You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘critique’ tag.

In this excerpt from my time-travel short story, Mason gets some advice from a famous painter.


Mason spent the night under Botticelli’s roof, along with the apprentices and under-artists who lived there.  He lay awake through the few hours left before dawn, casting about between the wonder of where and when he was, and the heart-bursting delight of meeting Alessa.  


In the morning, he was haggard and sore from the hard bed, but eager to prove his worth in the studio of one of his greatest idols.  Sandro lent him the use of his canvas and oils and an easel, and he set to work making paints by hand, in the manner he’d studied at school, and began to paint.  


He started with vague shapes and free movements, not quite sure what he was going to paint until Sandro appeared at his shoulder.


“She made an impression on you, did she?”


Startled, he looked to the artist, then back to his canvas.  He hadn’t realized, but a figure was taking shape there, a dancer, with a smudge of golden hair and a green dress.  


He smiled ruefully and nodded.  


“Ah, love.”  Sandro sighed and sat on a nearby stool.  “I’d bet you’d give anything to know if you made the same impression on her.”


“Is it that obvious?”


“I myself am not a stranger to the pangs of love.”  A shadow crossed his expression, a faraway look came into his eyes.


Mason held his breath.  Was Sandro speaking of Simonetta Vespucci, the married lady he was rumoured to have loved?  He wanted to ask, but it would have seemed strange for him to know anything about it.


He settled for a safer question.  “That sounds like an interesting story.”


“A sad tale.  Not one, perhaps, for a man happy in the early days of love.”


“I like sad stories.”  


Sandro laughed bitterly.  “You wouldn’t like to live in one.”  He seemed to hesitate, as though deciding whether or not to tell.  With a quirk of his lips, he began his tale.  “There is not much of a story.  Everyone knows it, perhaps.  But I loved a lady once.  She was the most beautiful woman who ever lived.”  Mason noticed his eyes wandered to his own half finished painting, lingering on the face of Venus newborn from the sea.  


He continued.  “But she could never be mine.  She was married already when I met her, and so I never revealed my heart for her.  But I like to think, to console myself with the thought, that if she had been free, she might have loved me.  I’ll never know.  She died.”


“I’m sorry.” 


The artist looked up and met his eyes.  “As am I.  Sometimes I am sorry I never declared my love for her, even in secret, even knowing nothing could come of it.  But it would have distressed her, I think, and so I’m glad I didn’t.  I’ve never loved another since her, and I don’t think I will as long as I live.  I want to be buried at her feet when I die.”  He glanced out the window, in the direction of the Church of Ognissanti where Simonetta Vespucci was entombed.  Where he would one day be entombed.


“You’re right,” Mason said.  “It is a sad story.  And I wish you hadn’t lived it, for your sake.”  He held out a hand to grasp the artist’s shoulder in brotherly solidarity.


“I don’t.”  Sandro smiled sadly.  “Whatever cruel hand fate has dealt us, love is still worth the pain.”


“’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, eh?”


Sandro looked at him oddly.  “An accurate sentiment.  Eloquently put.”


“I can’t take credit.  It’s from a poem.”  Mason realized with a twinge that the words were from a poem written nearly four centuries from now, written by a man who had yet to draw his first breath, let alone feel any pain of loss.  He couldn’t get used to that feeling.


“I suppose what I want to impress on you, young Mason, is that you do not know if you have tomorrow.  I was not free to confess my love to Simonetta.  But your way is clear with this Alessa.  You should tell her how you feel.”


Mason glanced at the vague shape of the dancer on his canvas, drawing in his breath and holding it.  


Did he love her?  Could he possibly know after one brief meeting?  


With a quickening of his pulse, he admitted such a thing might be possible.  But there was only one way to find out.  He must speak with her again.  And soon.


After all, it was a miracle he’d ended up in the Renaissance in the first place.  He had no guarantee how long this supernatural glitch would give him.  


It was more than a mystery now, more than tracking down La Bella Ragazza.  Now that he’d found her, the draw of her was so much more than a beautiful painting.  


He let out his breath, slumping his shoulders slightly.  


Sandro clapped him on the back.  “Go to her!  No one would fault you for it.”


Mason glanced back at the master for confirmation.  But he didn’t need to be told twice.  


With a grin, he unrolled the sleeves of his chemise and rescued his borrowed doublet from the corner of the workshop.  Sandro tossed him a hat.  


“Go and get her,” the artist said. 



As always, please feel free to let me know your honest opinion.  🙂


In this excerpt from my work in progress, a time travel story set in Renaissance Florence, Alessa has just met Mason, and has seen a portrait of herself that has yet to be painted.


Alessa couldn’t feel as sorry as she ought.  Oh, Matteo was trying as hard as possible to make her feel sorry, appealing to her sense of family honour, of filial duty, of love for him and for Grandfather.  But he couldn’t make her sorry.  Wretched, yes, but not sorry.


She endured his lectures all the way home, glad at least of his company and the safety of the carriage on the dark road even if her magical evening had ended so abruptly.  


“What have you to say for yourself?” He pinned her with a stern look so like Grandfather’s that she drew away, eyes wide.  


He softened then and held out a hand.  “I’m sorry, Alessa.  I know how you feel about things.  It was a cruel accident of birth made you a girl, otherwise you would have had the same freedoms—and responsibilities—as I do.”  


She took his hand in forgiveness.  “I don’t regret begin born a girl, Matteo.  I rather like being a girl.”


He looked at her skeptically.  “In any case, what is cannot be changed.  You are a girl, not a boy, and you have the family you have.  You simply can’t go flitting off into the night alone like some serving wench to dally with strange men.  What might have happened had I not found you when I did, I don’t want to imagine.”  He shuddered at some horror involuntarily brought to mind.  


Alessa scoffed.  “Nothing happened, or would have.  Mason is nothing like that.”


“How do you know?  Do you know anything about him?  None of my acquaintances have met him before tonight.  Do you know he appeared in Florence wearing the most outlandish garments this morning?”




“What?”  Matteo stared at her.  “How did you know?”


Alessa realized her mistake and blushed, though he couldn’t see it in the dark.  “I heard.  I also heard he was in the company of the artist, Botticelli.  Doesn’t that vouchsafe his character?”


Matteo shook his head.  “The word of an artist?  You are sheltered, my dear sister.  Things may not be as bad as Grandfather says, but the art community is not the picture of moral uprightness, either.”


She shook her head and looked out the window, frosting the darkness outside with her breath.  But Matteo’s seed of doubt had taken root inside her heart and was sending down roots into the hidden places.  


What did she really know about the stranger?  The more she thought about him, the more mysterious he seemed.  He had been seeking her, just as she had been seeking him.  And he had a portrait of her—a portrait that as far as she knew never should have existed.


Memory of the painting sent a chill through her, not entirely unpleasant.  It was undoubtedly her.  Not just the face and the hair, but the dress.  That was the strangest part.  She had altered this dress only today, but the mysterious painter had captured every detail to perfection.  It couldn’t be possible, but that painting had to have been made only today.


Besides that, there was the state of her in the picture—her hair unbound and flowing around her shoulders, just as she’d imagined earlier today, her dress unlaced and half-open at the neck, the deep flush of her cheeks and the knowing smile in her eyes …


Alessa blushed deeply even now, thinking about someone painting her like that, seeing her like that.  It just wasn’t seemly.  But at the same time, she wanted to know what would make her look at someone like that.  It was a look she’d never given anyone before, she was sure of it.


“What are we going to do with you?” Matteo said with a sigh, startling her out of her strange thoughts.


“Oh, please!” She placed an appealing hand on his arm.  “You won’t tell anyone, will you?”


He gazed at her for a long moment, appraisingly, then sighed again.  “I couldn’t.  It would break Grandfather’s heart, for one.  And yours.  For all your foolishness, I know you didn’t mean to hurt anyone.  I’ll have to swear the groom to secrecy, as well, you realize.”


“Yes.  Thank you.”  Alessa lowered her eyes, miserable at having caused this trouble.


“But you’ll have to promise not to do this again.”


Her eyes snapped back to his, wide.  How could she promise such a thing, after the night she’d had?  It would be tantamount to vowing never to see Mason again, never to be free again, and though she wanted to do the right thing, her mouth wouldn’t let her say the words.  “I can’t.”  Her voice broke.  “God help me, Matteo, I can’t.”


At first he frowned.  She could see the outlines of his features, mask-like in the dim wash of the carriage lantern.  But then he softened, resigned.  “I doubt anything would stop you.  Nor me, if I was in your plight.”


She watched him, eyes wide as though she might miss something.  


“Alright.  Promise me, then, sister—don’t do this without me again.”


She inhaled deeply, unaware till now that she’d been holding her breath.  “I can promise that, at least.  Oh, thank you, Matteo!”  She threw herself on him, holding him tight. 


As always, please share your honest opinion.  🙂

In this latest excerpt from my Renaissance time travel story, the hero meets a hero of his own, the artist Botticelli.  Please feel free to share any feedback, as honest as possible.  🙂


Mason recognized Sandro Botticelli easily from his self portrait, picking him out from his apprentices at once. A man of around forty, with a mop of greying brown curls, wide-spaced grey eyes, bowed lips and prominent cleft chin, he couldn’t have been anyone else. Besides that, he looked up at his entrance from a large canvas, paintbrush in hand.

“This is a private studio, signore,” he said mildly, continuing with his art. Aside from a quick glance, his students continued with their work, ignoring the newcomer.

“I’m sorry to intrude, Signore Botticelli. It’s just that Bertoldo di Giovanni thought you might be able to help me with a mystery.”

He raised his eyebrows and took another look at Mason, weighting him with his cool grey gaze.

“What is this mystery.”

“A painting. Bertoldo thought it showed some similarity to your work.”

Botticelli put down his paintbrush and walked over, peering at the phone Mason held out. He frowned.

“That is unlike any other painting I’ve seen. What is this type of wood?” He reached out for the phone as if to touch it, but Mason pocketed it quickly, before the touch of the artist’s finger could change the screen.

“Do you know the artist?”

Botticelli shook his head. “It’s not mine, nor any artist I know.”

Mason sighed. That was that, then. It was unlikely he’d track down the artist now. But then another thought occurred to him.

“Do you perhaps know the model?”

The artist thought for a moment, then shook his head. “She does not look familiar.”

Mason must have looked crestfallen, for Botticelli’s face softened.

“Are you an artist, yourself?”

Mason nodded.

The painter seemed to weigh his thoughts. Then he beckoned Mason around to see the front of his canvas. “Come. Tell me what you think.”

As Mason stepped around the enormous canvas—which was nearly as tall as he was, and half again as wide—he caught his breath in awed recognition.

He would know this painting anywhere. It was more familiar to him than his own reflection, as much as he had stared at it. He knew every brushstroke, both the ones already on the canvas, and the ones still to be painted.

“The birth of Venus,” he whispered.

“You know it?” Botticelli was pleased. “I didn’t think I’d painted enough yet to identify the subject.”

“A guess. I can see the sea shell here.” He held out a finger but carefully did not touch the canvas. “Venus was born full-grown from the sea, was she not?”

“Indeed she was.” He gazed at the contrapposto figure, only just sketched out in plain tones awaiting contours. Something in his eyes reminded Mason of the way he looked at La Bella Ragazza.

There was a theory that the model for The Birth of Venus was a noblewoman Botticelli knew, Simonetta Vespucci. More so, that he was in love with her. He had asked—or rather, one day would ask—to be buried at her feet.

The art scholar in Mason burned to know if this was true, especially watching the light in the older man’s eyes as he studied his painting, but he knew enough not to ask. Instead, he too gazed at the painting, into the hazy eyes of Venus, the likeness of a woman now dead for a decade.

And suddenly Mason answered one question in the sea of mystery in which he foundered. If Sandro Botticelli was just now painting The Birth of Venus, then the year was between 1484 and 1486.

He breathed a heavy sigh, as though he’d been drowning, and this one nugget of truth had given him a gasp of air.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t help you,” Botticelli said, genuine apology written on his face.

Mason shrugged. “It was a long shot.”

The artist smiled, chewing on his lip for a moment in thought. “I probably shouldn’t do this, but …” Then he stepped closer, so his apprentices couldn’t hear.

Intrigued, Mason leaned in to listen.

“My patron, Lorenzo il Magnifico de Medici is hosting a masquerade ball tonight. I would like to bring you as a guest. If you are to discover anything about your mystery painting, it will be there. Besides, I have a suspicion that he would be most fascinated by you, and Lorenzo loves to be fascinated.”

Mason’s eyes widened. “I would be honoured, Signore.”

Botticelli shook his head dismissively. “It’s nothing. But just understand that my reputation is at stake.”

“Of course.”

“And so I must insist on one thing.”

Mason looked at him in question. But instead of answering, the artist called one of his apprentices, a young boy of about twelve who was grinding pigment in a mortar, to come over. Obediently, the boy trotted to his master’s side.

“Take this man to my tailor, and tell him Sandro sent him.”

Mason remembered his modern attire with a start and laughed at the dubious expression on Botticelli’s face.

“They must dress very differently where you come from.”

“Indeed, they do,” Mason replied. If you think the men dress differently, he thought, you should see the women.



Here’s a new excerpt from my time travel story set in Renaissance Florence.  Hope you like it! 🙂  Please feel free to comment and critique.  



Mason stepped into the garden, feeling as though he’d just entered Eden.  Birdsong and the trickle of fountains mixed with the sough of the wind through a million leaves.  The garden opened out into a vista of orderly trimmed hedges and a riot of flowers, each spilling their perfume into the sun-warm air.  

And everywhere he looked Mason saw statues.  

Pale and gleaming against the glossy green foliage they stood, silent witnesses to his trespass.  Priceless artifacts, rare and beautiful, most of them lost forever in his own time.  It was a curator’s heaven.

As he trod through this paradise, the sounds of occupation rose from the row of cypress that the guard had mentioned.  Here was the greatest concentration of statues—ancient ones, even at this time—and beneath them, a collection of artists working at sculpting and painting.  

Mason scanned them eagerly for a familiar face, but he knew none of these.  They were mostly youths.  Even from here he could tell they were none of them masters.  At least, not yet.  An older man strode between them, hands clasped behind his back, leaning over them in the unmistakeable stance of a teacher.

Recalling something from his histories, Mason took a risk and approached the teacher.  “Signore Bertoldo di Giovanni?”

“Si,” the man said, looking Mason up and down with a frown.  “Do I know you?”

Mason shook his head.  “No.  But I know you.  Your name precedes you as a great teacher of artists.”

Bertoldo raised his eyebrows at this, but remained aloof.  

“I am a travelling artist and I seek a particular painter.  The one who painted this.”  He took out his phone again and showed it to the teacher.  Bertoldo’s reaction was much like the guard’s, though he showed a keen professional interest after his initial surprise.

“It’s very good.  Reminds me a bit of Botticelli.”

“I thought so, too.”

He grunted in surprise.  “You know his work?” 

“Some,” Mason replied.  How about intimately, he thought.  “Do you think it might be his?”  Mason held his breath.  A lost Botticelli would be a career-making find.  That is, if he ever found his way back home.

But Bertoldo shook his head.  “Not his.  But someone who studied under him, perhaps.”

“Would you know where I could find him?”

Bertoldo shook away his fascination and narrowed his eyes in renewed suspicion.  “Where did you say you came from?”

“I didn’t.  Please excuse my poor manners.  I come from . . .”  He thought quickly.  He couldn’t say America.  That didn’t exist yet, as far as these people knew.  “The countryside outside Milan.”

It was true, strictly speaking.  His family did hail from that area, a century ago at least.  Or perhaps even now his early ancestors lived under the Caro name.  That was a thought.

Bertoldo gave a nod.  “Signore Da Vinci is there right now.”

“Really?  A shame I’ve missed him.”  That was a helpful bit of information.  It narrowed down the possible window he’d landed in.  Leonardo spent several years in Milan, but all between 1482 and 1499.  So somewhere in the eighties or nineties then.  The golden age.  Leonardo wasn’t here, but based on history others were, such as Botticelli, Girlandaio, and Perugino.  Even a young . . .

“Michelangelo, can’t you see I’m busy?”

Mason turned abruptly to see a young boy of ten approaching the master, a chisel and mallet in each hand.  His jaw dropped, but his surprise went unheeded by both teacher and pupil.  

“I’m sorry, Signore, but I need some help with the horns.”

Bertoldo excused himself and went over to where the youth was working on a block of half-formed marble.  Even at such a tender age, even in the crude first cuts of a sculpture, the mark of a master was evident.  Bertoldo jabbed a finger at a certain point and said something to the boy then stood back, arms folded to watch.  He nodded and smiled, then came back over to Mason.

“Young Buonarroti.  He shows a great deal of promise.”

I’d say so, Mason thought.  He watched the boy work, his dark curls close-cropped over a high brow, sensitive, wide-set eyes, long nose, small delicately-shaped lips and pointed chin—a face not unlike his own sculpture of David.  He allowed himself an indulgent smile.  Now I get to say I knew him when.

“You asked about Botticelli?” Bertoldo recalled him to his mission.  


“He has his own studio.  I can send a guide with you.”

“No need.  I know the city.”

Bertoldo gave him the address and Mason thanked him.  

“You are welcome in the garden any time,” the gruff master said.  “I would like to see some of your own work one day.”

“Thank you.  I’d like that very much.”

Still buzzed from meeting one of his idols as a child, Mason left the garden and went out to find another.



Here’s something I just hammered out for a potential story.  I’m planning on making it a time travel.  Please let me know what you think!  🙂


Love at first sight always seemed a ridiculous concept to Mason Caro—till it happened to him.

Well, maybe it was still rather ridiculous, he amended, tilting his head to examine the painting from a different angle.  After all, the woman in question had been dead for five centuries.  

“This is really quite special.”  His voice, though hushed, echoed in the vaulted rafters of his studio in the Uffizi Gallery.  His eyes traced the brushstrokes with tender reverence, lingering over the exquisite shape of the woman’s small mouth, the haunting luminescence of her dark eyes.

“I thought you’d be excited about it.”  His colleague, Piero, moved in closer.  “What can you tell?”

Mason shook his head.  “Not a heck of a lot.  There’s no signature.  Even the subject is unnamed.  I don’t recognize the style.  I mean, it’s got a lot in common with other Renaissance painters around the turn of the 16th century—see the brushstrokes here?  I can’t tell for sure until we run some conclusive tests, but as for a preliminary guess?  I’d say this is the real thing.”

Piero broke out into a broad grin.  “I thought so.”

Mason couldn’t take his eyes from the woman in the portrait.  “Where did we get this?”  

“Some wealthy recluse just died.  Left it to the museum.”

“That’s amazing.  I mean, aside from a little damage in the lower corner, which I can fix no problem, it’s in perfect condition.  This kind of thing is unheard of.”

“So you don’t think it belongs to one of the known painters?”

“No.”  Mason raised a tentative finger to hover just over the woman’s chin.  “See here?  It’s a technique I’ve never seen in a Renaissance painting before.  I’d almost say it was a modern addition.”

Piero’s face fell.  “Then you think it’s a fake?”

Mason shook his head impatiently.  “No I told you.  It’s the real thing.  Bet you anything it’ll be dated in the 1480s.  I might have taken it for a Botticelli, but for that.”  He circled his finger around the odd bit.  “You see the same thing here and here.  But it was done at the same time as the rest of the painting, with the same paint.”

“You think we’ve found a new master?”

“Too early to say.”  Mason frowned, musing over the puzzle.  But the mystery woman’s eyes captured his attention.  It almost seemed as though she was looking at him across the ages, a sidelong glance through dark lashes and the veils of time.

“What about the girl?”

“Hmm?” He broke away from his reverie with a start.  “Oh.  I don’t know.  I’ve already cross-referenced the face with all the known portraits of the time.  This is someone new.  Judging by the quality of her clothing and the jewels, I’d guess she’s the wife or daughter of some kind of VIP—someone rich enough to commission the portrait.  It’s unusual for a portrait, though.  Usually we see formal portraits with the women modestly dressed, and this kind of dishabille is reserved for mythological works or studies.  But she’s clearly wearing contemporary garments, so we know she’s not meant to be Venus or the Virgin Mary.  Yet the hair down and unveiled, the, um . . .”  He circled his finger again, encompassing the open, unlaced neckline that revealed the delicate swell of her flesh.  

Piero laughed.  “In love, are we?”

Put like that, it did sound ridiculous.  Mason snorted.  “Yes,” he said sarcastically.  “Just waiting for you to go away so we can be alone together.”

Piero shook his head and turned away.  “Just tell me what you find out,” he called back over his shoulder.

Silence settled over the studio.  The Tuscan sunshine streamed in through the large windows, catching intricate swirls of dust motes.  But the painting sat in shadow, away from the damaging reach of ultraviolet light.  Mason leaned close, tilting the special light to better illuminate the work—close enough to smell the slightly rancid tang of very old oil paint.  

“Who are you?” he asked the woman.

She stared back at him, eyes large and innocent, hinting at depths of mystery he could not begin to plumb.  

With a sigh, he bent to his examination.  “Sorry about this.”  He picked up a probe and very gently flaked some of the paint from the edge of the canvas into a petrie dish.  “I’ll be as gentle as I can.”

He was talking to her now.  Shaking his head, he ignored the limpid gaze that watched him work, and forced his mind on the task at hand.

“She’s just a painting,” he muttered.  

But his eyes involuntarily lifted to meet hers again, and he had the distinct impression that she was more—so much more than just a painting.


Here’s a first look at an upcoming short story entitled “Sensible Advice”.  Let me know what you think!  🙂


The best advice is no advice, Jane thought privately to herself as the conversation raged on around her, now self-propelled.  She never ceased to marvel at the way they could start by asking her a simple question and then spend an hour dissecting her personal life.  Jane could stand up and leave the kitchen and it would go on still.

“I can never understand why my Jane is not married!” Mother was saying again.  “She’s a hundred times prettier than Meredith Kirk and she was married at nineteen.”

Jane pressed her lips together and looked down at her lap.  Jane was twenty-three, and hence the controversy. 

“She’s pretty, aye,” said Mrs. McRae, “but she could do more with herself.  Such plain clothes and hair, and such a horrid colour on her.”

Jane fingered the serviceable wool of her skirt and the sleeve of her pale grey shirtwaist.  Her clothes suited her fine, and her hair was dressed practically in a bun on top of her head.  A school teacher needed to dress professionally, not with the frivolity of the young girls.  She knew her age, only too well, and tried to look it.  It wasn’t her fault no men had shown any interest in her – at least, none Jane could think of as a husband.

“She’s too picky, if you ask me.” Mrs. Borden gave a knowing nod.  “A girl has to be prepared to settle for a decent man and turn him into a good one.”

Jane laughed internally at that – Mr. Borden was the most hen-pecked man she’d ever met.  She wondered if he’d known what he was in for when he’d chosen her.

“I tell my Jane she must learn to cook better if she wants a man,” Mother said importantly.  “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”  

“They sure do like a good meal,” Mrs. McRae agreed.  “I always make my Charlie cherry pie – that’s his favourite.”

“If you ask me,”  Mrs. Borden ignored the fact that nobody had—“she’s much too concerned with work and reading.  The last thing a man wants is to feel inferior, like he has to compete with his wife.  Men want a girl who is prepared to settle down, keep house, and make babies.”

Jane choked on a sip of tea and put the cup down on the saucer delicately.  No one seemed to notice, and the conversation ploughed ahead. 

“It’s the making babies part,” continued Mrs. Borden.  “That’s the way to a man’s heart.”

“Please, Elsie,” Mother said, scandalized. “My Jane’s not married yet.”

“Good heavens, I know,” Mrs. Borden said, “That’s what we’re talking about, isn’t it?”

“I think Jane’s problem is the sad lack of suitable men in the county,” Mrs. McRae piped up, neatly changing the subject.  Jane couldn’t agree more.  “She needs to meet someone new – someone who didn’t know her as a little girl.”

Jane looked up at the ceiling, finding new heights of humiliation.  She had been a gawky girl, and somewhat awkward socially.  While her friends went on into graceful adulthood, Jane had never quite been able to lose the stigma of her childhood. 

“In fact,” Mrs. McRae continued, “Charlie’s brother William will be in town tomorrow – I’ve always wanted Jane to meet him.  I think they’d be perfect for each other.”

Jane groaned inwardly as the other two ladies enthusiastically praised the idea.  She had heretofore managed to avoid meeting the celebrated Mr. William McRae, by some chance or other.  But from the sound of the scheming going on around her, she wouldn’t be able to escape this time.  She thought of Mr. Charles McRae, a balding, moustachioed, paunchy man of nearly forty, and projected his image onto a younger model.  Add to that the elder Mr. McRae’s domineering arrogance and penchant for excessive talk, and Jane had a complete picture of a man she most definitely didn’t want to meet.

But plans went along, strung together like squares of a quilt, and by the time the ladies were walking out the door, Jane was finagled into coming for tea tomorrow and meeting the famed William. 

“Come at three o’clock.” Mrs. McRae waved over her shoulder at Jane.  It was the first time she’d addressed her directly in the past hour.  “And wear your lavender blouse – it looks lovely on you, dear.”

Jane watched her mother’s friends go with a wretched feeling of dread twisting her gut.  What had she got herself into?


Here’s another excerpt from my Nanowrimo 2013 novel, Enter.  In this piece, Eliora and Ethan discuss being brave.  As always, please feel free to share your honest thoughts on it! 🙂


“Do you have any idea how fascinating you are to me?”

 I blink.  Now it’s my turn to blush.  

 “I mean, I have a million questions I want to ask you.  And a million things I want to show you.”

 I drop my eyes, surprisingly disappointed.  He sees me as a scientist’s curiosity, a researcher’s treasure trove.  I think I’ve camouflaged my regret well enough, but Ethan is more perceptive than I give him credit for.  

 “Oh, no.  I mean, well, yeah, that too.”  He bites his lip and laughs.  “Actually, you’re even more fascinating … that way.  I’ve never met anyone like you.  I want to help you, to protect you, and yet you are probably the most self-sufficient woman I’ve ever met.”

 “I’ve never felt that way.”  I laugh, shying away from his eyes.

 “You don’t think so?  You’ve survived centuries of antagonism by this Daon guy, through I don’t even know yet what dangers, and you think you’re not self-sufficient?”

 I shake my head.  “Not so much.  I feel like I’ve got through by the skin of my teeth most of the time.  Or, more accurately, by a miracle.”

 He gazes at me thoughtfully.  “Yeah.  There is that.  I still can’t wrap my mind around that.”

 “Me neither.”

 “I don’t know the half of what you’ve faced, but even still I think you’re the bravest person I know.”

 I know he’s thinking about my scars that I showed him last night to prove my wild story.  I shake my head again.  “I’m not brave.  I’m so full of fear.”

 “Nah, being brave isn’t about being fearless.  Don’t you know that?  Being brave is doing what you have to no matter how afraid you are.”

 I used to know that.  I’ve learned that lesson so many times over.  But it always helps to be reminded.  

 Ethan holds out his hand to me, a look of invitation in his eyes.  I take his hand.  It’s pleasantly warm, strong but gentle.  

 Part of me, alerted by the natural way our lives have meshed together so quickly, reminds me not to get attached.  This is only temporary, my head says.  Only a moment and then slumber of one kind or another will separate us.  Of course that’s my first response.  Everyone I’ve ever known is dead.

 Well, except Daon, and probably Kali.  

 But then I have to remind myself that this is the last time.  I feel it.  I know it.  I’m home, now, and no slumber will interrupt whatever life I make here.  

 “I guess I’m brave then.”  I shrug.  “But only a little bit.”

We’ve all heard of the overbearing mother-in-law.  Imagine if you were a queen and your mother-in-law was queen before you.  This is my picture of how it would go, taken from my Nanowrimo 2013 novel, Enter.  As always, please feel free to let me know what you think.

Atusa Shahbanu - Wife of Darius the Great

Atossa did not wait until Astra’s visit, but interrupted the queen’s breakfast under the pretence of congratulating her, but really to congratulate herself.
“Of course I have many grandchildren already—you’ll know the king has other children, as well as his brothers and sisters.  But you’ll find every little one is another jewel in the royal nursery.  One can never have too many sons.  And of course, this is your first.  All the more precious for you.”  
The dowager queen sat at the table across from Astra, not waiting for an invitation but receiving one anyway as she reclined.  Her sister Artystone and her niece Parmys, never far from her side, took up their posts on her right and left.
“Indeed,” Astra replied, offering a dish of stuffed dates.  “I am delighted with the news.”
“Of course, you won’t see much of your child, off in the royal nursery.  But I did make time to see my sons.  You have to, if you want to have any influence over them when they rule.”
“Oh, but your majesty, my son will not rule.  The king has sons by Queen Vashti who are older than mine.”
Atossa smiled mildly across the table.  “Of course, dear.  How could I forget.  Oh, and you ought not to call her queen anymore.  It undermines your position and contradicts the king’s ruling that her title be stripped from her.  He wouldn’t like that.”
“Yes, mother,” she said.  
I hid a smile as I caught Astra’s eyes over the table.  I knew the dowager queen was not her favourite person, but she responded admirably to what others might perceive as a constant challenge, never losing her temper over a torrent of veiled insults and barbs and overt commands, always humble despite her exalted station.  
She had told me once that the queen, despite her prickly exterior, was really a dedicated mother who only wanted the best for her son, and by proxy her daughter-in-law.  Atossa had learned more than any other woman alive about statecraft, and Astra meant to glean from her as much as possible.
“You say your son will never be king,” Atossa continued.  “But you never know what may happen.  Ahuramazda forbid it, but children are susceptible to sickness.  Young men fall in battle.  And if you please Xerxes well, he may simply overturn the succession, as his father did for me.”
Astra nodded sagely at this, not wanting to further contradict her influential mother-in-law.  
“Whatever happens, I will consider myself blessed to be a mother.”  She laid a hand flat against her abdomen and the invisible mystery forming within.
They passed the rest of breakfast discussing protocol in the royal nursery, confinement and birth, and good royal names for sons and daughters.  Atossa stayed long after the meal was done, dominating the hall as she had when she had lived here as queen.  Then, at last, she withdrew for a mid-morning nap.  
“You’ll find when you are old you haven’t the stamina of your youth,” she said with a sigh.  “What I wouldn’t give for the wisdom I have now in the body I had thirty years ago.”  She shook her head and left, with her companions in her train.
After she was gone, I leaned close to Astra and said, “So, will you name your son Cambyses, like she suggested?” 
She smiled, not quite a laugh.  “I will name my child whatever the king—may he live forever—desires.”  Then she dropped her voice for my ears alone.  “But in my heart of hearts I will give him another name.  Jeremiah—exalted of the Lord.”
I smiled conspiratorially.  “It is a good name.”

In this second excerpt from my Nanowrimo novel, Enter, the main character Eliora arrives in the harem of King Xerxes in Susa.  Please feel free to let me know what you think.  🙂

Susa winged man Darius Palace

The first glimpse of a future home is always fraught with meaning.  Which room would be mine?  What would become my new favourite place?  Who out of the women watching us enter would be my friend?  
I could not think of the alternative—that some of these might consider me their rival, and therefore their enemy.  I wanted none of the fame of being queen.  In fact, I wanted that least of any of the girls.  
The maidens who thronged the court of the virgins were an even wider sampling of the diversity of Woman than our little group from Babylon.  From every province of the empire they came, from the farthest eastern bounds of India to the western unknown beyond Macedonia and Thrace, from the hot southern sun of Egypt and Cush to the cold northern reaches of the Caucasus mountains.  
At the gate, once again, the official handed us over to the care of a eunuch—a great hulking man with an incongruously soft voice important enough to have attendants of his own.  
“Welcome to the harem of King Xerxes—may he live forever.  My name is Hegai, and I am overseer of all his majesty’s wives, concubines, and virgins.  If you should ever lack for anything, I will see to it.  I hope you will consider this your home.”
I couldn’t help but smile at his kindly welcome.  He seemed like the sort of man I could consider an ally.
“That being said, there are certain customs here in the women’s rooms that you will quickly learn.  Certain rooms are assigned to certain ladies according to the favour they have won.  Earn my favour, and I may reward you.  Earn my disfavour, and you will soon find yourself serving your peers.”
His brief warnings dispensed, the momentary dark cloud seemed to pass from his face and the sun of his broad, bright smile emerged again.  “I have no doubt that you will all get along well.  Please, follow the maids, and they will bring you to your rooms.  
For the time being, we were placed together in a large, luxurious room much like our place in the satrap’s palace in Babylon, yet much more opulent.  Where there the cushions had been made of fine woven wool, here the wool was woven with threads of gold and silver.  Where there the floor had been of polished stone, here the floor was an intricate mosaic of many kinds of inlaid stone.  The baths here were larger, the fountains more numerous, the gardens more abundant, the food more exotic, the linens and wools finer—indeed everything was more lavish than anything I had ever seen.  
Hegai assigned us a pair of handmaidens who attended us like shadows.  “These maids will assist you with your beauty treatments.”
I remembered beauty treatments.  I remembered the rasp of pumice and the slick of oil and the heady resins of spikenard and myrrh.  I remembered the feel of soft skin, of white, clean hands unsullied by work, of the whisper of brushed hair across my back.  I remembered the wedding for which I was beautified.
A ghost of scented oil floated through my memory and I fought the urge to gag.
This will be different, I told myself.  I won’t be going to Daon this time.  This time I go to the king, and I belong to him.  I am safe here, in the harem.  I am safe.

This is a little peek at my Nanowrimo novel, entitled Enter.  Hope you enjoy.  Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments.  🙂


When the sun rises on my night’s vigil, I know I am not alone.  It doesn’t matter that Ethan is sleeping in his rumpled bed across the tiny, messy studio apartment.  He’s still here, and I’m not alone.  It’s a good feeling.
I get up from his old, comfortably sagging couch and go into the kitchen, pour myself a glass of water.  I don’t want to wake him.  I know all the backstory will wait.  I’m just content to know he is there.  That he cares for me.  More importantly, that he knows my story and believes me.  
I wonder what it would be like, after all this time, to really sleep.  Just a nice, full night of peaceful slumber, no longer hounded by nightmares.  To lie down in one place, one time, and wake ten hours later in the same place, the same time.  
For two and a half thousand years, give or take, I haven’t been able to count on that one simple invariability.  
Not that I’m complaining.  If God chooses to deliver me from certain death, I think sleeping through a hundred years is wonderful.  Who am I to question the mode he chooses for his earth-shattering miracles?  I’ve long since ceased trying to understand the whys and wherefores.
But Ethan is a scientist, if a believing one.  He’d like a few answers, and I wish, just a little, that I could give him some.  
Like why I have been leaping my way through history.  Like why the embodiment of evil I have the misfortune to call a husband turns up everywhere and every-when I go.  
Daon Nazaratus.  The villain who started it all, who lost me my family, my roots in time, everyone and everything I knew.  He was there at the beginning, in ancient Babylon, and he is here, now, in this very city, waiting for me to appear once again.  
Except that this time, I know, somehow, it will be the last time.  Maybe then I’ll finally get to sleep.  For real, this time.
Ethan sits up in bed, rubs his thick dark curls, reaches clumsily for the dark-rimmed glasses he keeps on the nightstand.  Only then does he see me, remember slowly, smile.
“Good morning.”
“Good morning yourself.  I hope I didn’t wake you.”  I smile back at him, despite my slight reserve.  I’ve only just met him, after all.  But even the little we’ve been through together is enough to make me happy to see him, to share his company.  He’s the first person I’ve ever trusted with my story.
“Not at all.  I need to get up, anyway.  Got stuff to do.”
“Yeah, I’ve got to get to work, too.  Can’t be late on my second day.”
There’s a shyness between us.  Like he’s afraid to ask if he’d just imagined all the things I told him last night.  
“Did you sleep at all last night?” he asks in disbelief.
“I told you.  I’m not a big fan of sleeping.  There’s the dreams and all.  Besides, I do plenty of sleeping … you know …”
“Yeah.”  It’s sinking in.  I can see it on his face.  But even though he believes its true—that I am essentially 26 centuries old, rather than the 20-something I look—it’s going to be a while before he truly accepts it.
He rolls out of bed in a t-shirt and shorts, grabs a pair of denim pants and a sweater from the floor, and heads into the bathroom.  “I’ll just be a minute.”
I busy myself with finding bread and toasting it.  His toaster is not too different than the ones I saw before, a century ago, so I don’t have any trouble.  I figure out the coffee machine, too, from my new job yesterday.  By the time he emerges, dressed, shaved and combed, I have a plate of toast spread with jam and a mug of coffee ready for him.  He doesn’t have a dining table, so we sit on the couch.
“Hey, thanks.”  He takes the toast and crunches into it.  “I probably would have been too lazy to eat any breakfast.  Couldn’t do without the coffee, though.”
“And you scold me for not sleeping.”
“I know.  They do say breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”
“Do they?  I suppose it makes sense.”
“Oh yeah, I forgot you won’t get many cultural references.”
“Not unless you’re talking about history.”  I hunch my shoulders and take a bite of my toast.  
“That sounds perfect to me.  I’m a history student, don’t forget.  Sometimes I feel like I was born in the wrong century.”
“Me too,” I say.  We both burst out laughing.
The clock on the stove says 6:49.  “I have to be at work soon.”
“I’ll walk you down.”  
He takes my plate in his free hand and dumps the dishes carelessly into the sink.  I follow with  the mugs, more gently.  After lifetimes spent in servitude, I can’t break my old habits.  
The coffee shop where I got my new job yesterday, where I first met Ethan only 24 hours ago, is just downstairs, a block south, and across the street.  He was having a date with his guitar and the sunrise.  I was waking up for the first time in a century, on the park bench next to him.
I remember the first time I woke after my long slumber, when I slumbered under a Babylonian moon and wakened to a Persian sunrise.  When I closed my eyes on slavery and certain death at my wedding feast and opened them on freedom and life a century later.
If only I had been as free as I’d thought myself then.  But Daon had lived on, defying nature and God, to hound my waking and sleeping ever since.  
If the feeling I had was to be trusted, it wouldn’t be for long.