Guest Post: Author Jude Knight

Today, I bring you a post from Jude Knight, author of Farewell to Kindness, Candle’s Christmas Chair, and her latest release, A Baron for Becky. (All of which are available on Amazon and to which I’ve included the links below, including an excerpt from A Baron for Becky.)

She has graced me with a wonderful post about a character every reader of Regency-era fiction will know about: The Rake.

And so, without further ado, I turn it over to Ms. Knight.

Writing Realistic Rakes in Romantic Fiction

In modern historical romantic fiction, the hero is often a rake who sees the error of his ways when he falls in love with the heroine, and—after undergoing various trials—becomes a faithful husband and devoted family man.

Most of those rakes, I suggest, are not rakes at all. They’re what we today would call womanisers or players, but they’re not rakes in the sense that the term was used in Georgian and Regency England. Our rake heroes sleep with multiple lovers (either sequentially or concurrently) or keep a series of mistresses, or both. But back then, the term signified a much more disreputable character. It needed to. Otherwise, most of the male half of Polite Society would have been defined as rakes. And a fair percentage of the female half.

We are talking of a time when one in five women in London earned their living from the sex trade, guide books to the charms, locations, and prices of various sex workers were best-selling publications, men vied for the attention of the reigning courtesans of the day and of leading actresses, and both men and women chose their spouses for pedigree and social advantage then sought love elsewhere.

In those days, a rakehell was defined as a person who was lewd, debauched, and womanising. Rakes gambled, partied and drank hard, and they pursued their pleasures with cold calculation. To earn the name of rake or rakehell meant doing something outrageous—seducing innocence, conducting orgies in public, waving a public flag of corrupt behaviour under the noses of the keepers of moral outrage. For example, two of those who defined the term simulated sex with one another while preaching naked to the crowd from an alehouse balcony.

Drunkenness certainly didn’t make a man a rake—the consumption of alcohol recorded in diaries of the time is staggering. Fornication and adultery weren’t enough either, at least when conducted with a modicum of discretion (which meant in private or, if in public, then with other people who were doing the same thing).

Lord Byron earned the name with many sexual escapades, including—so rumour had it—an affair with his sister. His drinking and gambling didn’t help, either. But none of these would have been particularly notable if they had not been carried out in public.

The Italian adventurer Giacomo Casanova mixed in the highest circles, and did not become notorious until he wrote the story of his life.

On the other hand, William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire, lived with his wife and his mistress, who was his wife’s best friend. The three did not share the details of their relationship with the wider world, so there was gossip, but not condemnation. Devonshire is also rumoured to have been one of Lady Jersey’s lovers (the mother of the Lady Jersey of Almack fame).

I planned for my Marquis of Aldridge to be a real rake: a person whose behaviour, despite his social status as the heir to a duke, causes mothers to warn their daughters about him. On the other hand, I didn’t want him to be a totally unsympathetic character. After all, not only is he the only hero on the scene for the first half of the book; he’s also going to be the hero of his own book after he has been through a few more trials and tribulations.

He has had mixed reviews since A Baron for Becky was published. Most reviewers like the rogue, and are asking for his story, while still acknowledging that he is a libertine. One or two dislike him heartily, and one said:

Note to author: your main characters were very interesting but you hinted at some type of redemption for one particular character that I just cannot fathom. I challenge you to make me like him better because I disliked him throughout the story.

Now there’s a challenge I can’t refuse!

***

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Becky is the envy of the courtesans of the demi-monde – the indulged mistress of the wealthy and charismatic Marquis of Aldridge. But she dreams of a normal life; one in which her daughter can have a future that does not depend on beauty, sex, and the whims of a man.

Finding herself with child, she hesitates to tell Aldridge. Will he cast her off, send her away, or keep her and condemn another child to this uncertain shadow world?

The devil-may-care face Hugh shows to the world hides a desperate sorrow; a sorrow he tries to drown with drink and riotous living. His years at war haunt him, but even more, he doesn’t want to think about the illness that robbed him of the ability to father a son. When he dies, his barony will die with him. His title will fall into abeyance, and his estate will be scooped up by the Crown.

When Aldridge surprises them both with a daring proposition, they do not expect love to be part of the bargain.

Excerpt:

Aldridge never did find out how he came to be naked, alone, and sleeping in the small summerhouse in the garden of a country cottage. His last memory of the night before had him twenty miles away, and—although not dressed—in a comfortable bed, and in company.

The first time he woke, he had no idea how far he’d come, but the moonlight was bright enough to show him half-trellised window openings, and an archway leading down a short flight of steps into a garden. A house loomed a few hundred feet away, a dark shape against the star-bright sky. But getting up seemed like too much trouble, particularly with a headache that seemed to hang inches above him, threatening to split his head if he moved. The cushioned bench on which he lay invited him to shut his eyes and go back to sleep. Time enough to find out where he was in the morning.

When he woke again, he was facing away from the archway entrance, and there was someone behind him. Silence now, but in his memory the sound of light footsteps shifting the stones on the path outside, followed by twin intakes of breath as the walkers saw him.

One of them spoke; a woman’s voice, but low—almost husky. “Sarah, go back to the first rose bush and watch the house.”

“Yes, mama.” A child’s voice.

Aldridge waited until he heard the child dance lightly down the steps and away along the path, then shifted his weight slightly so that his pelvis flattened, dragging the rest of his torso over till he was lying on his back.

He waited for the exclamation of shock, but none came. Carefully— he wanted to observe her before he let her know he was awake, and anyway, any sudden movement might start up the hammers above his eye sockets—he cracked open his lids enough so to watch through his lashes.

He could see more than he expected. The woman had a shuttered lantern she was using to examine him, starting at his feet. She paused so long when she reached his morning salute that it grew even prouder, then swept the beam from the lantern up his torso so quickly he barely had time to slam his lids shut before the light reached and lingered over his face.

A Baron for Becky is available at:

Amazon

Amazon UK

Amazon Aus

Smashwords

Barnes & Noble

iBooks

Kobo

Jude KnightJude Knight writes strong determined heroines, heroes who can appreciate a clever capable woman, villains you’ll love to loathe, and all with a leavening of humour.

Jude Knight is the pen name of Judy Knighton. After a career in commercial writing, editing, and publishing, Jude is returning to her first love, fiction. Her novella, Candle’s Christmas Chair, was released in December 2014, and is in the top ten on several Amazon bestseller lists in the US and UK. Her first novel Farewell to Kindness, was released on 1 April, and is first in a series: The Golden Redepennings.

You can find Jude at:

Visit Jude’s Website

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Subscribe to Jude’s newsletter:

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Follow Jude on Goodreads:

Jude’s Other Books (on Amazon)

Candle’s Christmas Chair (free novella)

Farewell to Kindness (Book One, the Golden Redepennings)

Happy Birthday

Today is my book’s birthday. The day The Half Killed is thrust out into the world, naked and squalling and…

No, no. Scratch that. Not that kind of birthday. But it is new, and this is the day when it takes on a new life, so to speak. A life as something that no longer belongs to me, and me alone.

This is only my second novel, so I don’t have a tradition I celebrate with each book’s release. There’s no champagne here, no party, no special dinner or anything of the like. I have to go grocery shopping today, and I have to fold laundry, and I will no doubt have to change diapers and make macaroni and cheese and settle myriad squabbles between my children. And I will try not to spend too much time watching the sales rankings or wondering if and when new reviews will come in. Perhaps one of the kids will spill their chocolate milk on the carpet. That should keep me occupied and away from the computer for a little while.

And so I’m sitting here, much too late at night, wondering what I should put down in this post to commemorate this momentous event. I mean, this book took eight years to find its way out of my hands into… well, other people’s hands. (You can tell this is late at night, right? Words are dribbling out of my head as my brain slowly slips into slumber while the rest of my body remains irritatingly alert.) I researched into the wee hours of the morning. I kept copious notes on the most insane details and minutiae of nineteenth-century life in London. A London I then had to skew just a few steps into the realms of fantasy and the supernatural.

One option I have is to go over all the things I’ve mentioned in various places while I twiddled my thumbs leading up to this point. I could mention that you can read the first three chapters here, or that there are several other excerpts and deleted scenes here, here, over here , and one more right here. Or I could even link back to other posts on other blogs about writing historical fiction.

Or I could go short and sweet, and simply post the dedication I wrote for my husband:

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(Okay, it’s just a tad blurry. But it’s a new camera, and I was still working out all the settings.)

Or I could post my acknowledgements, my thank you to the people who dealt with me over the last eight years of literary gestation:

I could not have done this without the help from a great many people, a few of whom I will go out of my way to mention here: A.J. Navarre for her tremendous artwork (along with the motivation it gave me to cross the finish line). K.S. Villoso for constantly nudging me along, nit-picking, and reminding me of the myriad spelling differences that exist from one English-speaking nation to another. Amanda Bohannan for her amazing, amazing editing skills. I also can’t leave out all of the folks at Breaking Quills and World Tree Publishing for their talents in beta-reading, editing, proofreading, and listening patiently as I nattered on about the most irritating of plot and historical minutiae. To all of these and many, many more…

Thank you.

I could link to The Half Killed’s Goodreads page, where the reviews have been trickling in.

Or my author page on Facebook, where you can… watch me natter on about writing and books and other general things. (I should be better at selling myself by now. Which… Hmm, that sounded worse than I meant it to. But I trust you know what I mean.)

I even considered coming up with a list of reasons why you should Buy My Book. I didn’t get very far with that one. It was mostly filled with desperate and dramatic tales of having to eat Ramen noodles or drinking tap water instead of bottled. But I already drink tap water (sometimes), so that one didn’t really gain much momentum.

So all I can say is that if you bought my book, or are planning to purchase it, I hope you enjoy it. I love this book, I love its characters, and I plan on spending more time with some of them in the future. And I hope you will, too.

Thank you.

***

The Half Killed is now available on Amazon! In both ebook and paperback! Go, me!

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Dorothea Hawes has no wish to renew contact with what lies beyond the veil. After an attempt to take her own life, she has retired into seclusion, but as the wounds on her body heal, she is drawn back into a world she wants nothing more than to avoid.

She is sought out by Julian Chissick, a former man of God who wants her help in discovering who is behind the gruesome murder of a young woman. But the manner of death is all too familiar to Dorothea, and she begins to fear that something even more terrible is about to unleash itself on London.

And so Dorothea risks her life and her sanity in order to save people who are oblivious to the threat that hovers over them. It is a task that forces her into a confrontation with her own lurid past, and tests her ability to shape events frighteningly beyond her control.

Strong and Sweet Shall Their Tongues Be

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When one thinks of Spiritualism, often mediums and seances and well-executed sleight of hand tricks come to mind. It’s easy to throw everything under the same umbrella as psychic hotlines and crystal balls, but where did the Spiritualist movement begin, and why were women so often seen at the forefront of it?

It began in upstate New York, already a religious hotbed with the advent of Mormonism and also the activities of the Second Great Awakening. And it began with three sisters, the Fox sisters, who claimed that on March 31, 1848, they had made contact with a spirit.

This is where the practice of “rapping” has its start, where one would ask questions to the air and hope for a response of knocks against the tabletop standing in for speech, like a ghostly Morse Code. The Fox sisters were quickly taken in by the Quakers, and from there the movement spread, other young women stepping forward with claims of having been visited by spirits, healed by spirits, receiving vital messages from spirits. And the women were often young, often lovely, and so able to draw a crowd.

Spiritualism appealed to the upper and middle classes, and especially those who had recently lost a loved one. And with the Civil War breaking out only thirteen years after the Fox sisters responded to those first knocks, thousands and thousands of families watched their sons march to battle and never come home again. The search for life after death began in earnest, beyond Christianity’s teachings and promises of eternal life for the soul. Seances soon became the order of the day, despite their being likened to the practices of witchcraft (and even being blamed for the Civil War on at least one occasion) Seances were even conducted in the White House during the years of Abraham Lincoln, and Spiritualism was often embraced by those who shunned organized religion.

Which is not surprising that the two didn’t go hand in hand, as both Christians and Jews adhered to the verse in Leviticus 20:6 that states: “I will set my face against the person who turns to mediums and spiritists to prostitute himself by following them, and I will cut him off from his people.”

Well, then.

But many seances or “sittings” at the time had overtones of attending a small, intimate church service. The attendees would often pray, asking God for guidance in their search for knowledge and attempts to communicate with the spirits who were believed to exist on a higher plane than mere humans. Christian hymns were sung, verses from the Bible were quoted (though not the one from Leviticus, I’m sure.) Everything was meant to have the feel of something like a Bible study or meeting at someone’s house. Nothing one would usually associate with a movement later exposed as being riddled with fraud and chicanery.

Which isn’t surprising, really. During a time when hundreds of thousands of men lost their lives to a hideous war (and Spiritualism would see another surge in popularity after World War I took the lives of over seventeen million people), the scientific community was buzzing with the findings of Robert Chambers, who published Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation in 1844, and Charles Darwin, who published his Origin of Species in 1859.

And along with these things, slavery was on its way to being abolished in the United States (and had already been abolished in England in 1833), and with the move into the Industrial Age which allowed more women into the workforce, women began to fight for the right to vote and for equal pay. So during all of this upheaval as the western world was thrust into the modern age, as people became disillusioned with the organized religion of the nineteenth century, it’s not surprising that some people began the search for something that would give them proof of life after death, that there was still something more for them beyond this existence, and that not all of life’s mysteries had been solved by the scientists and industrialists of the age.

And it was women who often stood at the head of the Spiritualist movement (though many men became famous mediums as well). Women, who were believed to be more sensitive to the messages being sent from the other side of the veil. Though this perceived weakness in their sex allowed many of them to become adept businesswomen and performers, touring across the United States and Europe to sold-out crowds. That is, until many of their lauded tricks and materializations were discovered to be nothing more than animal livers and old sheets.

Spiritualism still exists today, mostly stripped down of its hallmarks of levitating tables and automatic writing and ectoplasmic figures. But for many years it drew interest from people like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Dickens, and Pierre and Marie Curie, and even Queen Victoria was rumored to use the services of a medium to contact her beloved Prince Albert and hear his messages to her from beyond the grave.

In writing The Half Killed, I researched a religious movement that traced its origins to three sisters in upstate New York and followed its spread across the continents. Women sometimes benefitted greatly from the Spiritualist movement, suddenly finding themselves in places of power and recognition, their voices not only heard but revered. Despite the steady disintegration of the movement in later years and the skeptical eye laid on it as the nineteenth century wound to a close, it signalled a change in how women were regarded in matters of religion, science, and industry. Changes that are still rippling through the ether to this day.

To the Pain

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This has been a difficult year. In November of last year, a week before my birthday and with Thanksgiving right around the corner, I had a miscarriage at just shy of thirteen weeks of pregnancy. Three days after losing the baby, after coming home from the hospital and being ordered to rest and recuperate from what happened, I picked up my laptop and wrote this:

One out of every four pregnancies ends in miscarriage.

That’s the statistic they gave me as I laid on a stretcher in the emergency room, after they’d changed the sheets and various bed-sized pads for the second and third times, the previous sets sitting on the floor in sodden piles, amid smears of blood and so much worse.

I was nearly twelve weeks pregnant, almost to the end of the first trimester and that point when it’s supposedly safe to proclaim to the world that you’re pregnant. But on a Saturday morning, six days before my thirty-fourth birthday, I woke up and realized I had started to bleed.

It was my fourth pregnancy, the first three all having culminated in bouncing, screaming, healthy babies being delivered into this world. I knew what was normal for my body and what would trigger a call to the doctor. Blood was bad. I knew this. So I picked up the phone and dialed the number.

I wasn’t having any cramps or pain. The bleeding wasn’t heavy. I was told to stay home, to rest, and see if it stopped. At lunchtime, it nearly did. But by dinnertime, the bleeding picked up in strength, and by bedtime, I was having contractions.

I called the doctor again. They told me to go to the emergency room.

My mom came down to watch the kids, who were all slumbering peacefully in their beds, and my husband and I braved the cold for the fifteen-minute drive to the hospital.

As we waited to be admitted, and as we were asked the same questions over and over about when the bleeding began and how many pregnancies I’d had and whether I smoked or drank or took my prenatal vitamins, the contractions grew in strength. When we’d arrived, I would’ve put them on a 4 or 5 on the pain scale. By the time they led us back into the ER, they’d leapt up to an 8.

The nurses tried to remain positive and optimistic at first. Bleeding didn’t necessarily mean a miscarriage. Even the contractions could be a symptom of something else, something not connected with me losing my child. But then a particularly strong contraction swept over me, and a particularly large amount of blood came out of me. The nurse rushed in to check on me and change the pads and the sheets beneath me. She glanced down at the soiled pads. Her expression changed. She announced that it no longer looked positive.

At that point, I knew I was in labor for a child that would not live, that probably was no longer even alive. I had never been in that position before. Me, the one who had gone through three complication-free pregnancies and complication-free deliveries. Had I started to think too highly of my fertile body? Or was this merely a fluke, my turn to add to the statistic stated to me by the doctor who came in to assure me that I had done nothing to bring on this miscarriage?

As the night wore on, my husband dozed as much as he could and I flipped through the cable channels, settling on Phineas and Ferb and hideously awful purses on one of a half-dozen shop-at-home channels. And as I laid there, dizzy from morphine and exhausted from everything else, I continued to bleed, and I watched as my belly slowly shrank down, as if there had never been a baby in there in the first place.

What I don’t want is for this fourth pregnancy, the first of mine not to make it to full-term, to become nothing more than a statistic. I was pregnant. I went through morning sickness, just like the others. I had already started experiencing weird food cravings and a constant need to pee, just like the others. I had looked forward to feeling the baby kick, to finding out if it was a boy or a girl, to holding that messy little newborn as it blinked through the goo on its eyes and took its first breaths of stale, hospital air.

But because those things didn’t happen does not make it any less than the others, relegating it to a lower status. I have been pregnant four times. I am a mother four times over. Should I become pregnant again, it will be my fifth pregnancy and my fifth child.

***

I didn’t write any further than that. I’m not sure I needed to. By the time I tapped out that last paragraph, I was spent. Some of the pain and the grief had drained out of me, leaving me feeling numb.

I went through a difficult time after that. A hard winter with bitter cold and a tremendous amount of snow and ice didn’t help matters. I was probably depressed, though I hadn’t experienced anything like it before and didn’t understand until afterwards what was going on. But I felt very little, simply moving forward through each day, thankful for making it to the end of it, and going to sleep at night, hoping not to dream.

My father’s health took a downturn at the same time. The winter was even harder on him. By spring, we knew it was going to be his last year with us, perhaps his last summer. But he didn’t even make it to summer.

And the pain is different now. With losing the baby, it was immediate and sharp, leaving a grey void in its wake that slowly faded into nothing. With my father, perhaps because there was such a build up towards the end with his chronic health problems, it doesn’t feel the same at all. I feel it constantly, but only if I allow myself to. After the baby, there was the cold emptiness. With my father, the sorrow is a living thing, always alert, waiting to pounce on me the moment I let down my guard.

My urge to write, then, is different, too. After the miscarriage, it was like pushing poison out of a wound. Putting my chin to my chest and writing as many words as I could, as quickly as I could, without a thought as to typos or mistakes. Just going, going, going until I was too tired and I could finally close my eyes and sleep. Now, I’m distracted. Wanting to take on a bajillion projects at once, unable to concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes at a time.

Because pain and grief are these strange, intangible things. There’s no right or wrong way to approach them, because they are never the same animal. One might be strong enough to always hold you in its grip, while the other might release you with nothing more than a sigh.

And here I sit, the words still pouring out of me, not even sure if I have a particular point to this post or any kind of message I wish to impart to the world. Beginning, middle, and end is how these things are supposed to go. But our lives, and the pain left behind when a life leaves us, don’t always seem to follow that arc.

Beginning… middle… end.

And still it hurts. And still I write.

Guest Post – Author Sheri Williams

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When I started writing I just knew that I was going to write romance. It was almost solely what I read at that time, and I knew it. I knew I could write it. And I did. But slowly my muse changed. I met other writers and they wrote romance as well, but also they wrote paranormal, regency, and gothic-style stories. And I went, “Hey, I could do that too.” I could go out of my comfort zone, or should I say my “supposed” comfort zone, because in my travels from genre to genre I have found that my comfort zone is wide. I mean, wide. In the past year I have written contemporary romance, paranormal romance, Gothic horror with a dash of romance, and fantasy/horror.

That is a wide swath of genres, and I love it. I love that on any given day I am writing about pink haired tattoo artists, or elvish assassins. About a troupe of occult investigators in the 1800’s or a teenage dragon speaker. It keeps my head clear of all the many, many voices and it keeps my writing diverse. Also, I’m not going to lie, spending a good amount of time on Pinterest “researching” makes my writing endeavours even more fun. I mean how else am I going to find out that the wooden clogs Asian people wear are called “Geta”. Or that the ornate square carriages that are carried by people are called “litters”. I mean, did you know that? I didn’t, but once I started searching for background information for my new serial set in a sort of Feudal Japan, I got to learn all sorts of new stuff. And I never would have learned that if I had kept myself in that romance comfort zone.

I will never give up the romance, I’m not saying that, but I am having so much fun romping around in other genres, like I was my own weird version of Little Bunny Fu Fu, that I keep accidentally pushing the straight up romances to the back burner. In the coming months I’ll be working on more fantasy/horror, the sequel to my gothic horror with a touch of romance, and oh so much more. But the romance, oh man, the ideas are piling up. I have a whole folder of single lines, of short paragraphs, of inspirational pics and I will return to it, probably mid-next year. But until then it’s all gargoyles and parasols, kimonos and manor houses. Oh, and I can’t forget the trolls either. 🙂

I’m having a blast in all the worlds I’ve been making up. I hope you’ll come and join me there. My latest release was a short titled The Piano, in the Girls Rock Horror Harder EZine put out by the Forsaken Imprint of Booktrope publishing. And I’ll have more with them coming out in October, as well as a paranormal romance in the Bewitching Desires Anthology put together by some of my writing group The Writing Wenches (wicked cool peeps there).

You can find Sheri Williams on Facebook, Twitter, and at her website!

Her contribution to the Girls Rock Horror Harder EZine is available on Amazon (along with lots of other great stories), and her romance roots can be found in Unwrapping Love, an anthology of twenty-one short stories all sharing a holiday theme.

OH MY GOSH FRIDAY YOU’RE HERE AND I LOVE YOU

So my first week off work this month went well and I accomplished stuff. Like cleaning all of the kid’s bathtub boys that had started to get… weird. And taking out the bedroom windows to wipe them down and vacuuming the screens and all of those random chores that you only do every once in a while and when you finally do get to them you wonder WHY ON EARTH you waited so long because… ugh.

Though I suspect the cat bed may no longer contain any cloth and is just made of years and years worth of compressed cat hair.

In other news, it is now eleven days (I think? Do I count today? I’m never certain if I should) until the release of The Half Killed. Reviews are coming in on Goodreads. The giveaway is still going strong (over 500 people requesting it)! The ebook is still on sale for only 99 cents! I am trying not to lose my mind between now and the 25th.

In other other news, I wrote a flash fiction piece the other day (What is flash fiction? A short, short story/scene of only a few hundred words) to get my creative juices flowing. I’m calling it The Bargain, because I’m terrible at naming things (my children will hate me when they finally realize that their names aren’t like other kids’) and I’m sharing it here. Because I’m good like that.

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The Bargain

The seller of souls arrived just before the storm.

I stood in the doorway, my slight frame filling the narrow gap meant to keep out the worst of the day’s heat. My father had already returned to the fields for the afternoon. My mother sat in her room, nursing a headache and cursing her stays.

The warmth pressed against my lungs, coating my tongue and burning the back of my throat when I opened my mouth to speak.

“Good afternoon,” the salesman said, preempting any speech I could make. “Is your mother or father at home?”

“My mother’s in the kitchen,” I lied, careful not to blink. “My father’s just out back.” About a mile out back, hacking at the cotton that drooped beneath the weight of the bolls.

The man’s grey eyes sparked, and one corner of his mouth lifted in a smile. “Well, that’s just swell, m’dear. I won’t take up much of your time.” He cocked his head to one side, and the skin beside his eyes crinkled as he gave me half a wink.

I said nothing, every breath like pulling in a draught of air through a compress.

“And besides,” he continued. “You’ve got a good head on your shoulders. I bet you’re top of your class, aren’t you?”

I nodded before I could stop myself. My hands sought out the edge of my pinafore, my shoulders pushing back as pride lifted my chin.

“Then you’ll know a bargain when you see one, hmm?” Long fingers, fingers my piano teacher would covet, reached into a pocket and drew out a small jar, clear glass, the size of an inkpot and stoppered with a cork. But instead of ink, the substance inside shimmered, like pearls turned to liquid, as if the haze that lingered over the fields were condensed inside that tiny container. “I don’t ask for much,” he said, and turned the jar over in his hands. The substance moved, a drift of cloud before my eyes. “A small price, really. That locket there you have around your neck. That should do.”

My hand sought out the locket, a soft bulge beneath my dress. He couldn’t have seen it, couldn’t have known it was there. But my fingers moved of their own accord, opening up the clasp with a flick of my fingernail.

“A fair trade,” he said, and pressed the jar into my palm as he drew the necklace from between my fingers. I clutched the bottle to my chest, to the very spot where the locket had been, out of sight to all but him. Behind him, the sky darkened, though not a ripple of air disturbed the fields of green and white. “They’re yours now.” He smiled again, and I noticed then the lack of perspiration on his face, the coolness of his fingers as they’d brushed mine. “Guard them well,” he said, before he slipped the locket into his pocket, bowed his head, and turned on his heel to walk away.

The Half Killed – Another Deleted Scene

Saturday was my last day of teaching until after Labor Day, which means today is the day I’m overwhelmed with the false hope of getting SO MUCH accomplished during the next month of supposed freedom. At this moment, my mind is brimming with thoughts of cleaning the entire house from top to bottom, even those pesky chores like scrubbing behind the knobs on the stove with a toothbrush, and also writing an entire book and reading twenty others, taking the kids to the park every day, teaching them an entire grade’s worth of curriculum, and baking cookies and cupcakes and muffins every afternoon while also concocting glorious dinners every other night.

Yeah, we all know what will really happen, and how I’ll be smothered with disappointment over how much time I’ve wasted once the end of August rolls around. But let me have my aspirations towards glory before the inevitable fall, okay?

Meanwhile, it is just over two weeks (!!!) until the release of The Half Killed, and while I have some more educational posts planned about Spiritualism during the Victorian era and so on, since today is my first official day off, I’m presenting to you another deleted scene (you will not believe how many deleted scenes I’m often left with after finishing a story) from the youth of my protagonist, Dorothea Hawes. So read and enjoy, because I’m about to go bake some cookies.

Flower

Marta

Marta was quite adamant that you should come with her, though you’d never seen her before that day, and you thought her breath smelled strongly of the old fish at Hyde Market.

Her hands were rough on your skin, tugging at your jaw, and then she told you to open your mouth, and you looked over at the matron, but she only nodded. So you opened your mouth, and Marta said that you had good teeth, and a nose that might not do so well, and what was to be done with your hair? But the rest of you was tolerable, and hadn’t they been feeding you? And then the matron lied, saying that she offered you all sorts of good, wholesome foods. But she said that you were a naughty child, wasting your dinner because you didn’t want to eat it.

Marta laughed then, saying she would be glad to keep someone who did not eat her out of house and home. And then she took hold of your arm, and you remembered the firmness of her grip, and you wondered if there would be marks and bruises left on your skin where she had touched you. Her hand remained on your arm as she led you outside, into a black cab led by a horse that shifted restlessly as you approached, and she sat quite close to you, as if she were afraid that you might fling open the door and run away from her. But you allowed her to lead you, your head as clouded as it was, and still she fidgeted with you, pulling at the ends of your hair, tilting your head back so as to take a long look at your throat.

You thought that Marta might be taking you to her house, and she did, much later. But first she said there was a visit that needed to made, and you would be a good girl and indulge her, wouldn’t you? So when the cab finally stopped some twenty minutes later, Marta pinched your cheeks to make them rosy and took you to a small house, tucked between two other small houses, but all of them leaning against each other, their walls bowing outward and inward from the strain of so much weight.

The woman who answered the door did not smile when she saw you, and Marta gave you a nudge when she realized that you were staring quite boldly at the woman’s eyes. Different colors they were, one pale blue, and one black, and the blue one never fixing on anything, but twitching this way and that, looking all around while the black one gazed directly at your face. You were still staring when Marta chivvied you into the house, your feet tripping over layers of rugs, your eyes adjusting to the dim, sooty light. The woman lit no extra candles or lamps, the shadows growing thicker as she took her seat in front of the cold fireplace, pulled out a small tray from behind her chair and laid it across her lap.

The tiles rattled as she spread them out on the tray, small squares that she turned and turned until they all faced the same way, the black of the crudely drawn letters standing out against the rubbed whiteness of the wood. And then she passed her hand over them, her fingers seeming to dance in the air, and yet her face showed no indication that she knew anything of the movement. And while her fingers moved, she spoke to you, asking your name, how old you were, everything so innocuous, and you couldn’t help but glance at the tiles, wondering why she didn’t look for her answers in them.

Marta said nothing. All through the interview, she kept herself to the shadows, but you knew she was listening, that she would never miss a word, even when the fat woman with the tiles lowered her voice to a whisper that was difficult for even you to hear, as close as you stood.

The woman’s fingers began to move in more of a pattern, and soon she began tapping against the tiles, spelling out words, entire phrases, before she would pause, close her eyes for a moment, and pose another question to you.

It all ended so quickly. Marta returned to your side, and the woman began gathering up her tiles, dropping them one by one into a small canvas sack that she wore on a string around her neck, the bag tucked into the front of her dress. And she saw you watching her, and for the first time, she smiled at you, all of her hideous teeth on display. And then she patted her ample bosom, where the little bag of letters was hidden, and she told you that they would be yours one day, only she hoped that you wouldn’t leave them to burn with everything else.

But you didn’t have an opportunity to ask what she meant, because Marta was already speaking again, asking the woman if you would be any good, if you would be worth the investment she was ready to make. And something in the woman’s face changed then, a dark look passing over her features. And when she raised her eyes, both the black and the blue at once, they swept from Marta’s face to rest on your own.

You wanted to look away, and you did, after a while. But she held you for a moment, and you wondered, you wondered how much she knew, if she could sense what was even then in your mind, how the voices screeched, so much louder to you there in the silence of the cold, dark room. And when she opened her mouth to speak, it was her voice vying for attention with the ones that were always with you, but you heard her tell Marta that you weren’t like the others, and you heard the warning that underlaid her words. But Marta laughed again, always laughing when she shouldn’t have been, and she said she was glad for that, that she hoped you would be different, that audiences were tired of the same old thing, and wouldn’t they be willing to pay for a glimpse of something new?

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