Update! Update! Update!

Ah, there I go again, failing to update this ol’ blog. I do have reasons, though. Genuine reasons! (… aside from children, homeschooling said children, taking children to dance lessons, to the playground, errands, sleeping, taking pictures of clouds, the occasional shower or bologna sandwich…) DSCN5372

I have two deadlines looming over my head, one for June 1st and the other for June 2nd (Yes, you read that right). The first requires that I finish a 10k story by then, the second needs a first chapter and a synopsis. Plus I’m trying to revise An Unpracticed Heart in there, as well, because why not throw more stuff on the to-do pile.

I’m also in allergy hell right now. As much as I love this season, this season doesn’t love me. So when I’m taking medicine to stave off the urge to CLAW OUT MY EYES WITH A FORK OH MY LORD IT FEELS LIKE MY FACE IS MADE OF SAND, I also don’t get a great deal of… oh, let’s call it “thinking” done. So there’s that, too.

And I’m just tired. I really need a nap, people.

But! If I keep at this pace, I should make my deadlines. The first story  – “A Handful of Dust” – is at 6k words now and I have the ending worked out in my head. The second is titled “With My Own Eyes” and will act as a 10k-word prequel to The Half Killed (so if you love the Dorothea and Chissick dynamic, I’m sorry to say that the latter character only receives a brief mention) which covers events that pretty much lead up to where we find Dorothea, or rather WHY we find her in said situation, at the beginning of The Half Killed.

So. All of that. It’s a lot, but I’m managing it. I find that setting small word count goals for each story (say 500-700 words) keeps it from overwhelming me, and I’ve been okay jumping from story to story without an issue. Well, so far. Let’s see if I’m a gibbering mess once these deadlines have come and gone.

Oh! And in other news, a huge THANK YOU to everyone who picked up a copy of The Firstborn! This has been my most successful book release to date, and I am tickled that it didn’t sink like a stone right out of the gate. (Hmm, I think I’m mixing up my sayings there. And I rhymed. Hmm, I may need one of those naps. Or some bologna.)

 

National Library Week!

So here’s the deal: This week is National Library Week! Having been a bookish kid, a homeschooled kid, and a kid who grew up without a lot of resources, the library was always an amazing place to me.

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Now is my chance to help give back (and to one of the libraries I frequented the most while growing up, and that I still take my kids to today). For the next week, all proceeds from the sales of my books, paperbacks or ebooks, will be donated to the Juniata County Library. I didthis once before and raised a whopping $12.80! (Yeah, it doesn’t sound like a lot, but all of my books were on sale that week, which lowers the royalty rate to nickels and dimes.) I’d love to double that amount this week, and should I triple that amount – total pie in the sky, I know – I’ll even match what is raised and donate that portion to the Marysville-Rye Library here in my town!

I’ll post all important links below, and I’ll be a real irritant and post about this every day this week.

Thanks in advance to anyone who helps this cause. I love my local libraries, my kids love the library, and I want to do everything I can to help them!

The Half Killed ebook
(Amazon): http://www.amazon.com/Half-Killed-Quenby-Olson-ebook/dp/B00YWLVX4K
(Nook): http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-half-killed-quenby-olson/1122532399?ean=2940152797008
(itunes): https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id1087871546
(Kobo): https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/the-half-killed

The Half Killed paperback
(Amazon): http://www.amazon.com/Half-Killed-Quenby-Olson/dp/0989446069
(Barnes and Noble): http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-half-killed-quenby-olson/1122532399

Knotted ebook: http://www.amazon.com/Knotted-Quenby-Olson-ebook/dp/B00DBT0MQE

Knotted paperback: http://www.amazon.com/Knotted-Quenby-Olson/dp/098944600X

A New Year, New Chances, New Goals, No Naps

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Here I go again, always saying I’ll get back to blogging and to keeping up with things, and then life gets in the way and I feel like the only things I’ll have to talk about are my kids and what my kids are doing and getting my kids to eat new foods and my kids kids kids kids kids kids…

There. Now it doesn’t even look like a real word anymore.

But kids. We took a break from homeschooling (following fast on the heels of the break we took while I was in Morning Sickness Hell) and we’re starting up again tomorrow. Freja is doing a mix of first and second grade work, Ola is doing a mix of pre-k and kindergarten, and Will is trying to get in everyone’s way and hit his sisters over the head with Thomas the Tank Engine.

Kids.

But it’s going to be tough to get back into the swing of things, I know. I’ve had twelve days at home, eleven of those days with my husband also at home. So it’s been this magic time around here, when I could take a shower in peace, or use the bathroom in peace, or go upstairs to put laundry away and not worry about someone finding a pair of scissors and deciding that their clothes needed to be more aerated. And we cooked wonderful meals everyday, and baked wonderful desserts, and went for walks (whence the above picture came from), and slept in, and watched movies, and read books, and it was all MAGIC.

And now tomorrow is back to work and back to school and back to taking the kids to their extra-curricular activities.

But I can’t stop writing. Oh, no. I think I have about six or seven projects that I’d like to see completed before the baby arrives (May 7th is the day highlighted on the calendar. That is, if he decides to be punctual) and so I cannot be resting on my proverbial laurels for the remainder of this winter and into spring.

The projects I want to finish?

The Bride Price (Regency-era romance)

The Ivory Fan (working title, also Regency-era romance)

The Firstborn (possible working title, also also Regency – HEY! I think I’m sensing a theme here!)

Early Victorian-era romance. (Seriously. I don’t even have a working title for this thing. But, OOH! Look at me, mixing it up with my nineteenth century romance novels!)

The Scarlet Feather (Working title. Blah blah blah.)

And… I think that’s it? Then post-baby should bring a lot of napping and drooling (baby and Mommy included) and looking at locking in outlines and rough first drafts of sequels to The Half Killed, Knotted, and possibly First Position.

I plan on posting excerpts of the above works-in-progress as the next weeks come along. The Firstborn is the furthest one along (I am working on the penultimate chapter as I type! Well, sort of. It’s open in another window and I keep bopping over to it.) so I should have some character descriptions, blurbs, and other goodies to post about in the days and months ahead.

And now I’m off to eat dinner (the husband is making homemade potato soup, the kind with hard-boiled eggs on top) and start on the final season of Downton Abbey.

And, no. I haven’t watched the Sherlock special, The Abominable Bride, yet either.

Because kids, believe it or not.

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.

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.

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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?

***

Don’t forget! You can pre-order The Half Killed for only .99 cents here!

Or you can enter the Goodreads for one of three signed paperback copies here!