There’s a no-photography rule at Contra, but it doesn’t apply to our inanimate objects! Delighted to be here with our friends in Kansas City, and to return to Contra after the Voldevirus-induced year off.
We’ve had a wonderful time. We missed you!
There’s a no-photography rule at Contra, but it doesn’t apply to our inanimate objects! Delighted to be here with our friends in Kansas City, and to return to Contra after the Voldevirus-induced year off.
We’ve had a wonderful time. We missed you!
It’s spooooooky time, when crypt doors creak and the tombstones quake and spooks come out for a swinging wake… wait, that’s Disneyland. Here at Literary Underworld, we have some of the creepiest, crawliest horror around, so if you’re in the mood, check out these books!
John McFarland’s triumphant return to the horror genre has gotten strong reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and several others. Set in his fictional southern river down of Ste. Odile, he explores the darker side of the town’s history in The Dark Walk Forward.
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.
By J. L. Mulvihill
Tree-hugger. Hippie. Flowerchild. Granola. These are only a few of the names my southern friends have unceremoniously given to me since I moved to the South from California.
I admit I have been known to hug a few trees out of pure silliness and I admittedly do love nature, I am no flowerchild of the sixties. Born too late, I cannot lay claim to the hippie movement either, unless perhaps you count living on a boat in the free anchorage of the San Diego Harbor. Oh yes, that time in my life paved the way for some serious name-calling by my peers. I was a pre-teen at the time and as we all know that particular age group can be quite vicious. I survived the tumultuous years of verbal abuse from my counterparts, only to find myself an adult and right back in the same situation.
Another term I’m not sure is proper yet continually cast in my direction is Granola. Now it is my understanding that a person who is usually referred to as Granola is a vegetarian, wears hemp clothing, or goes au naturel. I can’t say if this is true as I have never met anyone claiming to be a Granola. The nickname Granola sticks, though, like the honey that holds the granola together in a breakfast bar. It is a pet name given to me in foolish affection and I wear it with pride, for I am a real Californian born and raised.
I would like to add in my defense that I am a Southern Californian. However, I found that adding the word Southern to California, does not seem to mean much to anyone in the true South. They merely snicker as if they hold some precious secret magic to the word South. Okay, well, maybe they do.
Like Californians, Southerners do not lay out in the sun to get a tan, it’s too hot. Southerners are neighborly, have very close-knit social groups, afternoon tea parties, and Sunday night potlucks at the church. There are traditions, and social rules that must be adhered to. “Yes Ma’am” and “No Ma’am.” Respect must be earned before friendships and families are merged.
Californians generally are free spirited, live and let live, work hard, and enjoy the sunshine for that is what it’s there for. Social networking is broadly woven, and families are intermixed and intertwined. Formal names are dropped, and friendships are given openly, until there is reason for misgivings. Religion is by preference and of wide variety, and potlucks are at the park or the beach.
There is a misconception about Californians. California has a reputation of either being filled with Granola types or High Roller movie directors with fast cars, Hollywood lights, and tanned pinup girls, just as Mississippi has a reputation of dirt roads, outhouses, and barefoot children walking miles to fetch jugs of water. People tend to create misconceptions based on little facts and lots of opinion. It takes a journey of acquisition to understand and know about a place and its culture.
My journey to Mississippi began as a bittersweet experience that I will long remember. It was 1992, the year that Johnny Carson hosted his final episode on The Tonight Show and President Bush vomited on the Japanese Prime Minister. A homesick friend who had married and moved to the South begged my husband and I to come and live near them in the town of Vicksburg, Mississippi.
I had never been to the South, it sounded intriguing, and after all, home is wherever you make it. I regretted leaving California, for there were so many things I would miss. My family, my friends, the beach, fish tacos, carne asada burritos at two o’clock in the morning, the list could go on forever. I loved the ocean and that for me, next to my family, was the hardest to leave. But I was a grownup now and it was time for us to grow up and leave the nest. So, with a heavy heart and exhilarated excitement combined, my husband and I took the path in life that would lead us far from all that we loved.
I was asleep when we crossed the border from Louisiana into Mississippi after three days of traveling. Now our friend Donald, with whom we had been traveling, had a peculiar sense of humor, and he found me to be an easy target for his jokes. It was at this time he chose the worst part of town he could find and woke me up as we drove through saying “Welcome to your new home.”
I opened sleepy eyes to ramshackle houses with broken down cars and mangy dogs lying about. Each house was like the next, connected only by endless green vines that seem to choke the life out of everything. I rolled down the window; the air was hot and sticky and felt heavy to breathe. As I sat back and watched the dilapidated housing go past the window I cried. I felt the pains of poverty and despair as my own emotions and apprehensions filled me. What had I done?
At last Donald, my trickster chauffeur, relinquishing a heartfelt laugh, confessed that he was only kidding and drove me to the city of Vicksburg. It was a quaint old city that held promise. I was relieved that there was civilization and admired the antebellum homes we passed. However, when we were at last taken to our true home, I found it to be not much better than the dilapidated homes he had showed me earlier on the other side of town.
In all my years I had never seen a shotgun shack and had only heard of such things in novels and movies. But here I was standing before what could easily have been the very house where Bob Ewell and his eight children lived in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird.
The stairs groaned in protest as I climbed three levels to a covered porch that appeared to be in a desperate need of repair. The front door entered into the kitchen where a dominating wood furnace dating back to the 1950s filled most of the room. There was an old seventies-era dinette set that circularly sat six, and an ancient yellow rusted refrigerator with a small countertop next to it housing a warming plate and a grease-spackled Fry Daddy, but no stove.
Donald’s new wife Samantha protested immediately, reminding Donald that he had promised to have a stove installed for her prior to us arriving. This, I guessed, was their first fight, which I ignored as I continued my inspection of my temporary home. I found the next room to be a little more hospitable, being the living room with the normal furniture, a television, and the back door? Or front door?
The living room became our room, and the newlyweds had the only bedroom situated just off the living room and barely large enough to fit a queen-sized bed. We slept on the floor, as the couch did not open up into a bed. The bathroom, to the left of the kitchen, offered no luxury other than the deep clawfoot bathtub. This turned out to be no luxury at all, since you could only fill it no deeper than one quarter of what it held. We could not flush toilet paper down the commode either. These inconveniences were due to the fact that the drain field was just out in the side yard in the grass rather than piped through to the sewer. I groaned in despair once again and wondered what I had gotten myself into.
My first experience of southern hospitality was soon relished upon me when the neighbor across the street, who was actually the landlady, brought us a basket of home-fried chicken, butter beans, corn bread, and sweet baked goods. Her gracious southern demeanor and motherly reassurance soon brought calm to my emotions and optimism to my spirit.
I found myself employed not long after we moved in at one of the local restaurants, where I was able to meet more of the locals. The restaurant turned out to be a popular stop for all-you-can-eat crawfish and shrimp. Here I found another shock of culture differences. Where I came from, one did not eat crawfish. Crawfish, or what some of the locals fondly called mudbugs, to me were crawdads and were something to avoid in mountain streams because they pinch your feet. I had never considered them to be edible, though I did hear some people used them as bait. Nowadays, I can’t get enough of them, and the spicier the better.
Fortunately, we only had to stay with Donald and Samantha on the floor of their living room for three weeks before we found a place of our own. Thanks to Ms. Dixie, another gracious southern lady, we rented a lovely home on Mercer Street just off Halls Ferry Road. The house was blessed with the most incredible magnolia tree that spread over the side yard like a huge umbrella. The sweet aroma of magnolia blossoms permeated the yard and in through the windows.
By now I had grown accustomed to the southern landscape and found it to be intriguing and mysterious to say the least. Instead of finding the green vines of the non-indigenous kudzu to be choking the landscape, I now saw it in a different perspective. It seemed a fairyland to me, with green canopies and vines heavy with dark leaves molded to the shapes of underlying trees or shrubs giving it an Orphic resonate. Some of the old houses I thought were dilapidated buildings, I discovered to be old homes-built years ago where generations of family lived. History in the making.
The weather, predictable yet not, became a new and wonderful thing to me. California had thunderstorms, but not often or with such vigor as the storms in the south, and I loved them. I am sure the neighbors thought us mad as they watched my husband and I dance in the driveway like deranged lunatics while being pounded by heavy drops of steamy rain beneath a tempest sky. Yet nothing that could be done about the heat, and not having central air added to our misery. A lone window unit filled the living room with the necessary relief, and that is where I spent a lot of my time, standing in front of it.
July came and I spent my first Fourth of July in Mississippi in extreme disappointment. When I asked about the Fourth of July celebrations I was informed that Vicksburg, having surrendered to Grant in 1863 on that very day, did not celebrate our nation’s independence, but rather mourned. Now some say that Vicksburg did indeed start celebrating the Fourth of July back in 1945. However, something must have happened between that time and 1992, because I know for a fact that in 1992 Vicksburg did not display fireworks.
Though sad yet intriguing, the chronicle of this town’s 47-day siege had put a damper on one of my favorite holidays. We were loathe to sit and grieve over a history to which I did not relate. With determination, we gathered fireworks from a nearby town and Donald and my husband sat in the kitchen the night before and created our own fireworks display. The next day we finally persuaded the neighbors down Donald’s street to join in the fun, and we barbequed and shot off our own fireworks. It was a Fourth of July I will never forget. Someone else must have enjoyed our fireworks too, because a few years later Vicksburg started having elaborate celebrations. I know it would be silly to think we had anything to do with that, but it is nice to think that maybe we did.
July of 1992 was the last month we spent in Mississippi. A few weeks later my husband landed a job with a major company in Virginia. Since we could not pass up this opportunity, we packed our bags and bid a fond farewell to Mississippi. Little did I know that six years later I would be returning and on better terms.
A journey can be many things; it can be going from one place to another, or it can be a passage through one’s life. When I left California in 1992, I took both of these journeys. I left the security of what I once knew to become my own person in a place that was strange to me. In doing this, I set out on a journey where I learned about other people and their cultures. I also learned about myself.
When I returned to Mississippi in 1998, I came with a different mindset. Though we struggled yet again for the first few years, I came to know Mississippi in a new light. We became part of the community and raised our children here. Through my friendships here, I have learned a lot about the strengths of a southern woman. I will always be a California girl deep in my heart, but I would like to think that some of these strengths have rubbed off on me and reflect in my character. There is an impression here in the south that is impossible to define in one word, for it is a multitude of feelings, but it lingers. It is a wisdom, a durability of the soul, a camaraderie, a sense of family and pride.
Mississippi is our home, and we revel in its mysteries and southern charm. We are anxious to show anyone new to Mississippi that it is anything but what they think it is. I may always be a Granola, but I am a Granola in the South.
Though J L Mulvihill (Jen), is a descendant of Hollywood royalty, she relinquished her crown and rock star days to obsess over her passion for telling stories. An author of young adult fiction and an award-winning screenplay writer and public speaker, Jen dabbles in a variety of genres including science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, medievalpunk, horror, thrillers, and historical fiction. Her recent debut as host for the talk show On The Page with Geeky Side Network TV has got everyone asking, “What will Jen do next?”
To find out the answer to that question check out Jen’s webpage at www.jlmulvihill.com where you can also find her books and short stories. Or just type in jlmulvihill for all social media and you can catch up on Jen’s much ado on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. You might just happen upon her sporadic foodie fest Jen Can’t Cook where Jen tests her hand at old style cooking.
Jen’s y/a series, Steel Roots, is based in the steampunk genre and engages the reader in a train hopping heart stopping adventure across a dystopian America enclosed within the walls of its own making. Follow young AB’Gale Steel as she travels across America in search of her missing father learning about the world around her as she goes, and The System that has a hold on its people. A story of love, friendship, hope, and the courage to fight back injustice.
Jen is also the author of a y/a medievalpunk series, The Elsie Lind Chronicles. This epic adventure boasts of demons, dragons, and dark witches. From the strange and dark corners of her mind Jen has created an extraordinary fantasy world. Weaving Scandinavian folklore into the telling of the adventure of a young girl who is struck with amnesia and finds herself in the middle of an ancient forest in a world filled with mystery and danger.
Not only is she known for her writing but also her public speaking, where Jen encourages other writers to hone their skills. Currently Jen is working on several writing projects including a science fiction novel, a thriller, a children’s book, toss a couple of cookbooks in there and some poetry, include several movie scripts, and Jen will never get any sleep again. Ahh, but it’s gonna be great!
By Nick Rowan
It’s been a busy summer, and a busy year for me, loves.
I’m still driving the school bus. I am The Local Kitchen Witch, and training more. So I cook for bunches of pagans twice a year. Festival of Souls is in October. Ancestor Ritual, Witches’ Ball, Candle Labyrinth. Kithaka Dun is in May. Wild Hunt, Maypole, and this year SJ Tucker is playing a concert.
Both are terrific times. Come out and join us in the woods.
I’ve been doing Grandma duty to two adorable boys. Hunter is 6 and Alexander will be 2 in November.
But my 2021, so far:
January saw the re-issue of Glad Hands, with a new cover and about 20 percent more new material. It, like all of the Eight Thrones Books, is under the Angelia Sparrow name.
Chuck Hummingbird has a big rig and a big heart. Even as a boy, he took in every stray and injured animal and person around him. Now, even though he is speed-running through some of the most hostile territory in the DisUnited States, he can’t say no to rescuing a pretty blue-eyed gay boy in Heartland. And that just increased the danger level of his run from normal to expert.
This is a dystopian gay trucker romance.
Temple Secrets from the Cult of Cheesecake came out in December and is available in ebook or print. It’s our church cookbook, and I love it. It’s perfect bound because spiral wasn’t available anymore. It’s good food, some with good stories. The following made my father wibble a little, as it’s his mom’s bread pudding.
Bread Pudding – Nina Fantz
Nick’s grandma taught him to make bread pudding. This is very basic stuff, no fancy whiskey sauce here. When Nick’s mom was terminal with leukemia, he made this for her frequently during the month he took care of her. It was one thing she had no problem eating, despite chemo killing her appetite.
Combine eggs, milk, vanilla, cinnamon and salt. Stir in bread cubes. Stir in brown sugar and raisins. Pour into 8″ round cake pan. Place in large shallow pan on center rack of oven. Pour hot water into larger pan 1″ deep. Bake 350° about 45 minutes, or until knife comes clean.
In July, I was a prolific little succcubus. (Succubi and incubi are the same demon, they just shapeshift depending on situation. As does my gender-fluid self.) Not only did I have a drag show early in the month, I wrote a lot.
As Angelia, I published a sexy short, “Dangerous Game.” This is a fun little piece that manages to combine Real Person Fanfic from the Memphis drag community, multiple personalities, Jekyll and Hyde cosplay and yet remain heterosexual.
When Valentina’s guy heats up the stage as Dr. Jekyll during a show, she lets him know he’s got her heated up too. And wackiness ensues.
Also as Angelia, I compiled a Busy Night cookbooklet of freezer meals and slow-cooker dishes. It’s stuff that has always worked well for us. No flavor text or cute stories, just recipes. We’re busy, after all. Includes my famous Pasta Fazool. One of my drag characters performs as a zombie Dean Martin—complete with oversized martini glass and eyeballs for olives–and does “That’s Amore” while visibly restraining himself from eating the audience.
When the stars make you drool
Just like Pasta fazool
Dean O’Bedlam’s Pasta Fazool (no eyeballs)
Freeze all items except pasta in a ziplock. Dump into cooker, with 4 cups of water. Cover and cook on LOW for 5 to 7 hours, or until the vegetables are as tender as you like them. When ready to serve, stir the cooked pasta into the soup. Taste the soup and adjust the salt and herbs to suit your tastes.
Last August saw the reissue of Curse of the Pharaoh’s Manicurists, now with 80 percent less sex and 100 percent more characterization.
This summer, I edited on the sequel, Terror of the Frozen North. About 20% less sex, more plot and action. It will be out… unknown. As Thoth wills it.
I also continued writing on the third, Mystery of the Monkey God, and have roughed out the fourth, Dance in the Graveyard.
I did something a bit foolish, perhaps. I started an OnlyFans. It was intended to be a “Watch me Clean and Exercise” channel, but I haven’t done much of either. But it is some fun stuff and the pics are a bit sexier than we normally see.
And when the weather cools down, I will have Gabriel do me up a Lady Dimetriscu shoot. I have the costume.
In early August, I pinned down Gabriel, finally, and we took a weekend to rewrite Master Anton, fourth in the Eight Thrones series. It needed it. Unfortunately, we got through the book, then added a scene about 60 pages from the end which means we will have to entirely rewrite the end. Oops, so more rewriting is in our future.
I have the cover for Captain Calamity’s Bedside Reader, a collection of steampunk stories. The book itself is edited and needs formatting. I hope to have it out in time for Black Friday sales.
My next show is Sept. 10 at Black Lodge, and the theme was A Mad Tea Party. I did Alice Cooper dressed as Alice Liddle performing “Welcome to my Nightmare.” And for Shinedown’s “Her Name is Alice,” I was her shrink who morphed into the Cheshire cat during the song. My video performance list is here.
My Patreon will be running Sounds of the Season (Halloween music), with crafts, recipes etc. and Yuletide Youtube, Lucky 13, this year. I am also watching as many of the IMDB greatest horror films as I can find, and reviewing them, plus some extras. Tod Browning’s Dracula is not on the list which I consider a serious omission.
$1 gets a lot of online goodies. $5 gets ebooks, $10 gets paperbacks.
Ways you can support me:
Patreon. Get writing and pics of the say and sometimes crafted goodies:
I have a list here. Some of these are cash-back apps. You get money back, it costs you nothing, and I get a kickback from the app. Win, win win.
Links to all my books currently in print: Here.
How do I do it all and hold down a full time job? 400 words a day. Two chapters of editing a day. And when the muse is upon me (not the kittens or Stratus who are always on me) I ride with her as far as she will take me.
Until next time, my freaky darlings,
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.
By Elizabeth Donald
This month was a milestone for me, as my long-running short-story anthology finally went out of print after 15 years and I sold my last copy at a book signing in Memphis.
Setting Suns wasn’t my first book, but it was the first to appear in paperback. Way back in the dawn of the ebook era, my first novel Nocturnal Urges came out from Ellora’s Cave Publishing, but they only published in ebook (two years before there was even such a thing as a Kindle!). If the ebook did well, they released it in paperback later.
Nocturnal Urges came out and it sold well, won awards and the publisher demanded a sequel despite all the people insisting, “I’ll wait until the real book comes out.” I kept yelling, “It IS a real book! Ebooks are real books!” Now people look at my paperbacks and say, “I’ll get the ebook,” and I want to yell, “Where were you in 2005??”
I was working on that sequel when Frank Fradella, founder of New Babel Books, came to me with the idea of putting my short stories into a collection. I’d published a handful of short stories in horror and science fiction magazines that had a disturbing habit of going out of business right after they published me. I was the Typhoid Mary of the small press in the early 2000s. Frank suggested collecting those stories and writing another half-dozen or so just for the collection, and thus Setting Suns was born.
It wasn’t my first book. But it was the first time I opened a box of books and saw my name on the cover. Ask any writer about that moment, and see the look in their eyes when they remember.
Setting Suns has been in print for 15 years, give or take, and that’s one hell of a good run for a small press collection. It won the Darrell Award for best short story for “Wonderland,” a weird little Frankenstein riff told entirely in emails and online chats that gave Frank apoplexy in layout, and contains two of my most popular short stories: “Sisyphus,” a tragedy exploring toxic grief and lost love; and “Jesus Loves Me,” known as the Evil Teddy Bear story.
The Evil Teddy Bear still exists, here in my office. And there were T-shirts.
But there are other stories that didn’t get as much attention. There’s “Prisoner’s Dilemma,” a literal funhouse horror piece that looks at the different kinds of love a person can have for the people in her life, plus crazy man with gun.
There’s “Silent,” which was one of my very first short stories to be published for money, that smacks of a haunted house as told by The Twilight Zone. There’s “Deep Breathing,” a future-world submarine scarefest involving a monster several readers have referred to as “Cthulu-esque” which was funny because I’d never read Lovecraft at that point.
There’s “Memory Lane,” another escapee from Twilight Zone about a husband’s desperate search to find his missing wife, and the dark secrets that come to light. That one began as my first attempt at a short-film screenplay, rewritten as a short story for Setting Suns.
There’s “Gauntlet,” an action-flick of a science fiction story set in my Sanctuary universe that only reaaaaally dedicated readers know about, since it’s had a couple of stories published but the novels remain in the trunk until I get them to not suck. Three of the Setting Suns stories are set in Sanctuary, but “Gauntlet” is my favorite.
There are even two stories that would qualify as “literary” with no SFFH elements whatsoever, though entering an MFA program and exploring literary fiction was the absolute last thought on my mind in the waning years of my twenties.
After 15 years, Setting Suns was still the “entry drug” for Elizabeth Donald fiction. Long-time readers sometimes tell me it’s their favorite of my titles (which is a little humbling since I’ve published maybe fourteen books and novellas since then, give or take a few).
I’m gonna miss the old girl.
I want to thank Shane Moore, current publisher of New Babel Books, for working with me to put Setting Suns out of print with grace.
I also want to thank Frank Fradella, who is no longer with New Babel Books, for his contributions to making Setting Suns what it was. The book was Frank’s idea, and his editing, layout and design coupled with the cover art from Darren Holmes made a wonderful book that I was proud to call my first.
Thanks also go to Jason R. Tippitt, who co-authored one of the stories with me (“I Live With It Every Day”) and served as sounding board and inspiration through much of the book’s development. I very rarely work in partnerships – I don’t play well with others – and it is a testament to Jason’s patience and skill that our story turned out well. The book was dedicated to Jason, who is a fine writer and I hope you’ll hear more from him in times to come.
It’s been a terrific run for my first “real” book, at least as far as I’m concerned. I hope you enjoyed the ride.
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 finalist for the Prism and Imadjinn awards, author of the Blackfire urban fantasy series and Nocturne vampire mystery series, as well as other novels, novellas and stories in the horror, science fiction and fantasy genres. More recently, she was awarded the Mimi Zanger Literary Award for fiction. She is the founder of the Literary Underworld small-press cooperative; an award-winning journalist and essayist with more than twenty years in journalism; a nature and art photographer; freelance editor and writing coach. She is currently completing two masters degrees at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and teaches newswriting and English composition at the university. She serves as president of the St. Louis Society of Professional Journalists and Eville Writers, vice president of Phi Kappa Phi and Sigma Tau Delta at the university, and is a member of the national SPJ Ethics Commission, AEJMC, Editorial Freelancers Association and many other organizations for which she volunteers. She lives with her family in a haunted house in Edwardsville, Illinois. In her spare time, she has no spare time.
By Nicole Lanahan
It’s no secret that a writer’s job requires a lot of sitting—there are days when the only time I get out of my chair is to get a refill of coffee. And let me tell you, that much butt-in-seat action may be good for your writing output, but it’s not good for your butt—or in my case, my cholesterol. I had my annual bloodwork done at the beginning of the year, and the results were not great.
I’m getting older. It happens to the best of us. And my body can’t rebound from writing like it could when I was in my 20s. Let’s face it, most writers have day jobs and families. How are we supposed to go to the gym and cook healthy meals when we’re trying to meet deadlines?
The pandemic has been hard on all of us. If you were like me, most of your dinner came from a bag. The result was exactly what you’d think it would be. I was tired all the time, my complexion was a mess, and my cholesterol was through the roof. After a pretty serious conversation with my doctor, I promised to make some changes. I’ve started walking daily at the park and started making healthy eating choices. So this year I vowed to make a change and I’m happy to say I’m down nearly twenty pounds since January, I have more energy, my skin has cleared up, and my cholesterol levels are down enough that I no longer need medication.
Mornings have always been especially hard for me to make good diet choices. Either I want something sugary (I’m talking to you, Starbucks Frappuccino), or I skip breakfast all together. Now that I’ve discovered a healthy, delicious replacement for my usual sugar-filled coffee, I don’t suffer from the afternoon sugar crash. This means I’m in a much better position to write in the afternoons when I get off of work instead of succumbing to the dreaded sugar crash.
I’d love to hear from you. Do you have any secrets for staying healthy while writing?
Niki Alba’s Morning Coffee Protein Shake
1. 1 C. Ice (there’s 2 in the picture because I made a double batch)
2. 1/2 scoop of protein powder. All I had on had on hand was cookies and cream, but chocolate powder or my favorite salted caramel would make this killer
3. 1/2 frozen banana. Learn from my mistake. Peel this bad boy before you freeze it.
4. 1/2 C. Unsweetened almond milk
5. 1/2 C. Coffee (again, there’s more in my pic because I made a double batch.)
5. Optional 1 stevia packet
Throw all ingredients in blender, blend, and enjoy your only 150 calorie coffee protein goodness!
At seventeen, Nicole Lanahan found herself homeless with only a beat-up Volkswagen Jetta and a bag of Goodwill clothing to her name. The only things that got her through the nights she spent parked in truck stops and cornfields were the stacks of books she checked out from the library along with her trusty flashlight. Because of the reprieve these books gave her from her troubles, she vowed to become a writer so she could provide the same escape to readers who needed a break the reality of their own lives. She has written as both Nicole Lanahan and Cole Gibsen.
And why, if you choose to ignore the difference, you should invest in fireproof underpants.
By Sela Carsen
Wuthering Heights is not a Romance. Literary theory may classify it as a romance, but that is not the same thing as Romance.
See the difference there?
That capital R indicates genre Romance, as opposed to the entire movement of literature that gets categorized as romance (did you know that Robert Burns’ poem about lice in a pretty girl’s hair is “romantic” because it’s about nature?), or millennia’s worth of love stories that fall under the same label, though the vast majority of them end miserably.
But here we are in the 21st century, and people still can’t quite wrap their head around the difference between the variations. I mean, it’s clear enough if you send your spouse to the grocery store to get “cheese,” then grind your teeth if they come back with cheddar instead of cotija, because those are clearly different things… that both use the same word.
For today’s exercise, let’s discard the stories that get labeled “romance” simply because they were written in the “romantic” era of the late 18th and early 19th centuries in Europe. According to Wikipedia, “Romanticism was characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of all the past and nature….”
Nothing in that statement specifies tales about relationships, so let’s stick with stories that focus on romantic love.
Part of the trouble we have with defining our terms comes from the archetypical “romantic hero” who became popular during this era. Whether the stories involved a romantic relationship or not, they centered around certain types of characters. Either the brooding, solitary hero who rejects love because he’s somehow unworthy, or his counterpart, the waif-like, long-suffering heroine whose life is dictated by the harshness of her rational, patriarchal family. Because extreme emotion was the hallmark of the movement, those archetypes have stuck with the label of “romantic,” which isn’t necessarily a match for writing a Romance.
Capital-R Romance, however, is a very specific genre of literature that doesn’t concern itself with glorification of all the past and nature. Instead, it has two main focuses: the “Rules of Romance,” if you will.
A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel.
An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love. (Romance Writers of America)
Nothing there about staring across the windswept moors or digging up your dead lover’s grave to beg her to haunt you so you can make everyone in a ten-mile radius miserable for the rest of your life. (I’m lookin’ at you, Heathcliff!)
There’s also nothing there about having one half of the relationship die tragically of cancer or in a car wreck or in childbirth or anything else. *coughNicholasSparkscough* No one cheats, no one gets bored, no one leaves.
And before you snort disdainfully and go, “That’s not realistic,” I ask you if zombies are realistic. Or demons that bubble up from cracks in the earth. Or whether you’ve ever actually encountered a hard-smoking, hard-drinking, hard-boiled detective who referred to women’s legs as “gams” in real life.
It’s. Fiction. People.
Love stories often get the first part right, the main focus on the relationship, but then take a left turn before getting to the part about the optimistic, satisfying ending with the lovers together. You can write a beautiful story where the relationship doesn’t work out, but the main character moves on happily. But if the lovers aren’t together happily, then it’s a love story, not a Romance.
Two people.* Together. Happy Ending. That’s a Romance.
Capital R Romance is about making readers end a book with a smile and a happy sigh, rather than a bewildered, horrified, and tear-drenched, “WTF did I just read?!? What is wrong with these people?!? Did no one learn anything?!?!?”
Whether it’s filled with sexy bits or not (my best-sellers have zero touchy-time on the page), whether it’s set in ancient Rome or in a galaxy far, far away, or in some fictional midwestern small farming town, whether it has vampires or werebears, or billionaires who are suddenly single fathers and down-on-their-luck waitresses/nannies, all Romances follow the above two rules.
Want to write a gorgeous novel that focuses on two people in a zombie apocalypse finding each other and struggling to make their relationship work… then one of them dies (like, all the way dies, doesn’t come back to life with a craving for human flesh), leaving the other a lone, tragic figure?
That’s awesome! Do it! But it’s not a Romance. It’s a love story.
Want to write a beautiful novel that focuses on two teens, but the boy is a zombie who eats the brains (and memories) of his girlfriend’s dead ex-boyfriend, and even though he stays a zombie, he sort of gets much better, and even though her zombie-hunting dad wants to kill him, the boy and girl overcome their human/zombie differences and stay together?
Don’t write that. Someone already did, it’s called Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion, and it’s freaking adorable.
But you could write your own zombie Romance as long as it ends with the two happily getting together and staying together!
Now let’s put on our author hats. The business hat, not the creative one.
Romance is a marketing term. It’s designed to let readers know what they’re picking up in much the same way that the terms mystery and thriller signal certain expectations to readers.
Romance readers are a savvy bunch of (mostly) women who drop billions of dollars a year on those Happy Ever Afters. They’re socially connected, they belong to vast communities of other readers, and they do not like getting tricked because you think you’re going to “turn romance on its head,” or you don’t like genre limitations, like that daft rule about how you always have to reveal whodunnit at the end of a mystery novel.
You’re an artiste! No one can tell you what to do! And those silly Romance-reading women with all that disposable income should appreciate your avant-garde approach to educating them and teaching them to read “better books.”
Try it. I’ve got a bag of marshmallows to roast on the bonfire they’ll light around your flaming literary oeuvre and the ashes of your career. Or, as they call it in the Romancelandia territory of Twitter, “every other Tuesday.”
That attitude is not special, or unique, or clever. It IS however, probably some combination of pretentious, ignorant, and/or misogynistic.
Labeling a book as a Romance has meaning, and mislabeling shows that the author either doesn’t know what they’ve written, or they’re deliberately trying to mislead potential readers. Because I can absolutely guarantee that Romance readers understand their genre, and they read it specifically for that Happy Ever After satisfaction. They can get misery anywhere, but they pick up a Romance to get that happy sigh at the end. If the author doesn’t deliver, they have wildly misjudged their readership.
Note: Romance isn’t limited to just two people. There are entire niches filled with polyamorous but committed groupings. Romance has also become very open to non-het, non-cis, non-binary characters and relationships. Love is love.
Writing a Romance and labeling it correctly not only ensures that you’re going to hit your target market correctly, thereby putting you in a position to sell well, but it also indicates a basic level of respect for the readers.
So if you choose to write a relationship-based story, know that the conclusion dictates the marketing, and it’s up to you to understand the differences in how they’ll hit the readership.
Sela Carsen is an award-winning author of paranormal and sci-fi romance — with or without sex and dead bodies. Your pick. She also writes steamy contemporary romance as Silke Campion. Check out many of her titles on The Literary Underworld.
One of the fun things about meeting up with the Underlords on the convention circuit is finding out about the nifty new projects they’ve got going on. Hanging out with Steven Shrewsbury at Imaginarium was a blast as always, and we were delighted to add Bedlam Unleashed to our offerings at the Literary Underworld.
Hulking Norse berserker Erik Bedlam lives and fights with a piece of steel lodged in his skull. Ever hallucinating the netherworld, his unpredictable behavior provides no end of challenges to his traveling companion, mercenary Alanis Johansson. After the battle of Clontarf in 1014 A.D., the two launch into a series of bizarre circumstances and horrors that tackle their courage, meddle, and strength.
Through these warriors, thrown into a series of horrific events in what seemed like pure chance, cruel fate starts to form into a design. Though hopefully guided by Odin, the All-Father, when contacted via the power of the one-eyed mage Kendrick Prescott a greater mystery awaits. The trio moves onward, facing dragons, neo-druids, cannibal Highlanders, vampire dwarves, and a Lovecraftian horror, to name but a few obstacles. Through it all, Kendrick proves to be not all he appears, but uses the mercenaries as his vehicle to cross the land.
Alanis, also a man of secrets, struggles under so many horrors, but the unpredictable, jovial and violent Bedlam staggers through it all, be it episodes of demonic possession, jousts, or hallucinatory substances.
Painted on a canvas of actual historical events, the body count rises as the travelers make their way down the coast of England, seeking passage off the island.
A story of heroism, malevolence, and ferocity; BEDLAM UNLEASHED shows how courage can propel individuals beyond the borders of the human spirit.
STEVEN L. SHREWSBURY lives, works, and writes in rural Illinois. More than 360 of his short stories have appeared in print or electronic media, along with more than 100 poems. Nine of his novels have been released, with more on the way. His books run from sword & sorcery (Overkill, Thrall, Bedlam Unleashed) to historical fantasy (Godforsaken) extreme horror (Hawg, Tormentor, Stronger Than Death) to horror-westerns (Hell Billy, Bad Magick, and the forthcoming Last Man Screaming). He loves books, British TV, guns, movies, politics, sports and hanging out with his sons. He’s frequently outdoors, looking for brightness wherever it may hide.
Check out some of Shrews’ other works! These and other titles are available from Literary Underworld’s online store.
We here at LitUnd Towers are absolutely thrilled to be returning to the convention circuit with Imaginarium! Literary Underworld has been attending Imaginarium for every year of its existence with the exception of last year, when a stupid virus ruined everybody’s fun.
Now we’re back, and delighted to bring our booth AND the famous Literary Underworld Traveling Bar back to Louisville, Ky.! Many thanks to Stephen Zimmer and the good folks at Seventh Star Press for helping to make this possible. We always love attending Imaginarium, as we not only get to hobnob with our fellow wizards, but we usually learn a thing or two ourselves.
Imaginarium will be offered as a hybrid convention, with both virtual and on-site events for the weekend of July 9-11. Literary Underworld authors in attendance virtually include Sela Carsen; if you’re on-site in Louisville, you’ll meet Elizabeth Donald, Steven Shrewsbury, Stephen Zimmer and J.L. Mulvihill in person!
If you’re able and comfortable doing so, we hope you’ll join us in Louisville! Look for the Literary Underworld booth in the vendor hall, and watch our social media and signs on the booth for the location of the Traveling Bar. And if you’re not ready to travel, consider joining us virtually! We’ll try to post the panel schedules of our members as we can, including which ones can be accessed online.
Here’s to a fun, safe and delightful return to the con circuit, and to a better year than the last! (Not that it would be hard….)
Elizabeth Donald has been writing the Blackfire series since the release of The Cold Ones in 2009. Sara Harvey is a former Marine and leader of a paramilitary team that intervenes in supernatural incidents, dealing with “critters” that most people think are only folklore. They can believe that, because Sara’s group keeps them safe. Most of the time.
Blackfire now spans several novels, novellas and short stories that have appeared on their own and as part of collections and anthologies. The most recent is Yanaguana, which was published in 2020 as part of a three-novella collection titled Foul Womb of Night, currently available in ebook only as part of Crone Girls Press‘s Midnight Bites series.
Recently, Elizabeth’s Patreon subscribers received a limited-edition print chapbook of Yanaguana as their annual bonus. But there were a few copies left over, and we’re happy to offer them in our shop up until the supply runs out!
One of their own is dead.
Unfortunately for the Blackfire team, that usually isn’t the end of the fight.
Something is prowling the Riverwalk of San Antonio, a hungry creature with powers beyond any being they’ve fought before. It can force them to face dark shadows of their past as well as the unquiet ghosts of the city, and with each step it grows stronger – and more hungry.
Follow the crew of Blackfire on their darkest journey yet, under the walkways and bridges of San Antonio in the shadow of the Alamo to face their deepest fears.
Click here to snag this limited-edition chapbook for your own collection! And if you want to hear more about Elizabeth’s work (and get in line for the next awesome bonus), subscribe to her Patreon at the link below!