“The new phone book is here! The new phone book is here!” Steve Martin screams out in excitement in the movie The Jerk. “I’m somebody and this is the kind of spontaneous publicity that makes people.”
That is exactly how I feel every time a new book or story of mine comes out, or even when someone randomly mentions my name on Facebook. Ah, but this time I have gone bigger. This time a crazy person has allowed me to interview people on television for all the world to see ,and I am going to take advantage of this.
Okay, so maybe my show is not the only show to debut on Geeky Side TV, a new television network that has the geeky side of everyone talking. Geeky Side TV offers a peek into the world of
science, sci-fi, the abnormal and the paranormal.
My new show On the Page features me interviewing some of my favorite people, and I can’t believe that someone would just let me do that on television. It’s my total dream job, next to writing. My first interview is with one of the biggest and talented authors in paranormal romance, Sherrilyn (Kenyon) McQueen. I had the best time talking with her and listening to her share some fun childhood stories, like the time she traded her little brother for a wagon.
On the Page will be a weekly show of interviews, and I am hoping a little different from other interview shows. I decided when I was first asked to do this show that I would not ask the normal interview questions. Yes, of course everyone asks writers: Where do you get your ideas? What is your writing process? These are all very good questions and I love hearing the answers to them, but when an author has been asked the same questions over and over again, they tend to get a little cookie-cutter with their answers.
My evil plan is to ask questions they don’t expect. I don’t mean to dive into their deep dark secrets and embarrass them, I’m not that evil. I just think there are other ways to see people and who they are by asking what may seem like a simple question, but really shows you the depth of the person. If you want to find out what I mean, you will just have to watch the show.
I hope you will check out Geeky Side TV through Roku, Fire, or click on the link below. There are shows there that may intrigue you as well as my show, and lead you through a haunted New Orleans, cooking shows, or interviews with country western musicians. Yep, there is a wide variety of weekly shows and right now they are all free.
Jen Mulvihill is an author who writes young adult, chillers, steampunk, and science fiction. You can find her works at jlmulvihill.com or Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as J L Mulvihill. You can also buy her books directly from Literary Underworld.
Romance as a genre is one of the most generous communities out there. Are there problems? Sure. But as a whole, the authors are unbelievably generous with their time and experience, and the readers are nothing short of amazing.
I think that’s what happens when you’re the most commonly maligned target of all types of literature. There’s nothing more empowering than standing arm in arm against misogyny — either blatant or internalized — with literally millions of women worldwide who are voracious readers. (I say women because the vast majority of our readers and writers code female. We do have a growing number of male authors and readers, but our industry still leans heavily to women.)
Romance writers tend to be extraordinarily business-savvy in a way that many other authors have never had to be, all while delivering story after story that our readers crave. And the majority of us now do it all ourselves, sometimes while still writing for traditional publishers, as well.
Regardless of the opportunities available to authors these days, it’s not easy to write a romance novel. There’s no machine out there cranking out pre-recorded tropes that you can just mix and match. No matter how much readers love certain tropes, they won’t pick up your next book unless you’re also giving them great characters, solid plots, and meaningful conflicts. There are infinite ways to screw with your characters before they get their happy ever after.
Speaking of those happy endings: yes, they’re a must if you want to sell your book as a romance. Don’t even argue. Just accept it. The same way you’d never tag a book as a mystery if you didn’t reveal the murderer, them’s the rules for romance.
The only other requirement of the genre is that the relationship is the central focus of the story. Within those two parameters, the entire storytelling universe is at your fingertips. If you don’t want to adhere to those rules, that’s fine. Write whatever you like. But you’re writing a love story, and I’d strongly advise against marketing it as romance unless you’re wearing flame-retardant underpants.
There are no length requirements, and you don’t have to write sex scenes if you don’t want to. Literally anything goes. Blue alien barbarians rescuing kidnapped human women? Go for it. Time-traveling Scotsmen wooing modern day wedding dress designers? Write on. Bikers and billionaires and shapeshifting rodeo bulls? Do it. If you want to write sweet Amish romance, there’s a market for it. If you want to write a lawyer and a mechanic coming together in a BDSM dungeon, please do.
There is no shortage of real-life awfulness in the world. Writing stories that readers can depend on to deliver a smile or a cathartic emotional experience that ends in joy can give people what they need to make it through their toughest days.
You’re writing love. And that’s all we need.
Sela Carsen was born into a traveling family, then married a military man to continue her wandering lifestyle. With her husband of 20 years, their two teens, her mother, the dog and the cat, she is finally (temporarily) settled in the Midwest. Between bouts of packing and unpacking, she writes paranormal romances, with or without dead bodies. Your pick.
BY SELA CARSEN
CAROLINA WOLF: Debar Henry is living the meek librarian cliche, except for the teeny hint of magic in her blood. as the keeper of magical knowledge passed down from her ancestors, she’s content with her quiet existence in the tiny town of Culford, South Carolina.
But a monstrous attack could reveal her secret and end her life. Maddox Moreau was a happy lone wolf until the day he spotted pretty, bewitching Debra along the trails of the Congaree Swamp. When he saves her, his fate is bound up in hers, and they have to learn to work together in a hurry to defeat the spread of evil.
CAROLINA PEARL: Conn Lucas is the bastard son who inherited the family home on the Congaree Swamp in Culford, South Carolina. Now he only has to deal with his cousin sabotaging him, his ancestors haunting him, and his gorgeous neighbor distracting him.
Blair Moreau knows Conn is her mate, but he’s proving difficult to convince that they’re a fated pair. If only the stubborn man would let her help, all his problems would be solved.
It takes a wild night with a nail gun before thy find they work better together than they ever can apart.
From our friends at Seventh Star Press:Edale Lane is the author of an award winning 2019 debut novel, Heart of Sherwood. She is the alter-ego of author Melodie Romeo, (Vlad a Novel, Terror in Time, and others) who founded Past and Prologue Press. Both identities are qualified to write historical fiction by virtue of an MA in history and 24 years spent as a teacher, along with skill and dedication in regard to research. She is a successful author who also currently drives a tractor-trailer across the United States. A native of Vicksburg, Miss., Edale (or Melodie as the case may be) is also a musician who loves animals, gardening, and nature.
My Writing Process – from research to manuscript to editing
A lot of work goes into writing a novel; some may even say blood, sweat, and tears. And there are as many successful ways to approach and carry out this momentous labor of love as there are authors who endeavor in the process. I will give you a brief look at the methods I use.
Which comes first—the plot, the characters, the setting, the theme, or do they just all meet somewhere in the middle? When I wrote Heart of Sherwood, the idea that popped into my head was to write a gender-bent version of the Robin Hood story, and all the vital elements were there from the conception. For the Night Flyer Trilogy, I’d have to say it was the setting paired with the superhero element. I wanted to write a story that was unique, with a seldom-used era and location. While some novels are set in Renaissance Italy, they are few and far between compared to Medieval, Regency, Old West, World War II, etc. I began to think, what if there was a kind of “Batwoman” who lived in the time of Leonardo da Vinci? What inventions could she come up with? What bad guys might she face?
That led me to conceptualize the characters of Florentina, Madelena, and Alessandro, but before I could begin I needed to research to discover exactly where and when the action would take place. I knew Florentina was a former student of da Vinci and chose Milan because of the wealth of its merchant class, as well as being a city da Vinci lived in for a time. Also to timing, I wanted one of his significant works of art to be completed for my characters to see—the Last Supper—and I planned to include an epic battle scene, so there needed to be a war happening.
When I discovered that the story was too long to fit into one book, I broke it into three acts and started writing book one. Every time I needed to set a scene, there was research: what variety of trees and flowers grew there, what would each person be wearing, what did the furniture look like. I never completed a chapter without half a dozen windows open in my browser to check the accuracy of every detail. The same thing is true with everything I write. The thesaurus is also open as so I can check if a word was in use. Choosing language was easier with Heart of Sherwood because they spoke English (and French, but for simplicity’s sake I stuck with English); for the Night Flyer series I just made sure a word wasn’t too modern while throwing in Italian terms of endearment. Writing and researching were an intertwined duo throughout from beginning to end.
Authors have differing methods of planning their books. After conjuring the concept, my next step is to create a notes file. Here I first do character sketches of my primary cast (and add to it when I introduce a secondary character). I like to “see” my players and have an easy reference if I forget a detail about them. They have physical descriptions, but also characteristics, mannerisms, likes and dislikes, so that fully realized people inhabit the pages. Next, I jot down a plot outline which invariably sees tweaks and changes as the story flows onto the pages. (Guess that makes me both a “plotter” and a “pantser”!) I also include historical information, places and dates, etc. on the notes pages. Back in the day, I wrote all of this out in longhand in a notebook and then wrote the manuscript in pencil to make corrections easier. (I REALLY like doing it on a computer much better!)
As I complete each chapter, I send it to my partner and we read over it together. She is good at finding mistakes and makes good observations and suggestions, but I save the in-depth editing for when the manuscript is finished. Not every writer does this, but I find that I finish a novel faster this way. It is easy to get bogged down in editing and when I get on a roll I just want to flow with it.
When all is said and done, I go back one chapter at a time and use an editing program to help me make changes and corrections. While there are a lot of good ones, I use ProWritingAid. There is also checking the manuscript using the search and find word tool to be sure I have spelled all the names the same each time I used them. Spelling is a real Achilles’ heel for me! I also evaluate if a passage is relevant, or if further explanation is necessary, does it need less or more? Is my presentation of characters and language consistent? Can I “see” the action sequences as I read them? And even though my works are historical fantasy, I focus on the question, “Is this believable?” because I want the reader to come away thinking that this could have really happened.
Because of my day job as an over-the-road truck driver, I have limited time to get my book typed up, so I think up everything—characters, action, dialog, climaxes, etc—while I’m driving down the road. I have a voice recorder to take notes on. I will replay a scene repeatedly in my head so that when I park I can type it up fast, except for the time needed to research the details.
So, that’s my current process: create, plan, deviate from plan, then go back and fix what doesn’t work. Hopefully, the finished product is one that will inform, inspire, and delight the reader.
One woman stands between chaos and order – the Night Flyer.
When chaos strikes at the heart of Milan, it is up to Florentina’s alter-ego the Night Flyer to stop it. As Florentina and Madelena’s love deepens, so does the well of danger surrounding them. The race is on to discover the mysterious Shadow Guild and uncover who is behind the deadly rampage, but Florentina’s mission is threatened by a gang of assassins. Can the Night Flyer prevail, or will Maddie’s love be ripped from her arms?
Chaos in Milan is the third book in Edale Lane’s Night Flyer Trilogy, a tale of power, passion, and payback in Renaissance Italy. If you like action and suspense, rich historical background, three-dimensional characters, and a sweet romance, then you’ll want to complete the Night Flyer saga.
We are delighted to announce a new title from one of our members, T.W. Fendley! Her new novel explores more of her rich and fascinating science fiction worlds. Read more about Methuselah’s Legacy, soon to be available at the Literary Underworld!
A conversation with T.W. Fendley
Q. Why did you start writing?
A. Storytelling has always been a part of my life. As preschoolers, my older sister and I would create stories when we were supposed to be sleeping. We’d jump on our twin beds and take turns telling the next segments as quickly as we imagined them. Until our Mom returned with a stern warning to get to sleep… “and I mean now!” Later I wrote stories about the lives of my beloved model horses, inspired by Walter Farley’s Black Stallion books, and I wrote for the school paper staff instead of taking P.E. I majored in journalism in college, which over the years has allowed me to continue to learn, as well as pay my bills. When I needed more creativity in my life, I began writing fiction.
Q. Why did you choose your particular genre?
A. Putting together ideas in new and unusual ways is fun for me. I love to weave together science and spirituality, myth and history, fact and fantasy. Science fiction and fantasy are perfect genres for doing just that.
Q. What inspired the idea for your current novel/project?
A. The concept of a longevity serum came to me twenty-three years ago while I was hunting for story ideas during the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop. I imagined what truths about humanity are encoded in our genes, which eventually led me to write two short stories and now Methuselah’s Legacy. The novel’s longer format allowed me to share some of the possibilities with remote viewing–an intuitive-based protocol for precognitive predictions I’ve been practicing since 2009.
Q. What was the most useful advice you got as a beginning writer?
A. One of the Clarion instructors said it wasn’t always the best writers who got published, but those who persevered. While confident about my writing skills, I was even more sure of my tenacity. Stubbornness can be a great attribute for a writer.
Q. What are you doing next?
A. Now that Methuselah’s Legacy and my young adult sci-fi novel Moonblood are published, I’m revisiting the Zero Time universe and Xmucane’s home planet, Omeyocan, where the expedition to Earth began. I’m also writing some short stories that have been on the back burner for a while. The trick for me is keeping the plot simple. Most of my stories want to become novels!
Lilith Davidson has nothing to lose. Diagnosed with terminal cancer, her only hope for survival rests in an experimental longevity serum she herself helped to develop using an intuitive-based protocol known as remote viewing.
She never dreamed the treatment could be so wildly effective… nor did she expect its unusual side effect.
Now, as Lilith and the other eleven Methuselah Pioneers struggle to embrace the serum’s gift, powerful forces condemn their miracle cure as a violation of life’s natural order and threaten their lives. Will the treatment help humanity or tear society apart?
“Readers of sci-fi that revolves around genetic manipulation and human transformation will welcome a story that is vivid and fast-paced, containing many elements that will keep them engrossed to the end. It’s more than a cut above most science-oriented surveys because its inclusion of social norms, political responses, and revised visions of what it means to be an altered human are especially well detailed.” — D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review
“Methuselah’s Legacy asks thought-provoking questions and challenges hard-felt beliefs about life and love, while being an exciting tale of treachery and fanaticism. T.W. Fendley’s latest novel has readers turning the page until the end, and asking: would you take the treatment for a second chance at life?”– Brad R. Cook, author of The Iron Chronicles
T.W. Fendley is an award-winning author whose published works include Zero Time, a historical fantasy novel for adults, and young adult speculative fiction novels, Moonblood and The Labyrinth of Time. Teresa’s short stories are available on Kindle and Audible. She fell in love with ancient American cultures while researching story ideas at the 1997 Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop. Since then, Teresa has trekked to archeological sites in the Yucatan, Peru, and American Southwest. She began writing fiction in 2007 after working more than 25 years in journalism and corporate communication. When she’s not writing, Teresa explores the boundaries of consciousness through remote viewing and shamanism. She currently lives near St. Louis with her artist husband and his pet fish.
A new dark-gothic collection from acclaimed horror writer John McFarland is out just in time for the holidays! McFarland is a long-time member of the Literary Underworld, with work ranging from dark fantasy like The Black Garden to offbeat children’s books like Annette: A Big Hairy Mom.
Now his new collection has been praised by Publisher’s Weekly! “McFarland tempers his frights with the mercy of familial love and sympathy for outsiders and victims. Horror readers will be riveted.”
Q: What was your first paid published work?
A: Actually my first paid published work were drawings, not writing so much. In the 1970’s surrealistic drawings by an artist called B. Kliban were all the rage. He published several books, which were the precursors of Gary Larsen’s Far Side, including several about cats. I did a parody of Kliban’s cat books called Kill A Cat and sent it to The National Lampoon. P. J. O’Rourke, the editor at that time, loved it and paid me the princely sum of $750. Scheduling mishaps at the magazine kept pushing the publication date back until the subject was no longer timely, and it never appeared. They never asked for their money back, though.
Q: Who are your favorite writers?
A: Like most boys who turn out like me, my favorite writers as a kid were Poe, Mary Shelley, H. G. Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs, but also the likes of Joseph Sheridan LeFanu, M. R. James, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert Hitchens. In college I discovered James Joyce (of Dubliners), William Faulkner and especially Flannery O’Connor. O’Connor’s work was a revelation to me, small town country boy that I was. She seemed to know every one of my relatives and she has had a lifelong effect on my work. I visited her childhood home in Savannah, Ga. and Andalusia Farm in Milledgeville, where she did her mature work. I am fortunate enough to own a signed first edition of The Violent Bear It Away, and a series of watercolor concept are studies for covers for her books.
Q: What are you doing next?
A: Two novels are in the works. My current publisher, Dark Owl, has shown interest in re-issuing my 2010 book The Black Garden, and then its sequel, tentatively titled Azmiel’s Daughter. I am also working on a ghost story novel, called Phrygia House. Also, DOP has shown interest in publishing my Young Reader series Bigfoot stories, Annette: A Big, Hairy Mom.
Q: Was there anyone who inspired you as a beginning writer?
A: I actually touch on this in my acknowledgements section in The Dark Walk Forward. As a teen, I corresponded with both Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov. I asked the usual young admirer dumb-ass questions, but they were both, especially Bradbury, very kind and generous with their responses.
A: Do you outline or fly by the seat of your pants?
A: Both, but mostly seat of my pants. I always have a general idea of where I want a narrative to go, but as the cliche goes, the story seems to take on a life of its own as you go along. I was amazed at this process when writing The Black Garden. Connections, plot points, twists and turns just popped into my head as I wrote. No one was more surprised at how it turned out than I.
JOHN MCFARLAND’S first novel, The Black Garden, was published in 2010. His work has appeared in The Twilight Zone Magazine, Eldritch Tales, National Lampoon, River Styx, Tornado Alley and the anthology A Treasury of American Horror Stories, which also included stories by Stephen King, Richard Matheson and H.P. Lovecraft. He is a lifelong Bigfoot enthusiast, and Annette: A Big Hairy Mom was his first novel for young readers and is in print in three languages. He has written extensively on historical and arts-related subjects and has been a guest lecturer in fiction at Washington University in St. Louis.
The small town of Ste. Odile in America has experienced the Great War in ways that no one should ever have to endure.
Doctors must tend to births and deaths that make their most difficult cases seem benign.
An 1880s schoolteacher is faced with the worst blizzard of her time and must save the children under her charge.
A young man searches for his father the abandoned orphanage the older man owns… and both know they will despair at what they find.
A primitive woman experiences colonization and the stereotypes of men, yet finds her own method of retribution.
John S. McFarland has slogged through his characters’ woes and woven them into sweetly emotional yet acutely distressful tales. We as readers are forced to understand the pain, the despair, and sometimes the hope of his creations.
We realize we are lucky to live in the era we do. We also realize anything can change to tear us apart. Is it fate? Destiny? Or do we bring about these changes on our own? McFarland will let us know.
McFarland’s writing is lush and sensual, filled with textures, sounds, smells, and primal terrors that have lurked beyond the firelight since prehistory. –Kenneth Anderson, editor of Charon II
“John McFarland has a talent for drawing horror from raw human emotion. The Dark Walk Forward is heartbreaking and sad as well as frightening, with characters that linger in the mind long after the pages have turned.” — Elizabeth Donald, author of Moonlight Sonata, Setting Suns, and Nocturne Infernum.
“McFarland tempers his frights with the mercy of familial love and sympathy for outsiders and victims. Horror readers will be riveted.” ~ Publishers Weekly
Historical fiction novels allow the author to transport the reader to another time and place the way fantasy and sci-fi do, only instead of experiencing an imaginary world they delve into a real one. We can place any genre of fiction in the past, and it becomes a sub-set of historical writing. Having been a teacher for twenty-four years, I revel in the thought of readers learning something from my books just as much as I do them enjoying the characters and plot of the story. So, how do we take the imagination required for fiction and blend it with recorded facts?
There are several approaches to framing the historical novel, but they all require careful research and naturally flowing presentation of the era chosen. The most common method is to introduce a troupe of completely fictional characters into a particular setting in the past. Many authors choose an era they have a personal interest in, such as Medieval or Regency, immersing themselves and their readers in a period they enjoy. Some well-known examples include Gone with the Wind, All the Light We Cannot See, A Tale of Two Cities, and The Red Badge of Courage. Each of these acclaimed novels includes actual circumstances—the burning of Atlanta, Nazi occupation of France, the French Revolution, and a Civil War battle. These writers employ accuracy regarding the events while allowing themselves complete control over their character’s lives. In each of these tales, it is the lasting themes, the resilience and growth of the characters we remember as much as or more than the history. The novelists bring them to life in another place and time so vividly that we feel as if we know them and can relate to their situations.
Other historical fiction writing centers on actual people and the author is constrained by what chronicles have recorded. Unless one is crafting an Alternative History story, he pretty much needs to know his script well and stick to it. That does not mean the novelist has no creative freedom at all; he must interpret the various sources at his disposal in a way that grants vitality to the historic figure. For example, in The White Queen the exact words spoken by Elizabeth of York were not recorded, nor what she was thinking or feeling at any given time. Those are for the writer to assign based on his interpretation of the protagonist.
In Tribute in Blood, I have combined elements from both of these two methods of historical fiction writing. While my protagonists are both imagined characters, the villain, Vlad the Impaler, was a very real tyrant. I engaged in thorough research, relying heavily on primary sources to “get to know him.” I believe the Vlad represented in my novel is not too far off the mark of who he truly was, but being separated by five hundred years and having never met him, I had to draw many conclusions. Secondary historic figures were also included in Tribute in Blood as well as numerous actual recorded facts, but Nicolae, Maria, and the townspeople were all my creations.
A third style of historical fiction writing bases the characters and action on real events or people, but are fictionalized for storytelling purposes. When you see “based on a true story” you know that something similar to what is in the book actually happened, but it is not meant to be a pure academic account. The Nightingale and War Horse are two examples. They are founded partly on real people (and horses) and include factual events and elements, but are not literal biographies of a particular man or woman. Once again, scholarly research is required to hit every note in creating the setting and accurately describing the action presented to the reader.
Sometimes a book completely blends a fictional cast and plot with a famous individual set among them. An excellent example of this is Girl with a Pearl Earring, a novel based on the acclaimed painting by Vermeer, with the artist included as a character in the book.
There are as many ways to construct a historical fiction novel as there are ways to cook potatoes, but there are a few guidelines authors should follow in order for their work to be credible. World creation needs to be consistent, avoiding the use of modern expressions and mindsets. The time period presented must be true to itself. While we love recreating the past and transporting our readers back in time, we should remember that it is our characters, their hopes and dreams, fears and trials, triumphs and failures that ultimately matter. It may be interesting to read something that is as accurate as a textbook, but if the audience never truly engages with the characters, they will come away disappointed.
To conclude, good historical fiction writing is a marriage of excellent research and quality storytelling. Choose a period that fascinates you and lead your readers to fall in love with it too through dynamic characters on an extraordinary journey straight into their hearts.
Melodie Romeo, who also writes under the pen name Edale Lane, is the author of the award winning 2019 novel, Heart of Sherwood, and the Night Flyer Trilogy. As Melodie Romeo, she has written Vlad a Novel (soon to be re-released as Tribute in Blood), Terror in Time, and others. She founded Past and Prologue Press in 2019.
Both identities are qualified to write historical fiction by virtue of a masters degree in history and 24 years spent as a teacher, along with skill and dedication in regard to research. She is a successful author who also currently drives a tractor-trailer across the United States.
A native of Vicksburg, Miss., Melodie is also a musician who loves animals, gardening, and nature.
The most terrifying horrors are revealed in the pages of history.
After killing more than 100,000 people during his first reign as Prince of Walachia, Vlad has returned, ready to inflict tortuous death on anyone he chooses. Only Nicolae and Maria, drawn together through mutual tragedies both inflicted by the ruthless Prince Dracula, dare try to stop him. Can Nicolae fulfill his plan of justice and revenge while winning the heart of the lovely Maria, or will he become the Impaler’s next victim?
With heart-stopping danger at every turn, detailed historical accuracy combined with fictional characters, and a myriad of surprises, Tribute in Blood is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat.
Literary Underworld co-founder Elizabeth Donald has a new novella out from Crone Girls Press, the next adventure in her Blackfire horror series!
Elizabeth discussed this new release in a recent interview with Crone Girls Press managing editor Rachel Brune.
Q: Can you tell us a little about yourself and your writing?
I’ve been writing since I could pick up a crayon, but my first published fiction appeared in 2001 or thereabouts. I wrote short stories that usually ended up in the last issue of each magazine, so I was the Typhoid Mary of the small press for a while. My first novel was published in 2004, and I’ve been writing fiction ever since – usually horror, science fiction, a spot of romance and a touch of fantasy, but often where several of these coincide. By day, I was a newspaper reporter for 20-odd years and continue to commit journalism on a freelance basis; by night I write about ghouls and monsters, and I try not to mix them up with Congress.
Q: This is a prequel to your Blackfire series. Can you give readers an introduction to that series and tell us a little bit about it?
Blackfire started with a novella intended for a collection like this one: traditional monsters written in nontraditional ways. I was assigned zombies, which was a relief since I’d spent the last several years writing about vampires and I wanted the switch. Zombies are traditionally a gross-out horror: fear of disease and putrefaction coupled with the survivalist subgenre. So I went another way entirely, and strove to find a way to make zombies scary without eyeballs and entrails. That was The Cold Ones, but the anthology was canceled before publication. A year later I found a publisher willing to take it on even at that very short length, and the print run sold out in 48 hours. Since then I’ve written a full-length novel, Blackfire, and a handful of short stories published in genre magazines and traditional literary magazines, as well as in my own short story collection, Moonlight Sonata.
Yanaguana is part of that story – a prequel by its setting, but it doesn’t require knowledge of all the other stories to enjoy it. It’s a good introduction to Sara Harvey, Paul Vaughn and the rest of the Blackfire crew, and it’s my hope to keep writing tales of their adventures for a long time to come. Unfortunately, the original publisher went out of business, so those two early books are out of print for now.
Q: This story was partly inspired by a trip to San Antonio. Can you talk a little about that, and how the story came out of it?
San Antonio is a nifty city! I travel a lot for my work as a journalist and as an author, averaging about 30 nights a year in hotel rooms when there isn’t a global life-threatening pandemic. Last year I was in San Antonio on business for journalism, and I fell in love with it. The history (ghost-related and otherwise), the food, the fascinating layout of a city on two levels. And did I mention the food? Yum.
But mostly it was that fascinating layout, of the Riverwalk and the thread of the San Antonio River meandering through downtown, and the city itself bustling about a level above it. I wandered along the river and realized what a wonderful setting it would be for monsters and demons and ghosts, because that’s the way my mind operates. Ask poor Memphis how many times I’ve infested it with monsters!
Before my trip, I had arranged to be allowed a photo shoot on the grounds of the Alamo (though not inside the chapel, they don’t allow God himself the rights to shoot inside there). I visited three times for photography and research, developing a travelogue for my nonfiction work.
But as I was planning the story of Yanaguana, I knew something had to happen at the Alamo. The city itself is practically a character in the novella, and the Alamo is the center and heart of the city and its history. Yes, it’s a huge tourist draw and I have no doubt economics is a big part of its importance, but it has special meaning for the people of Texas and San Antonio in particular. I knew I wanted it to be a big part of my story, and I’m very grateful for the opportunity to do my research properly. I hope I’ve treated the city and its history with the respect they deserve.
Q: What were some of the challenges of revisiting a series after some time away, especially writing something that happens before the other books? How did you meet that challenge?
It was harder than I thought it would be! Not so much revisiting these characters, because they’re still very much alive for me. In fact, a short story featuring Parish Roberts was published earlier this year in River Bluff Review, so I never go too long without playing with the Blackfire crew. But the prequel aspect was a struggle, because I am a Star Trek-level nerd about continuity. I was continually checking the previous works to make sure the events of Yanaguana fit into the timeline of the Blackfire story and don’t contradict events prior to or after its occurrence. I remember searching for quite some time to figure out in which leg Sara was stabbed way back in the first book! I never want my creative impulse to create questions in the mind of the reader that throw them out of the story or compromise the realism of the characters’ stories – as much realism as one can have when you’re talking ghosts and monsters.
Q: Can you explain why every time I read one of your stories, there is always a scene or sentence that makes your editor cry (in a good way)?
A horror writer isn’t necessarily an emotional sadist, but it helps! If I make a reader cry, or afraid, or laugh, or any strong emotional response, I win. The enemy of good fiction is boredom. If I hear someone lost interest in my story partway through, or even fell asleep at midnight reading it, I want to know where I lost them so I can fix it next time. The most beautifully written descriptive passage isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on if the reader is skimming past it, muttering, “So when is something going to happen?” And if I hear they cared enough about my characters to cry for them, or that their snark made the readers laugh, I know I’ve created something that reaches them and will stick with them after they finish the book. And that’s really the point of the job, isn’t it?
Q: I recognize a lot of what I think of as “subtle accuracy” in your writing, especially around local law enforcement, mortuary affairs, etc. You’ve spent many years working as a reporter–does this inform your writing? For those writers without this experience, what would you recommend they do to achieve familiarity with these characters and situations?
As of this writing I’ve been in journalism for 23 years, and while I don’t tend to run out to crime scenes or courtrooms as a freelancer now, I did it for a very long time and have the scars to prove it. It goes back to that wish not to throw the reader out of the story. If you ask real cops and prosecutors what they think of forensic procedural TV shows like CSI, you will get a lot of laughter and some four-letter words. For the sake of dramaticism, they’ve got lab rats that kick down doors and interrogate suspects, and don’t get them started on the “not-a-cop who helps the cops” a la Castle or even Mr. Holmes. It’s important to me to get as much realism into my dark fantasies as possible, because it lends credence to the more fantastic elements. I have cop friends who read my interrogations and police procedures; I have military friends who review military aspects; I have gun experts to tell me the difference between a clip and a magazine because those are the tiny details that throw a reader out of the story. (Don’t get me started on my own reaction to the Evil Soul-Sucking Lying Journalist trope.)
It’s also important to have first readers check you when you’re writing about populations beyond yourself, whether we’re talking about race or ethnicity or religion or sexual orientation and gender identity. I edited a piece once for a straight male client who was writing a love story between two men, and with his permission requested a sensitivity read from a fellow writer who was gay. Because both the client and I were working from outside our life experience, it helps to have the perspective of someone whose experience aligns more closely to your characters. The goal is to accurately and realistically portray people we made up from our imaginations, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of stereotypes and clichés that are offensive, inaccurate, or simply boring and overdone.
The easy answer is to do your research and never fall into the laziness of, “Nobody will notice.” (Someone always notices. Always.) There are groups like Writing the Other that offer seminars and strive regularly to help writers seek and destroy stereotypes and microaggressions that can creep into our writing, and professional sensitivity readers can also help you along those lines.
The more complex answer is that a writer is an observer of human nature, and you should seek out life experiences and acquaintances with a wide variety of ideas and expertise and backgrounds. The writer alone in her garret might not have much in the way of distractions from her art, but eventually it will become solely self-reflective art. Stephen King wrote that the most brilliantly rendered fictional character is “but a bag of bones” next to the dullest living human being, and so we can do worse than to become students of human nature and reflect that in our characters.
Q: What’s next in your fiction travels?
I am currently in year three of five years of grad school, working on two (2) masters degrees so I can be truly over-educated. I’ve begun the coursework this semester toward an MFA in creative writing, and so my focus has been on developing short stories and evolving my craft through the program. Next summer will be free, however, so I imagine a novel will be forthcoming. But I haven’t decided which novel it will be yet! I listen to requests from my readers, and the last few conventions before the pandemic had a cacophony of requests for more Blackfire. There’s a final confrontation coming, and I know how it ends…
Q: Anything to add?
I had a fantastic time playing with the Blackfire gang again, and infesting San Antonio with critters, as they call them. This has been a fun experience, and I hope the readers enjoy Yanaguana as much as I did. I remain grateful and humbled that publishers continue to gamble on me and readers continue to plunk down hard-earned cash for my work, as it’s a privilege and an honor.
Elizabeth Donald is a dark fiction writer fond of things that go chomp in the night. She is a three-time winner of the Darrell Award for speculative fiction and the author of the Nocturne vampire mystery series and Blackfire dark fantasy series, as well as other novels and short stories in the horror, science fiction, and fantasy genres. She is the founder of the Literary Underworld author cooperative; an award-winning journalist and guest lecturer on journalism ethics; a nature and art photographer; freelance editor and writing coach. She is currently pursuing two masters degrees at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and is a teaching assistant at the college. She serves as president of the St. Louis Society of Professional Journalists and Eville Writers, and is a member of the national SPJ Ethics Commission, AEJMC, ELLA, Freelancers Union, Editorial Freelancers Association and others. She lives with her husband and son in a haunted house in Edwardsville, Illinois. In her spare time, she has no spare time.
When you hear a train whistle, what do you think of? Do you hear the music floating on the air as it starts off soft, then builds to a crescendo and slowly fades on the breeze? Do you think of adventure and feel the wanderlust consume your thoughts, restlessness and aching to be on the move?
Maybe the sound of a train evokes the feeling of a bygone era romanticized in books and movies. Perhaps it is the intrigue of the science and mechanics of a train that comes to mind, whether it is a steam engine, a diesel locomotive, or even an electric train.
I think and feel all these scenarios at once when I hear that train whistle, feel the vibration of the rails, smell the iron and oil mixed with burnt water and wind.
I recall when I was a little girl staying with my grandparents, and would hear a train whistle at night in the distance as I drifted off to sleep. My grandparents lived in a small house on a little plot of land in northern California. My grandfather worked in the garden everyday while my grandmother saw to the house and painted pictures or wrote poetry. They had fruit trees and a grape arbor, as well as chickens and turtles who delighted in eating the tomato worms from the garden. In the corner of my mind where I store the fond memories with the warm fuzzy thoughts, a story was born: the story of a young girl growing up on a farm, and one day had to turn and face the world and its cruel nature. I didn’t know it at the time, but this story was growing inside of me until one day it made its presence known.
I was thinking one day about how the railroad system stretches for miles across America from east to west and north to south: rail routes crisscrossing and winding around mountains and rivers knitting the cities and towns of America together. The history of how the railroad system brought the nation closer intrigues me. The incredible invention of the steam engine and iron horses created by these inventions fascinates me to no end. I am also drawn to the steampunk aesthetics, and marvel in the art, creativity, and ingenuity. I wanted to build upon my story idea, so I tossed all my thoughts and memories into a bowl, mixed it up, and brought forth the Steel Roots story.
Initially Steel Roots was only supposed to be three books: The Boxcar Baby, Crossings, and Rails West. However, as the story unfolds, I find that I cannot end it at three and must at least have one more book to bring closure. AB’Gale Steel wants her story told to the fullest, so I began the long trek to The End of the Line, the fourth book. There is so much more that has been left unsaid, other characters’ stories untold, that the series could easily become more books. Yet AB’Gale Steel’s part in this story, has in essence come to a finish.
The End of the Line has so much more in it than the other books, and many additional characters have been brought forth from the background. My train fascination has grown, and my research become more in-depth. Not only is Abby involved in the world of trains and the battle for her freedom, but she is traveling to different parts of America, which of course must be explored as much as possible. Rails West took Abby to Colorado, a wild land but still under the strong hand of the System; a place where a revolution can be built in the hopes that the battle against the System can be won.
As my readers know, I strive to make a fictional story believable. All my research goes into finding real places, actual train routes, and believable engineering. Throughout my writing this book I have been posting on the Steel Roots Facebook page of fascinating historical items I have come across and incorporated them into the story. These are clues of what is to come and what fascinating inventions will be found in the fourth book, The End of the Line.
A California native born in Hollywood, J.L. MULVIHILL wanted to be a rock star. After several years of modeling, acting, and singing, she decided to marry, have a family, and moved to a quieter life in Mississippi where she has lived for the past twenty years. Finding she has a gift for storytelling, she began to write young adult books, including the Steel Roots series and The Lost Daughter of Easa. She is very active in the writing community, a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Gulf Coast Writers Association, Imagicopter, the Mississippi Writers Guild and Clinton Ink-slingers Writing Group. She continues to write fantasy, steampunk, poetry and essays inspired by her life in the South.Twitter
Absolutely adore them. I have woven many a scarf and stitched many a pattern to the charming yet dangerous village life of Midsummer Murders and Father Brown. The very slightly grittier settings of Endeavour and Grantchester live in my DVR, saved to watch at my leisure like perfect after-dinner treats. Even my audiobook accounts are filled with Christie and Conan-Doyle, Sayers and Marsh and Allingham.
I couldn’t write a mystery to save my life.
I don’t think I’m meant to.
This bothers me not at all. I love writing romance. Fun, light, action-filled romance with swoony heroes and smartass heroines. But there’s never a mystery involved. Those are not the turns and twists I write into my stories.
So why don’t I, or won’t I, write mysteries? And really, should I care?
Because writing a mystery would take all the fun out of it for me.
Any genre that you write becomes an object of study. We read other authors in our niche to see how they do their job and what the job entails. Genre is sort of a self-policing enterprise. We define our terms based on rules that we create as a group within the niche. The “whodunit” types of stories I enjoy have their own pacing, language, and arcs.
I can deconstruct a romance faster than you can say billionaire rancher bear shifter hero, but that amount of study means that I’ve taken some of the, well, the mystery out of the process. I can see all the ins and outs of how the whole thing is put together. I’ve drawn back the curtain and alas, the writer is only human.
But with mystery, I can still sit back and enjoy the magic. I don’t really want to see how the trick is done, I just want to watch and smile and clap. I want to be a spectator at the show, not the one behind the scenes.
There is, I think, such a thing as knowing too much, and it can take the joy out of the small things. I’ll always love writing romance as the work I do, but in my off time, I’d rather keep my small happinesses.
So let’s start another season of Inspector Barnaby’s trials while I put the kettle on.
SELA CARSEN is an award-winning author of paranormal and sci-fi romance — with or without sex and dead bodies. Your pick. She maintains a permanent nerd-on for fairytales and mythology, and openly hoards reference books about obscure folklore. Born a wanderer, she and her family have finally settled in the Midwest. Until they move again, at least. Find out more at selacarsen.com!
While not my best known work, most widely distributed work, or fan-favorite work (all three distinctions held by A Year and a Day, I believe), The Blood of Angels trilogy remains my best-selling work (well, the first book, The Convent of the Pure, is my very best selling, even making a couple of Amazon bestseller categories back in its heyday).
And it was all more than a decade ago, so well past its time to be put out to pasture and go out of print.
This is the second piece of my early works to go out of print, but one that stings the most, I think. I have the option of bringing the novellas back at any time; in the world of self-publishing nothing is truly ever out of print. After making the announcement that they’d be sunsetting at the end of August. there was a bump in sales and the inevitable questions.
Will you self-publish this afterwards?
And I can’t say right now that I will.
I could potentially request the rights to the covers and interior illustrations, brought to gorgeous life by the tremendously talented Melissa Gay, and I might even get them. And while steampunk isn’t the cultural phenomenon it was a decade ago, it still has its fans. Maybe even enough to buy enough copies to offset the cost of setting everything up for the Kindle. I do keep hearing that nephilim are so played out, though, and all I can say is that they weren’t in 2008 when I pitched this series!
Time is another thing, and it is something I am in dreadfully short supply of right now.
And the last hurdle is, how much do I want these relics to hang around, cluttering up my professional closet?
I was, and still am, super proud of the work I did on these books. But if I were to write them now, they’d be better. They’d be the work of someone who has written four more novels (I am totally counting the one I wrote twice, it ended up changed enough to be something entirely new).
I would want to dig in and rework stuff, bringing the problems up to code, so to speak, even if I didn’t recognize them as such initially. Especially if I didn’t recognize them as such initially.
And then, what? I’m not the same person now who wrote these books. The world is not the same place it was when I wrote them. Why would these books still matter?
Why should these books still matter?
Unlike endless Hollywood reboots that clog out media, I don’t feel like rehashing the past, at this time (covering my arse). I feel like these books had their moment in the sun and it is time to move on to newer things, different things, and ultimately better things. (It’s totally ok if these books are your favorites, though!)
No one is going to round up all the old copies and destroy them or wipe every ebook from every device (unless the sunspots get them with everything else). The books will still exist. You will still be able to buy them for months, if not years, to come. LitUnd has good stock of physical copies and so do I.
And certainly with my rights fully reverted, I can do whatever pleases me with them. And right now, this may change, but right now it pleases me to have a good cry at the end of an era, and then set my sights on what kind of future I can make for myself.
SARA M. HARVEY lives and writes fantasy and horror in (and sometimes about) Nashville, Tenn. She is also a costume historian, theatrical costume designer, and art history teacher. She has two spoiled rotten dogs and two awesome children; her husband falls somewhere in between. She tweets @saraphina_marie, wastes too much time on facebook.com/saramharvey, and needs to update her website at saramharvey.com. Check out her Patreon!
The Blood of Angels series
CONVENT OF THE PURE
Secrets and illusions abound in a decaying convent wrapped in dark magic and scented with blood. Portia came to the convent with the ghost of Imogen, the lover she failed to protect in life. Now, the spell casting caste wants to make sure that neither she nor her spirit ever leave. Portia’s ignorance of her own power may be even more deadly than those who conspire against her as she fights to fulfill her sworn duty to protect humankind in a battle against dark illusions and painful realities.
LABYRINTH OF THE DEAD
Imogen is all that matters.
After rescuing her lover from the forces that trapped her in The Convent of the Pure, Portia Gyony has lost Imogen once again to the darkness that surrounds them. The only way to reunite is to walk through the shadow-worlds of the dead and bring Imogen back to the body that awaits her—a journey no nephilim was meant to take.
Still seeking out the boundaries of her own power, Portia descends into a realm where all trade is in souls and the machinations of the world itself are coming undone. Her quest for Imogen becomes a battle of angels and demons, where clockwork warriors and shattered souls battle to keep the shadows of the dead from bleeding into the land of the living. The cost of saving one world from the other may be the sacrifice of Portia’s lover once again.
TOWER OF THE FORGOTTEN
The final installment of Sara Harvey’s steampunk trilogy finds Portia Gyony trapped in a circus cage. Her ghostly lover, Imogen, has been resurrected to corporeal form, but a happy reunion must wait. Dark forces still lurk in the land of the dead, and they are bent on stealing the energies of the living to power a machine that will break the barriers between the realms of the living and the shadowlands beyond.
This time, Portia may not have the full support of the Primacy behind her as she battles to save humankind from powers beyond the understanding of mortal man. Deceit and disaster abound, bringing Portia and Imogen closer to each other and to doom than ever before. Old allies and old enemies converge in this final chapter of the nephilim’s power struggle over the world.
“Sara M. Harvey writes suspenseful, romantic and exciting steampunk that is not to be missed. An absolute delight!” — Lavie Tidhar, World Fantasy Award nominee and author of The Bookman and Camera Obscura
“The Labyrinth of the Dead is a sensual, apocryphal nightmare — an exquisite adventure that manages to be both epic and personal, sweet and vicious.” — Cherie Priest, Hugo Award-nominated author of Boneshaker, Fathom, and Four andTwenty Blackbirds
The Blood of Angels trilogy is available as a full set for a limited time only! Click here to buy all three books for $25!