Discover more from Kate J. Armstrong
A welcome letter, NIGHTBIRDS things, and an extra special sneak peek ✨
Welcome! I’m so glad to have you.
Thanks for signing up for my newsletter. I’m so glad to have you, and to be crafting this space where I can share more of myself and my publishing journey. It’ll also be a place where you can ask me questions and we can share thoughts about books and life, which I’m really looking forward to.
Some of you have known me forever (hi, Mom), but some of you will be new to me. So let’s start with a few things to know about me…
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I grew up in Washington D.C., then in Fairfax, Virginia, but now I live in Melbourne, Australia. How did this happen? Well, after graduating from college, two old high school teachers of mine took me out for a beer. When I told them I didn’t know what came next, they convinced me to go traveling. I spent the summer scraping together some funds, stuffed some things into a backpack, and bought a one-way ticket to Europe, a trip that inspired a love of travel that’s never left me. In a hostel in Switzerland I overheard an Australian guy talking thoughtfully about physics with a Canadian in a furry onesie. I promptly fell in love with the Australian one. Eventually I followed him home.
I’ve had many jobs: shampoo girl, curb painter, camp councelor, waitress, field hockey coach, nonfiction book editor, high school teacher. After over ten years of writing and querying and seeking publication, I’m excited to have added ‘author’ to the list.
I have a podcast called The Exploress, which time travels back through history to find out what life was like for women of the past. If you like feminism and sarcasm and immersive stories about life in bygone eras, this one’s for you.
I can juggle! No, I cannot juggle four things at once (why do people always ask me this?), but I CAN juggle rings and clubs. Fruit is my particular specialty. Give me some clementines or a couple of lemons and I will do my best to dazzle you.
I’m passionate about hiking, the environment, women’s rights, and animal welfare. Just ask Galahad, my ex-racer greyhound, who is currently lying beside me. He is an excellent muse, and I love him so much I wrote him into NIGHTBIRDS (true story).
I love making things with my hands. Baking, knitting, weaving, drawing (badly): I’m into it. I took up sewing in 2020 and now I’m obsessed with it. I’ve made tops, coats, jeans: even a sequin-covered evening robe. Next stop, a 1920s-style flapper dress. Wish me luck.
I love cocktails, particularly boozy, herbaceous ones meant to be enjoyed while wearing tweed. Manhattans? YES. A Hanky Panky? Most certainly. If your grandpa likes it, then I probably do too.
Want video proof of the above? Behold this trailer I made to introduce myself to my publishing team. You’ll even get to me see me juggle some lemons...kind of.
The story that would become my debut novel first bloomed in my imagination while hiking in Montana in the summer of 2015. All I had was an image: a girl in a mask, kissing a boy who had paid for the privilege. But I could sense that she was also taking something from him. I wanted to know more, so I started jotting down notes for what I thought might be historical fiction. But it wasn’t long before magic worked its way in.
I worked on it on and off through the years, slowly figuring out the world and my magical girls and their stories. In early 2021, it was finally ready for submission to editors. It wasn’t the first novel I’d written - it was the fifth, but who’s counting - and I was quietly questioning if publication was in the cards for me. Still, I had a good feeling about this one. Now it’s just six months away from being a book in your hands.
I can’t wait to share more of what you’ll find inside NIGHTBIRDS. Every issue of this newsletter will give you early access to some piece of it: annotated chapters, portraits of my characters, beautiful maps of my world. I hope these sneak peeks whet your appetite for this story that I love so deeply.
But this is far from the only place to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of NIGHTBIRDS. PUB DATES, a podcast I’ve started with my dear friend Amie, is taking readers along for the ride as our books journey toward their 2023 publication dates. We’re having SUCH a good time talking about how books get made - our books, specifically. It’s a great show for writers, as we talk about all sorts of publishing-related business, including interviews with our editors, agents, and people on our teams. But we created it specifically for readers, giving you an early peek into our worlds and characters, and everything that’s gone into their making.
If you haven’t listened, here’s our very first episode, which is a great place to dive in.
I know many of you are already listening, and I promise you’ll always get a little something extra in this newsletter. Make sure you scroll down to the end to find it.
A book I’ve read lately and loved: A LADY’S GUIDE TO FORTUNE HUNTING by Sophie Irwin
Witty, fun, and sexy, this is a great one for fans of Jane Austen-esque novels with a little bit of added spice.
An audiobook I recently devoured: BOMBSHELL by Sarah MacLean
I only truly discovered capital R Romance novels a couple of years ago, and it has been a revelation. I love historical romance, especially. They’re like every period story I’ve ever loved, but with all the sexy bits I always wished they included. Despite the shade so many throw at the genre, it’s full of tight plotting and wonderfully crafted storytelling. I’ve learned a lot as a writer by reading the good ones. And so I knew that when Sarah MacLean released BOMBSHELL, the first book in a series about a secret club of ladies intent on taking down the aristocracy’s worst men, I was going to love it. And color me absolutely DELIGHTED to discover it narrated by Mary Jane Wells, THE world’s best romance narrator. A match made in audiobook heaven, to be sure.
A podcast that keeps me company while I do dishes: QUEENS PODCAST
Katy and Nathan never fail to make me laugh as they dive into the stories of history’s oft-maligned queens. Bawdy, foulmouthed, and very funny, I love them.
Music I’ve got on repeat: DANCE FEVER by Florence + the Machine
Ethereal and fierce, dramatic and lush, I can’t stop listening to this album. I’m not saying the song “Dream Girl” is the anthem of NIGHTBIRDS’ sequel or anything…but I’m also not NOT saying that.
A lot of people have FEELINGS about prologues: they either love them or hate them. Me, I’ve always been a fan, when they’re done right. NIGHTBIRDS’ prologue is the very first thing I wrote, and it’s changed very little since my first draft. Even now, when I read it, the words give me a tiny thrill. I wanted readers to first meet the Nightbirds from the perspective of a client: to see the way the outside world perceives and values them. That way, when we get behind the masks and into the girls’ heads, we can see how true—or false—that is.
Without further ado, I give you NIGHTBIRDS’ prologue…
THE MAGIC IN A KISS
All his life, young lord Teneriffe Maylon has heard whispers. They circled the edges of ballrooms and slithered through hushed conversations over port. The Nightbirds will change your fortunes, the whispers promised. Their magic can be yours with just a kiss.
If you can ﬁnd them, that is, and meet their requirements. They are a privilege he’s about to pay quite dearly for.
At last, Tenny is allowed to remove his blindfold. For a moment, all he can make out is the bright burn of candles painting circles on the deeply purple walls. Then a woman perched behind a desk comes into focus, wearing a gown of ﬁne velvet and a darkly feathered mask. It shrouds her face, mesh stretched over the eyeholes. He knows her only by her code name: Madam Crow.
She holds out a gloved hand, letting it hover. “Your payment.”
Tenny’s ﬁngers shake a little as he extends the string of rubies. That shake is what gets him into trouble at the krellen tables—it’s such an obvious tell. Tenny is used to seeing money leave him, but it usually ﬂows in the form of coins, not treasures pilfered from his dame’s jewel box. The shame of it tastes like the last dregs of bitter wine. He is tired, nerves tattered from avoiding his rather nefarious creditor and his sire’s certain wrath if he ﬁnds out about his son’s growing debts. Tenny’s had a poor run of luck, is all, but tonight, that all changes.
Madam Crow winds the rubies around her ﬁngers. The dark gems seem to swallow the light.
“And your secret?” she demands.
Sweat slides down Tenny’s collar. “The jewels are payment enough, don’t you think?”
She arches a brow. “Secrets protect my girls better than gems, however pretty. I will have your secret, or you’ll have nothing at all.”
Tenny sighs and hands her the note he wrote that afternoon, explaining it was he who took his dame’s rubies. He threw in the extent of his debts and the dalliance with his family’s maid for good measure. It’s a risk, to put these secrets into Madam Crow’s keeping, but he knew money wouldn’t be enough to get him through this door.
The Madam reads his secrets, then folds them up again. She holds a stick of purplish wax over a candle ﬂame until it drips. His pulse picks up as she pours it onto the paper’s folds and slides it toward him. He presses his House Maylon ring into the wax, marking its contents as authentic. Ensuring he will never tell a soul of what he sees tonight.
That business done, the Madam smiles. “Which Nightbird are you seeking?”
Tenny licks his lips. A few of his friends have boasted vaguely about their time with a Nightbird, but the magic they spoke of seemed too fanciful to credit. Wild tales to trap desperate fools like him.
The Madam lays down three cards on the desk between them. They look like krellen cards, but instead of mythical beasts and kings, they hold ﬁnely drawn birds.
“No Nightbird’s magic is the same,” she explains. “They are each a different vintage. The Goldﬁnch will help you change your feathers, making you look like someone else. The Ptarmigan gives the gift of camouﬂage—near invisibility. The Nightingale will let you manipulate someone’s emotions, smoothing them in whatever direction you desire.”
Tenny’s mouth has gone dry. All magic is illegal in the Eudean Republic, but this kind is also incredibly rare. He’s tasted plenty of alchemical magic—the kind that’s mixed into cocktails in Simta’s speakeasies and ground into powders in alchemists’ back rooms. Such concoctions will let you speak another language for a handful of minutes or make your skin glow in the dark. But a Nightbird’s gift is purer, and so much more precious. It is what those alchemists and barkeeps try so hard to imitate.
“The gift only tends to linger for a few uses,” the Madam says. “So choose wisely.”
Tenny is tempted by the Nightingale, who might help him sway the outcome at the krellen tables, but he doesn’t want to cheat his way out of his trouble. He wants to win his fortune back by himself.
He points to the Goldﬁnch.
The Madam’s smile turns sharp. “As you wish.”
She gives him the rules: no lasciviousness, no demands, no pointed questions. He is too nervous to take in more than a few words. Then the blindfold goes back on, and someone leads him down a hall that smells of lilies. Thick carpet gives under his boots as slender ﬁngers tug him by the wrist. After a few twists and turns, they stop, and the ﬁngers release him. Paper shuffles, the covert sound of a card being shoved under a door.
Sweat dampens Tenny’s cuffs.
“Ah . . . how should I address her?” he asks the darkness. There is a pause, then a scratchy male voice that makes him jump.
“By her code name. Otherwise, you don’t need to address her at all.”
More silence. Guilt prickles at the back of Tenny’s neck. His sire supports the Prohibition and is a staunch abstainer. What would he say if he could see his son buying such magic with some stolen family jewels?
Tenny sighs. He doesn’t know why krellen calls to him so strongly. Just that he loves how it offers players a chance to be pauper or king, god or mortal, a thrilling brand of risk. This night is a risk, as dangerous-sweet as any. He turns his thoughts away from his sire and toward the Goldﬁnch—only the Gold-ﬁnch. The mysterious, miraculous magic to come. Tenny straightens his tie as a door clicks open. Light ﬂickers through his blindfold, soft and warm. He is pushed forward, and then the door shuts behind him.
“You can look,” the Goldﬁnch says. “It’s just us now.” Her voice is soft. No, rich, like blush wine from the Far-lands, but strangely distorted. She must be burning some sort of voice-altering alchemical. Another layer of disguise.
He takes off the blindfold. The room is dimly lit and richly furnished, dark wood draped in velvet and wine-colored rugs. Two chairs sit near the ﬁreplace, deep and beckoning. Amidst it all is a girl in a mask. Hers is like Madam Crow’s, covering most of her face in gold-edged feathers that catch the light of the candles on the hearth. The mesh over her eyes makes her anonymous, but he guesses she must be his age, perhaps younger. Though her smile speaks of a wisdom that is well beyond her years.
She isn’t a courtesan—he would be foolish to think it—but it’s hard not to stare at those full, generous lips. Has he seen them before? It would be dangerous to put a name to them. There is a reason for the code names and the masks. Some would kill to have unfettered access to such magic. The church, and many of the city’s staunchest abstainers, would likely kill the girls outright. No: It’s better that she just be the Goldﬁnch. Tenny doesn’t need more trouble than he has.
He bows deeply. “Welcome evening, Young Lady Goldﬁnch.” Those lips curl, coy and playful. “Young Lord Maylon. Aren’t you a pretty surprise.”
His eyes follow the golden chain around her neck, traveling downward. Why do they call it a neckline when it tends to hang so much lower? He looks up, hoping she hasn’t noticed. With the mesh over her eyes, it is impossible to tell.
“Let’s have some wine,” the Goldﬁnch says. “Or perhaps something stronger?”
He nods, though his stomach is twisted. “Lady’s choice.”
The Goldﬁnch goes to pour their libations. The dark sequins of her dress wink as she moves. Truth be told, he isn’t clear on the ﬁner mechanics of the evening he’s purchased. How will it start? How will it feel?
She hands him a glass full of amber liquid that smells of pine resin and thunderheads.
“Fortune favor you,” she says, tilting her glass to him.
He swallows hard. “And you as well.”
They drink. Tenny ﬁnishes his in one large gulp. He sits in one of the chairs, expecting her to perch on the other. Instead, she settles on his lap.
“Are you ready?” she purrs.
He nods, willing his hands to stop shaking.
The Goldﬁnch pulls out a simple black mask and ﬁts it to the top half of his face.
“This is what will call up the magic,” she says, “when you’re ready to use it. Just tie it on and envision the person whose face you want to wear.”
He leans into her touch, her skin as soft as petals.
“You will need to hold something belonging to the person you want to look like. A kerchief is ﬁne, if they’ve recently held it, but hair or ﬁngernails are better.”
He nods again. His heart is thumping wildly. It feels like the moment just before he lays out his krellen cards, not knowing if he’s won or lost.
“Now imagine how you will use my gift,” she says. “Put the image in your mind, strong and clear.”
It isn’t hard—the images are there already. He sees himself walking into the Simtan Bank wearing his sire’s face, his voice, his manner, accessing the funds he needs to win his way out of the shadows. Money drips from his pockets, and once again he is golden. The son his sire expects him to be.
The Goldﬁnch tilts up his chin and kisses him.
Tenny has kissed girls before. Boys, too, for that matter, but those were only sparks compared with this ﬁre. Her magic spills from her lips and past his, warm and heady, twining itself around his bones. He is drunk with it. It makes him feel like a king—perhaps a god.
His arms go around her. He understands, now, why this girl is such a secret. To hold on to her, he would pay any price.
That’s it from me, for now, but join me in the comments: how do YOU feel about prologues. Is there content you’d like to see in this newsletter: writing advice, how publishing works, pics of Galahad, things I’m sewing/baking/making? I’d love to know.
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