*All questions taken from Christine Smith's Know the Novel blog post.*
What first sparked the idea for this novel?
I came up with the concept of a flower seller who fought these poisonous thorns as a flash fiction concept (while listening to an epic version of Clair de Lune) and wrote it for Inktober on the Young Writer’s Workshop community. Several people commented that they enjoyed it and would be interested in seeing more.
And I didn’t do any more for years.
Believe me, I tried. But the plot WOULD NOT fall into place. But once it finally did, it really did. The plot to this one came very naturally, I didn’t have any parts I had to majorly change in my content edit (unlike The Romanov Scheme).
In the original concept, Fleur was going to accidentally steal Aster’s memory somehow when she healed him. The version I have now doesn’t have this anywhere, their relationship has drastically changed, and the setting is a lot more rich.
Share a blurb.
Where does the story take place? What are your favorite aspects of the setting?
It happens in 1889 Paris, France, as the World’s Fair is going on. The only thing that’s changed is the culture is steeped in petalemagie—this ability to control plants. Training is required to legally use it (since untrained users caused the French Revolution), but training is usually only available to the wealthy elite. Developing the magic system as it wove into French history was so much fun.
Tell us about your protagonist.
There are, once again, two.
Fleur LeBlanc is a sixteen-year-old flower seller who never seems to let much get to her. Her family fell on hard times, so she was never able to get training, despite having unusually strong petalemagie powers. She has a little bit of a rougher edge to her that I’m hoping to lean into in my final draft. She also compares herself a lot to the people around her and even to her past, worrying that people think she is weak.
Aster DeRose has changed so much from the first concept. He was originally supposed to be Fleur’s seventeen-year-old best friend, a nerdy gardener who ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time. He now is part of the wealthy elite that have access to training, but his petalemagie is one of the few cases that is actually fading as he gets older. This is a huge deal, because his verbally abusive father was a petalemagie legend. He struggles a lot with anger.
Who or what is the antagonist?
How do I explain this without spoilers? I mean, obviously, there are these poisonous thorns that are a pretty big deal. There’s Aster’s dad. There’s someone else that I shall not name that ends up stabbing them in the back. But the characters also wrestle very deeply with the evil inside of them. And that’s all I can say.
What excites you most about this novel?
The chance to represent a very underrepresented struggle. Aster’s side of the story deals heavily with verbal abuse, a reality that is often ignored because it doesn’t leave physical wounds. It also deals with the resulting anger of feeling unable to speak or defend oneself, and where that anger might rage if left unchecked.
Is this going to be a series? A standalone? Something else?
A standalone. I do have a spin-off book planned, but as of now, most of the original cast will not be returning for that one. Although by the time all is said and done, they will probably cameo.
Are you plotting? Pantsing? Plantsing?
Plotting. This is the first novel I plotted using Three Act Structure from the get-go. As I said, it took a while, but it did finally fall into place very naturally.
Name a few unique elements of this story.
I honestly haven’t found many books about the Paris World’s Fair. I’ve been trying to find comparative titles and it took a fair bit of googling. Maybe I’m just not looking in the right place. Historical fantasy isn’t really a thing in Christian YA right now (aside from Nadine Brandes), so I’m excited to possibly develop that aspect more. It also deals heavily with verbal and emotional abuse, which is a topic not often discussed.
I hold my violin closer to my chest and stare up at the rings of spectators.
All calling. All cheering. All clamoring.
For my death.
Jago holds out one hand.
“I’ll keep it with me, thanks.”
He scatters the weapons the other fighters will use when they come out. All the city council leaders who tire of hearing my violin in the park every day. “You know it’s why you’re in here, right, Marisol?”
“No one can outlaw music.” I dig my feet deeper into the sand.
He shakes his head. “If only you weren’t so crazy.” He raises his hand and walks backward from the ring.
But as soon as his feet leave the sand, he spins and faces me again.
And pulls out a dagger sheathed inside his coat.
No one told me I’d be fighting my best friend.
He charges at me. I can’t think of anything beyond what I’m seeing.
But I can feel the timing of the rhythm deep in the ground. So I count it off. “One, two, three, four . . .”
I tuck the violin under my chin, taking my eyes off him. Let him come. I force my muscles to relax.
Just as he would have landed his final blow, I raise my bow.
And music pours from the violin.
A few of the chants in the crowd die away.
Jago pulls off at the last second. His dagger nicks my shoulder.
I clench my jaw. One off-key note sounds. I keep playing.
“You have to fight! Those are the rules!” Jago calls from several paces away.
“I am,” I whisper in time with the music.
With each dance of the bow across the strings, the crowd falls a few notes more silent.
Jago strengthens his pose, preparing to go at me again.
I prepare myself, too, and lose my mind in the music.
One, two, three, four . . .
Jago pauses and turns to a new angle, as if he’s forgotten how to fight.
One, two, three, four . . .
Somewhere in the crowd, someone claps.
One, two, three, four . . .
And with that one person rises an army. One by one, across the crowds, person after person stands, clapping their hands with the folk song that tumbles from my violin. A folk song of the nation that used to be.
My eyes open. Jago still stands a few paces away, his dagger raised, but still.
“Magic,” he whispers.
I let the note dangle in mid-air.
One lone person calls for his death.
I shake my head. “No. Just music.” I take two steps toward him and hold out the violin.
He stares at it numbly.
“I think we wound up on the wrong sides of this war.” I hold out my other hand.
Slowly, as if swimming in a dream, Jago places the dagger in it.
I toss the dagger into the sand on the outskirts of the arena.
That leaves only the violin.
And Jago takes it softly. Tucks it under his chin. Raises the bow.
And I lose my mind in the music.
Her hair is black. I stare into the mirror and straighten the folds of my gown.
Her hair is white. I pick at my sleeve. "It doesn't suit you."
"I'm expected to wear blue for the ceremony." They must see me as a strong future commander.
"I wish…" My husky voice cracks. Those words never work.
"You can't come."
"Don't you need me?" I twist a strand of my hair and curl deeper into the glass. "No, of course not."
"I have to establish myself." Not as a girl who talks to mirrors. "Then you can come."
My dark hair falls over my face. I'm only good if I bring something to the table.
Maybe I'm tired of serving others' convenience.
I lay one hand against the glass. "Don't worry. I won't forget you."
But she already has.
I peel my hand from the cool glass and leave.
I slip silently from the glass.
Hi, everyone! I entered this piece in Kingdom Pen's March short story contest! I'd entered their contests before and have learned a lot from doing them. I was so excited when mine was their choice for the March winner! Check out the link to their site here, where you can sign up for their newsletter where these contests happen every month (as well as writing articles and videos and a bunch of other cool stuff): https://kingdompen.org/. Now, without further ado, Confession to a Pigeon!
P.S. Here's the picture prompt I had to write from for this month's contest!
You know, sometimes I see things that shouldn’t belong here.
I know, I know, I’m not supposed to tell people. But since you’re a pigeon, I’ll tell you.
It’s always on this stretch of sidewalk—right here, from my house to the end of the cul de sac and all the way back. Especially right next to that old gray building, where the sidewalk gets bumpy.
I play out here a lot, you know. Sometimes I just walk and collect treasures. Sometimes I find a stick—they make great swords, did you know that? Sometimes I ride my bike.
And sometimes, the breeze gets big at the weirdest times, where there wasn’t any breeze before. Red leaves scamper across the street, when it’s not even fall. And those leaves don’t like the ones crunched in the street by cars. They look like fire.
But when I ride my bike, my stick at my side, I see things. As pigeons like you scatter into the sky—I promise, I didn’t mean to hurt any of your noble ranks. But the occasional scare does keep you lively. Sorry if you ever lost a feather because of me.
Where was I? Oh, right.
I see other creatures.
Dragons, unicorns, griffins, and pegasuses. Pegasuses . . . pegasi . . . pega . . .
Some monsters, too.
Past my shadow on the brick wall, I see flashes of lightning. Past the rustle of litter, I hear battle cries and cheers. And they call my name.
Sometimes I see angry men. Sometimes I see tears. Sometimes I hear shouts.
Sometimes I sit on my porch steps all by myself.
But when I’m on my bike, with my stick and an army of most honorable pigeons, I feel different. Kind of like a knight, I guess. I always defeat those monsters, you know. I watch the angry men go away.
And I hear the cheers.
There. At least now someone knows. Even if you are a pigeon.