Thursday, January 29, 2009

Thursday's Special Is...Searching for a Starry Night!

Searching for a Starry Night by Christine Verstraete

Samantha Ann Carlton would rather spend her summer vacation anywhere but a spooky old house in Lake Geneva! Somehow Sam knows it's going to take more than a couple days to find a missing painting no bigger than her hand.

Maybe things won't be so bad, she thinks, since she gets to take a friend's lovable, nosy, and often mischievous Dachshund, Petey, and her best friend Lita. If they're lucky, the three of them can find the miniature replica of Van Gogh's "Starry Night" and help Sam's mother get it to the museum, where it belongs.

But it's not going to be easy, Sam realizes, when she discovers that her own family has some spooky secrets. Then Petey digs up an ancient curse, and Sam fears her friendship with Lita is doomed.

Can she find the miniature masterpiece before it's too late? Will she and her best friend go home forever friends or enemies?

Visit Christine's website.

Order from Quake/Echelon Press.

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(Christine Verstraete thinks you're never too old to play with dollhouses, so when she's not writing, she's probably working on a new miniature project.

Pets, especially dogs, also manage to find their way into many of Christine's projects and stories, with her real life dog serving as inspiration for her book's mischievous Dachshund, Petey.

Christine's real house is home, as well, to assorted fish and birds, plus wild turtles, and frogs that crawl across her lawn each summer.

Christine has had short fiction and nonfiction published in various magazines and online. Her short horror story, "The Witch Tree," was a contest winner published by Echelon Press. She also is author of the ebook, "In Miniature Style," with miniatures photos, stories about collectors and how-to projects.)


(Finally, Sam and Lita make their way over to the housekeeper Mrs. Drake's house. They might not be able to get inside to see the woman's dollhouse collection, but they can at least peek in the windows, right?)

Sam studied the house. Neatly trimmed hedges, a variety of flowerpots. Most importantly, the driveway was empty. Mrs. Drake's car wasn't here. Sam crept closer to the house to listen. The house looked deserted. The windows were open, but no sounds drifted out.

Fishing equipment in hand, Lita jogged across the road to stash everything out of view behind the scraggly bushes, while Sam went to peek in the backyard and checked the sides of the house. A quick glance eased her mind. Okay, it looked like the coast was clear. Sam headed back to the front and nodded to her friend. "Okay, I'll take the left, you take the right, watch the bushes."

Lita's long, lanky legs made it easier for her to sidestep the giant yew bushes positioned in front of the right side windows. She squeezed close enough to the house to peer inside. Sam inched forward to peek into the living room through the left side window.

"Oh, awesome!" Lita cried. "Sam, you see the house? Look at all that other stuff!"

"Yeah. Wow, Mrs. Taylor wasn't kidding," Sam said. "There's stuff all over."

The tall pink Victorian dollhouse that they'd seen Mrs. Drake carry out of Aunt Hilda's house now sat on a table in the corner. A chair by the fireplace overflowed with a variety of dolls and bears in all different sizes. A smaller dollhouse sat on one end table. Two even tinier houses sat on the coffee table. Even the fireplace mantle was lined with a collection of dolls and more houses.

Sam's wish that she could see what was in the adjacent room was cut short by the sound of a car driving up the road. "Lita, quick! Someone's coming. Hurry, hide somewhere!"

It was a scene from an old Charlie Chaplin film as Lita hurried out from behind the bushes, fighting to pull her shirt caught on a branch, before frantically searching for somewhere to go. Sam's heart thudded in her chest as she hopped around, unsure of where to turn.

Lita decided for them. "Sam, quick, get behind that bush. I'll be around the corner."

In the nick of time, Sam jumped over the pots of mums and ducked behind one of the tall bushes in the back, thankful that it was far enough away from the building. The space was small, but it at least gave her enough room to squeeze in without getting stabbed by the bush's spiky limbs or coming out with dozens of tiny scratches on her arms. Hearing the car stop, the engine shut off and a car door slam, Sam tried to peek around the edge of the bush to confirm that it was Mrs. Drake without giving herself away.

The click-clack of a woman's heels on the concrete steps caused Sam to shrink as far back into the corner as she could, like a frightened turtle returning to its shell. She stood in the cramped space, mouth dry, hardly daring to breathe. The squeak of the screen door being opened and the rustle of paper drifted her way. Her heart thudded so loud she thought everyone could hear it. C'mon, hurry up, she urged silently. What was taking her so long to go inside?

A minute later, the sound of a voice, clearly Mrs. Drake's, almost made her run. Sam looked around in a panic, not sure what to do.

"You can come out," the housekeeper said.

Sam froze. Funny, she wouldn't have guessed that Mrs. Drake had any pets. She hadn't heard any barking nor seen a dog through the windows. The muscles in her legs tightened as she braced herself. Her heart pounded. Any minute she expected the mysterious dog to run out and head straight for her.

Mrs. Drake spoke louder. "Did you hear me, Sam?"

A puzzled look crossed Sam's face. Cat, dog, whatever it was had her name, too? Weird. No wonder Mrs. Drake made fun of her when they met!

Sam's eyes widened when her gaze met a pair of brown eyes looking straight at her. "I meant you, girl. Next time you want to hide, don't stand behind a bush you can see through. You can tell that friend of yours to come here and bring those grocery bags in for me, too."

Still surprised at being discovered, Sam nodded at Lita who slunk from around the corner with a sheepish look on her face. The two of them followed Mrs. Drake up the steps and grabbed a paper sack. Sam turned to take one more look at the bush before she went in. Mrs. Drake was right. You could see right through the bare limbs. She hadn't noticed that before! Whatever made her and Lita think it was a good idea to hide there?

With a smile, Sam carried the bag of groceries into the neatly kept house, glad to have been discovered. Actually, it was a perfect idea. It had worked to get them inside, hadn't it?


Please answer the following question for a chance to win a free copy of SEARCHING FOR A STARRY NIGHT, or just pop in to chat with Christine!!

What did Sam and Lita see the last time they looked in the housekeeper's window?


jason evans said...

Welcome Christine!

I was searching for a starry night last night. But too much freezing rain got in the way.

Great to have you over!

Chris V. said...

Hi Jason, glad to be here. Hey where is everyone? ha!

Mary Cunningham said...

Hey, Chris. Great excerpt!

Chris V. said...

Thanks Mary, hey gotta answser the question. ha!

jason evans said...

Chris, I think we're all just waking up. :) Good morning Mary!

Regan Black said...

Love the excerpt! And they greys say, Go Petey!


Chris V. said...

The greys? dumb question, parrots? ha!

jason evans said...

Hey Chris, is that Petey next to you in your author picture? He seems well behaved.

©DGreer said...

I've read the book, but can't remember! Fun stop and a really fine blog, too. I'll visit again.


Courtney Mroch said...

how cool chris! good excerpt to post. i hope it inspires more people to buy this excellently written and very entertaining book. it's not just something kids would enjoy!

Chris V said...

ha ha Jason, that is McGruff the crime dog. He scared Petey.ha!

Dani, thanks for stopping.

Courts, good to see you!
What no one is answering the question - based on the excerpt. Hint Hint

Katie Hines said...

Enjoyed the excerpt. Hope you have lots of sales!

Here's the answer to your question: the fireplace mantle lined with a collection of dolls and more houses.

Chris Eldin said...

This sounds like a fun mystery!!! And I really love art. Can't wait to find out more about this book!!!

The dollhouses made me smile. There is so much material in a dollhouse--a writer can get really creative!

Helen K said...

A great excerpt - and the answer is the mantle with the dolls and dollhouses - and of course a mirror.

Chris V said...

Someone was paying attention. ha! Good answer, Katie.

Chris - thanks, it's write or play.ha! Always fun and inspiration.

jason evans said...

Chris V., I'm often curious about what authors are striving to achieve. What atmosphere, what vibe, what message, what impact they're trying to create. Care to share your thoughts?

Chris V said...

Hi Jason, good question. Maybe other authors have other ideas or goals, for me, I wanted to create a story that would introduce kids (and adults) to a new interest (miniatures and miniature art) and maybe they'd learn something too, without knowing it.

I wanted them to have fun. It's not a "heavy" story, enough of that out there. There are a few other small messages interwoven (that being smart and reading, being different are ok) but maybe the main message is, it's okay to relax and have fun. We can all use that, huh?

Any other authors want to share their messages or thoughts on this?

Donna53w said...

Hi Chris, The last thing they saw through the window was a collection of dolls & dollhouses on the fireplace mantle!!

I just love your writing!!

jason evans said...

Thanks for the answer, Chris! I can see gentle teaching as a key component of what you want to do. That's very cool. :)

As for Sam and Lita looking in the window, I must have a devious mind! I'm imagining all sorts uncomfortable situations Mrs. Drake might find herself in with a couple of peeping toms in the neighborhood.

chris v. said...

thanks Donna! Good comment too.

Jason, now Mrs. Drake is kinda evil (well more cranky I guess) but I don't think she's got the oven going like Hansel and Gretel or something. ha! (Hmm maybe she'd be good in another role.) As Sam learns, best not to get in her way though, just to be on the safe side!

darbyscloset said...

Looks like a fun fast read, just the type I could devour right now!
To answer your question: the fireplace mantle was lined with a collection of dolls and more houses.
Thanks so much,
darbyscloset at yahoo dot com

PS. I like Petey...rock on!

Mary Cunningham said...

Sorry, Chris. I had to leave and didn't have time to add the answer, but I see someone already beat me to it.

Also, you're right. It's an art to get a positive message or lesson across without being "preachy." The best messages are given through humor, adventure and a great storyline!

Anonymous said...

Darby I like Petey too. ha!

Thanks Mary good point. Her books btw have some neat history stuff that teaches in a fun way.

Chris V said...

Sorry clicked wrong button. Anonymous is me.ha!

Chelle Cordero said...

Hi, interesting excerpt.

While I am tempted to say the Victorian and other dollhouses, the fact that the "last" is emphasized makes me think there is some hidden question.

So I am going to take a wild guess and say the last time they looked in the window the saw the miniature replica of Van Gogh's "Starry Night"

Sy said...

The last time, they saw the fireplace mantle lined with a collection of dolls and more houses. Shirley

chris v said...

Thanks Chelle and Shirley for stopping by!

Hey all btw, I just heard that the book will be coming out on Kindle in a few days. So if you have a reader (lucky you!) check it out!

Sy said...

Sam (and Lita) is inspired by someone you know? Shirley

chris v said...

Hi Shirley, Sam and Lita might've drawn a little from kids I've met, but not anyone in particular. I could picture them in my head. I wanted them to be opposites but close, too. Though they have their battles! After all, who gets along all the time, right?

Sy said...

Did you have them all resolved when you started to write? or did you have to go back and change some characteristics? Like hair and expressions and prejudices... Shirley

chris v said...

Hi Shirley, I had them pictured in my head, but I'd go back later and add other things I thought of. Sometimes you think of something that fits in while you're writing even though I had an outline.

Are you writing too? What kind of book or story are you doing?

Jennifer said...

Hi there! Loved the excerpt!
Answer - dolls on a mantle!

I saw a HUGE dollhouse in Windsor -it belonged to the Princess Ann, I think, and was as big as my living room.

chris v said...

Hi Jennifer, I think you might be referring to Queen Mary's dollhouse? I'd love to see it in person someday. Just magnificent. What I do pales in comparison but it's still fun.

A favorite here is the Colleen Moore fairy castle at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Real books, jeweled chairs, but they keep it too dark so it's hard to see things. Thanks for stopping by!

Sy said...

no, I´m not writing - I love to read, mostly cozies. And I´m curious as to what makes you write mysteries... Shirley

McKoala said...

Hi Chris V! Cute excerpt. I do like naughty dogs. Just not in my house.

And hi to Darby - I've seen you faithfully posting after the deadline almost every time! Glad to see you with a chance in one of these!

chris v said...

Hi McKoala, hey we've got people from all over, an Aussie too. how neat!

Shirley, I grew up on Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. ha! I think I read every Sherlock story too. So I guess it's no surprise what I like to read, and write. :>)

Shona Snowden said...

My children started piano this week and their teacher makes doll houses. She has a great one that they can play with, it's packed with dolls and furniture, but the others are artworks-in-progress.

Sarah Hina said...

I just wanted to say that I love the idea of a miniaturized Starry Night that you could hold in your hand. :) Very cool book idea--the story sounds like a lot of fun!

Morgan Mandel said...

Cute excerpt. Sounds like a fun book.

Morgan Mandel

chris v. said...

Hi Sarah, thanx for coming by. (You can see the starry night at my blog - click the 08 review in archives list for the link.

Shona, thanks for stopping by. What grades are your kids? Maybe the teacher would be interested in the book for her class? (Wouldn't that be cool to somehow talk online to the class? That'd be fun!) You can email me at the blog or my website if you want to talk more,

chris v said...

Hey Morgan, you snuck in while I was composing. ha! Good to see you!

laughingwolf said...

welcome chris v :D

i've not been home long, busy with chores before the next winter storm hammers us....

the last time the girls peeked in the window, they saw a body by the chair holding the dollhouse, but it did not look human in the least :O lol

jason evans said...

Chris, thanks for a wonderful day! It's been a distinct pleasure to host such a fun author. :)

The contest is now closed. So that means it's time for the fun part! Chris, go ahead a pick your lucky winner of SEARCHING FOR A STARRY NIGHT!!

Sarah Laurenson said...

This sounds like a lot of fun. And the dog is seriously cute.

chris v said...

ok.... ta dah! Sorry I ended up pooping out early last night.

the winnner -number chosen by hubby is....

darbyscloset! I'll try to contact your blog or if you see this, email me your address at or at blog

thanks all for coming by!

laughingwolf said...

grats, dc! :D

sexy said...