Author Archive

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

Welcome to the January 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

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

Welcome to the January 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 New Year! To welcome 2018, we have an interview with romance author Rachel Leigh Smith.

Can you really defeat a vampire by stealing his left sock? Below is an excerpt from “Scavenger Hunt,” one of the stories in my collection HEART’S DESIRES AND DARK EMBRACES:

Heart’s Desires

*****

Interview with Rachel Leigh Smith:

What inspired you to begin writing?

I can’t point to any one specific thing. I’ve always had stories in my head, and would fill in what I considered missing gaps in my favorite movies. The biggest one was what happens in The Little Mermaid between the kiss on the beach and the wedding. Surprise, surprise, it’s romance!

I also wrote quite a bit of fan fiction in high school, The Hardy Boys and Thoroughbred specifically. Along with a ton of stuff with a set of original characters that will always and forever be mine. I share them with no one. Not even my best friend.

What genres do you work in?

Romance exclusively. I live and breathe it, and it’s also 99% of what I read. The 1% is reserved for non-fiction I usually read for research. I write paranormal, futuristic, and I’m getting back into historical romance next year.

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

Wing it! I know how it starts, have a sense of how it ends, a vague idea of the middle, and then I sit down and write to find out how it all connects and what actually happens. Writing anything longer than back cover copy is a great way to make my muse abandon me for weeks at a time.

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

The single biggest major influence is surviving and successfully escaping an abusive marriage. I didn’t write for nearly a year after I left, and it was torture to a girl who’d written pretty much every day for years before that. When I was able to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) my writing had new life, and an emotional depth it lacked before.

Reading Sherrilyn Kenyon showed me it was totally possible to make something cohesive out of all the weird ideas and worlds in my brain. I got to meet her last summer, and it was amazing to be able to tell her how much her characters mean to me and the impact she’s had on both my real life and my writing life. Because of her, I once again believe in happily ever after.

How have the TV shows and other media of which you’re a fan affected your work as an author?

The things I watch don’t necessarily translate to what I read or write about. I’m a big Star Trek: TNG fan, Doctor Who, a whole ton of other stuff, and nobody gets between me and Criminal Minds. I guess I’d have to say Star Trek has had a big impact because that’s where I learned the importance of knowing the entire history of your fictional world. A lot of that will never make it on the page, but the more I know as the author, the more real it is for my readers.

Criminal Minds does a fantastic job of showing the importance of family. Especially the family you make for yourself. That’s a big theme in my A’yen’s Legacy series. I also have to confess I’ve used several actors from Criminal Minds as character templates. Shemar Moore has been used multiple times. I’m watching the SWAT reboot solely because of Moore, and it’s actually really good.

Do you systematically keep track in writing of the backgrounds and characters for your different series, such as maintaining a series “bible” for each?

Yes, I do. In a somewhat loose way, but it works for me. Everything in my novels comes out of the characters and what they’ve lived through. I generally know their entire life story, not all of which gets written down. With the title character of A’yen’s Legacy, A’yen Mesu, I even know his grandfather’s entire life story. Who died three days after A’yen was born and they never met.

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

My latest is His Soul To Keep, my second shifter novel and the second novel in my Redmption’s Price series. He’s a jaguar shifter who’s also a reincarnated ancient warrior and he ends up mated to a human scientist who knows nothing of his world.

The series is built on a foundation of Egyptian mythology, and I really got to dig into it with this one. The aforementioned Shemar Moore is the character template for Maahes, who shows up in every book and is the Egyptian god of vengeance and war.

Here’s the description for it, and you can choose your store at books2read.com/price2
To save his soul, he risks condemning the world.

Boulder pride security chief Gabe Kincade is losing his mind. It’s the only explanation for remembering a past life in ancient Egypt as one of Maahes’s warriors. Meeting a gorgeous scientist his jaguar says is his mate is a complication he can’t afford—and can’t resist. Ares is after him, and if the god catches him, he’s dead. Again.

Wildlife geneticist Autumn Dailey has spent the last fifteen years tracking big cat DNA. She’s on the verge of a huge discovery, and the key might be in the samples from her cougar population study. Being kidnapped by people who turn into cougars proves she’s found her something huge. Gabe Kincade showing up and promising to protect her from an unhinged alpha is an unexpected bonus. So is falling in love with him.

But Ares knows who Gabe really is and what he can do. The Greek god of war will do anything to take possession of his soul. Including using his past life to destroy his future. To save Autumn, Gabe has to save himself. No matter the cost.

What are you working on now?

I’m rewriting my first ever novel, a historical romance, to submit to an editor who requested it last summer. Shemar Moore, again, is the character template for the hero. It’s set on a cotton plantation in central Louisiana in 1857, and was born out of me working on a central Louisiana cotton plantation turned museum and doing extensive research to make tours and living history events more accurate. I’m a walking encyclopedia on mid-19th century cotton production.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Finish your first draft of your first novel! It’s okay if it sucks. It’s okay if it’s a giant mess you think can’t be saved. Finishing it is the only way you’ll learn how you work as a writer, and the only way to internalize all the stuff you’re learning.

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

I’m at Rachel Leigh Smith. I don’t blog, though if you click on the News section you can read a post I did about the basic mythology of the Redemption’s Price world. I can be found most often on Facebook, Rachel Leigh Smith Facebook, and occasionally on Instagram, @rlsauthor.

*****

Some Books I’ve Read Lately:

SWEET DREAMS CTHULHU, by Jason Ciaramella. A children’s board book by the publisher of an alphabet book, C IS FOR CTHULHU (drawn in a children’s-book style but containing material directed more toward readers already familiar with Lovecraft’s work). Both can be found at www.cisforcthulhu.com. Howard is getting ready for bed in the quiet city of Providence when his friend Cthulhu appears at the window. The Great Old One has had a nightmare. Howard comforts him by explaining that dreams are “just our imagination at work while we sleep” and demonstrating that the “monsters” in the shadows under the bed and in the hall are harmless household objects. The dark Gothic backgrounds contrast with the plump cuteness of Cthulhu himself. At the end, he goes to sleep in his house in R’lyeh, his bed surrounded by tiny bubbles in the seawater. Just right for introducing little kids to a classic universe of eldritch horror but with no real scariness.

A LOT LIKE CHRISTMAS, by Connie Willis. This volume is an expansion of her earlier holiday collection, MIRACLE AND OTHER CHRISTMAS STORIES. My favorite pieces are two novellas that weren’t in the old edition. Thousands of radio re-playings of multiple covers of “White Christmas,” augmented by the stubborn insistence of a prototypical Bridezilla that she MUST have snow for her Christmas Eve wedding, spawn a worldwide blizzard in “Just Like the Ones We Used to Know.” Snow even falls in locations that have never seen it before in recorded history. My other favorite novella in the book, “All Seated on the Ground,” features the narrator’s experience on a committee tasked with a first contact project. Aliens have landed. The extraterrestrial visitors don’t behave hostilely, but they don’t speak or otherwise give any indication of their purpose in coming to Earth. Until they’re taken to a mall, where they hear Christmas carols—and respond to the line “All seated on the ground” by suiting their actions to the words. Only the narrator, with the help of a high-school chorus director, notices this reaction and manages to decipher its meaning. Hilarious, but as in all Willis’s work, the humor arises from characters and situations portrayed with her usual incisive wit, not mere one-liners. A LOT LIKE CHRISTMAS includes an introduction by the author plus an afterword listing her personal holiday movie recommendations.

THE COMPLETE SOOKIE STACKHOUSE STORIES, by Charlaine Harris. This collection compiles all the stories in the Sookie Stackhouse universe previously published in various anthologies. Vampires, fairies, and were-creatures familiar from the novels make appearances that expand on or fill gaps in the story arc of the main series. Harris prefaces each tale with a short introduction noting where it falls in relation to the full-length books. Sookie fans who haven’t read all the anthologies co-edited by Harris (WOLFSBANE AND MISTLETOE, AN APPLE FOR THE CREATURE, MANY BLOODY RETURNS, etc.) will welcome this collection. Even though I’d read almost all the stories before, I’m glad to have them conveniently bound in one volume with the author’s comments.

BITTER GREENS, by Kate Forsyth. This captivating novel based on “Rapunzel” frames the fairy tale in the historical context of the life of Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force (1650-1724), author of the version of the story we know best, who spent many years in a convent as punishment for her scandalous writings about life in the court of King Louis XIV. There she meets an elderly nun, Sister Seraphina, and finds solace in her harsh exile by helping the older woman with the herb garden and the beehives. Sister Seraphina tells Charlotte the tale of Margherita, a girl in sixteenth-century Italy stolen from her parents by an enigmatic woman known as La Strega. She renames the child Petrosinella, “Little Parsley,” for the bitter greens the witch gave her mother during pregnancy. After several years in a convent orphanage, at the age of twelve Margherita is shut up in a tower where she sees no one but La Strega, who tries to convince the girl her parents gave her away because they didn’t want her. It becomes clear that the witch needs a few drops of maiden’s blood every month to maintain her vitality and beauty. Margherita isn’t the first girl she has imprisoned. Margherita’s story is told in the third person. We learn about the lives of her mother, La Strega, and Charlotte in first-person narratives. Fortunately, since the various threads don’t unfold in chronological order, the author provides dates and locations at the head of each section. The backgrounds, both physical and cultural, of Renaissance Italy and seventeenth-century France are portrayed with enchanting vividness and specificity. In those eras, occasional plague epidemics still devastated Europe, and heresy and witchcraft were crimes for which any nonconforming person, especially a woman, might be arrested and imprisoned or executed. Charlotte has to exercise special care because she comes from a Huguenot family. Deep explorations of the characters’ pasts impel the reader to sympathize with them, even the witch, despite her evil deeds. The fairy-tale plot gives Margherita a believable happy ending, while other major characters, including La Strega, ultimately find peace.

*****

Excerpt from “Scavenger Hunt:

Downstairs, Professor Gregory Lawrence’s other guests began to drift toward the front door. Upstairs, Diane hid in a spare bedroom, fishing a flashlight out of her purse. Her medieval literature professor’s voice, although one floor down, reverberated along her nerves. A shiver trickled down the back of her neck. Listening to him read from Malory’s Morte d’Arthur an hour earlier, she’d reflected that he ought to be acting, not teaching night classes at a community college. His rich, faintly English-accented baritone belonged on a stage.
Diane shook off the inappropriate reverie and suppressed a sneeze from the dust in the unswept corner where she huddled. She had to reach her goal and get away without the professor catching her. It would be too humiliating to explain why she wanted to rummage through his dresser drawers.
Feeling as if she’d embarked on a Mad Hatter’s scavenger hunt, she switched on the flashlight and tiptoed to the door. This sprawling late-Victorian house had a maze of rooms on the second floor. She hoped it wouldn’t take too long to find the master bedroom. Already she ran short of time, for she hadn’t expected most of the other students to leave the end-of-term party this soon. Tiptoeing and barely breathing, Diane prayed that her host had accepted her earlier fake departure as a real one–and that he would linger downstairs for a while.
With her ear to the closed door, she didn’t hear anyone in the hall. A babble of voices still floated up from the living room and foyer. She worked her way down the hall, investigating each door. Most stood open and concealed no secrets. Sparsely furnished guest rooms, spaces empty except for stacks of boxes, a roomful of bookshelves to hold the overflow from downstairs, and a home office disappointed her.
Would she have to head up to the third level to find the professor’s bedroom?
Briefly her mind veered into irrelevant speculation about that forbidden chamber. Did he cover his bed with satin sheets or utilitarian white cotton? Did he sleep in silk pajamas, bikini briefs, or nothing at all? Though she’d seen him only in sedate gray slacks and autumn-toned turtlenecks or sport shirts, his lean frame would probably look good in any one of those imagined sleeping costumes. That last thought made a hot blush suffuse her face.
Diane shook her head, annoyed with herself for fantasizing about a man whom she’d certainly never want to face again after this escapade. Only the trivial nature of her anticipated theft nerved her to go through with it.
She arrived at the last door on the second story. This one was shut. Hoping she’d found her goal, and praying that the hinges didn’t squeak, she eased it open.
She slipped inside and pulled the door shut behind her. Underneath the dust that tickled her nose, she caught a faintly metallic scent. Her flashlight swept around the room. Another small bedroom, but this one had an occupant.
On the twin bed beneath the heavily curtained window lay a dark-haired boy, asleep. Stifling a gasp, Diane stared at him. Asleep or unconscious? He didn’t react to the light shining on his face. With his milk-pale skin and almost emaciated thinness, she thought he must be sick. She couldn’t decide whether he was an unusually tall twelve-year-old, an undergrown eighteen-year-old, or somewhere in between.
Abruptly she realized her unpardonable intrusion. She ought to be ashamed of herself, sneaking up on a sick boy. In fact, she felt ashamed of the whole crazy project. But if she couldn’t hang onto her dream any other way–So find the stuff and get out of here! she admonished herself.
As she groped behind her for the doorknob, she became aware that the farewell chatter downstairs had stopped. In the silence, she heard the door opening and felt a draft from the hall. Before she could turn around, a hand closed on her shoulder.
She jumped, swallowed a screech, and dropped the flashlight. Professor Lawrence caught it, then turned her to face him. For a second she thought she saw glints of red in his eyes. Illusion–sudden change in the light, that’s all.
“Ms. Ferber, imagine meeting you here. After you so pointedly announced that you had to leave, too.” His low voice began as a purr and segued into a growl. Returning the flashlight and drawing her into the hall, he closed the door.
He loomed over her, making her painfully aware of her below-average height. His hands now rested on her shoulders, with his thumbs tracing circles on the bare skin where her collarbone joined her neck. Her pulse hammered with nervousness and some other emotion she preferred to ignore. Thank goodness he couldn’t hear her heartbeat. It was bad enough that he could see the patches of red on her heated face and probably feel her trembling.
“I’m really sorry, Professor–I’ll go now–”
“Not until we’ve had a little talk, Ms. Ferber–Diane.” Now he sounded more amused than angry. His dark, bushy eyebrows, almost joined above his nose, had a satanic slant. “And you may as well call me Greg.” He guided her away from the door to lean with her back against the wall. His fingers crept up her neck to cup her head. Their gentle massage calmed her racing pulse.
In the back of her mind she wondered why she let him touch her this way without protest, but she enjoyed the sensation too much to pursue the thought. Though she felt a fleeting desire to run her own fingers through his thick, black hair, she didn’t have the energy to follow the impulse. She contented herself with gazing up into his violet-gray eyes. Her muscles turned to jelly, allowing the flashlight to drop onto the carpet.
“Tell me, Diane,” he whispered, “why are you searching my house?”
She felt lightheaded, almost floating. “I’m looking for your bedroom,” she murmured.
“Indeed? Why?”
Faintly surprised to hear the words coming out of her mouth, she told the truth. “To get a pair of socks.”
His voice hardened, no longer amused. “Why the devil would you want my socks?”
“I don’t want them. My landlord does.”
“Who is your landlord?”
“Ronald Horton.” She gave a dreamy sigh, wishing the professor–Greg–would stop asking questions and keep caressing the back of her neck. Or even kiss her. She swayed toward him, lips parted.
Instead, his fingers stilled. “Horton? Interesting. This man sent you to steal a pair of socks?”
“Actually, he just needs a left sock, but since left and right look the same, he told me to get a pair.”
Greg’s hands moved back to her shoulders, tightened briefly, then relaxed. “I see. You didn’t simply ask me for them, why?”
“And look like a total idiot?”
“More of one than you look creeping around my house in the dark?”
The mockery in his voice reduced her to silence. Speaking up in class was one thing; embarrassing herself in front of a man she’d daydreamed about for months was something else!
“Diane, you live alone, don’t you? Above your bookshop?”
She nodded, heavy-lidded with pleasure as he renewed his caress. Again she glimpsed a crimson gleam in his eyes, but the anomaly no longer disturbed her.
“Do you have any family nearby?”
She shook her head.
“Does anyone other than Mr. Horton know you’re here right now?”
“No.”
“Excellent.” He smiled. “As soon as I noticed you’d stayed behind, I suspected you might be just what I need.”
“For what?” Anticipation rippled along her nerves.
Slipping an arm around her waist, he led her into the bedroom they’d just vacated. “Don’t be afraid,” he whispered, his lips grazing her hair. He guided her to the bed, only a shadowy outline in the dark. Diane allowed him to seat her on the edge of the mattress. She heard the springs creak as Greg leaned over and murmured, “Daniel–wake up, Daniel.”
The boy under the sheet stirred. A pair of glowing eyes appeared on the pillow. Still floating in the warm fog of the professor’s touch, Diane registered this oddity without a trace of surprise or alarm.
“Now,” Greg breathed, “give me your hand, my dear.”
She would have given him her whole body if he’d asked. When he clasped her hand and guided it to the pillow, she noticed the coolness of his skin. The boy’s lips, though, felt downright icy. By contrast, the heat of his tongue on the inside of her wrist startled her.
What am I doing here? She blinked, trying to force the dim room into focus.
“Don’t worry,” Greg whispered. His breath sent shivers down the back of her neck. Again a warm, fragrant mist clouded her brain. A second later, she couldn’t recall what had bothered her.
She felt a momentary sting on her wrist, followed by a hot rush that flowed up her arm and suffused her body. She relaxed in Greg’s arms and spiraled down to oblivion.

-end of excerpt-

*****

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You can contact me at: MLCVamp@aol.com

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