Archive for October, 2023

Welcome to the November 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

You can subscribe to this monthly newsletter here:


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

Happy American Thanksgiving!

My short story “The Thing in the Driveway” has been accepted for the Necronomi-Rom-Com anthology, whose theme is just what it sounds like—romantic comedy in the Cthulhu Mythos universe. The target publication date is August 2024. There’s an excerpt from the story below. You can read about the project here:


Just for fun, I wrote a flash fiction piece about cats, available on my website here:

Here’s another one, playing with a familiar SF trope:

In keeping with the Halloween spirit, this month’s interview showcases Jenna Barwin, paranormal romance author of the Hill Vampire series.


Interview with Jenna Barwin:

What inspired you to begin writing?

I’ve been writing on and off for years. Like a lot of authors, I’d get an idea, get started on a novel, but never finish it.

Then I read a book series that ticked me off—the main couple at the start of the series didn’t get a happily ever after—and I decided I wanted to write my own vampire romance series focused on the developing relationship of one couple who ultimately get their happily ever after.

What genres do you work in?

Paranormal Romance. I write the Hill Vampire novels, which blend mystery, wine, and romance into a heady combination. Dark Wine at Midnight is the first book in the series, and I recommend starting there.

Please tell us about your Hill Vampire series and its setting.

The Hill Vampire series features an exclusive gated community of winemaking vampires and their mortal mates. They live on vineyard estates in Sierra Escondida, a fictional town in the foothills of Central California. Because the town was founded by vampires in the late 1800s, they have been able to maintain control over the town council and decide who may live there.

The series begins with Dark Wine at Midnight, in which research scientist Cerissa Patel must find a way to save humanity from a vampire conspiracy without revealing what’s hidden beneath her skin. But her cover story isn’t enough to fool vampire Henry Bautista—he’s dark, dangerous, and will do anything to protect his town, including stopping her.

The series follows the romantic relationship of Cerissa and Henry, who, along with other members of their community, try to stop the vampire dominance movement (VDM), a vampire conspiracy that is trying to kill the leaders of Sierra Escondida and take over. The VDM plans a political coup, and once the path is cleared, will turn mortals into blood slaves.

The series is steamy. The first book starts out as more of a slow burn, but the rest of the series is definitely in the four to five steam kettle range.

In particular, are your vampires closely similar to the traditional undead of popular culture or different in some way?

I followed some of the traditional undead traits but varied them a bit. They drink blood and do not eat food for sustenance. Silver or a stake through the heart will kill them. They can’t go out in daylight. They can mesmerize their victims. Mortals don’t know about them, except for those in a relationship with a vampire.

Now, here’s a slight variation: The fang serum their bite injects compels the mortal to not speak of them when among uninitiated mortals and forms a bond. Thus, vampires can have relationships with mortals without fear of disclosure so long as they renew the bond.

Fang serum also contains an aphrodisiac, which leads to all kinds of fun!

Your heroine is identified as a “Lux.” Please tell us about the nature of these beings in your universe.

SPOILER ALERT! For those who haven’t read the first few books, you may want to skip this part. The Lux arrived on earth nine thousand years ago, and their appearance started the rumors about flying angelic beings. The records dating back to their arrival were damaged, and they aren’t sure what their origins are: ancient alien astronauts or angels who fell from heaven. They are able to shapeshift and appear as human or animal.

I like the ambiguity in their origin story as it allows members of the Lux to have different opinions about their purpose for being here.

Your bio mentions “an eclectic range of careers.” How have any of them influenced or been incorporated into your fiction?

All of them have been incorporated in one form or another. In my early twenties, I performed magic in a circus and traveled across the country living in a motorhome. It was a wonderful experience—I wouldn’t recommend it as a lifetime career—but the experience provided insider information that helped me set Dark Wine at the Circus in a circus secretly owned by a vampire.

It also gave me great experience performing in front of an audience. If you like cosplay, check out my TikTok or Instagram account—I try to post one Gaea Greenleaf video each week. She’s a side character in the Hill Vampire series but plays an important part. She’s also a great gossip.

I worked for many years in a newsroom as a video editor, so I’ve had a firsthand view of what it takes to produce a television news program, which allowed me to realistically write a side character who is a news reporter.

I returned to school to get a law degree, then worked as an assistant city attorney. The town council and town attorney who appear in the stories reflect my legal knowledge and experience in that role.

That said, no character is based on anyone I know. My characters may have careers and are placed in settings I’m familiar with, but they aren’t based on any specific person or situation.

What is your latest book?

Dark Wine at Christmas was published in August. Here’s a short tease:

As Cerissa and her vampire fiancé celebrate their first Christmas together…secrets abound!

The surprise Cerissa prepares for Christmas Eve will be everything Henry wants, but the gift he gives her on Christmas night will turn their household upside down with happy chaos.

And while Henry promises to start working with Cerissa on their wedding plans once the holiday is over, something seems to be holding him back.

When Anne-Louise calls with her own unreasonable demands, his maker may very well rip the holiday happiness right from Henry and Cerissa’s hands.

What are you working on now?

The eleventh book in the Hill Vampire series, Dark Wine at the Altar. It’s the series finale, and like the title hints at, there will be a wedding, if not more than one!

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

I’m a discovery writer. I’ll envision characters in a plot situation, hear them talk with each other, and then start writing. As I go, I’ll discover new facets of their personalities along with what plot obstacles best challenge them to become the person they were meant to be.

Sometimes I’ll finalize a rough first draft, and then I outline. Depending upon the reason I need to outline, I’ll either use the index cards in Scrivener or the timeline method in Plottr. The index cards work great for me when a plot action issue arises, or when I need to check for continuity, or for pacing. I use the timeline method when I feel the emotional side of the romance isn’t gelling properly. For me, it’s easier to break down the romance beats in Plottr.

When I get really stuck for an idea, I’ll use big sheets of paper and start brainstorming, placing the problem in the center and then writing spontaneous options around the central problem until I hit on one that resonates.

Bottom line: I’m a discovery writer who uses outlining as a diagnostic tool to help me discover what my story is missing.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

  1. Find your tribe. Visit various writer groups to find one that fits. Whether in-person or online, networking with other writers in your genre will give you a leg up whether it’s with writing or marketing.
  2. Read a lot of books in the genre you plan to write in. Get to know what readers expect from the genre, particularly the popular tropes and plot twists.
  3. Take craft classes and read a lot of craft books. Lots of classes and books. Not every technique will fit with how you write—but you will discover techniques that do work for you. But beware of instructors who speak in absolutes. Rarely is a rule unbreakable.
  4. Read these two books: Wired for Story by Lisa Cron, and GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon. Also, Story Genius by Lisa Cron is excellent.

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

For the latest news and special offers, sign up to be a VIP Reader at: Jenna Barwin’s Newsletter

Or find me on social media and join the conversation:




Twitter (@JennaBarwin)


Some Books I’ve Read Lately:

A STROKE OF THE PEN, by Terry Pratchett. Before his death, Pratchett decreed that his unpublished work be destroyed and no posthumous Discworld fiction be written by anyone else. So this collection doesn’t contain new Terry Pratchett fiction, yet for all practical purposes it does, sort of. Subtitled “The Lost Stories,” the book comprises tales written very early in his career and published under pen names in newspapers. Only a couple of these stories have previously been re-released. All the rest, not identified as Pratchett’s work until collected in this volume, have remained unknown to his readers. The introduction and the afterword, “The Quest for ‘The Quest for the Keys’,” reveal some of the laborious detective work involved in unearthing the rediscovered pieces of fiction. There’s also a foreword by Pratchett’s friend and collaborator Neil Gaiman. No Discworld stories appear herein, although, as Gaiman remarks, the novelette “The Quest for the Keys” has a very proto-Discworld feel, as well as satirizing sword-and-sorcery adventures and D&D roleplaying scenarios. Several pieces involve wacky goings-on in an English village named Blackbury. “The Blackbury Thing,” about an alleged UFO landing, is especially fun. “Dragon Quest,” which has already seen publication in revised form as “Dragons at Crumbling Castle,” will appeal to most fantasy fans. “How It All Began” stars the caveman who invents fire, with some problematic consequences. Among several Christmas stories, my favorites are “A Partridge in a Post Box” (what happens when the suitor in the familiar carol ships his gifts by mail) and “How Scrooge Saw the Spectral Light. ..” My second-favorite story overall, after “The Quest for the Keys,” is “Pilgarlic Towers,” featuring ghosts whose haunted castle faces demolition in the path of a motorway. Some of the very British humor may puzzle the average American reader; I noticed several allusions that were obviously meant to be funny, but I had no clue why. Nevertheless, any hardcore Terry Pratchett fan will enjoy this collection.  

STARLING HOUSE, by Alix E. Harrow. A Southern Gothic dark fantasy by the author of THE TEN THOUSAND DOORS OF JANUARY, THE ONCE AND FUTURE WITCHES (the only one of these titles I haven’t read), and YA revisionist fairy-tale novels A SPINDLE SPLINTERED and A MIRROR MENDED. Most of STARLING HOUSE is narrated in the first person by Opal, a young woman working a low-wage job and living in a run-down motel with her teenage brother, Jasper, a budding artist and filmmaker. Jasper could have a brilliant future, if only (in Opal’s view) he could get out of their decaying small town and attend the private school for which she’s saving up. Other scenes are told in third person from the viewpoint of Arthur, the reclusive owner of Starling House. The narrative uses present tense, for no apparent reason, although at least the flashbacks are in past tense. Opal impresses me as a rather unlikable character, prickly and foul-mouthed, without the slightest qualms about her habit of petty theft. Yet her intelligence, self-reliance, early loss of her dysfunctional but loving mother, and determination to save her brother (whether he wants her to or not) make her compelling and sympathetic. She has only two sort-of friends, Charlotte, the head librarian at the public library, and Bev, the motel owner, more often grouchy and stingy than affectionate. The setting, a played-out coal-mining town in Kentucky, its prosperous days long past, is dominated by the Gravely family. They hope to revive coal production, if only they can access the mineral rights to the land around Starling House. The mansion’s builder, Eleanor Starling, was a one-book author with an enigmatic past, whose husband, a Gravely, died in mysterious circumstances. Her children’s picture book, UNDERLAND, about a portal to a world much darker than Alice’s wonderland, has creepy illustrations and an ambiguous ending. Did Eleanor base the tale on an actual experience of another realm where she met strange Beasts? (Any Constant Reader of dark fantasy knows the probable answer to this question.) Opal has read her copy of the book innumerable times. For many years, she has dreamed about Starling House, dreams in which she feels at home there. A bold gesture on her part leads Arthur to grudgingly hire her to clean his home, which at this point looks more like the House of Usher than anything fit for habitation. As Opal gradually restores the place to livability, a reluctant rapport grows between her and Arthur. Meanwhile, an agent of the Gravely company pressures her to spy on him for them. If she complies, she’ll be rewarded; if not, the coldly polite woman drops ominous hints of what might happen to Opal and, worse, to Jasper. The Gravelys have money, power, and the aforesaid ruthless agent. Opal has her stubbornness, her devotion to her brother, and her bond with Arthur. By now, she has developed sincere feelings for him. The conflict between her loyalty to him and the welfare of her brother makes the story engaging and suspenseful even before the supernatural element becomes overt. She learns disturbing facts about her own heritage and the dark past of the town, and she hears at least three conflicting stories about Eleanor Starling and the mansion. The final account reveals the truth—maybe. At the climax, Opal and Arthur have to unite to protect themselves and the house, a crisis that culminates in a descent into Underland. Numerous footnotes, often casting doubt on the “facts” stated in the text, probably contributed by Charlotte along with the bibliography, constitute one of my favorite features of this book. The other is the sentient house, cheerful and welcoming when well cared for but dingy and gloomy when neglected, apt to rearrange its rooms depending on its relationship with the occupants or its own inscrutable whims. In the face of seemingly inescapable disaster, Opal, Jasper, and Arthur make it through to a satisfyingly redemptive conclusion that still retains a touch of mystery.

EVE, by Cat Bohannon. Immediately upon starting this massive tome (437 pages of text, not counting notes and bibliography), which surveys the evolutionary history of the human female from the first mammals to Homo sapiens, I felt like a cartoon character on the PBS Kids network who says, “My brain just exploded.” On almost every page, I encountered at least one fact that evokes the same character’s catchphrase, “Well, THAT’S new information.” Moreover, Bohannon’s style is irresistibly lucid, readable, and witty. Each chapter discusses one of many “Eves,” ancestors of our species that exemplify the developments leading to modern woman. After the introduction, the chapters cover the following topics roughly in chronological order of development (aside from the last three, with dates of origin not precisely known): Milk (lactation and breasts), Womb (placental mammals), Perception (the senses), Legs (walking upright), Tools, Brain, Voice (development of language), Menopause, Love (human mating patterns and the social status of women versus men). So many questions arise, with thought-provoking speculation about the answers. Why do human females have breasts, unlike other primates? How did the placenta develop? Is there such a thing as the “female brain”? What are the differences between male and female senses, e.g. hearing the pitch of sounds and seeing colors? Why do women go through menopause? Are human beings “naturally” polygamous, promiscuous, or monogamous? Why do women live longer and, for the most part, healthier than men? Bohannan combines solid facts and scientific hypotheses with occasional personal anecdotes in language both information-dense and engagingly colloquial. Recommended for readers interested in evolution, biology, and/or the mysteries of human development and the differences between the sexes.   

THE FRIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS, by Jeff Belanger. This author has written numerous books on folklore, legends, and superstition, as well as hosting or participating in a variety of podcasts and TV programs on those topics. This physically beautiful slim volume, printed on sturdy, glossy paper and lavishly illustrated with reproductions (many in color) from paintings, woodcuts, book illustrations, vintage cards, and magazines, even includes an attached red satin ribbon bookmark. Subtitled “Surviving Krampus and Other Yuletide Monsters,” it begins with a background section on pagan winter solstice celebrations, the development of Christmas as we know it, and the life and legends of Saint Nicholas. The large middle section discusses frightful winter “monsters” such as Krampus, Belsnickel, the Yule Cat, the ogress Gryla, Black Peter, and many others. Despite the subtitle, however, some benevolent folkloric characters also appear, such as La Befana, the Tomten (a usually helpful species of house-elves), and of course Santa Claus, whose history is explored at length. Some chapters include anecdotes about the modern-day incarnations of traditional monsters, e.g., the now-popular Krampus. Belanger writes in a breezy but nevertheless fact-dense style that makes THE FRIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS equally appealing as both entertainment and reference work.

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

Realm of the Vampires


Excerpt from “The Thing on the Driveway”:

Spiders shouldn’t sparkle.

They shouldn’t have a leg span the size of Eve’s palm, either. Or be deep purple, shading to indigo on the abdomen. Most important, they shouldn’t swarm in her garage.

Her black cat, Onyx, dashed back and forth across the concrete floor, pouncing on the spiders. Eve flailed at them with a broom in vain. They vanished and reappeared before the blows could land.

Which is impossible. On the other hand, their materializing out of nowhere was impossible. Yet they’d done that just as she’d started trundling a wheelbarrow out the garage door to collect fallen branches. The debris littered the lawn from the summer afternoon thunderstorm that had swept through an hour earlier.

Granted, Arkham had a reputation for strange phenomena, but she figured most of them for urban legends. And, as far as she knew, the famous Antarctic expedition about a century past hadn’t shipped any sparkly, violet-blue spiders home to the university’s biology department.

She changed tactics, trying to sweep the creatures toward the open door with Onyx in pursuit. He skidded to a halt at the upper edge of the driveway and arched his spine, hissing.

Something wiggled—slithered? oozed?—from the driveway into the garage. It reminded Eve of a huge snake from a rain-forest wildlife documentary. She’d never seen one that looked translucent like an elongated blob of rainbow-hued gelatin, though


It gulped down the nearest dozen of the spiders. Most of the others popped out of existence like glittering bubbles.

-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):


This is my Facebook author page. Please visit!

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:

The Fiction Database displays a comprehensive list of my books (although with a handful of fairy tales by a different Margaret Carter near the end):

Fiction Database

My Goodreads page:

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 Publishers:

Writers Exchange E-Publishing: Writers Exchange
Harlequin: Harlequin
Wild Rose Press: Wild Rose Press

You can contact me at:

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

After the End of Civilization

Three months after the zombie apocalypse ended, the last man on Earth found the last woman on Earth.

Okay, he knew they probably weren’t the last people on Earth, but as far as Jeffrey Elwood, PhD, had discovered, they might be the last living people in central Maryland. The zombies, fortunately, hadn’t followed the typical horror-movie pattern. The highly infectious, fast-developing disease had spread to most of the planet’s non-immune population—which, according to news reports promulgated before civilization had collapsed, included almost everybody—within the first two weeks. The zombies hadn’t lingered for long, though. They’d literally disintegrated days after infection. On the positive side of the human species’ near-annihilation, there hadn’t been time for much looting or vandalism.

The sole survivor in his neighborhood, Jeffrey had stocked up on food, gasoline, and other supplies and connected his house wiring to a portable generator. Not bad, he figured, for a nearsighted, middle-aged, slightly chubby English professor. He’d read enough post-apocalyptic science fiction and watched enough TWILIGHT ZONE episodes to know the expected procedure. What would his late colleagues who’d sneered at popular culture think if they could see him now?

The next step, of course, was the quest for fellow survivors. To drive around checking houses block by block would take forever. Besides, he wanted to find compatible people, not wild-eyed, gun-waving survivalists. Although the internet and cell service no longer existed, luckily he had the faculty directory of his former university on his computer. After months of disappointing in-person reconnaissance of promising addresses, he discovered Dr. Susan McCarthy, a biology professor, in a rowhouse less than twenty miles from his home.

After Jeffrey allayed her suspicions with his faculty ID, she invited him in. A tall, angular woman of about forty, she wore bifocals and had collar-length, medium brown hair.

While she didn’t own a generator, rooftop solar panels produced enough electricity to power a few appliances. She supplemented them with camping gear, for which she’d stored plenty of propane. She’d prepared for winter by stockpiling wood in the garage for the fireplace.

Admitting that, like him, she’d grown tired of having nobody to talk to, she asked him to stay for dinner. “I have a battery-operated radio and a CB rig,” she mentioned as they set the table, grilled steaks, and opened wine, “but I haven’t picked up anything except static since the second week.”

They discovered common reading interests and discussed books and movies over the meal, happy to drop the subject of the worldwide catastrophe in favor of its fictional counterparts. After they’d polished off the wine, Susan brought out a bottle of sherry and poured a glass for each of them. 

As a lifelong science-fiction reader, Jeffrey knew what ought to come next. He cleared his throat a couple of times and started to reach for her hand but drew back, as he worked up the courage to broach the vital topic. “We don’t know whether there’s anybody else left in this region or even the whole state or country. I believe it’s our duty to repopulate the world—well, the greater Baltimore area, anyway.” His face heated with embarrassment.

Susan shook her head with a wry smile. “Not happening. I had my tubes tied after my divorce six years ago.”

“Then the human race is doomed! Or at least the Maryland contingent of it.”

“If it depended on us,” she said, “it would be doomed anyway. One breeding pair is nowhere near enough for a founding population.”

Casting his thoughts over the next phase prescribed by fiction and film, he said, “Then shouldn’t we search for other survivors to restart civilization?”

“Can you realistically imagine the two of us trekking across a devastated continent, gathering a band of complete strangers, and convincing them we’re qualified to lead a community of intrepid pioneers?”

“Well. . . .”

“Me, neither.” She lifted the bottle. “More sherry?”


Heiress Apparent

Bev was sitting on the couch with the tortoiseshell cat, Ishtar, when her husband, Joel, staggered into the house. With a dazed expression, he collapsed onto the other end of the sofa. “I just had the weirdest experience on the way to the parking lot.”

Bev leaned toward him with an encouraging nod.

“While I was cutting through the native plant garden, as usual, a procession of cats crossed in front of me.”

“A what? Cats don’t process.”

“Well, unless I fell asleep at the computer or somebody drugged my latte, these did. They marched in a double line from one side of the path to the other. They were yowling, like cats do, but it sounded almost like singing.”

“That’s weird, all right.” She stroked Ishtar, who uncurled from her sleeping position and rubbed against Bev’s hand.

“You haven’t heard the strangest part yet. There were six walking in the middle of the column on their hind legs, carrying a miniature coffin with a tiny crown on top.”

Ishtar raised her head and perked up her ears.

Bev patted his hand. “Are you sure you didn’t fall asleep at the computer?”

He nodded. “Believe me, that’s the first thing I thought of. I tried to wake up. Didn’t happen. I unfroze enough to ask what the hell was going on. Not that I expected an answer.”

“Don’t tell me you got one?”

“A half-grown kitten near the end of the line said, ‘It’s the funeral of Her Majesty Thomasina the Dagger-Fanged, of course.’ An adult swatted him and told him to shut up. Then the procession moved on and disappeared under the trees.”

Before Bev could gather her thoughts to comment, Ishtar stood up, stretched, and flexed her claws. “So old Thomasina finally died? Then I’m Queen of the Cats!”

Bev gaped at her. “You can talk?”

Ishtar blinked at her. “Meow. Purr. Mew.”

“Quit messing with us,” Joel said. “I know what I saw back there, and I’m not dreaming now either. You just spoke English.”

With a disgruntled hiss, Ishtar sat down. “Okay, I can talk. Want to make something of it?”

Bev found her voice. “I guess now that you’ve inherited the crown, you’ll be leaving us. We’ll miss you.”

The cat flicked her tail dismissively. “Live outside in the heat, cold, rain, and snow, eating vermin and garbage scraps? Waste half my time settling squabbles on the Feline Council? And the other half defending myself against challengers? Not to mention toms who don’t understand the word ‘spayed’? No, thanks. Let my sisters fight over the crown.” She licked a paw. “But now that the talking secret is out of the bag, so to speak, I have a few conditions.”

Joel frowned. “Conditions?”

Ishtar’s ears slanted back “First off, clean the litter box every day, for Bast’s sake.”

“Reasonable,” he muttered.

“And that dry food from the discount mart doesn’t meet my standards. Also, buy one of those water-dispensing fountains.”

Bev asked, “How do you know about those?”

“When I lie on your lap all day while you’re working at the computer, you think I haven’t been listening? One more thing, I’m sure there’s room on the rear deck to install a catio…”