Margaret L. Carter's News from the Crypt No. 75 (December 2011)
- Welcome to the December 2011 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.
SWORD AND SORCERESS XXVI has just been published, containing a story by me called "Mad Magic." Here's the Amazon link:
An excerpt from "Mad Magic" is below.
Amber Quill's Amber Heat division has released a trade paperback, ARDENT BLOOD, containing three of my erotic paranormal romance novellas previous available only in e-book. In these stories, a halfbreed werewolf, a vampire in heat, and a solitary undine transgress the borders between the human and nonhuman realms to risk everything for love:
To recap older news: Two of my stories from the online magazine SORCEROUS SIGNALS appear in issues 4 and 8 of anthology series MYSTIC SIGNALS:
Some Books I've Read Lately:
ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD, by Kendare Blake. An unusual YA ghost story, dark, with elements of true horror. Narrator Cas (short for Theseus Cassio) has inherited a magical athame and a family destiny from his father, who was slaughtered by a ghost several years earlier. Ever since, Cas has traveled the continent with his mother, a white witch, and her crotchety cat. With his father's knife, bonded to him, he slays ghosts that have murdered people. He doesn't know where he's sending them or whether they'll find peace; his mission is to protect the living. He avoids getting close to anyone because he knows he and his mother have to move on soon and because he doesn't want his vocation to endanger other people. However, he's in touch with a network of occult experts who send him tips on dangerous ghosts. In response to one such message, he ends up in a small town in Canada to hunt Anna Dressed in Blood. Murdered in her teens, Anna haunts her former home and dismembers anyone who enters. Cas socializes with students at his new high school to the extent needed to get the location of Anna's house. Instead of simply telling him where the haunted house is, some of the kids take him there. One, Mike, resentful of popular girl Carmel's interest in Cas, knocks him out and leaves him in the house. Cas recovers consciousness to find Mike gruesomely murdered, yet Anna has left Cas alive. She turns out to be the most powerful ghost he has ever confronted. She herself doesn't understand how she refrains from killing him. They begin to form a strangely intimate relationship. Meanwhile, against his better judgment Cas gets entangled in friendship with Carmel and Thomas, an odd boy who practices witchcraft with his grandfather. They decide to perform a ritual to deal with Anna. Of course, the ceremony doesn't go as expected. The appearance and actions of dark Anna are portrayed with gruesome vividness, yet when her other side shows itself we can't help feeling sympathy for her. It seems she's possessed by a murderous force she can't control. The revelation of how her death occurred is both horrifying and sad. Watching Cas open up to friendship after a lifetime of holding everyone except his mother at arm's length is another absorbing facet of the novel. Both living and dead characters are well developed. This isn't your grandparents' YA; language that used to be called "unprintable" abounds, as is realistic (alas) for contemporary teenagers. The only thing I don't like about the book is that it's narrated in present tense, a technique I find obtrusive if extended longer than the length of a short story. I got used to it, though, and managed to overlook it while becoming wrapped up in the characters and events.
SNOW IN SUMMER, by Jane Yolen. Distinguished veteran fantasy author Yolen retells "Snow White" in the West Virginia mountains in the 1940s, with elements of "Cinderella" included. Summer, short for Snow in Summer, loses her mother with the stillbirth of her baby brother. Cousin Nancy, Summer's godmother, cares for her and the family's garden while her father sinks into depression and inertia. He regains his energy and enthusiasm for life only when he marries an exotic, forceful woman who seemingly appears out of nowhere. Stepmama, who calls Summer "Snow," at first acts affectionately toward her, but of course Summer's life soon deteriorates. She can't do anything well enough to please her stepmother, who tries to separate Summer from Cousin Nancy and takes the girl on a visit to a snake-handling church. Stepmama turns out to be a genuine witch, who married Summer's father as part of a long-range plot. Cousin Nancy helps as much as possible, but she doesn't have real magic like Stepmama's, only home remedy protections against evil, such as the caul saved from Summer's birth. When Summer becomes too hard to manipulate, Stepmama plots against her life, forcing her to run away. I won't give away any more of the story except to confirm that there are dwarfs involved, with a few twists in transplanting "Snow White" into the Appalachians. Summer's "prince" isn't what you'd expect. Yolen tells the story in the first person mostly from Summer's viewpoint, but also in the voices of Stepmama and Nancy as well as an occasional chapter from other narrators. The Author's Note preceding the novel explains how she based the locale and landmarks on her husband's real-life family home. Appalachia, with its deep roots in the folklore of the British Isles, makes the ideal setting for a re-imagined fairy tale.
THE HUM AND THE SHIVER, by Alex Bledsoe. Here's another Appalachian fantasy, this one set in the present day. In an isolated pocket of the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee live the Tufa, an ethnic group of unknown origins rumored to have strange powers. The protagonist, Bronwyn Hyatt, has turned her back on her heritage to venture into the outside world as a soldier. Now she returns from Iraq severely wounded. The military authorities and the media determined to celebrate her as a hero won't leave her alone. The healing gifts of her family accelerate her recovery at a phenomenal rate, but she fears she won't be able to reclaim her ability to create the music in which her people's power rests. As a First Daughter, a role she has tried to escape, she must prepare to take over her mother's position when her mother diesan event that omens seem to foreshadow as imminent. Though reluctant to learn her mother's song, Bronwyn is forced to make the attempt, struggling between her Private Hyatt self and her Tufa self. Before she left home, she had a reputation as a wild girl. A local police officer who has always detested her and a former boyfriend who doesn't take rejection well harass her. Don Swayback, a reporter from a small paper in a nearby town, has been given the assignment of getting an exclusive story about the local heroine. In using his remote family connection to the Tufa as an entree to the community, he begins to learn hidden truths about them. Meanwhile, Bronwyn also becomes acquainted with a minister, Craig Chess, newly appointed to a small Methodist church with virtually no prospects of thriving, since the Tufa keep to their own pagan customs. Through the character of Craig, Christianity is presented sympathetically even though it's alien to Bronwyn. She and Craig become drawn to each other nevertheless. The sense of place comes across vividly, as do the characters. The magic of the Tufa (whose name is eventually revealed to derive from the Celtic Tuatha) is subtle but effective, shaping reality with music, keeping unwanted visitors out of their valley, and enabling the Tufa to fly on the night winds. Their fabled longevity, though, doesn't make much of an impression, being mentioned but not developed enough to be, for me, totally convincing. Other than that point, I highly recommend this take on fairy folk living among us in the present day.
11/22/63, by Stephen King. Having seen the QUANTUM LEAP episode when Sam tries to prevent the assassination of President Kennedy, I wondered what twist King would put on that plot. After all, how could he surprise the reader very much when the protagonist has to either succeed or fail? Well, King managed to surprise me. The narrator, Jake Epping, a high school English teacher, notices that his friend Al, owner of a diner that sells amazingly cheap but good hamburger, has become aged and sick practically overnight. Al reveals that he has been traveling through a "rabbit hole" in time in the back of his diner. He can sell hamburgers so cheaply because he buys the meat at 1958 prices. Al has conceived a plan to save Kennedy, but he had to return to the present when his lung cancer became too advanced. The catch about the portal is that it leads to only one point, a particular day in September 1958. No matter how long you spend in the past, only two minutes elapse in 2011. Furthermore, each use of the portal creates a "reset," a concept I hadn't encountered in time travel fiction before. Doesn't matter whether the same person or a different one makes the trip; every trip erases any previous changes. (Or so they believe until the end; the truth turns out to be a little more complicated.) So when Jake reluctantly takes over his dying friend's project and travels to 1958 to spend five years preparing to save Kennedy, he has to start over from scratch. Naturally, Jake tries to blend into the past and draw as little attention to himself as possible. He fears stirring up butterfly effects that might derail Lee Harvey Oswald's destiny in unpredictable ways. Over the years, though, Jake gradually finds himself putting down roots in the "Land of Ago" as a high school teacher, and he falls in love with the school librarian. Sadie has to get free of her controlling, mentally shaky ex-husband in order to build a relationship with Jake, whom she knows as "George Amberson." She becomes suspicious about his past, and he struggles with whether to endanger her by telling her the truth (and whether he could make her believe him anyway). I found Jake, Sadie, and the other people he gets acquainted with very appealing. Unlike the characters in some of his other novels (THE STAND, for instance, or CUJO, in which I didn't care if anybody got wiped out by the rabid dog except for the little boy who did), all the people we're supposed to root for are thoroughly decent and likable. King obviously did exhaustive research, some of which is discussed in his Afterword, and he makes us feel almost sorry for Oswald at times without diminishing the evil of the shooting. Thanks to Jake's engaging first-person voice, I stayed enthralled throughout the more than 800 pages even though I started with no particular interest in the minutiae of Oswald's life. References to other works in King's fictional universe show up, such as a recurring Plymouth Fury. Outside the portal in 1958 lurks a deranged, homeless alcoholic, the "Yellow Card Man," who is more than he seems. Maybe he wandered over from the Dark Tower world? The intense, bittersweet ending is not only surprising but emotion-wringing.
Excerpt from "Mad Magic":
The windows of the mansion shone with the glow of dozens of oilnut lamps. To Lorita, the spectacle looked more threatening than welcoming. She didn't belong in this setting. She stepped from the carriage and smoothed the skirt of her unfamiliar evening gown, which rippled blue-green like a waterfall. Her employer, the wizard Arlen, had assured her that she and her magically forged invitation would easily pass inspection. Still, she would have felt more at ease in her usual tunic and trousers, not to mention boots instead of these impractical shoes. She'd had to practice before she could walk in them without stumbling.
Tallis, the apprentice mage driving the carriage, scowled down at her. The frown and his rakishly disheveled raven hair slightly marred his disguise as a coachman, but with luck none of the guests or staff would get close enough to notice. "I should go in with you," he said for possibly the tenth time that evening.
"Don't start that again. Master Arlen and Mistress Irina agreed this way is the safest. You're known by sight to Sylene's guardians. I'm not."
"Aunt Irina could have cast a glamour so they wouldn't recognize me."
"And if it didn't last long enough, happened to fail in the middle of a crowd?" They'd gone through this whole argument several times over. "Your job is to wait here and be ready so we can make a fast getaway after I sneak her out."
This escapade seemed like a lot of trouble to go through to free a mad girl from a greedy aunt and uncle who wanted to keep control of her fortune. No, not mad, Lorita reminded herself. Mistress Irina swore financial motives alone had caused Sylene's guardians to lock her up and forbid her either to study magic with Irina or to marry Tallis. Either course would take their niece's inheritance out of the couple's clutches, not to mention impoverishing their own son, whose betrothal tonight's festivity celebrated.
Lorita could understand the lure of magic. Years before, she'd wanted to become a mage herself, until she'd discovered she lacked the patience for studying dusty tomes. Now she assisted Master Arlen in other ways. As for tying herself down in marriage, though, she couldn't grasp the attraction, even if a man as handsome as Tallis had ever courted her.
Well, that was what Sylene wanted, and Arlen had offered his colleague Irina aid in freeing her would-be student and sent Lorita to carry out the task. She patted the elaborately coiffed black wig that covered her own short, brown hair and took the invitation out of the embroidered purse on her belt, where she'd also tucked the prepared spells Arlen had given her in the form of crystal beads.
The liveried guard at the door barely glanced at the square of parchment. She checked one last time to make sure her flowing sleeves hid the creature wrapped around her arm like a translucent ribbon. Her familiar, Arlen called it, though technically, as more thief than wizard, she couldn't have a true familiar. It reacted to her nervousness by tightening its coils.
*Easy, Taper. Nothing to worry about.* While it couldn't answer her in words, even silently, she sensed its relaxation. Her skin tingled from the myriad tiny needles on its underside as it absorbed a few drops of her blood. The usual rush of pleasure from the contact boosted her confidence. She stepped over the threshold into the entry hall. Fragrances of lamp oil and scented candles perfumed the air. Cloying heat replaced the cool of the night air. Lamps in wall sconces lit the way to the ballroom, where richly dressed people danced to a quartet of musicians on one side or clustered around the refreshment table on the other side. Draperies in the household's colors of crimson and gold adorned the walls, the red hue matched by bouquets of roses on the table. All she had to do was thread her way through the crowd and slip out the far door into the corridor without attracting notice. She'd memorized Tallis's directions to Sylene's chamber.
She took a deep breath and stepped into the middle of the room. After all, if her parents hadn't died of fever when she was a child and left Lorita and her brother with nothing but a pile of debts, she might have grown up prosperous enough to be a legitimate guest at this party. She should be able to fake belonging here for a few minutes. Strolling at a leisurely pace to avoid standing out, she paused at the buffet. Food aromas tickled her nose. Strips of rare meat on skewers, shrimp on a bed of ice with a bowl of sauce for dipping, and the miniature eggs of some exotic bird tempted her. Well, why not take advantage of the rare chance to try delicacies she never came across in her normal life? She wanted to blend in, didn't she? She chose a sample of the meat and nibbled on it while watching the nearby guests. Pepper and hints of spices she didn't recognize flavored it.
As she set aside the empty skewer and reached for a glass of chilled, amber-colored wine, a young man also picking up a drink turned to her with a smile. Tall and copper-haired, he wore an emerald green robe embroidered in gold. "Good evening." He scanned up and down her body before returning his gaze to her face. "I'm Orrin, a distant cousin of our hosts." He clasped her hand and bowed over it before she could dodge. "I'm sure I haven't met you before. I would remember."
Lorita almost laughed at the trite attempt at flattery, but his winning smile made up for the blatant falseness of the words. "My name is Lorita." No reason to invent a false name, since the family wouldn't have heard of her. "I'm a friend of Sylene's. I'd hoped to see her here, but she doesn't seem to be around." She made the claim on impulse, hoping to find out whether the story about Sylene's madness was generally believed.
Orrin's smile faded. "I haven't seen her in months. I've heard she's very ill, poor girl."
"Then perhaps I should pay her a visit. She must get lonely if she's been confined to her room for so long."
He evaded her eyes. "I'm sure she could use a friend. But from what I hear, she's not allowed visitors."
Lorita sipped her wine, relishing its crisp flavor. She shouldn't have let the man lure her into conversation, for now she would have to slip away without seeming too abrupt. "Do you know what's wrong with her?"
From Orrin's deliberately blank expression, she knew he must have heard the report of insanity. "Her aunt and uncle don't encourage questions, and I'm not close enough to push the issue." The musicians shifted from the lively tune they'd been playing to a slower one. Orrin seized the opening to clasp Lorita's hand again. "Shall we dance?"
She stifled the instant of panic that quickened her heartbeat. Taper reacted by squeezing her arm. She soothed it with thoughts of calm she didn't feel. Though she could walk steadily enough in these shoes, she couldn't imagine dancing in them. Orrin drew her into the center of the floor before she could voice a protest. Automatically she placed her hand on his shoulder when his fingers alighted on her waist. Fortunately, her sleeves draped loosely enough to cover her familiar even in this position. But suppose her partner's hands wandered out of the formalized pattern of the dance? If he discovered Taper, there would be no maintaining her disguise as an ordinary guest.
-end of excerpt-
Two fiction-related newsletters you might enjoy:
Jewels of the Quill, a writers' group I belong to, has a newsletter for fans:
For more information, visit:
To subscribe, send a blank e-mail to:
Moonlight Fantasy, devoted to erotic romance:
Amber Quill Press: www.amberquill.com
Cerridwen Press: www.cerridwenpress.com
Ellora's Cave: www.ellorascave.com
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