Archive for April, 2021

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):


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Barnes and Noble

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Carter Kindle Books

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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?


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:

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