Chatting with Janine Ashbless : Angels and Dragons

I’m so excited to be hosting Janine Ashbless today, introducing the second in her Book of IBotE coverthe Watchers trilogy: In Bonds of the Earth. It’s a thought-provoking and immersive novel, setting new standards for paranormal erotic romance.  Janine’s authorial style is unforgettable. She likes to write about magic, myth and mystery, dangerous power dynamics, borderline terror, and the not-quite-human. She takes exciting risks in her storytelling; she’s innovative, and she brings fierce intelligence to all she writes. 

Cleis Press released the first in Janine’s series, Cover Him With Darkness, in 2014, to  outstanding reviews. In Bonds of the Earth is published by Sinful Press and has just been launched.

What do serpents, or dragons, have to do with the angels who fell from God’s grace? Read on…

Screen Shot 2017-03-06 at 13.32.38“Stretching up into the great vertical space of the tower, they had become a living helix of light—a caduceus coiled about the pillar of the world. I thought of all the legends from across the Earth. I thought of the Garden of Eden and the Great Dragon of Saint John’s Revelation; stories bookending the whole of human history.

Oh dear God—was this what they looked like before they took human shape? Giant golden serpents? Winged snakes? Is this what angels are?” – In Bonds of the Earth

Janine tells us, “This is a little story about folklore and wonderful writers’ serendipity—the kind of thing that makes my heart sing, as a confirmed pantser.

I’m writing a trilogy of novels about fallen angels. In the first, Cover Him with Darkness, my heroine Milja releases the damned Azazel from his five-thousand year imprisonment, and I mention in passing that the angels only took human form in Genesis/prehistory, when they acquired mortal women as lovers (thus incurring heavenly wrath, the Flood and so on).

What did these angels look like (if anything) before they became human, then? Well, the answer is in the ancient Hebrew texts, if you dig down. The very word “Seraphim” means “the burning ones” and the word is used in the Old Testament to denote both angelic beings and poisonous serpents. In the Book of Enoch it’s interchangeable with the word for dragon.

Seraphim were, according to Shinan and Zakovitch, originally envisaged as winged snakes Screen Shot 2017-03-06 at 13.32.51with hands (remember that the Serpent of Eden is punished by being made to crawl in the dust, strongly suggested that it previously had other forms of locomotion).

So I went happily with that when filling in the details in the second book of my trilogy: In Bonds of the Earth. Now, my heroine Milja happens to be of Serbian ethnic origin, so I thought I’d have a poke round in Balkan folklore to find any specifically Serbian dragon lore.

And I came rapidly across the word zmaj (or zmey).

Zmaj are benevolent dragons with ram-like heads and winged, serpentine bodies, who protect the crops from the evil demons causing bad weather. Their blood is poisonous. They can change form and take on human aspect, and in this shape their obsessive interest is in getting into bed with human women. In fact, when thunderstorms threatened, Serbian peasants would go round the village and ritually chase the dragons away from young women in order to make them get on with their proper job!

Sons born of a Zmaj father and human mother are zmajeviti with shamanic spirit-walking powers. Many Slavic heroes both legendary and historical claimed descent from dragons.

These similarities with the fallen angels of Hebrew mythology, are—I assume—entirely coincidental. But they made me very excited and very happy! There’s an angel-child in my book and Milja knows just what to think. It all helps in adding depth to the story and to my characters.”

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More about the story

When Milja Petak released the fallen angel Azazel from five thousand years of imprisonment, she did it out of love and pity. She found herself in a passionate sexual relationship beyond her imagining and control – the beloved plaything of a dark and furious demon who takes what he wants, when he wants, and submits to no restraint. But what she hasn’t bargained on is being drawn into his plan to free all his incarcerated brothers and wage a war against the Powers of Heaven.

As Azazel drags Milja across the globe in search of his fellow rebel angels, Milja fights to hold her own in a situation where every decision has dire consequences. Pursued by the loyal Archangels, she is forced to make alliances with those she cannot trust: the mysterious Roshana Veisi, who has designs of her own upon Azazel; and Egan Kansky, special forces agent of the Vatican – the man who once saved then betrayed her, who loves her, and who will do anything he can to imprison Azazel for all eternity.

Torn every way by love, by conflicting loyalties and by her own passions, Milja finds that she too is changing – and that she must do things she could not previously have dreamt of in order to save those who matter to her.

IBotE coverBroad at the shoulders and lean at the hips, six foot-and-then-something of ropey muscle, he looks like a Spartan god who got lost in a thrift store. He moves like ink through water. And his eyes, when you get a good look at them, are silver. Not gray. Silver. You might take their inhuman shine for fancy contact lenses. Youd be wrong.” – In Bonds of the Earth

About Janine Ashbless

Janine’s books have been in print since 2000, with short stories published by Black Lace, Nexus, Cleis Press, Ravenous Romance, Harlequin Spice, Storm Moon, Xcite, Mischief Books, and Ellora’s Cave, among others. She is co-editor of the nerd erotica anthology ‘Geek Love’.

Born in Wales, Janine now lives in the North of England with her husband and two rescued greyhounds. She’s worked as a cleaner, library assistant, computer programmer, local government tree officer, and – for five years of muddy feet and shouting – as a full-time costumed Viking. Janine loves goatee beards, ancient ruins, minotaurs, trees, mummies, having her cake and eating it, and holidaying in countries with really bad public sewerage.

Her work has been described as:

“Hardcore and literate” (Madeline Moore) and “Vivid and tempestuous and dangerous, and bursting with sacrifice, death and love.” (Portia Da Costa)

Janine-Ashbless-photo credit David WoolfallLinks:

You may like to visit Janine’s website

Her blog 

Find her on Facebook

Or locate her on Sinful Press

Purchase In Bonds of the Earth from Amazon UK or Amazon US

From the Apple store or Kobo

Print copies from Sinful PressWaterstonesBarnes and Noble, and Amazon UK


Eroticism and Folktales

red-hands-for-ct-with-textThank you to Rose Caraway for first hosting this article on her wonderful website.

On the creation of Cautionary Tales: Writing the eerie, the bawdy, the horrific and the erotic

I was living in Eastern Europe, in one of the former Soviet states, just over a decade ago, and began studying rites and customs. Those that existed to warn us to tread carefully: we the envious, greedy, uninitiated, gullible, and boastful; we, who presume too far in believing that we know how the world works.

In ancient Slavonic folklore, demon-spirits live more closely alongside us, watching our behaviour, sniffing the air for the perfume of vice. It is they who punish (and did so long before a Christian God became the omnipresent watchful eye).

 Emmanuelle de Maupassant Cautionary Tales QuoteBeing ‘watched’ is a recurring motif in my Tales: not just by the mischievous or malevolent demon world but by the spirits of the restless departed, those having committed heinous crime or having been subject to it. Everywhere, eyes are watching, and judging, helpless to truly intervene, but eager to warn. They may exert their influence over natural elements, such as speaking through bird messengers, or sighing from the rising mist.

As Margaret Atwood said: ‘That’s where monsters live – at the edges, at the borders. Monsters also live at the edge of our consciousness.’

We feel the watchful presence of those demon monsters as the representation of our fears.

Ghostly Narrators

Working with my wonderful editor, Adrea Kore, I developed the narrator quote from cautionary tales Emmanuelle de Maupassant erotic fiction literaturevoice for the tales: each story is told through the eyes of the tormented spirits of the departed.

Whispered to you from the edges, from the haunted mouths of those who see more than you or I, the ghostly narrators unveil tales of lust, rivalry, envy and deceit.

The aim is bring a sense of unease and dread to the narrative, adding an edge of danger to the eroticism, and balancing some of the bawdiness.


‘We are the shiver on your uneasy flesh,

The creep of the unknown on your skin.’

We’re familiar with folk tales as vessels of wisdom, passing on advice. In their grisly unwholesomeness, they present life in all its darker glory.

The spectral narrators share their pain: secrets gouged from the dark depths of the human heart: our tremors of doubt, regret, anger and sorrow.

Emmanuelle de Maupassant quoteEroticism

Wherever there is a sense of danger, and of fear, we feel the stir of sexual arousal. There are some overtly erotic scenes. These work well with the atmosphere of dread and horror, and allow me to explore how sexual impulse can lead us ‘astray’. In following our lustful nature, against our better judgment, we can be led into hurting others, or into danger ourselves.

Folk tales offer warning against transgression, against crossing certain lines, against straying into unchartered territory, but they also invite you to transgress. They entice you to take the journey with the characters, to keep turning the pages, to hear what happens next. You desire to witness the flouting of the ‘rules’ and excitedly anticipate retribution and punishment.


In my tales, the lover at your window or in your bed may have the scent of your death already on their breath.

A common motif in folk tales is the forest. Dark and mysterious, it Faithlessness quote Emmanuelle de Maupassant Cautionary Talesrepresents the unknown, and is filled with dangers awaiting those who stray from the path. There are no hierarchies or rules. Anything can happen in the wilderness. The forest is an unchartered, liberated, wild space, a place of subversion and potential, of self-discovery and exploration. There, the imagination is free. It is a place of dreams and nightmares.

There are ‘magical places’ where everyday rules are set aside and otherworldly things can happen. They are enchanted places. It is there that truths can be learnt.

Cautionary gif 4The forest is one such: a place of sexual liberty, as we see on Kupalle Night, when couples disappear into the trees, in pursuit of pleasure. In entering the woods, you ignore usual codes of behaviour.

Transgressions from the ‘accepted path’ can take place not just in the forest, but elsewhere ‘beyond’: in the fields or marshes, or in the cemetery. In my tales, fearful creatures lurk at the edges, regularly drawn to the windows of houses, peeking in, eager to catch humans in their folly. They are rarely disappointed.

Emmanuelle de Maupassant Crook Your Finger Quote from Cautionary TalesOur Freedom as Writers, and as Readers

As a writer, no one controls your choices. You may be shaped by your own preoccupations, but only you decide what is placed upon the page. The same freedom is granted to the reader. So much of our behaviour can be controlled by social norms, but our opinions cannot. There is my intent in writing, and there is your interpretation, as the reader. If you like, there is a ‘space’ between us, and in that space, you bring yourself. There, in that margin beyond the words, there are no rules. You can respond however you like.

Folktales offer particular freedom in this respect, as you enter a supernatural otherworld. Where the boundaries between the everyday and the unearthly are snakeskin-thin, you can write anything. The trees can have eyes, restless spirits of the departed can whisper from the shadows, and demons can be drawn by the scent of wickedness.

twitter sized Emmanuelle de Maupassant quote from Cautionary Tales - the trees have eyes and the night has talons, where demons, drawn by the perfume of human vice and wickedness, lurk with intents malicious and capricious. copyMorality

Folk tale formats are familiar to us. We feel ‘safe’, knowing how characters are likely to behave and what the consequences are likely to be. We are invited both to feel ‘superior’ in this advantaged position, and to recognise ourselves and be humbled.

The tales follow a traditional moral pattern, in brutal punishment of murder, greed, miserliness, laziness and faithlessness. They also, sometimes, offer the protagonist the chance to change their course. The demons may gobble you up without warning, if they judge you beyond redemption, but they may also give you the chance to recognise your folly or deceit, and start anew.

This is the pagan world of action and consequence, so wrongdoing does Cautionary Tales Emmanuelle de Maupassant mantend to bring punishment. However, being ‘innocent’ is no guard against being caught in the crossfire. In this sense, there is no unequivocal moral justice. Life is more chaotic than that. There may be a happy ending for some, but don’t count on it…

Not every tale centres on an aspect of sexual behaviour but most of the tales carry an erotic charge. I explore the pursuit of sexual excitement at the cost of neglecting your duties; and acting upon desire without thought for others’ emotional (or physical) wellbeing. Sex is not the transgression in itself. Rather, we are punished for indulging (or withholding) sex where it brings detriment to others. Our transgression lies not in seeking sexual pleasure, but in crossing other lines of duty in doing so.

Emmanuelle de Maupassant Cautionary Tales snowy footprintsIn folktales, characters often lack individual identification. Each represents not a fully drawn character but a metaphor for a certain way of behaving or thinking. They are almost purely one dimensional, so that the reader can concentrate on the obvious nature of their folly. We aren’t required to feel too conflicted and, in their actions, are invited to see ourselves. I wanted to write the unsettling, in a world inhabited by characters twisted from the norm, yet recognizable. Humour is a useful device in helping us to open up to the stories, and to accept the possibility that they do have something to teach us. In laughing, we are more likely to recognise ourselves.

The characters may lack the rich interior life of their counterparts in novels but what does this matter when their motivations are so familiar. Whispers of malice and jealousy need little explanation. As they say, purged of excess wax, the flame burns brighter.

I’ve endeavoured to avoid being too predictable. Yes, there are plenty of grisly endings, but red-hands-for-ct-with-textalso some of hope, or alternative paths of happiness. In my final story, the two sisters decide to set up home independently, without husbands at all, despite having begun the story intent on finding them. Naturally, they have no intention of giving up on the pleasure of sex!

My Cautionary Tales are available from Amazon.

Macabre Folk Tales

cautionary-tales-moth-cover-for-kindleFrom Cautionary Talesthis story is inspired by the folk customs and superstitions of Russia and Eastern Europe.

Against Murder

The Likho is an evil one-eyed fiend from the forest, known for its fondness for human flesh.

A moment’s temptation takes us on a wrong path. On that path may lurk foul fiends.

A dairy farmer was once married to a woman so cantankerous and contrary that there was no living with her. If he asked her to get up early and help him milk the cows, she’d lie in bed until noon. If he requested pancakes, she’d be sure to cook beetroot soup. If he dared suggest that she muck out the cowshed, he’d find a pile of dung in his boots.

In addition, she found constant fault with his appearance and behaviour: his breath reeked of garlic and his armpits of onions; his back was an eruption of boils; he always had grease in his beard and cabbage between his teeth; and he slurped food like an animal. One night, she went too far, scoffing that he was useless between the sheets, since no children had ever been conceived there. She complained that she’d rather share her bed with a pig.

Bolder titles - eyes at window cover TalesDriven beyond all patience, he took a pillow and held it over her head until her arms flailed no more. It took but a minute and, immediately, a blissful hush settled on the house. He wondered why he’d never thought of it before.

Of course, when evil thoughts and deeds are abroad, they attract certain creatures and crawlers, as we restless spirits know all too well. Man’s wicked folly draws them close.

A malevolent forest demon, the Likho, sniffed the scent of violence and came creeping from its winter lair, bare feet stepping steadily through the snow. Dark lips contorted in a grin of anticipation, revealing yellow teeth and blackened tongue.

The fiend headed into the village and, as was its wont, paused to check upon the hens. It stroked those sitting on an uneven number of eggs, its filthy talons tickling where it might have rent asunder. Claws trailing over fences and gates, it made its inevitable path, drawn towards the stench of ill deeds.

Finally, the beast arrived at the house of the dairyman. It peeked through the shutters with its one eye and there, by the morning light, watched as the husband laid out his wife on the table, so that her feet faced the door, as was the custom.

The dairyman tucked her nightgown round her toes and opened the window a little, despite the nip of frosty air.

‘Off you go,’ he declared, ‘Fly away elsewhere.’

On the beams above the warm stove, the ghost of the murdered woman sat grumpily, Cautionary Tales  Emmanuelle de Maupassant - We are the shiver on your uneasy flesh, The creep of the unknown on your skinglaring down at her husband, quite as she had done in life.

So it is that we, the unhappily departed, are often obliged to haunt the places of our damnable demise. Little does man know of this shadowed realm, between light and dark, and the torments that bind us so closely to the world where once we drew breath.

Having dispatched his wife, the dairyman’s thoughts turned to the shapely widow next door. With a spring in his step, he donned his best shirt and hat, and sauntered round to see her, intending that they be married as soon as the burial rites were completed.

The widow was flattered by the alacrity of his proposal, considering that breath had barely left the wife’s body, and accepted gladly. So eager was the hussy to take the woman’s place that she suggested moving in straight away – on the pretext of cleaning and cooking for him in his time of distress.

The Likho had waited until the man walked down the path and had slithered in through the open window, surveying the fresh corpse and the ghost, still hunched above and scowling.

‘Ha!’ cackled the fiend, ‘I expect you’d like revenge on that husband of yours. Murder shouldn’t go unpunished, and no creature enjoys delivering chastisement as much as I. What about giving him a taste of his own medicine? If you’d be so kind as to lend me your body, I’ll set him dancing to my tune.’

Emmanuelle de Maupassant Crook Your Finger Quote from Cautionary TalesThe wife’s spectre grimaced and nodded, at which the wicked Likho stripped off the nightgown, then the dead woman’s pliant skin, peeling back the flaccid folds. These it left in a slack heap.

It gobbled her flesh and sucked the bones clean. These it hid behind the stove, before inserting itself inside the empty, wrinkled carcass, taking the former position of the corpse. Its fat tongue swiped the last juices from around its lips.

Cautionary Tales Emmanuelle de Maupassant manWhen the husband returned home, all was as it had been; there was not a speck of blood to be seen, although the strangest smell of rotten eggs lingered.

The neighbours came to pay their respects and offer condolences, and the comely widow served pancakes and pirozhki dumplings to the mourners. A few eyes rolled; it required no fortune telling to see which way the wind was blowing. However, life goes on, and the villagers agreed that the new couple were a good match. His first wife had been a harridan, with few good words for anyone; none would miss her.

Once the guests had left, it wasn’t long before the man and the floozy tumbled into bed, tittering and fondling. So intent were they that neither noticed the corpse sitting up to watch them.

After some minutes, the Likho called out, ‘That hardly seems polite. I’ve only been dead a few hours.’

The widow screamed and the dairyman jumped up so quickly that his head cracked on the

Emmanuelle de Maupassant quote from Cautionary Tales Ambition, envy and greed_ we know what you covet, and what you covet draws ceiling. Both assumed that the corpse had returned to life to berate them.

Kneeling on the floor, the man pleaded with his departed wife for forgiveness. At this, the widow raised an eyebrow. She’d been ignorant of bedding a murderer, although the news was no real surprise.

The Likho raised the corpse’s mouth in a leer, replying, ‘Not to worry. I’ll join you. I’m sure there’s room for three. My feet are cold, so I’d appreciate you warming them for me.’

With that, the devilish creature hopped into bed and patted the covers, indicating that the husband should clamber in. The fiend lay between the two, a cold hand placed on the thigh of each. It then went to sleep, snoring loudly through the night, while the pair lay awake, too horrified to move or speak. The strumpet could hardly deny that she’d climbed into her neighbour’s bed more quickly than etiquette allowed, and now she was facing the consequences.

In the morning, the corpse sat at the table and declared to the widow, ‘I’m feeling quite peckish. I suppose you can cook? A plate of draniki if you please and look sharp about it.’

Too terrified to argue, the woman began her task. Each draniki she set down was gobbled in a single gulp, replaced by the demand for more. The Likho rapped the husband’s knuckles when he tried to take one, telling him to wait until it’d had its fill. Eventually, every potato in the house had been eaten.

‘I’m still rather hungry,’ admitted the corpse. ‘Why don’t you go and shoot some rabbits? We might have a stew.’ It inclined its head towards the door, to indicate that the husband had better get a move on.

As soon as he had departed, the Likho sat back in the chair contentedly. ‘I suggest that you milk the cows while he’s gone and then clean the house,’ the corpse commanded.

skeleton bAll day, the widow tended to the animals, scrubbed and polished, until she was ready to swoon. As soon as the Likho saw this, it clapped its hands in glee and split the woman neatly in two with a flick of its talons.

Such are the rewards of those who crave illicit pleasure and who care not how their comforts are attained. A moment’s temptation takes us on a wrong path, on which may lurk foul fiends.

As before, it feasted on the tender flesh and licked the bones clean. The skin it put to one side and, casting off the wrinkled wrapper of the murdered wife, slipped inside the new.

The demon tossed the bedraggled old remnants behind the stove, with all the bones, and gave itself a shake, adjusting to its new costume.

It winked at the wife’s ghost, still perched overhead.

‘Don’t worry. I’ve not forgotten him!’ the fiend assured her.

It preferred the shape of this skin, which was smoother and altogether more plump and comfortable. More fun was to be had before it had finished.

When the man returned (without any rabbits, since all had eluded his gun and traps) he was delighted to see that the animated corpse of his old wife had departed and that his new ladylove appeared in good spirits.

‘My darling, I persuaded her to leave,’ cooed the demon. ‘Now, come and give me a kiss.’

The Likho locked him in a firm embrace and wrestled him onto the bed.

‘Goodness me,’ exclaimed the dairyman. ‘Gentle my love. You’re like a bear tonight. You’ll crush the breath out of me.’

The beast gave a girlish giggle. ‘If I’m a bear then you must be my honey,’ it simpered.hand and face

It then squeezed the man so tightly that he fell into a faint. In a trice, he was rent down the middle, becoming a tasty supper for the evil creature. Once the flesh had been gobbled, the Likho stuffed the skin and bones behind the stove and retired to bed.

At dawn, the demon sprang awake, ready to see what the day might bring. By the door, it noticed a basket of mushrooms, brought from the forest by the dairyman the day before. With a flip of the pan, the fiend fried up the delicacies, serving them with a dollop of sour cream and swallowing them utterly in three great gulps.

So self-satisfied was the beast that it hadn’t noticed the basket brimming only with poisonous varieties: chosen by the dairyman in hope of finally sending his corpse wife into the hereafter.

The creature clutched its stomach, torn by a churning ache. Such was its torment that the Likho flung off the widow’s skin and bolted out of the door, back to the forest.

It left behind an empty house, but for the graveyard behind the stove and the shrivelled casing of the floozy, cast onto the floor.

As for the wife’s disgruntled spirit, it had found the past days’ events more than agreeable Emmanuelle de Maupassant Cautionary Tales snowy footprintsand was content, at last, to leave.


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