Witchy Weekends: The Frog Wish (part 2)

Hello again! As you already know if you’ve been reading this blog for longer than a week, I’m doing something a little different for this year’s Witchy Weekends series. Instead of sharing movies or books or music with you, I’m sharing with you a story I’m writing, a work-in-progress. (I’ve already written quite a bit of it, but not every last thing yet.) This is a bit of an experiment for me, but I hope you’ll enjoy it.

Here’s the plan: each weekend this month I’ll share a scene with you from this WIP (in which one of the characters is a witch), and you, dear reader, get to share with me your reaction to it. That’s right, I’m crowdsourcing a beta-read. I’ve never done this before, so I don’t really know what to expect — though you all are a very nice bunch, so I’m not expecting you to be rude.  🙂

Click here to read the first scene. (And I recommend you read the scenes in order for the story to make the most sense.)

Feel free to post in the comments what you think of the scene, any aspect of it, and what you think is going to happen next in the story. I’d love to know!

*****

“The Frog Wish” (part 2)

The antiques store, a peeling pier-and-beam house in the unzoned Montrose area, was nothing if not old. But then all the vintage and antique shops lining this street were. It was like two blocks living in the past amidst some conspicuously hip restaurants and the artsy residential section of town. Eleanor climbed the noisy wooden steps to the front porch and opened the screen door. The oak door, whose red paint had faded to a morose coral, was propped open and blocked her view of what had probably been a dining room in the 1930s.

“Hello?” she called down a hallway lined with ornate wooden furniture. The living room to her left contained several sideboards and secretary desks, as well as some framed prints she thought might have dated back to the forties. She glanced around the oak door: the dining room was filled with small tables and their chairs. She heard a scuffling coming from the depths of the house, someone’s boots shifting on the wooden floors.

“I’ll be there in a sec,” a voice called out from the labyrinth of dressers and bedframes and curio cabinets and chairs and vanities Eleanor knew the house contained. All of these antique shops were alike­­­­––too many pieces of old furniture wedged into rooms barely big enough to hold both the merchandise and a passel of customers.

“I’ll come to you,” Eleanor answered and picked her away through the hallway to the next open space. Openish. At least the merchandise seemed to be in good shape. Other than a thin layer of dust on some of the taller pieces and the persistent aroma of incipient mildew germane to pretty much every place like this on the Gulf Coast that didn’t have central air and heat, the proprietor seemed to have a good handle on how to take care of the antiques. That encouraged her.

The shop owner came into view, navigating a row of end tables. He was an older man, probably approaching sixty, in a dark green t-shirt and blue jeans. He saw Eleanor and waved.

“Hey there.” His subtle twang suggested she was dealing with a born-and-raised. “I’m guessing you’re Ms. Richardsen.”

“I am,” she said, walking toward him with hand outstretched. He shook it. “Call me Eleanor.”

“Righty then.” He looked around. “I’m Joe. I just got some new dressers in last week, so the shop is a little bursting. But the––you were looking for bedframes?––I have some nice ones, about a hundred years old, from upstate New York.” He waved her toward the next room. “Rich mahogany stain, some lovely carvings.”

She needed a new bedframe because Lucas had taken theirs when he left. She’d bought a new mattress and box springs and metal frame on casters the same afternoon, because where else was she going to sleep? Moira had offered her the guest room at her house for as long as she needed, but Eleanor was determined to make her own space as quickly as she could.

It didn’t help that Lucas was Moira’s cousin and might show up there, looking for either company or commiseration or spells. Moira was staying totally neutral with her uncanny ability not to take sides. Maybe all the meditation kept her centered? Eleanor had no idea.

“How about this one?” Joe moved an umbrella stand made from a tree trunk off to the side and wiped a chamois cloth across the top of a queen-sized headboard peaked with an elaborately carved medallion. The image looked familiar, somehow, a triple spiral curling in on itself. It was pretty, but she didn’t know where she’d seen it before. The stain on the wood highlighted its grain pattern; the diagonal patterns on either side of the midline created an oppositional symmetry she found pleasing.

“I love it,” she said without thinking. She should have shown a little more hesitation to get the best price. Too late now, though. “Matching footboard?”

Joe nodded. It was propped up behind the headboard for some reason. “The side rails are solid and strong, no warping or chips at all, but you’ll need to add your own slats to hold the mattress and box.” He sniffed and scratched his scalp. “Probably four good two-by-fours oughtta do it, but get six if you want extra stability.”

For what? she thought sullenly but just nodded her head. She knew the enthusiasm in her eyes had dimmed. “How much?”

He leaned his head from side to side. “Five hundred, but we can work something out if you buy anything else.”

“Like what?” she asked. “Does this bed come with any matching pieces?” Lucas had taken the dresser, too, but she didn’t care as much about that. He was into Scandinavian “clean lines,” which she found utterly lacking in character.

“Course it does.” He smiled and led her toward a cluster of bureaus. “This is part of the same set.” His chamois wiped the top of an imposing cabinet almost as tall as she was. It had numerous large drawers and matching cabinet doors on the sides. The legs were carved in a style she didn’t see often. Every detail, down to the carved horn knobs, was thoughtful and deliberate. The top of the piece lifted with a trap door to reveal a modest storage space––she imagined it filled with gloves and the occasional decorative fan, maybe an embroidered handkerchief––and a place for a mirror, which was missing. That didn’t bother her, though. The bureau was gorgeous and in good shape.

“This is becoming an expensive appointment,” Eleanor said, injecting a note of caution into her voice.

“It’s solid stuff. You won’t find this design anywhere else in Houston.”

That much was true. She hadn’t seen anything else like these in all her years of collecting.

“Take both pieces, we’ll call it seven-fifty.”

“That bureau is missing its mirror.”

Joe grinned. “I got plenty of mirrors here.”

Eleanor sighed. She was going to buy this furniture, she already knew it. She didn’t even really mind how much this was costing her; she’d prepared for that when she’d decided to furnish her bedroom with antiques––to remake her own space in her own image, as it were––and these were fair prices for the value.

She backed away from the bureau section and followed Joe toward a room filled with glass. A single chandelier in the middle of the ceiling was reflected in thirty or forty mirrors lining the walls, so even though it had just a few warm bulbs in it, the room was the brightest in the shop so far. The selection was overwhelming. She could understand why this room was so far back in the labyrinth; in the front room it might scare customers off.

She turned around in a circle under the chandelier, trying to absorb all the different mirrors. Seeing herself reflected in so many distortions and angles made her a little dizzy, so she avoiding looking at that; she focused on the bevels and frames and occasional imperfections in the surfaces. Then another piece, framed in dark wood and standing so tall it nearly grazed the ceiling, caught her eye.

“I really like this one,” Eleanor said, pointing to the large mirror in the corner. It was propped up against the wall with a chiffonier in front of it, obscuring its bottom half.

“That one? Really?” Joe asked.

Eleanor looked at him, a little surprised by his hesitation. “Is something wrong with it?”

Joe shifted his weight and put his hands in his pockets before answering, as if he wasn’t sure how to explain to her what ought to be incredibly obvious. “Well, it’s just got all these water spots on it, so you can hardly see anything clear. We even tried Windexing the thing, but that’s as clean as it gets.”

“It’s not so bad.”

He looked at her skeptically, as if she weren’t looking at the same mirror he was. This mirror had long jagged streaks of frosted imperfection ripping its smooth surface from the top of the carved frame to the bottom beveled edge.

“I think it was in a fire or something,” he offered.

“The frame is marvelous, though, don’t you think?” She wasn’t sure why she was defending this piece, since she was pretty sure she could talk down the price if he didn’t expect the mirror could be sold.

“Well, yeah, it’s all right––but I’ve got a similar frame, in a smaller scale, over on this other mirror over here…” His voice trailed off as he made his way toward one hanging on a wall. It was an oval about a foot wide. The price tag was just about the same as on the one Eleanor had picked out, but her mirror couldn’t have been smaller than four feet by seven.

She looked at Joe over her nose as if amused. “There’s hardly a comparison.”

“But the glass on this one is perfect––you can’t hardly even see through the other one. It’s been here forever.”

She pretended to consider this point; she never really looked into mirrors much, anyway, but she loved having them around. The imperfections wouldn’t bother her at all. She walked carefully back over to her choice.

“You’re right, this one is quite flawed,” she said. “Perhaps you could lower the price on it? I mean, if you aren’t selling it otherwise, I could take it off your hands. Especially if I’m taking those other two pieces.”

The dealer looked like he was thinking about her offer, then said, “Ten percent off.”

She chuckled, ha! “How about twenty?”

“No, fifteen.”

“Sold if you’ll deliver all of it to my house for free. I’m just in the neighborhood here.”

“Yeah…okay. I can have someone bring it around this afternoon.”

“Done,” she said cheerfully, shaking Joe’s hand and then reaching into her purse for her wallet.

*****

Thank you for reading! In the comments, I welcome your feedback:
*  What did you like?
*  What confused you, if anything?
*  What needs work?
*  What are you most interested about?
*  What do you think will happen next?

Check back next weekend for the next installment in the story!

*****

Want to read more of my writing that’s already finished and published? Click here for poetry, click here for urban fantasy, and click here for realistic flash fiction. You can also buy my books in Houston at Blue Willow Bookshop!

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Witchy Weekends: The Frog Wish (part 1)

Welcome to October again! This year, I’m doing something a little different for my Witchy Weekends series. Instead of sharing movies or books or music with you, I’m sharing with you a story. A story I’m writing, a work-in-progress. (I’ve already written quite a bit of it, but not every last thing yet.) This is a bit of an experiment for me, but I hope you’ll enjoy it.

Here’s the plan: each weekend this month I’ll share a scene with you from this WIP (in which one of the characters is a witch), and you, dear reader, get to share with me your reaction to it. That’s right, I’m crowdsourcing a beta-read. I’ve never done this before, so I don’t really know what to expect — though you all are a very nice bunch, so I’m not expecting you to be rude.  🙂

Feel free to post in the comments what you think of the scene, any aspect of it, and what you think is going to happen next in the story. I’d love to know!

*****

“The Frog Wish” (part 1)

Eleanor couldn’t stop staring at the frog. A large creature, larger than the palm of her hand, it watched her as she circled the table, following her with its eyes and even turning a little to keep her in its line of sight. Maybe it was aware she was wondering about it? The thought made her a little uncomfortable. In her world, frogs were supposed to be garden animals. They did not possess the intelligence to be inquisitive about people. This one almost reminded her of Lucas, the way he had watched her sometimes from across the room, cocking his head slightly when she did something a little bit interesting. She circled around the table, and the frog’s eyes moved with her in an articulated curve, watching her until she stood behind him.

The frog lifted itself off its haunches and turned around, squatting once more, looking at Eleanor again. It made a little croak.

All the old stories of princes being turned into frogs by witches flooded her imagination. What would it feel like to kiss one? Slimy, no doubt… What would ever possess someone to try it? She looked over at Moira, measuring dried lavender buds carefully into a plastic bag for a customer.

“Now be sure to sprinkle those in the bath while the warm water is running,” she was saying. “And say the charm I gave you at the same time.”

The customer nodded her head. “Right. And I have to focus on myself only, not on anyone else.”

“You wouldn’t want to be unethical,” Moira smiled. She tossed a long braid over her shoulder. “Bad for your karma that way.”

“Got it. Thank you so much!” the customer called as she left the shop.

Moira looked back at Eleanor and grinned. “Some of them are so easy to please,” she said. “Just a few herbs and a decent meditation, and they think I’ve changed their lives.”

Eleanor looked at her friend more carefully, then glanced down at the frog, who’d just let loose a croak worthy of a blue ribbon. It blinked its moist eyes at her then looked away.

“This one of yours?” Eleanor asked, pointing to it.

“Who, Reginald?” Moira laughed. “He’s like a pet.”

Eleanor couldn’t believe she was about to ask it, but–– “Did you make him…?”

“Did I turn him into a frog, you mean?” The amused grin on her face tried hard not to look condescending.

Eleanor felt stupid now even for thinking something like that.

“No,” Moira laughed. “I found him that way. The Goddess has to take credit for that one.”

Eleanor sheepishly turned away from the frog, who croaked again, and followed Moira into the book room for tea and a cozy seat on the sofa.

The book room was Eleanor’s favorite spot in the entire shop. Oh, she liked the garden well enough, and the alcove filled with crystals and jewelry; the shelves lined with large glass jars full of powders and dried herbs fascinated her. But the book room, with its floor-to-ceiling rows of spellbooks, memoirs, meditation primers, and tarot decks, was absolutely the spot to be. Moira had set up a couple of Queen Anne wingback chairs (that might have been worth some real money if she’d reupholstered them) in the corners and a velvet divan under the window, and Eleanor often came in here to read or admire the art on the tarot cards. When things were slow, she and Moira would sit together for a cup of oolong or chai and pretend the world wasn’t a madly spinning maelstrom of nonsense.

Moira pointed to a small wooden box inlaid with mother-of-pearl on the coffee table. “A new deck arrived this week. I thought you might enjoy it.” She crossed the room to pour the tea.

Eleanor lifted the lid and drew back a dark blue silk cloth covering the cards. An intricate image stared up at her, a wildly overlapping pattern of jewel colors and shapes she couldn’t quite identify, and when she tried to impose some order onto it, the image seemed to shift back into chaos. An optical illusion, she thought. Clever. She flipped the first card over and saw The Fool, cheerfully traipsing down a haphazard path. Nothing she hadn’t seen before, even if the art was vibrant and appealing. She lifted the rest of the deck out of the box and sifted through it. The Major Arcana were gorgeous but easily recognizable, even without glancing at their titles or numbers.

Moira brought two teacups over and sat down. The scent of cinnamon and vanilla permeated the room.

“I still haven’t figured out how you manage such perfect foam without a latte machine,” Eleanor said.

Moira wrinkled her nose in a cute smile and sipped, then said, “What do you think of the new cards?”

“They’re lovely. Have you used them yet?”

“Just some idle browsing.” Moira set down her tea. “Would you like a reading?”

Eleanor glanced at her watch. She still had half an hour before her appointment with the antiques dealer. “Maybe a quick one.”

“Go ahead and shuffle them then,” Moira said and spread the silk cloth across the table. After Eleanor handed the cards back, Moira laid out three in a row, face-down. She turned the middle one over. “The Empress.” She gave Eleanor a sly smile. “Where have we seen this before?”

Eleanor dismissed it. “Yes, yes, you’re very optimistic about my ability to effect control over my own life blah blah blah.” She drank more of her tea.

Moira shook her head. “Not with that attitude, I’m not.”

“Please continue.”

Moira sighed. “In your past…” She flipped over the left-most card. “You have the five of cups.”

Also no surprise. Neither of them said anything, because neither of them wanted to argue about Lucas. Not again. Eleanor looked at the figure on the card mourning the spilled wine and ignoring the full chalices just out of reach. Moira gazed at it, too, but rather than say anything, she buried her face in her teacup.

After a moment, Eleanor cleared her throat. “Go ahead,” she murmured. “Show me the future.” As if a deck of cards could do such a thing.

Moira flipped over the last card. Death. The card that meant not actual death, but change. Big change. The kind of change no one could help you with or see you through. The kind of change you had to deal with alone.

“Well.” Eleanor took another sip then placed her teacup down as quietly as she could. “I suppose that’s good news, then, isn’t it?”

Moira looked up at her and crooked an eyebrow.

“I mean, right now, almost any change has got to be good. Hasn’t it?”

Moira laughed then, and the tension in the room crackled into a broken web. “We can do a longer reading later, if you like.” She gathered the deck into her hands and began idly shuffling them.

Eleanor shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m not sure I believe in all this stuff.”

Moira paused and gave her a skeptical look. “That would explain why I’ve done more readings for you than anyone else in the last fifteen years. Combined.”

Eleanor opened her mouth to speak but found she had no clever response, so she downed the last of her tea instead. “I need to go anyway. Work beckons.”

The wind chimes in the front room signaled a customer had come into the shop. “So it does,” Moira said and took both teacups back to the tiny closet she’d turned into a snack station.

Eleanor wrapped the cards carefully back in their cloth and returned them to the box, closed the lid. “I’ll call you later,” she said. Moira nodded and they both walked into the front room, where a skittery young man was looking through a small box of watercolor greeting cards.

“I’m looking for a gift,” he said before Moira could even ask.

She nodded. “I know just the thing.”

This caught him off-guard. “You do? But I haven’t told­­––”

Moira shook her head gently. “No need.” She smiled, and he suddenly stopped fidgeting.

“Oh,” he said, looking a little confused. “Oh.”

“I’ll show you.” Moira gestured to the garden just beyond the open back patio door. He nodded and stepped toward it.

Moira patted Eleanor on the shoulder and slipped something into her pocket. “Call me later,” she said and walked back toward her customer.

Eleanor felt a small hard something wrapped in ribbon next to her car key. “Will do,” she said and headed out the front door to a meeting that would be far more straightforward than this visit had been.

A single croak stopped her progress halfway over the threshold. She turned and saw the frog again, perched on the desk, watching her. She resisted the urge to tell it good-bye. It was a frog.

Croak.

Eleanor paused. Then she shook her head. “Nope.”

She walked out.

Continue reading the story! Click here for part 2.

*****

Thank you for reading! In the comments, I welcome your feedback:
*  What did you like?
*  What confused you, if anything?
*  What needs work?
*  What are you most interested about?
*  What do you think will happen next?

Check back next weekend for the next installment in the story!

*****

Want to read more of my writing that’s already finished and published? Click here for poetry, click here for urban fantasy, and click here for realistic flash fiction. You can also buy my books in Houston at Blue Willow Bookshop!

Witchy Weekends: Katherine Howe

This weekend let’s chat about some of the witchy work of Katherine Howe. Her debut novel, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, was so much fun to read. It contained a lot of the things I love to read about: smart characters, historical mystery, family drama, academic drama, a lush setting, a touch of romance, and an earnest belief in magic. What could be better, especially for this time of year?

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane came out in 2009, debuting at #2 on The New York Times Bestseller List.

Since then, Howe has gone on to write several more books to significant acclaim. (You should definitely check them out.) Her accomplished pedigree in academia — she holds degrees in philosophy, art history, and American and New England studies — shows in the subtle but unmistakable authority of her historical fiction.

And finally, at long last, a sequel to Howe’s debut is on our radar. The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs will hit the shelves in the summer of 2019. I can’t wait!

image borrowed from Katherine Howe’s social media

Witchy Weekends: The All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness

Welcome to October and the return of Witchy Weekends! I hope the weather in your part of the world is cooperating. It’s a little warm still here for my taste, but hopefully that will change in the not-too-distant future.

This weekend I’m highlighting a book series that I cannot believe I waited so long to read. Deborah HarknessAll Souls Trilogy consists of A Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night, and The Book of Life. A fourth book, Time’s Convert, focuses on supporting characters from the original trilogy. It just came out last month, and I can’t wait to read it!

Harkness’ writing style is leisurely without being slow; you can tell she must have enjoyed crafting this story. Theme and detail and character development and plot are layered together in such a way that these books are both literary and commercially viable page-turners. They’re longish books but never really felt that way when I was devouring them with glee. I especially appreciated her increasing use of humor as the books progressed, and as the characters grew more comfortable in their intimacy and more human in their growth.

The primary protagonist is the witch Diana Bishop, a professor and historian, who encounters a mystifying, centuries-old alchemical manuscript and a mystifying, centuries-old vampire at the same time, while she’s on a research sabbatical at Oxford. If you have an interest in the paranormal, or in history, or in science — the vampire in question is a very accomplished geneticist — you will probably enjoy Harkness’ work. The three books also form one contiguous story (in the same way that The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King all form The Lord of the Rings). The books take us through different countries and different time periods without ever giving us whiplash. The intended audience for the subject matter of these books, I believe, is adults: even though she might be fascinated in the story, I’m not handing them off to my voraciously reading thirteen-year-old any time soon.

These are the kind of books I want to lose myself in not just as a reader, but in some fantastical existence, to be a character in them.

I can’t say enough good things about Harkness’ work, and I’m not alone: I just learned there’s an entire conference devoted just to the fandom of this series, and a TV series is being made of it, too. (It’s currently in production, yay!)

I hope you’ll give this immersive story a try — and give yourself some patience as it starts. The first book has a slow-burn kind of build, but once you’re in, you just might be gloriously consumed. You’re welcome.

Witchy Weekends: John Donne

I may have shared this poem with you before? John Donne is one of my favorites of the old poetry masters.

“Witch” is an epithet hurled at many a disobedient or otherwise displeasing woman, and “witchcraft” levied at her actions.

I could go on and on about this for days, but I’ll save it. Instead just have this poem, Donne’s “Witchcraft By A Picture.”

***

Witchcraft By A Picture
by John Donne

I fix mine eye on thine, and there
Pity my picture burning in thine eye;
My picture drown’d in a transparent tear,
When I look lower I espy;
Hadst thou the wicked skill
By pictures made and marr’d, to kill,
How many ways mightst thou perform they will?

But now I’ve drunk thy sweet salt tears,
And though thou pour more, I’ll depart;
My picture vanished, vanish all fears
That I can be endamaged by that art;
Though thou retain of me
One picture more, yet that will be,
Being in thine own heart, from all malice free.

Witchy Weekends: Book Spine Poetry

I’m decorating my house for Hallowe’en today, and every year I do a fun mantel which includes some book spine poetry. I try to mix it up each year with different poems. Here are this season’s offerings:

the kingmaker’s daughter / drinking coffee elsewhere / a discovery of witches

 

And in honor of all the actual witches working in service each month in the protection of our country with their bindings:

four sisters, all queens / dime store magic / wicked / chocolat / reason for hope

 

And one more poem, just because it’s up on my mantel, even though it doesn’t have anything to do with witches:

lost / in the land of men / lonely werewolf girl / one hundred years of solitude

 

 

‘Tis the season.