a curse of ash and iron

All posts tagged a curse of ash and iron

YA Scavenger Hunt — Go Team Green!

Published October 1, 2015 by christinenorris

Green Team

Welcome to my stop on the YA Scavenger Hunt! I’m so happy to be hosting Tera Lynn Childs, who is an AWESOME author. She’s so awesome that she can make the clock chime  13 ... or so I’ve heard. That might be a rumor.

Anyway, Tera has provided me with some BONUS content, just for you!  Below is an excerpt from Chapter 4 of Ten Things Sloan Hates about Tru. Enjoy!


Tru practically leaps up from the table. “I’ll do it.”

He sounds as desperate to escape as I feel.

“Me too,” I add, hurrying to grab Mrs. Dorsey’s stack of dishes and add it to mine. “I’ll help.”

“In fact,” Tru says, balancing a stack in each hand. “We’ll even do the dishes.”

I nod in agreement.

Normally chores are among my least favorite things, right after eating grilled steak and starting my senior year in Texas. But I’ll take any lifeline I can get to escape that table for any amount of time.

In the kitchen, I start rinsing off the dishes and stacking them in the sink for him to load into the dishwasher. I’m through half of them before I realize that Tru isn’t helping.

“Hey,” I say, looking over my shoulder at where he’s lounging against the counter, “this was your idea.”

He laughs. “Just wanted to see how long it would take you to notice.”

I look at the small mountain of dishes in the sink. Longer than it should have.

I stick my tongue out at him and go back to rinsing.

We quickly fall into a rhythm. I rinse the dishes and hand them to Tru so he can set them in the dishwasher.

“Sorry about that,” he says quietly.

About what? I almost ask. But when I look at him, he nods his head back toward the dining room. Toward his dad.

“Not a big deal,” I say. “He’s not the first carnivore I’ve had to take on.”

“If anyone can put David Dorsey in his place, it’s you, New York.”

I can’t tell if he’s joking or not, so I ignore it.

As I set a dish in the sink and he reaches for one, the backs of our hands brush. A shiver of tingles races up my arm and down my spine at the insignificant touch.

The next time, it happens again. At first I think it’s an accident, but then it happens every time. With each new touch, a new wave of tingles washes over me, and my heartbeat speeds up. I’m sure if I could see myself in the mirror right now my cheeks would be magenta.

The bad thing is, I think I actually like it. It’s like a game to see how he will make contact this time, how long he will make it last. And even though I know it’s a game, even though I know he’s trying to work his charms on me, I’m not immune.

I dare a quick glance, to see if he’s having the same kind of reactions, but he is studiously focused on his work. If it’s affecting him at all, it doesn’t show.


Wasn’t that great! Don’t forget to write down the secret number and add them all up to be in the running for our team prize! I’m giving away a copy of A Curse of Ash and Iron. Leave a comment for me here so I know who dropped by!

And for the next stop, you’ll need to click on the link to go to Amy Christine Parker’s blog! Good luck!


A CURSE OF ASH AND IRON and…the title

Published August 15, 2015 by christinenorris

Okay, so now that I’ve been back from vacation for a bit, and sort of gotten my life all back in order again, I can return to my posts about CURSE. The book is still getting great reviews, even has some people talking about it on Goodreads. NINE HUNDRED people have added it to their Goodreads lists — To Be Read, or reviewed, or just read. That’s amazing to me! 900 people!

Anyway, the title. If anyone remembers, WAY back when it was a manuscript, it had another title. The original title was SMOKE AND MIRRORS. If you’ve read the book, you get why it was the title (although, I think I ended up taking out that direct reference before it went to print).

As so often happens in publishing, a title the author submits with is often NOT the title that ends up on the book. When my agent first sold it to Strange Chemistry, one of the editor’s requests was a title change. Apparently, some guy named Neil Gaiman had a book of short stories by the same name, and they wanted to avoid confusion…


My agent and I wracked our brains thinking of new titles. Things like MIDNIGHT and  MASQUERADE and all kinds of other crazy stuff. I think we had about a dozen rejected choices before I came up with the approved title. It started out as CURSED, which kind of reminds me of some kind of werewolf story or something. But in the end we got there. I actually like it better than the original, and it gives me something to build on for future novels of a SIMILAR nature *hint hint*

What do you all think? Like the title or no?



Published July 20, 2015 by christinenorris


I’m still on vacation, lovelies, but haven’t forgotten you! Here is a second excerpt of CURSE. It’s kind of long, but I think it’s important to get the whole scene.

Like it? Go and get a copy!

When Ellie left Ben half an hour later, she was no closer to a solution. She only had more questions, and her friend was not being particularly helpful. He was still chatting away with the tall, mustached man who was responsible for the monster of a machine on display in the middle of the hall. The minute he had seen the huge contraption, towering above them with its gigantic wheel and what seemed like a thousand moving parts, it was as if she had ceased to exist. He had walked to it as if drawn by a magnet, dragging Ellie along until she almost had to run to keep up with him.

For a few moments, Ben spoke with the man, who introduced himself as Mr. Corliss, asking questions full of technical gibberish that sounded to Ellie like a foreign language. The man had apparently been impressed by Ben’s knowledge of machinery, because he invited Ben onto the dais to inspect the strange machine. Ellie, half-listening to the men’s conversation, but not bothering any longer to try and understand it, wandered around the machine, puzzling over it. She looked at it from every angle, and although she could not figure out what it did or how it worked, it was impressive.

When Ben took off his jacket and rolled up his shirtsleeves, Ellie knew he was lost to her. He looked so happy talking to Mr. Corliss that she didn’t even mind the fact he had abandoned her, but it was getting late, and her stepmother would be looking for her. Not out of worry, but propriety. Heaven forbid it got around that Olivia Banneker let her niece run around unescorted. Never mind she was only a “poor relation”, such a scandal would tarnish her stepmother’s reputation instantly and was therefore almost worth spending several more hours wandering around the fair, making sure every last person she met knew who was responsible for protecting her honor.

She said goodbye to Ben, received a half-wave in reply, and left the Machinery Hall. She stopped just outside the building, realizing she had no idea where her stepmother and stepsister would be. Knowing Olivia, they wouldn’t be anywhere near here, even though Rebecca desperately wanted to see it. The hall was filled with noise and machines that either emitted smelly smoke or were used for household chores better performed by servants. Decidedly unladylike. No, she would seek out something quiet and as pretentious as possible. The Horticulture Hall.

Ellie pushed her way through the crowd, which seemed to be growing at an exponential rate, and after what seemed like a day and a half of walking, finally stood in front of the Horticulture Hall. It wasn’t half as large as the Machinery Hall, but glittered like a jewel with its curved glass roof. The patrons going in and out were mostly women. Ellie joined the short queue and entered the building. Immediately, she was struck by a wave of heat. She moved to one side of the walkway, between displays of plants and flowers, and leaned against one of the roof supports to catch her breath.

Fortunately, her stepmother and stepsister weren’t hard to spot. The huge ostrich plumes in her stepmother’s hat, even though they were wilted from the heat, acted like a lighthouse beacon. Ellie had already worked out what she planned to say, so she put on her best distressed expression, which wasn’t difficult as she still felt a little out of breath, and walked up to them.

“Thank goodness I’ve found you!”

Olivia slowly turned her head. She was wearing the smile she used only when she was around people she wanted to impress, which made her look as if her face was about to split in two. When she saw Ellie, the smile remained, but her eyes turned from warm and fawning to ice cold anger. She had seen that look before. Even though they were in a public place where her stepmother would not dare reprimand her, Ellie took an involuntary step backward.

“There you are, my dear. Wherever have you been?” There was a high-pitched note to Olivia’s voice, as if someone had pulled a bow across a too-tightly strung violin. “We’ve been worried about you.”

Clearly. Ellie’s thought was supported by the look of abject incredulity Rebecca wasn’t quick enough to squelch.

“I’m so sorry. I waited for you outside the Statue of Liberty’s arm, but the crowd was so large I was just swept away like a leaf on the river.” Even though it set her teeth on edge, she acted like a simpering fool of a girl. “I’ve spent the entire time since, searching for you.” She amazed herself by squeezing out a few tears, making it appear as if she had been terrified she’d never see her stepmother’s face again.

Olivia’s gaze shifted quickly to one side, and she smiled again, stretching her mouth so wide it looked painful. She put her hand on Ellie’s shoulder.

“It’s perfectly all right, dear. I’m just happy we’ve found each other again and you’re safe.” The ice in her eyes had turned to fire, betraying the lie of her words, and her gloved hand closed like a vice over Ellie’s flesh. She did not cry out, but her eyes welled with real tears. She balled her hands into fists and pressed them against her skirt.

“Such a brave young lady, walking around this huge fairground unescorted,” said a deep voice. Ellie turned toward the speaker and found herself face-to-face with a young man. She had been so focused on making her excuses she hadn’t noticed him, and she got the impression the three of them had been in conversation before she interrupted. The young man smiled at her, the warmth of it as genuine as her stepmother’s was false. Ellie was suddenly dizzy, positive her corset had shrunk, and had the greenhouse suddenly turned hotter? She was barely able to find her own voice, and when she did, it came out as a scratchy near-whisper. “I wouldn’t say that I was brave, sir.”

The kindness of the man’s smile was matched in his voice. “It most certainly was brave. What a terrible ordeal for you, lost and alone in this great mob. You must have been terrified.”

Ellie wished she had thought to bring a fan, for she was certain she could cook sausage on her face. How did the gentleman stay so cool, with his waistcoat and jacket, his blond hair completely dry beneath his derby? She managed to fumble out a simple, “For a while, I suppose. Thank you, sir.”

“And just who is this charming young woman?” The man held his hand, encased in a pearl gray glove, out to Ellie. She lifted her own to take it, her stomach turning as if she had swallowed a jar of butterflies. What in the world was wrong with her? Had she come down with a case of grippe? This feeling had hit her so suddenly she felt she must be ill. Just as their fingers were about to touch, Olivia stepped between them. She looked at the man, her sugary smile laced with viper’s venom.

“She is my daughter’s companion, Mr. Scott. Miss Anna Gibson, my poor, orphaned niece, you see. I’ve taken her in.” She glanced over her shoulder and looked directly into Ellie’s eyes. “I’m training her as a ladies’ companion and governess.”

Mr. Scott lowered his hand and looked at Ellie’s stepmother with a tight-lipped smile. “How very charitable of you, Mrs. Banneker.” The icy formality that had crept into his voice felt like a slap to Ellie’s face. She pulled her shoulders back, indignant. Why should I care what some high-born gentleman thinks of me? So what if he’s handsome and charming. He’s also quite a bore. Suddenly, she wished she had stayed in the Machinery Hall with Ben.

Olivia turned back to Mr. Scott, pinning him beneath her gaze like a butterfly in a shadow box, and took a step toward Rebecca. “Now, tell us, please, Mr. Scott, all about the railroad business. Such an innovator your father is, forging new roads to faraway places. It must be terribly fascinating.” She tilted her head toward her daughter, drawing Mr. Scott’s attention.

Ellie suddenly understood, all too clearly. It was the time of year for the mothers of young women making their debut to start hunting young gentlemen like pheasant, informally introducing them to their daughters, so that by the time of the Assembly Ball, most would have their dance cards already filled. And, of course, a few prospects for marriage. Or so Ellie had heard from maids in other households. Mr. Hamilton Scott was apparently the game that was in-season, which almost made Ellie feel sympathy for him.

Mr. Scott cleared his throat, wilting a little under Olivia’s razor-edged gaze. He glanced in Ellie’s direction, as if he wanted to include her in the conversation, and her hardness toward him softened a little more.

“I’m afraid it’s not all that romantic or exciting, Mrs. Banneker. Right now, we’re concentrating on the local area. There are already tracks laid from Philadelphia to all the surrounding countryside. The main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad. My father wants more trains to run along that route. He’s got some notion that the upper classes are bored with city living, and he’s trying to get people to build their country estates out there. Bryn Mawr, Merion, that area.”

Olivia held her fan to her breast. “But why would anyone want to leave the city? We have so much here—the opera, the ballet, the theaters. The finest stores and restaurants.”

Mr. Scott shrugged. “It’s only a short train ride, a fraction of the time it takes by carriage. The lure of fresh air and the space for stables, with the ability to return to the city’s culture in an hour. Right now, it’s all just empty land. Father’s building a huge place himself in Haverford. Should be finished next summer.”

For the first time, Rebecca spoke. “Do you actually build the trains, Mr. Scott?”

Mr. Scott laughed out loud, a deep, hearty sound that bounced off the glass above them. “Goodness, no, Miss Gibson. Though, they’re fascinating, I haven’t a single clue how those contraptions work. My father just pays the people who do.”

Rebecca looked embarrassed, and Olivia’s ire-filled smiled turned on her own daughter. But she saved the conversation with a twittering laugh of her own.

“Who would want to know how they operate, anyway, when there are so many other worthwhile pursuits?” She put her hand to her chest, ignoring Rebecca’s downcast look and red cheeks.

“I don’t mean to say that learning about machinery isn’t worthwhile, Mrs. Banneker, only I do not have the mind for it.”

Olivia paused, her cat’s grin turning just a shade darker for the reproof. “Of course. Well, we will look forward to the first garden party of the season.”

Hamilton made a slight choking sound but recovered himself quickly, and Ellie suddenly found herself liking him.

“Yes, that will be… pleasant.” His shoulders relaxed, and he looked at Ellie, this time catching and holding her gaze, a smile flitting across his full lips before he pulled away again. Any remaining coldness she had toward him melted like ice in the sun. “Do you like the country, miss?”

Ellie, enraptured by the timbre of his voice, was about to tell Hamilton she hadn’t been since she was a child but would love to see it again. But Olivia bumped Ellie with her hip, nearly sending her flying, but more importantly, out of Hamilton’s line of view. Ellie’s stepmother opened her fan with a snap and waved it, cooling her face.

“Well, Mr. Scott, how sweet of you to ask. Rebecca adores the country. Don’t you, Rebecca?”

Rebecca offered a small, polite smile. “Yes, I suppose. It would be lovely to get away.” Her tone was flat, and she regarded Hamilton as if he was a piece of furniture rather than a would-be suitor.

How could she not be interested? Ellie thought. She studied Hamilton’s profile—the strong, clean jaw line, his long, sloped nose. His eyes crinkled at the corners when he smiled, and suddenly, more than anything she wanted to hear him laugh again. She found breath suddenly scarce again, her heart beating in a most erratic manner. She focused instead on a nearby display of orchids, understanding at last why she felt so strange. I’m being a ninny, letting the first handsome gentleman I meet to turn my head. She let out a shaking breath and tried to control her galloping heartbeat.

“That settles it, then,” Olivia said as if she had just solved the problem of gravity. “We will be first in line to purchase tickets on your new railroad.”

Hamilton bobbed his head toward them. “I look forward to seeing you there. And now, ladies, you must excuse me. This has been a lovely diversion, but I do have business to attend to. Enjoy the rest of the Exposition.”

“Certainly.” Olivia stepped closer to Rebecca, as if she were trying to occupy the same space as her daughter. “I expect we’ll be seeing you again soon enough. The holiday season will be upon us before you know it.”

Hamilton’s smile tightened and stretched, as if he were holding it up by sheer force of will. “Yes. It surely will.” His tone was cheery, but Ellie had the distinct impression he wasn’t excited about the prospect of the rounds of holiday parties that were the talk of every city parlor each winter.

Olivia didn’t seem to catch on to Hamilton’s lack of enthusiasm. “And of course you will be attending the Assembly Ball, won’t you? It wouldn’t be an event without you there.”

“I certainly will be.” Hamilton looked as if he would rather have a hot poker jammed into his eye. “My mother would not have it otherwise.”

“Then perhaps…” A coy lilt crept into Olivia’s voice, and Ellie was sure the woman had batted her eyes at him. “Rebecca might save a space on her dance card for you?”

Rebecca’s face once again turned the exact shade of ripe apples. Ellie could only imagine the embarrassment her stepsister was feeling at her mother’s audacity. Hamilton remained a gentleman; his expression did not acknowledge either the awkwardness of Olivia’s blatant attempt to throw her daughter at him or Rebecca’s discomfort. Ellie was grateful to him for that, and he climbed another notch in her esteem.

“That would be pleasant. I look forward to it, Miss Gibson.” Ellie didn’t think it possible, but Rebecca’s color deepened. Hamilton turned his gaze on Ellie and tipped his hat. “And Miss Gibson, it was lovely to meet you.” He looked another second, long enough for Ellie’s insides to flutter madly once more, before he walked away from them and out of the hall, leaving Ellie breathless.

Writers and Book Reviews — an epic struggle

Published July 17, 2015 by christinenorris

perf6.000x9.000.inddWhen you put art out into the world, it can be a scary thing. You’ve worked SO HARD on getting it just right. Usually a single book represents years of work — writing, revising, workshops, critiquing, rejection, rewriting, more rejection, acceptance, editing. And because you feel that the final product is so hard-fought, and as perfect as you can make it, you want more than anything for people to LIKE it. To accept and acknowledge your hard work.

So when a reviewer hates your book, what do you do? The first reaction is, of course, to be upset. How could they not like my book? I LOVE my book, how could they not like it??

Because everyone likes different things. If not, we’d only have vanilla ice cream. Realistically, I know this. But still, when I got a really CRAPPY review of CURSE the other day, it was hard. And then I read it again and realized it wasn’t MY problem, it was the reviewers. She complained that she hadn’t called the ending right. Oh, so she had WANTED a certain thing to happen, apparently, and was mad that it didn’t. And the more I re-read this review, I think she was really upset that I had pulled the rug out from under her, and then felt the need to trash the book, even though she liked the writing and wanted to read more of my work. It kind of read like sour grapes, because she didn’t get what she wanted from it.

Maybe that was it, and maybe not. It doesn’t matter, because it’s her OWN opinion. And I’m totally cool with that. (But it took me a long time to be okay with reviews like this. Author wisdom) I totally do NOT take it personally, and that’s hard as an author, because we sometimes equate our work with US as people. And that’s not fair to you OR the reviewer. I had another middling review that also said the book was good, but it didn’t meet HER expectations. No one book will EVER meet everyone’s expectations. No worries!

On the other hand, I have had so many AWESOME reviews. I want to share them with you. Because they made EVERYTHING better.

All of these are from Goodreads, but some are also on Amazon:

“First off, why doesn’t this book have more reviews?! This truly is a hidden gem in young adult! The more books I read, the more and more that I am discovering that many times the books not on the bestseller lists are actually better than the so called “bestsellers.””

This book has everything I could want in a fairytale retelling. It’s got steampunk, a strong, spunky lead female, a courageous and passionate lead male, evil, ugly stepfamily and loads of fun.”

“The story was inventive and the pacing had me on the edge of my seat almost yelling at the characters.”

“This is the first time I am reading a book by this author, and I’ve never read anything like this ever before. This book has just been released and thanks to Curiosity Quills (amazing publisher) that they sent me this amazing book. Wow, this book was insane! A Curse Of Ash And Iron was an amazing read! “

This one was one of my absolute favorites:

“Awesome adventurist read! Thanks to Curiosity Quills Press and NetGalley! Finally a good read with steam works, 1800th century customs (not set in London for once), steam motor car?!, clockwork and a touch of witchcraft/Fae magic.”

See?? All better now.  Only thing that would make me happier is if 100 people would buy the book for every one of these awesome reviews…

A CURSE OF ASH AND IRON and The Cape May Diamond

Published July 15, 2015 by christinenorris

During the course of CURSE, Ellie (the main character, if you haven’t read the book yet. And WHY NOT??) has to find a Cape May Diamond.

This is a real thing.

I’ve been a Jerseydelphian (someone who lives in Jersey, but whose ‘big city’ is Philadelphia) for my whole life. So when i went to write a steampunk Victorian fairy tale, it only made sense to put it in Philadelphia. I mean, the Centennial Exposition, which I already blogged about, was just one reason. I love where I live, it has SO much cool stuff. Like Cape May Diamonds.

What is a Cape May Diamond? It’s not a real diamond, of course. It’s a piece of quartz, broken off from the Delaware Water Gap. It falls into the Delaware River and is pushed downriver, being polished by the water, until it washes up on the shores of Cape May. The most famous place to find the Cape May Diamonds is Sunset Beach (where the Atlantic and the Delaware Bay meet, and you can see a sunset on the beach from the East Coast). Cape May is the first real beach resort in the US, and full of ADORABLE Victorian houses. It’s like stepping back in time!

It also has some cool WWII Coastal Defense relics that you can see, too. Anyway, the whole beach at Sunset is made of pebbles.

Any given day there are dozens of people there, digging through them and looking for diamonds. When they are tumbled and polished, they can be clear as water:

Or just shiny and opaque with pretty swirls:

And they can actually be cut like a diamond.

And made into pretty jewelry (available at the Sunset Beach Gift Shop):

These bits of stone are mysterious and a little bit magical, at least to me. And they’re uniquely New Jersey, so I had to include them in the story!  If you ever have the chance visit Cape May, NJ, make sure to stop by Sunset Beach and see if you can find a magical stone of your own!

Until next time, Lovelies!


Published July 14, 2015 by christinenorris


I present you all, my lovelies, with the first excerpt of CURSE:

The roar of applause jolted Ben out of his reverie. The lights lowered, he raised the curtain, and the second act began. In between set changes, he dashed back to his place to look at Ellie. The performance ended, and Ben couldn’t let her go without one last look. He lowered the main curtain, apparently a bit too quickly for the lead actor.

“Excuse me, but I was not finished with my curtain call!” he shouted at Ben as he dashed toward the stage door. Ben tumbled out onto 9th Street and charged toward the corner. Breathing hard, he peeked around to Walnut Street and the theater’s entrance. A line of horse-drawn carriages waited by the curb, ready to take the audience members home, or to a late supper, or to various clubs to drink bourbon and gin. Ben reached into his pocket, his fingers finding a brass gear–his lucky talisman. He rubbed it between his forefinger and thumb, trying to calm the unexpected swell of conflicting emotions that seeing Ellie had stirred in him—curiosity, excitement, anticipation. Did she still love to sing and dance, or to read everything she could get her hands on? The space of the years between then and now called to Ben, begging to be filled.

He scanned the stream of bodies that emerged from the theater’s polished wooden doors and spilled onto the sidewalk. Ladies pulled their wraps snugly around their shoulders against the October chill, and men checked their pocket watches before buttoning up frockcoats and securing silk top hats. Ben shook his head—they looked like a bunch of overstuffed turkeys ready to roast. He had never been fond of fancy dress, not that he had the occasion or the means to wear any. It looked uncomfortable and also like it would get dirty easily. Ben was nearly always dirty in some manner, with some speck on his shirt collar or grease beneath his fingernails from working or building something in his workshop.

Ellie, Rebecca, and Mrs. Banneker appeared on the sidewalk, and Ben had to remember to breathe. Ellie’s cloak covered her gown, but she stood tall, moving as if her feet barely touched the ground. She had always been graceful. Dancing lessons, insisted upon by her mother since she was young, had probably helped. Ben smiled as the younger version of the girl he saw before him appeared in his mind, twirling and curtseying in time to her governess’ tapping on the floor with a cane while Rebecca served as her dancing partner. He hadn’t been allowed to watch, of course, and Ellie’s governess would rather have set her hair on fire than let Ben stand in for Rebecca. But he had sneaked a peek now and again, just like he was doing now.

Ellie looked over her shoulder in response to her stepmother’s call, and Ben got a glimpse of smooth, unblemished cheek and kind, soft eyes. Ben noticed it again, the same something he had seen in the lobby that made her appear older, more careworn. He wasn’t sure what it was, but he recognized it—he had seen the same look in his mother’s eyes once in a while, when she thought Ben wasn’t paying attention.

He wanted to call out to Ellie, to shout his joy and surprise over seeing her, but, of course, he could not. The social gap between them was too wide for sidewalk greetings outside the theater.

“Where is Mr. Banneker this evening?” one of the stuffed turkey-men asked Ellie’s stepmother. “I’ve not seen him in months. Not working late on a Friday evening, is he? The banks are all closed!” He chuckled at his own joke.

Mrs. Banneker stiffened beneath her fur wrap. “He is on sabbatical in Paris, Mr. Van Wyck. I thought you knew? Then he’s taking some time along the French coast. We went there on our honeymoon, and, ever since, he’s just loved France. The sea air is so good for him, and these city winters are so terrible.” She twittered a girlish, high-pitched laugh.

 Ben fought the urge to vomit. The woman he remembered was neither stupid nor girlish. More like a demon stuffed into a dress.

He was so focused on Mrs. Banneker he almost missed when Ellie spotted him. Her wide-eye, puzzled expression shifted to recognition and surprise, and she moved half a step toward him, then stopped. She must have been thinking the same thing as Ben—she could not just walk around the corner unescorted. But she held his gaze for a  moment and then glanced to her left and right. Turning herself away from the crowd, she pulled off one of her gloves and shoved it into her reticule. What in the world was she was doing?

“Excuse me, Ste… ma’am? I seem to have lost one of my gloves.”

Mrs. Banneker turned away from Mr. Van Wyck and faced Ellie. Her face puckered for a split-second in irritation, smoothing quickly into a look of benevolence. “Lost a glove, my”—she swallowed, her lip twisting up as if she had tasted something bitter—“dear?”

Ellie’s smile never faltered. “Yes. I’m such a goose. I must have dropped it inside. I’ll just go and look for it. I won’t be a moment.”

She excused herself and walked into the theater, leaving her stepmother standing with her mouth open. Ben remained for a second longer before he realized what was happening and dashed back through the stage door.

“Hey, Ben, where ya been?” Ronald called out as Ben rushed by. “And just where are you going? Just because your dad’s the stage manager doesn’t mean you get to slack off.”

Benjamin ignored Ronald and dodged the obstacle course of the backstage area toward the curtain, nearly tripping on an overstuffed chair. The auditorium was empty. The footlights were dark, but the lights from the chandelier above the audience area glowed brightly, the crystal throwing rainbows around the room.

Ellie entered. She stopped for a moment, her eyes wary, and her hand against her stomach as if she were holding in her breath.

“Ellie?” Ben called her. “Ellie Banneker?

Her shoulders relaxed, and her breath came out in a whoosh. She paused for another breath before making her way down the center aisle toward Ben. The door closed behind her with a muffled thump, shutting out the murmurs of those who remained in the lobby. The theater dropped into an eerie quiet. Now that they were face-to-face, Benjamin’s excitement was replaced by overwhelming self-consciousness. He ran his sweaty palms through his hair, smoothing the runaway brown locks his mother would say needed trimming. He was suddenly aware of the way he was dressedhe looked like a ragamuffin compared to the upper class men Ellie must be used to. Her chestnut hair shone in the light, her green eyes wary but bright. Ben stopped near the first row, a lump in his throat, hoping she wouldn’t notice the scuffed tops of his shoes and his frayed shirt cuffs, and let her approach him.

“Benjamin Grimm? It is you.” Her smile widened, and it was as if the curtain had gone up in her eyes. The sadness Ben had seen before lifted, and she became a girl of seventeen. She reached out to him with her bare hand.

His nervousness evaporated like morning fog. He wiped his hand on his pants and then grasped hers tightly, catching the slight scent of soap and rose water.

Ben had expected the soft hand of the daughter of a prominent banker; hands used to doing embroidery and playing the piano. But there were calluses on her palm, the nails short and ragged. Her skin was pink and chapped. His expression must have given away some of his surprise, because when he released her hand, Ellie tucked it into the folds of her skirt. “I can’t believe that you… It’s been so long, Ben. You’ve grown.”

The look in her eyes made Ben decide to keep quiet about her hands. He was glad she had come in to see him. Having spent years under her stepmother’s care, he had worried she might have turned into a snob. “As have you, my lady.” His grin was large as he bent over in an exaggerated bow.

“Oh, please don’t. Ben, stop it this minute.” Ellie put her hands to her blushing cheeks, as if trying to hold back her smile.

Ben stood, laughing, and thrust his hands in his pockets. “I was hiding in the loft above the lobby and saw you come in tonight. I… didn’t recognize you at first. You’ve, uh, changed.” It was his turn to blush again as he remembered what he had been thinking about her curves.

“You’ve changed, too.” She squinted and looked closely at his face. “I can’t see any dirt. So your mother finally wrestled you into submission about keeping clean.”

Ben didn’t answer, only smirked and scratched the back of his head. “I tried to think how many years it’s been since I saw you last.”

“Seven.” Ellie’s reply was so soft he almost didn’t hear it. “Seven years. The last time I saw you, we were both ten, after…” she hesitated. “After my mother died.”

Ben’s smile faltered. “Yes, that’s right.” He felt stupid for forgetting, even more stupid for making her bring up something so obviously painful. His own mother had cried for days after her employer’s passing. Ellie’s mother had been a lovely woman, who had provided him with a seemingly endless supply of sweets.

Ellie shook her head as if shaking herself free of the edge of melancholy that had dropped over the conversation. “How is your dear mother? And your little brother? I’m sure he’s no longer the chubby-cheeked baby I remember.”

Ben shrugged. “Mother’s fine. She keeps busy running the bookshop. Harry is… he’s a little brother.”

Ellie wrinkled her nose and narrowed her eyes. “Being as I have no little brothers, I’ll have to assume you mean you love him dearly and can’t imagine life without him.”

“Not exactly, but I don’t want to ruin your image of me as a wholesome young man, so I won’t tell you what I really think about him. It wouldn’t be proper for me to say in front of a lady, anyway.”

“You think I’m a lady, do you? You might be surprised at some of the words I’ve used when no one is listening.” Ellie’s gaze wandered over the theater’s ceiling. There was a teasing note in her voice. “I never thought I’d see you working here. If I remember correctly, you said if you were going to be in the theater, it would be in front of the footlights. A magician, I believe it was?”

“I’m still working on that,” Ben’s reply was touched with defensiveness. “But now it’s illusion instead of straight magic, don’t you know that? It’s all the rage in Europe. Until I can find a backer, I need to work. My father, he’s the stage manager now. He got me the job, said it would do me good to learn a real skill.” He rolled his eyes.

Ellie raised an eyebrow. “He doesn’t approve of your career aspirations?”

Ben shook his head. “He lets me keep my workshop, but thinks I’m wasting my time.” He shrugged. “It’s better than the brickyard.”

Ellie laughed out loud, a pretty sound that rolled around the inside of the theater. She covered her mouth and glanced over her shoulder to make sure no one else had heard. When she stopped giggling, she looked at Ben and sighed. “I can’t stay, Ben, I don’t want to keep my stepmother waiting.” She glanced over her shoulder and back to Ben. “It was so good to see you again.”

Ben felt the words were weighted somehow, like a current pulling beneath the calm surface of a river. “It was good to see you again, too, Ellie.” There was so much more Ben wanted to say, seven years’ worth. He didn’t dare ask to see her again, though, and resigned himself to only having this stolen moment.

Ellie pulled on her “missing” glove and took Ben’s hand once more. “Goodbye, Ben.” She released him, but did not turn and leave. Instead, she studied him as if he were an interesting painting, her eyes glowing. The look brought on a sudden rush of memory. Ellie was up to something.

“Do you remember your promise?”

Ben was puzzled for a moment, and then he remembered. “Of course.”

“And are you still my friend?”

“Until we’re old and gray and have no teeth in our heads.” Ben smiled, waiting for her to laugh like always. But, just as the last time he had said it, up in the dark attic on their last meeting, she remained serious. With a bob of her head, she turned and was gone.

Ben remained frozen in place. Something wasn’t right with Ellie; he could feel it. There had been a darkness behind her smile he couldn’t place.

Ronald poked his head from between the curtains, jarring Ben from his thoughts. “If your clandestine rendezvous is over, boy-o, could you possibly find a moment to, I don’t know, do your job? Come on, we have to reset everything for tomorrow night.”

Ben stared at the door a moment longer, his body in the present but his mind following Ellie out the door. He rubbed his thumb over his lucky gear. “Yeah, yeah, hold yer horses, Ronny boy. I’m comin’.”


Published July 5, 2015 by christinenorris

Just as I did lots of research for A CURSE OF ASH AND IRON, I also used some other things for inspiration. If you know me, you know I LOVE movies. I have an extensive DVD collection, as well a Netflix and Amazon Prime memberships. Any good storytelling, and I’m there.

When I was writing the book, I knew I wanted Ben to be an inventor. I threw in his working at the theater, well, because of family history reasons. Combining the theater, and the ‘real’ magic in the book, with the ‘invented’ magic of illusion as counterpoint was just my own genius working. Plus, illusion was a huge thing during the time period, so it all fit together, like kismet.

There were two movies that I ADORE that explore the magic of illusion in the 19th century — THE ILLUSIONIST and THE PRESTIGE. The have similar topics, but are very different films. THE PRESTIGE is more about a war between two illusionists and how their lives revolve around beating the other with greater and greater tricks.

THE ILLUSIONIST is a love story. It stars Ed Norton and Jessica Biel, among others, and takes place in late 19th century Austria. There’s a whole political subplot, but really the story is about Jessica Biel’s character, a Countess, and Ed Norton’s character, a working class guy. They meet as children and then lose track of each other…sound familiar? That’s about as far as this movie and A CURSE OF ASH AND IRON parallel each other. Except for the machines Eisenheim (Norton) makes for his show. Some might recognize the Orange Tree illusion in CURSE from this movie. Except that the movie got it from a real life illusionist, Jean Robert-Houdin (yes, that is where Houdini got his stage name from).

I used the orange tree rig and kind of modeled Ben after Eisenheim a bit. I watched the movie (I have it on DVD, of course) probably a dozen times for inspiration when I was writing CURSE. It a great film and if you like period love stories with really clever plots and interesting machines, I highly recommend it.

Now you know a little more about the story behind the story.

Have a great day, Lovelies!