Nanowrimo book blurb #1

What do a prince, a magician and a cook’s assistant all have in common? Nothing – until their collective home is destroyed and they find themselves on the run. 

The low-born Marianna thinks herself fortunate to get a position as a cook’s assistant at the most prestigious finishing school in the country. Serving up the country’s future leader’s and magicians isn’t as glamorous as she thought it would be, but she can handle the scathing comments of her “betters.”

Things only become really difficult when an unknown force attacks the school, intent on abducting a prince in attendance there. In the chaos Marianna escapes – and somehow finds herself the protector of both the school’s most arrogant magical student and the prince, disguised by enchantment.

In their bid to reach safety they’ll have to work together, come to terms with who is better than whom and, most importantly, reach a consensus on breakfast.

***

So. Nanowrimo isn’t for another couple of months, thank God. I never know what I’m going to actually write for Nanowrimo until I sit down to write on November first. Or second. Or third.

But book blurbs are things I have always loved to read and write. The perfect book blurb makes you want to open the book instantly and immerse yourself in the world you have been promised – and for me, writing a book blurb for a novel I have yet to start makes me excited to actually get writing.

So tonight, I decided to put up a possible book blurb for a possible Nanowrimo novel. I hope to do it a few more times before the actual novel writing starts, as a way of putting ideas out there/asking for suggestions.

I came across this idea as a sort of take on the quest theme. The main character, instead of being some kind of chosen one or having some kind of unique talent, is possessed only of her brains, wit, and quick ability to chop onions in a crisis. For once, an ‘ordinary’ character has to take care of ‘extra-ordinary’ ones.

I like this role-reversal because it means the characters themselves will have to   come to terms with it. To the prince and the magician, this girl’s only function in their previous life was to serve up lunch. Now she is their caretaker. They have to look up to her.

While thinking this story over, I decided that the prince was probably a nice enough guy. It’s part of that chivalry business. So he would have a much less difficult time adapting to Marianna’s sudden relative power. But the magician – he’s a problem. He can’t face the idea that a common kitchen wench might be better at something than he is. So when his magic fails (which it inevitably does – we’ve got to level the playing field somehow) he has a lot of thinking to do.

In my brain, this is a comedic turn on the classic quest, a young adult type novel. Who knows whether it will ever be written, for Nanowrimo or otherwise?

What do you think? Is it fun for anyone else to write a book blurb? And if you could give this book a title, what would it be?

Tracks, Chapter Eight: The Midsummer Festival

Click here to read from the beginning, or here to read the previous chapter.
***

A few days had passed before Jonathan and Eva saw one another again. Each morning the king sent a note with his deepest regrets, stating that he had urgent business to attend to. She was happier to take breakfast in her room with Kate. The Falconer was at the palace whenever his duties spared him, and she had no wish to break her fast in his company.

Jonathan’s wounds had hardly been serious. Although quite a fuss was made over him as he was carried into the palace, it was soon deemed that his state of near-catatonia was more attributable to shock than loss of blood, and aside from wincing when he stretched his back, he was quickly back to normal. None of this made the Falconer feel well-disposed towards Eva, though, and this was reflected in the manner of her captivity – a guard stood at her door day and night now, and she was never alone except in her own chambers. She didn’t bother trying to dismiss him. She recognized the Falconer’s hand in all of this. His guard was loyal, and would be until the very end.

Three days after the catastrophe at the clerk’s office, she was invited to sit at the high table, during the Midsummer Festival.

By this time, Lord Gallow had been officially declared missing.

There were no bounties on him yet, and no criminal accusations levelled against him. Far from giving Eva hope, it only served to convince her that the Falconer looked for more evidence before he could make a formal statement.

It would be her first public appearance since the humiliating arrest. No doubt some had noticed the change of activity surrounding the Gallow mansion – the servants and masters no longer came and went, and the front yard was full of soldiers. Those same people would be watching her tonight, gauging her demeanor.

When the time came, she was dressed in a deep blue adorned with golden thread. Her skirt belled at the waist and her long sleeves draped nearly to the floor. Her bodice was cut high and her hair had been pulled up to match.

Her daughter had been dressed in a lighter blue with a softer silhouette, more fitting to her age. Her hair was curled and fell around her face in soft brown waves. Though the family jewelry was still at the Gallow home, the king had generously offered them the loan of any royal adornment they might wish. Kate wore a silver necklace and sapphires in her ears; Eva had placed golden bracelets on her wrists and a shining dark opal pin tucked into her hair.

The Falconer noticed their gems as they joined the retinue that would enter behind the king. His thin mouth tightened and when she approached he inclined his head in the barest acknowledgement of her presence.

The Midsummer Festival was supposed to be one of the grandest affairs of the year. This festival had been planned long before the attack on the station, but the excitement had been dampened by the increased security. In addition to the king’s personal guard, a company of the Falconer’s men stood outside of the palace. Their stoic expressions and tall rifles did nothing to reassure the wedding guests. And for the past three days, the magician’s wall had blazed all around the city, filling the night with an eerie green fire that kept anyone from coming or going. It made for a rather more subdued party than previous years.

As she and Kate joined the retinue they curtsied to the king. He was deep in conversation with one of his advisors and spared them no more than a brief greeting.

Eva stepped back and turned instead to Jonathan, who was speaking politely (though not very comfortably) with a young woman a year or two older than Kate. She was a stunning girl, with auburn hair and deep blue eyes, dressed all in white and gold. Her delicate features reminded Eva of Lady Hartwin, who stood a few feet away in conversation with Aldor, the doctor. Every few seconds her eyes flickered to the girl.

Eva had to stifle a laugh as Jonathan gratefully turned away from his too-charming companion and addressed her. “Good evening, my lady. I trust you have been well? Good evening, Miss Gallow,” he said to Kate, who curtsied. Eva just caught the venomous glare of Miss Hartwin before she slid away.

“Quite well, thank you,” she replied. “But it was you we had reason to fear for, Your Majesty.”

“Not at all. And I am fully recovered now – with the exception of my pride, of course. I have not been so scolded by my elder brother since I flung mud on his best shirt when we were children.”

She stepped closer. “Word from Daniel?” she asked softly.

He shook his head. “No word, no sight. I know he would have written, if he could. That paper you gave me…” He stopped and glanced around. “Perhaps this is neither the time nor place.”

Eva could not help smiling this time. “Indeed. We seem to have driven away your charming companion.”

“Miss Hartwin?” To his credit, he managed not to blush, though he could not look Eva in the face. “She made her debut two days ago. Of course, Aldor wouldn’t let me leave the palace so my congratulations had to wait.”

“I see,” said Eva archly.

It was a poorly-kept secret that every woman of wealth or name in Siege City hoped that her daughter would marry the king’s brother. Ever since breaking off his first (and only) engagement seventeen years before, Jonathan had shown little inclination to marry. Rumours of an illigitimate child had circulated for a while, but had come to nothing. And Jonathan had managed to stave off the advances of every mother-in-law ever since.

“But what of you?” Jonathan turned to Kate. “Your mother was married by the time she was your age.”

Kate lifted one eyebrow and gave him the well-practiced look so common to girls her age. Her large eyes seemed to ridicule him for even thinking her fit to marry one of the idiots in her social circle.

“Of course, we won’t discuss Kate’s debut without her father present,” Eva said hastily.

“Of course,” he acquiesced. He pressed his lips together to suppress amusement.

At last the doors were opened to the hall, and the king and his retinue entered.

The guests in the hall sank to their knees at once, and bowed their heads as the king passed. They were not obliged to keep them downcast once he moved on, of course, and so they were able to peek at the rest of the retinue. Not a few of them were casting glances at Eva and Kate – so they had  noticed the change of pace at the Gallow mansion.

The king’s hall was high-domed and grandly adorned and gilded. The black and white marble floor had space for a thousand guests, and a small stage in the back allowed enough room for the royal orchestra to fit in. The ceiling had been painted by some unnamed master centuries ago, and the once bright colors had faded to the barest outline of angels and saints. At the front of the hall, where the king’s table was laid, five enormous glass windows looked out over the city.

The king’s table had been set with the first course. When he at last took his seat, the rest of his retinue did the same, and the guests below stood. They had their own dining area as well, and the servants had begun to bring out bowls and platters of food for their consumption.

Though Miss Hartwin’s mother did her absolute best to place her daughter at the side of the prince, Jonathan managed to seat himself between Eva and his brother, and across from Doctor Aldor. Aldor took every opportunity to shoot Eva a suspicious glance, as though he, too, felt her responsible for Jonathan’s injury at the clerk’s office.

The festival was a strange thing. There was little dancing and more than a few glanced toward the windows with some apprehension.

Outside, the evening air took on a green caste, like the gates of some hell. Eva tried to ignore it but she saw Kate’s glance drawn more than once out the window and away from the table’s conversation.

The king ate slowly and took the time to discuss many different things with those around him. He seemed in pain whenever he swallowed, and reached often for his wine.

At last he pushed his plate aside and asked Lady Hartwin to accompany him to the floor. As they saw him stand, the orchestra began a slow waltz.

Eva found herself presented with the Falconer’s hand.

She couldn’t refuse. She took it and he pulled her out of her chair and onto the floor. With one arm around her waist he guided her between the other couples.

“I didn’t realize you danced,” she remarked.

“It is not the talent for which I am most known. But I am capable.”

“Why dance with me? You can’t possibly enjoy it.”

“You’re rather hard on yourself, my lady,” he said with a brief, sardonic smile. “But essentially correct. However, I felt this the easiest way to speak with you under the circumstances.”

“What circumstances? And what could you possibly have to say to me?” she asked.

The Falconer leaned forward until his mouth was nearly against her ear. He spoke with all the appearance of a lover to his mistress: “Jonathan’s love for his friend has made him blind to some of the possibilities before him,” he murmured. “He would ride into fire to save your lord. am still watching you – and your lovely daughter. And if you have betrayed us-”

She jerked back and her feet stilled by themselves. Two red blotches had appeared on her cheeks, both the shock of his intimacy and outrage at his intimation. She felt the furtive glances that other dancers and watchers were casting them, and kept her voice appropriately low. “You forget that you are servant and not master,” she hissed. “If the king believes the truth of my claims, then what you think means nothing.”

“The king is not hindered by his emotions,” the Falconer replied. They began to dance again. “He understands the necessity of remaining-”

Before he could finish, the sky outside flared bright green. Many gasped; the orchestra faltered and the waltz fell out of time. Every guest turned towards the windows. Green tendrils shot like flames through the sky, turning every face ghostly pale.

They seemed to be coming from one place in particular, a section of wall far off to the left. Without wishing it, Eva found herself turning towards the Falconer, a question in her eyes.

He caught her look and that thin mouth twitched. “Someone has tried to get in – or out,” he said. “I hope you will forgive the intolerable rudeness, but I’m afraid business calls me away.” He dropped her hands and strode from the hall, but no one noticed him leave.

After a few moments the king signaled to the orchestra, and they struck up again. Rather grudgingly many couples returned to the dance, but conversation was scattered and worried, and all eyes were turned inexorably towards the great windows and the green beacon of light.

***

Click here to read Chapter Nine.

Publication Update: Snow White

What is the best thing to see when coming home from five hours of herding drunken, beligerent tourists from pub to pub in Copenhagen?

Well, aside from a warm cup of coffee.

An awesome email, of course. I just finished tonight’s Copenhagen Pub Crawl and slogged my way home to find a lovely email in my inbox: my poem “Snow White” has been published on the fairy tale e-zine, Enchanted Conversations.

I have always loved fairy tales. I have loved twisting them and turning them into something different, and I have loved reading twisted fairy tales by other authors. So Enchanted Conversations is an e-zine that I have enjoyed reading ever since I discovered it (which was, let’s be honest, not that long ago).

Of course, I was really excited when Kate asked me to be an honorable mention  for the month of July. I have so far enjoyed all of her selections, and it is always wonderful to feel vindicated by someone whose tastes you admire.

Kate’s site includes poetry, short stories and articles, so she has a selection for anyone with an interest in the world of fairy tales. Go poke around her site, I’m sure you’ll find something cool!

Tracks, Chapter Seven: The Return

Click here to read the previous chapter.

***

“I’m fine,” Jonathan said through gritted teeth. His guard was helping him down the stairs of the office, hurrying him toward the coach while trying to aggravate his wounds as little as possible. Eva followed behind, with one guard at her side. Whether he was there to aid her or to keep her from fleeing, she did not know. Nor did she particularly care.

As they exited the office, Eva turned to look at it. It appeared almost entirely unchanged, its brick front standing exactly as it had when they first approached it. The only indication that anything had happened was the gaping hole where the window had been, with a few sticks of wood poking like broken teeth out of the frame. The guard took her arm and drew her over the broken glass towards the coach.

He handed her in, and made to follow her. She held up a hand. “Ride ahead,” she  told him. “And fetch the doctor.” He nodded.

As soon as they were both in the carriage, it set off. The jostling had an immediate effect on Jonathan, who turned pale. He leaned against the window and closed his eyes, trying to breathe deeply.

“Are you – ” Eva began.

I’m – fine – ” he repeated. The coach ran over a pothole and he gasped.

They rattled down the streets as quickly as they could, but in the middle of the day, their progress could not possibly be what they wanted. And though the soldiers shouted and cursed and threatened, few moved aside for them.

Jonathan let out a series of quick exhales that could only be laughter. “I suppose this is where it would have come in handy to travel with a full retinue. They’d have closed off the entire street for me, all day.” He cracked open one eye and glanced at her, as if to gauge her reaction.

She tried to smile. “Perhaps you should not travel so casually, Your Highness,” she replied.

Something he had said caught at the back of her mind. They’d have closed off the entire street for me. She frowned.

Then she stuck her head out of the window. “Driver!” she snapped, in her most authoritative voice.

Almost against his will, he turned round to look at her.

“Take the coach up past the train station.”

“That road has been closed off, my lady,” he said in a politely incredulous voice. “Surely you recall driving past this morning.”

“I do recall,” she replied. “The road was closed, and it was empty. There will be no one on it to hinder you.”

“But the road was closed as a matter of security,” he said.

“Isn’t this a matter of security?”

He looked down and drummed his fingers on the bench. A few moments later he turned back toward the front, flicked the reins and drove the coach off of the crowded detour-route and onto a sidestreet.

Ten minutes later, the coach stopped again. Eva could hear muffled voices, sharp in tone. Their own driver sounded urgent and angry. The man he was arguing with seemed harassed. Their voices rose until finally the driver snarled, “See for yourself!” and the door was flung open, sending a blinding brightness into the carriage. Eva flung up a hand to protect her eyes. Jonathan tried to do the same, but his hand only made it halfway before it drifted back down.

The man with whom the driver had been arguing wore the uniform of one of the Falconer’s men.

He leaned into the carriage and examined her with one raised eyebrow. She returned his look as coldly as she could. Then he turned and looked Jonathan up and down. He noted the livery of his prince and the finery of the coach. Whether he recognized the lady was not certain, but he knew the gentleman. He withdrew his head, and nodded reluctantly to the driver. “Drive slowly,” he warned. “Avoid the workers.”

The coach set off once more. And though Eva had warned Kate off peering through the curtains, she couldn’t resist taking a look at the damage that had been wrought during the night.

Only yesterday it had been the busiest location in Siege City. Now it was silent as a graveyard.

The dome of the train station had once been the largest of its kind on the entire continent. It had been made of red-gold glass that blazed like a sunset. That dome was cracked open now, like a bloody egg. The tracks that had once flowed into the station were no longer visible for the rubble that extended all the way to the road. Crews had been hard at work all morning clearing that road, but as their coach proceeded they hit numerous stones that made Jonathan wince. The front of the train station, which consisted of twelve tall marble arches, was pitted as though it had been the site of some war.

There were no trains in sight.

Every so often the coach passed some of the Falconer’s men, who made their way slowly over the ground. They seemed to be searching for something. A few glanced up to watch the coach pass. Most ignored it. They wore dust masks and protective leather – perhaps they were looking for another bomb.

When they came to the end of the barricade, the driver exchanged a short word with the man on duty. It was, of course, far easier to leave the forbidden zone than to enter it, and he waved them through after a short pause.

“Are we there yet?” Jonathan asked as they squeaked through.

“Nearly.”

And they were there, soon enough. They pulled into the crescent yard of the palace and before the coach had even stopped, the door was opening. The royal doctor, a man whom Eva had spoken to a handful of times, stepped in. “Your Highness?” he said.

“I’m fine,” Jonathan murmured.

“I’m sure you are,” the doctor replied in a brisk voice. “Help me,” he instructed a pair of assistants who lingered outside of the coach. To Eva he said nothing, but he waved her out impatiently. She hitched up her skirts and clambered down, unassisted.

She could only watch as Jonathan was carefully lifted out of the coach and placed on a stretcher. As it sped off into the side entrance, it was followed by his guard, his driver, a handful of servants and the doctor’s entire retinue, bustling through in a cloud of gossiping worry. As the yard cleared her gaze fell on the figure that remained behind.

The Falconer was watching her with something very much like loathing.

He did not bother to disguise it when he saw that she was looking. When she began to walk towards the palace entrance, he fell in just behind her.

“You blame me for this misfortune,” she said over her shoulder.

“It is possible. Why were you there? Why did he leave without retinue? Why did no one know where he was going?”

“Perhaps he thought you would try to stop him.”

“I would have stopped him. It was a singularly stupid idea from a normally responsible man. And you are not supposed to be wandering around the city.”

She turned on the steps to face him, so he could see that the hatred in his eyes was matched by her own. “I was called a guest by your own king. And though I did demand to accompany him, it was his own decision to investigate. If you think it so irresponsible, why not tell him?”

“I shall,” he replied in that soft voice of his. “And I shall certainly ensure that you never leave the palace without a full guard again. His Highness may be convinced of your innocence and ignorance. I certainly am not.” And with a deft push he turned her back around and walked her up the remaining stairs, into her prison.

***

Click here to read Chapter Eight.

Searching for Reality in an Artificial World

I have returned from my trip to Venice and Florence with a camera full of pictures and a belly full of gelato, just the way such trips ought to go. I didn’t get as much writing done as I would have liked, and I didn’t get to update my blog – in fact, internet was so scarce on the ground that I couldn’t even write to tell my boyfriend I had landed.

I went to Venice to enjoy myself and see an old friend, but I also went there to gather inspiration. I’m working on a story about a city with canals instead of streets, gondolas instead of carts, doges instead of princes. I wanted to walk around Venice and soak up the atmosphere, see how this bizarre city works, and try to inject some of that magic into my writing.

But, to be honest, I don’t feel like I got to see the real Venice. I don’t even know whether there is a real Venice. It’s all mask shops and paper shops and glass shops punctuated by restaurants with overpriced tourist menus. Even when we tried to avoid the more tourist-populated areas and visited places like Cannaregio (where the Jewish Ghetto was built), we couldn’t escape the tourist-trap feeling.

The entire island was sinking under the weight of visitors. Every time I looked at the houses above the shops, or the little side areas that appeared to hold residents, I wondered: Can people actually live here?

I wouldn’t be able to do it.

The Venice I wanted is probably the Venice that everyone thinks of when they set out. Something darkly romantic, full of secrets exchanged in gondolas and hidden behind carnival masks. Whispers in the night. Secrets the day does not quite manage to conceal.

This is no more the real Venice than the city I saw. But I was hoping, in my travel, to find some kind of truth that I could work into my prose.

All I saw was a city so heavily gilded that no one could pass by without stopping. Full of light and sound and colour and shape – the city is full of the appearance of substance, but the meat of it eluded me completely.

So, after traversing the islands on foot for four days, we moved on to Florence.

Maybe living in Venice would give me a different perspective on it – but I wouldn’t really want to move there to find out. I will keep looking for my great metropolitan muse. In the meantime, there’s plenty of other stuff to write.

(Hopefully Not Very) Problematic Updates: Travels in the Near Future

So today I have no new chapters, and I won’t have them next week either. I’m not sure whether I’ll be posting next week, in fact, because I’m going to Venice! Hooray!

It will be a welcome change from the rainy Danish summer, and a welcome change from work. My professor is pleased with my thesis progress, so I don’t feel bad about taking a week off there. The guy I’m writing a web shop for can’t pay me yet, so I don’t mind taking a week off there. And in my last week of tour guiding, I was first verbally abused by a passer-by not even on my tour, and the next day I had to take an emergency shift totally unprepared. So I don’t mind taking a week off there.

I will definitely be writing a lot about Venice and Florence. I may try to take some pictures, although I am a notoriously bad picture-taker. If time and the internet permit, I’ll be able to post as normal next week. But if not, I’ll try to post another chapter of Tracks when I get back, as well as some cool Venice-Florence thoughts.

Planners and Pantsers

Every year I try to participate in Nanowrimo. I have not succeeded unequivocally, but at least I have tried.

The good Nano’ers have divided us writers into two different camps: planners and pantsers. The planners prepare their novels right up to the moment of writing. They have intimate character sketches, theme discussions, hidden relationships, in-depth outlines. They’ve got it all and more. The pantsers, on the other hand, start working on their idea the moment they start writing. They’re going by the seat of their pants. They no more know what’s going to happen in their novels than a reader might.

I am, without a doubt, a pantser.

I tried once to be a planner- in my very first novel, written when I was 15/16. The completed manuscript was a bloated 400 pages written from a series of notecards that had little moments and elements that I wanted to capture in my story. I took the notecard approach on the recommendation of a book that claimed it would teach me how to write science fiction and fantasy. I have since disdained the book and, while the notecard approach doubtless works for some, I never re-approached it.

My next book was written in the same year, completely by the seat of my pants. As a result, it was utterly without plot. The next tried to put too small a plot into too large a novel. Again, I had the bloating problem.

Others no doubt have great success with pantsing. But in my work (and this is only a commentary on my work), when I don’t know what’s going to happen next, I wander around in my world until I finally do. Which means that my manuscripts are at best meandering, and at worst overblown.

But for me, pantsing is more fun. During the writing process I am excited; I don’t know what my characters are going to do next and it’s so much fun to find out that I often dispense with the planning in favour of being pleasantly surprised.

But when I recently started work on a new novel, I decided to give planning another try.

Part of this is for research purposes. It will be set in a city much like Renaissance Venice, and I want to be able to capture and express a feel like that.

It’s also because this idea has been following me around in some way or another for eight years. I want it to come to something.

Wish me luck in my endeavours! I will still be pantsing on everything else. Maybe in a few months I’ll put in an update on how the pantsing vs planning is going.