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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Pantheacon 2015!

I normally don't travel much, but this year is shaping up to be a bit of an anomaly. I actually have plans to go to a number of conferences and conventions, as well as one family trip (if we can actually pull it off).

First up is a return to one of my favorite conventions ever--PANTHEACON

Pantheacon is one of the largest Pagan conventions I know of, and it happens every year in San Jose, California in the middle of February. Obviously, the people who run it thought, "What is the best time of year to have everyone flying in from across the country?" and went with that date. *snort*

There are always lots of amazing people to meet up with, workshops to go to, and even a book release party given by Llewellyn that includes my upcoming book, Everyday Witchcraft: Making Time for Spirit in a Too-Busy World.

I usually give a couple of workshops myself, and had originally planned to this time as well, but I'd cancelled my plans due to Samhain's increasing illness, and while I was able to get everything else back into sync after her death changed things, the workshop slots had already been filled by others.

But never fear, you can still find me at a number of events at the Llewellyn Hospitality Suite in Room 1057. And I will be out and about during the conference, so if you happen to see me, be sure to say hi.

One of the best things about Pantheacon for me it always the people I get to spend time with:

Me with three of my favorite people on the planet: my step-daughter Jenn, writing partner Lisa DiDio, and Llewellyn editor Elysia
As you can see, Elysia and I don't get along at all :-)
The amazing Margot Adler, me, and Selena Fox

This was the last time I went, in 2011. I'll be seeing all of these folks again this year, which is a big part of why I'm going! The first time I went, in 2008 as a newbie author, I was overwhelmed to meet some of my own favorite authors. I told you--lots of great people go to this!

Esteemed tarot author Mary Greer, Z. Budapest, and Raven Grimassi

The charming Christopher Penczak, Stephanie Taylor, Ellen Dugan, and me

Me with the brilliant Anne Niven Newkirk, publisher and editor of Witches & Pagans Magazine
I think you can see why I'm excited to be going!

Of course, I'm also happy to be making a quick stop in San Diego in the way, so I can spend a couple of days with my too-far-away family...and I confess (since I know y'all won't tell) that the idea of some days away from the upstate NY cold and blustery winter doesn't hurt either.

Naturally, not everyone is happy about my decision to go...
No, I won't let you pack!

But thankfully, I have great cat sitters to fill in while I'm away. The cats won't even miss me.

I look forward to having a great report to share with you upon my return.

Anyone else planning to be there this year? I'd love to see you!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Feeding the Birds as a Spiritual Practice

When I moved into the house I’m living in now (about 13 years ago), one of the first things I did was to set up a couple of birdfeeders. I’d never been able to do this in the previous places I lived, either because I had outdoor cats—and it always seemed kind of cruel for me to put out food for the birds, knowing that some of them were going to get attacked when they came to eat—or because I was living in an apartment with no good place to put a feeder.

As a Pagan, I look at feeding the birds (and the other critters who are attracted to the seeds that spill onto the ground underneath) not just as a fun thing to do, but as a part of my spiritual practice. Allow me to explain.

Witches and Pagans follow a nature-based religion, for the most part. For me, the act of feeding the birds is a way of helping to sustain the creatures that live nearby, as well as adding beauty to my daily life. Instead of just observing the occasional passing flock, I become a part of their life cycle, and they become a part of mine.

Where I live in upstate New York, the winters can be brutal. Last night it was well below zero. There is very little growing that the birds and other animals can eat—a few berries left on bushes, the old apples still hanging from my trees, and whatever else they can scavenge. Obviously, the birds that hang around here in the winter are designed to be able to survive in this environment, but that doesn’t mean it is easy.

So I do my best to help out. It can get expensive (I attract enough birds that I can easily go through a ten dollar bag of birdseed in under a week), so I only do it from the end of fall to the beginning of spring, when they need it the most. And, of course, it isn’t always fun, having to go out into the cold and dig a path through the snow to get to the feeders to refill them. But I am rewarded with the cheery sight of a bright red cardinal when everything else outside in black and white or brown, and when I eat my breakfast, I can look out the window and watch the birds eating theirs too.

I get lots of other incidental visitors as well. I’ve seen deer (although more often just their tracks, since they tend to come in the middle of the night), rabbits, chipmunks, and of course, squirrels. Earlier in the season, I even had a grouse showing up on a regular basis. (A kind of wild game bird that looks kind of like a big chicken.)

I may be feeding the birds and their friends, but they are feeding me in return; feeding my spirit, filling my eyes with beauty and my heart with joy, and reinforcing my connection with the natural world. This seems to me to be an awfully good return on the investment of a few bags of birdseed.  

Not everyone can feed the birds, of course, but you don’t have to do it on a regular basis to make it a part of your own spiritual practice. If you live in an apartment, they make feeders that attach to the outside of a window, or you can hang a small feeder outside if there is space—even on a fire escape. Or go to a local park and feed the birds there, if it is legal wherever you live. If you have a house, try putting up one feeder to start, or even a simple bird treat made from a pine cone rolled in peanut butter or suet, and then rolled in seeds. You can hang this kind of homemade feeder from a small branch or a stick pushed into the ground. Another easy-to-make disposable bird treat is an apple rolled in peanut butter, which can be hung from a string that is pushed through the middle of the apple. If you don’t want to spend money on birdseed, try just tossing stale bread or over-ripe fruit out where the birds can get it.

There are many ways for us to integrate the natural world into our busy lives, but for me, feeding the birds is a simple and satisfying way to keep my promise to the Goddess to treat Her creatures well and make them a part of my everyday life.

Do you feed the birds?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Baba Yaga Celebration Giveaway!

As those of you who are Facebook or Twitter might have seen already, Wickedly Dangerous hit over 100 reviews this week! (Most of them were even good.) I promised that when that happened, I'd do another giveaway. And then it ALSO went back into the top 20 on the Kindle Romance list, so I've decided to do a double giveaway!

That's right--you heard me. I'm giving away TWO prize packs (so you have double the chances to win). Here's everything all together:

Here is the Wickedly Dangerous prize pack:

Notebook, mousepad, signed book, tiny notebook, dragon necklace, postcards, magnets, bookmarks!
And here is the Wickedly Wonderful prize pack:

Mug, signed book, mini notebook, dragon necklace, postcards, magnets, bookmarks!
As always, no purchase is necessary (although if you haven't bought the books yet or want to get a copy for a friend, you get extra entries...)

PLEASE NOTE: The "buy a book" and "leave a review" options are for NEW purchases and NEW reviews only. They must be dated 1/15 or after. If you bought the book previous, you have my undying gratitude, but it doesn't count for the extra points in this contest.
These prize packs are USA only, I'm afraid, but if you are from out of country and still want to enter, I will send you something cool and lighter weight if you win.

Thanks so much for helping to make the Baba Yaga series a success--I love you all!

And so does Magic, who supervised the selection of items.
Wickedly Dangerous on Amazon
Wickedly Wonderful on Amazon
Wickedly Magical (the novella) on Amazon
Wickedly Dangerous on B&N
Wickedly Wonderful on B&N

Good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

UNBOUND with Jim C. HInes

I have a lot of authors whose books I like, many of whom are on the "I've got to get to this sooner or later" list. There is, however, a much shorter list of "authors whose books I must buy as soon as they come out." Even if they are (gasp) hardcover. One of those is Jim C. Hines, who wrote the fabulous Princess series, a bunch of fun books about goblins, and his current series which involves two of my favorite things: books and magic. How can you not love that?

Jim's newest book is out today, January 6th, so I invited him to come seduce chat with you all about it.

I love the covers for these books!
First off, thank you Deborah for loaning me the blog today!

So my book Unbound comes out on January 6, which means I’m doing the authorial freak-out thing where I desperately try not to refresh my Amazon ranking every sixty seconds, and instead run around searching for non-obnoxious ways to publicize my book.

It’s so much more comfortable promoting other people’s books. I’d much rather go on about how much I enjoyed Wickedly Dangerous. (Review here.) I could spend all day praising various authors and the amazing books I’ve read over the past year. Because books are awesome, and there are so many people out there creating incredible stories.

And in a way, that brings me right back to Unbound and the Magic ex Libris series, which is all about the literal magic of books. My protagonist, Isaac Vainio is a librarian and a major book-lover from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He’s also a libriomancer, with the ability to reach into the pages and create anything that physically fits through the book, which meant I got to write a scene where he pulls out a light saber to fight a vampire.

The whole series is a love letter to books, and to the science fiction/fantasy genre. It’s my way of celebrating the stories I’ve loved for as long as I’ve been able to read. Those books showed me possibilities. They made me think there was nothing humanity couldn’t accomplish. They created a sense of wonder, and they gave me hope about the world.

Maybe I’m getting old and grumpy, but I don’t see that sense of hope as much these days. (Also, when I was a kid, we booted up our computers on 5.25” floppy disks, and we were grateful!)

Ahem. Anyway, I have nothing against grimdark and dystopian and generally dark stories. But with this series, I wanted to get back to the joy and the hope. Isaac spends a lot of time fighting and/or running away from things that are bigger, badder, and stronger than he is. But no matter how bad things get, he never loses his love of magic and books. He loves the variety magic brings to the world, even when that variety is trying very hard to kill him. Every new discovery is like a pile of magical presents on Christmas morning.

Isaac isn’t the most powerful libriomancer, and his enthusiasm gets him into trouble from time to time. But he’s also clever and well-read, and that’s a much more important kind of power.

Unbound starts Isaac out in a pretty dark place, following the events of Libriomancer and Codex Born, but no matter how bad things get for him and his companions, I never wanted to lose that core of hope and wonder.

What else should I say about the books? Isaac has a spider named Smudge who eats too much candy and magically sets things on fire. Usually on purpose. He has a dryad companion named Lena Greenwood who rides a motorcycle and kicks assorted ass throughout the series. In book three, he gets to hang out with Johannes Gutenberg and Ponce de Leon. Also, he’s got an enchanted convertible that he stole from the aforementioned Ponce de Leon.

I’ve got sample chapters and such on the website. But whether you like the books or not, the important thing is to take away is that yes, books are amazing and powerful and inspiring, whether you’re reading them in print or on a smartphone or an e-reader, or listening to audio books, or whatever other format works best for you.

Because books are magic.

Here's where you can find the books and Jim:
·  EBOOK: Amazon | B&N | BAMM | Kobo | iBooks

 Jim C. Hines

Monday, January 5, 2015

2014 into 2015: Looking Backward and Moving Forward

I had intended to post a “2014 in review” blog post at the end of the year, but between my step-daughter’s holiday visit (which was wonderful) and the unexpected loss of my cat Samhain (which wasn’t, obviously) I just didn’t get to it. So now I am going to combine my “Well, that was an interesting year” post with my “What’s coming in 2015?” post. We’’ just pretend I’m being efficient, shall we?


So—a brief look back at 2014:
This was the year of Finally Publishing a Novel. In fact, it was the year of Putting Out All the Books, which meant that it was also crazy busy with writing, editing, proofs, and promotion. Maybe a little too busy, in fact, since there wasn’t much time for anything else.

To review, these are the books that came out in 2014:
April (Llewellyn)  The Witch's Broom 
April (ePub re-release by me) Circle, Coven & Grove 
(Which I might have some good news about, but that's another blog post.)
August (Berkley) Wickedly Magical (novella)
September (Berkley) Wickedly Dangerous: Baba Yaga 1

I also wrote half of another novel (a romantic comedy) which is currently out on submission, signed a contract with Llewellyn to write the book for an amazing tarot deck and started working on the descriptions for the illustrator, and wrote a few articles for Llewellyn annuals. You can see why there wasn't time for much else.

I did make lots of gorgeous jewelry for the holiday season at the shop, observed the Pagan holiday cycle with Blue Moon Circle, attended the opera in Cooperstown with writer pal Nancy Holzner, and went to the New York Faerie Festival with Robin and the kids. But most of my focus was on career and not personal life, and I hope to have a slightly better balance this year.

Overall it was a good year, although I dealt with a number of frustrating health and house challenges, and of course, lost my little Samhain at the end. Ups and downs, like every life. But overall more ups than downs, and I am grateful for all of it.

2015: The Year of Peace and Plenty

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. What I do, however, is chose a theme for my aspirations for the year, and make a list of goals that will help me to work towards fulfilling those aspirations. I tend to focus on “self-improvement” in various forms—mental, physical, spiritual… And, of course, there are always the writing goals.

In general I am feeling reasonably good about where I’m at in life. Not that my life is perfect, or that I have everything I want. I still struggle with health issues, and finding balance, and getting my writing career to move successfully forward. But I have a family who loves me, great friends, four wonderful cats, a day job I like, and the most amazing fans/followers/online pals that anyone could ask for. That's a pretty decent place to be starting the year from.

So here are my goals for 2015. Feel free to check back in and ask how I’m doing. You can keep me honest...

  1.  Work towards health and balance in all aspects of my life (this includes doing more exercise, yoga, meditation, and just plain play), try and encourage a peaceful mind
  2. Spend more time with friends and family (see above)
  3.  Be more careful about money (at least until I find out if I have another book contract or not)
  4. Read or get rid of the gazillion books on my To Be Read shelf, instead of buying so many new ones (see above, oy)
  5. Take the time to learn a few new skills (or, you know, how to use the electronic gizmos I already own)
Writing: This is a little trickier, because so many things are up in the air right now. For instance, I still haven't heard about whether or not Berkley will be contracting for Baba 3, and it is still possible that I will get a contract for the RomCom that is out on submission. If both of those things happen, they and the Tarot Project will pretty much take care of my writing time for the year. If neither of them happen, I have to figure out what to write next, and possibly consider self-publishing one or  more books I already have written but haven't been able to sell yet. Or even writing Baba 3 and self-pubbing that, although I'm not sure that there is enough interest to warrant it. Either way, without a contract in place starting the year (other than the Tarot Project, which won't be out until late in 2016), unless I self-pub something, I won't have a new novel out this year at all, and only one book from Llewellyn.

Maybe I should have made this the "Year of Learning to Live with Uncertainty."

But for now, here is what I have for the writing goals:
  1. Promote Everyday Witchcraft coming from Llewellyn on March 8th. (In theory, this is my 8th and last book from Llewellyn, not counting my contribution to their new Sabbats series, but you never know.)
  2. Enjoy finally attaining my goal of being featured on the cover of Witches & Pagans Magazine (out any day now)
  3. Run a couple more giveaways, including one more for the Baba Yaga books, one or two for Everyday Witchcraft, and who knows what else...
  4. Finish the Tarot Project as quickly as possible, so I can
  5. Write another novel before the end of the year
I also hope to get to more conventions this year. I only went to one small one in 2014 (RoberCon in Binghamton, NY) and none in 2014 [in part because of my health issues, and in part because of the difficulty in leaving Samhain for any period of time. Also, see "insanely busy putting books out" above.]

For the moment, these are the ones I am considering, although I doubt I'll make it to them all. Be sure and let me know if you're going to be at any of them!
  1. Pantheacon, San Jose CA -- February 13-16 A great Pagan convention I've attended a few times before. If I go, I'll be giving a workshop on the modern witch's broom and leading a ritual for bringing love into your life. I'll also get to stop in San Diego on the way and visit my parents, sister, niece & nephew, see my step-daughter, my writing partner Lisa, my Llewellyn editor Elysia, and lots of other great authors and fans. I'd originally cancelled this because of Samhain's declining health, but now it is looking more likely that I will go.
  2. Romance Writers of America National Conference, NYC -- July 22-25 This member's-only conference is huge, and a great place to meet up with author friends I never see anywhere else, as well as being able to attend interesting workshops (and maybe give one or two), chat with my agent in person, and finally meet  my Berkley editor. Its a really expensive conference (and means a 5 1/2 hour bus ride in either direction) but it is also probably the most useful for my career. 
  3. RoberCon 2015, Binghamton NY -- September 26-27 This one is only about an hour from me, and a fun SF/Fantasy gathering. Last year I took part on a lot of panels, which was fun.
  4. World Fantasy Convention, Saratoga Springs NY -- November 5-8 This is one I haven't been to before, but this year it is in Saratoga, which is only 2 hours away from me. And I'd probably go with author pal Nancy Holzner, which would be a blast, and get to meet some of my "online only" friends like writer Carol Berg.
To be honest, I'm not really sure what 2015 holds. Hopefully it will be a mixture of work and relaxation, success, health, and happiness. Plus, you know, chocolate.

What are your goals for the year to come? And what do you intend to do to improve yourself or your life? Tell me, please—I’d really like to know!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Grief and Gratitude: Saying Goodbye to Samhain

As many of you know, my cat Samhain has been battling chronic renal failure for over 6 years. She was diagnosed young--at about 5 or 6 (she was a stray I got from the shelter, so they didn't know for sure), two years after I adopted her. At the time she was diagnosed, she'd gone from a tiny 7.5 lbs to an alarming 5.5 lbs. At the time, my vet (who I adore) said she probably would have 3 years. But she underestimated the stubborn nature of my little fighter.

A couple of weeks ago, we did another set of blood tests and the results weren't good. Samhain was back down to 5.9 lbs and had become a little anemic, and developed a heart murmur. Dr. Baker said that we might have 2-3 months, February or March...maybe April, if we were lucky.

We started her on a few new meds for nausea and such and she seemed to be doing better, and I bought her a heated cat bed which she loved, since she was always cold. I canceled my trip to Pantheacon in February, and prepared to fight the good fight as long as I could.

But in this as in all things, Samhain apparently had her own ideas. She had a good day today, seemed just as always, and ate just fine. I fed her upstairs at 4 and went down to take a nap. When I went back up at 5, she was curled up in her heated bed...but she was gone. I think her heart just gave out.

Mine is threatening to do much the same right now.

All cats are special, but Samhain was one of the REALLY special ones. She was loving and sweet, never holding a grudge even when I insisted on sticking her with a giant needle. She would sit on my lap or my legs when I wrote. I'm really going to miss her.

But despite all the struggles, it was worth every moment. Every day  with her was a gift.

Goodbye, Samhain. I love you. Thanks for coming to stay with me for a time. See you on the other side.

A Baba Yaga Holiday Story

Heya! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday (whichever one you celebrate).

I have a little gift for you all: here is a short holiday-themed story featuring Beka, the protagonist in WICKEDLY WONDERFUL. The lovely folks over at Literary Escapism asked me to take part in their yearly "Black Friday" month-long event, in which various authors write a short short in which one of their characters goes Christmas shopping. Of course, Beka celebrates the Winter Solstice, but it worked out anyway. Read on and see how...

A Baba Yaga Goes Shopping

Beka Yancy walked through the rows of artists and craftspeople at the local street fair and tried not to panic. It wasn’t that there weren’t plenty of beautiful things to choose from; it was more that the two people she needed gifts for were simply impossible to buy for.

“I hate the holidays,” she muttered under her breath. “There’s just too much pressure.”

“Oh, please,” her companion snorted. “This from a woman who prevented an underwater volcano from exploding by snapping her fingers.”

Beka sighed. It had taken a lot more than a hand gesture to stop that eruption, but she’d learned from long experience that there was no point in arguing with Chewie, her Chudo-Yudo. Not only was he a dragon, albeit one currently disguised as a gigantic black Newfoundland dog, but he was also as stubborn as he was magical. Luckily, he was also pretty laid back. Which was good, since they were in Santa Carmelita, home of the Seriously Laid Back.

Normally, Beka fit in with her California coast brethren just fine. To all appearances, she was just a typical pretty blonde surfer girl with slight hippy-freak tendencies. There was no way to tell by looking at her that she was also a Baba Yaga, one of a small number of powerful witches who were responsible for watching over the doorways between our world and the Otherworld, keeping the balance of nature, and occasionally (if it couldn’t be avoided), helping out a worthy seeker.

In fact, most days Chewie would still be back at their travelling home, once a hut on chicken legs but now a marginally less conspicuous converted school bus, standing guard over the Water of Life and Death that helped to keep a Baba Yaga magically strong and healthy. But today was different, since they had guests who could be relied upon to keep the Water (and everything else) safe.

The very guests, in fact, that Beka was futilely attempting to find Winter Solstice gifts for, before she had to head back to the bus with the ingredients for a Yuletide feast and celebration. 

And it would be a celebration, there was no mistaking that. It was a rare occasion when Beka and her two Baba Yaga sisters, who between them watched over the territory in the United States, managed to get together. Usually they were all too busy putting out fires, both magical and literal (or in Bella’s case, occasionally starting them). So this was going to be a joyous holiday celebration, shared between the closest of friends. If only she could find the perfect gifts.

But what on earth did you get for two powerful witches, one of whom had been around for eighty years (even if she only looked thirty) and tended to be, it could be said, a tad bit cranky, and the other of whom lived in the middle of the woods most of the time and had an unfortunate tendency to burst into flame when she was upset?

“What about that?” Chewie asked, pointing his large blunt head in the direction of the booth they were passing. Thankfully, to anyone nearby, his words would just sound like barking. There were plenty of other dogs at the street fair, so no one would notice, although it was true that all of them were much smaller, and most of them were on leashes. (You think it is a good idea to put a leash on a Chudo-Yudo, you try it.)

Beka peered into the shadowy depths of the tent and shook her head. “There is no way that I am buying Barbara a belly dancing outfit. She’d strangle me with the jingly belt.”

“Good point,” Chewie said. “What about some of that nice pottery?”

She rolled her eyes at him. “Barbara’s Airstream trailer and Bella’s modern gypsy caravan don’t have any more room than our bus. We have to find something small and easily stowed away. Besides, the last time we bought Barbara pottery, she threw it at some poor passer-by who happened to ask her for directions.”

“Well, Baba Yagas don’t like answering questions,” Chewie said. “It’s traditional.”

“Sure,” Beka agreed. “In Russia. That guy was in Cincinnati. How was he supposed to know she was a mythical Slavic fairy tale witch?”

Chewie gave the coughing growl that was his version of a laugh, and a mother moved her child two aisles over.

“Never mind,” Beka fingered some pretty beads and then moved on. She made jewelry, so if that had been the answer, she would have just given Barbara and Bella a necklace each and been done with it. Sadly, neither of them was the “cool sparkly stuff’ type. “ Just help me find something they’ll like. We have to get back to the bus soon. I told them I had to pick up a few things for dinner because I didn’t know they were coming until the last minute. If we take too long, they’ll get suspicious.”

It was silly, she knew, to want so much for the holiday to be perfect, but they had all been raised by the Baba Yagas who had found them as children and realized that their magical potential would make them suitable as replacements. They were the closest thing to family any of them had, and it was a rare Yule when they could all be together. The solstice was a magical time, even in a part of the country that had glistening beach sand instead of snow. Beka was determined to make it a celebration to remember. She’d already picked up all the fixings for a fabulous dinner, and as usual, Barbara had brought along some amazing wine and Bella had baked a pie. All she needed was to find two perfect gifts.

“What about those nice woven straw hats?” the dragon-dog asked. He was chewing on a large hotdog. Beka decided it would be better not to ask him where he’d gotten it.

“A straw hat?” 

“Bella is a redhead,” Chewie said. “It will keep her from getting freckles on that cute little nose.”

“She spends most of her time in the woods,” Beka said. “She doesn’t need a hat. And straw probably isn’t the best choice for a woman who occasionally has sparks coming out of her fingertips when she isn’t paying attention.”

Chewie didn’t look impressed by that argument, but since he had a bit of an accidental flame issue himself, he wouldn’t. “Fine,” he said. “But you have to pick something. I’m getting hungry.”

“You’re always hungry,” Beka said, admiring more than complaining.

“I’m very large,” he said.
“Yes, yes you are,” she agreed, patting him affectionately on his massive head.

Then she saw something that made her stop in her tracks, causing Chewie to almost knock her over as he bumped into the back of her legs.

“Oh,” she said, putting one hand to her mouth. “I don’t believe it.”

She walked slowly over to a small, slightly ragged booth on the outskirts of the gathering. The tent had seen better days; its canopy listed decidedly to the right, and there were places where it had clearly been mended more than once. It was more beige than white, and its metal poles were bent and crooked, much like the old woman who sat at the table inside, a shawl wrapped around her shoulders even though the day was reasonably warm.

Her wares were set out on a faded flower-embroidered cloth, instead of a fancy display, but neither the surroundings nor the lack of embellishment could take away from the simple beauty of the objects on the table.

“Are those matryoskas?” Beka asked, gazing at the hand-painted face on a wooden doll. The details of the simple cylindrical figure was elaborately drawn and stunningly detailed, from the gleaming amber eyes to the ebony tresses and the lacy black dress that adorned the figure. The one Beka reached for was painted in darker colors, but there was one sitting next to it which bore the image of a red-haired woman wearing a gown of vibrant green. They were elegant and old-fashioned and a little mysterious. In short, they were perfect.

“They are,” the woman said, showing worn teeth in a pleased smile. “You know of Russian nesting dolls?” She had a trace of an accent, musical and exotic despite her drab surroundings. She lifted the top doll to show the smaller ones underneath, each slightly different but still meticulously painted.

“I do,” Beka breathed. “But I never expected to find one here.”

The woman laughed, a merry sound that made her wrinkles dance. “They are far from home, it is true. As am I. But my mother made ones like these, as did her mother before her. I suppose I should try to sell something more modern, but it is hard to change when one gets older.”

“I have a friend who would agree with you,” Beka said with a grin. “But I think these are fabulous, and they are just what I have been looking for. I’d like to buy these two, the dark one and the red.”

The old woman’s eyes widened beneath slightly bushy gray brows. “Both?” she said. “They are a little dear, I’m afraid. Perhaps more than you wish to spend.” She sounded resigned, as though she’d spent a long day telling people the price of her beautiful dolls, only to have them turn and walk away.

“And so they should be,” Beka said indignantly. “I’m sure each one took you days to paint. Maybe weeks.”

Chewie woofed in agreement, making the woman’s eyes widen even further.

“Besides,” Beka said. “There is no price too much to pay for the perfect gift for the truest of friends.” She put her hand into her pocket for her purse and then hesitated, wiggling her fingers instead to magically reach into her stash back at the bus, so that when her hand reemerged, it held a soft velvet pouch. She handed it to the old lady. “I think this should be enough, but why don’t you check.”

The woman opened the pouch and peered inside, then gazed up at Beka in amazement. Apparently no one had ever given her a bag full of ancient gold coins before.

“Are they real?” she asked, one gnarled finger reaching inside to touch them.

“As real as your talent,” Beka said quite firmly. If there was one thing a Baba Yaga knew, it was the importance of giving a fair trade. All the fairy tales said so.

“Then it is too much,” the old woman said. “Far too much.”

“If you could see the look on my friends’ faces when I give them these, you would know that I have gotten the better part of the deal,” Beka said, her heart filled with joy as the woman wrapped her perfect gifts in crinkling gold tissue paper. 

“Wait,” she said, as the woman handed over her purchases. “You put three dolls in here. I only bought two.”

“The other is for you,” the woman said with a knowing smile and just the hint of a wink. “I knew I painted that one with the beautiful yellow hair for someone special. I just didn’t know how special when I made her.”

Beka nodded, the bargain accepted. “A blessed solstice to you,” she said. 

“And to you, Baba Yaga. A blessed solstice to you and yours.”