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EXCERPT: Troll Gurl and the Cursed Kingdom – The Beginning

I am so thrilled to share the beginning of my new release Troll Gurl and the Cursed Kingdom with you. Enjoy!


Long ago, in a time before we confined our magic to fiber optic cables and microchips, there was a beautiful kingdom nestled in a valley, surrounded by mountains. The ebony mountains only brightened when the sun shone directly upon them, the peaks frosted with snow nine months out of the year. Rolling hills led up to the mountains, carpeted in thick, green grass on which white cows with black spots grazed. The fields of grain and beans created a patchwork in the countryside. In between the patchwork fields were modest wooden cabins that housed families, smoke from the fireplaces curling up towards the sky, the scent of the burned wood ingraining itself with the scent of the cows and dewy grass.

To the north stood a stone castle where the king for the whole valley lived. It wasn’t as large as the castles on the other side of the mountains, but that was fine. Everyone knows what they say about kings with big castles; they must be compensating for their small family jewels.

The people of the kingdom of Inniskellin were happy, for the most part. Sure, there was the occasional brawl at the pub or a land dispute. But everyone got up at the crack of dawn, worked hard, and slept well at night. Inniskellin was growing, little by little, every year.

King Talbot was not the brightest king that had ever existed. But he wasn’t particularly cruel either, so the villagers let his reign continue with no motion to remove him from the throne. He was young, still only twenty when his father died unexpectedly and he took over the ruling duties. That was going on five years ago.

King Talbot was single and a ladies man. He always had a beautiful woman on his arm. At royal balls, his dance card was perpetually full. Coming to power as he entered adulthood may have contributed to his hard-partying ways. He had dark hair and rather plain looks while being slightly overweight and not particularly athletic. But the lasses were all over him, because they all dreamed of one day becoming queen. And the king liked it that way.

The people who lived in the villages directly around the castle were known as living “in the shadow of the castle.” They perceived themselves to be better than the rest of the villages in Inniskellin, because they saw the king more frequently as he traveled in and out of the castle. This caused the people of those close villages to put on airs. The faraway villagers thought of them as snooty for assigning themselves an honor that really only existed in their big heads. Even those within the castle walls did not like the villages in the shadow of the castle, although the king loved the attention they showered upon him.

One day, he was at a faire in a village in the shadow of the castle. All the beautiful ladies were hanging on him, trying to get a dance as the band played a raucous tune. An older woman with a long nose and crooked, umber teeth wearing ragged clothes approached him.

“May I have a dance, sonny?” she screeched.

“Oh, definitely not” those who were witness say he replied.

“What? Well, why not? I just want some face time with my king,” she responded.

“No. What you need is a new face!” the king yelled too loudly to his hangers-on. He guffawed, his belly bouncing with the exertion. He was eating too many treats baked for him by the wannabee queens, and it was showing.

“Excuse me?” the old woman replied in disbelief.

“Wow. Not only is she ugly, she is deaf and dumb too!”

More laughter erupted.

“My ears better be deceiving me. I would hate to have to punish you for disrespecting an old woman.”

“Oh, right, like you could punish me. My royal guards would have you subdued in no time. And I wonder if you even are a woman anymore. You are probably all shrunken, like a dried fruit,” the king snickered. The crowd doting on him hooted and hollered their agreement.

“You best find some respect for your citizens fast, or they will all pay for what you have done here today.”

“No one can harm me. I am the king! Now get out of my sight, you ugly old witch.” The king even made a gesture with his hands, as if he were sweeping her away and out of his sight.

“Oh, you have no idea how right you are, sonny!” The unknown woman cackled loudly. She raised her arms to the sky and magenta smoke began to billow around her.

“I am a witch! And I don’t appreciate being talked to that way. And neither do these greedy whores around you, but they won’t tell you that. You think that your precious guards can protect you from a curse? I think not. I will spread a curse across your land. Death will surround you. As the years pass, it will only get worse, until your whole kingdom and everything in it shall perish.”

Half the people gathered chuckled, thinking this was a joke or an illusion, including the king. The other half trembled in their boots, knowing this could be the end of the pretty charmed existence they had enjoyed up until now.

“But I feel sorry for your kingdom, all those who will die innocently because of your incivility. So, I will give you the key to breaking the curse. Your first born son must kiss the girl in the land who has the truest beauty, through and through. You better hope that he is blessed with the gift of knowing true beauty that you yourself lack.”

And she cackled, disappearing into her purple cloud, and was gone.

All the villagers stared at the king, waiting to see his reaction. They looked to him to know how to respond to this horrific event.

And he laughed.

The king laughed off the curse.

A few others did too. They were suck-ups who would agree with the king on anything. If he said the sky was green, they would agree with him.

The others simply looked at one another. And when their eyes met each other’s, they all reflected the same uncertainty. And this spread like wildfire as they told what had happened between the king and the witch, over and over again, to their families, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances.

At the same instant the angry witch’s curse spread across the land, a baby girl was born. The parents were horrified. The newborn came out as the ugliest baby they had ever seen. When the baby was placed in the mother’s arms, the mother screamed. The mother was so revolted by her baby’s appearance that she opened her arms and the infant fell to the floor hard, and began to cry. Not wanting to kill it, but also not wanting to keep the child, the midwife took it to an orphanage in the next village. It was run by a lady named Miss Peters. She accepted the deformed, mutant-looking pale infant. The baby girl had a giant, bulbous nose. One eyelid drooped lower over the right eye than the left. Her eyes did not contain a bright circle of color, but rather a milky glaze that hid whatever true color may lay behind it. She would tell the girl that she had been found on the doorstep with no one around, to prevent her from ever hoping to reunite with her parents who would never accept her. Miss Peters gave her a beautiful name, hoping it would make up some for her gruesome appearance. She prayed it would improve with age. She named her Guinevere, the name of legend, and often understood to mean “white phantom.”


They all felt the same worry that had not before hung over Inniskellin. Generations of villagers had experienced good fortune. There was still the divide between the rich and the poor. But the people had enough to eat, they were all happy and healthy. No war had come to them. But they could all feel the shift now. As the days passed, an anxiety permeated them as they had never experienced before. It hung on their clothes like campfire smoke. They always were just a little on edge. It was as though a gloomy cloud hung over each of their heads, even though the sun still shined.

But they began to notice subtle changes. The leaves of all the plants started to always be black on the tips. The fruit and vegetables were still grown and harvested. But it made everyone nervous. The cattle stopped getting quite as fat as they used to. Some chalked it up to the people’s paranoia. But when weighed year to year at market, the numbers proved their suspicions right.

In other noteworthy news, shortly after the witch’s curse, King Talbot abruptly married. Some said that he had to.

Seven months later, all the mysterious happenings were momentarily forgotten with the birth of the prince. The bouncing baby boy was chubby and beautiful, with eyes like molasses and curls to match.

The girl named Guinevere grew to be obedient and hard-working, helping Miss Peters with the chores whilst the other children played. Early on they would invite Ginny to play with them, only to be cruel to her. A girl with long, golden hair named Lydia was always the ring leader. She had been at the orphanage since she was a toddler, and was roughly the same age as Ginny. She would have been pretty, had her face not wore a pinched expression at all times as if she smelled something rotten.

The other orphans would play hide-and-seek with her, then forget to seek her, heading off to play another game that did not include her. Sometimes the girls would play knights and robbers and make Ginny be a robber, so that they could tie her up. Once they bound her to a tree in the woods and left her there. Miss Peters did not come looking for Ginny till morning, commenting that she herself was too afraid of the dark to enter the forest at night. Ginny would continue to have nightmares about that incident in the woods for the rest of her life.

Miss Peters told Ginny, “Do not let anyone see that you are weak. Do not let them see that they hurt you. Do not let them see you cry. They will exploit it until you are completely broken.” Ginny felt that Miss Peters should make the other girls stop their behavior. But Miss Peters’s words had told her that it was Ginny’s burden to bear. Ginny was the one who needed to change, not the other girls. She needed to grow a tougher skin against all the teasing and torture. But Ginny could not find that inner strength inside. She always broke down. And that was when the others would tear her apart.

Once a fellow orphan girl named Bridget, who was very fair but so dim she sometimes forgot her own name, happened to touch Ginny’s hair during a game of tag. It was not hard to catch Ginny, as her extra-large feet and short legs gave her a speed and agility disadvantage. It was probably the only reason they let her join in at all. She was always the first one out.

“Your hair is soft,” Bridget remarked in surprise.

“Why wouldn’t it be?”

“I just assumed it would be nasty and stiff like the cow’s hide.” It did not escape Ginny’s cloudy vision that Bridget always escaped milking duties. Or that Bridget was comparing her to a cow’s ass.

“I wash it with the same soap as you do yours. You assumed it would be unpleasant because I am ugly?” Ginny meant for it to come out incredulous, but instead her words were feeble.

“Of course.” Satisfied that their non-conversation was over and Ginny was safely eliminated, Bridget ran back to the game with her band of make-shift sisters.

Ginny knew that is how they all thought of each other. And even at this young age, she knew that that sorority would never include her. She always thought that they teased her all the time only because she looked different. But Bridget’s comment had upset her more than usual. Ginny now knew that they didn’t just think she was different on the outside, they thought she was on the inside as well. She had hoped she would one day grow to be more beautiful and they would accept her. But this new development made Ginny lose all but the tiniest hope of that happening. They made up a jump rope chant, in her honor, that they sang over and over again all day long as each girl took their turn:


I smell the roses

I jump with my feet

All that is beautiful

Can’t be beat

I see a monster

The troll gurl

Watch out!

She will eat you

faster, faster

You better watch out

She’ll eat me too.


After Miss Peters turned down the lanterns and ordered all the orphans to silence and sleep, she always returned to her nearby cabin with the thatch-covered roof for the duration of the night. The girls would then prattle on endlessly about one silly topic or another, sometimes for hours, until exhaustion finally overtook them. Ginny did much of the work that had to be done on the farm and in the kitchen as the others chose not to. She was always exhausted when she hit her pillow, and wished they would all be quiet and go to sleep. But she had to stay awake until the last one was unconscious. She had learned her lesson the hard way. Many nights they had gotten together, coordinated and executed tactile assaults on her while she was in slumber.

Tonight they were supposing on the existence of magic.

“I think magic is real. It has to be,” Marta declared, always the dreamer.

Ginny often had strong opinions on these topics, but she knew better than to speak up. Last time that happened they had cut all her hair off. It was only just now growing out.

“Real things are rain and mud and cow shit—all the things we are surrounded by every day in this hellhole,” Lydia sneered into the darkness.

“So Lydia, you don’t believe that if you kiss enough frogs, one will turn into a prince?” Natalie asked.


“But what about this curse? Without magic, there would be no curse,” Angie inquired.

Although it was dark, Angie’s face popped into Ginny’s mind at the sound of her ragged voice. She had hair that was only one shade shy of being orange, and hung long and loose, though Angie never bothered to brush it.

“There’s no curse. It is all just stories the crazy old folks tell to scare us,” Lydia replied.

“No, it’s real!” Angie protested.

“Oh really? Then how come we are still here? How come the kingdom hasn’t disappeared like cotton candy on your tongue?”

“Now that sounds like magic,” Marta whispered.

“You’ve never had cotton candy,” Angie retorted.

“Have too.” Lydia always had to have the last word. It didn’t matter if it was a lie.

There was silence for a few moments.

“So you think when I wish on a falling star, it means nothing?” Marta asked.

“Nothing. Life, death. None of it means anything,” Lydia responded.

“That is a horrible way to be,” Marta said.

“It’s real,” Lydia stated.

“The king is smart. He wouldn’t fight a curse by collecting more taxes and drafting more knights if no such thing existed.”

“The king isn’t smart at all.”

Ginny could agree with that, from fragments of what she heard the adults say.

“Maybe it is all a lie. Maybe it is just a way for the prince to be the talk of the kingdom. Some day he will pick out the best kisser to be his queen.”

“Nobody said that he would have to marry the girl whose kiss breaks the curse.”

“But why wouldn’t he?”

“Because maybe he won’t love her.”

“Maybe love is the real magic,” Marta offered.

A hush fell over all the girls then. They were all here, stuck in the care of Miss Peters. None of them had known a mother or father’s love. But the others had hope of one day marrying a dashing stranger. Ginny had no such preconceived notions. There would always be only herself, and whatever self-reliance she could muster. When all their breathing fell even in the room, she crept outside into the pitch black night to look at the sky.

Ginny could not shut her mind down. Was there really a curse? And if so, why wasn’t the kingdom destroyed yet? Most of all, why had Ginny ever been born to look this way, instead of normal? She felt normal inside, she thought. How had the outside gone so wrong?

Ginny yearned to know what it was like to be beautiful. She wished one day that she would wake up and could peel the ugly off of her face. She was so tired of how everyone looked at her. They saw her glazed eyes, her droopy eyelid, her giant nose, and assumed she was also feeble-minded. But she had millions of ideas run through her head every day. Brilliant ideas! She had feelings! If you threw rocks at her, did she not hurt? If you cut her, did she not bleed? There were just as many deep thoughts going on inside her brain as anyone else. Probably more than some of the air-brained girls she was forced to share a bedroom with.

She looked up at the stars then. They seemed so bright tonight. Then she saw it: her first ever shooting star. Hadn’t Marta, so small and impressionable with her big round eyes and short black hair, said you should wish on it? So Ginny wished her deepest, most heartfelt wish. She wished to be pretty.

From the broken mind of Jennifer Friess, the joining of hearts & souls…
NOW AVAILABLE! Troll Gurl and the Cursed Kingdom



Excerpt: Chapter 1 of When You Least Expect It + Goodreads Giveaway

Posted on

When You Least Expect It
The Riley Sisters
Book 2
By Jennifer Friess
ISBN: 978-0692452165

To celebrate the release of When You Least Expect It, Book 2 in The Riley Sisters series, I am holding a giveaway over at popular reader social media site Goodreads. You can enter here to win a copy of The Wind Could Blow a Bug, Book 1:

And for you today, dear dedicated blog readers, I have Chapter 1 of When You Least Expect It



Kiley gazed out the windows into the darkness as she autographed her novel for the last customer in the bookstore. She signed it, then smiled at the customer as she was hurriedly ushered out the door by the owner, Mrs. Bethany.

“Five minutes till close,” she barked.

Kiley got the feeling that Mrs. Bethany didn’t hold a lot of book signings in her store. But Kiley’s agent seemed to be able to get her into almost anywhere: expos, libraries, bookstores—chains and independents. This didn’t always make for a warm welcome, but Kiley was always grateful for anywhere she could get more sales and talk to readers, having one-on-one interaction. Her agent was happy that Kiley was so game to be on the road for long periods of time, traveling around the country. Most authors had 9 to 5 jobs and kids and obligations they were reluctant to leave behind. Knowing that tomorrow would be the end of seven months on the road, Kiley now realized maybe she should have been skeptical about why she was the only one willing to do this rigorous touring. Maybe there was a good reason why sane authors didn’t want to.

Kiley got up and began loading the leftover books onto the metal cart the owner had pulled up next to the table where she had been signing. Mrs. Bethany would place one or two copies back on the shelf, no doubt returning the rest of the stock back to the publisher. Kiley gazed at the cover of her book. The picture featured a good looking man and woman in an embrace. But what always jumped out at her was her name. Even though it had now been a year since the book had first been published, she still felt like she was dreaming when she saw her name in print on the cover of an actual honest-to-goodness book.

Well, it wasn’t exactly her name. It was her pen name, K. Riley, because her given name, Kiley Riley, sounded like a Dr. Seuss character. She couldn’t use her middle name of Renee. Ick. Every Renee she had ever known was a bitch. It was kind of cool being known as an initial. It also doubled as an actual name, “Kay.”

She flipped the book over in her hands and looked at the picture of herself on the back cover. The team at the publishing house had wanted her to change her hair, have it look more natural for the picture, but she had resisted and finally won out. No one seemed to be a big fan of the sleek black bob with bangs she had sported since high school, but she loved it. And it was HER hair. No one else should get a vote.

Most people are pretty impressed when they find out that her first book was published while she was still attending Alva University for her bachelor’s degree. Well, her only published book, so far. If she was honest with herself, she was impressed by this too.

Kiley had done writings that were so much more serious. Started stories that she spent years working on, only to abandon them. She never thought the little free-write she started at 1:00AM about her jacked up life at the beginning of her sophomore year of college would turn into a novel. It only took her three weeks to flesh out the first draft. By the end of sophomore year, Kiley’s favorite English teacher had read it and was helping her to find agents to shop the novel to. It took months before a publisher bought it. It made her a bit disillusioned by the whole process. It wasn’t the romantic experience she had always dreamed that it would be. Writing was the fun part. And she tried hard to remember that through everything that came after. There was another year of going through the editing process. Ugh! She could barely recognize the finished product as her story. The publisher paid her, and slapped her name on the center of the cover, so they must have thought it was still Kiley’s work.

Kiley received her box of advance reader copies on Christmas Eve, her senior year. There was no doubt that everyone received a copy as their Christmas gift. Although, in retrospect, she probably shouldn’t have given copies to her parents. But Kiley didn’t want to think about all that family drama right now. That January, it was available for purchase. While the publisher let Kiley postpone a real publicity tour until after her final classes ended in May, she still did occasional newspaper and radio interviews to support the book. She multitasked and did these while completing her classwork. It was a good thing she had planned ahead and completed her senior research project the first semester, rather than waiting till the second. Actually, Kiley had to give credit to her big sister Jane for that advice. Jane was always the planner in the family.

She didn’t get to go on any big, national TV shows. But she did get to do local morning shows and talk shows. The first time she was super-nervous. But once she learned the TV lingo and what camera to look at, she was as good as gold. There was one appearance she had to fly to, but most she would just drive herself to. If they were on a weekend, sometimes her boyfriend Ted would come along.

He would say, “Let’s pretend this is a little mini vacation.”

She would say, “It IS a little mini vacation.”

But he never liked this clarification, for some reason.

Ted wasn’t scheduled to graduate until December. He said that was why he didn’t mind traveling with her sometimes. All his toughest classes he would be taking in the fall. Ted was a biology major. His plan was to go on and get his master’s degree. He made fun of Kiley when she had first tried to secure an agent for her story. He had thought she was crazy and had delusions of fame. He fed her statistics of how many writers actually supported themselves solely from their craft. Ted was a glass half empty kind of guy.

Of course, they weren’t yet dating at that time. Ted just lived in the same dorm as Kiley. They often saw each other coming and going. They passed each other at the mailboxes and ran into each other in the laundry room. They started dating, well, sometime around when the publisher gave her a deal.

Wait, was that right?

He had asked her out. She had been so flattered, that of course she said yes. They had been a couple ever since.

Ted was the same height as Kiley when he had shoes on, which made him shorter than a lot of other guys. He was skinny. If he forgot to eat lunch, he could be classified as scrawny. He had beady eyes that saw the world through metal-rimmed glasses, which sat atop his nose that didn’t quite fit into his face. He wasn’t classically handsome, but he had a kind of dork-sheik about him.

Once she had finished her classes, she took off for her official book signing tour across the country. Kiley’s agent helped her to set up appearances. She even skipped graduation to go. She had the registrar ship her degree to her mother. Why bother with a ceremony symbolizing the start of her life, when she could already be living it?

It was discouraging, at first, when so few people would show up for her book signings. It wasn’t at all like she had pictured when she daydreamed about becoming a writer. She had imagined being in a big, national chain bookstore with the smell of coffee in the air, and a line of people curving all the way out the door and around the building. But with only two large national bookstore chains remaining, most of her stops were in small, independent bookstores that became cramped when you added an extra table and chairs.

The publisher kept stressing to her how important it was for an unknown author to get out and meet people, to get her name (and book) in front them. They said it was the same as with a new band needing to tour. While it was great having strangers tell her how much they enjoyed reading her book, it seemed everyone always asked the same question:

How did you come up with the idea for your story?

The answer Kiley always gave was that it was based on her own life, which truthfully, large parts of it were. But the truth, which she never told them, was that it had come to her in a dream. But she couldn’t tell people that. It sounded so—Stephenie Meyer. She desperately wanted people to believe she was a good writer, not just a transcriber of dreams. She wanted to have wonderful ideas of her own freewill, not from her subconscious. It seemed like the lazy man’s way to create a story.

She felt more comfortable the more signings she did. Ted came with her for a month in the summer, to keep her company. But a little part of her was happy when he went back to school for the fall semester. She was lonelier now, with no one else in her hotel at night to talk to. But when Ted was with her, she always seemed like she had to put on an act to keep him happy. Like if he saw her pick coleslaw out of her teeth with her black, plastic spork, he might be repulsed and run screaming the other way. She felt like Ted held her to a higher standard than she held herself. And that was kind of annoying.

She snuck in visits to her mom and dad when she could. She talked to her identical twin sister Miley several nights a week on the phone. Miley always said she couldn’t be on a six month trip like that. She just wasn’t programmed for it. Kiley liked traveling and seeing different cities and towns. But she was still lonely. She was becoming too used to this transient life. She needed to get back to reality. And start a second book already! Her future standard of living depended on it.

After the books were all on the cart, Kiley grabbed the other assorted odds and ends from the table. She dropped her empty cup of fountain coke and the crumpled napkin containing the crumbs from her orange cranberry muffin into the garbage can. She picked up her selection of Sharpie markers she had brought, black and silver, fine and ultra-fine point, and put them back into her messenger bag. Just then her cell began to ring. A quick glance at the picture on the screen told her it was her older sister Jane.

“Hi. I’m not interrupting, am I?” Jane asked worriedly.

“No. Perfect timing. I am just about to walk out the door,” Kiley replied.

She covered the mouthpiece of the phone and thanked Mrs. Bethany for having her. She only grunted in reply, although by most book signing standards, Kiley’s little book had done very well for her business tonight. Kiley waved at the two employees in the back of the store who had helped with set up, then pushed her way out the glass door with the metal frame. The little bell chimed in farewell.

“I just wanted to make sure you are still planning on arriving tomorrow,” Jane inquired.

“Yes. I would love to just come straight down now, but I’m in Arkansas,” Kiley said, approaching her white SUV that glowed under the parking lot lights. Climbing behind the steering wheel of her Toyota RAV4, she watched as the owner locked the door and flipped the sign to “Closed.” “I am pretty sure I would fall asleep on the way to Alabama.”

“Oh, that is fine. I would rather not have to worry about you falling asleep and ending up dead in a ditch tonight.”

“Ah, I miss you, optimistic sister,” she replied, sarcasm dripping from every word.

“Very funny. Do you think you will make it here by dinnertime tomorrow?”

“That is my plan.”

“I can’t wait to see you.”

“I can’t wait to see you, too. I bet you have changed a lot in the three months since I saw you last. Time to head to the motel.”



Kiley drove toward the nearest interstate, where she had seen a bunch of chain motels, and a few mom and pop joints that looked like they could be a set for a new horror movie. Coming into town, she especially remembered seeing one that looked like it had recently had a fire, in the last five years or so, with boards covering the windows. But there was a giant brand new shiny banner hanging across that building which read “Now Open for Business.” Kiley couldn’t imagine anyone dense enough to actually stop there to get a room for the night. She was terrified to even drive past the place, afraid that a ghost would come up her tailpipe, or in through her ventilation system, and possess her.

She checked in to a low-budget but reasonably clean-looking motel. She handed over her debit card at the front counter, praying that there was enough money remaining in her checking account for both a room tonight and gas tomorrow. She pulled her little carry-on case to her room, swiped the key card, turned on the light, then fell face first onto the bed. Kiley was so tired. She wished she was still a little kid and could just sleep like this. Her appearance clothes would get wrinkled, but she wouldn’t be having any engagements in Oakley and could have them dry-cleaned before any future ones. But sleeping in her dress clothes wouldn’t be very comfortable.

Kiley pushed herself up off the bed. She pulled an old, stretched gray T-shirt out of her suitcase. She didn’t bother to look for her own toothbrush. She opened the one sealed in plastic wrap provided by the motel instead. Then she laid down on the lumpy mattress. She tried to fluff the flat pillow, but it was no use. The low thread count sheets scratched her as she tossed and turned. She hadn’t paid a high enough price for this motel for them to have a budget big enough to use fabric softener. She turned on the television to her favorite late-night talk show, hosted by Timmy Killon. The radiating glow of the screen and incessant drone of the men talking soon lulled her into sleep.

Follow the romantic entanglements of The Riley Sisters in my books:
The Wind Could Blow a Bug ON SALE for only $.99 for a limited time & GIVEAWAY going on over at Goodreads (ends August 15, 2015)
When You Least Expect It AVAILABLE NOW!

PURCHASE as a Paperback or eBook on TODAY.

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