What if fairies weren’t all nice?
Prezzemolina is a headstrong loner who feels cursed by her weird name, which her struggling single mom once joked was bequeathed to her by fairies.
The morning before her twelfth birthday, Prezzemolina wakes to discover she’s turned green. Horrified, she’d give anything to find out how she really got her name and escape an unwanted destiny.
Her mother, who’s hiding a dark secret, won’t help her. But when a gaggle of mysterious gray-suited ladies offer to grant Prezzemolina’s wish, their bargain, despite the price she must pay, proves irresistible.
The ladies turn out to be the very same fairies that named her. They whisk her away to Fairyworld to be their servant.
There, she must use all her wits–and her magical affinity for parsley–to defeat not only the ravenous fairies, but also their mistress, a scheming sorceress named Lady Faye. If Prezzemolina fails, she’ll be trapped in Fairyworld forever.
Targeted Age Group:: 8-12
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Over the past couple years, my daughter, who's nine, and I read through Italo Calvino's massive collection of Italian folk tales. I was inspired to do a modern retelling of one of the stories in that collection.
Prologue: The Tale of Lady Faye
Four centuries ago, Lady Faye Morgaine was born into a noble family. The family owned the lands surrounding a prosperous village in southern Italy. The males of the line ruled their realm from the family seat, an ancient palazzo that sat atop a hill overlooking a fertile valley.
When a girl, Lady Faye could always be found in the family library, pouring over books. But her brothers loved to spend money. They squandered the family’s vast wealth on gambling and parties. Their debts mounted. The family was forced to sell all of its lands, tract by tract, to an ambitious merchant from the nearby city.
There was only one way for the proud family to recover their fortune. Never satisfied, the merchant coveted a high title to go with the riches he had made importing spices from the Orient. When Lady Faye turned twelve years old, her father promised her in marriage to the merchant.
After the wedding, to celebrate, the newly titled Lord Morgaine rode out into the countryside with his relatives-in-law to hunt hare. But their own land was unfamiliar to them. Because they were drunk on wine, they failed to spot a cliff hidden behind a thick hedge. All the males of the line, including her new husband, plummeted, one by one, from the cliff. They were dashed to death on the rocks below. Lady Faye’s mother died shortly thereafter from grief.
Now Lady Faye was a widow—and an orphan. She was also the sole heir to her family’s restored estate. No longer at the mercy of a husband, father, uncles, or brothers, she was free to pursue her passion for learning. What captivated her most was a fashionable new subject called science.
She threw herself into the study of physics, alchemy, and medicine. As Lady Faye grew older, she embraced the conviction that scientific investigation—and the inventions that resulted from it—were animated by the most powerful of magic. She commissioned an atelier, a workshop, and a wunderkammer, a cabinet of curiosities, to be built in the center of the palace. There, she grew ever more passionate about mastering the mysteries of the universe, one experiment at a time. Her most ardent devotion was to serve, through the advancement of scientific knowledge, all mankind.
When she turned twenty-seven, a plague struck. Peasants and nobles alike perished from the terrible disease. With few to tend the land, the crops failed, causing widespread famine. The villagers looked for someone to blame, someone who had sinned against God and so brought the plague upon them.
With her strange ideas and suspect freedoms, Lady Faye was an obvious culprit. The townsfolk accused her of being a sorceress. The local bishop decreed that God was punishing the village because Lady Faye had tampered with the order of nature. She was to renounce her ungodly ambitions, lest the Lord smite them all. A mob of villagers stormed the palace. They intended to burn her at the stake.
Lady Faye fled her homeland. She found safe harbor in a young but bustling city in the New World, where no one knew her. Once settled in her new home, she arranged to have the family seat dismantled and shipped, stone by stone, across the ocean. The palazzo was reassembled in the heart of the city, within a fertile bower the natives had once believed was enchanted. And, as before, in the heart of the palazzo was her atelier and wunderkammer. There she threw herself, once again, into her studies. More than ever, she was convinced that the only way to overcome the hardships of life was through science.
Lady Faye was fascinated with accounts from the previous century of Ponce de León, one of the Spanish Conquistadors. According to legend, De León had spent years scouring the New World on a quest for the Fountain of Youth. The fountain was fabled to grant eternal youth to those who drank of its magical waters. But Lady Faye was convinced that the Fountain of Youth was not a place, but a possibility. It was a medicinal concoction that had yet to be invented.
Cloistered in her palazzo, using all her skills in alchemy, Lady Faye gave herself over to the pursuit of this prize.
A solution eluded her. The years passed. She reached the age when women can no longer bear children. She had lost the chance to have a family, to bequeath her legacy to an heir.
Yet she was close, so very close. Lady Faye would solve the riddle of eternal youth—at any cost.
She continued to toil day and night in her workshop. One promising hypothesis was to use parsley. Back in her home village, the peasants believed that, for those who ate enough of it, parsley bestowed youth. The old wives swore that devouring parsley, along with wayward children, was what kept the fairies who lived in the nearby forest forever young.
But the amounts of parsley required were too vast to comfortably eat raw. The villagers had a recipe—given to them, they claimed, by the fairies—to render the parsley more potent in its youth-giving properties. It was a secret they jealously guarded, especially from the nobility, whom they secretly despised.
So, with only recollections of rumors to go on, Lady Faye was left to discover on her own the secret process of parsley transmutation. She tried everything in her alchemic repertoire. She boiled it down with tallow, dissolved it in solvents, and distilled it with yeast. Nothing worked.
She tore into the family library in hopes of finding inspiration. Night after night, she read by candlelight. At last, one night just before dawn, Lady Faye chanced upon a brittle, crumbling scroll that had fallen behind a bookshelf. It was a treatise by the ancient Greek philosopher Hippocrates. In it, Hippocrates speculated that a mechanical device, properly constructed, might be able to extract the pneuma, or divine breath, from any living thing held within the device’s sealed chamber.
Several decades ago, scientists in Europe had taken up Hippocrates’ challenge to build a similar device. Its purpose was to pump all the air out of a sealed bell jar, leaving behind what they called a vacuum. They had succeeded. The scientists dubbed the new invention the vacuum pump.
The invention of the vacuum pump sparked a debate among the leading scientific societies about the very nature of nothing. One camp argued that nothing was absolute. Another contended that the vacuum actually contained something, what they termed the luminiferous ether. For them, the luminiferous ether was the invisible medium in which all things—from the sun to the celestial bodies, the earth, and all the living things borne from the earth—were immersed.
Lady Faye had no patience for such occult debates. But she had an idea. She would modify the vacuum pump to extract not just plain air, but pneuma itself, the divine breath that animates all living things. And there was one living thing she suspected was especially promising. With the vacuum pump, she could manufacture an elixir of life from parsley.
She redoubled her efforts. Pouring over the technical drawings she had acquired at great expense for the vacuum pump, she began to build one. Her servants were dispatched with bags of gold coin to purchase from the city’s smiths and factories the needed parts.
In a matter of weeks, she assembled the very first prototype of a vacuum pump in the New World. Then she fitted an engine of her own design to it, fashioned from an orderly tangle of tubes, ducts, pistons, bellows, and distillers.
Her modified vacuum pump worked. With the engine humming, the bunches of fresh parsley she had placed in the bell-jar withered and desiccated, leaving only brown, crumbling stalks. A thick, clear liquid trickled from a distiller and pooled in a small copper pot.
Lady Faye inspected the liquid. It was viscous to the touch. And odorless. She took a sip. Tasteless as well. After a minute, she felt a slight tingle in her belly. The tingle grew. A warmth spread across her chest. She felt elated. The feeling of bliss surged and surged. She was brimming with life.
So much so that she felt in her very bones she could conceive a child.
Lady Faye hastily remarried. She selected, of all potential suitors, a poor traveling actor to be her husband. In her high spirits, his clownish charm amused her. But above all, she chose him because he was grateful to now be rich, and therefore, easily cowed.
Shortly after the wedding, Lady Faye became pregnant.
In that day and age, a woman’s husband was, by law, her master. Although married to a lady, her husband was no lord. Still, he insisted that she cease working. But to Lady Faye such superstitious customs were of no consequence. She was far too independent to heed his command.
Even as her womb swelled with child, Lady Faye could not hold herself back. She had to drink more of the elixir. She ordered the head gardener to harvest all the parsley in her estate’s vast gardens. She piled the heaps into the vacuum pump and ran it at full speed.
The endless work grew taxing. She labored under the burden of her swollen belly. When the machine broke down, which, as a prototype, it often did, she spent hours—without pausing to eat or drink—repairing it.
At last, after many months, the copper pot was full of the purest elixir of parsley. She poured all of it into a crystal decanter.
By then, Lady Faye was two months from term. Still, she couldn’t stop now. Each day, at sunrise and sunset, she quaffed a tumbler full of the elixir until the decanter was empty. She had never felt so alive. The elixir coursed through her body—and into the body of the infant curled up within her.
Because the old wives of her ancestral village had guarded so jealously the secret recipe to transmute parsley, Lady Faye only learned, just then, of its side effects. For all its healthful properties, parsley was also a potent uterotonic. Midwives had used it to induce labor.
That evening, while dining with her husband, she felt a knotty clench deep in her gut. A contraction. Another soon followed. And another. Her husband called in the doctors. Lady Faye, writhing, was carried to bed. She suffered the agony of labor for two days. On the third day, she gave birth to a baby girl, born premature. Lady Faye named her Prezzemolina, the little parsley girl.
But she soon learned that the vacuum pump was imperfect. The effects of the elixir wore off. Bedridden and spent, Lady Faye tried desperately to keep the tiny pink creature alive. Wet-nurse after wet-nurse pressed the frail infant to her bosom. But the baby wouldn’t latch. She was starving. Her cries became whimpers.
In those days, premature babies had little chance of survival.
Delirious, Lady Faye lay awake through the terrible quiet of the night, listening to the tiny heaves of the child’s fragile lungs. She sang to her a lullaby her own mother had sung to her back in the old country. The same one her grandmother had sung to her mother as an infant.
But there was nothing she nor anybody could do. Several days later, the baby died in her arms.
Lady Faye refused to give up the corpse. She clutched it tightly to her chest. She rocked it, caressed it, soothed it. Over and over, she sang to the tiny lifeless body her nonna’s precious lullaby:
“Indietro mio giardino,
Dov’accoglio il poterissino,
poterissino non c’e nassai,
nassai i trezzitelle
a tuzze, tuzze, tuzze.”
Her husband, the clown, left her. Lady Faye’s maidservants eventually managed to pry the corpse from her quivering arms. But she never allowed herself to fully mourn the loss.
As winter gave way to spring, Lady Faye recovered her strength. She went through the motions of furthering her scientific investigations, of managing her estate and various business ventures. As much as she longed to leave this world, the dumb vitality of her body kept her in it for years to come. But at her core, she felt an utter vacuum, an abiding nothing.
In her ninetieth year, Lady Faye, a shrunken husk of her former self, lay in her bed, awaiting death. The parish priest administered to her the last sacrament. He asked her if she had any last words.
Wrenching herself up on her bony elbows, she drew her pale, wrinkled lips to his ear. “One day,” she rasped, “the child of parsley will return. She will forgive me.”
Collapsing back on the bed, she sang, one last time, the lullaby she had sung to her only, dearest daughter during her briefest of lives.
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I'm a former professor of literature. My scholarship focused on the role of the imagination in the sciences. Now I write middle-grade fiction. My latest book is Prezzemolina, The Little Parsley Girl. It's based on the classic Italian fairy tale. I'm working on a new novel, called Persephone. It's an adaptation of the ancient Greek myth, Song of Demeter. I live with my wife and daughter in Portland, Oregon, USA. When I'm not writing, I make organic soap.