Spotlight on Allison Merritt

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About the Book:

Title: Wystan (The Heckmasters)

Length: 228 pages

Pubisher: Samhain Publishing

Publication date: October 21, 2014


Her search for safety lands her in a totally new kind of danger.

The Heckmasters, Book 1

Certain that an ad for a job in a small New Mexico Territory town is the answer to her prayers, Nebraska schoolteacher Rhia Duke packs her sister into a rickety wagon and heads west.

Except when they reach the near-deserted town, she learns the truth. There is no job, no future, and no welcome in the bleak blue eyes of the handsome sheriff.

The minute Rhia’s runaway team thunders into town, Wystan Heckmaster feels the change in the air. One of three sons of a demon who dared love a human, he keeps watch over a Pit guarded by seven seals, and slays any Hellbound demon that attempts to free the master imprisoned within.

With a gut full of regret and a forgotten town filled with reformed demons, Wystan is certain of one thing: he can’t be the man Rhia needs. But when the truth behind Rhia’s flight from Nebraska comes to light, Wystan must open his soul—and pray there’s enough love between them to overcome the darkness rising from the Pit.

Warning: Contains a take-no-prisoners sheriff, a woman who can’t outrun her supernatural secrets, and a dusty town where hope is as thin as dust in the wind. Author recommends keeping a glass of cool spring water at your elbow while reading.


Something changed in the air the moment the wagon crossed the town’s border. Too early to be a supply train, and there was no way in hell it was visitors. Berner didn’t host town fairs, theatre troupes, peddlers, or bible thumpers.

Wystan Heckmaster slapped his battered Stetson on his head, collected the keys to the jail, then stepped out the door. The first thing he saw was a pretty woman with hair the color of maple sugar—a rich brownish-blonde. The frown on her face spoke volumes, and the air around her pronounced trouble. She made a straight path for him.

“Mr. Heckmaster. Or should I call you Sheriff? Or Mayor? I need to discuss the ad in the Lancaster County Republican with you. Someone placed an ad, but your brother tells me there is no school here. I’m sure there has to be a mistake. There’s only one Berner in New Mexico Territory. I’m very capable at reading maps. If I wasn’t, I would be ashamed to call myself a teacher.”

He doubted she had taken more than two or three breaths during the speech. If she made talking in rambling paragraphs a habit, no wonder she looked so peaked.

“Teacher?” He glanced along the street, but it was deserted as usual. “Lady, we don’t have a school here. Certainly no need of a teacher.”

Her hands balled into fists that settled on her hips. The dress she wore was patched—the egg yolk yellow faded into something even more disgusting. It had little flowers dotting the material, but they looked as worn as her scuffed black boots.

“Then what was the purpose of placing an ad in the Lancaster County Republican?” She spoke with the fierceness of a mama bear warning predators away from her cubs.

Wystan reached into his shirt pocket and drew out a toothpick.

“I didn’t place any ad in any Lancaster County anything.” He looked past her, expecting Eban to saunter up the street. Eban had to be the brother she’d referred to since Tell was still on the trail.

“Someone did,” she insisted. She fished a crumpled and much-folded piece of newsprint out of the pocket hidden by the folds of her skirt. “See? Right here it says, ‘School teacher wanted for spring term at Berner Schoolhouse. Wages paid based on experience. Room and board provided. Apply in person at City Hall, Berner, New Mexico Territory.’ I’m sure my eyes don’t deceive me.”

Wystan stared at the clipping, then back at the woman. A galaxy of freckles spattered across her nose and cheekbones, making her look younger than her eyes said she was. Full figured and sure as shittin’ a grown woman. The wariness and worry darkening her hazel eyes gave her away as one with a lot of trouble on her plate.

“I can read.”

She pulled the ad away from his face, folded it, and returned it to her pocket. “Where would you suggest I look for an explanation, Mr. Heckmaster?”

Fussy little thing. “I assure you that no one in this town did. There’s been a mistake. Sorry to inconvenience you, Miss Schoolteacher. Now turn around and head home.”

A flush colored her cheeks. “I can’t head home! I have no home to return to. My little sister and my friend are waiting at the doctor’s office for me to straighten this mess out. The ad says that room and board will be provided. I’d expected to move into a room, sir.”

“You left them with Eban?” That explained his absence.

“Beryl is ill, Sheriff. This is the first town we’ve seen in days and it was past time for her to get some attention.” Despair crept into her voice.

Wystan shifted his weight and transferred the toothpick to the other side of his mouth. “Eban’s not exactly trained in human medicine.”

The woman’s mouth opened into an O. She shook her head and seemed to regain her senses. “He’s a veterinarian? He seemed certain he could help Beryl.”

Wystan cleared his throat. “Sure, animal doctor. I’m sorry for your misfortune, lady, but as you can see, Berner’s about run into the ground. There’s nothing here for you or your friend. Might be best to move along.”

She seemed to deflate. “Move along.” Her lips moved, softly forming the words, but it was as though she didn’t comprehend them. “We’ll move along, right down the trail into the next town where there won’t be any teaching jobs either. Sylvie, Beryl, and I will starve to death on the side of the road with no one in the world to care.”

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What’s In a Name?

Wystan (The Heckmasters) was the winner of the 2013 Weta Nichols Writing Contest in the paranormal/sci-fi category. The judges loved the writing, but one of them was concerned about the title. She didn’t know if she would have picked this book up based on that. I talked about it with my editor and threw out some different titles, but in the end, we stuck with Wystan.

It’s kind of a weird name. It’s not one you’d typically associate with a western hero. But I love me some symbolism. I spend a lot of time researching names and their origins and I chose all the Heckmaster brothers names with care. There are three of them and their names all mean essentially the same thing, rock or stone. That’s also the case with their father. It’s just a little joke, but when Rhia Duke arrives in Berner where the Heckmasters live, she’s hit rock bottom. But it’s also to signify that they’re the foundation Berner is built on.

Rhia and her sister Sylvie were a subconscious accident. There’s a road near where I lived called Rhea Ella and I got Rhia stuck in my head somehow. I planned all along for Rhia to be the force that gave Berner a reason to rebuild and become a town where demons who wanted to throw off their nature could. When I started writing about Sylvie, it wasn’t until I was almost finished the book that I realized I’d named two of the characters for the woman whose sons founded Rome. But so appropriate. Actually, I planned to name the main heroine Violet. When I got started writing, she had other plans. Funny how those characters will take charge.

Some of the names, like many of the demons, are pulled from grimoires and mythology. Seere, Astaroth, Ea, and numerous others can be found in historical documents. Others, like Krazzier, are made up. And clearly I changed the spelling of Rhia’s name to suit myself. The middle Heckmaster, Ebaneezer, is the same way, because I wanted to call him Eban instad of Eben.

The one character whose name I can’t discuss too much is Tell. I love my Heckmasters, but he’s my favorite. He has a great line about why they call him Tell in Wystan (The Heckmasters):

Beryl smiled weakly. “You must be Tell. Rhia says you can learn something about me by looking.”

Tell nodded, face somber. “It’s not my name. It’s what I do and it stuck. I can pick demons out of a crowd faster than you can say ‘God bless America’.”

Poor Tell was the victim of a name curse placed on him by his jealous sister when he was a baby. To speak his real given name out loud would invoke a demon so powerful, it’s virtually unstoppable. So, sorry, I can’t tell you his real name. Not yet. I was inspired to call him Tell by Louis L’Amour’s Sackett series. I love westerns and I’ve always thought Tell was a nice name. It worked out in my favor that my Tell has the power to sense demonic presences.

Most of the names are weird, a little unconventional, but you’ll see they suit their owners. Names have power and I think I chose the most suitable ones for characters who are destined to save the world from powerful beasts determined to burn it down.



About the Author:

A love of reading inspired Allison Merritt to pursue her dream of becoming an author who writes historical, paranormal and fantasy romances, often combining the sub-genres. She lives in a small town in the Ozark Mountains with her husband and dogs. When she’s not writing or reading, she hikes in national parks and conservation areas.

Allison graduated from College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Missouri with a B.A. in mass communications that’s gathering dust after it was determined that she’s better at writing fluff than hard news.

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