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Welcome to the April 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!

My Christmas light paranormal romance novelette, “Chocolate Chip Charm,” will be included in the Wild Rose Press’s holiday cookie themed line this coming winter. No release date or other details yet. There’s an excerpt below. In going through a box of cookbooks from her grandmother, Stacy comes upon a notebook of magic spells. While preparing to bake cookies for a choir potluck, she worries about her two friends who’ve just broken off their relationship (one of them being her old high-school sweetheart).

Also, I’m delighted to report that the Wild Rose Press has accepted my light paranormal romance novella KAPPA COMPANION, which follows YOKAI MAGIC and KITSUNE ENCHANTMENT. Each can be read on its own, however.

This month I’m interviewing romance author Fran McNabb, who has a story with me in the Wild Rose Press anthology SWEET SCOOPS, available here:

Sweet Scoops

*****

Interview with Fran McNabb:

Thank you, Margaret, for including me in your newsletter.

l. What inspired you to begin writing?

That’s easy. I taught high school English and journalism. My life revolved around writing so it was only natural to begin delving into my own fiction. I read romance novels during my summer break. I loved them and never thought about writing anything else.

2. What genres do you work in?

I usually write contemporary, clean romance, but I do have three historical romances. My last book was an inspirational historical, THE WAY HOME.

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

Definitely in between. I use a plotting grid, but I never do a detailed outline. I have to start writing to get to know my characters, then I plan the rest of the novel.

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

Even though Leon Uris doesn’t write romance, I credit him for the creation of my heroes. I fell in love with EXODUS (read it twice) and Ari, the hero. When I’ve taught workshops about creating character, I always mentioned Ari. I think a little bit of him is in all my heroes.

Living on the Gulf Coast surrounded by water, islands, and sand has also influenced my writing. Many of my stories take place on the coastline, including “Smoothing a Rocky Road,” my short story in the SWEET SCOOPS, One Scoop or Two Anthology. (Margaret Carter also has a story in it: “Spooky Tutti Frutti.”)

5. How have your travels and your work in teaching and journalism affected your writing?

As stated in #1, teaching English and journalism gave me a great background that led to my own writing. I spent my days surrounded by the great literary authors as well as by objective news stories. I loved seeing how authors and journalists took ideas and developed them. The flowery writing of some of the classic authors to the straightforward news stories gave me different worlds that help me today with my own stories.

6. You often write about military heroes. Do you have any personal connection with the armed forces? What attracts you about this kind of character?

When I met my husband, he was in the Air Force, leaving the United States for a three-year tour in Germany. He returned nine months later to marry me and to take me to Europe. It was a great way to start a marriage. I guess that gave us a good foundation because last summer we celebrated fifty years together. Those years taught me about military life. We only stayed in the service for four years, but I admire the men and women who make a career of the military, a life that requires sacrifice for both the servicemen and their families.

7. What is your latest or next-forthcoming book?

THE WAY HOME, an inspirational historical romance set in 1849 in Independence, Missouri, is my latest book published by Winged Press in February of this year. Even though I have thirteen clean romances, this book was my first inspirational. It was a natural progression to try my hand in this genre and I really liked it.

8. What are you working on now?

At the moment I’m taking a break from writing. I call it “letting ideas percolate.” I introduced a character in THE WAY HOME, and I’d like to write my next book about him. I have a few ideas but I’m not sure where his story will lead.

9. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

My advice to aspiring writers would be to not rush the process. Writing takes time, both to learn the craft as well as to figure out the world of publishing. Take writing classes. Attend workshops. Read and read some more. We never are too old to learn something that will help us master the art of being an author.

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

Website
Twitter

FB pages:

Fran McNabb Facebook

Fran McNabb Author Facebook

*****

Some Books I’ve Read Lately:

HEARTS STRANGE AND DREADFUL, by Tim McGregor. This historical vampire novel that never mentions the word “vampire” takes inspiration from the New England “vampire” cases of the late nineteenth century, although McGregor sets his story much earlier. The teenage narrator, Hester Stokely, lives in a Rhode Island village in 1821 with her aunt and uncle and their children. Because of burn scars from the fire that killed her parents, she considers herself ugly, a belief reinforced by taunting from some of the other youths in town. Her secret crush on an older boy therefore seems hopeless. She makes herself useful to her family not only by doing ordinary household chores but by her skills with herbs and healing techniques. Although her aunt and uncle treat her kindly, she never feels quite equal to her cousins in their parents’ affection. A mysterious fugitive takes refuge in their barn, raving about the complete destruction of a nearby town. After he flees into the forest, a party of men travels to his alleged home to check on the tale. They discover the place burned to ruins and bodies dug up from the graveyard. Moreover, a strange woman who claims to be the widow of the dead man’s brother arrives, seeking vengeance on her brother-in-law for, she asserts, murdering her husband. The lavish reward she offers for the man’s capture sets the town in an uproar. Around the same time, people start to die of consumption, including members of Hester’s family. With panic and superstition running rampant, the town’s leaders eventually resort to exhuming those who die of the epidemic and burning their hearts. Until well into the story, we can’t be sure whether the undead are really preying on their surviving relatives and neighbors or the calamity arises from a mere combination of natural illness and hysterical fears. One cousin’s dream of an “angel” with red eyes provides a clue easily recognized by the reader, though not by the narrator. Hester is a sympathetic character, and the novel has an absorbing, well-paced plot that leads in directions not readily predictable. I love the fresh approach to vampirism, drawing upon actual beliefs and practices of the era instead of falling back on literary and cinematic tropes invented many years later. The author has obviously done plenty of research into the time and place of the setting. However, Hester’s references to the detested “Puritans” of Massachusetts are anachronistic by a century or so. Another incongruous note is a character’s mishearing Hester’s name as “Heather” (not used as a given name until the late 1800s and not popular until much later still). On the level of detail, numerous small errors jerked me out of the story, such as typos resulting in the wrong homonyms (e.g., “marshal” for “martial” at least twice) as well as several blatant malapropisms such as “detract” for “distract.” I’m not sure how to interpret the book’s conclusion. If it’s intended as a happy ending, it falls flat, in my opinion. Or is it supposed to convey the somber message that Hester should settle for the best she can get and be content with it?

LATER, by Stephen King. Like THE COLORADO KID and JOYLAND, this horror novel was published in the Hard Case Crime line from Titan Books. As with those earlier works, though, don’t be misled by the racy,1950s-style hardboiled mystery cover, which gives no indication of the book’s genre and tone, although LATER does include a crooked cop and a drug-dealing crime lord. The narrator reveals the significance of the title in his introductory note. He’s a young man in his early twenties reflecting on events that happened from his childhood to mid-teens. Over and over, he remarks that he fully understood what he’d experienced not at the time but only “later.” Thus King simultaneously provides a boy’s perspective and that of the adult he has become. The story involves one of King’s perennial tropes, a child with a psychic power. Jamie Conklin, whose single mother is a literary agent, sees dead people—as he mentions, not quite like the boy in the movie, but close. His mother thinks he simply has a vivid imagination until he sees the recently deceased wife of a college professor who lives in their apartment building and tells the man something he (Jamie) could have learned only from the dead woman. The dead follow these rules: (1) They look exactly as they did at the moment of death. (2) They have to answer questions truthfully and can’t refuse to answer. (3) They gradually withdraw from the world of the living and disappear within a few days, usually lingering no more than a week at most. Upon the death of the famous client on whom his mother’s struggling agency depends, through Jamie’s gift she gets the plot of the unwritten final book in the author’s bestselling series. The resulting novel, written by her but passed off as a manuscript she discovered and edited, restores Jamie and his mother to financial prosperity. Meanwhile, she develops a relationship with Liz, the corrupt police officer mentioned above, but breaks off the romance when she learns about Liz’s involvement with illegal drugs. Aware of Jamie’s ability, Liz later uses it to find out where a serial bomber calling himself Thumper planted his final bomb. “Thumper,” however, is different from all the other dead people. He doesn’t fade away but continues to haunt Jamie. Moreover, it becomes clear that the apparition isn’t truly the serial killer at all, but some malevolent entity possessing his residual shell. With advice from the old professor, Jamie employs the Ritual of Chud (in an echo of IT) against “Thumper.” But that isn’t the end of the story, as now ex-cop Liz later returns to force Jamie to use his power for her once more. This quick read, a short book by King’s standards, held me riveted, mainly through the protagonist’s narrative voice. Although LATER probably won’t become one of my top favorites in the author’s oeuvre, I’ll definitely reread it more than once. The horror of the never truly defined intruder from beyond impresses me as vintage King, and he handles the coming-of-age theme with his usual skill.

THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS, by John Connolly. A portal fantasy about a world shaped by fairy tales. Although the protagonist, David, is a preteen, the book’s language and dark tone read more like a YA than a middle-grade novel. David loves fairy tales, but he’s unprepared for the stories he discovers when he crosses into that other world. His mother dies after a long illness, despite David’s obsessive-compulsive rituals attempting to stave off that fate. His father remarries, after which the family moves into a house that has belonged to the new wife’s family for generations. David resents his stepmother, an attitude worsened by the birth of a new baby. In the bedroom given to him, David finds a book that belonged to Jonathan, a relative of hers who mysteriously vanished many years earlier. One feature of the estate is a ruined sunken garden. When David thinks he hears his mother’s voice calling him from there, he sneaks out to follow the voice and enters a forest infested by wolf packs under the leadership of bipedal, half-human lupine creatures. Guided and protected first by a Woodsman and then by a soldier (knight?) named Roland with his faithful horse, Scylla, David sets out to find the castle of the king, although rumor hints that the king hasn’t ruled effectively in a long time. However, he’s said to possess a volume called THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS, which may help David reunite with his mother. On the way, he encounters twisted incarnations of familiar fairy tales, including an obese, narcissistic Snow White who treats the dwarfs almost like slaves, a gender-flipped “Beauty and the Beast,” and a vampiric Sleeping Beauty. The Snow White episode, by the way, feels like comic relief, a slightly jarring note amid the otherwise seriously dark events. Meanwhile, a sinister figure called the Crooked Man repeatedly pops up, insisting he has David’s best interests in mind and can restore his mother to life. In fact, the Crooked Man promises to fulfill all of David’s most cherished dreams in return for only one small favor—for David to speak his baby brother’s name. The reader, of course, knows this would be a very bad idea, but the Crooked Man’s underlying motive will probably come as a horrific surprise. When David finally reaches the castle, naturally neither the king nor the magical book turns out to be what he expects. A disturbing but ultimately satisfying story for fans of portal fantasies and re-imagined fairy tales.

DAGGERS IN DARKNESS, by S. M. Stirling. The fourth installment in the Black Chamber series, set in an alternate America where Theodore Roosevelt reclaimed the presidency in the election of 1912. In a time skip from the previous volume, it’s now 1922, with Teddy apparently set as President for life or until he decides to retire. The Great War ended with Germany ruling Europe and the world dominated by a cold war among the three great power blocs—the German hegemony, the Empire of Japan, and the Oceanian Alliance (the U.S. and its allies). London and parts of Europe have been devastated by the lethal V-gas, leaving some cities as unlivable as if flattened by nuclear bombardment. Canada has joined the U.S., and Mexico is an American protectorate. Black Chamber operative Luz O’Malley and her lover, Ciara, now live together in Luz’s luxurious family home in Santa Barbara with their two sets of four-year-old female twins, passed off to people outside their inner circle as “orphans” they’ve adopted. In reality, of course, they deliberately chose the girls’ father according to the Progressive Republican Party’s advanced eugenic principles. Luz is ready to return to active field work, and tech-wizard Ciara has no intention of being left out of any missions Luz undertakes. Tasked to investigate the smuggling of priceless Chinese artifacts, Luz assumes the persona of a rich Mexican-American widow dealing in antiquities. Supported by Ciara, their Chinese-American nanny/bodyguard, and two young Japanese-American sisters with equally versatile talents, Luz negotiates with dubious characters in San Francisco’s Chinatown. The investigation reveals not only antique smuggling but trafficking in kidnapped girls and leads to the revelation that either a rogue state or a criminal cartel plans to buy up a stockpile of V-gas. Luz, Ciara, and party travel to Shanghai for tense confrontations and a climactic battle. Aside from one street fight in San Francisco and the raid on the villains in Shanghai, there’s almost no “action” in the sense of physical combat, which suits me fine. I enjoy these books for the worldbuilding, dialogue, and character relationships, with the spy-thriller plot a necessary scaffolding on which to hang those elements. I always have trouble following fight scenes, although Stirling’s read clearer than most to me, but even so I never wish for more of them. I’ve mostly gotten over my disappointment that this series includes no fantasy elements, since the alternate history is fascinating to read about. Teddy Roosevelt’s “Progressive” America is neither a utopia nor a dystopia, just different from ours, better in many respects but problematic in some others. At a few points I wondered whether the editor had fallen asleep, notably “alumnus” instead of “alumna” for a female college graduate, but there weren’t many of those. Needless to say, new readers should start the series with the first volume, not begin with this novel, but established fans of the “Chamberverse” should be delighted by DAGGERS IN DARKNESS. (Despite the cover, one of the ugliest of any I’ve seen in a long time.)

*****

Excerpt from “Chocolate Chip Charm”:

Inside, Stacy piled most of the loose books back into the carton, hauled it into the office, and carried the holiday cookbook into the kitchen. As an afterthought, she turned around to retrieve the spell notebook, too. After setting it on the end of the counter for later perusal, she flipped to the chocolate chip cookie page. She’d already bought chocolate bits, the red and green candies, and peppermint extract, knowing she’d need those if she found the recipe. She ought to have the rest of the necessary items on hand. Checking the list, she confirmed that assumption.

As she got out ingredients, bowls, utensils, and cookie cutters, her unruly brain wandered to Rob again. If he and Doreen can make each other happy, that’s what I want. If only I could fix this for them, she mused while sifting flour and sugar into a mixing bowl. That’s what a true friend would do, right?

Her gaze shifted from the recipe page to the notebook at the end of the short counter in her cramped kitchen. A love potion could fix it, if that really worked.

Laughing at herself, she opened the loose-leaf pages to the love spell anyway. Come to think of it, hadn’t Grammie dropped hints now and then that some of her old friends’ magic seemed to produce real-world effects? Speaking of rational, this is not definitely not it. On the other hand, I can treat it like a science experiment. What can it hurt to try, as long as the concoction doesn’t include anything poisonous?

The page was labeled, “To Awaken Love.” She scanned the list of ingredients. Nothing harmful or likely to ruin the taste of the cookies, just ordinary kitchen supplies such as cinnamon for heat, ginger for spiciness and protection, honey for sweetness, and cardamom to allegedly make the user irresistible. Sounds like flavoring for a mince pie. In fact, it sounded too simple to be magic, if there was such a thing. Reading on, she found a note at the bottom stating that passionate intention and a firm will were the most important components. The instructions finished with a charm to recite while mixing the potion. For best results, she should brew it in spring water. Okay, she had a plastic jug of that on hand.

The directions admonished the spellcaster to work with pure motives, seeking the best for the other person, not applying coercion. That’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m not trying to force them into anything. I only want what’s best for them.

With that mindset, trying a magic spell couldn’t be evil, could it? Besides, her grandmother wasn’t the type to dabble in anything morally dubious.

Stacy reread the whole thing once more, searching for any hidden trap of the kind that always seemed to lurk in fairy-tale enchantments. From all she’d read or heard, magic, like gaming, law, and computer programming, followed rules. This example of it looked safe enough, guaranteeing that the one who consumed the potion would fall in love with the next suitable person he or she saw. Suitable. Good, she’d run no risk of Rob’s developing a mad crush on the church office’s resident cat, like Titania and donkey-headed Bottom in Midsummer Night’s Dream. On the farfetched assumption that this enchantment worked, it couldn’t do any harm. Furthermore, the spell manual claimed the charm would wear off after seven days. In that time, the magical kick-start, if any, should revitalize Rob and Doreen’s mutual affection.

-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 March 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!

My humorous vampire story “Support Group” appears in NIGHT TO DAWN 39, which you can find here:

Night to Dawn

Several vampires, some of whom you may recognize, gather for group therapy under the guidance of Dr. Roger Darvell (protagonist of my DARK CHANGELING and CHILD OF TWILIGHT). A teaser, comprising the first few paragraphs, appears below.

This month, I have the privilege of interviewing fantasy author Stephanie Burgis.

*****

Interview with Stephanie Burgis:

What inspired you to begin writing?

I fell in love with reading at a ridiculously early age, but somehow it didn’t click with me that the books I read were written by real people until I was 7. At that point, I announced to my mom: “I’ve found something even more fun than reading. Writing!” And it really was my passion and my life goal from then onwards.

What genres do you work in?

MG fantasy and adult romantic (and usually historical) fantasy.

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

I wing it completely! 🙂 My main strategy as I write any first draft is to think: “What would be most interesting or most awkward for my main character?” And then I do that.

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

I grew up imprinting hard on not only Tolkien but Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, too, along with Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman, Robin McKinley, and Terri Windling. I still remember how my breath was taken away by Nalo Hopkinson’s first novel (and I’ve had similar reactions to every new novel she’s written since then)! And I was lucky enough to study with six amazing writers and editors at the Clarion West workshop in 2001: Octavia Butler, Bradley Denton, Connie Willis, Nalo Hopkinson, Ellen Datlow, and Jack Womack. All of them (and my classmates) had a huge influence on me!

What do you consider the main differences between writing adult fiction and writing middle grade or YA?

It’s really just a matter of perspective. If you dive deep into your character’s mindset, their voice will come out very differently depending on their age, their setting, and their experiences of the world. Obviously, there are some topics (romance, sex, etc.) that are appropriate for adult books but not MG, but again, those spiral from particular characters and their situations, so I really don’t have to struggle to leave them out of fiction for younger readers!

Apart from that, a lot of it really does just come down to wordcount. There’s a lot of pressure nowadays for MG novels to top out at about half the length of a standard adult fantasy novel, so stories have to be written tightly and efficiently. It’s a really fun challenge – and likewise, it’s a fun challenge to let myself spread out a bit in adult fantasy and really bring out a different kind of fun in those novels or novellas.

How do the alternate-history worlds of the Harwood series and the Shadow novels differ, respectively, from the real-world histories of Britain and Europe?

The Harwood Spellbook series is set in a world very different from our own, in which Boudicca successfully kicked out the Romans with the help of her (fictitious) second husband, a magic worker, and from then onwards, the governance of “Angland” was left to the “naturally hard-headed” women (in the form of a ruling Boudiccate) while “irrational, emotional” magic was left to the gentlemen. Also, there are trolls, elves, and more hanging about regularly!

I took a very different tack in Masks and Shadows and Congress of Secrets, both of which I set in our real world – but with secret alchemy going on behind the scenes. Those books really came from my PhD research into opera and politics in late 18th-century Vienna and Eszterháza, and it was a lot of fun to take real-world events and characters and invent secret magical explanations for a lot of the things that they did.

How do the magic systems of the Harwood world and the Kat series differ from each other?

The Harwood Spellbook is set in a very different version of 19th-century England (or, in its case, Angland) where magic is real and inescapable in day-to-day life and has made huge changes to all of Angland’s history. The Kat, Incorrigible series is also set in the same time period, but in a much less altered version of our world. In Kat’s (far more recognizable) early 19th-century England, magic is seen as scandalous and inappropriate – really, in very poor taste – which means it’s very rarely witnessed.

Can you give us any hints about the forthcoming Raven Crown series?

This one is just a little darker than my earlier MG novels, although it’s still focused on a loving family group and has a lot of humor in it. The fantasy setting is very much based on the British Wars of the Roses, because when I was reading history books about them for fun (because I am a big geek, and also because I live in a part of Wales where many of those battles took place), I was struck by how often the rival heirs in these bloody wars were just kids – who were, of course, used as pawns by their powerful families. Some of their real adventures were absolutely wild as they had to wear disguises and flee across the kingdom at night on horseback, etc…so I started imagining a fantasy version of that kind of situation. It’s Shakespeare-inflected and full of magic, and right now it’s projected to be a duology: The Raven Heir and The Raven Throne.

What is your latest or next-forthcoming book?

Right now, I have a fluffy Regency rom-com with pet dragons (Scales and Sensibility) being published as a serial on my Patreon ( patreon.com/stephanieburgis ), and my next MG fantasy novel, The Raven Heir, will come out in America in September 2021 (and in the UK in August 2021).

What are you working on now?

I’m pretty much always working on two projects at once (one for adults and one for kids). At the moment, I’m finishing up the first draft of The Raven Throne (coming out from Bloomsbury Children’s Books in 2022) and also editing Scales and Sensibility as I publish it to my patrons on Patreon, one chapter a week.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Read as much as you possibly can in as many genres as you can! Be stubbornly persistent. Find people willing to read your work and give you honest feedback (but make sure they’re giving positive as well as negative notes, to keep it useful and not just crushing). Work to revise your own work again and again and keep growing as a writer. I can’t wait to read what you write!

What is the URL of your website? What about other internet presence? My website is:
Stephanie Burgis

I’m also on Twitter as @Stephanie Burgis, on Instagram as @stephanieburgisinwales, and my Patreon page is:
Stephanie Burgis Patreon

*****

Some Books I’ve Read Lately:

THE FISHERMAN, by John Langan. I recently learned of this 2016 horror novel in a review essay, and I found it enthralling. It effectively comprises two separate stories, one nested inside the other. The frame narrator, Abe, whose wife has died of cancer, discovers fishing as a pathway out of his depression, self-neglect, and alcohol abuse. When a co-worker, Dan, loses his wife and children in a horrific accident, the two men eventually become friends as they begin fishing together. Readers would immediately recognize the book as a horror story even without the cover blurb, because Abe openly foreshadows the horror content by warning us about the awfulness of the tale he’s preparing to tell. Without the supernatural plot elements, the account of the friendship between Abe and Dan would still be engrossing. It’s a pleasure to read an author with such a command of description and characterization, not to mention grammar and sentence structure (and minimal typos – I winced only a few times in the 263 pages of text). The main body of the novel, “Der Fischer: A Tale of Terror,” however, consists of a narrative that could make a book on its own, a historical horror story taking place mostly in the early twentieth century. Ten years in the past (relative to the time when Abe writes down the events) Dan tells Abe about Dutchman’s Creek, an obscure fishing spot in upstate New York, and is evasive when Abe asks how he learned of it. They hear the long cautionary tale about the place from Howard, a chef in a roadside diner. Howard got the story from a Lutheran minister, who heard it from Lottie, a dying old woman born in Germany in the late nineteenth century. Such nested narratives are a common trope in classic Gothic fiction. One Amazon review complains about the impossibility of Howard’s telling the entire story in the hour the conversation is supposed to have taken, but Abe admits at the start that he couldn’t have learned everything from Howard at the time. He must have picked up much of the information on his own in some other way. (Besides, this literary convention carries suspension of disbelief much further in older works such as FRANKENSTEIN, whose main body consists of Victor Frankenstein’s unfolding his entire life story to the Arctic explorer who rescues him from the ice, with a long monologue by the creature embedded in that.) The past narrative, in a third-person omniscient voice, begins with the history of a rich, unpleasant man, Cornelius Dort, who invites a strange guest into his mansion in the small upstate New York town of Hurley Station. The guest, later known as Der Fischer—the Fisherman—who stays on until Dort’s death and inherits the house, turns out to be a necromancer. As in Stephen King’s PET SEMATARY (to which one Amazon review compares this book), the dead he raises come back “wrong.” Moreover, that kind of sorcery proves subordinate to his main goal, capturing an otherworldly monster, the Leviathan. When Lottie’s father, who had lost his position as a university professor in Germany for delving into the occult, leads a small expedition to the mansion to get rid of the Fisherman, they break into an alternate dimension. Back in the frame story, Abe soon realizes Dan wants to find Dutchman’s Creek because of a fixation on the possibility of the dead returning to life. The search, of course, goes terribly wrong, and Abe must leave the eldritch borderland without Dan. The denouement, years later, finally brings Abe a sort of resolution if not exactly peace. This novel does a superb job with one of my favorite themes, the horrific past casting its shadow on the present. I also like the way the terrible truth about the Fisherman is uncovered in small increments, building suspense with the promise of an ultimate shattering revelation. The book has an epigraph from MOBY-DICK and includes subtle allusions to that classic.

THE TEN THOUSAND DOORS OF JANUARY, by Alix E. Harrow. Another portal fantasy, this one about a book as a metaphorical portal and words as keys to literal gates into alternate worlds. In the early twentieth century, the January of the title, a mixed-race girl, lives in the New England home of a wealthy man as his ward while her father travels the globe to collect artifacts and curiosities for their patron’s exotic collection. She loves her father but resents his being gone so often she rarely sees him. She thinks of his employer, Mr. Locke, as a foster father. While she knows the other members of the society of rich collectors he belongs to think of her as, at most, a clever pet, she tries to believe Mr. Locke is genuinely fond of her. Occasionally odd little gifts turn up in a chest in her room, which she assumes come from him. But then a strange book appears, THE TEN THOUSAND DOORS, the kind of thing Mr. Locke wouldn’t approve of. She “dives into” the book, supposedly written by a man from a different world. It begins with the story of Ade (short for Adelaide), a nineteenth-century Midwestern girl whose life changes when she meets a boy who has come through a door that shouldn’t exist. The tale narrates her quest for him through a series of portals and dimensions, while he in turn devotes his life to seeking her. For a long stretch of the novel, chapters of THE TEN THOUSAND DOORS alternate with January’s story, as she discovers doors between dimensions really exist, and Locke and his colleagues are determined to close all they can find. Meanwhile, her friendship with the son of the local Italian grocer deepens, and her father sends a peculiar African woman, Jane, to watch over her, with whom January forms a firm alliance against Locke and his cohorts. The boy and Jane eventually rescue January from an insane asylum and join her on an odyssey across the multiverse. About halfway through the novel, we find out the connection between THE TEN THOUSAND DOORS and January’s own life. As she masters her gift for writing changes into the very fabric of reality, she also learns the truth of her origin and how her father became enslaved to Locke’s schemes. A breathtaking adventure of interdimensional journeys and self-discovery of mythic scope, with engaging characters one can’t help rooting for.

ROOT MAGIC, by Eden Royce. This YA novel set in 1963 takes place in a rural Black community on one of the Sea Islands off South Carolina and focuses on the Gullah people, who preserve their African-influenced creole language and many elements of their unique culture. In the opening scene, Jezebel and her twin brother, Jay, just short of their eleventh birthday, attend the traditional Gullah funeral of their grandmother, a venerated expert in rootwork. The root magic of the title encompasses far more than medicines derived from plants; it includes real spells and the lore of the spirit realm. The father of Jez and Jay mysteriously disappeared years earlier. They live with their mother and her brother, their Uncle Doc, also a root worker. He offers to teach the children his knowledge and skills. Although their mother takes a dim view of root magic, she allows Doc to train the twins. Intense, studious Jez writes down his teachings in a notebook and diligently practices the tasks she’s set, while Jay, although also a quick learner, takes a more outwardly casual approach. Meanwhile, Jez endures typical pre-adolescent problems at school, mainly harassment from the mean girls who taunt her as a “witch” because of her family’s involvement in the folk magic they scorn. Also, Jay begins growing away from her as he begins to spend more time with other boys in masculine pursuits such as sports. On the positive side, school also provides a sympathetic teacher who introduces Jez to Black authors. Her first solo attempt at a spell consists of a wish for a friend. The wish seems to come true when she meets a new girl, Susie, who’s happy to hang out with her. Susie displays a certain reticence, though, that hints she isn’t what she seems. Jez learns protection spells, among other magic, and needs them when the marshland where she and Jay have played all their lives proves to harbor dangerous creatures of the spirit world. Mundane hazards appear in the form of one of the book’s only two white characters, the viciously racist Deputy Collins, who harasses the family out of an irrational loathing of “witch doctors” in addition to what looks like sheer meanness. The other white man in the story, the sheriff, treats Jez’s family with courtesy and dignity, but as far as getting rid of Collins is concerned, local politics limit the sheriff’s ability to act. Collins ultimately meets a well-deserved fate, in which the enigmatic Susie plays a vital role. The landscape and culture of the setting are vividly rendered. Allusions to the civil rights movement, the optimism sparked by Kennedy’s presidency, and the mourning for his death offer glimpses of the wider world outside Jez’s community. If Jez were real, she would be only about four years younger than I, but I was a white, suburban, middle-class teenager in the 1960s. I found Royce’s portrayal of a society in the same period but so different from my own fascinating. One small point, by the way: It seems strange that a church-going woman would name her daughter after one of the most notorious villains in the Bible.

* * * *

Excerpt from “Support Group”:

“I believe all but one of our scheduled participants are present.” Dr. Roger Darvell, the psychiatrist conducting the group therapy session, checked his watch and continued, “Please, if you will, each of you begin by telling us why you’re here.” He nodded to the young-looking man in jeans and black leather jacket on his right.

“The same reason as most of you, I suppose.” The speaker ran a hair through his curly hair, chestnut with golden highlights. “To find a cure for this diabolical—compulsion.”

A fair-skinned lady with luxuriant ebony hair, the only woman present, said with a brittle laugh, “Sir Nicholas, you talk like a priest! Nature knows nothing of good or evil. I’m here because my lovers cannot seem to understand this truth.” Her haunting, dark eyes brimmed with tears, as she went on in her faintly Germanic accent, “Always they reject me when they discover my—condition. Love is so painful—my self-esteem suffers so dreadfully—”

The man on her right, equally pale and dark-haired, dressed like a seventeenth-century cavalier, said only, “Attempted suicide. Jumped into a volcano.”

The others winced.

“I, also, by walking into sunlight,” said the somber black man next to him, tall and imposing in his flowing, black cloak. “And why they will never let us rest, those monsters of greed in your golden western land—” He glared around the circle.

A man in an Inverness caped coat, leaning on a wolf’s-head cane, raised his deep-set, shadowed eyes to survey his fellow patients. “I, too, seek a cure. I’ve almost had it several times, but it always proved to be an illusion.”

“Fools!” burst out a tall, old man with a flowing mustache and a strongly aquiline profile. “You, trying to throw away your gift of immortality. And you, begging to be ‘cured’ of your powers. I am elder and greater than most of you, so perhaps your folly shouldn’t surprise me. But you, Sir Nicholas—not only scorning your gifts, but prostituting them to enforce the petty laws of these ephemeral creatures. Why haven’t you learned better in your eight centuries?”

“Just Nick,” said the young-looking man. “Maybe I’ve learned more than you have.”

“If you feel that way, Count,” Dr. Darvell asked, “why are you here?”

The elder’s lip curled in a disdainful snarl. “Your modern medical charlatans would call it an identity crisis or perhaps multiple personality disorder. Those mountebanks beyond the sunset trouble my peace, also. They have made me a warlord, a bloodthirsty beast, a defender of the faith, a cruel tyrant, a melancholy aristocrat, a romantic lover, or sometimes the butt of their crude jests on boxes of breakfast food for children. Some even take me for a sentimental idiot like you, Black Prince. But whatever I am, I chose my fate and embrace it without regret.”

The black man rose from his chair, fists clenched and fangs bared. “That gives you no right to force your condition on others, as you did to me.”

-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 February 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

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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

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Amazon

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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!

Writers Exchange E-Publishing has recently published AGAINST THE DARK DEVOURER, my dark paranormal romance with Lovecraftian elements. Although a next-generation sequel to FROM THE DARK PLACES, it could be read on its own. When her mother dies unexpectedly, Deborah learns she has a destiny to fight against invasive entities from beyond our space-time continuum. Meanwhile, Victor, who has been brought up with the mission of either turning her to the dark side or luring her in to be destroyed, finds himself falling in love with her, an attraction she reluctantly returns. An excerpt from the opening scene appears below.

Against the Dark Devourer

I’ve finished preparing this year’s vampire fiction bibliography update, comprising mostly 2020 publications along with a few older works and some January 2021 releases. If you’d like a copy of the file, please e-mail me at the address at the end of the newsletter.

In this month of Valentine’s Day, I’m interviewing Marilyn Baron, a romance author who has a story with me in the “One Scoop or Two” themed anthology SWEET SCOOPS, which you can find here:

Sweet Scoops

*****

Interview with Marilyn Baron:

What inspired you to begin writing?

I read Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder and I knew I wanted to be a writer. I majored in Journalism (Public Relations) and minored in English (Creative Writing) in college. After graduation, I was a corporate communications manager with AT&T, then owner of a public relations firm. I’ve been writing ever since. My first novel was published in 2013, and to date, I’ve written 25 works of fiction, with two more expected to be published this year.

What genres do you work in?

I write in a variety of genres, from women’s fiction to historical romantic thrillers and romantic suspense to paranormal/fantasy. Conventional wisdom says stick to one genre, but I Iike the flexibility and variety genre switching offers. I’ve just written my first cozy mystery and really enjoyed the experience.

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

I would say I wing it. I’m more of a “pantser.” I don’t outline or plot in advance. I write and edit as I go along. I always have to have the title of the book and the names of the main characters before I start a novel. I also know the ending, but things can go anywhere in between.

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

I had some great teachers who inspired and encouraged me to write. I always wrote for the school newspaper either as editor or feature writer, poetry for the school literary magazine, and I wrote scripts for school assembly programs. I’m an avid reader and I believe the more you read and the more you write, the better writer you’ll become. As far as life experiences, travel really influences my writing. The six months I spent in college in Florence, Italy, studying Italian, art history and mythology, made a big impression. Many of my novels are set either fully or partially in Florence or other places I’ve visited.

You’ve written several historical thrillers. How do you carry out research for historical fiction?

I did extensive research for my first book, Under the Moon Gate. I was in the process of writing it for 10 years on and off. It was set in contemporary and WW II Bermuda and I did a lot of research at the public library. I read old copies of The New York Times during the war years and The Royal Gazette, published in Bermuda, and my family and I vacationed in Bermuda a dozen times. My novel, Stumble Stones, set in Berlin, was inspired by a trip I took to that city. My favorite time period to write is WW II so I was already pretty familiar with that era. The Siege, set in Greece, was also inspired by a trip I took to Greece many years ago. The Saffron Conspiracy, set in Austria and Scotland, was inspired by a river cruise my husband and I took along the Danube and an excursion to a saffron farm. I did a lot of research about saffron and saffron farming. When I’m researching, I always pick a little-known nugget of information that fascinates me and I fashion a story with fictional characters around true events.

In addition to your personal experience of Florence, did you need to do any specific research for your “One Scoop or Two” story, “Stracciatella Gelato: Melting Time”?

I didn’t do much research for that story since I based parts of it on real-life experiences. My husband and I spent time in Italy (Lake Como, Rome, Amalfi Coast and Florence) before COVID in October 2019, because I said I wanted to revisit some of the places in Italy I thought I might never see again. When we were there, he asked ‘what if?’ What if you could go back in time to your college days and know now what you didn’t know then? The action is set off by a reverse Roma curse. I was actually cursed by a gypsy while I was a student in Florence. The story practically wrote itself. Since I’d recently returned to all my old haunts, everything became familiar again.

How, if at all, does your day job in public relations affect your writing career (e.g., marketing strategies)?

Having my own PR firm was helpful in developing my writing craft, interviewing people for research, and it definitely helped in marketing my books (writing press releases, planning special events, etc.). Majoring in Journalism and working with corporate clients instilled in me a dedication to meeting deadlines, which is critical in this profession.

What are you working on now?

I have a contract with The Wild Rose Press for a contemporary novel with a dual timeframe called The Romanov Legacy. It’s a high-concept women’s fiction with a fast-paced contemporary and historical timeline about two women, born a century apart, who fall in love with the wrong men, with disastrous consequences that could change the world. When a young single mother discovers she’s descended from the last Tsar, Nicholas II, she becomes the best hope of a secret society, Guardians of the Romanov Legacy, dedicated to restoring a Romanov to the throne.

And I’ve submitted a cozy mystery series (The Case of the Missing Botticelli, A Massimo Domingo Mystery, Book 1). In the first book of the series, American art history major Hadley Evans joins an art detective agency in Florence, Italy, working for Massimo Domingo, once a major player, now the ‘Inspector Clouseau’ of the art world. Determined to save the flailing agency and prove her worth, Hadley and her sexy Carabinieri boyfriend, Luca Ferrari, take on a mysterious client behind her boss’s back. Hot on the trail of a missing masterpiece, Hadley and Luca discover a hidden cache of stolen Nazi art in a Venetian villa and encounter an enemy with a link to an evil past. For this book I did some more research about stolen Nazi art, a theme that is featured in many of my books.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Finish the book. You can always correct a work in progress, but you can’t fix a blank page. Never give up on your dreams.

What is the URL of your website?

Marilyn Baron

What about other Internet presence?

Twitter (@MarilynBaron)
Facebook Marilyn Baron, Author
Goodreads

*****

Some Books I’ve Read Lately:

TALES FROM THE HINTERLAND, by Melissa Albert. After reading Albert’s portal fantasy THE HAZEL WOOD, I wished the fairy tale collection written by the reclusive grandmother of the narrator, Alice, existed in this world. Well, here it is. As foreshadowed in THE HAZEL WOOD, these stories are uniformly twisted and dark. The book is designed like an old-fashioned volume of fairy tales, with creepy illustrations in black and red. Some of the stories echo familiar lore, such as “The Door That Wasn’t There,” with a Cinderella evil-stepmother premise, and “The Sea Cellar,” reminiscent of “Bluebeard,” about a mysterious house inhabited by an unknown person or creature, where brides go and never come out. Others feature classic fairy-tale motifs without retelling any particular single story. They contain elements such as queens longing for children, seductive but lethal forest or undersea denizens, the Moon watching over her half-mortal granddaughter, the undead, and encounters with Death personified. Almost none of the stories have happy or even potentially happy endings. This Gothic-toned collection can be read entirely independently of THE HAZEL WOOD but will have added resonance for readers of the novel. “Alice-Three-Times,” in particular, enhances the backstory revealed in THE HAZEL WOOD. The latter has a sequel, THE NIGHT COUNTRY, published in 2019, which I recently discovered. It begins with Alice back in the primary world, holding a job in a secondhand book shop in New York and finally settled down with her mother in a seemingly permanent home. Alice attends a support group for Hinterland refugees but otherwise considers herself free of her otherworldly past. Then she hears ominous reports of the murders of refugees, and the influence of the Hinterland overshadows her again, with Alice herself suspected of the crimes. Part of the novel is narrated by Ellery Finch, her friend who chose to stay in the Hinterland and now roams from world to world. If you enjoyed THE HAZEL WOOD, you’ll want to read this follow-up book.

ACROSS THE GREEN GRASS FIELDS, by Seanan McGuire. This latest installment in the Wayward Children series, as claimed in the cover blurb, can be read on its own. It doesn’t even mention Miss Eleanor’s boarding school, a refuge for children and teenagers who have visited other worlds and unwillingly returned to ours. Heroine Regan, however, ten years old when she stumbles upon her door, would definitely fit into the school. Preoccupied almost to the point of obsession with playing the role of a “normal” girl, she loves horses, fortunately an acceptable passion for a preteen girl. When she learns a secret about herself that devastates her sense of normality, she finds her way into the Hooflands. Meeting a young female centaur who’s rounding up an escapee from her family’s unicorn herd, Regan discovers that this world’s sentient inhabitants are all hooved human-animal hybrids such as centaurs, minotaurs, and satyrs. For the centaur clan, hosting a human is a thrilling honor. On the rare occasions when a human visitor appears, it’s a critical event, because he or she has a destined mission to perform for the welfare of the Hooflands. Regan has no desire to rush off to the Queen’s castle to find out what her mission is. With the centaurs agreeing that there’s no time limit, Regan lives happily among them for six years, although she has to beware of others who might want to kidnap her and get the reward for finding the human themselves. When she finally has to make the pilgrimage to accept her destiny as the land’s savior, she discovers that neither her own fate nor the Hooflands’ ruler is anything like what she expected. The society and culture of the centaurs is interestingly developed, and as in all the other books in the series, the worldbuilding is inventive and absorbing. I found Regan a sympathetic character, although I couldn’t fully identify with her desperate longing to fit in among the “normal” girls. (As far back as I clearly remember, I’ve considered myself slightly weird and proud of it, and I was oblivious to whatever maneuvering for popularity went on around me.) Anyway, in the Hooflands Regan finds the place where she truly belongs. While she worries about her parents at first, those feelings fade as the years go by. I must admit the final page left me asking, “Huh? That’s it? What happens now?” Maybe next year’s novel will give us a hint.

HOUSE OF THE PATRIARCH, by Barbara Hambly. I’ve been a loyal fan of Hambly’s Benjamin January historical mysteries, set in antebellum New Orleans (this novel takes place in mid-1840), since the first book, A FREE MAN OF COLOR. While I’ve enjoyed and reread all of them, my least favorite have been the installments that range away from Louisiana, with the exception of the one in which January visits Washington, DC, and meets Edgar Allan Poe. HOUSE OF THE PATRIARCH, set mostly in upstate New York, is another exception and may become one of my favorites among the later books of the series. The married lover of January’s sister (a liaison openly accepted by his wife, under the peculiar system known as “placage”) introduces him to an English couple whose daughter, Eve, disappeared off a steamboat in broad daylight. The family isn’t wealthy enough to tempt kidnapping for ransom, and Eve has no particular suitor that they know of. Her father confides that she has been avidly collecting pamphlets about utopian religious communities, and he fears that, being more intellectually curious than considered normal for a young lady, she may have run away to such a community. Both as a favor to his sister’s protector and to earn the money offered by the girl’s parents, January agrees to undertake the search, although reluctant to leave his wife and children, not to mention the relative safety of New Orleans, where his status as a respected member of the free colored subculture is well known. He narrows down Eve’s probable destination to an eccentric religious group in a rural area of New York, where an alleged clairvoyant woman holds seances. The leader of the community has a reputation for Underground Railroad activities that have shepherded countless escaped slaves into Canada. January gets an introduction to the “patriarch” in the role of such a runaway. He quickly finds reasons to doubt not only the spiritualist medium’s honesty but also the patriarch’s altruism. As usual, January soon gets entangled in sinister plots that endanger his freedom and even his life. This novel explores fascinating details about the Underground Railroad, nineteenth-century religious and utopian movements, and the spiritualist fad. Also, January meets another soon-to-be famous figure, P. T. Barnum, whose help proves vital in solving the mystery. To my delight, one small incident remains unexplained, leaving a hint of the true supernatural. This novel will repay multiple re-readings not only for the enthralling story but for the vibrantly rendered historical background.

THE LEFT-HANDED BOOKSELLERS OF LONDON, by Garth Nix. A very unusual fantasy novel set in England in 1983. Susan’s mother has always been vague about Susan’s paternity, so the young woman sets out to discover her father’s identity. One of her meager clues leads her to a “crime boss” friend of the family who, as the jacket blurb puts it, gets “turned to dust by the prick of a silver hatpin” just as she arrives to question him. Thus she makes the acquaintance of Merlin, one of the Booksellers of London, his sister Vivien, and their eccentric family. Left-handed booksellers, such as Merlin, comprise the action-oriented branch of the organization, while the right-handed are the researchers and magic-wielders. Susan’s quest for her father intersects with Merlin’s investigation of his mother’s death, thus introducing Susan to the secret magical realm called the Old World, hidden behind and under our mundane, technological New World. She encounters supernatural creatures, including a vampire (in a brief appearance) and other undead. Caught up in the tangled plots and conspiracies centered on the Grail, herein a cauldron that restores the dead to a sort of life, she eventually crosses over into the Old World and faces a life-threatening choice. The revelation of her own true nature and her father’s identity shakes her to the core (and will probably come as a shock to most readers). Meanwhile, she and Merlin form a bond that leads to a romantic attachment, not without numerous rocky bumps along the way. The novel reaches a satisfying culmination that allows, without demanding, a sequel. My only reservation is that the early part of the book moves at a pace I found rapid to the point of exhaustion, breathlessly racing from one crisis to the next. Fortunately, it later slows down enough to leave room for plenty of in-depth exposition. The world-building is fantastic in both senses of the word.

*****

Excerpt from AGAINST THE DARK DEVOURER:

The colors in the transparent tetrahedron swirled like smoke. The motion made Victor dizzy, and his stomach churned. He swallowed, tasting bile. He shook his head, impatient with his body’s reaction. By now he should be hardened to the crystal’s effects, even if he didn’t get the privilege of gazing into it very often. He didn’t want to appear weak in front of his guardian.

Uncle Hugh—no genetic relation, really, but his lifelong mentor—gave a small frown of obvious impatience at the way Victor clutched the pedestal where the object sat on one of its four triangular faces. “Straighten up. You act like you’re expecting an earthquake any second.”

“I haven’t had as much practice with this stuff as you have.” Victor kept any note of defiance out of his voice, not eager for the tongue-lashing an argument would certainly earn him. He shifted his eyes from the undulating tangle of violet tendrils. His head pounded. The decor of the windowless room didn’t help—the walls painted midnight indigo, the parquet floor of oak so dark it was nearly black, all illuminated only by a few low-wattage bulbs in wall sconces.

“Well, focus! We don’t have all day.”

Victor drew a deep breath and dragged his gaze back to the crystal. Each time he used it, he half expected the smoky whorls inside to clear away and open a peephole into a dimension of alien geometry and amorphous monsters. He had viewed that scene only once, but once was enough. Following his mentor’s instructions, he focused with all his will on the scene he wanted to scry. The luminous tendrils vanished like melting icicles. An ordinary living room shimmered into view.

A middle-aged woman with short, gray-streaked, auburn hair sat in the single armchair. Against a pile of throw pillows on a couch with faded upholstery that matched the chair reclined a woman apparently in her twenties, with hair the color of dark honey. Her tight jeans displayed generous curves. Victor willed the image to widen its scope. At the counter marking the boundary of the kitchenette stood a slim girl in a miniskirt, taller and a few years younger than the one on the couch. After watching her tie back her hair, light brown with dark blonde highlights, he moved his psychic vantage point to watch the other two women from behind her, over her shoulder. As he virtually passed in front of her, her blue eyes shifted, as if she sensed an invisible observer.

“These are our targets?” Uncle Hugh said quietly.

“Yeah, that’s them,” Victor said, keeping his eyes fixed on the scene in the crystal.

“Pull back. Try to view the outside of the house.”

Years of relentless drills made the procedure easy enough. Drifting through the closed door of the first-floor apartment like a ghost, Victor visualized himself standing in the hallway.

“Farther, now. You need to confirm the location of the building.”

Squelching a spasm of irritation at the unnecessary directions, Victor imagined himself panning the corridor with a wide-angle lens. His viewpoint moved to an exit at the end of the hall and floated into the parking lot. The building number matched the address label pasted in the hardback novel he was using as a tracer, latest installment in a bestselling sword-and-sorcery epic.

“Very good. That’s enough.”

Relaxing his cramped fingers from their grip on the pedestal, Victor exhaled a long breath and allowed the picture to fade. He stepped away, bending to pick up the book, and staggered with vertigo. His guardian clasped his elbow and led him from the room into the antechamber, graced with open windows, upholstered furniture, and a wet bar. Another door opened into Uncle Hugh’s office, a third into the corridor. “By now you shouldn’t find it such a strain, my boy.” He guided Victor to an armchair and poured him a Scotch and soda on the rocks.

After a sip of the cool drink, Victor said, “I guess I just don’t have your strength.” Though the range of Victor’s psychic gifts far exceeded the older man’s, Uncle Hugh did excel in remote viewing talent.

“Nonsense, you and your sister wouldn’t have been trained for this mission if you didn’t have the necessary ability.” He picked up a floral-patterned rain scarf from the marble-topped coffee table. “You’re quite sure the scarf belongs to the mother?”

“Well, I saw her wearing it. How else could I possibly tell?” Why did Uncle Hugh have to be so damned picky about everything? “I did the whole operation exactly the way you planned.” The evening before, he’d gone to a Vincent Price film marathon at the small, private college the two girls attended. Sitting two rows behind them, he’d used a delicate flick of telekinesis to make the scarf slip out of the mother’s jacket pocket and the book fall from the elder sister’s open shoulder bag. Another mental nudge had hidden the objects under the seat where the women wouldn’t notice and pick them up. “What do you want the scarf for, anyhow?”

“I may need a link to them again at some later time, and the more personal, the better. Other than that, the fewer details you know from this point on, the more spontaneous your reactions will appear. Telekinetically disable their car, and once you’re inside the house, you’ll know what to do when the time comes.”

-end of excerpt-

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