Monday, November 25, 2013

Free e-Books! Happy Thanksgiving Week!

Good morning, readers!

It is Thanksgiving week, a magical time of family and friends gathering, casseroles and Tums battling, football and Christmas movie watching. AND it's a great time to read April's Roots and Ugly Stick if you haven't already, because they are temporarily FREE on Amazon.com!

That's right, FREE!

I wanted to show you readers how thankful I am for each of YOU and your support of my work this year, and I can't run around hugging each of you individually (though if provided with airfare I would be happy to try). So the Kindle versions of Ugly Stick and April's Roots are free for e-reader download (doesn't have to be a Kindle device - just get the free app) ALL DAY TODAY!

Here's the Amazon link for Ugly Stick, and here's the link for April's Roots.

But wait -- there's more!

April's Roots Kindle version will be available for free at the link above through Thanksgiving Day! And the paperback versions are available as always, with slight discounts given by Amazon.

But what are you waiting for? Quit reading this silly blog and get reading a free e-book already! And/or share this page with your friends, family, classmates, bus drivers, and pets! And THANK YOU! :)

 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

April's Roots Released TODAY!

Hooray! Hooray! It's a book release day!


Here's some exclusive information about obtaining your own copy of April's Roots. The e-book, priced at $0.99, is available for immediate download on both Kindle and Nook, and the paperback version is also available at Amazon.com ($7.99 list price).

OR

You can visit April's Roots''s CreateSpace page here. Enter the code "4G2EEET7" at checkout to receive a $2 discount on the list price, putting April's Roots in your hands for only $5.99! 

Thanks so much for your interest, and HAPPY READING!!!



Friday, November 15, 2013

April's Roots: Sneak Peek #3

Happy Friday!

We are approaching the end of the last week before the release of April's Roots. Are you psyched? Get psyched! I know I am!

Just to help you get psyched, here's another sneak peek into another of the short stories in the collection. And remember, April's Roots is coming out on Tuesday, November 19 in paperback and e-book formats. Stay tuned for links, promo codes, and even book giveaways. Thanks for reading!


The Lovely and Talented 

Daphne’s (and Geri’s) Story ~ 1914
New York City, New York
(and Hollywood, California)

“Once again, ladies and gentlemen, the lovely and talented Campbell Sisters!” Alvin’s voice boomed over the pit orchestra on the other side of the curtain.
My sister and I grabbed each other’s hands and sashayed through the opening in the stage curtain. We were the final bow of the Midtown Merries vaudeville show. Beyond the bright footlights, applause echoed towards us. I curtseyed first, and then turned to her.
Daphne curtseyed deeper, and then turned back to me. The applause grew louder—the audience knew our routine.
I gathered my skirt and curtseyed still deeper, tilting my head to the side for effect. A wave of laughter rippled over the applause. Not two seconds after I rose, Daphne cinched her skirt in each hand and bent her knees, so far that she tipped to the side. I caught her as the audience roared with approval. We straightened up and bowed, hand-in-hand, and then waved to the crowd as we skipped off the stage together.
Backstage, a flurry of activity surrounded us. The prop girl scurried around the wings with her arms full of hats and things. A thin young stagehand darted from one set of pulleys to the next as he reset the curtains and stage dressings for the next day’s performance. Alvin, the emcee of our vaudeville troupe, coughed roughly and barked for his after-show tea with honey and lemon. And Daphne and I grinned at each other as we trotted to our dressing room.
“You sounded terrific, Geri,” Daphne said. She plopped onto her vanity chair.
“Thanks, Sis,” I said with a smile, kicking off my dance shoes. “Just trying to keep up with you.”
She slipped off her stylish curly wig and frowned at her limp hair. “Rats. How do you get your curls to stay? I can barely keep my wig looking as neat.”
I tossed my head. I had no need of a wig, even under the hot stage lights. “Who knows? I like your hair straight anyway.”
She shrugged, her frown breaking into a crooked grin. “Oh, well. Vaudeville’s supposed to be funny, right?”
I nodded. Daphne was only two years my senior, but she had what Father called “an old soul.” She was just so patient, so kind, and so good. She wouldn’t care if she went bald—looks had never been my older sister’s focus. We had the same sky-blue eyes and the same nut-brown hair, but other than that we couldn’t have looked more different.
People who knew us well often joked that “the lovely and talented Campbell Sisters” referred to each of us in turn: I was the lovely one, with perfect pin-curls and a face like Mary Pickford; and Daphne was the talented one, with an uncomely face but a singing voice that would bring down the Palace if our show ever made it to Broadway. The running joke had even made its way into some of our vaudeville sketches.
A light knock at our door was followed by the entrance of Dorothea, the theater’s prim little secretary.
“Pardon me, ladies. Miss Geraldine? There’s a gentleman to see you in the lobby.”
“An admirer, no doubt,” teased Daphne.
I rose from my seat. “Oh, pish-posh. I’ll be right back.”
With a glance in the mirror, I followed Dorothea out and through the stage door.
“Any idea who he is, Dot?” I asked.
She shook her head. “He’s wearing a very fine suit, I can tell you that.”
When we reached the lobby, a broad-shouldered man in a tailored suit rose from one of the plush benches. He approached us and bowed to Dorothea, who patted my shoulder and walked with mincing steps towards the box office.
“Miss Campbell, it’s a pleasure to meet you,” he said, kissing my hand. “Arthur Andrews. May I be bold and call you Geraldine?”
“Geri’s fine. And the pleasure’s mine,” I said. “How can I help you, Mr. Andrews?”
He smiled. “Arthur, please. Geri, have you ever considered a career on the screen?”
I froze. The screen? Dumbstruck, I shook my head.
Arthur’s smile widened, and I noticed a gold tooth glinting in his mouth. “I represent Pegasus Productions in Hollywood. I’ve been in New York this week looking for new talent for our studio, and I’d like to bring you out to California for a screen test. What do you say, doll face?”
I tried to process his words. I felt like I was on the Coney Island carousel, whirling ever faster as images of films, stages, and stars flashed past. With a blink, I blurted out the first thought that made sense:

“What about Daphne?”

Thursday, November 14, 2013

April's Roots: Sneak Peek #2

Hello there, net-friends,

We're another day closer to the release of April's Roots -- huzzah! And just like yesterday, I'm giving you another sneak preview into one of the stories. Enjoy!

In Her Sweet Time

Diane’s Story ~ 1983
Greenwich, Connecticut

It was an ordinary Wednesday, but I was staring down a deadline for a story. The Prescott Post went to print every Friday at three-thirty for the next week's issue, and I had nothing.
This had never happened before. I, Diane “Pinky” Pinckley, ace reporter of the junior class, never had nothing. There was always a scandal in the drama club, a mysterious illness in the cafeteria, or even a Senior prank gone awry—that piece about the greased pigs in the main hallway last October was still pinned to our refrigerator. Mother and Dad always said I could sniff out a story a mile away... so what was my problem this week? Had I lost my nose for news?
I glanced out the window at the thick February snowflakes and then looked around our home economics class. Sixth period was almost over, and I had already cleaned up my abysmal sewing project and put it away. Domestic arts weren't my forte. Across the lab, my best friend Jill was hand-sewing buttons onto a corduroy jacket. With her looks and perfect curtain of dark brown hair, she looked like a living cover of a magazine. Jill had more talents than I could count. Unfortunately, none of them were dramatic enough to make a story. I bit my lip and looked past her.
Tim Tribble was even less capable at sewing than I was. His throw pillow looked more like a lumpy, floral-print boulder. But he was a three-sport letterman... maybe he knew of some locker-room scandal or game-winning secret I hadn't yet uncovered. It was worth a shot.
I sidled over to Tim's table. “How's it going, Trib?” Everyone knew that you called Tim “Trib” if you wanted him to listen up.
He grunted in frustration at his pillow and set it down, rubbing a needle-prick on his giant thumb. “Hey, Pinky.”
I smiled. “So, how's wrestling season going? Better than your attempts to make the cover of the Ladies Home Journal?”
Trib snorted. He was a jock, but he wasn't a dumb jock. “You need a story.”
“I do,” I admitted. “I've got nothing, and you know more about this school than anybody. Any ideas?”
He paused. “I might. What's in it for me?”
Of course. I looked up at the teacher's desk. In the flurry of students cleaning up before the class bell, Mrs. Harding was not paying us any attention. I motioned to Jill, who quickly set down her jacket and slipped over to us.
“Jill will finish up that seam for you,” I said. “So, what's the story?”
“I will?” Jill said with some indignation, but Trib grinned at her, and I knew my lovely friend wouldn't mind. With a quick look towards the teacher, Jill took the needle and thread and began to work on the messy edge of Trib's pillow.
Trib turned his attention to me with some difficulty. “Well, you didn't hear this from me, Pinky, but Coach Carver is talking about retiring at the end of the season.”
“Next fall?” I struggled to keep the impatience from my voice. The football coach possibly retiring in ten months was not exactly the exciting news I had hoped for.
“No, he's talking about moving to Florida at the end of the school year. If he does, the football team won't have a head coach over the summer.”
That was a bit juicier... but as I turned the idea over in my head, I knew we couldn't run a story based on that kind of rumor.
I had gotten into a tight spot last December by uncovering some proposed changes to the teachers' pension plan. It had been a great scoop, but some of the school administrators had been pretty steamed about that information getting out before the school board meeting. I didn't want to scoop somebody's early retirement on a football player's say-so.
“Anything else?” I pressed. “Any fights in the locker room, or mysterious people hanging around practice… or rivalry issues with Kendrick?” Prescott's sworn rival, Kendrick High School, was in the neighboring school district, and I’d written more than one article on kidnapped mascots.
Trib started to shake his head, but then he paused. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

April's Roots: Sneak Peek #1

Good afternoon, net-friends!

Here's a sneak peek into one of the stories in April's Roots, which will be released in paperback and e-book next Tuesday, November 19. Enjoy!


To Begin Again

Zora’s Story ~ 1838

The Middle of the Atlantic Ocean

The summer sky over the Atlantic flushed orange and pink to the west. Cradling her infant daughter in her arms, Zora Harpenau imagined the setting sun sinking all the way behind the skyline of New York City, still hundreds of miles away.
“All right, Zora, my dear?” her husband Theodor asked from behind her. He was practicing his English.
She nodded. “Ja.”
“You are beautiful,” he added. “My beautiful American wife watching the ocean.”
Danke,” she said, smiling in spite of herself. She reached up and adjusted his spectacles with one hand.
Her English was better than his, but when the ship made port in a few days, they would need to rely on the new language permanently. Zora wanted to use her mother tongue as much as she could before retiring it. The SS Great Western was the largest and most luxurious ship in the world, and she still could hardly believe it was bearing her family to a new continent, a new life, in a city they had never seen.
Theodor put his hands upon her shoulders. “Such a grand ship,” he remarked. “When we arrive, I shall miss it.”
She nodded again, swallowing the sudden lump in her throat. Their greatest adventure lay ahead. The days of this trip had been filled with exciting plans, lists of sights to see, people to meet, and things to learn… but at each sunset it seemed that she could think only of what lay behind them. She already missed home: the royal court of Oldenburg, the fine dark forests surrounding the castle, the friends who knew them so well, and her mother and father.
They had said their goodbyes over a month earlier when Theodor, Zora, and their daughter Hilda had boarded the train from Berlin to Calais. From there it had been a ferry from Calais to Liverpool, and another train from Liverpool to Bristol to board the Great Western, all with the new baby in her arms and their dearest possessions loaded into trunks and crates. Weeks later, Zora could still feel her parents' kisses upon her face.
In her arms, Hilda squirmed slightly and mewed like a hungry kitten. She would be seven months old on the day they were scheduled to arrive in New York City. It was time to return to the cabin to feed her again. Zora patted Theodor's hand on her shoulder, and he released her with a tentative smile.
“You should give her to Elsa and join us in the parlor,” he said. “Our new friends want to play dominos again.” Theodor had mastered the game of tiles years before, but Zora was an eager novice.
Zora nodded. “I will see you soon, my dear, yes?” she asked in English.
“Ja,” he said, his smile broadening under his warm brown eyes.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Something's Coming IN TWO WEEKS...


That's right.

That short story project I began back in May has finally reached the point of maturation. Or at least, it will reach that point in two weeks.

Tributaries Press is releasing April's Roots, my compilation of short stories relating to the women of Ugly Stick's family tree, on Tuesday, November 19, 2013.

Got that?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013!

April's Roots will be available on Amazon.com and other online retailers in both beautiful paperback and e-book form ($7.99 and $.99, respectively).

Here's a quick summary of what the book will include!

Long before April Somerfield found out about her family curse, each of 
the daughters who came before her had to face it as well. This collection 
of short fiction tells the stories of six generations of women in April’s 
family tree, spanning two centuries and a rich variety of settings:

A high school reporter about to scoop a decades-old secret...
A new mother learning that beauty comes with a cost...
A confident fourth grader facing bullies for the first time...
A pair of sisters trying to break into the silent film industry...
A guilt-ridden mother about to give birth in a frontier town...
A daughter seeking the strength to start over on her own... 

This companion book to Ugly Stick offers a range of perspectives on 
family, friendship, and the true meaning of beauty.

--

I'm super-excited, triple-delighted, and I hope you are too! Please stay tuned to this site and my official Facebook page for exclusives, sneak peeks, and maybe even some giveaways.

Thanks, and Happy Reading!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Blog Swap Today! INITIATE (The Unfinished Song Series, Book 1) by Tara Maya

Good morning, net friends!

Today we're going to do things a little differently. A fellow author, the lovely and talented Tara Maya, has been kind enough to post a showcase of Ugly Stick on her site, and in return I am sharing information about her work with you. So if you're looking for a new fantasy series to dive into headfirst, look no further!

(well, look a little further. The information is all further down in this post!)

First, check out this beautiful cover art:


Here's the rest of the information. Enjoy!

The Unfinished Song (Book 1): Initiate by Tara Maya

DEADLY INITIATION

A DETERMINED GIRL...
Dindi can't do anything right, maybe because she spends more time dancing with pixies than doing her chores. Her clan hopes to marry her off and settle her down, but she dreams of becoming a Tavaedi, one of the powerful warrior-dancers whose secret magics are revealed only to those who pass a mysterious Test during the Initiation ceremony. The problem? No-one in Dindi's clan has ever passed the Test. Her grandmother died trying. But Dindi has a plan.


AN EXILED WARRIOR...
Kavio is the most powerful warrior-dancer in Faearth, but when he is exiled from the tribehold for a crime he didn't commit, he decides to shed his old life. If roving cannibals and hexers don't kill him first, this is his chance to escape the shadow of his father's wars and his mother's curse. But when he rescues a young Initiate girl, he finds himself drawn into as deadly a plot as any he left behind. He must decide whether to walk away or fight for her... assuming she would even accept the help of an exile.


EXCERPT

Blue-skinned rusalki grappled Dindi under the churning surface of the river. She could feel their claws dig into her arms. Their riverweed-like hair entangled her legs when she tried to kick back to the surface. She only managed to gulp a few breaths of air before they pulled her under again.

She hadn't appreciated how fast and deep the river was. On her second gasp for air, she saw that the current was already dragging her out of sight of the screaming girls on the bank. A whirlpool of froth and fae roiled between two large rocks in the middle of the river. The rusalka and her sisters tugged Dindi toward it. Other water fae joined the rusalki. Long snouted pookas, turtle-like kappas and hairy-armed gwyllions all swam around her, leading her to the whirlpool, where even more fae swirled in the whitewater.

"Join our circle, Dindi!" the fae voices gurgled under the water. "Dance with us forever!"

"No!" She kicked and swam and stole another gasp for air before they snagged her again. There were so many of them now, all pulling her down, all singing to the tune of the rushing river. She tried to shout, "Dispel!" but swallowed water instead. Her head hit a rock, disorienting her. She sank, this time sure she wouldn't be coming up again.

"Dispel!" It was a man's voice.

Strong arms encircled her and lifted her until her arms and head broke the surface. Her rescuer swam with her toward the shore. He overpowered the current, he shrugged aside the hands of the water faeries stroking his hair and arms. When he reached the shallows, he scooped Dindi into his arms and carried her the rest of the way to the grassy bank. He set her down gently.

She coughed out some water while he supported her back.

"Better?" he asked.

She nodded. He was young--only a few years older than she. The aura of confidence and competence he radiated made him seem older. Without knowing quite why, she was certain he was a Tavaedi.

"Good." He had a gorgeous smile. A wisp of his dark bangs dangled over one eye. He brushed his dripping hair back over his head.

Dindi's hand touched skin--he was not wearing any shirt. Both of them were sopping wet. On him, that meant trickles of water coursed over a bedrock of muscle. As for her, the thin white wrap clung transparently to her body like a wet leaf. She blushed.

"It might have been easier to swim if you had let go of that," he teased. He touched her hand, which was closed around something. "What were you holding onto so tightly that it mattered more than drowning?"


LINKS

Tara’s blog http://bit.ly/12dFdNy
Tara’s Twitter http://bit.ly/162sCtE
The Unfinished Song on Facebook http://on.fb.me/1400mMq
Barnes and Noble http://bit.ly/13yM5Dr


Initiate is free everywhere except on Barnes and Noble (where it’s $0.99). You can download a free .epub version via Smashwords.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Most Important Meal of the Day

This morning I woke up at about 7:30 to the sound of my son chatting to himself in his crib. The Little Pierogi is over seven months old now, and he is the cheeriest baby I've ever met. Every morning he wakes up in a good mood. Today I did as well.

I rolled over and realized that Husband was still asleep. I climbed quickly out of bed, slipped across the hall  into the nursery, and scooped up my smiling baby in my arms. After changing his diaper, I laid him back down in his crib, urged my visiting sister-in-law back to the guest room to sleep in, and scurried downstairs to the kitchen.

Pierogi's morning meal consists of a bottle and a (pediatrician-approved) mixture of baby cereal, powdered formula, prune juice, and half a crushed-up Prevacid tablet. I developed this combination over the summer as the ideal way to start his day--preventing spit-up and digestive stop-up alike--while I fed him over a soundtrack of Good Morning America's latest discussion of the royal baby.

The breakfast thus prepared, I hurried back to the nursery, carried Pierogi to the family room, switched on Good Morning America, and fed him his cereal and his bottle. I felt so victorious that I called my mother afterwards.

I hadn't been able to feed Pierogi breakfast by myself in almost three weeks.

Since the end of April, a persistent pain has staked a claim on my right leg. By the middle of the summer, after a couple of doctors and prescribed stretches, I thought I had it under control, to the point that it was livable. I was quite wrong.

Towards the end of July, the pain rapidly turned into what I have only been able to describe to others as a combination of a giant invisible bruise and a brutal charlie horse that refused to stop seizing up. Pain constantly radiated down my leg and up my spine, like a fiercely plucked guitar string. I couldn't write, I couldn't sleep, I could barely eat, and by the beginning of August, I couldn't hold my son.

This is what sciatica does. It is pain with several possible causes (including pregnancy/postpartum core weakness), but the end result is the same: pressure or pinching upon the human body's largest nerve creates radiating, excruciating pain. 

In my case, it resulted in a trip to the ER, an attempt to still take a planned family road trip that resulted in another trip to a different ER, visits to a neurosurgeon, and an orthopedist, a portable electrode stimulation unit for my back, an epidural steroid shot (yes, a very big needle injection into my spine), and an MRI under sedation. Oh, and this extremely stylish pillow I ordered online:





Sciatica is a pain I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. I might wish it on, say, Saddam Hussein, but that is seriously where the bar is set for people upon whom I would wish this pain.

However, there is an upside to being pulled down to where you can barely do anything but swallow water and wish you could sleep. When you feel as though you can literally do nothing, anything is progress.

Having planted an entire garden with Husband along our back retaining wall in April, I found victory in walking the short path to pick a handful of grape tomatoes. Having been our son's primary caregiver through midnight feedings and daytime playtimes alike, I was proud when I was able to hold him for more than a minute. Writing became a goal--not a frazzled goal on my to-do list, but a small, meaningful goal; every sentence typed while sitting up in bed was a step forward. Brushing my teeth without sitting down on the bathroom floor to rest became an achievement. And slowly, haltingly, recovery crossed swords with pain.

And there's another upside to what I experienced. This pain was a reminder of how fortunate I should consider myself, of how many blessings I had not counted lately: youth, excellent healthcare, a career path that I absolutely love, kind and helpful friends, patient and compassionate family members, a devoted spouse, and a smiling, healthy baby. It reminded me that my worth is not a calculation of how many items I can cross off my to-do list. It reminded me that changing my son's diaper and feeding him breakfast are not obligations, but fleeting and treasured moments.

Pain, even chronic pain, cannot stand up against the caring and love I have felt in the past few weeks. And it can't steal a crumb of the joy I feel when I see that baby smile.

I don't know how long this pain will linger, or if it will ever return full-force once it recedes. I don't even know how I will feel when I wake up tomorrow morning.

But I do know that when I woke up this morning, I felt good, for the first time in a long time. And (I'm aware it sounds silly to put it this way) it felt good to feel good! Breakfast today was much more than baby cereal and coffee with a granola bar. It was a victory banquet for two.

So the next time you find yourself eating breakfast--whether you're stumbling into a Starbucks, tucking into homemade French toast, or wolfing down a protein bar before sprinting for the bus--take a moment to remind yourself of the small victories. Small doesn't mean insignificant. Take a moment to be thankful for what you have. And whenever you can, have breakfast. It's the most important meal of the day.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Song of the Flute (Ugly Stick Origins #2): Excerpt

Good afternoon, net-friends!

Here is a teaser scene from the second story of my debut novel Ugly Stick's bonus material!


(If you haven't read about Ugly Stick's bonus stories, please see this previous post.)

I released a full story about Leili, the first daughter in April's family tree who had to live with the curse, in "Brave Flowers" a few weeks ago. From this point onward, I will be releasing just teaser scenes of these companion stories. At the end of the summer (I will have a release date set soon), the origin stories will all be compiled and made available as an e-book. If you have any thoughts for character back stories you would like to see included in the Ugly Stick bonus stories, please let me know. I want to write the stories you want to read!

For now, enjoy this excerpt from the story of Hilda, Leili's granddaughter and a first-generation American, awaiting the birth of her eighth child in the small town of Thimble, Iowa in 1870.

Happy reading!

---

The fortune-teller at the 1849 Iowa State Fair waved his hands over a smoky glass ball and told me I would have eight children. I was nine years old at the time, and the thought terrified me.

He twisted the edge of his thin mustache and peered at me from under his thick turban. "You will be a strong woman," he said. "Your youngest son will look after you in your later years, and you will lead many people."

As he looked into the globe, his gaze darkened. "There is something else, my child, something surrounding you. I have not seen such a thing in all my years... yes, this is dark magic indeed..."

"Dark magic?" I gasped. How could it be? I went to church every Sunday and had never even touched a black cat.

He nodded, twisting his mustache further. "It seems as if... no, it could not be..."

"What?" I demanded.

My mother found me then, and she ushered me away from the fortune-teller's tent with a few well-chosen words of chastisement.

"Our fortunes aren't meant to be seen in advance," she told me then. "You will see your life as you live it, Hildy."

That was twenty-one years ago, but I have never forgotten the fortune-teller's words.

--

The familiar pain strikes my belly as I hang the last bed sheet on the line. The baby is coming.

I pick up the empty basket and calmly carry it back towards the house. "Tom!"

My husband and my oldest son both pop their heads out of the barn's hay loft.

"It's time," I say.

Tommy lets out a whoop of excitement while his father vanishes back through the door.

With the clunk of work boots upon the wooden ladder, I picture my husband hurrying down with eager anticipation, just as he has done every other time a baby has arrived. He emerges from the barn and rushes to me, taking the basket from my hands.

"Get your brothers together," Tom yells up to Tommy, who is still in the loft. Our son salutes and disappears from view, and another round of clunking boots echoes behind us as Tom walks me to the house.

Tom unbuttons my shoes and helps me onto the straw tick mattress. "I'll take Max to town and fetch the midwife," he says. "Can I bring you anything, dear?"

"Iced lemonade," I say, smiling as much as I can manage through the pain.

Tom laughs at my joke. We haven't had ice since Independence Day, when the ice house in town was opened to mix into the luxurious lemonade that old Mrs. Springer made. My mouth waters at the very thought of the lemons, brought on the Wells Fargo from the south, and the icy sour-sweet chill of the lemonade under the baking sun.

That was two months ago, and there will be no more lemonade until next year. At the moment, during this hotter-than-Hades Indian summer, lemonade sounds as impossibly far away and perfect as Heaven itself. "Just water, please," I say.

Tom runs out to the well and fills a bucket. The familiar slosh as he sets the bucket next to the bed stirs my memories: thoughts of the seven times before that I have lain on this straw mattress for a birth. Tears spring into my eyes. "Oh, Tom, what if..."

"If it's meant to be, it will," he says, squeezing my hand with reassurance. "My dear, I will love you no matter what happens. You know that."

I nod and swallow back the tears. Tom brings the dipper to my lips, and I gulp the cool water.

The sudden cacophony outside tells me that Tommy has assembled our brood. "I'll be all right," I say. "You know the boys will look after me. Go on, or the baby will be here before we know what's happening."

Tom nods and kisses my forehead. "I'll be back quicker than lightning," he assures me.

I watch him go out, and not a minute later I hear him mount Max and start away at a gallop. The boys have surely saddled the horse for him, I think with a smile. They are a good lot, the seven of them. From Tommy, quite a young man at thirteen, down to Jamie, who learned to walk only this past spring, they are a set of blessings. But the fortune-teller said "eight children." That means I have only one more chance.

---

The rest of "The Song of the Flute" will be included in the Ugly Stick origin stories e-book later this summer. Stay tuned for more excerpts, updates, and exclusive content!

Friday, May 31, 2013

Brave Flowers (Ugly Stick Bonus Story #1)

Good afternoon, net-friends!

Just in time for the weekend, here is the first installment of my debut novel Ugly Stick's bonus material!

(I talked about this concept in my previous post)

This is a short story from the life of Leili, the first daughter in April's family tree who had to live with the curse, all the way back in 18th-century Europe. I really enjoyed exploring this character, and I hope you enjoy spending a little time with her as well. If you have any thoughts for character back stories you would like to see included in the Ugly Stick bonus stories -- or if you have a suggestion for the title of this compendium besides "Ugly Stick bonus stories" -- please let me know. I want to write the stories you want to read!

Have a terrific weekend, everyone!

---

Brave Flowers (Leili's Story)


I gathered my fine horsehair brushes and a blank canvas. The light was not going to hold out for long.
My tiny jar of expensive white paint was all used up. I would have to stop at the village shop with my last few pfennigs for more, or I would never be able to capture the crocuses.
"Leili, where are you going?"
My mother called from behind me, the resentment in her voice as plain as ever. "You aren't thinking of meeting a boy, are you?"
"No, Mother," I answered. "Just going to paint again."
She scoffed, and I turned to face her. Mother had once been the most beautiful girl in the village. Nobles used to travel from neighboring duchies just to see if the rumors of her loveliness were true, and until I had started growing in her belly, they had not been disappointed. Once I came along, though, everything had changed. She would never let it go. I wouldn’t either.
I sighed. "May I go and paint, Mother? Please?"
She blew out a breath and brushed her dark curls back from her face with annoyance. "Be back in time to stoke the fire and prepare the soup for supper."
"I will. Danke, Mother," I said. It had become a reflex. Thank you, I'm sorry, May I, Thank you, Please, I'm sorry.
I scooped the tiny jars of paint into my satchel alongside the brushes and canvas and felt for the pfennigs. Four would have to be enough.
No other daughter in the village had to ask at age sixteen whether they could leave the house, but I did. Leaving the house meant the potential for meeting a boy, the potential for love, and, as Mother put it, the potential for heartbreaking loneliness. Whether she meant for me or for her, she never said, but I could guess.
It was not as if our wooden door was being knocked down by suitors. I was the ugliest girl in town by all measures of beauty. I knew it. It had been true for my entire life, and it had never bothered me. As soon as my fingers had grasped a paintbrush for the first time, I had realized that I could make all the beauty I would ever need.
I hurried from our cottage towards the center of the village, passing the mossy dug-out of our neighbors, old bachelor Tregulus and his ancient brother Trognus. Tregulus had been a suitor of Mother's long before I was born. Now he often sat in front of his door, a pipe puffing above his grizzled beard and sending smoke into his bushy eyebrows.
"Good day, fair Leili!" he called to me with a crooked grin, as he always did. He knew I was ugly too, but calling me "fair Leili" was his way of saying that he didn't care one bit about it. I liked Tregulus.
"Good day," I answered.
"Where are you off to?" he asked.
I held up my satchel. "The crocuses are finally in bloom. I'll only have a few days to paint them before they're gone for the year."
"Very good! Crocuses are quite the intrepid littl'uns, blooming before everything else. Your daffodils from last year are still on our hearth."
I smiled. "Glad you like them. I will paint you another when I can afford more canvas."
I bit my lip and glanced back at my house, hoping Mother hadn't heard. Though we were poor, and everyone that still spoke to us knew it, she preferred to pretend otherwise. Fortunately, she was not in the window.
Tregulus chuckled, and I realized the transparency of my actions. "Well, I had better let you get to your work, then. Off with you, fair Leili."
I waved and hurried onward, careful to keep my worn leather boots out of the many mud puddles that dotted the footpath.
The center of the village was my favorite place: the ancient well, the green where Herr Fredrick let his sheep graze whenever the mayor was away, the blacksmith, and the shop where just about every good in town was sold. If I was as lucky as I was ugly, then Herr Weiskopf would have restocked his paints from the traveling merchants I had seen earlier in the week.
I knocked the heels of my boots against the door frame as I entered; they were free of mud and scow, but I needed to be as polite as possible to get a six-pfennig jar of paint for only four. "Good day, Herr Weiskopf."
"Ah, Leili!" His smile was wide upon his narrow face as he stepped from behind the counter and over to my favorite set of shelves. "I thought you might be by today. Lovely weather for painting, eh?"
"Indeed," I agreed, returning the smile. "I seem to have used the last of that excellent white paint you carry... Is it still four pfennigs a jar?"
"It's still six pfennigs a jar, yes," he said with a chuckle, making his moustache quiver. My cheeks heated up—Herr Weiskopf had seen right through me.
“But if you’re willing to return the old jar, then four pfennigs seems a fair price,” he added.
“Truly? Thank you,” I said, grateful that his generosity exceeded his powers of observation. I pulled the empty paint jar from my satchel and laid it upon the counter, along with the four tiny coins. Herr Weiskopf handed me a new jar, which I tucked carefully in its place. It clinked softly against its glassy neighbors, and I imagined the colors mixing.
“Tell me, Leili, what will you be painting today?” he asked.
“Crocuses.”
He nodded approvingly. “Beautiful flowers. They remind me of my mother. Here.”
He pulled a wrapped canvas off a shelf and handed it to me. “Will you paint a copy for me?”
I glanced at the unexpectedly heavy package and realized it was not one, but a package of five slender canvases. “Sir, I…”
“Consider them payment,” Herr Weiskopf said, with a light in his eyes that I wished I could imitate with paints. He stepped back behind his counter. “Good day, Leili. Danke.”
Danke,” I echoed his thanks, stumbling out of the shop with a half-dozen canvases at my disposal.
The sun’s rays shifted around the ground, as a few lazy clouds in the sky drifted into its path. Fortunately, the clouds were white, and the air smelled of grass and dirt, not rain. I picked up my pace, though, eager to use every drop of light before I had to return home.
The best crocuses grew on the top of a hill just beyond the Zellers’ dairy farm, and the quickest path was through their grazing pasture. The key was not disturbing the indolent cows as they chewed and wandered. Once I had spooked a cow while cutting through the pasture, and Frau Zeller had made sure to inform me (and Mother) that the animal had refused to give milk for a week afterwards. I slipped between the slats of the fence and stepped lightly and quickly through the grass. The cow piles made me wrinkle my nose, and I took extra care to avoid stepping in them.
“Leili!”
It was Milo, the Zellers’ younger son and a friend of mine. He was two years my senior, though I had read the same lessons as him when we were in school together. Milo resembled a beanpole with a mop of blond hair and gentle brown eyes that reminded me of the calves he tended.
“Shh!” I said, realizing my foolishness even as I did it.
“Cutting through our pasture again, are we?” he said with a smile. In his big work boots, he tramped right over to me without bothering to avoid the cows’ messes. After he left the pasture for the day, he could change boots. I couldn’t.
“Sorry,” I said. “It’s the quickest way to the hill, and I—drat!”
In my distraction, I had stepped directly onto a fresh cow pile. If I had been alone, I would have cursed. As it was, I was still considering it.
Milo grinned. “I can help you with that.” He stepped over and scooped me off the ground.
“You’ll scare the cows!” I squealed. I panicked at the thought of my paints or new canvases spilling onto the muck.
He shrugged. “No, to them you’re just another calf I’m carrying around.”
I clutched my satchel to my chest. Milo was stronger than he looked, though, and he carried me easily to the far end of the pasture.
“So what takes you to the hill today?” he asked, setting me upon the clean grass. “Painting?”
I nodded as I wiped my soiled boot. “The crocuses are blooming.”
“Pretty flowers. Well, if afterwards you find yourself in need of ferrying across the pasture again…” He bowed with a grin. “I’m happy to assist my favorite artist.”
I readjusted my satchel under my arm. “Thanks.”
A blush crept into my cheeks. I turned, hopefully before he noticed, and sprinted towards the hill in a most unladylike manner. I glanced back once as I ran, and Milo turned quickly away when he saw me looking. I didn’t let my feet slow until I reached the clumps of gold, violet, and white flowers I was seeking.
Time always stepped up its pace while I painted. I set my first canvas against a rock, mixed little blobs of paint colors on my palette (a discarded wooden shingle), and worked as quickly as I could. Despite the chill in the air, the bright little blossoms stood bravely erect against the worn meadow grass, which had been weighed down and wilted by months of snow and ice. I made the purple and gold tones brighter in my imitation than they were in the flowers before me, knowing the colors would fade a bit as they dried. By the time I brushed on slender ribbons of spring green for the crocuses’ fern-like leaves, I realized that the light had begun to dim.
            There was no one within earshot to hear my muttered oath as I wiped a rag over my palette and sealed the jars of paint. Mother would be furious if I did not return in time to stoke the fire for supper. It was a task we both despised for the pricks of cinders upon our forearms, but she reasoned that since my hands were usually covered in paint anyway (and I had no prospects of marriage that would require lily-white hands), it ought to be my responsibility. If it could have taken away her resentment, I would have stoked the fire every hour of my childhood. As I grew, though, I had quickly realized that no amount of stoking, nor any other task or talent, could rub out her anger—and I had long since given up trying.
I sprinted back down the hill, carefully balancing the freshly painted canvas in front of me like a tray. Milo must have seen me coming, because he was waiting at the near side of the pasture fence when I reached it, puffing my breaths like a workhorse.
“Hello again! May I see your work?” he asked.
Still breathing heavily, I held the canvas upright. Milo’s eyes opened wide, and he let out a low whistle.
“Oh, no, did I smudge it?” I asked in alarm. I flipped it around to look.
He shook his head and moved behind me, looking still at the painting. “How did you create this in an afternoon?” he said quietly. “I could paint for a year and not make anything half as beautiful.”
I felt my cheeks flush under this praise, but I had no excuse to run. “You’re very kind, Milo,” I muttered. I turned to see him staring not at the painting, but at me.
Milo smiled. “You have a bit of paint on your nose.”
“Oh, do I?” I said stupidly. I reached up to rub it away, but he stopped my hand with his.
“I like it,” he added. “It is as if… you are both the artist and the canvas.”
I looked down, feeling embarrassed and elated at the same time. “Well, if I’m a painter, then you are a poet,” I said. I glanced over my shoulder and was surprised to see a flush upon Milo’s face.
“Leili, I… well, I had said I would ferry you homeward,” he said quickly after a pause.
“Yes.”
“Well, hold onto your masterpiece, then.”
I gripped the edges of the canvas carefully, and Milo slung my satchel over his shoulder. He carried me across the cows’ field without another word between us, until he set me down again at the edge of the pasture.
“Well…”
Danke,” I said, slipping between the fence slats. I reached back for my satchel.
“You know, this feels heavier than it did earlier,” Milo said slowly. “And with your canvas still drying, I would feel just awful if a stray mud puddle or cow pile befell you on the way home, all because I was too callous to accompany you.”
He slipped through the fence after me. “May I?”
My cheeks flushed once more, but I suddenly didn’t mind. “Milo, you may.”

Mother would be furious to see a young man escorting me up the walk to our house. I didn’t care. As I carried my brave flowers alongside Milo, I felt for the first time in a very, very long time that I was actually going home.