The Heartbeat Thief by A.J. Krafton
Publication date: June 12th 2015
Genres: Fantasy, New Adult
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?
(the first two days of release will be selling at 99cents)
Speaking “English” English: Cockney Rhyming Slang
Speaking “English” English: Cockney Rhyming Slang
The Heartbeat Thief is a historical fantasy that follows the journey of a girl who learned a secret that was quite dangerous for an English girl in 1860s Surrey: the secret of immortality.
As a writer, I faced a challenge. Not only was I writing a historical, but one that would span many different time periods, in various countries. What had I been thinking? : ) This wouldn’t just be a case of making up a story—this was going to involve serious research.
I don’t mind research. (In fact, writers tend to do it without even realizing it—everything we see or hear or read or experience is potential research for a book.) However, I’m easily distracted when doing Internet research. One page leads to another and another and the next thing I know I’m three hours away from my original query (but a happy, happy reader, nonetheless.)
One particular scene in The Heartbeat Thief involved Senza’s stay in Whitechapel in late 1888. You hear the neighborhood, you hear the year…you must know the story.
It wasn’t enough to research names, dates, maps of East London during the time. When I write, I hear the characters conversing in my head. Trouble is, I didn’t spend much time in Whitechapel in the late 19th century, so I needed to research the sounds of Whitechapel.
Every region has its own dialects and slang. In East London, there was a particular slang that grew amongst criminals and dodgy folk. They used the slang as code—that way, they could speak without their information being overheard by the wrong ears. Some of it was to hide vulgarity and some of it was just fun to say.
Whitechapel and Spitalfields were considered Cockney neighborhoods, so the characters we meet in The Heartbeat Thief would have been fluent in Cockney rhyming slang. A country-born manor-bred woman such as Senza Fyne was sure to be completely bewildered the first time she encountered one of the residents and attempted conversation.
Cockney rhyming slang
When I came across this dialect, I realized that there was an entire separate world of English to be discovered…and, once I delved into the phenomenon of Cockney rhyming slang, I was completely hooked. It would days before I got back to actually working on my manuscript and by then, I was using the slang so much my family thought I’d suffered a minor stroke.
My research also put to rest lingering questions I had from the first time I watched Austin Powers: Goldmember. (Yes, I know I just dated myself by referring to a movie from 2002.) Remember this scene with Myers and Caine?
Austin: Listen, dad, if you are going to say naughty things in front of these American girls then at least speak English English.
[Nigel looks back at girls]
Nigel: All right, my son: I could’ve had it away with this cracking Julie, my old China. (Subtitle: I was about to make love to this pretty girl.)
Austin: Are you telling pork-pies and a bag of trout? Because if you are feeling quigly, why not just have a J. Arthur? (Is this true? If you were aroused, why didn’t you pleasure yourself?)
Nigel: What, billy no mates? (What, alone?)
Austin: Too right, youth. (Indeed.)
Nigel: Don’t you remember the crimbo din-din we had with the grotty Scots bint? (Remember Christmas dinner with the Scottish girl?)
Austin: Oh, the one that was all sixes and sevens! (The insane one?)
Nigel: Yeah, yeah, she was the trouble and strife of the Morris dancer what lived up the apples and pears! (She was the wife of the dancer who lived upstairs.)
Austin: She was the barrister what become a bobby in a lorry and… (A lawyer who became a policeman in a truck) [inaudiably] (????????)…
Austin & Nigel: –tea kettle!
Nigel: And then, and then–
Austin & Nigel: She shat on a turtle!
Of course, when I first saw the movie the only thing that made sense was the last line…and that didn’t really make any sense at all. (But at least I knew what a turtle was.)
After a bit of researching, I was able to translate Austin Powers all by myself (I thank you) and even tried a hand at the lingo myself.
In The Heartbeat Thief, Senza was the most innocent ribbon and curl when she went to Whitechapel. Her very best china was a brass nail but then some bushel of coke took a shovel and spade to the birds they knew and the next thing you know, it’s off to the overcoat maker. Again. Poor fing can’t catch a break.
So, anyway that’s Cockney rhyming slang. And it’s a whole different kind of English than the kind we speak here in eastern Pennsylvania. (Although…we do have a unique slang of our own in these parts. How’s this for a linguistic cage match: Cockney verses Coal Region Speak http://www.coalregion.com/speak/speaka.php)
As much fun as it was to learn more about Cockney rhyming slang, you won’t find large portions of The Heartbeat Thief written with it. Unless you’re well versed in the dialect, you’d need a reference or two to translate it all—and in the process, you’d get as distracted from reading the story as I did when I was writing it!
But when you’re reading a passage from Senza’s stay in Whitechapel, I hope you’ll hear the characters conversing in your head while you read. If you do, then all my hours of watching mini-series and movies and reading novels research totally paid off.
Time for Tea: Victorian Tradition and its Place in THE HEARTBEAT THIEF
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 http://media-cache-ec0.pinimg.com/736x/f9/4a/f8/f94af81ddcca5b29c0fc64c386e2d8bd.jpg
(By comparison, my tea service looks like this: http://www.adagio.com/teaware/triniTEA.html Not quite as shiny J 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 http://www.thethriftygroove.com/2010/05/victorian-tea-party.html 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 https://www.pinterest.com/demimondeash/the-heartbeat-thief-by-aj-krafton/
Structure: It’s How the Victorian Era Survived
Structure: It’s How the Victorian Era Survived
Things were really different way back in the when.
The language, the dress, the entertainment—life for the average Victorian was drastically different than life as we know it in 2015.
Take the ball gown, for instance—call to mind the hourglass waist and the puffy poof of the voluminous skirts. What you see is elegance of the enhanced feminine form.
But there’s something you don’t see.
What you don’t see is the structure beneath the dress—the corsets and hoops and cages that cinch the waist, elevate the bosom, and expand the skirts. One may look at a begowned debutante and remark upon her beauty, but what ensures she looks remarkable is actually the unseen structure beneath.
Like a young woman’s clothing, other aspects of Victorian life were also structured—in fact, structure was the prime element.
The Victorian family unit was highly structured: the father was the figurehead, the mother ran the household, and children “knew their place”, usually out of sight of the parents, off in the nursery in the care of their nannies.
Social obligations and interactions followed strict protocol, from the permissible types of personal touch to the familiarity of the words spoken right down to the directness of a glance. Crime was abhorrent because it went against every social norm imaginable.
The structure of the moral code was the most rigid of all. Modesty was demanded. Sexuality was repressed. People referred to arms and legs as limbs and extremities—because saying the word arm or leg referred to the flesh and was therefore considered provocative.
Every word, every action was governed by a sense of propriety. Delicate topics were never openly discussed, and even expression of one’s sincerest feelings required the use of metaphors so that direct language could be avoided. Hence, the development of the language of flowers to express emotions.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert set forth this heightened sense of morality; they were sensitive to the often-lacking moral values of previous monarchs, and Albert himself had been a child of divorced (and scandalous) parents. The royal family provided the example that would come to structure and define their era, and the country followed dutifully behind.
High morality and low vulgarity was sharply delineated by the gap between the upper and lower classes. Upper society followed tea party protocols and covered nearly every inch of visible skin and wouldn’t dream of speaking one’s mind, whereas crime, prostitution, and child labor ran rampant in the poorer districts.
From where I stand in the present, I wonder if there wasn’t a lot more middle ground than those two extreme classes dictated. After all, even the stern, conservative Queen Victoria had a certain fondness for the nude male form, and enjoyed sketching and viewing it in art form. (Saucy lady J )
Likewise, respectability mattered to just about everyone, whether they were high born or working class. A reputation was a precarious position, something that could be ruined by as much as an unintended action or a penchant for speaking out, or for saying unconventional things. Women, mainly, were the victims of such branding.
Treasuring the Ruins—The Structures of the Past
And yet, while we pride ourselves today on being much freer with our speech and expressions and behavior, I think we also keep some Victorian sentiments alive, perhaps without knowing. We’ve kept the essential structure of the past and built our present around it.
We appreciate beauty in all its forms—in nature, in style, in entertainment. We enjoy conversation in all its new and glorious forms. We still define our place within the structured societies we’ve created. As much as we hate to admit, we do place a lot of stock on respectability because people’s reputations tend to stick with us and alter our perceptions of them.
And many of us still go a step further and clothe ourselves in the gorgeous trappings of silk and corset and lace, enjoying the fantasies of steampunk and neo-Victorian, because there are elegant, antique corners of our hearts that can never be swept clean.
Many of us look at the remains of ancient architecture and marvel at its beauty and ability to stand through era after era. We look to the past for clues on how to build our future.
Structure Survives Because of its Strength
In The Heartbeat Thief, 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 writing Senza’s story I had to often put myself in her place so I could experience what she went through, what she discovered, how she went on, day after day.
And every time I did so, I realized that it was the structure of the life she had once known that kept her strong and helped her to cope and survive in an ever-changing world.
In 1860, Senza may have stepped out of this picture: http://stitchesthroughtime.blogspot.com/2010/06/1860s-gown-color-plates.html
But in 2015, who would Senza be? Would she look like this? https://www.pinterest.com/pin/183521753540073503/
I love the tattered impression—it would capture a world-weary Senza making her way through a world which has decayed around her.
Or would she be closer to this?
Senza is eternally young and beautiful…on the outside. Inside…is this what her soul would feel like after so long a life?
Each of these photos evoke very strong feelings for me. And there are so many more…All those countless gorgeous photos on the Internet…I had to tear myself away to finish this article : )
So it seems that, for Senza and for us, the Victorian era is long from over, thanks to a solid structure that has survived the test of time.
My advice? Get with the times. Embrace your inner Victorian.
For more images of Victorian beauty and The Heartbeat Thief, check out https://www.pinterest.com/demimondeash/the-heartbeat-thief-by-aj-krafton/
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. Visit Ash at http://ashkrafton.com
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 [http://www.nps.gov/edal/index.htm]). 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 [http://www.eapoe.org/balt/poegrave.htm] 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.