Thursday, December 19, 2013

"Chasing the Star Garden" by Melanie Karsak

Chasing the Star Garden
by Melanie Karsak

Chasing the Star Garden is on tour with Bewitching Book Tours. The tour stops here today for my interview with the author. You can also enter the giveaway for a chance to win a Kindle Fire HDX (US only). Be sure to visit all of the other tour stops as well.

An opium-addicted beauty.
An infamous poet living in self-imposed exile.
An ancient treasure about to fall into the wrong hands.
Melanie Karsak’s Chasing the Star Garden takes the reader on an exciting adventure from the gritty opium dens of gaslamp London to the gem-colored waters of the ancient world, introducing us Lily Stargazer, a loveable but reckless airship racer with a famous lover and a shattered past.
Lily Stargazer is having a bad day. She just lost the London leg of the 1823 Airship Grand Prix. To top it off, a harlequin fleeing from constables shoved a kaleidoscope down her pants, told her to fly to Venice, then threw himself from her airship tower.
What’s a girl to do? For Lily, the answer is easy: drink absinthe and smoke opium. 
Lily’s lover, Lord Byron, encourages her to make the trip to Venice. Lily soon finds herself at the heart of an ancient mystery which has her running from her past and chasing true love and the stars along the way.

Chapter 1

I was going to lose-again. I gripped the brass handles on the wheel hard and turned the airship sharply port. The tiller vibrated in protest making the wheel shake and my wrist bones ache. Bracing my knees against the spokes, I tore off my brown leather gloves to get a better feel. The metal handgrips were smooth and cold. My fingers tingled from the chill.
“Easy,” I whispered to the Stargazer. I looked up from my position at the wheelstand, past the ropes, burner basket, and balloon, toward the clouds. They were drifting slowly left in a periwinkle blue sky. There would be an updraft as we passed over the green brown waters of the canal near Buckingham House. I locked the wheel and jumped from the wheelstand onto the deck of the gondola and looked over the rail. The canal waters were about a hundred feet away. I ran back to the wheel and steadied the ship. If I caught the updraft, it would propel me up and forward, giving me an edge.
“Cutter caught it, Lily,” Jessup yelled down from the burner basket below the balloon opening. “Up he goes,” he added, looking out through his spyglass. The gold polish on the spyglass reflected the fire from the burner.
“Dammit!” I snapped down my binocular lense. I saw Hank Cutter’s red and white striped balloon rise upward. At the top, he pitched forward with great momentum, catching a horizontal wind. I could just make out Cutter at the wheel. His blond hair blew wildly around him. He turned and waved to me. Wanker.
I was not as lucky. Just as the bow of the Stargazer reached the water, a stray wind came in and blew me leeward. The balloon jiggled violently in the turbulent air. I missed the air pocket altogether.
“No! No, no, no!” I cursed and steadied the ship. I had chased Cutter from Edinburgh across the Scottish and English countryside. He had been off his game all day. I’d had him by half a mile the entire race. With the bottom feeders lingering somewhere in the distance behind us, I’d thought the London leg of the 1823 Airship Grand Prix would be mine. That was until St. Albans, where Cutter caught a random breeze that pushed him slightly in front of me. Cutter had a knack for catching favorable winds; it was not a talent I shared.
“We’re coming up on Westminster,” Jessup called from the basket. “Lily, drop altitude. Cutter is too high. Come in low and fast, and you might overtake him.”
The airship towers sat at the pier near the Palace of Westminster along the Thames. A carnival atmosphere had overtaken the city as it always does on race day. There were colorful tents set up everywhere. Vendors hawked their wares to the excited Londoners and international visitors. Even from this distance, I could hear the merchants barking from their tents. I even fancied I could smell roasted peanuts in the wind.
I jumped down from the wheelstand, ran across the deck, and pulled the valve cord, opening the flap at the top of the balloon. Hot air released with a hiss. I kept one eye on the balloon and another eye on Tinkers’ Tower. At this time of day, the heat coming off of the Palace of Westminster and Tinkers’ Tower would give you a bump. I looked up. Cutter had started preparing his descent. It would be close.
I ran back to the wheel.
“Angus, I need more speed,” I yelled down to the gear galley, rapping on the wooden hatch that led to the rods, belts, and propeller parts below.
Angus slapped open the hatch and stuck out his bald head. His face was covered in grease, and his blue-lense monocle glimmered in the sunlight. He looked up at the clouds and back at me.
“Let’s giddyup,” I called to him.
“You trying the Tower sling?” he yelled back.
“You got it.”
He laughed wildly. “That’s my lassie,” he yelled and dropped back down, pulling the wood hatch closed with a clap. I heard the gears grind and the propeller, which had been turning nice and steady, hummed loudly. The ship pitched forward. Within moments, we were coming up on Tinkers’ Tower. The airship towers were just a stone’s throw away.
I aimed the ship directly toward Tinkers’ Tower. Just as the bowsprit neared the clock, I yanked the wheel. The warm air caught us.
“Whoa!” Jessup yelled as the balloon moved within arm’s length of the tower.
The sound of “Ohhs!” echoed from the crowd below.
A mix of warm air and propulsion gave us some go, and seconds later we were slingshotting around Tinkers’ Tower toward the airship platforms. Gliding in on warm air and momentum, we flew fast and low.
Cutter had kept it high, but now he was dropping like a stone toward his own tower. Damned American. I didn’t blame him; I would have used the same move. His balloon was releasing so much air that I wondered if he would be able to slow down in time, not that I wouldn’t mind seeing him smash to the ground in a million pieces.
“It’s going to be close,” Jessup yelled as he adjusted the heat pan.
I guided the helm. The Stargazer was temperamental, but we understood one another. A shake of the wheel warned me I was pushing too hard. “Almost there,” I whispered to the ship.
The Grand Prix Marshalls were standing on the platform. Cutter and I had the end towers. I was going to make it.
“Cut propulsion,” I yelled toward the gear galley. On the floor near the wheelstand was a rope attached to a bell in the galley. I rang it twice. The propeller switched off.
A soft, sweet wind blew in from the port side. It ruffled my hair around my shoulders. I closed my eyes and turned the wheel slightly starboard, guiding the ship in. As the bowsprit scooped into the opening of the tower, I heard a jubilant cheer erupt from the American side and an explosion from the firework cannon signaling the winner had been declared.
My eyes popped open. I tore off my goggles and looked starboard. Cutter’s balloon was parked. I threw the goggles onto the deck and set my forehead against the wheel.
The Stargazer settled into her tower. Jessup set the balloon on hover and, grabbing a rope, swung down to the deck. He then threw the lead lines and anchors onto the platform. The beautifully dressed crowd, gentlemen in suits and top hats and fancy ladies in a rainbow of satin gowns and parasols, rushed toward the American end of the platform to congratulate the winner.
I was, once again, a national disgrace. Lily the loser. Lily second place. Perhaps I would never be anything more than a ferrywoman, a cheap air jockey.
“Good job, Lily. Second place!” Jessup said joining me. He patted me on the shoulder.
I sighed deeply and unbuttoned my vest. The tension had me sweating; I could feel it dripping down from my neck, between my breasts, into my corset.
“You did great,” I told Jessup. “Sorry I let you down.”
“Ah, Lily,” he sighed.
Angus emerged from below wiping sweat from his head with a greasy rag. He pulled off his monocle. He frowned toward the American side. “Well, we beat the French,” he said with a shrug and kissed me on the cheek, smearing grease on me.
 “Good job, Angus. Thank you,” I said taking him by the chin and giving him a little shake as I wrinkled my nose and smiled at him.
Angus laughed and dropped his arm around Jessup’s shoulders. They grinned happily at one another.
“You stink, brother,” Jessup told him.
“It’s a wee bit toasty down there. Besides, I pedaled this ship across the entire fucking country while ya were up here looking at the birds. That, my friend, is the smell of success.”
I laughed.
“You pedaled the ship?” Jessup said mockingly. “Like Lil and I were just up here playing cards? If I didn’t keep the balloon aloft, your ass would be kissing the ground.”
“Now wait a minute. Are ya saying your job is more important that mine?” Angus retorted.
I could see where this was going. “Gents.”
“More important? Now why would I say that? Just because I’m the one . . .” Jessup started and then his mouth ran.
“ . . . and another thing . . .” Jessup went on.
“Gentlemen! Our audience awaits,” I said cutting them both off, motioning to the well-shod crowd who waited for us on the loading platform outside the Stargazer.
I grinned at my crew. “Come on. Let’s go.”
I patted the rail of the Stargazer. “Thanks,” I whispered to her, and we exited onto the platform.
A reporter from the London Times and several race officials stood waiting for me.
“Well done, Lily! Well done!” the British race official congratulated me with a pat on the back. “Second place! King George will be so proud. One of these days you’ll have it, by God.”
I was pretty sure that the last thing I needed was the attention of George IV, the extravagant, unpopular lush. But I bit my tongue and smiled politely.
“Lily, how did Cutter beat you? You led the entire race,” the reporter, a round woman wearing a very thick black lace collar which looked like it was choking her, asked me. Her heavy purple walking dress looked hot under the late afternoon summer sun. The brim of her black satin cap barely shaded her nose. I noticed then, however, that she had a small clockwork fan pin attached to her chest. The fan wagged cool air toward her face.
I pulled off my cap, mopped my forehead, and thought about the question. “Luck,” I replied.
“Lily, that was some move around Tinkers’ Tower. How did you learn to do that?” another reporter asked.
“My father,” I lied.
“Make way, make way,” one of the race officials called, ushering a Marshall forward.
The Marshall looked like someone who lingered an hour too long at supper. The gold buttons on his marigold satin vest would take an eye out if they popped. His overly tall top hat was adorned with a ring of flowers that matched his striking orange colored dress coat.
“Miss Stargazer, congratulations,” he said, shaking my hand. “The Spanish airship is coming in now. Will you please join Mr. Cutter at the winners’ podium?” he asked politely as he guided me forward by the hand.
From below there was a commotion. A man dressed in an unusual costume was rushing up the stairs. What looked like a full squadron of the Bow Street Runners, the London constables, were chasing him. When he got to the loading platform, the man pushed through a crowd of well-dressed ladies and gentlemen, many of whom were gentry. It was then I could see he was dressed as a harlequin. He wore the traditional red and black checked outfit and a black mask. He scanned the towers and caught sight of me. He jumped, landing on the tower railing, and ran toward me. A woman in the crowd screamed. Moments later the constables appeared on the platform. The race Marshalls pointed toward the harlequin who was making a beeline for me.
I let go of the Marshall’s hand and stepped back toward the ship.
“Lily,” Jessup warned, moving protectively toward me.
Angus reached over the deck of the Stargazer and grabbed a very large wrench.
Was it an assassin? Christ, would someone murder me for winning second place? I turned then and ran toward the Stargazer. A moment later, the harlequin flipped from the rail, grabbed one of the Stargazer’s ropes, and swinging over the others, landed on the platform directly in front of me. Any second now, I would be dead.
“Lily?” he asked from behind the mask.
“Stop that man! Stop him!” a constable yelled.
“Get out of my way!” Angus roared at the crowd that had thronged in between us.
The masked man grabbed me, tugged on the front of my trousers, and leaned into my ear. The long nose of the mask tickled my face. “Go to Venice,” he whispered as he stuffed something down the front of my pants.
“We got you now,” a constable said, grabbing him, raising his club.
The man shook him off, took two steps backward, and with a jump, leapt off the tower.
Several people in the crowd screamed.
I rushed to the side of the tower to see the harlequin lying at its base. His body was twisted oddly. Blood began pooling around him.
“Miss Stargazer, are you all right?” a constable asked.
“A man just killed himself in front of me. No, I am not all right.”
“I mean, are you harmed? Did he hurt you?”
I shook my head and looked down at the mangled body whose twisted form made the shape of a three-sided triskelion. It was the same symbol that was painted on the balloon of the Stargazer.

Chasing the Star Garden is the latest book from author Melanie Karsak (The Harvesting). Taking a small break from the post-apocalyptic world of Layla Petrovich, Karsak primarily switches gears to the world of Steampunk with her latest offering. This is a fast-paced ride, allowing the reader to get lost in a haze of mystery, tinkers, honor, sex, airships, star maps, love, pain, and, of course, opium.
Set in the 1800’s Karsak brings to life the story of Lily Stargazer, an almost-champion airship racer with a growing “habit” and a resonating back story woven thoughtfully throughout the tale. When a raving mad harlequin delivers his goods down her pants and then takes a suicidal leap after a race one day, her world forever changes. In fact, his “goods” may just be the key to a centuries old mystery on par with Indiana Jones greatest adventures. Reluctantly embracing the challenge, Lily and an assortment of friends, including a brilliant tinker named Sal, the chivalrous Lord Byron, and a classy Victorian pimp named Celeste, breathtakingly dodge death in search of the embodiment of love … and perhaps themselves as well.
In many ways it’s not fair to even review this as a Steampunk novel. As with Karsak’s previous work, there are multiple fields of play here. While it will certainly engage the Steampunk connoisseurs with its gadgetry and elegance, it’s the intense attention paid to each characters personal importance to the overall story that makes it a great adventure story as well. In fact, one of my favorite aspects of this book is how she weaves each character’s history into the tale, filling in the natural gaps of joining a book already largely in-progress when it begins. At first it’s like jumping into a mythology without having a map, but by midway through the book the gaps begin to fill and you find yourself wholeheartedly engaged in the wild ride Lily Stargazer & co. find themselves on.
Chasing the Star Garden is a treasure hunt of the highest order. Lily Stargazer is easy to embrace as she undoubtedly has a little of each of us in her. Her adventure is one for the ages and there is no shortage of lessons to be learned. In fact, Chasing the Star Garden is perhaps best summed up by Sal the tinker, “You see, my Lily, with determination, all monsters can be overcome. It is written in the stars.”

Interview with the Author
Hi Melanie, thanks for joining me today to discuss your new book, Chasing the Star Garden.
Thank you so much for having me. I am delighted to talk with your readers at Books Direct about Chasing the Star Garden, a new gaslamp romantic adventure novel.
Which writers have influenced you the most?
There are two: Marion Zimmer Bradley and Will Shakespeare. Bradley inspired me to really grasp strong women’s voices and run with great female protagonists. It seems like a cliché to say Shakespeare, but he inspires me to look for universal human themes.
What age group do you recommend your book for?
This book is for mature audiences. There are some in-context sex scenes (there is an important romance theme in this book), and heavy drug use is depicted.
What sparked the idea for this book?
Love of a lot of different things. I fell in love with the steampunk aesthetic, so you will see some steampunk features in this book. I was already enamored with Lord Byron so he plays an important role. And over the course of a summer, I got really interested in stars and clouds. Suddenly this idea for Lily Stargazer, the protagonist of my new series, was born. I wanted to write about a really kind, loving, but very broken person who needed to find a way to heal herself. Lily sort of came to me fully formed in this regard.
So, which comes first? The character's story or the idea for the novel?
I think they arrived in tandem for this one. I knew Lily would be an airship (think steampunk hot air balloon) racer. The idea for her and her world evolved together.
What was the hardest part to write in this book?
Finding time to write! This book was so easy to write. The story practically told itself. I just needed to scratch out time to get everything down on paper.
How do you hope this book affects its readers?
Lily is a really wonderful character. I think female readers will respond to the difficulties she had faced in her life. She has had a hard life, and she has not made the best decisions regarding how to handle the pain she has faced. It’s a bit cathartic to see her process the past. I think, in that, she is very relatable. We all have baggage, don’t we? I hope my readers just want to give Lily a big hug J I also want to introduce new readers to the gaslamp/steampunk genre. This might be something new for them.
How long did it take you to write this book?
The first draft took a few months, but it went through editing for about a year after that.
What is your writing routine?
When I am writing (and not editing), I can write for about 16 hours a day. I pretty much write as much as I can every day until I am done.
Wow, that's impressive. What advice do you have for someone who would like to become a published writer?
Learn the scope of this very changeable market and then invest in yourself.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
Spend time with the kids and go to the beach.
What does your family think of your writing?
I think they are proud of me. Everyone is very supportive.
Please tell us a bit about your childhood.
I grew up in the woods: seriously, the woods. I lived in rural north-western, Pennsylvania. We were taught hunter’s safety in 6th grade for goodness sake! I have to admit, I grew up country! Of course, when I was little, I loved being outside. It really sparked my imagination!
Did you like reading when you were a child?
My mom always read to me when I was little. I grew up around books. I loved The Boxcar Children, Little House on the Prairie, and Amelia Bedelia stories.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I used to write newspapers for fun when I was a kid. I wrote my first play when I was in the 5th grade and my first novel when I was in 6th grade. I always wanted to be an author. I finished my first 100,000-plus-word novel my freshman year of college. Gosh, what a cliché-ridden piece of writing it is, but it was a start!
What can we look forward to from you in the future?
This is the first novel in a new series. I have a number of projects planned in this series. The second novel will be out in the spring of 2014. I am also writing The Harvesting series, which is my dark fantasy/zombie series. The first novel of that series is currently available.
Thanks for dropping by today, Melanie. Best of luck with the rest of your tour.

About the Author
Melanie Karsak grew up in rural north-western Pennsylvania where there was an abysmal lack of entertainment, so she turned to reading and hiking. Apparently, rambling around the woods with a head full of fantasy worlds and characters will inspire you to become an author. Be warned. Melanie wrote her first novel, a gripping piece about a 1920s stage actress, when she was 12. A steampunk connoisseur, white elephant collector, and caffeine junkie, the author now resides in Florida with her husband and two children. Melanie is an Instructor of English at Eastern Florida State College. She has published The Harvesting (Volume 1). Chasing the Star Garden, the first book of The Airship Racing Chronicles, was released November 2013.

Enter the tour-wide giveaway for your chance to win some great prizes, including a Kindle Fire HDX (US only).