Changing Genres

Writer – (noun) a person engaged in writing books, articles, stories, etc., especially as an occupation or profession; an author or journalist.

As I’ve pointed out before, that definition falls short. It’s certainly not my definition.

To me, a writer is someone so adept at the literary arts that he or she can write on cue. To me, a writer loves writing for the craft itself, so much so that even genre becomes irrelevant. To a disciplined, well-trained writer the written word is an end unto itself.

It took me years to learn that!

My first few outings as a novelist were exactly what my friends expected from me: Dark Fantasy/Horror. They came so easily to me, those morbid tales. (After all, I had spent years playing fantasy role-playing games; nothing hones one’s storytelling chops quite like ‘Dungeons n’ Dragons’!)

Those novels did reasonably well, at least by the standards of the ‘indie’ scene. But this reality sunk in fairly quickly: Fantasy and Horror are extremely difficult genres to break into! Name recognition is everything in those circles. If you’re not already a known entity, most readers won’t buy your book. Which leaves the fledgling author in a bit of a quandary: How does one become a known entity if one must already be a known entity to sell well? (Kinda like Alice Cooper once sang: ‘I ain’t got a job ‘cuz I ain’t got a car/ I ain’t got a car ‘cuz I ain’t got a job…’)

As I thought about what I wanted to write for my fourth novel, something began to slowly dawn on me, something that created a budding paradigm shift in my thinking. That ‘something’ was this: Virtually all of my readers were female.

That completely floored me. Of course there are ‘horror chicks’ out there, a lot of ‘em; I was always in good company there, but I still assumed that most of my readers would be male. (After all, ninety percent of my D&D buddies were nerdy dudes.)

Slowly a plan came together. If I was capable of pulling a female audience into a genre with a male-dominated fan base, then perhaps I could also tackle the world’s best-selling genre: Romance. The demand for romance novels is completely off the rails, and romance readers are far less discriminating than fantasy/horror readers. If the cover blurb and a cursory flip-through captures their interest, they’ll read your book; you won’t be placed back on the shelf because you’re not Danielle Steele.

And thus I found myself at a crossroads: I could either keep writing what I wanted while selling poorly, or I could write what the market wanted and enjoy more success. But here was the rub: Could I learn to write what the market wanted while finding a way to make it interesting to me?

So (after reading boxes full of romance novels, by way of research) I began working on a manuscript entitled Kilbride

Kilbride turned out to be a total dud, and sat in a shoebox for over a decade. It was a mediocre piece of work, and I knew it.

Life went on from there. I continued writing, and enjoyed a fair amount of success as a blogger. I also wrote a few more fantasy novels, although I didn’t work very hard at marketing them. And all the while Kilbride sat in the closet, gathering dust and nearly forgotten…

I don’t recall what made me brush it off, and give it another read. But somehow, the reason for my failure became immediately clear: I didn’t have a solid handle on the romance genre.

And ironically, I’d also had a solid handle on the genre all along.

My fantasy novels developed a cult following due mostly to their love-story sub-plots. I was so freaked out by changing genres that I somehow missed the fact that I’d been writing romance all along. Everyone engages in romantic pursuits, from the giggling college-girl to the tobacco-chewing hillbilly. Humans instinctively seek relationships. As the Bible says, ‘male and female created He them’.  The genders comprise two halves of a whole, and humans – virtually all of them – instinctively ‘pair up’.

How did I miss that?

Ultimately Kilbride was a flop because – despite having well-developed characters – it lacked tension, and conflict; I somehow got it into my head that romance novels had to be sweet and sappy. I should have known better; all stories revolve around conflict.

And there I saw a ray of hope: I’m good at writing conflict! I stuck my fantasy characters in a literary vise, gleefully creating a nightmarish world for them to inhabit. In so doing, I also gave them a chance to become the noblest – or darkest – possible versions of themselves. This is how life works; why should fiction be any different?

So I cracked my knuckles, and began re-writing Kilbride from scratch…

This time, people were going to suffer. This time, life was going to painful. This time, my characters were going to scream for mercy. This time I would refine my characters by fire; they would either succumb to their various torments, or rise above them.

In some sense, I switched genres by moving into romance…

And in another sense, I changed nothing at all. Because in the end, the common denominator was… me. My worldview, my plotting instincts, my word usage, my sense of humor and my sense of darkness… All of those traits are immutable, as they are with any word-smith.

There are still moments during which I forget that, of course. I had the opportunity recently to contribute to a ‘cowboy romance’ anthology. I originally dismissed it, to be honest. What?! I ain’t Louis L’Amour! I thought. But then I reconsidered. Are you a writer or are you not? I asked myself. You’re not gonna let this assignment kick your ass, are you? My initial hesitation made me the ‘Ginny-come-lately’ as far as my submission went, but it succeeded; the resulting story, Orion, should see print next spring.

Orion cemented my paradigm shift: I just love to write! I’ll tell ya any story you want, so long as you read it. Essentially, all genres are the same; it’s just a matter of where you place the emphasis. You can tell the exact same tale in both horror and romance. It’s just that in horror, you emphasize the pain and the fear; in romance, you emphasize the love, the human connection. But all of those elements will nevertheless be present in both versions of the tale.

And Kilbride…?

Raised from the ashes under the title When the White Knight Falls, it’ll be coming your way sometime this winter. It’s under contract from Black Velvet Seductions, a well-respected romance imprint run by one of the best people I know, Richard Savage.

Brigham Young once wrote that we should ‘pray like God’s going to do it for us, and work like we have to do it ourselves’. My blood, sweat, and tears would have been all for naught had God not steered me toward the right people… and He did.

So yeah, I spent well over a decade re-learning something that I knew all along…

Genre is irrelevant.

Writers are not!

You can order my short story ‘Renewing Forever’ here: https://amzn.to/34NstC7

Or you can follow me at the following social media links:

On FaceBook at https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100051882828372

On Twitter at @VirginiaKWalla1

On MeWe at https://mewe.com/i/virginiawallace1

On LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/virginia-wallace-63b2731b1/

‘The Brute and I’, by Suzanne Smith: A Review

‘… I knew at their core, both men had shared a deep hostility and distrust towards the world and nearly everyone in it. That brooding malevolency was one aspect of Marco’s personality that I hoped I had been instrumental in changing.’line from Suzanne Smith’s ‘The Brute and I’

Didja ever read a book that just kinda blew your mind?

Call me a Narcissist, but I am ever mindful of one very simple reality: The writer is an eternally ego-driven creature. Period. It’s why we hide in the shadows, day after day, pounding away at the keyboard in the hopes that we might somehow manage to dazzle the world with our brilliance. (Or maybe just baffle ‘em with… well, you know.)

Ergo, the books most prone to blowing my fragile little mind are the ones that are eerily similar to those I might have written. Interestingly, a dear writer friend of mine recently quizzed me about this line from one of my short stories:  This is the difference between a good man and a bad one; every man wants to do violence to his spouse once in a while, for two cannot live in such close proximity without provoking the occasional violent thought.

She asked, do thoughts like that actually cross your mind? I was surprised by the question, because I assumed the obvious answer for most of us is ‘yes’. That line was written within the context of fiction, but I was being truthful about the violent impulses (although I, like most people who consider themselves decent, never act upon them).

I suppose I see anger and violence not as a label so much as a spectrum. It’s not ‘is this person angry or violent’, so much as ‘where does this person fall on the anger/violence spectrum?’ We all have nasty little beasts in our head; it’s simply a matter of how far we’re willing to go to either indulge or defeat them. Suzanne Smith, I suspect, views the human condition in much the same manner as I…

Which explains why, for one lazy afternoon, The Brute and I totally rocked my little world!

The Brute and I is intense, terribly so! Suzanne pulls the narrative from the secret places of her characters’ minds, from the darkest recesses of the human consciousness. Her characters Marco, Alex, Jake, and Emme are nothing if not amoral; Suzanne makes no judgment regarding their actions, and casts no aspersions upon their motives.; they simply are what they are, and she skillfully allows the story to tell itself without adding unnecessary commentary to the narrative.

I really liked that the story was fairly ‘clean’. While tasteful sex scenes are occasionally appropriate in fiction, I’m not a fan of gratuitous, excessive, or explicit content. The over-use of such content, in my opinion, detracts from plotting and characterization… and The Brute and I is tightly plotted, with brilliantly-drawn characters. They’re brooding, larger-than-life, and often possessed of ambiguous or even self-conflicting motives…

As are we all, at least sometimes.

If you’re looking for sappy ‘fluff’, The Brute and I isn’t for you. But if you’re not afraid of the twisted workings of the human mind, if you want a story that feels raw instead of idealistic… then The Brute and I is an absolute MUST-read!

So check it out. S’only three bucks on Kindle, but I’m betting after you read it you’ll want the paperback too!

Order The Brute and I from Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Brute-I-Suzanne-Smith-ebook/dp/B07F95G2FS/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=the+Brute+and+i+suzanne+smith&qid=1605995709&sr=8-1

From Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-brute-and-i-suzanne-smith/1129034890?ean=9781912768103

To Connect with Suzanne on FaceBook, click here: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100023187394419

On Twitter, click here: https://twitter.com/Suzanneromance

‘Desire Me Again’: A Review

Black Velvet Seductions’ greatest strength is this: Their incredibly diverse cast of writers. Do you like sweet romances? Got ‘em. Do you like erotica? Got it. Paranormal? Got those, too. Thrillers? Contemporary? Historical? Yes, yes, and YES!!!

Like the previous anthology ‘Mystic Desire’, ‘Desire Me Again’ highlights BVS’ broad range of content and writing styles. The BVS writers are second to none, and I’m honored to be one of them. (And no, I won’t be reviewing my own contribution. I mean, c’mon… I may have an ego, but it ain’t THAT big!)

So, my dear readers, here we go…

Temperance by Gibby Campbell – BDSM isn’t generally ‘my thing’. But Gibby writes in such a way as to make the sexually bizarre feel completely normal. Add Tarot cards into the mix, and suddenly you have a supernatural element. I like that Gibby offers no commentary on her characters’ skewed psychology, and casts no moral aspersions upon them. They simply are what they are, and she allows the story to tell itself.

Second Chance by Dee S. Knight – Rape is a horrible thing, truly an abomination in this world we live in. But it’s also a sad fact that this repugnant act has altered millions of lives. Dee unflinchingly faces this reality in her stark, realistic story, but what makes it truly beautiful is that she approaches the topic with a note of hope. It’s not about what happened to her heroine, it’s about how she rises above it. This was surely a difficult story to write, but Dee absolutely nailed it.

Lost & Found: A Soldier’s Return by R.M. Olivia – Like Dee S. Knight, R.M Olivia tackles a very delicate subject: Post-combat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As someone who grew up in a military city and often saw this phenomenon up close and personal, I can personally attest that R.M. Olivia did a brilliant job with this tale. It’s gut-wrenching, but it’s also sweet and heart-warming. This story, probably more so than any other in the collection, feels very, very real.

A Convict’s Prayer by Jan Selbourne – This one wins the award for being my favorite. Sweet, tense, and thoroughly researched, this brilliant piece of historical fiction has echoes of ‘The Witch of Blackbird Pond’ all over it, at least in tone and style. I also like that it was so ‘clean’; you could give this story to a little girl to read. All too often, I think, romance writers exclude younger audiences… and we shouldn’t, because stories about relationships interest readers of all ages. Emotional interaction defines the human condition, and we should never forget that.

The Handcuff Proposal by Patricia Elliott – Everyone hits the occasional crossroad in their life. You know, that pivotal moment in which one decision will send your life in one direction, and another decision will put it upon a completely different trajectory. Most of us make the correct decision at least half the time. ‘The Handcuff Proposal’, on the other hand, is the story of a young woman who makes the wrong decision at every… single… crossroad. As such, it’s more than a little amusing. I’m a huge fan of Patricia’s shorts ‘Love from the Mist’ and ‘Love Knows no Apocalypse’, and this story was a worthy successor.

Flight to the Stars by Zia Westfield – I had high hopes for this one (since Zia’s short ‘Bewitching the Wolf’ is a beloved favorite of mine) and this story did not disappoint. It’s a supernatural tale with a distinct note of humor. What I love about Zia’s writing is how she likes to sneak in the tongue-in-cheek, funny character. ‘Bewitching the Wolf’ had Oggie the drunken leprechaun, and ‘Flight to the Stars’ has Sal the smart-mouthed duck. (Yes, I said ‘duck’. You just gotta read it.)

Together at Last by Carol Schoenig – This story was beautiful. It features two elderly characters who lost each other as young people, and reconnected decades later. Most romance stories feature virile men with rock-hard abs, and nubile women with luscious bodies. But love spans the entire human lifetime, all the way up to the end. Most of us forget that, at least when we’re younger. Carol plucked a wonderfully touching tale from the twilight years of the human experience, and her story will bring tears to your eyes.

Xpose by Annabel Allan – Once again, BSDM is NOT my thing!!! But Annabel writes such content in a way that explains it clearly to the ‘un-initiated’, and makes it feel like a perfectly normal setting. There is a distinct ‘thriller’ note to this story, which makes it exciting. What I love most about Annabel’s writing is her easy, flowing style. It’s well-composed prose that’s evocative while also being very easy to read.

The Holiday Mermaid by Alice Renaud – Anyone who knows me knows that, in my mind, Alice Renaud can do no wrong as a writer… and she doesn’t. Rowena Regor is a mermaid who comes from the most xenophobic, controlling clan of the mer-folk world. As always, what I love most about Alice’s writing is how balanced it is. Many romance authors over-develop their female characters and under-develop their male leads. They also often hyper-sexualize their male leads, and don’t quite do the same for their female leads. Alice’s stories are so balanced that they appeal to both male and female readers. Romance readers often joke about ‘book boyfriends’ but Alice’s stories also offer a ‘book girlfriend’, which gives her stories a very, very broad appeal.

So that’s it. ‘Desire Me Again’ has something for EVERYONE, old and young, male and female, those with milder tastes and those with a penchant for the exotic. BVS doesn’t guide their anthology contributors; they simply unleash them…

And therein lies the utter brilliance of Black Velvet Seductions.

TO ORDER ‘DESIRE ME AGAIN’, CLICK HERE:

https://amzn.to/34NstC7

The Dark Side of Laughter

The more the light shines through me/ I pretend to close my eyes/ The more the dark consumes me/ I pretend I’m burning, burning bright… Lyrics from the song  ‘Burning Bright’, by Shinedown

It’s been said that ‘laughter is the best medicine’…

Perhaps that’s true. According to a study done by the University of Michigan, laughter increases blood flow, delivers more oxygen to cells, improves lung health, and strengthens the immune system in ways that help ward off viruses and even cancer.

Laughter defines our world, throughout every available medium and throughout every conceivable interaction. From internet memes to television comedy specials to office/job-site pranks, laughter is a precious commodity to the human race. We constantly seek the humor of things, and we cherish the company of people who make us laugh. Countless comedians have gone from obscurity to stardom based upon their ability to crack a well-timed joke.

But is that all there is to it? Laughter is good for you? Funny people are God’s gift to our world?

No.

A thousand times over, no.

There is a psychological concept known as ‘congruence’, and this idea powerfully impacts the psychology of humor. I’m no therapist, but my entire life’s experience has led me to believe in its truth. The idea behind ‘congruence’ could be defined thus: The closer the façade you display to others matches the person you really are, the more mental health you will enjoy. The further away your façade is from your nature, the more miserable you will be.

It’s no accident (as multiple, extended studies have shown) that people who listen to hard rock/heavy metal are more relaxed, and enjoy better mental health than many other demographics. Metal-heads are perfectly at peace with their own anger, and exorcise their inner demons by enjoying them as an art form.

Your average metal-head would never shoot up a school, or kill himself…

But a comedian – a ‘class clown’ – just might.

A sense of humor can be a wonderful thing, but it all too often serves as a mask. Very often, behind the brightest of smiles lurks the darkest of thoughts. Very often the loudest laugh covers the deepest pain. Humor, despite its benefits, often leads to mental ‘in-congruence’; it often creates a yawning rift between what a person portrays and what they really are.

Chris Farley, John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Sam Kinison, Robin Williams… All of them made us laugh while they wallowed in their own privates rooms in Hell. Their deaths shocked us all because we only saw the mask, not the person.

Yes, sometimes humor is a wonderful thing.

But sometimes, just sometimes…

We need to quit laughing and face ourselves, and each other. The consequences for not doing so can be brutal…

Even more so than the demons that we were trying flee by laughing.

Interview 10/25/2020

Hello everyone! Yesterday I had the honor of participating in the book launch party for Black Velvet Seductions’ new anthology, ‘Desire Me Again’ (which features one of my stories). Here… is my interview!

Eileen Troemel Hi Virginia!!! Thank you for joining me!

Virginia Wallace Thank you for having me! I’m grateful to be here.

Callie Carmen I’m looking forward to reading your story. It has to be the first one that I read in Desire Me Again because I have grown so fond of the way you write in your blogs.

Virginia Wallace Aw, you’re the best! But you already knew that!

Eileen Troemel What’s the heat level of your story?

Virginia Wallace Uh… One? My focus is more on the strained relationship between husband and wife. There’s some mention of sexual tension, but that’s about it.

Eileen Troemel Nothing wrong with that at all… and probably a bit more realistic.

Callie Carmen For sure because they aren’t getting along. I’m betting the writer in you doesn’t allow you to be oblivious to those around you.

Virginia Wallace No. I mean, what are people for if not inspiration?

Callie Carmen Yes.

Eileen Troemel Is this a contemporary romance story?

Virginia Wallace It is, set in modern-day Virginia Beach, VA, USA. It’s also a fantasy. I used the werewolf myth as an allegory for the differences in culture and upbringing that often drive a wedge between married couples.

Eileen Troemel That sounds fascinating!

Annabel Allan Was there a specific werewolf myth you found intriguing?

Virginia Wallace I kind of used the modern ‘monsters walking hidden among us’ myth, rather than the monstrous, full-moon driven werewolf. It seemed to fit better.

Eileen Troemel That makes perfect sense.

Callie Carmen I can only imagine the tension between families. Them worrying about it working and such. Does that cause major problems?

Virginia Wallace Only if you count being eaten alive as ‘major’…

Annabel Allan You seem to like the horror/darker stuff! Is that something you try to incorporate in your writing?

Virginia Wallace ALWAYS! The only exception, perhaps, is my upcoming novel ‘When the White Knight Falls’… but even that one’s got some dark spots. I suspect a better description for my work would be not so much ‘dark’ as ‘brooding’.

Gibby Campbell How about humor? Do you like to incorporate it in your writing? I see it often in your posts.

Callie Carmen Me too.

Virginia Wallace It’s funny, I tend to flip-flop. My shorter pieces tend to take one tone or the other – dark, or light-hearted. My full-length novels, though, do have running threads of humor.

Eileen Troemel What inspired this story?

Virginia Wallace I drafted it out in 2004 (originally featuring vampires). But it kinda gathered dust until about 2010 or so… when I was newly married, and slowly beginning to realize how much work being married was. That prompted me to dust the story off, and breathe new life into it.

Gibby Campbell Yah, marriage can be a drain on the creativity. Or an inspiration. It all depends.

Virginia Wallace And that’s what I tried to put in the story. Marriage is a blessing, for sure… but it ain’t always easy, and there are (hopefully rare) moments during which it feels like the ultimate curse. You just gotta push through it, you know?

Gibby Campbell I do know! I can’t wait to read the angst!

Eileen Troemel I think the first year of marriage is the toughest… especially if you haven’t lived together…

Eileen Troemel Okay – I gotta ask – When do you like to write?

Virginia Wallace (Pasting Annabel Allan’s earlier response to the same question) I like writing around 12am-5am. It’s when everything is inky and black and totally silent. I live in an area that you can always hear cars and kids, people yelling, so at night, especially around the Witching Hour, it’s totally serene and I get my best pages done.

Virginia Wallace Told you (I’d copy Annabel’s response)!

Annabel Allan Virginia Wallace LMAO I totally expected you to cut and paste it!

Virginia Wallace Great minds, you know…

Eileen Troemel I had to (ask)… LOL

Callie Carmen Here come the whips and chains.

Callie Carmen Do you ever watch shows like Dead Files? If so, do you get any of your dark character ideas from shows like that or the type of movies that you watch?

Virginia Wallace Films are everything to me… and I love all different kinds. I’m an animation nut (which probably explains my juvenile sense of humor), but yes… I like the dark stuff. My favorite TV series is ‘Tales from the Dark Side’, and my favorite series of movies is ‘Underworld’. ‘The Crow’, ‘Natural Born Killers’, and ‘The Lion King’ are also faves. And being a romance writer, I suppose my favorite romantic film is ‘Serendipity’.

Eileen Troemel If you could choose any location for writing – money and time not an issue – where would you want to write?

Virginia Wallace Honestly? Right where I’m sitting. If I’m in some super-spiffy exotic location, I don’t feel like writing… I just wanna enjoy the location. Writing is an escape, at least for me… so why write if I’m somewhere that I don’t feel like leaving?

Callie Carmen Great answer. I tried writing on a couple of cruises it didn’t work.

Eileen Troemel Do you plot out your books?

Virginia Wallace Short stories, never. I just carry them in my head for a week or two, just mentally polishing the story up in my mind. When I start writing it’s over pretty quickly. Novels I write character outlines, the finished ending, and a very loose outline. As I write towards the ending, I periodically adjust the outline to fit shifts in the story line. My writing is only structured in a very, very loose sense.

Callie Carmen Do you enjoy doing the marketing that is involved with being published? The ads, the communications like now?

Virginia Wallace You kiddin’? I freakin’ dote on it, ‘cuz I’m a TOTAL ham!!!

Callie Carmen Yes you are.

Callie Carmen I like your ad too. You must like the graphic part of it too.

Virginia Wallace I started out as an artist, from a very young age. My teenage years were the transition period, when I slowly realized (through playing Dungeons n’ Dragons) that I could express myself more thoroughly through storytelling than art. But yes, I’ve always kept my art chops up!

Eileen Troemel What part of writing don’t you like?

Virginia Wallace PROOFREADING!!! And because I hate it, I suck at it. I finally bowed to reality: My books go through hired proofreaders before they’re submitted.

Eileen Troemel What’s next for you?

Virginia Wallace Well, my novel ‘When the White Knight Falls’ should be out this winter, and my story ‘Orion’ will be featured in ‘Cowboy Desire’ early next year. In the meantime, everyone is welcome to stalk me at the following links:

Follow me on FaceBook at https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100051882828372

On Twitter at @VirginiaKWalla1

On MeWe at https://mewe.com/i/virginiawallace1

On LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/virginia-wallace-63b2731b1/

Or follow my blog at http://www.virginiawallace.com

To order ‘Desire Me Again’ on Kindle or in paperback, click here:

https://amzn.to/34NstC7

A Season of Death

‘The summer is over/ the fall is here/ the wind is growing cold/ the rustling leaves/ that fall from the trees/ are turning from green to gold…’ – Unknown

It’s been one hell of a year…

The news – ever since last January – has only come in two varieties: Bad, and Worse. All the fun summer events were canceled. (Even my Guns n’ Roses concert… dammit!)

But guess what? Now it’s AUTUMN!!!

Nothing makes me happy all over like fall. The air turns crisp, and the wind carries the sound of rustling leaves hither and yon as the smell of wood-smoke permeates one’s every breath. The sun sets sooner, bringing the soothing calm of nightfall and casting a shroud of peace over everything.

Spring is a ‘looking forward’, a bright anticipation of another summer. Autumn is a ‘looking back’, a cheerful remembrance of a summer well spent. Autumn is also a ‘winding down’, an en masse sabbatical after a long ‘busy season’. Fall gives one a chance to reflect upon one’s life and accomplishments, before hunkering down for winter.

There’s a sense of utter, eternal timelessness about fall. Summers, in my mind, are individual entities. Upon this summer I went camping in the mountains, and upon that one I saw Metallica play at an outdoor amphitheater. Each summer is unique, and remembered as such. Fall, on the other hand, is Everywhere and Everywhen, a timeless season that gives us a glimpse of itself each year. Autumns tend to run together, their experiences ever linked to form one endless memory.

Then there’s Halloween… Not so much the actual holiday, but the season.

Some of us are ‘Halloween People’ all the year ‘round. Thus it’s very gratifying when – for just a little while – the rest of the world joins us in our pleasant morbidity. Suddenly everyone’s wearing dark clothes, and reading stories and watching films that give us the pleasant willies. Halloween is, I think, a celebration of Death – and also Hope. We celebrate the death of nature, and wistfully anticipate next spring’s rebirth. We celebrate the death of people, and thus perversely re-discover the fierce joy of being gloriously alive.

Autumn is a strange time, a season and a frame of mind that is oddly off-kilter; it exists in between all the usual human pursuits and social norms. If you’re an ‘Autumn Person’, enjoy this time while you can… because it won’t last.

And that’s what makes it so very, very beautiful…

Nothing, after all, inspires appreciation like impermanence.

The Wonderful World of Alice Renaud

‘The melody soared, beautiful and strange in the ordinary human surroundings, as if shimmering waves were cascading over Ikea furniture and washing over the beige carpet. It was a lover’s song, a mating song…’Line from ‘Music for a Merman’, by Alice Renaud

I haven’t read an entire fantasy series in a while. (Granted, this one was short. But it still counts, right?)

Then I discovered Alice Renaud’s work, and I couldn’t help myself. Mermaids, warlocks, hags… Piers Anthony, eat your heart out! Alice’s narratives are so vivid that you can almost hear the ocean breeze, and feel the cold darkness of the sea as her characters plunge into it.

Alice’s trilogy – A Merman’s Choice, Music for a Merman, and Mermaids Marry in Green – is marketed as ‘fantasy romance’. And I suppose it is, in a sense, because all three tales do kind of revolve around budding relationships. (Mermaids Marry in Green does have a distinct suspense/thriller note to it, though.)

But I think of romance as a genre that targets a primarily female audience. Alice Renaud’s work, at least in my mind, has a much more unisex appeal. Heroine and Hero are equally well developed, and she is very ‘equal opportunity’ in her approach to character descriptions. For every sentence pointing out Yann’s rock-hard abs, there’s another praising Caltha’s luscious, voluptuous derriere.  And that’s as it should be, I think; these stories are far too good to be limited to a narrow audience!

Alice’s characters are often contradictory, but always in ways that feel very real. Caltha is a feisty one, for sure… but she melts when she finally finds someone to love, and her story feels very genuine. Rhys Regor seems like a right bastard, and perhaps he is… but he still turns to mush around his beloved grandchild.

Life is complex. People are complex. Alice Renaud skillfully uses the complexities of human interactions to breathe Believability into world that would otherwise be completely unbelievable; she brings the Implausible to very, very plausible life.

And that… Is the very definition of magic!

Cheers! – Virginia

(P.S. Alice’s next Mermaid story, The Holiday Mermaid, will appear in the upcoming anthology Desire Me Again… alongside a story by yours truly entitled Renewing Forever. I am deeply honored!)

ORDER ALICE’S BOOKS FROM AMAZON HERE: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=alice+renaud&ref=nb_sb_noss

OR FROM BARNES AND NOBLE HERE: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/alice+renaud?_requestid=1211905

PRE-ORDER DESIRE ME AGAIN HERE: https://amzn.to/34NstC7

CONNECT WITH ALICE ON FACEBOOK HERE: https://www.facebook.com/alice.renaud.756

‘Patrick’, by Callie Carmen: A Review

This may sound funny coming from a romance author…

But contemporary romances are not usually my thing.

Now, mind you, that doesn’t mean I completely avoid them; after all, I did write one. (Should be out sometime this winter.)  It’s just that, given a choice, I prefer literature that has a more surreal (or even bizarre) feel to it. However, I have read a number of contemporary romances over the years that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, and I always try to keep an open mind in regards to them.

At the end of the day, I know that I am just as likely to enjoy a contemporary romance as I am any other book. The trick, however, lies in getting me to pick it up in the first place! There’s gotta be some kind of hook, some interesting angle that makes the book grab my attention.

Callie Carmen (of Black Velvet Seductions Publishing) managed to pull it off…

Her novel Patrick features a serial killer. (To me, that’s like waving a bag of crack in front of a junkie. Seriously…) Now, I would’ve thought that this would make the book a ‘thriller’, but it doesn’t; Patrick is a rock-solid romance, with the emphasis ever remaining upon the characters and their interactions with one another.

The killer is pretty twisted, and even helps narrate the story (which is rather unnerving). Callie did a phenomenal job of balancing the dark side of her tale with the budding romance between the heroine Jaq and her love-interest, Patrick. It was obviously a fine line to walk, too. Had Callie ‘gone for broke’ on the morbid side, romance publishers would have told her to go kick rocks and horror publishers would have told her that the story was too sappy. (I’d have ROYALLY flubbed that one! My manuscript would’ve been as disturbing as all hell.) Patrick required a certain amount of finesse to write, and even more so to market; a ‘horror chick’ could never have pulled it off.

Callie did.

I loved the nuances of the characters. Frankly, I frowned upon Jaq’s dating four guys at once before she met Patrick. That just seemed kinda… well, mean. On the other hand, Jaq was also a fairly innocent woman, certainly not someone who could be labeled ‘cheap’ or ‘easy’. Her father, while described as an alcoholic and an embarrassment to his family, is also portrayed as a kind man who was a decent person when he was sober.

Then there’s Patrick. I strongly suspect that culture comes into play when evaluating Patrick’s character. I would imagine that many readers from ‘progressive’ regions (such as the American Northeast and West Coast) might describe Patrick as ‘possessive’, or even ‘controlling’. I, however, was born and raised in the American South, where the ‘alpha male’ is the norm and not the exception. (Even our ladies often refer to passive or overly-solicitous men as ‘weenies’.) So how you view Patrick’s character depends on where you come from, I think, and what social expectations you’ve been bred to hold.

Notice I didn’t really say anything about the serial killer, other than there is one. And I ain’t gonna, either…

Don’t wanna spoil it for you, ya know?

Patrick, by Callie Carmen. Go read it! You’ll be glad you did.

Cheers! – Virginia

(P.S – Callie’s next novel, Joshua, will be available soon. She will also be appearing in a cowboy-themed anthology later this winter, alongside yours truly. I’m deeply honored!)

TO ORDER CALLIE’S NOVEL FROM AMAZON, CLICK HERE: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=callie+carmen+risking+love&ref=nb_sb_noss

FROM BARNES AND NOBLE, CLICK HERE: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/callie+carmen+risking+love?_requestid=51677

TO FOLLOW CALLIE’S WEBSITE (page contains links for all major social media platforms): https://www.calliecarmen.com/

‘The King’s Blade’, by L.J. Dare: A Review

‘Ice ran through (Megan’s) veins at the thought. She slipped her hand over the hilt of her hidden dirk and hardened her jaw. If circumstance came down to protecting Rosie, then she would do what she had to do to keep her safe…’ – Passage from L.J. Dare’s The King’s Blade

I mentioned to a friend of mine that I was reading a historical romance set in Scotland, entitled The King’s Blade.

“Oh, awesome!” she gushed. “You mean like Outlander?”

No, NOT like Outlander! Outlander is to historical romance what Twilight is to paranormal romance. (If you see that as a positive comparison, go sit in the corner. And don’t come out until you’ve had plenty of time to think about what you’ve done wrong. Seriously…)

The King’s Blade, however, is EXCELLENT!  I finished it over a single long, lazy day ‘cuz I couldn’t make myself put it down. Set in the fifteenth century, the characters completely bring the story to vivid life: Self-reliant Megan, jealous Bridget, sweet Rosie, and of the course John the Square-Jawed Hero. The story is extremely suspenseful, and actually opens with a scene of mass murder that sets a tense tone for the rest of the tale.

While The King’s Blade is dubbed ‘historical romance’, I’m not sure it quite fits the description. It’s not nearly as sappy (and certainly not as lewd) as most tales labeled as ‘romance’ these days. I kinda place it alongside such stories as The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Johnny Tremain, and The Red Badge of Courage. It’s just a gripping tale set within a designated time period and setting; I suspect that simple ‘historical fiction’ is a far more accurate description.

‘Romance’ or not, though…The King’s Blade is just plain GREAT reading!

To Order The King’s Blade from Amazon, click here: https://www.amazon.com/Kings-Blade-L-J-Dare-ebook/dp/B06XHSYH5B/ref=sr_1_4?dchild=1&keywords=L.J.+Dare&qid=1601674128&sr=8-4

To Order from Barnes and Noble, click here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-kings-blade-lj-dare/1125935807?ean=9781936556229

‘Dragon Lord’s Mate’, by Eileen Troemel (A Review)

The gods rage tonight. Evil rises from the shadows. The gods rage tonight. See the swords of the noble defend the innocent…’

I just finished one of the strangest – and most interesting – novels I’ve ever read: Dragon Lord’s Mate, by Eileen Troemel.

The story centers around two women, Pena and Indirez. Pena is kind, and a powerful healer; Indirez is cruel, and a supernaturally talented manipulator. As one’s power grows so does the other’s; as Pena ascends to ever-greater feats of medicine, Indirez descends into ever-lower depths of depravity. The story reminded me a bit of one of my favorite films, Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards, in which twin sorcerers with opposing gifts vie for control of their world.

Where Dragon Lord’s Mate differs from Wizards is that it’s set almost entirely within the social realm of women. Whereas Bakshi’s Black Wolf sought power by brute force, Troemel’s Indirez seizes it through the use of seduction. Whereas Bakshi’s Avatar was known as a battlefield physician, Troemel’s Pena serves often as a midwife. While a casual participant in the story’s conflict might have viewed the war as a contest between the Raider Lord Davin and the Dragon Lord Arius, lurking behind the scenes – ever pulling the strings – stand Pena and Indirez, and Arius’ kingdom will stand or fall based on their actions.

Now, this story has a lot of sex. An awful lot of sex. If it’s ever made into a movie, Dragon Lord’s Mate should have a ‘70’s style, funky, slap-bass soundtrack. (You know, boom-chicka-wow-wow…) Also, much of the sexual content is violent and/or sadistic. But as one of my favorite journalists once pointed out, it’s not necessarily the content of a story that matters, so much as what aspersions the story casts upon the content. I liked that most of the sex scenes are within what I believe to be a healthy context: A permanent marital covenant, with sensuality being a by-product of the same. The violent/sadistic sex scenes are labeled as exactly what they are: Disgusting, and unconscionable. The sexual content is not so much an entity unto itself, as it is a natural extension of the characters and their relationships with one another – which is the distinction that separates fiction from pornography.

Now, this story does have a few quirks, as do all stories. Most notably, virtually all the babies born in the story are girls. Which means if there isn’t a sequel with lots of boys born, well… in a generation or so, the Dragon Clan will find itself being defended by an army of ladies and toothless old geezers. But that’s what sequels are for, right? Maybe there was some spell over the town the whole time, or the town’s magical patron dragon has a soft spot for little girls…

A writer could make something interesting out of that.

All in all, Dragon Lord’s Mate is a GREAT read! When I think a book is so-so, I eventually stop reading and skim to the end. I didn’t with Dragon Lord’s Mate, though. I read it carefully chapter-by-chapter, bookmarking my stopping point carefully whenever something rudely interrupted my reading time. (You know, the usual nuisances. Having to eat or sleep, having to get up for work… those kinds of annoyances.)

Something that really stood out to me, though, was this: The writing style was eerily similar to my own. Off-kilter and dream-like, kinda like a literary version of Pink Floyd: The Wall. I don’t often run into writing quite that surreal. (Although Alice Renaud’s novellas come pretty close. Highly recommended, by the way.)

It all made sense, though, when I read Eileen’s note at the end of the story: ‘During a period of extreme insomnia, Pena and Arius met, clashed, fell in love and faced all the adventures in this book. They helped me get through not being able to sleep. I hope you enjoy their adventures.’

Hell, that’s every story I’ve ever written! Insomnia leaves its indelible hand-print upon every story that it inspires. While that reality might be painful for the author (and it is), it’s a blessing to the reader. There are some thoughts that tease our minds only in dreams.  Because insomniacs are never really asleep and never really awake, they have access to facets of the human consciousness that escape most people. As Edgar Allan Poe so eloquently put it, ‘Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night’.

Dragon Lord’s Mate was a wonderful read; I should think that a bout of insomnia was a small price to pay in exchange for such inspiration. That having been said…

If you’re reading this, Eileen, I do hope you’re sleeping better now!

And thank you for the tale.

To Order Dragon Lord’s Mate from Amazon, click here: https://www.amazon.com/Dragon-Lords-Mate-Eileen-Troemel-ebook/dp/B00Q0PITP2/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=dragon+lord%27s+mate&qid=1601674416&sr=8-1

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