This was quite a journey. What was born out of an innocent wish to revisit the books of my childhood grew into its own book. Grew fast. And went through all kinds of adventures just like Bells and her friends in The Badlings did. I wrote the first draft in 2 weeks. "Woot!" I thought. "New frontier conquered!" Yeah, right. It was too fast. And it featured too many books, over 30. And then I lost Colleen, my editor. And then I found Sarah, my new editor. And then Sarah said, "What about copyright?" So I had to rehack the whole thing. I tried making it into a parody and go around copyright issues. Didn't help. So I rewrote it again and cut out 10 books, then I rewrote it yet again and cut out 10 more books. Then I had to break to go on the Amtrak residency trip. Then I came back and realized the story is not done and went through yet another set of revisions. And finally it's here. It's done. I can move on to writing 2nd draft of TUBE!!!
Here is what people say so far:
"This first chapter already has me hooked. I adore Peacock's blue hair, Bells's messy ponytail, and Grand's run-on anecdotes. I'm going to stop rambling now and read on!"
"[Bells] seems like a perfect combination of feisty, determined, and cautious. I'm also enjoying your voice; it's unique, yet it reminds me pleasantly of books I read as kid, like The Tale of Despereaux or A Series of Unfortunate Events. This entire book is highly imaginative while paying homage to other tales before it. It has plot twists in all the right places and doesn't fail to deliver dark humor when necessary. The character development, too, is expertly executed - a rarity in many modern novels. Overall brilliant work."
"Anske is a bit like Louis Sachar in that her characters are young and whiny and whimsical. Anske is a bit like Neil Gaiman in that she crafts a story that has creative rhyme and reason to the imaginative twists. Anske is a bit like Lewis Carroll in that the reader can’t quite tell what is real and what is false. In The Badlings, Ksenia Anske gives me some of what I longed for in the Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde."
This makes me so happy! I was so worried about this book, and it turned out well after all.
Here is where you can get your copy:
- A signed (and kissed) paperback on my site, or a paperback on Amazon, iBooks, B&N, Kobo, or Google Play.
- A free ebook as a PDF or an EPUB or a MOBI file.
- Or you can read it on Wattpad or Scribd.
If you do read it, review review review! Reviews are warming my heart just like the socks you send me are warming my feet. This time, however, in honor of The Badlings, if you feel an inclination to send me stuff, send me ducks. I'm into ducks now. Or duck vodka.
And here is more good news and bad news.
Good news: The Badlings will be available for you to order at your local bookstore and at your local library!
Bad news: I don't know when yet. I'm short on funds and have to wait until I have a shower of cash so I can pay Ingram fees to set it all up. But hang in there. It will happen.
Good news: You can speed up this process! Cough up your last dollars for me on Patreon. I'll love you forever. Which reminds me. When I start 2nd Draft of TUBE, I'll be posting my writing there daily, for patrons only (which will start next week). See how special you are? Get on the wagon and join in. You'll sleep like a baby knowing you're supporting an artist and therefore are absolved of your sins (I know there are many).
More good news: I was able to squeeze some gold out of Royce (golden eggs!) and that means I'll be able to continue writing full-time at least long enough to finish the 2nd draft of TUBE. Then we shall see.
Even more good news: I have ordered the first batch of paperbacks, and it should arrive here on July 17th, according to CreateSpace. To those of you who pre-ordered it, thank you! You should be getting your signed copies shortly after the 17th.
Oh, and if you want to see me at your bookstore doing a reading from The Badlings, make it happen! Talk to them, ask them, figure out a way to get me there and a place for me to stay at, and I'll come.
I know. If you find any typos, please send them to me. Someone already found one on Wattpad. I hope there are no more, but I'll wait for most of them to crop up before fixing them, so it won't be too taxing for Stuart.
Ah, and as is my tradition, here is the first chapter of The Badlings.
A novel by Ksenia Anske
Chapter 1. The Duck Pond
What if you found a book stuck in dirt? Would you take a peek inside, or would you chuck it at innocent ducks that happened to waddle nearby? Poor ducks. You wouldn’t hurt them, would you? Because who throws books instead of reading them?
Meet Belladonna Monterey, or Bells, as she’d like you to call her—she has decided that Belladonna was too pompous a name for a scientist. See her dark flashing eyes? Her ponytail all askew? Don’t try talking to her, lest you want to be throttled.
On this sunny September morning Bells was mad. Mad at her mother, the famous opera singer Catarina Monterey, for calling her a “poor scientist.” The argument started with Bells refusing to go to her Saturday choir practice and escalated further into a shouting match when Bells declared that under no circumstances would she ever become a singer.
“So you want to be a poor scientist?” said Catarina, hands on her hips. It was her usual intimidating pose mimicked by Bells’ little sister Sofia from behind her mother’s back.
“What does it matter if I’m poor?” asked Bells, stung to the core.
Sofia stuck out her tongue.
Bells ignored it, refusing to descend to the level of an eight-year-old.
“Oh, it matters a great deal,” replied Catarina. “How do you propose to make a living? You have seven years left until you’re on your own, Belladonna, and every year is precious.”
“I told you I don’t like that name. Call me Bells.”
Her mother’s lips pressed together. “As I was saying, Belladonna, every year is precious. I’ve picked out an excellent stage name for you, and I expect you to thank me.” Her demeanor softened. “You are destined to become a star, with my talent running in your blood. If you stop practicing now, you might never develop your voice.”
“I don’t want to develop a voice,” grumbled Bells.
“You’re a girl!” cried Catarina. “What future do you think you have in science?”
“Why does it matter that I’m a girl? I certainly have no inclination toward prancing around in some stupid medieval dresses and hollering my lungs out like you do.” As soon as she said it, she regretted it.
Her mother looked hurt. “Is that what you think I do? Holler my lungs out?”
“I hate dresses,” said Bells stubbornly. “I hate singing. I hate it that I’m a girl. I want to do science. Stop sticking your tongue out!” That last bit was directed toward Sofia.
“Mom, Belladonna is being mean,” she whined.
“Shut up,” said Bells.
“You shut up.”
“Don’t pester your sister,” snapped Catarina. “Look at her. She’s younger than you, but she has the presence of mind to follow my advice.”
Sofia flashed a triumphant smile and twirled, showing off her gaudy pink dress, the type their mother liked to buy for both of them. Bells made a gagging noise. She hated pink or anything decidedly girly. She made sure to never wear dresses, and if she absolutely had to, she smeared them with mud so thoroughly, her mother would pronounce them ruined.
“Well,” relented Catarina, “if being a scientist is what you want to do, that is your choice. Go ahead. But don’t come crawling back to me asking for money.”
“Mom, I’m only eleven!”
“At your age I was already working, modeling and making a considerable sum from every photo shoot.”
“I don’t want my face plastered on a can of macaroni, thank you very much,” said Bells.
“I want to be a model,” said Sofia.
Bells made a strangling motion that sent Sofia behind her mother’s skirt.
“What do you want, then?” asked Catarina. “All I see you do is run around with those abominable boys, doing who knows what and coming home as dirty as a dog.”
Bells’ face flushed. “I’m not going to change just because you can’t stand dirty clothes.”
“Then get out of here. Out of my house!” Catarina waved her hand, her eyes throwing daggers. “Go live with your father, and don’t you dare come back here unless you’re clean and you’ve changed your mind.”
“Fine,” said Bells quietly. An iron determination rooted her to the spot. She flung her head high and professed in an injured tone, “I will make it on my own. You’ll see.”
Catarina took a step forward. “Belladonna Monterey—”
“I’m not Belladonna, I’m Bells.”
“Your name is Belladonna.”
“No, it’s not!” Bells shook so hard, her voice quavered. “I’m Bells, I’m Bells, I’m Bells!” She turned on her heel and stormed to the garage.
“Come back this instant!” Catarina shouted, but it was too late.
What do you do when you’re mad? I’ll tell you what Bells did. She grabbed her bike and took off.
“I will run away, that’s what I’ll do,” she said through clenched teeth. “I’ll find a way to make it. I don’t need her. That will teach her to call me a poor scientist.”
She pedaled so fast her ponytail whipped in the wind and her eyes spilled over with tears. It took her no more than ten minutes to reach the duck pond where Peacock, Grand, and Rusty were already waiting. Without a glance at them, she dropped the bike and stomped to the stagnant water in search of something to hurl as far and as hard as possible. Her eyes fell on a dark corner sticking out of the mud. She kneeled, clasped it, and pulled. Out came a thick leather-bound tome. It was as large and as heavy as her choir teacher’s notebook. Without a second thought Bells chucked it right at the ducks, sending them flying with cries of displeasure.
“There,” she said. “Now I feel better.”
I imagine you want to know what happened next. Well, it was as expected.
The book landed by the growth of sedge. With an ominous creak, it flung open and lay still, as if waiting to be examined.
“Did it just...open on its own?” She walked up to it and bent over. An otherwise ordinary book with ordinarily printed words, it was huge and thick and bloated, containing way too many pages for its binding, all of them yellowing and uneven, as if they were borrowed from various mismatched manuscripts.
A page turned, and Bells thought she saw something move on top of the paper. It was the most peculiar sight. The pages held a miniature landscape. A frozen lake and a dark forest around it, covered with snow that sparkled in the light of a tiny sun. It hung in midair, so close, Bells was tempted to touch it.
She blinked, and it was gone. All of it, the sun and the lake. An old tattered book, albeit enormous, lay sprawled at her feet. She felt her head. It was warm, the normal temperature.
“That’s it. I’m seeing things,” she muttered.
“Hey, Bells!” called Peacock.
“Hey!” echoed Rusty. “Man, we were waiting for you for like an hour already, right? I mean, come on, you said nine in the morning.”
They were ambling over.
Grand made it first. “Um, Bells? Are you all right?” He puffed out his cheeks, taking a laborious breath.
“Huh?” She looked at him and through him.
“Your eyes...” he started, uncertain.
“What’s wrong with my eyes?”
Grand’s round face shone with perspiration. He wiped his hands, sticky from a doughnut, and patiently waited for an answer.
Bells called him Grand for his formidable girth and considerable presence. To the rest of the world he was known as George Palmeater. His mother, Daniela Palmeater, worked as a cosmetologist in a funeral home, and his father, Stanley Palmeater, died from heart failure a few years ago—“from being too fat,” as his mother explained. He had two little bothers, Max and Theo. They liked to climb him like a little mountain, twist his ears, pull his nose, and poke his sides. This instilled in Grand an admirable patience, as well as a caution in choices and a morbid obsession with death that could be only curbed by eating doughnuts.
“It’s not what you think, okay?” Bells sniffled inconspicuously. “I’m not crying.”
Grand frowned. “But your eyes...”
“You’re seeing things.” She glanced down again. “And I’m seeing things. I think. Anyway, it’s nothing. I’m just having a bad day.”
“A bad day? What happened?”
“Mom again,” said Bells in a tone that didn’t invite further conversation. “Listen, do you think children can hallucinate? I mean, like, in the middle of the day for no reason?”
“Um. I don’t know. I think, yes. But that would mean they have a psychological disorder, and if untreated it could lead to a condition known as schizophrenia, and then they would start hearing voices and seeing things and then they’d become paranoid and start—”
“Okay, I get the point,” said Bells weakly. She burned with desire to look down, and made a concentrated effort not to. What if the frozen lake was there again? What if it wasn’t? Did that mean she was going crazy?
“Is that a book?” asked Grand.
“Wait.” She touched his arm. “Let me—”
“What’s up, Bells?” interrupted Peacock.
The gangliest and the tallest of the boys, he slapped her shoulder in a way of a greeting and raked a hand through his blue hair, a fauxhawk, the pride and glory of his appearance. His name was Peter Sutton, but Bells called him Peacock for his cockiness. Changing hair color was his way of getting noticed among the many people present in his house. His father, a real estate agent, had gone off his marbles, in Peacock’s opinion, and married a loud artist woman who recently moved into their tiny apartment together with four children from her two previous marriages.
“Okay, I have a favor to ask,” Bells pointed down. “Do you guys see what I see, or am I going crazy?”
“See what?” Peacock raised a brow.
The lake was back on the page, more pronounced this time. The snow spread over it in a silvery layer. Wind howled and raged over the miniscule forest.
“Holy buckets...there are trees and a lake and everything.” Peacock’s voice shook from excitement.
“Wow!” exclaimed Rusty. “Is this for real? That’s like, nuts!” He sniggered.
Bells called him Rusty for his rusty voice. His given name was Russell Jagoda. He sniggered a lot. He also talked a lot, which, coupled with his small size and knobbly joints that never seemed to stop twitching, gave him an appearance of a monkey. His parents were killed in a car crash when he was six and most of his childhood was spent in the company of his Polish grandmother Agnieszka who walked dogs for a living and instilled in him the love of animals—and of petting them, regardless of how dangerous they looked.
He stretched out his hand.
“Don’t touch it!” snapped Bells.
“We don’t know what it is.” She twisted her ponytail. “I do know one thing, though. I’m not going crazy, since you guys can see it too. And that is a good thing, I suppose.”
They crowded around the book.
“Where did you find it?” asked Peacock.
“Right over there.” Bells pointed to the spot where the ducks sat huddling, their beady eyes shining in condemnation of her outrageous behavior. “I thought someone had thrown it away or something. I didn’t know it would have this inside.”
“You found it?” asked Grand. “On the ground?”
“Yeah, right where the ducks are. See? It was stuck in the dirt, so I dug it out and...” She didn’t finish, blushing. “I didn’t mean to throw it. I was mad, okay?”
“But how is this possible?” asked Rusty.
“It’s not,” stated Bells. “Scientifically speaking, it’s not possible for anything like this to exist.”
“So, what you’re saying is,” offered Peacock, “this doesn’t exist?” He nudged the book with his sneaker, and the wind in it wailed with such ferocity, they all recoiled.
“I suppose it is real,” admitted Bells. “Only I don’t understand how it works. I guess I could test it and tell you?”
“And how do you propose to do that?” asked Peacock.
“Like any respectable scientist would do, you dolt. Watch me.” Bells hovered her hand over the page.
“Hey, you told me not to touch it,” objected Rusty.
“Exactly. Because you wouldn’t know how.” The air froze her palm, and she moved it away. “It’s cold. I can feel it on my skin. Because I trust my senses, I conclude this is real.” Then, spurred by a rush of curiosity, she touched it.
“What are you doing? Are you off your marbles?!” cried Peacock.
“Are you scared?” Bells challenged him, forcing herself not to wince. The frost bit her fingers, and they got stuck to the ice. She tried pulling away and couldn’t.
The lake held her fast.
“Um, maybe this is not such a good idea, testing it,” ventured Grand. “The first time I went into the mortuary freezer at my mom’s work, I touched one of the walls, and it was very cold and it looked like it was crusted with sugar, so I licked it and my tongue got stuck to it and—”
“Okay, we heard this story a thousand times,” said Bells nervously.
“But this is a different one...” Grand sounded crestfallen. He was fond of sharing morbid accounts of stumbling into rooms full of corpses, or eating lunch with his mother right next to a dead body freshly made up, or other unmentionable adventures that nobody except his friends could stomach.
“Well, I think this is very real, actually,” said Bells, the first twinge of panic twisting her stomach. She couldn’t feel her fingers, and some mysterious force was pulling her arm down, so that she had to plop on the ground, pretending like this was precisely what she was planning to do all along.
Rusty edged closer. “How does it feel, Bells? Can I touch it now?”
“No!” she cried, a bit too suddenly. “I mean, yes, you can, after I’m done, okay?”
“You’re shaking,” observed Grand. “Don’t you think you’ve tested it enough?”
Just then something dreadful happened.
Clearly fed up with waiting, the book proceeded to act. It pulled Bells down like a magnet might pull a piece of metal. Her face touched the snow. She decided it was time to panic in earnest.
“It won’t let me go!” she cried.
“What won’t?” asked Peacock dumbly.
“The book, you blockhead! Don’t you see?”
Another tug. Bells cried out, clawing at the dirt to stay put. And then she began to shrink. She looked up at the boys, too stunned to utter any sound or make any movement. Her eyes shone out like two frightened saucers.
For a silent moment, the boys remained dumbfounded at her diminishing shape, until she found her voice and shouted, “Help me!” She was half her size now, a third, a quarter. She took a deep breath and added an insult, in the hopes of persuading them to move. “Get me out, you idiots!”
They rushed to her aid.
Grand grabbed her ankle, Rusty seized her leg, and Peacock clasped her waist. Not that it helped. With a shriek of terror Bells dwindled into a dot and was gone.
A thick silence fell over the pond.
This is what the scene looked like:
A nice and sunny September morning. A rarely visited corner of a park overgrown with yellowing maples. An old pond covered with duckweed so thickly, it was green. A dozen shameless ducks pecking dirt in search of doughnut crumbs that smelled enticingly sweet (Grand always fed them when he came here). Four bikes heaped one over another. A mound of dirt, a giant open book, and three eleven-year-old boys kneeling next to it, their faces lit with a mixture of amazement, bafflement, and fear.
Suddenly—horrible things always happen suddenly in books—a fierce wind rose out of nowhere. It rushed across the treetops, tearing off leaves and loose twigs. The sky scudded with clouds. The sun disappeared. Quacking, the ducks fled to the far end of the pond and huddled in a trembling mass of feathers. The book made a slurping noise as if satisfied after a meal. The wind died, and the noise stopped.
“She’s gone,” said Peacock incredulously. “It took her.”
“She shrunk! Did you see that? What do we do now?” Rusty scratched his head.
“I’m going in,” said Grand.
“Going where, exactly?” Peacock’s eyes widened. “In there? Are you crazy!?”
“Hey, that would be cool, wouldn’t it?” said Rusty. “I’d be scared to shrink like that, though.”
“You guys do what you want. It got Bells, so I’m going after her.” Grand closed his eyes and placed a hand on the lake. In another moment he vanished.
Peacock and Rusty stared at the spot where Grand was a second ago, then at each other.
“Do you want to try it?” asked Rusty. Without waiting for a response, he gingerly extended a finger and touched the page. “Hey, that hurts! Stop!”
But the book didn’t intend to stop. Rusty rapidly diminished in size and disappeared. The book creaked, as if mocking Peacock with its open pages, waiting.
“Rusty!” he cried. “This is not happening. It’s not happening. It can’t be.” He took a deep breath. “Okay, okay. I’m coming in, you guys. I’m coming.” He felt for the paper. The second his hand made contact with the lake he whittled down to a speck.
The front cover slammed shut.
Happy reading, badlings, rustled the book as it slowly sank back into the dirt.