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Support Group
by Margaret L. Carter

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

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

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

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

The others winced.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The other replied with a ghastly grin, “Why, I did you a favor. Have you not come to appreciate it yet?” He directed a seated bow to the woman. “Countess Karnstein, at least, understands our inherent superiority, even if she does have a regrettable tendency to whine.”

The Countess bared her teeth in a feral hiss.

Dr. Darvell raised a warning hand. “Please, Count, exercise simple courtesy. We’re here to listen to each other non-judgmentally, not fight among ourselves. I believe one thing we can all agree on is the need for solidarity in the face of the derogatory stereotypes and racist harassment suffered by our kind. Let’s hear from someone else, please.”

The cavalier spoke up. “The Prince is absolutely right. This existence is a burden. When my curse condemned an innocent girl to a terrible death, I knew honor demanded I end my unnatural life. But they won’t allow us to rest.”

“Well, Sir Francis,” the Count said, “if an active volcano wasn’t enough to terminate your ‘curse,’ maybe you should learn to enjoy it.”

“Enjoy being chased from town to town by stake-wielding fanatics?”

“At least you,” said the man with the cane, “have been spared waking after two centuries sealed in a coffin to a world you cannot comprehend.”

The black man nodded. “How true, Mr. Collins. I shall never forget the horror of my first encounter with Los Angeles traffic. Or the shock of that insidious invention, the camera. How was I to know it would betray me as surely as a mirror?”

“Consider yourself fortunate you weren’t unearthed as I was,” said Collins, “by a treasure-hunting halfwit I had to depend on for my knowledge of the modern era. And it hasn’t helped that I can’t overcome my tendency to see every woman who attracts me as a reincarnation of my long-lost love.”

The black Prince said, “I’ve had that problem, too.”

Dr. Darvell interjected, “That’s not an uncommon fixation. Relationships can often be problematic for us. Would anyone else care to share on this topic?”

With a voluptuous pout, the Countess tossed her head. “So many times I have loved, and always tragically, thanks to those hypocritical filmmakers you mentioned.” She glanced at the Count. “They enrich themselves at my expense, while condemning me to stake and fire for my ‘wanton’ behavior.”

“Granted,” said the psychiatrist, “the collective unconscious and popular culture harbor mixed messages regarding our lifestyle.”

“Even gay and lesbian support organizations reject me,” the Countess sighed. “They insist I must be exploiting my lovers.”

The doctor looked around the circle. “Anyone else? I believe you’ve experienced problems in this area, Nick.”

“I won’t consider becoming involved with a woman until I’m cured.” He shook his head despairingly. “I’ve even tried a twelve-step program. No luck.”

“Do you consider living on refrigerated cattle blood such a terrible handicap, or curse, as to disqualify you for intimate relationships?”

“Since Natalie thinks that diet is a roadblock to a cure, and she’s the woman I—well—”

Collins frowned at the young-looking man. “You’re wasting your time. I’ve also had a—relationship—with a female scientist attempting to cure me. The results have been disastrous.”

“Sir Nicholas—Nick,” the Count said with an ironic smile, “your friend might not see your condition as a curse if you introduced her to certain benefits associated with it.”

Nick bared his fangs, eyes glowing.

The doctor again held up his hand to silence them. “Calm yourself. We can’t evade what we all know from experience, the erotic dimension of feeding.”

“If you’re suggesting Nat would ever want that kind of perverted thrill—”

A red glint sparked in the Count’s eyes. “Are you implying that all the young ladies whose favors I have enjoyed are ‘perverted’?”

“It might be more productive,” said Dr. Darvell, “to speak in terms of alternative modes of sexuality rather than ethical categories.”

“Our embraces can bestow only death,” Sir Francis declared in a sepulchral tone.

“I wouldn’t go that far,” the black man said. “In certain circumstances, mutual pleasure can be achieved.”

“I’ve tried often enough,” Collins said with a sardonic smile. “My appeal diminishes when I reach the point of inviting the lady to share my coffin.”

Nick burst out laughing. “No wonder you aren’t getting anywhere with a cure, hung up on that fetishistic crap. You’re a fossil!”

“Please, no name-calling,” the doctor said. “Discuss the behavior, not the person. Now, perhaps we might address the subject of photophobia. A problem you don’t have, for example.” He glanced at the one patient who hadn’t spoken. He looked like a teenage boy, whose skin glittered faintly where the room’s overhead light shone on it.

“No, my main problems are romantic, too. I agree that getting involved with mortals can be dangerous. Having been turned at such a young age makes things worse. How would you like to spend an eternity in high school?”

Dr. Darvell asked dryly, “Haven’t you considered claiming to be home-schooled?” The door creaked open. “Ah, this must be the remaining member of our group.”

A small man with a monocle, a beak-like nose, and a purple-lined cape swooped in. “Greetings!” he intoned. “Please forgive my tardiness, and accept my thanks for the inwitation to join you. They call me the Count. Do you know why they call me the Count? Because I have an irresistible obsessive-compulsive drive to count things.”

-end-

The original version of this story was first published in The Vampire’s Crypt 10 (Fall 1994). If you’d like to become better acquainted with Dr. Roger Darvell, he’s introduced in Dark Changeling and Child of Twilight, which have been combined in a Kindle edition titled Twilight’s Changelings:
Twilight’s Changelings

Welcome to the February 2024 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.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

N. N. Light’s Book Heaven gave “Bunny Hunt” a wonderful 5-star review. “A touching springtime story, Bunny Hunt will move you.”

N. N. Light’s Book Heaven

There’s an excerpt from “Bunny Hunt” below. Heroine Melanie is responding to a mysterious plea for help she hears in her mind.

For Valentine month, I’m interviewing Katherine Tomlinson, a multi-genre author whose works include a cozy romance series.

*****

Interview with Katherine Tomlinson:

What inspired you to begin writing?

I always made up stories, pretty much as far back as I can remember. My father used to read to me (giving my mother her “me” time after dinner) and he always made the stories “interactive.” Like, when he told the story of Red Riding Hood, he would ask me what she put in the basket she was taking to her grandmother. “Peanut butter sandwiches,” I’d say. Or “rice pudding.”
I also lived in a three-generation home for a number of years, and my grandparents told a lot of stories about “the old days.” My grandmother had been a traveling sales lady for women’s lingerie, and I loved those stories.
When my little sister was born, we shared a room and even as a baby, she was an insomniac. I used to tell her stories to lull her to sleep. When I grew up, I had a vague notion that I would write novels, but in fact, I started out as a magazine journalist, and it wasn’t until 2011 when I wrote my first real piece of fiction and entered it into a contest. I won second place (and $100), and I thought I can do this!

What genres do you work in?

I started out writing crime fiction because I’ve been reading mysteries since I discovered Nancy Drew. I wrote a ton of those stories, and they became my first collection of short stories, Just Another Day in Paradise. A lot of those stories are pretty dark because I was going through a trying time. My little sister was dying, I was working insane hours in my show business-adjacent day job (I was a “reader” for studios and production companies—a gig worker in one of the most expensive cities in the country) and I was eating badly and sleeping poorly.
I also wrote horror, which I still do occasionally. Sometimes, life is just so horrific you can either scream, or you can write.
I use my real name for those crime and horror stories. But one day I had an idea that felt like an urban fantasy story. “What happens to a long-lived vampire who gets age-related dementia?” That story kick-started my whole Misbegotten universe of vampires and werewolves in Los Angeles. I wrote a bunch of stories set in that world, and then my first novel, a shortie of a little over 40,000 words. (It’s available permafree in the collection After Midnight: https://www.amazon.com/After-Midnight-Paranormal-Featuring-Creatures-ebook/dp/B07Y3ZDCN4
You can also read my werewolf novel The Howl (three adventures of Simon Arvai, a globe-trotting investigative journalist who is a reluctant werewolf) in the same collection.
I used the pen name “Kat Parrish” for those stories/books. My middle name is my father’s middle name and was his mother’s maiden name. I originally started using it when I edited a magazine that didn’t pay its contributors, so I wrote around six stories a month. I didn’t want them all to be under the same name.
I met a woman who’d been crushing it self-publishing who was at the time writing romantic fantasy. I had an idea I called “Vampire Cinderella,” and emailed her telling her the idea, and she liked it and encouraged me to write the story. So that became a trilogy—Bride of the Midnight King, Daughter of the Midnight King, and The Midnight Queen. I have a whole “Realm” of stories that grew out of that, and I’m building it out.
I also write science fiction as Kat Parrish. But about seven years ago, I was living in Bellingham, WA when a tree blew down an electric line and we were without power for nearly a day. To avoid going absolutely bonkers with boredom, I started writing a story in long hand about a group of characters living in a similar place who worked at a hotel. That became The Christmas Experience, the first of my “Silver Birch” stories. I’ve since written some sixteen novellas in the same world and have around 20 planned for this year. They’re all cozy, clean romances and most are set around holidays. I use “Katherine Moore” for those stories. (Katherine Moore was my maternal grandmother’s name. Her mother was also named Katherine, as were her grandmother and great-grandmother. And there were a few others in there as well. My sister was named Mary and I had two aunts named Mary and two Aunt Helens. Our cousin is named Helen.)
I have branched out into cozy mystery as well. They’re fun, and I am drifting toward ones with bakery backdrops because I know a lot about bakeries and baked goods. I also have two cozy series planned, one for a woman who buys a food truck and another who ends up with a pizza place. Both are about women reinventing themselves as a single woman. One’s a widow, the other’s divorced.
So, I’ve basically hit all the genres. I’ve dipped my toes into Paranormal Women’s Fiction, and I still write non-fiction and edit collections of stories.

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

Something in between. I always have a starting point and beats I want to include, and I always know the ending. In between, it can sometimes get a little hazy. And sometimes I see that something’s not working, so I have to stop in the middle and reconfigure things.
One of the gigs I had early on was writing two short stories a week for the North Hollywood micronews site Patch. I created a serial novel based on Armisted Maupin’s brilliant Tales of the City series. I was full-time freelance and so I was also working side gigs because the owner didn’t believe in paying writers, so I was working for free (while my illustrator was paid the handsome sum of $10 a week).
I’d come out of news writing, and I was used to deadlines, so I didn’t have a problem with writer’s block, but I sometimes ended up finishing the stories just an hour or two before the deadline. I usually outlined my stories a month or so in advance, so I didn’t have to start them from scratch under a tight deadline.
And sometimes, something really unexpected happens. My most anthologized short story is “In the Kingdom of the Cat,” which is about a lonely woman and her cat. I was at home working with television on in the background for company when a documentary about what happens when people who have no family or friends die in Los Angeles. The story literally came to me complete and before the documentary was over, I was typing as fast as I could, afraid that I would forget it before I could write it down. It’s roughly 1500 of the best words I’ve ever written, and it never would have happened if I hadn’t seen that documentary.
So, outline but be open to inspiration.

What have been the major influences on your work (favorite authors or whatever)?

I used to say the biggest influences on my work were Jim Henson and Rod Serling. (A lot of my early crime fiction had twist endings.) I love Stephen King and how great he is with characters. Even characters that wouldn’t normally be sympathetic always have some humanity. I fell in love with the way Tanith Lee wrote. Just flinging words onto paper like she was painting with oils and a palette knife. I loved short stories and read everyone from Harlan Ellison and Isaac Asimov to the classics everyone reads in school—stories by Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway and “The Most Dangerous Game” and “The Monkey’s Paw,” and “The Lady, or the Tiger?”

How did your experience as a magazine editor and nonfiction author affect your fiction writing (if it did)?

As an editor, I was always looking for story ideas. I consumed other magazines and newspapers. I used to tell my freelancers that every story could be presented as a business story, and that reading business stories was a great place to start if you were looking for a fresh angle on a topic.
I always checked my facts. Non-fiction usually requires some research, and my skills are good. You can go down a rabbit hole doing research—and I have—but in general, I think having too much research is better than too little. The title story of my collection Suicide Blonde is set in the Fifties, and I researched absolutely everything, from what was on the coinage to the price of a lipstick. It took me longer to track down the information than it did to write the story.

Do you keep a “bible” for your fictional town, Silver Birch?

I’ve had to since the series has expanded. I have a LOT of characters, so I keep them on a spreadsheet. (I reused first names a couple of times before I started doing this.) Now I have a list of locations and who works where and a timeline of events (which baby is born when, that sort of thing).
I really like spending time in my fictional city. It’s very much my happy place because I’ve taken all the things I liked about my time in the Pacific Northwest (especially the awesome fall foliage) and left out the things I didn’t like (the incessant rain). I also borrowed places. My landlady and her sisters in Bellingham also owned a string of Pho shops, and that turned into the go-to Vietnamese restaurant Pho on Fifth which shows up throughout the series. One character’s vintage clothing shop is based on a world-class thrift store in Centralia, Washington that’s run by the Visiting Nurses Association.

How did you become a screenwriter? What was it like to work with Hulu, and did you have any involvement in the actual filming of your script? What would you describe as the major differences between writing novels and writing screenplays?

My path to becoming a screenwriter was not the usual one. When I moved to L.A., I had a roommate who wanted to be a screenwriter and was working as a “reader” for some producers. Just as in the publishing business, everyone uses readers—usually young, usually low-wage earners—to separate the submissions into PASS/CONSIDER piles. (Yes, the lowest paid workers in the industry are trusted to make decisions on multi-million dollar projects. It’s kind of crazy.
I was freelancing for Copley News Service and there just wasn’t enough work for me at the time, so my roommate suggested I try doing coverage, which is basically “book reports” on books, magazines, and scripts. He introduced me to one of his clients—the late, great Richard Donner (director of The Goonies, the Christopher Reeve Superman, the Lethal Weapon series and so much more.)
So, I met Dick and his wife Lauren Shuler Donner (producer of Pretty in Pink, the X-Men franchise and more) and I went to work with them. Their office faced the Marian Davies bungalow on the Warner Brothers lot, which was occupied by uber-producer Joel Silver (who produced the Lethal Weapon franchise, the Matrix series, the Robert Downey, Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies).
I worked for Joel and learned a lot and had a lot of opportunities. And I read a LOT of scripts. I went freelance and read a lot more scripts. I ended up working for some really big name Hollywood people, including Jerry Bruckheimer, Wolfgang Petersen, and Kathryn Bigelow. I read so many scripts that I internalized the formula.
At the time I was renting a house in Studio City owned by a very successful writer/producer who offered me a chance to write an episode of one of the television shows he produced. I did, and it was filmed and aired. I was so excited. Somewhere I still have the screenshot I took when my name came up in the credits.
Then one day I saw an ad on Craigslist looking for a cheap screenwriter (the pay was $800) to flesh out a science fiction idea the producers had. They wanted it on a very tight timeframe. Something like eight days. But I got the gig. And more followed. My advantage is that I’m not union but I’m not inexperienced. (I’d love to be in the Union.) Producers pay me
But I much prefer writing narrative fiction because screenwriting is so condensed. Most movies are around 90 minutes to two hours, so it’s hard to develop complicated stories and characters. And I love characters. It took me forever to become comfortable reading scripts because I found it such an odd way to tell a story after years of reading books and short stories.
I did not have any interaction with Hulu, nor did I have any involvement with the filming. I live in Portugal and the film was shot in Turin, Italy, so I could have made the trip (on my own dime), but I had other work obligations at the time. I was a little taken aback when I finally saw the finished product because the leading man (who was very cute) pronounced the leading lady’s character name differently in practically every scene. Also, a tacked on, and what I considered crass, joke at end made me want to cringe because I watched it for the first time with my best friend’s mother and his sister.
But one of the first lessons you learn in Hollywood is that the writer is the least respected person on the set. There are directors who are real collaborators—Ron Howard is one, Dick Donner was another—but mostly, directors let writers improvise and/or rewrite things themselves. I really love working with some directors—Stefano Milla, who directed the Hulu movie, for one. He’s incredibly creative and I’ve now written a few movies for him, all of which have either been filmed or are being filmed.
The producers of the film sold it to Hulu (and I was thrilled).

What is your latest or next-forthcoming book?

I have a horror novella coming out before the end of January as part of a shared world: Asylum Stories (The Tale of the Timekeeper.) It’s something very different for me. I am also a part of several other shared worlds and boxed sets coming out this year.

What are you working on now?

Several things. (I skip around. I’ll focus on one thing if I have a deadline but if I’m working on my own material, I like to change things up.) I am working on repackaging some of my Silver Birch stories into longer works, as well as rewriting and combining some of Katherine Moore’s “Mermaid Beach” stories. Under my own name, I’m taking part in a list-aiming mystery boxed set, so I have my story for that, a twisty little psychological thriller about a woman who’ll do anything for love. And finally, “Kat Parrish” is working on a trilogy about three classic monsters—Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Mummy. I think I have a new take on them that people will like, and I have killer covers.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Start writing now. You’ll only get better the more you write. I think it was Stephen King who said he wrote a million words before he felt confident enough to call himself a writer.
Find your tribe. A lot of bookstores host book groups and writing groups. You can find them online through Meetups or Facebooks groups.
Read as much as you can. You need to replenish your well of inspiration and reading does that in a way nothing else can.
Believe you have something to say.

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

I don’t have a website right now. I’m going to build one for Silver Birch, but right now all my pen names share a freebie blog site. It’s Eye of the Kat.
I used to be really good at posting book reviews and author interviews every day or so, but I see I haven’t updated it for a while. I have to rethink it.
My three pen names are all on Facebook and that’s probably where you’ll find me the most. I know it’s toxic, but I have friends from elementary school, from my first jobs, people I used to date, college friends plus tons of writers and colleagues who are sources of inspiration and information and who have been very kind and welcoming.
I used to be on X, but I never really posted much—just used it to keep up with people I followed. I’m on Bluesky now but haven’t developed a habit of posting. Mostly I put up “skeets” that are pictures I’ve taken. I love taking photographs and occasionally get lucky with pictures.
I need to learn how to do TikTok effectively because every single author I know is using that platform. I want to be able to add entertainment value and not just make my posts about “buy my book.”
I have not used Instagram much because I live in Portugal and there are problems setting it up with my phone.

*****

Some Books I’ve Read Lately:

OF DICE AND MEN, by David M. Ewalt. I recently came across this 2013 book—written when Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition was in the works—which the cover blurb calls “a blend of history, journalism, narrative, and memoir.” In keeping with this accurate description, Ewalt enlivens his wide-ranging overview of the origins and development of D&D by weaving the history of the game into his personal history with the game as player and dungeon master over several decades. Both casual fans of roleplaying games and lifelong grognards (a term originally meaning “old warriors”) will find entertainment and enlightenment herein. Even though I started playing D&D with the publication of the First Edition AD&D MONSTER MANUAL and its two companion guides, and I’ve read other histories of the game, OF DICE AND MEN held a lot of fresh information for me. For instance, Ewalt supplies a clearer explanation of why Advanced Dungeons and Dragons is a distinctly different product from the original Basic D&D than any other I’ve read. When our family started exploring the game with no guidance other than the manuals and commercially published adventure modules, we took the term “Advanced” literally and assumed the later system was a straightforward elaboration of the earlier one, a misunderstanding that somewhat hampered our playing. (And I still think the terminology was ill-advised and unnecessarily confusing.) For general readers, the main intended audience, the book begins with an explanation of roleplaying games and how D&D works. It then provides an overview of the millennia-old background of war games before moving on to a detailed exposition of how Gary Gygax developed D&D from tabletop wargaming. Subsequent chapters narrate the twists and turns of the game’s and its parent company’s evolution, including the financial and organizational ups and downs as well as the rocky relationship between Gygax and his co-originator. Naturally, Ewalt delves into the game’s public reception, including analysis of the “satanic panic” phase. The book concludes with the playtesting of Fifth Edition, aka “D&D Next.” Each chapter includes multiple entertainingly dramatized anecdotes from the author’s own playing experiences. Only one aspect of Ewalt’s personalized odyssey mildly annoyed me—his occasional references to being embarrassed or vaguely ashamed of his immersion in the game during his early years of involvement. I’ve been a geek/nerd and proud of it since long before those words acquired their current meaning; I regard weirdness as a positive rather than a negative. Still, this book offers fascinating content for both newbies and veterans of the tabletop roleplaying subculture.

VALDEMAR, by Mercedes Lackey. The final volume in the “Founding of Valdemar” trilogy. While it’s necessary to have read the first two books to understand what’s going on in this one, a reader new to the world of Valdemar with its Heralds, Companions, and mages could start with this trilogy. Familiarity with at least some of the other subseries of the series, however, would enhance one’s pleasure, since established fans would enjoy hints of things to come chronologically later in the fictional history. This book skips ahead ten years from the end of the second volume. (The text helpfully reminds us of that point several times.) Two of the three sons of Baron (formerly Duke) Kordas Valdemar are almost grown. The refugees’ colony has become an established city, Haven, although some of their people have split off into their own small villages. Valdemar’s Hawkbrother allies, having magically cleansed the surrounding area, have taken down their temporary protective shield and withdrawn, leaving the newcomers mostly on their own. Contact continues, though, and as we later learn, the Hawkbrothers will offer aid in extreme circumstances. The evil wizardry threat alluded to in the cover blurb doesn’t flare up until well into the story. Most of the first half of the novel concerns the day-to-day problems and minor crises involved in ruling a city still partly under construction. Some readers might find these chapters too slow, but I always enjoy the way Lackey portrays character interactions and the setting and customs of her invented world, with or without any thrilling events onstage at the moment. Secondary characters as well as Kordas himself are presented vividly and sympathetically. The main thread unifying this section comes from Kordas’s council members’ insistence that he must accept the title of King for the good of the realm. He eventually gives in, of course. Fans of the series will be happy to see the development we’ve been waiting for, the advent of the Companions. Since the gods have solid reasons for introducing those magnificent creatures at this time, soon after the Choosing of the first Heralds they, the nobility, the mages (Chosen or not), and the common folk of Haven must face a dire crisis. Aid from a friendly elemental and emissaries of the Hawkbrothers augment the Valdemarans’ defenses, but the threat is appropriately hard to defeat. This book caps the trilogy with a satisfying conclusion, although I’d love to read more novels set in this early phase of the world’s history.

MISLAID IN PARTS HALF-KNOWN, by Seanan McGuire. The much-anticipated annual installment in McGuire’s “Wayward Children” portal fantasy series. While many of these books can be read independently, one really needs to have read last year’s book, LOST IN THE MOMENT AND FOUND, to fully understand this one. Herein we pick up Antsy’s experiences after her return to this world at the end of LOST IN THE MOMENT AND FOUND. Like the other books, the new one begins with a prologue discussing the “children of the doors” as an introduction to Miss Eleanor’s school for children and teens who’ve returned from the other worlds to which various portals have taken them. This particular prologue expounds the distinctions among mislaid, lost, and truly Lost. Antsy’s schoolmates know she has the gift of being able to find anything. “Anything” includes Doors, for which she refuses to search; she maintains that people’s Doors will find them, if at all, at the right time without her interference. When the selfish, mean, but dazzlingly beautiful Seraphina learns of this talent, she tries to bully Antsy into finding a Door to a world where Seraphina might attain contentment. Antsy takes refuge with her friends in the attic sanctuary of Kade, Miss Eleanor’s heir (and the only student who has no desire to leave the school for any other world). Thanks to Antsy’s gift, the teens escape through a hitherto unknown Door in the attic. It leads to the place she never expected or wanted to revisit, the enchanted shop where she spent most of the previous novel. A sort of inter-universe nexus, the store gives access to innumerable other dimensions. Taking advantage of a handy Door, Antsy and her friends travel through multiple worlds – and, as foreshadowed by the book’s cover illustration, in one of them they meet dinosaurs. By the end of their journey, several characters have achieved resolutions or even happy endings. It’s delightful to watch as Ansty confronts the person who manipulated her childhood ignorance for selfish gain and, ultimately, sets the shop right (helped by a flock of sapient magpies). Along the way, we learn a lot of new lore about the true nature of Doors and the hidden dangers of opening them. In fact, so many threads get wound up that this story could serve as a finale to the series. But I fervently hope it won’t.

HIM, by Geoff Ryman. This novel is odder by far than even the author’s WAS, a tragic deconstruction of origins of THE WIZARD OF OZ, both book and movie. In HIM, Ryman re-envisions the life of Jesus in terms some readers may dismiss as blasphemous. However, this deeply moving treatment of the familiar gospel story, told mainly through the viewpoint of Maryam (the Virgin Mary), might be better regarded as an imagining of an alternate reality. Yeshu (Jesus) implies as much near the end of the book. He reveals the existence of an infinite number of possible worlds. There might be a universe in which he doesn’t have to die by crucifixion; there might exist universes wherein he lives to a peaceful old age. Or the world of this novel, where he was born a girl. The author “makes the familiar strange” in other ways as well, including language. He spells the names of people and places as they might be transliterated from Aramaic or Greek, e.g., “Yerusalem” instead of Jerusalem, “Perisayya” for Pharisees. Even for a reader familiar with the New Testament, many of the correspondences can be hard to figure out. It took me several pages to realize the “Migdali woman” is Mary Magdalene, especially with her significant differences from the way that saint usually appears in tradition and art. So I’ll write proper names in their customary spellings for clarity, aside from Yeshu, Maryam, and Yosef. When Maryam tells her priestly uncle of her miraculous pregnancy, naturally he fears she has gone mad. Searching for a suitable husband to rescue her from her plight, he settles on Yosef, an eccentric dreamer who holds heretical views such as the belief that Adam and Eve before the fall were neither male nor female. He’s just crazy enough to accept Maryam as his wife. The disgraced pair are “exiled” from Jerusalem to Nazareth, where the holy child is born. Therefore, no journey to Bethlehem, no angels and shepherds, no star, no Magi. Maryam and Yosef remain celibate throughout their marriage, although they do conceive several other children by a makeshift version of artificial insemination. As for the child of the Holy Spirit, Maryam gives birth to a daughter. When the girl is five years old, her best friend, a boy slightly older than she, dies. From then on, she adopts his gender and his name, vehemently insisting she’s now a boy named Yeshu. While Yosef comes to accept him without too much difficulty, Maryam takes many years to adjust. For a long time she thinks of her oldest child as “it” and “the Cub.” While she impresses me as more prickly than likable, she also evokes sympathy, especially at the climax of the novel, when she fearlessly berates God for the ordeals He has put her through. In youth, far from holy, Yeshu and his gang of rowdy friends behave almost like juvenile delinquents. Eventually he leaves home in search of his cousin John the Baptist. When Maryam (now widowed) next meets Yeshu, he has assumed the title “Son of Adam” and gathered a throng of followers, roaming through the countryside in groups he calls “eklesia” (from the Greek for “calling out”). In one delightful innovation, they habitually sing favorite lines from Yeshu’s preaching and stories. It’s easy to understand the suspicious reactions of some people in the towns they pass through, viewing the disciples as the first-century equivalent of a traveling Woodstock. Matthew conscientiously writes down as many as possible of the Son’s parables and sayings, but in this version of the story, so does Maryam. Both of them leave out elements they find too unconventional, disturbing, or just plain baffling. Miracles don’t come as easily as often depicted in the New Testament. The feeding of the five thousand is casually attributed to incidents when people share food among themselves and it always seems to work out to enough. Lazarus, Mary, and Martha of Bethany aren’t close friends of Yeshu. Rather, when he learns of Lazarus’s death, he has never met them before. He raises Lazarus from the dead just to see what would happen, and the witnesses don’t welcome the result with joy but shrink from it as an “abomination.” To me, the portrayal of the miracles is the most innovative and unsettling feature of the novel. Yeshu’s healings have a shattering effect on observers, as if the universe momentarily turns inside out and resets itself. In another hint of an alternate world, during Yeshu’s trial it’s claimed that the Romans don’t customarily crucify people in the Jewish territory and that women are never crucified. Unlike in the gospels, the High Priest displays sympathy for Yeshu and tries to save his life. Yeshu, however, won’t accept a lesser sentence and seems determined to die. In another departure from the gospel accounts, Maryam doesn’t follow him to the cross. The narrative skips from the trial to the Resurrection, numinous and as strikingly weird in its way as the rest of the story. This iconoclastic retelling of a revered narrative displays a surprisingly high Christology. Yeshu seems fully aware of his status as the human embodiment of the divine. He repeatedly declares that the purpose of his existence is to let God experience pity, sorrow, pain, suffering, and death – in short, to teach God what it means to be human. In its own idiosyncratic terms, that claim actually comes across as a thoroughly orthodox summary of the Incarnation. While I may not reread this novel straight through, many passages invited repeated perusal and reflection. With the final scene (to quote a PBS TV cartoon character) “my brain just exploded.”

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

*****

Excerpt from “Bunny Hunt”:

Downstairs, she exited the house through the kitchen door, since the voice in her head seemed to be coming from that direction. She carefully left the door unlocked, not wanting to get stuck outside even in a dream.

Their yard backed up to the wooded area whose other end bordered the playground where the children had searched for eggs that morning. She started toward the trees, listening hard, hunting for the source of the call. When the plea for help echoed in her mind yet again, she realized there was no question of its origin. The voice definitely came from the woods, and there was only one way in from here.

As soon as the damp grass touched her ankles, she realized she should have put on thicker socks. Also, the April night breeze chilled her bare arms. When she considered going inside for a sweater, though, the disembodied voice chimed, Please hurry. Still feeling pleasantly drifty, Melanie shrugged off the chill and quickened her pace.

On the trail that led into the woods, trees cut off most of the light from houses and street lamps. Even with a full moon, she could barely see her way, but fortunately she’d strolled this path many times before. The second time she stumbled on a root, though, she yielded to common sense and dug the emergency flashlight out of her bag. Wouldn’t you think I’d be able to see fine and walk safely by moonlight in a dream?

Every few yards, the voice renewed its appeal for her to hurry. Where was it coming from? How long had she been walking, anyway? Surely not much more than ten minutes. Shouldn’t she have reached the border of the woods by now? The walk from one end to the other took no more than fifteen minutes at a leisurely stroll, and by road the long way around only about five minutes.

Of course, that was in daylight. Maybe she’d unconsciously slowed down to avoid a fall, despite trying to obey the urgent appeal of the voice. On the other hand, she didn’t recall the trail having this many curves. Could she have accidentally stepped off the main track onto a side path?

Around the next bend, what she ran into convinced her she was definitely not on the right path anymore.

Overhanging the trail, a tangle of tree limbs entwined with thorny vines formed an arch. This shouldn’t be here. This dream is getting wilder by the minute. Am I supposed to go through that?

The voice responded as if reading her mind: This way.

Of course, what else? Can’t turn back now, even if this is the weirdest dream I’ve ever had. Melanie stepped through the portal. Beyond the threshold, vine-draped tree trunks hemmed her in on both sides. Aiming the flashlight beam upward revealed a tangle of vines that roofed the trail as far ahead as she could see. A layer of leaves rustled underfoot, stirring a scent of damp loam. The night’s chill abruptly yielded to humid warmth, more like June than early April.

She staggered with dizziness. When the vertigo passed and her vision cleared, the mental fog that had cushioned her until that moment evaporated. Her feet felt clammy from walking in wet grass. Ticklish tendrils of hair clung to her neck. The fingers of her left hand cramped from carrying her bag. The bronze disk on the necklace heated her skin through the T-shirt.

This is no dream. I’m really here. She spun around, pointing the light at the path behind her. Instead of the opening she’d walked through, a wall of branches and thorns blocked retreat. Where is here?

-end-

*****

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, visit the Dropbox page below. Find information about the contents of each issue on this page of my website:

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

Welcome to the January 2024 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.

Happy New Year!

My steamy paranormal romance novella “Wizard’s Trap” was published by the Wild Rose Press in December. The heroine rents a house owned by a sorcerer who’s been cursed into the astral plane. He communicates with her through his journal, hoping she can set him free.

Wizard’s Trap

In the excerpt below, she tries to contact his spirit, not yet realizing he isn’t dead.

For e-mail subscribers: As of the end of February, TinyLetter will cease to exist, so this newsletter will have to migrate to its parent company, MailChimp. I’m mildly distressed by this development, since TinyLetter is easy to use and includes all the features I need with none I don’t want. But I’ll try to implement a smooth transition. The subscriber list will be transferred without your having to do anything.

For the first interview of the new year, meet contemporary romance and romantic suspense author Carol Henry.

*****

Interview with Carol Henry:

What inspired you to begin writing?

Writing wasn’t my first thought, but reading was a life-long activity that started when I was old enough to hold a book. It wasn’t until after graduating high school that I started reading romance novels and found myself writing character snippets. My writing branched out to being a photojournalist in my spare time, then travel writing for a major international magazine, and finally I joined a writer’s group and got serious about writing a romance novel.

What genres do you work in?

Mostly I write contemporary romance, with a series of light romantic suspense adventure. I liken it to Indiana Jones meets Romancing the Stone. I’ve always felt that life has a way of ‘connecting’ me to the outside world, be it people, places, or things. Thus, calling it my ‘Connection’ Series was an obvious decision. I do have an American historic saga I couldn’t keep from writing, seeing as I’m also the historian for my hometown. The history of the railroad in this area called to me (see the section on Ribbons of Steel below).

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

I am a plotter, first and foremost, however I usually start out with a few chapters with characters that won’t let me sleep at night. Then, I have to delve into their background, and find out more about them. I’ve been known to teach a few online classes on Character Development—Beyond the Basics, so I tend to practice what I preach. For me, it pays off. That doesn’t mean my characters don’t go off-course and I have to doctor up my plotting notebook on occasion and either get in line with my characters’ way of thinking, or theirs to mine. Sometimes it’s a losing battle, but either way, my characters win out in the end.

What have been the major influences on your work (favorite authors or whatever)?

Critique partners, writer’s groups, attending conferences and workshops have all been a great inspiration. As for authors, there are several, but the most inspirational one is Debbie Macomber. I enjoy her family, small town, and inspirational writing.

How has your experience as a travel writer affected your fiction career (if it has)?

As a world traveler and travel writer, having visited the locations/countries/cities I write about has been the inspiration for my Connection Series. I’ve been frustrated reading novels where we are ‘told’ what town/city/country a novel takes place. Must be the traveler in me. So, I tend to incorporate my characters’ surroundings as part of their daily encounter by ‘showing’ what they are dealing with throughout my novels. And, getting to know the people of the countries my husband and I have visited makes it easier for me to write about the people and cultures on a more first-hand knowledgeable level. My titles—Amazon Connection, Shanghai Connection, Rio Connection, Cairo Connection, and my newest novel Arctic Connection, all take place in countries we’ve visited and have had fascinating adventures. They make awesome backdrops for my characters to experience their own adventures along the way. And having lived in Europe for three years has broadened our outlook, as well. Still, I do a bit more research for each location in which I turn my characters loose, in order to bring my time period up to date. You just might find my characters have visited locations outside their hometown in a few of my more contemporary novels. I admit, I love to share travel experiences with my readers.

What inspired your novellas in the “Christmas Cookies” line?

To begin with I love Christmas, as my family will attest. That includes hosting several Christmas teas, luncheons, and impromptu gatherings. And, I am a big cookie baker and have held a cookie baking day since the 1990s where I invite anywhere from 4 – 8 family grandgirls, nieces, and their friends, ages 4 – 16, to come to my house to learn how to bake cookies. We do 8 different types of cookies in a day—each working individually on their own special cookie, which can be quite the challenge. In the late afternoon, when the cookies are out of the oven and lined up on a special table, we have a formal high tea in the dining room—very fancy—where we all get to enjoy the fruits of our labor, and we discuss the day’s events. So, it was natural for me to decide to write a novella for the Christmas Cookie line.
As a side note, my granddaughter who was one of my early bakers, now with a daughter of her own, who is part of our baking group, read the novella Linzer Tarts and Broken Hearts, and had this to say:
“OMG Linzer Tarts & Broken Hearts was beautiful, not going to lie, I legit cried at the last page…I’m such a sucker for the ooey-gooey, lovey-dovey stuff. It is honestly a book that I will cherish, the references to our family traditions for the holiday was so special! I am truly so thankful for all that you do for me and our family! Those memories are the absolute best and I am so blessed that my daughter also gets to know the special feelings of Cookie Baking Day and Tea Time. You have no idea how truly special that is to me! I am so excited to have a book that will also keep these traditions and memories alive.”

What kinds of research did you do for your historical novel, RIBBONS OF STEEL?

Ribbons of Steel was an inspiration I had while taking a creative writing class at Cornell University. In my early writing endeavors. As a local historian, I was fascinated by the history of the railroad that ran through our town. I had a distant family member who worked the rails and traveled to Pennsylvania during the week, and returned to our home town in New York to be with family. Keep in mind this was only a short writing assignment for the class, so I really didn’t delve too deep into the topic. When others in the class asked when the book was coming out—I wasn’t sure how to answer, but was pleased that they thought it was worthy. However, I was working on other more contemporary novels, so I set this aside. However, my characters kept calling to me and I finally caved, only to realize there was so much more I wanted and needed to know. Research began. I visited ILR Library at Cornell and came back to my office with a handful of books that laid out the work I was in for. I immediately started researching and discovered that there was a major railroad strike in 1877, and ended up writing the entire novel as a family saga that had to deal with the ordeal. It took months, and even a few years, before I finished, and found a publisher that was interested in Ribbons of Steel. It became a hit, locally.

What’s it like to write in the two shared-world “Lobster Cove” and “Deerbourne Inn” series?

Writing for the Lobster Cove series was a breeze for me. I wrote the first novel in the series, and had a hand in researching the area and location of Lobster Cove. Having visited the area numerous times, and visiting with friends in the area, helped. Although a bit more research is always helpful. As for writing my own trilogy in the Lobster Cove series, for some reason I have a hard time leaving the adversary out on a limb, where she more than likely deserves, but with reasonable doubt, I had to write about their story, as well. Thus, Juelle’s Legacy, Breakfast with Santa, and Nora’s Redemption became part of the Wild Rose Press’s Lobster Cove Series.

As for the Deerbourne Inn series, I had only intended to write one novel—Ciara’s Homecoming Christmas—because I love Christmas (as I’ve mentioned above), and the theme seemed to call to me. Writing the second Deerbourne Inn novella—Love a la Carte—was more of a challenge, as it was the last episode in the overall series. I had to do a lot of reading of the stories that pertained to the characters who needed to show up in the finale, even though I threw in a few new characters (the heroine) to make the story come alive and give the two main characters something to think about and overcome.

How does the procedure differ from creating a stand-alone novel?

The procedure is a bit easier, as The Wild Rose Press provides a ‘bible’ of sorts that lays out a lot of the town’s streets, businesses, history, location, and a few main characters that are involved in the initial episode. So, a lot of the background information is at your fingertips. There is also a map of the town laid out with street names, etc. As authors write for the series, their new characters, locations and events are highlighted, making it easier to share information. And coordinating with other authors, lending characters and knowledge thereof, helps to make the series a bit more cohesive. And much more fun to get creative.

What is your latest or next-forthcoming book?

My latest novel is Arctic Connection, coming out in February 2024. It’s the 5th in my Connection Series and takes place up along the Norwegian Coastline up to the North Cape. It’s a light romantic suspense and has my characters dealing with a touch of climate change, which is believed to be causing the decline in the catch of fish, but is actually a black-market scheme my hero and heroine have to deal with as they research and travel up along the coast. Not to mention the involvement in family matters, when it is believed that the heroine’s family is involved in wrong doing. As my daughter-in-law’s family is from Norway, I had some first-hand connections, which lent a personal touch with my Norwegian characters. That and the fact that, yes, we did travel up along the coast of Norway and even sailed up to the North Cape.

What are you working on now?

Currently working on another Connection novel. This one will take place in France, around Paris and the Champaigne region. But I’m also thinking Christmas—as always. That would be more of a contemporary, family story. And, yes, the sequel to Ribbons of Steel has been on my mind.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

My advice for aspiring authors is not to give up. Join a writer’s group, take a few classes, workshops, and read the books that interest you and what you feel you would be more comfortable writing. Don’t be turned off by negative nay-sayers. Think positive and get started. I have a notebook of ‘great beginnings’ of stories that I’ll probably never finish, but I have pulled a few out and turned them into something different, and worth revisioning and using. Bottom line—if it’s what you love to do—do it. Sending much success your way.

And a special thanks to Margaret for inviting me and giving me such wonderful questions that made me actually spend time looking back at how and why I’m doing what I’m doing today.

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

WEBSITE: Carol Henry
Twitter
Amazon
Facebook
Barnes and Noble

*****

Some Books I’ve Read Lately:

SILVER LADY, by Mary Jo Putney. The first novel in a new series, “Dangerous Gifts,” by one of my favorite historical authors. If it resembles her other groups of linked novels, such as “Lost Lords,” each book should be readable on its own. SILVER LADY, as the series title hints, involves characters with psychic talents. Set in Cornwall, it features Bran Treymayne, an agent for the Home Office investigating possible smugglers and French spies, along with a heroine, Merryn, whose past is a mystery even to herself. In this version of the Regency period, the general public seems to accept the existence of paranormal gifts, but they’re regarded with suspicion. Bran is estranged from his noble family because his father rejected him in childhood, banishing him to an abusive “baby farm” when his powers became obvious. Bran and his best friend, after running away to London, were adopted by a gifted couple who have made it their mission in life to shelter mistreated children with such talents. As for Merryn, at the beginning of the novel she’s held prisoner by people who want to use her powers and, to control her until their plans come to fruition, keep her mind perpetually clouded. Her path crosses Bran’s when she escapes and he rescues her. Naturally, while delving into the complexities of their ultimately interrelated problems, the two of them fall in love. The novel climaxes with a threatened attack on the shipyard in Plymouth. In her afterword, Putney explains the historical background of the novel’s events. I especially enjoyed the scenes of Merryn’s courage in silently resisting her captors and her awakening to her true self. The recovery of her memory reveals her as a spirited, intelligent, passionate young woman. The minor characters are also lifelike, and the details of Cornish local color enhance the appeal of the setting. This gripping story includes romance, mystery, suspense, intriguing psychic powers, and deep friendships and “found family” ties among likable characters.

WHEN THE ANGELS LEFT THE OLD COUNTRY, by Sacha Lamb. This absorbing historical fantasy reminds me of THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI, by Helene Wecker. Both novels explore the immigrant experience in New York of the early twentieth century through the viewpoints of odd-couple pairs of supernatural beings. Each couple embodies tension and attraction between opposites, earth and fire in Wecker’s story, an angel and a demon in Lamb’s. Moreover, the protagonists of WHEN THE ANGELS LEFT THE OLD COUNTRY bring to mind the fraught relationship of the respectively celestial and infernal angels in GOOD OMENS. Ashmedai (aka Ashel or Little Ash) is a very minor demon, one of the “mischievous spirits of the earth who enjoy leading people astray.” Banished to Poland, he found he liked it better than his father’s palace in Hell, where the other demons picked on him. He delights in encouraging the “evil inclinations” of humans and causing chaos for the fun of it, not out of true evil. The angel, with no gender or fixed name, goes by the pronoun “it.” It and Ash have spent two centuries studying Talmud together in the shul (synagogue) of a village so tiny it doesn’t even have a proper name. The human residents take no notice of the pair, but Ash observes the people with keen curiosity. When he learns that a young woman of the village, Essie, has left for America and not been heard from since, Ash takes an interest in the mystery. Oddly, it’s the demon, not the angel, who insists they must travel to the “Golden Land” and discover her fate. Ash, who knows more about human society and customs than the angel (a rather low bar to clear), arranges for the journey. On the transatlantic crossing, they become sort-of friends with Rose, who has left her village after her best friend—with whom she’s in love, although not consciously aware of that feeling—abandoned their plan to emigrate together and got married instead. The angel, now called Uriel, befriends a dying rabbi, takes custody of his holy book, and promises to ensure his family in America will carry out the proper mourning rites. Otherwise, the rabbi’s spirit will become a dybbuk. On Ellis Island, Ash discovers America has its own diabolical inhabitants, far more powerful than he, who don’t take kindly to foreign demons. Nevertheless, Ash and Uriel make it ashore and outwardly assimilate into the Jewish immigrant community. While searching for Essie, they deal with an industrial workers’ strike, the rich, avaricious factory owner, and a con man who extorts new immigrants to trap them in virtual debt slavery. Meanwhile, when the late rabbi’s deadline runs out, he degenerates into a possessing evil spirit that preys on his own family. Both Ash and Uriel face the choice of possibly sacrificing themselves to save their mortal friends. The New York immigrant community setting, the mundane, historically believable threats to the good guys’ security and happiness, and the supernatural evil intertwine to from a complex, compelling plot. Uriel and Ash not only transform as they draw closer to humanity, they also develop a relationship that inspires them to recognize their long-time bond for the love it is. Recommended!

THE NUBIAN’S CURSE, by Barbara Hambly. Established fans of Hambly’s Benjamin January historical mysteries will rejoice to welcome the annual first-of-the-year installment. (And I only wish they appeared more often.) This book arrived a little earlier than usual, just before Christmas, befitting the story’s holiday-season setting. For readers not familiar with the series, this isn’t the place to start. Full immersion in the characters and their arcs requires beginning with the first novel, A FREE MAN OF COLOR. To recap: In that book, Benjamin January, born into slavery but manumitted in childhood by his mother’s white “protector,” who bought and freed her along with her two children, has recently returned to New Orleans after sixteen years in Paris. Trained as a surgeon, he soon discovered that even in France, few white people would trust their medical care to a Black man, so he earned his living as a musician. Although not a paradise of equality, France was much better than Louisiana, especially with that region ruled by Americans clueless about the nuances of Creole culture and the status of “free people of color.” January was prepared to spend his life in Paris, until his wife died and grief drove him home. By 1840, the time of THE NUBIAN’S CURSE, he has been happily remarried for several years to Rose, who runs a school for mixed-race girls eager to learn subjects not usually considered suitable for females, such as astronomy and chemistry. She and January have two little sons. As the novel begins, their life seems secure for the moment, and the extended family is happily and hectically preparing for the wedding of January’s niece, Zizi. Then a woman January knew in Paris shows up, pleading for his help to find a mutual friend of theirs from that time, who fled to America after being suspected of murder and may be in trouble again. A coveted antique statuette and the “cursed” scroll associated with it add a touch of quasi-supernatural intrigue to the problem. Previous books in the series have introduced January to historical personages such as Edgar Allan Poe, Henry Clay, et al, involved him in the Underground Railroad, featured a transman as a recurring minor character, and explored topics such as food allergies (not widely recognized in that era), medical techniques of the period, rare poisons, the peculiar religious cults of the nineteenth century, the anthropological pseudo-science of race with its minute distinctions among all possible permutations of mixed ancestry, and a spiritualist medium hoax. THE NUBIAN’S CURSE includes an autistic man, Arithmus, at risk of being falsely condemned for murder. Of course, the concept of autism didn’t exist then. Hambly does her usual superb job of presenting phenomena and ideas known to us by their modern terms through the filter of the American antebellum worldview. In Paris, although the educated son of a prosperous family, Arithmus posed as a savage from darkest Africa and worked with a white partner who exhibited his talents in lectures and at meetings of learned societies. The Paris flashbacks narrate how his partner died in agony of an unknown cause during the exploration of an allegedly haunted mansion. Arithmus speaks in a monotone but is far from devoid of emotion; he has trouble relating to people, avoids making eye contact, and engages in repetitive hand movements and other compulsive tics; he’s prone to monologuing at length about subjects that interest him; he has an eidetic memory and a lightning-calculator gift. The terminology of the period labels him an idiot-savant, but, as January declares, he’s not an “idiot”; he just thinks differently from other people. Confronted by two murders that resemble the enigmatic death in the “haunted” house many years earlier, January strives to solve the mystery while his niece’s wedding looms near. As usual, he struggles through trackless woods and bayous in search of clues and gets attacked at least once. In this novel, though, unlike most of the others, he doesn’t have a narrow escape from slave catchers. A subplot that focuses on Zizi’s qualms about her impending marriage adds to his conflicting obligations. I have to admit that in this installment I had a little trouble keeping the names of the numerous dramatis personae straight, but not enough to impede enjoyment of the book. As always, the rich sensory descriptions of the physical and cultural milieu of antebellum Louisiana, along with a cast of vividly realized characters including familiar ones it’s a pleasure to meet again, make the story enthralling.

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

*****

Excerpt from “Wizard’s Trap”:

After switching off the phone with a sense of relief, Laurel lit the incense. She settled in a chair with her fingers resting lightly on the planchette. The candle flames flickered in the afternoon breeze from the open window. The draft didn’t completely relieve the summer humidity, but it would have to do since only the living room and master bedroom had window air conditioners. She peeled damp hair off the nape of her neck. Wiring that wouldn’t support central air was a downside of living in an old house only a mile from the Annapolis historic district.

If anyone saw her playing with a Ouija board months away from Halloween, she had to admit she would look obsessed. Naturally she’d been curious as well as shocked when she’d read the original news reports of Gil Vincenzo’s disappearance. She’d met the man several times when he’d dropped in at her store to buy candles, incense, or rare herbs the supermarket didn’t sell. They’d had several lively conversations about whether any of those products had objective benefits and which books—not many, according to Gil—held useful information and which, in his words, consisted of superstitious ramblings by clueless wannabes. He’d even asked her to lunch once, and she’d had to refuse on the grounds that she was involved with somebody. If she hadn’t been living with Kevin then, she would have jumped at the invitation. Attached or not, she could appreciate a hot guy. After all this time, she still had no trouble conjuring up an image of Gil’s chocolate-brown eyes, dark, curly hair, and lean, taut body, as well as reliving her shock when she’d read about his disappearance and presumed death.

Her orange tabby Maine Coon, Tigger, padded into the dining room with his plumed tail held high. “If a ghost shows up, you’ll warn me with your feline psychic powers, okay?” Tigger sat in the middle of the floor and gave her a cool stare. “Ghosts, right, maybe I am losing it after all. Do I think I’m going to solve the case when the police couldn’t, like the daring girl detective in a mystery?”

Breathing deeply, she tried to clear her head. She had a hard time banishing fretful thoughts about Kevin, her family, and the admitted strangeness of renting a house because of curiosity about its dead owner. Her fingers started to cramp, and her mind drifted from those niggling worries to the boxes stacked in the kitchen. She’d almost decided to abandon the spirit communication experiment when the planchette jerked.

She yelped. The cat blinked at her and licked a paw. “Is anybody here?”

The planchette traced a wide circle around the board.

“Who’s there? Are you Gil Vincenzo?”

The pointer slid directly to YES.

Laurel knew, of course, her own subconscious mind could have guided the movement with minute muscle contractions. But the motion had certainly felt independent of her will. She frowned at Tigger. “Big help you are. You’re supposed see spirits. So much for feline psychic powers.” He reacted with only a twitch of his tail.

The planchette moved again. N. She watched, holding her breath. O. T.

“Not? Not what?” That didn’t sound like a message her own brain would come up with. “Not Gil Vincenzo?”

I AM.

“And you are here? In the house?”

The pointer indicated YES again then shifted over to NO.

“Well, which is it?”

A sensation like static electricity zapped from the planchette through her fingers. It sizzled up her arms and down the front of her body. A sudden shiver convulsed her. Her nipples instantly peaked. The electric current raced over her skin and sent a shock through her core. Heat welled between her legs.

She snatched her hands from the planchette and pressed her palms to her breasts. Her heart raced. She swallowed hard and exhaled a shuddering breath. “That was…weird.”

She barely suppressed a scream when the plastic triangle moved again. By itself.

BOOK.

“What book?” she whispered. As far as she knew, her packing boxes contained the only books in the house.

DESK.

“What about the desk? Come on, tell me more.”

The planchette refused to move again, although she rested her fingers on it and muttered questions for several more minutes.

“Fine. If I’m not losing my mind and imagining this whole thing, I guess I should check out the desk.”

-end of excerpt-

*****

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