Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Writing Wednesday {Aug. 31}

I would love to be able to write on a schedule. Real life, though, does not allow that. I have two small kids and their needs come before my writing schedule. I have to take little moments to write when I can. A perfect example of that is this morning. We ran out of coffee (no!!) so after taking my 8 y.o. to school, my 4 y.o. and I headed over to Starbucks. He got a hot chocolate and I got a White Chocolate Mocha (oh yes!). I had a few pieces of lined paper in my car and I had stuck them in my purse. We sat down and he doodled on a piece of paper while I wrote down some outline notes for my next story. I've had these ideas floated around in my head for a while and I didn't want to lose them. I was able to write for about fifteen minutes before the hot chocolate ran out. ;) Fifteen minutes might now seem like a lot but it helped my brain feel less compressed. And that is a very good thing.

Outlining is very important to me. I need to see the path that I'm going to take to get to the end of the story. It might be a slightly wavy path or a very crooked path but there is an end in sight! I can't just start with a "great idea" and hope to get to the "happily ever after." Those kinda stories fizzle out around page fifty. Granted, my finished project might not resemble my initial outline but that's okay! A few detours aren't bad. Sometimes characters do something you didn't plan for (they can be annoying that way). Sometimes a situation needs to be lightened up or (in my usual case) darkened. A "road map" is my form of pre-writing.

So, do you have a "formula" or a "pre-writing" technique that you use? Let me know! :)
Happy writing!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Melissa-ish Monday {Aug. 29}

I won an award! 



Mel Fowler gave me a Versatile Blogger award. Thanks Mel!


and Now 7 random facts about me....

1: I'm wearing pink flip-flops that my sons gave me for Mother's Day.
2: I like to play video games.
3: I have to have flavored creamer in my coffee but I drink my tea black.
4: Melissa means "honey bee" and I collect bee things.
5: I love to watch "Phineas and Ferb."
6: I'm obsessive about keeping an accurate calendar.
7: I always color inside the lines.


That's about it for this Monday. (My oldest son started school today so it's been a bit busy around here.)

Happy reading everyone!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Writing Wednesday : Memories

Yes, I know that's it's actually Thursday but I didn't get the "Writing Wednesday" done yesterday because I was school clothes shopping with my little sister. And recovering from the Taylor Swift concert. (Singing and jumping and standing up for three hours straight wears one down.)

My mom gave me a box with all of my school papers she's saved over the years. I started going through it yesterday and I was gobsmacked. (It's a word.) I've always wondering (since I started *seriously* writing this trilogy of mine) when I really got my start writing. The proof was in the yellow cardboard school bus box my mom handed to me.

My school journal from when I was seven years old (second grade) is hilarious. You can tell the days my teacher gave us a prompt that I didn't care to write about. "Today is Tuesday. I am having a good day at school." Wow. That's inspired. Others are SO funny! I'll probably be sprinkling these little tidbits into my blog posts for a while. (Not that 7 year old Melissa was a great writer but she was very opinionated. And funny at times.) I'll keep the punctuation and spelling the same as it was then. (Cringe.)

"December 5, 1988. This is a season for a jolly time to be with your family." (Was I suddenly British? "Jolly"?)


"December 6, 1988. "Today is Tuesday and I...am cold very very cold  I am cold because it is cold out side  I have a sweder but it is still cold but now I am in my class Room and Mrs. Takata turned on the heater and now I am glad."


"March 3, 1989. I am going to make a book called ; Called to much it is a story about a girl who called her friend to much and everyone was so mad at her that she was not to call anyone ever agin and she was so mad at her parnets that she ran away." (What was I thinking?? And nice semi-colon there, Miss.)

I found a short story that I wrote in high school that I thought I had thrown away. I've mourned the loss of that story ("The Hated Yellow Paper") for years. But it was in the box!! My sister read it out loud as we drove to the store for school clothes shopping. It was cringeworthy in parts and smileworthy in others. (Sister: "Wow. You used 'face' three times in the last two sentences.") I found a paper that I wrote for my 11th grade Honors English class titled "My Passion, My Future." "I plan to go to college (check!) and become an English major (check!) and be a high school English teacher (substitute teacher right now, close). In ten years, I will be a successful teacher with many books, both at home (haha! yes!) and in my classroom. Maybe I'll have already started writing my own book." What?! I wrote that in 11th grade?! I do not remember that. :) It's been fun reading through all of these old papers and remembering different moments in my life, writerly and otherwise.

Excuse me. I'll be diving into my past for a while. :)

Taylor Swift Concert!

For Christmas, my husband gave me tickets to see Taylor Swift in concert at the Staples Center. That day finally came!! We went on Tuesday night and It. Was. Amazing. (And I sang along to every song, of course. My voice was pretty much gone by the end of the night. So was my hearing.) :)

(And just so you know, I will be using lots of "so" and "amazing" and "fantastic" and all other words describing T.S. and the concert. Don't be annoyed.) ;)

This is my first concert. Yes, EVER. That is probably weird. I love music and love all types of music. Chris has been to lots of concerts (mainly when he was in college) and has seen many bands play. Mostly ska and rock. I love country music but Chris is kinda 'meh' about it. So I've never forced the issue. :)

But...TAYLOR SWIFT. If you've read my blog posts, you know how much I adore T.S. and her ability to put so much emotion into her lyrics. In three minutes, you have a whole story. That is a great skill. I listen to T.S. to get in the mood to write. So, the tickets were the best present ever for me.
I made a shirt to wear.

One of the sleeves of the T-shirt I made

Stage before curtain


We had floor seats, back in section 6. (Right by the lighting and sound guys in the middle of the floor.) The stage was kinda far but they have these three enormous screens in the front so that you can see the action on the stage. *swoon* The Stage. So beautiful. Elegant bridges and staircases and a gazebo. The dancers fit the songs perfectly. The band rocked. And Taylor! She was SO sweet and honest and just...real. That's what I appreciate about her the most. In front of 13,500 fans, she was still the same person she is on her blog, on her vlog, on interviews. You could tell that she was stunned when she came out at first and saw the huge crowd.

I'll try to give the order of the songs she played and insert pics I took (the lighting was really poor for getting good pics).
She started with "Sparks Fly" and she had a gorgeous gold dress that glittered and fit the song perfectly. And there were FIREWORKS. Yes, it was super cool.


Next, she wore the dress she wore in the "Mean" video and played her banjo in "Our Song" (one of my fav. songs!) and then "Mean."

Costume change - "Mine" - So great. And then "The Story of Us."

Long dress and white piano. Lights lowered to make a bridge for the violinists. White confetti for snow...Yep, "Back to December." *sigh* SO good.  First two verses and then she broke into OneRepublic's "Apologize." I KNOW. It fit. And bits of "You're Not Sorry." Then back to "Back to December" for the last verse.

Bridge with violinists above and behind her
Bridge above and lights beneath - going back up

"Better than Revenge"  (Not my fav. song)

And a wedding set for "Speak Now." This was really well done. The bride/dancer was perfect for the role. The groom was sweating it out and then Taylor and her friends/dancers were so cute dancing together in a 1960s girl group sorta way. (And her purple dress was beautiful.)


AND THEN!
She made her way through the crowd and came to the back of the arena. RIGHT BY OUR SEATS. She had a little platform set up with a glowing tree. She sat down and had her ukulele that she bought in Hawaii. She talked about the awesome musicians that are native to CA. She sang, "God Only Knows" by the Beach Boys. Of course I sang along...with about 50 other people. The teens in the audience had no idea what the song was! :-/  The little platform she was on started to rotate! And she was looking right at me! (Just kidding. But she was turned in my direction. Fangirl moment.) Switch to a guitar, she then sang "Sweet Escape" by Gwen Stefani (of No Doubt fame) and totally nailed the fast part. Switch to a different ukulele and she sang "Fearless" and then segued into Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours" and it was FANTASTIC. Goose bumps. (She was about 20 feet away this whole time.) "Last Kiss" which is one of favorite songs to play when I need to get into a sad writing mood.
Random girl making the heart sign :)

SO close!!


Back up to the stage to sing "You Belong With Me." Cool dancers.
"Dear John" while she sat on the stairs. SO sad and good.
Ballet dancer interlude during costume change.


She starts to walk to the back of the stage, stops, turns, and sings, "Ohhh woahhhh." (Cue screams from all the preteen girls in the audience.) (And the 16 y.o. girl next to me!) "Oh, hey. Do you mind if I invite my friend Justin to come out and sing?" I've never heard such loud screaming in my life. Seriously. I had to plug my ears or I would have gone deaf. The girl next to me - holding her face and shaking, "MAH!!!! MAH!!! Oh. My. Goodness! Is this really happening?! Is this real life?!?!" I tried very hard not to laugh at her freak-out.



Justin Bieber came out with his back up dancers. And he sang "Baby." This was a very weird moment for me. I'm not a fan of J.B. but I also don't hate him. Neutral is a good term. I was impressed by his dancing skills and he sang well with Taylor. The best part was seeing and hearing the audience freak out over him showing up. :)

Costume change - beautiful dress. "Enchanted" was the next song. Dancing was lovely.

And then "Haunted" came on. Wow. This was AMAZING. There were three huge bells lowered from the ceiling, creepy trees projected on the back screen, and aerialists (like from Cirque du Soleil) came OUT OF THE BELLS. They bounced and spun in mid air, looking like they would drop to the stage but didn't. The performance was one of the best of the night.

"Long Live" was a song that T.S. wrote while on the Fearless tour last year. She performed it and it gave me goose bumps. Again, yes.

Curtains close. No, wait! Don't let that be the end!!

Oh good. There's an encore. Taylor is wearing a sparkly ball gown and sitting on a bench, her band surrounding her. "Fifteen." This almost made me cry when all the girls around me starting singing, "And we both cried!" at the top of their lungs.

AND THEN THE BEST PART OF THE NIGHT. A little balcony thing lowered from the ceiling onto the stage. Taylor got onto it, her puffy ball gown looking fantastically sparkly. And the whole balcony LIFTED INTO THE AIR. And floated around the arena. I did start crying at this point. How does she think of these things?? She sang "Love Story" while sailing above our heads.

video

The pics I have don't really do the whole experience justice. For my first concert, this was truly phenomenal.

"This night is sparkling/don't you let it go/I'm wonderstruck/blushing on the way home" - "Enchanted"

"Today was a fairy tale" - "Today was a Fairy Tale"

And it's all because of this guy...



I love you!!


P.S. The opening acts were Josh Kelly and NeedToBreathe. Both were good. :)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Melissa-ish Monday - First Book Signing!

Today's question is, "How was the book signing??"


My first book signing was on Saturday and it took place at Book Carnival bookstore in Orange. The owner, Anne, is a wonderful lady. She invited five other authors (plus me) to take place in her first ever multiple author event. Yay! We sat in twos at three tables. We each talked for a few minutes about how we started writing and what our book(s) are about. There were about 50-60 people there. My husband and kids were there, my mom and stepdad came, my sisters, my niece, my mother-in-law, friends from church, friends from my son's school. SO many lovely people! :) I got to meet some new people, give away bookmarks, SIGN BOOKS. Yes, that still feels very weird. In the best way. I have books to sign and people who want to buy them. Surreal.

Short answer to the question above - "Awesome." ;)








Saturday, August 20, 2011

New Website Design - How To

"How I Redid My Website" 
or 
"How I Broke My Brain and Made My Family Crazy"

I redesigned my website. I think I broke my brain a little bit doing it. It took a very long day and much frustration to get it done. I thought it would be more productive to tell you all HOW I made my site (including the links to YouTube videos that helped me) rather than bang my head on the wall. Or have you bang your head on the wall.

To start: determine how you are going to host your website. Webs.com is a free web hosting site. I already had a webs domain name so I went with that. Unfortunately, I didn't realize until after I had slaved away at making my site perfect that I couldn't upload the new site to the free webs platform. *This is important* If you want to do what I did, you need a website hosting platform that supports you uploading "ftp" files. Yeah, I had no idea what that was either. I learned the hard way.

If you do want to use Webs.com to host your site, you'll need to upgrade to the "Premium services." It costs around $4 a month for the "starter" version (not bad, really). After you do that, you need to "downgrade" (doesn't make sense, I know) to the "HTML only" version. It will take 12-24 hours for your account to be activated with "ftp" capabilities. Or, in my case, almost 48 hours. (That was when my brain was beginning to implode. I couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong. Turns out, it was the error of webs.com, not me.) To prevent brain implosion, upgrade your site and THEN start building your website. That way by the time you're done designing it, you'll actually be able to publish it.

Okay, next step. Download "Nvu." This is a free program and it is amazing. It will build the html code for you. No lie. http://net2.com/nvu/download.html  (Or any other Nvu site you find.)

After downloaded Nvu, open it up. Then, watch YouTube video #1 - YouTube Nvu Video 1 . (This guy is really great at explaining things.) *While he is talking/showing you what to do, pause the video and DO IT WITH HIM.* This is a great way to learn, in my opinion.

An important thing that it took me some time to figure out (I don't know why) is to center my page. If you make a table, right click on it. Half way down the pop up screen shows "Table Cell Properties." Click on that. Next window has two tabs. Click on "Table." "Table alignment" should be "center." If you don't do this, the page you're building will stay on the left hand side of the screen. Not cool.

Watch the other two YouTube videos - YouTube Video 2 YouTube Video 3
Again, do it along with him. It's easier that way.


Other stuff to know
-Be sure to name your "home page" as "index."
-Make a folder on your desktop named "NewWebsite" or whatever you want to name it. Save all your files here.
-Name all of your pages in Nvu (see videos about this.) It makes it less confusing when you're opening pages.
-Check out other websites that are similar to what you're selling or advertising, etc. and see what you like about them. And what you don't like about them. Templates are a great thing but seeing the real thing in action is a great thing. (You can also look at profession web design services. See what they do that makes it look professional.)
-It's very easy to put links into your pages. Make sure the links work before you publish the page. (You can always go back later and update your page with new links, pics, etc.)
-Resize your photos (I use IrfanView to do this) to make them not too overwhelmingly huge. It will take a long time for your pics to show up on your site if they are really big. Not many people want to wait a long time for that.
-SAVE YOUR WORK. A lot. Often. All the time. It would stink for you to spend so much time and then for it to go...away...forever.
-Don't recreate the wheel. After you make your homepage, save it as "index" (as I said earlier.) Then, make changes (say, for your "About Me" page) and then save that as "AboutMe." You'll have the same layout, colors, etc. without having to make it all over again. Proceed to make your next page, "save as" whatever that is.
-If you're using Webs.com to host your site, click on "publish" and follow the directions. (You can also see Webs.com FAQs about FTP for more info.)

I hope this helps you create your website! If it doesn't help, I'm sorry. If it does help, you're welcome. :)

Winner, Winner!

Thanks for celebrating my book's birthday party with me! I used random.org to pick the winner for the grand prize and the 10 second prizes.

Grand prize winner is...ASHLEY B.
(Please check your e-mail and confirm your mailing address.)

The second place winners will be receiving an e-mail asking them to confirm their mailing address.

These goody bags were SO much fun to put together. (I made the bookplates myself.) 
I hope you enjoy them!

GRAND PRIZE
A copy of THE SEVENTH BLESSING, 4 bookmarks, 4 bookplates

 Second prize
Two bookmarks, two bookplates

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Playlist Widget

I found this cool music widget and made THE SEVENTH BLESSING playlist for it. So, if you're reading my book, you can listen to the music that I listened to get in the mood to write, the music that inspired me to write certain scenes, and music that I just plain love. :)


Monday, August 15, 2011

Melissa-ish Monday : Celebrate My Book's Birthday

Today's question is: "What are you doing now that your first book has come out?"

Answer: "Celebrate!" :) I baked a cake for my book's "birthday." It was delicious.

But you probably didn't want to hear about me eating cake. (Even if it was rainbow chip.) So, a better answer would be, "Get ready to edit my second book."

Yep, I've already written the second book in The Tales of Gymandrol series. It's been turned in to my publisher and is waiting in the queue to be edited by the wonderful Farrah Penn. Book Two follows where THE SEVENTH BLESSING leaves off. (If you haven't read TSB yet, I don't want to give you a spoiler.)

I'll also be working on Book Three of the series. I have the story outlined and have written the first quarter of it. As time draws closer, I can give more details about it. But not yet. :)

In other-than-writing news, the school year is starting up again in about two weeks so I'll be getting back to my old schedule of transporting kids to school, substitute teaching, volunteering, all that "mom stuff" that I do. I will be having book signings and writing workshops at several schools in the area. I'll keep up with the blogging in the midst of the craziness. That's the plan right now anyway.

Have a fantastic week!

Review and Interview with I Eat Words


The lovely Farrah at the "I Eat Words" blog reviewed my book and interviewed me. Check it out. :)

Interview at "I Eat Words" blog

Review of TSB at "I Eat Words"

Saturday, August 13, 2011

My Book's Birthday Party!



I had the idea to celebrate my book's release with a 
Book Birthday Party! 
(Thanks to Elizabeth who said this on Twitter.)






I thought, "Hey, I could invite...well, I'd like to invite everybody I know but that won't really work out." So, instead, I'll give away goody bags! A signed copy of THE SEVENTH BLESSING for the winner, custom bookmarks for my book from my publisher, and other fantabulous goodies. (Not sure yet what those might be. But they will be cute! And fun! And party-licious!)

There will be one grand prize (book + bookmark goody bag) winner and ten runners up (bookmarks and such). The winner will be chosen by random.org. The winners will have 48 hours to contact me with their mailing address. If they do not confirm with me, I will choose a new winner. (I'll ship to US/Canada addresses.)


Interested in celebrating my Book's Birthday Party with me? To enter, fill out the entry form below. The party will continue until Friday, August 19th at 8 p.m. PST (That's when I'll choose a winner.)
Giveaway now closed

Friday, August 12, 2011

Photo Friday {Aug 12}

Greetings from Las Vegas!

My husband, kids and I drove out to Las Vegas Wednesday night, stayed at the kid-friendly Circus Circus Hotel, visited my grandpa (who lives in Vegas), and then drove home today. (My grandpa is getting older and we wanted the boys to be able to spend some time with him.) It's about a 5 hour drive each way to Vegas and it went by rather quickly. We listened to The Chronicles of Narnia - The Voyage of the Dawn Treader for part of the way, playing trivia games, read books, and colored. I scribbled down a few thoughts about book three in The Tales of Gymandrol, just to get them out my head. I finished reading a book. Started and finished a different book. (I don't get car sick from reading. Yay!)

I took a bunch of short videos while we were driving (having been inspired by Farrah Penn's road trip video) so I spend a short time today transferring all of those to my laptop. And then discovered that the format my cell phone recorded in is 3gp. My movie maker does not do 3gp. SO...I had to get my geek on and search the internet to find out how to convert the files (a lot of files) into wmv or something else that is compatible. I finally did it! (Yay me!) Now I'm looking for music to go with the videos. Should be fun. (Any ideas?)


Some cool pics from L.V.
(It is Photo Friday!)

Apparently I don't get out much. It's the first time I've ever seen one of these...
A curving escalator?! In Caesar's Palace



We took the elevator ride up to the top of the Eiffel Tower at the Paris Hotel. Wow. The view was amazing. (See top photo of post.) Definitely worth it. Unless you're afraid of heights. It's 50 stories up. But it is enclosed at the top.

At the top of the Eiffel Tower

Oh, hey, my book is coming out on MONDAY! I should have a little party. Or a big party. Yeah. I'll work on that. Twitter party? Blog party? I should have a book giveaway. Sounds good. More info to follow. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

WWW Wednesdays (Aug. 10)

W...W...W...Wednesdays hosted by Should Be Reading

To play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…
• What are you currently reading?
• What did you recently finish reading?
• What do you think you’ll read next?




What are you currently reading? 
I'm currently reading "But I Don't Want To Be A Movie Star!" by Margaret Pinder


What did you recently finish reading?
I finished "Golden" by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. (Read it, it's good!)

What do you think you’ll read next?
I'll get back to The Keys of the Kingdom series by Garth Nix. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Excerpt from THE SEVENTH BLESSING

I know that many readers would like to read a bit of a book before committing to buy it. So...here's the first few pages of THE SEVENTH BLESSING. Happy reading!


THE SEVENTH BLESSING
Chapter One


Talia looked up from her scroll, turning to the cry of anguish that came from the adjoining bedchamber. It will be soon now, she thought with a smile, but not too soon, I hope.
She only had a few more lines to write before her remembrance of the Fairy Rebellion would be finished. King Bennett of Mittra and King Aspen of Synterius had asked Talia, as well as a few other trusted royal fairies, to write about this most pertinent historical event of the continent of Gymandrol. While she enjoyed writing, Talia did not enjoy the memories she was required to recall.
Retelling the experience brings it into sharper focus, she thought, trying not to add too much emotion in her account. But how does one keep emotion out of the war that killed many fairies and caused us to run to the human countries for safety?
Talia’s desk was covered with slips of paper, stacks of history books, piles of parchment and most importantly, her mother’s diary. Each contained a puzzle piece of history that came from their people. History that was important to understand, so it would not be forgotten and repeated in the future. Talia opened her mother’s diary, noting the leather binding was cracked from use.
The first entry was dated thirty years prior when her mother, Tatiana, was admitted as one of the first female fairies in the Academy for Magical Abilities. Talia read her mother’s accounts numerous times and had many committed to memory. However, she was searching for a particular passage today. One that would help tie everything together.
There are so many bits of history. It’s hard to know what to keep and what to leave out, Talia thought to herself as she turned the pages. The day Mother and Father met is important to me, but not to everyone else. Father’s service to the king and Mother’s service to the queen are both equally important. Father’s death . . . The page was well marked, dotted with dried teardrops from both Talia and her mother. His death was very important. That must be in the account. Oh, here it is. The words of the Ancients.
In Tatiana’s careful hand were words handed down from the Ancients, the first fairies who used magic. The Ancients believed there was a magnified form of magic that was only apparent when they used their own language, not the everyday language used by humans and fairies alike. If Talia was able to understand why her mother wrote down these last words shortly before her own death, it would be the key to—
“To what? That’s what I’ve been trying to find out for the last several years!” Talia exclaimed, surprising herself as her harsh tone echoed in the still room. She sighed, pushing her hair away from her face and stood up to pour herself a drink of water from the nearby pitcher.
Talia stopped short when she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror that hung on the wall. A large splotch of ink was smeared across her cheek, and her ebony hair stood out like a cloud. Her shimmer, a telltale sign of a fairy’s emotional state, sparkled merrily above her eyebrows. She managed to scrub her face and smooth down her hair before a piercing scream came from the bedchamber behind her.
A gray haired, wrinkled midwife tottered into the sitting room. Her eyes brightened when she saw Talia at the writing desk.
“Mistress Talia,” she wheezed. “The queen needs you immediately!”
Talia quickly rose from her seat, feeling her forehead growing hot. She feared the worst for her queen.
As she entered the queen’s private bedchamber, she spied Queen Adelaide lost in a sea of blankets in the center of her enormous bed. Her face was white with beads of sweat gathering upon her brow, and her large brown eyes dimmed in pain. Talia approached the side of the bed with a smile, even though anger sparked inside her. Do they not know it is the middle of summer? Talia thought. Who piles on blankets in July?
“Dear queen, how can I be of assistance to you?” Talia gazed down at Adelaide’s face, which was normally serene and delicately beautiful. She hoped the birth would come quickly, if only to prevent her friend from so much suffering.
“Excuse . . . the others . . .” Adelaide murmured between labor pains.
Talia turned to the ladies-in-waiting and midwives who were hovering nearby, waiting to be asked to help deliver Mittra’s newest heir to the throne. She tried not to roll her lilac eyes at their restless pacing and frantic mutterings.
“Ladies, if you please.” Talia smiled and gestured toward the door. She was relieved that they would not be in the room any longer to agitate the queen. They quickly left when they saw the purple shimmer on Talia’s forehead and stubborn expression set on her heart shaped face. However, the royal midwives stood ready to argue their right to be there, which provoked another sigh from the fairy. “The queen would like some time alone. You won’t miss the birth, I promise.” When they filed out, she locked the door.
“Thank you, dear friend,” Adelaide whispered, closing her eyes as another pain tightened across her belly. “This little one . . . is a fighter. The king will be . . . proud of his son,” Adelaide labored to get the words out, trying to smile at Talia.  
What will Addy and the king do if it is not a boy? Talia wondered to herself.
She removed all but one blanket from the bed in an attempt to make the queen more comfortable. “Not so hot, now, is it?” Adelaide gave a small smile as Talia proceeded to fan her. “What have the midwives given you? Or done to you?” Talia looked apprehensively at the queen. “No knives under the bed, right?”
She shuddered when she thought of the tradition of placing a knife under the bed in an attempt to ease the pain of labor. What if the knife stabbed through the mattress and cut the mother? She ducked under the bed, but found no evidence of such a tradition.
Adelaide laughed hoarsely. “No knives, though the old midwife, Rynthea, wanted to give me a special blend of herbs from her garden. No thank you, I said. She insisted, at which point I called for you. They do not help take my mind off the pain.” Adelaide paused as her belly contracted again. “Oh, the stories they told! Childbirth stories should be outlawed during labor. I will ask Bennett to make a law of it.” Talia laughed with Adelaide this time.
“I wish I could give you some fairy magic to bear the pain a bit easier, but I don’t think that’s possible, Addy.” Talia could only call the queen by this familiar name when no one else was around. Her mother taught her that peasants do not call royals by their first names, let alone nicknames, in public. “I can heal, but it is not really healing that you require at the moment.” She dabbed at Adelaide’s smooth forehead with a damp cloth.
Adelaide smiled. “Save your fairy gift for the child. You could tell me a story, Talia. A fairy story, not one of a four day long childbirth. Is that what you have been writing on that ever-present scroll of yours?”
“No, not a story, exactly.” Talia glanced at Adelaide’s face. “The king asked me, along with Osric and Elan, to write down what we remember about the Fairy Rebellion. I am almost finished with my account. I fear that it is too emotionally based for historical standards, but I was only eight years old when it happened, so there is that.”
“Females have a different perspective than males do, I have noticed, especially in my conversations with the king himself. I am certain that your account will be just as essential as those of those silly male fairies. Who knows what they have forgotten in their old age?”
Talia shook her head, smiling. “They are not old by fairy standards, Addy. Osric just turned ninety-three this year, and Elan is a good twenty years younger than him. Fairies do not age as humans do. But . . . I’m not saying that they are not silly.” Talia winked. “They act like little boys, fighting to get the king’s attention. My mother told me it has always been that way, even when she met them back in Sansevierra.” Talia looked at the queen. “I shall read you my account if you think it will take your mind off the pain. If it distresses you at all, I will stop.”
Adelaide nodded her head, closed her eyes, and breathed deeply as another pain rolled through her. “Go on, Talia. I have always wanted to know more about the fairies. We did not have any in Harak, so all I know is what has been whispered behind fans by the ladies at court. Well, until I came to Mittra and met you, my dearest friend.”
Talia blushed at this admission from the queen. Who would have thought that a young fairy refugee would be the Queen of Mittra’s personal advisor? Certainly not me, Talia thought as she hurried to the other room to fetch her scroll. She shook her head at the midwives, who were anxiously waiting to be called back to the birthing chamber.
“No, no. Not yet,” Talia spoke softly to them. She murmured a charm to calm their fretful spirits, hoping it would also work on Adelaide. She noted the sudden look of peace on their faces as she closed the door once again. After taking a seat near the head of the bed, she unrolled the scroll to the beginning of her tale.
“Many years ago, back when Sansevierra Desert was not yet a desert, there was a time when fairies and humans existed in separate kingdoms. The land of the fairies, Sansevierra, was surrounded by the human kingdoms that preferred to be near the edges and waters that encircled the continent. The continent of Gymandrol was surrounded by the Bisanthus Sea in the west, the Freesian Sea to the north, the Zuiden Sea in the south, and the Lantista Sea to the east. Humans seemed to be experts at sailing and navigation, while the fairies were content farming in the landlocked area of Sansevierra. This created a fair sense of trade between the two groups, who lived peacefully, side by side, for many years.”
“It was here that the fairy King, Marchen, opened an academy for those with magical abilities. A young fairy named Dagan was admitted into the Academy. This set off a chain of events that was unforeseen by the admission advisory committee, and cataclysmic consequences arose for the entire continent of Gymandrol. Dagan illegally practiced ‘darker magic’ and began to gain followers who were enticed by the idea of overthrowing the fairy king. The wicked fairy and his faction led the rebellion that caused the downfall of the kingdom of Sansevierra, sending fairies scurrying to surrounding human countries for asylum . . .”
Later, Talia sent a note to Osric, informing him that the queen was minutes away from giving birth. Osric rushed to the king’s study with this urgent message. King Bennett flushed to the roots of his red hair and rushed out to the balcony on his castle, which overlooked the main square of the city. His royally handsome face shone as he exclaimed, “My kingdom, I am going to be a father very soon!”
“Huzzah!” echoed throughout the square from the king’s loyal subjects.
Talia hurried to the entrance of the balcony where Galen, the king’s personal guard, and King Bennett were waiting. She wore a huge smile on her face as Galen whispered in Bennett’s ear. Bennett beamed and charged out onto the balcony.
Talia reached Galen and said, “The queen has born a daughter. We have a new princess!”
Galen’s wrinkled face paled and he began to shake. Talia grabbed his arm and helped him into a nearby chair. “Stop the king,” he croaked. “I took your smile to mean it was a boy . . . .”
Suddenly, trumpets sounded from the balcony. “My people,” King Bennett began. “My wife has given me an heir! It’s—”
Talia raced to the balcony, cutting him off. “No, your majesty,” she whispered in his ear, ignoring the murmuring from below. “It’s a girl.”
“He’s a girl?” King Bennett gasped.
The entire crowd gasped with him. A princess? Not a prince? What would the king do? Bennett shook his head as if to clear it and then made his way to the railing of the balcony, hands trembling slightly.
“My people, I have a . . . daughter. You have a princess. That is all.” The king abruptly turned and left through the curtained doorway.
Talia motioned Osric over to her. The old fairy served as the king’s secretary of state, and she wanted him to do damage control with the crowd. She made frantic smiling motions at him, hoping he would get the hint.  Osric stepped forward to the edge of the balcony. She noticed that his hair, once blonde, was now mostly silver in the morning light. His distinctive silver fairy eyes dimmed with age, and his wrinkled face still bore a shadow of his former attractive self.
“This is an unforeseen circumstance,” he began in a thin voice. “We should remember that girls are just as good as boys. The blessing ceremony will take place in one week, and you are all invited!” Osric waved his hands in a dismissal to the crowd and left the balcony.
Talia closed the drapery that covered the entrance to the balcony.
“Are you sure it is a girl?” Osric questioned, his silver shimmer scarcely visible.
“Of course, I am sure!” Talia retorted as her purple eyes flashed with anger.
Osric held up his hands in surrender. “I just thought . . .Well, maybe the next child will be a male. For the king’s sake. And the country.”
Talia felt her forehead growing hot. “Why is that, Osric? A female can rule in Mittra. It has not happened in many years, but it is possible.” She stomped off, her shimmer sending sparks up into the air.
After taking a walk to cool her emotions, Talia approached the room where the Gift Givers, those fairies who helped name and give blessings to the royal babies, were staying. Each fairy was handpicked by Talia for their ability to bear the burden of choosing the appropriate blessing for each baby. The fairies knew their gifts could change the life of one of the royal family forever. Talia also knew that they were weaving a tapestry using their fairy magic to showcase the blessings the princess would receive. She stopped at the entrance of the chamber, appalled at the angry words spewing across the room.
“Since it’s a girl, we need to choose different names. I love Humufia.”
“No! Pirouette!”
“Ugh, like in ballet? Never.”
“I like Demetria.”
“That sounds a bit evil, dear.”
“It’s better than Musetta!”
“I love Brunilla.”  
“Isn’t that a disease?”
“Halfrida was my mother’s name. It’s lovely.”
“Not as lovely as Imelda.”
Talia whispered a spell under her breath, and the room suddenly became quiet. She gave a satisfied smile. “Now that’s better. Sit down please.” All of the fairies complied. “The queen has chosen a name already. The princess shall be called Samantha.”
The six fairies raised their eyebrows in dismay. When they opened their mouths to argue, nothing came out. Talia’s silence charm was rock solid until she chose to lift it.
“I understand Samantha is not a typical noble name, but the queen wants to honor her great-grandmother by using her middle name. I will pass along a few of the names you suggested as a possible middle name. Have a good day.”
Talia left, murmuring the countercharm when she was a few feet down the hall.  Now to send out the official invitations to the private blessing ceremony, she thought as she headed to her room.
Born in the month of July, Princess Samantha would receive seven fairy blessings. This meant that seven Gift Givers would be invited to the private ceremony. Frowning, Talia wrote down Osric and Elan, the king’s oldest fairy advisors. She would have to keep them quiet and offer them the position of the last two gifts given during the ceremony. Otherwise, who knew what they would do to “out bless” each other? She noted that Gahan, Phelan, Cesolia, Philana, and Evelina rounded out the list of fairies. Each was well schooled in giving appropriate gifts to a noble, especially to a first-born who could rule the country one day.
Talia sealed the invitations with purple sealing wax and the signet ring given to her by Queen Adelaide. She called a messenger to deliver the invitations while gathering all the items that were essential for a newborn baby.
Three days later, Talia, Adelaide, and little Samantha arrived at the chamber where the private blessing ceremony would be held.
“Are you aware, Addy, what started the tradition of the private ceremony?” Talia questioned as they passed the rows of chairs that had been set out. They stopped as they approached the raised dais, framed by heavy drapes, at the front of the room. Adelaide shook her head, laying Samantha in the carved wooden cradle at the center of the platform.
“No, I have wanted to ask you about that. I remember when you first sent me the welcome letter after Bennett proposed to me. I was delighted to go to a new land but also scared, since I did not know anything about fairy customs. You will have to continue teaching me, Talia, just as you have these last five years,” Adelaide replied, sitting in an upholstered chair behind the cradle.
Talia loosened the ties holding the drapes back, allowing them to cover the opening to the dais for a brief moment of privacy. To the left of the cradle stood a small writing table on which Talia placed a scroll, a quill, and a bottle of golden ink. She whispered a spell over the quill, which seemed to quiver in anticipation.
Talia smiled. “Do you see this ink and quill, Addy? When the blessings are announced during the ceremony, the quill magically records the gifts given to the child. This prevents error by clerks who might not be truly listening to the blessings that are given.”
“As for the private ceremony, I can tell you a story my mother told me. It happened the first year we lived in Mittra. The first royal baby born was King Braddon’s nephew, a lesser lord. What was his name? Lord Belton, bless his heart. And his nose. Elan’s father, Soren, was the eldest fairy at the time. He was given the honor to announce the first royal fairy blessing.”
“Unfortunately, the ceremony was in January, during a break in the coldest winter Mittra had seen in hundreds of years. Soren was not properly attired to be out in the snow and wind. Consequently, his nose began to run incessantly during the ceremony. When King Braddon asked, ‘What gift shall you bestow upon young Belton?’ poor old Soren was not paying attention and remarked to the fairy on his right, ‘I wish this silly nose would just fall off rather than drip.’ The crowd gave a resounding gasp of surprise when little Belton’s nose fell right off his face! Several expensive fairy healers managed to get Belton’s nose back on by nightfall, but his nose was never quite centered and tended to get blocked rather easily. Everyone felt this was a tragic waste of a fairy gift and quite a public scene for the royal family to endure. My mother and Osric advised the king and queen to have a private ceremony to ensure this spectacle would never happen again,” Talia laughed at the memory, but Adelaide looked rather shocked.
“Has that happened in any private ceremony?” Adelaide asked worriedly.
“No, not that I remember. Every fairy is very careful now. After Soren’s mistake, he was sent into retirement, and no one wants to be forced into that!”
Suddenly, Talia heard raised voices as the chamber doors opened and then slammed closed. She raised her finger to her lips and crept forward, pulling the drapes so that they were completely hidden. She placed her hand on the dagger hanging from her belt. I hope this is not an assassination or kidnap attempt, Talia thought, gripping the dagger’s hilt as she peeked through a gap in the drapes. She relaxed when she saw it was just Osric and Elan. Why must they argue all the time?
Once King Bennett made Elan his war advisor, Osric felt the need to tell Elan how to do his job effectively. He also demanded that Elan come to him before going to the king regarding matters of state. Talia attempted to intercede when she could, but she was tired of being the mediator. She edged closer to hear their conversation without alerting them of her presence.
“All I’m saying is that it’s too bad that the child is not a boy,” Osric insisted.
“Yes, that may be so, but we still must give the child proper blessings. I do not know why you had to follow me in here. I wanted some alone time to think of the best gifts, but now I have lost my concentration,” Elan complained as he crossed the room, standing just a few feet from the curtain surrounding the dais.
Talia noticed Elan’s dark hair was beginning to silver at his temples, giving him a distinguished look. He was tall for a fairy, standing four inches taller than Osric. He maintained his strong looks even with spending so much time outdoors in the sun and wind. His wide shoulders gave evidence of his strength from working with the knights in the king’s service. His silver eyes wrinkled at the corners when he smiled, causing both fairy and human girls to swoon.
Talia held her breath, but she knew that they would not be able to hear her if their volume increased, as it tended to do. She just hoped that they would not wake the sleeping princess.
“Well, I had a long list of blessings to give to the child, if it were male!” Osric boasted. His thin chest puffed out as he stood toe-to-toe with Elan.
“I am sure that your list was not as long or detailed as mine,” Elan responded, his shimmer glowing brightly as he stared down at the older fairy.
“I would give the gift of determination. Whatever the child set out to do, it would be carried out to the end,” Osric said proudly, his own forehead giving off a faint glow.
“I would give the gift of courage! He would never back down from a fight. That is a great gift,” Elan nodded, pleased with himself.
“Courage? Please.” Osric’s voice rose as he circled around Elan. “I have more helpful gifts for a leader. I would give the gift of obligation, so he would always help those in need.”
“Next would be quick reflexes. A soldier values things like that,” Elan smirked as he crossed his thick arms over his chest.
Osric’s eyes narrowed. “A scholar would appreciate the gift of learning languages easily. Much more useful, I would say. But then, I am a learned man.” His silver eyes flashed at Elan, daring him to go on in this war of words.
Talia turned to roll her eyes at Queen Adelaide, but instead, she noticed the charmed quill moving across the scroll. What is happening? Talia thought, perplexed at the sight. She hurried to the table, and when she realized what was happening, her face lost its color. Think, Talia! What would Mother have done? She would have had the immediate remedy and would not be hesitating, losing precious time. I never should have taken this position as Addy’s advisor. The most important day of Samantha’s young life, and I cannot even think properly. But I cannot walk away and leave this mess unsorted. I cannot fail the princess now.
Talia frantically ran through the spells she had spent most of her life memorizing, pulling at a loose strand of hair. If I simply charm them into silence, might that silence charm also affect the princess? Anything spoken is quite dangerous. What can I do to stop this? What gift can I give to her? These blessings can destroy her if she is not strong enough to bear them. A gift of strength? No, someone else might use it to control her.
Suddenly, Talia remembered a blessing her mother used to say many years ago. Words from her mother’s diary also came to her—words from the language of the Ancients. Talia recited them in her mind as hope bubbled up in her chest.
“A soldier would appreciate the gift of handling any weapon with skill and dexterity. As a learned man, I do not expect you to understand what good gifts are,” Elan spoke mockingly to Osric.
Talia watched the quill write the sixth blessing down. She leaned toward the quill and spoke clearly in the tongue of the Ancients, hoping the words were correct, hoping they would register before Osric’s response to Elan’s comment came through, hoping that the tiny princess sleeping next to her wouldn’t have a future filled with tragedy. The seventh blessing glistened up at her dazzlingly.
Talia stood up and turned to look at Queen Adelaide. The queen had risen from her chair, and Talia watched as her eyes scanned the scroll. Adelaide’s face turned as pale as the white lace at her throat. Her lips moved without sound, and her brown eyes became wide with disbelief. Talia hurried to her side, catching the queen’s petite frame as she fainted.
She lowered Adelaide to the floor as the drapes were thrown back from the entrance to the dais. The small fairy ignored Elan and Osric. Instead, she took a small vial from the pouch on her belt and carefully poured a few drops into the queen’s mouth.
Within a few seconds, Adelaide regained the color in her cheeks. Her eyelids fluttered open. “Talia,” she began weakly. “The blessings? For Samantha?”
Talia hesitated, unsure of how to comfort the queen. “Your highness, Samantha has been given blessings, it would seem. I know that it is difficult to take in—”
Adelaide took a deep breath, cutting her off. “Difficult? My only daughter is given blessings meant for a prince, and you call that difficult?” The queen raised herself slowly from the floor. Talia tried to help, supporting her back with her hand.
Adelaide’s eyes sparkled with anger. She turned to Elan and Osric, who were standing wide-eyed at the edge of the dais. “As for you two,” Adelaide’s voice soared in rage as the old fairies stood frozen in place. “Just wait—”
Forced into silence, she turned in confusion towards Talia, who wore a stern look on her face. “I am very sorry I had to charm you, my queen, but I know you would have regretted your words later. As they say, ‘A royal should never have regrets.’ I will take care of these two,” Talia indicated Osric and Elan with a nod of her head. “You should get ready for the ceremony. The real ceremony. Everyone will be here soon.”
Adelaide opened her mouth to protest, gesturing towards Samantha, who was still fast asleep. Talia shook her head. “She will be just fine. I will take care of the scroll and make sure these wise advisors are not present when you return.”
Talia led Adelaide to the door on the far side of the dais. “I am so sorry, Addy,” Talia whispered, her purple eyes filling with tears. “Go now. All will be well. Not perfect, but well.”
Adelaide closed her eyes, sighed silently, and then turned to leave through the door. She looked back at Talia and patted her throat. Talia gave a small smile and murmured the counter spell. Before she left, Adelaide whispered, “Thank you, dear friend.”
Talia turned, facing Osric and Elan with a grim look on her face. She gestured for them to leave the dais. Then, she walked down to the chamber where the guests would soon be arriving.
“What were you trying to do? The poor queen almost died of apoplexy! You are the king’s most trusted advisors,” Talia hissed, her shimmer sending purple sparks into the air. “Why would you argue over such stupid, meaningless things? Oh, I am sorry, not meaningless, because all of your bickering translated into gifts for Princess Samantha! What will you do now?”
Both fairies were a head taller than the diminutive Talia, but they seemed to shrink down under her wrath.
“Talia,” Elan managed to squeak out. “It was wrong for us to be so . . .competitive and argue so vigorously. Is not there some way to remove the blessings? What did we even say?” Elan’s face paled as he recalled his words. “Oh dear, she will be some kind of warrior scholar! Osric, how could you have done this?”
Before Osric could respond, Talia stepped between them. “Enough of the fighting! That is what started this whole mess. Yes, these are rather unconventional gifts for a princess, but we can fix this.”
Talia purposely did not tell them about the seventh blessing. She hoped that no one would try to translate the language of the Ancients. She knew the quill recorded the last words she had spoken, but per fairy protocol, she had to put the fairy blessings in the Library of Records.
“Perhaps . . .” Talia mused. “Osric. Elan. I have thought of an opportunity for you to redeem yourselves.” She hurried to the writing table and picked up the scroll, the gold ink sparkling in the candlelight. She returned to the two fairies, who were waiting earnestly. “Take this scroll and translate the blessings into the language of the Ancients. Hopefully, no one will take the time to translate them, and the secret will stay safe with us. Oh, and be sure not to label the top with ‘Princess Samantha.’ Think of something clever. No one is to know about this. Not even the king. Queen Adelaide will tell him when the time is right.”
Elan and Osric looked at each other and nodded. Earlier, they thought they would certainly be exiled into the East by the king and queen. Now, there seemed to be some hope.
“One of the blessings is already translated,” Osric said, looking closely at the scroll.
“One less for you to do,” Talia replied, secretly willing him not to translate it.
“Yes, that is so,” Osric murmured, smiling at his fortune. “You are most wise, Talia.”
She waved her hand as if to brush away the praise. “Go now. I will invite a few apprentice fairies to replace you in the ceremony.”
            Talia rubbed her eyes wearily as she climbed the stairs to her room. This exhausting day is finally over, she acknowledged with a slight smile. The public ceremony had gone much as Talia could have predicted. What silly gifts, the fairy thought with a spark of agitation. I should really make a better list of princess gifts. Not that anyone will follow them, she sighed to herself.  Talia opened her door and set the scroll from the second ceremony on her writing table. Listed in gold ink, written by Talia herself, were the false blessings gifted to Princess Samantha.

            Graceful dancer
            A gentle giggler
            The ability to sip soup quietly
            A low curtsey while keeping her balance
            Talented musician
            Long fingernails
            Petite

Talia snorted in disdain at the last item on the list. “How in all of Sansevierra do you expect to make the princess petite?” she demanded out loud, shaking her head.
She met Adelaide after the ceremony to discuss the items gifted. The false gifts seemed harmless, but she hoped they would be able to convince Samantha as she grew. Adelaide’s anxiety lessened as they talked, to Talia’s relief.
We will just have to hope for the best, she thought as she readied for bed, and plan for the worst . . .

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