Category Archives: Fiction

Sunday Spotlight! With Fantasy Writer Isa Ottoni

After all is said and done, 2022 turned out to be a great year because that’s when I got involved with the Fantasy Sci Fi Writers Alliance (“Alliance”) and met you and many other wonderful hard working creators offering invaluable support, and so many resources. 

And you published a fantastic story with Funemployment Press. We’ll talk more about Braza and the Funemployment Quarterly in a bit. But to start us off, Can you summarize your highlights for 2022?

Isa – Thank you for having me, Darci, I love your blog and interviews. This is a great way to get to know new authors and projects. Last week’s interview with Madeline was great, it really inspired me to look at how history can shape our stories. 

2022 was the year I came out of my shell, or so to speak. I had been writing for a few years by then, but hadn’t had the courage to show my work to the world. When I found this incredible community in April 2022, everything changed. Their support and unwavering kindness was exactly what I needed to break through the layers of self-doubt I had built around myself. I started sending my stories out and, incredibly, one of them was picked up. Braza was accepted and published in the Funemployment Quarterly Summer edition, my first publication ever and I could never have done it without the Alliance´s help and encouragement. 

Also, in December, my story Dea Sulis Minerva got second place in the FSF Writers Alliance Short Story Contest, which was a most welcoming surprise. 

I´d say that being able to show what I’ve written, and learning to deal with the “ups and downs” of being a writer was the biggest highlight for me. Successes are awesome, they fuel our confidence and all, but I learnt to cherish every step of the way, even rejections, because they mean I´ve been working towards something I love. 

I can already say this month’s conversations with you and Madeline will go down as a highlight for me in 2023. I enjoyed Braza and Dea Sulis Minerva a lot! So, I’m super glad you have come out of your shell. I can’t wait for more. Congratulations again on Dea Sulis Minerva. It had its own elements of history in its setting and mythology. There is more about it below and our audience can click here to read it!

Like so many writers, reading is the passion that started the journey. Your book review reels are awesome, and I enjoy every one of them. What are your favorite reads for 2022? 

Isa – There are three books that I discovered through the Alliance and that had a huge impact on me: Awakening, by Lucy A. McLaren and The Worthy, by Anna K. Moss — Dark Fantasy at its best; and Pariah´s Lament, by Richie Billing — a High Fantasy story with an incredibly compelling plot.

What I love most about stories is the possibility of discussing real life issues through the lenses of fantasy. Awakening, for example, has a cast of painfully human characters with real-life struggles that truly resonated with me. Same with The Worthy, when we follow morally-grey characters, rooting for them to change and impact their world in a positive way. I am always amazed by the universes writers are able to craft. Richie´s world is immense — a study in world building. 

When I read great books, I feel inspired to do the same. 

I also discovered that I love reading short stories, something I hadn’t paid much attention to in the past.  E. B. Hunter´s short horror stories are among my favourite reads, and also your Priss Starwillow & the Wolf. I´ve become somewhat of a “fan girl” again, because now I can chat with authors whose stories I love, and that’s something I could never have done before. It is truly awesome. 

Thank you for sharing what you love about these books, and short stories, Isa! And I totally agree how wonderful it is to avail ourselves of this community and the vast experience it encapsulates and then have the opportunity to give back. Anna and Eric (E. B. Hunter) chatted with me here last year and I really appreciate revisiting their work through your perspective. I look forward to more of our community visiting me in future. I’ll include the links to all books you mention in the titles.

Richie also offers a Fantasy Writers’ Toolshed Podcast and a huge amount of resources on world building and fantasy writing on his website. He even offers free books if you sign up for his newsletter. 

Can you expand on that and tell us your all time favorites?

Isa – I´ve always read fantasy so any book which has magic and compelling characters — I´m in. His Dark Materials, by Phillip Pullman is one the first trilogies I fell in love with and that I still revisit whenever I have the chance. I also love Neil Gaiman. Anything that man writes, I´ll read, but I particularly enjoyed Neverwhere and The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Susanna Clarke´s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel makes the top of my favourite reads too, along with Patrick Rothfuss´ still-to-be-completed trilogy, Kingkiller Chronicle

Since I started writing, and more specifically, learning about crafting stories, I´ve been thinking about what makes a story a good one. What is it that makes us root for the characters we follow, what drags us to these new universes and keeps us immersed in their stories to the point we cannot put a book down until it is over?

I came to the conclusion that the answer is the emotion stories bring to the surface, and that it can only be achieved with characters rooted in their humanity. The world and setting might be interesting, the plot engaging, battles and war nerve-wracking, but without humanity there is nothing. Phillip Pullman, Neil Gaiman, Susanna Clarke and Patrick Rothfuss are experts in humanity, and I think that is why their stories are great. They make me cry as often as they make me laugh, with characters that are real in every sense of the world: they are real because they cause a real effect in the reader, and they live in our minds and hearts forever. 

Wow! I love to get recommendations. Now I’ve got more to add to my TBR. I have to admit, my preferred reads typically fall more into the supernatural romance genre, but I have been slowly building a great epic fantasy story list. You can follow Isa on Instagram for her current reviews and posts.

Isa – I also love a good paranormal romance and great romantic subplots. Give me characters slowly falling in love with each other, and you´ll have me swooning over them. One of my favourite fantasy/romance novels is a duology called The Wrath and the Dawn, by Renee Ahdieh, a retelling of Arabian Nights. Book crushes are simply the best. 

Awesome. You made my day, adding a good romance series!

How many books do you average reading a year? Do you like to set goals for the year and if so, what is your goal for 2023?

Isa – I´m a mood reader, as they say, and though I read pretty fast, I don’t have much spare time to do it, while balancing work, writing and, well, living. I genuinely only read what I want to read, and never force myself to finish something I´m not enjoying. I´d say… ten books a year? That’s not a lot, but it doesn´t include rereads, so an average of fifteen in total. 

I also read a lot of short stories — a lot a lot. At least one piece a day, sometimes more, which might be flash fiction, drabbles, or longer pieces. I subscribe to flash fiction magazines and get daily emails with the latest releases. Short stories are like little pocket universes where we get to dive in and surface on the other side with a different perspective, a different mind set. 

Take Neil Gaiman´s Nicolas Was… for example. 

It’s fascinating to realise how a hundred words in a drabble can change your view of an entire celebration. That same awe feeling happened after reading another Neil Gaiman short story Snow, Glass, Apples, a retelling of Snow White. I promise you won’t regret reading it — or you might, because you will never be able to look at the fairy tale the same again.

Another thing that I love doing is beta reading for fellow writers. Stories that are not released yet, in their developmental stage. Sometimes, the briefest ideas can be a lot of fun to work with. One of the most delightful things I find is to discover a new voice who hasn’t even discovered themselves. They share their work with apprehension, not sure if people will like it. Then I get to tell them how amazing their story is, and how much I enjoyed it — it is the best feeling in the whole world. 

My goal for 2023 is to read more indie books and find those secret gems — new authors, new voices, new characters to fall in love with. 

This reading strategy really makes sense. I for one have experienced and appreciated enormously your generosity in reading my stories. And getting your perspective on your enjoyment and the benefits you get from it is a real treat. I’m sure this will encourage others to engage in the same exercise. Thanks for spreading the love, Isa! And for adding more to my TBR list!

Isa – I have to say, Darci, that our beta reading session yesterday was incredible. I am still thinking about the selkie and her lighthouse man. You craft such a beautiful romance — it’s really hard not to fall for your characters. I look forward to reading more. 

Wow! Thank you for that, Isa. Writing powerful romance is my dream. And there is no way I could achieve it without the generous feedback you and the members of the Alliance provide.

When and how did you start writing?

Isa – I’ve been writing most of my life, journals, articles, thesis, dissertations and scientific papers for work. But I had never actually written stories, and definitely not fantasy stories. I consumed them, but also believed I could write something as good as the stories I read. I thought about it, often, crafting tales in my mind before falling asleep, which helped me cope with anxiety and insomnia, something that I´ve been struggling with most of my adult life. I don´t know exactly what changed, but in 2017 something clicked inside my brain and I decided to put pen to paper and write about those characters I had only dreamt about. Things escalated from there. 

I certainly hope the insomnia and anxiety have let up on you, and thank you for sharing that. I don’t know if it’s insomnia for all of us, but I have come to understand more about my fellow writers through our community, and the most surprising thing to learn is that many of us are night owls and really could do with a magic pill that allows us to go on without sleep. There is simply too much writing to be done! 

Who and/or what were your biggest influences?

Isa – My dad used to tell me bedtime stories every single night: I would not fall asleep without them. But instead of fairy tales or tales meant (and appropriate) for children, I’d listen to ancient mythology, Greek and Roman heroes and gods. Funny enough, I learnt as an adult that instead of being rescued and learning his lesson, Icarus (spoiler alert) actually died after flying too close to the sun. See, my dad would change the endings so I´d not be too scared — or scarred for life. 

Mum and Dad were always supportive of my passions, and would take me to the bookshops every month to find a new story, a new book. I grew up in a household filled with books, so it´s not surprising my love of literature. They were, and remain to this day, my biggest influences. 

As for literature influences, I´d say the friends I made in the Alliance. After reading E. B. Hunter’s horror stories, I started studying the genre and tried a couple of horror pieces myself. Lucy and Anna are my role models, strong women whose works I desperately love. I want to be like them when I grow up. 

And the Masters, of course, Neil Gaiman and his uncanny sense of humour, Phillip Pullman and his incredible world-building, Susanna Clarke and her beautiful prose. Giants, who I hope to walk along with one day.

I’m grinning from ear to ear on this one, Isa. Amazing parents indeed! And it reminds me of my childhood and my Dad. He has a fabulous reading voice, and loved to read me to sleep, mostly the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen.

Isa – I do think that is how a reader/writer is born. First we fall in love with the stories, then we seek them by ourselves. If there is love, nothing can get in the way. 

What drew you to the Alliance? What do you think are the biggest benefits of belonging to a community of writers? What other communities have you found beneficial to your growth as a creator?

Isa – It was one of those happy accidents, I guess. I had finished writing a novel and had no idea what to do next. While trying to figure out what sub genre my novel was, I found Richie Billing’s page and blog. I subscribed to his newsletter, we started corresponding, and he invited me to join his discord channel. There was where I met the incredible people who would soon become the Alliance. 

I believe the biggest benefit of belonging to a community is precisely that: belonging. Meeting people who are having the same struggles as you, who understand your pain, your heart, is something that can change your life forever. It changed mine. I used to feel quite lonely, even when surrounded by people. Friends and family might humour you, listen to your half crafted stories, but they don’t necessarily get what you are trying to do. Being able to have long conversations with someone who is going through the same as you is fantastic. I remember thinking “That’s it, these are my people, here is where I belong.”

A community offers the support we all need to put ourselves out in the world. They offer feedback on your work, help you solve those unsolvable problems that come with every new idea, offer advice on things you are facing or will eventually face. 

Richie´s community and the FSF Alliance are the most supportive groups of people I’ve ever seen. Everything I achieved this past year was because of them. 

I also find YouTube a great source of learning. Not a community, per se, as interactions there are more difficult and one-sided, but there are great booktubers offering amazing advice over there. I often watch video essays on word building or character development, full classes by the master Brandon Sanderson, book reviews so I’m up to date with new releases, and so on. 

As I have never had formal training in fiction writing, I had to find the knowledge I needed somewhere else. YouTube proved to be quite useful, along with reading books on writing, of course. I will eventually enrol in a formal course, that is one of the goals I have for the future, but until then, I will absorb knowledge however I can. 

Thank you for sharing all these resources and insights about community! I want to add here as I’ve done in a previous post that the Alliance recently launched its own website, and there are so many good things to explore, like the book club, and short story contests. Isa contributed to its first blog in addition to her winning short story. Check it out.

Now about Braza. Wow! I absolutely adored it. The stories in the Summer Quarterly by Funemployment Press were all fabulous, and I was truly impressed. I hope you have more stories like that planned. How did Braza come about?

Isa – Thank you, I really appreciate that. Braza was a surprise for me, from the beginning to the end. I had never thought I could write a comedy before a couple of jokes spurred in that piece. Who knew I had a sense of humour? 

I was thinking about the fantasy genre and its common tropes, how heroes are always trying to slay monsters, and how the monsters would probably oppose being slain. Wouldn’t it be sort of funny if they stated so? A dragon who needed a break and refused to be killed by a silver knight felt like a good place to start. I had a plan, but my characters had a different one, and the ending surprised me just as much as it might have surprised you. 

I´m very fond of that story, and ended up calling my dragon Braza, as a tribute to my home country, Brazil (which I dearly miss), and because brasa (spelled with an s) is Portuguese for embers or fire. I really love that story, and I´m really happy you enjoyed it too. 

Dea Sulis Minerva is another short story that uses humour to discuss something important, and it got second place in the Alliance contest. The prompt for the contest was God vs. Mankind, and I knew all those bedtime stories from my childhood would come in hand. I had also watched a documentary about the Roman Bath in Bath, England, called Aquae Sulis, and inspiration hit me. 

Back then, Romans would worship Dea Sulis Minerva as one goddess instead of two, a combination of the ancient gaelic goddess Sulis and the Roman goddess Minerva. More interestingly, citizens used to ask the goddess for revenge, writing petitions in little sheets of lead called Curse Tablets, and throwing them in the holy spring the goddess dwelt. 

The story was there, I only had to carve it out. 

Where can we find more of your stories? What are your works in progress and plans for them?

Isa Dea Sulis Minerva has been published on the Alliance website, so I´d say that is a great place to start. I also keep a blog where I post short stories and news about upcoming publications, so I’d love for you to visit me there. You can also find me on Instagram and TikTok at @isa.ottoni.writes

I´ve been working on a novel, but it’s miles away from being ready for anyone but my writing group. They are the ones who suffer through my edits and help me become a better writer. It´s a passion project, a story I really love, but I still need to improve my writing skills to be able to make it justice. Novels are the hardest thing to write, and I applaud the ones who can make it to the end. I also love writing short stories, so I´ll be doing that and trying to publish as much as I can. 

Can you tell us a little about Funemployment Press and how you ended up submitting a story? What is the magazine’s goal and do they have any submissions opening up this year?

Isa – I saw their summer submission call on our discord channel, and ruminated on the prompt for a couple of days. The theme was Sabbatical, and I tried a couple of pieces before ultimately  dropping them off. I find that forcing a story to happen does not work for me, so I often try more than one project at a time, feeling them out, and choosing the one I most resonate with. Then, Braza was born, and I was really excited about it while also trying to be realistic. I had had so many rejections until then, that one more would not discourage me, but I deeply hoped it would work out. It did, and I got that most expected email saying “We’re very pleased to accept your work ‘Braza‘…” 

I was over the moon. 

The editors are incredibly friendly and kind, and it was a pleasure working with them. I got my hard author copy and a second one too because my husband, without knowing about the author copy, bought one to surprise me. Being able to place a physical copy of something I have written among the loved titles on my bookshelf is a feeling I cannot describe. 

Funemployment Quarterly holds four open submissions a year, one for each season, and you can check their website for information on themes and deadlines. They ask for science-fiction and fantasy short stories, and according to them “We release quality things, some of which are virtual abstractions, some of which are objects you can actually hold. We hope you enjoy your stay, make yourself at home, and find your time here useful!” 

I sure did. 

The cover arts are always fantastic and the story selection wonderful. Within the Summer edition I particularly love Academic Emulators, by Franco Amati; When Death Met The May Queen, by Benjamin Thomas; and Azimuth, by Matt Cantor. 

No matter what edition you pick, you are in for a lot of fun. 

Click wherever Funemployment is mentioned to link to the Press and they are also listed on my website under Communities, Indie Presses. Submissions are open! The Theme is Autonomy.

How do you balance all your pursuits with life and work? Do you have any tips on time management and how to fit in what you love doing with what you must do on a day-to-day basis?

Isa – Organisation is the key, I believe. I have a board on the wall of my study where I place different colour post-its with the different things I have to do throughout the month. That way I can see where my free periods are and make the most out of them. I´m fortunate enough to have a job where the schedule is flexible and I can move things around to fit my responsibilities and my passions. There are days when writing is impossible, and that’s okay, because my board tells me that tomorrow or the next day I will have an entire afternoon just for that. 

Different people will have different goals and different needs, but one thing that I believe unite us writers is the passion for our craft. With passion, anything is possible, even carving time out of a crazy schedule. We write because we love doing so, and I think that is enough. If you can write everyday, great, but if not, great too, because there is nothing that will stop you from finding the time to do it. 

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Isa – I spent most of my adult life setting goals for myself and my career, working like crazy to meet those ideals — and I have achieved what I had set out to achieve. I have reached a point in my life where I’m perfectly content with what I have so I don’t want to stress over my writing too. I write because it makes me happy, so I´ll be happy as long as I’m doing it. 

That being said, I do want to publish a novel some day, but if that is going to happen in five, ten or twenty years, I don´t know. Whatever happens, happens, and I will keep writing, keep learning, and keep loving every step of the way. 

Thank you so much for visiting with me. Do you have any parting advice for our readers who want to pursue their creative passions?

Isa – Creativity is a strange thing, it may hit you when least expected. I would say that an attentive mind is the key to igniting those creative juices in our minds. 

So pay attention. Pay attention to the people around you, to the silly things you watch online, to the changing seasons. Pay attention to the beating of a heart and the flap of a bird’s wing, to the cold of the morning wind and the warmth of the summer sun on your skin. 

Pay attention to the world around you, think about it, then make it yours. 

For me, inspiration comes in those quiet moments of contemplation, where your mind is still and yet focused, so thoughts spark in your brain and your entire body reacts to it. Did something make you laugh? Write it down. Did it make you cry? Write it down. Did it make you bored? Look again because you´re not paying enough attention.

To pursue a passion is redundant,because if it’s a passion, you will have no choice other than pursuing it. It´s in its nature, this calling that won´t leave you alone until you do what your mind and heart are begging you to do. So do it. Be brave and do it. Even if you´re doing it entirely for yourself – or especially if you’re doing it entirely for yourself. 

Then, you go back to thinking about it. What worked, and what didn’t work? What was it that you needed to make it work? Talk to people, ask questions. Leave the self-doubt behind. Follow the advice that works for you, and ignore the ones that don´t. Do you. Be unapologetically yourself. And love every step of the way. 

Wonderful! I can’t wait to see more of where your passion leads you, Isa. All the best to you!

Commaful – Have You Tried this Story Telling Platform?

Commaful allows authors to tell their stories with pictures. You get a square space for an image and room to put a sentence per page. The story basically advances line by line. You can use this for Fanfiction, Poetry, Flash Fiction and Short Stories. It can be a suspense story, romance, or comedy. The sky is the limit! I’m intrigued. Let me know what you think.

Following are screenshots from a writer’s desktop of a clever tutorial demonstrating the format.

My 250-Word Bomb

As In It Didn’t Even Make it Through the First Round of a Micro Fiction Competition

So, I’m just releasing my thoughts about this into words. Thanks for allowing me to indulging in this exercise with you.

At the very least, it has been a huge learning experience participating in the NYC Midnight writing challenges. The prompts and random genres are hard! But I was bit by the competition bug and have been compelled to torture myself in a few of these events where you only have a day or two to write according to prompts. I managed to score points for two stories in the flash fiction contest, but not enough to go to the third round. So, failing to even get an honorable mention in my latest endeavor put a big dent in my day yesterday.

Why am I whining? I’m not really. I have learned so much from these competitions, and the feedback from the judges is detailed and well thought out. I had the idea that I could share this with a few readers (if anyone is willing) to shine some light on what the judges say was lacking.

I was assigned Action/Adventure, Catching an Insect, and the word Clean to use in my story.

Now I admit, Action/Adventure is not my thing, though I had fun with it in my short story, A Leap Through the Elder Oak, which I shared for winter solstice. But I gave it a shot because I do love a challenge. I was pretty happy with the plot that popped into my head as I mulled over the prompts. 

The main issue was that the story failed to have a direct action scene. Oops. I’m fairly certain Action/Adventure needs a direct action scene. I thought dodging between skyscrapers in a squirrel suit was pretty direct, but that’s just me. Kenji might have been a little too contemplative for an action story. At least the judges said it was a compelling story despite the lack of direct action, and Kenji was a compelling protagonist. I’ll take it! 

Then they said I needed more backstory for the brothers. I get that. The judges were confused about the purpose of the story, was one brother good, one bad? Both bad? But backstory in 250 words? Hmmm. And I think my main theme was pretty clear. It was about family, so it didn’t matter if either of them were good or bad. One brother was desperate to save the other, and he risked himself to do it. Again, 250 words… how do you give them both a backstory plus the story in 250 words? Sorry. I’m repeating myself.

They discussed the idea that the omen of the moth could be bad, or it could be good depending on the reader. I’m okay with that. It’s what I intended. This lovely moth in fact represents portents both good or bad depending on the culture. I wanted to leave that up to the reader, whoever you may be.

Finally, they said the paragraph where I use the required prompt word “clean” could have been shorter, less descriptive to allow room for more backstory. But how the heck would “clean” fit in without Kenji looking around his environment? That’s a stumper, but that is probably the main reason why I need to work more at writing good micro fiction.

I asked a couple friends. One thought I’ve been mulling over is that my point of view might be confusing. It felt like it was always Kenji, but let me know what you think about that.

Well, here it is for better or worse. And thanks again!

I’d love any feedback to help me make it better because I never let my losing stories just die, and you might have the perfect idea how to get that backstory in. That would be a fantastic thing.

The Death’s Head Omen

Kenji suited up, knelt on one knee, propped his elbow on the other, then used his mini scope to confirm the coordinates. His target was locked in.

Jumping from a high-rise balcony in the dark to land on the roof of a warehouse three miles away was crazy. The wingsuit flight might kill him any number of ways. An accurate parachute landing would be a miracle. Doing it in the middle of a drug deal raised the stakes impossibly high.

But he would arrive unseen, and it was his best option to save his brother. Kaiyo would do the same for him.

Still, prickling sweat mocked him. Made him doubt his abilities. Kenji needed an omen. As the thought entered his head, a shadow flitted across his vision. A death’s head hawkmoth. Up here so far, and all alone? Like Kenji in his desperation.

Swiveling, he scanned his surroundings one last time. It was beautiful amid the tops of the gleaming buildings. Muted, like the outer reaches of space. Pristine. The glass wall behind him was so clean he could see through to the east end of the hundred and first floor.

He captured the portentous insect between cupped palms, absorbed its fluttering life, then spread his hands. It flew free. He aimed his body and did the same. Familiar excitement took hold, and the air currents gripped him as he hurtled twenty-five miles an hour between gleaming skyscrapers and flashing neon, zigzagging towards the only family he had left.

Writing Battle Flash Fiction Challenge Coming Soon – A truly amazing writing community phenomenon taking off!

@WritingBattle on IG and WritingBattle.com

Escape into a Solstice Lore Fantasy During a Dark Winter

Enjoy a fantasy short story set in a parallel realm during the winter solstice. Meet Ray Jensen, husband, father and physicist, who disappears into an experiment and ends up in a place where his ideas about science and logic are turned upside down. Despite the fantastical world, the questions piquing his scientific curiosity, and his new friends, his only desire is to get home. Journey with him and Tsealie of the Sapphire Gnomes while he figures it out.

Excerpt

Ray Jensen pounded through the trees, then leapt with blind faith into the hole as an arrow whizzed past his ear. The opening sealed over his head like it never existed, as he dropped thirty feet.

Experience taught him the precise point at which to fold his tall body for the landing, and he hit the ground, rolled over the floor covered in thick straw, and came to a breathless halt against a boulder.

He coughed and spat out a mouthful of dirt. Just once, he would like to enter the realm of the Sapphire Gnomes without coming close to breaking his neck.

His eyes landed on a pair of Antlered Hare boots and the bottom of a crooked staff. The voice above them said, “You’re quite good at that. And I can see it was necessary.”

***

Click on the photo below to go to my story on Vocal Media. A like would be so appreciated, and comments are welcome.

Vintage Holiday Greeting Card

A Leap Through the Elder Oak is also available in four installments in My Stories.

Have you Ever Worked Furiously on a Short Story Submission, and Nearly Missed the Deadline?

Still, I managed it with fifteen minutes to spare! And I hadn’t even figured out the title yet. Yikes! My closest call yet. I had the deadline wrong. I’m typing away and thought I should check the submission requirements again. Due in Two Hours! What!! The story that resulted still has me reeling. I love it so much, I don’t even care if it doesn’t get a win. It is dear to my heart, and that is all that matters.

The prompt was to write a dystopian tale using the first sentence, “The outside world was unknown to her, but she could see a glimpse of it through the window in his room.” I couldn’t resist this one! It’s short. Eight minutes to read. I’d love to know if it captures your imagination, too, only if you have a few minutes to spare, and need a dose of magic. If you do, click the photo.

A lonely man in a dying world seizes a chance at happiness with a mythical being.

The outside world was unknown to her, but she could see a glimpse of it through the window in his room. The view from this high place included a blue sky interrupted by puffy white clouds tipped in pink from the rising sun, and their shadows moved swiftly over a patch of turbulent sea. That spot was the focus of her longing.

It was the vast land flowing away from the sea that comprised the unknown, the part of this world she had never experienced until now, the part that required a pair of feet to traverse it. She looked at her toes in wonder, curling them just to ensure it was her will operating the strange appendages.

A Little Cannibal Comedy, Anyone?

I dare you to ride along with the masked passengers and their eerie pilot in this story that came from a random prompt in a genre you don’t get …

A Little Cannibal Comedy, Anyone?

Browsing Vocal Media for Engaging Short Stories?

I’m there. I would love you to stop by and check out my growing and eclectic set of short stories. Fantasy fiction, an adult fairy tale, a romance triangle with a twist, a pair of aquarium fish who witness murdering mayhem, a historical fiction tale of a pioneering aeronaut, and even a cannibal comedy with an ending that will raise your brows, await you. If you enjoy them, like and comment while you’re there. Thank you!

Click on image to visit my profile and stories.

A Leap Through the Elder Oak, The Conclusion

  • Click here for Part One
  • Click here for Part Two
  • Click here for Part Three

A Leap Through the Elder Oak, Conclusion

Once again, Ray found himself dodging arrows as he leapt over fallen trees and ducked behind live ones. Tsealie would say it was a miracle he hadn’t been poked full of holes long before now. The elves were lethal with their uncanny aim and inhuman strength that sent the arrows flying so close, his skin prickled where they passed.

Another missile whipped by his face, splitting a small birch tree in two ahead of him, right where he’d been about to turn. He spun on his heels and changed direction as he cursed his hair that glowed like a silver beacon in the growing darkness of the shortest day of the year. He’d set out wearing a gnome hat Tsealie’s daughter had modified for him. The conical hat was absurd on such a tall man, but it disguised his humanness and used magical camouflage to make him disappear into nature.

It worked until the cap was snatched by a branch about a half mile back as he traversed a dangerous patch of woods. Not long after, the elf prince and his guard picked up his trail. Thwack! Another arrow lodged in a tree, this time taking a piece of him first. Ray reached behind his neck and felt the wetness of his blood. Another inch and the force would have taken his head.

Before this fateful jaunt into the bizarre, Ray had wished for more excitement in his life. Dropping into the realm of a supernatural race who did not welcome the intrusion wasn’t what he had in mind. Was leaving here too much to ask? He considered throwing himself on the mercy of the elf king. He’d meant what he said when he told Tsealie this was the last time he would risk the gnomes.

If he hadn’t broken so many laws when he first arrived, Tsealie might have managed to negotiate a sponsorship with King Seabrin, which might have gotten him home at the start of this venture. But laws were very different here, and the elves had little tolerance for law breakers, even if they were unwitting ones. Attempting negotiations was too dangerous a prospect for the lesser gnome kingdom to undertake. Once Ray learned about his situation, he refused to let Tsealie try.

He stumbled through a patch of thorny brush and almost fell on his face. He’d lost more blood than he realized, and his vision blurred. He didn’t even let himself dwell on the pain. Too many other worries crowded his mind, like making it to the portal before he passed out. He should try to staunch the blood. The elves had gone silent, which meant he had no idea how close they were, but he needed to rest a minute and bind his wound.

An opening between a spot of thick brush and a boulder provided cover while he crouched on the pungent forest floor and listened for signs of his pursuers. An owl hooted. Something skittered through his hiding spot, followed by another skitter. Twigs snapped under heavier steps. The prince was closer than he thought. As he listened, his vision cleared enough to make out his surroundings in the fading light. His heart thumped at what he saw.

He’d made it back to the Forest of the Fire Maidens and was in the middle of the ancient copse of yews Tsealie described. Ray knew what he must search for next, but he stayed hidden a little longer to drink his fill of water from the gourd on his belt. He used some to wash the blood from his hands, listened again, then pushed on in a direction away from the elves.

He only had to go another hundred yards before he spotted the mound of granite towering over a moonlit meadow, his last marker. An ethereal voice echoed between the trees. “If you don’t halt and turn yourself in, human, it will go worse for you.”

Of course, he kept going. He was so close; the sound of his wife’s laughter rang in his head. She was always ready to laugh, and it was the sweetest sound on earth. It beckoned him and hope gave him strength and stealth, so when he sprinted the last few yards, he made no sound.

He leapt over a log and vaulted around the monolithic rock, then stumbled to a halt. Ray had hashed out every detail of the epic solstice battle with Tsealie the past few days, but it hadn’t prepared him for the sight that met his eyes. Two trees, so tall they blocked the deepening starlight, swung their branches at each other as if they were swords. Their clashes thundered across the clearing, and electricity made its own noise as it crackled between them, growing in intensity.

He couldn’t make out faces because there weren’t any, but he imagined their expressions all the same, and it was clear the giant trees engaged in a fierce competition. One minute, they seemed rooted to the ground, the next, they would raise a gnarled root and step forward with another jab.

Movement caught his eye. It was an opening in the hollow of one of the warring trees, the Elder Oak, and it shimmered in an out of existence. His theory was correct. The portal wasn’t fixed in one spot, it moved around to meet certain conditions. And he watched those conditions unfold in a traditional clash that heralded winter. He calculated the war would end in about twenty minutes.

Before he could make his move, a beam of light blinded him, obscuring the snorting creature rearing up and blocking his path. A stag. He had to leap out of the way and barely managed to stay on his feet.

On the stag’s back was a fierce-looking blue-haired elf with a crown on his head that appeared to be made of water. The glowing being spoke in a deep voice. “Where do you think you are going, human? Do you really believe we would let you return without making you pay for your crimes?”

“My only crime is believing I was smart enough to know what I was doing with the portal. I admit conducting my experiment was the worst decision of my life. I only want to return to my family. I haven’t caused any harm here. Please let me go back.”

“It is the harm you might cause when you return that we are concerned with, and none of this is for you to decide. It is up to the king.” His brows drew together. “There is one possibility that might earn you your freedom.”

“What do you mean?”

“The human who seems set on discovering his way here must be stopped. The king will send you home after you help us with this problem.” 

“I’ve already been missing for six years. Longer is unthinkable.”

“It is either this or be locked away and never go home again.” Ray decided he had another choice and searched for his opportunity to make a run for the ancient oak.

Then, he got help when a familiar sapphire prism pierced the darkness, and snow began to fall. It fell so heavy it soon covered every surface, piling high. The blanketing quiet brought to the fore the sounds of clashing branches. Only a few feet separated Ray from his family.

An owl flew at the prince, flapping its wings around the stag’s head. The stag reared up, this time in defense, nearly unseating the prince. More owls swooped over the guards.

Ray recognized the cues given to him by a wizened old gnome to point him towards another leap of faith. In the winged chaos, he made a zigzag dash, then dove headfirst at the shimmering hollow while the king of the oak trees dueled with the Holly King, both giants oblivious to the drama playing out beneath them.

As he tumbled through a denser darkness than the one now shrouding Undine on the winter solstice, he sent his heartfelt gratitude to a tiny being who had turned out to be the best friend he ever had.

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A Leap Through the Elder Oak, Part Three

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A Leap Through the Elder Oak, Part Three

The six-foot four human had given up applying science to the phenomenon of his two-foot-high companion covering distances faster than him, while appearing to stroll. His efforts these days went to keeping pace with the being who barely topped his knee. He was used to the strangeness now, so he was able to listen as they walked and Tsealie explained.

“It will be a process because as kings, the giant trees can move among their subjects. However, there are only so many locations that will accommodate their size, and as you pointed out, the locations are part of the tradition.”

His dark eyes glittered. “I am hopeful we can get you to the right one in time. I will alert the network at once. Then, you, my friend, will need to be ready to dodge the elves and make it there in one piece.” 

When Ray’s face filled with determination, Tsealie said, “Did I ever tell you that you could pass for an Ice Elf with that platinum hair? Especially when your eyes turn steely.”

“You mentioned it a time or two. And if I were to stay longer in this world, I would like to meet the race whose history my ancestors in Scandinavia might very well share, if my theory is correct.”

The two of them continued on, rounding yet another bend in the tunnel, and the yeasty fumes of mushroom ale invaded Ray’s nostrils. He rolled his shoulders and relaxed, inhaling deeper. His favorite soup was on the menu this afternoon. Leek and lentil. Prior to living with these diminutive beings of nature, Ray had been steadfast in his belief he wouldn’t survive on greenery and legumes, though his wife often tried to convince him to go vegetarian with her. It turned out he thrived on the savory concoctions the gnomes liberally dished out.

Tsealie’s smile thinned out his wrinkles. You know I will miss your stories and our games. But I wish this for you as hard as you wish it for yourself.”

“I know you do, Tsealie. And I have a feeling once I’m home, it won’t be long before I will want to come back for a visit, though I can’t see how that might happen. Do you?”

“Before you stumbled unwittingly through a Fae portal and wandered into the fern gardens to trample over my herd of snails, I would have thought not. But with you Raymond Jensen, anything is possible.”

Ray blanched at his words, even as he accepted the humor in them. “I still feel awful about the snails. At least you stopped me before my carelessness grew to unforgivable proportions.”

At last, they arrived at a set of double doors carved out of thick elm. A pair of gnomes, even shorter than their elder, and dignified in their sapphire livery complete with tall, conical caps, made way for them, then stood at attention. Guards were not a requirement in this peaceful realm deep under the earth. The little sentinels made themselves available in this fashion, seeming to appear from thin air, out of respect for Tsealie, who was the oldest among them.

But Tsealie’s age was another logic-bending mystery Ray decided long ago not to spend time puzzling over, so he pushed that last thought aside and bent in half to enter the Great Hall Under the Elm. Thanks to the hollow in the giant tree widening out to unbelievable proportions below ground, he could rise to his full height after squeezing through the door.

Since learning today about the symbiotic relationship between the trees and the gnomes, Ray took time to glance around the natural architecture with new eyes. He let the raucous noise fade away and listened to the sounds of the earth. A trick Tsealie taught him. An array of burls had been turned into small windows that staggered up the great height of the tree, and the dust moted beams of light bathed his face.

Part of him had been aware of the aura glowing off the surfaces of the underground kingdom, but now he could feel the rhythm of life that encompassed more than the tiny people.

Tsealie waited, as if he understood Ray’s need to absorb this new perspective of his surroundings. Then, the elder’s stomach rumbled loud enough to break the spell, and the hall turned lively once again.

Ray smiled and said, “I could use a meal, too. But even more urgent is the need to indulge in at least three pints, and a board game or two to calm me down. You’ve given me my first real hope today.”

“Your clever scientific investigations did that,” Tsealie said as they headed through the throng of citizens, all wearing the signature pointed hat, whether male or female. “Now let’s eat, so we can get to our next round of Lanard. You promised to leave me with a strategy memorable enough to be chronicled in the archives.”

Just then, a sentinel appeared as if out of thin air. His cap was askew, and his eyes were round as he said, “Prince Jonpril’s men are investigating much too close to our entrance, Tsealie. Linton is bolstering the shields.”

Tsealie laid a hand on his guard’s shoulder. “Thank you, Peddrie. You best go back and help him.” It appeared as if the miniature person turned and walked away, but he was simply no longer there. Ray blinked. He still wasn’t used to that.

Ray said, “The winter solstice cannot come soon enough this year for the Sapphire Gnomes. If I don’t make it, Tsealie, I will turn myself in.”

To be continued… stay tuned for the conclusion tomorrow! December 24, 2022.

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A Leap Through the Elder Oak, Part Two

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A Leap Through the Elder Oak, Part Two

The gnome stopped walking and spoke in his stern elder voice, gripping his staff hard enough to make the faceted sapphire cast its prisms over the tunnel. “You must have risked capture more than usual today, Raymond, to be the benefactor of so much information. You will want to be extra cautious next time you go topside. The elves might set a trap. They also might realize it is the Sapphire Gnomes  guarding the whereabouts of the human who evades them.”

When Ray opened his mouth to speak, Tsealie held up a hand. “That is all I have to say about that. I’ve taken the usual precautions to hide your tracks. As for the ruby, it is said to be a bloodred stone the size of a man’s fist and in the possession of the Siren of the Undine Sea Caves. If any mortal should survive the vicious tides that rise up at her will and all her other cruel tricks to reach the stone, they will gain immortality.”

Ray said, “From what I know of this man, that would fit with his purpose.”

Tsealie snorted and once again sounded like a carefree gnome. “First, the stone is a myth and not even the Undine Elves believe it exists. Second, humans without a Fae sponsor who are ignorant of the supernatural kingdoms have never found their way here.” He gave Ray the side eye. “Until you. And lastly, the siren who allegedly possesses the stone is deadly to all who cross her path, not just feeble humans.” He caught Ray’s eye again. “No offense.”

Ray laughed. “I am the first to admit to my human weaknesses.” Then, his jaw clenched, and his voice turned serious. “I don’t care what this man is close to doing. Let him risk himself over a grab at immortality. The king can worry about keeping him out. My only purpose is to get home to my family.” 

He inhaled, then let his breath out slowly. “Even though I’ve lived in Undine through the changing of seven seasons and witnessed many incredible things, as a dedicated scientist, I’m struggling to embrace the idea I must find a pair of ancient battling trees if I want to get home.”

“Well, my friend. That may be something I can help you with.”

“You have a way to locate them?”

“The trees and gnomes cannot exist without each other. Do you see what makes up these walls? He gestured around them as they moved again along the winding tunnel. “The interlocking roots are lifelines to the tree kingdom and the gnomes not only shelter within them, but care for them. The problem we will have this time of year is getting the kings’ attention because the two will be focused only on their relentless competition.”

He peered at Ray from under his pointy cap. “It’s not like they will ever be allowed to rule on their respective wrong sides of the year. That would defy the laws of nature. One king must always give way to the other every solstice. But they never stop trying. And they certainly won’t be bothered with human problems while they are at it.”

“They don’t have to be. The portal’s energy will be affected by the clashing kings, opening and closing as the season passes to the victor. I just have to be in the right place at the right time. I’ve waited so long, only to learn my window of opportunity is slim. If I’m too late, I’ll have to wait another year, or find another way.”

“It’s not like you to be negative, Raymond. Just think, you might have discovered this after the solstice. But how in the name of the Sapphire Imp did you figure it out?”

“Believe me, I am just as flabbergasted. But this wonderous place has taught me that science and magic are not so different. They operate on the same principles. And it all starts with miniscule elements that comprise what human scientists call atoms, which form molecules, which cause reactions to the energy around us. An example of that is what will happen at the site of this traditional battle.” 

Ray stopped and laid a hand on the small shoulder. “So, how will we find them, Tsealie?”

To be continued…

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A Leap Through the Elder Oak – A Winter Solstice Fantasy Story

A scientist who stumbles accidentally into a realm that defies the laws of physics (or does it?) might finally be close to getting back home to his wife and daughter.

I wrote this story for a private community blog whose members are dedicated to writing every day, starting with the Winter Solstice and into the Spring Equinox. Since I am sharing in installments there, I thought I’d do the same here, delivering the ending on Christmas Eve. I adapted a deleted chapter from one of my novels in progress to a Winter Solstice themed short story, and was thrilled to find the perfect home for it. I hope you enjoy Part 1.

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A Leap Through the Elder Oak, Part One

Ray Jensen pounded through the trees, then leapt with blind faith into the hole as an arrow whizzed past his ear. The opening sealed over his head like it never existed, as he dropped thirty feet. 

Experience taught him the precise point at which to fold his tall body for the landing, and he hit the ground, rolled over the floor covered in thick straw, and came to a breathless halt against a boulder. 

He coughed and spat out a mouthful of dirt. Just once, he would like to enter the realm of the Sapphire Gnomes without coming close to breaking his neck.

His eyes landed on a pair of Antlered Hare boots and the bottom of a crooked staff. The voice above them said, “You’re quite good at that. And I can see it was necessary.”

The wizened gnome beckoned to Ray with his sapphire-topped staff as the human rose to his full height, his joints protesting this latest drop with a few popping sounds. The tall man stooped to allow the very small Fae to swipe at his cheek with a thumb, which he drew back to show it was covered in blood, then he shook his head.

Ray smiled and said, “I’m only as good as your charm over that entrance, Tsealie. I never have to doubt it will work.” He held up a moss-colored stone, flipped it in the air, and caught it.

Tsealie said with the eagerness of a true friend, “Were you successful?”

“Yes. I confirmed two important things. My theory is correct about my arrival being somewhere within the Forest of the Fire Maidens. And I found out that the king sent his youngest son to investigate the human who has been attempting to cross the same portal, using my invention. But the elves had me on the run before I could find the exact location.

Optimism crept into his voice. “When I locate the Elder Oak, who will battle with the Holly King at the winter solstice, it should be the answer to my problem. I was so close, Tsealie. But it wouldn’t have done me any good because as a non-magic user, I need help from the tree kings four days from now. Not today. If only I hadn’t wandered so far when you found me. I might have been home long before now.”

“I’ve told you many times it was a miracle an uninvited human survived the hazards of the Realm after wandering dazed over such a staggering distance. It is another miracle you’ve been here all this time without being discovered, and your odds lower with each search.” Tsealie made sure to admonish him in this vein every time he returned from an investigation, and Ray took it for the worry it was.

The gnome tossed in a little hope with his dire words. “It’s a relief you made it back today, so you can prove me wrong again. And I’m thinking your latest efforts might indeed lead to your success. But it seems King Seabrin has upped the security.”

“I agree. I believe it means the arrogant human he’s trying to keep out and who is responsible for trapping me here discovered something that amped up his attempts.”

By now the two of them were walking along a tunnel, the walls of which were thick with fat intertwining roots polished to a shine. The warm wood gleamed from every spot not covered by all manner of green lichen and white moonflowers. Oil lanterns lit their way with a pleasant orange glow.

“How long do you reckon I’ve been here, Tsealie?”

“You’re the physicist. What do you think?” Tsealie’s voice was not unkind. He simply didn’t want to give an answer that would cause his friend pain.

Ray heaved out a sigh. “Though it has only been two years in the Undine Realm, I calculate six have passed on the other side. My little girl has grown up… And I missed it.”

“I am sorry, Raymond.” To Tsealie, Ray was Raymond from the start. No one ever called him by his full name until he met his pint-sized rescuer. The use of his name now conveyed sympathy, which also etched itself in the wrinkled face and showed from the deep-set eyes under bristly eyebrows. And it was for more than the loss of his daughter’s childhood.

Tsealie knew well what Ray endured each day he existed without his wife, who was his partner in all things. They were physicists and university professors who’d been together since college. A single semester of chemistry was all it took for them to fall in love and they had been inseparable since. Both his girls would have been fascinated by this place. But he’d left them behind and the hole in his heart would not mend until he was with them again.

Ray refrained from rubbing his hand over that spot and returned to his report. “I heard another interesting piece of news,” he said with a note of suspense, then watched his friend’s face. “The king believes the man is after something called the Ruby of the Ancients. Do you know of this?”

To be continued…

Happy holidays

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More Pod People Seeded in my Brain by Aliens – Being Taken Over is Exciting!

So long as they’re giving me something and not taking… Hmmm. Or are they? Well, what I don’t know won’t hurt me. Meanwhile, characters, aka my Pod …

More Pod People Seeded in my Brain by Aliens – Being Taken Over is Exciting!

My Pod People are Still Clamoring for Release. Stories Won’t Stop! Happy Winter Writing!