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Welcome to the October 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, now that the Yahoo group is useless for that purpose, 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 Halloween!

If you’re a fan of C. S. Lewis’s THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS, you might enjoy my attempt at writing a Screwtape letter for these times. I hope I’ve achieved my goal of critiquing the current political climate in a nonpartisan way. It’s on my website here:

Screwtape in Election Year

My fox shapeshifter paranormal romance novella, KITSUNE ENCHANTMENT, has been released into the world! It’s technically a sequel to YOKAI MAGIC but can stand on its own. On the verge of losing her job, Shannon leaps at the chance to sell her graphic novel series to a major publisher. If only she could trust her reclusive artist partner, Ryo, to show up for editorial meetings at the science fiction convention they’re attending. She’d love to have a closer relationship with him, but how can she count on a man who keeps disappearing with the flimsiest of excuses? Ryo, who’s half kitsune, is prone to transforming into a fox at inopportune moments. Furthermore, a bungling amateur sorcerer is stalking him. Ryo returns Shannon’s feelings but fears she couldn’t accept the truth about him.

Kitsune Enchantment

There’s another brief excerpt below. In this scene, Ryo and Shannon are sharing dessert in his room at the convention hotel. Raptor and Vixen are their graphic-novel characters.

This month I’m interviewing vampire romance author R. E. Mullins.

*****

Interview with R. E. Mullins:

What inspired you to begin writing?

Divorce. That’s the honest, albeit unsavory, answer. My husband left for, uh, a younger pasture after twenty years of marriage. Long and short of it: After eighteen years as a homemaker, all previous skills were pretty rusty. I found a continuing education course catalog, and became a phlebotomist. I was lucky enough to work at a clinic that allowed me a flexible schedule. I was able to drop my youngest off at school before work and got off in time to pick him up. I worked weekends and holidays when his father had visitation. And, at night after my kids were in bed, I started to write.

Writing was something I’d fantasized about doing, but never seriously.

What genres do you work in?

Romance in the paranormal or fantasy genres. It seemed only natural that a phlebotomist would write about blood. Daily, while drawing my patients’ blood, I fantasized about a female phlebotomist. What would happen if a phlebotomist, working the nightshift, got bitten by a vampire? At night, I began putting those thoughts into a word file that kept getting bigger and bigger. Before I realized it I had a 96,000-word document that became: It’s A Wonderful Undead Life.

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

I don’t have a set pattern. With my first novel, It’s A Wonderful Undead Life, I ‘thought’ it out first. The Blautsaugers are (an old Bavarian word for Bloodsucker) an ancient family of vampires. When they find themselves the target of an evil plot, it’s up to the eldest brother, Gabe, to protect his family.

The second book, Vampire In The Scrying Glass, features the youngest brother of the Blautsauger family. I definitely winged that one. In fact, it seemed as if I had little to do but write down what the characters told me write. My third novel in the series, A Vampire To Be Reckoned With, my favorite, was fun to write as I loved researching the historical elements in the glimpses into Metta’s background. This led to a more organized style of writing. For better or worse, I reverted during the writing of the last book in the Blautsaugers of Amber Heights series. Cold Hearted Vampire was done completely by the seat of my pants.

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

As a child, I LOVED the Dark Shadows series on TV. I guess it gave me an early love for vampires. As for books, I tend to favor vampire books with some humor as in Nina Bangs and Lynsay Sands.

How do your vampires differ from the traditional type (if they do)?

As human ancestors learned to use fire and tools, so did vampires learn to cope with the world. Their need to go out in direct sunlight led them to invent both sunglasses and sunscreen. Still, they do prefer the nights. It must also be pointed out that, due to their long age span, they mature slowly. They don’t reach their majority until they pass the century mark, and it is celebrated in much the same way as a twenty-one-year-old human.

Please tell us about your Amber Heights setting and series. What other supernatural beings besides vampires does it include?

Amber Heights, Missouri is a fictional town but shares a lot of landmarks with the area I grew up in. Grand Falls, Shoal Creek, the Greenway Trail, and the low-water bridge are all part of my old stomping grounds.

Amber Heights isn’t just home to vampires, but a family of witches also reside there. Morgan Maguire’s story is found in Vampire in The Scrying Glass. After a spell goes horribly wrong, the young Morgan refuses her gifts. Now she must face her fears and learn to control her power in order to save Rafe Blautsauger.

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

Diaper Duty Vampire is a novella that bridges the gap between
The Blautsaugers of Amber Heights Series and The Vampires of Amber Heights series. It tells the story of John Alden, Rafe Blautsauger’s Enforcement partner, and Joann Clarkson, Dr. Michaela Blautsauger’s laboratory assistant. Hilarity ensues as John unwillingly finds himself babysitting Joann’s toddler, Cody.

What are you working on now?

For over a year now, I’ve been working on the first complete novel in The Vampires of Amber Heights series. The working title varies between, Waking Up Dead and Waking Dead. Unfortunately, I’ve been battling some health issues that make it uncomfortable to type for any length of time. Some of the pain meds have also contributed to a major case of writer’s block. Yet, I keep plugging away. Hoping for inspiration to strike.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Put your butt in the seat and keep trying. So many aspiring writers have asked me how I managed to write 4 novels and 2 novellas. Some have a plot in mind, some a character, but every one of them seems to suffer from the same problem. And, that is sticking to it. Words don’t magically appear on the page. You must write. Remember to frequently save your work. And when you’ve enough words you start to edit. Edit, Edit. And edit some more. All of this is before you even start to worry about professional editors or agents or publishers.

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

R. E. Mullins

Facebook

BookBub

Goodreads

And my books can be purchased at
Amazon

Or any online book seller.

*****

Some Books I’ve Read Lately:

CINDERELLA IS DEAD, by Kalynn Bayron. Two centuries after Cinderella’s death, her fairy tale has become established as the compulsory pattern for every woman’s life. As soon as each girl in the kingdom reaches marriageable age, the law—imposed by the king descended from Cinderella and Prince Charming—dictates that she must attend a royal ball, where she may be chosen as a bride. Any female who offers herself at three balls and remains unchosen becomes a “forfeit.” Nobody knows the fate of the rejected girls. Bayron portrays an authoritarian, patriarchal society in which everyone lives in fear of the monarch and his cohorts. Even in fairly happy families, parents feel they have no choice but to steer their daughters toward the legally and socially required destiny. Girls eager to be chosen by their own equivalents of Prince Charming obsess over their costumes for the ball and dream of encountering a fairy godmother, which seldom or never happens. At sixteen, Sophia does not want to be chosen by any man. She’s in love with her best friend, Erin, who rejects the proposition of running away together. (Somewhat understandably—where would they go? And when they’d almost certainly get caught, they would face a dire fate.) Another close friend, Luke, prefers boys over girls. In their country, of course, same-sex romance is not only taboo but nearly unthinkable. On the night of the ball, their plan for Luke to choose Sophia catastrophically fails. She escapes to a series of adventures that upend her entire concept of how the world works. Discovering the long-lost tomb of Cinderella, she meets Constance, the only surviving descendant of one of Cinderella’s stepsisters. From Constance, with whom she quickly develops a strong mutual attraction, Sophia learns the true story of Cinderella, her “evil” stepmother and stepsisters, and the perfidy of the original Prince Charming. Together, the two young women discover the king’s dark secret, and they set out to overthrow him. While I love the premise of this novel, it has some plot weaknesses, in my opinion. Sophia wanders around aimlessly much of the time, blundering into important discoveries (such as Cinderella’s tomb) and finding useful things and people by sheer luck. She ignores good advice but, thanks to her protagonist plot armor, survives and succeeds anyway. Still, she struck me as a sympathetic character despite my urge to shake sense into her sometimes. On the plus side, the story doesn’t imply that disposing of the wicked king will automatically make life perfect for all women and girls under his reign. Most fans of revisionist fairy-tale retellings should find this novel fresh and thought-provoking.

JUST ELLA, by Margaret Peterson Haddix. Another re-imagining of Cinderella, this one published in 1999. I came across it among our thousands of books and didn’t remember reading it, although I must have when I bought it. It’s possibly unique in retelling the tale with no magic at all. Narrated in the first person, it begins with Ella, renamed Cynthiana Eleanora now that she’s betrothed to the Prince, waking in her cold castle bedroom. She’s afraid to re-start the dead fire because she’s been scolded for previously doing such an un-princess-like thing. She’s astonished when she learns of the rumors about her fairy godmother. In fact, Ella dressed herself and got to the ball on her own by cleverness and hard work. She hadn’t even thought of dancing with Prince Charming, much less becoming engaged to him. She hoped to make connections with wealthy people who might hire her as a tutor, allowing her to escape from her stepmother and the Step-Evils, as Ella calls her stepsisters. Now she’s living in the castle (in the guise of a foreign princess unfamiliar with local customs), being trained for her new status in preparation for the wedding under the ruthless domination of Madame Bisset, her instructor in etiquette and protocol. Ella is never allowed outside the castle and sees the Prince only briefly, once a day, with a chaperone. Her only relief comes from clandestine frank conversations with a serving maid and Jed Reston, who’s tutoring Ella in religion as a substitute for his ailing father. Jed has ambitious plans to establish care centers for refugees from their country’s long-running war with a neighboring realm, while Ella has escaped from a life of drudgery into one of stifling dullness. She gradually realizes the Prince is boring and empty-headed. In fact, it dawns on her that she has never been in love with him, only dazzled by his charm and good looks. But how can she get out of the engagement? Her attempts to assert herself, naturally, make matters worse, until she lands in a desperate plight where her only recourse is to flee the castle and become a fugitive. Despite the absence of magic, I found this novel enthralling and its conclusion completely satisfying.

A WIZARD’S GUIDE TO DEFENSIVE BAKING, by T. Kingfisher. This YA fantasy novel set in a secondary world is quite different in tone and content from Kingfisher’s superb adult horror novel THE TWISTED ONES. The only obvious similarity is that both are narrated in first person by female characters with distinctive, witty voices. Fourteen-year-old orphaned teenager Mona works in her aunt’s bakery. Mona’s baking talent encompasses more than mundane skills. In this world, many people have magical gifts, although more often small and specialized than big and flashy, and Mona can do amazing things with dough. She entertains customers by making gingerbread men dance, and she has one long-lived animated gingerbread figure she keeps as a sort of pet. Her other mascot is a bucket of sentient sourdough starter named Bob. He’s kept in the basement because of his habit of eating animals that stray within his reach. As the story begins early one morning, Mona finds a dead girl on the bakery floor. Local law enforcement takes Mona into custody for questioning, and things get worse from there. Following her release after many hours, she’s attacked by ten-year-old Spindle, brother of the murdered girl. After Mona convinces him of her and her family’s innocence, the two of them team up to uncover the truth. A mysterious figure known as the Spring Green Man seems to be involved. Magic-users have been disappearing or dying. Aside from Mona herself, one of the few left in the city is Molly, a kindly but deranged woman whose gift is animating dead horses; she wanders around with a dried-up, nearly skeletal zombie horse. Meanwhile, their city-state is at war, and the authorities are cracking down on magical folk. In desperation, Mona and Spindle eventually sneak into the castle to appeal to the Duchess herself. As the plot thickens, Mona gets unwillingly involved in combat and discovers extraordinary uses for the baking magic she’s always considered minor and ordinary. While fast-paced and entertaining, with moments of humor, this novel also delves into issues such as the nature of responsibility and heroism.

BRYONY AND ROSES, by T. Kingfisher. In this 2016 fantasy, Kingfisher retells “Beauty and the Beast” with some variations unique to her. As in Robin McKinley’s ROSE DAUGHTER (whose influence Kingfisher cites), the heroine is an avid gardener, and roses play a central role. Bryony, however, far from beautiful, is the plainest of the three sisters, a pragmatic young woman whose third-person narrative viewpoint is tart, self-aware, and tinged with snark. Unlike the heroines of other versions, she doesn’t much care for roses, considering them more trouble than they’re worth and often outright vicious (all those thorns). The backstory follows the usual pattern, a widowed merchant losing all his wealth and property except for a cottage in a remote village, where he retires with his three daughters. In this novel, both parents have died already, leaving the young women on their own. Bryony’s sisters are affectionate and hardworking rather than vain and jealous as in the classic tale. Holly is as practical and astringent as Bryony, while Iris is beautiful, delicate, and romantic. As the novel opens, it’s Bryony who gets stuck in a snowstorm and takes refuge, with her pony, in the mysterious, palatial manor house. After being feasted and sheltered, she tries to take a rose for Iris, provoking the Beast’s wrath. She delivers a chest full of coins to her home, packs a supply of plants and seeds, and returns to the Beast’s mansion. The house proves to be sentient and eagerly helpful almost to the point of smothering. As she cultivates her garden and grows to care for the Beast, she finds that he can’t talk about the crucial elements of his past. The magic forcibly prevents him. As in some earlier adaptations, she dreams of a seductive man. Both the dreams and the house itself, though, have sinister undertones. This version is darker than any other I’ve seen or read, with a climax verging on horror. The Beast’s origin story reveals him as neither an innocent victim of a malicious curse (as in the familiar fairy tale) nor a selfish brute needing to reform (as in the Disney version). He did bring his punishment upon himself, but the penalty was disproportionate to the offense, and he has long since repented and matured. The background of his transformation—and that of the house—is eerie and otherworldly. To my delight, he doesn’t revert to human form at the end. That denouement has always felt like a letdown to me, no matter how well written or acted.

*****

Excerpt from KITSUNE ENCHANTMENT:

“What kind of babies would Raptor and Vixen produce if they did mate? Winged fox cubs hatched from eagle eggs?” He polished off the last of his cake.

“I’m almost tempted to write that scenario just to see you draw it.” To avoid the sight of Ryo licking chocolate from his fork, Shannon concentrated on finishing her dessert, too.

“Considering the fans of a certain major film franchise don’t seem to have a problem with dragon-donkey hybrids, it’s not so farfetched.”

He set his empty box on the coffee table, then took hers from her and did the same with it. Turning toward her, he clasped her hand before she could withdraw it.

His skin felt fever-hot, a heat that radiated up her arm. On the other hand, like he said, sometimes we should live dangerously. She swayed closer to him.

“Magic,” he murmured. “Magic can do almost anything.”

He cupped her cheek with his free hand. He leaned in, giving her plenty of time to draw back if she chose.

She didn’t. Instead, she parted her lips, waiting. His lips brushed hers. The heat spread over her whole body and flared at her core. His tongue teased hers, and she twined one arm around his neck. Her nipples peaked and tingled. Twisting sideways to close the space between them, she couldn’t suppress a sigh of pleasure when he drew her into a loose embrace that tightened as she snuggled up to him.

Her eyes drifting shut, she ran her fingers through the dense pelt of his hair while he deepened the kiss. Waves of sensation rippled through her. As she moved her hand downward to skim over his cheek, fuzz tickled her palm. Whiskers? Surely she would have noticed if he’d been unshaven. Besides, this growth felt more like velvet than sandpaper. She opened her eyes.

Ryo flinched and pulled back. In the twilit dimness relieved only by the light from the overhead fixture just inside the door, his skin definitely looked lightly furred. Not only that, his teeth looked, well—sharp. She scooted to the end of the couch.

Ryo snapped his mouth shut and covered it with one hand. Springing to his feet, he mumbled, “Sorry—not feeling well all of a sudden. I’ll see you tomorrow morning. Sorry!” He scurried to the bathroom and slammed the door.

Staring after him, Shannon stood up, suddenly lightheaded, and gripped the back of the couch to steady herself. What’s gotten into him? And his ears—why do they look the wrong shape?

Did he expect her to leave just like that? Assuming he was actually sick, he would have asked for help if he’d wanted it. So, yes, he apparently did expect her to clear out. Well, she wasn’t about to beg him to let her stay. Tears prickling her eyes, she grabbed her purse and stomped out.

-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 September 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, now that the Yahoo group is useless for that purpose, 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

Below is another snippet from my paranormal romance novella KITSUNE ENCHANTMENT, scheduled for release on September 23. It’s a follow-up to YOKAI MAGIC but can stand alone. How can a writer of graphic novels and her reclusive artist partner find happiness together when he has a secret life as a fox shapeshifter?

In this excerpt, half-human kitsune Ryo gets cornered by a co-worker who’d accidentally seen him changing into a fox.

This month’s interview showcases romance and women’s fiction author Mona Sedrak.

*****

Interview with Mona Sedrak:

What inspired you to begin writing?

When I was a child, we moved around a lot. In fact, I don’t remember going to the same school or having the same friends year after year. There was a lot of movement and constant change and instability that impacted my world so much that I learned to escape in books. We didn’t have a lot of money to spend on books, but my mother was very wise. She was a librarian for Harvard University and understood the gift of books and reading. She brought home many books for me and she would stop by any yard sale she passed and buy boxes and boxes of books. She didn’t necessarily limit what I read, and therefore, I read everything from engineering textbooks to romance. I learned to love books and the escape they provided. I consumed volumes of books, and she could barely keep up with my voracious appetite to read and learn. By the age of 13, I was reading probably 10 to 12 books a week on every subject under the sun. Nothing bored me. I also found out that I could teach myself anything by reading a book better than anyone could teach me. Then I started journaling and writing short stories, and I discovered that I communicated best through the written word.

As I matured my love for books only increased and my ability to learn on my own was even more pronounced. In my mid-30, I found my voice, first through academic publications–– journal articles and textbooks–– and then fiction. Fiction is my passion and I enjoy creating a world that readers can sink into and forget what is happening in their world. When I write, I too escape into that world, and perhaps that is why my academic life has minimal impact on what I write.

As a tenured professor and college administrator, my academic life is filled with rules, conflict, and stress. I love academia, and I love academic administration, but I have found that I am better as a person if I am able to escape and express myself in a different way through my writing.

What genres do you work in?

When I first started writing professionally, I was published in medical journals, chapters of various medical texts, and I co-authored a pharmacology textbook and an internal medicine review for physician assistant students.

About five years ago, I began writing fiction under a pseudonym and wrote two romance novels. My last two novels, published by The Wild Rose Press, are categorized as mainstream fiction/women’s fiction.

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

The very first work of fiction I wrote, which I never published, I completely winged it. I wanted to see if I could write fiction, and once I started the words flowed, and I found that I absolutely loved writing fiction so much more than academic work. As my writing matured, I found that I had to do some significant research and character building before I began writing. I also began outlining the story using software called Scrivener. I can’t say that I outline the novel from beginning to end, but I come pretty close. Sometimes when I start writing I do follow the outline fairly well, but then the characters take over, and they do whatever they want and all that outlining I did goes right out the window. The character development, the world building, and the research is priceless. I know everything about my characters before I begin to write. I even choose pictures from the Internet so I know exactly what my characters look like.

I always know how a story will begin and how it will end. But each and every time I write, the characters take over and run amuck in the middle, and I always have to rein them in and many times I fail. The story unfolds as it wants to, and I go along for the ride.

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

Earlier in my writing career I would’ve said that certain authors made a huge impact on my writing. I still think that my writing is influenced by the many, many great authors whose novels I have enjoyed and learned from. However, now I believe life experience has the most impact on my writing. I think I have led an unusual life and have had many experiences that have molded me into the person I am today. There is no escaping from those experiences. Even if I suppressed or attempted to suppress those experiences from the words I write, they would still unconsciously have an impact on my writing.

Beside life experiences, I find people to be very interesting, and their actions and decisions never fail to surprise me. Sometimes hearing or reading a news story will spark an idea. Other times, a story idea comes to fruition just by listening to a conversation or speaking to family and friends. For instance, I was on vacation one year in a tropical location and the woman sitting next to me by the pool said she was waiting for a man she had never met before. Apparently, they had been emailing one another for years but had never spoken or seen each other’s picture. They lived in different countries and over the years, just through writing one another, they fell in love and decided to meet for the first time and get married. Neither knew each other’s age, background or family, or what they look liked. Their entire romance unfolded before my eyes over the next week, and I always thought their story would be a pretty cool prompt.

What academic field do you work in, and how has experience in that form of writing affected your fiction (if it has)?

I started my career as a clinician and then earned a Master’s degree in education, research, and leadership and a doctoral degree in higher education. I entered the world of academia over 20 years ago and taught in graduate health sciences for many years before I entered higher education administration. Several years ago I moved across the country and changed to undergraduate education. I am an Associate Dean at the University of Cincinnati Clermont. I also teach in the undergraduate health professions and still dip my toes in graduate education now and then.

Writing academically is very different than writing fiction. I enjoy writing fiction much more than I ever did writing academically, but I have to say that the experience I have with academic writing has positively impacted my writing on the whole. My experiences in the academic field probably impact my writing now in terms of research. I also watch people much more closely now and notice mannerisms and habits and forms of speech. I often draw from my experience as a clinician as well. As a clinician, the first thing one has to do is be an excellent listener. So, as I people watch I also listen very carefully to what they say and how they say it. My medical background often impacts my writing, and in fact, in my new book, Gravity, one of the main characters is a medical assistant.

What kind of research do you do for your fiction?

I do quite a bit of research before I ever start writing. I like to research as much detail I can about the setting in which the story takes place. Most of the time I can do the research via Internet, but sometimes it requires a visit to the location. After I know exactly where the story will take place, I research restaurants, stores, accents, special words or phrases in that area of the country, temperature and seasons and even architecture of buildings. If I’m going to describe a house or an apartment, I actually search the real estate ads and find a home that fits the story line and the location, and I do a virtual tour as if I was buying the house. Sometimes I take screen pictures so I can appropriately describe each room if need be. If the character is going to travel anywhere, I research time zones, how long a flight would be from one area to another, costs of the flight, etc. and then of course I have to research that setting as well.

I like to be as realistic as possible in my description, painting the picture for the reader. Gravity is mainly set in Florida. I visited Florida on a number of occasions and took many pictures and had many details, even about what time the sun set in a particular month. A reader just told me that they read the book while they were on a beach in Florida and each scene was so well described they felt that they were actually part of the story. So, details do matter quite a bit. While fiction can stretch the reader’s imagination and the writer can go as far as they want in creating their own world, when I write women’s fiction I like to create a realistic world and a realistic story. It would be different if I wrote science fiction or in a different genre.

Do you have any tips for authors wanting to start a newsletter (scheduling, subject matter, etc.)?

Newsletters are an interesting way of reaching readers, but they can also be incredibly annoying if you send too many. I will admit that I have a wonderful personal assistant who handles my newsletters. When I first started writing, I made the mistake of sending out way too many newsletters. Now, I send them seasonally or when something exciting is happening such as the release of a new book, a contest, a sale on my books or awards my books may have received. There are number of platforms that authors can use to build an audience where newsletters can be used. Readers are more likely to open a newsletter if there’s something in it for them such as a giveaway or contest. Telling readers a little bit about yourself, what you’re writing now, and even asking them questions about their opinions on your latest book or if you’re having trouble finding a name for a character or restaurant. Engaging the reader is huge and I tend to do more of that via social media than newsletters.

While I do not manage a blog myself, I am interviewed on quite a few blogs throughout the year. I also use a promo company who I love called N.N. Light. They are wonderful where blogs and getting the word out through social media is concerned and come up with a lot of great ideas such as character interviews, etc. They are also very affordable and you get to know a lot of other writers they work with. Will support one another with retweets and Facebook.

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

Gravity was released on July 15, 2020. It is a woman’s fiction novel with strong romantic elements based on the Middle Eastern culture. Even though I am Middle Eastern, I still had to do some research, and actually, it was a harder book to write than other novels I’ve written. Perhaps this was due to me being too close to the subject matter and spending a lot of time making sure I offered a balanced message. This story is about a young Middle Eastern woman, Leila, who was born and raised in the United States, but lived a very sheltered life. She makes a decision which leads to her being shunned by her family, and for the first time in her life she’s alone. She has to learn who she is because she never identified with the American or Middle Eastern culture. The story is complex and has strong cultural elements. After being sheltered for so long, then thrust into the world on her own, Leila must rebuild her life and learn forgiveness, understanding, and tolerance. The story also is about an American man, Aiden, who is a single father of a child with down syndrome. Leila and Aiden come from remarkably different backgrounds and yet they are inexplicably pulled to one another. There are many challenges they have to overcome including each other’s cultural backgrounds and beliefs. At the end of the day, I want readers to understand that while we all may be different, our similarities outweigh our differences. With understanding and tolerance, the world is a better place.

What are you working on now?

At the present time I’m working on two different projects. I’m outlining a family saga which will be a five book series. I love writing about families and strong female characters. This series has a lot of drama, a lot of action, and a lot of twists and turns. I’m also working on a memoir for my family. I’m using StoryWorth to answer questions my children pose to me in story format, and at the end of the year, the stories will be bound into a book. This actually is very time-consuming as I have to dig up pictures and call on family members all over the world for information. I immigrated when I was five years old and many family members moved to other countries. Both projects are a lot of fun, and I often wish I had more time in the day to complete everything I want to do.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

I think aspiring authors are often terrified of putting themselves out there. They keep putting things off day after day, waiting for the perfect story to suddenly pop into their head and the perfect words to magically appear on paper. The thing is, there is no perfect story, and there are no magical words. The best advice I can give an aspiring writer is… Words on paper. Just do it. Sit down, start anywhere, and put words on paper. Once you start, the words will begin to flow. Your first draft will be just that––a draft and nothing more, but you should be proud of yourself because you would have completed an entire novel. Then comes the really hard part. You must share your work with someone. You can’t keep it locked up in your computer or in a notebook. Every writer struggles with sharing their work. We are all terrified of rejection that sometimes we let that fear overcome us, and we forget to visualize what success would be like. The best way to get feedback is to join a writer’s group locally or online. You’ll find that everyone is in the same boat, struggling to write the perfect story. They have the same questions you do about publication, marketing, and promotion and is it all worth it. They wonder if their work is worth anything, and if they should even send it to any publishing company at all or should they self-publish or should they try to find an agent. They have the same exact fears that you do. Therefore, when you join a group you will feel supported so much that the words will flow, and you will find an entire community that will support you through the process, but you must do the hard work. You have to write the words, and you have to share your words. Don’t let fear rule you because you will regret it.

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

Social Media Links
Website: Mona Sedrak
Amazon: Amazon
Twitter: Twitter
Facebook: Facebook
Goodreads: Goodreads
Newsletter: Mona Sedrak’s Newsletter
Instagram: Instagram
Bookbub: BookBub

*****

Some Books I’ve Read Lately:

THE OTHER BENNET SISTER, by Janice Hadlow. I’ve always been disappointed that Mary Bennet in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE is treated so shabbily by the author. Jane Austen presents the bookish, socially awkward middle sister as a figure of mockery instead of showing her intelligence as worthy of respect. I enjoyed PRIDE AND PROMETHEUS, by John Kessel, which imagines Mary developing a bond with Victor Frankenstein and his creature. Hadlow’s book takes a realistic novel-of-manners approach, writing in a style similar but not identical to Austen’s own and focusing on the same issue central to PRIDE AND PREJUDICE: How can a woman with limited financial resources find her place in society? By her early teens, Mary has internalized her mother’s judgment of her as the plain daughter, a disappointment compared to all her sisters. In Mrs. Bennet’s view, marriage, which depends on beauty, is the only worthwhile goal for a young woman. Mary decides to concentrate on her strengths, music and reading. The pompous statements she interjects into conversations constitute her attempts to win respect for her scholarship. When she realizes her father, who she hopes will recognize her as a kindred spirit, regards her with the same detached amusement as he does the other girls (with the possible exception of Elizabeth), she feels her lack of worth confirmed. When she gets her first pair of spectacles, she’s delighted to be able to read comfortably but doubly convinced of her plainness. The early part of the novel passes rapidly over the events of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, seen through Mary’s eyes as an outsider to her sisters’ dramas. The main story starts after all four of the other girls are married, even Kitty (to a respectable clergyman), and Mr. Bennet dies. After the loss of the family estate, Mary has to depend on Jane and Elizabeth to shelter her. She even returns briefly to their former home as a guest of their friend Charlotte, now Mrs. Collins. Hadlow develops Mr. Collins, the clergyman presented as a buffoon in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, into a rounded character who engages the reader’s sympathy. When Mary turns as a last resort to her mother’s London relatives, the Gardiners, their affection and the example of their happy home life lead her to self-respect and, finally, a love worthy of her, a man who shares her deep enjoyment of literature and philosophy. I did notice one tiny, annoying error that an author this perceptive and intelligent shouldn’t make: She repeatedly refers to the children of Mary’s Aunt Gardiner as Mary’s nieces and nephews, using the correct “cousins” only once that I remember. But on the whole this novel should delight any fan of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

THE CARE AND FEEDING OF WASPISH WIDOWS, by Olivia Waite. This is the second of Waite’s nineteenth-century lesbian “Feminine Pursuits” romances, following THE LADY’S GUIDE TO CELESTIAL MECHANICS. It’s not exactly a series, since the two books don’t share characters or story elements. Like the earlier novel, this one focuses on female characters working at unusual vocations for women of that era. Penelope Flood, beekeeper in the village of Melliton, has a platonic marriage with a man who’s actually partnered with her brother. The two men spend most of their time away at sea. Agatha Griffin, a widow with a nineteen-year-old son, owns a print shop in London. When a swarm of bees colonizes her warehouse in Melliton, she hires Penelope to deal with them and finds herself reluctant owner of a beehive. Back in London, she corresponds with Penelope about the bees, and soon their letters progress to intimate friendship. While Agatha begins to make regular visits to Melliton, she has to cope with her son’s radical tendencies and the romantic attraction between him and her young female apprentice. Meanwhile, Penelope clashes with the village lady of the manor and the minister of the local parish. The deep affection between the two heroines grows against the background of political unrest catalyzed by the alleged adultery of Queen Caroline. Waite makes the physical, social, and cultural setting come fascinatingly alive. The technology of printing and the lore of honeybees are presented in absorbing detail. Both Agatha and Penelope are strong characters in their own ways. Each hesitates to express her feelings openly, but of course they eventually do. Before they can form a permanent union, though, Agatha has to settle the issues of her London business and her son’s potentially dangerous radicalism, as well as his future with her apprentice. The love scenes between the two heroines are hot, sensual, and deeply emotional. Recommended for fans of unconventional historical romances.

CATALYST, by Sarah Beth Durst. Although the premise of this early-YA novel sounds silly at first glance, it’s a surprisingly good book, with the implications of its fantastic elements seriously explored. Twelve-year-old Zoe finds a lost kitten small enough to fit into her hand. She has a habit of rescuing stray animals of many different species, and after the skunk incident, her parents forbade her to bring home any more of them. The tiny kitten, whom she names Pipsqueak, is easy enough to hide in Zoe’s bedroom—until she grows far beyond normal cat size within a couple of days and starts talking. Zoe has gotten permission to keep the kitten, on strict conditions, but a giant, talking cat is another matter. When her parents wonder where the little kitten has gone, and Pipsqueak grows almost too big for the backyard shed, Zoe and her best friend, Harrison, decide they have to find a way to return her to normal. Zoe writes to Aunt Alecia (her mother’s estranged sister), considered the crackpot of the family, and her aunt invites Zoe to bring the cat to her home for a solution to the problem. So, with the cover-up assistance of Harrison’s teenage girl cousin, Zoe and Harrison embark on an adventurous journey, riding on the kitten, who’s now the size of an elephant. Along the way, they pick up an extraordinary dog and mouse, too. Given the fantasy premise, Zoe’s problems and her relationship with her lively, affectionate family are realistically rendered. The answer to the riddle of Pipsqueak’s transformation is one I would never have guessed.

SURVIVOR SONG, by Paul Tremblay. Horror author Tremblay has written a story of the temporary breakdown of society during a lethal epidemic, presented intimately through the eyes of two women in desperate straits. Its publication at this point has to be an uncanny coincidence, given the length of time required to write a novel, then get it printed and released by a major publisher. The virus in SURVIVOR SONG is a mutated form of rabies with a frightfully short incubation period, often transforming a human victim into a ravening beast in as little as an hour. Like animals (which are also susceptible to the disease), human sufferers have an aversion to water and a compulsion to bite. Although they don’t die and revive, the term “zombie” inevitably occurs to many people, including Natalie, a woman in late pregnancy whose husband is killed by a rabid man before her eyes. She manages to slay the attacker, but not without getting bitten. She seeks help from her best friend, Dr. Ramola Sherman. Together they manage to get to the hospital where Ramola works. There Natalie receives an injection that may prevent her from developing the disease. She needs a transfer to a facility where she can have a caesarian delivery to prevent the baby from getting infected. The plan goes wrong, of course, and the rest of the story (except for the epilogue) is intensely compressed into the brief period while Ramola and Natalie search desperately for a hospital or clinic able to perform the procedure. As Natalie’s condition deteriorates, they struggle with traffic congestion and hysterical crowds, while encountering maddened disease victims, a self-appointed militia cohort, and a pair of teenage boys determined to label the outbreak a zombie apocalypse and react accordingly. Because of the infection’s virulence and rapid development, it proves easy to contain after the initial chaos. As the epilogue, set ten years later, portrays, the world does recover and return to normal. Despite inevitable personal tragedies, the story ends on a mood of hope. The book is told in present tense, which as usual, I consider a pointless distraction, aside from the journal entries Natalie dictates into her phone as a record for her unborn child. In fact, in my opinion their poignant immediacy would come across better if the third-person passages were in the conventional narrative past. Still, the novel’s unrelenting tension gripped me, and the two women are three-dimensional, sympathetic characters. I could even overlook Natalie’s constant use of obscenities, which she herself often remarks upon with disarming humor.

*****

Excerpt from KITSUNE ENCHANTMENT:

When Ryo managed to stop worrying about ContrariCon, his thoughts reverted to the problem of Joel Brady. On the following Wednesday, Ryo’s next day at the office instead of working from home, he tried to stay out of Joel’s path. He succeeded until he left his desk late in the afternoon and headed for the elevator, only to find the corridor blocked by the very man he wanted to avoid.

“Ryo, just who I need to talk to.”

Ryo couldn’t quite make himself shove past Joel. “What for? I’d like to hit the road before the traffic gets bad.”

“Come on, I’m sure you can guess what I want to discuss—what happened last week at your place. I know what you are.”

Ryo’s pulse accelerated. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Sure you do.” The other man smiled as if inviting him to share a joke. “I saw you change into a fox.”

“Are you kidding or just losing your mind?”

With a glance down the hall, where two women were rounding the corner toward the elevators, Joel said, “You don’t want to talk about this where anybody could hear, do you? Let’s go someplace private.” He clutched Ryo’s arm and steered him toward the nearest vacant conference room.

Ryo let himself be steered, not eager to have his coworker raving on about magical transformations in range of potential witnesses. What can he do to me right here, anyway? Maybe I can convince him he imagined the whole thing…

Leaning against the window frame, he warily watched Joel, who took the seat at the head of the table as if preparing to chair a meeting. “Give it up, Ryo. I wasn’t high on anything. I know what I saw.”

“Sounds like your reality check bounced. You saw me, and then you saw a fox. I don’t know what made you imagine some kind of connection.” He kept his hands relaxed at his side rather than clenched and drew slow breaths to calm himself inwardly as well as outwardly. The last thing I need is to sprout ears or a tail with him staring straight at me.

“We spend most of our waking hours on video games about wizards and monsters. Why shouldn’t I have an open mind about the supernatural?”

“You really believe this?” Ryo tried to echo the other man’s casual tone.

“I’d rather believe you changed into a fox than think I actually have gone crazy.” Joel leaned back in the chair, his gaze fixed on Ryo as if expecting the change to repeat at that very moment. “I’ve been reading up on kitsune. Fascinating stuff, including little details like their favorite foods being tofu and red bean paste. According to the folklore websites, you’ve got some amazing powers.”

“So work them into a game. Which you seem to be confusing with reality.”

Unfortunately, the repeated denial didn’t deflate Joel’s confident manner. “The legends mention a lot of other abilities besides changing shape. Foxfire, invisibility, possession, and a bunch more.”

“If I could turn invisible, the first thing I would’ve done was dodge you.”

As for fox possession, when Ryo had discussed it with his mother, she had warned him as a teenager not to try. “Until you gain much more experience, that would be dangerous for you. It is too easy to lose yourself in the mind of the person you attempt to possess, unless you have a companion to support you—ideally another kitsune.”

“But you’re the only kitsune I know,” he’d said.

“A human partner would do, if you find one you can trust completely.” Her wistful tone gave him the impression she’d never found one, even in marriage.

He had little hope of forming a bond with any such person, and it certainly wouldn’t be Joel. Ryo started toward the door, but Joel stood up to block him.

-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 August 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, now that the Yahoo group is useless for that purpose, 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

My first novel, werewolf urban fantasy (with romantic elements) SHADOW OF THE BEAST, has been re-released!

Shadow of the Beast

Part of the opening scene is below. Jenny returns home one evening when her twin brother is supposed to be babysitting for their little sister.

This month features an interview with multi-subgenre romance author Amber Daulton.

*****

Interview with Amber Daulton:

What inspired you to begin writing?

I read my first romance book when I was 12 after I snuck a Harlequin paperback out of my mom’s bedroom. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and I wanted to create my own story about two people having an adventure and falling in love. I wrote with pencil in a spiral-bound notebook and finished that 200-plus page story in about six months.
I published my first book when I was 26, and Lyrical Embrace is now my eleventh book to date. I have about ten more manuscripts on my computer waiting to see the light of day.

What genres do you work in?

I write in a variety of romantic sub-genres, including: contemporary, romantic suspense, historical, western, NA, erotic romance, time travel, and paranormal. Some stories can fit in multiple genres while others fit in only one or two, so I like to keep my options open and my muse flowing to wherever it takes me.
Most romance books nowadays are more than simple love stories. All sorts of plot devices are used, such as: action, danger, mystery, emotional upheaval, and physical trauma, to name a few. If you take away the “falling in love” aspect from a romantic suspense, for example, then you have a suspense/action/thriller story. The romance genre is so widespread that I’ve heard of men reading and enjoying various books without realizing those books are classified as romance.

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

I’m a plotter, and I like to outline chapter by chapter. I use pen, paper, and colored pencils, but sometimes I plot in a Word doc. I try to follow my notes exactly, but more often than not, the characters take control and steer my story in another direction. Then I have to get into arguments with my H/h, or even the secondary characters, and force them back into the outline. More often than not, they refuse to get back in line and I have to write what they want.
Heh, it’s a give and a take relationship.

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

I think my biggest influence on my writing is my imagination. Several books I’ve written have come from my dreams, and I fill in all the missing pieces and fix plot holes when I’m plotting the story.
When I first started writing back in the late ’90s and 2000s (as a teenager), I was reading books published in the 1980s. The writing styles accepted back then are frowned upon now, but that was how I taught myself to write. I guess you could say it influenced me. I didn’t realize passive voice and head hopping was no longer deemed “correct,” so now I’m crazy strict in writing active and using proper scene breaks when switching character POV.

How did you become involved in the Deerbourne Inn series? How does a “multi-author collaboration of novellas” work, and what are the pros and cons of participating in such a project?

Every few years The Wild Rose Press announces a multi-author series and invites all their authors to join. After I heard about the call, I emailed the series coordinator for details and downloaded a few info files. The submission call lasts about two years—ending in December 2020—so if anyone wants to submit a proposal, do it soon.
All the participating authors are required to write a novella set in the fictional town of Willow Springs, Vermont, and the heat levels range from sweet, sensual, to erotic. Some stories take place in the 1800s (around the town’s founding), and others are set in modern day. The series stock characters include most of the town’s inhabitants, and those secondary characters jump from story to story, so you never know who will show up.
Lyrical Embrace—my first contribution to the Deerbourne Inn series—is about a young woman who is trying to find herself after getting out of a bad relationship. I’m sure a lot of women could relate to her.
The biggest challenge in writing Lyrical Embrace and its soon-to-be-published sequel, Harmony’s Embrace, was hammering out the details with the coordinators and with the other authors writing for the series. Everyone has their own ideas, so we had to work together and tweak descriptions or names to make sure everything flows from one story to the next. The only thing I would do differently next time is to be more direct when asking questions in the series forum.

Please tell us about your time-travel series. Science-fiction time travel or fantasy/magic?

Timeless Honor is book 3 in the Mirrors of Time anthology series in which five authors wrote a story. I enjoyed writing about magic and portals so much that I wrote a second story, Timeless Beginnings, which serves as a prequel for Timeless Honor but is separate from the anthology. Both of my sensual Timeless books are standalones.

In Timeless Honor, Jaye Ramsey goes on vacation with her friends to Bolivia in order to prove to her eccentric grandmother that time travel doesn’t exist. There she finds a time portal in the Salar de Uyuni (the salt flats) and winds up in Georgian England. Never did she expect to fall in love with her grandmother’s brooding first husband, Lord Lucas Kenway, who was accused of killing his wife on their wedding night.
In Timeless Beginnings, Leonora Harris flees her newly wedded husband’s home and loses her way in the woods. After she falls through a portal, she wakes up in 1960s Bolivia. Luckily for her, she meets undercover CIA agent Rodger Ramsey and embraces her new life as a modern woman.

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

Arresting Jeremiah, the second installment in the Arresting Onyx series, is in the galley stage with The Wild Rose Press. It picks up where book one, Arresting Mason, ends and should be out in late 2020 or early 2021 (both books are standalones).
The story follows hardnosed parole officer Jim Borden and his obsession Calista Barlow as they stick their noses where they don’t belong and fall deep into the trouble with the criminal organization known as Onyx.
This sexy, dirty-talking romantic suspense series spans five full-length novels and two novellas (I’m currently writing the novellas) with a standalone HEA for each rough-and-tumble hero and their spunky heroines.

What are you working on now?

My plate is definitely full!
Harmony’s Embrace is the follow-up novella to Lyrical Embrace, and it tells the story of how Birley Haynes reunites with his high school sweetheart, Harmony Holdich. I love holiday-themed books, so this MS takes place at Christmastime. It’s currently on submission with my editor.
The first novella in the Arresting Onyx series is book 2.5 and follows a minor character from book one and another minor character from book two. I don’t want to give away too much information right now, but I will say this story promises to be a wild ride.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Make friends with other authors and readers via social media. Don’t be shy. Start a blog even if you aren’t published yet, so you can join blog tours. A tour is a great way to get a free ebook as long as you write a review and post it on your blog. The author’s readers will then come to your blog to read the review. They’ll know YOUR name, and that’s what you want—to get your name out there.
Just keep trying. I know it sounds cliché, but there’s nothing else to do. If you don’t try, you won’t succeed. Period. Keep your hopes up, take rejection letters in stride, and if a publisher or editor gives you feedback on why he/she rejected your work, listen to their feedback. They know what they’re talking about.

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

About the Author

Amber Daulton is the author of the romantic-suspense series Arresting Onyx and several standalone novellas. Her books are published through The Wild Rose Press, Books to Go Now, and Daulton Publishing, and are available in ebook, print on demand, audio, and foreign language formats.
She lives in North Carolina with her husband and demanding cats.

Blog – Blog
Website – Website
Amazon Author Page – Amazon
Facebook Author Page – Facebook
Twitter – Twitter
Street Team – Street Team
Pinterest – Pinterest
Goodreads – Goodreads
Instagram – Instagram
Book Bub – Book Bub
LinkedIn – LinkedIn

*****

Some Books I’ve Read Lately:

THE MISQUOTABLE C. S. LEWIS, by William O’Flaherty. Some famous authors are particularly prone to having statements misattributed to them (e.g., Mark Twain). Several times I’ve come across remarks on the internet labeled as quotations from C. S. Lewis and thought, “That doesn’t sound a bit like him.” Either the language or the subject matter sounds too modern for someone who died in 1963, the opinion expressed is one he wouldn’t support, or both. O’Flaherty, owner of the EssentialCSLewis.com website, undertakes the monumental task of compiling online quotations misattributed to Lewis and tracking down the true origins of the lines, if possible, as well as the probable sources of the errors. The four chapters list material under the categories “Not Lewis,” “Almost Lewis” (inexact paraphrases of his actual words), “Not Quite Lewis” (real quotations misapplied out of context), and a short catchall chapter of “Multiple Category Quotations.” This lively and informative book is uniquely valuable for distinguishing real Lewis content from false, however innocent or well-intentioned. The subtitle, “What He Didn’t Say, What He Actually Said, and Why It Matters,” clearly summarizes the author’s theme, that accuracy does matter. Now, when I encounter a faux Lewis quote in the future and want to protest that he never wrote that, I’ll have documentation to back up the claim.

APOCALYPTIC, edited by S. C. Butler and Joshua Palmatier. An anthology of fourteen original stories about the end of the world or, more often, of human civilization. My favorite piece, “Coafield’s Catalog of Available Apocalypse Events,” by Seanan McGuire, isn’t exactly a story, because it has no narrative arc. It comprises a humorous A to Z list of alternatives offered to customers who have “decided to end the human race and possibly the world,” promoted by what appears to be a sort of disaster-scenario catering service. Z, of course, stands for Zombies. The one true end-of-everything story, “Little Armageddons,” by Stephen Blackmore, features a pair of scientists running computer simulation scenarios that all predict the end of the world on a certain date, but from a wildly varying range of causes. In Thomas Vaughn’s quirky “Gut Truck,” the driver of an AI-equipped vehicle dedicated to picking up roadkill gets into trouble when the nano cells in a human corpse accidentally reprogram the truck’s brain. The most moving story, for me, is “Last Letters,” by Leah Ning, about what happens to a girl whose mother disappears on a foraging expedition, leaving the protagonist to fend for herself with only the guidance of the messages left by her mother. The two zombie or quasi-zombie contributions, “Solo Cooking for the Recently Revived,” by Aimee Picchi, and “A Tale of Two Apocalypses,” by Eleftherios Keramydas, are told from the viewpoints of characters recovering from or being infected by the plague. Not surprisingly, quite a few of the tales end unhappily, but others include enough glimmers of hope to keep the anthology from being totally depressing.

SPILLOVER, by David Quammen. This 2012 book explores in depth the phenomenon of zoonoses, disease that pass from animal to human populations, often mutating along the way. Quammen concentrates mostly on the modern era and deals largely but not entirely with viruses. The first chapter tells the story of Hendra, a disease I’d never heard of, discovered in Australia in the 1990s. Other sections discuss malaria, SARS, Ebola, herpes B, Lyme disease, and of course AIDS, among others. The author narrates in detail the progress of medical detectives’ quests for the vectors and reservoir hosts of various deadly infectious agents. He alternates interviews, historical events, and personal anecdotes with general explanations of how infection and epidemiology work, in an entertaining, lucid style. The chapter on AIDS came as a revelation to me, tracing the origin of the disease as we know it back to a single chimp-to-human transmission around 1908, much earlier than previously believed. From there, Quammen follows the progress of the infection from an obscure, localized scourge to its breakout as a worldwide epidemic in the 1980s. My only reservation about the author’s technique comes in this chapter, where he devotes an inordinate number of pages to imaginative accounts of the lives of two hypothetical early human spreaders of the disease. Since the rest of the book appears as cautiously grounded in fact as he could manage, those passages don’t seem to fit. More than once, he refers to scientists’ apprehension of the potential Next Big One—the viral pandemic (probably a coronavirus) that will burst upon the global scene when we’re least prepared. Now that the Next Big One has arrived, this eight-year-old book feels eerily prophetic.

OR WHAT YOU WILL, by Jo Walton. All of Walton’s books or series are different from each other, and this new novel, too, is unique, although it does share an Italian Renaissance background with LENT. The nameless, protean (but always masculine) narrator of OR WHAT YOU WILL is a fictional construct living in the brain of Sylvia, a novelist with terminal cancer, who’s enjoying a final trip to Florence. Or does the narrator have a life of his own rather than being a creation of her mind? Whether or not he existed before she became aware of him in her childhood, his life, as well as his incarnation on the written page, now depends on hers. He went dormant during her young adulthood but revived to rescue her from her stifling, abusive first marriage. Throughout her career, he has been many characters. In the present, the frame narrative portrays his attempt to save her and himself by transporting her into one of her own invented worlds. Naturally, she considers this goal impossible. In the setting of the story nested within the frame, Illyria, a utopian realm centered upon the city of Thalia, a fantasy version of Florence, Sylvia has placed a sequel to Shakespeare’s TWELFTH NIGHT. Orsino and Olivia are married to their respective loves from the play. In this world, Orsino is the son of Miranda from THE TEMPEST, who is a magician. Long ago, Illyria made a pact with the gods for their realm to remain at the peak of the Renaissance, with Progress, in the sense of advanced technology, forever barred. Furthermore, people don’t die unless they will to do so or are killed by unexpected violence. Religion consists of a strange yet graceful blend between Catholic Christianity and classical polytheism. Into this world, Sylvia’s tale introduces two young people from Florence of our Earth’s 1847. The plot of the nested story is rather simple and straightforward: Caliban, Miranda’s first husband, erupts into Thalia from his subterranean lair to demand the release of his son, Geryon, blinded and imprisoned in a tower after Orsino wrested the dukedom from him. Orsino and his family must decide how to respond. Character interaction, worldbuilding, and philosophical discourse are more important than the nominal plot. The courteous but never completely reconciled disagreements among the viewpoints of the Illyrians, the visitors from 1847, the narrator, and Sylvia herself provide the thematic core of the novel. Will Sylvia attain an immortality beyond metaphorical survival through her art? Walton offers a fascinating metafictional work grounded in rich sensory detail and Sylvia’s realistically rendered emotional life.

*****

Excerpt from SHADOW OF THE BEAST:

The door creaked as she eased it open. She jumped at the sound.

“Dan? Paula? Where is everybody?” They couldn’t be asleep. Her flaky brother couldn’t have coaxed a twelve-year-old to crash for the night this early. Jenny fumbled for the light switch.

The pole lamp next to the door came on. “Dan, if you’re playing some stupid trick, I’ll kill you.”

No answer.

Her throat tightened. Come on, don’t lose it yet. Maybe he took Paula out someplace and forgot to leave the lights on. He was spacy enough to do that, the way he’d been acting lately. She dropped her things on the nearest end table.

They would’ve left a note. Gone out for burgers, back soon. Jenny scanned the living room, rummaged through the magazines on the coffee table. No sign of a note.

Then she heard—something—from the den, at the other end of the house.

Something—a low, drawn-out rumble of sound. A growl.

Quietly as she could, Jenny slipped off her loafers and tiptoed through the dining room, sidling around the perimeter of the hardwood floor to avoid the squeaky boards in the middle. She edged past the swinging door into the kitchen, her pulse throbbing in her temples.

Her groping hand fell upon the wall phone. What are you waiting for, call 911! She imagined sirens, flashing red lights, a pair of husky policemen barging in. And at the same moment, Dan and Paula strolling up the sidewalk with a video and bag of popcorn.

It’s nothing to get freaked about. A stray dog in the back yard, that’s all.

Leaning against the refrigerator, she felt along the top for the flashlight. She held her breath to listen closer.

Yes—snarls rising to a crescendo. More than one.

Not out back. Inside the house.

Wind rattled the sliding glass door in the den, the one that opened onto the patio.

Shifting the flashlight to her left hand, she dug in a drawer for a butcher knife. Clutching the hilt in an overhand grip, she crept toward the closed door between kitchen and den. Sweat slicked her palms.

She tucked the flashlight under her arm to turn the doorknob. The mingled growls and snarls from the den grew still louder.

A foul smell wrinkled her nose. For a minute she couldn’t place it.

Then it came to her—decayed leaves, wet fur, rank odors. Something that belonged to the night, out there. Not in here. Her leg muscles trembled.

She jerked the door open and clicked on the flashlight.

The glint of red eyes.

She whipped the beam from side to side.

Two pairs of eyes.

The scene hit her in fragments, like scattered puzzle pieces. The familiar shabby furniture. A cushion and afghan from the couch heaped on the floor. A lamp smashed on the floor. The patio door, open.

And in front of it, a huge, shaggy animal. In the quivering flashlight beam, it looked—deformed. A second beast crouched over another heap. Jenny trained the light in that direction.

On the braid rug Paula lay huddled face down, her powder-blue pajamas splotched with dark stains. The growling receded in Jenny’s ears to a uniform roar, like static.

The thing stepped over Paula and slinked toward Jenny. A gleam of pink-tinged spittle drooled from its jaws. Screaming, she dropped the knife and flashlight.

Nausea swelled in her throat. A gray fog thickening in front of her eyes. Flashes of red.

Then, nothing.

-end of excerpt-

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You can contact me at: MLCVamp@aol.com

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