Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Story Spotlight #7: Carrie-Anne Brownian's Charleston Masquerade

Here we are with our next story spotlight! Only three more spotlights to go after this, and the April 30th release day is barely over a month away!

Today we have Carrie-Anne Brownian talking about the fascinating origins of her story "Charleston Masquerade." 

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When I created the protagonist of my story “Charleston Masquerade” at five or six years old, little did I ever dream she’d one day help me to win a story contest. It just goes to show all events truly are linked together in this best of all possible worlds.

Initially, Jinx was a contemporary girl, and eventually turned into an 18th century character in Colonial South Carolina. Her true name became Marionetta, her little sister became Marilyn, and her future husband became Zed. Around 1992, I shelved them, and didn’t believe I’d ever write those characters again.

In 2012, my mind was pulled back to my 18th and 19th century characters, whom I’d never forgotten in all those years. They went into my queue, with the full intention to eventually return to them.

When I discovered Marionetta and Marilyn weren’t 18th century names, I used the name of the third sister, Labyrinth, to rename them. What if their mother were a passionate Hellenophile who gave all her kids uncommon names from Greek mythology? It perfectly worked out that Jinx comes from Iynx (pronounced like “inks”), an obscure love goddess. Marilyn became Myrina, a queen of the Amazons.

While brainstorming ideas for my Masquerade story, I hit upon the idea of using my 18th century characters, trying them back on for size. I knew I’d made the right decision when the characters and story flowed effortlessly almost immediately, like I’d never been away from them for over a quarter of a century. A masquerade ball felt like a natural setting for 1767 Charleston, and played well with my signature cornerstone of characters who are outside the norm, different from the others, in some way.

These characters were meant to be, since I never forgot them in all these years. It just wasn’t the right time to write them as they deserved to be before.


“Would you care to dance, Miss?”
Jinx looked in the direction of the unfamiliar male voice which spoke in an accent she couldn’t place. It belonged to a very tall masquerader with a golden half-face mask, intense dark eyes and very fine, classical cheekbones. He wore a dark blue velvet coat and breeches, a bright red waistcoat, a white dress shirt and silk stockings, and black leather shoes with diamond-encrusted golden buckles.
“Not until you introduce yourself, Sir.”
“For tonight, you may call me Zed, or Zedekiah. You’d never guess my true name.”
“My name for tonight is Jane Bradford. You’d never guess my true name either.”
Zed leaned closer to her, then drew back. “You don’t look like a plain Jane at all if your eyes are any indication. They have too much personality. Are you part Gypsy or Spanish? Most people of English descent don’t have such dark hair or eyes.”
“Family lore says a great-grandfather on my mother’s side was Greek, though the family Bible records my maternal grandmother as having two English parents.”
“Is that a true story or part of your masquerade?”
“I’m no good at making up elaborate stories on the spur of the moment. My younger sister has a natural talent for that, but I don’t.”
Zed held out his hands, and Jinx clasped them. He led her in a minuet around the large ballroom, or at least what Jinx assumed must be a minuet. Though she’d had basic dance lessons, she had no reason to remember all those interconnected steps. Holding hands and moving one’s feet in harmony with one’s partner seemed a bit dull, not exciting or romantic. High society life was more fun to observe, not actively participate in.
“Are you betrothed?” Zed asked at the conclusion of the minuet. “Or do your parents have someone in mind for you?”

Carrie-Anne Brownian, who also writes as Ursula Hartlein, is a proud native Pittsburgher who lives and breathes all things historical.  She has a degree in history and Russian and East European Studies from UMass–Amherst, and aspires to a Ph.D. in Russian history.  Her stories always feature characters who are outside the norm in some way, and lots of Sturm und Drang.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Story Spotlight #6: Chelsea Marie Ballard's Remedy

It's time to visit another author from the upcoming anthology Masquerade: Oddly Suited. Let's hear from Chelsea Marie Ballard as she talks a little about her short story "Remedy."

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I’m just going to come right out and say it: there is no such thing as coincidences.

Masks are a prevalent theme in my recent writing. I’m working on my first series which focuses on the invisible masks people wear, the faces we show the world instead of our true one. So, when I saw the theme for the newest IWSG Anthology, I immediately knew I had to enter the contest. Also, it was YA romance. I mostly write young adult, but with a strong romance arc, so I figured I could make the leap.

It seemed almost too good to be true. A true alignment of the planets.

More than a simple coincidence.

But I wanted to do something different. Something lush and beautiful and brimming with angst. I had this idea of a girl with an opulent swan mask, something classic ‘Masquerade Ball’. I also had an itch to add a hierarchy, to add stakes for the young couple. Always tending to veer towards the dystopian, I made a new world, complete with self-made royalty and indentured servants.

A world where love was impossible, scoffed at and hated.

That’s when the bird idea popped into my head. A swan. A pigeon. A raven. Perfect allusions to the personalities lurking underneath. Plus, visually dynamic and fun to imagine.  

The last hump was naming my short story. Masks puns are surprisingly difficult to think of. You’d think it would be easier. After agonizing over the title, my husband came up with the couple name for my love birds: Remedy. It was short, sweet, and a little on the nose, but it grew on me.

I hope you enjoy following Remy and Rudy as they attempt to remedy their fates in a harsh world with their boundless love.


Everything is against Remy and Rudy, but on the night of the Masquerade Ball, they must choose: each other or their lives?


Born with privilege in the Protected Lands means money, power, and ease. For Remy, it means forever being apart from Rudy. On the night of the Masquerade Ball, Remy must choose between duty and heart. Which will prove stronger?


He leaned in close, the laughter still sparkling in his eyes. “I asked if you were sure about this, my beautiful wanderer?”

Rudy pulled on one of the feathers woven into my chestnut hair. Brilliant white swan feathers that were twins to the ones fashioned onto my sweeping mask. Rudy tilted up his own pigeon mask as soon as we snuck out of the ball. Its gray feathers gleamed luminescent in the moonlight on top of his dark head.

The wind was a light breeze, careful in its caress. The lapels of his neglected jacket looked like wings as they swayed. My simple white dress twisted in the zephyr, the linen of my bell sleeves flapping.

While a welcome break from the stuffiness of the ballroom, the wind would carry our voices.

So as instead of an answer, I kissed him.

A light, sweet kiss. Like Rudy. Like my love for him. Nothing like the heated kisses we shared so many nights before when our bodies dared to burst into flame; dared to light up the darkness with our love.

No, this kiss was a chaste kiss, so light that anyone who happened to walk out the gilded golden doors would find two servants, drunk off stolen wine, stealing innocence.

Chelsea Marie Ballard Bio:
A student of all things, Chelsea has turned her passion for flowery prose, angsty television, and biology toward her writing. She enjoys rare vines, quirky people, and a good love/hate story. This gold-ranking gamer lives in Bucks County, PA with her family, anxious dog, and fat cat. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Story Spotlight #5: Elizabeth Mueller's The Cog Prince

Hello! I’m Elizabeth Mueller, the author The Cog Prince. I had no idea that my story would be accepted for the challenge of the Insecure Writers Support Group anthology contest. Imagine the shocked thrill that shot through me when I received that email?

I’m a hopeless romantic and the first thing I thought of when I read the theme for the contest—masquerade/mask, I couldn’t help but imagine ball gowns and masks and stolen kisses—Regency fan here! But my muse did not take me into that era but into another entire vein of whimsy.

My thought process was to create something mysterious, strange, magical, and romantic—with a dash of steampunk. I wanted to leave the reader wanting more of the world just as much as I! As I let it stew for a while, the whispers began to stir until images and events flashed through my head.

Soon, the book was born within the matter of hours.

Will a missing key free a clock-bound prince?

Falling in love, saving the day, and a masque—oh my! The clock strikes the thirteenth hour and Ivy is sucked into a masquerade ball of whirling dancers where the Cog Prince has summoned her. Mysterious darkness seeks their destruction and she alone holds the key. Will Ivy save his kingdom in time?

*Excerpt from The Cog Prince

If I slowed my breathing long enough, I could hear the odd clicks of the many clocks that surrounded me. The constant ticking eventually got on my nerves and I gave into a shiver. It was weird, but it still felt as if someone watched me.


I screamed at the sound of a deep rumbling. I whipped around and faced a towering grandfather clock. Many spires framed the main part, ending with jagged, glinting points. Dark, wooden scrollwork fanned out symmetrically at the top. Its round face shined a burnished brass, the Roman Numerals one through thirteen. Thirteen? Within the glass case, a tiny door cranked opened with a grinding click and something trembled inside the dark opening.

From inside the little portal, a miniature skeleton lurched forward. It moved in its track with a strange slowness. Its head bent into an unnatural angle with a dangling jaw, its arms gnarled at its chest. Chills clawed up my back and the feeling of being watched escalated to a dark foreboding.


Again, the clock sounded. Lightning flashed, followed by a crack of thunder. I cried out and jumped back. Glass shattered and the sound of singing dishware exploded. Outside, the wind moaned. The rain pounded against the panes. The steel doors outside rattled with a fearsome rage.

Then another sound reached my ears. At first, they were quiet. I wasn’t sure if it was just me or the wind. But the more I concentrated, the louder they grew. Whispers. Laughter. Clinking of crystal. A soft, red glow caught my attention. There, below the clockface, burned the etching of a pulsating rose.

Touch it. A man’s whisper breathed along the side of my face.

I cried out, spinning in place at the sound of the man’s whispered breath. No one stood behind me. “Who’s there?”


My fingers slowly curled away so that my index was left solo, pointing to the red rose. It quivered before bursting into flames. Soft shrieks echoed in my head. Ash gathered and dispersed into the air. The floor vanished but I remained suspended in thin air. A painful jolt rewarded me as my finger finally grazed the rose. The clock shook and the rose fell away into a dark hole; a sharp whining sound pierced the air as a vacuum gaped wide open. Unable to control myself, I fell straight into it.

I hope you enjoyed the teaser as much as I enjoyed writing the story. If you want to experience more, my daughter says this musical piece reminds her of my story—I agree. Enjoy!

*excerpt has been modified to suit blogging purposes

Author Bio:

Award-winning author Elizabeth Mueller lives in Texas with her husband, five lively children, five indoor kitties, a few outdoor kitties, and seventeen chickens. While she enjoys homeschooling her kidlets, she thrives as a full-time writer of any genre that captures her heart. She loves to hear from her readers!

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Story Spotlight #4: C.D. Gallant-King's The Dark Charade

It's time to hear about the next story that will be appearing in the anthology Masquerade: Oddly Suited. Let's hear from C.D. Gallant-King, who will be talking about his story "The Dark Charade."

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My reading tastes are pretty varied, so it was inevitable that my writing would be scattered as well. I’ve written fantasy, mysteries, horror. I’ve got some sci-fi and a western in the works. My wife insists that my first book is a romance, and there’s been some debate among reviewers which combination of horror/urban fantasy/dark comedy/thriller properly describes my most recent novel. And that’s not even including all the erotica I write under a pen name. I don’t have a set style or genre I prefer, except that all of my writing tends to skew pretty adult and comedic.

So how the heck did I end up writing a young adult romance for the Masquerade Anthology?

I’ll try anything once. And to be fair, “The Dark Charade” is not a stereotypical young adult romance. It’s not a parody or satire per se, but I do have some fun with it, and it takes some dark turns. I mean, how many YA romance couples spend their first date robbing graves in a cemetery? Actually, I haven’t done that much research, so maybe it’s a common trope? For all I know digging graves is a major set piece in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, and my story is just going to come across as tired and derivative.

I’ll risk it. I hope you enjoy “The Dark Charade” and all the other great stories that will be featured in Masquerade: Oddly Suited when in drops in April. I’ve included a little excerpt below, so you can decide in advance how tightly you should clutch your pearls.

Hugs and kisses,


Groan. Not another vampire story.

I get it and you’re totally right; vampires are done to death, no pun intended. Madison Reid knows all about vampires, she’s a bit of an aficionado, after all. But she knows they’re not real, and she certainly didn’t expect to find one in the boring, terribly misnamed town of Paradise, Newfoundland.

Then she met Jackson, and her life got turned upside down. She found herself falling for a boy for the first time, but this is no ordinary boy. He’s got creepy pale skin and violet eyes and his family runs the town funeral parlour. It can’t be true, but there’s no other reasonable explanation. Could Madison be falling in love… with a vampire?


I couldn’t believe it. What was I witnessing? This boy, who I had to admit I was starting to crush on hard, was sneaking into a cemetery in the middle of the night and digging up graves? Why was he doing this? His family owned the local funeral parlour. If he needed a body, couldn’t he just, you know, get one from work? Why was he digging up a grave in the middle of the night?

Most importantly: Was I creeped out by this? Or did I find this weirdly exciting?

I watched him for a few minutes. I couldn’t look away. Despite the cool, damp September air, Jackson quickly started to sweat. He took off his grey windbreaker and soon removed his sweatshirt and t-shirt, too. My throat tightened. This beautiful boy, this amazing, gorgeous young man, was stripped to his waist and digging up a grave in the middle of the night, and I was embarrassingly turned on by this. It helped that he was so ripped. His alabaster muscles glistened with sweat in the cool radiance of his flashlight. I would have never guessed it from school and his loose-fitting dress shirts, but he had the arms, shoulders, and chest of a champion swimmer. I could grate cheese on his abs. He must dig a lot of graves to look like that, and I started wondering if I could get a part-time summer job with his family. Digging graves must be a great workout...


C.D. Gallant-King wrote his first story when he was five years old, and he made his baby-sitter look up how to spell “extra-terrestrial” in the dictionary. He now writes stories about un-heroic people doing generally hilarious things in horrifying worlds. A loving husband and proud father of two wonderful little kids, C.D. was born and raised in Newfoundland and currently resides in Ottawa, Ontario. There was also a ten-year period in between where he tried to make a go of a Theatre career in Toronto, but we don't talk about that.

He’s self-published two novels, Ten Thousand Days in 2015 and Hell Comes to Hogtown in 2016, which was a semi-finalist in Mark Lawrence’s 2018 Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off contest. His work has appeared in the Dancing Lemur Press Anthology Tick Tock: A Stitch in Crime as well as volumes IV through VI of Mystery and Horror’s Strangely Funny series.