My story Clerk or Hero published

cover_parmigianino2A few days ago, my fantasy short story Clerk or Hero was published in Aurora Wolf magazine. Like many of my stories, this one takes place in an imaginary world, populated by witches, undines, valiant warriors, and resourceful clerks. And, of course, magic. Below is the short excerpt from the beginning of the story.
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After a long, terrifying slide, Tiero’s feet touched the ground. The thin rope tying him slithered down and coiled at his feet. Only his weight kept the loop tight for his involuntary descent. As soon as he was down, the witches dropped the rope.

High above him, at the mouth of the shaft he had just been lowered through, one witch sniggered, invisible behind a bent in the chute. “Bon appetite, boys!” Her mocking cackle drifted down the shaft.

“Harpies!” he shouted back.

Nobody replied to his toothless insult. The voices babbling far over his head trickled to nothing, leaving Tiero alone in the dimly lit stone well. No, not quite alone. He had a comrade in misery, a young officer, slumped unconscious against the shaft wall, the wound in his leg bleeding sluggishly. They were both going to die here.
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To read more, check out the full story here.

The editor of the magazine created his own enigmatic cover for the story, and I created the one you see above. I used a painting attributed to the Italian artist Parmigianino (1503-1540).

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WEP: Shielding Misha

When Yolanda, Nila, and Denise from the WEP website came up with this nifty challenge, I thought: cool! So many possibilities. Unfortunately, the story wouldn’t gel for quite a while. Until the last moment, in fact. My approach could be best defined by the following quote by Bill Watterson:

“You can’t just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood.”
“What mood is that?”
“Last-minute panic.”

The story takes place in Russia, in the 1930s, in the midst of Stalin’s terror.
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Tasya knelt in front of her grandmother’s armchair. “Grandma, you have to help me save Misha. NKVD has been arresting people, innocent people. They have arrested several of Misha’s friends. The accusation is always the same – the enemy of the people – but it’s false. They’ll arrest him too, I know.” She gazed in entreaty at the cantankerous old woman.

Her grandma stared back. “My magic is gone,” she croaked. “Saving him is up to you.”

“I’m a communist. I don’t believe in magic.” Tasya gripped the scuffed armrests tighter.

“You came to me for help.” The thin, angular shoulders, clad in faded chintz, rose and fell.

“I’m desperate. I can’t bear if he is arrested. Tortured.” Her voice broke, but she collected herself. “It’ll kill me, grandma. We have only been married for two years. I’m pregnant. Please.”

“I can’t, Tasya. I can teach you, but you’ll have to work magic yourself.”

Tasya shivered. She was a communist. She had renounced her magic long ago even though she had never told anyone about the long line of witches in her family. Even Misha didn’t know. Should she abandon her convictions now?

If she didn’t, NKVD would come for her beloved husband, take him away, and beat him until he confessed any heinous crimes they wanted. And then they would shoot him. She knew it. Her premonitions had always been true. Her stomach clenched in misery. She didn’t have a choice; she had to accept her magic.

“Fine. Teach me,” she growled.

“There is a price,” the old woman warned.

“I know.” Magic always extracted a price. Whatever it was, Tasya was willing to pay it. “What do I do?”

“I gave you an escritoire for your wedding. Look in the top left drawer, in the back.”

“All the drawers were empty,” Tasya said impatiently. “I put my stuff there.”

“No. Look with your magic. There is a secret compartment with several medallions in it. Take one and make your husband wear it.”

“It will protect him?” Tasya sprang to her feet, ready to rush home.

“No. It’s a receptacle. You have to imbue it with protective magic yourself.”

“How?”

“Wish it. Magic is as much a matter of intent as power. Put your heart in your wish, believe in your magic, and it will keep him safe.”

Tasya kissed the wrinkled cheek and raced the three blocks home.

Misha had already returned from work. “Hey, Tasenka,” he called from the kitchen. “Where were you?”

“Hey, yourself. Visiting grandma. I’ll be right there.” Breathless from her mad dash through the streets, she darted to the bedroom and yanked open the top left drawer of the escritoire. It was filled with her sawing supplies. She pulled it out all the way and willed that hidden corner of her mind to unlock.

blank_pendantshield_3by4Nothing! Cursing mutely, she closed her eyes and groped sightlessly, and her fingers stumbled on the unfamiliar shapes. Yes! She felt an inaudible pop, as her magic broke its self-imposed bonds. When she opened her eyes, she saw a wide and narrow compartment in the back, shimmering faintly. Several medallions rested there, each in its own slot. She picked up one – a shield on a thin chain; it seemed fitting – and hurried to the kitchen.

“I have something for you.” She offered the pendant to her husband. “I want you to put it on and wear it under your clothing.”

He lifted his shaggy eyebrows at the small heap of pewter in her palm.

“Please, Misha. It’s a gift.”

He shrugged, his lips twitching, but he put it on and tucked it under his shirt. “Thank you. What is the occasion? Should I have something for you too?”

“You already have.” She grinned in relief. “I’m pregnant.”

“Oh, Tasenka!” He lit up like an electric bulb, lifted her off her feet, and twirled her around their tiny kitchen. “Love you!”

Tasya hugged him back. Their celebratory mood lasted until nightfall, when Tasya glanced down from their third floor window and saw a dreaded black Marusia, the distinctive NKVD car, gleam evilly under streetlights. It stopped in front of their apartment building. Three men in uniform peeled out and marched into the door.

Already? Icy terror gripped her insides. She hadn’t done anything with her magic yet. She grabbed Misha’s shirt with both hands and concentrated, envisioning the pewter shield on his chest. She poured all the magic she possessed at the medallion. Protect him, she wished with all her being. Keep him safe!

“Tasya?” His blue eyes radiated concern.

Someone pounded, and her head throbbed, echoing the menace on the other side of the door.

He went to answer, and Tasya trailed after him, still wishing: Protect! Protect!

The three men across the threshold eyed them with cold disdain. The leader thrust an arrest warrant at them and recited Misha’s full name and address.

Misha’s wide shoulders tensed beneath Tasya’s hands. From behind him, she glimpsed the warrant sheet and tossed an angry handful of magic at it. A mistake, she thought grimly. There is no Misha’s name there.

Under her eyes, the crisp letters of the name and address morphed into inky smears.

“It’s a mistake,” she whispered.

“Huh?” the man in charge looked uncomprehendingly at his illegible arrest warrant.

Go away! She flung her magic at him like a grenade. You don’t want my husband.

“A mistake,” he repeated, scrunched his forehead, and turned slowly toward the stairs. His subordinates followed him down, their boots clattering on the steps.

Tasya leaned on the wall, too exhausted to move, her head ready to explode.

Misha closed the door quietly and turned to face her. Deadly pale but calm, he touched her cheek with questing fingers. “What happened? I thought… I was sure…”

Tasya nodded weakly. “My head hurts. I need to lie down.” But she knew her blinding headache wasn’t the only price of her magic. The real price was the other medallions, each one connected to a person. She needed to find them all and help them all. She needed to have a serious talk with her grandma. But first, she needed her head to stop hurting. At least Misha was safe. She smiled and fainted.

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Monsters in art

IWSG_NewBadge2016It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.
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The February IWSG question: How has being a writer changed your experience as a reader?

My answer: Actually, being a writer often spoils the pleasure of reading for me. The more I learn about writing the more critical I’m to the books I read. Nowadays, I can only enjoy superbly written books. Whenever I encounter a mistake – spelling or grammar – I itch to edit the text. Sometimes, I can’t even finish a book I enjoyed before I started writing because I’m disgusted by all the writer’s blunders, grammatical as well as structural. But whenever a book is truly GOOD, my joy in it is even deeper than before. I can appreciate not only the engaging story but also the author’s professional skills.
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I have been contemplating a series of posts about art: what I think of certain paintings or certain art styles, what I like and dislike. Is it wrong for a writer’s website? Should I have another website dedicated to my art-related musings, or is it okay to explore it here? The deal is: classical paintings often inspire my writing. They give me ideas.

One of the ideas I’m fiddling with now is a story about a monster. Anyone who ever took art history in college knows that there are monsters in classical art, especially in religious Renaissance paintings. The artistic tradition of the times demanded they should represent evil, but do they?

In the same Renaissance paintings, there are countless images of people doing despicable things to each other, maiming, torturing, and killing their fellow humans. The monsters are not so murderously active. More often than not they are on the defensive, being pierced by a holy lance or beheaded by a mighty sword. Or they might peek slyly from behind a saintly hero, while the righteous warriors burn heretics alive or cut their limbs off or shoot them full of arrows like pincushions, all in the name of ‘true faith’.

Unlike the monsters, who sometimes drag their already dead victims into the fires of hell, the heroes who punish the sinners do it while their victims are still alive and suffering. Moreover, the heroes are always pretty, always center-stage, while the monsters are always on the periphery of the paintings, always ugly and pitiful. Perhaps that’s why they are usually depicted as the representation of sin.

I don’t think they are evil or sinful. They are just different, with horns and tails, and thus shunned and hated, besmirched and reviled by all who don’t see beneath the surface. There are few stories in literature about a ‘beast’ being not so beastly, while a handsome man proves to be a real monster. Beauty and the Beast is the most famous example. The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo was another. I’m sure there are more but I don’t remember them at the moment.

I think I want to write about a monster. Of course, there is a bunch of ‘demons’ in the recent spate of paranormal romances, but these are all handsome hunks, not ugly monsters, the creatures I want to explore.

In my view, monsters comprise a race of their own. We all know that racial features—like hooves or fangs—have nothing to do with any moral qualities. Like any race, some monsters are probably better than others. Many of them have hellish jobs and a devil for a boss. They deserve some recognition. Maybe some adventures of their own. Maybe even a smattering of love. Don’t they? Maybe they are not so ugly, when viewed through the right eyes?

Look at the poor guys in this post, all of them from a painting by Hans Leu the Elder (1460–1510). What did they ever do to any of us?

Do you know more stories about monsters who are not really bad guys? Tell me in the comments.
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All images courtesy of wikipedia.

 

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Squirrel Day

Squirrel Photo from Pixabay

Pixabay, free image website

According to Days of the Year website, today, Jan 21, 2017, is Squirrel Appreciation Day. I like squirrels. They are cute and fearless. As pets, they are utterly charming and entertaining. As friends, they are clever and reliable. They make especially good familiars for urban witches, at least one squirrel I know does. Her name is Beatrice. The is a magic familiar of the young Vancouver witch Darya and the heroine of my collection of urban fantasy  short stories Squirrel of Magic.

I want to celebrate the Squirrel Appreciation Day by reminding everyone of my book and of Beatrice, the best friend a witch could have. If you like squirrels the way I do, you might enjoy my stories. The book is available on Amazon and other online retailers. It includes 10 short stories about Darya and Beatrice.

Bridget_Cover3

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About my heroes

IWSG_NewBadge2016It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.
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The IWSG January question:  What writing rule do you wish you’d never heard?

My answer: There is a current trend in writing, almost a rule by now, to make a hero of the story faulty. Critique partners ask each other: what are your protagonist’s faults? They often say: he seems too perfect.

Many novels nowadays follow this trend and introduce faults to their characters, faults that are unnecessary to the story, faults just to make the characters ‘interesting’. Modern literature, both traditionally published and indie, has been peppered with protagonists who are drunkards or drug addicts or simply unsympathetic. How does that make them interesting? How does it engage the readers? I don’t know. I don’t understand this rule.

I have known a drunkard or two in my life. They are weak, pathetic creatures, slaves to alcohol, not able to be protagonists of anything, much less a satisfying story, especially when they dive into the bottle. They don’t inspire any enthusiasm, and I don’t want to read about them. Same with drug addicts, sick and sometimes cruel people, often ready to kill for their next fix. Neither cares for anyone or anything else. Neither solves problems for anyone. They just create them: in their lives and the lives of those close to them. How does it make them heroes of our stories?

I might be simplifying a little, but what is wrong with good people being the protagonists? They could still have problems, sometimes awful problems, and their struggles are hard and long, at least they are in real life. Who invented the rule to make the protagonists unpleasant in fiction? It doesn’t make sense to me. I hate this rule. I think it is a false rule and I don’t follow it in my stories.

Courtesy Wikipedia

Courtesy Wikipedia

If you look at the stories we all like, the most popular stories, their protagonists are often unbearably good. Think Harry Potter, everybody’s favorite boy wizard, ready to sacrifice himself for us all. Think Star Trek astronauts: Captain Picard and the rest of his crew. They are all truly good, decent folks. The authors didn’t make them drug addicts, and I’m grateful for that. They wouldn’t have been half so compelling if they were.

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What do you think about this rule? Are your heroes faulty?

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My year 2016

DoYouHaveGoalsIt is time again for the monthly blog hop Do You Have Goals, hosted by Misha Gericke and Beth Fred.

Not much happened in my writing life during December. Perhaps it would be appropriate at this time to look back at the entire year 2016 and think about my goals for 2017.

Short stories

I wrote several short stories – don’t remember the exact number. Seven of my fantasy stories and two of my science fiction stories have been either published during the year or accepted for publication in 2017. The latest acceptance email arrived yesterday: my story made it into the IWSG anthology Hero Lost. The publisher, Dancing Lemur Press, sent me a contract for my signature this morning.
I also wrote a fan-fiction story Five Days of Elf, based on Wen Spencer’s Elfhome universe, and self-published it on wattpad. You can read it here.
My goals: I’m thinking of self-publishing a collection of my short stories, but first I want all of them published in magazines. I guess, my goal is to keep submitting my remaining unpublished stories: 4 fantasy, 1 sci-fi, and 2 magic realism stories. I’m going to refrain from writing short fiction for now… unless a story needs to be told, of course.

Novellas

I wrote a steampunk novelette Open, Charlie and self-published in on wattpad. You can read it here.
My regency novella Fibs in the Family on wattpad is doing very well. It has collected over 15K readers, and the numbers keep climbing. People read it and people like it. The story has almost 1,000 Likes by now.
My goals: finish my second regency novella.

Novels

Didn’t write anything. This section is dedicated to my goals.
My goals: for my 2 fantasy novels, published by Champagne Books in 2014, the copyrights are expiring in the beginning of 2017. I contacted the publisher, and they promised to pull the novels from all retailers and send me the official letter by the end of January. After that, I’m going to make new covers, re-edit the novels, and self-publish. I also want to self-publish other novels in the same series. I have several more, in different stages of development. One needs a last revision. A couple need serious re-writes – only the first drafts are written. One I started writing in 2015 and then abandoned. I want to return to it. Not sure I could do it all in 2017.

Non-fiction

Wrote 25 articles for my newspaper. The newspaper is a weekly, so the number means on average 2 articles a month – approximately a piece every other issue.
Also read many books – the exact number eludes me, but I read a lot – and wrote and published reviews for most of the books I read on GoodReads and BookLikes.
My goals: No specific goals except keep writing book reviews and articles for my newspaper.

Art projects

This is my favorite part. I started creating digital art in 2016. By now, I made several badges for the WEP writing challenges and a BINGO card for the Romance Reading Challenge on BookLikes. People seem happy with my designs.
Created a number of book covers for wattpad writers. Not everyone accepts my covers, of course – the competition is steep, as many aspiring cover designers offer their creations on wattpad – but by now, 11 of my covers are working, representing stories that are not mine.
Made covers for all of my stories too, of course, and now working on the new covers for my novels. Those are harder, as they would have to be competitive on Amazon and other retailers. Maybe I should find a professional cover artist for them? Still cogitating.
You could see most of my digital art projects, accepted and currently pending, on this Pinterest board.
My goals: keep doing it. I love making digital covers and badges! Love it!

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Happy holidays!

To all my friends – I made a card for you.

card_mysite2

I wish you peace, health, and success in whatever endeavors are close to your heart. Let 2017 be a year with a minimum of strife and many happy events.

Olga

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WEP: in Translation

a566d-thumbnail_badge_girlcastle5Yolanda and Denise of the WEP website encouraged me to write to this challenge, but it wasn’t easy. For a long time, I couldn’t come up with anything on the theme of Utopian Dreams. And then, a crazy idea came to me. It’s not exactly a true story yet but it could be. It’s not exactly fiction either. But it could be. It all depends…

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On Friday, Genie shut the email program with an angry click of her mouse. “I hate rejections. Why don’t they want my stories?”

Chuck didn’t reply, just nuzzled her thigh in a show of support, or maybe in a demand for a treat. It was hard to tell.

“Oh, Chuck.” Genie picked him up, burying her face in his deep fur. “I want to get one of my stories published in Can Cocoa. It’s my one big dream. I even blogged about it, and everyone encouraged me to keep trying, but the editor keeps rejecting my stories. Only small cheap e-zines accept them. Stupid Can Cocoa!”

Chuck grinned, his tongue lolling.

“You think I’m obsessed with Can Cocoa, don’t you?”

Chuck licked her nose.

“You’re my partisan.” Genie laughed.

On Monday after work, she logged in the Can Cocoa website again. Checking their masthead had become a routine by now. One day, they might change their fiction editor, and the new one might like her stories better. She would be ready. A girl could dream, couldn’t she? Without her impossible dreams, she would be too pathetic: a middle-aged aspiring writer working a mind-numbing office job.

The magazine didn’t change their fiction editor that day but they announced a new section: short stories in translation. The text in the original language and the original writer’s permission should be included in the submissions, together with the English translation.

Genie closed the window with a derisive huff. “Translation, my ass,” she muttered. “Well, I’m bilingual. I could translate anything from Russian. I have, in fact, and put my translated stories on wattpad. People love them. I have thousands of readers.”

Sitting beside her desk, Chuck thumped his tail in encouragement.

“You think I should?” Genie asked doubtfully. “I have a magic realism story, set in Russia during the war. I’ve never submitted it to them before. I could pretend it’s a translation. The editor of their translation section is a different lady. Maybe she’ll accept my story.”

The idea stayed with her. On Thursday, she decided to try. She wrote an email to the translation editor. “I don’t have the original manuscript,” she explained in a burst of rabid imagination. “It never existed. The author is my maternal great aunt. She was a wonderful storyteller but she never wrote down her stories. She narrated them. They were all about magic and fantastic creatures in the everyday Russia. Although she died more than 30 years ago, I still remember some of her stories. Recently, I wrote down one of them in English.” She ended the message by asking if they would be interested in such a story and clicked Send.

“What do you think, Chuck? Is it a good frame for my story? I did have a great aunt by that name, although she never told any stories. She was a cantankerous old hen, lived alone and died alone, no kids, no family. Nobody can check anything.”

Enthusiastic as always, Chuck flopped on his back, so she could rub his tummy.

The reply came promptly the next day: yes, they wanted her translation from Russian.

“What do you know?” Genie muttered. “Maybe they don’t have enough submissions to fill the section?” She sent her story.

Several months later, on Wednesday, the reply came. The magazine would publish her story in December and pay her the usual translation rate – five times more than she had ever been paid by any of the small circulation magazines that habitually published her stories. Of course, the writer’s part of the payment would be withheld, as the writer was dead, but if she had more stories from the same source, they would be glad to consider them.

“Yahoo! My dream came true after all!” She would be published in Can Cocoa, if only as a translator… of her own story, but it was a start. Her story was finally good enough for those literary eggheads. She turned on her favorite Andre Rieu concert and waltzed around her tiny apartment, singing out of tune. Chuck was so concerned about the cacophony, he started barking.

On Saturday, another email arrived from Can Cocoa – a congratulation. Her story, or rather her imaginary aunt’s story, was awarded the prestigious Dennis Yoland Prize as the best translated story of the year. She was invited to accept the prize on behalf of the dead author. The ceremony would take place just before Christmas, in New York, during the annual translators’ summit. Her air fare and hotel for two nights would be paid by the organizers.

Genie’s heart thumped wildly. Her story was good enough to win the award, the best story of the year, but only as someone else’s story. Those New York publishing snobs were ready to pay for her to fly there, but her dream-come-true suddenly felt like a mockery.

“What do you think, Chuck? Should I tell them the truth in my acceptance speech? What would they do: denounce me? Take away the prize? But translated or not, it is the same story. Or should I cowardly ignore the invitation, say I can’t come? Or should I make up my aunt’s tragic life story and tell it to those idiots who can’t separate truth from fiction? Would it be fraud?”

Chuck pushed his nose into her trembling hands, but this time, his unquestioning loyalty didn’t bring relief, nor clarity. She had lied and got punished… by a free flight and hotel in New York. And a monetary prize. She didn’t know what to do.
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Word count: 930

Posted in Olga Godim, WEP, Writing Challenge | Tagged , , | 14 Comments

Five Days of Elf complete on wattpad

cover_girlnight3_2by3For those who like urban fantasy writer Wen Spencer and her Elfhome universe, I’ve written a short story set in it. I love Wen Spencer and I adore her Elfhome series. Five Days of Elf is my first ever piece of fan-fiction. I have never written it before – never been tempted – but Elfhome got the better of me.

I wanted to post my story where other Elfhome fans were sure to find it but discovered, to my surprise, there is no such site, no place where the fans of this writer congregate. Not even her own website; it doesn’t invite communication, just serves as an information dispensary.

The only place where I found a couple of Elfhome fan-fiction stories is Fanfiction.net, but the stories there are at least 2 years old. No new ones.

So I posted my baby on wattpad. It is based on the Elfhome universe, but the characters and the plot are my own. In this story, Lisa, a film school student from Vancouver, Canada, attends a local Shakespearean festival, when a gun-toting terrorist starts a shooting spree. She could’ve been killed, if not for a young man in a gray turban who risks his life stopping the shooter. But the turbaned guy turns out not what he seems.

The story is complete. You can read it here.

I made the cover myself. The photo came from Pixabay, a wonderful free image website, and the girl on it looks exactly how I pictured Lisa, while I wrote her story.

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Tail to Treasure published!

My short fantasy story Tail to Treasure was published in the November issue of the Bloodbond magazine. I received my complimentary copy of the paper magazine in the mail yesterday.

cover_tetharthaag2_2by3The storys protagonist, Yanick, is a shapeshifter, but his other form is not anything glamorous, like a wolf or a tiger. No, Yanich is a monkey shifter. He lives in a city at the edge of the jungle, and his main sort of income derives from the lost treasures he finds in the jungle. Unfortunately, his occupation is somewhat illegal in the city, as he isnt a member of the treasure hunters guild. He wants to become a member. That’s how his story starts:
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Yanick slammed the door shut. “They wouldn’t let me in. The stupid snobs wouldn’t accept my application. They laughed in my face. They said I couldn’t carry my share in any expedition with this… twisted arm of mine. What do they know? Rude, ignorant rats. I could’ve led them to amazing riches, but no. Idiots.”
He breathed heavily. He wanted to use stronger words, condemning words, but his mother wouldn’t approve. His sisters were watching too. He swallowed the rest of his curses and plopped down on a kitchen bench, his fists still bunched. He wanted to pound something, preferably the smug fat face of the guild clerk who had rejected him, but the guild hall was half the city away. Yanick resorted to scowling.
His mother shook her head. “You applied to the treasure hunters’ guild, didn’t you?”
He growled a vague affirmative.
“Have some soup.” She ladled a huge portion of thick soup into his bowl and pushed it towards him. “I told you they wouldn’t accept you…”
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I created the cover for this story, using a painting by Tethart Haag, a famous 18th century Dutch artist. Haag was a court painter to William V of Orange-Nassau and the director of various cultural institutions in The Hague. This particular painting seems to be custom-made for my story, even though it was painted almost 300 years ago. It even has a parrot, just like my story.

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