Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Bethany Griffin

The DA3 Interview & Giveaway: Poe-Inspired

The DA3 Interview & Giveaway: Poe-Inspired

In honor of  Edgar Allan Poe’s 204th approaching birthday (January 19th), a trio of novels that pay him homage:

KBTS CoverPoe’s wistful, haunting “Annabel Lee” provides between-the-lines clues in Jill Winters’ romantic mystery Kingdom by the Sea as Nicole Sheffield realizes the Cape Cod house she’s inherited holds a secret that puts her in danger.

Bethany Griffin’s Masque of the Red Death thickens the plot of Poe’s atmospheric tale by making Prince Prospero the dictator of a dystopian land so corrupt and diseased that it’s robbed seventeen year old Araby Worth of hope.

Masque of the Red Death Cover


She seeks oblivion in drugs and nightclubs until a rebel movement shakes her from her lethargy.

The Nevermore trilogy by Kelly Creagh takes Poe’s biography and threads of his stories and poetry to weave an eerie paranormal world that is far beyond the previous experience of high school cheerleader Isobel Lanley. Nevermore CoverGoth classmate Varen Nethers is also well outside her usual circle, but he makes the perilous dreamworld irresistible.

 A six-word memoir for your protagonist:

Jill Winters: My quiet world was safe until…

Bethany Griffin: Tragic, beautiful, desperate, courageous, kind, but absorbed in her own grief.

Kelly Creagh: Headstrong, impulsive, sarcastic and freaked out.

Your heroine is…

Jill Winters: …an archives librarian in her late twenties.

Bethany Griffin: …a 17 year old in a broken world. She goes to the Debauchery Club and tries to drown her despair in the oblivion of drugs and alcohol.

Kelly Creagh: …a flyer. A flyer is the person on a [cheerleading] squad who performs aerial stunts, relying on her bases or base to catch her.

 What readers will love about your hero:

Jill Winters: Michael is almost fearless, and there’s an effortless kind of chivalry about him.

Bethany Griffin: Readers love Will because he’s warm and caring and protective. He’s also very attractive and has tattoos. People love Elliott because he’s tortured and ruthless.

Kelly Creagh: Varen, a goth, is quite mysterious. He always chooses his words with great care. He’s a writer, and doesn’t want anyone to know what lies between the pages of the black, hardbound sketchbook her carries with him everywhere. He’s not your typical teen heartthrob, but his air of mystery and his calm, cool and collected persona makes him enticing. You’ll want to know what’s going on inside of him and, if you read closely, like Isobel, you’ll catch glimpses of the real Varen Nethers.

 The first kiss happens…

Jill Winters: …at the back door.

Bethany Griffin: …in a hot air balloon.

Kelly Creagh: in an old warehouse.

Tell readers about the Poe connection in your story.

Jill Winters: Poe’s poem “Annabel Lee” (which the title of my novel refers to) is significant throughout the story as my heroine, Nicole, finds clues to her own mystery within the lines of the poem. That’s the overt connection. I’ve also buried a few other Poe references along the way, including allusions to “The Haunted Palace” and my take on “the unreliable narrator” later in the book when a particular villain is apprehended. You definitely don’t need to be a Poe fan to enjoy the story, but it was fun for me to weave in some subtle references..

Bethany Griffin: Masque of the Red Death is a prequel to Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death.” It’s set in a world where Poe’s Prince Prospero is dictator. The Red Death itself does not manifest until the end of the book, following an earlier plague. By the end of the story we see that Prospero is settling into his abbey, preparing for a great masked ball (which will be a big part of book 2!) just like in Poe’s story.

Kelly Creagh: The mystery surrounding the disappearance and death of Edgar Allan Poe serves as the backbone of the trilogy. In Nevermore, Isobel and Varen are paired together for an English project. Varen, who has been studying and reading Poe, decides that they will focus their project on the life and works of the famous dead poet. During their research, mysterious things begin to happen. Isobel discovers that Poe went missing for five days before being found, insensible, in a Baltimore gutter, unable to say what had happened to him and wearing someone else’s clothing. Soon, a cloaked and masked man calling himself “Reynolds” begins to appear to Isobel in mirrors and in dreams. Strange invisible entities haunt her—and it all ties back to Poe.

Poe carries fairly specific reader expectations with him. What single scene, setting, or character from your book do you think will most put readers in mind of Poe?

Jill Winters: An early scene in Kingdom By the Sea finds Nicole sitting in the dim glow of her aunt’s library during a ferocious rain storm when she’s nearly startled to death by a black bird flying straight toward the window.


Another re-imagining of Poe: Zdenko Basic and Manuel Sumberac illustrate POE: STEAMPUNK

Another re-imagining of Poe: Zdenko Basic and Manuel Sumberac illustrate POE: STEAMPUNK

Bethany Griffin: Doing a re-imagining of a Poe story was a HUGE challenge. I think that the tone and the atmosphere are reminiscent of Poe, without suggesting that anything I write could ever touch his atmosphere or tone…the scene where I tried to use the most direct references to Poe (besides the Masked Ball in book 2) is the scene in Prince Prospero’s throne room where there are stained glass windows, instruments of torture, and all sorts of peculiar entertainments. Also, I asked Kelly Creagh how she would answer this question if she was me (I’ve been on cough meds all week, sorry, the brain is moving slowly), and her answer was brilliant: “Poe once said that the most poetic topic in the world was ‘a beautiful dying woman’ and Araby and April are beautiful girls caught up in this decaying world. April, in particular, is attracted to glamor and glitz. Poe liked to juxtapose beauty and death constantly, so I think Masque certainly taps in on that.”

Kelly Creagh: In Nevermore, the scene that channels Poe the most, I think, would be the masquerade scene. This is a difficult question, though, since Poe saturates so much of the series. Mostly, the biggest Poe-influenced moments happen in the last quarter of each novel.

Imagine Poe as a writer today. How do you think he’d manage?

Jill Winters: Poe’s work is filled with extremes. So I think Poe might be a fanatical blogger. His would be the most frustratingly wordy yet beloved blog–updated more than once a day and full of subtexts.

Bethany Griffin: I don’t think he’s visit Goodreads very often! Or if he did, he’d start some drama over there. Poe was pretty outspoken and opinionated…I don’t really know how he would react to social media, instantaneous communication, and the constant feedback that authors get on their work in the computer age. It would certainly be fascinating.

Kelly Creagh: He would feud and those who dared to feud with him would no doubt be very sorry that they ever crossed pens/keypads with him. In his day, Poe was a fierce literary critic. He could deliver very favorable reviews, but he would also publish very cutting and slashing reviews. He was often referred to as the “Tomahawk Man” because of how biting his criticism could be. As a writer, I think he would fare very well if he could manage not to make too many enemies with too many stinging remarks. The paranormal and physiological horror are genres that are still going strong today and I think Poe would have been as big a force in modern day literature as he was during his own era.

Most people know Poe from their school anthologies. What’s a lesser-known work you’d recommend to readers?

Jill Winters: Poe’s Auguste Dupin stories, if for no other reason than to see a character so similar to Sherlock Holmes before Sherlock Holmes even existed.

 Bethany Griffin: Maybe “Ligea”? Or “Berenice,” though that one was considered violent and disturbing in Poe’s time. “Berenice” shares many themes with my favorite Poe story, “The Fall of the House of Usher,” but is less well known.

Kelly Creagh: I would absolutely recommend “William Wilson.” It’s my favorite work of Poe’s and one that is not often included in school readings or anthologies. It’s a creepy and wonderful doppelganger story and one of the reasons I love it so well is that it searches that question of duality and who we really are deep down inside. This tale also explores the dark side and the light side that is in each of us, and I love that. I find that duality is a common theme in my own work and so “William Wilson” really spoke to me.

2013 sees the 204th anniversary of Poe’s birth. What would you give him as a present?

Jill Winters: One of those stuffed animals that say, “I love you, I love you,” in a creepy voice when you press its belly. (Preferably a black cat.) I think he’d get a kick out of it.

Bethany Griffin: I would give him a couple of tortoise shell cats to hang out with Catterrina. One is never enough. I might even donate one of mine. (I have two torties and two calicos.)

Kelly Creagh: What a great question. What would I give him? Hm. I think what I would love to give him most would be a collection of letters and responses from readers who have enjoyed and been influenced by his works, including a letter from myself. I’d want him to know how much his art has touched the lives of so many. While Poe was famous for writing “The Raven,” he did not receive an abundance of recognition for his work during his lifetime. I feel like he always wandered the earth a little lost and melancholy, especially in regard to his career. Poe was one of the first American writers to try to make his living solely off of his talents as a writer. I would like to show him proof of his lasting legacy on a personal level, and I’d like him to know how much he still means to the world of readers, writers and dreamers.

 What’s coming up next from you?

Jill Winters: I’m currently working on the second book in my new mystery series featuring part-time newspaper reporter and graduate student, Caitlyn Rocket. The first in the series, The Unprintable Big Clock Chronicle, was released last year. Although the books are mysteries, there is a romantic arc that will develop over the course of the four novels. Also in the works is a contemporary romance novella due out next Christmas. And I am thrilled to have my backlist of contemporary romance titles re-issued for Kindle and Nook and available now to a whole new crop of readers.

Bethany Griffin: “Glitter and Doom”, a Masque of the Red Death story in February, and Dance of the Red Death (sequel to Masque) on April 23.

 Kelly Creagh: I’m currently working on a book that I love dearly. It’s been years in the works and I have my fingers crossed for this one. There’s nothing official yet happening with a project after Nevermore, so I won’t say anything specific, but the novel I’m writing now is very different from the Nevermore trilogy, though it still carries the Kelly Creagh stamp of weirdness and imagination! [Note: Enshadowed, the second book in in the Nevermore series, was released in August 2012.]

Your favorite book at age 10:

Jill Winters: I don’t recall a specific book, but a poem: “Terence, This is Stupid Stuff” by A.E. Housman. Something possessed me to memorize the entire poem when I was a kid even though I didn’t fully understand it.

Bethany Griffin: Lord of the Rings (fourth grade would’ve been the second time I read it to myself).

Kelly Creagh: The Indian in the Cupboard! I still love that novel so so much.

Leave a comment for a chance to win one of the featured books–let us know your favorite of Poe’s works, or what you’d give him for a birthday present. And many thanks to Jill, Bethany, and Kelly.


REVIEW:  Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin

REVIEW: Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin

Dear Ms. Griffin,

I’m a big Edgar Allan Poe fan. Any book with a title referencing him is always going to get a second look from me. Combined with a striking cover, it’s almost guaranteed I will pick it up. I initially thought Masque of the Red Death was a debut, but your name sounded familiar so I did a quick search. I discovered I’d reviewed your debut (a contemporary YA) a few years ago. And while I didn’t much care for that novel, I’m always willing to give an author another try, especially if their next work is something different.

red-deathMasque of the Red Death takes place in a neo-Victorian, steampunk city reminiscent of New Orleans. It’s a decaying metropolis, practically in ruins, in no small part due to a highly contagious plague that’s afflicted the populace. Our protagonist, Araby Worth, is the daughter of a scientist. Her father invented the masks that allow people to travel out in the open without fear of contracting the disease. This allows her a position of privilege.

You see, only the wealthy can afford the masks. The poor are left to fend for themselves. Of course, the rich take all this doom and gloom seriously. With death and disease all around, most of them spend their time at the Debauchery Club where they can forget their pain through drugs and meaningless sex.

Araby’s reasons for going to the Debauchery Club, however, are more personal. She once had a twin brother and we’re led to believe he died from the plague. Araby feels both responsibility for his death and guilt because she survived. She intends to live the rest of her life in stasis, forgoing everything and anything that her brother will never experience. (Yeah, it’s a little overkill but teenagers can be pretty dramatic.) But Araby’s existence is shaken up when she meets Elliott, her best friend’s older brother. Elliott wants to start a revolution and he needs Araby’s help to make it happen.

If there’s one thing I like about this book, it’s the atmosphere. It’s dreary, which suits the premise. An extremely contagious, and extremely lethal, disease is sweeping through your city. There is no cure, and only a select few have access to the one thing that has a chance of preventing infection. I’d be hopeless too.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t appreciate this as much as I’d like because I spent a good chunk of the book utterly confused as to when and where it takes place. I admit it’s the fantasy reader in me. I like the setting clearly defined and portrayed. I never could figure out if Masque took place in an alternate historical earth featuring steampunk technology or if it was a constructed, secondary fantasy world. There are aspects of the setting that can even support a post-apocalyptic setting. It’s almost as if the setting attempted to be everything for every reader, and that never ends well. Readers who aren’t as fixated on setting probably won’t mind the vagueness but those who do pay attention to that sort of thing may run into some issues.

Araby is a frustrating protagonist. The angst stemming from her survivor’s guilt makes sense for the majority of the book but when the big revelation comes towards the end, I couldn’t help but think the degree to which she self-flagellated was blown out of proportion. In many ways it makes sense for her to go through life, merely existing and trying to escape, but while that’s a realistic course of action, it often ends up being dull to read about.

When Araby gets pushed out of her comfort zone, I should have cheered. Instead I ended up boggling over some of her decisions. For example, why in the world would you steal things from your parents because a guy you just met (and who you don’t even like) told you to? There’s no logic here, and it makes Araby look a bit dim. She also goes along with many things that would normally set off warning bells. There’s being naïve and sheltered, and then there’s having no sense of self-preservation. It’d be nice to think these actions are due to Araby’s survivor’s guilt, which in turn has fed a sort of fatalistic attitude but I’m not convinced that was intentional.

There’s also a love triangle. I’m sure no one is surprised by this, given the state of the genre these days. Araby is initially taken by Will, a bouncer at the club she frequents with her best friend. Will seems like a nice guy — he’s kind to Araby, despite the obvious difference in social class; he takes care of his two younger siblings. I truly liked the portrayal of the relationship between them. But when Elliott was introduced and began to take up more page time with Araby, I knew Will’s viability as a love interest was going to plummet.

This irritated me because Elliott is a jerk. He’s not nice. He tells Araby not to trust him but he also expects her to do all these things he asks. He’s jealous and possessive for no good reason. There’s a memorable scene in which he threatens to drop her into a river filled with hungry crocodiles. None of these things scream love interest to me. They do, however, scream Get away. I will never understand the allure of the jerk love interest. Maybe I’m supposed to excuse Elliott because of his tragic family history but that’s not going to happen. Araby’s family history is just as tragic and she doesn’t treat people the way he does.

But my biggest complaint about the book has to do with its execution. While I really did like the dark, gloomy feel of it, many aspects did not ring true. Like many other people, Araby goes to the Debauchery Club to forget her sorrows. For some people, this means having meaningless sex with strangers. For others, like Araby, this means getting high. Pretty edgy material, right?

Except it doesn’t read edgy. Nothing about how the club is portrayed is believable or authentic. Araby is constantly getting high but her drug trips never actually read like drug trips. She was always passing out or falling asleep. That’s not getting high. That’s being sedated or getting roofied, neither of which I think is the intention. Looking back, I realize I had a similar complaint with your previous novel. I really dislike the inclusion of “shocking” content to be edgy without actually going all in and being edgy. If things like drugs and meaningless hook-ups are going to be portrayed in novels, then it needs to be more than just for show.

I had high hopes for Masque of the Red Death. Maybe too high. It had a lot of elements I like: gothic atmosphere, plague, and references to Edgar Allan Poe. But the execution left a lot to be desired. Combined with frustrating characters and a love triangle lacking any subtlety, I regretted being lured in by the pretty cover. D

My regards,