Snow on the ground this morning, the first of the season.
And not a little snow – 2 or 3 inches. An impressive amount for October in
I’d gone to bed in a foul mood after an up and down day. I
got the first proof copies of my book, The Flight of The Starling, in the mail,
which was thrilling, but I also spent half the day fighting with Microsoft Word
and Adobe Acrobat over an embedded fonts problem. A stupid technical glitch
that I have to fix in order to publish this book. So close and yet so far.
Plus the kids didn’t want to get out of bed, and for some reason, my son, who’s ten, decided that snow was the worst thing that could’ve happened to him. Oh what a hassle. We’ll have to find all our snow gear. (Nevermind that I did that while they ate breakfast.) Why oh why does the school make us put on snow pants to play outside? On and on. His grumpiness infected me. By the time I was driving them to school – late out the door, plus extra minutes scraping the car – I was as pissed at the October snow as he was.
When I got back home, I realized I needed to reset. First
snows are magical, and that is my quest: to seek out the magical aspects of
life, to acknowledge that awe can be found every day if only we look. More troubleshooting
is still ahead of me today, and I didn’t want to give in to the dark clouds so
early in the day. I decided I would try my best to appreciate the first snow,
to look with new eyes and see the wonder in it, dammit.
All it took was a walk around my block. The first thing I
noticed was the sounds, a shushing and a plopping as the trees threw snowballs
with their leaves. (Yes, I got hit, once. Yes, I shrieked.)
The neighbors’ potted plant, long leaves thickened with
snow, became a tentacled monster. Halloween decorations turned cartoonish,
plastic skeletons grinning at their foolishness in the extra bright light. A
huge rope spiderweb tied to porch rails sparkled with frost.
The trees dropped spontaneous snow-showers, flash flurries
that glittered in the morning sun, silver and gold. The orange and red leaves
on the sidewalk stood out more sharply, a last flame of fall before the black
and white of winter.
It wasn’t just the snow itself that seemed beautiful – it
was the autumn snow. The October snow. And of course, bare black trees outlined
in clinging white are pretty hard to growl at. My cheeks grew pleasantly
chilled in one block, and the warmth inside my front door was welcoming and
The hardest part of finding the
magic was deciding that I could.
I live in Wisconsin, in one of the many small towns that ring Madison by about ten miles. I figure it’s the distance a horse could ride in a day and that’s why all these towns sprung up, like a fairy ring of mushrooms. In my book, The Flight of The Starling, one of the two fairies is named Beloit. Beloit and his sister meet Princess Lily and convince her Prince Alexander is a horrible guy who likes to cut wings off fairies who annoy him, which makes the princess determined to rescue them.
Beloit, Wisconsin, is about an hour away from my house. I drive past it to visit my friends in Chicago. I’ve never spent any time there. I’ve never had any reason to.
So why is an important character in my novel named Beloit?
Simple: Frank Zappa. And my mother.
I grew up in the Midwest, and once on a road trip to Wisconsin, my mom recalled a funny quote when we passed Beloit. It wasn’t till years later that I learned it was something Zappa said in a concert in Wisconsin: “I can never hear the name ‘Beloit’ without thinking of the sound of a marble being dropped into a toilet bowl. Beloit!”
I’m probably butchering the quote, and I could not find an
official reference to it. But my brother and I were in grade school at the time
and we knew comedy gold when we heard it. A family running joke was born. We
could never hear of Beloit without saying this, and sometimes we would just
intone the word – low on the “bell” with a long L, a lilt and emphasis on the
“oi” – and bust out laughing.
I don’t know why my brain picked Beloit as the name for a fairy. Marzipan’s name came first – a light and crunchy confection somewhere between candy and cookie. She’s Beloit’s sister, the other fairy in the fairy tale, and she is distinctly more salty than sweet. But she means well and would never try to hurt anyone with her mischief. Beloit is less practical than Marzipan, more silly, but together they make a perfect pair of pixies, finishing each other’s sentences and schemes.
“Marzipan and Beloit” had a nice ring to it. I was definitely thinking of the marble in the toilet bowl when I named him. To me, Beloit will always be funny. The horse’s name, Milwaukee, was just a continuation of the joke. I don’t know why but I thought the random Wisconsin references got funnier the more I did it.
When I wrote The Flight of The Starling, I lived in Montana. I had no thought of moving closer to Beloit. Now that I am a Wisconsinite, I have to say, I think naming a fairy Beloit is even funnier than it was when I wrote it. I apologize to any Beloitites (Beloiters? Beloitians?) who don’t agree, or who think the splooshing onomatopoeia is an insult. What can I say, I was a child, and it stuck in my head. You’ll have to take it up with Frank Zappa.
What would you name a fairy and why? Leave me a comment.
All the best,
The Flight of The Starling, A Fairy Tale, is available for pre-order on Amazon and IngramSpark now, for release on November 1.
It was the snow that made the apples irresistible. The icy glaze obscured any hint of discoloring poison, and heightened the longing for the last sweets before true winter gripped the forest. Now a sprinkle of magic to make the crabapples grow. There. Three of them in an old woman’s basket. White as her skin, red as her lips indeed. The girl would never suspect a gift so perfect, so like her fable.
The spider watched the fog catching in her web, each bright bead another dying breath of the misty September morning. Frankly, she preferred dragonflies, but at least it made one thing clear: sometimes you cannot admire your creation until you stop working.
His skin hummed as the great engine thrummed to life. Then light burst through the spider web at the top of the warp silo. No matter how many times he flew the ship, the moment he loved best was lift off.
As I get ready to release my book, The Flight of The
Starling, A Fairy Tale, I find myself reminiscing about when I wrote it.
The book cover looks so real, the website seems like a real author’s
page, and the idea of actually putting this story I have loved so long out
into the world is exhilarating, but scary. Times like these I feel like going
back to the beginning of things.
So I brewed some Strawberry Sunset tea. A whiff of the
hibiscus, lemongrass, and strawberry works a sort of magic. Smell is the sense
of memory, and suddenly I’m in the kitchen of that awful pink rental house in
Missoula, the one I shared with my husband when we got married. My black and
white cat, Fox, is meowing at my feet. Once the summery scents are spiraling up
from my mug, I take it to the window seat in the back bedroom. I settle in
among every throw pillow in the house, a princess without a pea, and draw the
lace curtain. It isn’t much but this cordons off my writing nook from the rest
of the house, and my writing time in a sacred bubble where I won’t let myself
I take up my pen and my fairy tale notebook – real actual paper from trees. I didn’t write the whole book longhand, but in the beginning this was deliberate. I was trying to strip away all the trappings of literary pretension I had picked up in my university years as an English major. Just me, my words, and my pen. Slow and careful, writing it like a journal helped in my quest for authenticity, for writing intimately. Stephen King called this “writing with the door closed” in his book, On Writing, when you are writing to please yourself without thinking of any other reader or audience. Eventually I wanted to write a fairy tale for everyone, but in those early days, the book was for me.
A passionate princess, in a castle. Fairies who are charming and mischievous. A magical Book. A journey to a distant land. Princes, dragons, and a ball. Last but not least, the myth of Persephone and Hades, a narrator I hoped Lemony Snicket would appreciate, and wry jokes that would seem at home in The Princess Bride. I surrounded myself with these favorite gems from fairy tale lands, fluffing and rearranging them like the pillows in my writing nook.
Ritual is meant to bring us to a certain state of mind. I’m over a thousand miles away and many years past that house, that nook, that time. Fox is long gone, but my golden cat, Topaz, is my writing companion now. I still have the fairy tale notebook, somewhere, but now I carry a digital copy of the book in my pocket on my phone. Butterfly Herbs still makes Strawberry Sunset tea, and whenever I drink it, I time travel to when I first wrote about Princess Lily, Marzipan, Beloit, and all the rest.
What magical elixir takes you instantly back to another time and place? Do you ever travel back on purpose?
All the best.
The Flight of The Starling, A Fairy Tale, is available for pre-order on Amazon and IngramSpark now, for release on November 1.
Part One, In Which We Meet a Beautiful Princess with an Interest in Fairies
Once upon a time, there lived a beautiful princess with the most amazing collection of magical artifacts ever assembled this side of Merlin’s boot closet (which historians have never been able to locate and therefore never catalog, but we can assume some pretty terrific magical thingamajigs were in it, so I’m sure you get what I mean).
This princess (whose name, if you want to know, was Lily) had
long flowing locks of chestnut hair, and eyes that were, depending on her mood
and the weather outside, sometimes green, sometimes brown, and, occasionally,
golden. They were always fiery. Her eyebrows seemed always to be asking a
question, and her lips looked like they knew the answer. Her nose, I’m afraid,
was remarkably dull, but overall the people of her kingdom of Starling found
her “radiant” and “stunning – a royal gem!” (Sir Scandalot
of the Knightly Times).
Princess Lily had a magical mirror with one side that showed you
the person you always hoped you might be, and the other showed your inner,
true, undeniable self. Princess Lily liked to use this device to look under her
bed. Mostly she saw dust bunnies munching around, and one or two home gnomes
who must not have liked themselves much, based on what the mirror showed her.
She had a magical key ring that always came when you called it,
only it happened to have a name that was hard to pronounce (try to say
“ghoti” while sneezing). If Princess Lily didn’t get the inflection
just right, the key ring’s feelings were hurt, and it would sulk for days and
not come out. She’d given up locking her lavatory, rather than risk never
seeing daylight again.
Princess Lily had scads and scores of these kinds of magical
artifacts. Little dolls that danced the tarantella. Crystals that sang, only
slightly off-key, when the sun shone on them. A hat that always made your hair
look better, instead of worse. They coated the shelves in her bed chamber. They
dripped off the end tables onto the floor. They made sweeping under the bed
nearly impossible, much to the delight of the dust bunnies.
On the day of the Grand Duke’s son’s bris, Princess Lily and her
friend, Alistrina, were out in the kitchen garden using magical artifacts to
hunt for fairies. The princess knew fairies existed, but she’d never personally
seen one, the way you know grizzly bears are real but haven’t run into any on
your way to the pickle emporium. The Grand Duke was rumored to keep fairy
servants, and since baby-related ceremonies are favorable times to have Little
Folk around, he might have brought them to Castle Starling. Princess Lily hoped
“Anything yet?” Princess Lily asked her friend.
“I’m afraid not.” Alistrina, a blonde, solid girl whose only true
beauty was the perfect orderliness of her teeth, waved her hand around in slow
circles in front of her. She turned toward different parts of the late-spring
garden, the green vines climbing trellises, neat rows of vegetables, and
sunshine filtering through the fruit trees near the sandstone courtyard wall.
“Not a flicker on this Fairy Ring.” The large gem in the Ring she wore –
magicked to change color in the presence of fairy folk – was a soft and
resolute blue. “What about you, see anything special?”
Princess Lily adjusted the large pink spectacles she wore over
her amazing eyes. “Well, that goat over there should really be chased out of
the turnip patch.” She pointed to a male gardener pulling turnips up by the root.
He sat back and stroked his rather pointy beard, and laughed. Lily waved a hand
at him and said, “Shoo!”
Alistrina rolled her eyes, deciding not to explain this to the
princess, who began collecting magical artifacts because of her obsession with
fairies. In the Enlightened Kingdoms, an average family might have two or three
treasured magical items, passed down as precious heirlooms, and royalty like
the Starlings had a few dozen amusing trinkets, but still needed servants to
sweep and cook and garden in a most un-magical manner. “Perhaps the
Rose-Colored Glasses aren’t working,” suggested Alistrina. “Shouldn’t they be
showing the magical creatures around you, not goats?”
“They’re supposed to see through magical enchantments, so if a
fairy is disguised behind a glamour, I should be able to see it,” said the
princess. “Come on, there’s nothing out here. Let’s try the kitchen.”
Cooks were pulling copper pots off racks, chopping vegetables and
lamb on different ends of the chopping blocks in the castle’s large kitchen,
and otherwise stirring, baking, or bustling around to make the feast.
“I don’t understand why your father doesn’t just get you a fairy.
Can’t the king get you anything you want?” Alistrina nicked a pastry from a
basket and shared a smile with the baker.
Alistrina was from the neighboring realm of Lualdath, so the ways
of Starling and King William were foreign to her. “My father banned fairies
from the kingdom,” explained Princess Lily, leaning back against the wooden
counter. “When my father was a prince, my grandfather tried to give him a fairy
companion, but granddad didn’t know much about fairies. He ended up getting a
changeling, which was just a boy with slightly pointy ears. My dad got along
with ‘Fred the fairy’ for a while, but when he started refusing to eat his
special diet of green leaves and sunshine, and wanted to share the prince’s
human food, people figured it out. My father always says this fascination with
fairies is nonsense liable to lead to disappointment and a smaller share of
cake. When he became king, he fired all the fairy servants. Only really special
guests like the Grand Duke are even allowed to bring them in, and only if my
father doesn’t have to feed them.”
“But you were telling me about home gnomes who stole your keys.
Don’t they count?”
“Other fae-kind are still allowed. Ever since last fall’s Curdled
Custard Fiasco, I’ve suspected trolls of haunting the castle. But fairies
aren’t welcome, and it’s been so many years, now they mostly stay away.”
“Not that it keeps her highness from looking for them,” piped in
a baker, vigorously kneading dough nearby. “We all know what you’re looking
for, highness, with them rosy specs.” The large woman nodded her head
“I’ve never actually seen a fairy,” Lily finished wistfully.
Many girls love stories about pixies, nixies, and sprites, but
Lily’s obsession went beyond the typical, in spite of, and perhaps because, her
father was the one who had pushed them out of her reach. Princess Lily thought
of fairies the way some girls think of “bad boys.” She knew very well
that they could be mischievous, sly, and selfish, but they were also dashing,
mysterious, forbidden, and incredibly romantic. If a fairy had shown up at
Castle Starling wearing a motorcycle jacket and a disrespect for authority, you
can be sure Princess Lily would have been head over heels before he spoke a
word with his pouty, mutinous mouth.
Alistrina had more ordinary interests for a teenage girl. “How
long are we going to keep looking? I saw the courtiers as they came in, and
some of them were unbelievably cute. I don’t want to miss our chance to …
bump into them.” Alistrina raised her eyebrows, implying many possibilities.
The princess resettled the Glasses on her nose. “We haven’t even
finished this room yet. We’ll make it
in time it to the feast after the ceremony.”
Alistrina sighed. “Alright but if the boy with the blue leaf
doublet is talking to some other maiden by the time we get there, I may never
The search of the kitchen turned up bupkus — which is to say no
fairies — as did the scullery, the servants’ quarters, the Tower Of The Moon
and the one Of The Sun. Several times Alistrina reminded Princess Lily of her
promise to get to the party. The princess reminded Alistrina whose castle she
was in, then, feeling a twinge of remorse, repeated her promise that they could
Finally in the guest wing, they began to get results with their
fairy detecting gear. Lily knew the bedspread on the large four-poster bed to
be green, but it looked an awful mustard color with her pink Glasses. The
person lodging in this room must’ve had some kind of pet, for a small iron cage
lay on the floor in one corner, with a soft pillow inside and two small dishes
for food and water.
“The Fairy Ring is flickering! I think it’s changing color,”
Alistrina said. “Oh, good goblins, it was but only for a second.”
Lily hesitated. It wasn’t proper to sneak into people’s
rooms, even in her own castle, but she couldn’t think of a better chance to see
a fairy in person, something she had yearned for all her life. She knew better
than to ask straight out about the Grand Duke’s fairies – her father would
surely make her sit through the hours-long “fairy nonsense” lecture again.
Finally she said, a high justifying tone slipping into her voice,
“It’s not as if we’re snooping for people’s secrets. We’re only looking for
Alistrina laughed. “It’s never ‘only’ with you, highness. Not
when it’s anything to do with fairies.”
Princess Lily looked around the guest room with her Rose-Colored
Glasses. Everything in the room looked ordinary, though pinkish. “Maybe we
should stop now and just go to the par–“
She stopped abruptly, and pointed under a small table near the
“Over there!” the princess whispered. “I see this faint trail of
glitter. Try the Ring.”
Alistrina held her hand up where Lily pointed, as both girls took
a silent step closer.
“I think it’s … yes … it’s changing to green.” They looked at
the Ring as its neutral blue faded and transformed slowly to a swirling green,
that meant a fairy had at long last been found.
They squealed in excitement and clasped each other’s hands. When
they looked back at the Ring, the green was fading back to blue again. “What’s
happening?” asked Alistrina.
The trail of glitter led from the original spot through the open
door. “It’s on the run,” said Lily. “Quick!”
They ran out into the hallway which was lined with floor-to-ceiling
tapestries. Quickly they figured out the fairy was heading in the direction of
the Second Most Grand Hall. Though they couldn’t see the creature itself, they
saw where it rippled the thick tapestries as it ran. The Fairy Ring kept
detecting, flashing various colors as they chased it. The glittery shine the
princess could see was strongest at the head of the trail, fading behind the
fairy like the tail of a comet.
It was incredibly fast. Even as the girls ran down the hallway,
the fairy was several yards ahead of them and they barely gained on it. Before
they could get within a yard of it, they were all running into the Second Most
Grand Hall and the crowded court.
The hall was a series of white plaster arches which intersected
in three connected domes high overhead, with a delicate sandy yellow on the
rounded walls in between. A plinth at the base of each arch held a potted ivy plant,
which climbed and clung to the walls as the only decoration. Right then the
hall was standing room only, with a rabbi, the duke’s family, and the king and
queen on a little dais in front of a few hundred courtiers. The guest of honor was
fussing and wondering when someone would change his diaper.
The princess and her friend looked anxiously over the heads of
the throng, along the floor between noble knees, and then they began weaving
through the crowd.
“A wing, I saw a wing! Just there, over that man’s shoulder!”
“Yes, there’s green in that direction! Get closer!”
Anxious not to lose it, the maidens moved quickly, brushing and
bumping past people to reach a short man with the most beautiful head of hair
the princess had ever seen. On one shoulder of his gold jacket, peeking out
from behind his collar, was a slender shimmering wing with purple tracings and
an iridescent shine.
Behind her Glasses the princess’s eyes blinked from brown to
green as a thrill swept through her chest. Lily pointed with her naked finger.
Alistrina pointed with her ring finger. They nodded, and stepped toward the
He wasn’t much taller than Princess Lily. Turning toward Lily, he
gave them a smile in silent greeting, which turned a little confused with an
uplift of his brow, then downright alarmed as the brow flipped a U-ey when he
realized their intense gaze was targeting him. He shifted his weight nervously
from one foot to the other, and took a step backward.
The princess stared intently at his shoulder. Alistrina strained
on tiptoe a little as the shoulder in question was turned away from her. As
they approached, the Fairy Ring flickered green/blue/green/red/blue, and the
Rose-Colored Glasses showed the gossamer wing slip out of sight around the
man’s tall collar.
Princess Lily circled around to see the fairy. The small,
glittering winged person looked up at her with knowing black eyes. By this
point the little man was so perplexed and disquieted that when she reached for
the fairy, he could do nothing but throw up his hands and emit a little shriek
Fortunately for our princess, at that same moment the ceremony
concluded and everyone in the crowd was throwing up their hands and cheering.
With the man’s sudden movement, the dainty creature clutched at his jacket with
its tiny fingers, then fell. The man’s arm bumped Lily and her Glasses flew
off, her eyes flashing bright green. The fairy fell into her waiting hands as
Lily held her breath in elation and wonder at her first real fairy encounter.
But what landed in her hands, and what she saw with her
unmagical, fiery eyes, wasn’t a fairy at all. It was long, furry, and weasel-like,
with small rounded ears, a pointy pleasant face, short legs and a skinny tail.
The animal was soft and white and looked up at her with knowing black eyes.
“Oh your highness, you gave me such a fright,” said the little
man. Without the Glasses, Lily could see his coat was a light brown, not
cloth-of-gold at all. His hair was as far from beautiful as a grown man can
wear: streaks of greasy hair combed over a freckled bald spot.
“If only I had known your highness was interested in ferrets, I
would have gladly shown you Stanley when the bris was over. But there, I see he
“Stanley?” said Alistrina, in wonderment, finally getting a look
at the creature.
“Ferret?” squeaked Princess Lily in disbelief. She looked down to
see Stanley the Ferret chewing experimentally on the lace of her cuff, then
give it up for a bad job and climb inside her wide bell sleeve. His tiny claws dug
into the flesh of her arm.
She tried to grab him inside the sleeve without success, and
Alistrina touched the outside of the dress to guide him out. Her Ring pulsed a
most excited shade of green where her hand lay over the ferret. She and the
princess locked eyes.
“Alistrina, are you absolutely sure that’s a Fairy Ring?” Her
voice dropped to a dead-serious tone, or at least as serious as she could
manage while trying to wrestle the ferret out of her dress.
“My maid said it was when she opened my birthday gifts and
read me the cards.” Alistrina’s face contorted in remorse and confusion. “I
suppose it’s possible I
didn’t hear her right….”
“Are these yours, my dear?” The combed-over man handed the pink
spectacles back to Princess Lily. “My brother has a pair of those. Magic shows
you what you want to see most in the world. He married the ugliest girl I ever
seen in my life, and lived happily with her these 20 years.
“And I see you’ve got a Ferret Ring!” He amiably brought up his
hand to show Alistrina a ring the exact copy of her own. “No wonder you were
both so keen on meeting Stanley. I never take mine off when I travel with him,
makes no end of difference when trying to find him behind the couch cushions.”
Lily took one last hopeful jab for the day at her lifelong wish.
“I don’t suppose you know whether the Grand Duke brought his fairy servants to
the castle, do you?”
“No, his manservant was complaining to my manservant that he had
ever so much more work because they left the fairies at home. Wouldn’t do to
upset the king when he’s your host,” the ferret owner said with a smile.
By now Stanley had emerged from Lily’s sleeve onto her collarbone, where he was licking her neck and earlobe. It was a warm, cuddly sort of a thing, and it tickled. Lily was no longer startled by the ferret, and despite her disappointment over her failed fairy hunt, she couldn’t help laughing.
The Flight of The Starling, A Fairy Tale is available now on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and through IngramSpark for independent booksellers.