Margaret L. Carter's News from the Crypt No. 58 (July 2010)
- Welcome to the July 2010 issue of my newsletter, "News from the Crypt," and please visit Carter's Crypt (www.margaretlcarter.com), devoted to my horror, fantasy, and paranormal romance work, especially focusing on vampires and shapeshifting beasties. If you have a particular fondness for vampires, check out the chronology of my series in the link labeled "Vanishing Breed Vampire Universe." For my recommendations of "must read" classic and modern vampire fiction, explore the Realm of the Vampires:
Also, check out the multi-author Alien Romance Blog: http://www.aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/
And please visit the website of the Infinite World of Fantasy Authors: http://www.iwofa.net/
Fictionwise.com sells quite a few of my e-books as well as my short stories from various anthologies, such as Marion Zimmer Bradley's "Sword and Sorceress" series. And search the Kindle store on Amazon.com for Kindle editions of numerous novels and stories by me.
VampireBooks.ca has posted an interview with me:
Romance Junkies gives my erotic ghost story "Sweeter Than Wine" 4 Blue Ribbons:
In "Sweeter Than Wine," widowed bed-and-breakfast owner Marie Tate is seeking ghost lore to enhance publicity for her business. The lustful spirit of a dashing privateer might be just what she needs. One catch: He's trapped in the room where he died with the ghost of his wife, who killed him. In the snippet excerpted below, she interrupts his sensual dalliance with Marie.
The Jewels of the Quill forthcoming fall anthology, HALLOWEEN TREASURES, has already received its first review. Huntress Reviews gives my Lovecraftian romance novelette "Mistress of the Shadow Hounds" 5 stars: "With well developed characters and lots of suspense, this steamy romance is sure to please."
This month I'm interviewing YA fantasy writer E. Rose Sabin.
Interview with E. Rose Sabin:
1. What inspired you to begin writing?
I've always written--all through school, college, and the years teaching. I did try sending in a couple of things but they were rejected (quite rightly) and I wrote mostly for myself--not to show anyone, and with no thought of getting published. One thing that inspired me to write was that I have always had very vivid "story-type" dreams, and I liked to try to write the stories they suggested to me. Another was that I have always been an avid reader, and, again, my reading suggested story ideas that I wanted to put down on paper. But although I loved writing, I wasn't serious enough about it to take creative writing courses or do anything else to improve my writing to the point of being able to produce publishable stories. I just wrote for my own pleasure, because I found it relaxing and something to take my mind off other things.
I know exactly when that changed and I decided that I wanted to write for publication. It was in the summer of 1982. I had what I thought was a really good idea for a science fiction novel. Like most of my work, it was based on a dream I'd had. I had also been teaching for over 25 years, and I was feeling a bit burned out. The possibility of retiring early to write was so tempting. But as I worked on the novel, I realized that if I ever hoped to be published, I would have to hone my skills. I started taking noncredit creative writing courses offered by our local junior college. It didn't take long for me to realize that my writing needed a great deal of work. At that time the IAFA offered a writing workshop in connection with and running concurrently with the annual conference. It sounded wonderful! Workshop leaders were Kate Wilhelm, Gene Wolf, Harlan Ellison, and James Gunn. I submitted a story manuscript, and was accepted, though I'm not sure why--the story was terrible! Guess they saw some glimmer of something in it, but I can't imagine what. At that time the conference was held in Boca Raton. Workshop participants spent all day in the workshop sessions, but could attend the conference evening events. It was a life-changing experience for me. To meet authors I had admired, to hear them speak, to have my story analyzed and torn apart, and to hear the analysis of other stories was not only thrilling, it showed me how far from being a successful writer I was. I learned so much! I will always remember Kate Wilhelm saying of some aspect of a story, "I don't believe it. I just don't believe it," and then going on to explain why the author hadn't made the scene believable and how it could be changed. And Harlan Ellison telling us that most of us couldn't write and should give up and stick with our day jobs. His critiques were cutting but accurate, and his challenge made me resolve to prove I could so write and would, by God, get published! It took nearly 20 years from that time, but I did it!
My first published novel was A School for Sorcery, published by Tor in 2002. It had been written over ten years earlier (well before the Harry Potter books!) but hadn't found a publisher until the success of the Harry Potter books led fantasy publishers to establish YA lines and publish longer YA books. This is how it came about: I had written a short story called "The Last Gift." At the time I was writing quite a few short stories, and most of them were published, but that particular one kept being rejected. I sent it to an editor of an anthology of stories by women fantasy writers, and she rejected it, but with the rejection sent a personal letter saying that she liked the story but it left too many questions unanswered. She listed the questions. When I read them, I thought, "But if I try to answer all those questions, I'll wind up with a novel, not a short story!" At the time I was trying to think of a novel I could write to enter in Andre Norton's Gryphon Award Competition, which at that time was for an unpublished manuscript by a new woman fantasy writer, and which, along with a modest monetary prize, offered a reading by an editor of a major publishing house. Since I'd always heard "Write what you know," which is not easy to do when writing fantasy, I hit upon the idea of writing about a school, but making it a school for the magically gifted. A School for Sorcery was the result, and my short story, "The Last Gift," became the final chapter of the novel. I sent it to Andre Norton for the Gryphon Award Competition, and it won! It was read by not just one editor but by at least three from different publishing houses. And they all said they liked it, but it was definitely YA but too long for a YA novel. Thank goodness the Harry Potter books changed the perception that YA novels could be no more than 60,000 words!!
I had gone on after completing A School for Sorcery to write A Perilous Power and When the Beast Ravens, but I could not find a publisher for any of the books until J. K. Rowling opened the way not only for mine but for many other YA fantasy writers with her Harry Potter books.
2. What genres do you write in?
Mostly in fantasy. I've had a few science fiction short stories published in small press publications, but my science fiction novels have never impressed a publisher.
3. Do you outline, "wing it," or something in between?
Something in between. I get a general idea of what I want to write and start in. I write two or three chapters, deciding on characters, setting, world building, etc., then stop and do in depth character development. I have a long list of questions I ask myself about my protagonist and other major characters, including, of course, the antagonist. One major thing I need to know about each character is what that character wants--his or her goal. And what obstacles stand in the way of the person's reaching that goal. After I know what "makes them tick," I can plot out the novel to some extent, though I do not use a detailed outline. But I am guided by the character's attributes in knowing how the person would react and what situations to put him or her in to create suspense and make the story exciting. I don't really know the theme or underlying significance of the novel until I finish the first draft. Then I do extensive revision and rewriting.
4. Do you find either novels or short stories easier to write (or about the same level of difficulty) and why?
I find short stories much more difficult than novels. In fact, with a short story I do have to outline in detail before writing, because in a short story every word counts, every sentence has to move the plot forward. And you can't do long expositions to fill the reader in on background. Not that you should do that in a novel, either, of course, but you have much more room to develop the characters and to work in bits of the background where necessary without stopping the forward momentum of the story. In a short story you don't have that space. Every bit of description has to develop character, advance the plot and put the reader in the time and place of the action. I've written prize-winning short stories, but writing them doesn't come easily for me. I prefer writing novels.
5. Please tell us about the free novel currently being posted on your website.
Bryte's Ascent is the fourth book in the Arucadi series.(Arucadi is the fantasy country where the stories take place.) After Tor published the first three YA novels in that series, I wrote Bryte's Ascent, following my editor's guidelines in a way I had not done in the first three simply because they were all written long before Tor picked them up for their (at that time) new StarScape line of YA fantasy and science fiction novels. My editor had requested a younger protagonist than those in the first three books and a shorter novel. I sent him Bryte's Ascent, and he liked it. I had every expectation that the novel would be published. My first novel, A School for Sorcery, had done very well, and my career seemed established. Then my editor left Tor, and the sales figures on the second and third novels in the series were not as good as those for the first, and Tor turned down the fourth book. I tried for some time to place it elsewhere. But, understandably, most publishers aren't enthusiastic about picking up a book that's in the middle of a series, and especially given the sales figures for the previous books, I saw no chance of getting Bryte's Ascent commercially published. I could have gone the route of print-on-demand or self-publishing, but I was reluctant to do that. When I kept getting queries from readers asking when the 4th book was coming out, I decided to put it up on my web site and alert my readers that it was available for reading there. I've had good response and have picked up new readers as a result of the posting. How that will translate into publication of other novels I have no idea, but I figured it was worth a try. I would very much like to continue the series, had in fact started on a fifth novel but discontinued working on it when the fourth didn't sell. But at least I have the satisfaction of knowing that the 4th book is being read and enjoyed by readers who've loved the three published novels. I have no idea how many readers that might be, but however many, it's better than none.
6. What is your latest or next-forthcoming book (or both)?
Some time ago I wrote two other novels that take place in the world of Arucadi but occur long before the events in the published books. My agent tried to place the first one but was never able to find a publisher. It is currently under consideration by a small press. The other novel is a sequel, and when the first book is picked up, my hope is that the second one will follow. I also have unrelated manuscripts that are out there, being seen by editors. So I'm in the waiting stage, hoping that eventually one will be bought. And when that happens, of course it will be announced on my web site and everywhere else I can think of.
7. What are you working on now?
I'm working on an urban fantasy, since that's what all the fantasy publishers seem to want now. It's about weres--not just werewolves, but all sorts of were animals. The working title is Were House. It is no where near finished, but it's going well so far.
8. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Don't give up and don't be discouraged by rejection, but do resolve to be the best writer you can be. Take courses, join writing groups, attend seminars, go to conferences--learn, learn, learn. Always work to improve your writing, even when that means tearing apart what you've written and doing complete rewrites. Have your manuscript read and critiqued by someone you trust to be completely honest--not just say what you want to hear. Never become so enamored of your own writing that you refuse to see its faults and correct them.
9. What's your website URL? Do you have a blog?
My website URL is www.erosesabin.com
I don't have a blog, nor am I on Facebook or any of the similar services. I just don't want to take the time required to keep those up. However, when I have a new novel out, I know I will need to do all I can to promote it, so at that time I will have to do more than simply maintain a web site. Again, I'll announce on my site and in other places when I do blog, open a Facebook account, Twitter, etc. But at the present time I'm avoiding those things and concentrating on my writing.
Some Books I've Been Reading:
A BIG LITTLE LIFE: A MEMOIR OF A JOYFUL DOG, by Dean Koontz. As you know if you read Koontz's fiction, Golden Retrievers star in many of his novels, notably WATCHERS (which I still consider one of the best books of his I've ever read) and, much more recently, THE DARKEST EVENING OF THE YEAR. This nonfiction book tells the story of his first dog, Trixie, a Golden Retriever who had worked as an assistance dog before Koontz and his wife Gerda adopted her at three years of age. The memoir covers her entire life with the Koontzes, so of course the reader has to prepare for some sad moments at the end. The narrative arc follows the pattern of other pet memoirs such as the bestselling MARLEY AND ME: The author's pre-dog years; how the dog came into his life; how the animal companion changed the family for the better (in the Koontzes' case, breaking into their workaholic existence and awakening them to the joys of life); the pet's death and the lasting mark he or she has left on the author. Unlike Marley, Trixie had no behavior problems. Far from digging through drywall and similar escapades, Trixie is portrayed as possibly more intelligent than her human housemates and definitely better-mannered. Where fastidious cleanliness and sense of order were concerned, Koontz says they had to rise to her standards instead of vice versa. According to numerous incidents he describes, she showed a degree of intuition verging on the preternatural. Even though some of her actions might have resulted from unconscious cues delivered by her master, if even half of the remaining phenomena happened as reported, she was capable of uncanny feats. The way she obviously remembered the route to a place she enjoyed but hadn't visited in years clearly disproved the theory that animals don't remember experiences the way we do. And there's the episode where she displayed an aversion to a business associate of the author's long before the Koontzes discovered what a creep the man was. I'm not sure I believe she actually tried to pronounce the word "ball" and achieved "baw," but on the other hand, I don't think Koontz would lie, so who knows? He writes in a style alternately witty (his account of his courtship of Gerda is very funny) and deeply emotional. The meditations on philosophy and theology work better for me in this book than in his recent novels, where they often strike me as unwarranted author intrusions, sometimes verging on pretentious. In the context of the love of a dog, though, they fit well. His belief that Trixie may have been an "angel" is reflected in the dog character of THE DARKEST EVENING OF THE YEAR. The only feature of A BIG LITTLE LIFE that makes my teeth hurt is Koontz's habit of referring to Trixie as his "daughter" and himself and his wife as her parents. Yes, I know that's not uncommon among pet owners, but it turns me off (and I adore cats and have an affectionate dog). Otherwise, I enjoyed the book and recommend it to dog lovers and Koontz fans.
SOULLESS, by Gail Carriger. One Amazon.com review describes this novel as a "screwball comedy of manners and alternate history," which sounds about right to me. In Carriger's alternate nineteenth century, supernatural creatures such as werewolves, vampires, and ghosts exist openly and play prominent roles in society. The Queen herself has a pair of high councilors drawn from the vampire and werewolf communities. I enjoyed Carriger's numerous worldbuilding details, e.g., the term "hive" for a group of vampires. Especially interesting is the way she handles the concept of "soul." In this universe the soul is a theoretically measurable entity, of which human beings possess varying degrees. People with excess amounts of soul can be changed into supernatural creatures, while those who don't have enough soul fail to survive attempts at transformation. The rare soulless persons, known as "preternaturals," cannot be transformed, and their touch neutralizes the supernatural. Alexia Tarabotti, half Italian and half English, is one such individual. Her family considers her hopelessly socially inept as well as not very attractive (because of those Italian features) and therefore doomed to perpetual spinsterhood. Bold and intellectually curious, Alexia wants to work with BUR, the agency in charge of dealing with supernatural crises, but they don't employ women. Alpha werewolf Lord Conall Maccon, a ravishing Scotsman and a member of BUR, tries to keep Alexia out of trouble while they spar verbally and fight their mutual attraction. Her other supernatural friend, flamboyant vampire Lord Akeldama, shares covert information with her and, along with Maccon and his werewolves, tries to protect her from her mysterious stalkers. Alexia and her friends fall afoul of a secret cabal of mad scientists intent on studying the supernatural population. Because Alexia's soulless condition negates supernatural phenomena, a vampire or werewolf reverts to ordinary human status upon physical contact with her, a power that ultimately plays a vital role in the plot. Soul or the lack of it appears to have no spiritual connotation in this universe; the closest Alexia gets to pondering such matters involves the reflection that she has to be especially careful about ethical choices, so maybe "soul" correlates with conscience. The writing is witty and briskly paced, and the love scenes are sensual but in a thoroughly light, amusing tone. Carriger maintains the light touch throughout, so that even when gory things happen during the climactic confrontation with the villains, I never had any serious doubt that the good guys would survive without permanent damage. The narrative voice jumps almost randomly between characters' viewpoints, a technique that bothered me less than usual because I got the impression that Carriger was emulating Victorian authors in using an omniscient viewpoint (except that some passages read like third person limited). Anyway, the head-hopping didn't interfere with my enjoyment of this steampunk adventure-fantasy-romance.
THE ROAD, by Cormac McCarthy. Having recently watched the DVD of the movie based on this book, I decided to read it. Atypically, the experience of first having seen the film helped me understand what was going on in the novel. The author has the odd habit of not setting off dialogue from narrative by any punctuation, a device that bothered me less than I'd expected but was still hard to get used to, and I think the flashbacks might have been hard to get straight if I hadn't seen the movie first. On the other hand, some elements in the film, which adhered very closely to the book, became clearer in retrospect after I'd read the story. It's set in a gray, cold, lifeless postapocalyptic landscape. We're never told whether the world of the story results from nuclear war, a close encounter with a rogue asteroid, or some other global disaster. The man and the boy (never given names), a father and son who took to the road after their wife and mother succumbed to despair and disappeared into the night to die, are trying to migrate south, where the man hopes to find a warmer climate. They have no other stated goal and no apparent plan for what they'll do after they get there, wherever "there" turns out to be. Their lives revolve around keeping warm, finding shelter, getting enough to eat, and evading the cannibal gangs that roam the country. Scenes of ransacking abandoned buildings and, once, a derelict ship for supplies are fascinating in their detail. The father sometimes reads stories to the son, but he makes no attempt to keep memories of the pre-catastrophe past alive; in fact, he seems determined to forget. In short, it's a sad, grim novel, relieved only by the fierce love between the man and the boy and the almost poetic quality of the writing. The ending offers a glimmer of hope for the boy but none for the world as a whole. THE ROAD is a masterful rendering of human beings stripped of everything except courage, love, and the sheer instinct for survival. If you can endure the book's mood of stark despair, aside from a few scenes of temporary safety and abundance, it's well worth reading. As science fiction, however, it reads like SF written by an author with little background in SF (not surprising, judging from his other titles, mostly Western historicals). Granted that domestic animals and most large wildlife that survived the original disaster may have been slaughtered for food, the complete absence of animals still doesn't strike me as credible. Where are the rats, for example? And no insects? All plants have been transmuted into ashes or skeletal remains, but bugs that feed on wood, paper, or decaying flesh should do fine. Nagging inconsistencies such as that give me the feeling that the setting was created for its symbolic value with no particular interest in the background elements a veteran SF writer would have developed.
THE TIME TRAVELER'S GUIDE TO MEDIEVAL ENGLAND, by Ian Mortimer. This survey of life in fourteenth-century England reads just as the title indicates, direct address to the reader in a conversational mode ("you see," "you will notice," "you may wonder," etc.) telling us about sights, people, and activities we would encounter on a trip through that country in that time. The author covers categories such as food and drink, clothing, medical care, housing, hygiene, law, commerce, and many more. His readable style makes even population statistics interesting. He's particularly careful to distinguish lifestyle features of different classes and changing fashions in clothing, food, etc., over the span of the century. He debunks popular misconceptions such as the notion that people of the Middle Ages didn't care about cleanliness. With its meticulous documentation and a sampling of full-color illustrations, this book would make a useful reference for a writer of medieval historical novels. It's also a fun experience for the general reader.
Excerpt from "Sweeter Than Wine":
"What's going on? The earth is supposed to shake during a climax, not after it's over."
A gust of wind swept across the rug with a roar like a peal of thunder. Flames flared in the fireplace and instantly vanished. Sitting up, Marie clutched Gordon's hand. "Are you doing that?"
"No, indeed. Damn, it's her time. I'd mercifully forgotten for the moment. I'm getting bloody tired of these daily battles."
The lights blinked on and off. Leaflets on the table fluttered into the air like a flock of birds. The pillows flew off the bed. A harsh voice with a feminine pitch yelled, "At it again, are you? You're as much of a beast in rut as you were before you died."
Marie gasped, sprang to her feet and snatched up the quilt to shield her naked body. "Is that Louisa?"
"Who else would I be?" the phantom retorted.
Pulling open the nightstand drawer, Marie grabbed the Bible and brandished it. "Begone!"
A laugh like tinkling glass mocked the gesture. "Don't waste your time. Plenty of busybodies have tried to exorcise us with crosses, crystals, herbs, all manner of rubbish. We're bound here permanently." The female ghost's tone sharpened. "To my endless regret. I wouldn't have killed myself if I'd known it would trap me with this philandering tomcat for eternity."
"Will you quit harping on that subject?" Gordon shouted. "I never once dallied with another woman while we were married."
Scorn edged the disembodied voice. "You've done more than enough of that in the two hundred years since."
"Which is none of your business. Have you forgotten we promised to be faithful until death parted us, not beyond?"
"I wish it had parted us. This is a fate worse than death. I thought I'd find peace and instead I'm trapped here with you forever."
"Do you think I like it any better? I'd leave if I could."
The phantom emitted a wordless shriek. The window rattled and the curtains billowed. An apple flew out of the basket and passed through Gordon's body. Marie ducked as it hurtled past her. Cushions from the chair by the fireplace followed, then a folio-size book on Virginia gardens from the serving table. Dodging the book, she dropped the Bible, leaped onto the bed and covered her head with her arms. The sheet wrapped around her like a cocoon and squeezed her chest. She struggled to breathe.
When the chair levitated, Gordon yelled, "Stop! Not another move."
The chair dropped to the floor with a thud. The sheet slackened, releasing Marie. She caught the hem and again held it up to shield herself.
"Don't you dare lift a finger against her," Gordon said. "In a manner of speaking. She has nothing to do with your grudge against me."
"What's this?" Though still sharp, Louisa's tone held curiosity as well as anger. "Why do you care what I do to a mortal?"
He folded his arms and glared at the spot the voice emanated from. "That too is none of your business. Just believe that if you don't leave her alone, I will find a way to hurt you."
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Hard Shell Word Factory: www.hardshell.com
Mundania Press: www.mundania.com
You can contact me at: MLCVamp@...
"Beast" wishes until next time
Margaret L. Carter