Archive for March, 2023

Welcome to the March 2023 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.”

Also, check out the multi-author Alien Romances Blog

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For other web links of possible interest, please scroll to the end.

My erotic paranormal romance novella “Romantic Retreat” was published by the Wild Rose Press on February 22. When Gail’s husband, Matt, retires from the Navy, she looks forward to romantic interludes and long-postponed travels to rekindle the spark in their marriage. But Matt is fixated on finding a high-paid—and high-stress—civilian job. If only she could get him alone long enough to seduce him into listening to her concerns. Then she acquires a curious antique, a miniature house with the magical power to transport its owner into an enchanted space, the perfect setting for a romantic getaway. Cloistered there together, Gail and Matt have twenty-four hours to settle their differences:

Amazon page: Romantic Retreat on Amazon

The Wild Rose Press page, with links to all major retailers:

Wild Rose Press

Another excerpt appears below. Gail doesn’t believe the “magic spell” on the model house, created by her favorite obscure Edwardian author of fantasy novels, will really work, until. . . .

Also, I’ve self-published TENTACLES AND WEDDING BELLS, comprising two linked stories originally released by Ellora’s Cave, “In the Tentacles of Love” and “Weird Wedding Guest.” These steamy, humorous paranormal romances feature a pair of half-alien hybrid twins, one of them mostly human, the other looking a lot more like their father. The duology contains many allusions to Lovecraft’s fiction, which I had a lot of fun with.

The Amazon Kindle page:

Tentacles and Wedding Bells on Amazon

The Draft2Digital page, for links to other vendors:

Tentacles and Wedding Bells on Draft2Digital

In this issue I’m interviewing mystery author Jo A. Hiestand.


Interview with Jo A. Hiestand:

What inspired you to begin writing?

As a teenager and a young adult, I wanted to replicate the books I read and loved – The Hound of the Baskervilles, Jane Eyre, Scales of Justice, Message From Hong Kong… I was engulfed by the books’ locations and the feelings of mystery and emotions they produced. But I wanted to fill them with my own characters and storylines, yet retain the overall mood of those authors’ novels. I always had that in my mind as something I needed to do, but I didn’t attempt it until later in life.

What genres do you work in?

I write mysteries, of which I have two current series. The McLaren Mysteries are a British “classic” series in that there is a main protagonist (a former police detective) who investigates cold cases on his own. I also write The Cookies & Kilts Mysteries, which are a US-based cozy mystery series in the amateur sleuth vein.

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

Oh no, I have to outline. I begin by building a mind map of the characters. First, I create a victim and plop him in the center of the map. For example, he’s a 21-year-old musician, wanting to turn pro, but his father is against it and says the lad needs to spend his time working on the farm, not singing, and should take over the farm when it’s time. But the victim loves music more than farm work. He has a slightly older female singing partner. They get local gigs but want to branch out and appear at larger venues. Okay, that’s his basic info. Then I figure out friends and associates and family who he would have in his life: a girlfriend, his singing partner and her husband, a rival musician, a former school mate, a parent, etc. Right here with the mind map I have set up possible friction between the girlfriend and the singing partner, between the victim and the husband, between the victim and his father. There will be more, of course. This is good because these character personalities drive the plot instead of the plot driving what the characters should do. I like this! I give them all personalities and names. Then I figure out who among the group has reason to hate the victim and hate him enough to kill him. This makes the people “alive”, and I create the story around this: jealousy between the two women, the rival musician’s envy of the victim, anger between the father and victim, etc. I write the plot in chunks of paragraphs and mark them into days on a timeline. A lot of ideas come to me after this initial flurry of brain activity – sometimes wakes me up at night – so I add the thoughts to the outline. The whole plotting process is very fluid; I can change ideas and delete things and add/delete/change characters. Basically, just tweak it all. I have to have it written down so the timeline makes sense, and I can refer to what happened at what point in the storyline.

What have been the major influences on your work (favorite authors, life experiences, or whatever)? Who are your role models as writers of mystery fiction?

Well, Ngaio Marsh, one of the four queens of the Golden Age of Mystery writing, is my absolute favorite mystery author. Her characters are marvelous, and her plots are also excellent! Other authors I like include Daphne du Maurier, P.D. James, Josephine Tey, Mary Stewart, and Mignon Eberhart, to name a few. The moods and landscapes are great, adding to the feel of the books.
I don’t know if I have a role model. I think I write in my own style, although I have read so many books by the aforementioned authors that some of them may have influenced my voice.

What kinds of background research do you do for your novels?

I do a LOT of research. Having lived in and vacationed in Britain, I am familiar with a great portion of Derbyshire and Lancashire. And a bit of Scotland, although not as much as the two places in England. Many of those places appear in my novels. But unfamiliar spots need research. I look on YouTube for videos of the villages or surrounding countryside. I consult maps to see nearby villages and especially roads and motorways. I look up moon phases and sunrise/sunset times for the dates of my story, so I don’t say it was still sunny at 6:30 pm during the winter in Edinburgh when the sun actually sets at 4:30! If someone in the story is fishing, I need to check if the fishing season is open or closed, the types of fish found in that river, are permits needed or is it strictly fishing via a fishing club. I have a book on British wildlife (birds, mammals, trees, plants) and I see what’s growing where my story is set so I don’t say McLaren pulled some burdock from his shoelaces when burdock doesn’t grow on the moor, or state that a certain bird is seen in the summer when it only frequents that section of Britain in the winter. In my book Related By Murder I had to research the beginning age restriction for serving in the British Army, what medals were given out for a specific conflict, and why these medals would be given to the recipient. I also needed another conflict or war that was going on near the same time as the Falkland Islands War and those dates and what regiments were involved in that. I’ve looked up what school badges for school uniforms look like and the equivalent school grades for various pupils’ ages, what sorts of ranks and jobs exist for cooks on submarines in the Royal Navy, police terminology and differences between the English and Scottish police. I research just about everything. I hate mistakes and try to avoid them. If some author does write that the sun was shining at 6:30 pm in Edinburgh in December, for example, that’s a sign of a lazy writer, in my opinion. It’s easily looked up. Many readers won’t know about summer/winter birds or ranks of seamen in the Royal Navy, but if I have it wrong and if a reader does know, the mistake pulls him out of my story, and he wonders what else is incorrect in the book. Of course, I will still make mistakes, despite my best efforts, but I try to whittle down the possible faux pas for my novels by looking in reference books or online, or asking questions of my English police friends.

Please tell us about your various series.

Well, the McLaren Mystery series takes place in Britain and features Michael McLaren, a former Detective Inspector with the Staffordshire Constabulary. He’s now residing in Derbyshire, England and repairing dry stone walls for his living. He quit his job due to a great injustice and he now investigates cold cases on his own – usually when a friend or family member of the victim asks him for help, because he has a great passion for justice (stemming from his own experience). To date, the books have been set in Derbyshire, Cumbria, Cheshire, and Scotland. In a few books, however, McLaren is asked to solve current mysteries (such as in Hide and Seek, when a murder occurs during a party at the home of his best friend), but the bulk of the stories deal with cold case mysteries. That’s the main focus of the books in that series, of which I have seventeen at the moment.
I have a second series that is amateur sleuth cozy mysteries. These are set in a fictitious town in Missouri. This is the Cookies & Kilts Mysteries and revolves around Kate Dunbar, who owns a pet bakery. She, of course, gets involved in solving mysteries. There is either a dog or cat in each book. For instance, the second book (A Trifling Murder, revolving around Robert Burns’ birthday celebration) features a Scottie dog who gives Kate some clues to solve the mystery. The third book (A Drizzle of Trouble) features two cats; a Scottish Fold and a Siberian Forest provide the solution help. These aren’t “talking animal” books, nor are they cutesy. They are a bit edgier than the usual cozies, but they aren’t blood and gore. The murders, as in the McLaren series, happen off stage. The Cookies & Kilts are lighter than McLaren but hopefully as entertaining, although there are light scenes in McLaren when he and his best mate, Jamie, kid around during their chats, for instance.

How did you come to design a mystery-solving game, and what’s it like?

Wow, I can’t believe you know about that!  Years ago (more than I will relate), a friend and I got the idea, but I can’t recall how (my memory doesn’t stretch that far back). We both loved to read mystery novels. Pirates and treasure hunting were really big at the time, so we devised a game where players would hunt for treasure by reading a short account based on an actual pirate or event from the pirate’s life. We fictionalized a segment of the account in order to develop our mystery story. We named the game P.I.R.A.T.E.S., which stands for People In Research and Treasure Exploration Society. Game players are “members” of this society whose goal is to rescue historical treasures for placement in museums and to keep them out of the hands of private collectors. The players have resource people they can go to for information – a librarian, an archaeologist, a diver, a lighthouse keeper, etc. – but not every person will have information for that particular case, so the players have to choose the resource people wisely because they are allowed only so many people to help. There is a wealth of actual physical objects they can look at: song lyrics, poems, maps, scraps of fabric, photographs, etc. Again, not every object pertains to that case which the players are working. From the information gleaned from the one-page story, the resource people, and the physical objects, the players must discern what the treasure is and where it is located. Each of these little pirate stories is a “case” that players get from the Society and must interpret and solve. There are six cases in this first series, each one based on a real pirate.
We then developed a second series of the game – still called P.I.R.A.T.E.S., due to the Society, but it centers around real British things such as the history behind a nursery rhyme, Mary Queen of Scots’ casket letters, a medieval musical instrument, the architecture of an old castle, and so on. There are different resource people and different physical objects to consult, and eight cases in the second series.

What is your latest or next-forthcoming book?

I just completed book #17 of the McLaren Mysteries, Overdue. It came out at the end of January. It’s a slight departure from the norm in that McLaren is asked to help solve a string of current on-going murders happening in Derbyshire. All the crime scenes look very similar, and the murders occur a month apart. Time to nab the killer is running out if they want to stop him (or her) from the presumed next murder — unless he’s overdue with his normal schedule. So, McLaren’s trying to solve three murders that have happened (not really cold cases, but they haven’t been solved yet) as well as hoping to uncover the killer’s identity in order to prevent a fourth murder. And of course, some personal problems are thrown in to cause more tension!

What are you working on now?

Since I’ve finished Overdue, I’m in the midst of plotting the next McLaren mystery, most likely titled The Cottage. McLaren drives up to Cumbria, to the home of Melanie, his lady love, to help her pack for her move down to his village in Derbyshire. He’s asked by one of her friends to look into a cold case involving a relative who was found at a deserted cottage – what was the person doing there? He reluctantly agrees to look into it, and is busy with that investigation while helping Melanie pack up her belongings and get the house on the market. Of course, other things happen to throw a wrench into the timeline, but that’s the gist of it at the moment.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

About the best thing I can tell anyone is to keep trying. Be in this for the long haul. Don’t get discouraged by rejections or lackluster sales. It takes time to get your name known. Very few authors are overnight successes, so please keep writing and getting your books out.

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

I have a website: Jo Hiestand and it shows short summations of all my books, gives lists of my audiobooks with actual audio samples so you can hear a portion of the book prior to purchase, and has a section of links to my book trailers on YouTube. I’m rather fond of the trailers!
I’m also on Facebook,
and on Pinterest.
I post regularly to all three of these sites, as well as have a bi-quarterly newsletter that I email to subscribers. You can sign up for that on my website, if interested.
I have a YouTube channel. I think it’s fun because it not only has book trailers of all my books but also has short videos of the five main characters of the McLaren Mysteries: Mystery Author on YouTube. Those are great to watch, I think, because you get to learn a bit about the characters and how they interact. I also think it gives them greater depth and you might enjoy the series more by knowing about Melanie or Charlie Harvester, for example.

I guess that’s it. Thank you for giving me this interview time, Margaret. It’s been fun. I hope your readers find my ramblings interesting. Jo


Some Books I’ve Read Lately:

THE HOUSE AT THE END OF THE WORLD, by Dean Koontz. I like this book more than some of Koontz’s other recent novels. Although his obsession with the theme of society going to perdition because it’s dominated by a cabal of narcissistic sociopaths is present, that preoccupation doesn’t dominate the story. The widowed heroine, Katie, lives alone on a private island, meeting nobody except on her rare trips into the nearest town. Keeping her promise to her late husband that she’ll go on living, she’s content with her books, the gourmet meals she cooks for herself, and the artwork she creates. So far, she hasn’t needed the protection of her fortress-like house or the guns she owns. Her illusion of safety shatters when drones fly over her home and an explosion, possibly a depth charge, roils the river. She knows these developments must have something to do with the nearby larger island, Ringrock, site of a shadowy government installation. But why do two men from an agency she’s never heard of come around to question her? Who or what are they searching for? Meanwhile, we meet the other viewpoint character, fourteen-year-old Libby, whose parents hold high positions in the secret lab on Ringrock. Bright and athletic, she’s aware they don’t love her; she and they share only mutual respect. Unlike Katie, she knows a bit about the Ringrock project, since she has sneaked looks at her father’s journal. Flashbacks skillfully reveal, little by little, the heartbreaking events that drove Katie to become a recluse and the truth about the entity confined on Ringrock. An alien organism brought back from the International Space Station, if not eliminated (as the scientists and military personnel in on the secret are trying to do, although with scant consideration for civilians who might be endangered in the process) it may place the entire world at risk. After a terrifying home invasion, Libby, left alone on her parents’ island, courageously makes her way by boat to Katie’s island. They flee together, pursued by a government agent, and bond over their shared danger. They’re accompanied not by a golden retriever, as one would usually expect in a Dean Koontz novel, but by an inexplicably tame fox who tags along everywhere Katie goes. The suspense is absorbing, the balance between down time and acute danger well structured, the body horror scenes gruesome, and the warm connection between the two main characters emotionally strong. The antagonists, a rarity in a Dean Koontz book, have believable motives instead of aspiring to destroy the universe for their own gain (like the villains in a certain vintage cartoon). Libby’s father sincerely believes the quasi-Lovecraftian, protean creature code-named Moloch has incomprehensible but possibly benign purposes. The other bad guys are either obeying orders or trying to save their own lives. A fast-paced but not frenetic thriller with a satisfying conclusion for Katie and Libby’s “found family.” One complaint: For no apparent reason, the whole thing is narrated in present tense, including the flashbacks. One of the few legitimate uses for that device (in my opinion) is to distinguish present action from flashbacks, so Koontz is pointlessly confusing the reader.

DIREWOOD, by Catherine Yu. This YA novel elegantly deconstructs the tropes of teenage vampire romance. Yes, the vampire is seductive, but he’s also clearly dangerous. Even in full awareness of that truth, the narrator, Aja, has trouble resisting his blandishments. As a child of the only ethnically Asian family in their upscale suburban neighborhood, she feels she doesn’t fit and can never quite measure up. Her older sister, Fiona, on the other hand, assimilates smoothly and excels at everything. Bizarre signs portend the advent of evil in their town—ominous fog, parasitic caterpillars, and flocks of strange butterflies. Teenagers disappear. A hypnotic voice calls to Aja in the night. However, it’s Fiona, the “perfect” daughter, who vanishes. Surely she can’t have run away from home, so the adults assume she’s been kidnapped or murdered. Deciding the vampire, Padraic, must have ensnared her, Aja decides to let him lure her to his lair, where she hopes to find and save her sister before it’s too late. Deep in the forbidden forest outside of town, he takes her to an abandoned, decaying church. There he dwells with a cruel female vampire, Kate, and the missing kids, who adore the monsters and compete for their attention. The flesh-eating caterpillars infest the site with an atmosphere of skin-crawling body horror that serves as a concrete symbol of undead corruption. The enthralled victims claim they haven’t seen Fiona, but Aja finds evidence that suggests they’re lying. And does something that horrifies even the vampires lurk in the cellar below the church? Amid the darkly Gothic atmosphere, Aja struggles to maintain her perspective, tempted to believe the often charming Padraic retains some trace of humanity but aware she mustn’t let down her guard. An unexpected ally joins her, opening her eyes to the nature of true friendship. She also discovers she never really understood Fiona. In the end, Aja survives, as implied by her first-person narrative perspective, but far from unscathed or unchanged. Although the forest and the clearing where the church now stands as a crime scene soon heal from the supernatural infestation, the town must grieve and the survivors deal with the aftereffects of the trauma.

THE SCARLET CIRCUS, by Jane Yolen. This story collection follows her earlier volumes THE EMERALD CIRCUS and THE MIDNIGHT CIRCUS, this time with an overall theme of “love,” although, as Yolen’s introduction acknowledges, the contents may stretch our familiar concepts of that term, and it’s not always romantic love. Some highlights: “Dusty Loves,” the woes of a faerie man who keeps falling in love with mortal women, as told by his long-suffering sibling. “Unicorn Tapestry,” embroidery and magic used to save a hunted unicorn. “A Ghost of an Affair,” a fresh take on time-crossed lovers. “The Sword and the Stone,” an Arthurian tale with the variation that Merlin presents the sword in the stone as a challenge for Arthur after he has already become king, along with a twist on the trope of the aspiring young knight in disguise. “The Sea Man,” in which a seventeenth-century Dutch ship captures a merman. “The Erotic in Faerie: The Footnotes,” exactly what it says, consisting entirely of a list of footnotes, from which the reader must infer the contents of the “lost” document; I love this kind of meta-fiction. As a delightful bonus feature, the book ends with author’s notes on the writing of each story, accompanied by a poem associated with the subject of each one.

For my recommendations of “must read” classic and modern vampire fiction, explore the Realm of the Vampires:
Realm of the Vampires

For other reviews of older vampire fiction, posted on the fifteenth of each month, visit the VampChix blog: VampChix


Excerpt from “Romantic Retreat”:

As soon as she heard Matt’s car pull into the driveway, she hurried downstairs to meet him at the door. His rib-squeezing hug sent the usual pleasant sparks along her nerves. She ordered herself to ignore the potential distraction. If his interview had produced positive results, they’d have serious matters to discuss.

Even before asking, she could tell from his relaxed smile that the day had gone well. “Everything’s great,” he confirmed as he strode up to the bedroom, shedding coat and tie on the way.

She trailed after him. “So they want to hire you?”

“Ninety-nine percent sure.” He retreated into the bathroom and emerged a couple of minutes later with his shirt off. He tossed it into the hamper, replaced it with a polo shirt and changed his black leather shoes for loafers. “They said they’d call next Monday with the final decision. If they make an offer, of course I’ll accept.”

“Of course?” Leaning against her dresser, she folded her arms. “Did I miss the part where we talked this over first?”

Seated on his side of the bed, he glanced up at her, his eyebrows arching. “What’s to talk about? Didn’t we decide this was the logical next step?”

“What’s this ‘we’? You decided. Maybe I’m not thrilled with the idea of moving to D.C. Or moving at all, for that matter.”

His faint frown looked honestly puzzled. “All the other moves have turned out fine. You’ve always been okay with each new place after we’ve adjusted, haven’t you?”

“That’s different. I signed up for the military moves when I married you. This time we have a choice.”

“What’s to choose? You want me to turn down a good job with a great salary?”

She unfolded her arms and forced her hunched shoulders to relax. “Salary isn’t everything. At least let’s think it over instead of jumping right in. I bet they’d want you to start immediately, wouldn’t they?”

“Sure, why not?”

“Don’t you want to relax a little before you plunge into a new career? What about that trip to Scotland and Ireland we’ve talked about?”

“There’s plenty of time for that later.”

“Time? What if ‘later’ never gets here?” Catching herself almost screaming, she lowered her voice. “When was the last trip we took that wasn’t a change-of-station move or going to see relatives?” Their most recent “vacation” had been a visit to the final surviving member of the older generation in her family, her aunt in Baltimore, who had died the previous year. Gail picked up the miniature cottage, reminded of the romantic getaway fantasy that didn’t seem likely to materialize anytime soon.

He walked over to her and placed a tentative hand on her shoulder as if soothing a restless pet. “Well—I don’t exactly remember.”

“Imagine that. Neither do I.”

“Hey, what’s this?” He ran his fingers over the model in her hand. “Amazing craftsmanship.”

“It’s a replica of a house in one of my favorite books, a retirement gift from Javonne. As if you’re retiring in any real sense of the word.”

The sarcastic edge in her voice provoked him to another frown. “Be reasonable. We’re nowhere near Social Security age. You knew we wouldn’t be embarking on a life of leisure.”

“And you know I don’t expect that. Don’t twist my words. I just want you to consider the options.” Hopeless—he’d made up his mind. If only she could whisk him away to that magical retreat where he’d have no alternative but to listen. Seized by a mad impulse, she picked up the slip of paper she’d left on the dresser. She curled the fingers of her other hand over his. With both of them grasping the model, she read aloud: “Aperio, ineo, ingressio, remaneo, fruor.”

“Say what?”

Just as she opened her mouth to answer him, the floor shuddered. Her fingers went limp, dropping the paper and the miniature. The walls and furniture faded to mist. She threw her arms around Matt. A shriek escaped her as everything went gray. She closed her eyes while the house rocked as if hit by an earthquake.

“What the hell?” He hugged her tightly to his chest, his heart pounding under her ear.

Seconds later, the dizzying motion stopped. She ventured a peek. Their bedroom had disappeared. They stood in the middle of a parlor with wood-paneled walls, a bearskin rug on the floor, and the antlered head of a deer over the fireplace.

“Oh, my God, it worked!”

-end of excerpt-


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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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

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Fiction Database

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