Tag Archives: Fantasy Writing

Isa Loves my Pod People…

Sam and Priss are super loveable Pod People… more stories for them in the works. Don’t you love Isa’s fairy wings?!! Find it on Amazon with bonus …

Isa Loves my Pod People…

My first published story! Other than self… 💙💙💙

Isa still loves it! 🥰💙💙💙

Hellbound Hiatus – A Gods vs. Man Short Story

If you were a giant god sentenced to eternal torture, how would you entertain yourself during your vacation?

Artwork by Hugo Puzzuoli

Hellbound Hiatus

By D. L. Lewellyn

Tityus gave only half a thought to punching the obnoxious birds in their wrinkled bald faces because doing so was an act of futility. He knew this because he’d done it a million times over thousands of years, and it hadn’t yet stopped the two giant vultures from chewing out his liver every twenty-eighth day, starting precisely at six p.m., Eastern European Time. It was now seven.

The voracious creatures will finish digging into his side in exactly one hour, after which Tityus will endure more agonizing pain with the regrowth of his immortal organ, only to have the endless punishment repeated at the next new moon. In the lulls between, the giant often wondered who suffered the worst torment, the birds who were sent to Hell to eat the same meal every month for eternity, or Tityus from having to provide it.

He decided it would feel good to punch the bobbing heads anyway. It was worth the extra pain as strips of his flesh were wrenched from his body by the force of his own blow. At least he’d caved in half their ugly faces, and there was immense satisfaction in all the flapping of black wings and screeches through shattered beaks. It was even better when they went aloft to find a ledge and wait for their skulls to mend.

A sound between a moan and a sigh seeped from the giant, echoing through his stone and moss-covered grotto nestled deep below the base of Mount Parnassus. Zeus might be liberal with handing out sentences to his dozens of offspring when they went astray, but it didn’t mean he wasn’t keeping track of every single one. Tityus hoped his father had noticed his act of bored defiance.

Since he’d been given a bonus reprieve, he took the opportunity to recline more comfortably on his loamy pallet, which stretched along with him across his nine-acre earthen home. He picked up the remote and flipped through the three programs his sister had selected for him to view on the eighty-foot screen, which hung on his southern limestone wall. It was only recently that Persephone had come up with the ingenious device in her efforts to give him a diversion between bouts of torture.

He smiled at the thought of his sister. 

She was the only one who believed he’d been goaded into his crime of passion by Hera and pleaded his case every chance she got. Even the goddess who bore him and the one who raised him didn’t believe his side though both had reason to blame Hera for their problems. It seemed they stuck together when it came to condemning him, but not Persephone. His sister’s loyalty and affection never wavered.

She also understood that finding what he sought through his view to the human world was the only thing keeping him sane and that on those rare occasions when he found the perfect distraction, he could ignore the prospect of the gnawing and gnashing at his flesh, and the pain when red ropes of liver would be tugged out and slurped up like so many earth worms that shared his home.

***

It took the better part of the first week after his liver grew back to select his target, and Tityus was in the middle of planning how he would go about the couple’s torment when a leafy vine began winding up his leg. Since his limb was the length of three stadiums, it took some time for the greenery to get close to his face, but Tityus waited patiently for his sister to make her appearance. 

The vine stopped its horizontal travels at his hip, then shot straight up as it thickened into limbs that stretched into a torso. A neck and head appeared next, and soon the dulcet tones of the Queen of the Underworld chimed through his grotto.

“Hello, Brother. Have you made your selection?”

He had to dial down his voice to keep from blasting Persephone off his hip. “I have. Though each couple was as tempting as the other. Thank you for that. Choosing was half the fun.”

She clasped her hands together and grinned. “That is just what I hoped for. It has been too long since you’ve enjoyed yourself, Tityus, and I’m happy to do my part to make the point to Father that the retribution he inflicts on his offspring just as often spreads to mankind. You must know I have been pleading your case again. Not only were you manipulated by the jealous Hera, but your crime was incomplete, and this punishment has gone on long enough. Not to mention, it is agony to hear your groans of pain as they shake the very core of the Underworld.”

Green eyes as big as moons brimmed with affection, and he nudged her gently into his waiting palm. “Ever my champion, dear sister. I don’t know what I would do without you. Won’t you recline and stay for a bit?”

“That is why I’m here.” She reached out and patted his thumb. “I will convince Father one day soon. Meanwhile, you deserve a reprieve toying with the humans.” She laid back on her elbow and propped her head in her hand, while her vines wove a canopy over her and anchored themselves between her brother’s fingers. “Now, who did you pick?”

“If I only have time for one, this pair has the best potential to give us a top-rated show.” He clicked the remote, and the giant screen came to life. The sibling gods looked down on two people crouched in a square pit divided into grids in the middle of an archeological site not far from the west bank of the Nile.

***

Sarah had no clue what she did to him with that earnest look of concentration. Parts of him clenched uncomfortably when she pushed her glasses higher on her pert nose, which was smudged with red dust. Not only did his heart thump loud enough to give him away, but he almost groaned. That embarrassing prospect broke the spell she was weaving over him, and he turned the sound into a cough. Shit. It was getting harder to keep things casual, and if his boss could read even a fraction of his inappropriate thoughts, she would send him packing.

So, Nathan turned his attention back to the brush he held in his hand and focused on the shard of pottery they were painstakingly easing in stages from the three-and-a-half-thousand-year-old soil. This section of the dig had turned up another small cache, which was laid out on a cloth next to them, consisting of tools, a handful of human bones, two delicate cat skulls, and three nearly intact clay jars.

The shard wasn’t even the most exciting thing they’d unearthed today… except… “Is that cuneiform?”

Her sweet, yet husky voice got him going again when she said, “Yes. I believe our theory has been confirmed, Nathan. Do you agree?”

He was struck by her eyes that glittered with excitement and had to give himself a mental shake before answering. “It is harder to deny when we add this to the rest. But Sarah, we’ve been breathing the dirt in this six-foot square hole for eight hours. Let’s cover it up, stash our findings in the locker, and get out of here. It’s time to go to the city for a night of celebration.”

“You really want to finish the day’s work without cataloging these beauties? Don’t you want to know what these symbols tell us?” She cocked her head. “Have I worked you that hard?”

He laughed. “I just need to get clean and then go sweat at a club with dancing and liquor. Morning will be soon enough to study our treasure.”

“I suppose getting sweaty for a different reason would be a nice change of pace. You’re on.”

But those words passing through full pink lips and the vision of her moving on a dance floor forced him to stay crouched for a minute longer while waves of yearning rushed once more through his lower regions. Maybe torturing himself with an evening in her company wasn’t such a grand idea after all. Then, he decided it was, because this was the opportunity he’d hoped for.

***

Tityus paused the video feed, and when he spoke, small boulders slid down the embankments surrounding his prone form. “You can see he’s got it bad and has no idea she’s been exploring her sexuality. I’ve got a few moves set up to help her decide things.”

Persephone’s eyes gleamed. “So, I can assume her decisions won’t include poor Nathan?”

“That’s the plan, but only after we squeeze more entertainment from them first. You did good, Sister. I can already smell his pathos,” and he closed his eyes and inhaled the pungent air to demonstrate the sensory input, which caused a small cyclone to whirl a path around them and rattled her vines. “His suffering and their confusion will go a long way towards helping me endure my next round of torment. I’m already collecting images for my dreams.” He cracked an eye open to peer at his sister. “And we might even enjoy some collateral damage. There’s a third party involved.” 

The quiet when the giant ceased speaking left a vacuum in the subterranean chamber. Then the walls shook again when he chuckled and said, “Is our uncle aware of your new penchant for misguiding love-struck humans?”

The Queen of the Underworld let out an undignified snort. “Hades does not care how I occupy my time, only that he can call me to him whenever he wants. And speaking of the demanding one, I feel his pull now. I promise to be back for another installment. But don’t wait for me, you can catch me up.” Tityus was used to Persephone’s spontaneous appearances and abrupt departures, and didn’t mind when the forest of greenery disappeared with his sister in a wispy puff. He clicked his remote to open the next scene.

***

Nathan was sweaty just as planned, but he’d never had so much fun getting into this state of bodily dampness. Sarah had arranged for several of her friends from the university to meet them at the discotheque in Luxor, and the girls had made it their mission to keep him on the dance floor for the past two hours. He finally had to beg them for a break, so he could go to the restroom to cool down and freshen up.

Revived and happy enough with the results, he pushed his way through the crush of dancers and back to the bar where he’d left his charming companions with their drinks. When he was close enough to spot them through the crowd, he came to a dead stop, and his heart plummeted like a stone. 

Sarah was sitting on a stool facing her friend Eman, who had her lips buried in Sarah’s neck. At first, it looked like Eman was simply trying to be heard, but then he saw their clasped hands, and a pink tongue darting in Sarah’s ear. Sarah laughed and pulled back, and her eyes glittered with excitement, and something else. Shit. How could he have had things so wrong?

The shock wore off almost immediately, but that only let a whole slew of other confusing emotions overwhelm him while he stood there gaping, until the thought of what he must look like penetrated the fog.

Sarah spotted him before he could shake it off and act normal. Her smile froze, then she frowned.

Eman turned to see what Sarah was looking at, and it was clear she had no idea his world had just collapsed because she grinned at him and waved, then raised the drink she had waiting for him. His arm went up in a halfhearted answer, and he somehow got his legs moving again.

After another hour passed of being dazed, he had to wonder how he was still sitting in this raucous place hunched over his whiskey in the middle of the table Eman had grabbed for them. All he could feel after his third drink were the constant sharp jabs to his heart as he strained to hear the drowned-out chatter from the four girls still having a great time. If anyone asked him the topic of their conversation, he would not be able to relate one bit of it… for all the above reasons.

On the one hand, the pain confirmed his feelings for Sarah went much deeper than he realized. On the other, he feared it would be his new constant companion. The intensity that had felt so good at the dig today now ripped him to pieces, and he thought he might be on his way to suffocating in this night club that had turned garish and stifling. He had to get out of here.

“Will you be good with getting Sarah back to the site, Eman?” He’d spoken so abruptly that they each turned to him in surprise. He cleared his throat. “I’m going to call it a night and head back.”

Sarah laid a hand on his arm. “Are you okay? Maybe you should have a coffee first.”

That was sound advice, but the thought of watching Sarah and Eman whispering together another minute made him want to throw up. “I’ll be fine. I’ll see you at eight tomorrow. Don’t be late.” He attempted to smile, but judging by how Sarah’s brow furrowed deeper, his face must have looked as wan as he felt.

He slapped some money on the table mostly to make sure she had enough to get back to the dig. “Enjoy the rest of the night. It was a pleasure meeting you.” Sarah nodded then turned to her friends without another glance in his direction. He forced his shoulders not to slump in defeat and left.

***

This time the flowering vines trailed down the side of the cavern before finding purchase on the giant’s arm that stuck partly up from the earth. The writhing greenery tickled, waking Tityus from a satisfying dream that kept playing back the moment Nathan’s puny human heart was crushed to a pulp.

He cracked open a giant green orb and waited for Persephone to materialize on a dirt mound that covered his shoulder. The more he buried himself in the earth, the better he dreamed. He didn’t dwell too much on the reasons for that, though Zeus would be the first to tell him he had a mother complex.

Persephone wore her favorite skull crown today and leaned on her staff to peer into his eye. “Well? Was it as entertaining as you hoped?”

The damp soil covering him rippled, and a myriad of stones were tossed up from the vibrations when he said, “Even more so.”

“What do you think Nathan will do now? Will he be able to endure working with Sarah after this?”

“You’ll be pleased to know it’s turning out better than I planned. You made it just in time for the next installment. When Nathan left the club about two in the morning, he was in a state of mind that made him the perfect mark for the rare Luxor mugger I ensured crossed his path. The thief took all his cash, then beat him senseless. That event alone will last me a good while, and the violence wasn’t even due to me. Sarah is about to discover he never made it back.”

Persephone raised her cupped hand and a bloodred mist swirled in her fingers. When it dissipated, she was holding several bunches of purple grapes, the size of which no human had ever seen. She plucked half the fruit off one and tossed them into Tityus’s mouth, then asked him a question, “Is he alive?” Tityus nodded as he chewed, and she said, “You realize having him harmed could make your plans head in the wrong direction.”

Her brother jolted her with another nod, swallowed more grapes, and said, “The gamble that humans might find their way despite our interference is what makes this so satisfying, Sister.”

She smiled. “Then let’s get comfortable and watch.” 

Tityus clicked his remote and the shadowy grotto lit up from the desert scene now spread across the limestone wall like a portal had just opened to Thebes. The morning sun gleamed across the sand and the ancient pyramid, and the archaeological encampment looked small in its shadow. A lone figure crouched in the pit under an umbrella and worked with careful precision on a spot in the strata at the level of her eyes. But the anxious archaeologist kept bobbing up the ladder at every sound to peek over the edge of the pit.

Her voice was overly loud as she called out, “Hey, Charles. Have you heard from Nathan yet?”

A man crouching in the adjacent pit answered her. “Not since you asked me a half hour ago. But I’m concerned, too. So, I sent Jack to hunt for him. I’m sure he just holed himself up in a hotel room to sleep off the whiskey. You know what a lightweight he is. We should both quit worrying.” 

As soon as that last word died out, the sound of a car had them springing up their respective ladders to peer over the edge of their pits.

From the spot on Tityus shoulder where Persephone reclined on her vines, she said, “That must be Jack with Nathan. If I’m wrong, I’ll find you eight victims for next month’s program.”

Tityus’s deep laughter cut off when he spotted an eagle much too large to be natural swooping over the dig site and around all the tents to land on a clothesline strung with colorful blankets flapping in the breeze. “Uh… Persephone. Do you think… ?”

“Yes, it’s Father. Shit. How did he find out?” She barked out a laugh. “Never mind. Stupid question. We’re better off working on our plausible deniability.”

By this time, the car had arrived at the encampment and pulled under a cover, and a burly bearded man stepped out of the driver’s side, then opened the door to the backseat to help out a slighter man who was clearly in pain and struggling to move. 

Sarah scrambled the rest of the way up her ladder and ran to the car. “Nathan!”

The eagle made another pass over the scene, and Tityus and Persephone eyed each other when a screech that could only belong to the powerful god who was their sire sounded all the way to them in the grotto, even as the humans beneath the winged creature were oblivious. 

When Nathan heard Sarah call his name, he forced himself to straighten and face her. She came to an abrupt halt and gasped. “Oh my god. What happened to you?”

Embarrassment was visible through the damage on his face, but he summoned his dignity and said, “I had a little run-in on the way to the taxi stand and woke up in an alley with my pockets inside out. Thankfully, Jack thought to check the police station where I ended up this morning because I had no way to identify myself.” 

This time, they all looked up when another screech rent the air and watched as the bird of prey disappeared over the horizon.

Sarah turned back to her injured colleague who was starting to wobble a bit, and her voice hitched. “You scared me to death, Nathan.” She stepped closer and softened her words. “I am aware of what I did to you last night. I’ve been confused about things, and I’m sorry. Today, everything is different. Will you forgive me?”

Hope bloomed on Nathan’s face, which looked somewhat grim with his distorted lips and swollen eye. He cocked his head at her. “What are you saying, Sarah?”

“Eman is finishing her doctorate at Cambridge. We said goodbye last night. For good. You’re the one I want to be with. Can I hope for the same?”

The burly Jack cleared his throat which effectively brought the two back to their present surroundings, and he said, “While it’s clear this exchange is doing Nathan a lot of good, he’s about to drop where he stands. Are you ready to have a lie down, kid?”

Sarah raised her face to Nathan’s as she wrapped her arm around his waist and walked him to the med tent. The look she gave him was the final nail in the coffin for Tityus’s schemes this hiatus. 

The giant punched the button on the remote violently enough to crush the entire thing, and the view to the desert went dark, throwing the grotto into shadow.

Persephone was already turning wispy with her disappearing vines. “I’m sorry, Brother. But you understand I must return to Hades. I promise to do what I can to cool our father’s wrath.

His laughter was full of both irony and resignation as he said, “You will do better for me staying clear of Zeus for now, and away from here, but don’t wait too long for another visit, dear sister.”

In the lull after her departure, Tityus settled his huge body in his lonely grotto deep beneath the earth and hoped for nurturing dreams of humans suffering unrequited love, while he waited for the next new moon… and the vultures to circle.

The End… Until the Next New Moon

I wrote this for a short story contest. It didn’t make the top three, but I absolutely adore this premise. A friend is writing his own version of the tortured giant, Tityus, and how he might use a grotto-sized TV to spy on mankind and wreak havoc for the sole purpose of providing a diversion from torture. Most of you know the story of Prometheus, the lover of mankind, who endures a similar punishment exacted on him by Zeus, but here is the lesser known story of Tityus, tortured for being a cad.

What kind of story would you come up with for my bored giant’s entertainment? Let me know in the comments. I’m thinking of doing more of these to collect for an anthology. What do you think about that idea?

Artwork by Ygit Danacioglu

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!

Sunday Spotlight with Historical Fantasy Writer and Musician, Madeline Davis

I’m so glad we finally got to chat on my blog, Madeline! I know this is a super busy time of year for you with all your pursuits. Hopefully, you got a nice winter break. Since we actually need to catch up, tell me first about what you’re currently working on and how are you feeling about your progress? 

Thanks for having me!  A busy time for you too I’m sure, and you’ve got quite a variety of projects running yourself—new books, new platforms, new connections, wow! I’m looking forward to seeing your new ventures as well!

Right now I’m just focusing on completing my first novel: an historical-fantasy based on Louis IX and Isabel of France. I’ve gotten to do a lot of research for it these past few months with a medievalist professor, digging into 13th century France and the royal family, and am now about halfway to a complete draft (various degrees of polish). While there’s still a considerable way to go putting all the pieces together (I write many scenes out of order, and this particular project started as a series of short stories too, so lots of structure work), I am quite hopeful of finishing it in the next few months. 

You make me wish I would have started writing in my youth, combining fiction writing with academia. I don’t know which would be more fun, writing or the opportunity for that sort of research! It sounds exciting, and I can’t wait to read it. We’ve talked a bit about writing scenes out of order, and there is a lot of merit to that method. Can you share a little more on that?

Actually, I’m not sure I would recommend it, unless you have a solid framework for the whole story, and are willing to rewrite those scenes after the other parts are finished–not necessarily very efficient! But it is motivating at times to dig into a more substantial scene, something that reminds me what I found so fascinating about this project in the first place, and which stews in my head without my trying. I find that especially helpful if the gears aren’t turning so smooth at the current place. Rather than saying I’ve hit a block, I’ll write something I know comes later, (but have enough of an idea to write it) and work backwards from that–a little like doing a large puzzle, where you  do the corners, then edges, then chunks of the more singular-looking parts, till you can put those together… but if you don’t know what the whole looks like, that would be quite difficult! (And I have some unfinished manuscripts testifying to that).

The themes of your stories have such a classical feel, like I’m stepping right into medieval times, only where dragons roam. It makes them both magical and entrancing. Tell me how you came to this style of writing. How would you classify your genre? Do you explore writing in other genres?

Funny you should ask about classification, as it took some frantic searching to find historical-fantasy as a genre; I worried for a while I was fiddling too much with the two genres I loved best! I love history, but have a healthy respect that makes me leery of deviating much from the real, so I find the flexibility that fantasy offers very reassuring. 

That being said, I love medieval history more particularly. Delving into the people and cultures that created wonders like Chartres cathedral, the Divine Comedy, the Lindisfarne Gospels and so much more is just fascinating. Also, the themes that it offers are universal—love, duty, loyalty, honor, sacrifice, devotion, and many others—but I’ve found some particularly striking examples in the medievals that it would be a shame for our own time to lose in forgetting. So we need their stories! (Never mind the many misrepresentations and misconceptions about the medievals as dirty, dumb, and monolithic that modern scholarship has been disproving, but still need combatting in entertainment. Highly researched fiction is my penny in that project). 

Also, I think my approach is shaped by my vision of literature–including fantasy—as not an escape from reality, but a lens for better appreciating it. Through literature, we can return to the real with eyes refreshed. Literature can draw into focus the lines of reality with artistic emphasis and perspective. Fantasy’s particular gift for manifesting unseen realities in concrete, memorable ways is particularly compelling, so I do tend to write more in the fantasy genre than anything else. But I’m quite a new writer, and wouldn’t box myself into any category just yet, having experimented with science fiction, more strictly historical, memoir, and contemporary so far, with plans to try others in the future! 

I am catching your passion! Thanks for sharing that. I’m experimenting with a historical fiction novel (though not that far back in time) mixed with fantasy, and this is encouraging insight.

Oh lovely! Actually, in researching the genre, there seem to be many more examples of more-recent historical (especially Victorian) than medieval, so I’d say you’re likely in good company! And if you enjoy research as well as writing–double win!

When and how did you start writing?

Before I could write! Well, at least I like to joke that the pictures I drew and scribbled squiggly lines around before I had learned letters were my first attempts—these princesses and maids must have had tales! But I don’t really remember not being able to read, and books have been such a substantial part of my life, it seemed natural to want to make my own as soon as I could. So I’ve scribbled away at stories since grade school, and always thought I wanted to try to give back some of what I enjoyed—I guess I’ve more or less always had something simmering, though in high-school I started paying more attention to the craft of writing itself; that might mark my actual “beginning,” entering the world of online writing forums and focusing on improving different aspects of storytelling. 

That is a great concept, to give back what you enjoyed. To me, that means you experience joy both ways. Can’t lose with that as motivation. I also love hearing when a writer has grown up with a passion for telling stories. Thanks for sharing that.

Who and/or what were your biggest influences?

To pick one author, I’d have to say J.R.R. Tolkien. That sounds natural enough for a fantasy author, but I would say not just for his creation of Middle Earth: I’ve found his views on literature (particularly in his essays, “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics”, and “On Fairy Stories,” and especially his short story, “Leaf by Niggle”) really resonate with the view of art I feel called to create: a sort of “subcreation” that reflects the beauty that already exists but bringing to light particular facets in a profound collaboration with the first creator. 

In addition to that, I’m driven by the notion that art exists to delight and instruct (Can’t claim originality in that either—Horace defined art that way over 2000 years ago). If either of those is missing, it’s falling short of its potential, as there is always so much more for us wisdom-hungry humans to take in, but we need help—especially the help of delightful beauty—to really learn! So I find it essential for me to write with a solid philosophical and theological framework that gives enough light to grasp the edges of mysteries, and yet realize these are only the edges. The idea that our human intellects can fathom a measure of beauty, order, and purpose in the universe, but not contain it— and then to highlight that with literature—that idea, slowly forming for me, has influenced why, how, and what I write.

But we are what we eat and we write what we read, so I’d have to say I owe a huge debt to my mother for making classics fun (homeschooling), and to the authors of many classics (Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Mark Twain, Herman Melville, Flannery O’Connor, to name a handful); in the realm of fantasy, C.S. Lewis, Andrew Peterson, and Megan Whalen Turner as the most inspiring; and many, many different historical authors (some fiction, some not) as well as philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, and G. K. Chesterton, just to get started… 

Wow! Thank you for this, Madeline. You’ve given our readers some well-articulated concepts to analyze for themselves why they might love literature and writing. I know it’s given me some things to chew on. Reading Tolkien’s essays-Way to go. and when it all comes down to it, Mom was the one who started the ball rolling. Awesome!

We belong to a great writing community and you were there to greet me when I joined. What drew you to the group? 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?

Writing is, of all art forms, I think, the most bonding, and yet also the most isolating. Writing can reach very deep places in the human person, engaging us on different levels of being, and giving us those moments where we exclaim “How did they know that?!” Or “Me too!” 

But the writer doesn’t usually get to witness someone experiencing that, but instead spends a lot of time withdrawn from the rest of the world typing symbols that have no inherent meaning onto a screen. [(I love words and crafting them, but studying a variety of languages, I’ve come to be pretty sure there’s very little in any one alphabet that really gives the symbols themselves intrinsic meaning, which is different from the media of other arts—think of how color exists apart from painting, notes apart from music. Words–particularly written words— just don’t work like that.)]

But writing is art, also reflecting reality. Having support in creating it is immensely helpful not only for persevering through the process of making it, but giving it an authentic balance—it won’t resonate and connect if it comes from an island! 

For that reason I’d say that I’ve even found less-than-communal participation in various writing forums helpful. Fanstory.com, writingforums.org, Underlined.com, and Absolutewrite.com,  where people were pretty much all strangers, were each helpful (in different ways–absolutewrite being the largest) because of the outside perspective exchange they could facilitate. For writing to bridge well, getting feedback from different perspectives is critical, and I am grateful for finding those there.

But having a more tight-knit community of people who all know what the joy and struggle of writing is like, and with such a diverse pool of experience (writing-related and also not) to draw on–that’s another type of support that I would say is quite helpful. I’ve appreciated finding that through Richie Billing’s discord group, where it’s much easier to get to know individuals and exchange on a more personal level. I’ve also found that in a local writing group at my college, where having in-person community adds another dimension of encouragement and opportunities for sharing—resources, feedback swapping, or just writing at the same time, like buddying up for an exercise program. 

An African proverb that runs something like: “If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together” sums it up well, I think. Putting in the actual work to write well at all is the first essential, and requires personal commitment– as Stephen King well said in his On Writing: “Life isn’t about supporting art, art is about supporting life.” But finding support sure makes the long-term commitment seem more feasible!

I appreciate when my guests give us quotes to illustrate the conversation! These are wonderful and convey the benefits of support communities perfectly. Thank you! Also as a note to our readers, I’ve provided the links to Madeline’s listed resources in the text. I also belong to Richie Billing’s group. His Fantasy Writer’s Toolshed Podcast, and newsletter are phenomenal free resources.

I love that you play the harp. Another element of you that is classical. Can you share that journey? How long have you played and what kinds of engagements do you participate in? Does playing an instrument help with or influence your writing and vice versa?

It’s certainly been a journey, with multiple providential moments.  I had to have become fascinated by the harps in books, as there’s no way I saw one in person before I became obsessed. But I do still have the concert programme that says, “Madeline, I’m sure you’ll be a lovely harpist someday”–I’d run up to get the autograph of the harpist in the President’s Own Band because here was the first real live harpist I’d ever seen! (hard to hear in the middle of such a large ensemble,  but that was certainly the highlight of that special concert for me). At the time, that seemed incredible–we already had a piano (which my mother taught), so why on earth would I play harp? Never mind how. But a few years later, a friend of my grandmother’s heard about my interest and offered to lend me her little lap harp, just at the same time that we met a family with a daughter who played harp and had found a teacher, and we could carpool, and so, 14 years ago… it all worked out! 

It has certainly been a journey since then. Each of the teachers I’ve had have really shaped me–not only as a musician, but also as a student and person, and the way I approach learning and accomplishing new things. 

Because of that formation, it’s always been quite clear to me how intertwined the different arts are, even while distinct. Music is more imitative than writing, consisting of sounds and rhythms that evoke associations and emotions, and perfecting the performance of a piece usually written by someone else. But writing shares with music the requirement of perfecting technique by repeated, focused practice (it’s not just practice that makes perfect, as one of my teachers insisted—practice makes permanent, but focused  practice, as perfect as it can be in certain aspects, makes for perfection). And while a musical performance has a certain time-sensitive finality—once that wrong note is played, there’s no reversing it–writing is also subject to that in a way with publication; the practice, practice, practice of the music room finds a reflection for me in the revision process, and bringing a piece to performance level has become to me a model of editing written work. Also, in both music and writing it takes another special skill to synthesize all the technical aspects and make something beautiful, but it does come with diligence in the bit-by-bit exercises. And then, the result: humanizing beauty to be shared with fellow humans.

I’ve played harp in a variety of settings–weddings (of course), funerals,church services and other special events, as well as concerts as soloist and as an ensemble member. Of all the venues and types of playing I’ve done, two have impacted and shaped me the most: playing in nursing homes for the sweetest, though often loneliest people, and being part of an ensemble. 

In an ensemble, I really experienced the mutual dependence of being an artist with a small role participating in a larger whole. That whole was definitely greater than the sum of its parts, but it depended on each part performing well. Even while any part played individually might not make much sense, the great whole depended on the quality of its contribution, (which was itself a combination of personal preparation, knowing one’s part really thoroughly, and flexibly following the conductor and listening to the other musicians and their parts). That doesn’t sound terribly different from any other type of teamwork, but it really demonstrated that to me in a singular way for the arts, and how much could depend on the personal commitment of an individual, as well as the work of the ensemble as a unity.

In writing, I think there’s a similar interdependence of artists, each with their own part, their own contribution–but the whole is much harder to grasp, something that might be generalized as cultural, but really defies a perfect synthesis. So I hold onto that truth of the parts coming together in the orchestra, and work on my part, but try to also listen to “the other parts”–other writers, which across time and place, can form a symphony of the human imagination. 

Goodness, that was a long answer to a straightforward set of questions! But if you give a mouse a cookie, or you give a writer something fun to think about…

I was utterly riveted, Madeline! And you gave me exactly what I hoped for.  I am fascinated by multi-creative lives and how the aspects of one art impacts another. Thanks so much for providing this insight.

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?

That’s an excellent question that I’d be a giant hypocrite pretending I have a very helpful answer to, but as best I can: for me it mostly comes down to evaluating (and regularly rechecking and reevaluating) priorities, particularly lining up where things fall on an urgent-important grid (I think I first read that in Sean Covey’s 7 Habits of highly effective teens… Excellent book, and there’s an “adult” version by his father too).

But sometimes it is possible to combine necessities and art. 

Practically speaking as a writer, I’ve found audiobooks extremely helpful. To fill the need for direct instruction in the craft I’ve found books like Sol Stein’s On Writing, and several lecture series from The Great Courses on writing and editing particularly insightful in laying down principles. But besides that, listening to quality literature sharpens my own sense of style, and makes me more aware of the patterns and rhythms of fine English prose. And enjoying lighter works in my genre helps me understand what’s already been done, works well (or not). And listening to any of these is all manageable while doing other mundane things! Driving, cooking, cleaning, dog-walking,(I do those also for part-time work), exercising (actually very helpful supplement for creative work!), etc—I’ve really appreciated the efficiency audiobooks allow. 

The beauty of art, though, especially writing, is that everything can be seen as “research”; that is one reason that, even when occupied with life and work, I think of myself as a writer—it’s a lens for the way I look at the world, gathering strands from every source I encounter. Not that I’m quite like a journalist that’s always ready to pounce on some incident thinking, “Ooh, that would make a good story”–but it’s always in my mind that what I live day-to-day can help shape my writing—I just have to keep my senses and mind open.

My part-time job helping an older woman as a living assistant for example—it’s not just a job, but an opportunity for me to recall the trials of getting older most of us will someday face, and to keep in perspective what I do with the limited time I have. I find that especially valuable for me as a college student, usually surrounded by youth who don’t have that at the top of their minds—but preparing for death and dealing with the loss of abilities is worth reflection, and I’m grateful for the reminder.

Experiences pleasant or painful, awkward or funny, happy, sad, and everything in between can all help deepen the well I write from. Sometimes it just takes a simple perspectivizing of an experience to make that happen, and sometimes I realize later I’m processing something through writing—so I don’t see “real life” as getting in the way of writing so much as providing the material for it, and shaping me as a writer. Perhaps that’s a view that will shift for me with time, but for now, I’m settling into the awareness that much of what I want to write requires long processing—there’s much to be gained from my own maturing before I try to “literaturize” some of these ideas, and I’m not so worried that the world is missing a lot if my still inchoate efforts don’t reach the light of day very soon. True, some things require more of the approach I take to poor writing—but that hardly leaves them valueless, if analyzed as examples of errors to be corrected for myself, or warnings of what to avoid.  

I can attest to the trials of getting older, so kudos to you for opening yourself to so many perspectives in your daily life! And then using the efficiency of experience and absorption to generate art. Harks back to your Stephen King quote about art supporting life.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Teaching Latin and/or Greek (what I’m majoring in),and/or history, literature (probably in one of the classical charter schools that I’m glad to see developing in various places, especially not far from where I’ve grown up—go classical learning!). In terms of writing, I hope to be publishing short stories, and if traditional publishing hasn’t worked out for my current novel (and the next), getting into self-publishing. That’s a flexible vision, though—I know a lot can change in five years, especially looking at the last five! (Five years ago I was entering a cloistered monastery, and if I hadn’t run into health issues 2.5 years in, would have happily spent the rest of my life there. As it is, I will be eternally grateful for the time I did get to spend in that vocation).

What were your biggest highlights in 2022? Any exciting plans for 2023?

Writing this historical-fantasy novel was certainly one! I only realized the other day that before February of 2022, I didn’t have a single inkling of this story, and now it’s certainly grown more than I would have thought. Another 2022 highlight has been meeting other writers (live and through discord)–which has also led to joining a small, live critique circle, that’s just getting started. I’m very excited for the possibilities there, especially with my experience in 2022 of feedback swaps—both the giving and the receiving feedback on longer pieces has brought growth I can almost see as it happens, and I’m looking forward to continuing that (moderately) as well. 

In 2023 I’ll also be tackling a different kind of writing challenge: researching and writing a thesis (for graduation) on a topic from either a Greek or Latin classic. While writing 50 pages of academic writing is quite different from 50 pages of fiction, I’m looking forward to the growth as a student and crafter of words such a process will entail. 

Thanks for sharing this and demonstrating how life can zigzag surprisingly for us all, and here’s to more exciting things ahead for you!

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

Time is precious, and making art is worth it. The time, dedication, and patience that it takes to make good art, though, is also worth remembering, and this is not a journey that has to be done alone—support, instruction, and the wealth of experience that each person accumulates through a reflective appreciation of their life can all contribute to something beautiful. And there are so many people out there with a lot more experience than me—if you found the time to read this advice, you can find someone wiser too!

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

@WritingBattle on IG and WritingBattle.com

My Spotlight Guests for the New Year are Lining Up to Meet You – Here is a Little About Them

Meet Madeline! Sunday 15 January Spotlight Feature

January Madeline Davis – Harpist, Scholar, U.S. Fantasy Writer Madeline and I met in the Fantasy Sci Fi Writer’s Alliance and enjoy helping each …

My Spotlight Guests for the New Year are Lining Up to Meet You – Here is a Little About Them

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.

Richie’s Fantasy Writers’ Toolshed – Awesome Authors Sharing Tips! All in One Place!

Author Interviews now in a Playlist from the Fantasy Writer’s Toolshed Podcast . Here’s the latest. Thanks, Richie!

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.

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

A Leap Through the Elder Oak, Part Three

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  • Click here for Part Two
  • Click here for Part Four

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.

  • Click here for Part One
  • Click here for Part Two
  • Click here for Part Four

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.

  • Click here for Part Two
  • Click here for Part Three
  • Click here for Part Four

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

  • Click here for Part Two
  • Click here for Part Three
  • Click here for Part Four

#FSFWritersAlliance has a new website!

The first blog is up. Check it out.

Click on the first pic for The Fantasy Sci Fi Writers Alliance’s very first blog post by author Isa Ottoni, How Finding a Writing Community Changed My Life. The second photo will introduce you to Isa and preview our interview coming up in January. The third photo will take you to the Alliance’s home page created by the talented and industrious E. B. Hunter.

Follow Eric for more about his writing and enjoy his free horror stories. You can learn more about the alliance on my page.

The best part is you can sign up and become a member to enjoy amazing support among a diverse group of writers.

My Spotlight Guests for the New Year are Lining Up to Meet You – Here is a Little About Them

January

Madeline Davis – Harpist, Scholar, U.S. Fantasy Writer

Madeline and I met in the Fantasy Sci Fi Writer’s Alliance and enjoy helping each other with story feedback. Her insights and editing tips have been invaluable. I love Madeline’s imaginative stories infused with the elements of her classical education and feel privileged to share in her writing journey.

Madeline is a harpist and an avid student, currently working towards her undergraduate degree in the Classics, as that field allows her ample exploration in her favorite subjects–literature, philosophy, theology, history, and languages–all at the same time.

She also enjoys poring over ancient texts and researching in her chosen subjects to incorporate the results into her fantasy genre stories. She hopes to give others a share of the delight she has derived from so many fine tales. And I’m delighted she is joining me for a Q&A, so she can pass that on to you.

Isa Ottoni – Teacher, Fantasy Writer, Enjoys Life in Portugal

I also met Isa through the Fantasy Sci Fi Writer’s Alliance, and like Madeline, Isa is extremely generous with her feedback and support for all of us there. For me, she has been an inspiration and invaluable to my writing journey.

Isa started her career writing science and teaching English as a Second Language, before falling in love with crafting her own fantastical universes. Her comic fantasy tale Braza is featured in Funemployment Press’s Quarterly Summer of Year One. She lives with her husband and their dog in a flat that overlooks the ocean, and spends her days writing, reading, and wondering about the what-ifs of life. I can’t wait for her visit, so we can all experience her joy and generosity.

Click below for the digital Summer Edition of the Funemployment Quarterly, and a collection of short stories, including Isa’s Braza. There is also a print version available. Funemployment Press is featured on my Indie Publishers Page.

February

Sevannah Storm – Artist, Sci-Fi Fantasy Romance Author, NaNoWriMo Buddy, Hales from South Africa

I met Sevannah on NaNoWriMo in 2021, and wow is she a writing machine. Her progress is always motivating. And she has a fantastic collection of books on Amazon for you to check out. I’m including a link to the first book in the Gifting Series below.

Sevannah was born and raised in Africa and is a slave to her internal muse, Reginald. She writes action-packed romances with happily-ever-after and is a firm believer in relatable characters who are strong, capable yet bowled over by love.

Her home is a land south of Wakanda, where animals roam free. Born in Zimbabwe, she grew up in South Africa. The crisp blue skies with cotton-candy sunsets expand her heart and soul, encapsulating a sense of freedom. Check out her website and newsletter. I can’t wait to chat with her about her writing life and insights.

100-Word Story Challenge. My foray into horror – A minor Starlight Chronicles Vampire character, my inspiration…

Enjoy a Three-Part Supernatural Horror Story – Exactly 100 Words Each

One: Brother’s Maker

Thick rivulets of blood moved down the wall like snakes slithering into Hell. Lucius thought going there himself would be better than mucking out this foul slaughter. Hiding his brother’s crimes from Prince Remus. Death by fire, their punishment if caught.

Linus, too far gone to understand the danger, had killed another valuable hunter. Lucius labored to obliterate the evidence while Linus crouched over an arm sucking out the blood and marrow like a human sucking meat from a crab leg.

Lucius had turned his brother. Watching him deteriorate was penance. Figuring out how to stop it, his only purpose.

Two: Brother’s Keeper

Lucius stared in frustration at the naked female, then grabbed newspaper from the alley trash to cover her. Copious blood soaked through, turning it to pulp. He added more paper. Didn’t help. Blood spouted like a fountain from her torn jugular. He yanked his brother, who’d pounced on her again, away from her neck.

“You couldn’t have gone one more block?” Linus whipped towards him. Lucius stifled a gasp. The nerdy, giraffe-legged brother was there. Then the eyes turned soulless, reflecting the red pooling beneath their feet, and Linus’s stark hunger. Pain stabbed Lucius where his heart once beat.

Three: Brother’s Killer

Lucius cradled Linus’s head in his lap. Just his head… which Lucius had to remove. He stared at the rectangular hole holding his brother’s body, then forced his gaze away to take in the fateful surroundings. The graveyard was damp. Dew glistened on the grass. Dripped from cypress trees and giant yews. None of it made this real. They’d been vampires for five decades, inseparable. But Linus’s self-control had deserted him. He broke too many council laws.

“You never believed you could be ended, brother. Didn’t you once think it would be me who would have to do the ending?”

Had to add this. I love making book covers, even for tiny fiction.

First drafts rejected. But I Keep Trying.

I was happy with my first attempt to do a 100-word story. The publisher, not so much. But that’s okay because I learned a lot in the process. These bits about vampire brothers were inspired by a minor character in my Starlight Chronicles series. I admit, pure horror is a challenge for me, though I love reading and watching it, the darker the better. I read Bram Stoker in my youth, along with Mary Shelly, which means those sweeping, tantalizing, horrific impressions are there, deep down, and now that I’m writing fantasy, I’m compelled to draw from their brilliance.

Vlad the Impaler has been an endlessly fascinating figure in history and fiction for me, no matter how many ways his story has been told. And today’s supernatural fantasy authors are finding entertaining ways to retell the tales. Many of them inspired me.

Luke Evans portrayed an excellent fictional Vlad. Dracula Untold sparked my imagination and gave a feel for the period and setting. I was disappointed with its box office failure, which ended hopes of a sequel. In case you haven’t seen it, here’s the trailer.

Please take a moment to read the drabbles above and let me know if I’m on the right track for a story told in exactly 100 words. Better yet, share your own 100-word story in the comments.

Thank you!

3D Art by Ismael Tejero

Preview of The Starlight Chronicles, an epic, three-part fantasy novel

Selena Aires is fine with her nine-to-five life in the city, using her spare time to create art instead of making friends or finding love. Her mentor begins to insist she’s on the wrong path. 

When he dies, her grief and faith in his convictions prompts her to move to a small town in the lofty Sierra Nevada Mountains. But more is waiting for her in Quincy than the invigorating pine-scented air, endless trails, and the perfect artist bungalow. What Selena didn’t expect was an encounter with an astonishing man whose barely restrained power calls to something buried in her she had no idea was there.

The alpha of the North Star Pack thought he’d faced every challenge until he laid eyes on the new human in his territory, a beautiful artist with the heart of a warrior. Andras Johns knows instantly his life will never be the same.

The two of them must find a way to merge their opposing worlds while Selena grapples with her feelings for a man with a mystery beneath the surface and faces a destiny that’s expanded beyond her wildest imagination, a destiny fraught with peril in a world that just keeps getting stranger.

Prologue

Zigan – 1988 AD

It was a stormy night when I materialized in my mist on the second-floor landing of the small house that sat hunched within its aged timbers in the middle of blowing alfalfa fields. Thunder shook the floor beneath my feet as I surveyed the hallway. It was uncluttered with a colorful runner, the only object to break up the expanse of walls. It smelled like damp wood, and ozone was sharp in my nostrils from the persistent lightning strikes.

Other than the intermittent flashes, only the light of a half-moon penetrated, showing three doors to choose from. But I could sense the tiny human I was to bind my soul with for the rest of my life. 

Certain now the room at the end was the one to avoid, I moved quietly along the plank floor to stop at the first door, then paused at the threshold to savor the moment. For half the life allotted to me, I had trained with the Order of Hala preparing for this bonding and the challenges it would bring. The time had come to meet up again with the precious soul who’d returned to this world, choosing this infant in this remote county in northern California. 

I put my hand to the brass knob and turned it, relieved the door didn’t creak as it swung open to reveal two children sleeping despite the rolling thunder and lightning flashing close to the house, and the rain pounding against the panes of the only window. The pulsating light illuminated the large space containing the crib, a small bed, an open cabinet stuffed with toys, and a rocking chair in the corner. 

Electricity of my own vibrated over the pulse of my wrist as I drew near the crib, which drew the attention of the infant girl who woke as soon as I leaned over her. The heart-shaped face framed by a halo of dark hair watched me in silent fascination, her arms waving and legs wiggling in reaction to the magic that surrounded us. 

A faint moan had me inspecting the bed in the opposite corner where her four-year old brother dreamed, nestled beneath a Spiderman cover with his own mop of dark hair peeking out, oblivious to the magic and the storm. 

So, I did what I came to do. When I pressed my wrist to her minuscule left shoulder, an obscure image of a half-moon and my wind symbol tucked next to it formed on her delicate skin. Her brilliant eyes sparkled as she watched my smiling face, making no sound as our souls connected. “Grow well, my precious one, and we’ll meet again soon.”

She has been named Selena. I will reveal myself to her when she is grown and finds her mate, and our journey will begin. For now, I gathered my mist to take me far away.

Manuscript in the works…