. She never cut Rapunzel’s glorious hair, and it grew so long its braid reached from the window to the ground. To save her power for other uses, the witch no longer always flew into the tower. Instead, she would call up to the window, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your golden hair.” When the girl obeyed, Lady Gothel climbed up the braid like a ladder.

As Rapunzel grew to young womanhood, her foster mother ventured to leave her alone in the tower for days at a time. Rapunzel began to feel lonely, so that her curiosity about the lands and people she had read about in her books became stronger. Whenever she begged for permission to leave her home and explore those lands, the witch rebuked her severely. “The outside world is too dangerous for you. Ignorant folk who hate our kind would try to slay you with silver blades or burn you to death. Or they might steal you from me.” She would grasp the girl tightly in her claw-like hands and gaze deep into her eyes. “I will never allow that.”

One evening at twilight, a prince who had become separated from his hunting party rode past the tower and heard Rapunzel singing. Enthralled, he paused to listen. As he lingered behind a tree, a huge, black cat ran into the clearing. To his surprise, it changed into a woman of cruel beauty. She shouted, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your golden hair.” A shining braid tumbled down, and the enchantress climbed up. In the window the prince glimpsed a beautiful girl.

He waited for hours until the witch climbed down again, transformed to her cat shape, and disappeared into the forest. Then the prince stepped beneath the window and cried out the words she had used: “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your golden hair.”

When he pulled himself up, Rapunzel was amazed to see a young man instead of the woman she called Mother Gothel. Frightened, the girl backed away from him. The prince held out his hand and spoke softly: “Don’t be afraid. I won’t hurt you. I couldn’t resist the beauty of your song.”

“You didn’t bring a silver blade to slay me?”

“Of course not. Why would I want to harm such a vision of loveliness?”

After a few minutes Rapunzel lost her fear and yielded to her curiosity about this strange new person. Not only was he handsome, he bore a fragrance almost like the ruby elixir Mother Gothel provided her. He smelled as delicious as spiced wine and summer night air. They talked until dawn. Before the prince left, he promised to return as soon as he could.

-end of excerpt-

*****

My Publishers:

Writers Exchange E-Publishing: Writers Exchange
Harlequin: Harlequin
Hard Shell Word Factory: Hard Shell
Whiskey Creek: Whiskey Creek

You can contact me at: MLCVamp@aol.com

“Beast” wishes until next time—
Margaret L. Carter