Musings on Vampires, Voodoo and Life

Wicked DreamsAs part of the Deadly Curiosities launch, I was fortunate to be a guest blogger for some really awesome blogs all around the world. Some wanted me to talk about a specific topic, others had questions for me, and still more wanted me to say whatever was on my mind.

In case you missed it, here are links to the interviews and musings—there’s stuff in here you won’t see anywhere else!


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Party Favors and Spiffy Stuff

Deadly Curiosities hit the ground running!

Everyone had a great time at the Facebook launch party—if you missed it, all the fun conversations and the freebies from my 20+ author guests are here: The Facebook Launch Party is over, but you can read all the great conversations here:

There’s a new video:

And Solaris Books has created two free computer wallpaper version of Chris McGrath’s awesome cover:

Not to mention two different Deadly Curiosities excerpts!

There are two new Deadly Curiosities Adventures short stories, Wicked Dreams and Collector—a great way to stay in touch with the characters until the second book comes out!

  • Wicked Dreams: Inexplicable murders among King Street merchants look like the work of a long-dead serial killer. Cassidy, Teag and Sorren go looking for an undead slasher before the body count rises.
  • Collector: A Collector’s passion brings death and despair to Battery Row. Cassidy, Teag and Sorren fight for their lives against an ancient spirit, a children’s bogeyman, who has brought her minions with her to help discipline all in her path.

Next up–I’ll be in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland in the next couple of weeks–look for me to do a signing at Forbidden Planet in London on 7/23, at Waterstones Cardiff on 7/31 along with Lou Morgan and Gareth Powell, and keep your eyes open for something in Edinburgh too!

Had a wonderful time at ConGregate!  Next up is Dragon*Con, then ContraFlow in October, followed by a hat-trick trifecta of November cons: World Fantasy/Atomacon/Philcon!  Hope to see you soon!

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It’s the End of the World—Bring Charmin


In the post-apocalyptic TV show “Revolution,” one of the characters, a former Google executive, says, “80 million dollars in the bank and I would trade it all right now for a roll of Charmin.”  Of all the things that society has lost, at that moment, he misses commercially-produced toilet paper.  It’s the little things that count.

I write the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, a post-apocalyptic medieval epic fantasy series, for Orbit Books. In Ice Forged, the first book in the series, my characters have to come to terms with what they’ve lost, both big and small.  Oddly enough, sometimes it’s the small things that matter the most.

Epic fantasy usually deals with the sweeping repercussions of events and decisions—the wars, assassinations, dynastic conflicts and economic collapses that change the balance of power.  Certainly anything worthy of being called an apocalypse affects the superstructure of society: government, commerce, economics, and technology. Add in plague and natural disaster and a nation, continent or kingdom loses a significant portion of its workforce, its intellectual capital, its history and its physical infrastructure.  Those losses are guaranteed to change what daily life is like for the survivors, and to make just getting by much more difficult.

Yet for individuals—whether real people or book characters—sometimes the big losses seem distant and abstract and it’s the small losses that drive home just how much life has changed and what is gone.  In Ice Forged, characters mention what they miss, little things like memories of how holidays were celebrated and favourite foods that are now difficult or impossible to get. Perhaps it’s the realization that the landmarks—like a castle or the main street of a city—that seemed immutable are now ruined.  It’s the dislocation of war and cataclysm that causes long-time neighbours to go missing, and the people you always met in the course of your daily life to vanish.  Or it’s discovering that with crops unplanted or unharvested and distilleries and vineyards ruined, there’s not going to be any new good wine, ale or whiskey any time soon.

When the means of production are destroyed, whether those are craftsmen or factories, the goods in existence are all the goods there will be until manufacturing is restored.  For the characters in Ice Forged, that means any goods they can’t grow themselves or create from raw materials.  Not only will there be no new brocades or silks (and nowhere to wear them), but no new metals or coal mined, no imported goods until trade is restored, and nothing that someone might have purchased rather than making.  Things like sugar and salt, maybe even lumber and clay become difficult to find.  Looting the ruins and the trash heaps becomes the new form of shopping.  And in a million little ways, life becomes strange and hard.

In Ice Forged, the devastation of the Cataclysm goes beyond physical destruction.  Mages on both sides made a doomsday strike using magic, and unintentionally destroyed the bonds that allowed men to tame magic and use it to their purposes.  For a culture that depended on the little magics for everyday life, that means no healers, no using magic to keep pests out of the crops or strengthen a sea wall, no way to keep milk from spoiling or food from rotting or all the hundreds of small ways that people had come to rely on a flicker of power here and there. And after four centuries of using magic as part of everyday life, few people remember how to do things the old way.

In “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” Douglas Adams advised readers to “Always know where your towel is.”  Perhaps he should have included some Charmin, just in case.

Reign of Ash, book two in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga launches in April, 2014 from Orbit Books.  My new urban fantasy, Deadly Curiosities, comes out in July, 2014 from Solaris Books. I bring out two series of ebook short stories with a new story every month for just .99 on Kindle, Kobo and Nook—check out the Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures or the Deadly Curiosities Adventures.



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Through a Glass Darkly


The idea of writing as therapy isn’t new, nor is the idea of writing as exorcism.  Writing is generally cheaper than hiring a therapist, easier than hiring a priest and doesn’t fill the house with the smell of incense (usually).  It’s all fun and games until someone’s head swivels around backwards.

My writing has helped to quiet the ghosts of the past in several ways.  After my mom had a devastating stroke, I wrote an as-yet unpublished novel about the experience, based on an off-handed comment a family member made that suggested an ideal—if illegal—solution to the quality of care issues she was encountering. I didn’t act on the suggestion, which was made tongue-in-cheek, but I did write about it, envisioning how things might have turned out differently.  I’m still debating what to do with that book, but I remember how quickly the book wrote, and how unusual it was to be typing as I cried (fortunately I’m a touch typist). That book may or may not make it to print, but it was cathartic for me to write it.  The novel didn’t have a happy ending, and neither did real life, but having written a version of what could have happened in advance; I was somewhat better prepared for what did happen. So it served its purpose.

My relationship with my dad was, shall we say, complicated.  It did not occur to me until this year that in all four of my series, the main character also has a complicated paternal relationship.  I swear I didn’t do that on purpose.  I wasn’t even aware that I had done it until I suddenly saw the pattern.  I am now working to consciously create different patterns for future characters.  I guess I have issues.

My dad was a hoarder, and my husband and I had to deal with his collections when dad went into a nursing home.  Some stuff was valuable and some was not; sorting through the mountain of stuff to determine what to keep and what to pitch took over a year.  Not surprisingly, a fair number of the more unusual pieces and some of the settings made their way into my Deadly Curiosities series of short stories (and the upcoming novel).  My husband is my first editor and beta reader.  He read the drafts and shook his head and said, “I see you’re still working through it.”

When my dad passed away, I was the executor, so handling his estate and the remaining collections fell to me, on top of publishing deadlines and other work.  Writing the books and short stories became my little port of sanity in a stormy ocean of legalities and paperwork. It’s taken most of a year to resolve everything, during which writing has become my rabbit hole where I can escape.

There are probably other ghosts that either haunt my writing unacknowledged or that have been exorcised, but if so, they’ve agreed not to break the dishes and I’ve agreed not to call the exorcist (or Ghostbusters).  I suspect that most writers’ brains could keep a good paranormal investigation team busy for a long time. Coincidentally, I’ve never met a successful writer, artist, comedian or musician who had an idyllic childhood, and I suspect the two are inversely related.  Dysfunctional families are the gift that keeps on giving.

Reign of Ash, book two in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga launches in April, 2014 from Orbit Books.  My new urban fantasy, Deadly Curiosities, comes out in July, 2014 from Solaris Books. I bring out two series of ebook short stories with a new story every month for just .99 on Kindle, Kobo and Nook—check out the Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures or the Deadly Curiosities Adventures.

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Voodoo, Hoodoo and Charleston

People think of Voodoo when they think of New Orleans, and they may think of ghosts when they think of Savannah, but Charleston not only has ghosts galore, bit also has Hoodoo (Conjure) and in Deadly Curiosities, a strong dollop of Voodoo as well.

Voodoo is pretty much a Hollywood creation, so in Deadly Curiosities, I talk about Voudon, the proper name for a Haitian religion that melds beliefs from Africa and the Caribbean.  Voudon practitioners see themselves surrounded by hundreds of loa, powerful spirits with the ability to bless or curse. Since slaves were forbidden to practice anything other than Christianity, many enslaved people matched their loas to Catholic saints and continued their beliefs under cover of a practice that incorporated elements of both religions. Female Voudon priests are mambos, male high priests are houngans. Voudon is closely identified with New Orleans but would likely have been practiced by slaves who came from the Caribbean no matter where they were taken to reside.

Hoodoo is a form of folk magic with deep roots in African, European and Native American beliefs. It grew and changed, adding elements from the cultures it touched in the Caribbean and in the deep South. Hoodoo is also sometimes called “conjure”. Practitioners are often called “root doctors” or “Conjure men (or women)”. Much of Hoodoo involves cursing someone (“putting a root on them” or “crossing”) or lifting a curse that has been laid. Hoodoo often uses special powders and charms to protect against being crossed. Candles, plants, even bits of hair or nail clippings can all be used by the root worker to bless or curse. Hoodoo is often associated with the South Carolina Lowcountry region and the Gullah people (descendants of freed and escaped slaves), but it was also practiced throughout the Southeast.

So how did I end up with Voudon in Charleston? It’s not a stretch when you realize that by some estimates, 40 – 50% of all U.S. slaves came through Charleston. Some came directly from Africa, others via the Caribbean. About 90% of those slaves went beyond the state’s borders. It stands to reason that there would have been a fertile—and furtive—mingling of beliefs and incorporation of new practices as slaves brought their own traditions with them and bumped up against the traditions of others with whom they lived and toiled.

Another path for Voudon to come to Charleston would have been through the slave owners who moved back and forth between the South’s major cities, often bringing their servants with them. Whether they came for a visit, for business or for marriage, it seems very likely that Charleston slaves would have had ample opportunity to be exposed to Voudon—if not from their own traditions, then from those of other slaves brought to the area. Many historians also cite examples where slave owners adopted and adapted some of the magical traditions of their servants, practicing Voudon or Conjure quietly themselves, or asking for the help of practitioners when their needs exceeded what the Church could supply.

Using Voudon and Hoodoo in Deadly Curiosities helps to establish the setting in a very vivid way. I am well aware of the fact that both belief traditions have been badly misconstrued by Hollywood, and I have done my best to search out reputable sources and to represent both Voudon and Hoodoo with the respect they deserve. Both are belief systems with many modern adherents, and I want to be respectful, while using some editorial license for dramatic effect.

While Voudon and Hoodoo play a big role in Deadly Curiosities, they aren’t the only forms of magic readers will encounter. Sorren, the nearly 600 year-old vampire, brings magical items from several European traditions, including pieces from a Norse Seior who was a protectress centuries ago. Teag draws on protective amulets that include a Filipino agimat and a Greek hamsa. Relics from Catholic saints and medallions of the saints also figure prominently. Expect to see more magical items from additional traditions figure in as the stories unfold.

The people who settled the U.S. came from around the world and brought their traditions, beliefs, religions and superstitions with them. We recognize the U.S. as a “melting pot” of influences, giving the world things like taco pizza and southwestern eggrolls, but often forget that thanks to close proximity, intermarriage and long-time exposure, cultures that might never have borrowed from each other in the Old World took what they found useful and adapted it to their own beliefs and needs. In other words, we all stole liberally from each other when it came to language, folklore, food, music and magic—and came up with new stuff that is often pretty amazing.

Sit back and enjoy the ride—there’s more than enough magic to go around.


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Sorren’s Secret History—Behind the Scenes of Deadly Curiosities

Several of the reviewers who read Deadly Curiosities commented that the first book didn’t feel like a first book. Instead, they said it seemed as if the characters and setting was already lived-in, as if they were coming in to the middle of an established universe.

They were. I’ve been writing short stories in the Deadly Curiosities universe now for several years, both the modern setting you’ll see in the book, and settings in the 1500s and 1700s, other times and other places that give readers insight into the background of Sorren, the story’s nearly 600 year-old vampire.

If you want to know what Sorren and the Alliance were up to before Cassidy’s time, here’s a brief recap.

Sorren was brought across as a vampire in 1465. He was “the best jewel thief in Belgium” until he botched a job and nearly got caught by the night guard. As he was hiding in a cellar, certain to be caught and dragged off to a dungeon, a stranger emerged from the shadows and offered him a way out. That stranger was his maker, Alard. Alard was already part of a nascent project between immortals and mortals to get dangerous magical objects off the market, the Alliance.

In 1565, Alard introduces Sorren to his first job for the Alliance, fighting a demon in Antwerp. Alard also introduces Sorren to his human partner, Carel, and Carel’s son Dietger, who run an antique shop (Vanities) that gets bad items off the market. Later on, Sorren teams up with Dietger on several more adventures in and around Antwerp. (Find the details in the short stories “Vanities,” “Wild Hunt,” and “Dark Legacy” on Kindle, Kobo and Nook. “Vanities” also appeared in the anthology, “The Bitten Word.”)

Skip ahead to the 1770s, and Sorren is now a major player with the Alliance. He has several antique shops around the world to help remove bad objects from circulation, including one in Charleston, South Carolina in the American Colonies. When two young men run afoul of pirates and a murderous necklace, Sorren and his human partner Evan jump in to take care of matters before more people die. Those two young men, Dante and Coltt, become Sorren’s new protégés, privateers in the Alliance’s cause. Haunted bag pipes, a soul-stealing judge and other nasties await. You can find details in the short stories “Steer a Pale Course,” “The Low Road” and “Among the Shoals Forever”—all on ebook as short stories. (The original stories appeared in the anthologies “Rum and Runestones,” “Spells and Swashbucklers” and “The Mammoth Book of Ghost Stories by Women.”)

You’ll meet a lot of Cassidy’s neighbors, friends and allies in Deadly Curiosities, but Charleston is a big place, and there’s too much going on for just one book. And, a number of things mentioned in the Deadly Curiosities novel connect back to the short stories. You don’t have to have read the stories to understand the book, but if you do, you’ll have an insider’s perspective.

For example, readers first meet Voudon mambo Mama Nadege in “Among the Shoals Forever”. She and her descendants, Lucinda and Caliel, are two of Cassidy’s most important allies. Caliel isn’t in the novel, but he shows up in “Coffin Box” (on ebook as a short story), and in “The Restless Dead”, a story for the Realms of Imagination anthology coming this fall from Dark Oak Books.

Mrs. Ernestine Teller, sweetgrass basket weaver and powerful root worker, plays a crucial role in the Deadly Curiosities novel, but she is also an important part of the story in “Retribution”, a story for the Athena’s Daughters anthology from Silence in the Library Publishing. And she figures prominently in “Wicked Dreams” (on ebook as a short story).

Father Anne Burnett, an unorthodox Episcopalian priest, makes her first appearance in “The Final Death,” (my free novella on Wattpad) and she also plays an important role in “Wicked Dreams.” She’s the descendant of Father Conroy, one of Sorren’s allies from the 1700s, and a member of the Society of St. Expeditus, a secret organization of Anglican priests who help fight monsters and dark spirits.  It’s also where you’ll first meet Ryan Alexander who leads a team of Urban Explorers. “The Restless Dead” introduces readers to the SPOOK ghost hunters, led by Kell Winston—expect to see both men and their groups show up often in future stories!

Deadly Curiosities Book Two won’t be out until 2015, but there will be more short stories direct to ebook and in anthologies coming between now and then. You may want to grab them all so that you don’t miss a thing!

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Come Party with Me to Launch Deadly Curiosities on June 25!

I’m holding an all-day Facebook Launch Party on June 25 and you’re invited! (Parties on Goodreads and Reddit, too!) Fun, freebies, contests and games—enter to win free books and short stories!

Meet 20+ of my author friends who are celebrating with me. Find out about their new books and upcoming projects, get a sneak peek at some cool new anthologies, ask questions about writing, publishing—anything at all!

Best of all, meet authors, talk about books, nab some cool virtual party favors, play party games and have fun!

It all starts here at 10:30 a.m. (Eastern Time) on Wednesday, June 25 on Facebook:

Here’s the Facebook line-up:

10:00 – 10:30 Me

10:30 – 11 Gaie Sebold

11 – 11:30 Pip Ballantine

11:30 – Noon Chris Verstraete

Noon – 12:30 Trisha Wooldridge

12:30 – 1 Heroes anthology authors

1-1:30 Leona Wisoker

1:30 – 2 Keith DeCandido

2-2:30  Cynthia Ward

2:30 – 3 Jim Lavene

3 – 3:30 Me

3:30 – 4 Jennifer Brozek

4-4:30 Joshua Palmatier/Benjamin Tate

4:30 – 5 Tricia Barr

4-5:30 Clockwork Universe authors

5:30 – 6 Athena’s Daughters authors

5:50—6 Me

6-6:30 Realms of Imagination authors

6:30 – 7 Kim Richardson

7-7:30 Tera Fulbright

7:30 – 8  Danielle Ackley-McPhail

8-8:30 With Great Power authors

8:30 – 9 James Maxey

9-9:30 Natasha Rhodes

9:30 – 10 Kelly Harmon

10 – 11 Me

On Goodreads, I’m doing an all day Ask the Author live chat! Enter to win a copy of Deadly Curiosities. Freebies! Games! Fun! I’m giving away an ebook each hour—must participate to win!

On Reddit/Fantasy, I’m reviving my Ask Me Anything for a Q&A, and doing a giveaway for copies of Deadly Curiosities!

If you’re in the mood to party, come join me for more Deadly Curiosities parties and signings!

  • Jun 27-29 LibertyCon, Chattanooga, TN  (launch party)
  • July 9 Reddit Featured author
  • July 11-13 ConGregate, Winston-Salem, NC (launch party)
  • July 19 Book signing Barnes & Noble, Pineville, NC
  • July 23 London, England—Signing at Forbidden Planet, stock signing at Waterstones
  • July 31 Cardiff, Wales—Signing at Waterstones
  • Aug. 1 Edinburgh, Scotland—Stock signing at Waterstones
  • Aug. 9 Book Signing at Books a Million Concord Mills
  • Labor Day Weekend DragonCon Atlanta, GA

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Welcome to the Hawthorn Moon Event 2014!

It’s that time again—a week when we celebrate the summer solstice (or the Hawthorn Moon as it’s called in The Summoner) with a look at new books, new interviews and a whole lot of fun!

Here’s what’s happening this week:

News flash!  Deadly Curiosities 2 is planned for 2015!

Where to find more adventures with Cassidy, Teag and Sorren before the second book comes out!

  • The Final Death novella takes Cassidy and crew on a whole new mission filled with vampires, voodoo and cursed objects—free and complete on Wattpad:
  • Three full Deadly Curiosities Adventures short stories are available on Kindle/Kobo/Nook in ebook for just .99 each:
    • Buttons—the story that launched the Deadly Curiosities novel. A hungry ghost haunts a dead man’s journals, and Cassidy and Sorren must destroy the spirit before it exacts its price in blood.
    • Coffin Box– When a prominent man and his wife die suddenly, a cursed gift appears to be the culprit. Cassidy, Teag and Sorren must hunt a supernatural killer before it strikes again.
    • Wicked Dreams-- Inexplicable murders among King Street merchants look like the work of a long-dead serial killer. Cassidy, Teag and Sorren go looking for an undead slasher before the body count rises.
    • Retribution: An all-new Deadly Curiosities story in the Athena’s Daughters anthology from Silence in the Library Publishing. An antique hip flask and a vintage poker set lead Cassidy and crew on a hunt to stop a ghostly killer nursing a decades-old fatal grudge.
    • The Restless Dead: Another all-new Deadly Curiosities story in the Realms of Imagination anthology from Dark Oak Books. An antique sewing machine may hold the key to preventing a deranged loner’s murder spree, but can Cassidy and her crew put the pieces together in time, even with some Voodoo help?

Stay tuned—I’ve got fun and surprises planned all week, and you’re invited!

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Epic Fantasy is No Place for Wimps


I’m always amazed when I run into someone who tells me that strong women characters–especially women who could fight–didn’t exist in the “real” Middle Ages.  Usually this happens when the person’s entire knowledge of how things used to be has been shaped by bad TV movies and costume dramas.

Read any serious medieval history, and you’ll see plenty of women who knew how to get what they wanted.  One of my favorite is Eleanor of Aquitaine (1124-1204), the mother of Richard III.  Back in the Twelfth Century, she rode off to the Holy Land to retrieve Richard after he’d been kidnapped, bringing an army with her.  Not only did she get him out of jail, but she managed to navigate a dangerous political climate and live to be 90 years old.

It took grit just to be a woman and survive, which I think a lot of people overlook.  As with women today who have grown up on farms, a certain amount of muscle is required just to kill the livestock required to be tonight’s dinner.  Noble women might not have had to do chores, but women of every other social class had hard physical labor to do just to keep a household running.  That builds muscle and know-how.  These women were not shrinking violets.

All too often, people will focus on a small period in history and generalize to think that those conditions applied to everyone, everywhere.  In reality, women’s role, rights, legal status and responsibilities changed dramatically over time and across geography.  Just because women in England in the 1600s had certain social limitations does not mean that the same was true of women a century or so earlier or in other countries.  Then, as now, the variations were numerous and fluid.

That’s one of the reasons I love writing about strong women characters in epic fantasy.  I tend to write ensemble casts, and I have important female characters in a variety of roles: warrior, noble, mistress of the manor, healer, spy, courtesan, madam, oracle, queen, priestess, whore, farmer and craftsperson, to name a few.  In some cases, the women are born into a role and responsibility, and in others they make their way however the opportunity presents itself. What they all have in common is a flinty determination to create the life they want, for themselves and for those they care about.

When you stop to think about how tough a woman had to be to survive without antibiotics, without modern obstetrics, often without access to any kind of knowledgeable medical practice, and without central heat, refrigeration, labor saving devices, easy transportation or even decent public sanitation, you realize that our foremothers were tough old birds.  They had to be. That’s the side I enjoy bringing to light in my epic fantasy worlds, they women who make their way, in spite of everything.  Those women never run out of adventures.

Reign of Ash, book two in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga launches in April, 2014 from Orbit Books.  My new urban fantasy, Deadly Curiosities, comes out in July, 2014 from Solaris Books. I bring out two series of ebook short stories with a new story every month for just .99 on Kindle, Kobo and Nook—check out the Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures or the Deadly Curiosities Adventures.

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BLOODSUCKERS – A Vampire Runs for President

bloodsuckers-510by Michael A Ventrella

“Politics, intrigue and vampires—a match made in Washington, DC. A bloody good political thriller that sucks you in from the start and gets its teeth into your imagination.”

At least that’s the opinion of one Gail Z. Martin about my latest novel BLOODSUCKERS:  A VAMPIRE RUNS FOR PRESIDENT.  (Even if there were two Gail Z. Martins, this is the opinion of one.)  She was kind enough to ask me to talk about the book here.

BLOODSUCKERS is a political thriller — with vampires.

Norman Mark is a politician with skeletons in his closet (literally).  He’s a liberal Democrat who is constantly attacked by the tea party extremists who say he’s a socialist and an atheist and wasn’t born in America — and a vampire!  Everyone laughs at the crazies but it turns out they’re right about all of that.

Disgraced reporter Steven Edwards supports Mark completely.  When Mark is shot at a campaign rally, Steve looks to his acquaintance who drops the smoking rifle, smiles, turns into a bat, and flies away – leaving Steve as the prime suspect.  He is rescued by the vampire believers (Jon Stewart calls them “Batties”) and he goes into hiding.  The only way he can prove his innocence is by proving to the world that vampires actually do exist while  constantly on the run from the bloodsuckers and the FBI.

Steve learns that vampires have been controlling things behind the scenes for thousands of years, accumulating wealth and influence.  Many vampires don’t like the idea that one of their own is running for President and they’re trying to stop him, worried that he will expose their existence.  Others support Mark. Many of them want Steve dead.

BLOODSUCKERS is not a traditional vampire novel but more a political conspiracy thriller with humor.  Oh sure, people turn into bats and drink blood, but as I said, this is political.

Readers of my novels and short stories know to expect plot twists and turns and surprises along the way.  Part of the fun in writing it is leaving the clues so that when the twists happen they are unexpected but logical.  I also enjoyed working in real journalists like Brian Williams, Rachel Maddow, and Stephen Colbert.  OK, mostly real.

There’s a lot more information on my web page, along with links to other reviews and the first few chapters (so you can get hooked).  You can get the ebook, nook, or kindle for as little as $6 or so.

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