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.
~ Bewitching BT
If you were to describe your e-book/book in only one word, what would it be?
What would you say inspired you to write it?
I really adore the steampunk aesthetic, so I wanted to write a story about a female protagonist who was not perfect. I wanted her to be a little broken, and not dealing well with the things that shattered her, so we can watch how she puts herself back together.
Have you ever been hit by the infamous “writer’s block”? What did you do to escape it?
I was hit with writer’s block for about 10 years! I had completely lost faith in my ability to write. It was not a good place to be. I had to give up on writing then slowly recovery my confidence in my stories.
Your all time favorite book?
The Mists of Avalon. I love Arthurian stories, but I truly adored seeing the tales told from the perspective of the women in the stories.
What’s the longest time you’ve spent working on a project?
While I “wasn’t writing” during my 10 year hiatus, I would occasionally write a chapter or a few pages of a novel-in-progress. That novel is still in progress, but I believe it will see the light of day very soon!
What does your day-to-day life consist of? What else do you do, aside writing?
I am an English Instructor at a college in Florida for my day job. And I also have two children under the age of 4. When I am not writing, I am trying to manage the hectic pace of my daily life.
How do you deal with bad reviews or acid criticism? What would you advise other authors to that effect?
With my first novel, I didn’t handle it well. It hurt my feelings. A lot. I decided that, in the future, I will not read reviews. My editor will review them to determine if there are important issues we should consider regarding the project. I am very grateful to the people who review my book. Even bad reviews are fine. I believe everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I understand my writing may not sit well with everyone. I just find that I don’t handle negative criticism very well. I have to admit, however, the great reviews do really give you a huge positive boost.
Is this title part of a series? Without giving us spoilers, of course, what can we expect from the next e-books/books in the series?
This is a series. The next book will be out in the early spring of 2014. The second book will be a little more character-centric. I had to establish my world a bit and let the readers get to know everyone in the first book. As well, the first book centers on a huge Dan Brown styled mystery. The second book, however, is more personal to Lily, the protagonist.
What do you have stored for us in the future? What are you working on/planning on next, aside this title/series?
I have a number of projects in this series planned, but I do have 2 stand-alone projects in the works. Once deals with a very famous Shakespeare heroine
If you could wish for any one thing, and it would immediately come true, what would you wish for?
The ability to freeze time. I simply don’t have enough time to do everything I want and need to do!
If you were stranded on an isolated island, what’s the one book you’d absolutely wish to have with you?
A collection of Shakespeare work’s, unabridged!
Coffee or tea?
I live in Florida, so I’ll go with summer
Favorite food for breakfast?
A lox platter from Bagel Box in Viera, Florida. It is the perfect bagel: salmon, capers, homemade cream cheese, red onion, a salted bagel. Perfect!
Latest book you’ve bought and read?
I just read “Waking Up Dead” by Margo Bond Collins. It is a wonderful modern ghost story. Go grab a copy!
Do you collect things, like stamps, or key chains, or shoes?
I used to collect wall-pockets, these cute little antique porcelain vases you hang on the walls. I am pretty sure they are somewhere in the garage now.
Favorite color, you know you want to tell us!
Drama or comedy?
Have a fav quote or personal motto?
The harder I work, the luckier I get.
Cats or dogs?
Dinner by candlelight or a night out clubbing?
With two toddlers in the house, I am happy if I can sit down for even a minute to eat dinner!
” I was going to lose-again. I gripped the brass handles on the wheel 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’d 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 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 and give 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 us leeward. The balloon jiggled violently in the turbulent air. I missed the air pocket
“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 yelled down 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. Colorful tents were
set up everywhere. Vendors hawked their wares to excited Londoners and international visitors.
I could hear the merchants barking from their tents even from this far above. I 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 us 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, began to hum 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 would
have minded 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, a
rope led 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. Moments later, 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 docked. I threw the goggles onto the deck and set my forehead
against the wheel.
The Stargazer settled into her dock. 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 carrying parasols, rushed toward the American end of the platform to congratulate the
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
“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 you were up here looking at the birds. That, my friend, is the smell of success.”
“You pedaled the ship?” Jessup asked 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 you saying your job is more important that mine?” Angus
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
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 asked. She was
a round woman wearing a very thick black lace collar that looked like it was choking her. Her
heavy purple walking dress looked hot under the late afternoon summer sun, and the brim of her
black satin cap barely shaded her nose. I noticed, 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
“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 satin, marigold colored 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 rushed up the
stairs. The London constables, a full squadron of the Bow Street Runners, chased 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 until
he 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
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.
He panted and muttered “Lily?” 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 the side of 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, and his arms and legs bent oddly, contorted into three distinct points. 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 which lay in the shape of a three-sided
triskelion. It was the same symbol that was painted on the balloon of the Stargazer. ”
About the Author & Links:
Melanie Karsak grew up in rural northwestern 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.
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