My blog has moved! It can now be found at https://writerinsweatpants.wordpress.com/. I try to post every week or two about upcoming projects and writing tips.
After patiently waiting, you can finally read the first chapter of book 2, Hollow Dreams. Here it is! Enjoy!
THREE YEARS LATER
The chilly air blew over the bed, the air conditioning unit growling in the window. My extra-long tank top had risen to my hips and covered the waist of my shorts. Though the bedroom was cold, I was warm curled up with my back against his body. He had his arm wrapped around my waist. I forced my body to move from its spot snuggled deep in the covers and pillows to be able to see his face.
He leaned against his elbow, his face almost exactly like I remembered it. He was still handsome and he had the same bronze skin and emerald eyes I could moon over for hours.
“I’ve missed you.” I said.
He bent down and brushed my cheek with his lips. “I came when I could.” He said.
“You waited three years, Zifa. Three years is a long time.”
“I’m here now though, and I still care for you.” He said.
“I love you.” I said. The words flowed easily from my mouth, a sentence that would never be a lie. I’d never say those words to anyone unless I meant it.
He fingered the chain around my neck, and placed the ring dangling from it between his fingers. “I remember when I gave this to you. We barely knew each other then.”
“We knew plenty about each other. You saw my thoughts, remember mind reader?” I chided. After brushing a piece of his stray hair into place, I wrapped my arms around his neck.
“I need to go.” Zifa said.
“Don’t!” I said.
“I’m not leaving forever. I’m going to make breakfast for us. Go back to sleep as it’s not seven yet. I’ll wake you when the food is ready.” He said. With a final kiss on my lips, he rose and headed for the door.
I woke up breathing hard. My mouth felt like sandpaper and something soft was nuzzling my chin. I opened my eyes to find Sophie with her little, black nose directly in front of my face.
All of it wasn’t real. Zifa wasn’t back, or lying beside me. The only thing true in the idyllic dream was that three years had passed and his ring that he had given me minutes before his death rested against my throat.
“If I didn’t like you, I’d throw you off this bed for making me leave that dream.” I said to my cat. She purred, while I tried to convince my sleepy brain that I was home and Zifa was still MIA.
I rose, my entire body shaking. The dream had caused a flood of emotions.
The dream was bittersweet. I’d glimpsed Zifa again, but it was the picture of him that my mind wanted me to see. Also, when would I say “I love you”? I’d liked Zifa a lot, but I wasn’t sure I’d ever say I’d completely and utterly loved him. At least I wouldn’t admit it to anyone that I had. I didn’t let myself admit it. We’d kissed in the dream, finally finishing what we’d started in Boston when Owen interrupted Zifa and me’s attempt at a first kiss.
The dream had been extremely vivid, so much so that every detail of my bedroom was perfect even down to my rattling air-conditioner. I could almost feel the imaginary kiss still tingling on my lips.
Sighing, I washed my red face. I couldn’t help but blush and grow giddy when I thought about the way Zifa and I had been so comfortable with each other. Today was the third anniversary of Zifa’s death and the battle. I’d expected to be a little scatterbrained and out of sorts because of the anniversary, but I hadn’t expected an entire dream with him.
The realistic side of me reminded me that, no matter how sweet the dream, my real life was nothing like that and never would be. He was gone.
If he hadn’t died, I wasn’t sure I wanted to know where he was and why he hadn’t returned. Even if he hadn’t come back for me, he’d have come back for his mother and sister, but like me, his family had heard nothing about him since the battle. My contacts as vizier of Anndalin gave me no more information about him. It was as if the moment the sword went through his side, he had been wiped off the earth.
Hundreds of soldiers were MIA after the battle. Zifa was another number on a long list in the records.
Curling my hands into fists, I tried not to think of how many nights I had cried after his death, or how many times I had checked my thoughts because I thought he might be reading them. How could someone impact me that much in two weeks?
A few tears started, but I wiped them away. It hurt to think of him, but at the same time it was like an addictive habit that couldn’t be stopped.
I was vizier now. I had other worries besides my past.
To help gear everyone up for Hollow Dreams, the second book in the Curtain of Perception series, I thought I would share this pic. I shared it previously on Facebook and thought it time to add it here. It is NOT the actual book cover (that will be revealed in the fall) but it is one of several promotional pics to announce its upcoming publication.
I hope you're as excited to read it as I am to see it written (as it is a relief to see every large manuscript done)! I'm definitely not looking forward to the next five months of editing and polishing the manuscript, but I look forward to seeing what everyone thinks of the story. Plus, I am ready to write book 3 which promises to push Alika Clarke and all the characters to the edge.
Four years ago in March I began Black Forest. At the time, I had been twelve, and never written anything over a page outside of school.
Since then, I've learned writing isn't easy. Nothing is fast about it, stories change and take new twists, I've had to rewrite until I thought I would scream, and sometimes bouncing ideas off the people closest to me is the only way to climb out of the hole I've written myself into. As well, sometimes the most heroic character can suddenly turn into a vicious villain.
Now, I'm sixteen and have learned a lot. Not to say that I thought writing would be easy when I started, as I've always remained critical and realistic of my own books. However, I've come to realize that writers have their work cut out for them.
Stories aren't only good ideas written onto a page, they are something that everyone who reads them connects to and something the author savors and enjoys while creating. Authors don't take an idea, type it up, get it published and boom! They become bestsellers and millionaires.
I guess some of the simple things I've learned are these:
Writers: Whether a newbie or not, published or clueless, don't rush and don't expect perfect. Be critical of your own work and take time to fix mistakes and plot the story. Willingly accept advise (if the advice comes from a credible source) and try to write as one author who I read stated "Write in a way that makes you a little uneasy". If you stay within too many boundaries, you'll miss out on so much creativity and possibility. (That's not to say that some boundaries aren't a good thing.)
Readers: Don't harass writers. They have a hard and tedious job. I know it's hard to wait for the next book by your favorite author, after all I'm a veracious reader when I have the time too, but enjoy what books they have out now and don't be that person to tweet them and ask "When will the next book be here? Hurry up already!". While it's great to know there're fans, its not fun to get pestered. However, useful feedback to the writer about his/her story is great and appreciated.
So, for me four years of writing have gone by. People have asked me if I'll continue writing, and here's my answer:
At the moment, I see no reason to stop. I enjoy writing, live through it, and it has become a channel for my crazy side. I love writing and I doubt that will change anytime soon.
I'm working on another story while also writing the Curtain of Perception series. Here's an excerpt from this new story if you would like to read it. I don't know if the story will become a book or not, and I haven't even named it yet, but I'd love to hear your feedback on it:
Steam rises off the surface of the still pond, the rising sun slicing through the haze and coating the world in glittering rays of golden warmth. My town’s curfew, which begins at midnight and ends at sunrise, finished some twenty minutes ago. I don’t dare to enter the streets yet, for it will arouse the suspicion of the soldiers. Few villagers venture out of their homes this early and only a handful have begun their morning duties.
The soldiers stand by their posts their eyes drooping. Soon their comrades will come to relieve them and take watch for the day.
The meeting had lasted longer than anticipated, and had gone on until early morning. Fifty men and women, my friend and neighbor, Angelica, and I had assembled to hear the local news and the events surrounding the royal family, the Mersiovskys. Our meeting was held in a hayloft of the barn owned by a farmer. If the soldiers had caught us, especially out after curfew, we would have been arrested and held in prison for several days. The soldiers wouldn’t hurt us, but they tried to keep order in our village. They had been posted throughout the towns farthest from the capital and they’d arrived in May, now six months prior. No one minded their presence until the government issued curfews and tax laws.
We had little say in the government, and the meeting had been established by a group of fervent dreamers who believed they could better the villagers’ lives. While they promised much, I knew the young rebels had few villagers backing them. We weren’t happy with the changes, but they weren’t horrific. We could, and would, live with them.
I notice the guards have begun switching posts. Standing, I walk into sight and quietly pass the guards. They pay me no mind as they are temporarily preoccupied with their own business. Running down the thin alleyways, I soon arrive at my house.
My mother darts around the kitchen hurriedly preparing breakfast. My stepsisters are already at the table dressed for school. My stepfather leaves for work before I have time to wish him good morning. My father had died before I could remember him, and my mother had remarried by the time I was four. My twin stepsisters’ mother died giving birth to them. My stepsisters and I cope, just as we know we must for our parents’ happiness. Besides, they are practically my sisters as they were less than a year old when our parents married. My father died when a tunnel collapsed, so my mother never allows me to go into the tunnels.
My mother had been at the meeting too, but we had separated afterwards so the guards would not be doubly suspicious of two women entering the town at such an early hour.
“Natalia, stoke the fire.” My mother orders.
When I finish, I quickly eat and leave for work. I help the men load carts and take care of trivial duties. My stepfather got the job for me when I was fourteen. Two years had passed since then, and I impress the men by my hard work. My village consists of farmers and miners, my family being miners. The miners toil from daylight to late afternoon cramped inside the dark caverns under the mountains.
The day is cold; my fingers stiffen and bleed while moving through the frosty world. I am bundled from head to toe in wool, but nothing keeps out our harsh winter. I am too poor and too busy to fool with corsets or fancy garments. What was I, a miner’s daughter, to do with them?
Every day a pall of dust and smog hangs over the town, the air full of the remnants of the mine’s products. To a visitor it chokes the air from their lungs, but to those who have grown up in the town it seems nothing but a minor nuisance. We have been promised new inventions to lessen our work and to decrease the dust, but few of the machines have been received from the government. We are to poor, and too desperate to survive each day; we care not what the government does as long as they let us make a living.
The workers take a short break when the town clock chimes noon. I join the men with my small lunch, as they don’t care that I am a woman. I dress like a man and hold my own. Sweat and grime cover my body as much as theirs. No one can say I do not work as hard as the youngest men.
My arms are sore and my fingertips callused. I try to rub the numbness and pain from my limbs, but the cold doesn’t leave. As I eat, energy surges back into my body, and I start to feel human again.
As we are finishing our meal, a horse tears into view and halts suddenly fifty yard away. The rider is a stranger, but he wears the red and gold colors of the Mersiovskys. Jumping from the horse, the rider hastens to us.
“Where might I find the supervisor of this mine?” The man asks, his breath coming in ragged gasps.
“I am he.” A middle-aged man stands and greets him. I have known the burly supervisor all my life, and I have never met anyone kinder. Though massive in size, at heart he treats every worker as his own child.
“This is for you.” The rider says extending a sealed letter to the supervisor.
Hesitantly, the supervisor receives the letter and reads it. When he finishes, he looks about aghast. “This letter says he arrives on the 24th. That’s today.”
“He will be here in an hour or less.” The rider answers before he bows swiftly and returns to his horse before the supervisor can question further.
“What does it say?” My stepfather asks.
The supervisor is too stunned to speak. Instead, he hands the letter to my father. Everyone, including myself, crowd around him to see the finely printed words for ourselves. Few can read, so since I can read, I shakily read aloud as my heart pounds in my chest:
To the citizens:
His lordship, Emperor Sergio Mersiovsky, and his son, Prince Ivan, will grace your city with their presence on the 24th of this month. They are traveling the country in search for a certain young woman to take with them to the capital. She will be educated and introduced to high society with all expenses paid by the emperor. If she proves amiable, she will become a leading member of society.
The emperor orders that you gather all maidens of the working class between the ages of fifteen to twenty-one.
When I finished, my stepfather turned to me and ordered “Go home to your mother. Tell her of the letter.”
“But I-” I began confused.
My stepfather gruffly sets his hands on my shoulders his eyes bright. “Don’t you see? You could be chosen, Natalia!” He exclaims. “You have has high a chance as any, but not if you look like you do now. Go home. You could change our lives for the better.”
I start for home, but my mind sinks into a hazy dream. Could the letter be true? Could the royal family really look for a girl from our village to take with them and allow her to rise to the highest of society?
I shake off my thoughts as I come to my house. It does not matter, as I won’t be chosen. I don’t want to become a city girl. It is an opportunity, but not one I want.
“Mom,” I call out as I enter.
My mother comes from the living room. “Why aren’t you working? Has something happened at the mine?” She looks worried, probably afraid that another tunnel has collapsed.
“A messenger of the emperor arrived with a letter. The royal family wants all the girls between fifteen and twenty-one to gather. One of them will be chosen to go live with them. I was sent home, as the emperor and his son, Ivan, will be here in an hour or less.”
My mother gasps. Quickly getting over her shock, she says “Undress while I heat the water.”
“You aren’t going like that. I wish I had more time! I can hardly make you presentable in an hour.” My mother frets. “Bring in the wash tub and place it in front of the fire.”
My mother tugs on strands of my dark hair. My hair isn’t as long as the other girls as I find it easier to work in short hair. Desperate to see me be chosen, my mother tries her best to make me beautiful. She pulls my hair into decorative wooden clips, as we are too poor to own the popular pearl clips.
We argue over the dress I am to wear. I own one dress, but it is too small in the shoulders and my mother says it is out of style. She proposes I wear hers, the blue paisley that she wore so long ago for her wedding to my stepfather. I refuse stubbornly and swear I won’t wear a dress. We finally come to the agreement that I will wear a long skirt and white blouse. The outfit may be far from new, and it may not be my best, but it represents me. The outfit will also help ensure I don’t get chosen. The other girls will come in full hoop skirts and the few that can afford them will wear neat bonnets. Let them, I care not.
I don’t want to go to the capitol to live. I want adventure, not a boxed up life that the royal family will offer. I don’t want charity, which is exactly what the Mersiovskys offer. I don’t want to stay in my little village all of my life, but I don’t want the spotlight of society either. Let a girl who wants to marry well get chosen, not me. I see no reason for me to go except for furthering my education.
The women of the village say I have a knack for baking, and my dream is to one day have enough money to run my own shop in a larger city. If I could make enough money doing that, I could then travel and experience the world I know little about.
The hour is almost up. My mother finishes last minute details as I hastily pull on my best winter coat and boots. Hurriedly glancing at my reflection in my mother’s handheld mirror, I am happy by my appearance. I look as I should: a girl who works, and who cares not about the newest styles.
As we finish, my stepfather comes in letting a burst of cold air flood through the door.
“The emperor’s carriage arrived. The women are being gathered in the courtyard, as no buildings are large enough to hold them all.
My mother hugs me. “Think what this could mean if you are the one.”
I know what it could mean, and I don’t like the prospect.
Entering the courtyard, I spot Angelica. She wears her best dress, a white gown with lace trim. Her mother’s broach rests at her throat, and her golden hair has been braided and tied into a bun. A green velvet bonnet rests on her dainty head, neatly tied beneath her chin. A fur shawl rests over her shoulders. She appears richer than she is, for every piece that she wears has been handmade by her mother, the town’s seamstress.
She greets me in a bustle of excitement. “Can you believe the Emperor is here? His carriage arrived several minutes ago and he has gone into the supervisor’s house to talk with him.”
“It is hard to fathom.” I admit.
Eyeing the group of approximately fifty women, I feel greatly inadequate. I am plain in comparison with them. I am no great beauty, only an average sixteen year old.
A soldier calls out “The young ladies are to gather and stand in a line. Families may stay on the far side of the courtyard.”
Slowly families separate from us. Before long, a walkway forms between the women and families. I feel as though I am a part of a line of soldiers waiting for inspection. Every one of us cannot control our anticipation.
Someone’s life is about to change.
Angelica nervously squeezes my hand and I return a small smile. I know she wishes to be chosen by the emperor and gallantly swept off to the capital. I hope Angelica is chosen, as she loves to learn and is beautiful. She would be perfect in high society. She is small framed and gentle unlike me. As well, she makes friends with everyone who meets her.
Silence falls over the crowd. I look from Angelica, but remain clasping her hand, to the head of the line to see what has caused the disturbance.
An elderly man enters my line of site. He smiles, accenting his rounded face and pudgy nose. He strokes his silvery beard in thought as he speaks to the stern-looking, young man on his left. I do not doubt that they are the royals, as they are adorned in symbols of wealth and status.
Gradually the emperor and prince begin walking down the aisle. The prince studies every girl closely. He pauses when he comes to Rachel, the lovely daughter of the butcher, but swiftly continues on. He pauses in front of Angelica and I.
We stand utterly still as his eyes take in every inch of us, and I look straight at his face while Angelica blushes and, in perfect lady-like conduct, bashfully glances to the ground. I look the prince straight in the eye, and do not hesitate to examine him as he watches me. He continues on, and when he reaches the end of the line he doubles back. Again he stops in front of us.
I hold my breath. He’s picked Angelica! I think to myself, elated for my best friend.
“What is your name?” The prince asks.
When Angelica doesn’t answer, I realize the question was addressed to me.
My lips go numb; my fingers lose their grip on Angelica’s hand.
“Natalia Alkaev,” I finally answer, careful to keep my voice level.
“How old are you?” He asks.
“Sixteen,” I say. His face reveals his shock; he expected me to be older. Most believe I am eighteen or twenty.
“Would you like to come with us to the capitol?” The emperor questions.
“Yes,” I answer my voice faint.
Angelica glances over, but I do not move to meet her gaze. She knows I lie. She knows I don’t want to go except to help my family.
The emperor nods and waits for his son to speak.
The frowning prince cordially says “Miss Alkaev, with your family’s approval you will come with us.”
I should thank them, but my tongue will not move. At first, I think it is all some sort of joke. Why not choose charming Angelica or attractive Rachel? Why me?
The crowd claps and whoops in my honor. The villagers have known me all my life. Many wish their daughters had been chosen, but they hold only a minor grudge against me. The other women are disappointed, a few even crying as they go to their parents, but I stay frozen in the same spot. It feels as if the frost has spread from the ground up my legs and holds me there.
My family runs to me, my sisters enveloping me in a hug and my mother crying in joy. Even my stepfather appears delighted. I can’t turn down the Mersiovskys’ offer as it will break my family’s hearts, but I don’t want to leave.
The emperor and prince meet my family and arrangements immediately begin. Angelica, yet to leave my side, whisks me away and drags me from my stupor. The town leaders talk of planning a great meal and celebration, but I don’t feel ready for a party. I want to go home and hug the remnants of my old life. How could my life change so drastically in the course of two hours?
“You can borrow my red paisley.” Angelica is saying to me. She goes on to talk of letting the gown out to fit me and how I will need good clothes for my trip to the capitol. I am not listening until she says “…since you’re leaving tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” I gasp. “So soon?”
“Yes, weren’t you listening to your parents and the emperor talking?” She scolds. “You’re pale.” She says, placing her gloved hand on my cold cheek.
“I’m fine.” I say.
My mother comes over. “The celebration will start at six. We need to go home and ensure we have you packed and ready to leave at dawn tomorrow.”
“May I help?” Angelica offers.
“Certainly,” my mother answers.
I want to be alone, to be by the pond, but I stand tall and hide my sentiments. It is not like I am leaving forever, only for a while. My dreams of a shop, of being independent, will simply have to wait. It isn’t as though I am throwing the dreams away. The thought is comforting, as it is something to hold onto when my world seemed to be shifting from under my feet.
I hope you and your family had an enjoyable Christmas! Maybe you wanted a eReader for Christmas but didn't receive it. Maybe you're one of those people who hate the idea of wasting tons of money on a little, electronic device to read an eBook, yet you really would like to get that particular favorite book of yours in the eBook format because its cheaper and no shipping required. Maybe you feel left out of the "newest, biggest, best" group because your friends have eReaders, and you don't. (I fall into the last category because I still don't own a Kindle even though I did publish an eBook. The day I got my final proof for Black Forest I had to read it on my tiny iPhone screen because no one in my family has a decent eReader. Yeah, that was embarrassing.)
Don't worry, there is an easy solution.
Amazon offers free Kindle reading apps that you can download onto a variety of laptops, phones, and other devices. I've been using these apps for months now, and they work fantastically. Want to give it a try? Click on the link below and see if they fit your needs.
I can now be followed on Twitter at @AlexaMackintosh! Make sure to follow me if you love Black Forest.
It's shortly after midnight, and what am I up doing? Writing on
book 2 of the Curtain of Perception series of course! It's amazing
how many spelling errors one can make when they are half a sleep but yet still
in enough of a conscious delirium to make it through writing a scene (or blog
post). I hope all those who read Black Forest are as excited for the sequel (planned to be released in the next few years) as I am! There are a lot of unanswered questions in Black Forest, so if there are any you want to see answered in book 2, tell me what they are in the comments below and I will try my best to answer them in the storyline of Black Forest's sequel!
Black Forest is now available at Barnes and Noble Nook, Amazon Kindle, Scribd, and Kobo! It arrived early at these stores due to the stores, and my publisher's, speedy delivery system. Black Forest will be available at the other stores mentioned on the front page of this website within the next few weeks. So, go buy your copy from one of these four stores today!