Here are some samples of my writing, and some tips.
Kitchen Girl is a not-yet-published Young Adult novel about a girl in medieval Germany who discovers she is not who she thinks she is, and must avenge the murdered family she never knew she had.
Click for a sample of Kitchen Girl
Aellin pulled a handful of cloves from a small barrel near her bench in the castle kitchen, weighed them carefully in her hand, and then dropped them into a heavy ceramic mortar. She ground them with the pestle into a fine powder, so fine that it could be sifted through a rough cloth. Even though she was used to the hard work, her arms ached. The smoke from the cooking fires held the clove dust in the air, burning her eyes.
She had worked in the castle kitchen with her mother for as long as she could remember. The pungent air carried a mix of odors, some inviting and others that made her wish she could be anywhere else than this familiar chaos. Iron pans and ceramic pots were piled along the walls, the shelves overloaded with bottles, flasks, and boxes. Stacks of barrels contained the wine, ale, water, honey, and other liquids used during cooking.
Sausages, birds, rabbits, and other small meats hung from the arched ceiling, where they absorbed the constant smoke. The kitchen never vented completely through the unglazed windows or the small smoke vents in the roof. Most of the cooking was done over a large metal plate that sat atop four walls of rough brick, just over knee high, above a fire that rose up through holes cut in the plate.
Several fires under nearby stoves, spits, and rotisseries, where large slabs of meat or even whole pigs were roasted, filled the little kitchen with almost unbearable heat. Aellin kept a towel on her belt so she could wipe away the sweat and clear her smoky eyes.
She was one of several people who worked frantically, running from bench to bench, chopping, grinding, mashing, sifting, rolling, pounding, and doing everything necessary to cook for a few dozen people every day.
At nearly sixteen, Aellin had spent most of her life in the kitchen. Her mother, Agnes, was a talented cook and bread baker. Her creations pleased Graf Eberhart so well that she rose to head cook, a job usually held by a highly trusted man. Aellin, from a very early age, showed a special talent for making cakes. She had her own bench, where she worked on her specialty, honey cakes, because today was not an ordinary day.
There would be guests in the castle tonight. Aellin didn't know who they were, but the kitchen master, Rumold, ran around nervously checking everybody's work, so they must be important. The Kitchen Buyer had come back from the market that morning, upset about not being able to find a couple important ingredients. Agnes had assured him that she knew the perfect substitutions for those items, but it had been a rough start to the day. The tension on Rumold's face and in his mood did not settle down as time passed.
Aellin mixed the clove powder with white flour and sugar. Using her large wooden spoon, she stirred in honey gathered from the honeycombs only that morning. Finally, she worked the batter with her hands until the texture was perfect. Some of the other cooks always used spoons, but Aellin liked to use her hands. Her fingers told her when the batter was just right. It was sticky work, but one of the young kitchen boys kept her small basin supplied with fresh water so she could wash frequently.
She shaped the small cakes and set them neatly on four large wooden peels, where they would sit until time to slide them into the fire under the stove plate to bake. She washed her hands and dried them on a linen cloth hanging over her bench. Then she took a deep breath and approached Agnes.
“Mother,” she said, softly, so as not to startle her as she stirred a sauce over the stove.
“Did you make the cakes, dear?”
“Yes. I just finished. They're ready for the oven, when it's time.”
“And the pepper cakes?”
“I finished them earlier. They are almost done resting.”
“Then I suppose,” Agnes said with an irritated look that Aellin recognized as being less than real, “that you'd like a break.”
“Yes, ma'am. I need to clear the smoke from my eyes and nose.”
“You're sure everything's done? You know Rumold is having fits today.”
“Very well. Get some fresh air. But be back in one hour. I will need some help before this meal is served. Oh, and say hello to your young friend.” She winked knowingly.
Aellin hugged her mother and rushed from the kitchen.
The Secret of Eucalyptus Cove
The Secret of Eucalyptus Cove is a not-yet published Middle Grade novel about a boy who discovers a secret about the ranch where he lives on the California coast after he rescues an unusual mouse from the evil Miss Stern. He must rush to find a hidden document before Miss Stern ruins his last chance for independence and a happy life.
Click for a sample of The Secret of Eucalyptus Cove
The Secret of Eucalyptus Cove
If I had thought Miss Stern was really in any danger, I might have moved faster. Then again, maybe I wouldn’t have. She always made everything sound like a catastrophe, and it never was.
I propped open my book and pulled my tattered blanket around my chin. I curled up to soak up my own body warmth, but it didn’t help. I shivered and tried not to think about Miss Stern in her big warm farm house with all those empty bedrooms while I froze in the old cook shack out back. She said she didn’t like having a kid underfoot, and I didn’t mind not having to see her every time I turned around.
“Christopher Byrde! Get in here!” She was shrieking out the window now. “Get your worthless fanny out of bed and come help me right now! It’s an emergency!”
If I didn’t get up and see what she needed she’d come knocking and then I’d really hear about it. Sometimes it’s easier to give in and avoid the fight. So I pulled on the ragged remains of my coat and headed out into the rain, running my hand over the boulder next to the door of my shack, like I always did when I left.
In the dark, with the moon behind it, the big farm house loomed over Eucalyptus Cove like a demon. My home school tutor, Alexander, called the house a Victorian, and he would know. Muck oozed through the holes in my shoes as I plashed across the mostly dead back lawn. The cold rain bit into me so I didn’t slow down that much to push my feet into the mud and enjoy that slimy feeling.
I went around to the front of the house. I scraped most of the mud off my shoes on the trunk of the old sycamore tree and took the steps to the porch two at a time. She always yelled if I walked in, even if she’d called me, so I lifted the heavy iron knocker and let it fall. I waited on the porch, listening to my teeth chatter while streams of water ran from my hair into my eyes. She didn’t answer my knock, but I could hear her yelling inside so I wasn’t too worried, or hopeful that she’d suddenly disappeared, abducted by aliens or kidnapped by coyotes or something nice like that. I knocked harder.
“Don’t just stand there in the rain like a stupid little boy!” Although muffled by the door, her voice sounded as shrill and unpleasant as it would if I had to watch her face say it.
I opened the door.
Miss Stern stood on a stool in the hall outside her sitting room. Her face was as pale as it could look behind all that makeup. In her yellow bathrobe with lacy fringe, she looked like a moldy grapefruit.
“What took you so long, you little wretch?” Her head twitched and her wide eyes scanned the ground around her.
She was as happy to see me as I was to see her, so I knew she didn’t really want me to hurry. Maybe there was an emergency, but then it seemed like she’d try to get out of the house, not stand around on a stool. I stayed in the doorway. I didn’t want to get any closer to her than I had to. “I heard you scream,” I said.
“What? Stop that mumbling. Speak up! Came to see if I was dead, most likely. And I could have been, the time it took him to get here.” She always talked about people like they weren’t there, like she gabbed with an invisible friend. If she had any friends, they’d have to be the invisible kind. “Look at him, dripping all over the floor.”
“I tried to run between the raindrops so I wouldn’t get wet but it didn’t work.” She didn’t like me talking to her that way, but I didn’t care. That was kind of the point, in fact. I’d almost frozen to death running through the rain and it must have been ninety degrees in that house with the fire roaring like it was. Still I would rather have been in my shack than in any house with Miss Stern in it, even if it was warm. “You called me,” I reminded her. “Is something wrong?”
“Is something wrong, he asks. No, I just wanted to see his smiling half-Mexican face.”
Whenever she was disgusted by my presence, she brought up the fact that my mom was Mexican. I happened to like my skin color. It’s all I had from her, and I treasured it.
She screwed up her face. “Of course there’s something wrong, amigo. There’s a mouse in the corner of my sitting room, a disgusting, dirty giant of a thing. Even worse than you. Kill it.”
“Show me where it is and I’ll take care of it.”
“You’re ten years old! Find it yourself!”
“Thinks he knows better than I do. Eleven then. Find it!”
“Almost thirteen.” My birthday was in three days. Not that anybody would remember.
“I don’t like your tone! Such a hideous creature in my sitting room. Probably has rabies and emphysema and all kinds of deadly diseases. Does he care, after all I’ve done for him? Kill. It. And hurry up, before my tea gets cold.”
“But what if it moved from the corner?”
“Then you’ll search the whole house. Do you have to be so stupid? I hope it bites him and gives him the black death so I won’t have to waste my time anymore.”
“Then who will catch mice for you?”
Miss Stern sneered through her nose. “Thyen hoo will kitch mice fer nyu? Don’t get smart with me or I’ll give you a smack you won’t soon forget. That’s the trouble with children these days. Nobody hits them properly anymore, spoiled little brats.” She waggled her finger toward the sitting room. “Get—the—beast! Now!”
In Dear Edwin's Arms
"In Dear Edwin's Arms" is a creepy short story I wrote several years ago as a tribute to Edgar Allen Poe.
Click for a sample of "In Dear Edwin's Arms"
In Dear Edwin's Arms
This should be a joyous time. Just last week I gave my two dearest friends the finest gift I could bestow. All those hours spent planning, only to have it lead to this. I know now what the dead would feel if there were feelings in death.
Marissa, Edwin and I spent much of our time together, enjoying all that Vienna had to offer. Sometimes we went to the opera. Marissa loved Mozart so, as did I, though at that time I found my tastes turning more toward Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde.” Other days we went to the Prater, where we rode the glorious new Riesenrad and strolled among the trees. Once we even saw the Kaiser and his wife Sissi as they enjoyed Prater with their entourage.
“The Kaiserin must be the world’s most magnificent woman,” Edwin said. “She is lovely and she carries herself so nobly.”
“Oh, she’s pretty, in her fashion,” Marissa said with a flip of her hair, “but I hardly think she could be compared to my Queen Victoria.”
I looked at Sissi and at Marissa. “The Kaiserin and the queen are both handsome, but neither compares to you.”
I was devoted to Marissa. Never has a man doted so upon the one he loved. She was more beautiful than the rare flowers she studied. Anything she wanted--attention, jewelry, the finest clothes--I gave to her, though little could I afford it with my dwindling inheritance. Perhaps it was too much affection that drove her to Edwin’s arms.
Edwin was my closest friend since childhood. We were inseparable, like one man with a single soul. What one felt, the other felt. I felt the loss when his business failed and the heartbreak when his wife left him for the banker, the same man who had foreclosed on the small bookshop Edwin had opened in an attempt to augment what was left of his family’s wealth. When his appendix ruptured while hiking on Kahlenberg, I knew of his illness and led Doctor Obermeyer to the spot where Edwin, raging with fever, lay near death. Had I known that much of the love I felt for Marissa I felt from Edwin, my gift might never have been given; however, I mistakenly believed my feelings for her were my own.
One night, I sensed Edwin’s loneliness, so I donned my overcoat and my hat and walked to his home, a modest house of some history in Heiligenstadt, north of Vienna. The late April rain fell in sheets, so I thought nothing of the chill that ran through my heart. I knew Edwin thought of me and longed for a love like that which enslaved me to my dear Marissa.
The house was dark. How like Edwin to sit in the security of his chamber at a time like this. I unlocked the door--I had my own key--and entered quietly, not wishing to startle my friend. Edwin was an expert with a knife and was likely to put a blade through my heart before he realized I was not an unwelcome intruder. Oh, that he had done so and saved me from the more dangerous piercing that lay in wait in the room at the head of the stairs.
I climbed the staircase. Out of habit, I passed over the only step that creaked. Edwin and I often enjoyed a sinister chuckle because the one noisy step was the thirteenth. The “unlucky step,” we called it, and we avoided treading on it lest it should become that which we had named it.
A faint moan came from Edwin’s room as I reached for the door handle. He always felt things so deeply. I knew he would be glad, as always, to have my sympathetic ear.
I turned the door handle quietly to avoid startling my friend. “Edwin, it’s--me.” My voice trailed off. My Marissa, her white skin reflecting the pale moonlight that fell through the yellowed lace of the curtain over the bedroom window, lay in dear Edwin’s arms.
Another man might have gone mad with rage at the sight, but not I, not I who loved these two souls. Never again could I be the same man I had been only moments before. I stood stricken by their beauty as they lay entwined on Edwin’s bed. A madman is incapable of appreciating such beauty.