This Madness of the Heart
by Blair Yeatts
GENRE: gothic mystery/thriller
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Bad religion can be deadly. So Miranda Lamden, small-town religion professor, discovers in This Madness of the Heart. The dark hollers of Eastern Kentucky offer fertile soil for shady evangelist Jasper Jarboe, new president of Grace and Glory Bible College, as he beguiles the small mining town of Canaan Wells with his snake-oil charm. When Miranda isn’t teaching at Obadiah Durham College, she’s investigating paranormal phenomena—or enjoying a turbulent romantic relationship with backwoods artist Jack Crispen. JJ’s inquisition-style gospel has alienated her long since, but when he announces his plan to transform her forest home into an evangelical Mecca, complete with neon cross and 40-foot Jesus, Miranda girds her loins for war. But JJ isn’t finished: he goes on to launch an attack on her friend and fellow professor Djinn Baude with an avalanche of vicious rumors. Not only does he accuse Djinn of demonic communion with the old Voudon witch whose curse killed the college’s founding family, but he also smears her with insinuations of lechery and vice. With JJ’s urging, hate boils over into violence and tragedy, sweeping Miranda up in its flood. One death follows another as a miasma of evil overwhelms the tiny community, and only Miranda can see clearly enough to halt its spread. This Madness of the Heart is the first in a new series of Gothic mystery-thrillers featuring Professor Miranda Lamden, whose spiritual gifts have drawn her beyond university walls to explore the mysteries of other world beliefs. Her unique vision brings her into repeated confrontations with evil, where too often she finds herself standing alone between oblivious onlookers and impending disaster.
This Madness of the Heart e-book will be free during the tour.
The night turned around her, until, in the darkest watches before dawn, she rose from her knees, abandoning the bloody altar with its guttering candles. A queen entranced, she paced slowly down the hill toward the sleeping house, her eyes blind with visions. Through the front door she walked, into the hall’s center, to the foot of the great staircase. There she raised her bloody hands and cried aloud in a high-pitched wail, sinking at last to a low hissing hum.
“Guede-z-araignee! Come a-hungered! Drink di lifeblood o’ dis evil man! Drink he mem’ry away! Tak he woman int’ di night, Tak’ he chillun, tak’ dem all! Tak’ dem int’ di darkness! Tak’ dem all—tak’ dey lives, tak’ dey bodies, tak’ dey souls! Gi di blood o’ di murderer no rest, not in dis life, not in di next. Spill dey blood on dis bloody land! Come, Guede-z-araignee! Come an’ drink!”
Like a snake swaying on its coils, a tendril of smoke emerged from the darkness, swelling and growing, rising and twisting toward the upper floors of the plantation house. Tiny rainbow-hued flames licked at the polished floor. Then, with a screaming roar, fire like a spider’s bloated body engulfed the great hall, swallowing the keening woman and gathering the curving staircase to its tumid breast. A billowing inferno exploded into the long upper halls, curling and crisping the fine imported wood, sealing bedroom doors with sucking flame, feeding on the agonized cries within: a holocaust offered to a vengeful deity, sated at last with the charring bodies of the landowner’s family… the whole family, save one, a tiny boychild, carried sleeping from his father’s house by an old black nurse, terrified by the fiery havoc she had witnessed in her dreams.
It is my pleasure to welcome Blair Yeatts, author of This Madness of the Heart, Room With Books! Hello, Blair! Please tell us about yourself.
I’m a retired college professor, with special interests in unusual religious/paranormal phenomena and how/why people have these experiences. I live with my husband, two cats, and a dog in wooded hill country near the Appalachian Trail, where I walk 2 miles every morning before I start to write. I come from an academic Virginia family, but I was born and raised in Kentucky—which is where This Madness of the Heart is rooted. The next two books in the Miranda Lamden series also take place in the Kentucky/Tennessee hill country. I love wild forests and mountains—and deserts, too—partly because in their silence I sometimes think I can hear the voices of an Earth far more ancient than the muffled presence most of us know.
Did you always want to be a writer?
Yes and no! LOL When I was just six years old I used to make up stories about my collection of little stuffed animals, which I was invited to share with other primary students in my grade school: that might be an early clue. But I don’t recall saying, “I want to be a writer!” I do remember saying “I want to be a cowgirl!” (grade school) . . . “a park ranger!” (middle school) . . . “an ambassador!” (high school) . . . and then finally “a professor of religion!” (graduate school). I stuck with that last one for quite a while before I started to write.
How long have you been writing and what inspired you to write?
If you don’t count my dissertation, I started to write about 25 years ago. I’d finished my degree and decided that I wanted to take some time off and make sense of my life with an autobiography. I wrote like a maniac for a year or so. I even got a grant to pay for my expenses. All I can say is that I’m immensely grateful that none of the hundred or so queries I wrote bore fruit! It was an appalling book, and I would have been mortified to have it in print. The lessons we learn in life . . . But the many rewrites I did of that book taught me a lot about hands-on writing, so when I finally got around to really writing, I had some idea what I was doing.
Do you have a job in addition to writing?
I taught college-level religion for a number of years, as well as doing first-hand research into obscure religious phenomena, along with some consulting work. I have that much in common with the main character of This Madness of the Heart. But the similarities mostly stop there. I enjoyed teaching, but not enough to put in the long hours for little pay with mostly unmotivated students. Creating a semester’s lectures is a huge amount of work, and if you use the same set of lectures over and over again, it’s deadly boring, which left me faced with more huge piles of work. I didn’t like my choices. Since teaching as a day job didn’t pay much anyway, switching to writing (which I dearly love) was a no-brainer.
How would you summarize this book in less than 20 words?
Appalachian religion professor Miranda Lamden explores bad religion and paranormal phenomena in a hair-raising new gothic thriller.
Now, let’s talk about writing and how you came to be a published author.
When did you first consider yourself a “writer”?
First of all, I need to say that “Blair Yeatts” is a pen name. I’ve published three books already (with a fourth in the works) under a different name in a different genre. I wanted to branch out from the genre I’d begun with, and I decided that my readers might be alienated by a drastic switch, so I chose a pen name . . . I guess I really began to think of myself as a writer when I published my first book, and people bought it!
How long did it take to get your first book published?
As I mentioned above, I tried to go the traditional route with my autobiography 25 years ago. I set myself a goal of 50 queries to publishers and 50 to agents before giving up, which I met, and then gave up. Madness is actually the next book I wrote—while I was teaching—but for many reasons I set it aside without trying to publish it. In part I sensed that I was too personally engaged and needed to give it some space before even considering publication. That was a good call. It’s pretty much an entirely different book now than when I first wrote it. Then when I finally settled down to serious writing, about 10 years ago, I decided that self-publishing was the way to go, so I had very little difficulty. Learning the formatting and publicity skills were the biggest challenges.
How long does it usually take you to write a book, from the original idea to “The End”?
I’d say 9 months to a year. I consider a book a good length if it comes in at somewhere from 70,000 to 90,000 words. That takes a while, and I do my own (obsessive) editing. Of course, some books are less obliging than others!
What can we expect from you in the future? More of the same genre? Books of a different genre?
I plan to continue with the Miranda Lamden Mysteries for some time. I have drafts already completed for books 2 and 3 (Blood on Holy Ground, and The Gorge Runs Red—possible title). I’m doing edits on Holy Ground now and hope to have it out by the fall. I think each book is better than the last, as they should be!
Who is your favorite character from your books and why are they your favorite?
I think my favorite character from Madness is Elmus Rooksby, the aging pastor of a small holiness church in the hollers of Appalachia, and the founder of a small college that has been taken over by the book’s villain, Jasper Jarboe, DD. It’s very difficult to create a “good” character (as in virtuous, kind, loving, etc.) without making him smarmy, or weak, or boring. I think I succeeded with Elmus. He’s a passionate man, driven by his faith, yet truly loving toward other human beings. He struggles with rage and hate in the face of JJ’s appalling nastiness, but he finds a way to deal with himself—and JJ—without descending into the sewer. He comes through as a wily and righteous man without self-righteousness . . . which in my experience is a very rare thing.
What is your routine for writing?
I have my own office, with cats, in my home. I sit at my Mac, often with a cat in my lap trying to help, and tap away. I write every available minute for as long as the muse is working—and when she shuts down, I work on the other stuff. But what, you might ask, is “every available minute”? Well, it means after I’ve walked my mile or two and had enough coffee to be conscious . . . but before I start nodding out over the keyboard in midafternoon. It’s in between household chores and bills, errands and cat-box cleaning, and time invested with my husband. So, for real? Four – five hours early in the day and two – three in the evening, unless I’m really on a roll, and then everything gets jettisoned, including the husband and the cat boxes.
Do you choose a title first, or write the book then choose the title?
The title definitely comes later. I’ll start jotting down possibles as I write, so by the time the first draft is done, I usually have a firm “maybe.” Like the 3rd book, The Gorge Runs Red. That’s only a possible, because I know I still have time to mess around with it.
Are there any hidden messages or morals contained in your books?
I’d say no. I don’t like morals or messages in fiction. I truly dislike being preached at. My characters often have opinions and beliefs, and they live by them, and at times my opinions are obvious. But they’re not hidden.
Which format of book do you prefer, eBook, hardback, or paperback?
I’m a Luddite, I fear: I like the feel of a printed book in my hands—hardback or paper doesn’t matter, although I might have slight bias toward paper, because they’re lighter. I enjoy the musty smell of well-thumbed pages. I like to be able to close the book and look at the cover. And best of all, I like to be able to handle it without it running out of battery juice, or having it fling me into some alternate universe because I tapped the wrong part of its little electronic torso.
What is your favorite book and why is it your favorite? How many times would you estimate you’ve read it?
Everyone always asks that question, and I never know how to answer it. I’m terrible about “favorite” questions. Do I like raspberries or strawberries better? I don’t know—they’re different. Blue or green? Ditto. I guess I’ll go out on a limb and pick my favorite recent read (this year). Since I’ve already read it three times, I guess it qualifies: Lois McMaster Bujold’s Paladin of Souls. It’s not new, but it was new to me. She wrote about a woman in midlife, which was a plus for me. I went through enough teenage angst of my own without seeking it out in my reading. I loved her concept of deity: the four common faces of godhead—Mother, Father, Son, Maiden—plus the Bastard who picked up all the broken leftovers. But best of all I liked her description of the main character’s relationship to deity, specifically the Bastard: it was earthy and painful and unpredictable, without formula or neatness—yet ecstatic and earth-shattering and healing. Of course, Bujold threw in numbers of rampaging barbarians, demons, sorcerers, and undead to keep the reader on her toes. It was a fantasy, after all. I loved it. I wish she’d stop writing science fiction and write more books like the Chalion series.
Do you read all the reviews of your books?
Yes, for better or worse. I know many authors don’t, but I want to know what people are saying. What puzzles me is why so many people who write to me to tell me how they love a book don’t write a review that anyone else can see! I suspect readers don’t realize how crucial reviews are to self-published authors. Without a huge corporate name commanding high-visibility reviews, self-published authors really need reader reviews (especially if they’re good!)
That’s enough of the serious business. How about a handful of fun questions?
What is your favorite food? Ah, more favorite questions! The fun never stops. OK, I got it: Shaker lemon pie with lots of rind and lemon juice! Fresh-caught fried cod is right up there, too.
Who is your favorite singer or group? Sting, definitely, but I miss his older-style releases. I enjoyed Symphonicities and The Last Ship, but not like I did Sacred Love.
What is your favorite color? Teal, or blue-green
What is your ideal getaway dream vacation? A camping trip in Utah’s high desert in spring.
What final words would you offer to our readers?
I’d like to hear from you! If you enjoy Miranda, let me know!
Thank you for spending time with us at Room With Books, Blair. I appreciate your time and wish you the best with your books. I hope you will come back again!
Blair Yeatts grew up in the midst of a large, old southern Virginia family, much like the family of her main character. She followed her parents into a career in academia and taught religion at the college level in Kentucky for many years. Her special areas of expertise are psychology and Earth-based religions, in which she has done considerable research.
From childhood, Ms. Yeatts has been a fan of mystery fiction, starting with Nancy Drew and moving through Agatha Christie to twentieth century giants like Dorothy L. Sayers, P.D. James, and Nevada Barr. She is fulfilling a life’s dream in writing her own mysteries.
Ms. Yeatts shares her home with her photographer husband, two cats, and a dog. She has a lifelong love of wild nature, and prefers to set her stories in rural areas, where threads of old spiritual realities still make themselves felt. Her first three books take place in different parts of Kentucky and Tennessee.
Blair Yeatts will be awarding a $25 Amazon or Barnes and Noble gift card to a randomly drawn winner via Rafflecopter during the tour.