Archive for April, 2019

Welcome to the April 2019 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

I’m thrilled to report the re-release of my nonfiction book DIFFERENT BLOOD: THE VAMPIRE AS ALIEN. It’s been slightly updated, with discussions of several more recent books added.

Different Blood

Below you can read a few paragraphs of the introduction, to give you an idea of the flavor of the text.

This month’s interviewee is romance author Debby Grahl.

*****

Interview with Debby Grahl:

What inspired you to begin writing?

I have a disease of the retina called Retinitis Pigmentosa which causes gradual vision loss. I lost the ability to read in my early twenties, but even when I had sight, seeing the printed word was always difficult for me. Reading a book would take me twice as long as a person with normal sight. I became frustrated with this and began to make up my own stories. It wasn’t until the invention of computers and screen reading software that I was able to put my stories into words. Everything I type is read back to me aloud. This enables me to do research and post on social media. This incredible advancement in technology has truly opened a new window of opportunity for me.

What genres do you work in?

I write both contemporary and paranormal romance. I’ve always liked reading books with ghosts and witches. I like using them because they’re so versatile. You can have nice or mean ghosts. You can have those who can be seen or not. I also enjoy using ghosts of historical characters. My witches are normal people with different stages of power.
With contemporary books, I like to set them in intriguing and interesting places.

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

I begin with a general outline of the location, characters, and plot, but mostly I wing it.

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

As a small child I enjoyed having books read to me. Mysteries were always my favorite beginning with Nancy Drew, and to this day I still love the classics: Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, and Dorothy L Sayers. I’m also a romance junky, from historical to paranormal to contemporary and suspense. I love them all. Books have always been such a part of my life, that being able to write my own and have people enjoy reading them is more thrilling to me than I can ever express.

What kinds of background research do you do concerning the locations where you set your novels?

Two of my books, Rue Toulouse and His Magic Touch, are set in New Orleans. This is one of my favorite cities not only to visit, but to write about as well. I have an opportunity each year to attend a conference in New Orleans, so I’m able to do my research. If I can’t actually go to the location, I find Google Earth to be extremely helpful.

What are you working on now?

I have a couple of projects in the works. A Touch of Magic is the second in my Magic in New Orleans series, and Mountain Fire is the first in my Carolina Heat series.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

My advice for new writers is take online writing classes. A number of writing groups provide these, and they’re usually not expensive. My first mistake in writing was thinking you just wrote the book, sent it to a publisher or agent, and away you go. Not! I sent the first twenty-five pages to a publisher who was offering a free critique. She wrote back and said I had a good idea for a story if I could write it. She said she marked all my writing mistakes in red. Well, most of the page was in red. There’re a lot of unknown writing mistakes beginners make that they’re unaware of. Such as the use of tag lines, POV changes, information dump, and grammar and punctuation. A critique group is also a good idea. It’s amazing how different your story sounds when you hear someone else read it. My last bit of advice is stick with it. If you want to write, don’t give up. Remember even the well-known authors received rejection letters.

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

Debby Grahl
Facebook
Amazon Author Page
Goodreads

*****

Some Books I’ve Read Lately:

THE SISTERS OF THE WINTER WOOD, by Rena Rossner. This fantasy novel set in the village of Dubossary on the border of Ukraine and Moldova under Russian rule, around 1900, was inspired by actual events in the history of the author’s own family. The story combines legends of swan maidens and bear shapeshifters with the plot of Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market.” The family of teenage sisters Liba and Laya isn’t completely accepted by the Jewish community because their mother converted from Christianity rather than being born Jewish. Soon after the book opens, their parents inform the sisters of a family secret that sets them apart from their neighbors in a more profound way: Their father is a bear shifter, their mother a swan, and both of their families disapproved of the union. Liba, the older sister, takes after her father and Laya after their mother. When their father receives news of his own father’s death, the parents have to leave the sisters alone, with Liba in charge of watching out for swans that may try to seduce Laya to join them. Liba fears and resists the possibility of changing into a bear, while Laya yearns to become a swan and enjoy the freedom of flight. While Liba grapples with the growing attraction between her and Dovid, the butcher’s son, Laya succumbs to the allure of a mysterious, rakish family of outsiders who sell irresistibly appetizing fruit (as in “Goblin Market”). She becomes increasingly more rebellious and secretive, despite Liba’s warnings, and eventually falls ill. Meanwhile, murder victims turn up drained of blood. At first the townspeople attribute the deaths to bear attacks, but soon they begin to cast suspicious eyes upon the Jewish community. Bears in human form approach Liba, and Laya catches glimpses of swans, while each of them finds herself on the verge of transformation in moments of stress. Torn between the human world and the supernatural realm, the sisters ultimately learn the dark secret of the fruit-sellers. The two of them tell the story alternately in first person (and present tense). Liba’s sections are in standard prose narrative, while Laya’s are formatted like free verse. A review I read criticized the novel on the ground that the sisters are too obsessed with boys and romance. Good grief, why wouldn’t they be? They’re teenage girls from a culture in which virtually all women were expected to marry, and marriage constituted the most important decision of their lives—what else would you expect? The book ends with an Author’s Note on the historical and folkloric background, followed by a glossary of Hebrew, Yiddish, and Ukrainian words used in the text.

DAMSEL, by Elana K. Arnold. A mind-blowingly unique version of the “prince rescues maiden from dragon” trope, this fantasy novel begins in the viewpoint of Prince Emory, about to fulfill the quest every heir to his kingdom has to undertake. Upon the death of his father, the prince has to slay a dragon and bring the dragon’s captive damsel home to become his wife. Only then can the prince be acknowledged as the new ruler. When Prince Emory reaches the dragon’s lair, at the end of the book’s short Part One, the narrative breaks off. Part Two begins in the viewpoint of the rescued maiden, as the prince is carrying her away from the dragon’s cave, and we stay in her perspective for the rest of the story. She can’t remember anything before this moment, not even her name. Prince Emory names her “Ama.” He refuses to discuss his battle with the dragon, preferring to focus on the forthcoming coronation and marriage. On the journey back to the castle, the first hint of friction arises between him and the maiden when Emory kills a lynx, and Ama insists on adopting the orphaned cub. Nevertheless, Ama initially finds a welcome at the castle, including from the queen mother (the previous damsel, like all the queens before her), and the prince honors her as his destined bride. Ama never regains any memory of her life before her rescue, and she learns that all the damsels arrived in the same condition, effectively without a past. It’s better that way, she’s soothingly informed. As she struggles with the often uncomfortable and disorienting task of learning to be a lady and a proper prospective queen, the lynx cub becomes a symbol of the hopelessness of her truly fitting in and her sense of being trapped rather than sheltered. Gradually, Prince Emory’s true character begins to show—domineering, sexually aggressive, sometimes cruel. His hatred for the lynx and impatience to possess Ama become steadily clearer. He also resents Ama’s obsession with learning the craft of the royal glassblower and creating her own art. Although I guessed the truth of her past well before the devastating climax, the revelation of the exact method by which the prince conquered the dragon and freed the damsel still came as a harrowing shock. As several of the Amazon reviews mention, this book is definitely a fairy tale for adults—and not fainthearted ones.

ENCHANTED, by Alethea Kontis. This novel combines the Frog Prince with Cinderella and clever incidental allusions to many other fairy tales. The heroine, Sunday Woodcutter, is the youngest of seven sisters named after the days of the week. In this magical world, each one grows up to fulfill the traits prescribed in the rhyme beginning, “Monday’s child is fair of face.” All except Sunday, that is, who may be “bonnie” and “good” but not exactly “blithe” and “gay”; she spends a lot of time alone with her journal to assuage her discontent at her status as the boring youngest sister. The family has not led a trouble-free life. In this world, many people have fairy godmothers, and magic is accepted with no particular surprise. The sisters’ oldest brother, Jack, was turned into a dog by the prince’s fairy godmother, as punishment for killing the prince’s favorite pup. Jack’s fairy godmother, in retaliation, condemned the prince to become a frog for a year upon reaching adulthood. Graceful Tuesday was danced to death by enchanted shoes. Thursday, having “far to go,” enjoys her life as a pirate queen, but the family’s only contact with her comes through her letters and gifts. Monday married a king and has grown distant from her kin. The young foster brother, Trix, has fairy blood. As the story begins, Sunday meets a talking frog, Grumble, who becomes her best friend. With no memory of his former life, he is at risk of losing his humanity; Sunday’s friendship anchors him. She kisses him several times in an attempt to break his curse, but when the kiss finally works, she doesn’t witness the transformation and thinks her beloved friend has vanished, possibly died. Meanwhile, the newly human Prince Rumbold returns home earlier than expected. Unlike in the typical fairy tale, his re-transformation doesn’t instantaneously restore him to wholeness. He has to regain his health gradually and learn to be a man again. Determined to find Sunday, he decides to hold three lavish balls in a row. Unlike Cinderella’s stepmother, Sunday’s mother actively wants her to attend the balls, a plan Sunday resists. To her, the missing and now recovered prince is simply the reason she lost her brother. She’s surprised and somewhat dismayed to find herself attracted to Rumbold. When he finally reveals his identity as Grumble, she reacts realistically; rather than thrilled at the reunion, she’s angry and grieved that he deceived her for so long. The story unfolds with fresh twists on many different tales, with suspense, sorrow, joy (not to mention a pair of fairy godmothers actually named Sorrow and Joy), revelations of a web of previously unknown relationships, and a happy yet bittersweet ending. I was delighted with this book. The author has published several additional novels and a collection of short stories set in this world.

CONVERSATIONS WITH MADELEINE L’ENGLE, edited by Jackie C. Horne. A compilation of interviews with Madeleine L’Engle arranged in chronological order, from 1967 to 2006 (the year before her death). The editor begins with a thoughtful introduction, not glossing over the fact that L’Engle’s autobiographical statements weren’t necessarily always accurate. The book includes a chronology of her life and an index (a very nice feature). The thirteen well-chosen interviews go into great depth and detail about L’Engle’s opinions on wide-ranging topics such as theology, literature, science, love, the use and abuse of technology, the value of fantasy and imagination, and of course the art and craft of writing. Several of the “conversations” are quite long. The book necessarily includes some repetition, since inevitably some of the same questions keep getting asked, and L’Engle has favorite anecdotes, allusions, and statements of belief that crop up in a variety of contexts. There’s less repetition than I expected, however. No hard-core fan of her work should pass up this handsome, reasonably priced trade paperback.

*****

Excerpt from DIFFERENT BLOOD: THE VAMPIRE AS ALIEN:

Vampires in science fiction, like other alien races, often function as a distorted reflection of ourselves, illuminating the human predicament by contrast. When Ransom, the hero of C. S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet, visits Mars, he encounters three sentient species rather than one. A Martian sage expresses surprise upon learning that Earth harbors only one intelligent species. He concludes, “Your thought must be at the mercy of your blood… For you cannot compare it with thought that floats on a different blood” (103). Lewis’ aliens place a high value upon communion between members of different species.

The natives of Lewis’ Mars are not vampires, yet his works do cast light upon the literary motif of the vampire as alien. Out of the Silent Planet offers a deliberate contrast to the older image of extraterrestrials (specifically Martians) embodied in such creatures as the vampiric aliens of H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. As Lewis remarks in the dialogue “Unreal Estates”, “most of the earlier [science fiction] stories start from the…assumption that we, the human race, are in the right, and everything else is ogres” (147). Wells’ novel of Martian hostile invaders who consume the blood of human captives falls into this category (though Wells’ characterization of his Martians is a bit more ambiguous than the term “ogres” implies). In Out of the Silent Planet, Lewis offers a more benign model of the first-contact situation. The antagonist in this novel, influenced by Wellsian science fiction, kidnaps Ransom and brings him to Mars as a human sacrifice, under the misapprehension that “the eldil [angelic spirit] drinks blood” (121). Explaining his predicament to the ruling eldil of Mars, Ransom says, “I was in terrible fear. The tellers of tales in our world make us think that if there is any life beyond our own air it is evil” (121). Through his interaction with the natives, he learns the error of this belief. His initial fear of the Martians yields to a desire to communicate with them, leading to friendship. Significantly for the theme of rapport between human minds and “thought that floats on a different blood”, Ransom is a philologist, a specialist in communication. The tension between fear of (and consequent hostility to) the alien Other and the drive toward inter-species understanding dominates “vampire as alien” fiction.

In “Unreal Estates” Lewis himself cites an instance of friendly contact between a human protagonist and a quasi-vampiric extraterrestrial, from Zenna Henderson’s short story “Food to All Flesh”. Henderson’s character, Padre Manuel, finding a spaceship in his pasture, tries to aid the hungry alien, a huge, sleek, fanged female accompanied by a litter of cubs. The visitor tests every available source of nourishment, including a variety of foods provided by Manuel, without finding anything her kind can digest. One of the starving cubs bites Manuel, and immediately, “Its little silver tongue came out and licked around happily and it went to sleep” (81). In the face of the knowledge that human flesh and blood can feed the alien cubs, Manuel neither fights nor flees when the mother seizes him. She, in turn, releases him, gathers up her young, and departs in her ship. Lacking any common language, human and alien nevertheless attain a rapport that supersedes their differences. Despite their “different blood”, they share a common ethic grounded in reverence for life. Henderson’s story and The War of the Worlds represent two extremes in fictional treatment of aliens (vampires as well as other types). A tone of hostility and paranoia prevails in earlier literature but also survives alongside the more sympathetic rendering of nonhuman characters in contemporary works.

These two contrasting attitudes–fear/hostility and the desire to understand the Other–as applied to vampire fiction are analyzed by Jacqueline Lichtenberg in an essay entitled “Vampire with Muddy Boots”. She classifies the two ways of dealing with “monsters” as the horror approach and the science fiction approach. In horror “the Unknown is a menace which is a menace because it’s a menace. In sf [science fiction], the Unknown is a menace because we don’t understand it yet… In sf, understanding, either intellectual or emotion [sic], or maybe both, is the key to the solution of the problem” (4). Not only does a natural (science fiction) rather than supernatural (horror) rationale for the “monster” provide the opportunity for human characters to understand rather than fear him, this approach also allows the nonhuman character free will and the possibility of moral choice, bounded by the limitations of flesh and blood. “A true supernatural force,” Lichtenberg points out, “doesn’t suffer the inconvenience of slogging through cold wet mud. And as a result, such an entity doesn’t grow spiritually, in character or relationships” (5). Her own fictional vampires, in contrast, deal with moral quandaries and strive for emotional connection both among themselves and with human companions. She envisions “a world in which each and every individual has a fighting chance provided they’re willing to…step outside their cultural straight jackets [sic] to deal with the Unknown on a friendly basis” (5). Lichtenberg declares her goal as a novelist to be “to step sideways into another universe and become another person for awhile” (5). In general, “vampire as alien” fiction typically invites the reader to “step sideways” into the consciousness of a not-quite-human being, who offers a fresh perspective on the human condition.

-end of excerpt-

My Publishers:

Writers Exchange E-Publishing: Writers Exchange
Harlequin: Harlequin
Whiskey Creek: Whiskey Creek
Wild Rose Press: Wild Rose Press

You can contact me at: MLCVamp@aol.com

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