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Charmed and Dangerous anthology news

So, there is a new anthology coming: Charmed and Dangerous, a collection of ten m/m paranormal romances. If you like mmpr (and if you’re reading this I have to assume you do or this will be like one of those really awkward party conversations where it turns out nobody knows anyone else there), you are likely to be just slightly thrilled. Check out the gorgeous cover, and also the author list. I am unspeakably excited to be part of this.

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When Jordan Castillo Price asked me to write a story (I like to drop that phrase into conversation), I set out thinking about ideas, and reached, as I often do, for Henry Mayhew. His 1860s book London Labour and the London Poor is an early example of social research, and includes long accounts of what his interviewees said, in their own words. (Ish, at least, there are questions over Mayhew’s literary ambitions, but let’s not be fussy.) Mayhew gave us three hulking volumes that told us how London’s least regarded workers and street-people lived.

One of the street trades was that of waste-man, the people who bought used paper and sold it on for packing and wrapping. Mayhew interviewed a waste-man who explained what his job was. I don’t know if there could be a more plot-bunny-packed paragraph than this; in particular, I would ask you to think about the effect of the last line of this quote on a writer of Victorian gay romance:

An old man dies, you see, and his papers are sold off, letters and all; that’s the way to get rid of all the old rubbish, as soon as the old boy’s pointing his toes to the sky. What’s old letters worth, when the writers are dead and buried? Why, perhaps 1½d. a pound, and it’s a rattling big letter that will weigh half-an-ounce. O, it’s a queer trade, but there’s many worse.

I read this paragraph and knew that I had my story for this anthology: an old man dying and his papers sold on. Which, since this is a paranormal romance story, are magical papers, bought unwittingly by a waste-man, which must be retrieved by the apprentice warlock before anything dreadful happens. (This is me. Hands up who thinks nothing dreadful will happen.)

Here’s the blurb for my story:

Apprentice magician Crispin Tredarloe returns to London to find his master dead, and his papers sold. Papers with secrets that could spell death. Waste paper seller Ned Hall can’t resist Crispin’s pleading—and appealing—looks. But can the waste-man and the magician prevent a disaster and save Crispin’s skin?

It is, of course, called A Queer Trade. (You wouldn’t have resisted that either.) And while it is an all-new story with completely new characters, sharp-eyed readers may see some old friends passing through.

Charmed and Dangerous is out 25 August, a mere fortnight after A Fashionable Indulgence, and weighs in at a startling 180K word length. Have fun!

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Victorian Occult Detectives: A Warning to the Curious

My new book is a romance (long, sometimes difficult, ranging over twenty years) between Simon, a Victorian occult detective, and his companion Robert, a journalist and writer. What do I mean, a Victorian occult detective? Ah, well, I’m glad you asked me that.

Secret CasebookThe Victorian era is famous for its incredible technological progress. This was a century that went from sail power and horses to a massive rail network and steamships capable of crossing the Atlantic. 1819 was the last full year of the Regency; by 1899 Marconi was sending radio across the English Channel, the paperclip had been invented, the theory of evolution was widely accepted, and we’d had the first motorcar companies and indeed the first fatal car crash. “Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change,” wrote Tennyson, who lived 1809-1892, and must have been pretty damn confused by it all.

Because it was scary. Evolution upended many accepted ideas about Biblical accuracy, chronology and how creation happened. It displaced God from the centre of many people’s world view, leaving a hole that had to be filled with something. There was a religious revival, spreading a peculiarly joyless Evangelical faith of the kind people often associate with the Victorians, but there was also an explosion of belief in dissenting sects, cults, and the supernatural. This was the great era of table-rapping, ectoplasm, séances.

…the religious and scientific strands of the century [were] closely intertwined. Every scientific and technological advance encouraged a kind of magical thinking and was accompanied by a shadow discourse of the occult. For every disenchantment there was an active re-enchantment of the world. (Roger Luckhurst, excellent article.)

It was easy to confuse miracles of nature with the supernatural. The occult started to be presented as if it were a new branch of science, subject to rules and study and investigation. And, honestly, why not? If telegraphy could send words whizzing through wires, why shouldn’t telepathy send words whizzing between brains? If magnetism could somehow produce electricity that made light, why couldn’t animal magnetism (aka mesmerism) produce a current that caused healing?

The occult detective was a response to this baffling period of grasping for belief, and confronting new science as it remade the world. It brought the old Gothic tradition together with the exploding genre of detective fiction, to show us people confronting the mysteries of a scary and unknowable world with the tools at their disposal. Thomas Carnacki, ghost-finder, uses an Electric Pentacle to keep evil at bay, and half of his cases show him detecting human fraud rather than supernatural activity. The good guys in Dracula attempt to save a vampire victim by means of blood transfusions. Plenty of the detectives didn’t go to occult school to be called Mr: we have Dr Hesselius, Dr Taverner, Dr Silence, and the boss of them all, Professor van Helsing, with a string of letters after his name. And even when the occult investigators are amateurs, they are very often academics. Most of MR James’ stories centre on scholars, using their powers of research, big libraries and intelligent questioning to solve the central mystery of what the hell is going on.

The occult detective says: the world is big, unknowable and terrifying, but we can get a grip on it with courage, by applying our knowledge, using our heads, working together. It stands up for human potential. If you have a heart, some books, a brain, and preferably a loyal assistant, you can take on whatever dark horrors the Gothic past throws at you and win.

That’s where romance and the occult detective meet. They’re both, fundamentally, about how people find light in a dark and scary world, about what the human brain and heart can do. And that’s why I wrote my occult detective stories as a romance, or possibly why I wrote my romance as occult detective stories. Either way, it worked for me.

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KJ Charles is a Rainbow Award-winning romance writer and freelance editor. She blogs about writing and publishing, spends too much time on Twitter, and has a Facebook group for book chat and sneak peeks. The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal, a Victorian occult m/m romance, is out now from Samhain.

A story too secret, too terrifying—and too shockingly intimate—for Victorian eyes.

A note to the Editor

Dear Henry,

I have been Simon Feximal’s companion, assistant and chronicler for twenty years now, and during that time my Casebooks of Feximal the Ghost-Hunter have spread the reputation of this most accomplished of ghost-hunters far and wide.

You have asked me often for the tale of our first meeting, and how my association with Feximal came about. I have always declined, because it is a story too private to be truthfully recounted, and a memory too precious to be falsified. But none knows better than I that stories must be told.

So here is it, Henry, a full and accurate account of how I met Simon Feximal, which I shall leave with my solicitor to pass to you after my death.

I dare say it may not be quite what you expect.

Robert Caldwell
September 1914

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Reasons to be Cheerful (with art, recs, comedy and quiz!)

One of the things that separates the United States from Britain, along with a large ocean and a shocking waste of tea, is Thanksgiving. The US has a national holiday all about counting your blessings; the British use ‘count your blessings’ as a polite synonym for ‘shut up’. If the British were forced to use the hashtag #ImThankfulFor, you’d mostly get ‘at least it’s not raining too heavily’ and ‘David Cameron will die one day’. This isn’t (just) grumpiness. I think it’s part of a national sense that talking about the good stuff you have is somewhere between bragging and tempting fate, just as I’ve read some cultures believe that praising a young child’s beauty or wonderfulness attracts the forces of evil, and you keep them under the devil’s radar by calling them Stinky Git for the first few years.

I’m OK with this because I’m British and rain is in my soul. But there’s a fine line between ‘not bragging about the good stuff you have’ and ‘not acknowledging how lucky and privileged you are when an awful lot of the world would like to be in your shoes’. I got married with the full support of the entire social structure and I can kiss my husband in public without fear; I don’t have to worry my son will be demonised because of the colour of his skin; I’m part of a nation that helped itself to other people’s land and is still coasting off the profits, rather than part of a nation that got raided; I can turn on a tap and clean water comes out. I’m not the 1%, I’m scrabbling for the mortgage, but by any reasonable standards I’m lucky beyond belief. And it’s very easy to take that as a given and not acknowledge one’s sheer baseline privilege.

That said, ‘I have clean water’ doesn’t make for much of a blog post. So, a day after the turkey business because creeping Americanisation of national holidays mutter mutter, a few of my reasons to be cheerful, which are also things that might make you cheerful too.

1) THIS ART OMG. Magpie fan and general genius Lyudmila Tsapaeva strikes again. This is glorious, all four characters absolutely spot on, and I am in love. (Earlier art here if you missed it – I think she’s got the characters perfect this time.) There is also a slightly NSFW version showing what the characters are thinking – join my Facebook chat group to see!

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2) The 2014 Goodreads M/M Romance Group Member’s Choice Awards are coming round, and counting anthology and collaboration, I’ve got sixteen nominations. Which is pretty incredibly pleasing.

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Obviously that’s me me me, but going through the nominations reminded me that I’ve read a lot of good books in this genre this year. That’s really important. Those who followed Queer Romance Month will have seen a lot of amazing posts about the importance of visibility for LBGTQ characters in popular culture, and that visibility needs to be backed up with quality of writing and storytelling and editing that holds its own in any company. So, here are a few recs of my year’s most enjoyed queer romance reads. Thank me later.

Prosperity by Alexis Hall, a steampunky explosion of wonderfulness which I adore and you should read, plus there are a load of linked stories, one of which is an ENTIRE FREE 40K NOVELLA. Seriously. Free. And the cover is the most gloriously, ridiculously old-skool-tropey thing ever. Look at it and go back in alt time to the Bare Chest Romance of Yore.

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The Devil Lancer by Astrid Amara, pure Crimean War historical-paranormal joy.

The Reluctant Berserker by Alex Beecroft, a marvellous trope-bending story of a Saxon warrior

SA Meade’s Tournament of Shadows, a historical set in the Great Game period. /dies of intense satisfaction/

To Summon Nightmares by JK Pendragon. Gothic demon-raising shenanigans, great trans hero and lovely worldbuilding. A really strong new paranormal voice.

Business Makes Strange Bedfellows by EE Ottoman, a 19th-century vampire/reanimator horror lesbian romance. Which is like the best string of words ever. I don’t generally like vampire romance but this does it perfectly. Also, if you didn’t read EE’s QRM post, go read it now.

Jordan L Hawk’s SPECTR series was my crack as it was coming out in episodes. Hugely plotted, twisty, exciting, sexy contemporary paranormal, with a monster-of-the-week structure and a brilliant overarching conspiracy story.

Five Dates, a free (AGAIN WITH THE FREE), sweet and well written contemporary by Amy Jo Cousins, who is a writer to watch.

3) This Jezebel takedown of Love, Actually. Because if that misogynist dreck becomes a ‘Christmas classic’ I’m going to go full pagan.

4) The fact that for every irritating Black Friday sales pitch/whine that we don’t have that here/orgy of materialistic greed, there is something hilarious on Twitter…

black fridayor Facebook…

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5) This never fails to make my editorial day: Authors doing a search and replace for character names without ticking the ‘whole word only’ box, leaving the editor with a game of Guess What They Used To Be Called. How many can you get?

The sign was painted scolinet

He had just hughed time

He had Italjames looks

She mary swiftly and walked away

Your felixing is dreadful

How irmavisting

I did that yesterstephen [clue: this one was me]

(Lovely blog post here from Becky Black on this.)

So that’s some of the things making me cheerful. How about you?

Where Magic meets Science: Victorians and the paranormal

The Victorians loved magic in their books, so much so that Victorian literature has shaped how we read and think about fantasy and the paranormal today. William Hope Hodgson invented the occult detective and cosmic horror, Bram Stoker brought the modern vampire into being with Dracula, and the massively best-selling The Sorrows of Satan pits the Prince of Darkness against the first and worst Mary Sue in literature. (Spoiler: he loses. I’ve written about this book, the Victorian Twilight, elsewhere, so I will just say here that I’m not taking any responsibility for anyone incautious enough to read it.)

But there’s something very special about Victorian fantasy, which is the way magic exists through – in fact, is – science. Dr Frankenstein births his creature as a scientific experiment. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is based round the discovery of a personality-splitting chemical formula. Trilby, one of the few books to inspire a hat, uses hypnotism as a means of forcing someone into international stardom and sexual thraldom (which is way more interesting than making a student think he’s a chicken).

Arthur C Clarke famously said, ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’ In Victorian England, most of the technology must have seemed like that. Trains could go so fast, passengers might suffocate! The air was full of tiny invisible killing machines that caused diseases! You could turn on a switch and make light! Words could fly through empty air, without wires, and come out on paper or even as sound! So why shouldn’t there be other amazing things out there too?

In the Victorian era, ‘animal magnetism’ was widely recognised as a universal principle of something through which everything in the universe is interconnected. The – I’m not sure of the word here, discoverer or inventor or simply ‘guy who made it up’ – was Franz Mesmer (as in mesmerism). He called it a ‘universal fluid’, and a lot of people believed in it. The magnificently named Baron von Reichenbach propounded a similar underlying principle of the universe, a force that a small proportion of individuals could control, with a light side and a dark side. He called it ‘Odic Force’. (If backwards he talked, know I do not.) And Thomas Edison – yes, that Thomas Edison – was sufficiently convinced by his version of a mysterious undetectable force carrying power through the air that he even drafted a patent for an ‘etheric telegraph’.

I went with Edison. In my Victorian England, it’s called etheric force, and it carries magic. I’m sure Baron von Yoda would have approved.

Find out how that works in The Magpie Lord, out now. The sequel A Case of Possession comes out on 28 January and I’ll be running a giveaway in a few days. A free short story, Interlude with Tattoos, set between books 1 and 2, is available now from Smashwords.

Oh,  and incidentally, The Magpie Lord got some votes in the Goodreads Members Choice Awards. Thank you if yours was one!

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Goodreads Members Choice Award nominations

I’m slightly stunned to have picked up a few nominations in the Goodreads M/M Romance Members Choice Awards 2013. And when I say a few, I mean that The Magpie Lord has been nominated in eight categories, which has left me completely thrilled. Including this:Image

…and this, which may be the best award I have ever been nominated for:

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It’s also been nominated for the fantastic cover by Lou Harper. As well it might be.

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And The Caldwell Ghost and Butterflies have both been nominated for Best Short Story! (You can judge Butterflies for yourself for free.)

Voting is open to anyone, not just group members, so if you fancy voting, either for me (well, duh) or for any of the many terrific books on the list, here’s the link.

Thank you for your patience, we return to our regularly scheduled yattering about books and stuff next time.

‘Interlude with Tattoos’ – free Magpie Lord story

I often wonder what happens to the characters at the end of a big plot climax. The vampires and werewolves eat each other, the alien spaceship is brought down, the centuries-old conspiracy of factions within the Catholic church is foiled (probably not all in the same book, although that does sound pretty cool). Our lovers run into each others’ arms at last… and then what? It’s all very well falling into bed with the rogue slayer/gruff CIA agent/Harvard symbologist, but what happens when you wake up with them?

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Seriously, suppose the book ended and then you woke up with no albino monks trying to kill you, and you really looked at his hair.

My first book The Magpie Lord ends with a newly forged and fairly unlikely relationship, and quite a few unanswered questions. The sequel, A Case of Possession, kicks off four months later, with our heroes established in a relationship, even if it’s not entirely an easy one. So I thought it would be fun to hop back to the end of The Magpie Lord and look at the bit in between when everyone’s wondering what the hell they just got into.

The resulting short story, Interlude with Tattoos, is free on Smashwords and Goodreads as a small Christmas thank-you to all the readers who enjoyed the first book. I hope you like it!

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Cover designed by Susan Lee, and isn’t it lovely.

NB: Interlude with Tattoos probably won’t make much sense if you haven’t read The Magpie Lord, so my advice would be a) rush out and buy The Magpie Lord right now, b) check out The Smuggler and the Warlord, a free Magpie prequel, or c) give up and read my standalone free short Butterflies instead.

A Case of Possession is out 28 January.

The First-Book Feeling (a view from both sides)

I’ve been a commissioning editor for fifteen years or so, and in that time I’ve taken on a lot of new authors, mostly out of the slush pile. That means I’ve made ‘The Call’ (the offer to publish someone’s first book) many times, and I can say with certainty that it’s far and away the best bit of the job. After all, to make someone else that happy normally takes a lot of money, several hours in the kitchen, or a level of sexual favours I’m just not prepared to offer authors. (Maybe the really good ones.)

The Call

Me: Hi, it’s KJ Charles from Publishers, I think you did a great job on the revisions, so I’d like to offer you a contract to publish the book.

Author, calmly: I see. Excuse me a moment.

[places phone on table]

Author [in distance]: AAAAAAIIIEIEIEIEIEIEEIEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! AAAAAAAAAAAH!!! OH MY GOD!!!!!

[picks up phone]

Author, calmly: Right, yes, that’s great, thanks.

I once made The Call in person. I had an opportunity to meet the author, so what the hell, I thought I’d tell her face to face that I’d like to publish her book. It’s one of my lifetime favourite memories. I have never seen an adult cry so much, so hard, for so long. People were clustering around us asking if she’d just been bereaved. It was brilliant.

I even have a record of how I felt when I got the email offering to publish The Magpie Lord, because I was straight on to my online book group. Bearing in mind that I’m a highly experienced editor, have a degree in English Literature and am attempting to build a career as a writer, how did I make this announcement?

F*** me, I’m going to be published!

Master of her craft, right there.

So yeah, it’s great when someone offers to publish your book…

And then you wait.

And then there’s edits. Some complete git telling you to change stuff! In your book! Ack!

And then you wait.

And then there’s the terrifying prospect of the cover. Which if you’re lucky (like me) is a thing of beauty, and if you’re not is the subjImageect of this conversation.

And then you wait.

And you join Goodreads as an author, and get yourself an Amazon author page, and blog, and guest blog, and tweet, and join groups, and do all those things that everyone says you have to do, and in between those things, you wait more.

And you check Twitter maybe 400 times a day in case someone’s reviewed it, and it’s not clear which is worse, getting a bad review or not being reviewed at all, but either way you kind of feel like throwing up.

Also, more waiting.

And then publication day dawns, and with it the following realisations:

  • The rest of the world is basically indifferent to this life-exploding development. Just because people can now buy it does not mean they will.
  • I cannot prevent my boss or my friends or my mother from reading it. I hope you guys like sex and weird magic horror. Let’s not do a book group.
  • My book is published. Today is the birthday-and-Christmas I’ve been waiting for all my life. Tomorrow will be… Wednesday.
  • If I want this dizzy, heady, ‘oh sweet lord I’m going to be published’ feeling again, I’m going to have to write another book. Another one!

But all of that is for tomorrow. Today, I’m going to enjoy having my first book published. And, also, drink.

The Magpie Lord is out from Samhain. KJ Charles is in the pub.