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Welcome to the May 2022 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

You can subscribe to this monthly newsletter here:

Subscribe

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

For anyone who would like to read previous issues of this newsletter, they’re posted on my website here (starting from January 2018):

Newsletters

This is my Facebook author page. Please visit!
Facebook

Here’s my page in Barnes and Noble’s Nook store:
Barnes and Noble

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

The Fiction Database displays a comprehensive list of my books (although with a handful of fairy tales by a different Margaret Carter near the end):

Fiction Database

My Goodreads page:
Goodreads

Please “Like” my author Facebook page (cited above) to see reminders when each monthly newsletter is uploaded. I’ve also noticed that I’m more likely to be shown posts from liked or friended sources in my Facebook feed when I’ve “Liked” some of their individual posts, so you might want to do that, too. Thanks!

The Wild Rose Press has contracted to republish “Crossing the Border,” an erotic dark paranormal romance novella with Lovecraftian elements. I’m delighted that it’s going to be back on the market after several years of being unavailable. A deceased novelist’s widow and his literary agent discover why he warned against publishing his final book—because the realm of eldritch horrors in the author’s fiction is real. A teaser from the beginning of the story appears below.

In honor of reaching the milestone of 200 issues of this monthly newsletter, on Friday, May 6, I’ll randomly choose one subscriber to receive a $20 Amazon gift card. To subscribe, go here:

News from the Crypt

This month I’m interviewing multi-genre romance author Anna M. Taylor.

*****

Interview with Anna M. Taylor:

What inspired you to begin writing?

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write. However what inspired me to write professionally was a challenge from my mother-in-law. At the time I was writing X-Files fan fiction and she asked me why I wasn’t writing about my own characters. It revived in me an old desire to do just that so I joined Romance Writers of America to get me started.

What genres do you work in?

I write inspirational romance as Anna Taylor, erotic/steamy romance as Michal Scott and gothic/ghost story romances as Anna M. Taylor.

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

I outline. You could call me a plotter on steroids. I’ve been using a series of templates created by Mary Buckham and Dianna Love from their book Break Into Fiction that make sure I build my story correctly.

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

Hands down Mary Buckham has been the major influence on my writing. Many years ago I took my first class with her on writing synopses and query letters. Talk about learning what I didn’t know. Then while I was still unpublished she asked me to be part of a panel she was proposing for a Romance Writers of America. When I said, “But I’m not published,” her response was, “You’re an author whether you’re published or not.” She challenged me to think of myself in asset-terms not deficit ones. I’ll always be grateful to her for that.

How did your first career as a minister affect your fiction writing (if it did)?

Because I see the longest running unrequited love story being played out in the two testaments of the Christian Bible, I believe being a minister has attracted me to the second chance romance trope. The messages of my sermons centered around God’s love for us and how God continually seeks us out despite all the times we reject that love or think we’re unworthy of love. However, the biggest influence being a minister had on my fiction happened in seminary when I was introduced to the love mystics of Begijn. Their prayers inspired me to try my hand at Christian erotica and Christian erotic romance. When you read translations of those prayers you’ll understand why. When someone asks how I as a minister can write erotic romance, I point them to the ecstatic prayers of these mystics. I say if there can be Christian erotic non-fiction, there can be Christian erotic fiction, too.

What kind of research did you do for your historical romances?

I research geography first. I need to be sure that how things look today don’t interfere with how my characters interact with their setting back then. I then look up what significant events took place in the year my story takes place to see if it can have an impact or should have an impact on the events in my story. This last is particularly important since I write about Black history and settings which don’t usually get attention from mainstream historical sources.

What is your latest or next-forthcoming book?

My next-forthcoming book is the third story in my Haunted Harlem series. It’s called Always the Dead Between and combines my normal ghost elements and second chance romance trope with time travel.

What are you working on now?

I have two works in progress: an inspirational historical called A Pearl of Great Price where the hero and heroine have given each other thirty days to prove they deserve to be the other’s spouse. The other is a steamy historical set in an alternate universe 1800’s African American New York City and Brooklyn called Or What’s A Heaven For? It’s my attempt to tell Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold from the point of view of the women in that opera.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Find a supportive community. There are times your internal editor will try to convince you you’re no good. You need others to remind you that’s not so.

What is the URL of your website? What about other internet presence?

My Michal Scott erotic romance website is Michal Scott and my gothic/ghost story romance website is Anna M. Taylor.

On Twitter I’m @revannable and @mscottauthor1 where I share aspirational songs to keep us hopeful as well as promos and recommendations for other authors’ work. On Facebook I’m annamtaylorAuthor. There I share aspirational music and updates on my gothic/ghost story works in progress.

Thanks for the opportunity to share.

Anna T.S.

*****

Some Books I’ve Read Lately:

PETER DARLING, by Austin Chant. By far the most unusual re-imagining of PETER PAN I’ve ever read. Since the title hints at Peter’s secret and it’s revealed fairly early in the book, mentioning it here isn’t too much of a spoiler: Peter is Wendy, or vice versa. From the first time Wendy invented tales of Peter Pan to entertain her younger brothers, she has always insisted on playing the role of Peter in their games. Her father takes a dim view of her obsession with the Peter persona, while her mother gently suggests she’s treating the “game” a little too seriously. When Tinkerbell transports the protagonist to Neverland, he gains a male body as well as the power (albeit unconscious) to shape the magical island according to his fantasies of freedom and adventure. This version of Neverland doesn’t include “Indians,” but it does contain fairies, mermaids, and pirates. The story is narrated in achronic order, with some of the flashbacks told before events that happen earlier in the timeline, a slightly confusing technique, but I managed to catch on. We gradually learn Peter’s backstory, how he returned to the mundane world after a month in Neverland, tried to tell his family where he’d been and become, and, under the threat of confinement in an asylum, resumed the role of Wendy. Ten years later, on the verge of suicide, he summons Tinkerbell, who transports him back to Neverland. Unlike the island in Barrie’s original story, here Neverland doesn’t confer immortality or eternal youth, even upon Peter. He has grown ten years older, and so have the Lost Boys. Furthermore, meanwhile a new Lost Boy has arrived, a young man named Ernest who has taken over leadership of the small band. He cares for a weak little boy, provoking scorn from Peter, who promptly forgets his mundane past and reverts to the “innocent and heartless” lad of Barrie’s fiction. The perpetual war between the Lost Boys and the pirates becomes more than a game. People (and fairies) die. Suppressed memories break through. The rivalry between Peter and Captain Hook evolves into a mixture of bitter enmity and irresistible fascination. When they are thrown together in a crisis where they depend on each other for survival, the dark truth about Neverland comes out, along with the revelation of what Peter, Hook, and Ernest have in common. While the concept of love between Peter Pan and Captain Hook may sound farfetched, the author makes it heart-wrenchingly believable. I did, however, notice what appears to be one plot hole: Given the nature of Neverland as eventually revealed, Tinkerbell shouldn’t be able to visit Peter in London. The novel’s bittersweet conclusion, although not anything I expected, struck me as completely satisfying.

LITTLE (GRRL) LOST, by Charles De Lint. A 2007 YA novel set in De Lint’s invented Canadian city, Newford. This story, having no direct connection to the events of the main series, can be read on its own. Fourteen-year-old T.J.’s family, forced by financial reverses to give up the farm where she was happy, has moved to Newford. In addition to missing her home and friends, she’s had to give up her beloved horse. She feels that her parents have little sympathy for her teenage misery. Her self-absorbed unhappiness is realistically rendered without making her seem unappealingly whiny. As the novel begins, she thinks she hears mice inside the walls, a guess supported by her cat’s behavior. Instead, that space is inhabited by Littles, six-inch-tall people living in the interstices of the world of the Bigs (us), like the diminutive characters in THE BORROWERS and MISTRESS MASHAM’S REPOSE (both mentioned in the novel). The book also brings to mind De Lint’s own much earlier novel THE LITTLE COUNTRY, which uses similar tropes. T.J. meets Elizabeth, a sixteen-year-old Little running away from her parents’ overly strict rules (as she sees them) about never letting Bigs know their kind exist. After a prickly start, T.J. and Elizabeth become friends. Unfortunately, when Elizabeth has second thoughts and decides to return home, she discovers her parents have moved away, in an excess of caution over their presence having been discovered. T.J. proposes seeking help from an author who has written children’s books about Littles, in case she might actually know them and have secret information about them. Luckily, she happens to have a book signing scheduled in Newford. The two girls’ plan to smuggle Elizabeth into the bookstore, naturally, doesn’t go smoothly. Instead, an attack by a gang of bullies separates them; from that point, the narrative alternately follows T.J. and Elizabeth. T.J.’s scenes continue to be told in third person, past tense, with Elizabeth’s in first person, present tense. As T.J. desperately searches for her missing friend, helped and hindered by two very different boys she meets along the way, Elizabeth encounters a “feral” Little, though he prefers the term “ranger.” With his help, as well as learning where her parents went, she tries to uncover the truth about a legend that some Littles can change into birds. Lots of adventure and suspense—at first I wasn’t sure what to make of the author’s reaction when T.J. finally gets to meet her. Through their separate and shared explorations and dangers, both girls grow in adaptability and emotional maturity without losing their sharp edges.

PROMISES TO KEEP, by Charles De Lint. Also set mainly in Newford, this novel, which takes place in 1972, reveals the backstory of De Lint’s major recurring character Jilly Coppercorn. At the beginning of this book, Jilly (born Jillian Carter) hasn’t yet become aware of the supernatural realm she knows so well in the other volumes in the series. As we learn from her first-person account, she has a happy, productive life as a budding artist, after a rough childhood followed by years spent mostly as a teenage homeless drug addict. A voice from the past calls her by her old name. Donna, whom Jilly hasn’t seen in many years, was her best friend in the Home for Wayward Girls and later on the street. Now Donna, who’s also become clean, belongs to a band. She invites Jilly to watch them perform at a nightclub that, as far as any of Jilly’s friends know, doesn’t exist. Nevertheless, Jilly manages to find it and has a wonderful evening. Afterward, Donna leads her out a back door—into a different place. They’ve passed through a portal into an apparently ideal city, Donna’s new home. The residents work at fulfilling vocations and somehow have all their needs supplied. A bank account in Jilly’s name appears out of nowhere, and she lucks into an apartment as well as a group studio where she can paint. All the people she meets seem unfailingly cheerful, friendly, and helpful. Well, all except one. When she encounters a grouchy man who warns her against taking the city at face value, she gets her first inkling that it may have a dark side. As the true nature of the place gradually becomes clear, Jilly faces the decision of whether to stay there or return to the flawed real world. If she chooses the former, her friends will probably think she disappeared for no reason and abandoned them, maybe to fall back into the pit of addiction. Her choice will be irrevocable, for there’s no free travel between the paradisial city and the mundane realm. Moreover, she’s warned she’ll also forget the entire experience if she returns home. De Lint renders the balance between the genuine joys of the city and the darkness at the margins with subtly disturbing effect. Jilly is a believable, engaging character, and she comes across as authentically torn by her dilemma. Even though readers of De Lint’s other work know how she’ll end up, we feel the suspense of her choice. She narrates the flashbacks that reveal her painful backstory in past tense, with the current action told in present tense. In this case, that narrative choice seems justified in order to maintain the suspense while staying in Jilly’s first-person viewpoint.

TALES FROM THE SEA. This lovely hardback compilation of fairy tales and legends from a variety of different countries doesn’t list an editor, only an illustrator (Maggie Chiang). While a few of the contents slightly stretch the definition of “sea stories,” all are entertaining, especially for readers intrigued by different styles of storytelling in different regions of the world. All the selections are in the public domain, with their original publications listed in the back of the book. Stories come from China, Japan, Norway, Iceland, Hawaii, New Zealand, Armenia, Russia, Ghana, Korea, and the Philippines, among others. The cautionary narrative of the fisherman and his greedy wife will be familiar to most readers from the Grimm brothers’ tales. The only other piece already known to me was the Japanese legend of the fisher lad Urashima Taro, whose sojourn under the ocean seems like a few days to him but spans centuries in the real world, as in many tales of human beings spirited away to faerie realms. Anyone interested in folklore from multicultural sources would enjoy this book.

*****

Excerpt from “Crossing the Border”:

“Why haven’t you answered any of my messages? I’m not lying, crazy, or putting you on. The stars are coming right soon. The danger’s real, and I can help. My number is—”

Paula deleted the voice mail without bothering to listen to the rest. Why wouldn’t that nutcase take the hint and leave her alone? It’s time to call Doug. I’ve put this off too long already.

She shook her head in irritation at the way her hand trembled as she picked up the phone. Her pulse accelerated when she punched the speed-dial number for Douglas MacNair, her late husband’s agent. Why would the prospect of talking to Doug make her breath quicken and her stomach flutter? She’d seen and spoken to him often enough in the year since Kyle’s death. Doug is just a friend. Always was, always will be. A close enough friend that he wouldn’t mind getting a call at home at nine in the evening.

When he answered, his bass voice flowed through her like molten honey. She’d often thought he should have become a singer or actor instead of a literary agent, with that voice. “It’s always great to hear from you, Paula, but what’s wrong?”

Damn, do I sound that shaken up? She swallowed and drew a deep breath to steady herself. “What makes you think anything’s wrong?”

“Come on, as if I didn’t know you well enough to hear it in your voice.” She imagined him lounging in the overstuffed chair by the window in the living room of his New York high-rise condo, doodling on a notepad the way he always did during conversations. “Besides, if this were some routine thing, you’d call in the daytime or send an email.”

“I’ve decided it’s time to go through Kyle’s unpublished stuff. How soon can you make it down here?”

“And this was too urgent for email? Let’s hear it—what brought on this decision all of a sudden, after I’ve been trying to talk you into it for the past six months?”

She twisted a lock of hair around an index finger the way Kyle had found so annoying. She almost stopped, then mentally snapped at herself, Kyle isn’t here. “There’s a guy who’s been bugging me with emails and phone messages. He’s got some kind of bat in his belfry about that unpublished novel Kyle posted excerpts from.”

Tension hardened Doug’s tone. “How long has this been going on?”

“Well…since the week after Kyle died.”

“And you didn’t say a word to me about it.” He sounded halfway between angry and hurt. “What am I here for anyway, if not to help with problems like that?”

“It wasn’t worth bothering you with. Not until he started phoning instead of just emailing. I decided the message he left a minute ago was the last straw. He keeps babbling about some kind of danger.”

A long sigh gusted over the phone. “Okay, who is this person?”

“Somebody named Gary Furness. He edits a webzine called Scribes of Darkness.”

“Sure, I know it. Won a couple of awards. He interviewed Kyle once. He didn’t seem crazier than anybody else in the field.”

“Yeah, that’s him. He must have tipped over the edge after that. We met him at a horror con the month before Kyle died. Furness trailed us around the hotel, harassing Kyle with his obsession over that unpubbed novel.” She had a vivid mental image of a weedy young man with rapid-fire speech, who wore his brown hair tied back in a ponytail.

“You can tell me all about it when I get down there.” After a brief silence, Doug went on, “Okay, I’m logged onto the ticket site. Looks like I can get a flight day after tomorrow. I’ll clear my schedule and stay as long as it takes.”

-end of excerpt-

*****

My Publishers:

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

You can contact me at: MLCVamp@aol.com

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

Welcome to the April 2022 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

You can subscribe to this monthly newsletter here:

Subscribe

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

For anyone who would like to read previous issues of this newsletter, they’re posted on my website here (starting from January 2018):

Newsletters

This is my Facebook author page. Please visit!
Facebook

Here’s my page in Barnes and Noble’s Nook store:
Barnes and Noble

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

The Fiction Database displays a comprehensive list of my books (although with a handful of fairy tales by a different Margaret Carter near the end):

Fiction Database

My Goodreads page:
Goodreads

Please “Like” my author Facebook page (cited above) to see reminders when each monthly newsletter is uploaded. I’ve also noticed that I’m more likely to be shown posts from liked or friended sources in my Facebook feed when I’ve “Liked” some of their individual posts, so you might want to do that, too. Thanks!

The Wild Rose Press will release my erotic romance novella “Calling Back Love” (previously published by Ellora’s Cave) on June 13: War has stolen Kirsten’s fiance Shawn from her. After he’s reported missing and presumed dead in Afghanistan, she turns to witchcraft to bring him back. Though she can’t recall him from the dead, magic can grant them one last weekend together for a proper farewell. There is no way to make his return permanent—or is there?

An excerpt appears below.

This month’s interview features Karen Guzman, author of a women’s fiction book from the Wild Rose Press.

*****

Interview with Karen Guzman:

What inspired you to begin writing?

The wonderful books of my childhood and teenage years.

What genres do you work in?

Fiction: novel, short story, flash fiction–I’m dabbling in !
Essay

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

Something in between. I tend to sketch out a very broad and flexible outline, highlighting just major plot points, and then I fill in all the connective tissue between them by winging it.

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

Some favorite authors who’ve really influenced me, in no particular (or even rational) order: F. Scott Fitzgerald. Anne Tyler, Graham Greene, Andre Dubus and Andre Dubus III, Chekhov, Raymond Carver, Marilynne Robinson, Elizabeth Strout, Evelyn Waugh, Kurt Vonnegut, Ellen Cooney, John Updike, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Wally Lamb, John Irving, Lorrie Moore, and on and on. I know this is a crazy eclectic list, and it’s also very partial. I continue to discover new writers all the time whose work I admire and who inspire me. Wish I could be more succinct!

How did your MFA degree contribute to your career as a novelist (if it did)?

My MFA did help me as a writer, but it would take years post-graduation until I saw the publishing evidence. Looking back on it, I think I was too young when I did my MFA. I wasn’t ready in terms of maturity and technical ability to put into practice many of the techniques and insights I encountered in workshops. I needed more time to marinate as a writer. In my mid to late 30s, though, it all started kicking in. The concepts came back to me, and I was in a much better place to understand and apply them. Something had just clicked. You can’t rush a writer’s growth, but it’s great when you hit new levels.
My MFA also introduced me to a dear friend and fellow writer, who continues to be my best reader and editor, as I hope I am for her.

What would you describe as the main differences between fiction writing and journalistic writing (aside from the obvious fiction vs. nonfiction distinction)?

Journalistic writing is pretty contrived, because you already know the ending and who’s involved. You know where the story is going and how you’re basically going to get there.
With fiction, the process of creation is one of discovery and surprise and following the story where it needs to go.

What is your latest or next-forthcoming book?

My latest book is my 2021 novel, Arborview, available everywhere now!

What are you working on now?

I am now working on a short story collection.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Write what matters to you, the stuff that keeps you up at night. Don’t worry about trends. If you don’t love your work, nobody else will either. AND get a couple of good readers of your works-in-progress whose judgement (and motives) you really trust. It can get pretty ugly out there.

What is the URL of your website? What about other internet presence?

My website is Karen Guzman
My blog is Blog

Here are some social media handles:

Instagram
Twitter
Facebook
Amazon

*****

Some Books I’ve Read Lately:

SWORDHEART, by T. Kingfisher. In addition to Kingfisher’s two superb horror novels, THE TWISTED ONES and THE HOLLOW PLACES, she has written numerous fantasy novels, and I’ve enjoyed all that I’ve read so far. For me, the most enthralling aspect of Kingfisher’s fiction consists of her protagonists’ irresistibly distinctive voices. Halla, heroine of SWORDHEART, is no exception, although this novel is narrated in third person rather than first. A widow in her thirties, she has just inherited the estate of her husband’s great-uncle, for whom she has kept house since her husband’s death. Her great-uncle by marriage, although stingy and eccentric, was always kind to her in his way. The postmortem gift of his house and fortune, however, proves far from a boon. Her in-laws, outraged at the bequest, want her to marry her unappealing cousin-in-law, Alver. Locked in her room, Halla rationally analyzes the pros and cons of either accepting that fate or killing herself with the only lethal instrument available to her, an ancient sword hanging on the bedroom wall. When she manages to wrest it out of its scabbard, a man appears from thin air. Long ago, Sarkis was cursed to become one with the sword, taking flesh when it’s drawn and vanishing when its wielder sheaths it. The total healing that occurs in the latter status (including the regrowth of amputated appendages) makes him immortal, a “gift” that he considers part of the curse. He has no clear idea of how many centuries he has existed in this condition because he spends the time “inside” the sword in a sort of suspended animation, barely conscious. The spell obligates him to serve the weapon’s wielder, who retains ownership of it until he or she dies or voluntarily gives it away. Therefore, Halla finds she has acquired an unkillable bodyguard. After he breaks her out of her makeshift prison, they decide to travel to the big city and enlist the help of an order of priests specializing in legal problems. On the way, it soon becomes clear that Halla’s trusting nature would get her into serious trouble without Sarkis’s protection. At their destination, the order assigns an advocate, Zale, to return home with Halla and bring a lawsuit to reclaim her rightful inheritance. Zale, a character with a delightfully dry wit and a relentlessly calm, logical attitude, presents as nonbinary. The text doesn’t make a point of this fact; Zale is simply referred to without comment as “they.” In one of my favorite scenes, they and Halla devise a series of experiments to find out whether everything detached from Sarkis’s body vanishes when he dematerializes into the sword. (It does; he agrees to the urine test but draws the line at such tests as having a fingertip removed.) During the adventurous journey, as one would expect, Halla and Sarkis progress from constant annoyance with each other through respect and friendship to romantic attraction. Sarkis considers himself unworthy of love, quite aside from his magical link with the sword, because of the circumstances that led to the curse. Gradually we learn fragments of his past. When he reveals the full truth to Halla, she reacts to the revelation with believable distress. Their reconciliation doesn’t come without effort, while the ultimate showdown with Halla’s in-laws looms, its result not a foregone conclusion. Even when that issue is settled, how can she and a warrior who’s also a sword, sort of, find happiness? The dialogue is constantly entertaining, even in the midst of problems that seem insoluble. Every stage along their quest kept me enthralled. Although their troubles eventually reach a satisfactory resolution, the epilogue contains a teaser for a potential sequel.

GWENDY’S FINAL TASK, by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar. The final book in a trilogy, after GWENDY’S BUTTON BOX and GWENDY’S MAGIC FEATHER (the latter with Chizmar as the sole author). At age twelve in the first novel, Gwendy Peterson received custody of the magic button box, alluring but dangerous, capable of cataclysmic destruction in the wrong hands. GWENDY’S FINAL TASK reveals that the box’s guardian, Richard Farris, is not an avatar of Randall Flagg, as I’d suspected. Although no longer quite human, Farris, despite his suggestive initials, serves the light. Now a U.S. Senator, Gwendy has been chosen by Farris as the only person he can trust with (as the cover blurb says) “a secret mission to save the world. And, maybe, all worlds.” Yes, I’m delighted to report that this novel has connections to the Dark Tower saga. The danger of the button box can be neutralized only by removing it from human reach altogether by launching it into space, the task Gwendy must perform during her brief stay on the Tet Corporation’s space station, unknown to anyone else aboard. Except, that is, the covert agent of the dark forces determined to stop her. To complicate her mission, she suffers from early onset Alzheimer’s, which she has so far managed to conceal from the public as well as the authorities who chose her as a passenger on the space station. Her struggle against memory lapses throughout the voyage is both suspenseful and heart-wrenching. She uses every trick she’s been taught to keep her focus, terrified of forgetting at the crucial moment why she’s in space at all. Gwendy and the secondary characters around her are as lifelike as we’d expect from Stephen King. The Dark Tower allusions lend the story a resonance that makes the threat of the box all the more compelling. The poignant conclusion evokes the Dark Tower universe with the familiar consolatory line, “There are other worlds than these.”

THE HIDDEN PALACE, by Helene Wecker. Ever since discovering THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI (2013), I’ve wished for a sequel. At last, here it is. In the first book, set in the 1890s, Chava, a golem created as a wife for an arrogant, lonely man, lost her master to appendicitis on the transatlantic voyage. When the ship docked in America, she ended up adrift and masterless in New York. Her fundamental nature as a servant and protector left her vulnerable to the thoughts, emotions, and wishes of everybody around her. Ahmad, a jinni imprisoned in a copper flask by a wizard, was accidentally freed after a thousand years by a Syrian immigrant tinsmith. Stuck in human form, Ahmad worked for his rescuer by day and roamed the city after dark. One night he met Chava, who, with no need for sleep, spent her nights the same way. The creature of fire and the creature of clay formed a deep bond. THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI ended with Ahmad’s departure for his desert home to safely dispose of the magic flask, with the evil wizard now trapped in it. As THE HIDDEN PALACE begins, he returns to New York. Chava, after the death of the man to whom she was briefly married, still works in a Jewish bakery. She and Ahmad resume their friendship, while he again takes up his metalworking craft. Their lives as outsiders among the human throngs go less smoothly than the opening chapters imply they might, though. While Chava’s nature draws her into the lives of ordinary humans, Ahmad prefers to remain aloof, although he doesn’t always manage that. In THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI, he had an affair with Sophia, daughter of a wealthy family, who now suffers from a perpetual chill as a result. Distancing herself from her parents, she travels the world, and in the Middle East she encounters a jinniyeh (female jinn), Dima. Banished from her tribe and unsuitably curious about humanity, Dima yearns to cross the ocean and meet the enigmatic jinni trapped in human shape, of whom she’s heard tales. Sophia and Dima form a precarious alliance, which Sophia hopes will lead to her cure. Back in New York, the child of a rabbi, a girl with unfeminine aspirations to study Torah, is consigned to an orphanage. She’s secretly accompanied by the golem her late father constructed to protect her. This golem has none of the socialization Chava has gained. He lurks in a remote corner of the orphanage basement, waiting for the time his mistress may need him, her visits the only break in his monotonous existence. His and Chava’s paths cross when she takes a job as a teacher of domestic science in the orphanage. Meanwhile, Ahmad becomes absorbed in the crafting of wrought iron, despite the danger of that metal to his kind. After a grievous loss, he becomes a recluse obsessed with creating a masterpiece. The principal characters come together in a catastrophic climax involving both tragedy and reconciliation, healing the estrangement between the golem and the jinni. As in the previous novel, a major appeal for me is the exploration of the early-twentieth-century immigrant experience in a vibrantly multicultural New York City. Spanning well over a decade, the story touches upon the public events one would expect to see mentioned in that era, e.g., the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, the sinking of the Titanic, and the Great War. Against this background, fully realized characters both human and nonhuman struggle to bridge gaps between ethnicities and species.

*****

Excerpt from “Calling Back Love”:

By the time Kirsten had the food cooked and served, her mood had cleared. She had to stay in the moment, make herself as oblivious to the inevitable end as Shawn was. When she poured syrup on her pancakes and sampled the result, her appetite sidetracked her from those worries. Both of them were hungry enough to eat in silence until they’d almost emptied their plates.

“The mimosas are cold and the coffee is hot. I can taste the food and feel the breeze from the window.” He reached over to squeeze her hand. “I can touch you in daylight, not just in bed making love.” After a pause for another forkful, he said, “You burned the first pancake. I might dream about sex with you but I don’t believe I’d dream this realistically about the smell of scorched batter.”

Unable to think of an answer that wouldn’t reveal more than she wanted, she responded only with a nervous laugh.

“Give it to me straight. This isn’t a dream or a vision. I’m home. How?”

She couldn’t tell him the truth, not only because she feared an explosive reaction from him but because she didn’t know how giving him that knowledge would affect the spell. “What do you think is happening?”

With a sigh, he bowed his head in his hands for a second before gazing into her eyes. “How the hell do I know? Maybe I suffered major brain trauma.” The bewilderment on his face made her heart clench. “All I can figure is that I got amnesia from a head injury and I’m just coming out of it.”

She poured him another drink from the pitcher. “Try not to think about it. Just relax and let your memories emerge naturally. Soon it will all make sense.”

He sipped from the champagne flute, his expression clearing. “Okay. This day is perfect and I sure don’t want to screw it up. I’ll go with the flow.”

He’d accepted his own explanation with surprising ease. Maybe some soothing component of the magic kept him from questioning too persistently.

-end of excerpt-

*****

My Publishers:

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

You can contact me at: MLCVamp@aol.com

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

Welcome to the March 2022 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:

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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

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I’m thrilled to announce that the Wild Rose Press will be re-releasing some of my former Ellora’s Cave erotic paranormal romance novellas, beginning with “Calling Back Love.” War has stolen Kirsten’s fiance Shawn from her. After he’s reported missing and presumed dead in Afghanistan, she turns to witchcraft to bring him back. Though she can’t recall him from the dead, magic can grant them one last weekend together for a proper farewell. There is no way to make his return permanent—or is there?

You’ll find part of the opening scene below.

This month, I’m interviewing mystery author Susie Black.

*****

Interview with Susie Black:

AUTHOR SUSIE BLACK

What inspired you to begin writing?

SUSIE: As a career ladies’ apparel sales exec, I am naturally a people person who is curious about what makes people tick. I think everyday people are the most interesting subjects because everyone has a life story, and one likely that others can either relate to or be sympathetic to. I can sit in the food court at the mall at lunch time and observe the people around me and have a dozen plots that could easily become manuscripts. So, it is definitely my people watching that inspired me to write.

What genre do you work in?

SUSIE: I write in the cozy mystery genre.

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

SUSIE: Something in between. I plan the beginning and the end, but I let the characters take the story from the middle to the end I have planned. The characters have a fair amount of free rein, but they know they must do a good job to get from the middle of the plot to my ending and not change the ending without my permission, or risk my taking over, writing them out of the story, or if they really annoy me, kill them off. Nothing as lasting as a relationship based on fear. LOL.

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

SUSIE: Favorite Childhood authors: Carolyn Keene, author of the Nancy Drew series; Franklin W. Dixon, author of the Hardy Boys series: These authors got me interested in solving puzzles and in reading mysteries.
Favorite Adult authors: Joan Hess, Carolyn Haines, Anne George, Donald E. Westlake, Carl Hiaasen:
These authors tremendously influenced and helped form my irreverent, wise-cracking writing style and gave me the understanding that it is not only OK, but popular to poke fun at society, one’s industry, and colleagues by creating crazy characters and situations. These authors taught me the importance of having my voice come through in my stories.
Life experiences: My experience as a traveling sales rep in the deep southern states was a tremendous influence on my writing. It taught me to be observant, daring, to take risks, go out of my comfort zone, not be afraid to fail, always trust my gut, and be true to myself.

How have you used your experiences in the garment industry in your writing?

SUSIE: From the beginning of my career, I have kept a daily journal chronicling the interesting, quirky, and sometimes quite challenging people I have encountered as well as the crazy situations I’ve gotten myself into and out of. My daily journal entries are the foundation of everything I write. The plots and premises of my stories all take place in the fast-paced, take no prisoners ladies’ apparel industry. All of my characters are based on real people, and the central characters are all strong, successful women who have beaten the odds and broken the glass ceiling. Holly Schlivnik, the main character, is based on me with some poetic license taken, of course.

Did you need to do any additional research for your mystery?

SUSIE: Since my characters and plots are based on the industry I am in, I didn’t need much additional research. But any additional research needed within the garment business was readily available to me at the California Apparel Mart or interviewing customers, colleagues or competitors. The lion’s share of my additional research was within the law enforcement and medical aspects of the plots. What Google researches didn’t cover, I am fortunate to have many lawyers and doctors in the family and friends who I interviewed to make sure I had used accurate verbiage and information and used it correctly.

What is your latest book?

SUSIE: DEATH BY SAMPLE SIZE: As a female who has succeeded in a historically male-dominated industry, it was important to me to write about the apparel business from a woman’s point of view. Like other books before it such as I Can Get it for You Wholesale and Save the Tiger, Death By Sample Size shakes out the dirty laundry of the cutthroat fashion business. But this time it’s a woman peeling back the underbelly of the apparel industry and revealing how the latest trends really get from the designer’s imagination to the store rack.

BLURB: Everyone wanted her dead…but who actually killed her?
The last thing swimwear sales exec Holly Schlivnik expected was to discover ruthless buying office big wig Bunny Frank’s corpse trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey with a bikini stuffed down her throat. When Holly’s colleague is arrested for Bunny’s murder, the wise-cracking, irreverent amateur sleuth jumps into action to find the real killer. Nothing turns out the way Holly thinks it will as she matches wits with a wily killer hellbent on revenge. Get ready to laugh out loud as Susie Black’s Death by Sample Size takes you on a rollicking adventure ride through the Los Angeles apparel industry.

DEATH BY SAMPLE SIZE EXCERPT:
“When the elevator doors opened, I had to stop myself short not to step on her. There was Bunny Frank-the buying office big shot-lying diagonally across the car. Her legs were splayed out and her back was propped against the corner. Her sightless eyes were wide open and her arms reached out in a come-to-me baby pose. She was trussed up with shipping tape like a dressed Thanksgiving turkey ready for the oven with a bikini stuffed in her mouth. A Gotham Swimwear hangtag drooped off her lower lip like a toe tag gone lost. Naturally, I burst out laughing.

Before you label me incredibly weird or stone-cold, let me say genetics aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. If you’re lucky you inherit your Aunt Bertha’s sexy long legs or your father’s ability to add a bazillion dollar order in his head and get the total correct to the last penny. Without even breaking into a sweat, it’s easy to spout at least a million fabulous traits inheritable by the luck of the draw. Did I get those sexy long legs or the ability to add more than two plus two without a calculator? Noooooooooo. Lucky me. I inherited my Nana’s fear of death we overcompensated for with the nervous habit of laughing. A hysterical reaction? Think Bozo the clown eulogizing your favorite aunt.

I craned my neck like a tortoise and checked around. Then I clamped a fist over my mouth. Cripes, how could I possibly explain my guffaws with Bunny lying there? The disappointment was simultaneously mixed with relief when there was no one else in the parking lot. Where was security when you needed them?

I toed the elevator door open and bent over Bunny. I’d seen enough CSI episodes to know not to touch her. She was stiff as a board and I attributed the bluish tinge of her skin to the bikini crammed down her throat. I was no doctor, but I didn’t need an MD after my name to make this diagnosis. Bunny Frank was dead as the proverbial doorknob. It was no surprise Bunny Frank had finally pushed someone beyond their limits. The only surprise was it had taken so long. The question wasn’t who wanted Bunny Frank dead. The question was who didn’t?”

What are you working on now?

SUSIE: The second book in the Fashion & Foul Play series, Closet Full of…Murder will be published this spring. The story is set in the Los Angeles wholesale ladies’ swimwear industry and tells the rise and fall of Lissa Charney, the lazy but ruthless Royal Swimwear showroom manager.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

SUSIE: The one thing that is drilled into an author’s head is to only write what you know. If you don’t know it, either do the research and learn it or don’t you dare write it. If you don’t have the creds for what you write, you are toast, because readers can spot a phony by the second paragraph and never finish reading your book. This concept is one I never lose sight of and is the reason I write about the subjects I do. I would also advise that you keep writing, no matter what. Never stop believing in yourself or let anyone else crush your dreams, and never stop asking what if.

Where can we find you on the internet?
SUSIE:
Social Media Links:

Website: Susie Black
Book Bub: Book Bub
Facebook: Facebook
Goodreads: Death by Sample Size
Instagram: Susie Black (@hollyswimsuit) • Instagram photos and videos
LinkedIn: LinkedIn
Pinterest: Pinterest
Twitter: Twitter

*****

Some Books I’ve Read Lately:

GOTHEL AND THE MAIDEN PRINCE, by W. R. Gingell. One volume in a multi-author series called “Villain’s Ever After,” this fantasy novel retells the Rapunzel tale with a fresh perspective on Gothel and her alleged captive. The sorceress Gothel encourages the local villagers to think she’s evil so they will leave her alone. The magic of the forest surrounding her tower misdirects would-be intruders into aimless wandering. The reader learns of her truly ethical nature and the close bond between her and her foster daughter long before the prince of the title does. When Prince Lucien, a younger son who chose the unconventional vocation of mage instead of military prowess, hears about the princess imprisoned in the forest, he doesn’t charge in to rescue her by force like all the other knights in the past. Instead, he takes the time to talk with the princess—who’s afraid of men as well as the outside world—and open negotiations with the sorceress instead of trying to kill her on sight. Unwillingly intrigued as well as annoyed, when Gothel can’t get rid of Lucien, she forms a magical True Bargain with him. Every day, each must truthfully answer three questions from the other. If Lucien tries to break the Bargain before Gothel is satisfied with his answers, he will lose both his magic and his life. The pact ends when she’s satisfied. At that point, she’ll release the princess (playing along with his belief that Rapunzel is a prisoner) and forfeit her magic to him. If she decides satisfaction is impossible, she can terminate the Bargain, whereupon she will absorb Lucien’s magic. Naturally, the more they get to know about each other, the more reluctant she is to inflict that penalty upon him. Yet she can’t afford to lose her own power. The reader gets acquainted with the two protagonists in the process of their learning about each other. Lucien’s intelligence, kindness, and self-deprecating humor entertainingly collide with Gothel’s conflict between her carefully hidden softer side and her determination to maintain the “evil enchantress” image. Meanwhile, Lucien and the reader discover the truth of Rapunzel’s traumatic past. When Lucien’s father leads a troop of knights and mages to besiege Gothel’s tower, she and Lucien must work together to repel the attack. And how can the two of them resolve the seemingly irreconcilable condition that one must end up stripped of his or her magic? These two strong characters enthralled me with the sparks that fly as their relationship deepens.

QUICKSILVER, by Dean Koontz. I like this novel, a thriller that tends more toward fantasy than Koontz’s usual science-fictional suspense tales, better than many of his other recent books. It’s not dominated by his tediously typical villain, a sociopathic, self-deluded would-be superman; one such person does appear, but as a secondary character who doesn’t take up too much space. And I must admit his extravagant lair displays a grotesquely fascinating blend of luxury and horror. The narrator, Quinn Quicksilver, a bright, well-read nineteen-year-old with an engaging voice, works as a feature writer for a regional magazine in Arizona. Found as a newborn baby in a bassinette in the middle of a desert highway, he grew up in a combination orphanage and school run by strict but kindly nuns. Although not THE Chosen One, he turns out to be one of many destined champions scattered across the world, a role telegraphed by the names of the three men who rescued him in infancy from that highway—Hakeem Kaspar, Bailie Belshazzer, and Caesar Melchizadek. Quinn awakens to something radically different about himself when two men from a shadowy federal agency try to arrest him in his neighborhood diner. Their references to his “unique” nature make no sense to him. Fleeing and acquiring a substitute vehicle from a sympathetic acquaintance, Quinn finds himself drawn by what he later learns to call “psychic magnetism” to an abandoned barn where he rescues a young woman named Bridget and her grandfather, Sparky. Retired from an undisclosed career that involved weapons and combat training, Sparky now writes romance novels under a pen name. Bridget, who has the same kind of psychic powers Quinn now begins to develop, has been waiting two years for him to show up so they can get married after settling the current crisis. He wants to view their mission as a quest with a finite goal, while she insists they have a lifetime commitment as guardians of the natural law. Throughout the book, between fights for survival against enemies both human and inhuman, the two of them exchange delightful screwball-comedy style dialogue. Their desperate flight begins when Quinn and Bridget spot a pair of men who hide alien horrors beneath human guise. (Sparky, like most people, can’t see their true form.) Along the way, naturally, this being a Koontz novel, Quinn and his companions pick up a dog, in this case a German shepherd instead of the usual golden retriever. A seer named Panthea later joins them. The monsters, Bridget explains, have invaded our world from another universe they’ve reduced to rubble, in search of new realms to destroy. Called Nihilim, they oppose their uncorrupted kin, who have planted people such as Quinn and Bridget on Earth to defend humanity. The Nihilim are almost Lovecraftian in their sheerly repulsive alienness but also echo myths of fallen angels. The climax of the story draws together the seemingly unrelated elements of the Nihilim, the billionaire sociopath cult leader, and the orphanage of Quinn’s childhood into a plausible unity. The team’s mission culminates in a satisfying conclusion, though not without grievous loss, yet leaves room for sequels. I like the fact that Quinn has no desire to become the Chosen One and that his unfolding psychic gifts don’t corrupt him.

GOOD NEIGHBORS, by Stephanie Burgis. Another fantasy novel set in an alternate England or Europe, this one apparently unrelated to either Burgis’s Harwood Spellbook Regency Britain, her Kat Incorrigible series, her new Regency Dragons series that began with SCALES AND SENSIBILITY, or the Middle-European dragon tales for younger readers. Although part of GOOD NEIGHBORS has been previously published, the story as a whole is new, apparently expanded from the first section. It takes place in a society where magic exists openly but is viewed with suspicion. After Mia Brandt and her father are driven out of their previous home by magic-haters whose arsonist attack on their house has left her father’s legs permanently damaged, the residents of their new village warn them against taking a house near the mansion of the local necromancer. Since being left alone is what Mia wants most, she ignores that advice. As a metal mage, she allows the neighbors to know about her metal craft but not her magic. Her father, an expert metalworker, has lapsed into depression. In the book’s opening novella, the necromancer, Leander Fabian, repeatedly dispatches his undead minions to shamble toward Mia’s home. She eventually realizes that he isn’t sending them to attack her. Instead, he’s tricking her into repairing the sloppily constructed undead he inherited from his predecessor. As Mia and Leander become friendly acquaintances and allies, she begins to feel a reluctant attraction toward him. This first section has a sparkling sense of fun, with any darkness kept in the background. The remaining three parts mingle more suspense and danger with the humor, romance, and society shenanigans, ultimately becoming rather dark as Leander, Mia, and her father confront a repressive anti-magic “Purity” movement that threatens their lives and those of newfound allies and friends. Mia resists her feelings for Leander, unsure whether he reciprocates, but of course the romantic tension is ultimately resolved along with their defeat of the dire threats they face together. Even Mia’s father finds love, from a most unexpected source. A delightful story with plenty of entertaining twists.

THE LOST GIRLS, by Sonia Hartl. One of the most unusual vampire novels I’ve read in quite a while. First-person narrator Holly’s story emphasizes, not the horrors perpetrated by vampires, but the horror of being one. Perpetually sixteen, she was turned in 1987. Without access to a handy fortune or the patronage of an ancient undead lord, she has to work at the minimum-wage jobs open to an apparent teenager with no documentation. For a “home,” she’s stuck with a cheap motel room. Hartl’s vampires remain frozen in the condition in which they died. Holly can’t even alter her unwisely chosen hairstyle. Damage to the body heals instantly, but wounds, scars, and blemishes that exist at the final moment of mortal life never change. Detached limbs, evisceration, even severed heads repair themselves within a minute or two. (I can’t imagine how growing a new head could work, though. How do intelligence and memory make the transition? Well, it’s magic, I guess.) Fire isn’t mentioned. Wouldn’t incineration to ashes dispose of them? Or maybe they’re flame-proof. Sunlight and typical repellents such as garlic and religious objects have no effect. The narrative foregrounds hyper-acute vampire senses with frequent analyses of how people smell and taste. On the other hand, these vampires don’t seem to have mind-control mesmeric powers. They also suffer the disadvantage of being psychically tethered to their makers. Holly has to follow Ethan, who transformed her, wherever he chooses to travel, although she hasn’t seen him face-to-face in many years. When the other two apparently teenage girls he turned and abandoned before her, Ida (in 1921) and Rose (in 1954), contact her, Holly’s equilibrium, such as it is, crumbles. Ethan had claimed Holly was the first person who had restored his capacity for love and made undead immortality bearable. Learning he used similar lines on her two predecessors obliterates whatever attraction to him she still felt despite his controlling, emotionally abusive treatment of her. Now he plans to seduce and transform a new victim, a student at Holly’s old high school. Ida and Rose, who want to destroy him before he can consummate that plan, need Holly’s help. Killing an otherwise indestructible creature involves a ritual that requires all his vampire offspring. When Holly ventures into her old school to become acquainted with the prospective next victim and try to persuade her to break up with Ethan, Holly’s past presses upon her, as if time were a sentient entity hostile to unnatural beings such as the undead. She and the new girl quickly form an attachment, although vampire conventional wisdom maintains that involvement with the living never works well. Meanwhile, preparation for the attack on Ethan encounters obstacles and dangers, since he has vampire allies on his side, too. The lifestyles of Ida and Rose make the grim fly-in-amber nature of vampire immortality even clearer than Holly’s dreary existence does, yet all three of them cherish the hope for freedom promised by the prospect of liberation from their maker’s shadow. If they succeed, they’ll face heart-wrenching loss as well as a chance at a genuine fresh start. I highly recommend this book, but it’s not perfect. For one thing, why do they always have to kill their prey? Because they don’t have the power to make victims forget, I guess, but this feature still bugs me. Why don’t they get caught? Surely not every death can be counted on to pass as a wild animal attack? More important is a flaw I can’t specify without a major spoiler. Suffice it to say that here’s a case where present-tense narrative would make sense. Or maybe the author should have chosen a third-person narrative voice. If the consequences of the destruction ritual unfold as described, Holly couldn’t be telling certain vital parts of this story.

*****

Excerpt from “Calling Back Love”:

The leather-bound notebook lay open on the redwood kitchen table, its scrawls of black ink a mockery of Kirsten’s faint hopes. “I’ve scoured every page of Grandmamma’s Book of Shadows. I can’t find one word about what I need.” She slammed the book shut. “Not a thing about restoring life to a person killed before his time.”

“And you won’t.” Estelle shook her head, the spring of her salt-and-pepper curls punctuating the decree. “No magic can call back the dead. And even if it could, you know that never ends well. You’ve read ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ and that book about the cursed pet cemetery.”

“But I can’t leave it like this. When we talked on Skype the night before his last patrol, we had another fight about his career. I came this close to making him choose between the Army and me. We didn’t have a real goodbye. If there’s any way magic can give me one more chance, I’ll take it.” In the two months since the report of Shawn’s presumed death in Afghanistan, the memory of that argument had been eating her alive.

“When I promised your grandmother I’d mentor you in the Craft, I accepted certain responsibilities, one of which is to stop you from making reckless choices.”

Kirsten rubbed her eyes, sore from yet another crying fit just before she’d come here, and stared at her mentor with wild hope. “You wouldn’t talk about stopping me if it weren’t possible in the first place. Okay, witchcraft can’t bring the dead back to life. How about calling up his spirit so we can have one last conversation?”

“Have you ever seen me conduct a séance? Me or any other responsible witch? It’s against nature to disturb the peace of the dead.” Estelle strolled to the counter to pour two mugs of coffee. The window over the sink framed her silhouette against a serene background of sun-dappled trees, in ironic contrast to the turmoil that racked Kirsten. Her teacher’s spacious kitchen with its granite floor, exposed oak beams and aromas of drying herbs usually welcomed her with its warmth. Today it felt as bleak as the rest of the world.

“I don’t believe he’s at peace. He was blown to bits on a mountainside with nothing left to bring home.” Survivors of the platoon had reported two explosions, the second of which had obliterated Shawn. No remains had been found, not even a minute fragment, hence the “missing and presumed dead” conclusion that left him in official limbo. “We were supposed to get married after he finished this tour. The IED stole that from us. I’m not at peace with that so how can he be, wherever he is?” She shoved aside the mug Estelle set in front of her.

The older woman clasped her hand across the table. “When the gift for magic skipped your mother, your grandmother entrusted your training to me. She’d find a way to rise up and haunt me if I let you risk yourself with any such dark working.”

“There you go again, hinting at something you’re hiding from me. Well, maybe I don’t need your help. There’s got to be somebody on the left-hand path who’ll teach me what I need to know.”

Estelle’s thin face hardened, as stern as an avenging angel’s, her blue eyes turning icy. “Don’t even think that. Do you imagine for one minute the Goddess would shelter you from the consequences?”

-end of excerpt-

*****

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