Cinders of Yesterday Legacy of Shadows Book 1 by Jen Karner Genre: LGBTQ Paranormal Romance
Paranormal Hunter Dani Black wants nothing more than revenge. Until she meets Emilie.
A year ago, the rogue Necromancer Spectre murdered her partner during a hunt gone wrong. She’s been looking for a way to kill him—and keep him dead—ever since.
When rumors of a weapon capable of killing anything surfaces in Dawson, Maryland, she sets out on a mission to get her hands on it.
While unraveling a web of clues about her own past, Dani runs into the alluring Emilie Lockgrove, eldest daughter of a magical family inexplicably tied to Spectre.
Emilie Lockgrove survived the catastrophic fire that killed her mother and hospitalized both her and her sister.
Ten years later, she has returned to Dawson, expecting to confront the trauma of her past. Instead, she discovers magic is real, encountering actual ghosts like the necromancer hunting her family for 200 years.
Dani intends to kill Spectre…or die trying. Emilie wants to reclaim her life. To survive, they’ll need to work together to confront their pasts, break the spell capturing Emilie’s magic, and destroy Spectre once and for all.
Dawson’s graveyard was old, filled with crypts and mausoleums toward the back half of the lot where the church stood before it burned down in the ’70s. It didn’t take long to find the place where her family’s remains rested: a tall mausoleum with white and black bricks. Mama though, she was in the ground. Emilie counted off one relative after another as she walked along, aunts, uncles, a grandmother who’d passed years before Emilie was born. And then there was Mama’s stone.
“Catherine Lockgrove. Devoted wife and mother. May the river take you to rest on misty shores of silence.” Her breath stuttered out in a harsh exhale.
The words weren’t enough, none of this was. It had never been enough because Mama had died, and then Emilie’s own brain had stolen away so many of her memories. All she had was this slab of rock with a name and dates inscribed, and no peace to be found from any of it. She wanted to leave the haunting of her unremembered past behind her where it damn well belonged as she tried to build a life.
One finger danced over the words chiseled into the marker, black stone with white script. Dad had paid out for it and it showed.
“I’m sorry.” She laughed bitterly and looked up at the sky. “Look at me talking to a rock. But fuck it. Closure.” She shook her head and gazed back down at the gravestone. It was ridiculous, but she also felt like she was about to rip her heart out of her chest. “I know I took forever to come visit you, and I never should have let it go on this long.” Around her the trees rustled. Leaves swirled in a small maelstrom taken by the wind in a single gust.
“I couldn’t face coming back at first. Not—not when I woke up. And then it was just easier, you being here, for me to stay away.” She huffed out a breath and knelt down. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there to protect you, Mama, and I’m sorry it took me so long to come see you. I love you. Wish you were still here, with me.” She blinked against tears trying to escape her eyes and pulled a silver token out of one pocket and put it on the base of the gravestone. “I’ll try to come again before I leave. Promise.” She nodded and pressed her forehead against the stone as tears tracked over cheeks.
After a few long minutes, she wiped her face and sat onto her heels. The torrent of emotion left her hollow, made it easier to focus, and she traced a hand over the gravestone again. Somehow, leaving was harder than getting here. Emilie tucked a pale strand of hair behind one ear and stood up. Her heart wasn’t lighter. The reminder that Mama died because she was late arriving home weighed her down. There were reasons this wound refused to heal no matter how she tried to clean it out.
When she looked to the left where the brutal stone structure of the mausoleum sat on a small hill, there was a woman standing at the doorway. Emilie frowned and heaved herself back to her feet, brushing the dirt and leaves off her knees. The figure, with her long waves of dark hair, was familiar. She waved at Emilie before turning and walking out of sight and into the building.
Around her the air turned cold, the blustery weather only getting worse. The wind cut, even through the bomber jacket she’d thrown on before leaving the house. Instinct said this was a bad idea—turn back because you do not follow the freaky silhouette of a woman you may or may not know into a damned tomb. That was fodder for horror movies.
“And we, Emilie Lockgrove, are not monster-movie bait. We survive, which means avoiding the weird shit while facing the truckload of personal trauma that has accumulated over ten years.”
Still, she broke away from the path and headed up to the mausoleum. The door was unlocked, but the padlock wasn’t broken. So that was a good sign. It was the Lockgrove Family crypt, capital L, capital F. Since Dad seemed to be out of town, it was her problem. It didn’t make this a better idea, but the wind was picking up, and if animals got in and nested in there, Emilie would never hear the end of it.
Ten years since she left home and closer to twenty since she’d been inside this place, Emilie had forgotten how bizarre it was. She pulled out her phone for a bit of light before trotting down the short staircase into the room proper. A pair of couches faced each other against different walls. There were small lamps and tables, as though you might entertain here. Past that was the crypt where the interred remains of her relatives rested.
Past the crypts and columbaria niches for remains, the back wall was a massive mosaic. She’d never quite understood what it was, but Grandpa had told her it was a spark. Blue and gold panes arranged like something bursting to life. It filled the whole back wall, making it clear there were no other exists. One way in, one way out.
Nobody else was down here in this silent place, just Emilie, and the longer she stood still the more her skin crawled. Cobwebs were heavy in the corners, and if anyone had been down here in the last six months she’d eat her (nonexistent) hat. But she had seen someone. If her mind wanted to play tricks on her at home, that was one thing. Full blown visual hallucinations while she was out and about were not part of the deal.
They needed to not be happening because that meant new symptoms. And new symptoms led to being wrangled back inpatient again, more therapy, more meds that didn’t work. She’d returned home to confront her trauma and put it behind her, not open the box for fresh monsters her brain had concocted to start crawling out.
“Hello?” Her voice echoed as though the room was much larger than it was. “Look, I saw you come down here.”
Emilie hesitated. The back half of the mausoleum wasn’t lit up, and it looked like bulbs had burned out. If somebody wanted to, they could hide in one of those dark corners. No way could she leave this place wide open. She needed to lock the door behind her. Which meant she had to check and make sure nobody was hiding there.
Even as she walked across the room, her brain screamed at her. This was not a good idea. This was what crazy people did, like when she saw obituaries for someone who got killed and their bodies weren’t found for weeks and weeks. If some crazed junkie was in here, then she was probably the least equipped person on the planet to handle it. Letting the crypt sit unlocked wasn’t an option though, and if there was somebody down here, she couldn’t in good conscience lock them in.
“Not looking to call the cops or anything, but you can’t be down here. I mean, how did you even get the door open?” Emilie kept talking, trying to keep her nerve.
But there was nothing, no sound of the wind from outside, not that insistent buzzing, not claws on cement or another person’s breath to stir the air. It was quiet as a grave. Emilie passed the halfway mark, and her heart jumped into her throat. She got a few steps closer to the back, and a light stuttered to life above her. A handsbreadth away from the wall and the incontrovertible truth hit her in the face. Nobody else was here.
Fear of a different kind washed over her. She might be cracking up worse than she’d thought. Just to her left were names chiseled into the rock of their crypts, small areas for gifts and mementos. “Marie Deveraux…” Emilie read the words, trying to steady herself. The wind screamed at the door atop the stairs. It slammed shut and all the lights guttered out, her phone dying along with them.
“Shit.” Emilie grasped at the nameplates in the sudden perfect blackness. There was no up or down or left or right, just the black. Her hands on the wall helped balance her, and she focused on the sensation of recessed letters pounded in stone.
“Time to wake up,” a woman’s voice spoke into Emilie’s ear, accented in French.
Emilie turned on her heel and threw out her arms to find nothing. That was it, she was getting out of here. She tried to find her way toward the front of the mausoleum. Instead, her fingers pressed against the cool glass of the mosaic, and she screamed as something shocked through her. The lights flickered on, and she sprinted to the door. After a desperate moment where she thought her heart might literally pound out of her chest, one foot kicked the bottom of the stairs. She stumbled more than ran up them, practically on all fours, then fumbled for another horrible moment.
Her hands slapped against the handle, stuck in what felt like a horrible slow-motion nightmare as she let herself out of the crypt. When she slammed it closed behind her and threw the lock, she sighed a breath of relief. The autumn day was still and cool around her. Not so much as a leaf fluttered. Where had the wind gone?
Jen Karner is a queer writer who never attended college but still did the required reading. A feminist banshee, she enjoys horror movies, tabletop games, and debating about her many fandoms. When she isn't writing, you can find her pretending to catch up on her TBR list, trying to convince her dog to love her best, or watching D&D shows.
Jen was raised in the Baltimore suburbs, where she devoured as many books as possible and spent her afternoons running amuck in the woods. She lives with her nesting partner, their dog, and a growing number of plants.
Q:Can you, for those who don't know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
A: Werll to start, I’m Jen Karner and I’m the author of Cinders of Yesterday, which is the first novel in the Legacy of Shadows series. I happen to have yellow eyes (genetic mutations are Rad you yall!), a green mohawk, and can read books in a single sitting if they grab me by the eyeballs. I became an author through a combination of hard work, and luck. I’ve been writing since I was about 8 and started my first “big story” when I was in first grade. I finished the first draft of CINDERS OF YESTERDAY in February of 2018, and then spent 2 years revising it & entering it into contests. I was 31 by the time I finished the first draft, and this was my first ever finished manuscript. I worked on it relentlessly, and it nearly won me a spot in both Pitch Wars and Revpit. After some amazing feedback, I queried it & then submitted it to a few indie publishers before it found a home.
Q: Where were you born/grew up at?
A: I was born in Norfolk Va, but grew up in Maryland, just south of Baltimore in the suburbs. I’m actually from Glen Burnie, which was originally this small little vacation spot for Baltimore families, as well as being a train station. It sits about 20 mins south of Baltimore, and half an hour north of Annapolis and is this mix of retail/suburban gothic areas and lots of trees. So I spent a decent amount of time as a kid running around the woods, trying not to get covered in mud, and pretending I was exploring a different world.
Q:Who is your hero and why?
A: So I’m actually going to split this question into two pieces because I have thoughts. First up, is my go-to guy in the fictional world: Steve Rogers. Yeah, yeah, I know it’s probably kind of cliche but hey, I have very strong feelings about Steve Rogers and why he became Captain America and why I love him. Steve is the epitome of taking a hit and getting back up, even if you don’t think there is any real reason to do it. He does what he thinks is best to the best of his ability and never acts like he’s better than anyone else. Yes, he is flawed because he’s human (albeit both fictional AND a superhero) but he always tries to be better, to do better.
Which brings us around to the world we all live in, where heroes are much more complicated. I’m gonna list off some of mine, and I’ll explain a few but honestly some of them are just because these are people I admire, who I would ask for advice, or whose lives have affected me strongly enough that I think of them on a regular and consistent basis. So, let’s go!
Eleanor Roosevelt, who is the reason that so much work into ensuring patients had a better quality of life happened. Also she was brilliant and brave and probably a lesbian, and an extroadinarily strong woman at a time where it was difficult to be a woman at all.
Marsha P. Johnson who threw a brick and stood up for herself and her trans brothers and sisters in a time where they were easily murdered for it.
Barack Obama who showed me what it looked like to have pride and to be strong and intelligent and verbose and to never, never stoop to the level of those who would demean or attempt to destroy you.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg who showed me what the power of one’s mind, and tongue working in tandem are capable of.
John Lewis who told us all to get in good and necessary trouble, and showed us a life spent fighting for a better world is worth it.
There are...many more, but that's a quick smattering for you.
Q:Which of your novels can you imagine made into a movie?
A: Well I only have one novel out right now, and I don’t necessarily see it as a motion picture. However, I could 150% see Cinders of Yesterday, and the upcoming novels in the Legacy of Shadows series working very well as series on the CW or the like. I think with everything going on, it would work much better as a TV series, and not just because I could add in more of the small details that unfortunately had to be cut during the various revisions this novel went through.
Q:What inspired you to write this book?
A: I can’t point to any one specific thing that made Cinders of Yesterday real, but there are a few different things that helped breathe life into it. I wanted to write a paranormal world that was as gay, as every other paranormal worls seems to be heterocentric. Something that reminded readers of Buffy or SPN (coincidentally two of my favorite shows ever) but was bigger, bolder, and more diverse than either ever were. I also wanted to use the paranormal as a way to talk about trauma, and grief, and the things we survive even when it’s difficult. Thankfully, it all seemed to come together really well.
Q:What can we expect from you in the future?
A: More books! Cinders of Yesterday is the first in the Legacy of Shadows series, and right now I’m planning for 3 books. There may end up being more down the line, but Emilie and Dani are definitely not done yet. I also have a spooky lake book that needs to be revised, and a whiteboard full of ideas that come after that. Cinders of Yesterday is my first book, but I’m hoping to release many, many, many, more.
Q: Do you have any “side stories” about the characters?
A: Yes! I have a ton of little ideas for Dani, Emilie, and most of the side characters as well. I’m hoping to get a short story finished that is set between Books 1 and 2. It’ll go out to my newsletter subscribers as a thank you for letting me chat with them every month. I have ideas for a few other shorts, but I’m unsure how many will ever see the light of day. Mostly because while I adore writing novels and long form stories, short stories are not my strongest suit. If I’m writing about my characters, I want to ensure I do them proper justice. . Q: Who designed your book covers?
A: My cover was designed by MiblArt and they did such an amazing job. I love it so much that I actually have a framed print my partner got that is hung up in my office to the left of my desk.
Q: Are your characters based off real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?
A: I draw some inspiration from the real world, but it’s in small handpicked ways. Emilie’s anxiety is pulled directly from my experiences, especially when she is talking to herself to try and stave off a panic attack. Dani has mannerisms I’ve pulled from a friend or two as well. All of that being said, they’re far more made up than they are based on any person I’ve read, watched, or met out in the real world. I like to think that my initial outlines are like, the shape of my characters, but it isn’t until I’m actively drafting that they really come to life on the page.
Q: Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reigns of the story? Convince us why you feel your book is a must read.
A: It becomes a little of column A and a little of column B. I like to talk about my characters like they are real people because once I’ve gotten the hang of their voice, it really is like having someone speak to my over my shoulder. I become less the person in charge, and more the conduit that the story is coursing through. Some characters have a stronger voice than others. Dani is super talkative, while Emilie just likes to go quiet if I’m not telling the story the way she feels it ought to go.
Another way to explain it, is that while I definitely know the gist of the story, so many details are filled in by my characters as I write. There are dozens of little world building touches that crop up organically because of how alive my characters are, but they still (mostly) work within the confines of outlines I’ve built for them. Still, on occasion they do throw me a screwball, like Dani and Emilie falling for each other so fast, or Merc trying to steal the show in any scene he walks into.
Q: If your book had a candle, what scent would it be?
A: Leather, gunsmoke, and campfire.
Q: What did you edit out of this book?
A: Oh, so many things. However I think the funniest edit was definitely the magic dog. Yeah, yeah, I said it. In the first draft, I had a very different vision for Dani’s family, and they essentially had a specific kind of familiar, and it happened to be a heckin magical doggo. I named her Moxie, and she showed up for about three chapters and then disappeared entirely. When I overhauled the way bladesingers, veilblades, and the Black family in particular worked, Moxie was part of what was deleted forever.
I also changed most of the major altercations, cut out some homophobia that existed for no good reason, and adjusted both the end and beginning multiple times. Cinders of Yesterday went through something like 11 drafts, several of which were major overhauls. All in all this book went through more than 250k in edits and adjustments throughout all the drafts and edits.
Q: How long have you been writing?
A: The first story I remember starting was when I was in first grade, so I jokingly say forever. I knew I wanted to write books by the time I was in 3rd grade, and I never really looked back.
Q: Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write?
A: They definitely come in waves. I usually get the protagonist(s) first and then everyone else sort of shows up as I write. I have routinely written in what I thought was going to be a throw away character only for them to try and steal the show once they made it onto the page.
Q: What kind of research do you do before you begin writing a book?
A: It depends on the book, and because I tend to be more of a pantser than a planner I will often research while drafting and then make notes for future revisions. It’s a bit chaotic, but it seems to work well for me.
Q: Do you see writing as a career?
A: Absolutely. I’m actually a staff writer at my day job as well, so writing in one form or another has been my career now for 6 years even if Cinders of Yesterday is my first foray into fiction.
Q: Do you read yourself and if so what is your favorite genre?
A: I’ve always been a voracious reader and I love to show off (and share) my personal library with friends. I definitely write in my favorite genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror and Romance. It’s hard to pick one as my favorite because I love different things about each genre.
Q: Do you prefer to write in silence or with noise? Why?
A: I definitely write with noise. I have ADHD so having enough distraction that my brain can properly focus on the task at hand is absolutely critical. I tend to put on either music, or a movie that gets me into the right state of mind. Music especially gets me writing more, and I build playlists for each major project.
Q: Do you write one book at a time or do you have several going at a time?
A: So far I’ve mostly been working on one book at a time in each stage. So, I have several that are in the percolating or pre-planning stages, one that is being drafted, and one in revisions. It’s hard for me to hold more than one book at a time because I let each story consume me so much.
Q: Advice they would give new authors?
A: The two most major pieces of advice I have are to keep writing, and to be kind to yourself. The industry will try to convince you that each book will make or break you, and the constant revolving door of the next big book or author makes it easy to second guess yourself. Just keep writing and remember that it’s about the catalog of books and stories you write, not one single novel, novella, or story. Being kind to yourself is just as crucial in my opinion. It’s easy to second guess yourself, or be critical when you get a bad review (or no reviews at all), or to feel bummed when other books seem to be rising meteorically while yours...does not. Being kind and taking time for yourself helps you to bounce back, as does having a few friends who aren’t remotely interested in the industry outside of reading a few books here and there.
Q: Describe your writing style.
A: I tend to write in close 3rd person. So, inside my characters heads, knowing only what they know. It tends to be voice-y and fairly introspective since you’re getting both their thoughts, and what’s actually happening around them.
Q: What is your writing process? For instance do you do an outline first? Do you do the chapters first? What are common traps for aspiring writers?
A: My writing process is a mix of chaos and planning in different measures. I keep notecards & whiteboards which hold characters, locations, organizations, etc. I also use a Notion board to track and reverse outline, a typed outline with upcoming notes, and a handwritten notebook which has extraneous notes taken on the fly. However, I don’t make major outlines because they don’t seem to work well for me. I tend to write into the void, with just enough light to see what comes next. When I start a new story, I often don’t know how it ends until I’m deeper into it.
I do write chronologically, and there are times I really wish I could skip around the way some other authors do. This is also why I take so many notes. That way when I come back around to a chapter in revisions, I already have notes about what I wanted to adjust, or change.
I think the biggest pitfall for aspiring writers is thinking they need to be in a particular mood to write, or that things need to be perfect the first time through. Anything can be fixed and polished in revisions, but you need to finish the draft in order to get there.
Q: Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
A: I tend to opt for a combination of both. I never change what I am planning or intending for a story because of what readers might want to see. That being said, I do stay cognizant of great tropes and expectations in genre because I do believe in a kind of pact between the author and the reader. I believe that if I set up certain things, that my readers deserve to see them play out and receive closure from that.
Q: Do you believe in writer’s block?
A: Absolutely, and I also think it takes a variety of different ways to show up. Sometimes it’s because you need to come at things from a different angle, or you’ve managed to write yourself into a corner that needs to be dealt with. In those cases readjusting or backtracking can help. But, I also think if you’re exhausted or worn down that it becomes extremely hard to stay creative and working on something. Especially if you’re unagented, or it’s your first manuscript trying to stay on it is really difficult and sometimes writer’s block is your brain telling you to take a break.