Sympathetic Editors, Enough Time, and How to Improve the First Page in Fiction

 My Gothic novel The Roses of the Moon takes place in a very wierd castle in a place called the Mountain of the Moon, named so because it is the place where the moon broke away from the earth at the beginning of time.

In this post, I have included a few images of Hungarian castles to show you how marvelous they really are. Settings play a huge role in Speculative Literature, so it is important to make them vivid and alive. Buda Castle  

Having barely survived Mercury retograde in my so sensitive 4th House, i regret to say my computer, my modem and telephone did not. Attaced by so-called by S..M.A.R.T. technology, they are all dead. Thus I have been out of the loop as far as blogs and social media go, BUT my novel The Roses of the Moon has gone great guns and is in the final stretch. After 5 years hard work, it is stronger than i ever dreamed and worthy of publication. One one lick and polish and I will soon have cover art to regale you with, and hopefully get you excited about this occult thriller set in 17th century Hungary.


Right Editors

Editing , I have found, is as subjective a process as writing. Editors have blind spots too. This novel is a case in point. No one ever critiqued the crucial first page of The Roses of the Moon until now and it really needed to be re-done. Having a editor who is also a great lover of fiction is what it took, not an expensive pro, but a READER who really wanted to get the picture, to see, to know, to experience the arcane world of the novel. And it took years to find her.

I have learned that it is Soooooo important to find an editor that not only gets your work but loves it. I have been lucky to have a friend, Cheryl Nance, who I never knew had been a professional editor, reads a ton and is a fine lit critic who is willing and actually enjoyes working on my manuscript with me as a favor. It was under her influence that I changed the opening paragraphs of the book and, in the interests of science, I would like to share with yiou the changes I made, maybe get your feedback, but also to show how taking the time you need to really finish a book can pay off. Had I rushed this into print when i thought it was ready, it would have been a flop and all my hard work wasted.

 My villianess, Countes Orzsebet, is based on this historic character: Erzsebet Bathory

Are you Struggling with Your Opening Paragraphs?

Here is the first, actually the secodn opening. The very first was the scream, but the distant editor said to set the stage and this was the first time I tried that. But it took having the notes on the hard copy, for me to really understand the most effectve way to do this.

The Roses of the Moon


Book One

Royal Hungary




Dragon’s Blood

Our castle was full of echoes. In the daylight hours, the walls reverberated with the noises of men going about their business. Sharp footsteps, low conversations, doors briskly opened and shut reassured me that the world was in its proper order, that we were safe. But at night, the isolated sounds of women threaded through the maze of corridors and stairs: skirts rustling, hinges creaking, whispers, cries, and songs. Sometimes there were screams.

One evening, at dusk, I heard a voice like a golden bell ringing down an eerie minor scale. The voice led me along a corridor to a door that was always closed to me. A seam of firelight streamed under its lower edge, a snort of dragon’s blood seeped out. The beautiful voice held me in its spell, then slowly faded away and the emptiness was filled with a chorus of deeper voices, chanting.

Clutching my doll to my heart, I pushed the door open just wide enough to see clouds of smoke, flashing candlelight, and white, disembodied faces.

A shriek!

Marcsa Virag, get away from the door!”

Struck by a blast of cold wind, I fell back into the shadows below the torchlight. The points of my shoes caught in the swirling hem of my shirts, tripped me to the floor. I broke my fall with my hands and, lying winded for a moment, glanced around for my doll. She was gone. I looked back and, through a blur of tears, saw her small dark shape lying in a wand of firelight where the door cracked open on the chambers of the Countess Orzsebet.


Here is the final version: 

The Roses of the Moon 

Book One

Royal Hungary



Sometimes the devil doth assume a pleasing shape.” – William Shakespeare


An army of white towers rose up against the dark forest. Circled by ravens, crags and three rings of lofty curtain walls, Castle Szeppasszony was a baroque pearl nestled in a vast, green cradle on the Mountain of the Moon.

At the very core of the castle, deep in the inner yard, was an oak grove, and in the midst of the grove was the wall-without-a-door that compassed about a single tree, the Lucifer tree, and its garden. The castle itself was built in a great O; all its towers and houses were connected by parapets above and corridors below, by secret passageways and murky enclosures beneath, where things took place that one must never mention for fear of being called over-imaginative or mad.  

If you stood on on my balcony at the top of the Trefoil Tower, you would see the main gate just below, and the road snaking down through the plum orchard to the gate in the first curtain wall. Between the first and the second curtain walls was a large park called the killing field, though I had yet to see anyone killed there. Looking south, your eyes would follow a lane moving eastward past the woods to our small but productive vineyard. To the west was an ancient herb garden with crumbling walls and plants rooted so deep into Faerie that the air was thick with magic.

Beyond the second curtain wall, the land tumbled down in terraces to the edge of a chasm where the River Kigyo roared around us like a dragon chasing its tail. On the opposite bank of the river was the third curtain wall with its drawbridge and spiky guard towers. Out in the valley, the village of Skarlat Galambok knotted itself for safety around the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Its fields and orchards were all bound round with sagging rock walls that had to be constantly reinforced to keep the forest creatures and hungry night spirits out. Deep in the valley forest, the Stream of Tears meandered like a thread of light toward the dark foothills of the Carpathian Mountains.

We were indeed well fortified on the Mountain of the Moon, safe from our enemies, the djinn-fearing Turks, who ravaged the lands around us but had not as yet dared to enter our domain, full as it was of enchantments.

At nine years old, I was a religious child. A walking icon of the Holy Virgin, dressed in dark blue, wine, or black, my dark hair in a long plait down my back under a crown-like jeweled and velvet parta. A large, ornate crucifix, chains of saints’ medals, scapulars, and rosaries shielded me as if my young, innocent soul were on the very brink of Hell. We were Roman Catholics holding out against entrenched Orthodoxy, Protestant incursions, and assaults by the Ottoman armies of Mohammed, learned heretics and witches that charmed the trees and birds and other wild things of the forest. Castle Szeppasszony was the last bastion of God’s Glorious Word teetering on the edge of doom.

One winter evening, I was in a small cobbled courtyard with a doll that was no plaything, but a protective shield, meant to take any harm that might come to me upon itself. I was admiring how the ice-cold waters in our unicorn fountain were frozen in the air like silver ribbons when I heard a mysterious, golden voice ringing down an eerie minor scale. The voice captured me and, like a net, drew me into the forbidden wing of the castle, to a door that was always closed to me. Red firelight streamed under its lower edge, a snort of dragon’s blood incense seeped out. The beautiful voice took me under its spell, then slowly faded away. The emptiness was filled with a chorus of deeper voices, chanting.

Crushing my doll to my stomach, I reached for the knob and pushed the door open just wide enough to see clouds of gray smoke scintillating with brilliant fires of candle flame and, through the smoke, disembodied faces, white and stark with shock, staring at me. A shrill, imperious voice erupted from within, cold in its fury:

Mara, get away from the door!”









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