From the #1 Best-Selling Horror Anthology, Dark Visions, comes Excavation Murder from award-winning author, Victoria Clapton!
Without a word we followed Eugene down into the darkness as the cellar doors closed behind us. We were forced to creep in the silent oppression, listening only to the sounds of our racing hearts and ragged breaths while smelling what surely was the awful, unmistakable scent of death. Along the way, I had begun to beat myself up for not having the foresight to put a stop to this charade earlier. We should never have followed him down to this pit. I’d had a bad feeling from the beginning, and now, we were underground in the middle of nowhere, walking into what I imagined would be a horrific death. I opened my mouth to shut this mission down. For the first time ever, I did not care what waited in the unknown. I did not even care if my suspicions were unfounded. “It’s time we…”
“We’re here.” Eugene’s excitement filled the cold space. “This isn’t the way I’d hope you’d discover my treasure trove, but, Ally, I’m so glad it is you. I’d always hoped your parents could come here. But alas, they were the ones who got away. Not you, Ally. I knew I could depend on you.”
Darkness thickened around us, and I fought an urge to tell my crew that I was sorry, though I didn’t know for what, when Eugene struck a match and lit a couple of old oil lanterns, casting an eerie, dull light around a large chamber illuminating an unimaginable sight…
I know you’re intrigued!
If you liked Excavation Murder, you’ll love Victoria’s Clapton’s work!
I am a huge fan of The Binding Series!
Why did I write a prequel to
Monsters & Angels,
instead of a sequel?
I spent the last few days before the release Raimond, reflecting on how the Monsters & Angels Series was born.
In January of 2013, the winter after Superstorm Sandy, I was desperately searching for an escape. Though the season was tremendously bleak and depressing, it held an unexpected gift—a story.
Monsters & Angels is the tale of Sorcha Alden’s life and death, her tragedy, rebirth and epic love. I released that novel as my debut in October of 2017 and immediately got to work writing the sequel…then a funny thing happened.
I realized that a step back was necessary in order to move forward. My readers also pointed out that, while I was writing Sorcha’s story, Raimond was the real leading man of this saga.
Raimond is more than a prequel, it’s the foundation for Monsters & Angels…and now we can truly waltz into the future.
A lone soldier on night watch. A single bullet through the heart. Every light in Paris flickers—the city’s thundering silent scream.
When Commander Raimond Banitierre was assassinated, French Revolutionaries lost their gallant leader. After a villain’s offer of eternal life condemned him to slavery, Raimond rebelled again, driving his vampire comrades to freedom.
Raimond escapes to Savannah, Georgia where his dream of becoming a doctor comes true. During his trial-by-fire residency on the Civil War’s battlefields, he discovers his true calling—the power to preserve memories and dignity in the face of death. His chance meeting with a beguiling mortal nurse ignites passionate nights and a long overdue crack in the door to paradise.
Vicious flames and an unholy miscalculation deliver Raimond back to the depths of hell. Being arrested for treason makes him wish for death and the arrival of Prince Draven Norman appears to be the final nail in Raimond’s coffin. Will the prince’s eccentric judgement grant Raimond a true reprieve? Is Draven’s invitation to join New Orleans mystical royalty an extension of his own treachery, or the next step in Raimond’s miraculous journey?
Has the legendary Crescent City found a spirit noble enough to protect her future?
A Monsters & Angels Novel
Ever since I was a kid in Upstate New York, the magic of going to a baseball game was something I’ll never forget. We had a AAA team in our town and they were the farm club of the New York Yankees. The post World War II stadium was small and quaint. It was also a bit rundown.
I remember opening days when snow had to be plowed from the tarp so the game could take place. I also remember humid summer nights where the mosquitoes were so dense, you had to brush them away from your face.
When I set out to write Extra Innings, I wanted to capture the feeling of that magic, but add another element to the story. What emerged is a story of a sad man, Joe McLean, who’s trying to capture some of his youthful memories as his beloved baseball stadium is being demolished to make way for a new one.
He buys a piece of memorabilia and receives more than he bargained for. He then sets off on a journey, using his newfound power, to change his life and undo some of the mistakes he made in his past.
The results are surprising.
Please enjoy Chapter 1 of my new book, Extra Innings. If you enjoy it, you can purchase a copy by clicking HERE.
Extra Innings – Chapter 1
Triple–A baseball is just one step below the majors. For Joe McLean and his family, being fans of the Langerton Chiefs was a legacy passed down through multiple generations.
Langerton is located in a no-man’s land part of Pennsylvania that forms a small barrier between Western New York and Eastern Ohio and butts up against Lake Erie.
Langerton’s sports scene consists of baseball during the all-too brief Spring, Summer, and Fall along with minor league hockey during the seemingly endless winter. Hockey was a great diversion in the winter, but it was baseball that added a special magic to the brief period of warm summer nights.
The Langerton Chiefs had a long history going back to the 1940s. The United States was hungry for normalcy after the horrors of World War II. The wholesomeness and pure sensibilities of the American spirit that baseball offered were just the cohesive forces the country needed to pull itself together.
The minor league system for baseball, with its A, AA, and AAA teams, gave fans an outlet for inexpensive entertainment that showcased talented players before their potential ascent to the Major League. Many of the stars of the AAA Chiefs went on to be well-known players. Also, players on the mend or those looking for a comeback, often made appearances in minor league parks to sharpen their skills with the farm team before, hopefully, heading back to their major league clubs.
The parent clubs of these teams tended to shift from time to time. Joe McLean remembered, with great fondness, the days when the Chiefs were a New York Yankees farm club. The Yanks would come to Langerton each year for an exhibition game. Joe and his brother, Mike, had stood in line for autographs from greats like Don Mattingly, Dave Winfield and other stars of the 80’s and 90’s. Joe’s dad had a baseball card for Thurman Munson that had the late, great catcher’s signature.
Now, as Joe passed into middle-age, the Langerton city council had voted to tear down the old Maxwell Stadium and replace it with one of those brand-new but old-fashioned venues that had become popular when the Baltimore Orioles built Oriole Park at Camden Yards in 1992. Joe was not happy with this development.
“I can’t believe they’re going to tear the old place down,” Joe said to his brother Mike as they downed a huge breakfast at the Little Star Diner.
“It’s just progress. Maxwell is a dump.”
“A dump? It’s the place where we saw some great players and some great games. How can you call it a dump?”
“Yeah. We did have some great times there back when the Yanks were our team instead of the Blue Jays. They’re not even an American team.”
“How many Americans make up a team these days, anyway?” Joe half-joked. “You’re right. Most American kids play soccer now. I don’t understand a game where, after three hours, there’s no score,” Mike said.
“Sounds a lot like baseball?”
It was different though, the brothers agreed. A scoreless baseball game was a nerve-wracking event where, with each pitch, a million different outcomes were possible and strategic decisions could turn the momentum in a game. Both McLean brothers believed this to be true.
“I’m going to miss those old metal and wood seats. Something about that place made me feel at home,” Joe said.
“The new place will be fine. It’s the game that counts,
not where it’s played.”
“I know, but still, the ambiance is going to be missed.”
“Ambiance? Look at you Mr. Fancy College Boy. If you miss it so much, why don’t you go grab some pieces of the stadium and put them in your apartment?”
Mike was the older brother by eight years. He was approaching fifty, but looked older. He had a husky build with a strong upper body balanced out by a substantial beer gut. His grey curly hair topped a roundish head with an Irishman’s ruddy complexion. He was taller and wider than his younger brother, but they had the same piercing blue eyes inherited from their mother. Mike went to work in the local auto plant right out high-school. Joe had gone to college and was now a CPA.
Joe was silent.
“I don’t like that look, little brother. I was joking, but your face says you didn’t get the joke.”
“Well, what are they going to do with the seats and the signs?”
“Trash them. After they salvage what they want, they’ll come in with dozers and backhoes and tear the place down, load it in dump trucks, and haul it away.”
“So what’s the harm in taking a seat or some signs if they’re going to just dump them?”
“There’s no harm if you don’t mind the breaking and entering or the theft charges that go along with your plan.”
“Listen to you. You always had a drawer full of candy bars and cigarettes in our room when we were kids. Did you pay for those? Besides, I was going to ask if I could take something, or even buy it.”
“Hey, we were kids back then and, even though Mom and Dad dragged us to church every Sunday, I didn’t know any better.”
Joe smiled at his brother’s comment. He remembered those Sundays when Father McDougal would give a homily filled with parables about the evils of money and material goods. This was always followed by the passing of the basket so that the church could collect some of that evil money.
“I’ll call the team office and see who I need to talk to. You never know, they might just let me take some stuff,” Joe said.
“Well good luck with that. I’ll be looking forward to those padded box seats in the new Price Choice Stadium.”
The stadium was to be named for a grocery store chain owned by Lackawanna Specialty Services, a holding company with rumored ties to the mob in Western New York. LSS owned the land that the stadium was on and
decided to name the stadium after its discount grocery store chain and obliterate Maxwell name that the stadium carried for nearly 70 years honoring a World War II hero from the area.
“I’ll be there too, but I sure will miss old Maxwell with its leaky roof and smoky field.”
The concession stands that sold burgers, hot dogs, and other grilled items were close to the field at the third base side. When the wind swirled off of Lake Erie, it often took the smoke from the old-fashioned grills and covered the field in a thick, wonderful smelling, carcinogenic haze.
The brothers finished their breakfast and went their separate ways. Mike, to one of the few remaining auto parts manufacturers in the northeast, and Joe, to the accounting firm of Romano, Provenza and Bianchi. The brothers got together for breakfast every Tuesday morning and had done so every week of their adult lives barring sickness, vacation and holidays. The Little Star, a 55 year-old greasy spoon was always their destination.
Joe pulled into his firm’s parking lot. The building that housed R, P, & B was a circa 1960 cinder block box with plate glass windows. Joe had worked here for 20 years. He was a hard worker and would have made partner in any other firm by now. Nepotism and the lack of an Italian last
name, however, kept that from happening in this firm. He was content. He lacked the drive and the nerve to strike out on his own. R, P,& B was the only accounting firm in town and virtually every business and many individuals in Langerton made up their client base. Joe walked past the offices along the wall to his half-walled cubicle.
It was Johnny Provenza III, one of the new junior partners that was just one year out of college and the son of one of the partners.
“Good morning, John.”
“How about those Steelers last night?”
“I missed it. The Yankees were playing the Red Sox in the ALCS last night.”
“Baseball. What a snooze fest. Does anybody watch that anymore?”
“I still do,” Joe said feeling his age more than ever.
“Oh yeah, of course. By the way Joe, do you have the Healthway numbers for me yet? Dad’s been asking for them.”
“I’m just checking some last minute figures and should have it to you by the end of today.”
John noticed others in the firm beginning to watch the exchange between him and Joe.
“See that you do, Joe. I won’t tolerate missing a deadline,” the young Provenza said in a voice that had doubled in volume.
Healthway was one of the accounts that Johnny had been handed when he joined the firm as a junior partner. It was a lucrative medium-sized account with minimal complexity, but was way above Johnny’s abilities. Joe had offered to help and found the account totally dumped on him. He was doing all the work and would receive none of the credit. He wondered if John Provenza II. knew the work was not being done by his son. Joe would never tell. He just did his job without passion day after day. He was content. His only passion these days was baseball.
Baseball was an obsession that led to Joe tracking every statistic of every player on the Langerton team as well as the Yankees. He went to every Chiefs home game and weekend away games when they were within a three hour drive. It the game was more than three hours away, he was at home glued to the radio with a baseball score book recording every pitch, swing, score and out. And now, they were tearing down old Maxwell Stadium. The place where so many of his memories were made. He needed to get a piece of those memories for himself before they hauled everything away, but how?
Joe put it out of his mind. He had the Healthway numbers to finish and he had to focus and set aside his childish notions. He didn’t think about it again until lunch time.
Welcome Patricia Leslie!
Monsters, magic and mayhem
What is the draw of magic in stories? Why does it attract us? What does it say about the human condition that no matter who or where we are in this world, we so love a story with magicians and witches, elves, dwarves, and various monsters causing mayhem?
Magic is the potential of dreams and desires. We wish for our heart’s desire as we blow out candles and after a successful hunt for a four-leaf clover. No matter how much or how little we have, we wish for more. More of whatever we feel a lack of in our lives. Prettier looks, money, success, and, of course, love. We wish pain would go away and that our enemies will suffer. Because we wish, our minds are open to stories of magic. We are well-prepared to suspend disbelief and enter worlds where wizards walk and witches sing and dance around cauldrons. A good many of us desire interaction with fantasy worlds so much we dress up, plaster our surroundings with symbols, and memorize words of power.
From our birth, when wishes and prayers for a long and healthy life rain over us, to the first time we are instructed to make a wish, the longing for magical or divine intervention is ingrained into our psyche. It is no surprise then that as we grow we are often transfixed by stories where people are helped by magic-bearers and secret wishes are granted by faeries. Our life, physically and emotionally soars and dips. Having magical stories to escape to helps us cope with change and tension – even if only to distract us and give our minds a rest.
The magic used in Keeper of the Way is from a time when magic was everyday, concocted over the kitchen hearth, and used for the well-being of all. Rosalie Ponsonby and her friends use beans on their runners, honey fresh from a hive, bread baked with fine-ground flour, and specially prepared herbal teas. This is hidden magic – where the ordinary can be used to create something extraordinary. Black salt (salt mixed with ash) and lavender is used as protections from evil. Lemons are cut and left by doorways and windows. We may think of these as “old wives tales” today, but this is merely another way of hiding magic.
Sigil-craft is also used – the manipulation of written words to request a blessing or boon from the Spirits. The women start with Chaos-magic – simplified spells using the quickest means and easiest tools (pencil and paper) and will work their way toward intricate designs with ink and air and mist as their ability grows. Their tools also become more assertive; from pencils to craft basic sigils and a wooden spoon to stir their cauldrons to swords, daggers, and wands.
But we also require balance and we can’t have good without some bad. We wish and wish, and are told to be careful what we wish for – we must think about the things we are asking for or the wish outcomes may not be as we expect. Faeries are ever ready to play tricks on us. Magicians, wizards, and witches may not be as they seem, and monsters lurk in every dark crevice of the mind.
The antagonists in Keeper of the Way, Algernon and Clement Benedict use blood sacrifice and dark rites to align themselves with malignant spirits. They misuse tools of power to infect malicious energy into the home and sanctuary of Rosalie and her family, and are prepared to commit murder to further their own needs. They have stolen relics guarded by the MacKinnon Clan for millennia and corrupted their purpose, deliberately opposing the morality of the Ponsonby family, their friends, and their ancestral spirits.
Fairytales of our youth drip with warnings, symbols, and moral lessons. Often these lessons have helped shape our moral compass without us realising. In Keeper of the Way and throughout the Crossing the Line series, we will see how easily this compass can be disrupted as the Benedict men continue to act in opposition to the beliefs they profess to.
If you’ve grown up on a steady diet of speculative fiction, everything from fables and fairytales to Lord of the Rings-style high fantasy, and Harry Potter-esque teenage adventures then you’ll be ready to believe in magic everywhere you see or hear of something otherwise unexplainable. Even in the kitchen pantry.
Myths become truths waiting to be proven.
Mysteries are doorways between the natural and supernatural worlds.
And monsters lurk in the shadows waiting for mayhem to descend.
Keeper of the Way is the first book in the Crossing the Line series. Patricia’s books can be purchased via all the usual places online or ask for it at your favourite bookstore.
(Odyssey Books are distributed by Novella Distribution)
After news of grave robbing and murder in Dun Ringall, the ancient stronghold of Clan MacKinnon on the Isle of Skye, Rosalie realises it is time to share her family’s secrets. Descendants of the mystical Ethne M’Kynnon, Rosalie tells of a violent rift that occurred centuries earlier, splitting Ethne from her sisters forever and causing relentless anguish and enmity between ancient families.
Meanwhile, Algernon and Clement Benedict have arrived in Sydney searching for the lost relics of their family. They are driven by revenge and a thirst for power, and will take what they can to reinstate their family heritage. Their meddling with ancient magic will have far-reaching effects, as they fail to realise their role in a far greater quest.
In the grounds of Sydney’s magnificent Garden Palace, danger grows as an ages-old feud of queens and goddesses heats up. The discovery of arcane symbols bring the distant past in a foreign land to Australia and will cause a profound struggle with tragic results, a surprising new recruit from an unknown world, and the complete destruction of the palace.
Set around stories and characters in 1882 Sydney, Keeper of the Way includes current affairs, people and buildings long gone, and gives a voice to people history doesn’t always listen to.
Keeper of the Way is published by Odyssey Books.
Patricia Leslie is an Australian author with a passion for combining history, fantasy, and action into stories that nudge at the boundaries of reality.
When their worlds collide, neither will be left unscarred. Suffocated by her small-town life, Maggie Hale runs away to Las Vegas to pursue her dream as a contemporary dancer. But Vegas doesn’t turn out like she imagined. She doesn’t make it into Essence Dance Theater and the only job she can find is working in a greasy diner—again.
Jay Thornton wants to quit enforcing and own his own boxing gym one day. But his loan shark boss saved him from the streets as a kid and he owes the man everything. Cutting ties isn’t so simple.
When Maggie pledges to pay back a friend’s loan, she becomes Jay’s next mark. Sparks fly between them, but choosing each other could mean the end of both their dreams.
COLLIDE by Melanie Burt Standford, is inspired by Elizabeth Gaskell’s NORTH & SOUTH.
Thanks Anne Marie, for having me today! And thank you for the idea to post about my Top 10 Inspirations!
I’m so excited that COLLIDE, my second Romance Revisited novel, is finally out! It’s about Maggie, a small-town girl who runs away to Vegas to pursue her dreams of becoming a contemporary dancer, and Jay, a loan shark’s enforcer who wants to own his own boxing gym one day. Naturally, when they meet sparks fly. It wouldn’t be a romance otherwise, now would it!
So here are my Top 10 Inspirations for COLLIDE:
1. North & South. COLLIDE is inspired by Elizabeth Gaskell’s classic novel. I wouldn’t call it a retelling because I make quite a few changes, but I wouldn’t have written COLLIDE without Gaskell’s beloved novel. There are so many great things about this book, and while it wasn’t easy putting it into a modern-day setting, I had a fun time trying!
2. Small-town living. In the original, Margaret Hale and her parents move from a small town in the South to a bustling, enterprising city in the North. In COLLIDE, Maggie is from Hillstone, a fictitious small town that’s inspired by where I live right now mixed with a healthy dose of idealising what a small town should be like. Maggie needed to come from somewhere so different from Vegas, and from Jay, that I really amped up Hillstone’s charm.
3. The BBC movie (or miniseries, or whatever it’s called- there are four parts). I watched this before I ever read the book and it is FANTASTIC. (In fact, I like it better than the book, but don’t tell anyone.) One of my favorite things is how the actors do so well with their facial expressions that words aren’t necessary to know exactly what they’re thinking. It’s a must-watch for period drama fans.
4. “Jungle” by X Ambassadors. I talk playlist at another blog tour stop, but when I heard this song, it evoked exactly how Maggie feels about Vegas. Before she goes she’s thinking it’s going to be beautiful and exciting, but it doesn’t turn out that way. One lyric especially really sums up Vegas for her: “…ain’t no God on these streets/In the heart of the jungle.”
5. Richard Armitage. His brooding stare, his smolder, the proposal and then his rebuttal. The end scene on the train platform *dies*. And, of course, one of my favorite lines from the movie, “Look back. Look back at me.”
6. Muay Thai. When I decided Jay was going to be an enforcer, I also wanted him to want to be better, do something different with his life. So I gave him a job at a boxing gym—he’s a good fighter after all—and an ambition to own it one day. A lot of the scenes at the gym were inspired by the years my son took Muay Thai classes.
7. Being Erica. So you’ll probably wonder why this short-lived Canadian TV show would have any bearing on my modern N&S romance. Here’s the deal. In the original story, Mr. Thornton is a mill owner. In the movie, Margaret first meets Mr. Thornton at the mill where he’s beating up one of his workers who was smoking near the cotton. Margaret is of course horrified, and Mr. Thornton wants her out of there. This scene stuck with me when I was considering what job to give my character Jay. At the same time as I was planning the novel, I was watching Being Erica. In season three, Erica starts dating Adam, a loan shark’s enforcer… you see where this is going. I guess the job sorta stuck with me.
8. My own upbringing. They say write what you know. Well, my dad has never been a “preacher,” but he held various religious positions in his life. I grew up in a very religious household. That being said, Maggie is not me and her parents are not my parents. But it wasn’t hard to write characters where religion is the backbone of who they are.
9. So You Think You Can Dance. SYTYCD is one of my favorite reality shows. I’ve watched it faithfully since season one. So when I was considering what Maggie’s “dream” would be, dance was an easy choice. I chose contemporary dance specifically because it’s such a beautiful art form, and often misunderstood or underappreciated. SYTYCD has some of the best contemporary choreography I have ever seen. (Melanie and Neil’s routine to “Total Eclipse of the Heart” is my all-time fave.)
10. Las Vegas. In my very first draft, Maggie moves from Hillstone to Milton, the name of the city in Gaskell’s original work. I quickly decided to change that to a real setting. I’ve been to Vegas multiple times. It’s both beautiful and ugly, exciting and boring, dangerous and drab. Most cities are probably like this, but Vegas is over-the-top this. I did consider LA, but I’d already set SWAY there, and New York, but New York felt too big, both in size and as a dream for Maggie. Vegas felt like the perfect place for Maggie to run to, for her parents to object to, and for Jay to have grown up in.
So there you have it. The Top 10 things that inspired my novel COLLIDE. Hope this inspires you to pick up a copy!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Melanie Stanford writes romance and YA of different genres. Her first novel, SWAY, a modern-day retelling of Jane Austen’s PERSUASION, debuted December 2015 from Samhain Publishing and was shortlisted for the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize. Since Samhain’s closure, Melanie decided to republish SWAY herself, along with the rest of her Romance Revisited series: CLASH, a Romance Revisited novella, COLLIDE, and a third novel coming 2018. She also has short stories featured in the Austenesque anthologies THE DARCY MONOLOGUES and THEN COMES WINTER.
Melanie reads too much, plays music too loud, is sometimes dancing, and always daydreaming. She would also like her very own TARDIS, but only to travel to the past. She lives outside Calgary, Alberta, Canada with her husband, four kids, and ridiculous amounts of snow.
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