Flash Fiction: Secrets

I’ve been meaning to post a new flash fiction for ages – finally, here it is! Inspired by a photograph of a letter and a mysterious key. They seem full of secrets.


Now that I’d reached the back of Gran’s closet, cleaning it out became slightly less painful. Like pressing on a bruise instead of stabbing with a hot needle. The dresses and skirts here were old items, obviously treasured, but I had no memories of her wearing them. I pulled out a black dress beaded with jet and flecks of silver. It could have belonged to a stranger, for I’d never seen it before. It smelled faintly of potpourri, the last ghostly linger of perfume.

I laid the dress on the stripped bed, smoothing my fingertips over the straight skirt. I could picture Gran as a flapper, sort of – I’d seen pictures of her with a sleek bob and matte lipstick. The short fringe dangling from the dress’s hem would have swished and trembled with each shimmy of the wearer’s hips, and I smiled to think of Gran dancing in it.

That smile turned into another pulse of pain, mourning sharp in my veins, leaving a salty taste in my mouth. I’d never again hear Gran singing Edith Piaf as she baked strawberry pie, or humming as she picked flowers from her garden to donate to the hospital. That emptiness ached, squeezing the air from my lungs, closing my throat.

I lifted the dress to my cheek, as if it could somehow bring me closer to her again. The fabric crackled under my cheek, which lead me to discover a hidden pocket, cleverly sewn at the hip and just large enough to hold a small piece of paper, folded four times. The heavy creases had grown soft as silk over the years, and I opened the paper with caution, afraid of tearing it. The once-black ink had faded to tea-stain brown, but I could still read the narrow script.

Rosie, it began, addressed to Gran:

After tonight, we’ll never have to see each other again. The plan hasn’t changed, but the time is confirmed. Create a distraction at exactly 9:05. Make sure the back door is unlocked before that. The diary will be hidden at our usual meeting place, and you may reclaim it any time after tonight.

I don’t think I need to say that this secret never leaves us two.

J

My mouth gaped. This mysterious letter didn’t seem as if it could have anything to do with sweet, unselfish Gran. Did it refer to a crime? Worriedly, I checked the other side of the dress for more letters, and instead discovered a hard, tiny bump. I almost tore the skirt’s lining in my attempt to get it free, and then I held a small metal key in my hand. One that would probably unlock a diary.

I gingerly placed the key and the letter on the bedside table. I knew where the diary was. I’d found it once years ago, while playing dress up with Gran’s shoes. She made me promise to never say anything, and I’d childishly agreed, putting it from my mind for the promise of a trip to the park.

If I read it, anything I learned could never be forgotten. Curiosity yanked me toward the diary, nestled in a shoebox, but fear held me back. The contents of the diary could change my view of Gran, snatching her away even more than death already had. My teeth fretted at my lip.

Eventually, I burnt the letter in a green tea scented candle I found on her dresser. I shoved the diary key into my pocket, and turned back to the closet. The tiny key poked me as I moved, its edges sharp, its presence unforgettable.


 

This flash fiction was full of surprises for me. First, it’s longer than I expected. I also meant for this to be a nice story, about someone discovering a pleasant secret about a lost loved one, and it morphed into something ominous. I think indecision is one of the worst feelings, and I’ve been mulling over a couple things in my own life recently, so maybe that’s a factor.

Have a great week, everybody!

Historical Fiction Book Giveaway

My debut novel, The Wardrobe Mistress, has been out in the world for over a month now, and to celebrate I’ve got a fabulous book giveaway! Three winners will get a historical fiction prize pack with six books!

NEXT YEAR IN HAVANA by Chanel Cleeton (February 6th 2018) – In 1958, the daughter of a Cuban sugar baron embarks on a clandestine affair with a passionate revolutionary. In the present, her granddaughter returns to Cuba and discovers the lessons of her grandmother’s past to help her navigate her own romance, and find the true meaning of courage.

THE ORPHAN OF FLORENCE by Jeanne Kalogridis (October 3rd 2017) – A young woman rises from pickpocket to the assistant of “the Magician of Florence” and becomes tangled in a web espionage and murder

LAST CHRISTMAS IN PARIS by Heather Webb and Hazel Gaynor (October 3rd 2017) – Told through a series of heartfelt letters, a privileged young lady and a soldier share their experiences of the First World War, and maybe even find love amid its horrors.

THE LOST SEASON OF LOVE AND SNOW by Jennifer Laam (January 2nd 2018) – A beautiful and intellectual young woman attracts the attention of Russia’s most lauded poet and embarks upon a passionate and tempestuous relationship that leads to a tragic duel.

THE MOST BEAUTIFUL WOMAN IN FLORENCE by Alyssa Palombo (May 1st 2017) – Set in 15th Century Italy, a beautiful woman navigates complex relationships in Florentine society – and develops a passionate intimacy with Sandro Botticelli, leading to her immortalization in his masterpiece painting, The Birth of Venus.

THE WARDROBE MISTRESS by Meghan Masterson (Aug 15th 2017) – One of Marie Antoinette’s wardrobe women is torn between her loyalty to the queen and her love for an idealistic revolutionary as the danger of the French revolution escalates.

This could be you!

So how do you win? There are three ways to enter:

Facebook – Like and comment on the contest post. Extra entry if readers post a photo of one of the books with the hashtag #HistFicContest

Twittertweet using the hashtag #HistFicContest

Instagram – Tag a friend in the contest post, as well as using the hashtag #HistFicContest. Or, post a photo of any of the books in the prize pack, along with the hashtag #HistFicContest.

The winners will be announced on September 28th. Good luck!

 

Interview at 17 Scribes

Earlier this year, I joined a really wonderful group called ’17 Scribes. Everyone is a 2017 debut author, and it’s been an invaluable resource for asking questions, sharing experiences – and making friends! I’ve got an interview about The Wardrobe Mistress on the ’17 Scribes website, and I’d encourage you to check out the other interviews as well. There’s a lot of amazing talent and diverse projects in this group. All my Book Addiction posts since February have featured other 2017 debut authors and their excellent books – more to come in the fall, as well.

Flash Fiction – Haunted

The story that came out of this eye-catching photograph wasn’t quite what I expected, but I think it turned out better that way. It reminded me just how much I love writing flash fiction.

Photo via Visual hunt

As I unfold the silky blue cloth wrapping keeping them safe, the fragrance of the daisies drifts through the air; sweet as grass, clean as raindrops, haunting as the pages of an old book. Fresh enough that if I close my eyes, the image of a sun-kissed meadow, scattered with the confetti of wildflowers, forms in my mind and lulls me into a sense of peace.

Exactly as they’re meant to. It startles me, shaking off the drowsiness, and I bring the flowers closer to my face, inspecting them. I guess I didn’t really believe, even though I let myself be tempted into buying them. It seemed like a good story, to buy supposedly magical flowers from the witchy lady at the Renaissance Faire. She sold jewelry too, rings twisted to silver flowers and ravens and Celtic knots, everything as dramatic and beautiful as the pentacle at her throat. Her ears, glinting with gold earrings, tapered almost to a point, and as her papery voice whispered about dreams and escape, I believed her. Head spinning with overpriced mead and an edge of adrenaline, I’d laughed and agreed, lumping the flowers into the cost of the bronze ring now curled around my finger.

“They’ll bring peace and inner calm,” she’d said.

“Who doesn’t need that?” My voice rang, brash and hard, drawing too much attention. Her mouth smiled in response but her eyes stayed slated as mirrors.

I want it now. Tranquility, a reprieve from the curl of nervousness that pinches my stomach and dries my mouth. Even a placebo effect will be enough to give me a moment of peace, if I believe hard enough. I put the flower in my tea, as instructed. It shrivels in the hot water but tastes purer than chamomile.

My heartbeat slows, a steady drumbeat instead of the thrum of a hummingbird’s wings. Warmth steals through my veins, droops my eyelids. I sling my body against the couch cushions, half-listening to the sound of music drifting through the open window.

I wake with sourness and a needle-jab at my temples. My ears hum. Slowly, the nervousness creeps back, sharpened to an edge now that I’ve lost another day and success matters all the more now.

I work all day to make up for precious lost time, dragging my attention from one task to another with methodical resignation. My bones ache with weariness, thoughts drifting like obscuring mist over a mountain peak. At night, I drink a glass of wine, resolutely focusing on the rest of my to-do list, ignoring the flowers.

At bedtime, my resistance crumbles like chalk, and I lift the second flower to my mouth. Its white petals are velvet against my lips before I swallow it whole and let blissful ignorance and apathy wash over me. Dreams don’t exist; I float as nothing, forgetful and calm.

The after effects linger much longer this time, and on the fourth day, I stare at the last flower for ten minutes before gritting my teeth and lifting it into the flame of a lighter held over the sink. The heat stings my thumb, and as the bittersweet smoke curls into the air, I drag it into my lungs.

The shadowy peace twirls out of reach, nagging at the corners of my eyes, fidgeting its way through my fingers. Destroyed, it won’t work again now, and after moment of mourning, a sense of relief rinses over me. The anxiety comes back, but I embrace it because it feels like something. The shining moments need darkness to make them gleam like a pinprick of light.

 

Book Addiction: The Waking Land

I just finished reading The Waking Land by Callie Bates, and this lyrical novel is my latest book addiction. Growing, up, I was obsessed with Tamora Pierce’s “Song of the Lioness” series and The Waking Land captures a similar vein of magic through a vivid, well-drawn universe and a heroic and likable protagonist, with a bit more of a grown-up voice.

Beautifully written and evocative, The Waking Land is the story of Elanna, raised as a hostage in a rival kingdom. She grows to view the king as a father, but when he’s poisoned and she’s accused of his murder, Elanna finds herself back in her homeland of Caeris, where everyone is counting on her to lead a rebellion. Full of magic, romance, and dangerous encounters, it’s a tale of torn loyalties and adventure that will keep readers turning the pages ceaselessly. I particularly loved the fresh twist of Elanna’s magical connection with plants.

Callie Bates has kindly agreed to an interview to talk about her debut novel. Welcome, Callie!

What was your inspiration for The Waking Land?

I wanted to write a story about a young woman, raised as a hostage, who’s taught to despise her people and homeland, but still has an indelible connection to them due to her forbidden magic. I also wanted to use that magic to play with the symbiotic relationship between humans and the natural world. And then I wanted to have some fun with romance, rebellions and poisonous mushrooms! 🙂

Did you face any unexpected challenges or pleasant surprises while working on the novel?

Before I signed with my literary agent, I completely rewrote the book from third person past tense to first person present tense! This was much more than a line-by-line change; I reworked the voice, pacing, character arc, and much of the storyline. I really enjoyed the challenge.

What was your favourite scene to write?

It’s hard to answer this question without spoilers—there’s a scene at the end that’s my true favorite!—but I’m very proud of the prologue. It took a lot of finessing to cram enough backstory into it, keep the perspective of a seven-year-old, and maintain growing tension as she’s taken hostage!

What’s your writing process like? Do you have a strict schedule or can you write anywhere, anytime?

I write my first, loose drafts by hand in a notebook, then transfer to a computer to rewrite and revise. I try not to be too strict or ritualistic, so that I can write in any place and at any time of day. Though I have a desk, the couch is probably my favorite spot!

Do you share an affinity for plants, like your protagonist Elanna? What’s your favourite flower?

I did give Elanna my own love for the natural world–though, alas, I don’t have her magic with plants! And I am not much of a gardener. I love roses of all varieties, especially wild roses. I love wild mushrooms as well—some of which are deadly, and inspired a scene in the book!

If you could pair your book with any drink or snack, what would you suggest?

The Waking Land would pair well with a malty Scottish whiskey, or perhaps some lovely mead!

How can we stay updated on your book news?

I post updates on all my social media feeds: I’m @calliebywords on Twitter and Facebook, and @callie_bates on Instagram. You can also check my website, calliebates.com! 

From the book jacket:

In the lush and magical tradition of Naomi Novik’s award-winning Uprooted comes this riveting debut from brilliant young writer Callie Bates—whose boundless imagination places her among the finest authors of fantasy fiction, including Sarah J. Maas and Sabaa Tahir.

Lady Elanna is fiercely devoted to the king who raised her like a daughter. But when he dies under mysterious circumstances, Elanna is accused of his murder—and must flee for her life.

Returning to the homeland of magical legends she has forsaken, Elanna is forced to reckon with her despised, estranged father, branded a traitor long ago. Feeling a strange, deep connection to the natural world, she also must face the truth about the forces she has always denied or disdained as superstition—powers that suddenly stir within her.

But an all-too-human threat is drawing near, determined to exact vengeance. Now Elanna has no choice but to lead a rebellion against the kingdom to which she once gave her allegiance. Trapped between divided loyalties, she must summon the courage to confront a destiny that could tear her apart.

Author Biography:

Callie Bates is a writer, harpist and certified harp therapist, sometimes artist, and nature nerd. When she’s not creating, she’s hitting the trails or streets and exploring new places. She lives in the Upper Midwest. THE WAKING LAND is her debut fantasy novel and first in a planned trilogy.

 

 

 

 

 

The Diamond Deception – a free short story

My debut novel, The Wardrobe Mistress, comes out in less than a month! Set during the French Revolution, it’s the tale of Giselle, an aspiring dressmaker who works in  Marie Antoinette’s household. When she’s asked to spy on the queen, she jumps at the chance, but as she becomes torn between her loyalty to the queen and her sympathy for the revolutionary cause, she risks losing everything…maybe even her head.

To share my excitement, I’ve got a free short story for you. Called The Diamond Deception, it’s a prequel to The Wardrobe Mistress by about three years, and centers on the ‘Diamond Necklace Affair‘, a real event in history where a diamond necklace was stolen under the pretense that Marie Antoinette was buying it in secret. Though the queen was an innocent victim in this crime, it still damaged her reputation.

How do you get your hands on this short story? Just sign up for my newsletter, and you’ll receive a confirmation email with a downloadable pdf of the story.

My newsletter goes out a few times a year and contains book news, snippets of what I’m currently writing (that I don’t share anywhere else), book recommendations, and related historical items of interest.

Already subscribed? Don’t worry, I’ll be sending The Diamond Deception out to existing subscribers as well.

 

Stay tuned next week for an amazing new Book Addiction, and in the weeks leading up to August 15th, the publication date of The Wardrobe Mistress, I’ll be sharing lots of Marie Antoinette themed posts. Ever wondered if she really said ‘let them eat cake?’ I’ve got that answer for you, and plenty more, too.

 


The Wardrobe Mistress, a novel of one of Marie Antoinette’s wardrobe women who casually spies on the queen during the French Revolution and finds herself torn between her loyalty to the queen and her sympathy for the revolution, publishes on August 15th with St. Martin’s Griffin.

Pre-order links:
Amazon | B&N | IndieBound | BAM | Macmillan

 

Book Addiction: Girl Last Seen

Nina Laurin’s enthralling debut, Girl Last Seen, comes out today and I had the excellent luck of being able to read an advance copy. Most of the time, my Book Addiction posts have a focus on amazing historical fiction, but I’m diversifying this time because I’ve been reading a lot of suspense lately and Girl Last Seen is utterly compelling and highly recommended.

Laine, the novel’s vulnerable but determined protagonist, struggles to cope with her past abduction, a crime that has never been solved. Now, thirteen years later, a second girl goes missing, one who could be the image of Lainey at age ten. Dark and full of serpentine twists, Girl Last Seen is an addictive books that makes for such captivating reading that you might find  yourself still turning pages when you should be cooking dinner, or looking up from the book and realizing that it’s suddenly past midnight. (Full disclosure: both of those things happened to me).

Nina has kindly agreed to an interview on my blog, making this an extra special post. Welcome, Nina!

What was your inspiration for Girl Last Seen?

I was researching some true crime for another story and fell down the Wikipedia rabbit hole. I came across a particularly chilling story of a true crime that just stuck with me. I may have read too much about it, because I had actual nightmares for a couple of days. I can’t give you the link, because it would in itself be a spoiler. But some time later, the main character of GIRL LAST SEEN just appeared in my mind, and I simply had to tell her story.

Did you face any unexpected challenges or pleasant surprises while working on the novel?

It was the manuscript that made me realize psychological suspense was my genre! At the end of 2014, I was facing a crossroads that no writer wants to face. I had broken up with my previous agent that summer and was disheartened by constant rejection, which made me question whether I was writing the right books—and whether I was really meant to be a writer at all. I don’t know what exactly possessed me, but I took out the first version of what would become GIRL LAST SEEN and started to overhaul it. To my surprise, it took off! And then I was writing the scene at the abandoned house where Laine is being stalked in the dark, and after a very long writing slump, I felt the energy come back into my fingertips. I felt like a writer again. I felt like I could write something good.

What was your favourite scene to write?

The scene at the abandoned house that I mentioned above, but also, the finale. It was breathtaking to write! I’m usually terrible at writing action and fighting scenes, but by then, I was invested in Laine and what happened to her. So writing that final showdown, where she faces her demons for the first time in ten years, was also heartbreaking in a way. And I think it gave the action sequence the super-high emotional stakes that made it easy to write.

What’s your writing process like? Do you have a strict schedule or can you write anywhere, anytime?

It depends on the project. I wrote the first draft of GIRL LAST SEEN in a couple of months, but the second and third drafts took a little more time and a little more discipline. It wasn’t about getting the words out anymore—it was about making them make sense. Which is (I think most writers will agree with me) a lot more difficult. Sometimes the writing flows, and other times, I have to force myself to get behind my desk (or motivate myself with chocolate… or bacon).

If you could pair your book with any reading snack or drink, what would you suggest?

Milk oolong tea (that’s a tea that tastes faintly creamy, not tea with milk in it—I’m sure some people like that, and that’s their business…) and dark, dark, dark chocolate. Together.

Stay updated on Nina’s book news:

Author website | Goodreads | Twitter 

From the book jacket: 

Two missing girls. Thirteen years apart.
Olivia Shaw has been missing since last Tuesday. She was last seen outside the entrance of her elementary school in Hunts Point wearing a white spring jacket, blue jeans, and pink boots.

I force myself to look at the face in the photo, into her slightly smudged features, and I can’t bring myself to move. Olivia Shaw could be my mirror image, rewound to thirteen years ago.

If you have any knowledge of Olivia Shaw’s whereabouts or any relevant information, please contact…

I’ve spent a long time peering into the faces of girls on missing posters, wondering which one replaced me in that basement. But they were never quite the right age, the right look, the right circumstances. Until Olivia Shaw, missing for one week tomorrow.

Whoever stole me was never found. But since I was taken, there hasn’t been another girl.

And now there is.

Author Biography:

Nina Laurin is a bilingual (English/French) author of suspenseful stories for both adults and young adults. She got her BA in Creative Writing at Concordia University, in her hometown of Montreal, Canada.