Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.
Today, Melodie Romeo – Melodie Romeo is a native of Vicksburg, Mississippi, earned a bachelor’s degree in Music Education from the University of Southern Mississippi and a master’s degree in History from the University of West Florida. Ms Romeo is a retired school teacher who currently travels the country as an over the road truck driver. Melodie writes historical fiction/romances and historical horror/thrillers. She has gained success under the pen name Edale Lane for historical lesbian romances such as Heart of Sherwood and the Night Flyer Trilogy.
In addition to driving and writing, Melodie is also a musician who plays the French horn, composes, and has spent many years as a choral and instrumental director. She aspires to be a successful enough author to quit driving and devote herself to writing fulltime. Melodie resides in Utica, MS with her longtime partner, Johanna. Some of her works can be found at http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00WFFFEA4
In 2019 Melodie founded Past and Prologue Press. Please visit her website. https://www.pastandprologuepress.lpages.com
Thanks so much, Melodie, for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: Do you use a pseudonym? If so, why? If not, why not?
Melodie Romeo: Because I write in two different sub-genres of historical fiction, I do use a pseudonym so that readers will know what they are getting. Melodie Romeo books trend toward the darker side: horror, thrillers, not always the happy ending, and may include a traditional romantic pairing. Edale Lane novels are lesbian romances crossed with action, mystery, or adventure; while violence may occur in the course of the action, the reader can be assured they will not be overly graphic and will end satisfactorily.
JSC: Do you ever base your characters on real people? If so, what are the pitfalls you’ve run into doing so?
MER: Yes – historical characters often appear in my novels. In Tribute in Blood, Vlad Dracula, aka Vlad Tepes or the Impaler, plays a prominent role as one of the central figures. Heart of Sherwood, by Edale Lane, features Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine with appearances by King Richard and other historical figures. Whenever I include real people, I do my due diligence in research so that I can depict them as accurately as possible. Even though Vlad is the antagonist in Tribute in Blood, I have tried to treat him fairly by pointing out the good he did protecting Europe from a Turkish invasion as well as portraying his darker inclinations.
JSC: Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?
MER: My mother spent most of her life as an English and Literature teacher, but she earned her degree in history. Art, music, and history filled our home when I was growing up and my favorite movies were Ben Hur, Robin Hood (the Errol Flynn version), The Three Musketeers, and pretty much anything that included riding horses or sword fighting. History remained my favorite subject in school and later I earned a Master’s Degree in the field. Therefore, historical fantasy and fiction come naturally for me. I keep my similar yet divergent genres in balance by writing under two different names: Melodie Romeo for historical thrillers, horror, and heterosexual romances, and Edale Lane for exciting tales of historical or fantasy lesbian romance.
JSC: Where do you like to write?
MER: Back in 2000 when I was writing Vlad, the original title of this rerelease, I loved writing out at the lake while my partner fished. The manuscript was first written entirely with pencil and paper and later typed into a computer. Today, however, I write on my laptop in the only place I can write – the sleeper of my truck cab.
JSC: What advice do you wish you’d had before releasing your first story?
MER: Do not ever pay a vanity press to publish your work… of course that was back in the days before Amazon self-publishing.
JSC: What inspired you to write this particular story? What were the challenges in bringing it to life?
After completing my first novel, Viking Quest, a historical fantasy featuring a strong female Danish warrior, I contacted every publishing house and agent I could find but no one was interested. So, I looked around at what was selling, and at that time Hannibal topped the best seller list with other thrillers and horror books also in the top twenty-five. Wanting to write something that publishers would be more prone to consider, I decided to shift to the dark and suspenseful. Having a Master’s in History and that being my focus, I began to explore the most notorious killers of the past. Vlad Tepes, the real Dracula, stood out. As I did more research, I discovered that where and when he was killed was recorded along with limitless accounts of his cruelties, but no one knows who struck him down. That opened the door for my fictional protagonists to step through. The biggest challenge for me was striking a balance as to how graphic to be in describing his atrocities without crossing over into gratuitous violence territory.
JSC: What secondary character would you like to explore more? Tell me about him or her.
MER: Dimitry is the owner of the tavern where Maria works. He’s a big, barrel-chested guy with a broad grin and an even temperament. He likes to stay out of politics and avoid any appearance of opposition to Prince Vlad, but in truth he doesn’t like him at all. Dimitry considers education to be of great value and is proud of the fact that he can read and write. He is so set on sending his son to attend the university that when Vlad begins conscripting young men for his army, Dimitry volunteers in his son’s place.
JSC: What’s your writing process?
MER: Sometimes I start with a character, sometimes an idea, but most usually both simultaneously. While I’m driving, my mind begins to create, explore settings, plots, characters, conflicts, etc. When I have developed a concept, I set in on the research so that the story can fit exactly in the right year and location in history to be accurate. For example, Tribute in Blood opens on Easter Sunday, 1457, the date of Vlad’s infamous execution of Walachia’s whole noble class, sending their children on a forced march to rebuild one of his castles. I write an outline, but frequently make changes as I go along. It is my intent to keep every detail possible precise with what actually happened and use my “author’s license” to fill in the rest with fictional characters and dialogue that seem a good fit. Once the first draft is complete, the editing process begins, which can take as long as writing the novel did! Next, I send out copies to beta readers to get their thoughts and input. Then it’s to Amazon and the presses.
JSC: What fantasy realm would you choose to live in and why?
MER: This is a tough one with a myriad of wonderful worlds I would love to explore! But if I could only choose one it would have to be Middle Earth, the land of Tolkien. Rivendale is so beautiful, the shire so peaceful. My intellect would revel in learning anything Gandalf would teach me and I would canter my steed with Riders of Rohan anytime. Besides, elves are just too cool!
JSC: What are you working on now?
MER: I am currently deeply involved in one of my Edale Lane novels, Chaos in Milan, Book Three of the Night Flyer Trilogy. It is a cross-genre FF alternative historical action romance featuring a 16th century female superhero of sorts. When chaos strikes at the heart of Milan, it is up to Florentina’s alter-ego the Night Flyer to stop it. While the fast-paced final installment can be a stand-alone book, the reader will appreciate it more if he/she has already read Merchants of Milan and Secrets of Milan to get the full back-story. My plan is to release Chaos in Milan this December.
And now for Melodie’s latest book: Tribute in Blood:
The most terrifying horrors are revealed in the pages of history.
After killing over 100,000 people during his first reign as Prince of Walachia, Vlad has returned, ready to inflict tortuous death on anyone he chooses. Only Nicolae and Maria, drawn together through mutual tragedies both inflicted by the ruthless Prince Dracula, dare try to stop him. Can Nicolae fulfill his plan of justice and revenge while winning the heart of the lovely Maria, or will he become the Impaler’s next victim?
With heart-stopping danger at every turn, detailed historical accuracy combined with fictional characters, and a myriad of surprises, Tribute in Blood is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat. Order this historical thriller romance today!
Vapor rose from the black water as Nicolae Anton floated down the Arges River toward the Danube. He came ashore when he thought he was far enough south and headed east through some farming country. Spying a darkened barn, he crept in and wrapped himself in a horse’s blanket to dry. Afraid of being caught there, Nicolae grabbed a handful of the oats which looked mighty good to him by then, crammed them into his pocket, and was on his way. After crossing the Dimbovita River, he found the road to Tirgoviste and followed its path from a safe distance amid the trees and bushes. By mid-afternoon, when he could see the buildings of the city ahead, the exhausted youth took refuge in an old abandoned corn crib and slept.
In the very early morning, before anyone was out, Nicolae traipsed up the highway leading to the city, his gut churning with nerves. He had been this way several times before when traveling to and from Cozia, but this time something seemed different. A meadow was supposed to lie on that hill to his left, yet tall, grim figures pointed skyward, trailing their tree-like black shadows. Nicolae’s stomach tightened as he veered off the roadway and walked toward the recent growth of forest. Then, as the morning fog rose and shifted, terror seized Nicolae’s heart, and he stopped dead still in his tracks. They were not trees at all, but the corpses of the boyars hanging on high impaling spikes. A new ray of light hit the mist as it lofted up through the skeletal remains, creating a grisly, ghostly aura.
Nicolae’s hands and knees began to shake as he took in the scope of the scene. Men, women, servants… perhaps four hundred in all… a forest of the impaled… the death of the entire boyar class of Walachia. He wondered about those back at Poenari; was this their fate as well? He gazed on the spectacle before him as though it were an unreal thing, a hellish nightmare, or ghoulish vision. But reality hit when a crow landed on the body nearest him and proceeded to peck at the carrion. “No!” he shouted in horrific despair and disgust. “This did not happen!”
Nicolae’s heart rate accelerated, his stomach knotted tighter, and his head began to spin. He was forced to drop to the ground and lower his head between his knees lest he pass out. He tried to calm the erratic, shaky breaths, but it was as if all the boyar specters were staring at him, expecting him to free them.
The youth held his head in his hands until the spinning sensation began to dissipate. Then a burning, driving need overtook his being–he must find his parents. He was compelled to discover if they were here among the impaled. With relentless determination, his searing cobalt eyes set out to find his mother and father. He rose to step, then trot, then run through the ranks of ghastly victims. The sight was repulsive and the odor sickening, but Nicolae removed himself from the horrible surroundings, consumed with singleness of purpose.
It was not a simple undertaking. The eyes had been pecked out and much of the facial flesh eaten or weathered away. Hair remained a sign on most heads along with the distinctiveness of their dress. Nicolae arrested his memory and demanded that it recall what his parents had been wearing. He closed his eyes and saw them dancing together once again. Yes, of course, he thought as he desperately scanned the scores of bodies. For most, the pikes had been inserted through the buttocks and exited through the back, chest, or mouth, making for a slow and tortuous death that could last hours or days. Others were spiked through the gut or upside-down. One pike had even entered through the victim’s mouth as his bones hung inverted with limps dangling in an unnatural parody. But Nicolae had to shut out these nightmarish horrors to accomplish the task at hand.
Recognizing clothing would not be easy either. Blacks had become sun bleached and whites turned brownish-gray. The once-bright colors had faded, and strips had been torn from the cloth by wind, rain, and wild animals. The most identifying items would be his mother’s exquisite marama, his father’s light reddish-blond hair, and their jewelry. Most Walachians were Romanian–dark-complected from Mediterranean stock–but his father’s family contained Saxon blood. Nicolae had gotten the light sandy-brown hair color and his sister the red.
As the sun began to rise higher, Nicolae’s search became more frantic, for he knew he would have to hide soon. As he passed row after row of corpses, he began to have hope that they were not among the dead. All at once he halted in front of a stake. He swallowed hard as his eyes became transfixed with abhorrence, and his ashen face a mask of desperation. His knees quaked as his heart palpitations thundered within his chest. “Mama,” he lamented.
Nicolae dared to move his eyes to the figure beside her. “Tata,” he uttered in broken-hearted despair. Tears streamed down his face as he sensed his body becoming violently ill. The horror-stricken youth fell to his knees and bent toward the ground emitting dry heaves, for there was no food or drink in his stomach to come up. Their bodies were wasted, picked apart by scavengers, but he knew it was them. Bones protruded through in some places with pale, swollen tissue in others. Ants and flies crawled without and within their rotting forms. It was more than a son could bear to look upon.
“Oh, God!” he wailed, his face buried in his hands. “Why?” The orphaned youth began to sob uncontrollably, speaking whenever he could form the words. “Didn’t you tell him? You didn’t do it!” Then he felt like his father was right there, staring down at him in a convicting manner. “I tried to save her, Father… I tried,” he moaned between gut-wrenching sobs. “I carried her as long as I could, but I wasn’t strong enough. Oh, God, I tried, but I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t strong enough!” Then the boy broke down completely and fell upon the ground, recoiling in pain, consumed by agony.
As time passed, his weeping began to subside, and Nicolae wiped his face. Life returned to him in the form of a newness of purpose. He remembered his father’s last words to him and raised his head to reply. “I survived, Father; I did what you said, and I survived. It is for a reason–I know that–and I will continue to survive. I must leave now, Father, but one day I will return. Then Dracula, that son of the devil, will discover that the plan he devised has failed. He will know that Lord Nicolae of Cozia escaped his purge and I will punish him for what he has done here.” Exhibiting wrought-iron courage, young Nicolae stood on tip-toe and reached up to pull the signet ring from his father’s bony finger. No grave robbers had visited this haunted forest; they knew that the penalty for any crime under Vlad’s reign, even robbing the dead, was punishable by burning, boiling, disemboweling, or impalement. Any tortuous death would do for the cruel, sadistic despot who found amusement in watching his helpless victims die.
Nicolae tried the ring on, but it was much too large for his emaciated finger. The workers had been fed enough to live, but no more, and the already lanky youth had grown even thinner. So, he thrust the ring deep into his pocket and let out a mournful sigh.
In that instant, Nicolae heard a rustling in the grass behind him. He spun around wide-eyed, clenching his hands into fists. There, among the stakes, he spotted two dogs tugging on either end of a human leg bone. It was a repulsive sight that twisted his stomach and filled the youth with an even stronger loathing of Prince Vlad Dracula, the Impaler. He swallowed hard and with nerves on end uttered through clenched teeth these last words. “If he enjoys death so much, then I will give it to him!” The mist was rapidly dissipating under the warmth of the morning sun when Nicolae Anton turned and fled the forest of the impaled.