July new releases

It’s the beginning of the month again – which means a slew of new romance titles to pick and choose from. No matter what your preference – sweet or sexy, contemporary or historical, fantasy or paranormal – you’ll find a romance to enjoy.



Author Spotlight: Juliet Madison, Sarah Belle, Jacquie Underdown and Robyn Neeley – Magical Realism Romance Novelists…


Today on the Author Spotlight, we have four authors who have previously been categorised as multi cross -genre, but now, due to readership interest and a proactive publishing team, finally have a subgenre to call home. The genre formerly known as Fantasy-Magical Elements- Paranormal twist-Contemporary-Time Travelling-Dream Casting, please welcome, Magical Realism Romance and the authors who live it!

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 Firstly, what is Magical Realism Romance?

Not quite paranormal, not quite fantasy, this genre believes that magic is a part of the every day, and that there’s more to our lives than can be explained. If you’re looking for a little mystical, a little miraculous, a little more, this is the romance for you.

As an author, how important is it to fit within a defined sub-genre?

Jacquie– In terms of being able to brand myself as a romance author and explain to readers succinctly what my books are about, I think having a defined sub-genre is incredibly important. It also provides readers with a quick reference that they will fit with my books. However, the fact that I’ve not been able to fit within a defined sub-genre, until now, also has its benefits in that I know I’m creating a new breed of romance, one that will be original and fresh for readers. And that’s the main reason I’ve persevered with the magical realism romance genre.

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Juliet – I think it helps readers the most, letting them know what there going to be getting from a book.


Sarah– Like everyone has said, it helps readers to identify what particular elements are in a story and will allow them to seek out other authors in the same genre.

Robyn– It’s definitely important to me. When readers pick up one of my books they are in for fast and funny dialogue, a sweet story, and a heart-warming ending. Magical realism fits in nicely with my brand, and I was more than eager to give it a try with Batter Up, my first book that includes one spell-binding approach to finding true love.

What were the main issues with being ‘subgenre-less’ prior to this new branding? 

Jacquie – Being subgenre-less hasn’t limited by ability to become published (that I know of). But I do think it has had a direct impact on how my books can be marketed and to whom they are marketed to. My books are normally slotted into the fantasy romance or sci-fi romance categories, which, as mentioned earlier, give readers the wrong expectations as magical realism romance is far removed from fantasy or science fiction. Having a sub-genre now, with a name that conjures images and ideas that reflect what my books are about, will make it a lot easier going forward.

Juliet – I didn’t feel so much that I was subgenre-less, but multi-genred! When you story crosses into several different genres it can be tricky to know how to pitch it to publishers, or which types of readers to target. Having a more defined sub-genre to categorise the overall type of story is better than saying ‘my book is a futuristic-romantic comedy-chicklit-fantasy-time travel-romance-scifi-adventure’! 😉


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Sarah– It was very difficult to explain what I actually wrote. ‘It’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that’…it was confusing to people and difficult to pitch to publishers and readers. Thankfully there are some amazing authors out there who have paved the way: Marian Keyes, Cecelia Ahearn, Sophie Kinsella and Melanie Rose. For a person who struggles with marketing anyway, being across too many genres meant that my target market wasn’t clearly identified and pitched at.

Robyn– Putting a touch of magic in Batter Up, I wasn’t quite sure where it would fit. A fellow romance author recommended I submit it to Escape, knowing that they had recently acquired romantic comedies with magical elements. I was beyond thrilled to find Batter Up a home among other awesome magical realism books including Fast Forward by Juliet Madison and Hindsight by Sarah Belle.

Why do you write Magical Realism Romance ?

Jacquie – I’m someone who wants more from life than flesh and bone, and I believe there is more to this existence than what can examined under a microscope — phenomena that isn’t always explainable and is somewhat magical. Because I expect more out of everyday existence, I expect the same from the books I read and write. As an author, and as a reader, I want to be transported away, not so far as to lose sight of reality altogether, but enough to make it leave me questioning if the little magical occurrences could in fact be real.

Also, magical realism romance gives me so much more scope with my imagination and the stories I can weave.

Juliet – Because it allows the ordinary to become extraordinary and explores the possibility that there might be more to our world than we know. Plus, it’s great for interesting plot ideas – anything goes, with magical realism!

Sarah–  I read it, so I write it! A touch of magic can take a story anywhere so it’s always fresh and exciting to write. When we suspend our disbelief, we expand our imaginations in much the same way as children do. It’s nice to be a kid again for a while and to believe in magical things.

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Robyn– Faith, hope and destiny themes tend to influence my books so magical realism became a new tool for me to continue to explore these themes in an entertaining way. Also, the research on creating spells was a lot of fun. I now have a nice collection of spell books and am always tempted to try casting one!


What is it about MRR that will attract new readers? 

Jacquie – I sometimes think fantasy and science fiction is too far removed for some readers who like reality-set romances. Magical realism romance is a wonderful happy medium, where a reader can escape the mundane everydayness but still be given something MORE, something the reader wouldn’t encounter, something new, exciting, and magical.

Juliet – It is the perfect combination of realistic storylines and paranormal elements. It’s not completely realistic and not completely paranormal, it puts those magical elements into a world we’re familiar with so readers can more easily immerse themselves in the story and connect with the characters.

Sarah– Magical Realism is fun, engaging and has enough twists and turns in it to keep the plot moving along. There’s never a dull moment with the magical and unexplained! It’s also a break from the every day- nice escapism.

Robyn – These books are a unique and refreshing addition to the contemporary romance genre, offering a unique twist on popular romance tropes.


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 Magical Realism Romance is quite a niche genre. What are your hopes for the future in regards to expanding this genre?

Jacquie – Magical realism romance is a niche genre, but then so was sparkly vampire romance, BDSM erotica and rural romance. But just like those other genres, it is limitless in scope for storylines. Even on the shelves of my publisher, the variations between my novels and the other authors’ novels (who write MRR) are immense. My hope is that readers pick up a couple of books in this genre and fall in love with magical realism romance, just as much as I love to write it. Then it will bring more authors and readers out of the woodwork and we will be able to see just where this genre can go.

Juliet– I hope that more readers will discover the fun that can be had by mixing magical elements into real life storylines. I would love to see more movies made with these types of stories too, those with just a touch of the magical. Maybe an increase in books like this will help boost that.

Sarah– I would love to see this genre become more mainstream. It’s such a fresh and exciting genre, and covers from romantic comedy to true romance so there’s something for everyone. If you’ve loved Freaky Friday, Drop Dead Diva, Suddenly 30, Big, then chances are that Magical Realism Romance will make you laugh, cry and everything in between.

Robyn – Magical Realism Romance is exciting because of its potential to reach many readers of romance, chick lit, and women’s fiction. I’ve received some wonderful feedback from chick lit readers who say that they enjoyed the romance element of Batter Up and are excited to read more romances that include magical elements. That’s exciting!


If you’d like to explore the world of Magical Realism Romance, you can find a great collection at Escape Publishing.

 Escape Publishing is kindly giving away one copy of any one Magical Realism Romance novel to one lucky reader. All you have to do to be in the running is leave a comment below.

This competition will be drawn on the 15th of August, 2014. The winner will be notified by email, so please be sure we can contact you!


Author Spotlight: New Adult Fantasy Novelist, J.M. Bray…

It’s not often that we have a male visit the Author Spotlight, so welcome J.M.  and congratulations on the release of ‘Mending the Shroud’!  Can you give us the blurb, please?

Thanks! Here you go!

The second in the fresh, exciting romantic fantasy Shroud trilogy takes up where Tearing the Shroud leaves off — with the lives, the loves, and the mythical world beyond our own.

After accepting bodily possession and saving the world, Vincent thought his life would get easier. He thought wrong.

The shroud may not have torn wide open, but it did tear a little, and the retribution for the failure is coming hard, fast, and directly at Vincent and the people he loves. His only hope is to once again accept possession from Coleman and do battle with the deformed, terrifying Kafla. But this time, he’s not alone. Jule, the woman he loves and hopes to marry, is possessed as well, and together the four of them become a formidable team.

Together they hope to stave off the invasion and take the fight to the Realm, but only a supreme sacrifice can mend the Shroud and save both their lives and their worlds.

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‘Mending the Shroud’ is part two in a series. Can you tell us about the series, please?

The Shroud Trilogy developed organically. As is apparent in the title, in TtS, the Shroud is damaged. We can’t leave it like that, right? Of course not, it needed repair. We also know Vincent and Jule are in love, but where will that go? Who is Mr Brown really? Readers and editors at Escape loved the secondary characters Flea and Knife, demanding more of them too.

Mending the Shroud begins a month after the events in TtS, Vincent, Jule, Flea and Knife need to get away, decompress. They head away for Thanksgiving weekend and the story unfolds. When one of my writing partners, Ainsle Paton, finished reading MtS she remarked, “Everything is tied up in wonderful bows. Where will you go with book three?

Where indeed? As you’ll find in TtS the event that leads to the Shroud Tearing happens on a 11year-eight-month cycle. In Shrouded, the last in the Trilogy, we see events that happen involving two of those cycles, the first fourteen years ahead, then twenty-four. We do see the whole cast of characters, and critique partners are loving it, but I can’t say much more without huge spoilers.

We all know it can be hard enough to plot a single title, but what is involved in plotting and writing a three part series? How do you weave your story? How does writing a series differ from a single novel?

As a pantser, there isn’t much plotting. To quote the esteemed Steve King, “I know…really… &*#^ all what’s going to happen.” However, I do have my balloons. In my mind, ideas are red balloons, floating against a ceiling with long white ribbons hanging from them. As the story unfolds, I pluck an idea from the group and tie the ribbon to another.

I tend to write sequentially, so even if a scene idea comes, I let it float with the rest until the story demands that it happen. A series meant making sure that the characters were true to themselves, then letting them do what was natural. The very idea of plotting constricts my brain into knots. Because of my process, the series was more like one huge book with independent, self-sufficient parts.


You’ve said that music inspires your writing. Can you tell us about that?

Music affects my mood, sets a tone in me. Having certain styles of music playing softly while writing, puts my mind in a receptive place. Then, specific songs unfurl images and emotions. Take, for instance Nolita, specifically starting at minute four. If a movie of TtS is made, the scene with the butterflies would have this playing in the background. Perfection.

Books 1 and 2 are set in 1984. What was the inspiration behind this?

Mostly it’s practical. I went to college in San Diego in the early 80’s, had friends like Flea and Knife, fell in love. I didn’t want them to have access to the instant information we do, and, of course 80’s music is amazing. Teens are still listening to it.


What would we find you doing in your spare time?

I’m not a fulltime writer. So when I’m not doing my “day job” I might be hanging out with my wife, cooking, playing video games on Xbox One, racing Tuffy (my car). I’m severely right-brained, I’m not allowed to fiddle with the check book, so it’s always something creative or rhythmic.

What would we find on your bookshelf / e reader?

Ainslie Paton’s newest, Stephen Lawhead’s Robin Hood retelling, Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles, MA Grant’s not-yet-released new novel.

Your life is a little like a romance novel in regards to how you met your beautiful wife. Can you give us a couple of ‘awwwww’ moments of how you met and knew she was ‘the one’?

I fell in love on the phone. I know, that’s not very awwww inspiring. But there’s something to be said for taking the first steps in a relationship without the distraction of physical contact. After we reconnected there was a month or so where I was in San Diego and she was in the LA area. We spent easily a couple hundred hours on the phone, talking about everything, what we anted from life, family, who we hoped to become. She was dating someone at the time…but I’d still ask her to go out with me regularly. Hey, I didn’t know the guy and didn’t care. What I cared about was being with her. The moment he screwed up, she called me, no hello, no how are you, just, “We can go out now.”

On the way to the restaurant while driving I looked over at her, completely head over heals. She said, ‘Look at the road, we’re going to get in a wreck.’

I replied, ‘How can I with you in the car?’

‘Look at the road!’

‘Kiss me and I’ll be able to.’

‘What?’ she asked, a grin tugging the corner of her perfect lips.

‘You heard me.’

She leaned over, smiling fully, and brushed her lips against mine. Whew! Talk about a first kiss.

That is definitely an ‘awwwww’ moment, J.M!

What is your current work in progress?

REALLY good question. I just finished the first pass edit and Shrouded is off to my CP’s, so I’ll start writing something while it’s in their hands. Before I sat down to this interview I was pondering two different stories that have lots of red balloons floating

What does the future hold for JM Bray?

Writing stories I’d like to read. Unless it happens to coincide, as is the case for these my current New Adult titles I’ll probably never follow trends or write to market, The two I’m pondering are: a spinoff from the Shroud Trilogy about someone who’s been alive for the last two-thousand years. No they’re not a vampire. It’s set in the first century near Jerusalem and has chases by camelback, shipwrecks, and the mythology around people still revered today. The second is a time travel about a professional motorcycle racer. It’ll involve the first woman to ride a motorcycle in every state in the US, Randolph Hearst, and events around the election of Franklin D, Roosevelt.

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Could you give us a sneaky peek at one of your favourite parts of ‘Mending the Shroud’, please?

Jule set the suitcase down and checked her mailbox in the lobby of the dorm one last time. When she bent to pick it up, her hand found only air. She frowned and snapped around. Vincent stood on the other side of the room holding the case. ‘Looking for this?’

Should she chew him out or eat him alive? That man was positively yummy. ‘I’m glad to see you haven’t lost your ability to move quietly.’ Jule tilted her head and walked to him. She knew what the look did…eating him alive would be so much more fun.

‘Nah, I had that before Coleman showed up.’

‘Since you seem to want that so badly, you can carry it to the car for me.’

‘I suppose I could, for a price,’ he said with a playful smile.

‘Hmm, I don’t know, I’m short on cash. I might not be able to afford it.’

‘No money? I guess we can take it out in trade then.’ He kissed her softly as she wrapped her arms around his neck.

Yes, sooo much more fun. ‘Mmm, I like that kind of payment. I’ll do business with you anytime,’ she said.

‘My pleasure.’

‘Mine too.’

‘Is this all you have?’ he asked.

‘Yep. My parents are bringing my cold weather clothes down from Monterey.’

‘Cool, let’s be off.’ They walked to the door, and she opened it for him.

‘Thank you, ma’am.’

‘You’re very welcome, sir,’ she said as he passed her. She watched him walk toward the car waiting at the curb, with Flea and Knife in the back seat. Vincent’s dark hair caught the sunlight, and his worn 501 jeans formed to his muscular body in all the right places. The way he moved made her tingle…also in all the right places.

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Buy links



Barnes and Noble


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J.M Bray is kindly gifting one  digital copy of either Tearing the Shroud or Mending the Shroud, winner’s choice.

To be in the running all you have to do is answer the following question in the comments section below: 

What is your favourite 80’s song and why?


This competition is open Worldwide and will be drawn on August 12, 2014.





Thank you for taking part in our Author Spotlight, JM!


Author Spotlight and Giveaway: Fantasy/Paranormal/Romance author, Cassandra L Shaw…

Welcome to the Author Spotlight, Cassandra, and congratulations on the release of your debut novel, Grave Robber for Hire .

Thankyou for having me Sarah, it’s a pleasure to be here.

Can you tell us a little about it, please?

Grave Robber for Hire is a mixed genre story, that sits mostly in the paranormal/fantasy side since the main character Angel is a psychic who mentally time travels by touching handwriting.

The story has a lightly humorous bent even though it also has a couple of evil characters, few horror scenes, a mystery that has to be solved and a bit of heat.

The story’s about Angel Meyers who uses her psychic gift to hunt for lost family treasures. Angel’s hired to find a long lost Rembrandt and she’s ecstatic as her fee for finding an object is twenty percent of the items value. Such a vast reward would buy her her dream—a much larger animal rescue farm.

But on the first touch of the handwriting of the last person to see the Rembrandt she realises the man was pure evil. Determined to get the Rembrandt and buy that farm, no matter what, she, along with her guardian angel and a private investigator she decides is too hot not to hire, faces supernatural beings who also want the Rembrandt.

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Are there plans to build it into a series?

Yes. Grave Robber for Hire has one thread answered by the end of the book but several are left open to continue through the series. I plan on making the Grave Robber series five books long and I plan to have number two out in August.

How would you describe your style of writing?

Well I’m essentially a pantser, but after I write my first draft I then go over it many times to add layers, tighten the plot, add emotions, tweak the humor to suit the characters more. I write in both first and third person but have to admit I find first the most fun as I can really crawl into my main characters skin. I think my style depends on what I’m writing. In Grave Robber for Hire my style is fun and quirky with a dark twist whereas the paranormal romantic suspense I’m working on at the moment is written in third and has a more dramatic nature. So I’d say I adapt to the story as needed.

Your characters have a quirky sense of fashion. From where do you get your fashion inspiration?

Ahh, well that’s a bit of my own time travel. When I was in my mid to late twenties I studied fashion design, so I love dressing my characters. I think it adds to their personalities.

I first saw Angel in goth but I thought that was a bit cliché in this genre so I gave her a taste of dressing in themes. Goth one day, fifties pin up, seventies hippy chick, forties etc.—although, since I had to live through it, there is no eighties power shoulder pads. Shudder shudder.

What comes first: character, world, scenario? Plotter or pantster?

Pantser that uses plotting only when I hit a block. When that happens I plot the next two or three chapters and pantz from there.

Generally I dream of my main character when I’m half asleep and my mind is just cruising. Sometimes a small scene is played out and I go from there. I often play with this idea by writing three or four chapters to see if I really feel the story the characters etc. I have a lot of partially started stories and some I will revisit one day, others I lost interest in after those initial chapters.

Often this initial start-up morphs as I write so I have to go back and rewrite the beginning to suit the new middle. But it’s my way of getting to know the story and characters.

What would we find on your book shelf/e-reader? Which of these books in particular has inspired you?

I have an eclectic mix of genres. Paranormal, romance, fantasy, sci-fi (but not a lot), thrillers, mystery etc. Obviously it’s more on the heavy side with the Paranormal and fantasy which means my shelves are drowning in black covers.

Twilight inspired me to write – It was so simply written I thought surely I can do that and since I’d always wanted to write I gave it a go.

I think for Grave Robber for Hire the writing style inspiration came from Darynda Jones and her Charley Davidson series and Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series. These series break the rules (the ones I’d been told I must never never do) and told me I could tell my story my ways. Both of these authors/series have characters with big personalities, leave the reader guessing as the end of each book, and have a romance that takes several books to get to resolved.

Realising I could break some rules gave me a chance to explore my story the way I envisaged.

When Grave Robber for Hire is made into a movie, who will be your dream cast?

Fresh new actors who fit the description (I hate when they cast people who look nothing like it is described in a book) have the right acting traits to carry off my characters. Hate poor acting more. LOL.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

Write what you’d like to read. Then revise it, revise it, revise it – get a critique partner.

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Is there anything you’ve learnt along the path of your writing journey that you wish you’d known at the beginning?

You don’t have to follow all the rules. Some yes, but not all.

Thank you for joining us today, and congratulations again. Could you give us a sneaky peek at one of your favourite parts of Grave Robber for Hire, please?

This is the beginning of Chapter 3. – Angel’s seen a frail old lady crossing a busy road who’s going to get hit by a car.

Crap. My stomach jittered and jived as I ran toward the old lady. My metal heels impacting on the hard asphalt of Frederick Street sent shock waves up my legs. Tension ratcheted my nerves tight then tighter.

And that voice, that grating voice, the one I only hear when someone’s in danger, kept goading me, “Save her, save her, save her,” at a more and more frenzied pace. Christ, I heard. My inner self needed to back off. It wasn’t as if I’d want to see the woman run over and get smashed into old lady chunks. Old or not, she had more to live for. Like afternoon bingo.

The roar of an engine and the screech of rubber burning gave a forewarning. A white car fishtailed around a close-by corner. The doof-doof-doof of god awful music blared out of illegally-tinted windows.

I launched into the air Super-Angel-style, grabbed Granny’s arm, and together we flew.

Feeling super-human, I yelled, “I can flyyyyyyyyy—”

Shoulder down, but holding granny aloft, I smashed into the ground and skidded across cheese grater pavement. “Bullshiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii,” I screamed and thanked God I’d worn leatherette. Too bad the vest was sleeveless.

Mid slide I slammed my arm into something hard. The crack of bone preceded my throat tearing squeal capable of shaking Brisbane. The thunderous growl of the engine and the doof-doof-doof continued up the road.

Someone yelled for help. I forced down a wave of stomach churning pain and checked the woman I’d saved. Mouth gaping, she didn’t move. Eyes, half open looked vacant.

Holy snapping-duck-shit, I’d killed her.

I pulled my elbow away from the dead lady’s head and rolled her onto the grassy verge of the footpath. My body exploded into a ball of agony, and my skin became slick with cold shocky sweat. My arm—someone must have shoved a red hot brand into my arm.

I looked at my victim’s pasty skin and lifeless eyes, then inwardly cringed. I’d never murdered anyone before. I could hear her relatives now. “You killed my Gran. You attacked my mother. We want the death sentence brought back just for you.”

Murdering someone who looked so sweet would really screw up my next life karma. I’d return as a dung beetle and spend my life rolling shit into balls.

Hang on, did her chest move? Yes, yes it did.

My body fluids started to flow again and luckily not down my leg. I pumped my good arm, sobbed from the pain the movement caused, and woo-hoo-ed. No shit balls. I owed the great who-ever-what-ever who saved the woman, one.

Car doors slammed. People rushed to help or gawk.

Biting back self-indulgent groans of agony, I touched the old lady’s cool damp face with the hand that could move. Unconscious? Probably a result of my elbow bouncing on her elderly head. This old woman wasn’t the first person I’d tried to help and caused injury to, not by a sniper shot. It was all that horrid save her voice’s fault.

Through the well-meaning onlookers, a man, too drop-dead hunky to be anything except a gym junkie, and probably married to a hot Barbie wife, appeared. He crouched and checked the old lady’s pulse, palmed a cell phone and dialed.

I hoped he had a medical degree, and he’d feel me up—er—over to check for breaks.

“You okay?” Gym junkie asked as I shifted and scored a head spin. Holding my arm still, I fervently wished someone would turn up with a syringe full of morphine.

Lefty’s my dud arm. I’d broken it three times before today. I knew the pain, knew the routine. I shifted my legs, and the movement shot a spike of fiery heat through my arm.

I gritted my teeth, so I didn’t sound like a baby and looked at gym junkie who seemed to be staring at something just behind my back. Probably the blood oozing out of my grazes. “You got any morphine? My arm’s broken.” Nope, gritting my teeth didn’t help. I still sounded whiney, ready to pass out.

Actually, passing out appealed.

A crooked twist of his mouth caught my interest. I looked into gym junkie’s eyes. Molasses black with gold and soft mahogany flecks. Oh yum, yum with chocolate. You read in novels where the person fell into someone’s gaze. I didn’t fall. I felt absorbed, as if he’d wrapped me in liquid warmth. I wanted to float in their shadowy depths for eternity.

“Sorry, Angel, ran out when I helped my last hero.”

Great a smart-ass and one without pain relief. Why didn’t people carry morphine? It should be a legal humanitarian act. Carry pain killing drugs in case Angel Meyers needed a shot. If someone else needed them, I guess I’d share, seemed fair.

The old lady’s eyelids fluttered. She moaned and focused her faded gray gaze on me. Her cheeks pale, her eyes appeared to bulge. In a voice reedy and breathless, “You’re an angel.” Her hand fluttered and sweat beaded her upper lip. “Oooo, my head.”

A lady in the crowd walked over, kneeled down and took the old lady’s hand and patted it. The old lady’s other hand hit and jarred my wrist—my broken-freaking one.

My mouth shot open, “Ahhhhhhh.” Would it look bad if I decked her?

“I’m sorry,” the old lady said, her voice wavering as if in pain.

I hissed and tucked my arm into my body while the grazes on my back dripped blood and stung. My arm started burning inside. Oh lucky me. I shut my eyes and tried hard to black out. All comas welcome.

Brain cramping pain told me something moved my frigging arm. I opened my eyes and cut my death-ray glare to the idiot. Good looking gym guy grinned at me, and my heart and girly bits spasmed in total lust. My lust almost bypassed the agony of the jerk moron touching my arm. Instead, all my lust channeled to wanting to dig out his pretty black eyeballs.

He grabbed my good arm as it swung, all of its own accord of course, toward his head. “Whoa, Angel, I have paramedical training, I’m trying to see how bad it is.”

If you’d like to contact Cassandra, you’ll find her:

Web links




Cassandra is kindly giving away one e-copy of her debut novel, Grave Robber for Hire to one lucky reader. To be in the draw to win, all you have to do is answer the following question in the comments section:

Who has written your favourite paranormal / fantasy book (not series – book) It can a book from a series.

This competition is open worldwide and will be drawn on May 1, 2014. The winner will be notified by email.

Author Spotlight and Giveaway: Astrid Cooper…

Welcome to the Author Spotlight, Astrid and congratulations on the release of ‘Fireman’s Cat ’! 

Thank you so much, it’s a delight to be here.

You started as a FanFic writer. Can you tell us a bit about the early days?

I wanted more romance in the books I read and the TV shows I watched: I wanted strong female characters, not clichéd damsels in distress. I wanted, but didn’t get, until Star Trek came along. In 1974 I became involved in Trek fandom, and I came out of the closet to reveal that I had been writing since I was aged five. I wrote for my own amusement, until fanfic gave me the opportunity to share my stories with others. I also published hundreds of fanzines over the course of ten years. Because I wanted the freedom to explore characters and scenarios that were entirely my own, with more romance, deeper characterisation, more fun and textured plots, I began to write my own speculative romances. This in turn led me to organise numerous conventions, and co-ordinate several fantasy/SF and writing groups, one of which ran for over 30 years.  I remain in contact with the friends I made in that group, one of them is now a ninety year old great-grandmother! She has remained my most loyal fan and strongest critiquer.


What do you see as the benefits for writers doing FanFic? Does it help to grow an audience prior to publishing? (as we have learnt by Fifty Shades.)

Fanfic—stories written by fans for fans. It is a “safe” environment to learn the writing craft. However, fans can be very harsh and it’s unacceptable if any fanfic writer kills off a major character. Fanfic can also give a writer confidence to develop their own voice and style, and learn about publishing, promotion and marketing. In the early days, fanfic was limited to small circulation print editions, but now with the digital world, fanfic is everywhere, and readily accessible. Yes, it is a way for writers and artists to get known. Since the mid twentieth century, many top selling speculative authors started off as fanfic writers. Fanfic always has an important place at SF conventions with program items, awards and other activities. It’s not a small time thing and it’s getting bigger. Boundaries are being pushed, because now FF&P romance writers attend these conventions, where before anyone who wrote (or read) romance and attended a SF/fantasy convention never divulged that to anyone there!

Fanfic can also generate popularity for stories that may not be considered “marketable”. For example, the paranormal genre in the mid nineties was really not considered viable by traditional publishers. Enter TV shows such as Buffy, Angel, Beauty and the Beast (hugely popular with fans!), and books such as Twilight – all these and more created spinoff fanfic.

You’ve led a very interesting life in regards to travelling, events, meeting famous people and getting into the thick of things in regards to your genre. How has this all enriched you as a writer?

I’m not a fence-sitter, so if there’s a group or event to be organised, then I usually go out and do it. I guess that’s where my motto comes from – dare to be different/be passionate.  For me, getting into the thick of things, or meeting famous people and travelling gets me out of my comfort zone. That’s important for any author. It builds confidence. In the writing and publishing industry you need to become self-reliant, because so much of what you do is in isolation.

One anecdote I’d like to share – I presented a FF&P worldbuilding workshop at a RWA conference. I noticed an editor sitting in the back row which was nerve-wracking for me! After my presentation she came up to me and handed over her business card and asked me to submit some fantasy romance to her. I did and for years my stories were accepted by her company until the publisher ceased trading. If I hadn’t gone out on a limb and presented this workshop… Authors need to get out of their comfort zone and create their own luck.

crystal dreams

You also present classes on writing craft. How important is it for aspiring authors to learn?

I’m largely self-taught, because I started writing when I was 5 and I wrote and wrote – and read a book a day. Aspiring authors can fast track some of their craft learning by attending classes, but what you can’t learn is the elusive style and voice – the “X” factor—that comes with years of trial and error. I think aspiring authors need to read voraciously and widely – in every genre, including literary. Being familiar with only one genre is the worst thing any writer can do. It stifles creativity and individuality. I believe authors (regardless of their publishing credits) need to regularly re-evaluate themselves, their writing and career.

I’d also go so far to say that writers need to experiment with their writing and write in genres they don’t like, or are unfamiliar with. I challenge new writers to do this in my classes with certain fun exercises and often the writer ends up switching genre because she has found her niche, but was too afraid to try it for fear of “failure”, or fear of the unknown. Every author learns and continues to learn until their dying day. If an author believes they know it all, then I think they are delusional. The best advice? Read, read, read and write, write, write. Attend classes presented by successful authors, attend RWA conferences, but always be selective of what you attend—information over-load can occur, as well as confusion. For example, one author says to do it this way, the next class says to do it another way—which expert is right? They both are, but how is the aspiring author to decide? The only way, I think, is to experiment for yourself – write constantly and analyse and critique your work. Never be happy with what you write – aim to be brilliant and push those boundaries! Become passionate about your writing.  Without passion—and knowing what makes you passionate—an author can lack motivation when the going gets tough. I found my passion and it took me to New York last year.

You are a passionate conservationist and animal lover. Can you tell us a bit about that please?

LOL. There’s that word—passionate—again.

I grew up in the sixties, just when people were becoming aware of  “spaceship” earth’s finite resources – the book by Rachel Carson, Silent Spring summed up the era’s fledgling awareness. I designed my house and property using Permaculture principles (where possible). It can be daunting to try and fix the world, so the permaculture philosophy is simple: “Think Global, but Act Local” – do what you can do – small steps are better than no steps. I believe that my awareness grew from the Star Trek philosophy: this TV show painted a bright future for humankind, rather than the usual bleak scenario. I use my philosophy in many of my books, particularly the shapeshifter stories – humans who change to animal can advocate for animals and the environment from a unique perspective.

I rescue animals, and as a result I’ve been bitten to the bone, have been on a midnight stakeout to trap an abandoned cat, captured a wild goat… I wrote a blog about this non-writing activity. The link will be at the end of this interview.


You write M-M romance, Sensual romance, Spec-Rom and non-fiction. Which is your favourite?

I have no favourite, because these days I think the blurring of the genres allows me to write with elements of all my favourites in the one story. However, I love strong characters, intricate plots, sometimes a subtle “message”, but all with an intense love interest that defies the odds, or defies convention. Whatever story I am writing is my “favourite”—I am passionate about what I do.

What are the ingredients of a successful M-M romance? How is it different from F-M romance?

Er, (blushing!) I think the only difference is the mechanics of the sex. M-M and F-M characters are all looking for their perfect mate, for love and a HEA. You need to have sexual tension, snappy dialogue, pace, action, immediacy and sensuality – all the ingredients of the successful M-F romance.

The mechanics of writing a M-M can be challenging. For example, in an all-male scene, the pronouns of “he” and “his” can be confusing. Two men in the scene—who is “he”? It takes a little more time to make sure that the reader knows who “he” is and what’s happening. To overcome this, I use endearments, nick-names, and distinctive dialogue styles to indicate the character, plus the use of proper names is more frequent in M-M, to avoid that reader confusion. It is also very important to retain POV purity, so that readers know whose head they are in while reading a scene. I also find that my male characters have more “earthy” relationships and language. Male characters engage differently with each other: there is more strength and physical stuff happening in the stories—I don’t mean sex, I mean men are more aggressive in their physical relationships than the more gentle M-F relationship, where the hero has to be aware of his strength, hold it in check when he is with the heroine—at least that’s what I think.

When writing  SF or Fantasy,  what comes first – character, scenario or setting? How is this genre different from romances that take place in the world as we know it?

I write romantic fiction, so for me, the starting point is always with the character. I think every work of fiction starts with a character, but the expectations of each genre reflect the style, content and focus of the story. Speculative fiction will create the scene/world and give it equal importance with the character, whereas most romantic fiction will focus on emotions and characters with the setting a mere backdrop. Paranormal and dark urban fantasy and steampunk romances tend to focus on the setting more than contemporary romances.

My stories all begin with a character in a moment of change—the classic “call to adventure” that Joseph Campbell wrote about in his book Hero with a thousand faces. All fiction has this call. In my futuristic romance, Crystal Dreams, I saw the hero striding through a mist dressed in a kilt. I knew his name, I knew he was “Caledonian” and the story evolved from that hero image.

For me, characters must be true to their nature. A vampire, therefore, isn’t just a human with fangs, he (or she) must have a different world view to humans, which, logically, will bring them into conflict with non-vamp characters. In my Monsters inK series, you will find: humans, shapeshifters, vampires and wizards. They all have different perspectives, and here I add a little of my conservation and animal rights philosophies into the mix, because these non humans will have some pertinent observations to make about the nature of humanity, prejudice, love and what it means to  be “human” (I can’t escape my Star Trek roots!)


When you are world building, what is your process in relation to designing clothes, modes of transport, scenery?

Research. Imagination. Passion. Daring to be different. Asking the question… “what if…?”

The greatest tool in any author’s repertoire is that simple question—what if…? And when answering that what if question I never self-censor. Someone might tell me “you can’t do that!” and I will ask “why not?” For example, I was told that “no one” wants to read a story set in Australia with magic and wizards, just have shapeshifters and normal guys. I wrote what I believed in, pushed some boundaries. My readers and reviewers of my Monsters stories have proved that advice “wrong”.

Regardless of genre, every author writer creates a “world” – a believable framework on which to tell their story. Whether it’s the boardroom, the kitchen, a hospital, or a dank castle, an author researches that setting to make sure they have it right, so that the readers are involved in the reality, in the scene—it is authentic and immediate. You use one or more of the five senses to bring the scene to life (to give it immediacy) and you add description—if possible told from the POV of a character who is not familiar with that setting. Their observations will bring a freshness to even the most mundane scene. I use the five senses and I “see” the scene as I write it—I am literally in that scene, experiencing it with the characters. This is the immediacy that every author needs to bring to their scene and their stories, regardless of setting.

As I said, research is the key. The hero of one of my vampire romance drives a red Ferrari (red, because everyone knows that a red car goes faster!). I had no experience of a Ferrari, so how could I write with any authenticity? I had to know, because my heroine is a passenger in the Ferrari. So, I headed off to the Ferrari dealership, spoke to the salesman and I was allowed to sit in the car and make notes. In one of my fantasy romances, my heroine had to wear a suit of armour. She’s never worn one before, how would it feel? How could I convey this to the reader? I visited a medieval re-enactment society and donned chain mail, helmet and armour.  For a one paragraph description, it took me a day of research. But the scene came alive because I went that extra mile to get that authenticity.

Absolutely, worldbuilding can be a mammoth task, but it’s fun and in the end your creation will be unique: your story and characters will also be unique. I wrote an article for RWA’s paranormal romance group on research. The link is at the end of this interview.

Congratulations again on the release of ‘ Fireman’s Cat’. Could you please share a brief excerpt with us?

Happy to do so, but the content of the story is sizzling with sexual tension, so it’s a little difficult to find something that would be acceptable… a lengthy excerpt is available at my publisher’s website.

This scene is near the end of the story: to explain the scene: Brendan is a fireman, and Aeric (“Ric”) is his mate – a cat shapeshifter whose magic is fire. This scene is set in Brendan’s home town, and it’s Christmas Eve. Brendan has the duty to switch on the lights of the tree in the town’s main street, but Ric decides to liven up the night…

“Bren, isn’t that your moggy up there?” Jane demanded at his side.

“Er, what?”

“Look,” she said pointing.

Dozens of eyes stared upward.

John nodded. “Yeah, I see him. At the top there, near the star.”

“He’s stuck,” Jane said.

Tom, now minus his Santa outfit, joined Brendan and Jane. “Yeah, he looks stuck to me. How did he get up there in the first place?”

“He likes to climb and he’s not stuck. He’s just waiting to be rescued by a fireman.” Brendan shot an irritated glance at the cat who stepped forward and stared down. He yowled pathetically. Oh give it a rest, Ric!

“He needs to be rescued. Go to it, fireman.” Tom laughed. “Full gear, Mr. Tierney, including harness.”

Muttering beneath his breath, imagining all manner of payback on Ric for pulling such a stunt, Brendan retuned from the temporary fire headquarters in the CWA Hall, dressed in full bunker gear, his safety harness jangling as he walked.

Wolf whistles followed him all the way to the fire engine’s ladder.

“I so loooove a man in uniform!” Garry shouted, adding another piercing whistle to the cacophony. People laughed. Bren’s ears burned in mortification.

Tom had moved the truck closer to the tree, the ladder extended to the top branch. Bren donned his helmet and clipped the harness to the rung. He slowly scaled the ladder, to the crowd chanting: ‘Brendan, Brendan, Brendan, go boy go’.

Reaching the top, he went to scruff the cat. Ric clawed at his glove.

“You friggin’ scratch me, and I’ll bite you.”

If I faint in my fireman’s arms, will you give me the kiss of life?

“You shimmy up this tree again, and I’ll give you the kiss of death.”

Now you’re talkin’, dude.

“You bloody mangy cat!” Bren stared. He’d forgotten that his mate could mind-send to him.

I ain’t mangy, sweetheart—my fur’s ruffled because of all that talk about the kiss of death.

Web links


Blog on rescuing animals

Blog on researching/worldbuilding 



Astrid is kindly giving away one digital copy (PDF) of ‘Fireman’s Cat’ to one lucky reader, with two runners up receiving a special limited edition Fireman’s Cat Calendar!

This competition is open worldwide and will be drawn on Wednesday 26th of February 2014.

Meeting Point with…the Science Fiction & Fantasy Critique Group

The Science Fiction & Fantasy Critique Group are having a membership drive from the 1st of February to the 14th of February. They are looking for members who write science fiction and/or fantasy. They will need to be advanced writers. And no R-rated material please.

**Please note that whilst the group are registered with the RWA it is not a requirement that individual group members hold an RWA membership. All who meet the above criteria are welcome.**

If interested, please contact Theresa at ptfuller@tpg.com.au

If you are already part of a writer’s group and would like the opportunity to promote yourselves, your work or attract new members then please contact Jane at f2f@romanceaustralia.com

Author Spotlight: Louise Cusack

1. Welcome to the RWA Author Spotlight Louise, can you tell us about your re-release fantasy trilogy, Shadow Through Time?

Thanks. I’d love to. I adore these characters, and they’ve been with me since I was a child making up fantasies about a little princess who went to another world searching for her missing twin brother. When I wrote it as an adult it morphed into a story of …Katherine, who leaves our modern world behind and travels through a Sacred Pool in Kakadu, a watery portal that takes her from our multi-coloured world into the earth world of Ennae where everything is brown. At each turn she encounters real and imagined enemies including an erotic shadow woman, an enigmatic tattooed man, and even her beloved brother Michael. Talis, her appointed Guardian, must help her though the dangerous terrain, sacrificing everything to ensure her safety in a land where magic prevails and nothing is as it seems.

This was my first fantasy trilogy, and while sales in Australia were great and the series was selected by the Doubleday book club as their ‘Editors Choice’, it never sold overseas, so I was disappointed that it hadn’t reached an International audience. But I never gave up on it, and neither did my agent Selwa Anthony. So when Pan Macmillan’s digital only publishing company Momentum Books approached her looking for romantic fantasies to publish, I was in the fortunate position of having my rights back from Simon & Schuster Australia and we were able to close the deal with Momentum in a matter of weeks. Those books will be re-released with new covers as eBooks early next year and I’m beyond thrilled that these characters and their stories will be finding a whole new audience.


2. You’ve been an RWA member for a long time, how important do you think it is for writers to be part of an association?

Well I certainly think it’s important to be part of RWA, and I joined the year after it was established. I’m a member of several writing associations, but my membership in RWA has been one of the defining factors in my professional career, and in my personal life as a writer. The friends I’ve made in RWA are some of the most important people in my life. The Bianchin’s Babes group I joined 19 years ago on the Gold Coast has evolved from a critique group into a writing support group and it keeps me sane and on task.

Because I write in the fantasy genre and teach writing as well, I’ve been to lots of other genre conferences, conventions, writing festivals, author events and publishing industry forums, and I can say with some authority that RWAustralia is highly regarded both in Australia and overseas. I rarely have to correct misapprehensions about RWA, but when the occasion arises I’m not afraid to stomp on genre bigotry, especially when it’s ill-informed.


3. Do you write detailed character profiles before starting a new book, or do you find the characters come to life as you write?

I’m a complete seat-of-the-pants writer, so I usually don’t have a clue what I’m doing when I start a book. My current project is an Arabian Nights style fantasy, and that took me completely by surprise. I had a character running away to the desert and I was like, “Who are you, where are we, and what’s going on?” But if I keep writing, the character leads me somewhere. The trick for me is to stay tightly inside their viewpoint so I don’t drift off and get lost.

Usually, though, I’ll have a natural pause at about 20k where I look at what I’ve got and can do goal/motivation/conflict on the characters I’m working with. At this point I might get glimpses of what’s coming or what the crisis point will be. Sometimes I’ll Google Search pictures (usually actors who seem a close match) and scenery/architecture that looks like it fits the worldbuilding the characters have shown me. I create a screensaver out of that batch of pictures and when I stop writing to think about a scene it inspires me to imagine what’s coming. But 90% of the time the characters are leading me.


4. What is your writing schedule like; do you have a daily word count goal that you aim to stick to?

I’ve moved to a tiny beachside community this year – a seachange – and that’s helped me settle into more of a routine than I could manage in Brisbane with all the writing-related activities on offer. When I’m writing draft I aim for 5k a week and when I first moved up here I was doing 10k, so my productivity had doubled, which was fabulous.

For me it’s a natural rhythm thing. I’m trialling letting my body tell me what it wants. I eat when I’m hungry, sleep when I’m tired. And when I’m on a roll I just keep writing – the luxury of the single girl writer.

But my life hasn’t always been like this. When I first started writing I had two small children so I had a strict regime. I get more hours in the day now for myself, but I use them for reading, gardening, listening to music, and social network promotion. So I’m not doing any more actual writing than I was, and I don’t plan to. I want to be writing well into old age, and the only way that’s going to happen is if I pace myself. I want to enjoy the journey. It’s one of the blessings of middle age. You finally give yourself permission to relax and just be.


5. What do you love most about being an author?

The actual writing. I love it when characters surprise me. When they say or do something and I have to stop and cry. I never think “I’m so clever,” because it’s not about me. It’s all about the characters. Writing draft is the one time in my life where I’m completely out of the picture. There’s no self-consciousness. No performance anxiety. No, ‘Do I look fat in this?” It’s just the bliss of my fingers moving over the keys as words and sentences come together to create a world that hadn’t existed before. I see it happening each day but it still seems impossible that such a simple physical process could create something so unique, so cohesive as the story that unfolds onto my laptop. Intellectually I know I’ve created these stories, but in my heart they just seem to be so amazing I can’t quite believe that someone as ordinary as me could do that.


6. What are you working on now?

I’m actually doing manuscript assessments this month (see below) to give myself a break from writing because I’ve done a lot of it this year, and because I love working with other writers. When I finish assessing I’ll be editing the Arabian Nights fantasy (no title yet) and then getting back to a really scary story I started in the beginning of the year and had to stop because it was freaking me out. But the intervening months have made me long for those characters again and I want to finish it. It’s at 20k now and I’ve had the go-ahead from my agent that it’s working, so I just need to man-up a bit and see it through to the end.


7. Apart from writing, what are your other interests and hobbies?

I’m a complete cricket tragic. I can watch a whole four day test. Love, love, love it. I also adore anything to do with space, and am an avid follower of Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic where I plan to one day be a passenger getting outside the atmosphere. Then there’s da Vinci. I’m hopelessly obsessed with this long-dead guy and his amazing mind.


8. You also run a manuscript assessment business. What are the issues you often find in manuscripts that writers could work on before submitting?

Very often the structure of the book needs work. That’s challenging for authors who have trouble seeing the ‘big picture’ of their story and get lost in the details of editing grammar etc. Sometimes there are viewpoint problems: either head-hopping or too many viewpoints dished out which dilutes characterisation.

Tension is vitally important in modern fiction, so I’m always looking for ways authors can enhance the page-turning quality of their books. Sometimes that means holding back information from the reader, and at other times it’s vital to give information to the reader so they can be worried for the characters.

Goal/motivation/conflict has to be crystal clear and sometimes it’s not. Again, that’s big picture stuff. Getting the right balance with characters internalisations so we can see the motivation behind their actions, and dialogue that reflects and enhances characterisation, and maintaining the thread of sensual tension in romances. That’s so important.

With fantasy, which I see a lot of, the worldbuilding has to be strong and consistent, so I’m on the lookout for where it doesn’t gel. When you’re published you get to work with an editor, and I find that so helpful in my own writing. Before you’re published, however, you don’t have access to that resource, so manuscript assessment by a trained industry professional fills the gap for a lot of writers. See this blog post for more details on manuscript assessment:

I see manuscript assessment as a learning tool for writers. I tell them what’s not working and give suggestions on how to fix it. When they’ve used those suggestions to edit their manuscript and can see how much better it is, they usually don’t make those same mistakes again in their writing, so the value isn’t just the enhancement of one story, but hopefully every story that follows. That gives me a happy glow.


Connect with Louise online at her website, blog, facebook, and twitter.


Thanks for taking part in our Author Spotlight Louise!

Craft: Paranormal/Fantasy some Do’s and Don’ts

I have loved reading paranormal/fantasy stories for a very long time. The ability to take the mundane and change it into something enticing is a great skill. When I think of fantasy stories that have romance in them Anne McCaffrey immediately comes to mind with her Dragon series. Paranormal has me reaching for a Julie Kenner “Soccer Mom” book, or something of that order.

I find though that when I go to create my own stories I have a hard time combining the right amount of fantasy with romance to be able to fit into the FantasyRom shelf. So this week I asked for ideas of what a Paranormal/Fantasy Romance needs. Here are a few answers –

Janet Woods said like any other genre of writing, the storyline and the characters should be able to stand alone, without the romance. However, the story is there to support the romance because it stems from the characters within the storyline.  Authors have to build up a world with a “history”. The characters might be able to do magic, change shape, fly or become invisible, but they have to make sure there’s strong motivation, so the reader suspends  his/her own beliefs and the unbelievable becomes believable.  If you take the word “fantasy” out of fantasy romance you’re left with a romance and no story to support it.  If you take the word “romance” out you should be left with a gripping, readable story with beginning, middle and end.

Pam G suggested that if a writer was trying to write a paranormal/fantasy romance then it has be a romance. Second,
Ellora’s Cave has it right. There has to be a plot/story. Third – World building is essential. While there may be certain constraints, especially if your story is in a contemporary setting, you as a writer have to flesh out the world this
story is set in.  Unlike aliens there are some standards to comply with though. Vampires  need to have fangs and drink blood. Werewolves sprout fur at some point. Fairies have wings, etc. After these basics,the writer has to decide what fits her story and what makes sense. Don’t skimp on this or it could bite you in the proverbial later.  As for whether vampires will continue to dominate – probably. Tall, dark, handsome, mysterious, kinda dangerous. Sounds like a romance. Werewolves (and shape-shifters in general) come in a big second. There is plenty of other scope though, a market for most paranormal/fantasy beings – as long as they can fall in love and live happily ever after (or happily for now).  What to avoid: bad story telling. If it’s well written and engages the reader then it’ll have a greater chance of being published.

Nicky Strickland spoke up about the abundance of fangs nowadays in romance  and shared this gem – the way fantasy works best,  regardless of what type of fantasy it is (contemporary, epic et al), the world is built like an iceberg. The writer knows the whole ‘berg and gives the reader enough to understand it but not info-dump them with the machinations of how it all works (unless it is critical to a plot point). As well, the laws of the world must be consistent e.g. magic, ability to fly, methods of travel.  The romance/fantasy balance is the same as if it were a mystery/fantasy or a crime/fantasy. It should follow the ‘rules’ (or should that be guidelines?) of the dominant genre. If a romance, the romance comes in slightly heavier than the fantasy.

Helen shared her opinion of world building which I tend to agree with – World building is so important. Who and why people can do things? If they have magical ability, is there a price to pay? Basically you can do whatever you want, it just has to suspend belief and has to be consistent. You can break conventions ­ e.g. vampires who can go out in daylight, but it has to have a belief about why you can.  Keri Arthur’s vampires ­ can go out at certain times in day the older they get.

Just a little bit of food for thought. Join us  on the Romaus forum for more craft discussions.

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