So you want to be a romance writer….

It’s awesome.

Romance as a genre is one of the most generous communities out there. Are there problems? Sure. But as a whole, the authors are unbelievably generous with their time and experience, and the readers are nothing short of amazing.

I think that’s what happens when you’re the most commonly maligned target of all types of literature. There’s nothing more empowering than standing arm in arm against misogyny — either blatant or internalized — with literally millions of women worldwide who are voracious readers. (I say women because the vast majority of our readers and writers code female. We do have a growing number of male authors and readers, but our industry still leans heavily to women.)

Romance writers tend to be extraordinarily business-savvy in a way that many other authors have never had to be, all while delivering story after story that our readers crave. And the majority of us now do it all ourselves, sometimes while still writing for traditional publishers, as well.

Regardless of the opportunities available to authors these days, it’s not easy to write a romance novel. There’s no machine out there cranking out pre-recorded tropes that you can just mix and match. No matter how much readers love certain tropes, they won’t pick up your next book unless you’re also giving them great characters, solid plots, and meaningful conflicts. There are infinite ways to screw with your characters before they get their happy ever after.

Speaking of those happy endings: yes, they’re a must if you want to sell your book as a romance. Don’t even argue. Just accept it. The same way you’d never tag a book as a mystery if you didn’t reveal the murderer, them’s the rules for romance.

The only other requirement of the genre is that the relationship is the central focus of the story. Within those two parameters, the entire storytelling universe is at your fingertips. If you don’t want to adhere to those rules, that’s fine. Write whatever you like. But you’re writing a love story, and I’d strongly advise against marketing it as romance unless you’re wearing flame-retardant underpants.

There are no length requirements, and you don’t have to write sex scenes if you don’t want to. Literally anything goes. Blue alien barbarians rescuing kidnapped human women? Go for it. Time-traveling Scotsmen wooing modern day wedding dress designers? Write on. Bikers and billionaires and shapeshifting rodeo bulls? Do it. If you want to write sweet Amish romance, there’s a market for it. If you want to write a lawyer and a mechanic coming together in a BDSM dungeon, please do.

There is no shortage of real-life awfulness in the world. Writing stories that readers can depend on to deliver a smile or a cathartic emotional experience that ends in joy can give people what they need to make it through their toughest days.

You’re writing love. And that’s all we need.

Sela Carsen was born into a traveling family, then married a military man to continue her wandering lifestyle. With her husband of 20 years, their two teens, her mother, the dog and the cat, she is finally (temporarily) settled in the Midwest. Between bouts of packing and unpacking, she writes paranormal romances, with or without dead bodies. Your pick. 

 

 

BY SELA CARSEN
Mondarbre Press
CAROLINA WOLF: Debar Henry is living the meek librarian cliche, except for the teeny hint of magic in her blood. as the keeper of magical knowledge passed down from her ancestors, she’s content with her quiet existence in the tiny town of Culford, South Carolina.
But a monstrous attack could reveal her secret and end her life. Maddox Moreau was a happy lone wolf until the day he spotted pretty, bewitching Debra along the trails of the Congaree Swamp. When he saves her, his fate is bound up in hers, and they have to learn to work together in a hurry to defeat the spread of evil.
CAROLINA PEARL: Conn Lucas is the bastard son who inherited the family home on the Congaree Swamp in Culford, South Carolina. Now he only has to deal with his cousin sabotaging him, his ancestors haunting him, and his gorgeous neighbor distracting him.
Blair Moreau knows Conn is her mate, but he’s proving difficult to convince that they’re a fated pair. If only the stubborn man would let her help, all his problems would be solved.
It takes a wild night with a nail gun before thy find they work better together than they ever can apart.

NEW: Methuselah’s Legacy

We are delighted to announce a new title from one of our members, T.W. Fendley! Her new novel explores more of her rich and fascinating science fiction worlds. Read more about Methuselah’s Legacy, soon to be available at the Literary Underworld!

A conversation with T.W. Fendley

Q. Why did you start writing

A. Storytelling has always been a part of my life. As preschoolers, my older sister and I would create stories when we were supposed to be sleeping. We’d jump on our twin beds and take turns telling the next segments as quickly as we imagined them. Until our Mom returned with a stern warning to get to sleep… “and I mean now!” Later I wrote stories about the lives of my beloved model horses, inspired by Walter Farley’s Black Stallion books, and I wrote for the school paper staff instead of taking P.E. I majored in journalism in college, which over the years has allowed me to continue to learn, as well as pay my bills. When I needed more creativity in my life, I began writing fiction.  

Q. Why did you choose your particular genre? 

A. Putting together ideas in new and unusual ways is fun for me. I love to weave together science and spirituality, myth and history, fact and fantasy. Science fiction and fantasy are perfect genres for doing just that.

Q. What inspired the idea for your current novel/project? 

A. The concept of a longevity serum came to me twenty-three years ago while I was hunting for story ideas during the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop. I imagined what truths about humanity are encoded in our genes, which eventually led me to write two short stories and now Methuselah’s Legacy. The novel’s longer format allowed me to share some of the possibilities with remote viewing–an intuitive-based protocol for precognitive predictions I’ve been practicing since 2009.

Q. What was the most useful advice you got as a  beginning writer? 

A. One of the Clarion instructors said it wasn’t always the best writers who got published, but those who persevered. While confident about my writing skills, I was even more sure of  my tenacity. Stubbornness can be a great attribute for a writer.  

Q. What are you doing next? 

A. Now that Methuselah’s Legacy and my young adult sci-fi novel Moonblood are published, I’m revisiting the Zero Time universe and Xmucane’s home planet, Omeyocan, where the expedition to Earth began. I’m also writing some short stories that have been on the back burner for a while. The trick for me is keeping the plot simple. Most of my stories want to become novels! 


Lilith Davidson has nothing to lose. Diagnosed with terminal cancer, her only hope for survival rests in an experimental longevity serum she herself helped to develop using an intuitive-based protocol known as remote viewing.

She never dreamed the treatment could be so wildly effective… nor did she expect its unusual side effect.

Now, as Lilith and the other eleven Methuselah Pioneers struggle to embrace the serum’s gift, powerful forces condemn their miracle cure as a violation of life’s natural order and threaten their lives. Will the treatment help humanity or tear society apart?

Preorder today! Releasing in February 2021

LiteraryUnderworld.com (print)

Amazon.com (ebook)


REVIEW:

Readers of sci-fi that revolves around genetic manipulation and human transformation will welcome a story that is vivid and fast-paced, containing many elements that will keep them engrossed to the end. It’s more than a cut above most science-oriented surveys because its inclusion of social norms, political responses, and revised visions of what it means to be an altered human are especially well detailed.” — D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

Methuselah’s Legacy asks thought-provoking questions and challenges hard-felt beliefs about life and love, while being an exciting tale of treachery and fanaticism. T.W. Fendley’s latest novel has readers turning the page until the end, and asking: would you take the treatment for a second chance at life?”– Brad R. Cook, author of The Iron Chronicles


T.W. Fendley is an award-winning author whose published works include Zero Time, a historical fantasy novel for adults, and young adult speculative fiction novels, Moonblood and The Labyrinth of Time. Teresa’s short stories are available on Kindle and Audible. She fell in love with ancient American cultures while researching story ideas at the 1997 Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop. Since then, Teresa has trekked to archeological sites in the Yucatan, Peru, and American Southwest. She began writing fiction in 2007 after working more than 25 years in journalism and corporate communication. When she’s not writing, Teresa explores the boundaries of consciousness through remote viewing and shamanism. She currently lives near St. Louis with her artist husband and his pet fish.

Learn more at https://twfendley.com and on her remote viewing website, http://www.arv4fun.com.

New: The Dark Walk Forward

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.

Preorder your copy today from the Literary Underworld!

Reviews

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

Ghosts in San Antonio!

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.

www.elizabethdonald.com

elizabethdonaldphotography.com

donaldmedia.com

patreon.com/edonald

The end of the line in Steel Roots

By J L Mulvihill

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

How not to write a mystery

by Sela Carsen

I love slow British mysteries.

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!

The end of an era

by Sara M. Harvey

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 and Twenty 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 phoenix from the closet

by Nick Rowan

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.

Bringing the stories together

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.

Follow the rest of Williams’ blog tour through Tomorrow Comes Media!

Dominic’s Ghosts

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.

Vine: An Urban Legend

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.

Trajan’s Arch

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.

Tattered Men

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.

Denny Upkins on “The Perfect Storm”

Congratulations to Underlord Denny Upkins, who has recently joined PEN America! PEN stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression, both in the U.S. and worldwide. “We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world,” reads their mission statement. Denny is their newest professional member, and we’re looking forward to what that cooperation may bring!

Denny also has a new piece up on 30up.tv, analyzing “Marvel’s most important superhero.” “The Perfect Storm” went live last month, and begins thus:

“Nine years old. That was the age of this Catholic Altar Boy when he saw God… or one of her manifestations, to be more precise.”

Read “The Perfect Storm” here.

Of course, if you’re interested in more of Mr. Upkins’ work, you can snag his novel West of Sunset from Literary Underworld!

 For Brecken Everett, there’s never a dull moment. When he’s not dealing with a demanding course load and honing his magic as top student at Lightmage University, he’s working as a private investigator and using his skills to protect the innocent from the darkest forest.

In two action-packed adventures, Breck demonstrates that outnumbered and outgunned is when he’s at his best. In Keepers, Brecken is enlisted to aid Jacob and Joshua Phoenix; twins, the last Pyrians, the last of an ancient race. The Brothers Phoenix are on a quest to uncover clues to their past. When they find a lost relic, a pair of demons claim it. With Brecken’s aid, the twins are determined to not only stop the threat, but have some fun in the process.

West of Sunset takes place a year after Keepers. All Brecken wants to do is get out of Atlanta. Heading to Los Angeles with his best friend, he plans a vacation of surf, sun, partying and relaxation… until the boys stumble upon a museum heist connected to a biker gang of vampires with plans to raise a most dark power. Matters get even more complicated with the involvement of a mysterious and powerful witch. Witches, museum heists, arising malevolent forces, vampire biker gangs, even Brecken’s vacations are just another day at the office.