Curses and Dragons

Entries tagged as ‘the princess curse’

Summer Underway

July 7, 2013 · 4 Comments

I finished my copyedits for The Castle Behind Thorns last night.  They’re due tomorrow. Today I’ve been doing fun things like pondering “Do I really need to start 24 sentences with ‘there was’?” (Answer: I do NOT.)  Likewise the 88 occurrences of “it seemed”? (*hides under the bed*)

This is the trade-off.  Write fast, and the sentence level work suffers.  Write slow, and I may be engulfed with self-doubt. Or blow my deadline.

In any case, this weekend was Independence Day, and I worked (writing-work) 2.5 of my 4 days off from my dayjob. Writing is truly glamorous! Previous weekends were also spent working: last weekend I was at the Young Author’s Conference Friday and Saturday (note: the 8-12th grade session is still taking applications!);  Wednesday before that I had a reading; the weekend before that I taught a class at the Ann Arbor Book Festival; the weekend before that I was in North Carolina for a mini-high school reunion and gave a reading there as well.  Next weekend I attend Mythcon 44, as The Princess Curse is nominated for a Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature.  I have no actual work to do there except to be able to lose gracefully.

Happily, after that, I can actually take a weekend fully off!  Though I must say, all the writing and author-related work is invigorating and relatively stress-free.  I thought my book talk on that one Wednesday was rather disjointed, but I also tried to be as entertaining as possible.  When you don’t have a cohesive narrative, you may be able to rely on your voice.  That works in fiction as well as presentations.

(I once got a fabulous critique from someone about a story of mine that’s never been published that said, “The voice on this is wonderful!  It led me down the dead-end alleys and over the plot pot-holes so smoothly I never noticed them until my second read through.”  This is not the first time I’ve gotten such critique, but it is the most eloquent version of it.)

In any case, I had worked through about half my copy edits before this weekend.  The other half I worked on at the dining table at the lake, which has a nice view but poor ergonomics.  This year I solved the ergonomics by resting my feet on an encyclopedia and a cloth-wrapped brick. This kept my hips from falling out of their sockets which is what it feels like when I spend any amount of time at the dining table otherwise.  Apparently my husband’s ancestors had much longer legs than me, because only my toes reach the ground in those chairs.

Now we are back home, ostensibly to get our yard work done, but really, my husband has napped and I have dorked around on the computer and petted cats.  Well, it all has to get done, doesn’t it?

Looking forward to some level of lazing during the rest of this summer!  The only thing left on my plate this summer are the galleys for The Castle Behind Thorns, and I won’t see them for a little while.  And, oh yes, figuring out what I am writing next. Oh, and of course, reading for the Norton Award!



Categories: Random but Related · Writing

Great Company

May 15, 2013 · 2 Comments

If one were to casually check out the Mythopoeic award finalists today, one might note this section:

Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature

  • Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado, Giants Beware! (First Second)
  • Sarah Beth Durst, Vessel (Margaret K. McElderry)
  • Merrie Haskell, The Princess Curse (HarperCollins)
  • Christopher Healy, The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom (Walden Pond Press)
  • Sherwood Smith, The Spy Princess (Viking Juvenile)

What a list!  Sherwood Smith, whose book Crown Duel was literally the third thing I ordered off Amazon, on May 5th, 1999!  And Sarah Beth Durst’s Vessel was a book I was super pleased to see hit the Norton ballot this year.  Those are the works on this slate I’m familiar with–

Except the one in the middle.  I know that book really well.

So, the great news for me is that Mythcon 44 is in my backyard this year–just an hour up the road in East Lansing.

What great company to be in!

Categories: Books!
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Roundup of Stuffs

March 30, 2013 · 2 Comments

I do not generally post links to reviews of my work to my blog (note, I don’t even have a review category), because I feel that if you wanted to know, you’d Google that.  Likewise, I do link to a few reviews on my website (in the reviews section)…  for luck?  Or something.  Because it’s what one does.

But sometimes, people have seriously smart things to say about my books and stories.  And sometimes they have amazing viewpoints that I never really thought about. And sometimes they get readers excited for my books in ways I never could.  So here’s a round up of reviews that have caught my eye recently.  Yes, these reviews are mostly favorable.   I’m not a masochist (today).

First up, as part of the third annual Fairy Tale Fortnight, The Book Rat (who is practically a neighbor–she lives in the same town where my guinea pig Pepe was born) has an interview with me  (and a giveaway.   There is a copy of The Princess Curse and another parchment bookmark up for grabs there).

Pepe's Eating Habits Amuse Me
A picture of Pepe because I mentioned him.

Second, The Book Rat reviewed The Princess Curse and also Handbook for Dragon Slayers.  Her enthusiasm is wonderful and warms the cockles of my heart!

Third, Ana Mardoll reviewed The Princess Curse and then wrote this amazing analysis of basically one paragraph of my book.  This reader made me feel about six hundred times smarter than I actually am.

Fourth, The Book Smugglers did a “What She Said” review of The Princess Curse–it’s a two-person review site, and in a “What She Said,”
one of them reviews a book that the other person has already read.

And finally, a link to a review from late last year for neither The Princess Curse nor Handbook for Dragon Slayers, but the first short story I sold for a professional rate, “Huntswoman.”  I will note that it is now over 8 years since that story first appeared in Strange Horizons (which, wonderfully, is still going strong)…  

I think that’s it!

Categories: Books! · Interviews · Short Stories
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Con or Bust Fundraiser

February 10, 2013 · Comments Off on Con or Bust Fundraiser

Seriously, do you know how long I’ve waited to have something–stuff–that someone might want just enough to bid on it in a fundraiser? It’s like crossing a threshold into true writer adulthood, in some weird way. I might actually be able to help with a good cause.

Of course, I am only actually able to help if someone really does want this fantaboolos (that’s totally how you spell it) package of goodies from me, so I must now tell you about it. The package contains:

1) An ARC of Handbook for Dragon Slayers

2) A hardcover of The Princess Curse

3) A parchment* bookmark** with a quote from Handbook for Dragon Slayers, inscribed*** in Carolingian Miniscule****

4) And whatever else delightful thing I will probably throw in because why send a box that’s anything less than full?

The cause in this case? Is the totally awesome Con or Bust fundraiser is an offshoot of the Carl Brandon Society. The fundraiser is to assist fans of color to attend science fiction and fantasy conventions.

Click here for the bid page

or, scroll through and find something else tempting

2012-11-27 18.02.50

An example of Carolingian Minsicule, but let me tell you something, that was done by a professional, not me. But also a copy of the ARC. And sneakily underneath, a copy of TPC.

* Yes. Real parchment. I bought a goatskin.

** But a vegan option is available: high quality calligraphy paper

*** “Inscribed” –well, I’ll tell you something.  I’m not the world’s greatest Carolingian Minisculer. But though it be shaky, it be authentic. Ish.

**** Yes, Carolingian Miniscule, as invented by Charlemagne, or at least, someone at his court, since as we all know, Charlemagne remained illiterate to the day he died, in spite of sleeping with a book under his pillow in hopes that reading would osmose into his brain in the night.


Categories: Books! · Fundraising
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Happy Thanksgiving

November 23, 2012 · Comments Off on Happy Thanksgiving

…in the US, I mean.

Today, I’m thankful to have had a major holiday without: an emergency trip to the vet or stomach flu. The day’s only disaster was that I left the delicata squash rings in the oven once everything else was on the table, and they cooked well past the point of being edible.

I’m also thankful for holidays shared with family and friends.

And I’m terribly thankful as well for amazing fans who make wonderful video tributes to my books!

(Don’t forget the blooper real… my favorite part is Brodie and Pa’s mustache peeking out from behind a tree.

What a fabulous bunch of kids. Reminds me of me and my friends at that age, though we had less video equipment, internet, and gumption!

Categories: Fan Works


September 15, 2012 · 1 Comment

Long time, no blog! An automagic upgrade to WordPress totally made my whole website inaccessible to me, and I had to feed my webmaster (ie, my husband) a lot of cookies and wipe the sweat from his brow as he toiled to fix what was broken.

That’s even mostly true! Maybe 90%. Which, coincidentally, was my score on this awesome The Princess Curse quiz a reader on Goodreads made:

Goodreads Quiz
The Princess Curse Quiz
2 times
10 questions

Yeah, this reader knows my book better than I know it myself! Though to be fair, I didn’t understand one of the questions fully. And by “understand,” I mean that I read it wrong and made assumptions about what the question was asking, like I do all the time.

I would also like to say that I have spent so much time with a different girl lately, that I have forgotten a lot of Reveka’s specific woes.

Yep. Tilda is coming, folks.  Tilda is coming.  I hope to have a cover reveal for you–sooooon. (There is the tiniest of sneak peeks over on Twitter:  And I imagine there will be ARC givewaways in the New Year, too!  My new book is almost a book!

Categories: Admin · Random but Related

Second Roughest Draft

April 21, 2012 · 2 Comments

My next item in The Princess Curse folder was created on 1/29/2008. I had, thank goodness, uncovered Reveka, more or less. Even though Reveka was the name of Ruxandra’s sister at that point. I was calling the character Raluca, named after my cousin… which means I had properly figured out some Romanian names. And I had given the whole thing a singularly crappy title.

How the Devil Those Shoes Got Holes in Them Every Night

Now that I am thirteen and a lady grown, I have decided that I must record the story of how my father, once a common soldier, became a prince, and how I acquired a mother after many years of wishing for one. Of course, my age does not have as much to do with the recording as much as my new status, for a year ago, when I was an apprentice herbalist, I didn’t have the time to take up a pen and form my letters carefully for matters of diary-keeping. Also, I find writing my memoirs is a pleasant alternative to needlework, and no one bothers me with questions about silk embroideries if I scratch diligently at my vellums.

The first thing you must know is that I did not lay eyes on my father once before I turned nine years old, when he came to retrieve me from the convent where my mother had sent me just before she died. With no memory of my mama, I had no parent to compare my new-met Papa to–though I liked him quickly, for he beat me less than the abbess did.

I was content to follow Papa about as he moved from grand house to grand house, working as a gardener, and grew even more content when he settled at Prince Vasile’s palace, where he managed the shrubberies and was in charge of the digging a defensive ditch. Papa even apprenticed me to Brother Cosmin, the Prince’s herbalist, who was willing to overlook the disadvantage of my sex because I’d had training in the cultivation of medicinal plants at the convent. And my sex even became an advantage–for Brother Cosmin, not me–as I was then appointed to manage the herbs for the princesses’ baths.

Nobody among the servants wanted anything to do with the princesses because of The Curse, and it was always the most junior members of the household who had to deal with them. The apprentice cobblers appeared every morning to measure twenty-four dainty feet for twenty-four dainty new slippers, while the master cobblers stayed abed with their warm wives; and the apprentice cooks brought nourishing breakfasts to the sleepy princesses while the master cooks stayed in the kitchen and prepared meals for Prince Vasile and Princess Lucretia; and the apprentice herbalist readied the green herbs for the hot baths brought by the apprentice chambermaids, while the master herbalist seduced the master chambermaids. It was all very tidy, if you were a master, and not an apprentice.

Me, though, I didn’t mind, because while I believed in The Curse–the proof was there, every morning, in the piles of worn-through slippers outside the tower door, for anyone to see!–I didn’t see how it would ever really affect me. In fact, I thought the whole thing was rather stupid.

I don’t know how it started, exactly. It had something to do with the fact that Prince Vasile never had a son, and if he didn’t produce a male heir from his line before he died, the principality would revert to the rule of some king or other that nobody really liked. The prince had gone through four or six wives, or maybe it was only three, and had never managed to have a son. But he had managed to have a couple of daughters with his wives, and they were the princesses Maricara and Mihaela, and technically, they were the only real princesses in the palace besides Prince Vasile’s wife.

But Prince Vasile had managed to have ten other daughters by ten other women in his principality, outside of consecrated wedlock, which was very shocking to me when I first learned of it, because I thought that God would not bless women with babies who had not received the sacrament of marriage, but Brother Cosmin said, No, what did those nuns teach you?–and at some point many years ago, Prince Vasile made all his daughters come to live with him in the palace so that he could marry them all off in hopes that one of them would have a boy baby to keep the principality safe. He even ennobled his illegitimate daughters, no matter how common their mothers, including the now-princesses Ruxandra and Reveka, who were born to a tavern-wench, and Otilia, who’d grown up in a mill.

But shortly after the princesses all started living together in the palace, The Curse came on. And nobody seemed to want to marry women, even princesses, who were under the effects of a curse.

As far as curses went, it seemed a bit trivial to me–every morning, the princesses were very tired, as though they hadn’t slept at all, and their shoes were worn, as though they had danced them through. I didn’t see why this would stop anyone from marrying the girls, but apparently, it scared off all the nobles and aristocrats and royals and knights and squires–in short, everyone of gentle birth who would even be a tiny bit worthy of marrying a princess. And the whole thing had vexed Prince Vasile so much that he’d sworn that the first man who could figure out How the Devil Those Shoes Got Holes in Them Every Night would be allowed to marry the princess of his choice, no matter what his birth, age or rank.

This, grumbled the servants, was a terrible precedent. First, Prince Vasile had ennobled all his bastard peasant daughters, and now he was willing to marry even his truly royal and legitimate daughters to any hapless sheepherder who could figure out The Curse?

“It’s not a very curse-like curse,” I grumbled to

All of this started about sixteen years ago, which made it even worse.

But that didn’t happen, because shortly after the girls were brought in to

Like how rough-drafty it is that it trails off into half-sentences there at the end?

You’ll be… happy?… to know that by the next draft, which has a create date of 2/21/2008, Reveka was Reveka.

Categories: Writing

Roughest Draft

April 20, 2012 · 1 Comment

I’ve answered a lot of questions about how I got the idea for The Princess Curse, but I think it’s hard to get at how slow and organic the process of idea coagulation is. Let’s take, for example, the very oldest piece I have in The Princess Curse folder on my hard-drive. Read at your own peril:

When Papa had us fitted with iron shoes, I knew we were in trouble. The biggest trouble possible, I thought, but that’s because I didn’t know about the soldier yet.

Dzemila looked like she was ready to run off and scream in Papa’s face, but Elmedina gave everyone stern glances, and that was the end of our open resistance. So, instead of giving our feet to the cobbler’s boy to make measurements, as we had done every morning for the past six years, we let the blacksmith trace out the shape of our feet with chalk on slabs of slate, and none of us said a word.

Only in the privacy of our tower did we dare to speak, bubbling like a dozen fountains in our panic, until eventually Cena cut through our jabbering and said “We’ll just have to learn to dance in iron shoes, then!”
Kadima and Halima clearly saw the whole thing as a joke; they hadn’t stopped laughing since we came in from the smithy. Kadima said, “Ooooh, but what if I fall out of my boat? I’ll sink directly to the bottom of the river and that’ll be the end of us all! I can’t dance on the riverbottom.”

“If nothing else, your shoes will rust,” Halima said gravely, and they were off in giggles again. They weren’t the youngest, but they were certainly the youngest-acting.

Mara took it all very seriously, though. “I absolutely can’t swim in iron shoes,” she said.

“Can you swim when you’re not wearing iron shoes?” I asked.


“Then what’s the point?” Elmedina asked, sharp and angry as ever. She was so condescending. I pulled a face at her behind her back, which made Kadima laugh and laugh, but all inside, so she turned bright red and snorted through her nose.

“We will do what we have to do,” Dzemila said. “Elmedina is entirely right.” Of course she would say that. Dzemila is the oldest, but she always follows Elmedina’s lead. Even if Elmedina leads us all straight to Hell.

“We should just confess,” Cena said, not for the first time. “We should just tell Papa everything, and…”

“And what?” Elmedina asked. “Buy us out of our bargain?”

“Not my bargain,” I muttered.

“Nor mine,” someone else said, I think it was Halima. I have eleven sisters, and I don’t always pay attention to who is talking.

“It’s thinking just like that that’s going to get us stuck in Lord A—‘s court for eternity,” Elmedina said. “If one of us fails, we all fail.”

I decided that was a pretty good time to stalk off angrily, so I did.

Little Lemija, youngest of twelve daughters by twelve different mothers and one Baron O–, she doesn’t add much to any conversation, according to my sisters. I’d been the baby for so long that no one had noticed when I grew up. But they’d been more than happy to make me dance for their lives every night since I was six years old.

I decided to walk around the garden for a while. I never felt like I saw enough sunlight, and it was probably true. Our nights were so awful that we slept for most of the day, which was of course why our father was always hatching schemes. We’d all refused to marry, and we were always pale and exhausted and sleeping, and every morning, all of our shoes were found with holes in the soles. It was the great mystery of the twelve daughters of Baron O–, and it was a mystery that Baron O– wanted solved so he could gain political favors through our marriages.

Papa had variously called in priests and vampire hunters to see if we were witches or vampires or possessed by demons, but we’d been exonerated by them all. We were good girls and virtuous and never spoke foul words outside of our tower and in private; we could recite a mass or a rosary with the best of them. And we were perfectly willing to lie and say that we’d never consorted with devils.

Wow! What is that?

It’s “Twelve Dancing Princesses” from the youngest princess’s point of view. Set in… well, it was set in Romania (in my head; can’t you tell by the vampire references?) but I had done ZERO research on Romanian names, so I filled in with Bosnian names I knew from a former co-worker from Sarajevo.

And yet, there are shades of my book in there, shades of The Princess Curse in it’s current published form. Maybe even a line or two that made it to the final book!

The creation date on that file, by the way, is 10/27/2007.

Categories: Writing

Off to Capricon 32

February 10, 2012 · Comments Off on Off to Capricon 32

Leaving in the next 15 minutes in fact.

I have a reading on Sunday. I have read the first two chapters of The Princess Curse aloud at readings exclusively for the past… year and a half? Two years? It’s old hat to me, but I always have to wonder if it’s still the right thing to read. (I experimented at my last reading by reeling off Chapter Six, and at Orycon, I read the cow, pig, chicken trifecta. That’s always a hit. But the right thing to read is definitely Chapter 1 & 2, with some edits. I just… happen to be sick of it.

Of course, moving on to the next work is risky. The perhaps-not-really-titled A Handbook for Dragon Slayers is not out until Summer 2013 at the earliest. So I’m sure it’s too soon to start reading from that. Plus, I’m still so close to it, I have a hard time identifying the hookiest parts. (Note to self: in current revision, deliberately write a scene that is super-hooky for reading aloud.) (Well, in thinking about that for about 23 seconds, I totally figured out which scene it is.)

Okay! That was four minutes I didn’t have. Must stick to my (revised) schedule, and be out the door at 7:30! Though, oddly, this blog thinks it’s 12:16 PM; I have tried and tried to switch to my time zone, but to little avail. Off to Chicago!

Categories: Appearances · Travel
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January 1, 2012 · 2 Comments

Happy New Year!

Which has nothing to do with this post.

I thought I’d write a little bit about bathing in the Middle Ages, seeing as I have a character in The Princess Curse called Marjit the Bathwoman. Castle Sylvian has the remains of an old Roman bath in its “basement,” as in my mind the castle morphed from a Roman villa. Sylvian’s baths consist of a hot plunge and a cold plunge relatively close together, which would have made it relatively small, not a large municipal bath or anything.

It is a popular misconception that bathing was infrequent among Europeans during the medieval period, but in fact, it was quite common. People were as clean as they had time and resources to be, considering they had to heat their own water. In point of fact, there were often warnings not to bathe too often, because it might lead to, you know… decadence and sin.

Here’s an out-take from an early draft of The Princess Curse:

I, and most of the non-royal, non-nobles of the castle, bathed every three days or so in Marjit’s Roman baths, which would’ve been called time-wasting luxury by the nuns who raised me. While hands and face had to be well-cleaned before every meal, the abbess did not allow us to bathe, even in summer, more than once a week. She would never have approved of Prince Vasile’s famous bath banquets, where his guests bathed so long that food had to be served. Certainly, the nobles all wore modest white gowns while they did so… But, as Marjit liked to say, a wet gown was an invitation to sin. Though Marjit didn’t have the moral high ground there, either: the abbess would never have approved of the jolly servants’ baths, either.

… Marjit dunked me into a soaking tub and jerked the curtains shut around it. “Now, sit in there and steam and think about what you did!”

So, I did. I steamed and inhaled the scents of hollyhock and mallow… I hadn’t had a proper bath after getting soaked to the skin, she said, and heaven only knew what sort of imbalance this could have made in my humors.

Now, mind you, during the height of the plague years, communal, public bathing is believed to have dropped off considerably, but that’s all still a far cry from the myths were were fed in school.  I have a very clear memory of this being explained in 6th grade…  the Middle Ages, the Time of Dirt.

Further reading:

Top Ten Myths about the Middle Ages

A Short History of Bathing Before 1601

Categories: Random but Related
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