A Peek At Chapter One
My novel is being released in less than a week, and I can hardly believe it! I'm excited, anxious, overjoyed, and terrified all at the same time. My publication journey was long and bumpy, but it was definitely worth the ride. The early reviews on NetGalley and Goodreads are overwhelmingly positive, and many readers have said that they could not put this book down! I'm so touched that people from all over the country—not just Pennsylvania—have been moved by the story of the Kovac family and have learned something new about America's immigrant past.
There's a lot happening in the next few weeks—my online book launch, a blog tour, an Instagram book tour, and several book signings. You will find all the details below. As promised, I have also included Chapter One at the bottom of this post. I hope you enjoy it!
The Goodreads Giveaway ended on September 11th. A list of the winners can be found at the following link: https://bit.ly/3sAMyo. I'd like to thank everyone who participated. There were 7,669 entries, which is quite impressive for a debut novel.
My Blog Tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club is kicking off on September 21st and will run through November 23rd. Below you will find a list of all the blogs where my book will be featured. Some will have excerpts from my novel, while others will have interviews with me or guest posts written by me.
My publicists at BookSparks are hosting an Instagram Book Tour. Below is a list of all the instagrammers who will feature my book.
I'm doing a Facebook Live event with my best friend, Stacy Riggle-El Sabbagh, at 7 pm on Wednesday, September 22nd. We'll discuss the inspiration behind my novel, the history of the Burgh, and what I miss most about living in the steel city. I'll also reveal the surprising discovery I made about Stacy while researching my book. (If you read "Who Do You Think You Are?" on my website's news feature, then you already know the secret. Shh! Don't spill the beans!)
I will be signing books at the Student Book Store in State College, Pennsylvania during Penn State's homecoming weekend, which is October 22nd-24th. Please check my website or Facebook page in the coming weeks for times. We're still working on the details.
I will be signing books at Riverstone Books in McCandless, Pennsylvania on Saturday, November 13th from 12-3pm.
I may have more events in the coming months. I'm hoping to do some signings closer to home in Maryland and Delaware.
And now ... here's a sneak peek at Chapter One. I also included the prologue I posted last month in case anyone missed it. Enjoy!
Beneath the veil of smoke and ash
"Is Lukas going to die, Papa?”
Janos swallowed hard as he forced himself not to look away from his daughter. Sofie’s eyes were red and swollen, her dress caked in the dried blood of her little brother. The horrors of the day had followed them home.
“The doctors have done all they can for him,” Janos said as he touched Sofie’s shoulder. “It’s in God’s hands now.”
“Will Mama come with us to the hospital tomorrow? Lukas will want her there when he wakes up.”
Another wave of nausea hit Janos as he wiped a bead of sweat from his temple. Where was Karina? Her son was barely clinging to life, and she was nowhere to be found. He wasn’t sure whether to be worried or angered by her absence. “Of course, zlatíčko,” he stammered. “I know she’d want to be at your brother’s side.”
Suddenly, Janos heard urgent footsteps climbing the steps to the back porch. As he sprang to his feet to open the door, his sister, Anna, burst into the room, her face ashen.
“The police are coming,” she said breathlessly. “There’s been a murder in the Heights. They’re looking for the woman who works for Henry Archer.”
Janos gasped. “A murder?”
“Was it Mr. Archer?” Sofie clutched her chest.
“I don’t know. The neighbors are speaking to the detectives now. I didn’t hang around long enough to get the details.” Anna scanned the room. “Has Karina come home yet?”
Janos shook his head. “Still haven’t seen her since last night.”
Anna’s eyes grew wide.
And then it struck him. Janos stumbled backwards onto the kitchen table, gripping its edge for support. Lukas hadn’t been confused. He was telling the truth.
“I’m going back down the street to see what I can find out,” Anna said as she rushed toward the door. “Maybe I can stall the police.”
“Sofie,” Janos whispered to his daughter. “Go up to bed and stay there.”
“Yes, Papa,” she replied, her lip quivering.
“And one more thing . . . don’t tell anyone what Lukas saw at the train station this morning.”
one month earlier
RIVERTON, MAY 27, 1910
Karina Kovac heard the harsh caw of a crow passing overhead as she began her walk to work. She looked up at the early morning sky and frowned. The gray cloud of soot greeted her as it did every morning. No matter the time of day or season, the eerie mass hung, thick and heavy, casting its dismal shadow over her, darkening her mood.
She imagined the town along the river had once been beautiful—before industry and progress had blanketed the valley in a veil of smoke. But the Riverton she knew was ugly and depressing. The buildings were covered in a dingy layer of grime, and the air was an assault on her senses. It was only slightly less suffocating than that of Pittsburgh, which was ten miles downstream. The steel capital of the world was famous for its perpetually dark sky, which often necessitated the use of street lamps during the day. Karina’s neighbors, most of them newly arrived from Eastern Europe, were unbothered by the smoky haze smothering the region. To them, it signaled opportunity and the promise of a better future. Jobs and prosperity.
Karina hated that gloomy sky, cursing it daily. It followed her everywhere, mocking her and laughing at her lack of success. She had failed to acquire the comfortable lifestyle she’d envisioned when she left Austria-Hungary over a decade earlier, and that sky wouldn’t let her forget it.
Karina had known it would take time for her and Janos to build a new life, but she’d never expected it to take so long. Working as a housekeeper in the town’s wealthiest neighborhood gave her a glimpse of what she and her family had not yet achieved. Her current employer owned every modern convenience she craved. Electricity. Indoor plumbing. A spacious kitchen with the latest Garland gas cookstove and McCray refrigerator. All had been installed in the mill manager’s new Foursquare home.
Karina stood in awe before the door of that refrigerator every morning, marveling at how fresh the food stayed. Her family’s ancient ice chest smelled of souring milk and had to be scrubbed constantly with Old Dutch Cleanser.
As Karina endured her daily coughing fit near the steel mill’s towering smokestacks, she heard a sharp whistle coming from a worker in the rail yard. She rolled her eyes. Though her housekeeper’s uniform was boring and drab, she still managed to attract unwanted attention. Perhaps her elaborate hairstyle had caught the man’s eye. She’d spent a ridiculous amount of time fussing with her hair that morning in the hopes that the executives coming from US Steel’s Pittsburgh offices would take notice of her. While she was grateful for the position in Henry Archer’s home, she longed to work at one of the grand estates in Shadyside or Squirrel Hill. What a relief it would be to get lost among an entire staff of servants.
Karina sighed as she thought of the first weeks in her employer’s home. She had wandered dreamily through the rooms, fingering the fine linens and switching the lights off and on, for fun. She’d soaked in the bathtub and napped beneath an expensive, snowy white Marseilles quilt. She thought she’d found the perfect escape from her dreary neighborhood and her job at the boarding house, but little did she know, the luxury of working in that home would come with a price.
A gust of wind suddenly hit Karina from behind and interrupted her brooding. She patted the mound of curls at the back of her head to make sure her garnet hair comb was still in place. She froze when her fingertips failed to locate it. Her heart pounding, she scanned the unpaved street and then shook her dress, hoping the comb would fall out of one of its folds. Where could it be? Her mind began to race.
Karina turned and rushed back down the street toward the shabby rows of homes erected by the steel company. Her eyes darted in every direction, hoping to find the only valuable piece of jewelry she owned. When she arrived home breathless, she burst through the front door and began searching the sitting room.
“Karina? I thought you’d left for work,” Janos said, peeking through the kitchen doorway.
“My hair comb is missing. I got the whole way to the mill before I realized it was gone. I retraced my steps, but can’t find it anywhere.” Karina inspected the floor and every nearby surface, her eyes welling with tears. “It’s the only thing I own of value.”
“Was it the comb with the tiny garnets?” Janos touched her on the shoulder, his face full of concern.
“Do I have another worth fretting over?” Karina glared at her husband as she brushed his hand away and hurried toward the staircase. “Maybe it’s in the bedroom,” she murmured.
“Mama!” Sofie shouted. “Did you bother to look in your brown pocketbook? That’s the one you came home with yesterday.”
Startled, Karina paused at the foot of the stairs as her ten-year-old daughter stomped out of the kitchen. “Shouldn’t you be in bed, Sofie? The sun’s barely up.”
“Where’s the pocketbook?” Janos asked his wife.
“It’s on the bookcase,” Karina said, dabbing her wet eyes with the sleeve of her dress. “But I’m sure I put the comb in my hair this morning. I know I did.”
“You need to calm down,” Janos said coolly as he picked up the worn pocketbook and peered inside. It took him just seconds to pull out the tortoise shell comb adorned with garnets.
Karina grabbed the hair comb and dashed toward the front door. “How could I forget?” she groaned, turning the doorknob.
“Wait,” Janos said. “Don’t you have something to say to Sofie?”
Karina sighed as she looked at her daughter for the first time that morning. “Thank you, honey. You were very helpful.”
Sofie ran to her mother and hugged her. “Good luck today, Mama. I know those important men from Pittsburgh will be impressed with your cooking.”
“Let’s hope so.”
“Is that why you’re so agitated this morning?” Janos asked.
“I guess,” Karina said, smoothing Sofie’s unruly hair. “I want to make a good impression today. Meeting these executives could lead to something . . . maybe a better position.”
Janos raised an eyebrow.
“I need to go. I’m running late. And, Sofie, please do something with your hair before you leave for school. You can’t go out in public with that mess on your head.” Her poor daughter’s thick blonde hair often looked like a bird’s nest when she woke in the morning.
Sofie nodded politely, despite the wounded look on her face.
“Maybe we could all go to the Radovics’ tonight to listen to Mihal play the accordion,” Janos said as Karina stepped onto the front porch. “An evening with friends will help you relax after such a big day at work.”
“The new Sears Roebuck catalog is out. Maybe another time,” Karina said, trying to disguise her guilt. She knew her family was tired of her excuses, but she did not enjoy socializing with the neighbors. Besides, she really did want to see the latest spring fashions.
As Karina hurried down the street toward the mill, she tucked her hair comb into her pocketbook, figuring there was no way to place it perfectly on her head without a mirror. And she dared not risk losing it on the street. Poverty had made her desperate. Her neighbors, too. They all clung fiercely to the few valuable items they owned, because they couldn’t afford to replace them.
When Karina finally reached Riverton Heights, she inhaled the cool morning air. The neighborhood sat high on the hill above town and escaped much of the smoke in the valley below. Fresh air was her reward for her twenty-minute climb uphill. The streets were lined with new Craftsman and Foursquare homes as well as some older Victorians. Graceful oak trees shaded the streets, and the sweet scent of pansies permeated the air.
Karina’s stomach quivered as she stepped onto Henry Archer’s front porch and unlocked the mahogany door. If one of the Pittsburgh executives failed to take notice of her, she planned to ask Henry for a raise. She had been working very long hours since she’d accepted the position with him six months earlier and had only received a slight increase in pay when her duties were expanded in March. Karina was certain she had proven her worth many times over in recent weeks, especially since her new responsibilities had little to do with keeping a house.
She closed the front door behind her and made her way to the kitchen at the back of the house. The sun was now up, but there were no sounds from upstairs to indicate Henry had risen. Not wanting to wake him, she quietly gathered ingredients for a pot roast from the refrigerator and pantry. As Karina washed vegetables in the farmhouse sink, she heard footsteps in the hall. She turned around to find Henry standing in the doorway of the kitchen with a smirk on his face.
“There’s no need to make lunch today,” he announced. “I got a call from Pittsburgh last night. The meeting has been cancelled.”
Karina gasped. “But I thought those men were coming to discuss your promotion.”
She tried to her hide her disappointment as she studied the face of her employer. She had never found him attractive. The college-educated bachelor was several inches shorter than her husband and lacked the brawn she was accustomed to seeing in the men around her neighborhood. He wore a permanent frown on his face, and his thin, charcoal-colored hair was receding. But today, he looked surprisingly pleasant, grinning like a school boy. How could he not be disappointed by their change in fortune?
“They were, but I’m no longer being considered for the position here in Riverton. I’m being transferred to headquarters in New York City.” Henry clapped his hands with excitement. “I’m going home.”
Paralyzed by the news, Karina stood motionless, trying to control the panic welling inside her. She leaned back against the porcelain sink for support, suddenly unable to breathe, her chest tightening.
Still grinning, Henry crossed the kitchen in three long strides. He grabbed Karina’s left breast and shoved his tongue into her mouth. His free hand moved greedily down the front of her dress. Even after three months of enduring his touch, Karina still had to remind herself not to recoil. But this morning, she was completely unaffected by Henry’s groping. Her singular focus was her uncertain future.
She gently pulled away from his eager kisses and took a deep breath. “When do you leave?”
“Not until the end of June. I need to train my replacement and tie up some loose ends at the mill. But I need you to start packing right away.”
Suddenly, memories of a run-down boarding house full of drunks flooded Karina’s mind. She flinched as a filthy immigrant squeezed her buttocks, the stench of his sweaty, unwashed body burning her nose. Shouts for more moonshine drowned out an old man’s complaint that the tripe was too chewy. A newcomer griped that someone had taken prostitutes into his room and soiled his mattress. He demanded that Karina clean the mess immediately. She groaned as she tried to shake the chaos from her head. I can’t go back.
A slight pinch transported Karina back to Henry’s kitchen. His teeth were on her earlobe.
“Shall we go into the bedroom to celebrate?” he whispered.
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Click on the link below to order a copy of my novel. You will be taken to my website's "Book" page where you will be given several choices for ordering. You can also ask your local bookstore to order a copy since my novel has traditional distribution through Ingram Publisher Services. The official release date for my book is September 21st.
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Pippa wants to know if I'm done talking about the book. Yes, Pippa! At least for today.