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A picture of the new print edition of Castle of the Wolf
Today I come to you with all kinds of bookish news: I’m currently knee-deep into the production of new print editions of all of my books. (It kind of hit me when I was preparing  Eagle’s Honor: Ravished, which I have entered into the RITAs, for print that very few of my novels were actually available as paperbacks. So it was definitely beyond time to remedy that situation.) Moreover, a few weeks ago, I also discovered how to create drop caps in MS Word and since then I’ve been on a roll. As you can see from the picture above. 🙂

For the print edition of Castle of the Wolf, my Beauty & the Beast story, in which a young woman inherits a mysterious castle in the Black Forest, I chose a set of initial letters that reminded me of old fairy tale books. I thought that was quite fitting since fairy tales play a very important role in the story.

So this is the good part. However, overall Sandra’s Adventures in Print Publishing didn’t go quite that smoothly. The grumpy dude on the cover? He’s orange. “But, Sandy,” you might say, “he is not orange in that picture above.” Yeah. I know. I applied a number of filters to that picture above because I didn’t want to inflict his glow-in-the-dark color on anyone. So if you’d like to get a nice new edition of Castle, please wait a few days. I’m currently fixing it. (I just hope he doesn’t turn out to look like a zombie this time around.) (That’s what living in a run-down castle does to you: turns you into a zombie!)

But what *did* turn out really nicely is the frontispiece (see? I’m really on a roll here! hehe!): I did include a sketch of the Kastelburg in Waldkirch, upon which the castle in my novel is (partly) based. Here is a picture of the frontispiece in the making:

A sketch of the Kastelburg in Waldkirch Annnnnnd in other bookish news, my grumpy centurion, whom I mentioned in my last post about doing portraits, is going to hit bookshelves this Friday. I so enjoyed telling Caius & Lucius’ story. I fell in love with these two when I first wrote them as secondary characters into Eagle’s Honor: Ravished, which is set ten years after The Centurion’s Choice, and I knew from almost the start that I very much wanted to tell their story as well.

Teaser image for The Centurion's Choice by Sandra SchwabFor me, one of the great joys of writing the Eagle’s Honor series is that has expanded into an exploration of family relations across several generations as well as an exploration of family stories. Family stories formed an important part of my growing up – my paternal grandmother in particular liked telling me stories about the time when my father and his sisters were little, and sometimes also about the time when she was a young woman. And above my parents’ dining table there’s a huge collage of family pictures going back as far as the 1890s. So my own experiences of how people in my family talked about their past and about people from past generations I’ve never met, very much informed the way I have been approaching the stories the Florius family share.

I love imagining what kind of stories members of the Florius family would share about past generations and what kind of things would be passed from one generation to the next. And also imagine what sort of circumstances would interrupt this chain of oral traditions; in how far memories might change over time. For me, it’s a really nice way to link these stories that set apart several decades. (And of course, I hope readers will enjoy these links, too!)

Teaser image for The Centurion's Choice, by Sandra SchwabBut, of course, these family stories just form a tiny part of the background for The Centurion’s Choice, which at its heart is a enemies-to-friends-to-lovers story. With a very grumpy centurion. 🙂 (Watching those grumpy guys fall in love is always such great fun, isn’t it?) So without further ado, here’s the blurb for the novella. I will add buy links on Friday, when the book comes out.

It’s 178 AD, and barbarian tribes once again threaten the borders of the Roman Empire. To make matters worse, Lucius’ promotion in his auxiliary cohort has been denied, and instead the governor has appointed a moody, mean-tempered Roman to become the new centurion of the Septem Gallorum. And, incidentally, to trample all over Lucius’ ambitions.

Tall and burly, Centurion Caius Florius Corvus might be way too good-looking for Lucius’ peace of mind, but the man has also made it abundantly clear that he doesn’t trust Lucius as his second-in-command. Yet as they are swept into war and each has to shoulder his responsibilities, a reluctant respect begins to grow between them, which soon grows into friendship — and, perhaps, more?

Sandra Schwab, Castle of the Wolf Teaser image
Last month I re-released Castle of the Wolf, a novel that was originally published back in 2007. It is a gothic romance — well, at least, it was planned as one, only then the lady with the sturdy boots turned up in the story and stomped all the gothicness to dust. Quite… eh… literally.

In the best gothic tradition, Castle isn’t set in England, but in southern Germany — in the Black Forest, to be exact, the place where I spent my primary school years and a place that is drenched in stories and covered with deep, dark woods. And quite a few castle (ruins).

Kastelburg in Waldkirch

The Kastelburg in Waldkirch. I spent my primary school years in this little town, & the town & castle were the inspiration for the main setting in Castle of the Wolf

Upon her father’s death, my heroine surprisingly inherits one such castle upon the condition that she marry the son of its former owner. Alas, that son turns out to be a super-grumpy dude, who does his very best to make Cissy leave the castle again. Enter rats, bats, a mouse skeleton (hey, it’s a gothic romance, there needs to be a skeleton, right?), and a bunch of very mysterious gargoyles. Oh, and there’s a very intriguing deck of (erotic transformation) cards too. In other words, my heroine has her work cut out for her if she wants to unravel the secrets of the castle.

One of the main themes of the novel is hinted at when Cissy is still in England and is packing her bags:

Cissy carefully wrapped one of her tea dresses around her copy of the Lyrical Ballads  so the leather-bound volume would come to no harm in the travel chest during her journey. […]

“I cannot imagine what you want to do in Baden.” Wood creaked as her brother George shifted on the chair. “There is nothing for you there.”

There is nothing for me here. For a moment, Cissy had to close her eyes. Then she shook her head and busied herself with wrapping her book and putting it away. “I am going to have a castle.” Just imagine: a castle. Like a princess. She took up another tome.

“And marry a man you have never seen in your life.” Suddenly George sounded aggressive. “How our dear father could have come up with such a harebrained scheme is quite beyond me, I swear!”

Distracted, Cissy frowned and rubbed a thumb over a scratch in the blue leather cover of her book of German fairy tales, a present from her father for her nineteenth birthday. With her forefinger she traced the golden lettering: Kinder- und Hausmärchen gesammelt durch die Brüder Grimm.

Castle of the Wolf is a story about stories: it’s stuffed full of references to fairy tales, local legends, and to modern popular literature. While Cissy travels to the Black Forest by steamboat down the Rhine, she hears the grizly legend of the Mouse Tower of Bingen (evil bishop eaten up by mice), and later on Fenris, the grumpy hero, provides for a nice Austen / Bridget Jones moment: “For somebody called Fenris to strut around like a snarling demon wolf was just as ridiculous as, say, for somebody called Darcy to refuse to dance at an assembly.” I also couldn’t resist putting a German copy of Terry Pratchett’s Men at Arms (Helle Barden) into the castle library.

However, the most significant body of reference is formed by works of British and German Romanticism. I mean, when you have a grumpy hero and a completely exasperated heroine, you just have to reference Byron’s Byronic heroes, right? (Or rather, let the heroine reference them.) (She has never liked Byron’s Pirate and thinks Fenris’ sulking around the castle is a tad too melodramtic.) In addition, the German setting allowed me to refer to all my favorite German literary fairy tales, first and foremost Ludwig Tieck’s “Eckbert the Fair” (no happy ending, alas) with the enchanting song about woodsolitude sung by a magical bird:

Brings joy to me
Now and tomorrow
What joy to me,

In the course of Castle of the Wolf, Cissy also reads one of my favorite literary novels in German, E.T.A. Hoffmann’s The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr. The first two volumes of the novel were published in 1819 and 20; Hoffmann died before he could begin working on the third volume. In a way, it is fitting the novel remained a fragment, for it is told in fragments: it is the autobiography of the (rather conceited) Tomcat Murr, who rips apart an older book to have paper to write on and as blotting paper. This older book is another biography, that of the bandmaster Kreisler, and at first it seems that these two stories don’t have anything to do with each other, but they become more and more intertwined. The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr was clearly a writing experiment for Hoffmann, a fun project where he created something very innovative and very intriguing.

cover Castle of the WolfSo in other words, my own novel, Castle of the Wolf, is a declaration of love for stories and for reading and for seeing the world through the lens of fiction.

If you would like to accompany Cissy on her journey to the Black Forest, grab a copy of Castle at the following retailers:


Happy reading!

I’ve kept thinking about our discussion last week’s post about Prinnyworld vs. the real Regency, also about news I had that a particular publisher was looking for “dark” stories, and it’s led me to wonder what dark means to different people.

“Dark” requires torture, but what sort?

The first darker books I read were some of Mary Jo Putney’s, stories like PETALS IN THE STORM (heroine raped by the men who just killed her father) and THE RAKE (alcoholic hero). Later, I discovered Laura Kinsale, whose stories are usually dark: FLOWERS FROM THE STORM (hero a stroke victim put into an insane asylum), SHADOWHEART (hero raised by his father to be an assassin). What some authors do to their poor characters…

My own darkest book was LADY DEARING’S MASQUERADE, the dark elements being the grim reality of the lives of foundlings and the bad first marriages of the hero and heroine. I put in a lot of lighter elements, though, this is “Little League” dark compared to Putney or Kinsale.

So there’s the sort of “Real World Dark” that draws upon real world elements, like poverty or war or sexual abuse. Things we still read about in the news.

My other darker book was SAVING LORD VERWOOD, in which it seemed everyone wanted to kill the hero. It was dark in a Gothic sort of way: deranged villain, eerie setting (north coast of Cornwall, where there are so many cliffs to throw people over). Despite the attempted murder plot, this book felt lighter to me than LDM. I think “Gothic Dark” is somehow less grim than “Real World Dark”, just because these elements are further removed from our lives and everyday news.

Then “Gothic Dark” shades over into “Paranormal Dark”, which often taps into the angst of the accursed and those who love them. My favorite paranormal Regency is Karen Harbaugh’s THE VAMPIRE VISCOUNT. This sort of story provides a delicious roller-coaster of emotion, a thrilling touch of horror. It’s so different from our ordinary lives that I think it is more escapist.

There end my musings… These flavor categories are just for fun, and I don’t mean to imply any of them is better or worse than the others. What do you think? Have I missed some flavors? Do you have favorites? Which authors do dark better than anyone else?

LADY DEARING’S MASQUERADE, Golden Quill Best Historical Romance!

Our guest today is Mallory Jackson, author of The Penwyth Bride, a haunting paranormal romance set in 18th century Cornwall, now available on Kindle and Nook.

Mallory’s fascination with gothic romance started when she read Jane Eyre as a teen and it never let up. She says “I’m a huge fan of heroes who have a dark secret. For some reason, I think that’s sexy. I like writing about heroines who have a few secrets of their own.”

Mallory also writes young adult fiction, fantasy, historical romances and paranormals. She’s written novels under a variety of pen names, but historical romance is her first love. She adores research and finding obscure facts, because for her those overlooked tidbits can become fodder for a novel. “Don’t get me started about the East India Company,” she says. “I can bang on about them for hours.”

Mallory is a West Coaster who has learned to love the seasons and bitter cold winters of the Northeast, where she currently lives with her husband, daughter and a horribly spoiled cat.

How did you think of writing this particular book? Did it start with a character, a setting, or some other element?

At the time I started writing The Penwyth Bride (2001), I’d been having a love affair with traditional gothic romances. You know, books written by authors such Virginia Coffman, Mary Stewart, and Daphne DuMaurier. Those authors wrote with incredible precision and detail. Their heroines were usually plucky innocents and their heroes magnetic and tortured by a dark secret. I wanted to write a historical romance that took these classic elements and updated them for today’s reader, with plenty of sensuality and a dash of magic.

I’d also just finished watching the classic BBC miniseries Poldark with its emphasis on interpersonal family drama with a ton of drama and angst, and I wanted to capture that mood as well.

Finally, I wanted a story set in the 18th century. It was an interesting time where superstition and reason were butting heads with each other. I wanted to explore the tension between the two points of view. On a shallow note, I also really like the 18th century’s ambiance – fashion, music, preoccupations.

It wasn’t until I’d finished the manuscript and my agent at the time started shopping it around that I learned that a) publishers weren’t interested in a historical romance with classic gothic elements and b) weren’t keen on family dramas and c) didn’t like the fact that my heroine was a witch. Historical romances at the time were heavily “duke” oriented, set mostly in the first 50 years of the 19th century, and with characters that fit a specific framework. Happily the publishing situation is different now. Very.

Tell me more about your characters.

Much like the 18th century, Persia Eames is a woman caught between two worlds where the old superstitions and new focus on reason and “enlightened” thinking are in constant friction. Her father was a landed squire while her mother was a witch who was killed by the villagers. She’s trapped between these dual heritages and is struggling to find her own place in the world. She’s under constant danger of being unmasked as a witch, while at the same time she’s also considered a rich marriage prize. She’s sent to Cornwall for an arranged marriage. But she meets Roger Penwyth, a moody troubled man with secrets of his own, and is both repelled and drawn by him. Unfortunately he’s not the man she’s been sent to marry. So she’s got a lot to deal with.

Roger Penwyth also has a lot to deal with. He’s a loner on the outs with his extended family, the Penwyths. The rift widens when he meets Persia and falls in love with her. But she’s intended for his cousin who is handsome, charming and has everything going for him— the sort of man every woman dreams of, and the sort of man he isn’t—and he knows this. Roger is also carrying a dark secret that torments him. But his passion for Persia pushes him to risk everything, including his life.

Did you run across anything new and unusual while researching this book?

I’m a research junkie and I immersed myself in Cornish lore and legends, which I wove throughout the story. I found the Cornish traditions fascinating, both brutal, beautiful, and layered from centuries of storytelling. They seemed like an oral record of what we would call magic, which I used to inform the plot.

What was your publishing journey like, and what advice to you have for other writers?

The Penwyth Bride languished for quite some time. This book had been rejected by everyone. I’d get quite lengthy rejection messages from editors who said the writing was gorgeous, the plot compelling, and the characters wonderful – but they were passing on the book because it “wasn’t quite right for their lists”. After a year of rejections, my agent and I stopped the subbing process and I moved on.

Then, I sort of forgot about it. But a few months ago, my critique network started encouraging me to consider digital publishing. They remembered the book and how much they loved it. With encouragement from writers like Elena Greene, who generously blurbed my book, I took the digital publishing plunge. I figured if even just a few readers discover the story and it entertains them, the book wasn’t written in vain.

My advice to other writers is if they have a project that had been rejected because publishers were too risk-averse to buy their book back in the day to go ahead and publish their book themselves. Readers are comfortable with e-books now and are eager for good stories. Just make sure your story is the best it can be and that the editing is flawless.

What do you think is the greatest creative risk you’ve taken in this book?

The greatest risk I took was to write a story that pleased me and not the marketplace. I’d written a paranormal gothic historical romance with flawed characters who weren’t titled nobility and who had priorities that weren’t what publishers wanted at the time. So often novelists were constrained by the need to fit a certain commercial imperative because they didn’t want to spend a year writing novels they knew wouldn’t sell. Editors wouldn’t buy books that didn’t fit certain checkmarks. Digital publishing has completely blown this away, and now writers can write what they want and find ways to get it to readers without having to go through the traditional publishing gatekeeper. And the cool thing is that readers are responding. I think now there’s more variety than ever in historical romance, even among traditional publishers because readers have demonstrated that if you give them choices, they will respond positively.

What are you working on now?

I write under a variety of nom de plumes so right now I’m finishing a commission. But as soon as that’s off my plate, I’m returning to historical romance and another gothic story set in late 18th Brittany France.

I enjoy your use of first person, a point of view that emphasizes the gothic heroine’s vulnerability and the hero’s mystery. Would you share an excerpt?

He would have been sinfully handsome if not for two frown lines scoring between gilt brows, and a mouth downturned in a moody glimmer. Guinea gold hair, wild before, had been wrenched back, and he had shrugged carelessly into a coat tailored from expensive claret-colored Bristol cloth frogged with silver filé buttons.

He must have ridden like Lucifer to arrive ahead of me, I thought, and when I told myself to have done with the satanic metaphors, he himself roared:

“What the devil do you mean standing there while this lady has fallen?”

If his features were handsome, his voice was doubly so, the burred timbre as arresting as the first sip of amber malt.

I blinked into a gentleman’s neckcloth; a small tear rent the priceless lace fall. Farther up, eyes fiery with anger blurred inside a sudden smarting of tears in my own.

Faintly I heard the hired coachman’s stammered reply, and a respectful mutter wrenched from Hazel. The hard hand pinned my arm while he made a few more choice comments in that velvet whiplash voice, sending Hazel scurrying into the inn and Coachman Bobbet fawning like a cur. Then he turned his attention to me.

A chill of premonition furred the back of my neck.

“Are you Damon Penwyth?” I blurted.

It must have been imagination that made me see a flash of something like furious despair lighting the strange green eyes, the color of night mist running over a sailor’s moon, because in the next instant they stared down at me as opaque as slate.

“No. You’ll be relieved to know that I am Roger Penwyth.”

That voice.

I shivered. A lilt of indifference edged the creamy cadence as if the speaker found life not worth the effort. “Roger?” I repeated stupidly.

“Damon’s cousin. Go into the inn and set yourself aright. You can walk? Good. I’ll be with you shortly for I am come to fetch you.”

I made no move. He raked me again with those queerly blank eyes that missed nothing, and then, with a slight start, he noticed that he still imprisoned my arm securely under his fingers. He dropped it, clenching his fist before walking away, the chink of the spurs marking his gait. Beyond him, the black-and-white horse was tethered like any ordinary beast to a tiny tumbled-down cairn of rock, lipping at sparse blades of grass.

My eyes followed Roger Penwyth’s retreating back in bemusement. The flame that had ignited those features when I first saw him had been banked. He now appeared sullen rather than bitter, I thought, morose rather than ferocious. He moved with the grace of one who spends his life out-of-doors, except for a hunching of shoulder, Prometheus-like, away from the flapping vulture. Well, the heart must be protected, mustn’t it?

Thanks, Mallory!

Questions or comments for Mallory? Be sure to comment for the chance to win a Kindle or Nook edition of The Penwyth Bride!

Void where prohibited. You must be over 18. No purchase necessary. Post your comment by midnight EST on January 29. I will post an announcement on Monday, January 30th, so please check back to see if you have won.

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(n) Gothic romance (a romance that deals with desolate and mysterious and grotesque events) — from the Princeton University website

My introduction to Gothic romance was in high school, where I first read Jane Eyre and got sucked in by all the classic Gothic romance elements: a romantic but dangerous setting, an innocent and vulnerable heroine, a hero with Secrets. Later (having gone to an all-girl Catholic school) I also read Rebecca, a more modern Gothic that fascinated me and many of my classmates.

I suspect a lot of Gothic romance authors have been inspired by Jane Eyre, but Charlotte Bronte was by no means the founder of the genre. During the Regency, readers enjoyed Gothic romances such as those published by the Minerva Press. It was Ann Radcliffe who made them popular with examples like The Mysteries of Udolpho, which inspired much of the foolish behavior of Catherine, the heroine of Northanger Abbey. Although Jane Austen poked fun at Gothics, I suspect she enjoyed reading some of them herself. BTW I find this cover for Northanger Abbey very funny!

Gothics can go awry. I think the concept of the TSTL (Too Stupid to Live) heroine arose with romances in which the heroine runs off in her nightie, holding nothing but a candle, to investigate an eerie sound in the attic or cellar where dire events are suspected to have occurred.

I still like Gothic romance and I happily suspend disbelief to follow the characters into situations that are wildly unlikely in real life. I played with some of these elements in my recent reissue, SAVING LORD VERWOOD. I haven’t read many recent historicals like this (though I’m admittedly way behind in my reading) but dark paranormals provide the same thrill. A well-written romance with Gothic elements is like a piece of luscious chocolate. Who cares if it’s good for you?

Do you enjoy romance with Gothic elements? What are some of your favorites, classic or modern?

I’ll be giving away 5 Kindle or Nook copies of SAVING LORD VERWOOD to commenters chosen at random. If you win, you can also nominate a friend to receive a free copy. Void where prohibited. You must be over 18. No purchase necessary. Post your comment by midnight EST on January 13. I will post an announcement on Saturday, January 14, so please check back to see if you have won.


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