Welcome to the February 2018 issue of my newsletter, “News from the Crypt,” and please visit Carter’s Crypt, devoted to my horror, fantasy, and paranormal romance work, especially focusing on vampires and shapeshifting beasties. If you have a particular fondness for vampires, check out the chronology of my series in the link labeled “Vanishing Breed Vampire Universe.” For my recommendations of “must read” classic and modern vampire fiction, explore the Realm of the Vampires:
Realm of the Vampires

Also, check out the multi-author Alien Romances Blog

The long-time distributor of THE VAMPIRE’S CRYPT has closed its website. If you would like to read any issue of this fanzine, which contains fiction, interviews, and a detailed book review column, e-mail me to request the desired issue, and I’ll send you a free PDF of it. My e-mail address is at the end of this newsletter. Find information about the contents of each issue on this page of my website:

Vampire’s Crypt

A complete list of my available works, arranged roughly by genre, with purchase links (gradually being updated as the Amber Quill and Ellora’s Cave works are being republished):

Complete Works

This is my Facebook author page. Please visit!
Facebook

Here’s my page in Barnes and Noble’s Nook store. These items include some of the short stories that used to be on Fictionwise:
Barnes and Noble

Go here and scroll down to “Available Short Fiction” for a list of those stories with their Amazon links:
Kindle Works

Here’s the list of my Kindle books on Amazon. (The final page, however, includes some Ellora’s Cave anthologies in which I don’t have stories):
Carter Kindle Books

Here’s a shortcut URL to my author page on Amazon:
Amazon

Happy Candlemas / Imbolc / Groundhog Day! Also Valentine’s Day, the only thing that makes February in the northern hemisphere slightly better than January.

My annual vampire fiction bibliography update is ready. If you’d like a copy of the file, please contact me through the e-mail address at the bottom of this newsletter.

For fans of the fairy tale “Rapunzel,” below is a short excerpt from my fanfic of the story based on S. M. Stirling’s Shadowspawn trilogy, which begins with A TAINT IN THE BLOOD (reviewed in issue 59 of this newsletter, August 2010). In my version, the witch, Gothel, wants the baby because Rapunzel is the illegitimate daughter of Gothel’s brother, and the witch plans to bring up the girl as a true Shadowspawn. The story can be read here:

Shadowspawn Rapunzel

This month our interview guest is romance author Nancy Holland.

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Interview with Nancy Holland:

What inspired you to begin writing?

I read my first adult fantasy novel (as opposed to children’s stories about magic, which I always loved) in junior high — The Lord of the Rings. I was immediately inspired to write something like that, only more “female friendly.” It took a few decades (and I still do not in any way pretend to be in Tolkien’s league), but that’s where the original spark for THALGOR’S WITCH came from.

What genres do you work in?

Short contemporary and fantasy romance.

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

Although THALGOR’S WITCH was mostly a case of winging it, I generally write with what I call sign posts — not a full plot, but major turning points figured out before I start, so I’m not entirely flying into the dark. Since I’ve started to use Scrivener® (a writing program), I use their “index cards” to mark the sign posts, and then to fill in what needs to happen in each chapter to get from one sign post to the next. Stuff changes, of course, but it helps me write a preliminary synopsis to run by my agent before I begin writing the book.

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

I’ve already mentioned J.R.R. Tolkien as a favorite author. Other big influences are C.S. Lewis, Ursula K. LeGuin, and T.H. White. Nora Roberts, Barbara Samuel (who now writes as Barbara O’Neal), and Michele Hauf have been major influences on the romance side.

Please tell us about the world of your novel THALGOR’S WITCH. And is it part of a series?

The world of THALGOR’S WITCH was nearly destroyed long before the story opens by a war between witches (who are all female) and men. With the old civilization in ruins, people now wander in bands that battle each other for livestock, goods, and women. Because of the war’s devastation, witches who live among men (not all do) are generally distrusted, but are also seen as useful because they are healers and seers. It’s an open question at this point as to whether there will be a series and/or other stories set in this world.

Do you find different challenges or follow different processes in writing fantasy and contemporary romance?

World building is much more of a challenge in fantasy. Compare the above (very bare bones) description of the world in THALGOR’S WITCH with the description of the world in the contemporary I’m currently writing: upscale locations in Paris and London. Many of the other differences for me are more due to the fact that my fantasy novels are much longer than my contemporaries. That means they have subplots, more and more fully developed characters, and richer descriptions.

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

A follow-up to THALGOR’S WITCH is in the works, but I don’t have any details as yet.

What are you working on now?

I drafted another short contemporary during NaNoWriMo and am deep into revisions right now.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Two words:
(1) Read. A lot. Read what you write, but also read great authors in other genres and sub-genres.
(2) Write. Every day if you can. Set yourself small word count goals (100 words is where I started), learn how to meet them, then set yourself bigger ones (I’m up to 500 words as a pretty regular thing). And have a healthy, ergonomically correct workspace, even if it has to go back to being the dining room table when you’ve done your words for the day. (I had horrible lower back and neck/shoulder problems until I put together a set-up that worked for me.)

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

My website is nancyhollandwriter.com; I’m on Twitter as NancyHolland5 and on Facebook. I don’t have a blog, but my next project is a very occasional newsletter to share forthcoming books, cover reveals, publications dates, and other news with readers. People can sign up for it on my website.

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Some Books I’ve Read Lately:

YEAR ONE, by Nora Roberts. Not a romance, although it includes romantic subplots, this post-apocalyptic fantasy is subtitled “Chronicles of the One, Book 1.” Fortunately, this installment comes to a satisfying enough conclusion rather than ending on a cliffhanger, even though the mysterious “One” is still unborn. When I first read the blurb for YEAR ONE—a plague of unknown origin destroys civilization, groups of people travel west in search of a safe haven, magic re-enters the world, and a primal conflict between good and evil arises—I wondered how it differed from Stephen King’s THE STAND, with a touch of S. M. Stirling’s DIES THE FIRE. But since Roberts is a quite different writer from either of them, of course, her take on these tropes isn’t the same. For one thing, in the world of YEAR ONE magic appears openly from the beginning. It’s hinted that the plague itself may have a supernatural origin, a question that isn’t answered in the first volume. Large numbers of people, soon labeled the Uncanny, develop paranormal powers. Some transform into shapeshifters, elves, or faeries (who can sprout wings at will). Not all of the Uncanny use their gifts for good. Some turn to the dark side and revel in evil. To complicate the plight of the gifted trying to master their abilities, factions among the ungifted condemn all Uncanny as demons in human form and try to exterminate them. And naturally old-fashioned, mundane nastiness rears its head in the general chaos. The principal characters are: Lana and Max, a Wiccan couple who embrace their newfound powers while struggling to escape from a devastated New York City; Arlys, a journalist, with Fred, a female intern from the same radio station who becomes a faerie; Rachel, a doctor; Jonah, a paramedic. They all find their way to an enclave of peace and relative abundance, where the community begins to thrive in a new way of life until the familiar problems of human nature and petty politics crop up. Meanwhile, Lana becomes pregnant with a baby identified by their local seer as “The One.” Roberts vividly portrays the horrors of the plague and the terror of trying to survive amid a disintegrating society but also highlights the resilience of humanity and the basic goodness of people striving to work together for the common welfare. I rooted for her characters and will definitely read the next volume.

MAD HATTERS AND MARCH HARES, edited by Ellen Datlow. As the title of this anthology hints, it comprises stories (and two poems) inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice books. Contributors include, among others, Delia Sherman, Jane Yolen, Andy Duncan, Jeffrey Ford, Genevieve Valentine, and Seanan McGuire. Although some of the tales struck me as too surrealistic—admittedly, in keeping with the atmosphere of the original—for me to become emotionally engaged with the characters, I discovered enough favorites to make me glad I’d bought the book. McGuire’s “Sentence Like a Saturday” reads like a spinoff from her “Wayward Children” series (beginning with EVERY HEART A DOORWAY). A little girl from a Nonsense world, possibly Wonderland itself, wanders through a door into our world, dominated by Logic. At first baffled by the rules this realm follows and requires her to obey, she gradually adjusts and becomes a loving daughter to the childless couple who take her in. This tale has a poignant and entirely right ending. “Mercury,” by Priya Sharma, takes place in Victorian England. A literal mad hatter, deranged by the fumes of the mercury required for his craft, languishes in debtor’s prison while his daughter, Alice, struggles to make a living for both of them. She interacts with various other people analogous to characters in the Carroll novels. At the end, the plight of Alice and her father is magically relieved—unless the conclusion merely proves she, too, has gone mad, which I choose not to believe. Ford’s “All the King’s Men” offers a fresh twist on the shattering and reconstruction of Humpty Dumpty. Matthew Kressel’s “In Memory of a Summer’s Day” envisions what guided tours of Wonderland might be like. “The Flame After the Candle,” by Catherynne M. Valente, tells two parallel stories, of a discontented girl named Olive, who finds her way into a version of Wonderland, and of a meeting between the elderly Alice Liddell and Peter Davies, the young man who in childhood inspired the character of Peter Pan.

BENEATH THE SUGAR SKY, by Seanan McGuire. Third book in the “Wayward Children” series. This one doesn’t stand alone so well as the second, DOWN AMONG THE STICKS AND BONES, but although it helps to have read EVERY HEART A DOORWAY, it’s not absolutely necessary. A girl named Rini falls out of the sky into a pond on the grounds of Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. Met by two girls (Nadya and Cora) who seek doorways back to their water worlds, Rini tells them she’s looking for her mother, Sumi. Since Sumi died in EVERY HEART A DOORWAY, a temporal dissonance between two worlds must be involved. Unless Sumi can somehow come alive and eventually return to Confection, Rini’s birthplace, a Nonsense world where everything is made of sugar in some form, the girl will have never been conceived and will fade out of existence. Rini, Nadya, Cora, Christopher (whose bone flute animates skeletons), and Kade (Miss Eleanor’s assistant) undertake a quest to restore Sumi. Christopher pipes her skeleton out of her grave. The bones of her severed hand, preserved in the cellar of the house, are reattached. The group then visits the land of the dead to bargain for Sumi’s spirit. Finally, Rini’s magic takes them to Confection, where they hope to find the Baker and petition her to craft a body for Sumi. To achieve their goal, however, they must battle the evil Queen of Cakes, who has usurped rule over Confection. The logic of the worldbuilding, even in the Nonsense realm of Confection, is fascinating. This short novel provides a fast, absorbing read, with quirky, sympathetic characters. I hope it won’t be the end of the series.

THE CRUEL PRINCE, by Holly Black. This fantasy novel takes place almost entirely in the realm of Faerie but begins with a prologue in an ordinary American suburb. A strange man appears at the house where seven-year-old Jude lives with her parents and two sisters. He murders her parents and abducts the three girls. After the prologue, told in third person from Jude’s viewpoint, the story picks up ten years later, narrated by Jude in first person (and present tense, annoyingly). It transpires that her mother had lived for a while with the elven warrior, Madoc, in Faerie, and conceived her oldest daughter, Vivienne, by him. She then fled back to the human world and married the father of Jude and the other sister, Taryn. Madoc tracked down “his” woman, killed the girls’ parents (when his former lover refused to return with him), and claimed his daughter, bringing Jude and Taryn along rather than abandoning them. Vivi detests their situation and sneaks to the human world as often as she can get away with it. Jude, having only dim memories of her original home, has an uneasy love-fear relationship with Madoc. She dutifully studies her lessons but reserves the most enthusiasm for her warrior training. She aspires to become a knight in the king’s court. Many of the fae hold her in contempt, and a clique of young elven nobles persecutes her, led by one of the king’s sons, Cardan. A tense atmosphere pervades the court while everyone waits for the king to choose his successor from among his sons. Jude gets drawn into their convoluted intrigues, as she accepts an invitation to be trained as a spy rather than a fighter. Meanwhile, Taryn falls in love with a faerie noble whose identity she keeps secret, and Vivi finds love with a human girl and schemes to move permanently back to the mundane world. Tangled in a web of plots and counterplots, Jude learns that nobody in Faerie can be fully trusted and the “cruel prince,” Cardan, isn’t entirely what he seems. Black portrays the sheer visual alienness of Faerie and its inhabitants (a multitude of different species) with lavish detail, while the emotions and ambitions of the fae, however deviously expressed, turn out to be not so different from human desires. Surviving numerous dangers and ordeals, Jude ultimately attains a kind of victory if not precisely a happy ending.

*****

Excerpt from “Rapunzel: A Shadowspawn Tale”:

The enchantress carried her off to a solitary tower in the middle of a forest. The tower had no doors, only a high window. Paintings of fantastic beasts decorated the walls of the chamber, and the ceiling showed the courses of the moon and stars. The witch entered and departed through the window in the form of a giant bird. The child, whom she named Rapunzel, grew up without ever seeing any other person besides the witch. Lady Gothel fed and clothed her in luxury and tutored her in the secrets of magic suitable to her tender age. She also taught her such maidenly arts as reading, writing, music, spinning, and embroidery, for she wanted her foster daughter to be worthy of her in all ways. She had already betrothed the child to a noble Shadow Lord whose friendship she wished to keep.

She nourished the girl’s half-blood gifts with an elixir red as rubies, which she brought in a crystal vial. She never cut Rapunzel’s glorious hair, and it grew so long its braid reached from the window to the ground. To save her power for other uses, the witch no longer always flew into the tower. Instead, she would call up to the window, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your golden hair.” When the girl obeyed, Lady Gothel climbed up the braid like a ladder.

As Rapunzel grew to young womanhood, her foster mother ventured to leave her alone in the tower for days at a time. Rapunzel began to feel lonely, so that her curiosity about the lands and people she had read about in her books became stronger. Whenever she begged for permission to leave her home and explore those lands, the witch rebuked her severely. “The outside world is too dangerous for you. Ignorant folk who hate our kind would try to slay you with silver blades or burn you to death. Or they might steal you from me.” She would grasp the girl tightly in her claw-like hands and gaze deep into her eyes. “I will never allow that.”

One evening at twilight, a prince who had become separated from his hunting party rode past the tower and heard Rapunzel singing. Enthralled, he paused to listen. As he lingered behind a tree, a huge, black cat ran into the clearing. To his surprise, it changed into a woman of cruel beauty. She shouted, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your golden hair.” A shining braid tumbled down, and the enchantress climbed up. In the window the prince glimpsed a beautiful girl.

He waited for hours until the witch climbed down again, transformed to her cat shape, and disappeared into the forest. Then the prince stepped beneath the window and cried out the words she had used: “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your golden hair.”

When he pulled himself up, Rapunzel was amazed to see a young man instead of the woman she called Mother Gothel. Frightened, the girl backed away from him. The prince held out his hand and spoke softly: “Don’t be afraid. I won’t hurt you. I couldn’t resist the beauty of your song.”

“You didn’t bring a silver blade to slay me?”

“Of course not. Why would I want to harm such a vision of loveliness?”

After a few minutes Rapunzel lost her fear and yielded to her curiosity about this strange new person. Not only was he handsome, he bore a fragrance almost like the ruby elixir Mother Gothel provided her. He smelled as delicious as spiced wine and summer night air. They talked until dawn. Before the prince left, he promised to return as soon as he could.

-end of excerpt-

*****

My Publishers:

Writers Exchange E-Publishing: Writers Exchange
Harlequin: Harlequin
Hard Shell Word Factory: Hard Shell
Whiskey Creek: Whiskey Creek

You can contact me at: MLCVamp@aol.com

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