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!
A few years ago, I came out trans. I began to make the Change socially, online and professionally. The problem is, I have a substantial body of work under my deadname. So now what?
The first step was to decide what needed to be re-issued. All my publishers had gone belly up, and I had a bunch of novels and shorts, a few self-published collections and a shiny new name with no negative associations.
So I took stock. There is stuff that will never see the light of day again. It was fine for its time, but I am no longer where I was. I am less experimental, less willing to take risks. The stories I want to tell are different.
Some books made the cut. I decided to continue the Roaring 20s, the Dark Future and the Paranormal Memphis series. Since my collaborator was dead, I opted to leave the Cyberpunk universe where it was.
I’ve poked around the edges, done a couple short stories under Nick Rowan. But I haven’t had a major publication.
I am proud to announce the first Phoenix, rising from the ashes of the Closet, the first novel to be re-issued, rewritten and under my real name (or some of it, Nicholas Wyatt Rowan-Sparrow is a little unwieldy) is Curse of the Pharaoh’s Manicurists.
In which Charlie Doyle, the ink barely dry on his degree, takes service as a secretary to World War I flying ace and noted adventurer, Edward Kilsby, Lord Withycombe. He finds himself contending with seasickness, abduction, jilted fiancees and lovers, malaria and mummies, not to mention a side trip to the Egyptian Afterlife (most discomforting for a good Presbyterian boy).
The characters have been made more interesting, the plotting thicker. The sex… has evaporated. The book went from 25 percent sex (by word count) to one scene, done mostly as a religious ritual. Charlie is still hot for Edward. Edward is still a bit of a satyr. But they are interested in other things besides the contents of their trousers.
So enjoy a scene from the rewrite, and keep your eyes on my website for the announcement that Dreaming Big productions has released it.
From Curse of the Pharaoh’s Manicurists:
The reed torches on the wall flared to life. Khnum-ho-tep sat up and looked around with living eyes. There were odd memories of being someone called Charlie or Charles. Beside him, Ni-ankh-khnum—looking much different—shook his head and crawled over to him.
“Are you well, my love?”
“Better than the day they laid me beside you.” Khnum-ho-tep embraced his lover and touched noses in a kiss, just as he had made the tomb artists paint them in the inner chamber.
“I have missed touching you.” Ni-ankh-khnum held him for a long moment, and touched his nose again. “You look so different, love.”
Khnum-ho-tep traced the small mustache above his beloved’s mouth. “As do you. You never had this before.” He stroked the thick, wavy hair. “Yours was always shaved and it was black and curled tightly.” He paused and touched the odd bits of clear stone that sat before his eyes. When he took them off, the world and even his beloved Ni-ankh-khnum went blurry, as if seen through water or a heat shimmer. “And these.” He put them back on and could see clearly again.
“The bodies are only borrowed,” Ni-ankh-khnum reminded him. “I don’t know why or for how long.”
“How do we end this interminable exile? I will have forgotten all of my family’s Book, and not be able to find my path in the afterlife.”
“We must appease the gods, somehow. Khnum and Anubis and perhaps Osiris so he may compel Anubis to let us pass, if he is not inclined.” Ni-ankh-khnum stroked his lover’s new body, shoving away the top layer of clothing, so badly woven from poor cotton, and scowled at a second layer of cloth. “I wish to hold you properly and all I find is another barrier. This clothing is ridiculous.”
Khnum-ho-tep drew a little away. “Time is not our friend. These men will want their bodies back. How do we appease the gods?”
“We need Khnum to hear us again., He turned his face from us at our rash words after death.” Ni-ankh-khnum paced through the tomb chamber.
Khnum-hot-tep remembered he had always been better at the religious rituals than his lover. “We were angry. Time may have soothed his pain, as it has soothed our wrath. Khnum, lord of the water, the uniter.. What better offering could we make to him than water and a union of ourselves?”
Ni-ankh-khnum chuckled. “He is dead for four thousand years and suddenly he is the husband.”
Khnum-ho-tep gestured to the painting of him offering Ni-ankh-khnum a lotus., Many wives were painted the same way in the tombs they shared with their husbands. “Water, prayers, and then sacred loving, that Khnum may hear us and lift the curse.”
“Can he do so when Anubis laid it upon us?”
“He can at least gain us hearing with Anubis. Perhaps, after four thousand years, even the Lord of the Embalming Chamber can forgive.”
“We can hope.” Ni-ankh-khnum held up a waterskin. “Some things have not changed.” He took a drink. “Sweet, if a bit warm.”
Khnum-ho-tep found a pot and a bowl. He knelt before a painting of the potter god, the ram’s -headed man, seated at his wheel, making pots and small children of the clay, with stacks of both beside him. Ni-ankh-khnum brought him the waterskin and filled the pot.
Khnum-ho-tep poured water from the pot into the bowl and chanted the Morning Hymn to Khnum, which seemed quite appropriate. It might not be morning, but he and Ni-ankh-khnum were just awakening. Given the millennia they had slept, it was possible that Khnum needed to be awakened too.
NICK ROWAN is a bus driver who lives quietly in the mid-south. He writes and crafts to support his yarn habit, You can follow him on Facebook (NickRowan) or Patreon (NickRowan) or Twitter (@NickRowan16) or Tumblr (nicholasrowan) or blogger (NicholasRowanSp) or Etsy (thecarpenterswyfe). Nick has been writing professionally since 2004 as Angelia Sparrow. Check out his website here.
“If you want to take an author’s hard work, and then use it to generate a profit, but you are not willing to pay that author in any way, shape, or form besides allowing them to sign their name to the piece, then you are exploiting that author. Pay them by the word, share your ad revenue, and by all means try to get a good deal on the work, but do not simply swipe it, post it online, and then roll around in the money like some kind of political cartoon.”
This terrific quote comes from Neal Litherland’s blog The Literary Mercenary, which is an awesome blog name I wish I’d thought of using. It’s drawn, of course, from the ongoing discussion about paying authors, as if that’s such a radically bizarre concept that we just started questioning whether people should be paid for their work.
I’ve seen Uncle Harlan’s famous “Pay the Writer” clip from Dreams With Sharp Teeth about twenty times in these discussions, because it’s exactly on point. As Harlan says: do you pay the cameraman? Do you pay the guys who schlep the merchandise on and off the trucks? Then you also need to pay the writer, because that’s where your whole project starts. We never question whether a book should cost money, or whether the paper and printing of that book should be a cost of doing business for that publisher… so why do we think the words on the page should magically appear for free?
And writers need to stop giving it away. As Harlan says, the amateurs make it hard for the professionals, because they’ll do it all for free, and then no one can make a living. Why should HuffPo pay Wil Wheaton for his excellent column, when they can get some desperate sad sack to do write a lesser column “for the exposure”?
And they will have no difficulty finding that sad sack, because we have been conditioned to think that words mean nothing and the writer’s talent is worthless, so just be happy someone wants to read you. We are conditioned to think that writing is free, and thus writers die of exposure.
I’ll add this to it, because I think there are some well-meaning (if naive) people creating anthologies and magazine projects “for the love” who are not cartoon villains. They see “for the love” anthos posted everywhere, they may have been published in a few themselves, and they truly believe in their project and want it to fly. They may feel defensive, even attacked by this discussion of paying writers, simply because the state of the industry has devolved to such an extent it never occurred to them that paying the authors was not optional. Hell, I’ve done it myself, and regret it.
You’ve seen the posts, folks. You’re on Facebook, cruising through a number of antho calls for dark fantasy noir thrillers about unicorns in a neo-Gothic setting and you see a terrific story call, one that perfectly fits your unicorn story. “This is a For The Love project, but we hope to be in a position to start paying our authors really soon!”
To be fair, there’s a good bit of this in nonfiction, too. I’ve gotten offers to write a regular column in line with my day job, and I’ve turned them down because it’s always, “We can start with two columns a week, and if it develops an audience, then we can see about paying you.”
No. I don’t work for free, and neither should you.
Here is the hard truth, folks: if you care about the project you’re developing, if you care about the art, you are ethically required to work author pay into your budget from the start. Don’t say “we hope to start paying authors as our project grows.” Don’t say “we will pay authors a share of the profits after we make back our expenses.” Start from the philosophy that you have to pay the authors and artists, just as you have to pay for the printing, layout, ebook conversion, web hosting service, postage, ad space and anything else that comes with producing your project.
Authors come first, not last. If you don’t have the money to pay the authors, you don’t have the money to do the project.
That doesn’t mean it’s dead. It means you have to work harder. Kickstart that baby, create a Patreon or some other preorder/crowdfunding mechanism. Raise the cash for upfront payments and plan to pay royalties to your writers. It doesn’t have to be a lot – no one ever paid a mortgage solely on short story revenue. SFWA pro rate is 8c a word for fiction; HWA rate is 5c, but flat fees still count as payment, albeit token.
The simple fact of paying the writer for their words shows that you deem those words to be of value. If you don’t value the words enough to pay their creators, how can you expect anyone else to value your project? And if you, the writer, give away your work for nothing, how can you expect the next editor will decide you’re worth paying?
Value yourself, value the work. Pay for what you get, and insist on the same in return.
Elizabeth Donald is a freelance journalist, editor, author, photographer, grad student and instructor, as well as the manager/zookeeper of the Literary Underworld. In her spare time, she has no spare time. Find out more at donaldmedia.comor elizabethdonald.com.
Trilogies and books in a series have become standard mode-of-operandi for authors in recent years. A trilogy is born when the story is too big to complete in just one novel, whereas books in a series simply continue the adventures of the characters established in the first book, introducing new plot-lines for each installment. The Night Flyer Trilogy is an example of the first.
I chose to pattern the three-novel arc on my two favorite trilogies–the Lord of the Rings and the original Star Wars Trilogy. In both of those celebrated works, there existed one over-arching plot, villain, and mission for the heroes to accomplish while being broken into three self-contained acts. Rather than employ impossible cliff-hangers to lure readers to the next book, I chose to follow the examples of Tolkien and Lucas by ending books one and two with a satisfactory wrap of the crisis at hand while still leaving the ultimate goal unfulfilled.
Some readers and movie goers are disappointed when a sequel does not live up to the original; much of my focus in writing Secrets of Milan was to ensure this was not the case. Thus far I have been relieved to read reviews stating the reader thought it was even better than Merchants of Milan.
The main plot line had already been laid out before I even started to write Secrets, but details emerged as I went along. One example is the heart-to-heart conversation between Madelena and her sister-in-law, Portia. Such an intimate scene was not part of the original conception, whereas big things like the church bombing was; but as I wrote Maddie’s story and saw that she longed so much to have someone to share the secret of who she loved with, I considered Portia–an older woman who shared the same household and was thoroughly in love with her husband, Alessandro (Maddie’s doting brother). If anyone in the cast of characters would be sympathetic to Maddie’s dilemma, it would be the pretty, petite Portia. I tried to broach the subject as organically as possible and hope it came across as such.
This book is somewhat longer than the first, but in the same basic word count range. One challenge was to keep the word count near to that of Merchants of Milan without skimping on anything important. Another decision that vexed me was how long to keep up the separation between Maddie and Florentina in the first segment of the novel. I wanted it to be long enough to create the desired tension and release, but not so long that it became tedious.
If anyone noticed, this book had its own internal trilogy, or three acts. The first was solving the romantic problem between the two lead characters while following some dead ends in the investigation. This culminated in the church bombing and Maddie resolving her issues. In the second act, the Night Flyer hunts down the man responsible for the church bombing while they work together on solving the mystery of the secret society which may have claimed another victim in one of Maddie’s friends. The third and final act is their trip to Rome for the exciting climax. As in the first book, this one ends with one villain defeated while the illusive mastermind is still at large.
In the third act, my researched paved the way for details to take form as I learned something new. Before writing Secrets of Milan, I had never heard of the Church of Quo Vadis south of Rome along the Appian Way. Upon discovering this unique landmark, I went back and included a reference to it in the clues so that Florentina would think of it when trying to find the suspected meeting place of the clandestine organization they sought to uncover. It is a small chapel built on the supposed site where Jesus appeared to St. Peter and told him to go back to Rome. Inside is on display a stone that has the impression of a set of human footprints that they claim belong to the risen Christ. The area near that chapel is home to one of many catacombs of Rome. From the original book outline, Florentina would seek out the shadowy cadre in catacombs, but discovering this tidbit provided me with the means by which she would find them. The catacombs dated back well over a thousand years in 1503, but had fallen out of use hundreds of years earlier and were not officially rediscovered until the mid-1500s, so Florentina needed another way to learn of an entrance. Enter the fascinating Church of Quo Vadis.
I have enjoyed researching and writing Secrets of Milan and hope readers think it lives up to my expectations for the second book of a trilogy. Characters and relationships grow and transform while we inch closer to uncovering the mysteries that lie hidden in the shadows. Look for lots of action in the final installment, Chaos in Milan!
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.Follow her on Twitter at @edalelane or on her website!
While Florentina as the Night Flyer searches for a mysterious underworld organization that has attempted to murder the woman she loves, Maddie struggles to deal with the danger Florentina is courting. Her brother, Alessandro, has become the most prominent merchant of Milan, but the Night Flyer uncovers a secret so shocking it could destroy them all.
Secrets of Milan is the second book in Edale Lane’s Night Flyer Trilogy, a tale of power, passion, and payback in Renaissance Italy. If you like drama and suspense, rich historical background, three-dimensional characters, and a romance that deepens into true love, then you’ll want to continue the Night Flyer saga.
Today’s guest voice is Michael Williams of Seventh Star Press, one of our partners here at Literary Underworld. Over the past 25 years, Michael Williams has written a number of strange novels, from the early “Weasel’s Luck” and “Galen Beknighted” in the best-selling DRAGONLANCE series to the more recent lyrical and experimental “Arcady,” singled out for praise by Locus and Asimov’s magazines.
Williams’ highly anticipated City Quartet was completed by the publication of Tattered Men in October 2019. The four volumes may be read in any order–four stories that intertwine, centered in the same city, where minor characters in one novel become central in another:
“Vine: An Urban Legend” is the story of an amateur stage production In Louisville’s Central Park, gone darkly and divinely wrong.
“Dominic’s Ghosts” takes up the story of a son in search of his father in the midst of a murky conspiracy involving a suspicious scholar, a Himalayan legend, and subliminal clues from a silent film festival.
“Tattered Men” is the account of a disheveled biographer, writing the life story of a homeless man who may have been more than he ever seemed.
And “Trajan’s Arch” is a coming-of-age story replete with ghosts, a testimony to hauntings both natural and supernatural.
Bringing the stories together
It’s no great wisdom to say that setting is
character. Most writers know this
implicitly, especially if you’re writing fiction that resides in alternate,
changed, or parallel worlds. Tolkien’s
Middle Earth is as much an actor in the epic story as Frodo or Gandalf: it
shapes events, uncovers mysteries, guides possibilities. The same for Martin’s Westeros, Le Guin’s
Earthsea, Ray Bradbury’s Mars.
But also Garcia Marquez’s Macondo, Lawrence Durrell’s
Alexandria, William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County. Place is a factor not only in speculative
fiction, but in many of the other stories that shape our reading.
I’ve been asked to comment on how my City Quartet is put
together, how it addresses the primary task of writing interrelated novels that
stand alone—an odd tactic in a publishing industry that is fond of the
series. Because the City Quartet is by
no means a series: instead it is an arrangement of books, a world of four
worlds that the reader can enter from any of its four volumes, can read in any
order. I like to think that in some ways
it is like a musical quartet, in which four parts commingle and interweave,
forming a work that is larger than the sum of its components.
And it starts with setting.
The City Quartet takes place in a modern Midwestern city
that is and is not my native Louisville.
Composed of the streets and neighborhoods, the suburbs and the sites
that would be recognizable to any native or visitor, the fictional city is
nonetheless a bending of the actual one, layered in time and in alternative
versions, but ultimately anchored in the very real city I remember, work in,
and visit. And as every city has its
lore, from history to urban legend, so does mine, and it intersects with that
of the actual Louisville, draws from the stories I heard in childhood and read
about in newspapers and local chronicles; nevertheless, a lot of my city is
invented, made up by and around the characters I put in the books.
Each of the books is a self-contained novel. Each has a narrative arc that I hope is successful. Whether you read Trajan’s Arch or Tattered Men,
Dominic’s Ghosts or Vine: An Urban Legend, you get a
beginning, middle, and end to a story; you have characters who change and grow
because of what happens to them; I hope you turn the pages eager to find out
what those changes are.
You get that if you read only one of the novels.
If you read a second, and a third or fourth, you get the
design and pattern and weaving of the books.
Primary characters in one book appear in secondary roles in another,
perhaps about the business of one of the stories you are not reading at the
time, glimpsed in an excerpt or a cameo.
Or perhaps they’re on an adventure only implied in a third book, or you
see the same scene from a different point of view: an encounter you saw in Trajan’s Arch you will see again in Dominic’s Ghosts, but from a different
point of view, so that it feels differently and means a different thing, and
the meaning of that encounter complicates and deepens.
But if you see the encounter only once, only in one book,
it should still make sense. You should
understand it in terms of one version without needing to refer to another novel
to find out what the hell is going on.
The novels relate to each
other more than they depend on each
other: their connection is more textural and musical than linear and causal.
So you can enjoy each by itself; taken together, however, you get more of the jokes, see more connections, and slowly come to the conclusion, I hope, that our stories, like ourselves, are part of each other.
Dominic’s Ghosts is a mythic novel set in the contemporary Midwest. Returning to the hometown of his missing father on a search for his own origins, Dominic Rackett is swept up in a murky conspiracy involving a suspicious scholar, a Himalayan legend, and subliminal clues from a silent film festival. As those around him fall prey to rising fear and shrill fanaticism, he follows the branching trails of cinema monsters and figures from a very real past, as phantoms invade the streets of his once-familiar city and one of them, glimpsed in distorted shadows of alleys and urban parks, begins to look uncannily familiar.
Amateur theatre director Stephen Thorne plots a sensational
production of a Greek tragedy in order to ruffle feathers in the small city where
he lives. Accompanied by an eccentric and fly-by-night cast and crew, he
prepares for opening night, unaware that as he unleashes the play, he has drawn
the attention of ancient and powerful forces.
Michael Williams’ VINE: AN URBAN LEGEND weds Greek Tragedy and urban legend with dangerous intoxication, as the drama rushes to its dark and inevitable conclusion.
Gabriel Rackett stands at the threshold of middle age. He lives north of Chicago and teaches at a small community college. He has written one novel and has no prospects of writing another, his powers stagnated by drink and loss. Into his possession comes a manuscript, written by a childhood friend and neighbor, which ignites his memory and takes him back to his mysterious mentor and the ghosts that haunted his own coming of age. Now, at the ebb of his resources, Gabriel returns to his old haunts through a series of fantastic stories spilling dangerously off the page–tales that will preoccupy and pursue him back to their dark and secret sources.
When a body washes ashore downstream from the city, the
discovery saddens the small neighborhood south of Broadway. A homeless man, T.
Tommy Briscoe, whose life had intertwined with a bookstore, a bar, and the
city’s outdoor theater had touched many lives at an angle. One was that of
Mickey Walsh, a fly-by-night academic and historian, who becomes fascinated
with the circumstances surrounding the drowning.
From the beginning there seems to be foul play regarding Briscoe’s death, and, goaded on by his own curiosity and the urging of two old friends, Walsh begins to examine the case when the police give it up. His journey will take him into the long biography of a man who might have turned out otherwise and glorious, but instead fell into and through the underside of history, finding harsh magic and an even harsher world. Despite the story of Tommy’s sad and shortened life, Walsh begins to discover curious patterns, ancient and mythic, in its events—patterns that lead him to secrets surrounding the life and death of Tommy Briscoe and reveal his own mysteries in the searching.