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Browse On By — Friday Link Love

I don’t know about you, but like Johnny Cash, I always prefer hiding under a shrub to eat strawberry cake with my hands.

Happy Friday! Happy Friday? Happy Friday?!?! I’ve not made my mind up yet, babies. But anyway, here are a few things you’ll love:

Guess what that is? A never-finished Regency-era sampler depicting the solar system! Or so they say over at the Museum of Childhood, where a wonderful blog post about Georgian-era asterism-themed samplers awaits you…

Say, did you know that Anne Mather’s classic Mills & Boon/Harlequin Leopard in the Snow was made into a movie? With Keir Dullea no less? Even if you did, you probably forgot about it, so you should get yourself right over to  the awesome Cinebeat blog to read a really good piece about the first (and only) major theatrical adaptation of a Harlequin romance.  The movie was evidently atrocious, but the information about Harlequin/Mills & Boon and the challenges inherent in bringing the mid-70s style heroine-centric romance to the screen is well worth reading. Also: Keir Dullea does not like leopards. At all.

Meanwhile, over at Digital Book World, people are very concerned that self-published e-books are mostly kind of porny…

from Amazon.com

…and, come to find out, all those porny books are probably Amazon’s fault, since Amazon and that pretty little Kindle Fire there are the worst thing that ever happened to books, according the New Yorker’s George Packer, by making it too easy for any old yahoo with a porny story to tell to publish it. 

So there! Have a wonderful weekend, or at least as good a weekend as Johnny Cash was having when he crawled under that shrub to eat his cake!

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Goodreads Review: Lady Elizabeth’s Comet by Sheila Simonson

Lady Elizabeth's CometLady Elizabeth’s Comet by Sheila Simonson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Have you ever read a book once, and thought meh, then went back again and found it a totally different book? That’s my experience with Lady Elizabeth’s Comet. 

Part of my problem when first reading Lady Elizabeth’s Comet was, unfortunately, Lady Elizabeth. Big problem when the book’s narrated by Lady Elizabeth. For a first person narrator to be successful, the narrator must be, if not reliable, likeable. I had a hard time liking Lady Elizabeth at first. She is, quite frankly, a shrew.  

Lady Elizabeth is as near to an anti-heroine as you’ll find in a Traditional Regency. She’s short-tempered and snobbish, often treating the hero (and various other characters in the book) unkindly or dismissively. But if you stick with it, you’ll find she’s also funny and smart, and eventually all-too-aware of her own shortcomings. Interested more in astronomy than the people around her, it seems amazing that she could somehow attract not one but two suitors, her father’s heir, Tom Conroy, Lord Clanross, and Clanross’ close friend, Lord Bevis.

I won’t spoil the book for you by revealing which of her suitors Lady Elizabeth chooses, but I will say that although Lady Elizabeth is one of the least romantic female leads I’ve ever personally encountered, the romance that develops almost painfully slowly over the course of the book is delicious.  It will remind you more of an Austen romance than even a Heyer romance.

I find myself returning to Lady Elizabeth’s Comet  when I’m burned out on trite or trope-filled Traditional Regencies, or just want a great example of everything that is wonderful about the Traditional Regency genre.

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Author Profile: Carla Kelly

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If you read my recent review of Marriage of Mercy, author Carla Kelly’s newest Regency historical romance, then you already know that I’m a mad fan of the super-talented Kelly’s work. And if you haven’t, here’s my shameless self-promotion/heartfelt shill for the day:

Kelly’s the rare romance novelist who transcends the limitations of the genre. She routinely turns the Regency setting that has become synonymous with silly, wallpaper historicals on its head. Her heroes and heroines are rarely wealthy or titled, and are never exceptionally beautiful or of the alpha male variety. Even minor characters are imbued with detail that makes them real… she employs spare, elegant prose and telling details, and truly creates a world within the covers of her books. Kelly’s the one writer I’ve encountered who can, in three or four sentences, sum up years of a character’s back story.

I somehow managed to turn a review of a superb novel by Kelly into a rave about a favorite author and, in doing so, it occurred to me that I’d like to know more about Kelly. So I did what any nosy girl would do, and asked her if I could profile her for ye olde blog.

As you can tell from my rave above, one of the most striking features of Kelly’s books is the fact that she avoids almost completely the conventions that dictate the traditional Regency romance, even when writing, well, traditional Regency romances. Almost none of her heroes or heroines are the titled lords and ladies that populate the majority of Regency romances, making her books more akin to Jane Austen than most of her contemporaries.

When you find out that Kelly’s career has included stints teaching history and historiography on the universal level, that decision makes more sense.

“The realist in me says there was no way there could ever have been that many dukes, earls, marquesses, etc., and the skeptical historian in me agrees,” says Kelly.  “I write what I want, and I know a whole lot more about ordinary people.”

To call the characters she creates “ordinary,” however, is both too much and too little; most of her characters are, indeed, ordinary people, but in extraordinary circumstances, such as those created by war, a sudden reversal of fortune, or a natural disaster.

When Kelly deviates from the Regency norm, she does so in a big way, as is the case with Marriage of Mercy. While most Regency era novels that deal with war are concerned with the Napoleonic Wars, Kelly’s latest novel features the other, forgotten war of the Regency Era: the War of 1812.

Having never seen the War of 1812 handled in any romance novel, I was anxious to find out what attracted Kelly to this setting.

“My grad school profs talk about the War of 1812 as the “forgotten war,” partly now because it was so long ago, and the Civil War seemed to trump every other 19th century war,” Kelly explains.  “I was in England and Scotland a few years ago [and] while in Edinburgh’s castle, the guide mentioned POWs there from the American revolution. That reminded me of Dartmoor, far to the southwest, and I remembered that American POWs had been kept there. A little research told me I had a good place to begin a novel.”

Kelly’s hunch paid off; the fact that the hero of her book is a paroled American prisoner of war from the Dartmoor prison makes for a unique, unforgettable novel that’s as much about the differences between England and the still-new U.S. as it is about the Regency period, or, for that matter, romance.

But Marriage of Mercy is hardly Kelly’s first foray into an historical period that’s a little off the beaten path as far as historical romance is concerned. Kelly’s first novel, Daughter of Fortune, is set in the American Southwest during the 17th century, and more recent novels have been set in Mormon communities in the American West. Her studies in and love for history continue to lead Kelly in directions most historical romances never go.

“I’m about halfway through a historical mystery/romance set in 1780s northern New Mexico, when the Spanish government was starting to pull back from its (minimal) protection of the frontier, and leaving the hardy rancheros to the mercies of the Comanche. I’m contracted to write four of those,” Kelly says. ”  have another novel to write about the 1912 Mormon “exodus” from Mexico, when Pancho Villa drove them out. And having said that, Harlequin let me write a western set at Fort Laramie in 1876 that should be out next year.”

That last statement is a telling one, both for Kelly’s career trajectory and the future of romance publishing. Like most other romance authors, Kelly has found that e-book publishing, both through smaller publishers and self-publishing, has allowed her to tell stories that traditional publishers could not find shelf space for in bookstores.

” This e-book revolution is a total boon to writers,” says Kelly. “If we have made a name for ourselves, we can bail out of conventional publishing houses and actually – gasp – write what we want. My historical mystery series will be through CamelPress in Seattle, a nimble little house which is bringing out Daughter of Fortune in July.”

E-book publishing has also made it possible for new and old fans of Kelly’s Signet Traditional Regencies to read backlist titles of hers that have been out-of-print for years. While Marian’s Christmas Wish and Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand are both available now, Kelly says that most of her backlist titles will be available shortly, with Libby’s London Merchant and it’s companion/sequel, One Good Turn, as well as Summer Campaign coming up for e-book reissue later this year.

The freedom to publish her works with smaller publishers or on her own also allows Kelly to escape the encroaching trend of sexed-up romance. Longtime readers who loved Kelly’s Traditional Regencies published by Signet have probably noticed a slight difference between those books and the books published by Harlequin — the inclusion of racier love scenes. Kelly’s Harlequins are nowhere near 50 Shades of Gray territory, but for Traditional Regency fans who are used to chaste kisses and longing looks, they represent a significant change. It’s one that Kelly herself admits to having reservations about.

“I feel compelled [to write sex scenes]. Generally, I prefer to not be so graphic, even though I am told that my Harlequins are hardly graphic. Quite frankly, the body’s largest sex organ is the brain.  Done right, a so-called sexless Regency can be quite sexy. If I must get sexy, I prefer my characters to be married. Call me old-fashioned. I don’t care.”

Kelly fans who’ve already zipped through Marriage of Mercy can breathe easily — Kelly’s next release is coming up soon, and features two of her favorite characters.

“I really, really love Owen Davis and Della Anders in the forthcoming My Loving Vigil Keeping, coming out in August [published by Cedar Fort]. It’s a first-ever novel about the Winter Quarters (Scofield) Mine Disaster in 1900, which took place about 40 minutes from my front door.”

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Although the characters from My Loving Vigil Keeping are among Kelly’s favorites, it’s a book that perhaps few of her romance fans have read that Kelly counts as her favorite of her books.

“My favorite work is still Here’s to the Ladies: Stories of the Frontier Army,” Kelly confesses. Here’s to the Ladies is one of several non-fiction works that Kelly has written. However, it may have competition in Kelly’s affections.

My Loving Vigil Keeping is edging up, and my hero and heroine in The Spanish Brand series are getting so appealing. So it goes.”

As for me, my favorite Carla Kelly book is still the one pictured at the very beginning of the post, Summer Campaign. It was one of the first Traditional Regencies I ever picked up, and it set a standard that only a few romance authors have managed to meet. So thank you, Carla Kelly, for your wonderful books and for setting the bar so high!


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A Very Gothic Week — Profile of Amanda DeWees, author of Sea of Secrets

It’s still a very Gothic week here at ye olde Sweet Rocket, but here’s a super sweet Sunday post — a profile of author Amanda DeWees, whose great new Gothic novel, Sea of Secrets, started the whole Gothic thing here earlier this week.

Author Amanda DeWees

By all rights, the author of a great Gothic novel should be dark and brooding, icy and forbidding. Fortunately, Amanda DeWees, author of Sea of Secrets, a wonderful new Gothic in the tradition of classics like Jane Eyre and Rebecca, is none of the above.

When I discovered Sea of Secrets, I found the book so compelling and exciting that I had to contact DeWees personally and let her know how much I’d enjoyed the book. A few mouse clicks later, I’d convinced her to let me profile her for Sweet Rocket.

I couldn’t wait to ask DeWees what compelled her to write a Gothic novel, at a time when quality Gothic romances are as rare as hen’s teeth in the romance market — or the exploding e-book market, for that matter. Turns out that DeWees, like me, had come to love Gothic romance long after the genre’s 1960s-1970s renaissance was long past, and likewise lamented the lack of Gothic romances on the market.

“I must confess that I wrote Sea of Secrets primarily for my own pleasure and only secondarily for publication, so I wasn’t trying to conform to the demands of the market,” says DeWees.

However, when she did decide to publish Sea of Secrets, even the book’s riveting story and accomplished prose was not enough to guarantee it a place in a romance market set on ignoring Gothic romance.

“When I first started submitting Sea of Secrets—and this feels like writing about another era of history, which in a sense it was—the place to start was the annual Writer’s Market,” DeWees recalled. “Well, out of the probably several thousand publishers listed there, maybe three listed Gothic romance as a genre they would accept. Literally, about three. I had absolutely missed that boat. “

By 2012, the explosive growth of e-readers and e-books gave Sea of Secrets a chance that traditional publishers would not.

“It had to wait until the e-publishing revolution to enter the world,” DeWees says. “When I began contemplating e-publishing, I knew at once that this was the manuscript of mine that most deserved a chance to find an audience. It’s the one I was proudest of and the one closest to my heart.”

Traditional Gothic novels rely on first person narrators to spin their tales of horror, and Sea of Secrets is no exception. The whole of a novel in written in first person depends upon the author’s ability to create a character that is both relatable and reliable, which is no mean feat, but add to it the constricted language and mores of a Victorian setting, and the challenge grows. It’s a feat, however, that DeWees accomplishes with unusual success.

In Oriel, the novel’s heroine/narrator, DeWees has created a memorable character whose wry humor and kindness recalls none other so much as that Gothic romance heroine for the ages, Jane Eyre herself.

Of Oriel, DeWees says, “Writing her was mainly a matter of trusting my instincts–and years of studying Victorian literature in grad school, which gave me a good education in what would and wouldn’t fly in her world. Her sense of humor… I think that’s part of what makes her relatable. Also, she’s confronting situations that are timeless: falling in love, experiencing loss, finding out who she is. Universal emotional themes like that, I believe, are why romances continue to speak to us so strongly.”

DeWees’ background in literature did more than just inform Oriel’s character. Sea of Secrets is full of literary references that serve to both steep it in the Victorian era and deepen the story, as well.

“Many of the literary references were deliberate and planned in advance,” DeWees explains. “Several, in fact, were central to the development of the story. Others just felt like they belonged to Oriel’s landscape, especially since I had decided that she would be unusually widely read for a young woman of her position and era. In one scene she finds a copy of Apuleius’s Metamorphoses, and that was a little inside joke about the antecedents of the Gothic romance.”

The very literary influences that appear in the novel helped make Sea of Secrets a Gothic novel. In it’s first incarnation, DeWees says, Sea of Secrets was, in fact, a romance novel. “Sea of Secrets started out as something very different from what it is now (but) the romance was always central to the story.” At some point during the novel’s writing, however, DeWees says it became clear that Sea of Secrets needed to be a Gothic.

“A lot of different factors contributed to the evolution of the story: advice from an editor, life (and love) experience, my studies in 19th-century Gothic literature … and of course my love for Gothic romances. “

Sea of Secrets’ transformation from romance to Gothic meant employing the intricate plotting that is essential to bringing all of the elements of a traditional Gothic romances together. This intricate plotting was not always easy, says DeWees.

“I have so much admiration for good plotting. I’ve always found it a challenge to create layered plots. It’s one of the areas I work hardest on when I’m outlining a story. One of my favorite writers (but about the least Gothic there is) is P.G. Wodehouse, and he was practically supernatural in his ability to create intricate, escalating plots.”

P.G. Wodehouse

An unlikely influence.

Wodehouse is one of many authors DeWees counts as an influence. Not surprisingly, Gothic authors and novels are also important references for her work, says DeWees, who says that classic Gothic novels like Jane Eyre and Lady Audley’s Secret, and authors who often wrote in the genre, Shirley Jackson and Joan Aiken, are a few of her favorites.

But her favorites and influences are more diverse than just the classics. Along with A.S. Byatt (Possession is a particular favorite of DeWees’), Ellis Peters, John Harwood, F.G. Cottam and Lemony Snicket, DeWees also counts humorists like Terry Pratchett, Jasper Fforde and Christopher Moore among her favorite authors.

“A standout is Robin McKinley; her fairy-tale novel Beauty influenced me on so many levels,” says DeWees, but if the influence of McKinley was not evident in Sea of Secrets, readers can look for it in forthcoming books. DeWees is currently working on a manuscript that reworks the ballad Tam Lin into a young adult paranormal romance.

Readers who loved Sea of Secrets and DeWees’ refreshing take on the Gothic romance shouldn’t despair that she’ll abandon the genre altogether. Her love of the foundations of Gothic romance will no doubt bring her back to the genre.

“I’ve always loved spooky stories…the elements of the supernatural and the wonderfully foreboding atmosphere.”

It wouldn’t be surprising, either, if some of DeWees’ future books take place in the past, a place DeWees loves to visit.

The photo that accompanies this profile was taken at the annual Somewhere in Time weekend on Mackinac Island, where the movie was filmed, says DeWees, who adds that “I’ve been a costume nut since I was a little girl — [readers] probably notice how lovingly I described the dresses in Sea of Secrets — so I jumped at the chance to make a 1912 dress to wear to the event. That’s what I’m wearing in the photo.”

 You can purchase Sea of Secrets in e-book format at Smashwords and Barnes & Noble, or in print or e-book at Amazon.


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A Very Gothic Week: Dark Shadows and the Gothic Novel Genre

Not by design, but just in time, anyway, this has become A Very Gothic Week here at Sweet Rocket. Yesterday was a review of the fabulous new gothic novel Sea of Secrets by Amanda DeWees. Today is Dark Shadows day.

Unfortunately, today’s post is inspired by the passing of Dark Shadows legend Jonathan Frid, who portrayed Barnabas Collins, arguably the most revolutionary vampire of the 20th century, on the gothic soap during  Dark Shadows’ original late 1960s-early 1970s run. Dark Shadows, and Frid’s characterization of Barnabas Collins in particular, transformed the popular notion of the vampire, turning vampires into romantic, heroic characters rather than horror movie monsters along the lines of Frankenstein and Mr. Hyde.

Dark Shadows did more than just turn Frid’s vampire and co-star David Selby’s werewolf Quentin Collins into sexy romantic leads. Despite its inauspicious beginnings as a half-hour afternoon soap, Dark Shadows became a cultural force, inspiring movies, comic books, records, and an entire genre of books, the Gothic novel.

One of the most popular and enduring of the cottage industries that sprung up around Dark Shadows’ characters was a series of Gothic paperback novels. According to Paperback Library, 33 Dark Shadows books were published between 1966 and 1973. All were authored by Canadian Dan Ross, but published under the pen name Marilyn Ross. Aside from House of Dark Shadows, which was a novelization of the movie of the same name, the Dark Shadows books were a series which featured an alternate storyline/history to that portrayed on the television show.

Like the show, the Dark Shadows books were written in the Gothic vein, although they did not always hew to the conventions of the Gothic-style first person narration and tight focus on the main character/narrator. More Gothic mystery than Gothic romance, the books fell into two categories: the early books featuring a mystery centered on a different Dark Shadows character with each volume, and the later books, which focused on Barnabas Collins and Quentin Collins as a sort-of Sherlock Holmes and Watson, solving paranormal and/or evil villian mysteries.

It’s not pure conjecture to state that Dark Shadows helped fuel the Gothic novel vogue of the 1960s and 1970s. The Gothic genre, which had fallen in and out of fashion like hemlines since the late 1700s, became a big deal in the wake of Dark Shadows’ success. While authors such as Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart had found success with their Gothic romances, publishers began to buy up Gothic stories in droves during the height of Dark Shadows’ popularity.  Many paperback publishers created lines especially for Gothics (including Paperback Library, which published the Dark Shadows novels), and Gothics became so popular during this period that the genre actually featured sub-genres, including historical Gothics, contemporary Gothics, paranormal Gothics, romantic Gothics and Gothic mysteries.

Meanwhile, Dark Shadows covered much of the same territory as the Gothic books published during (and after) its run, featuring mystery storylines, historical storylines set in the Victorian and Colonial periods and romantic storylines in addition to the show’s contemporary paranormal storyline. How influenced authors of Gothics were by Dark Shadows’ storylines and vice-versa is anyone’s guess, but it’s interesting to note that  Dan Ross – writing as Marilyn Ross, Clarissa Ross and Ann Gilmer, amongst other pseudonyms – published over 300 books (including the Dark Shadows books), many of them Gothics, during the 1960s and 1970s.

But as Dark Shadows’ fortunes went, so did the popularity of Gothic romances. After the cancellation of Dark Shadows in 1971, Gothics managed to hang on to their foothold in the paperback market for several years, but by the end of the 1970s, publication of Gothics had dwindled dramatically, supplanted by the surge in popularity of historical romance, especially that unique 1970s-1980s sub-genre of historical romance, the bodice-ripper. Many authors who’d first found success writing Gothic novels, including Barbara Michaels and Anne Stuart, moved on to subvert Gothic themes into romantic suspense or standard mysteries, while others, such as Mary Kay Simmons, moved on to bodice-rippers or other romance genres. Others simply drifted away.

The current popularity of paranormal romance would seem to create the perfect atmosphere for another Gothic revival, but alas. The one publisher that consistently published Gothics through the 1990s-2000s, Dorchester (under the Love Spell and Candleglow imprints), closed its physical doors in March of this year, and it remains to be seen whether it will survive as an electronic publisher.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, as Amanda DeWees’ wonderful Sea of Secrets has proven. Enduring Gothic classics, such as those by Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt, remain in print. E-books and self-publishing have revived many long-dead genres and writers who’d been unable to find a home with publishers.  There’s also hope that many of the 1960s-1970s Gothics may be republished as e-books; perhaps Gothics will experience the same e-book renaissance as older uber-traditional Regencies, which had slowly been phased out by publishers looking for books with more graphic sexuality and third-person narration, and are now re-emerging in e-book format. Belgrave House, which sprung up just to republish out-of-print books in e-book format, has done a wonderful job of bringing traditional Regencies back, and is beginning to add a few Gothics, as well.

If nothing else, maybe the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp Dark Shadows reboot due out later this year will give new life to this sadly neglected genre. Long live Gothics!


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Book Review: Sea of Secrets by Amanda DeWees

Every one in a great while, you read a book that, in the immortal words of Little Edie Beale, pulverizes you. That book, my friends, is Amanda DeWees’ Sea of Secrets.

I bought Sea of Secrets during one of Smashwords’ sales a few months back, shuttled it off to my Aluratek, and promptly forgot about it. Shame on me, for Sea of Secrets is just what I’ve been wishing for for years now — a return to the true Gothic romances I loved as a teenager.

Gothic romances on the same lines as Jane Eyre, Rebecca, and the Avon and Signets from the 1970s fall in and out of fashion like hemlines. Whereas the Regencies and historicals that I love so well are part of the popular fiction canon, coming out monthly as regular as clockwork, true Gothics  disappear from the landscape for years on end, leaving those of us who love these books scraping the bottom of the used bookstore barrel for a quality vintage Gothic we haven’t already read.

Sea of Secrets is the Gothic I’d been waiting for. Here’s the synopsis, courtesy of Smashwords:

After her brother is killed in the Crimean War, innocent young Oriel Pembroke finds herself alone in the world.

Disowned by the cruel father who has always despised her, she has nowhere to turn until she is taken under the wing of a glamorous relative she never knew: the former Duchess of Ellsworth, who has scandalized society by remarrying soon after her first husband’s death. At the opulent seaside estate of Ellsmere, Oriel thinks she has found a safe haven—but the darkly handsome young duke, Herron, believes otherwise. Haunted by the death of his father, he suspects that Ellsmere is sheltering a murderer.

Even as Oriel falls in love with the duke, she begins to fear that his grief and suspicion are turning to madness. When dangerous accidents start to befall both Herron and Oriel, however, she realizes that someone may be trying to stop them from discovering the truth about the past. And when her father comes back into her life, she learns that he may hold the answer to the most horrifying secret of all…

Now that’s the recipe for a classic Gothic — the only drawback? Sea of Secrets has set such an impossibly high bar, I’m afraid any other new Gothics I find will never be able to meet it!

DeWees employs all the traditional elements of the classic Gothic — first person narration, vast, almost forbidding estate, a dark mystery, a brooding hero, and a heroine in peril — but does so with a literary style that is as accomplished as that of her best-known antecedents: the Brontes and DuMaurier. Anyone who thinks that popular genre fiction (especially romance) is written by talentless hacks need only pick up Sea of Secrets to see how off base that idea is. DeWees has written a book that can proudly sit on a shelf beside the best literary historical fiction of any day.

But DeWees’ highly-literate, historically accurate writing is hardly the only thing to recommend Sea of Secrets. Like any truly successful Gothic, Sea of Secrets is expertly plotted, and DeWees sustains the mystery at the heart of the story throughout most of the book. It’s a testament to DeWees’ talent that she throws out hints to the mystery’s resolution throughout the book, but that most readers will only appreciate them when the mystery is solved.  In most Gothic romances, the romance is less important to the story than the mystery and the sense of danger that permeates the story, and Sea of Secrets acquits itself well in this aspect, too — the love story, such as it is (I don’t want to give too much away!), is incorporated into the book, rather than the focus of the book.

Not to belabor the point, but I cannot recommend Sea of Secrets highly enough. Amanda DeWees’ book has me excited for a genre that I had feared was dead, and I’ll be waiting impatiently for her next book.

Sea of Secrets is available as an e-book at Smashwords (obviously), Barnes and Noble and at Amazon. A print copy is also available at Amazon.

Did you like Sea of Secrets, honeybun? Here are a couple more books like Sea of Secrets:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

The Shadow of the Lynx by Victoria Holt


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Rediscovered: Theodora Keogh

The mid-century novelist Theodora Keogh’s disappearance  from the popular consciousness demonstrates the difference between books and literature, best-sellers and perennial favorites. Popular fiction – and nonfiction, for that matter – is rarely classic fiction. For every John Updike or Cormac McCarthy, there are dozens of Taylor Caldwells and Cynthia Freemans whose books, for better or for worse, sell well during their era, but are largely forgotten within just a few years. The fact that these books slowly fade from our literary memory is not necessarily an indictment of their quality (although in many cases, it is). Rather, it’s the confluence of several factors: a style that falls from popularity, an author whose momentum is lost, or a subject that seems dated within several years of publication.

Any combination of these factors have acted on Theodora Keogh’s books over the years. Her writing is elegant and modern, even if the pulpy subjects of her books — adolescent girl’s adventures on the mean streets of New York, bored housewife takes brutal lover…

Never mind — let’s read the publisher’s blurb on the back  of Keogh’s The Other Girl:

“She came to Hollywood looking for the answer to the strange hunger in her blood. But not until she met Betty, the tantalizing, voluptuous slut, could she put a name to the passion that was consuming her. The tragic drama of their encounter unwound against the sordid backdrop of Hollywood’s prostitutes and procurers, misfits and rejects–and then exploded in a shocking, and inevitable, climax. “

Contrast that breathless litany with an excerpt from the book:

Almost everyone wore pompadours that year, especially around Hollywood.  Even the men seemed to have a stiff upward swirl on their front locks in timid but stubborn imitation. It was 1946 and World War II was pronounced over.  The West Coast, the sprawl of suburbs around Los Angeles seemed especially suited to this uneasy peace. The crack of atomic doom was like a ringmaster’s whip, forcing to a prance both young and old alike. But Marge did not feel a part of these frantic posturings. No pompadour for her… looking down now on the scurrying women she felt a wave of contempt for those female bodies…

Ah, you know Marge’s contempt does not bode well. After all, you’ve read Harold Robbins and Jacqueline Susann, so you know that a hard nut like Marge is never going to coming to any good.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the lurid nature of many of Keogh’s books, the author is going through a renaissance of sorts right now. For some inexplicable reason, all of her books are available on Amazon in ebook format for $1.00 each.

There’s a schizophrenic quality to Keogh’s printed output that makes it easy to see why her best fiction was neglected, while the freak-show pulp books fell by the wayside. Keogh writes with a strange, sometimes uncomfortable intensity; an everyday exchange between two young girls in Meg takes on huge proportions, while in the excerpt above from The Other Girl, Marge establishes herself as a less-than sympathetic narrator within the first chapter through her contempt and coldness toward other women. In the best of Keogh’s books, such as Meg and Street Music, this quality in her writing makes for indelible portraits of ordinary people in bizarre circumstances. But this quality lends itself all too well to the type of pulpy sensationalism that Keogh often wrote, like The Other Girl, The Mistress and The Double Door. Because Keogh was an artist of her type, the line is sometimes so blurred, the veering between ugliness that’s real and ugliness for ugliness’ sake so whiplash-inducing, that she produced a couple books that are either genius or pure trash — The Fascinator is one of these.

Ostensibly the story of a rich New York housewife who falls in love with the Fascinator of the title, a famous sculptor (named Zanic, no less), The Fascinator could almost be a companion piece to The Feminine Mystique, so striking is the similarity between Ellen, the protagonist, and Betty Friedan’s middle class housewives consumed by their ennui. Yet it wouldn’t be a Keogh book if there weren’t disturbing, predatory elements to Zanic that sometimes push the book into pulp territory. In this way, it’s almost an inspiration to The Feminine Mystique, predating that book by ten years (The Fascinator was published in 1954), and unwittingly giving Friedan a cautionary tale for all the bored women whose good educations and bright imaginations have led them into adultery and dissolution rather than careers or creativity.

Keogh authored only a handful of books between the publication of Meg in 1950 and her final book, The Other Girl in 1962. While it’s doubtful that her rediscovery and republication in e-book format will vaunt her books into the American literary canon, Keogh is nonetheless worth reading.