Tag Archives: fantasy

An imaginative paranormal romp with a delightful vampire twist

May Your Heart Be Light: A Christmas Faerie Tale, by Sandy Lender. ArcheBooks Publishing. 225 pages. Paperback $7.95. Kindle e-book $5.95.

Suppose a 200 year old vampire needs to raise some funds. Might he turn his Colorado mansion, his Rose Chateau, into a hotel and go into business? Caleb Odan does just that, assisted by his driver, Roger, and his bartender, Niles. They create an extended vacation package that brings a couple of dozen people to enjoy about four weeks of Christmas season leisure. Most are looking for a quiet, relaxing time – even the four young women who are graduate school classmates finishing up business degrees.

Sandy Lender

Sandy Lender

Well, they are looking for fun, too. But not the excitement that comes from a nearby jailbreak with the prisoner on the loose.

Other vacationers include a young couple with two rambunctious young boys, an elderly couple, and an odd fellow named Graham Smith.

Caleb is an awkward host, just learning the ropes about interacting with his guests. He hasn’t had much social practice in the last 100 years or so. This 200 year old vampire, who has had to live an isolated life for the last century, just can’t keep up with the changing times. Roger, who has been in his service for twenty years, is his bridge to contemporary styles, values, and both material and popular culture. Caleb is a good student, but there’s just too much ground to cover.

At once macabre and humorous, “May Your Heart Be Light” gains some of its light touch from the banter between Roger and Caleb as Roger “translates” Caleb’s new experiences. To Caleb, a handsome fellow who dresses the brooding baron part, it’s the 21st century American humans who are the oddballs. But he needs to fit in with them as well as he can. It’s business.


There’s something extra-special about one of these young women. Jenna DeVision is gorgeous, modest, and gets lost easily in Caleb’s cavernous home. She is especially attracted to Caleb’s library, a place jammed with the lore of the non-dead and swirling with threatening spirits.

Caleb is infatuated with her, but hesitant to hurt her. He keeps his vampirish desires under wraps as much as he can, but he does use his special powers to enter Jenna’s mind and plant visions that attract and confuse her. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the February 10, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the February 11 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach Gardens/Jupiter editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – May Your Heart Be Light


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Magician, psychic, and FBI consultant Peter Warlock is back

“Shadow People,” by James Swain. TOR. 352 pages. $25.99.

This is the second in Mr. Swain’s arresting series that features youthful psychic/magician Peter Warlock in blood-curdling thriller plots. Peter is more than your everyday psychic, as he can be overcome by demonic forces that transform him, charging him with rage  and superhuman physical strength. Most often, his better nature allows him to bend that force to the good, but there is always the chance that he can turn into an uncontrollable menace.  ShadowPeople_HiRezCover

Besides working his regular, sold-out magic shows in Manhattan, Peter often uses his psychic powers to assist the FBI. This time out, he is in league with FBI agent Garrison to foil a serial killer before his next target is murdered. This madman is driven to kill those who do good in the world, and he has lured a young woman to meet him under false, but convincing pretenses. The clock is ticking.

What Peter seeks is normality. He wants fulfilling human relationships. He wants to be truthful, rather than having to hide his background, his tainted legacy, and his frightening talents. He wants to be deserving of beautiful Liza, the young woman whom he has allowed to enter his life to a deeper level than any other woman has.

Peter has the ability to enter the spirit world, which in Mr. Swain’s imagination is not a desirable place; in fact, it may not be a place at all but rather a state of being. He is threatened at the outset of the novel by the Shadow People, who give him a glimpse of the future that includes the serial killer’s purpose and plan. This killer in turn is connected to the evil Order of Astrum , a group of demonic figures who murdered Peter’s parents.

James Swain

James Swain

Enough plot lines? Indeed. But there’s more. The young psychic Holly, niece of one of the psychic elders who stand in place of family for Peter, has a huge crush on him. Holly is violating all the protocols of witch and psychic behavior by constantly spying (“scrying”) on him and otherwise making his life difficult. How can he resolve this without hurting her?

To enjoy this review in its entirety, as it appears in the November 27, 2013 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the November 28 Naples and Bonita Springs editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Swain’s Shadow People

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Keeping Up with Sandy Lender

by Philip K. Jason

This article appears in the November-December 2010 issue of Fort Myers Magazine. Click here to see it: Ft.Myers magazine – Sandy Lender

The early fall of 2010 found fantasy author Sandy Lender in a whirlwind of projects coming to fruition. As she enjoyed her new home – a canal-view condo on Cape Coral from where she can walk to everything she needs – this refugee from Naples added three new titles to the three she already had in print. It’s been an exciting time for her, with new challenges built upon solid accomplishments.


Lender has worked diligently and effectively to build a fan base in the world of fantasy fiction with her “Choices” novels: Choices Meant for Gods (2007) and Choices Meant for Kings (2009). Complex plot lines, striking characters, and the remarkable, legendary domain of Onweald have captivated readers and won the acclaim of critics. Is Sandy Lender an established star in the literary firmament? Not yet. However, the seeds have been sown. With these two titles from ArcheBooks Publishing plus What Choices We Made (2008 from BookSurge), a supplement of related short stories, Sandy Lender is recognized and respected among her fantasy writer peers, and her work has a growing list of followers.

Writing, of course, comes first. Lender loves the time she can spend spinning out her world of sorcerers and dragons, her saga of duty, loyalty, and betrayal. Far less attractive is the time she allots to networking and marketing. Yet she is committed to these tasks.

Thus, the first few days of October found Lender in St. Louis, attending the 34th annual Archon convention. At such a gathering, she interacts with and amplifies her audience: “When I set foot into a convention like DragonCon in Atlanta, ConQuest in Kansas City, ConText in Ohio or Archon in St. Louis, I’m stepping among a crowd of people who watch the same shows I watch. We read the same books. We use the same corny jokes. If I say ‘Kapla,’ they all understand me. I had a radio personality interview me not long ago, and he asked if I wrote anything out by hand. I told him that I do sometimes because my host enjoys the tactile sensation. He kept right on asking questions, but any Stargate SG-1 fan listening that day was rolling! At one of these conventions, everyone would get that reference and then, of course, proceed to buy one of my books because I’m just that cool.”

She is.

Lender considers the business of marketing her work to the public important: “Signings at Barnes & Noble, Borders, Hastings, etc., are hard to come by because corporate rules dictate which authors are allowed to have stand-alone book signings. If you’re not in Amazon’s Top 100, you have an uphill battle. Knowing the customer service rep at the local store is vital. You want to be able to show that person what kind of crowd you can bring in to elevate his or her sales on your special signing day. You want to show him or her how great you are at participating in local author events. Flexibility is an awesome trait.”

Sandy Lender on social media: “I use social media with balance. An author friend of mine alienates people with constant updates. That’s counterproductive. That’s navel-lint marketing. No one cares what time an author went to bed last night. No one cares about the weather in her neck of the woods unless a hurricane has just lifted your roof or an earthquake has just opened a fissure that’s eaten your car. That’s Tweet-worthy. If I see someone updating their status about rain making them feel like taking a nap, I figure they write boring books. I teach this in the social media workshops I give. Now, audience matters in your marketing efforts, even with social media. I have a lot of followers on Facebook who are into companion parrots, so I’ll post updates about crazy things my pet birds have done. The nice thing about that is most people who don’t own parrots get a chuckle out of these antics, too.”

Here’s what’s new:


Problems on Eldora Prime is a young adult sci-fi/fantasy novel that adults can enjoy. When collecting reviews and cover blurbs, Lender sent the manuscript to adult reviewers who are connected to teens in some way. These previewers were encouraging. The premise: “a 17-year-old girl crash lands a spaceship on a foreign and hostile planet. She assumes command for the survivors and ends up learning about leadership as she takes her team through a monster-infested land to what they hope will be a safe haven to call for help. I won’t spoil anything, but ‘help’ doesn’t arrive the way it’s supposed to, and her dragon allies aren’t always the good guys you want them to be.”

This book, which is a slightly revised version of Lender’s entry in the 2009 3-Day Novel Contest, will be published by her own company, Night Wolf Publications. Canadian writer Jamieson Wolf is her partner in this venture.

Why go out on your own? Says Lender “We figured out that we both had awesome books that our test readers praised, and we wanted to publish them without the hassle of agents or publishers or production schedules that relied on other people. We knew of other writers going through the same process. There are some incredibly talented people out there who have skill and storytelling ability, but the gatekeepers aren’t letting them in. So we decided we would help.”

An important Night Wolf project is A Yuletide Wish. “This is an anthology of children’s stories, young adult stories, sweet romances, and poems that encompass Thanksgiving, Christmas, winter, and New Year’s. The cover art is a gorgeous illustration by local artist Aluska Bissaro, who has exhibited at the Naples Press Club’s Authors & Books Festival in the past. She’s extraordinary and the winter scene of a Blacktop Chickadee that she provided is lovely. It really sets the tone of a sweet, family book. We wanted something full of positive, happy endings, and the authors really delivered. We plan to have it ready for ordering by early November.” 

The second new Lender book is What Choices We Made, Volume II, Short Stories and Legends from the History of Onweald. Writes Lender, “This chapbook includes more meat than the first one and includes a novella called The Influential Love Story of Ella and Rohne. My fans will wonder about that for a moment because I don’t write love stories. That’s all the warning you get about that. Local artist Megan Kissinger, who’s preparing the lovely illustrations at The Edison House these days, helped with formatting and the front cover and is responsible for the awesome map of Onweald.”

Sandy Lender’s third new book is Desecrated Ring from Keith Publications, scheduled for Halloween as part of a Halloween series. “This is a horror story that takes place in Collier County. Evil faeries and wolf-like beasts terrorize a woman who doesn’t realize how much we’re held accountable for in our lives.”

A busy author and now a publisher, Sandy Lender is chairing the 2011 edition of the Naples Authors and Books Festival, which is scheduled for early April.

Find out more about this nonstop writer at authorsandylender.com. Also, check out nightwolfpublications.com.

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An Interview with Jason R. Jones

Naples author Jason R. Jones recently published “The Exodus of Spiders and Falcons,” the first installment of a fantasy series called The Exodus Sagas. It is available from the publisher via authorhouse.com and also from major online booksellers. Mr. Jones certainly knows how to put ingredients together, as he is the food and beverage director for the Naples Harbour Yacht Club. 

PKJ: An 18-volume fantasy series is an enormous undertaking. How did you prepare for this marathon literary endeavor?

JRJ: Yes, it is huge. Preparation began over a decade ago with dozens of notebooks that filled “the green laundry basket” up in Wisconsin. Years of writing piled into spirals and pads since my teenage years had accumulated so much that the last few years were a huge organizational effort.  A story of epic size demands character and plot continuity. Preparing the maps, charts that outline character, story, subplot, progression, and all the details planned out with a timeline that keeps the story flowing and connected was a monumental task. I would like to tell you that it just flowed and “poof”! But no. The story and writing yes; however, the record keeping and organization took a lot of work over the last few years. I trained myself by reading out my story, seeing the end of chapters and particular books as I began, and unfolding the events of the series – sometimes almost writing backwards in time. Since the earliest notes go back to when I was 15, it’s been 20 years of fantasy indulgence.

PKJ: How did you determine that it would take 18 books to fulfill your intention?

JRJ: 18 is an odd number, but the story evolves over the first quartet as the heroes get their definitions and direction. The next two quartets develop the underlying storylines and plots that lead up to the last quartet that brings everything together into grand-epic-saga-world-gripping fashion. That would put us at 16, but I have a 1-2 punch at the end. In truth, the story could go on, and I hope my son and my future children will pick it up after book 18.

PKJ: How did you settle on the five characters whose fates interlink them in the first volume?

JRJ: The five that come together (James, Shinayne, Azenairk (Zen), Gwenneth, and Saberrak) are integral to  all 18 volumes. They provide the foundation upon which all is built. The first book’s central figure is James Andellis, and each successive book focuses on another of the five as the story progresses.  Shinayne T’Sarrin is the focal character of the 2nd book—of dragons and crowns—nearly finished. These five embody different aspects of failure, heroism, morals, struggle, and virtue—and as they follow their paths, it is obvious more and more why they have been fated into companionship with one another.

To read the entire interview, as it appears in the August 25-31, 2010 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the September 9-15 issue of the Naples Florida Weekly, click here:  Florida Weekly – Jason R. Jones pdf

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Connie May Fowler’s Novel of Empowerment

“How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly,” by Connie May Fowler. Grand Central Publishing. 278 pages. $23.99

Readers of acclaimed, best-selling author Connie May Fowler will be thoroughly satisfied with her latest novel. The protagonist, Clarissa Burden, meets June 21, 2006 with frustration and trepidation. On the longest and hottest day of the year, she is trapped in loveless marriage in what was once her dream house in panhandle Florida. Not only does her husband demean her by neglect, withering remarks, and compulsive attention to his transparent “business” of making artistic renderings of naked young women, but also Clarissa demeans herself. 

Childless in her mid-thirties, Clarissa is suffering writers’ block after some early successes as a novelist. Her barrenness on various levels marks this highly perceptive and imaginative woman as, paradoxically, convention-bound. Dependent on the opinions and actions of others, she yearns for the independence that requires risk-taking. That is, she needs to learn how to fly.

The 24 hours of Clarissa’s transition are narrated in a style that is exquisitely detailed, at once realistic, fantastic, and ultimately fabulous in all the various meanings of the word. The creatures who share Clarissa’s space in the natural world seem responsive to her moods and actions. Her guardedness and fearfulness are reflected in the warnings of “Ovarian shadow women.” The fauna and the shadow women serve as choric voices, aspects of Clarissa’s own submerged wisdom sounding alarms. 

Clarissa’s imagination – or is it some other force? – puts her in touch with a one-armed compromised angel named Larry Dibble, a carnival of dwarfs, a ghost fly, and a magic tree. Her old house is haunted by the ghosts of a long dead and self-assured Spanish woman, her black husband (a free man when Florida was under Spanish rule), and their young child. Clarissa’s encounters, whether actual or imaginative projections, challenge her as they guide her toward self-realization and self-assertion.

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the May 27-June 2, 2010 issue of the Naples Florida Weekly and the June 2-8 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – Connie May Fowler

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Choices Meant for Authors: Sandy Lender

The sequel to Naples resident Sandy Lender’s 2007 fantasy novel “Choices Meant for Gods” was a long time coming. Now, to the great satisfaction of her fans, the long-awaited “Choices Meant for Kings” is available. Like the first title, it is from ArcheBooks Publishing.

Why the wait? Well, not because of any writer’s block on Sandy Lender’s part. Writer’s block is something this committed author has never experienced and doesn’t understand. LenderKingsCover

Most of “Choices Meant for Kings” was already completed when “Choices Meant for Gods” appeared. However, she says, ArcheBooks “had hiccups with the production schedule,” and many other titles were slated for production ahead of hers.

Ms. Lender originally conceived of a two-part series, but when she presented Archebooks with a 270,000-word manuscript, some rethinking was necessary. The cutting process required to make  “Gods” an affordable project left material available to be relocated in “Kings.” What was intended as a two-part series has now become a trilogy in order to distribute effectively all the material Ms. Lender created to explore the doings in the land of Onweald.

To enjoy the rest of this article, as it appears in the Oct. 29-Nov. 4, 2009 issue of the Naples Florida Weekly, Click here: Florida Weekly – Sandy Lender.

See also: Sandy Lender


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BOOK BEAT 40 – Sandy Lender

BOOK BEAT   Naples Sun Times   April 18-24, 2007

by Philip K. Jason

Sandy Lender, whose fantasy novel Choices Meant for Gods has just been released, is a native of Homestead, Florida who grew up in the St. Louis area. In school, she always loved writing assignments and won many awards for her short stories and other student writing. After graduation from Truman State University in Missouri, Lender worked as a proofreader, editor, and writer for various trade publications ranging from Hereford World to North American Elk Breeders Association to Asphalt Contractor. Now she serves in the publishing and public relations fields during the day and writes fiction at night, since 2004 keeping house in Naples where her love of sea turtles and all things related to the ocean waters keeps her imagination growing.

PKJ: How did you get started on Choices Meant for Gods?

SL: The process began when the main female character, Amanda Chariss, appeared to me on her benefactor’s balcony. I didn’t know it then, but I was watching her from the vantage point of the bad guy that morning. I fell in love with her instantly, which is probably why the dragon in the story cares for her as deeply as he does. This was back in high school, believe it or not, when I was just getting a good listen to an album (yes, vinyl, but my copy was on cassette then) by a group called Arcadia. They had an instrumental on the album called Rose Arcana, and I thought, wow, wouldn’t Arcana make a great name for some family legacy, some ancient, powerful castle where people with magic are accepted and protected and can grow up in peace? But nobody gets to grow up in peace. Amanda Chariss proves that. I didn’t sit down and seriously write out her story until 2000-2001, completing the novel in the summer of 2002.

PKJ: Do you have any favorite authors in the fantasy field?

SL: I admire the way Terry Goodkind weaves a story, and his generosity of spirit when I met him in Kansas City a few years ago went a long way toward making me a loyal fan.  I’m also a big fan of Charlotte Bronte, and if anyone tells you she wasn’t a fantasy author, they weren’t listening to Mr. Rochester when they read Jane Eyre. I also have a deep appreciation for the fantasy authors at ArcheBooks Publishing. They’re people who can build clever plots and create realistic characters, and then can turn into marketing machines to let you know their stories are out there to be enjoyed.

PKJ: What was that novel doing since 2002 when you had essentially finished it?

SL: It was sitting in a computer file waiting on the publishing industry. When I completed the book, I started sending query letters to literary agents in the fantasy genre.  I think you’ve heard this story before: they don’t take chances on people they’ve never heard of. Even though I had a strong editing and writing background, that background was in the magazine/journalism industry, not full-length novels and fiction. All the literary agent looks at is a two- or three-paragraph letter stating who you are and what you’ve written. Then he or she has a secretary send back a form letter stating he or she is too busy to take on new clients. After a year of that nonsense, I was looking for other avenues into the industry.

Then I learned that I had the opportunity to pitch the book directly to ArcheBooks Publishing at the Naples Press Club Writers Conference in January 2006. I had done some playing with it from time to time during the querying process, but it was written the way I had formed it in my head after all those years of carrying the characters around, jotting down scene after scene after scene since high school. After I sent the book to the publisher and he suggested it was “long”, I sat down and revised again, this time editing it down by nearly 40,000 words, which tightened and strengthened areas to make the plot flow more easily for a reader. I also asked two strangers I met online to read it and give me criticism. One of them just sort of raved, so, while that was an ego-boost, that wasn’t really useful. The other made comments I was able to incorporate into the 40,000-word editing process.

PKJ: What’s next?

SL: The sequel to Choices Meant for Gods is almost complete and it will complete the series, but I have a prequel that tells of Amanda Chariss’s ancestry before the Second War in Onweald. I also have a non-fiction literary piece in production called The Concept of Home in the Bronte Works and a couple of other fantasy novels under construction.

You can keep up with Sandy Lender, and also brush up on your grammar and other writing concerns, by visiting: todaythedragonwins.blogspot.com. Choices Meant for Gods is available from archebooks.com and from major online and bricks-and-mortar (stucco, in Florida) booksellers.

Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy.  A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club. Send him your book news at pjason@aol.com.

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BOOK BEAT 37 – M.B. Weston

BOOK BEAT   Naples Sun Times   March 28-April 3, 2007

by Philip K. Jason

For Michelle Weston, a fourth-generation Floridian, Naples has been home for all but the first year of her life. She grew up and graduated from Naples High School (in 1994) as Michelle Brundage, married her husband Greg in 1996, and finished her BS in Accounting at the University of South Florida in 1997. Weston worked for several years as a land development accountant, beginning at Bonita Bay Properties, before deciding to follow her dream of becoming a writer. Now, writing as M. B. Weston, she has published her first novel, A Prophecy Forgotten, which has just been released by ArcheBooks Publishing. 

Because Weston loved fantasy fiction from childhood, she had no hesitation about plunging into this field. When I asked her if there was any part of the bookstore aside from the fantasy section where her book might be shelved, she said “Young Adult.” In fact, by test marketing the book, Weston discovered that while adult readers enjoyed it, the story had an especially strong impact on young adult readers. She even tried it out on her local church youth group, for which she is a volunteer leader, and they loved it.

So, even though this book was not conceived of in terms of the young adult category, Weston’s affinity for young adults somehow came through in it and she is perfectly happy to have something that will appeal to these readers – the same readers who enjoy Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings (about which she remembers doing a book report when she was thirteen).

Michelle Weston is not only interested in young adult readers, she is also interested in motivating and teaching young writers. To that end, she has formed a young writers group within the Naples area chapter of the Florida Writers’ Association. Weston loves speaking to youth and knows how to hold the attention of adolescents. But whatever the age of her audience, she wants to help others to value and develop their writing talents.

It does not take long to discover that for Michelle Weston the spiritual life and her church are very important. Religious motifs can be found in her novel, but she would prefer that readers discover them for themselves rather than have them announced. It is fair to say that there is warfare in A Prophecy Forgotten –  good and evil are in vivid conflict. Jokingly, Weston says it’s kind of like J.R.R. Tolkien meets Tom Clancy.

The promotional description reads as follows: “A Prophecy Forgotten tells the story of Davian, a battle hardened major in the special operations division of the cherubian military. While Davian is on assignment deep in enemy territory, he is called back and sent to Earth to guard seven-year-old Tommy—a boy who has been prophesied to save Earth. As Davian guards Tommy, he discovers that some of his fellow soldiers are plotting to kill the leaders of his homeland and take power. He must find a way to return home and warn his government before the traitors can succeed.”

One of the most enjoyable parts of the creative imagining that goes into writing Weston’s kind of fantasy novel is making up the rules for the fantasy world. How does it operate? How is it different from the world we all share? In this case, inventing the appropriate weaponry for the warriors was part of the challenge and part of the fun.

When we sat down together, Weston was anxiously awaiting the appearance of this first novel, its launch date having been postponed a bit. (By the way, if you want to meet with her, suggest a coffee shop.) Already, however, she is well along on its sequel: Out of the Shadows. Together, and perhaps with additional titles, these form “The Elysian Chronicles,” which Weston calls “a para-dimensional fantasy series.” The first volume is now available from archebooks.com and will soon be available from major online and traditional booksellers.

Weston knows that it will be hard for her to establish herself in such a competitive arena, but she is committed to taking on the inevitable marketing responsibilities. To help generate interest in her work, she has developed a website with her targeted audience in mind. Visitors to elysianchronicles.com will find it connected to a newsletter and a blog. The blog can be reached independently at mbweston.blogspot.com. And the Elysian Chronicles merchandising is underway, beginning with t-shirts. A talented speaker and motivator, Michelle Weston is ready to talk to your writing group or club. Anyone can contact her via the website.

Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy.  A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club. Send him your book news at pjason@aol.com.

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