Friday, November 9, 2012

Interview with the Man of Mystery: Tom Savage

Tom Savage joins us today at Gothicked Blog for a long anticipated interview. I am beyond thrilled to have found Tom and to have had the chance to ask him some questions about his writing. Read on to the end for a fabulous contest to win a copy of one of his books, too. Tom is the author of some of my favorite gothic romances/suspenses and thrillers. Today, his novels Valentine and Precipice are out in e-book format! The rest of his amazing backlist of books is on the way. I'm honored to have gotten a chance to talk with Tom, and I think you'll find this interview enlightening.

1. What was your path to publication?
I majored in drama in college, and I minored in English. My late mother was an actress, and I started out as an actor, which I did professionally for a while after college. But I grew frustrated with constant auditions and rejections, so I sat down with some friends and wrote a musical, which ended up on Broadway for about 5 minutes. Big flop, and sooo expensive! So I decided to write a novel, because I could do that all by myself, and if it flopped, nobody lost a million bucks, right? I wrote a detective story called DANCE OF THE MONGOOSE, set in my hometown, St. Thomas, VI, and went out to find an agent. No luck--all the agents I approached said the book wasn't "commercial" enough. By this time, I lived in NYC and worked at Murder Ink, the late mystery bookstore, so I looked around the shop to see what was selling. Romantic Gothic suspense thrillers were selling, so I sat down and wrote PRECIPICE in order to attract an agent, and it worked. I immediately found an agent for it, and he called me 2 weeks later and told me that 6 publishers wanted it! There was going to be an auction, but one of the houses made a preemptive offer of a two-book deal, and I took it. That's how I published my first novel. (PS: The success of PRECIPICE led to another publisher immediately taking that detective novel nobody wanted, so that got published, too.)

2. Tell us a bit about what inspired you to write Precipice and The Inheritance, specifically. I enjoyed Valentine as well, but many of the fans of Gothicked like the first two novels I mentioned because of their gothic romance elements.

PRECIPICE was inspired by my need to attract agents and publishers (see above). I decided to write a big Gothic-style thriller, and I read a few by authors I like: Mary Higgins Clark, Robert Goddard, Minette Walters, Thomas H. Cook, Ruth Rendell. I particularly love Rendell's "Barbara Vine" novels--A DARK-ADAPTED EYE and THE HOUSE OF STAIRS are just about the zenith of modern Gothic suspense, along with Minette Walters's THE ICE HOUSE. I also remembered writers from my youth (see below), especially Phyllis Whitney, who visited St. Thomas and wrote a book that is set there, COLUMBELLA, which was a direct inspiration for PRECIPICE (a young woman comes to St. Thomas as au pair for a rich family, and all hell breaks loose). And, of course, my all-time fave author is Daphne du Maurier. I thought about all these authors, and I came up with...


1) a girl

2) a big house

3) an exotic locale for the big house (with occasional bad weather)

4) mysterious and/or frightened relatives and servants (one of whom is usually insane)

5) an old family secret (OFS)

6) an elderly relative/servant who tells the girl about the OFS (and then usually dies)

7) a new murder plot that is directly related to the OFS

8) ominous documents (wills, letters, newspapers, diaries) pertaining to the OFS

9) one precocious child with a cute pet (usually a dog)

10) two sexy men (one good/one bad), or one sexy man who is both (The JANE EYRE/REBECCA Syndrome)

I used that list for both novels, with very different results. I actually had a longer list at first, but I pruned it--I left out ancient curses and secret passageways, among other things.

THE INHERITANCE was directly inspired by another classic novel, THE IVY TREE by Mary Stewart. I read that when I was about 16, and I was totally blown away by the (justifiably famous) surprise ending. I immediately read the book again, just to see how the heck Mary Stewart did it. After PRECIPICE and VALENTINE, I decided it was time to fulfill my secret fantasy--to write The Gothic To End All Gothics. (One lovely critic actually called it that in his review.) I hubristically decided that I was going to top THE IVY TREE, and I knew just how to do it. I don't want to give anything away to people who haven't read it yet, so I'll only say I thought up an ending for a romantic suspense mystery that I, personally, had never seen. Then it became a writing exercise--could I actually do what I wanted to do? Would I get away with it, or would the whole thing fall apart before I finished? Well, the result was published, for better or worse. It's no IVY TREE (what is?), but I'm very proud of it.

3. Were you impacted in your writing or craft by any authors in the Gothic or gothic romance genres?

Absolutely. I always liked reading, but I was 15 when I really first heard the call. I got a bad case of flu, laid up in bed for 2 weeks. I couldn't go to school (Yay!), but I had to read this book for English class, GREAT EXPECTATIONS (Boo!). So, out of sheer boredom, I started reading it, and pow! I absolutely fell into that book. That old house, and the crazy old lady in her wedding gown, and the hero's lifelong love for the girl who treated him so badly, and that creepy convict who ended up being his benefactor. Loved it. I didn't want it to end, but it did, and I asked my sister what I should read next. She handed me REBECCA by Daphne du Maurier. By the time I got out of that sickbed, I knew I wanted to write someday, and it was those two books that did it.

4. Do you have any comments on the future or present state of the Gothic or gothic romance genres?

My favorite recent Gothics are actually psychological suspense novels with Gothic elements: Minette Walters, Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine, Morag Joss, Laura Lippman, and a wonderful detective novel by S. J. Rozan called THE SHANGHAI MOON, which was partly inspired by THE MOONSTONE (the "Shanghai Moon" is a fabulous, cursed jewel that brings death to all who try to possess it). I also loved THE THIRTEENTH TALE by Diane Setterfield, THE HOUSE AT RIVERTON by Kate Morton, IN THE WOODS by Tana French, and THE POISON TREE by Erin Kelly. And I'll read anything by the marvelous husband/wife team that writes under the name Nicci French. I'll tell you what I don't like: there are a lot of recent so-called "fem-jep" suspense novels that are basically serial killer books. The "fem" is often a professional detective or cop or medical examiner or whatever, and there's way too much sex and violence and language and general nastiness. I've had my fill of all that. I'm no prude (I'm the guy who wrote VALENTINE and SCAVENGER, after all), but enough already! I also have no use for paranormal romance, but that's just me. I haven't read any of these series with sexy vampires and sexy werewolves and something called a shape shifter, so I can't comment, but I suppose they're Gothic, too. I leave them to the people who enjoy them.

The future of the Gothic romance genre might depend on more writers going back to the basics that first made the genre popular, and studying the enduring authors of the form: Poe, Hawthorne, Dickens, Wilkie Collins, the Brontës, du Maurier, Stewart, Whitney, Clark, Elizabeth Peters. And let's not forget Margaret Millar, Victoria Holt, Charlotte Armstrong, Anya Seton, Joy Fielding, Linda Howard, Jayne Ann Krentz. I don't remember any of those authors giving us a jaded rich guy playing tie-me-up-and-spank-me with a shy--and apparently mentally challenged--co-ed. And yet the current #1 bestseller I'm referring to has been described by critics as a "Gothic romance novel." I sincerely hope that is not the future of Gothic romance.

5. How did your birth and years in the Virgin Islands inform your writing?

I wasn't born there; I was 9 when I arrived there. I was born in New York. I grew up in a reading home. My mom and my older sister, Suzy, were voracious readers of mystery and suspense novels. Because we were on a small tropical island, the only books that got all the way down from the mainland USA to the local bookshop were the big--I mean BIG--New York Times bestsellers. At that time (1960s and '70s) the biggest mystery and suspense writers were Agatha Christie, John D. MacDonald, Ross MacDonald, Helen MacInnes, Erle Stanley Gardner, Mary Stewart, Alistair MacLean, Phyllis Whitney, Robert Ludlum, and Daphne du Maurier. My family read them, so when I started seriously reading (after the flu episode), that's what I found in the house. I minored in English in college, and I've read all the "usual" important authors and classics, but mystery was always my genre. When I started writing, that's what I wrote. And the Virgin Islands were the place I knew best, so I've put them in several of my novels.

6. How did working at Murder Ink, the New York City bookstore you mentioned in previous interviews, play into your role as a writer?

I was working there when I started writing, and I made many friends and contacts there--agents, publishers, but mostly authors. They all came in for readings and signings, and I got to know many of them. Then I joined the Mystery Writers of America and the International Association of Crime Writers. To this day, many of my writing inspirations are mystery writers I first met at Murder Ink.

7. What is the most difficult thing for you about writing/plotting a novel? You have been praised for the plot twists in your work. I'm thinking of Precipice, in particular. Are these twists hard to formulate?
The most difficult thing about writing is writing. I'm not being facetious--there's nothing tougher than getting "the seat of the pants in the seat of the chair." Computers help a lot. I wrote my first 2 novels in longhand on yellow legal pads, which I then had to transfer to a Smith-Corona portable electric typewriter (remember those?), so the Computer Age did not arrive a moment too soon for me.

I imagine a person, then I put that person in a situation. After that, the rest of the story usually follows. The "twists," as you call them, are my starting point. I love all kinds of mysteries, but my all-time faves are the ones with surprise endings. With my first 2 novels, DANCE OF THE MONGOOSE and PRECIPICE, I started with the central character (a troubled detective in one, a troubled young woman in the other), and St. Thomas (the only place I knew well enough to write about), and a surprise (the identity of the murderer in MONGOOSE and the identity of the young woman in PRECIPICE). The twists weren't hard to formulate, but getting to those twists was a bitch. I mean, the plot that gets us from page 1 to that surprise ending. For me, that's the hard part.

8. What are you working on now?

I have a manuscript making the rounds of publishers, and I'm writing a new novel. They're both romantic suspense thrillers with surprise endings. I also write short stories occasionally--I just had one in the March/April 2012 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.

9. I understand you have a pen name. If you don't mind, could you share a bit about that?

I wrote 2 detective novels, DANCE OF THE MONGOOSE and its sequel, WOMAN IN THE DARK. My first publisher had just put out PRECIPICE and VALENTINE, and they asked me to put a pseudonym on the detective stories for my second publisher so there wouldn't be confusion in the marketplace. I initialized my first and middle names (Thomas Joseph) and added my actual birth surname (Savage is my mother's maiden name--looong story). That's how I became "T. J. Phillips," but it was only for those 2 books.

10. You are something of an enigma to your fans. Many thought you had "dropped off the map" when they tried to find out more about what you were writing these days. They've missed you, and that led to this interview. If you don't mind my asking, were you still actively writing during the last few years, or did other pursuits take up your time?
I'm glad people have missed me, I'm very grateful for that. Yes, I've been writing, but no, I wasn't publishing. I had a string of misfortunes that led me to retire from the world for a few years. I lost my mom in 2003 (old age), then my sister Suzy a year later (breast cancer). Meanwhile, Murder Ink, where I'd been working for almost 20 years, was struggling to survive against a B&N superstore that moved in down the street and a landlord who kept raising the rent. We lost the battle in 2006, closing our doors forever, so I was out of a day job. Then my original agent and I parted ways after 15 years. And that's all in addition to some personal stuff I'd rather not talk about, except to sing a rousing chorus of "I'll Never Fall In Love Again." So for a while, I sat around my apartment in a bathrobe, writing but not publishing. Then some writer friends here in NYC dragged me out of my house and forced me to join their writing group.They wouldn't take no for an answer, and I found that I liked the company. But if I wanted to hang out with them, I had to read something to them, which meant I had to write something. So, I wrote some more. I now have 5 novels (all Gothic suspense thrillers) sitting in my computer, and I have a new agent.

11. What's next for you?

Getting those 5 new novels out of my computer and into print. That's the plan, anyway. It's a very tough market out there right now, but my new agent is doing her best, and I live in hope. And I'm preparing my backlist titles for their e-book debuts, so PRECIPICE, VALENTINE, THE INHERITANCE, and SCAVENGER should soon be available as downloads.

12. When you're not plotting your next mystery/suspense, what other hobbies do you enjoy?

My writing group, my Friday Night Club (a gang that gets together every week for dinner and Trivial Pursuit), reading mysteries (I'm currently in the middle of STAY CLOSE by my friend Harlan Coben, and I just reread THE SNARE OF THE HUNTER by Helen MacInnes), and my big passion, collecting DVDs of my favorite films (I now own the complete works of Alfred Hitchcock).

13. How can fans contact you?

A Facebook page is forthcoming, too.

Tom's books on Amazon (they are also at other retailers):

**If you'd like to win an e-book copy of either Precipice or Valentine, leave a comment in the post or share it on Twitter or Facebook and let me know you did! I'll enter you once for each comment or share. The contest ends November 20th at 11:59 PM CST.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Quickie Review: Broken Harbor by Tana French

It's been way too long since I've posted a review. I recently read Broken Harbor by Tana French. The Kindle edition is pretty steep, but I was lucky enough to find the hardcover in my library.

This book is a mix of Gothic atmosphere and police procedural, so that's my disclaimer. It's not a gothic romance, but boy, did it creep me out more than once. A spooky house by the sea, a stalker, an animal roaming the house (or is it?) and a murdered family/double suicide (I won't tell) are just some of the elements that made me look over my shoulder after reading a chapter. As with French's other books, I finished this one in just a few days. So, set aside some reading time if you pick it up and find you like it after the first chapter or so.

French is known for going deep with characterization and for adding a twist to the plot. She got me with this one. I didn't see the ending coming. Let me know how you like it if you pick it up. :) If you enjoy it, may I suggest The Likeness, too? It is gothic romance and police procedural, and I adore it.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Contest Winner

Tara won the free kindle books! :) Thanks to everyone who entered here and on Facebook. I'll have another contest later this month.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Load Your Kindle with Gothic Romance...on Me!

Hi, all. Whew. September is flying by! I've been busy, but it's a good kind of busy. Sorry I haven't been reviewing many books and the like lately. I have one or two on the burner to get to in the next couple weeks. For now, though, I'll run another contest. This contest will be for one or more Kindle gothic romances/romantic suspenses of your choice to total $10 or less!

All you have to do to enter is tell me what you're reading this month, how you're liking it, etc.

You can comment here to enter, and I'll also count likes and shares on or for the Gothicked Blog facebook page as entries! Hope your autumn is nice and spooky so far.

I'm going to be curling up with Tana French's latest release later tonight, Broken Harbor. The Gothic elements were noted by reviewers, and I can't wait to get to them! I'm a huge fan of French's work as modern Gothic, especially The Likeness. It's a sort of rewriting of Donna Tartt's The Secret History, and oh, my! It's a delicious Gothic/police procedural/mystery.

Anyway, that's it for tonight. The contest ends on October 5th, so enter now! There are more giveaways to come before Halloween. Thanks for reading. :)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Winner of the Gothicked Contest

The winner of the Gothicked Giveaway is Michelle! Please send me an email lisalgreer at yahoo dot com and I'll get your books to you.

We'll have another contest soon. Thanks to all who entered!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

I Can't Wait for Autumn Giveaway

Hi, folks! It's been a bit since I've blogged. School is back in here, and I'm getting my fall and winter schedule fixed up. My mind always turns to gothic romance (it's usually there but my imagination is stirred even more this time of year) in autumn with Halloween on the way and the bleak days of winter coming, too.

So, I think it's the perfect time for a random paperback gothic romance giveaway. I have a few lying around that I think you'll enjoy. I'll send them your way if you win! Just leave a comment (here or on the Facebook Gothicked page under the link) about how fall and winter are the season of Gothic and gothic romance (or if you disagree, tell me why!), and you'll be entered to win. The contest ends August 24th at 12pm CST. I'll draw a winner from those who comment.

Thanks, and get ready to cozy up to some shiver worthy reads. ;)

(This image is a book cover by MayArt, Inc., soon to grace a novel from yours truly. ;)

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Welcome Author of Classic Gothic Romantic Suspense: Janis Flores

I am so thrilled to have Janis Flores here today at Gothicked. She is an author of classic gothic romances, and she's going to talk a bit about her work and the genre as well as her new novel.

First: thank you, Lisa, for giving me this opportunity to write about one of my favorite genres.

The first book I wrote was a Gothic romantic suspense called HAWKSHEAD. I wrote it because I was really into Gothics at the time and thought: I could do this! So I started writing and couldn’t stop. HAWKSHEAD was the result. 

Gothics—those set in the late 1880s—are still my favorites. I love that time period—beautiful women in long dresses (although I wouldn’t want to live then—just the thought of tight corsets and all those petticoats, not to mention the dozens of buttons on both dresses and shoes—makes me shudder), with the men in top hats and dinner jackets, or jodhpurs and polished boots. Oh, so romantic! 

I also love the idea of fancy carriages and high-stepping, matched horses. And the manners! No matter what was going on inside or underneath, people were so polite to each other. (Well, the “upper crust” was; those who had to work for a living didn’t have the time or energy to watch their manners).

No matter in which genre I write, my heroes are always tall and handsome, with lean bodies and strong jaws, and of course those smoldering eyes hiding dark secrets—including how they got that facial scar that makes them even more mysterious! They’re always the brooding type, so well-dressed, with those impeccable manners.

And my heroines are always “feisty” (although I dislike that particular word and prefer “fiery”), their tempers matching their long auburn hair and their green eyes flashing when they’re angry—until the hero tips her head up to kiss her.

Another reason I like that time period is that heroes and heroines waited for intimacy. I believe that a stolen kiss, a touch, a whispered word heightens the anticipation for both them and the reader. And when the time comes—usually off stage, or even beyond the end of the book, they don’t have sex, they make love.

I haven’t written Gothics for a while. I left that genre for historical romance, then family saga, and finally for contemporary mainstream, which I write now. The pace of the contemporary story is faster because our real lives are faster. At some point maybe I’ll go back to writing Gothics—at least one or two. Like the characters and the time period, I can slow down a little and luxuriate in writing a story that has clouds covering the moon, and dark shapes that whisper in the night, and a heroine—always a heroine—roaming the shadowed castle while carrying a candle whose light blows out just when the villain is about to be revealed. What fun!

I can’t leave without mentioning my newest book—an ebook called Sweeter Than Wine, published by Musa Publishing, Sweeter Than Wine

It’s not a Gothic, although Jake is the brooding type, haunted by a past he can’t forget as he throws himself into dangerous search and rescues with his gallant search dog, Mano. And Terra is feisty, haunted by a past she can’t remember as she tries to rescue her family’s nearly 100-year-old winery from bankruptcy. The two come together when it becomes clear that someone doesn’t want her to succeed. Someone with… murder in mind. 

Meanwhile, I wish you good reading whatever type of book you choose.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Day of Demons: A Review by Author T. James



A note on impartiality: wearing my reviewer’s hat, I feel it is only fair to state upfront that the editor of Day Of Demons, Colin F. Barnes, is a friend of mine, as is Krista Walsh, author of Serpent’s Kiss. I will leave you, the reader, to decide whether I am guilty of vapid gooey-eyed adulation or whether I maintain an acceptable level of dispassion and therefore credibility in the review below.

This is a collection of nine short stories by male and female authors. The title may give the impression that the stories are very similar—in common they do have a dark tone and, obviously, demons—but the synopsis is accurate and there is a refreshing range of genre, theme and writing style to be found.

THE SYNOPSIS (taken from the Anachron Press Website*)
Day of Demons is a collection of powerful stories featuring the conflict of demons and humans over the course of a day.
Read how one woman’s inner-self awakens to unexpected and frightening consequences, or how a charismatic half-breed thief is forced to strike a deal with a pen-stealing imp. Read about a mother as she struggles to cope with a deadly, satanic bargain, and a sword-wielding anti-hero as he returns out of exile to face his demonic fate.
Nine stories, nine demons, nine authors. From fantasy, to horror, to contemporary fiction, this anthology will fright, delight and grip you with tales of daring-do, danger and of course — demons.”

Deal, by Karen Davies
The anthology starts with a light fantasy action / adventure feel. A thief takes refuge from his pursuer in some ancient ruins, but he finds he isn’t the only being inside—he meets an imp who is a tormentor of scribes and a collector of quills. This short has some good characterisation and snappy dialogue that held my interest. The twist at the end is well executed.
Inheritance, by Phil Hickes
Stark and atmospheric; a son returns to his families’ mouldering estate after reading his deceased grandfather’s letter. Posthumously, his grandfather fills him in on the history of the estate and the onerous duty that comes with it. There is an effective dialogue between the dead man, via the letter, and the grandson as he reads it—the clash of mystical olde-worlde values and self-assured new world cynicism works well. There are two likely endings, but the execution of the last scenes keeps the one the author chose feeling fresh.
Serpent’s Kiss, by Krista Walsh
This is the hottest of the demon stories, with a believable chemistry between the two ‘romantic’ protagonists. It is well written with an economic fluid style, and the sexual tension is built with enough skill that the writing doesn’t need to be explicit to hold the reader’s interest—an effective and enjoyable update of the succubus myth.
Sam & The Spear, by Gary Bonn
This one stands out from the others as its style is very different. A boy, into role-playing, finds himself thrown into a situation where he must play the hero for real. A strange mix of dreamscape coupled with an almost YA style of writing—it is imaginative, but for me, not as well executed as some of the other stories. The simplicity of the writing and the ending lends charm—still an enjoyable read.
Numen, by V. Đ. Griesdoorn
Imaginative, but I found the writing style difficult in places—the piece is sprinkled with, what were for me, awkwardly phrased sentences:
“Stacey switched on the overhead kerosene lamp with a switch near the door.”
The story is stronger—a child grown to adulthood returning to discover a parental legacy—her deceased father had a gift for making things. How she pieces together the mystery is quite intriguing, although some of the physics and the ending are a little woolly. The midsection works well though—there is pace there, and engaging ideas throughout.
City of Light and Stone, by Laura Diamond
One of the most involving protagonists of the anthology can be found here. An anti-hero tortured and in thrall to his master, he must murder to escape his damnation. For a story of this length it is very well characterised and well written. The premise is imaginative, although I was left feeling a little unclear as to how the underlying theology works—but that may be due to the twisted perceptions of the main character. The theme, that we have more to do with our own damnation than any entity, is nicely handled—almost an adult Grimm morality tale. A good read.
Cost of Glory, by Edward Drake
A well-written classic fantasy anti-hero returns home story. If you could distil any modern fantasy epic by taking out the travelling and stir in a little Conan, you would end up with something like Cost of Glory. The ending wasn’t especially surprising, but the characters, setting, pace and action are all well handled.
A Mother’s Love, by James M. Mazzaro
One of the strongest stories of the nine, it packs an impressive number of twists into its short length. It is great to read about a female hero who is intelligent and believable. Willing to pay any price for a child, she decides to play a demon at his own game. Convincing and well put together.
The Devil and Mrs Milton, by Sarah Anne Langton
Possibly the most haunting and memorable, and not just because it is the last. Sarah Anne Langton demonstrates real artistry as a writer—she isn’t afraid to go off the beaten track in terms of story or style. We spend most of the time reminiscing with an old woman, but it is written with enough skill and flair the experience is engaging, not boring. As the story closes, with an unavoidable and unwelcome visitor, there is a genuine sense of tension and concern for the fate of the main character.

This is a disparate collection of short stories, but because of the strong central theme they sit comfortably alongside each other. With anything self-published the question of production quality is often raised—generally I found DoD to be on par with some traditionally published books. There are some typos, but not enough to detract from the reading experience. The quality of the stories varies from fair to excellent, but none are a waste of your time or money. If you love the smell of sulphur in the morning and want something brimming with creativity to put a little fire in your belly, this is probably it.
Recommended: 4 out of 5 stars.

The print edition is now available from Lulu.
The editor assures me, on pain of his own death, that the epub version should be available for download from mid-end July, 2012. Please see the Anachron Press website for updates.

T. James (I am now referring to myself in the third person which seems incredibly pretentious, but this is apparently how biographical bits are done) is currently a writer of little renown. While he waits on the sidelines hoping the cool kids will invite him to the party, he is currently exploring a range of writing styles and genres. His works in progress are a YA parody and a satirical writer's guide.
His (more serious) published work can be found here:,
and his other misadventures are blogged here:
He wishes I would like to thank Lisa Greer for giving me some space on her Gothicked blog—may her diaphanous dress remain forever white and her tresses lustrous ’neath the lambent moon.

* All quotes and illustrations are the copyright © of Anachron Press, and are used with permission.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Interview with Gothic Writer Barrymore Tebbs

I'm thrilled to have author Barrymore Tebbs on the blog today. It's always a fun and informative day when he drops by the blog to share his knowledge and experience about all things Gothic. After you read the interview, check his new release out--The Haunting at Blackwood Hall. It's a historical gothic romance, and I think you'll all enjoy it.

Where did your love of Gothic and writing Gothic start?

I’ve been into Gothic since I was a kid. I was about ten-years-old when I first saw Dark Shadows. As a teenager I watched a lot of old horror movies on the weekend Creature Feature shows. Horror movies were more atmospheric in the 1930s-1960s. From there I went on to read both Gothic Romances as well as the Gothic Horror classics like Poe and Lovecraft. I always wanted to write Gothic, but it took thirty years for the stories to start coming out.

What is Psychological Gothic?

For the past ten years or so, most of my pleasure reading has been psychological thrillers. I really enjoy the suspense, the plot twists, and the disturbed individuals who people the novels of writers like John Connolly and Jeffrey Deaver. These are the types of books I want to write, and because I have such a love for the atmosphere and motifs in Gothic fiction and film, I tried combining the two, and they seem to work well together. Defining my stories as Psychological Gothic has helped me carve out a unique niche which falls somewhere between Gothic Romance and Gothic Horror.

Where did you come up with the characters and ideas for The Haunting at Blackwood Hall?

The main characters, the Fenn siblings, the psychic Luna Summerhill, and the governess, were holdovers from a NaNoWriMo project I did a few years ago. When Lisa and I met while finishing the first drafts of our first novels (Magnolian and Night of the Pentagram) we spent a lot of time talking about all things Gothic. She has this master list of tropes on her Gothicked blog, and when I decided to try write a Gothic Romance like the ones popular in the 60s and 70s, I pulled out every trope I wanted to explore and used those existing characters to form the basis of what became The Haunting at Blackwood Hall.

Your books are generally set in the Victorian/Edwardian era or the 1960s. Do you have an affinity for those time periods and why?

The love for the Victorian era goes back to my love for old Gothic horror movies and Dark Shadows, but I’ve also had enough interest in that era throughout my life that when it came time to research, I was like a hog in mud. I have some fun books filled with facts about Victorian life.

As far as the 1960s, I was eleven-years-old in 1970, so I was just coming into consciousness as a young adult and the events of the late 60s have had a lasting effect on me. There seems to be a lot of nostalgia for that era, both through Classic Rock and also with the popularity of the TV show Mad Men which takes viewers on a tour of the fashions, politics, and social mores of the time. I have another Edwardian story and another 1960s set story coming out toward the end of this year.

There is a lot of drug use in your books. Why is that?

Don’t they always tell us to write what we know about? All kidding aside, drug abuse has been around since the dawn of time, and people with deep psychological issues are often driven to addictions of various kinds. The LSD and pot smoking was essential for a story like The Yellow Scarf to be true to the characters and the era, but I think the opium use in The Haunting at Blackwood Hall is one element that takes that story to a level which wasn’t possible in the books published fifty some years ago.

The Haunting at Blackwood Hall has a striking cover. How did you create it and some of your other book covers?

The image on the cover is a rendering of a 3D model I built in a modeling program called Bryce. It’s based on a house called Barrington Court in England, which reminded me of that type of old baronial hall that you see in The Hound of the Baskervilles movies. I made the inverted Hollywood star for the cover of Night of the Pentagram while I was writing the book, and had no idea that I would eventually self-publish and use the cover. I took a community college class in Adobe PhotoShop about fourteen years ago, and know quite a few tricks. It comes in handy, and saves money from having to hire a cover artist!

Thanks for letting me stop by, Lisa. We always have fun shooting the breeze about Gothic in its many forms. Through independently published books, there is a noticeable reemergence of Gothic based fiction. It’s a good time to be a Gothic writer!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Quickie Review: Sister Sister

Well, as usual, I'm falling behind on my post a quickie review every week--at least--or something like that goal. Too much to do and too little time. I've been editing like a madwoman on my Montmoors historical gothic romance series, and it's well worth it.

I thought I'd take a little break and watch a movie, Sister Sister, starring Jennifer Jason Leigh among others.

It promised gothic romance at a spooky Louisiana plantation turned bed and breakfast owned by two sisters--Charlotte and Lucy Bonnard--with secrets to protect. Lucy has been deemed "crazy" by the older sister, but all the guys want her from the handyman, Etienne LeViolette, to congressman/guest Matt Rutledge. I liked the atmosphere and the ghost stories around the dining room table, and that kept me watching beyond the first thirty minutes.

Then, about halfway through the movie, the writers gave up the plot and just threw it at my feet. Quite disappointing. As an author, I try not to do that to my readers, and I don't like it when it's done in books and movies. I want to be a bit surprised or at least to be kept wondering. Small twists along the way are good.

In short, I didn't finish the movie once the ending became all too clear. If you don't mind knowing exactly what is going on halfway in, you might try it. For me, the rating is meh as a friend said when I told him I was watching it (Barrymore Tebbs--right again!).

Rating out of 5 stars: 2.5 stars 
--For atmosphere, a mean gator that makes an appearance, and a love story I liked.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Review: Sea of Secrets by Amanda DeWees

It's a pleasure to review Amanda DeWees' debut gothic romance novel, Sea of Secrets. I am tempted to call her Victoria Holt for the thinking person, but her work goes well beyond Holt's scope. This novel is a literary gothic romance which is quite thrilling. If that's not tempting enough, take a look at this gorgeous cover.

Here's the blurb for the novel: 

After her brother is killed in the Crimean War, innocent young Oriel Pembroke finds herself alone in the world. Disowned by the cruel father who has always despised her, she has nowhere to turn until she is taken under the wing of a glamorous relative she never knew: the former Duchess of Ellsworth, who has scandalized society by remarrying soon after her first husband’s death. At the opulent seaside estate of Ellsmere, Oriel thinks she has found a safe haven—but the darkly handsome young duke, Herron, believes otherwise. Haunted by the death of his father, he suspects that Ellsmere is sheltering a murderer. Even as Oriel falls in love with the duke, she begins to fear that his grief and suspicion are turning to madness. When dangerous accidents start to befall both Herron and Oriel, however, she realizes that someone may be trying to stop them from discovering the truth about the past. And when her father comes back into her life, she learns that he may hold the answer to the most horrifying secret of all...

Plot/Setting: 4/5--This element has to come first simply because the novel is the tragedy of Hamlet: Prince of Denmark, re-imagined and improved in some ways--at least from certain perspectives. I don't want to give too much away, but it is as good as it sounds. Echoes of Shakespeare's great play abound. From Yorick to a Victorian Hamlet to possible murder, it's all there. The skill of blending these tales makes the novel a good read on one level, but even readers who are basically ignorant of the plot points, characters, and philosophical questions of Hamlet will enjoy the story. Oriel Pembroke finds herself in a terrible situation when she is disowned by her father after her brother's death. Family secrets begin to unravel from that moment on, and she finds herself at Ellsmere with her long dead mother's family.

I have taken off one nitpicky star for a particular plotting aspect of the novel. I find the instances of Herron in Oriel's bedroom sleeping and talking night after night unbelievable or a step too far for the time period and social conventions. I understand why DeWees chose to do this (echoes of Ophelia and all that... the heroine doesn't use the best judgment), but it takes away from the story. This detail stands out to me, perhaps, because I've been edited for my own historical gothic romances in terms of propriety and standard behavior between the sexes. It is my opinion that most young women of this era would have thought more about the seriousness of having a man in one's bedchamber in the 1850s.

As for setting, Ellsmere is spooky and dangerous, but it's the shadowy corners of the human mind that are most frightening. The big questions of life and death are asked, and the answers can be unsettling. Imagery of death abounds with skulls, skeletons, murder and more, and Herron's moodiness is a palpable influence throughout the novel. It lends a dark cast to the whole of it. He's a bit bipolar and 100% Byronic.

The truly great aspect of the novel is that I was still guessing about what Oriel would do, whom she would love nearly until the end. There are several twists, and just knowing the story of Hamlet isn't enough to figure out what's really going to happen, whodunnit, and so on.

Characterization: 4.5/5-- The characters are quite well drawn. Oriel Pembroke is the heroine--a sort of artless Ophelia who still wears her hair in a braid. She is a heroine who grows and changes throughout the novel. Herron, the dark and enigmatic duke,  is tortured and oh so handsome of course. Charles, Herron's cousin, plays a nice foil to Herron. I won't give more than that away. The minor characters are well drawn, too.

Literary Elements: 5/5-- From Herron pacing the floors at night to a variation on the "To sleep..." speech from Hamlet, this novel is satisfying on all levels.

Romantic Elements: 4/5-- I find the novel quite romantic. We are sucked into Herron's struggle, fear, and doubt as he questions whether his father was murdered by his uncle Lord Claude and what knowledge his mother, Gwendolyn, Duchess of Ellsworth, had in it. Oriel's doubt and affection is torn between Herron and Charles in a way that reminds me of Mary Stewart's novel, The Ivy Tree. Let me share one passage where Herron is described so you can get a feel for the lush prose in the novel:

Herron stood in the doorway, lounging against the jamb, making no move to come further into the room. Now that he no longer had a shadow over him I could get a true idea of his appearance, and I could not keep myself from staring. He was almost inhumanly beautiful. His face tapered sharply from wide cheekbones, lending his features a faunlike appearance. The fierce angularity of his bones was balanced by his mouth, sweetly curved and generous. Black hair swept in unruly waves, slightly longer than fashion, from a high, clear brow, and eyes whose color shifted brown and gold like sunlight off the drowned leaves in a forest pool were fringed with long, soft lashes; his eyebrows were uncompromising slashes of black. He was surveying the company, those remarkable eyes moving restlessly. The combination of softness and strength in his face was arresting, and I knew I was not the only woman at the table to stare.

Amanda DeWees. Sea of Secrets (1191-1195 and 1188-1191).

Sounds like a hero we'd all like to meet in a dark hallway, doesn't it?

Rating: 4+ stars ****+
Do yourself a favor and run to pick this novel up. It's one of the best historical gothic romances I've read in a long time. I'm looking forward to more from Dr. DeWees.

Sea of Secrets on Amazon. The novel will be just .99 May 19th and 20th (That's tomorrow!). That's a steal for hours of enjoyment and a great gothic romance.

Amanda DeWees' website

Amanda DeWees on Facebook

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Quickie Review (YA gothic romance): Liz Botts' The Hidden Door

This was one of my first forays into spooky YA/gothic romance. The cover first caught my eye a while back:

Daphne, Justin, Riva, and Malcolm are looking for the Hidden Door at their school on Halloween night. It's in a building called The Hun which was named after Vlad the Impaler's home. There's a mystery surrounding the door and a stone gargoyle, and meanwhile, a vampire is on the loose, biting and scratching people. To add to all of that, Daphne and Justin have an unresolved past, and she's still crazy about him.

This is a light, fun romp that has some cool Gothic elements and that touches on more adult themes like mental illness. I recommend this one mainly for YA. I think my daughter would enjoy it if she were a bit older. She's eight now, but in a couple years, I think it would be a hit! If you like stories about teens, I think you'll enjoy it, too.

Rating: 4 stars ****

Buy Links:

More about Liz Botts:

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Barrymore Tebbs' The Yellow Scarf

Isn't this a great cover? The author of The Yellow Scarf and cover artist, Barrymore Tebbs, did it. I love the script and how it sort of ties in with the story; I think it has an Eastern flavor. Once you read it, you'll understand. :)

Here's the blurb for Barrymore Tebbs' The Yellow Scarf:

1969. The Rolling Stones perform a free concert in London’s Hyde Park. Flying high on grass and LSD, Peter, Barnard, Bree, and Tristan rock along with nearly a quarter million people as The Stones make history. With them is Pandora, the once-famous fashion model whose downward spiral into addiction made international headlines, now clinging desperately to the belief that only a power greater than herself can restore her to sanity.

After the concert, these five friends decide to take a weekend jaunt to the country to visit Hampton Close, a crumbling old country house Peter recently inherited from his Great Uncle, Basil Townsend. A former protégé of Aleister Crowley, Basil Townsend was once one of Britain’s most notorious practitioners of the Black Arts.

But inside a locked room at Hampton Close, an ancient evil from a distant land lies festering in the warm, wet darkness, waiting…waiting…waiting…

And my review:

Plot: 5/5-- The novella starts off with a bang and an interesting cast of characters. Tebbs makes London in 1969 come alive. The story moves swiftly to its shudder inducing climax in old Uncle Basil's house. I read it in the afternoon, and I liked it, but I didn't feel frightened. That night... trying to sleep was a different story. It creeped me out, and I couldn't stop thinking about it. So, I didn't sleep too well. I'd call that a great horror story!

Characterization: 4/5-- I adored Peter, the hero of the story if there is one, who is described as a conservative fellow who is trying to shake it off. His friend Barnard is also a well drawn figure with an Afro--the quintessential ladies' man. I thought of Jimi Hendrix. Pandora is a pitiable young woman in recovery from drug addiction. And Bree is the type of not-so-intelligent type of girl you'd expect to find at a spooky old house where things to awry. Finally, there's Tristan, a young man who is at least bi-curious and is in a sort of love triangle with Bree and Barnard. Tebbs highlights the sexual mores of the time with this relationship.

Atmosphere/spooky elements: 5/5-- This story sneaks up on you. At first, it's all acid trips at the Rolling Stones' concert, and then it's sheer revulsion and terror. If you like a good story of the macabre linked to mythology, the occult, and the 1960s, this is your thing.

I'm leaving off romantic elements since this isn't a gothic romance. It is, however, a great psychological Gothic/horror novella. If you like houses with pasts, likable characters, Gothic atmosphere, and a good twist, you'll really enjoy it. 4.5+ stars. Don't miss it!

Here's the buy link at Amazon. For .99 or for borrowing free if you have Amazon Prime. Pick it up if you want to get scared.

**For the sake of full disclosure, I also edited The Yellow Scarf. Be on the lookout for Barrymore Tebbs' upcoming novel, The Haunting of Blackwood Hall. If you like Victoria Holt's work, I think you'll love it.

Find Barrymore on Facebook: Barrymore Tebbs

and at his blog which also reviews and discusses all things Gothic:

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Review: Evelyn Berckman's The Heir of Starvelings (a novel of innocence and evil)

This novel is an unusual one. I have one of its early covers, courtesy of Barrymore Tebbs:

Gorgeous, huh? And the painting behind the woman sort of goes along with the novel. A painting plays a major role in the plot. I had heard before that Berckman's gothics are worth reading. She is lauded as a hidden gem among gothic romance/romantic suspense novelists. Many say she never got her due. I tend to agree after reading The Heir of Starvelings.

I'm not sure how many gothic romances she wrote, but I ran across this one at a Friends of the Library sale and snagged it. My cover looks like this. I couldn't find another on the Internets. I really like the teeth:

A naive innocent, Davina Milne, winds up at the fabled Starvelings--a ramshackle out of the way estate--one day as she's wandering in the woods. The opening sequence is quite tragic and scary. What she finds there changes her life--a neglected young boy who's more than just a common urchin. He's a lord who has been neglected by the lecherous Lord Stanyon and other household members.

The novel is worth reading for the introductory materials alone. Berckman obviously had a great passion for history and its preservation, and Victorian Era history is the focus of this historical gothic/gothic romance.

Plot: 4/5--I enjoyed the novel. It also had a couple great twists. The story line stands out among the many Gothics I've read, and it haunts me when I think about it.

Characterization: 5/5--Davina is a great heroine--strong and bold. She knows her own mind, and she's full of integrity. It's nice to find a heroine who isn't of the TSTL (too stupid to live) variety. Lord Stanyon, William, and the other characters are so well drawn, they step off the page, and indeed, the story is supposed to be based upon a true one.

Atmosphere/creepy elements: 5/5-- This novel nails the closed, isolated and claustrophobic feeling that a good Gothic has. Starvelings is a nightmare, and it's peopled with pathetic human beings. The villain is also scary in his own special way as is his minion. The true fright of this novel is the reality of the way that some human beings are neglected and forgotten... and left to a living horror of an existence.

Romantic elements: 5/5-- I can't say too much about this, but I loved the two males in the novel. One is a lover who has died in the Crimean War, and the other is a young lawyer who woos Davina.

** 4+ stars. I recommend it. If you're looking for something different that has a happy but wistful ending, you'll love it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Part II: Ways to Find New Gothic Romances

This is part two of a requested series. :) My next blog post will be a book review. I promise. I have a couple I have needed to get to for a while.

I think I covered using the subcategories on Amazon last time. This time around, let's talk about a few other tricks.

First, this one seems obvious, but it might not be. Just under the book information, if the book has sold any copies, Amazon adds a section of book covers/pages you can scroll through and click on. I've chosen Holt's Mistress of Mellyn in Book format as my example here. You can see the

Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought 

section just under the book. If you scroll through those 11 pages, you are sure to find a new book or two to check out. I did! :)

You'll also notice on this page the section above the tags, a little more than halfway down the page: Customers also bought items by...
This section can be fun to click around in by author name or cover (for some authors listed). You never know: you might find a new author.

Now, on to using tags to find new books:

There might be an easier way to do this, I'm not sure. Here's how I do it:
1. Type in the name of a favorite author of gothic romance. I've chosen Victoria Holt for an example to stick with what I have above. Keep in mind that some of the older authors are tagged well under Books, so let's use Books for this search. I type her name into the search bar on amazon and pull down the Books tab to the left.
2. Once the list comes up, I pick one of her books I like and click on it. In this case, I've chosen Mistress of Mellyn
3.  Once the page comes up for that book, I scroll down to the bottom quarter of the page to the tags section. In this case, there are a few tags like gothic romance, jean plaidy, and cornwall. When I click on the gothic romance tag link, it pulls up several books in that genre (or that the author or readers claim are in that genre). You can add tags as well. Is there a book by one author that reminds you of the work of another author? Tag it with that author's name or agree with an existing tag. :) That will help readers find new authors and weed out tags that are unrelated to the product.

Interestingly, if you check out the tags for the Kindle version of this book, they are all related to the $9.99 price. Apparently, many readers of e-books think that's too much to pay for the digital version of this classic. Your thoughts?

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

How to Find More Gothic Romances... Part I

Wow. It's been too long since I last posted. Please forgive me. Life is hopping, but in a good way. :)

I wanted to start a little series on ways to find new gothic romances-- as in contemporary ones or novels/works that might be new to you.

I think starting with Amazon makes sense since they sell a lot of books and most people have Kindles as their e-readers (or maybe you're like me and you just use Kindle for PC!). I'm going to focus on e-books today, but many of the tips for hunting for Kindle editions will work for print, too.

I'm going to write about these as they come to me, so consider this part I. If this trick is a "duh" to you, please forgive. I'm assuming some readers might not be aware of these ways to find new books. If you have other ideas, leave them in the comments.

1. Look under Gothic Romance.
If you know a bit about Amazon, you probably realize that authors or publishers can categorize their books under two areas when they post them to Amazon. I tend to have most of mine put under gothic romance and whatever else is applicable. So, it's easy to go to the Amazon homepage and go to the search pull down. Click Kindle Store there. Then, type in Gothic Romance. One the list comes up, you'll notice that Relevance is next to the "Sort by" list on the upper right hand side. I leave it that way and scroll through. This gives me a list of the top 100 gothic romances. One of mine shows up at #34 today. ;)

When you glance through the list, you'll see a lot of vampire stuff and fantasy. I skip over much of that as I do some of the poorly edited/terribly blurbed ghost stories or gothic romances on there. I know as a writer that if the blurb/description of the book is not up to par (ie, only a line or so that doesn't adequately describe the story as a writer should be able to do or a blurb fraught with mistakes), the book will usually follow suit.

I usually find a gem or two that I'd like to check out in the .99-3.99 range. Here are two I found today.

This one isn't a novel, but it looks fascinating, and I'm going to snag it free:
The Tale of Terror: A Study of Gothic Romance

And this one looks promising for $2.51:

And a pricier one but pubbed with Dorchester recently:
The Ravencliff Bride

So, that's a start. If you want print, you can search for Books and gothic romance. To be on the safe side, I might hop over to Goodreads and check the reviews for that second one. I'd hesitate on buying it longer than I would taking the freebie. ;) The third one is a bit more than I like to pay for a Kindle edition, but your opinion might vary.

I'll cover something else of this nature in my next post since I'm running out of time this morning. Have you found any good reads using this method?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Review: Night of the Pentagram by Barrymore Tebbs

The first thing I noticed about Night of the Pentagram, an occult, gothic thriller by Barrymore Tebbs, is the eye catching cover. Blood mars a red Hollywood star with the heroine's name, Elizabeth York, on it. And what a title!

The novel is unique in that it tackles film and acting in the first scene. The heroine, Elizabeth York, is an actress who has had a horrid past. Her husband, Sven Lindstrom, was murdered in a gruesome act that haunts her. Readers are invited in to her memories of finding her husband when she is jarred back into the past on the set of the movie she is in.

Plot/Writing-- 4/5: Once the novel takes off in the first chapter, it doesn't stop. A cast of eclectic characters from the 60s make their way in to the novel and to La Casa Del Mar in a mix of murder, the occult, astrology, psychology, Satanism, mayhem, and... a black goat. I didn't guess who did the killing, and the occult part of the novel is very satisfying. The feeling of being in a film within a film also adds a dimension, and Tebbs sprinkles film industry lingo throughout the novel as the characters play out their roles in the macabre dance. Tebbs indulges in some telling with regard to setting and doesn't let readers inside Elizabeth York's head as much as I'd like, but overall, the writing is strong.

The gothic setting and feeling of psychological isolation comes in when Elizabeth checks in to the Abernathy Clinic and saturates the novel as the stakes rise.

Setting-- 5/5: I really like the setting of a sanatarium. It works well for gothic horror and psychological horror, or even for gothic romance. I especially like this description of La Casa Del Mar:

The house perched above them, a deformed child, unloved and abandoned, doomed to live out its days on a lonely cliff overlooking the sea.
Night of the Pentagram -  (Kindle Locations 302-303).

And the moment in history, late 1968, is tangible:

“What an awful year it’s been,” Elizabeth said, “The assassinations of Reverend King and Mr. Kennedy, the Pentagram Murders, the senseless suicide of such a beautiful young woman.”
Night of the Pentagram -  (Kindle Locations 405-406).

Charaterization-- 5/5: Tebbs has managed to name each character in a meaningful way. From Roland de Winter and the gothic resonance of that name to Jewel St. John, each name is a gem full of sly overtones. Another of my favorite things about Tebbs' writing is the zany characters and how real the time period feels. The characters love to smoke, wear gold chains, and take drug trips. After reading Night of the Pentagram, I'm inspired to write a throwback novel myself with lots of chain smoking. :) Here's a description of one of the characters, Bryce Avondale. I like Elizabeth's observations, too, about the nature of celebrity:

The man was tall and dark skinned with a head of curly black hair. Elizabeth thought he might be European. Elizabeth definitely found him attractive. She supposed she would be seeing a lot of attractive people here, both men and women. Celebrity was not known to be accommodating to the plain and ordinary. He wore a burgundy silk shirt that was unbuttoned at his chest revealing a sculpted physique and a virile abundance of chest hair which he accented with a number of sparkling gold chains. The flared pants that rode low on his hips were flattering as well, the dark pinstripe against off-white fabric lending the illusion that he was taller than he was.
Night of the Pentagram -  (Kindle Locations 323-327).

Spooky Elements-- 5/5: Night of the Pentagram would lend itself to the big screen quite easily. I could picture all the characters, and the creepy elements feel quite real. A pervasive note of doom hangs over Elizabeth York and the clinic. Tarot, ritual killings, murder, suicide, drugs, and a black goat add to the hallucinatory effect of the work. This one is shocking, fun, and spooky. I loved the ending as well; you'll never see it coming, and it will raise more questions.

If you're looking for something that will take you back to the 60s and give you a delightful shiver or two, check out Night of the Pentagram.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Gothicked in the New Year

It's a new year. Yeah, I know I'm a little late to the party, but as is popular at this time of year, I'd like to know what you want more of and what you want to see less of. Oh, while you think about that, here's a link to Havergal Brian's Gothic Symphony (1 of 10).

Talk to me, lovers of secluded towers, madmen who cry out in the night, mouldering family vaults, and heroines in distress.

If you'd like to guest blog, let me know. If you want more contests and reviews, leave a comment. I started this blog over a year and a half ago, and my life has gotten crazier since then--in a good way. That has meant fewer posts and a shifting of gears for me, though, so I'd like to pinpoint what you want as things evolve here.

If you leave a comment here, I'll enter you into a random drawing for a fabulous prize-- either a free gothic romance e-book (I'll give you some choices if you win) or a couple print gothic romances by mail.

Your time and opinions and your readership mean a lot to me. So, tell me what's on your mind.
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