Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The Narcissistic Villain

Villains can be a tricky proposition--in fiction as well as in our day to day world.  We all hope we don't become entangled with malevolent people--ones who wish us harm--in real life. "Mad and Bad & Dangerous to know," was said of Byron, who was definitely NOT the kind of man you wanted to enchant your daughter. However, in a story, a villain provides driving force to a plot, and gives the hero and heroine an antagonist with whom to spar.  Inside a book, we are safe; there is no actual blood spilled.

By the way, the gentleman on the spooky cover above is not the villain, although he is a shape-shifter. The villain in Zauberkraft: Black is "a man of wealth and taste" who also happens to be a vampire. Revenge is a dish best served cold, and vampires, certainly, have eternity in which to brood and plot.

Villains can be fun to write--my cohort were brought up on movie theater cowboy serials, thus today, in our most entertainment ready mode, we still enjoy a good melodrama. Here, the white hats win and the black hats are carted off to justice. And what could be more melodramatic than a movie like "The Heiress"? Though this picture was made before I emerged from my mother, it's one of those movies I vividly remember seeing for the first time. I remember long cold Skaneateles winter-frigid afternoons, wrapped in woolens and watching a small Zenith TV. The somber black and white flickering on the screen matched the mood of the frozen world outside.

For anyone who isn't familiar, here's the plot. A naive, lonely heiress falls prey to a narcissistic con man, whose plan is to marry her, drive her mad, and then have her committed so he can assume control of her fortune. At first, he is the caring, genteel lover of whom she's dreamed. He does every little romantic thing for her so that, without knowing anything about him, she accepts his proposal. In modern psychological parlance this is called "love bombardment."  It's the full charm offensive with which the narcissist sweeps his target off her feet.

Next, the husband seduces the parlor maid and enlists her aid in his plot. Then the two of them begin to undermine his wife's trust in her sanity. Every night, he turns down the gaslight in the hall just a little bit, all the while staunchly insisting that his wife's "just imagining" it. The setting, in 19th Century America, where women were easily dispatched to asylums by husbands who had tired of them, smooths the villain's way.

Now, more than half a century later, "gaslighting" is a term with which most are familiar. Now, however, instead of referring to the actions of a single smooth sadist in an old film, it's commonly used by therapists to describe one of the ways in which a narcissist first undermines and then controls his relationship partner. In the real world, the narcissist is a dangerous creature, and lately it seems they are everywhere.

Back to the more innocuous world of fiction, where a narcissistic personality type makes a great villain. The narcissist, it turns out, has a sort of universal playbook. Reliably unreliable, considering only their own advantage, they love nothing and no one. In their world, empathy, or its cousin, sympathy, are incomprehensible, concepts "for suckers." They swallow up the people around them like a black hole. Absolute power, a constant stream of praise from sycophants combined with blind obedience to their whims is a narcissist's dream of heaven.

Some of the other traits that characterize a narcissist are grandiosity, an excessive need for admiration, disregard for the feelings of others, inability to accept criticism, and an air of entitlement and superiority. They target vulnerable, empathetic people who have something they want; they are masters of manipulation. When they don't get what they want, they become epic bullies, hounding their targets into submission.

Without really knowing what exactly I was doing or sticking a label on and then writing a character to fit the diagnosis, I have used this type of antagonist in several of my books. In some of these stories, the character is somewhere along the spectrum toward utter self-centeredness.

After all, the true full blown malignant narcissist (at least, as a fictional character) is one who seems constantly in danger of "over the top." There is, after all, a wide spectrum of human behavior and one of the first duties of a writer is to convince the reader that the story is--on some level--believable. So many of my villains are somewhere in the dark gray end of the zone, not irredeemably black.  Still, there are some terrors in these books of mine. 

~~Juliet Waldron
Website of Juliet Waldron

Monday, July 27, 2020

Brief history of the written word - Part three and last - by Vijaya Schartz

Celtic Legends by Vijaya HERE
In the two previous parts of this article, we talked about the origins of writing in Asia, India, cuneiform writing in the Middle East, and hieroglyphic writing in Egypt, and the gradual switch from graphic representation of objects to the use of sound symbols, then letters. The first alphabet, created by the Phoenicians in the 8th century BC, was borrowed by the Greek then adapted by the Romans, and imposed through their conquest all over Europe. We now had the power of writing almost anything, any language, with an infinity of possibilities.

During the dark ages and the early Middle Ages in Europe, only the clergy, nobles, and government officials could read and write. Educating the masses was considered dangerous and sometimes evil. Only the clergy was allowed to read the Bible, for fear of misinterpretation. Most religious and political documents were penned in Latin, which, after the downfall of Rome, was still understood, if not fluently spoken, by the nobility and the literate elite throughout the Christian world. Books were handwritten in calligraphy on parchment and heavily decorated, usually by monks. These books were labor intensive, very costly, and not available to the population at large. 

The layman’s knowledge, however, was still imparted through oral tradition from elders to younger members of society. The intricacies of seasonal planting, weaving, sewing, tanning, preserving food, and other everyday activities were often condensed into how-to songs, learned in childhood and later taught to children and grandchildren. The rhyming and the melody made the task description easy to remember.

Storytellers memorized and retold in songs epic battles and important moments in history, like the song of Roland. Many African and Polynesian tribes still use song and dance to impart knowledge of historic events and storytelling. 

But the Latin alphabet also allowed writing in one’s native tongue. With the advent of commerce, trading and shipping companies required written records in everyday language. So did transmission of orders to armies far from home, and communication with conquered territories in the East during the Crusades. Hand writing on parchment spread among the higher middle class. 

In 1440, thanks to Gutenberg in Germany, and his invention of the printing press with removable characters, books could be mass-produced, and the written word became affordable. 

Soon, the Italian Renaissance saw the creation of many new schools and rich patrons financed the arts. Then Europe saw an explosion of knowledge, culture, arts, and considerable advancement of science, engineering, mathematics, and philosophy. 

Writing and designs of Leonardo da Vinci
Nowadays, most everyone can read and write and has access to books on every topic, but we are left with a different problem. We have come a long way from writing only the most important truths of our time. Writing has gone from sacred, to important, to artistic, to sometimes frivolous and trivial. 

With basic education, anyone can express thoughts and opinions about everything in writing. We are dealing with an overload of information from an infinity of individual sources. Fortunately, our sophisticated computers can handle that immense load, and when someone cusses on social media in Canada, someone in Japan can let them know it’s not okay. 😊 

Since the advent of Social Media, we also have derived other forms of written communication in abbreviations for texting, and emojis to express feelings. Universal binary language uses zeros and ones. Computers invent their own languages to communicate with each other. Someone even wrote an entire story in emoji symbols. 

I also heard that some law-makers are thinking about getting rid of cursive and lowercase in schools to keep only block letters. Can’t wait to hear my characters screaming at me in ALL CAPS. What’s next? Getting rid of punctuation? Shakespeare must be turning in his grave. 😊 

As a writer of sci-fi and fantastic legends, I predict that one day, if we do not destroy ourselves first, Earth will have only one language made up of mixed words and abbreviations and writing styles from various old countries, with one unified alphabet of simple characters everyone will understand.

alien writing on an I-beam fragment found at the Roswell crash site.
I only hope that despite this unification, we manage to keep the wonderful variety of cultures, and the colorful traditions of all the people of Earth, along with their best recipes, dances, costumes, and favorite games.

In the meantime, you are welcome to check out my books. Here is my Celtic Legend series, CURSE OF THE LOST ISLE. Find it everywhere in eBook or paperback. 

From history shrouded in myths, emerges a family of immortal Celtic Ladies, who roam the medieval world in search of salvation from a curse. For centuries, imbued with hereditary gifts, they hide their deadly secret, stirring passions in their wake as they fight the Viking hordes, send the first knights to the Holy Land, give birth to kings and emperors... but if the Church ever suspects what they really are, they will be hunted, tortured, and burned at the stake.

5 stars on Amazon "Edgy Medieval. Yay!"


Happy reading.

Vijaya Schartz, author
Strong Heroines, Brave Heroes
amazon B&N - Smashwords - Kobo FB 

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Caught between two worlds—Tricia McGill

Find all my books on my Books We Love Author Page

As writers, we usually live in two worlds—the one we are creating
and the real one where we have to do the dishes and other mundane activities. Needless for me to say, I prefer the imaginary world sometimes. Currently immersed in life as they knew it in London during the blitz (1940) for my current book, I can’t help comparing those days to the weird lives we are being forced to live these days as we cope with enforced separation and the rules of self-isolation.

Just when we thought life was about to get back to normal in my part of the world things have gone back a few paces. No visitors unless they are essential for your care, no nipping out to the shops unless it is an urgent matter. Thank heaven for our TVs and computers. Imagine a world without them—and without streaming TV watched by most of the population in one way or another. I can’t imagine living without my personal choice—good old Netflix.

During WW11, radio (called a wireless back then) was the most popular form of entertainment. Many shows became popular, and quickly gained influence. Radio broadcasts were regulated by the government—as was most entertainment at the time. One popular radio program back then was Tommy Handley's “It's That Man Again”, which continued airing until 1949. Comedian Handley used radio to keep the spirits of the British population high. His last show aired on January 6th 1949 and sadly, he passed away just three days later. 
Then there were singers like Vera Lynn, whose beautiful rendering of songs like ‘We’ll Meet Again’ gave heart to her listeners. I recall my sisters who lived through those years as young women telling me how they danced to the music of bands like Joe Loss and Oscar Rabin who played at local dance halls and gained a huge radio audience.

Thank heaven for the cinema (called the flicks in those days). I had to use a movie in my latest book that my characters saw back in 1940 and chose Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in “His Girl Friday”. Cary Grant was very popular then along with great actors like Tyrone Power, Humphrey Bogart and Jimmy Stewart. As with radio, the film industry was an important source of communication in a time when TV was unheard of. Much like media today, it was also a great means for the government to use propaganda to influence the public.

Just like recently there was a shortage of essentials, but panic buying by a selfish few didn’t bring this about—no this was because the ships carrying food and raw materials were attacked regularly. One noticeable thing when this pandemic started was that there were not so many cars on the road. Back then, most of the population didn’t possess a car but caught public transport. So we grumble because we can’t get hand sanitizer or tissues—how about living at a time when soap was rationed to 3 ounces a month, and there was no white bread available—at all.

I’m off back to that other world now—but first I might have a cup of
tea. And that’s another thing I forgot to mention, their cup of tea seemed to be a mainstay back then, even if perhaps there was a lack of sugar to sweeten it.

Please visit my web site for more on my books

Saturday, July 25, 2020

The Ship's Captain - Master of a Wooden World by A.M.Westerling

Sophie's Choice, Book 1 of The Ladies of Harrington House is available at all your favorite online stores HERE.


I tend to write a lot about sailing ships, captains and sea voyages. I don’t know why other than I do love the ocean and I think it has something to do with living in a landlocked city. Plus life at sea during the Regency era strikes me as being quite romantic although I’m sure the reality is that it was anything but what with cramped quarters run over with cockroaches and rats, insect infested food and brackish water!

Right now I’m working on Leah’s Surrender. Leah is Sophie's sister and my hero is Heath Trevelyan, a captain in the British Royal Navy during the French and English wars at the turn of the 19th century. At that time, the British Navy was the largest and most powerful in the world and very proficient in fighting at sea. “Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves” was certainly an apt phrase.

Being a captain was a position of great social prestige. A captain could count on a good marriage as a result and once his days at sea were over, he might end his career as a justice of the peace of perhaps even a member of parliament. Navy officers were generally drawn from the “gentlemen class”, especially the titled or the wealthy although it wasn’t unknown for talented individuals from the middle class to also achieve that rank. Sons of peers achieved the rank of officer more quickly. Therefore, the Navy became the choice for younger brothers of the aristocracy such as Heath, who is a second son.

Captains were generally all-powerful and kept to themselves but to attract a competent crew, along with good social contacts, they also needed bravery, keen wits, experience, a fair and unprejudiced mind and of course, luck.

You wouldn't find the captain crawling in the rigging:

The quartermaster and not the captain usually took the wheel:

If you were promoted to captain, it helped to be rich. He needed credit and money to provide the necessities such as weapons, furniture for his cabin and costly braided uniforms. As well, he needed funds to buy supplies at foreign ports and to pay for enlistment bounties. These last expenses were recovered from the Navy at the end of each voyage, but it could take years to settle the accounts. Consequently, some captains found themselves promoted into debt. However, if you were born wealthy, these financial matters didn’t impact you. Of course, a single valuable prize recovered during battle might keep any officer comfortable for the rest of his life.

At sea and as a reflection of his financial status, a captain could bring whatever he liked on board. Some cabins were opulent, full of silks, art and silver, their tables spilling over with fine foods. Crew liked serving rich captains because in an effort to improve their popularity, they would provide luxury items or extra amounts of necessities, which came out of the captain’s pocket.  

Once an officer became a captain, the size of the ship determined his promotion up the ranks as well as his level of pay. His date of commission established his eventual promotion to admiral. Only his death could prevent him reaching the status of rear admiral unless he managed to get dismissed from the Navy either by manipulating the books or blatant dereliction of duty.

So all in all, things are looking promising for Captain Heath Trevelyan and Lady Leah Harrington. You can read their story in Leah’s Surrender, Book 2 of my Regency series, The Ladies of Harrington House, coming soon from BWL Publishing!

Friday, July 24, 2020

Featured Author Rosemary Morris

My intriguing, classical historical romances, in which the bedroom door remains shut, are enriched with period detail.
I enjoy writing every day, researching my novels, visiting places of historical interest in the U.K, and time spent with family and friends. I also enjoy maintaining my organic garden, in part of which I grow my own, cooking delicious vegetarian meals, knitting and needlework.

Yvonne Lady of Cassio - a medieval saga.

Yvonne, Earl Simon’s legitimate daughter, and his illegitimate daughter, Elizabeth, born on the same night are as alike as two peas in a pod. Simon and his countess are ill-matched. He is a shrewd illiterate warrior, boisterous, selfish, and fond of hunting, who wants more sons. She is literate, pale of face, delicate, pious, charitable, and dreads being with child.
Despite those who love Yvonne and try to protect her, she suffers bereavement, disillusion and meets many challenges during a long, often bitter struggle before she is happy and at peace.

Cassio Castle. Winter, 1299

‘Simon sat by the hearth in his great hall waiting for news of Alice, his par amour’s delivery. With surprise, he realized that every day during the last three years, whenever he thought of a woman, fair Alice crept into his mind. When he thought of home, he pictured her standing at the door to welcome him. He grinned. Despite her low birth, her beauty enthralled him, and her charm rivalled that of any sumptuously gowned lady at court.
He admired his ambitious young par amour for exercising her right to claim an assart, which bordered the forest on the outskirts of Lovage Village. She had marked out an area large enough to support two cows, a few pigs, and some chickens, and, with her family’s help, had tilled her plot.
His thoughts wandered to Alice’s thatched roofed outhouses leaning against the side of the slate-roofed cottage. He felt more at ease in her home, built at his command, than here in his great hall with walls painted dull yellow, on which hung shields, tapestries, and painted cloths in bright hues.
Simon frowned. By now, the babe should have entered the world. He glanced around, aware of several of his hearth knights, whose glowering faces questioned him. Simon scowled. He knew his family and knights referred to his sweet Alice as the earl’s strumpet. God rot their souls in hell.
He beckoned to a squire. “Send for news to Alice’s cottage.”
“At once, my lord.”
Simon’s expression softened. How did Alice hold him in her thrall? Why did the best days of his life begin when she woke up beside him?
Minstrels sang of knights seeking the love of highborn maidens and virtuous ladies. He snorted at the thought. Those romantic ballads lied. A man like him did not expect to find love in marriage. Noblemen wed for heirs, land, and prestige. He groaned. God forgive him for his aversion to his milk and water wife and his delight in red-blooded Alice. She pleased him so well that since he took her as his mistress, the only other woman he had bedded was his wife, with the hope of fathering another legitimate son.
He hoped Alice would bear a son, one he could advance in the world. He drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair. A man risked his life in battle, but birth, a woman’s sole province, endangered her life, and came in its own due time. He watched the fire die down to ash, grateful because his own lusty fire still burned bright.’

Far Beyond Rubies

Gervaise returns from India to England where he meets Juliana, the proverbial damsel in distress whom he will help.
Juliana, the late Baron Kemp’s daughter, does not believe her stepbrother, William’s claim that she and her sister are bastards. When Juliana meets Gervaise for the first time, to prove William lied, she has decided to go to London and seek advice from an attorney. Her long, difficult search for justice will be dangerous.

Riverside Estate. 1706

Ashamed of eavesdropping, Gervaise drew closer to the pavilion with the intention of announcing his presence. Feet pattered within. A young woman peered through an open window. Her pale, oval face looked troubled, and her coal-black hair was slightly disordered.
For a moment, Gervaise could not speak. The sight of her drew him back to India Her form changed to one he knew intimately, yet not in this lifetime. He recognised the mark of a crescent moon on her right cheekbone and sensed the love they once shared. A tremor ran though him. For the first time, he thought the Hindu belief in reincarnation was worthy of serious consideration. Yet despite the teachings of the Anglican church, what if-?
“Sir?” The lady’s indignant voice recalled him from his trance-like state.
He doffed his hat and executed his finest bow. “Gervaise Seymour at your service.”

Wednesday’s Child

Amelia Carstairs needs sense and sensibility to accept her late grandmother’s choice of her guardian, the Earl of Saunton, to whom Amelia was previously betrothed. Without any relatives or friends, she fears the future which, unknown to her, will reveal shocking truths.

Longford Place, Hertfordshire, England, 1816

Saunton replenished his glass with brandy. Confound it, in her long letter Mrs Bettismore explained she esteemed him because he allowed her granddaughter, Amelia, to end their betrothal.
‘Nothing,’ she wrote, ‘would have persuaded a less noble gentleman to agree to the termination of his betrothal to an heiress, who would inherit a great fortune. In my last will and testament, I appointed as my only grandchild’s guardian and one of her trustees. I am confident you will act with utmost good sense and propriety.’ To that burden, Mrs Bettismore added, ‘I hoped to live to see my dear granddaughter married to a gentleman with a faultless reputation equal to yours and, if God willed it, the father of my great-grandchildren. Should you wish to disregard the conventions, tie the knot with my granddaughter while you are still her guardian. To allay gossip if you do so, I have informed her other trustees of my wish.’
Outrageous! Since the only lady he had ever loved married he had never wished to replace her in his affection, and he did not wish to do so now.
Saunton paced up and down the library. Curse the vulgar Mrs Bettismore. He would not be outwitted by her from beyond the grave. He took several deep breaths to calm himself. Such anger and resentment might have cost him his life on the battlefield. Even now it would not serve him well. He halted in front of the window. Before him stretched the long drive. Absent-minded he noted it needed an additional layer of gravel to suppress weeds.
There were never enough funds to provide for Mamma and his siblings, to restore the house, to overhaul the tenants’ farms, repair the farm labourer’s cottages, and make the home farm productive. To make matters worse he could never turn away an honest man in need of employment. ‘Yet,’ taunted his inner voice, ‘if you married Amelia Carstairs-’ “No!” The word exploded from him. ‘But if you were her husband,’ the silent voice continued, ‘you could solve all your monetary problems and provide your sisters with dowries large enough to ensure they married well.’
Saunton ignored the devious voice. He must travel to Weymouth in the hope of arriving in time to attend Mrs Bettismore’s funeral. Afterwards, where and with whom would Miss Carstairs reside?’

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