Love chocolate? Love a good book about chocolate? Then you don’t want to miss Drollerie Press’s giveaway! Cindy Lynn Speer’s delightful The Chocolatier’s Wife is on sale 20% off (check out our Book Chat posts to see how much I enjoyed her story), and you can enter to win a $25 gift certificate to Fanny Mae Chocolates!
Our theme this month is “poetry” in honor of poetry month. The master list of participants can be found at Drollerie Press. Please welcome Cindy Lynn Speer, the author of the lovely The Chocolatier’s Wife! My post can be found on her blog here.
I have a strong connection to poetry…I was drawn to it early, partly because it was something that felt accomplishable. I could finish a poem in one sitting if I felt the words, and it was an outlet for all those jumbled, impossible emotions we feel in our teens, a place to say things about the things I’d seen, to remind me of what I’d felt, of what I’d experienced. Sometimes you can’t use an image in a story, but it still means something…the abandoned warehouses, the fallen in barns, the boy on the bus with the smile that means a thousand things.
For years, I’d be walking around, or doing work, or whatever, and I’d hear a line in my head, over and over again, like a song. I’d write it down, and sometimes, the lines would follow, spinning like a web.
I used to read my poems out loud, to audiences. Sometimes people would ask for copies. One of the most popular was this, inspired by a line from Dante.
Nor in memory held
It is dark and cold.
I sit on the heating vent in my kitchen floor,
thinking only of
the smoothness of the glass I hold,
the hum of the refrigerator…
mundane, I know,
cut to the chase.
You see, nothing major happened today,
I didn’t have a friend die of AIDS,
or wreck my car.
But the feeling I have
It’s the feeling you get when your husband’s
no longer your best friend,
or you realized that the girl you thought
was your sister in college wasn’t ever going to call,
or write, or even remember you.
Nor in memory held,
you sit in the darkness and feel sorry for yourself,
happy for the warm air across belly and breasts,
for the dusky bitter taste of orange juice,
and the frost defracting into jewels on the window.
That is why I cry,
for beauty not…
Nor in memory held.
This was me, just before graduating from college…before I was married, before I found out that there may come a time when your “Husband is your husband’s no longer your best friend, or you realized that the girl you thought was your sister in college wasn’t ever going to call…” It turned out to be prophetic. I divorced my college sweetheart…and I found that I no longer heard the words in my head. No lines came to me like a refrain, and any images that came seemed to fit better in a short story or novel…they had their own music to them, but not that kind. It was as if the part of my mind that wrote poetry had died. You’d think not, since poetry had been such a huge emotional outlet for me, but maybe it’d gotten overwhelmed, blown a circuit, or just decided to go on strike.
Sometimes, I try again. I found a snippet of a poem I started, long time ago, sitting in the back of a soiree, waiting my turn to read. It was about the time I started getting interested in fairy tales again, and so I decided, later, to finish it. I don’t know if I will ever be able to call myself a poetess again, but maybe, sometime, to paraphrase a line from Anne Sexton, the music will swim back to me.
The Piper’s Children
“…and they were never seen again.” – from The Pied Piper
The woods are dark and deep,
but the blackness,
bother me no longer.
It did when I first entered them.
I was seven and the music,
that lovely sound,
gentle and coaxing like a warm river,
lead us all.
We were leaves,
spinning and turning on that magic current…
But without warning
the music was gone,
leaving us empty,
abandoned and hopeless.
I found a wide stream
and I waited
for the music to come again.
If I wait long enough,
maybe he’ll relent,
lift his pipe to his lips
and that beautiful tide will return.
It will rise and flow
and take us home.
Stop by Angela Korra’ti’s blog for a talk with Herakles from Beautiful Death! I’ll add the main blog entry listing all participants once it’s up. And now, here’s Tasmin!
One of the things that intrigued me so much as The Chocolatier’s Wife (TCW) unfolds is how very upfront everyone is about the Mating Spell. It was guaranteed only to find the “best match” not “true love.” In William’s life, most everyone joined by the Mating Spell had significant difficulties (I won’t expand to avoid spoilers!). Is the same true in Tarnia? Is true love viewed as “ridiculous” as in the South? Did anyone that William and/or you know personally ever disregard the Mating Spell and marry strictly for love, or were all required to either accept the spell or remain alone?
T: I believe that, for the most part the spell is so culturally integrated that we all accept that it has to be done, usually the spell is completed when we are children and are too young to do anything else, and grow up accepting what has been given. Since it is against the law to go against the spell, no one really speaks about whether they had or not…I don’t actually know of anyone who has gone against it, but you always hear tales of people being murdered so that they can be with the one they love. It’s more like a whisper, or a myth…like the hook handed pirate who hangs about in the forest at the edge of town to kidnap naughty children.
When you found out that William had been arrested for murder, it would have been so easy for you to simply accept the news and remain at the university. That’s certainly what your entire family wanted! You’d kept all of William’s letters and gifts over the years. Were there any special items or a particular tidbit in a letter that made you more determined than ever to join him?
T: I don’t know that there was one particular item that drew me, I think that I was far more enchanted by the whole than any one thing…because in some ways, the things he sent me, the letters, were all bits of the puzzle of what kind of man he was, and I knew him to be solid, and good, and generous…the way that he spoke was always kind, and it was comforting to know that the man I am to spend my life with would be all of these things.
Very few people are born in the South with any magic at all, at least since the horrible war 500 years before TCW. If someone is born with a talent in the South, where could he/she go for training?
T: If the talent is minor…the ability to find lost objects, or such, then they usually get taught by the Wise Woman, but if the talent is greater, then someone from the North, called a Finder, is dispatched. The person will be trained at a university, without their family having to worry about providing for them…tis a public service, since any unchecked talent is even more frightening than a person who has had training.
Tell us a bit more about your magic and the other talents. Are women always Herb Mistresses, never men? Or are there any clear “classes” that can predict the various talents?
T: No, not always. There are many Herb Masters, as well…there are no truly clear classes, as in any ability there are people who excel at some things and are weak in others. The talent that comes through the strongest is usually the primary talent that people concentrate on, but they can do other things, as well. My mother always felt I could have concentrated more on elements and been quite talented, but I was much more interested in the workings of herb and stone.
William’s family wasn’t very welcoming, to say the least. I thought you accepted their dislike very gracefully, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t have been quite so forgiving. *wg* Were you ever tempted to use just a teeny bit of magic to teach them a lesson? If so, what would you have *loved* to do to gain a little revenge?
T: Oh, never! *grins back* There was never any moment when I would have been strongly tempted to play just a tiny prank to get them to break their absolutely voracious dignity. They all acted with so much decorum sometimes that I would have loved to have seen one of them do something human…something that would have made them laugh at themselves a little and seem a little more reachable.
This is such a sweet, moving love story. Tell me, Tasmin, girl to girl. At what point did you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you loved William, Mating Spell or not?
T: Forgive me for pausing so long on my answer, but I fear you will think me silly. I think it was when we first, actually, met, and he kissed the palm of my hand. I felt the warmth of his lips and this sort of fierceness, as if he were truly glad to see me, and it short right down my arm and into my heart.
As I said in our Book Chats last year, The Chocolatier’s Wife is an incredibly sweet, romantic fantasy with a touch of mystery. Thanks for stopping by, Tasmin!
Continuing our chat about The Chocolatier’s Wife and Beautiful Death, here’s the next questions I asked Cindy and her response. Head over to Cindy’s blog for my questions/answers re: BD.
How long have you been writing, and where does TCW fit in your bibliography? And what’s in the works for you next?
I’ve been writing since my teens…about 20 years. The Chocolateir’s Wife is my third completed book. Of my first two, Blue Moon is, ironically, my second book. The first I wrote, Balancing Act, will be out in a year or so. I’ve also written a lot of short stories and poems. I wanted to write longer works, but when I was a teen I was more interested in expressing myself…my emotions, what I was going through…in a descriptive way, and I loved poems because I could finish them. Then I did short stories…when I finished my first novel, it was really a relief!
And since I missed a week or so over the holidays, I’ll post another.
What’s next for the world of Chocolatier’s Wife?
As for what’s next for that world…I have several plans. Someday, I think William is going to have to face the sea…I imagine a mystery, perhaps, happening while he and Tasmin go on a voyage, perhaps to visit cocoa plantations? I’m not sure. But I am working on a story set in the “enemy” empire of Pandroth. I don’t know if I ever will truly write about William and Tasmin again…but I love them so much, it gives me comfort to think I might just.
Continuing our ongoing book chat, the next question I asked Cindy about The Chocolatier’s Wife:
How did you come up with the idea of the letters between Tasmin and William? I loved the way the two storylines unfolded!
The letters came about because I needed to create a history between Tasmin and William. In the story, they aren’t allowed to meet, technically, until their wedding day, a rule that goes out the window when he’s accused of murder, since she is now able to break her promise to be his wife with no repercussions. So, why would she risk everything to go and see him and help him? The letters seemed like the only solution, and as I wrote them, I realized that they could tell a completely different second story. They were a lot of fun to write.
Head over to Cindy’s blog if you want to hear about what attracted me to the Hades myth.
Come back next week for her next question,
Now I have to ask you…are any of your characters partly inspired by actors or actresses?
The question I asked her next was what movie and characters had inspired TCW? Her response:
Well…I have always loved the movie Master and Commander, and I thought Edward Woodall’s character, William Mowett, was just a lovely, wonderful and much under used person. Since I’ve seen him in a handful of other things, and he’s a very good actor, he puts a lot into his roles, even the smallest parts become full, perfectly realized people. So, in a way, that’s where our William gets his sea faring past…and his first name.
I probably shouldn’t have confessed that!
Ha, I love that she confessed it! If you’re curious to see how I would “cast” Beautiful Death, head on over to Cindy’s blog.
Next week, we’ll continue our chat with my question to her:
How did you come up with the idea of the letters between Tasmin and William? I loved the way the two storylines unfolded!
This summer, I was priviledged to chat in depth with Cindy after reading The Chocolatier’s Wife released by Drollerie Press around the same time as Beautiful Death. Events conspired against us so we’re just not getting this “chat” published on our blogs, but we had a great time discussing the story behind the books and general writing. We plan on posting part of our “back and forth” chat every Friday until we finally stopped talking shop. This is very informal, so there may be some overlap…or some juicy tidbit extras!
First off, let me say how much I enjoyed The Chocolatier’s Wife (TCW). This sweet romance really tugs on the heart-strings. I absolutely adored the little touches between Tasmin and William. For most of their lives, their courtship happens through letters. It’s sort of a fluke, really, that they were even “matched” by the magic that determines who should marry.
Little things speak so loudly, though. It’s the care and consideration between the two of them that really makes this story so sweet, long before they ever meet face to face. The small considerations between these characters really shows how they fall in love bit by bit. Love comes softly for these characters, and it’s beautiful to watch.
We thought it would be interesting to delve deeper into our stories, because they are on opposite ends of the spectrum, really, for what our niche micropress Drollerie Press is really all about. Beautiful Death is violent and quite sexy, where TCW is softer and subtler, but BOTH stories combine magic and romance into what we think is a rather rich and unique tapestry. Both stories are transformative, because I assure you, William is never the same after Tasmin blows into his life, and Isabella can only learn what it truly means to be a “monster” after she becomes a monster herself.
So the first thing we started talking about was the “story behind the story.” Here was Cindy’s response:
What started my book was a sort of goofy confluence. It was nearing Christmas and my then department chair had given me a tower of chocolate…different boxes with all these lovely things inside. And I had just watched a movie with an actor in it who I was wishing was in more roles…and as i was opening the box, I was wondering what I would like to see him in. And I took a bite of this square of chocolate…it was, sincerely, one of the best pieces of chocolate I’d ever eaten…and the idea flooded into my head, even the title.
Sounds yummy, yes? So head over to Cindy’s blog and read my response about Beautiful Death and its original inspiration.
Next week, we’ll continue with the next question, where I said:
Oooh, so you know I’ve got to ask: who was the actor and what was the movie?
Then we got to talking about “casting” our characters.
And since it’s been quite a while since I posted anything about Beautiful Death, I’ll post an excerpt. This piece provides some of the backstory about how Isabella became “Beautiful Death.” Although she doesn’t know it at the time, this “alien” is Hades. Not exactly your everyday run-of-the-mill “first meet” in a romance.
Without opening her eyes, she knew someone watched, very close, the stirring of air warning her that a hand stretched toward her. She exploded into action, rolling to the side and scooping up the knife that she always kept nearby. Huddled with her back to the wall, she felt her heart stutter with dread.
This monster was the real thing.
The alien spun silvered rainbows through the alley, leaving her nowhere to hide. He squatted down to her level, as though that would fool her into trusting him. “Isabella. I’ve come to help you. Your father–”
A cold sweat coated her skin, but she couldn’t hold back the laughter. Ragged, shrill with grief and rage, her voice grated like broken glass. “Even if you weren’t a monster, I’d know you were lying. My father’s the last person I ever want to see again.”
A sound jerked her attention behind him. More aliens had her sister.
“I’m tired.” Amelia lay in one of the alien’s arms like a helpless baby, and the look of resignation on her face made bile burn up Isabella’s throat. “I’m dirty and cold and starving. I just want to go home. He said we’d be safe, Bella. If not…” she shrugged, “at least it’ll be over.”
Fight! Why don’t you fight? Don’t lie there and let them kill you! “There is no home. Mom’s dead, and Daddy’s never coming back. Don’t you understand? There is no safety! If they don’t kill you, their virus will!”
Choking on tears of rage, her throat hurt, her eyes burning. Otherwise, she’d have seen the alien coming at her.
The bastard was good, she’d give him that. He seized her right arm, his thumb pressing on her tendon until her nerveless fingers dropped the knife, while he pinned her against his body with his other arm. For all his size and power, he made one monumental error. He treated her carefully, as though she were just a fifteen-year-old kid, half starved and scared shitless, as though she hadn’t seen people tearing each other apart for food or killed to keep herself alive.
She lunged up and buried her pitiful human teeth in his neck, tearing at that vulnerable pale skin.
The alien’s body jolted against hers, silver burning higher. Glass shattered in the windows of the abandoned highrise. Street lamps that had long ago quit working exploded like fireworks. The ground trembled, glass and metal tinkling, debris falling all around them.
“Bella.” The alien’s voice sounded shaken, hushed, not filled with fury or pain like she’d expected. The fool released her hands and cupped her head tighter to his throat, curling his body around hers protectively. “Your father sent me to you. I mustn’t…”
Then you’re dead, she thought, fisting her hands in the ridiculously long, pretty hair about his shoulders. She yanked his head back further and tore deeper at his throat, determined to rip her way to his spine, but he still didn’t release her. His power burned higher, sinking into her, melting her bones, and swirling rainbows sucked her down into an endless pit of darkness.
Her heart pounded harder, her mind screaming with terror, but her body slipped into neutral while he siphoned off her energy. Her strength, hatred, and rage that powered her ferocious will to live disappeared in an instant.
He’s feeding on me. He’s eating me alive.
She’d seen the horrors, watched as the aliens drained their victims and left them mindless shells to die twitching and screaming when the virus struck. She’d hated those weaklings and despised their stupidity, never understanding the horrific compelling need to give up the fight.
There was nothing she could do to stop him; worse, the longer he fed, the less she wanted him to stop.
Rest, peace, safety, all lies he silently promised while he crushed her against him and drained her lifeforce. Surrender, his body purred against hers. Death won’t be so bad. I’ll be gentle, sweet, good, I promise.
His blood coated her face, filled her mouth, and slid down her throat in a hot, liquid flood, but she was the one dying. Little by little, Isabella flickered lower, a candle guttering in the silent, cold night. Her defenses crumbled. He was all around, inside her, soaking her up, drinking her most horrible dreams and memories, seducing her to death.
Lost, all she could think about was how incredibly good his blood tasted.