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Welcome to the January 2021 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

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

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!

Happy New Year! To quote (approximately) Col. Potter from MASH, “Here’s to the new year. May it be a durn sight better than the last one.”

In keeping with the season of “in the bleak midwinter,” below is an excerpt from an early scene in my vampire novel CHILD OF TWILIGHT. Vampire-human hybrid Gillian, age twelve, has run away from her mentor, Volnar. She plans to seek refuge with her half-human father, although they’ve met only once, when she was a toddler. Professor Grier is a man who gave her a ride on the highway; she fled from his car when he accidentally witnessed her changing shape for the first time. CHILD OF TWILIGHT appears in my two-novel omnibus TWILIGHT’S CHANGELINGS:

Twilight’s Changelings

A new vampire research publication, the JOURNAL OF VAMPIRE STUDIES, has been inaugurated, and I have a book review in it. If interested, you can purchase a copy of the first issue here:

Journal of Vampire Studies

My first guest of the year is Leah Charifson, an award-winning author of STAR TREK fan fiction.

*****

Interview with Leah Charifson:

I suppose the most interesting thing about me is how many times I’ve changed my name in my search for an identity. In New York, as Leslye-Ann Bravin, I grew up in a (dysfunctional) family where my father told stories through art and my mother told stories through music. My maternal grandmother was a poet. The thing that we did have in my house that was readily available to me were books. All kinds of books and both parents were big on science fiction. We also had a library at the end of the street. I became an avid reader at an early age and have never stopped.

The first fanfic I ever wrote was about the series Bonanza. That was in grade school and my best friend and I would fill composition books with stories about the Cartwrights. We even invented a twin for Little Joe because we both liked him the best. I wrote my first mystery in sixth grade. It was about a boat sailing the ocean and the passengers were getting killed off. Each time somebody died an eerie voice would proclaim, “It floats.” At the very end my protagonist stood on the bow of the ship and screamed, “What floats?”

And the ocean replied, “Ivory Soap floats!”

What you want? I it was 1958 and I was in the sixth grade. My teacher laughed and that encouraged me to keep writing.

Let’s skip ahead to September 8, 1966. I was 16 years old and far more interested in my boyfriend then I was in watching the new science fiction show on TV. But as we only had one TV and everybody else wanted to watch Trek, I did too. I found it entertaining and became a frequent viewer, when I wasn’t involved with peer activities.

September 15, 1967. I was a HS senior and I had a date. My mother insisted that I should sit down and watch this show until my date arrived. “You’ll like this alien,” she said. “He’s sexy,” she said.

Ten minutes into Amok Time and I was hooked. I made my date watch til the end with me before we left.

In 1975, now married and known as Leslye Lilker, I was devoutly watching Trek in syndication, I became troubled with the big three (Kirk, Spock, McCoy) ‘spreading their seed,’ as Sargon would say, on every planet they landed. Okay. Hyperbole. But you get it. One of them was going to reproduce. The most likely candidate was Kirk, of course, so he was no fun. Bones? He already had a daughter. But Spock? My sexy alien? My sexy, young, unemotional Vulcan? What if he had to accept being a father to a ten-year-old three quarter Vulcan, raised by humans, whose first words to him were, “Take your logic and shove it widthwise.”

And that was the start of the Sahaj Universe. Encouraged by my then co-editor, Linda Silverman, I wrote the story where Sahaj and Spock met for the first time. I wrote the story badly. Ungrammatically. Full of misspellings. Typos. Used ‘it’s’ for ‘its.’ Found out about a con in Pittsburgh. Learned that other people also wrote fanfic and sold it in zines, at cons. So Linda and I went to Pittsburgh with 25 copies of IDIC #1, cover by Doug Drexler, and, at $2 a copy, sold out in the first ten minutes. I had no idea that Sahaj would be so well received, and that my little, badly written story, “The Ambassador’s Son,” would morph into a saga which is still continuing.

While people responded to the story, they also rightfully criticized it for the plot holes and all the other flaws a baby writer puts into a story. I received many a letter of comment, filled with constructive criticism, and I tried to take each one to heart. But the readers wanted more about Sahaj and his developing relationship with Spock, with Kirk, and with McCoy. And, of course, with Sarek and Amanda.

We didn’t have social media then. Everything was done by snail mail. Advertising was by word of mouth and reviews in other zines. At one point, I had a world-wide distribution of over 3,000 copies of each issue. The Forging earned Fan Q awards at T’Con, 1978, for both writing (me, with lots of support from lots of people) and for Alice Jones’ exquisite artwork. It may sound like boasting, but be assured, I was terrified to find people liked my work. As an introvert, I found it challenging to speak on panels, play my guitar and sing, and hear praise for what I’d done. Practice helped, and I when I was the auctioneer at one of the art auctions in NY, I actually had fun!

I still find it hard to accept praise, though. I kind of feel that I’m just the conduit, and not the creator.

I divorced in 1977 and remarried in 1983, to another Trek fan, moved to California, and became known as Leslye Lubkin. David and I had a daughter, Joanna (yes, we tipped our hat to McCoy) in 1985. She became a third generation fan on my side, and a fourth generation fan on David’s side.

Another divorce in 1991 brought me to Little Rock, Arkansas, of all places. I was now known as Leslye Morrow, married in 1993 to another Trek fan, who I had met on line.

In 2004 I went back to school to finish my BA in Multicultural literature. My daughter and I both graduated college in 2005. I was fifty-five years old, and entered a program to earn a non-traditional teacher’s license. As Jacqueline Lichtenberg (Kraith. Sime-Gen) once told me: “Learn one. Teach one.” Since I was teaching high school English and ESL in Little Rock’s famous Central High, and writing was part of the curriculum, I was forced to pay attention to what had become habit to me. In helping my students improve their writing, I must have been improving my own.

I usually start out by dreaming something. Then I begin to construct a bacon cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato and cheese (not kosher, I know!) on a bun. That’s the analogy I gave my students so they’d understand how all the elements of a story depend on the meat, or theme – the universal truth according to the author.

If more information on those elements are needed, please google ‘elements of fiction.’ If I start explaining those elements this interview will turn into a textbook.

I am a visual learner. I also am linear and concrete. This creates an inner editor who is ruthless and unforgiving. That means I write and rewrite and add and subtract, and multiply, and divide until I can read my story and it makes sense to me (at least, until the next time I read it!). It’s kind of like an artist, sketching a drawing on canvass and then filling in the details to make the picture pop. Then I turn it over to my Beta readers, who find most of the mistakes I’ve made.

So far, there are sixteen short stories (one by NTM’s creator and professional author, Jean Lorrah), five novellas, and two novels in the Sahaj Universe, with more coming, albeit slowly. Some of the early stories have been edited and revised. Some are brand new. The original artwork by Alice Jones, PS Nim, Signe Landon, Gordon Carlton, Gee Moaven, and Doug Drexler have been included in the new versions.

For the last name change, that occurred in 2011, when I divorced for the third time. I chose to take my Hebrew name, Leah, and my maternal grandfather’s last name, to honor him. So I became Leah Hannah Charifson, and I have no intention of changing it again.

People are welcome to visit Sahaj’s e-book store (donate as little as $1 to download, and some are free) at
Sahaj Continues.
We also host other authors, universes, and genres. Any questions can be directed to sahaj.of.vulcan@ gmail.com.

I’ve also got a private group, made up of 135 original fans who are readers, writers, artists, poets, and musicians. We always have room for one more and anything Trek related is welcome. You’ll find Sahaj Continued here:
Facebook: Sahaj Continued.

Margaret Carter, I am humbled by your request for an interview. May you, and your readers, live long and prosper.

*****

Some Books I’ve Read Lately:

JOLENE, by Mercedes Lackey. The first Elemental Masters novel not set in Britain or Europe, this one takes place in the mountains of Tennessee around 1890. I enjoyed the Appalachian setting, culture, and dialect (with one exception, mentioned below) very much. The contrast between traditional mountain farming communities and the lives of coal miners on the constant edge of poverty in thrall to the company store weaves a thread through the plot. Sixteen-year-old Anna, the weak, sickly daughter of a miner and his wife, longs for the greenery and clean air of the woods. But, like every child in town, she spends her days toiling at whatever chores she has the strength for. Her timid mother stands up to her overbearing father, for once, to insist Anna be sent to live with Aunt Jinny, whose potions help to support the family as well as maintaining Anna in some semblance of health. Anna has qualms about leaving home, despite the low-grade misery that pervades its atmosphere along with the literal poison in the air from the mine. After all, she’s going to live with an aunt who’s a stranger to her, with a reputation for witchcraft. Aunt Jinny’s cottage turns out to seem luxurious compared to Anna’s old home. Jinny herself is at first brusque but not unkind. Anna settles in more or less comfortably even though she sometimes catches glimpses of odd things around the house. As Anna becomes more proficient at her new tasks, Jinny realizes she has a talent for magic, which Jinny calls “the Glory.” Meanwhile, Anna becomes healthier and stronger. Readers familiar with the Elemental Masters series will quickly realize that Anna, as an Earth magician, has been weakened all her life by the foul atmosphere of the mining town. She becomes acquainted with Earth elementals as well as a clan of Cherokees living in a secluded hollow nearby. She also meets and begins to fall in love with Josh, a young stone carver with the talent of a true artist. The title character, Jolene, doesn’t appear until about a third of the way through the book. Discerning Anna’s gift, Jolene offers to teach her things Jinny would be unwilling or unable to. A creature of the fae who, as Anna learns by reading her great-grandfather’s journal, came with him to the New World, Jolene is an enigmatic figure. Not evil but not precisely good either, she is benevolent toward people she favors but dangerous to those who offend her. She also becomes interested in Josh because of his artistic gift. The novel derives its folkloric background from a fairy tale new to me, “The Mistress of the Copper Mountain,” a Slavic legend. It also alludes to the familiar country song (“Jolene, Jolene, I’m begging of you, please don’t take my man”) almost verbatim in one dialogue passage. The actual villain, a mine foreman with powerful elemental magic, who desires Anna for her gift as well as her body, doesn’t show up until near the end. I didn’t mind, though, since the relationship between Anna and her aunt, Anna’s introduction the magical realm, and the Appalachian setting riveted my interest. Aside from a few typos, only two stylistic flaws bothered me. A minor one is the phonetic spelling of occasional words that have ordinary mainstream English pronunciations, e.g., “close” for “clothes,” an unnecessary and distracting mannerism. The other, more important, is the constant use of “y’all” for the singular. Granted, I’ve never lived in Tennessee; however, I never heard my older relatives who spoke a North Carolina dialect use “y’all” as anything but a plural.

HOW THE KING OF ELFHAME LEARNED TO HATE STORIES, by Holly Black. This collection of connected tales, a spinoff from Black’s Folk of the Air trilogy (THE CRUEL PRINCE, etc.), would be fully accessible only to readers of that series. Here we learn about episodes from Prince (now King of Elfhame) Cardan’s childhood and youth as an unwanted, even scorned younger son. As the cover blurb puts it, we see how he developed a “heart of stone.” The stories from the past are framed by an opening and closing sequence in which King Cardan and his mortal changeling queen, Jude, travel on a mission to the human world. In keeping with the fairy-tale tone of the title, over the course of the chapters a troll woman tells young Cardan the legend of a boy with a heart of stone, but she changes the narrative slightly each time. The book is illustrated with numerous evocative drawings. Fans of the trilogy will definitely want this volume.

SUBVERSIVE, by Crystal Downing. The subtitle of this book effectively summarizes its thesis: “Christ, Culture, and the Subversive Dorothy Sayers.” Although touching upon some biographical details in passing, the book mainly focuses on analysis of various theological and cultural themes in Sayers’s nonfiction works such as THE MIND OF THE MAKER and her many essays, as well as THE MAN BORN TO BE KING, her radio play cycle on the life of Christ, and stand-alone dramas such as THE ZEAL OF THY HOUSE. The author also explores how Sayers’s ideas are dramatized in the Lord Peter Wimsey series, notably GAUDY NIGHT. While reading the introduction, I braced myself for the prospect of a book comprising mostly explications of materials the typical fan of Sayers’s nonfiction would already be familiar with. However, happily, SUBVERSIVE proves to be much more than that. The author explores lesser-known works by Sayers and quotes from more obscure sources such as letters, making cogent, in-depth connections among a wide range of writings. In my opinion, the term “subversive” is applied rather broadly at some points, occasionally stretched beyond its usual definition to make it fit the book’s thesis. Sayers herself might have reservations about being labeled “subversive” for summarizing and commenting on perfectly orthodox (with a small O) mainline Christian doctrines, not to mention posing the seemingly obvious question, “Are Women Human?” On the whole, though, I found Downing’s work absorbing and informative, well worth the read for any Sayers devotee. I could have done without most of Downing’s attempts to apply Sayers’s ideas to contemporary issues, especially when accompanied by anecdotes from the author’s personal experience. But those passages didn’t feel so obtrusive as to detract from the book’s overall effect.

*****

Excerpt from CHILD OF TWILIGHT:

And now, reflected Gillian as she maintained her steady trot, Professor Grier knew there was something strange about her. He didn’t merely have cause for suspicion; he had seen her change. She had broken one of the most vital rules. She couldn’t begin to guess how Dr. Volnar would punish her if she went back to him. So she didn’t dare go back, not for a long time. Her father, at least, would understand. Maybe.

After a while the rain stopped. Her energy was fading again. Wearing only the remains of a blouse, she found the night chilly and wished for her jacket, which she’d left in Grier’s van. Along with the backpack containing extra clothes and everything else she’d paused to grab on her way out of the hotel in Atlanta. She fingered her one remaining asset, the delicate gold cross that hung around her neck. That was worth money, she knew, but she had no idea where to sell jewelry. She wasted little thought on her losses. More important at the moment, she needed food.

Slowing to a walk, she tiptoed soundlessly among the trees, listening and sniffing the air. The wet soil and plants carried odors well. Within a few minutes she scented a rabbit crouched under an evergreen bush. Squatting a few feet away, Gillian focused on the motionless animal. The healthy glow of its aura made her mouth water. Still as a stone herself, with one hand outstretched, she silently called to the rabbit. This talent she had possessed for several years. Unlike her new sensitivity to human emotions, her link with animals didn’t overwhelm her and shatter her control.

The rabbit inched from beneath the tangled branches and gave a tentative hop in her direction. Gillian held her breath. She mustn’t make a hasty move and scare the creature away. It hopped closer. She encouraged it with a soothing hum. One more hop and it hunched within reach of her hand. She stroked the rough fur on its back until the rabbit’s racing heartbeat calmed. Picking it up, she cradled the animal in her arms, exposing the nearly hairless belly.

Its body heat was balm to her cold, aching limbs. With a sigh of relief she sat down against a tree and pressed her mouth to the rabbit’s abdomen. The razor-sharp edge of her incisors opened a minute slit in the skin, and she sucked avidly. Her prey sank into sleep, coma, and finally death without the slightest spasm of pain.

Gently laying aside the drained body, she resumed walking. Soon dawn would force her to seek shelter. She couldn’t travel any farther without a good day’s rest. About an hour later, she came upon a dense thicket of pines tainted by no lingering scent of human intrusion. From the map she’d consulted, she knew this area must be part of a national forest. The trees would screen her from the view of low-flying light aircraft as well as from the sun. With luck nobody would stumble across her hiding place while she slept.

She nestled into a pile of sodden leaves, grumbling at the chill and dampness. All the other times she’d spent the day outside, the excursions had been planned. Volnar had provided her with a sleeping bag and pup tent. How she longed for those amenities now! Tired as she was, though, discomfort couldn’t keep her awake for long. Nor could the worries that revolved endlessly in her head. Would her father accept her at least temporarily, or try to send her back to Volnar? She knew her father hadn’t wanted a child. He’d been pressured into begetting Gillian. Half-human himself, he had bequeathed human genes to her, traits that made her incomplete, defective—or so she’d heard it whispered for most of her life. On the other hand, human fathers, unlike males among Gillian’s mother’s people, were supposed to care for their children. Why hadn’t Gillian’s father defied Volnar’s rules to contact her at least occasionally?

-end of excerpt-

*****

My Publishers:

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

You can contact me at: MLCVamp@aol.com

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

Welcome to the December 2020 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

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

My Goodreads page:
Goodreads

Best wishes to all for your favorite winter holidays!

As you probably know, Yahoo Groups will cease to exist in mid-December. Therefore, this will be the last newsletter distributed through the mailing list. It will continue to appear on my website every month here:

Newsletters

I’ll announce the release of each issue on my author Facebook page, cited above. Please “Like” it so you won’t miss any announcements. Thanks!

Speaking of the holiday season, I haven’t written any specifically Christmas-themed novels, although my vampire novel CHILD OF TWILIGHT (now incorporated in the self-published, two-novel omnibus TWILIGHT’S CHANGELINGS) is set in December. My one actual Yuletide story, “Little Cat Feet,” inspired by the legends of animals talking on Christmas Eve, appears in my story collection DAME ONYX TREASURES: LOVE AMONG THE MONSTERS:

Dame Onyx Treasures

In the excerpt below, the teenage runaway protagonist has just saved a stray cat from a pair of hoodlums.

This month’s interview brings a delightful blast from the past for me, a discussion with fantasy author Katherine X. Rylien, who had several stories in my long-ago fanzine, THE VAMPIRE’S CRYPT. To download a free copy of her story collection, VAMPIRE DREAMS, visit here:

Vampire Dreams

*****

Interview with Katherine X. Rylien:

What inspired you to begin writing?

I write for the same reason I read—to visit a world that’s more interesting, more satisfying, than everyday life. For escape and adventure. When I was a kid, I used to read paperbacks in class. They were usually confiscated by the teacher. I found that if I scribbled in a notebook instead, I could get away with that, especially if I glanced up occasionally with a thoughtful expression.

What genres do you work in?

Most of what I write falls into the fantasy category. I love writing about vampires, and they tend to creep into storylines that didn’t originally include them.

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

Definitely wing it. When I get to the end of a longer work, I have to do an after-the-fact outline to figure out what the book is about. Inevitably, I have to cut scenes that I love but that don’t contribute to the plot, which is where some of my short stories come from.

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

I’m going to focus on the writers who formed my thinking about vampirism. Fred Saberhagen’s Dracula series made a big impression on me. He writes about a vampire who is neither good nor evil, a mostly sympathetic character who follows his own moral code, but is capable of violence when he deems it appropriate. I also loved Anne Rice’s vampire books, particular the early ones, and George R. R. Martin’s Fevre Dream.

What kind of vampires do you write about?

My vampires were once normal human beings, before being converted through blood intimacies. They can’t turn into bats, wolves or mist, although they are able to enter locked buildings by melting through a wall or door (there’s no supernatural force preventing them from entering a dwelling without invitation). They have their own culture and laws, which differ from one group to another. Subsisting mostly on animal blood, they feed on humans in two distinct circumstances; gently and with restraint, as their primary form of lovemaking—or as a blood sport, in which a group of vampires chases down a warmblooded enemy, draining and then decapitating their quarry to prevent any unintended conversion.

How did you become interested in vampires, and what about them particularly appeals to you?

I can remember being around ten years old and seeing a black-and-white Dracula movie at the Little Art Theater. Walking home in the darkness, I decided I wanted to be a vampire. I used to walk past an abandoned house at night in the hope that one might come out and bite me, and I made a coffin out of an old banana crate which I lined with a cut-up sleeping bag. I liked the idea of staying out all night and doing what I pleased. Immortality, that’s a big selling point, along with strength and speed and supernatural abilities. Once I hit adolescence, the erotic aspect helped maintain my interest.

Please tell us about the contents of your story collection. Also, why did you decide to release it as a free e-book?

Vampire Dreams consists of eight short stories, six of which involve vampires. The other two, I’d describe as dark fantasy. I mostly want people to read it! I’d rather have a hundred people download it for free than sell half-a dozen copies and end up with lunch money.

What do you see as the particular challenges in writing short-form fiction?

I find short stories much easier than a novel, but they require discipline and attention to detail. A clumsy line in a three-page story does more damage than it would on page 152 of a novel. If you’ve made it that far into the book, you’re probably caught up in the story and might not even notice. Or so we hope.

Did you have help with formatting, etc., or do it all on your own? What advice do you have on this and other issues for authors who consider self-publishing?

I love Smashwords, which is where I published Vampire Dreams. They have a style guide which makes the formatting requirements very clear. Fair disclosure, I work in IT, so I’m used to parsing instruction manuals. My advice is, download the style guide and give it a shot, but if it gets too frustrating and you’re not having fun anymore, pay someone to do it for you. The site maintains a list of people who do that, mostly for under $100. One reason I love Smashwords is that they clearly want you to succeed.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently putting the finishing touches on my book, Blood Relations:

Renee lives surrounded by ghosts that are produced by a cotemporal field—an invention of her ancestor, Larson, who vanished over a hundred years earlier. This technology encompasses a limited form of time travel, allowing Larson’s descendants to visit alternate versions of the past or future, often without realizing it. Exploring the strange properties of her ancestral home, Renee learns to travel between timelines by an act of will, which leads her to develop other unusual abilities.

Renee’s extended family seldom leave their property, with the exception of Uncle Wilbur, a vampire. Inspired by his example, Renee visits Abbey Keep, a vampire enclave, where she finds it difficult to resist the seductive allure of the inhabitants. When the Keep is threatened by vampire hunters, she’s recruited by Lord Stephan Kiernan to use her unique talents in its defense. It gets personal when Larson escapes the cotemporal field and joins the battle on the side of Abbey Keep’s enemies.

Blood Relations will be released as a free e-book, sometime in the next few months. If you’d like be notified when it’s available for download, make a free account on smashwords.com, and subscribe to updates on my author’s page. Or you can contact me at katherine.rylien@gmail.com.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Read. Write. Then read some more. I’ve been inspired by excellent writing, and also by questionable prose that left me thinking, “I can do better than this.” Sometimes by the same author, and even within the same book.

*****

Some Books I’ve Read Lately:

THE MIDNIGHT BARGAIN, by C. L. Polk. This fantasy novel takes place in an early-industrial world reminiscent of a Jane Austen novel. Upper-class characters are preoccupied with making ideal marriages for their offspring, for the social and financial benefit of the family. The heroine, Beatrice, knows about the financial troubles arising from her father’s speculative investments. Her awareness of the family’s need for her to marry well becomes urgent when she learns her father has mortgaged their estate to finance her first “bargaining season,” the social whirl in which men seek brides. Young women have to be shown to their best advantage while navigating excruciatingly complex etiquette standards. Her younger sister’s future, too, depends on her performance. All this tension is exacerbated by the importance of magic, which in this world is accomplished by making bargains with spirits. Only men and unmarried women can practice sorcery, and women are allowed to bond only with lesser spirits. In Beatrice’s country, all married women wear collars to suppress their magic, because a spirit can enter an unborn baby. Such a child is born essentially demon-possessed and can’t be cured but must be destroyed. Women are valued not for their own magical talent but for their capacity to bear sorcerer sons. Beatrice doesn’t want to get married and lose her magic to a collar. She wants to remain a spinster, helping her father with the financial side of his business. Having learned to read the cryptic codes in women-authored grimoires, she has been collecting them in secret, hoping to forge a pact with a greater spirit. When she meets a foreign visitor, Ysbeta, in the city for the bargaining season, Beatrice learns both of them have similar dreams. Ysbeta wants to travel the world seeking out occult knowledge and promulgating it to women everywhere. At first rivals in the quest for a certain tome, they become friends and covert experimenters together. Beatrice summons and bonds with a lesser spirit as a preliminary to the greater conjuration. At the same time, however, she meets Ysbeta’s brother, Ianthe (didn’t the author know that Greek name is feminine?), the one man Beatrice realizes she could love. In his country, women wear collars only when pregnant or trying to conceive. She can’t imagine accepting even this limitation, though. Meanwhile, other young gentlemen pursue both her and Ysbeta. Beatrice becomes fond of her spirit companion, but that doesn’t alter the inconvenient fact that the entity is capricious and impulsive. One social faux pas and near-exposure after another ramps up the tension, while Beatrice is ever more intensely pressured to choose a husband. The conflicts rise to a cumulative disaster both magical and familial. The worldbuilding is fascinating, and Beatrice’s plight kept me riveted as the author creates mounting suspense about how she could possibly reconcile ambition with love. The parallels to restrictions imposed on women in our culture not so long ago (and to some extent still) are obvious. In the epilogue, we see Beatrice and Ianthe leading a movement reminiscent of the real-world campaign for women’s suffrage.

A DOG’S PERFECT CHRISTMAS, by W. Bruce Cameron. To appreciate this novel, there’s no need to have read the author’s prior dog books. This feel-good family story stands alone, unrelated to other works such as A DOG’S PURPOSE. There’s less dog-viewpoint content than in the other two I read (told entirely in the first person by a dog), and it may be stretching a point to claim the puppy saves the family, as implied in the cover blurb. The puppy, however, does serve as a catalyst to stir the human characters out of their near-despair and set them on the path to renewal of loving bonds despite the adversity they face. Widower Sandor Goss and his elderly wolfhound live with Sandor’s son’s family. Mired in depression, Sandor does little except sit in his room, having no meaningful interaction with his son Hunter, his daughter-in-law Juliana, or their children, eighth-grader Ello and twin three-year-old boys (who converse in their private gibberish that only Ello can translate most of the time). Hunter confronts a disaster at work when his pet project goes wrong in a darkly humorous way. Overwhelmed by the twins and missing her career as a trial attorney, Juliana announces she’s unhappy in the marriage and wants major changes. Ello has entered the adolescent stage of fraught relationships with both her parents and her classmates. At one point, Sandor contemplates suicide. All these troubles build to an acute crisis when Juliana falls critically ill and has to be hospitalized. Around the same time, Ello picks up an abandoned puppy whom she names Ruby. In the midst of the havoc, the obvious step of taking Ruby to the animal shelter keeps getting put off, until it’s tacitly accepted that she will stay. The necessity of keeping the household functional, with the addition of a new pet, the absence of the mother, and Hunter constantly at the office, forces the family to work together. Sandor emerges from his isolation and bonds with his granddaughter. He even takes the two dogs to the dog park, where he meets a bevy of widowed ladies who show inordinate interest in him. The canine-viewpoint scenes, although occupying far less space than the human-centered passages, are warmly engaging. The author allows ample space to explore every human character’s perspective (well, except the three-year-old boys), so that we sympathize with all of them even while they clash with each other. The story concludes, of course, with Christmas and a sentimental yet realistic and well-earned happy ending. For readers who can’t stand to see animals die in fiction, I’m happy to report that the old dog survives the book, contrary to my apprehensions.

KITTY’S MIX-TAPE, a collection of short fiction by Carrie Vaughn. Readers can appreciate many of these stories set in the world of Kitty Norville, werewolf late-night radio host, without having read the novels. The tales cover a wide range of locations and eras. The side adventures about secondary characters—vampires, werewolves, selkies, magicians—don’t require any background to understand, although of course past acquaintance with some of them would enhance one’s enjoyment. Even the pieces featuring Kitty herself include enough context to enable a new reader to understand what’s going on. Although I haven’t read several later books in the series, I didn’t have any trouble following the plots and characters. In fact, after finishing the collection I was inspired to buy the final novel, KITTY SAVES THE WORLD, which I found thoroughly absorbing. The works in this collection, the majority of them new to me, are mostly reprinted from a variety of sources; however, four are original to this volume. So fans of Carrie Vaughn will definitely want this book, while new readers might find it an accessible, intriguing introduction to Kitty and her companions and foes.

THE ANGEL OF THE CROWS, by Katherine Addison. This very unusual variation on Sherlock Holmes takes place in an alternate Victorian England where supernatural creatures such as angels, demons, and vampires, among others, live alongside ordinary people. There’s no hint that the angels are celestial beings; they seem more like an alien species. Angels in good standing, so to speak, have ties to particular places. Their less respectable kin, the Nameless (who belong nowhere and therefore have no names) and the Fallen (self-explanatory) provoke wariness and, in the case of the latter, justified fear and revulsion. Angels don’t eat, drink, excrete, or sleep, and they don’t share most human emotions. The Holmes character, an angel called Crow, formerly Nameless, channels his insatiable curiosity about the human condition into investigating mysteries and helping the police at their request if an offered case interests him enough. The Watson character, former military physician Dr. Doyle, narrates in first person. His given names remain unrevealed until well into the story. He has secrets quite apart from his difficulty in fitting into normal society after the harrowing experience in Afghanistan that has left him partially disabled. He moves in with Crow to share lodging expenses, as Watson and Holmes do in the original. Although human feelings remain largely opaque to Crow, whose personality echoes the classic Holmes’s arrogant confidence in his own intellectual superiority, he and Doyle gradually form a close bond. The various episodes of the novel comprise variations on the best-known Holmes stories, beginning with “A Study in Scarlet” and including the tale featuring Mary Moran (which doesn’t end the way a devoted reader of the original work would expect). Paranormal and preternatural creatures and phenomena transform the plots and pervade the world of the novel. Crow and Doyle, while reflecting the traits of their prototypes, come across as deeply engaging characters with their own personalities. At least one Amazon reader review complains this book is too blatantly a Sherlock Holmes pastiche. That’s a feature I love about it. In my opinion, most fans of both Holmes and urban fantasy would agree.

*****

Excerpt from “Little Cat Feet”:

A female voice said, “This way. Quickly, before those two catch up with you.”

Lauren looked frantically from side to side, searching for the woman who’d spoken.

The cat trotted back to her and rubbed insistently against her leg. “Get up! What are you waiting for? Follow me.” She headed for the alley’s outlet again.

Okay, that cat did not talk. I’m dreaming or losing my mind.

Nevertheless, the animal acted as if it wanted to lead Lauren somewhere, and it wasn’t like she had a better plan. She hauled herself to her feet and hurried after her feline guide. Around the back of the rowhouse that marked one side of the alley, the cat led her to a stoop and a boarded-up door. Behind the boards, the door stood an inch or two ajar. Picking its way up the three concrete steps, the cat nudged a spot where the planks had been broken to create a narrow opening.

“You should be able to fit through this hole, just barely,” the female voice said.

Not the cat. Definitely not. There must be some crazy bag lady ventriloquist hanging around.

The cat disappeared into the house. Kneeling on the stoop, Lauren stretched one arm through the gap. Maybe she could squeeze in there. Just barely, as her guide had said. The sound of the boys’ voices, louder and closer, made her decision for her. She pulled on the splintered plank to widen the hole. After pushing her backpack inside, easing the door open farther in the process, she lay on her stomach and wiggled through the narrow space. Once she turned on her side to fit her shoulders in, she didn’t have much trouble getting the rest of her body through. The boards closed on her like pincers. Luckily, she had layers of clothes to keep her from getting scraped raw. Her heart raced in panic when her hips got stuck.

“Faster,” the guiding voice hissed.

She held her breath and scrambled faster. At last she got her legs and feet inside. She pushed the door closed and lay, panting, in the dark on a gritty, musty-smelling floor.

“Those filthy males won’t suspect you’ve hidden here. They’ll hardly notice an opening much too small for them to use.”

Lauren sat up and braced her back against the nearest wall. Dainty paws walked across her legs to her lap. She reached out and ran her fingertips over the cat’s wet fur. “I can’t imagine how you knew to lead me here, but thanks, I guess. I wonder how those guys ever managed to catch a smart animal like you.”

The cat snorted. “They tricked me with food. I should have known better. Their scent is so foul I should have run the moment I smelled them. I’ll never be so foolish again.” A lapping sound suggested she was grooming herself. “By the way, you don’t happen to have any food, do you?”

Lightheaded, Lauren shook her head and blinked a couple of times. In the pitch dark, that gesture didn’t accomplish anything. “You’re really talking, aren’t you?”

“Do you see anyone else here?” The cat’s dry tone had a sardonic edge. “Oh, I forgot, your human eyes can’t see anything at the moment. At any rate, thank you for rescuing me.” She stretched, her front claws kneading Lauren’s jeans. “Not that I wouldn’t have escaped on my own eventually, of course.”

-end-

*****

My Publishers:

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

You can contact me at: MLCVamp@aol.com

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

Welcome to the November 2020 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

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

My Goodreads page:
Goodreads

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers! May we all find something to celebrate even in these strange times.

As you may know, Yahoo Groups will close permanently on December 15. This newsletter will continue to be uploaded here:

Newsletters

Please bookmark the page and check for new issues at the beginning of each month. Thanks! I will post a notice on my Facebook author site—address noted above—when each newsletter is uploaded. By following that page (if you don’t already), you can be sure not to miss an issue.

Below is another snippet from my werewolf novel, SHADOW OF THE BEAST, recently republished by Writers Exchange. At this point in the story, heroine Jenny doesn’t yet realize she’s actually a werewolf. She thinks her memories of transformation were nightmares. The book’s page:

http://www.writers-exchange.com/Shadow-of-the-Beast/

Here’s an interview with Sydney Winward, author of vampire romances and other romance subgenres.

*****

Interview with Sydney Winward:

What inspired you to begin writing?

I first found my love of writing after I wrote down an awesome dream I had. I expanded on the details, and eventually, the story became a book. The book was awful! I was only twelve years old at the time. But I remember the pride of the accomplishment from writing a book, and it inspired me to keep writing.

What genres do you work in?

I mainly write fantasy and paranormal. Always romance. But recently, I’ve been veering toward historical. I just finished writing a historical fantasy trilogy, and now I’m working on a western historical for The Wild Rose Press Wylder West Series.

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

Something in between. I’ll have a vague idea of the direction of the book and what scenes I want to include in the story, and from there, I’ll wing everything in between. If I outline too much, I find I lose interest in the story. I prefer to be just as surprised and excited by what happens next as my readers.

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

During my teenage years, Christopher Paolini played a big part in my love of writing. I loved the world he created in the Inheritance Cycle and the depth of his characters. I was such a geek that when I went to an event to listen to him speak many years ago, I didn’t want to wash my hand when he shook it after haha!

I also fell in love with reading, which also played a huge part in me wanting to write my own books. Brandon Sanderson taught me there is no limit to the worlds you can create. Sarah J. Maas taught me great characters contribute to a great storyline.

Please tell us about your vampire series. How do your vampires differ from the traditional type (if they do)?

The vampires in The Bloodborn Series are closely related to traditional vampires in the sense that they don’t have a reflection, sunlight burns them, and they can’t enter a room or building without permission. I sprinkled in a bit of my own magic and lore into the world I created. Although my vampires do drink human blood, they also have their own set of morals and standards they adhere to.

How did you research witchcraft for ROOT BREW FLOAT?

Growing up, I was a HUGE fan of Charmed, the tv show. Some of my ideas came from what I learned from the witches. Other ideas stemmed from my own imagination. One thing I love about writing fantasy is being able to create my own rules in my own world.

Do you have any advice for authors wanting to start a newsletter?

I highly recommend opting into a newsletter builder promotion with Booksweeps. I got over 900 new subscribers, plenty of which interact with me and follow the progress of my books. I’ve heard of other authors who have had success with Authors XP promotions and Story Origin. You have to make sure you have good content in your newsletter that will entice readers to open the email and read what you have to say. It also doesn’t hurt to offer incentives/freebies/giveaways!

What is your latest-released or soon-forthcoming work?

My third book in The Bloodborn Series, Bloodscourge, is currently undergoing edits with my editor. It’s my favorite book I’ve written in the series, a story about Dracula when he meets Elisabeta during a dangerous time in Ichor Knell, the vampire city.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on a western historical romance set in 1879, a part of the Wylder West Series with The Wild Rose Press. Here’s a rough blurb for the book:
When Sophia Meadows’ closest friend dies (the man she has secretly loved for years), a piece of her soul, and her music, dies with him. Two years later, her father arranges a marriage to a wealthy businessman across the country. Along the journey to meet her fiancé, the train gets derailed and robbed by bandits.
She seeks help at the nearest town, and upon arriving, she runs into the man who ripped her heart out with his death two years earlier. Alive and healthy.
Samuel Woods is a bounty hunter, and when one of his jobs goes south, he is forced to fake his death to protect those he loves. When he runs into Sophia during a job in the middle of nowhere, he’s floored. He has to win back her trust, and her heart, before she shuts away from him completely, and before she chooses to return to the man she’s been promised to.
As their relationship gets rekindled into something far more than friendship, Sophia finds her music again. However, the danger Samuel has feared for so long returns when the bandits kidnap her to get to him. He must stop them and finish his job, otherwise he’ll lose the woman he loves for a second time.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Just keep writing. I wrote maybe something close to two million words in stories and books just for fun before I got Bloodborn published, my debut novel. I’m excited that Bloodborn is a finalist in the New Jersey Romance Writers Golden Leaf contest! Perseverance and dedication helped me get here. Each project you finish, you become a better writer by the time you start your next project. Getting published takes a lot of time and practice!

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

Website: Sydney Winward
Twitter: Twitter
Facebook: Facebook
Instagram: Instagram
BookBub: BookBub
Amazon Author Profile: Amazon

*****

Some Books I’ve Read Lately:

A DEADLY EDUCATION, by Naomi Novik. The subtitle “Lesson One of the Scholomance” foreshadows more to follow. In fact, although the plot of this book reaches a satisfying resolution, the final lines set up an irresistible hook for the next volume. So be warned. Novik’s Scholomance isn’t the Devil’s academy mentioned in DRACULA, probably just named after it. It’s not clear where this Scholomance is located, or, at least, where its entry gate is anchored, since its interior space exists on a plane separate from the mundane realm. Wizards at this academy get a much harsher education than those at Hogwarts. Novik’s school was constructed in the late 1800s mainly for teens from enclaves, the elite clans of the magical community. Lower-status students are admitted principally to serve as cannon fodder for the protection of the elites. The mana—magical energy—of young wizards attracts hordes of ravenous monsters of various types and power levels, collectively called maleficaria, “mals” for short. Layers of magical wards protect the students, but not very effectively, judging from the frequent attacks they have to fend off. There are no teachers; scholars are self-taught, highly motivated by the goal of living to graduate. Freshmen can bring in only items they can carry under a limited weight allowance. They’re trapped inside until graduation, receiving no contact from the outside world unless a new student agrees to deliver a message. The school itself appears quasi-sentient, supplying books, food, and other necessities, but in a capricious manner. If you put something down without securing it, the object may not be there next time you look for it. Each single-occupant dorm room has a window opening onto the void, from which the resident may request items from the school and sometimes actually get what he or she needs. At the end of four years, surviving students enter the graduation hall and fight their way to the exit. The first-person narrator, Galadriel (called El), in her third year, has no friends. Although her commune-dwelling mother is a gentle, New Age witch, compassionate toward all living things, El herself has vast destructive potential but less aptitude for modest, more useful spells. Her classmates fear she is or will become a maleficar, this world’s equivalent of an evil sorcerer, although even the nicest of the students falls short of altruism. Orion Lake appears to be an exception. He infuriates El with his habit of protecting other students, even rescuing El from monsters more than once. In the opening scene, she seriously considers killing him to stop him from saving her life. (There’s no penalty for attacking classmates aside from informal ones students themselves may impose.) She wants a chance to destroy a mal herself in a flamboyant way, demonstrating her power and usefulness. Thus she hopes to win allies and get invited to join an enclave after graduation. Over the course of the story, she manages to form an alliance by other means and, though at first reluctantly, make a few friends. With Orion, she develops a fraught frenemy relationship, peppered with snarky insults, that may develop into something deeper. At the climax, the two of them join forces with other students in a grand project to change the terms of graduation. This book differs markedly from both the Temeraire “Napoleonic War with dragons” series and Novik’s two high fantasy novels. I found A DEADLY EDUCATION enthralling and can hardly wait for the next installment.

ELSEWHERE, by Dean Koontz. I like this latest novel best of Koontz’s recent thrillers that I’ve read, primarily because it’s a portal fantasy. Technically, though, it’s science fiction, since the characters travel the multiverse by means of an electronic gadget the size and shape of a cell phone, but without buttons. Single father Jeffrey Coltrane, whose wife left him and vanished seven years earlier, lives with his eleven-year-old daughter, Amity, and her pet mouse (adopted as practice for a puppy). Jeffrey supports them by restoring and selling vintage radios. Ed, a friendly but apparently deranged homeless man who turns out to be a brilliant quantum physicist in hiding from the government, gives Jeffrey a box containing the “key to everything,” warning him not to open it. Of course Jeffrey opens the box, and of course the device accidentally gets activated, sending him, Amity, and the mouse to an alternate America. It’s a dreary place under a totalitarian regime, complete with an organization analogous to the Hitler Youth. The Coltranes manage to escape back to their Earth, but their troubles have only begun. Despite Amity’s pleading to use the key to find a universe where an alternate version of her mother might enable their family to reunite, Jeffrey decrees that random jumping among universes is too dangerous to undertake for such a tenuous possibility. Nevertheless, as we’d expect, they’re forced to use the key to escape when agents of a covert government organization scour the neighborhood in search of Ed (who has disappeared) and the key. They zero in on the Coltranes, leading to suspenseful flights between our universe and another, much worse than the totalitarian America. Jeffrey and Amity find an unexpected ally and narrowly avoid capture or death several times. An alternate-universe Ed, still eccentric but mentally sounder than the one Jeffrey knew, enters their lives as a sort of science-fictional fairy godfather. Jeffrey and especially Amity are endearing characters, and their well-deserved denouement feels right, even if a little rushed. The one thing I don’t like about this novel is the antagonist. The head of the team in pursuit of the key, he’s yet another iteration of the same unbelievable villains Koontz has been creating for the past few decades. Like all the rest of them, he’s an arrogant sociopath with delusions of restructuring society to eliminate or subjugate the unfit—practically everybody—after accumulating enough wealth and power to impose his will without restraint. With boundless contempt for most of the human species, he has no characteristics outside this template unless we count the attempt to give him some motivation through the backstory of an evil stepmother (from his viewpoint, at least). He’s a caricature of a melodramatic supervillain but without superpowers. Couldn’t he be a credible, normally human bad guy working for the dark side? Wouldn’t the urgency of retrieving the key give him enough motivation without making him pure evil incarnate?

THE HOLLOW PLACES, by T. Kingfisher. Although I didn’t find this novel as mind-blowing as Kingfisher’s superb THE TWISTED ONES, it’s an excellent story that I’ll reread more than once. It combines a peculiar house with one of my favorite motifs, portal fantasy. Like the earlier novel, THE HOLLOW PLACES features a female first-person narrator with an irresistibly witty voice. However, unlike the heroine of THE TWISTED ONES, who reluctantly returns to her late grandmother’s grim house to clear out mounds of hoarded junk, newly divorced Kara finds a welcome refuge in her eccentric uncle’s Glory to God Museum of Natural Wonders, Curiosities, and Taxidermy, where she often hung out while growing up. While other people, including her ex-husband, might consider the bizarre collection creepy, she thinks of the displays, artifacts, and stuffed animals as old friends. She gladly accepts an invitation to live at the museum, in a back bedroom adorned by her favorite taxidermy piece, an elk’s head she named “Prince” in childhood. In return, she waits on tourists and begins the monumental project of creating a digital catalog of the collection. Soon after a box of miscellany including a “corpse-otter” carving from the Danube arrives, her uncle has to go into the hospital, leaving Kara in charge on her own. Almost immediately, she discovers a hole in the wall that turns out to be much more than it initially appears. At first assuming a visitor did the damage and left without mentioning it, Kara enlists Simon, who works at the coffee shop next door, to help with the repair. Simon is a quirky character, a middle-aged, gay man who proves to be a brave and loyal friend, sticking to Kara throughout the harrowing adventure that follows. Probing behind the wall, they find more space than the building could reasonably hold. They soon run out of plausible explanations for the anomaly and come upon a mysterious door. It leads to a realm of water and fog, dotted with small islands overgrown by willow trees. Each one, it turns out, probably harbors a portal to a different realm, like the Wood Between the Worlds in C. S. Lewis’s THE MAGICIAN’S NEPHEW. The comparison doesn’t escape Kara, who eventually begins to think of the place as an anti-Narnia. Though eerie and desolate, the landscape doesn’t seem outright scary at first. Exploring it, though, Kara and Simon stumble upon horrors both human and inhuman. Graffiti that warn “They can hear you thinking” and “Pray They are hungry” are just the beginning. An encounter with a trapped explorer from another world is particularly gruesome. They manage to escape and get home, just barely, but Kara soon learns that walling up the hole doesn’t end the danger. The final revelation of what caused the crack between dimensions came as a surprise to me, poignant as well as terrifying. My first thought when Kara and Simon entered the fog-shrouded island landscape was of Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows.” Sure enough, the concluding Author’s Note reveals that she was inspired by Blackwood’s classic story. This novel is another can’t-miss read for fans of numinous horror with a subtly Lovecraftian feel.

THE MERE WIFE, by Maria Dahvana Headley. When I learned this retelling of BEOWULF was set in contemporary suburbia, the premise didn’t appeal to me. Having read highly favorable reviews, though, I decided to give the book a chance. The characters and the author’s craft drew me in. Although you don’t need familiarity with the ancient epic to appreciate this story, awareness of the parallels adds richness and depth to a reading of the novel. It focuses on two mother-son pairs. Willa lives in a gated community named Herot Hall after the family of her domineering husband. Dana, a traumatized war veteran and former POW, grew up in the same area and came home after her release and confinement in a military hospital to find the upscale development in place of the landscape she remembers. She secretly moves into partly flooded caverns that include an abandoned train station, where she gives birth to her son, Gren. Because of her severe PTSD, she doesn’t remember how he was conceived. She brings him up in a survivalist lifestyle, totally isolated from the outside world. As a preadolescent boy, he tests his boundaries by sneaking around to investigate Herot Hall. There he meets Dylan, Willa’s son, and they become friends. Unaware of this influence on Dylan, his parents fear he’s becoming mentally ill. Unlike the slaughtered warriors in BEOWULF, Dylan doesn’t get killed by Gren but voluntarily runs away to join him in the caverns. The narrative explores the characters of both Dana and Willa in depth, revealing that Willa is almost as troubled in her quieter way. Other viewpoint characters occupy less onstage time, notably the police officer (Beowulf’s modern counterpart) with whom Willa eventually becomes involved. There are also first-person plural interludes that function in a Greek chorus mode, such as overviews by the ladies of the community and monologues by a collective voice that seems to represent the landscape itself. While I didn’t much like the present-tense narration (as usual), it does enhance the surreal quality of the novel. I was slightly disappointed by the absence of fantasy content, except perhaps the voice of the mountains (if taken literally) and the hints about Gren’s appearance (he’s never explicitly described in detail). Like the original epic, MERE WIFE is essentially a tragedy, so prepare for much sadness. Nevertheless, it’s highly effective and worth reading for its own sake as well as its transmutation of BEOWULF into modern terms.

*****

Excerpt from SHADOW OF THE BEAST:

In the bedroom Jenny fumbled the covers down and collapsed onto the sheets without undressing. The bed rocked like a sailboat in the wake of a motor yacht. She swallowed the nausea and let her eyes droop shut.

The next thing she knew, she was sitting on a wooden footbridge gazing at the moon’s reflection in a pond. A cool breeze wafted the scent of pine from nearby trees. On the bank a few yards away, reeds rustled with the movement of a drowsy bird. She panted; she must have been running a moment ago.

She trotted across the bridge, her nails clicking on the boards. A sundial sat in the middle of an artificial layout of sand, gravel, and assorted grasses. Around her Jenny saw trees, shrubbery, and marsh weeds; in the middle distance loomed a dark building. Beyond the trees she heard the subdued roar of traffic.

Her mouth tasted dry and stale. Mincing through squishy grass to the edge of the pond, she bowed her head to lap the murky water. Her stomach was a little queasy, and her head felt clogged.

A few yards away, a mallard duck flapped its wings. When its smell penetrated her senses, she began to salivate, stood with her jaws agape and her tongue out.

Her hindquarters twitched. She clamped her jaws shut on the snarl that tried to rumble out of her chest. Another nervous flutter from the bird spurred her to action.

She sprang.

A leap into the air caught the duck as it tried to launch itself to safety. Her fangs slashed a wing. Shifting her jaws for a firmer grip, she gave the bird a vigorous shake. Her sharp ears heard the neck snap.

Hot blood gushed into her mouth.

When she was done, her belly filled with a warm heaviness, she stretched her forelegs, licked her muzzle, and emitted a luxurious yawn. Picking her way through the damp weeds away from the scraps of her kill, she found a sheltered nook under a stand of trees. She curled into a ball and fell asleep.

#
A hard lump poked her in the ribs. Her fingers brushed damp earth and pine needles. She opened her eyes. A full moon shone through swaying branches. She rolled onto her other side. The lump under her was a root.

Oh, God, I’m really out here!

She gathered her stiff, sore legs under her, clutching the tree trunk for support as she stood up. She skimmed her palm down the front of her body. Bare skin, crawling with the chill of the night breeze.

Looking up at the building that loomed over her, she realized where she was. She had sleepwalked all the way to the Tawes Garden, behind the District Court complex near the stadium.

Her plight could have been worse; she could have crossed a major highway. She tiptoed in the direction of the massive, gray stone court buildings. Her tender feet winced at the pebbles and twigs on the ground. Dizziness made her stop and grab hold of a limb or bush every few yards. Her mouth tasted rank, and the pulse throbbed in her temples.

Jenny slinked around the corner of the building and crouched in the shadow of a tree a few feet from the sidewalk. She stared across Taylor Avenue to the parking lot and the dark bulk of the stadium. Crossing Taylor and sneaking past the stadium to the residential neighborhood presented the main hazard. Jenny knelt under the tree, trying to make herself small as a car turned from Rowe Boulevard onto Taylor. The headlights just missed her.

Then she jumped up and dashed across the street. Not much of a dash, for her weary legs could manage little more than a shuffling trot. She reached the stadium lot and ducked under the chain next to the sidewalk just as a car rounded the curve on Taylor. Jenny dove full length onto the blacktop, scraping her palms and knees when she hit the ground.

She lay gasping until the noise of the car’s motor merged with the traffic on Rowe. After a couple of minutes she dredged up the energy to stand. She stumbled from one shadow to the next into the neat rows of houses, with a pause for breath at each stage. Finally she stopped to rest in a back yard shaded with a cluster of trees.

She sat in the dark under a weeping willow, hugging her bare legs. She felt tired enough to fall asleep on the spot, despite the damp and chill.

With a sigh she pulled herself to her feet again. Only a couple of blocks to home. When she crossed the yard, a dog started barking behind the chain link fence next door. Jenny knelt behind a holly bush. Shut up, dog! she silently begged. Next door the porch light flashed on. A heavy-set man in boxer shorts leaned out.

“Quiet, Tramp!” The dog charged the fence and kept barking. “What’s wrong with you? Somebody out there?” The man clicked on a flashlight and shined it around the yard.

I’m not here. Jenny held her breath. I’m invisible.

The beam missed her. After a moment the man yelled, “Damn dog, shut up!” and slammed the door.

Jenny lost no time in making a rush for the street. With no traffic in sight, she crossed in the center of the block, away from street lamps. Sticking to the deepest pools of darkness, she crept from one yard to the next.

-end of excerpt-

*****

My Publishers:

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

You can contact me at: MLCVamp@aol.com

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