*Materials & images provided by Xpresso Book Tours.
~Released: June 12th 2015
~Genres: New Adult, Young Adult, Fantasy, Paranormal, Historical Fiction, Gothic
Haunted by a crushing fear of death, a young Victorian woman discovers the secret of eternal youth—she must surrender her life to attain it, and steal heartbeats to keep it.
In 1860 Surrey, a young woman has only one occupation: to marry. Senza Fyne is beautiful, intelligent, and lacks neither wealth nor connections. Finding a husband shouldn’t be difficult, not when she has her entire life before her. But it’s not life that preoccupies her thoughts. It’s death—and that shadowy spectre haunts her every step.
So does Mr. Knell. Heart-thumpingly attractive, obviously eligible—he’d be her perfect match if only he wasn’t so macabre. All his talk about death, all that teasing about knowing how to avoid it…
When her mother arranges a courtship with another man, Senza is desperate for escape from a dull prescripted destiny. Impulsively, she takes Knell up on his offer. He casts a spell that frees her from the cruelty of time and the threat of death—but at a steep price. In order to maintain eternal youth, she must feed on the heartbeats of others.
It’s a little bit Jane Austen, a little bit Edgar Allen Poe, and a whole lot of stealing heartbeats in order to stay young and beautiful forever. From the posh London season to the back alleys of Whitechapel, across the Channel, across the Pond, across the seas of Time…
How far will Senza Fyne go to avoid Death?
AJ Krafton is the author of New Adult speculative fiction. Her debut The Heartbeat Thief is due out on Kindle in June 2015. Forthcoming titles include Taking' It Back & Face of the Enemy. She's a proud member of the Infinite Ink Authors. AJ also writes adult spec fic as Ash Krafton.
Three Questions With AJ Krafton,
author of The Heartbeat Thief
What inspired the story of The Heartbeat Thief?
It started with a single scene, a conversation between a young woman and a mysterious stranger who steals up beside her at a funeral.
A lot of my stories start out like this, a single scene with no other context. It’s as if I happen across a conversation between strangers and only see one tiny snippet of their story. Sometimes, the scenes get written and tucked away in an “ideas” folder on my hard drive, lying dormant. Sometimes, a trickle of life stirs within, and a story grows out of that tiny seed.
Sometimes, the seed germinates and grows and blooms into a novel. That’s what happened with that first passage—it was the seed that grew into The Heartbeat Thief.
I went back to the oldest draft of the story and found that original seed. Here is the passage as I’d first written it:
That frightens you, doesn't?
She didn't turn to look at him. His presence was like a thick fog, tenuous yet flowing, something she felt along her skin. She didn't need to look at him—she knew right where he was. That sense of nearness, something she recognized even for all his strangeness.
She knew him. Didn't know why, or how. And she didn't care. It was simply what was.
She pinched her lips together, watching a woman bent in grief, clutching a handkerchief to her mouth. “Doesn't it frighten everyone? Dying--in such a sudden way—“
Ah, it's not the suddenness, or the surprise, or even the shock. It's the brick wall at the end of the road of life. You don't like the ending, no matter how it comes.
She tilted her head, just enough that she could capture him in her periphery. “No. I don't like the ending.”
He drifted closer, hovering just over her shoulder, like an umbrella. His mouth close to her ear, he chuckled a sonorous tone. Why would you? Your beauty, faded? Your charms, withered? Your friends and admirers, all gone away? You'll die alone, bienaimee. Everyone dies alone.
She tugged her shawl tighter about her shoulders. “Don't say that.”
But it is truth. Oh, if only there was a way to avoid all that.
“No one lives forever.”
Do they not?
His voice held such a curious tone, a tease in the words that caught her attention. “In the afterlife, yes.”
In this life.
She faced him, locking her gaze with his. His dark eyes glittered and a smile tugged at the corners of him mouth. “Why would you say things, here?”
Where better to admit the truth? He stole behind her, trailing his finger along her shoulders. In this place, life meets death. They stare each other in the face. The only difference between them is that the dead no longer care.
He drew back, his sudden withdrawal leaving a cold mist on her skin. The only question that remains is…do you still care, bienaimee?
She wrinkled her nose. “Of course, I still care.”
Then, he said, his voice deepening into a throaty chuckle. Don't die.
She turned to admonish him for his audacity but, when she spun around, he was gone.
No way could something like this stay dormant in a dusty old file. The stranger’s mystery and his shadowy threat and the promise of eternal life simply held me captive, and I knew it would haunt me until I wrote it.
That was where The Heartbeat Thief came to life.
Where did the characters get their names?
One character was named by a fan on Facebook, one name was inspired by a song, and one simply named himself.
Felicity Keating is a close friend of the main character, and was named in an impromptu contest I held on Facebook. I had a name for her but I felt like doing something spur-of-the-moment. I loved the suggestion of Felicity because it was so fitting for the character and what she symbolized. (The Facebook Friend who suggested the name is mentioned in the Acknowledgements section of the book.)
The main character is Miss Constance Fyne, who prefers her nickname “Senza”. Her given name, Constance, alludes to the word “constant”. The suffix con- means with. Senza is Italian for “without”.
Her last name Fyne is a play on fine, or fin: French for end.
Senza Fyne is a play on the Italian word senzafine, which means “endless”. Fitting name for a girl who seeks the secret to eternal youth.
I love the word senzafine. I learned it when I heard the Italian metal band Lacuna Coil sing their song of the same name. It’s my absolutely favorite LC song.
One line of the song, when translated into English, fits Senza perfectly: I’m standing still in this moment of pure madness…I don’t know if I wish for good or evil although perhaps sin will give me more…
Playing opposite to Senza is a tall, mysterious stranger who teases her with secretive smiles and suggestions of magic. From their first meeting, he calls her bien-aime, which is French for “beloved”. When she demands his name, he listens to the tolling of a nearby church bell before calling himself Mr. Knell.
But he has an older name. A much older name. And it will take Senza a very, very long time before she realizes just who he truly is.
The song “Senzafine” fits him, too. One particular verse fits Senza’s dark seducer perfectly. There is no life without me. There is no choice without me.
And Senza utterly believes him.
How did the work of Edgar Allan Poe inspire this story?
I’ve been a Poe fanatic from an early age. There is something about that tragic man that keeps me captivated: his unwavering stare into the depths of the shadows that filled his life, his penchant for beautiful, melodramatic language, his undying devotion to the people he’d loved and lost.
My favorite Poe spots are in Baltimore (where he’d once lived and is interred) and in Philadelphia (where one of his homes has now become part of the National Park Service). It’s believed that his story “The Black Cat” was inspired by the basement of that house. (I have a black cat Webkinz that I would love to stick into a hole in the wall there but the husband says NO THAT’S VANDALISM AND JAIL and other husband-type warnings. Such a party pooper.)
A few years ago, I had the chance to visit the Rare Books department at the Philadelphia Free Library, where they had Poe’s work on display. I could have spent a week in there, with only a thin pane of glass between my hand and the pages touched by Poe’s very pen. The original manuscript of Rue Morgue was inches away from my face. I was in complete thrall. (The husband rolled his eyes and moved me along.)
While my short stories and poetry often pay a small tribute to him, this is the first full-length work that I’ve devoted to his style. I let all the wonderful macabre shadows creep in and take over while I was writing. The Heartbeat Thief also includes specific references to “The Masque of the Red Death”.
In “The Masque of the Red Death” a wealthy lord turns his home into a sealed fortress in an effort to protect himself and his close friends from the Red Death, a plague that was spreading through the country. One night he threw a party for his guests…but someone unexpected showed up. The unexpected guest was dressed as a ghoul bathed in blood and everyone fell dead at its feet. (The End.)
Elements of “Masque” are present throughout The Heartbeat Thief. Excerpts from Poe’s story are used in the section introductions, setting the tone of the chapters to follow. The novel’s structure was also loosely based upon the flow of Poe’s story—Prince Prospero's seven apartments now become the seven major settings of the story. I used color references and allegorical context to connect Senza's journey through time to the passage of Poe's ill-fated party goers, right the very last black room, where Death awaited them all.
Overall, I hope that the theme, the atmosphere, and the character’s obsession with life and death would do my idol proud. I hope to visit Baltimore again soon, just to stop into Westminster Burying Ground for a moment to say hello, to offer another bit of thanks for his unending inspiration, and to leave a few pennies on his gravestone.
Time for Tea: Victorian Tradition and its Place in The Heartbeat Thief
Victorian tea time wasn’t always a thing.
Tea has been around for thousands of years. In many cultures, it was customary to share tea with company. Tea was ceremonial, a sacred part of social law.
In England, mealtimes evolved to include two main meals: breakfast and dinner. Dinner became an evening phenomenon, which was held after the work day. In the case of the upper classes, dinner was an event that lasted hours into the night. Afternoon meals tended to light and on-the-go and had no real structure.
What we’ve come to know as “tea time” began with Duchess Anne of Bedford. Anne experienced a “sinking feeling” around three or four o’clock and would ask her maids to sneak her tea and pastries, since supper wouldn’t come until much later in the evening. At first, she had tea alone but eventually the practice was expanded to include her close friends.
Thus, a tradition was born and tea time became a thing.
Less food, more talking
Victorian tea time carried on the tradition of offering tea to guests. Tea was served in wide-mouthed shallow cups (nothing like our 16 ounce paper cups from the coffee shop). That way, tea could be sipped without waiting all afternoon for it to cool (or blowing on it, which could lead to sloppy accidents). Tea time became synonymous with company and socializing and was, in itself, a social event.
And Victorian events were elegant, spectacular things.
It was customary to have tea in the parlor or garden. It provided a chance to show off the hostess’s best china and linens, as well her abilities to command the skills of her kitchen staff.
Tea served not only to quiet the rumblings of a belly, it was food for the social soul. Dishes were customarily light and easy to eat without worry of a catastrophic mess. Eating was a dainty dance in itself.
Tea sandwiches, cakes, scones, biscuits, candies and nuts were usual fare for low tea (named for the low tables around which guests gathered—think “coffee tables” in the living room). I found a website with loads of recipes here: http://whatscookingamerica.net/HighTeaRecipes.htm I refer to it often when I’m looking to create a special little something.
Trays of snacks were laid out so guests could serve themselves. Affluent hostesses could afford an elaborate tea service such as this.
(By comparison, my tea service looks like this. Not quite as shiny but it makes a perfect pot, every time.)
The overall goal of these tea parties was to ensure that guests enjoyed themselves so thoroughly that they completely lose track of time, ensuring the hostess’s graceful place in the hearts and esteem of all invited.
Senza and her Tea
In The Heartbeat Thief our heroine, Senza Fyne, took much comfort in the ritual of tea time. Despite her longer-than-usual life, she never lost her affinity for a well-set tea. It connected her to precious memories of family and friends and times long gone by. Here’s a brief excerpt from The Heartbeat Thief, in which Senza prepares tea for company for the first time in a very, very long time.
The Heartbeat Thief
The tea kettle hissed, the steam building up to a whistle. She plucked it off the heat before it could reach full shriek. She didn’t like noise. She’d become far too accustomed to quiet and stillness. It had been ages since she made tea, a proper tea with a full service and decorative sugars. She’d missed the routine.
Grandmother had always taken three lumps of sugar in hers. She’d preferred a Darjeeling, earthy and fragrant, over the milder Assams and startling Keemuns that Father would bring home. Darjeeling, she’d insisted, was an expression of liquid divinity. If you could taste the earth, you could touch the stars. Be one with everything.
Senza blinked, stirring herself from the hazy memory. Grandmother had always told her to live in the moment. Senza seemed only to live in the past.
Wrong moments in which to live.
She rubbed her temple with the bend of her wrist and spooned tea leaves into the pot. Funny that he’d procure a tea service for her in this rustic shanty, a proper set with a silver empress tea strainer and matching sugar and creamer pots. Odd that he’d provide a service for two people, especially since she’d always been completely alone.
Senza arranged the service on a broad silver tray and arranged a spread of biscuits onto a saucer, next to a plate of cucumber and spread cheese sandwiches. A small bowl of candied fruits completed the tea. All had been conveniently located in the small pantry, as if she’d shopped the list on her own.
Stepping back, she surveyed her work. Grandmother would approve. A good host always saw to the tea herself, taking every pain to ensure her guests lost track of the time of day.
Hefting the tray, she carried it into the front room, still startled by its shocking transformation. A small but cozy fire blazed in the simple brick fireplace, near to which an unfamiliar tea table stood. Hand-embroidered flowers trimmed the edge of the linen, matching the elegant bunch of flowers that topped a grey ceramic vase.
Senza enjoyed a small tea in that scene, but I love this post here because it shows a full elaborate spread that Senza would really have enjoyed. Now, THAT’S what I call a happy tea time.
Perhaps the next time you’re experiencing a “sinking feeling” you’ll treat yourself to a cup of Darjeeling and a cinnamon scone and have a happy moment to yourself (or, better yet, with a friend). There’s no reason to let go of the past when it’s full of sweet traditions like tea time. No wonder Senza Fyne never surrendered her fondness for the practice, even as the years took everything else away from her, bit by precious bit.
For more images of tea time and the book The Heartbeat Thief by AJ Krafton, visit her pinterest board.
Signed copy of The Heartbeat Thief
One (1) ebook copy of The Heartbeat Thief.
Prize will be sent out after July 13th.
This book sounds awesome!! A.J. Kraften is an awesome author, and I can't wait to read this book! What do you guys think, are you going to add it to your lists? Let us know in the comments below!
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