Natalie Star has some exciting news. Her debut YA novel, The Keeper, will be released in ten short days. Ten days! In honor of this awesome accomplishment, I offered to help generate some interest in this novel which shouldn’t be too hard considering how great it sounds.
The morning of her sixteenth birthday, Billie feels blessed despite the reoccurring nightmare that wakes her. Loving parents, a caring boyfriend, and great friends surround her until an heirloom necklace throws her into a world she never imagined.
“Gifted” with supernatural powers and an unexpected destiny as the Keeper, Billie and a mysterious boy from her past must work together to find answers. But, as they begin to discover feelings for one another, he disappears leaving her to fight evil alone. Her life spirals out of control. She breaks up with her boyfriend, Tony, and alienates her best friends Arianna and Jocelyn to protect them from the truth.
As dark forces pursue her, Billie longs to run away from it all, yet a need to do what’s right compels her to face the future as the keeper of more than her own fortune.
I met Natalie through Facebook. We both belong to a group called the YA Sisterhood and it truly feels as such. The writers in this group are spectacular and so supportive. I’ve been a bit neglectful in my visits as of late, but Natalie, being the understanding woman she is, overlooked my absentee behavior and agreed to do this kick butt interview with me all the same.
As you might have guessed, having a book come out is a bit stressful, but Natalie found time to tell me a funny story about her breathtaking cover art. “When I first got it back, the model’s nose was too prominent. It was all I could see. I asked if there was anything we could do? Maybe pull the photo out a little to make her face appear smaller but nop. That didn’t happen. Instead, the artist just “trimmed” a bit off the tip essentially giving my character a nose job. 🙂 It was perfect which made sense after I found out my cover artist actually works for a cosmetic surgeon. LOL.”
Well, at least we know it was done with the utmost professionalism. 🙂 Natalie was picked up by Decadent Publishing and was thoroughly impressed with the whole process. The thing I found most enviable was her editor. All she had to do was sign her contract, and poof! She had one. See how easy that was, folks. LOL. I am just kidding. I know there’s nothing easy about the publishing process, but if I found myself holding a Jeanie in a bottle *totally humming Christina Aguilera’s song right now* I would “rub it the right way” and wish for, you got it, an editor. Natalie didn’t do much to dissuade my green eyed monster when she told me how simple it was to work with aforementioned wordsmith.
“We emailed the manuscript back and forth using word documents through the revision process. It is pretty neat how technology enables us to work this way.”
Ah. Salt meet wound. Mm. Feels so good. LOL. Okay, okay. I’m done. Now, let’s get back to Natalie who loves reading YA vampire books though she won’t write them. She says maybe some day, and based on what I’ve read I’m praying ‘some day’ turns into ‘right now’. To wet your appetite, Natalie went ahead and published the first two, yes I said two, chapters of The Keeper which has yet to be released. Because it’s so good, I’m posting her prologue and the first chapter for your reading pleasure. If you want the rest, you’ll have to check out Natalie’s blog. Yeah, I’m mean like that. Sorry. :-}
On an elementary school field trip to a modern day Indian reservation, my class gathered to learn about the Mattaponi Indians of Virginia. We were in for a treat. The tribe’s annual powwow was taking place. Visitors got to see a working village with animal hides drying on racks, grinding stones for corn, and flint mapping; the method of making the points for spears, arrows, and axes. They also had a large display of Native American jewelry and crafts for us to see.
The powwow performance started with the Grand Entry into the arbor, a sacred circle. A procession of visiting Chiefs, flag bearers, and dignitaries were followed by dancers who entered the circle to drumming and singing. They wore authentic regalia of colorful headdresses and breast plates with intricate designs. The drums, representing the heartbeat of Mother Earth, continued booming while additional dancers joined the circle. Excitement filled the air, and my senses went crazy. New smells, sights, and sounds were everywhere.
“Oh wow, did you see that, Billie?” my classmate, Ramey, asked.
“That guy, with all those feathers on him.” Ramey pointed.
I looked for the guy with the feathers but something else caught my eye. I watched as a man on a horse rode past behind me. I think I was the only one to see him. My class had been too busy listening to the songs and storytelling. Ramey and I were seated in the back, and he didn’t acknowledge the man and horse either.
I checked and no one watched me, so I turned my head slowly to look over my shoulder. Then I dared not move a muscle. The mare stopped. The man used the reins to turn the animal around. They were now directly facing me and not too far away. My heart pounded in my chest.
I held my breath thinking he wouldn’t notice me.
The man was an old Native American. He had dark tan wrinkled skin. His eyes locked on mine. He didn’t look like the Mattaponi Indians we had learned about. He looked different. His hard facial features had nothing in common with these Indians or the photos I’d seen of their ancestors. He wore his black and silver hair in a plait down the length of his back.
I heard a strange buzzing noise in my head and my body felt light. Almost like I could fly, and the temperature of the air increased.
The man’s eyes, darker than the darkest of nights, bore into mine. I was frightened and couldn’t move or speak. His eyes had some kind of hold on me. I thought I could see movement in them, not his eyes moving, but something in them moving, and then some kind of vapor cloud formed before him. It looked like a misty shower of rain: colorless and odorless. The cloud shot out in my direction. It swirled around in front of me, and it was as if the air danced, testing me, tasting me, feeling me, and it pressed up against my head. It felt dry and warm. Not at all a liquid as I thought it to be. There was a quick sensation of pressure around my head. Almost too much to bear, I opened my mouth to scream right as the pressure released. Then it was simply gone, all of it, the mist, the man, and the mare.
I shook my head in disbelief and checked to see if anyone witnessed what had happened to me. As far as I could tell, no one else had seen. That’s when I noticed him; a boy I recognized from class. He stared lovingly at me, smiled, and went back to watching the tribal activities.
My brain couldn’t rationalize what happened, and because the boy didn’t appear alarmed, I thought maybe I imagined it. The newness of things relating to another culture made the trip feel mystical to begin with. I’d never been on a reservation before. So I decided to never think about the mist, the man, or the mare again.
Part One—The Mist
I woke from a horrible nightmare like I suspected I would. It was the same every year on my birthday. I woke soaked in sweat with my heart beating so hard it felt like a jackhammer to my chest. The fear laced anxiety made it difficult to breathe. I always knew the dream would come, and yet, I was deathly afraid each time. The details were not clear, only fire, a lot of it, and death. The dream seemed more real and less a dream with each passing year.
As always, Sam, our Golden Retriever of four years, was there wagging his tail because he never missed an opportunity for lovin’s. As he lapped my cheek with his wet tongue, I was able to get my breathing under control and calm down. Sam was a great dog. Petting him made me remember how I had been against getting a pet, but I loved him and couldn’t imagine our family without him.
I glanced at my alarm clock, and its green glow showed 5:02 AM. I slipped out of bed and sneaked quietly into the bathroom. In the mirror, I saw my hair was saturated with sweat as if I had gone swimming.
Ugh! Hair, why do you betray me this way? My hair thought it was naturally curly but I tried to convince it otherwise. That wasn’t working out too well.
After my shower, while applying many products to tame my brown curly mane, I stared at myself in the mirror. Nothing was different, yet I somehow expected at sixteen something would have changed.
I loathed the makeup process, but I had to girl it up every day because of my name. With a name like Billie, all my life no matter how I spelled it, people wanted to mistake me for a dude or purposefully and hatefully picked on me for my “boy” name. So there I was, staring so hard the black and white theme of the bathroom disappeared in the background. Stuck on thoughts of my hair and my name, I became anxious and for some unknown reason, I could not pull away from my own reflection. My mind raced and I thought all kinds of strange things: Am I real? Am I really here? On Earth? Why am I here? Do I have a purpose in life? When will I die? The last question sent a chill up my spine and shook me out of my little trance.
When I emerged from the bathroom, my family was standing there before me grinning like a bunch of idiots. Mom, Dad, and my grouchy-ass brother, Dan were all still in their sleepwear. Dan held birthday balloons and a card for me.
“Guys, come on, you didn’t have to do this,” I falsely gushed.
“Sure we did honey. As your mother pointed out, you only turn sixteen once.” Dad happily informed me of this important tidbit.
“Yeah, but the same could be said for every other birthday as well,” I said.
He rolled my words around in his head for a moment and shrugged it off. I embraced my mother and father.
“Hey Dan, thanks for actually getting out of bed early and making an effort.” I wrapped my arms around him.
He didn’t reciprocate, but grunted in my direction. “Yeah, whatever, like I had a choice. You know how these two are. It’s all about the family, blah, blah, blah.” He shoved the balloons in my hand and practically threw the card at me.
Mom gave an apologetic smile, and Dan brushed past her for the only bathroom in our one-story ranch style home.
Mom groaned. “Hurry it up in there. I have an appointment to show a house this morning, and I can’t be late. I’ve already rescheduled it once. You don’t want the realtor of the year to look bad, do you?” Dan responded unintelligibly.
One bathroom with two adults and two teens was a pain. Especially when Dan got in there. My routine was insane, but his was way worse. He actually embraced his natural curls and wanted them to be perfect. God forbid if it was a bad hair day, no one else could get in the bathroom.
I motioned to the bathroom and said, “This is why I’m an early riser.”
My mother shrugged. She was an early riser, too, but she’d used her morning to prep for my birthday breakfast, which I smelled on my way to the kitchen.
I sat at the kitchen table staring at the cornflower blue linoleum waiting to be served and then it came: bacon, eggs, pancakes, hash browns, sausage, orange juice, and a hot blueberry tea, my fave. I devoured a little bit of everything feeling hungrier than usual.
“Thank you, Mom, for the best breakfast ever!” I pushed away from the table.
“I have something special for you. Sit, I’ll go get it.” And before I knew it, she rushed down the hall.
“Hurry, Mom, I have to get to school!” I yelled after her.
She was back in a flash. “Here, honey.” She handed me a long narrow velvet jewelry box, maroon in color, the coloring faded from age and use. I flipped back the lid and saw a gold chain with a charm hanging from it. Definitely nothing I would have handpicked, nice enough I guess, but it looked older than dirt itself. There was a yellowish gemstone, citrine I think, no larger than a nickel and it was set on top of a golden sunburst. She explained, “It’s been in our family for years. It’s been handed down from generation to generation on the sixteenth birthday.”
“Um, thank you. How old is it, and where did it come from?” I questioned because it even smelled old.
“No one in recent memory knows the answer to either question. We do know it is an honor to receive it, and you have to wear it for your whole birthday, no matter what,” Mom explained.
“Or what, I will have seven years bad luck?” I didn’t know what else to say.
“No, worse, a whole life of bad luck.” Mom said it so seriously.
“Well, if that isn’t convincing enough, put it on me!” I was not superstitious but why take chances?
I lifted my flat ironed hair out of the way, and Mom placed the chain around my neck. The second I heard it click into place, I felt funny, and I swear the jewelry’s temperature rose. I stood up in a state of a panic as it warmed and the heat spread from my neck throughout my body. Everything went white, and then pulled out.
“Billie!” Mom screamed. Everyone in the room froze for a quick moment and scattered when I moaned. I don’t know how I knew, but I could tell what was going on around me without opening my eyes. Dan dropped to the floor next to me. My father ran to get a washcloth, and my mother grabbed a glass of water. I heard muffled voices, and I tried to open my eyelids but they were too heavy. Someone kept shaking me. My body lay flat on the cool hard floor. The touch of my fingers to the linoleum told me what I already knew; I was on the kitchen floor.
“Billie? Can you hear me?” Dan sounded scared. The fear in his voice made me open my eyes to see if it was really him, and I’ll be damned, it was.
“Dan! Quit yelling, and stop touching me! I was taking a nap.” I grabbed his hand off my arm and shoved it away.
“No, no you weren’t napping.” Dan’s eyes were wide and his hands hovered above me. He was really shaken up as were my parents.
“Dude, I am fine. See?” I sat up. “I’m fine.” They looked at me with mouths agape like I was crazy. Dad came over with a cold wet cloth for my head, and Mom urged me to drink some water.
“I. Am. Okay. I promise! I stood up too fast, and it made me faint. I didn’t get much sleep last night. In case you forgot, I had my special birthday freak night at the movies, by yours truly.” I pointed to my head. “And I didn’t get much sleep. So you see? I am tired and got a little head rush. Don’t worry, I’ll have my cell phone turned on all day, and if anything is wrong, I will call. I promise.” I pulled myself up from the floor. With my hands on my hips, I stood there tapping my foot waiting for a response.
Mom stared hard at Dad. “I don’t know…Walter, what do you think?”
His big blue weary eyes gave me a once over, and I saw it in his face. He came to a decision. Taking a deep breath and looking at Mom, he said, “Joanne, I think she’ll be fine.”
Mom shot him a look, if possible making her brown eyes appear darker. That was not the response she wanted.
I went to school.
Leave a comment including email address and come December 31, 2011 you could be the proud owner of some signed Natalie Star swag. HAPPY NEW YEARS EVE! Remember, in order to be eligible to win you have to leave your email address with your comment. The Keeper debuts January 6th, 2012. It will be available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Decadent Publishing.
Thank you so much for participating in this interview, Natalie. I hope it meets your approval.