We’re so pleased to welcome author Hayden Thorne back to The Novel Approach today to celebrate the re-release of her fantasy fairy tale Gold in the Clouds. We have an exclusive excerpt to share as well as a giveaway, so be sure to check out the Rafflecopter widget below for details!
From the Author
Gold in the Clouds is very much a comedic buddy story with a helping of romance on the side, and I wanted to tackle a fairy tale retelling (this time “Jack and the Beanstalk”) from the POV of a side character. In this case, it’s Jack Wicket’s (i.e., Jack who clambers up the beanstalk) best friend, Blythe Midwinter. Both boys are dirt poor, with Blythe finally getting tossed into the day job pool’s deep end by his very enterprising older sister, Molly.
The idea behind this is very much Blythe’s coming-of-age in learning how to be a responsible adult who has to shoulder part of the burden his older siblings have carried for a while. In the course of which he crosses paths with – horror of horrors – an upper-crust boy who becomes his suitor and gives him an unexpected view of people from the other side of the tracks. That is, people are a lot more complicated than what Jack – embittered by his own circumstances – has been telling him, that there will always be good and bad in everything.
Above all else, though, it’s a story of a young man at a crossroads. Orphaned as a child, Blythe has grown sick and tired of being poor, cold, and hungry, and his good-for-nothing (yet devoted) best friend constantly tempts him into reaching for the sky (literally) rather than work hard and appreciate blessings he’s chosen to ignore for too long in favor of that ever-elusive gold. Blythe eventually figures out what he’ll be pursuing in earnest as a working adult, but he has to go through one crazy and funny setback after another before he finds his own path to a different kind of riches.
About the Book
After his fifteenth birthday, Blythe Midwinter finds himself in a bit of a pickle. It’s high time for him to be a productive member of his family, taking up work he detests in order for his older sister, Molly, to follow her dreams of success as a talented baker. Though the three orphaned Midwinter siblings — Molly, Bertie, and Blythe — are lucky enough to work, they still earn only enough to keep themselves clothed and fed. Blythe desperately wishes for more, and it doesn’t help that his best and only friend, Jack Wicket, refuses hard, honest work in favor of good luck as the only means for quick success and instant riches.
Blythe’s dreams of a better life get more desperate when he attracts the attention of another boy, the youngest son of a rebellious old artist, whose family rises well above Blythe’s in wealth and station. Embarrassment and shame muddle Blythe’s perceptions of luck, work, and the promise of love — that is, until Jack Wicket’s foolish decision to exchange his beloved cow for a handful of magic beans forces Blythe to look past castles in the clouds and understand what it is that truly measures a man’s worth.
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From Chapter Sixteen
“Jack? Mrs. Wicket?” Blythe panted as he rounded the cottage’s rear corner.
Then he skidded to a halt with a horrified yelp. Before him, rising up from the small patch of land that made up the Wickets’ backyard, was a gigantic beanstalk. It rose up in a thick collection of green, twisting vines, from which sprouted countless leaves and green beans ready to be plucked and turned into a day’s healthy meal. It didn’t follow a straight line, either, the mass of tangled and twisting vines curving here and there, sometimes mimicking a short spiral, sometimes moving farther off in one direction, only to turn on itself and return to its center point, where it once again curved and turned. If one were to imagine its growth during the night, the beanstalk probably looked as though it danced and slithered up to toward the sky.
“What on earth…” Blythe’s jaw dropped—along with his baskets as his hands lost all strength and let baskets and bread loaves fall at his feet.
He followed the beanstalk’s progression up, and he had to tip his head far back in order to keep it in sight. The fog hid parts of it, but he could see where it terminated. A strange cloud, hanging above the Wicket cottage, a heavy, gray cover that seemed to threaten rain, but Blythe could smell nothing in the air. It hung low, too—much, much lower than ordinary clouds, looking very much within reach for anyone mad enough to want to climb up the beanstalk in order to touch it even though the height was still quite formidable from where Blythe stood.
Another thing about the cloud that struck Blythe as unusual was its movement. It stayed put on the whole, but it moved on itself the way storm clouds curled and did all sorts of things to make him wonder if it were the alive and breathing. Blythe could see movements akin to the ebbing and flowing of ocean waves—as he understood the ocean’s movements, of course, based on stories and descriptions given by folks who’d actually seen the sea. Then he’d see swirls and spirals, curlicues and floral-like patterns. All the while, the great, gray cloud remained fixed in space, with the beanstalk shooting up and disappearing in the sluggishly heaving mass.
“Oh, my God,” Blythe stammered once he found his voice again.
“Blythe? Is that you?”
Blythe started out of his shock and turned to find both Jack and Mrs. Wicket staring at him from an upper window. Jack appeared to be fine—pale and stunned as everyone else, but fine.
“I heard Mrs. Wicket scream,” he said. “I knocked on the door but ran back here when I heard voices—what on earth is that?” He pointed helplessly at the monstrous plant nearby.
“It’s from the fiery depths of Hell is what it is!” Mrs. Wicket said, wringing her hands. “It’s the Devil’s work, and Jack sold his soul for eternal damnation!”
“I sold the cow, Mama,” Jack retorted, though he continued to look just as stunned as before. “And this isn’t hellish—it’s magic.”
“It destroyed my poor backyard! Where am I going to hang our laundry now? Look at what that thing did to yesterday’s wash!”
And sure enough, Blythe saw clothes not only strewn on the ground but also hanging off parts of the giant beanstalk where the clothesline had tangled with the leaves after being snapped from the trees where they were secured.
“So, uh, what’s going to happen now?” Blythe asked, glancing back at Jack. He noticed his friend had regained his composure and the usual flush in his complexion. In fact, Jack appeared to eye the giant beanstalk with sly but cautious interest.
“We’re going to chop that thing down is what we’re going to do,” Mrs. Wicket spluttered.
“I’ll do it, Mama, but not until after I find out what’s up there.” Jack pointed at the clouds.
“Hell and damnation, that’s what! And you’d better not be climbing up that thing!”
Jack snorted. “Hell’s underground, for God’s sake.”
“Well, that sure doesn’t look like Heaven to me!”
Blythe scowled at the cloud. “Do you really think that there’s something up there?”
“Of course I do! What a stupid question!” Jack said.
“I’ve never heard of people walking on clouds, blockhead,” Blythe retorted.
“That’s because no one’s ever tried. All right, well, granted, no one’s been given the means to do it until now.”
“We don’t even know if that’s a real cloud. I mean, it looks really odd.”
“That’s because it comes straight from the devil’s pit!” Mrs. Wicket exclaimed.
“Oh, lord.” Jack vanished from the window, leaving his mother red-faced and distressed, still wailing about the surging armies from the fiery depths and her poor laundry.
At length the rear door burst open, and Jack hurried out. He paused and looked up, his hands on his hips as he mulled over things.
“Do you really think there’s something up there?” Blythe asked.
“There’s only one way to find out.”
He chewed his lower lip as he turned things over in his head. “Jack, it could be a trap.”
“Then again, it might not be.” Jack glanced at Blythe, cocking a brow. “So are you coming?”
Blythe stared at him, not sure if he heard his friend correctly. “What? You want me to go up there?”
Jack turned to him now and moved closer, dropping his voice to an excited whisper. “Come on! Why not? I could’ve just kicked you to the side and claimed this thing for myself, but I’m not, see? You were the one who told me about the magic beans, and we’re best friends, so why shouldn’t I give you a chance to share an adventure with me?”
Blythe narrowed his eyes. “You mean to say you’re terrified of climbing that monstrous plant and want company because you need to feel good about the stupid choice you made.”
“We can share the spoils! If any, that is. I’ve got a good feeling about this. We’ll go up there together, and we’ll see what’s waiting in the clouds together—like a poxy married couple, but who cares?” When Blythe continued to eye him narrowly, he sighed and nodded. “Yes, yes, I’m damned terrified of what all of this means.”
“Then don’t do it! Are you mad? That looks like a ridiculous height we have to climb!”
Jack looked up and grimaced. “I know. I’ve never climbed anything that high before. Trees are nothing compared to this monster beanstalk.”
“It’ll take us at least a day to get up that thing,” Blythe noted, blanching, as he tried to measure the beanstalk’s height and failing when he suddenly got dizzy just staring at something that shot up at such a distance.
“Jack Wicket!” Mrs. Wicket hollered from the window. “I hope you’re not trying to corrupt your friend into doing another fool thing! Master Blythe works—and he works hard, unlike you! Leave him alone and chop that giant green monstrosity down before the devil comes to claim us all!”
Jack barely looked at his mother. He pinned Blythe down with a desperate, hopeful look. “Please, Blythe? We can do this. I’m sure of it. Look, I’ll give you more than half of the spoils. What do you say to that?”
“I say you’re out of your mind. And your mama’s right. I’ve got work to do. What do I tell Molly when I disappear for a day or even half a day, and I come home with baskets filled with bread that I never got to sell because I went off to a grand adventure with you?”
Jack stared at him as though he’d just sprouted an extra eye on his forehead. Or nose, whichever part of his body was the most unnerving with an extra eye. “Show her your treasure, for God’s sake. That should stop her nagging.”
“This conversation’s going nowhere because we’re just going around in circles, with me about to say something rude about the possibility of us not finding anything up there, and you saying something like, ‘But you can’t say that until you actually go there and see for yourself!’ By the time we’re done, I’d have shat all over myself trying to make heads or tails of everything.” Blythe sighed, scratching his head. “Can’t we try to explore another time, Jack? Don’t cut the beanstalk down yet. I need to figure out how to get out of my morning work without making Molly suspicious that I’m up to something.”
Jack made a face, his head and shoulders sagging as he kicked at the ground. “When do you think you’ll be ready to climb with me?”
“I wish I knew.”
“That’s not a good enough answer.”
Oh, the pressure. Blythe wracked his brain and chewed on a fingernail as he looked at the beanstalk, laying out possible scenes in his mind and doing his damnedest trying to predict outcomes. In the end he found that he was so rattled by the reality of magic beans that he didn’t even know where his own arse was.
“I’ll come back later and tell you,” he said. Then another idea came up. “I can go home first after my bread route, ask Molly to let me go for the afternoon, and come back here, so we can go off on our adventure. What do you think?”
“Are you going to tell her what you’re going to do? That’s awfully cheeky of you,” Jack replied, incredulous.
Blythe rolled his eyes. “No, of course not, you idiot. She’ll only lock me away! I’ll tell her after we come back and only if we have actual treasure to show.”
Jack hesitated. “You promise to come back?”
“Of course! I must admit, I’m a bit excited now, the more I think about it.”
“Good! All right, then, I’ll see what I can do to pacify Mama. She doesn’t want me to go up there, either. I need to wait for her to leave for work before trying anything.”
“Jack! Jack! Stay away from that poor boy, you hear me?”
It was Jack’s turn to roll his eyes as he stepped back and saluted Blythe. “Yes, yes, I’m moving away from my one and only friend in the world, Mama!” he hollered back. “As you can see, Blythe’s safe from my dark influence, and he stays just as pure and chaste as he’s always been.”
Blythe pursed his lips. “Actually, I’ve been kissed already, and it was the kind of kiss that leads to pregnant servant girls. I’m guessing that I’m not as virtuous as your mama would like me to be, though I’m quite sure I won’t be walking around with a swollen belly in a few months.”
He must’ve spoken in too low a voice because Jack merely blinked and then made a face at him while saying in a voice that was purposefully loud for his mother, “I’ve absolutely no blasted idea what you’ve just said, Blythe, but I hope you have a very good and very successful day selling bread like the honest, hard-working bread-seller that you are.”
“Yes, dear, go on and take care of your duties. You’re an inspiration and a role model for other boys your age,” Mrs. Wicket called out, leaning over the window ledge and giving Blythe a sweet, encouraging smile. If she could, she’d probably wave a white handkerchief or something to help send Blythe on his way.
About the Author
I’ve lived most of my life in the San Francisco Bay Area though I wasn’t born there (or, indeed, the USA). I’m married with no kids and three cats and am a cycling nut. I started off as a writer of young adult fiction, specializing in contemporary fantasy, historical fantasy, and historical genres. My books ranged from a superhero fantasy series to reworked and original folktales to Victorian ghost fiction. I’ve since expanded to New Adult fiction, which reflects similar themes as my YA books and varies considerably in terms of romantic and sexual content. While I’ve published with a small press in the past, I now self-publish my books.
Connect with Hayden: Twitter