– Gina* via GoodReads review
I completely understand why Gina didn’t get the starlings. To be honest, when I wrote them into the story – long after the first draft was already complete – even I wasn’t exactly sure what they were doing there. At first, they were just set dressing, but then a little research turned up a lot of information about superstitions, omens and folklore about them and I realized their presence in the story could provide more than a creepy / cool visual.
Here are some of the things I discovered:
• Starlings are widely considered to be messengers of change and transformation. In Tab Bennett and the Inbetween, the starlings start following Tab around just as her life is about to undergo tremendous change.
• When a starling shrills, it means a stranger is coming to your door. In the book, the person at the door – more like up against it – is Alex, the Elvish prince who Tab has unknowingly been betrothed to since birth.
• In Celtic legend they are related to Fae magic. The murders of her sisters brings Tab’s hidden Elvish heritage to light at the beginning of the book.
Afterwards I realized that without knowing I was doing it, I had incorporated some of the most prevalent superstitions about starlings into the story. Coincidence or divine intervention? Starlings are also known to carry messages from the Gods.
So Gina*, if you’re reading this, I want you to know that who and what the starlings are will be completely explained in Tab Bennett and the Underneath, book two in the Princess of Twilight and Dawn series, due out on 12/1.
Here are some of the other omens and superstitions I dug up while researching starlings:
• A bird in the house is means bad luck.
• Although it probably won’t feel that way when it happens, having bird droppings land on your head means good luck.
• If a bird flies through your house, it means important news is coming. If it can’t get out, someone will die. If the bird flies toward you, you should probably think about getting your affairs in order.
• Finding a dead crow on the road is good luck (obviously not for the crow).
• In Wales, it’s considered good luck if two crows cross your path but in New England it’s bad luck to see two crows flying together.
• A lark that won’t look at you, a robin that taps on your window, and a plover’s call are all signs of death.
• Owls, peacock feathers, and a single magpie are all unlucky omens. Ten magpies, however mean a time of perfect bliss.
• If a raven perches on a house in Wales, it will bring prosperity. If you see one circling a home in Scotland, someone who lives there will die.
• The gull forecasts happiness or the death of a loved one (probably not at the same time).
• Sparrows mean bad luck for lovers.
I’m not especially superstitious although I do throw salt over my left shoulder if I’ve spilled it and avoid walking under ladders. What about you? What superstitions do you believe in?
Oh, on a side note, if you’ve never seen a murmuration of starlings in flight, click the link for an amazing video of a huge murmuration shot by wild life cameraman and travel journalist Dylan Winter. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eakKfY5aHmY.
Stephanie and Athenna, thank you for having me over. I really appreciate the chance to talk about my work with you and your readers. If anybody has any comments or questions, let’s hear them! I’ll check in to answer throughout the day.
Yesterday Tab Bennett was a bank teller. Today she’s at the center of a centuries old war between Light and Dark. Tomorrow – let’s just say she’ll be lucky if she lives to see it.
Engaged to her childhood sweetheart, employed at the local bank, and finally living on her own for the first time at twenty-four years-old, Tab Bennett has no interest in a fairy tale life. She’s perfectly happy with the normal one she already has. But when her sister is murdered on a moon-dark night, revealing a world of power and magic she never dreamed existed, a fairy tale is exactly what her life becomes. Figures it would have to be the Grimm kind.
Just like that, the life she had planned is over. Instead of cashing checks and handing out lollipops, Tab is unraveling clandestine assassination plots and learning to wield the magic that is her birthright. And as if fulfilling her destiny isn’t hard enough, she’ll also have to choose between Robbin, a man who’s turned out to be a lot more complicated than the proverbial boy next door, and Alexander, the handsome prince whose smile leaves her weak-kneed and weak-willed.
Now, while Tab struggles to hold on to the human world she’s always known and understand her place in the magical one she’s just discovered, dangerous forces are gathering close to home. If she wants to live to see happily ever after, she’ll have to figure out who she can trust, who wants her dead, and why. The answers will change everything she believes about herself, the people she loves, and the place she calls home.
That night I had a dream that Nicholas and I were walking through the deep woods. He had his hands over my eyes so I had to trust him for every step. We moved slowly and close together but he wasn’t keeping me captive and I wasn’t struggling to get away. We were just taking a walk together; there was no reason to be afraid.
“Watch your step,” he whispered.
Without my eyes, my other senses seemed stronger. I could hear the trees swaying in the breeze, whispering secrets to the sky. I could smell the festering of leaves that would soon turn to new earth. I could hear animals growl and snap as they tracked their prey through the undergrowth. I could feel a sheen of moisture, damp and close, clinging to my skin, molding the long gown I wore to the curves of my body. I shivered though I was neither frightened nor cold.
“There’s a branch,” he cautioned. “Duck.” Gently, he tucked my head and I slipped under it. I giggled, enjoying the game.
“Are we almost there?” I asked.
“Nearly. The tree we’re looking for is deep in the deepest woods. It’s a secret tree. But I’ll show it to you.”
“You won’t let me fall?”
let me fall, let me fall
“What is that? Who’s there?” I felt the brush of feathers against my cheek.
“It’s nothing, just the starlings,” Nicholas answered. “Ignore them.”
He guided me deeper into the woods. I could hear the starlings landing on the branches above my head, feel the wind from each flap of their wings, smell the sweetness of berries on their breath.
“Where are you taking me again?”
“I’m taking you to find your sister.”
find your sister, find your sister the starlings called
“Rivers isn’t lost. Rivers is dead."
When he took his hands away from my eyes, I could see everything, all the beauty and terror of the forest, all the wonder of ordinary things transformed by moonlight and shadow. I wanted to stop and take it all in but Nicholas was anxious to keep moving. Deeper and deeper and darker and darker, I followed him until we came to the place we’d been searching for.
The tree stood alone in a clearing. It wasn’t especially tall but nothing grew above it, leaving it bare to the sky and stars. It was wide and old and gnarled with symbols cut deep into its bark. Its branches stretched out instead of up, reaching toward us, circling the tree like a spiral staircase.
“This is the tree of stairs,” Nicholas explained. “If you say the right words, it will take you Underneath.”
From above I heard the starlings calling, find your sister, find your sister
“Why would I want to go there?” I asked.
Faint though it was, the sound of tapping woke me out of the dream. I turned toward the window, half expecting to see Nicholas’ pale face on the other side of the glass. Instead it was a starling, his ruby red eye a pinpoint of light in the early morning darkness.
“Go away,” I said.
The bird kept tapping, looking at me, waiting for a response.
“My sister isn’t lost, you creepy thing.” I knocked against the glass and he flew away, rejoining the swirl of starlings flying around in my front yard. Another bird broke free of the formation to take his place. It started tapping, too.
“Go away.” I knocked on the window again but this bird was made of tougher stuff than the other. Every time I knocked, he tapped back. “I don’t know what you want. My sister is dead.”
The flock changed direction mid-flight and flew to the edge of the woods, settling on the trees there. The bird on my windowsill tapped twice more against the glass.
“You are freaking me out, little bird. Please leave me alone.” He tapped again. “What do you want? Do you want to come in?” I asked. He tilted his head in that eerie way that all birds do and blinked at me.
“Do you want me to come out?” I asked.
He tapped twice.
“Yeah, I’ll just bet you do.”
We both stayed by the window, the bird and me, until sunrise. Then he flew away with the other members of his flock. I told George as soon as he got out of bed.
“You should have woken me,” he said. “What else did they say?”
“They didn’t say anything.” It seemed ridiculous to me to get worked up over some birds - even if they were tapping on my window and visiting me in dreams, they were just birds. “Well one of them may have indicated that he wanted me to go outside.”
“He said that?”
“He didn’t say anything because he was a bird. But he tapped on the window when I asked if he wanted me to come out.”
“That wasn’t a bird, it was a Harbinger.”
“A Harbinger of what?” I asked. “You better not say doom.”
“Not doom,” George laughed, “change. The starlings means change is coming to you, one part of your life is over and another part is about to begin.”
“Well,” I shrugged, “they’re right about that.”
Jes Young was a copywriter at Random House for eight years before leaving the job she loved to be a full time mom to two babies she loved even more. She holds a BFA in creative writing from Emerson College.
Like so many first novels, Tab Bennett and the Inbetween was written between the hours of 11PM and 2AM.
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