Mermaids, Selkies, Sirens and all those mythological sea folk are your cup of tea.
My short story is featured in Song of the Siren from Dragon Soul Press and I know you’ll love it and all the great stories in this fantasy collection. It’s available for presale and will publish this month in time for MerMay. What is MerMay? You can click here for a great introduction. It’s an art challenge, but all creators love being absorbed into a month that celebrates these fascinating beings, writers included.
She dreamed all her life about the man in the whitewashed tower beneath the prismed light and decides it’s time to risk a meeting.
He dreams of an impossible love with a mythical creature. What happens when one steps from the sea and offers him not just a dream, but an astonishing solution?
~ Beneath the Prismed Light
From sirens, mermaids, selkies, and more, these tales of the deep will tug at your heartstrings. Love can warm the iciest waters, but revenge is best served cold. Watery graves await for those who push boundaries or stray too far. ~ Song of the Siren
Features stories by J.M. Rhineheart, Emma K. Leadley, K. Parr, Andria Kennedy, Fred Phillips, Barend Nieuwstraten III, Claire Davon, Nicholas Nethery, A.D. Watts, Toni Mobley, D.L. Lewellyn, Rienne French, Seth Taylor, Derek Kho, Anwen Redlake, and D.R. Birdsall.
~ Mareduke is the last of his kind, and if the humans have their way, no dragons at all will exist in Kassia. Then, he meets two remarkable beings intent on changing his fate. ~
I hope you enjoy this story I submitted to a contest where the prompts required a dragon meet a toddler in the forest, and what followed. This was a joy to write.
Mareduke’s bloody, scaled head froze mid dip. He reeled his tongue back into his mouth and stared at the child across the water. A long, cool drink was critical to his state of near-death, but he gave it up to inspect the reflection cast into the mountain lake by the tiny person on the grassy ledge.
An image of a girl not much more than two, wrapped in a cloak, wavered over the surface. The sun glinted on that spot as if shining a beacon on the proof he sought. He raised his eyes to the embankment again.
The toddler was real, and she was staring back.
His snort displaced the water below his face. She would just have to watch while he got his fill because he was losing blood faster than his magic could heal him. There were too many wounds. Enough to end him if he didn’t hydrate and rest.
The humans’ trap this time was multilayered and rigged with an exorbitant number of blades that had pulled Mareduke farther down a natural pit with every move he made. They must have spent weeks designing all the intricate hazards. He had come close to losing his head to a sawblade, and a broadsword missed his heart by inches when it lodged between his ribs. But when he quit panicking long enough to halt the agonizing plummet, he was able to gather his magic and break free with enough momentum to gain altitude and escape the armed contingent of dragon assassins waiting for him on the surface.
He’d spit his wrath at the failed murderers as he flew away, but they jeered at him when his usual rain of fire barely amounted to a drizzle and his wounded body kept listing sideways. He didn’t care. At this stage of his life, he was accustomed to the humans and their collective superior attitude towards him and his dying species.
Still, he couldn’t understand their brutal solution to his thievery. He wasn’t there to hurt them, just grab a meal, a plump sheep or two, because they had a penful of the tasty morsels too tempting to resist. Why did all humans insist on trying to kill him before his time? As far as Mareduke knew, he was the end of the line, and the idea, when he let himself dwell on it, that humans couldn’t share the whole of the Kingdom of Kassia with even one of his kind offended him.
The dragon managed to stay aloft all the way to this refuge to recover his strength. That was the idea anyway because no humans came to this lake high in the mountains. Yet, inexplicably, he beheld one of their children standing at the edge of the water by herself, appearing as if she were on a picnic. By now, he was sure the toddler was alone because even as he concentrated on recuperating; he’d been watchful. Nothing but the two of them stirred in this place.
He settled on his haunches this side of the dark green expanse and rested his chin on his front paws, so he could better observe her. She hadn’t made a sound, only sticking her finger in her mouth as she looked around, then back at him. This was the most bizarre thing he’d experienced so far in his young dragon life. What was she? He presumed human, but she could be anything.
He gave some thought to how he might find out since neither of them could speak to the other. So, he tried to pick out clues. Her cloak was made of fine, blue-dyed cloth with a glimmer weaving through that spoke of magic. Her wavy mop of strawberry-blond hair and clothes appeared clean, though her feet were bare.
That made him wonder if she was cold but then he thought not. It was mild this time of year, even at this elevation.
While he sorted her out, she made herself comfortable as well, plopping down on a fluffy tuft of grass, her stubby legs sticking straight out, and her toes wiggling as they stretched towards the water. She got busy plucking nearby wildflowers until she had a short bouquet gripped in her hand. In between peeking at him, her finger absently returned to her mouth as she observed other bits of life in her immediate vicinity. He watched in amusement when she sniffed the pungent flowers, and her nose wrinkled, but she smiled happily at her collection.
Mareduke grew more entranced when nature began to react to the tiny being in its midst. Just like it had done to her reflection earlier, the sun shone a beam of light on her, and dust motes danced around her head. Two bees drifted towards the flowers, then darted in to sip at the nectar. Butterflies flitted near her face, which made her smile widen.
Next, woodland creatures inched closer. A rabbit stood above the grass and wriggled its nose at the air. A pair of doves settled in a branch above her and cooed. A doe and her fawns watched it all from underneath the tree. Squirrels, hedgehogs, and even a young fox made an appearance. None of the creatures paid any attention to Mareduke, their fascination centering on the happy child.
Mareduke thought that even with her mysterious aura, she must have parents worried sick somewhere, but even more curious than where she was from was how she came to be here.
The dragon froze at the sound of crashing through the trees. All the life clustering around the child scattered, leaving her blinking at their sudden absence. She stood and turned towards the increasingly noisy disturbance, which now included thundering growls amid the sound of cracking branches.
A mountain troll was coming. Mareduke could smell the vile creature. He should have before now, but he’d been distracted. He must decide what to do about the abandoned child directly in its path. The troll would sooner snack on her than look at her, and the only thing to stop the voracious brute was Mareduke, but he was still weak from his injuries.
When the bulbous head made an appearance at the edge of the trees, Mareduke wasted no more time thinking. He flapped his wings and in two strokes, landed between the oncoming threat and the helpless toddler. The troll’s red-rimmed gaze fixed on Mareduke, and he bore down on him with a makeshift club he held in both hands.
Mareduke laid his wing over the ground and motioned for the little one to hop on. But she just stared at him. The beast closed in, making the ground shake under them, its growls deafening.
The absurdity of his situation made Mareduke want to snort in protest. Here he was, a perpetual target of human violence, getting ready to lay down his life for one of their offspring, if that’s what she was, because she couldn’t grasp that it was imperative to climb on.
He inhaled with everything he had in him for one good burst of fire, even as he indulged in images of the stories told of his sacrifice on behalf of the enemy… until he remembered there was no one but a baby to witness his death. And if he was destroyed, she had no chance.
He launched his fire. It stopped the oncoming troll… for all of ten seconds.
The child tucked beneath him tapped the bottom of his chest with a fist so small he could barely feel it, but it got his attention. She smiled up at him and clapped her hands, and Mareduke experienced an entirely new sensation. The air turned heavy, then seemed to curl in on itself. His stomach lurched, and he closed his eyes.
When he opened them, they were in a flower-covered meadow surrounded by jagged mountain peaks. He didn’t recognize the mountains, and there was no sign of the troll.
Mareduke’s world stopped tilting, and he took in his surroundings. A hut squatted near a giant oak tree with a stone fireplace taking up an entire end. Smoke curled from the chimney. There was a garden with neat rows of vegetables, and a milk cow poked its head through a half door in a miniature barn as it chewed its cud. A raven cawed at them from the roof, and the child’s face split into a wide smile. She waved at the bird, which elicited a louder squawk as it stretched up and flapped its wings, then flew towards them.
The raven landed at the dragon’s feet, and proceeded to change to a tall, bearded man with flowing robes who looked down at the child and said, “Well done, Eliana. You found him.”
He looked up. “Can you understand my words, dragon?” Mareduke dipped his snout, and the man said, “Judging from your abundant wounds, your guardian was nearly too late.” Guardian? He looked at the small, grinning face. There was a sparkle in her eyes.
At Mareduke’s inquiring look, the man said, “Have you no knowledge of the Western Woodland Fae?” Mareduke stared at him, and he continued. “The fairies, who guard all living things in Kassia other than the two-legged kind, though their kinship with dragons is the most sacred. A Fae like Eliana is born only every eight hundred years, give or take, with a special affinity for dragons, and a destiny that compels her to do all in her power to preserve the species. A necessary service when you have a hereditary enemy bent on wiping you from existence.
When Mareduke continued to stare, he added, “You must have raised yourself, young dragon, just like I theorized. You are truly alone, then?” The dragon’s snout bobbed again, and the man said, “What is your name? Wait, allow me to place my staff over your heart. I will be able to hear you in my mind.”
Curious to experience this, Mareduke allowed it. The oaken staff was strangely warm and comforting, which made it easy to respond. I am Mareduke. Will you please tell me who you are and where this is?
The man stepped back and said with a poignant smile, “Eliana. Meet Mareduke. Quite possibly the last of his kind… Though Eliana and I have hopes that isn’t the case. Don’t we, child?” The tiny person laughed and said Mareduke’s name in a musical child’s voice that touched something in his heart.
After a bow and a sweep of his staff, the man said, “I am Pantheos, young Mareduke. An old wizard, retired from the academy where I spent a lifetime studying dragons and their history, all in preparation for meeting up with little Eliana here when it was time. Your time, Mareduke. Finding you is one part of our task. The other is to find your mate. If we don’t, then all hope for the dragons is lost. What do you think about this purpose?”
The dragon snorted and shook his great wings as the staff again touched his chest. Then he said, I hatched alone and believed I would die alone, accepting that fate marked me as the last of my kind. I never considered another dragon waited for me somewhere. Could it be possible?
Pantheos bowed his head and said, “In fact, we have evidence she exists, or at least existed. Her name is Cindra.”
All at once, Mareduke’s weakened state got the better of him, and he plopped on his haunches.
The wizard cried out. “Please. Forgive my thoughtlessness!” He pointed his staff at the well behind them and a splash sounded from a bucket dropping into the water, followed by creaking when the wizard’s magic operated the crank to pull it back up. Then Pantheos stepped to the well, retrieved the bucket, and brought it to the dragon, repeating the process until he was sure the exhausted creature wouldn’t keel over.
While Mareduke drank, Eliana settled on his front leg close to his head and patted his cheek.
He flinched when a voice spoke in his mind, sounding anything but childish. I am sorry you suffered such abuse today, Mareduke. Allow me to introduce myself. I am the part of Eliana who always exists and very pleased to meet you. I would have found you earlier if my information had included your foray on that village. But everything Pantheos and I knew of you pointed to the lake once you ventured out for food.
He tilted an eye at her. Your kind must hatch fully developed, like dragons. Otherwise, how can you sound like a grown person? Her little girl laughter lifted his heart, and he was sure his healing sped up by a day.
She explained more. I am an old soul aware of my occupation of this organic being who must grow in a mother’s womb before existing. I am both child and your spirit guardian, and my entire purpose is to see you survive to have offspring of your own. But we must first find a way to make peace between dragons and humans.
How are you speaking to me now, and why not at the lake?
You needed to get used to the idea of me as a child first, and I needed to observe you. When your heart opened to the possibility, we were able to connect.
When Mareduke woke this morning with an empty stomach and the misguided plan to raid that village, no one could have persuaded him that by the end of the day, he would no longer be alone.
He puffed out a tiny bit of air to ruffle her hair, making the child laugh. Her ancient voice sounded again. So long as Pantheos and I draw breath, you will never again feel the bite of loneliness.
Mareduke aimed his snout at Pantheos’s staff, and the wizard nodded, touching it to his chest. I understand a little now of the soul called Eliana, but please tell me more about the child and how she was able to retrieve a grown dragon on her own and bring us here. His big green eye swiveled back to the tiny being. Don’t you have parents?
Pantheos said, “Eliana is my ward, and her strong Fae magic is why we have this arrangement. It is part of my destiny to train her to manage the abundant powers she was born with as a guardian. Though her soul has experienced this before, the child must learn how to function in this role. Her parents knew what she was as soon as her mother gave birth to her, and they sought me out. She has a mark, you see.”
The pintsize Fae swept her cloak over her shoulder and showed Mareduke the small dragon’s eye on her forearm. The mark was more proof that what they told him was true, and he wondered how he could have lived all this time without knowing about the Western Woodland Fae and the guardians.
Trepidation struck him. Eliana felt it and turned to her mentor. Once again, the staff covered Mareduke’s heart, and the dragon spoke his worry in their minds. If humans are my enemy, what about those who come to my aid? A spark of warmth flared in Eliana’s eyes.
Pantheos said, “Well. Yes. You’ve grasped the tricky part. That is why you do not recognize these landmarks. Eliana brought you through a portal to a place the humans cannot find, the land of the Kassian gnomes. You won’t see them, but the nature-loving beings are all around this clearing, watching, never having seen a dragon.” Mareduke glanced around in interest as Pantheos continued. “And you’ve addressed the other reason her parents left her in my care. Our best chance to meet our destiny and the challenge of your enemy is to combine our strengths.
“The plan is for you to join us in locating your mate. Time is of the essence because the last known female dragon faces the same hazards as you. We’ve determined the location of her territory, which is the region in which Eliana’s people dwell. But we have not received word of Cindra for some weeks.” After this troubling news, the wizard rubbed his hands together. “Now. Did you consume any sheep in that raid? Or do you require a meal?”
Eliana pressed her hand to Mareduke’s chest and conveyed his answer in halting toddler words, as if the ancient one had retreated. “He ate one before he was caught in the trap. He’s good for a day or two.”
“Fine. We’ll catch you up and plan our expedition while you finish recovering.”
Mareduke’s head was spinning. Yet, everything his new friends said felt right. Eliana felt right, even if her dual nature was a bit disconcerting, and he knew this little glen was where he was supposed to be at this moment. As for the future, he thought to himself, could there really exist another dragon in Kassia? What if something has happened to this one called Cindra? What if it hasn’t and we meet, and she hates the sight of me? Or worse, I can’t stand her?
He snorted, filling the air with small puffs of smoke. None of that mattered if it meant he was no longer the last of his kind.
After the third time Mareduke had to insert himself between the villagers and the magnificent silver dragon belching molten fire, he began to seriously question the necessity of paring up with his own kind. No one told him female dragons were bigger than males, stronger, and could set half a town on fire with one blast.
And he’d made her angry.
It took two weeks to investigate the leads the three had narrowed down, and one more to pinpoint the most likely location to find Cindra. Having left Pantheos and Eliana in a safe place, Mareduke arrived at the south edge of the Western Woodlands, just in time to save what was left of a town under attack by the most beautiful creature he’d ever seen.
Cindra had strategically wiped out the village center, including those who could organize a defense. Humans were scattering in all directions, disappearing into the woods, jumping in the lake, and hiding in rock crevices up the side of the adjacent mountain. And still she circled her quarry, laying down fire to cut off retreats and destroy crops, livestock, and any other industry critical to the inhabitants’ livelihoods.
His best guess, if anyone were to ask him, was that his female counterpart didn’t like humans. And she just added him to that list, judging by the way she bore down on him now, which made Mareduke grateful for his smaller size. She might be a powerhouse, but he could fly circles around her, and he proceeded to do that as he led her away from the village by stages, and to the secluded mountain meadow where his friends waited for them.
He just needed to figure out how to calm her down on the way.
Did the humans offend you? He tossed that question her way as he dove under her belly.
She twisted her body and flew backwards, aiming fire at him when she had a clear shot. It hit a shelf of snow and caused a small avalanche. He circled around a mountain spire disappearing from her view, then found a spot behind her, so he could try again. Is this how you treat all your new friends?
I have no friends; you muddy-colored dragon. Who do you think you are, interfering with my retribution? Flames shot from her nostrils. Are you a coward, hiding behind my back?
Mareduke snorted. I can’t help it if your size shields me from your eyes even as it blocks out the sun. Cindra roared.
But Mareduke had stopped feeling intimidated, and he went on, even as he ducked her fire. The humans try to kill me on a regular basis. But I am bigger than them, and I don’t believe in using my advantages to harm others.
Well. Aren’t you the saintly one? Is this why you showed up out of nowhere? To protect humans.
Uh… Sort of. My friends and I have heard of you. You do realize there aren’t many of us around?
Why are you angry?
Why do you care? And where are you taking us?
Hmmm. So, she noticed. He didn’t think anything other than the truth would work, so he went for it. My friends have been searching for you and want to meet you. They only recently found me, and when they told me you existed, I wanted to meet you, too. I’m Mareduke. Will you be peaceable if I take you to them? They are beings of the two-legged variety.
Since you’ve made me curious, I promise not to harm your puny friends, but I’m not promising to stick around. I have things to do.
When they circled over the meadow, Eliana was in full sight, grinning at them and clapping her small hands in delight.
What is that? Cindra’s voice in his head was scathing as she emphasized each word. That tiny being is one of your friends?
Her name is Eliana. Mareduke made sure to put plenty of warning in his own tone. And yes, she is my friend.
Where are your other friends?
There are only two. Now, will you land with me and let us explain?
I said I would, and I will.
Eliana’s toddler charm had little effect on the dragon with the bad attitude, but Cindra’s reaction to Pantheos when he stepped out of the trees surprised Mareduke. She went down on one knee and bowed her head.
Pantheos bowed back and said, “You know who I am?” The silver head bobbed, and the wizard said, “Would you be amenable to drinking this potion, so that I can hear you? It is how I communicate with Mareduke.”
Cindra agreed with another nod, and Pantheos spoke in an ancient tongue as he turned his staff halfway around, then back again, and a bucket of water appeared in front of each dragon. It was only then Mareduke realized he was parched.
The huge dragon waited patiently for Pantheos to add a few drops to her bucket. As she drank her fill, Eliana stepped close enough to reach out and touch the silvery, scaled face. Cindra ignored her until the small hand caressed the bridge of her snout. She stiffened, then aimed a sable eye at the bold child. When Eliana’s laughter bubbled out, Cindra pulled away and rose to her full height. Mareduke spotted the warmth in her gaze before she hid it.
Pantheos said, “I am pleased to finally meet you, Cindra.”
It is an honor to meet you, High Mage. My mother told me the story of how you came to her aid. It was your intervention with the humans that allowed her to make it to the nesting grounds. Otherwise, I might not be here. Cindra’s visage darkened. The humans managed to kill her not many years after.
“I am sorry. I was informed of the tragedy and tried to find you, but you’ve kept yourself well hidden, other than coming out for those raids that have made you notorious.”
Do you know of my father, High Mage?
“Please, call me Pantheos. Yes, and I was there to help your mother through her despair. You have my deepest sympathies for the loss of both your parents, maiden dragon. That is why my young apprentice, and I did not give up our search. But it was Mareduke’s abilities that allowed us to finally succeed. It is our purpose to ensure your parents’ fate does not befall you, or Mareduke. You are the last of your kind.”
Cindra cast a scornful eye at Mareduke, then looked down her snout at the toddler still smiling up at her. Who, or should I say what, is this child?
She is a dragon guardian. Do you know of such ones?
I’ve heard of these Fae. I have respect for her people and leave them out of my reckoning. It is only the humans who deserve my wrath. And you are keeping me from my next engagement. So, I’m afraid I must take my leave.
Mareduke scoffed. That’s it? You can’t give us any more of your precious time to learn about your other choice?
Let me guess. My other choice involves mating with you. No thank you. I’m fine on my own.
Mareduke’s brownish scales glowed bronze, and green eyes blazed with his indignation. A chuff of surprise was Cindra’s only reaction to the impressive sight, and she spread her wings in preparation for taking off. Mareduke got in the last word when she was aloft. We might be fine on our own… but should we be?
The last four words were louder in their heads than intended because Cindra was already a mere speck in the distance, and the reverberation elicited a squeal from Eliana as she plopped on her bottom. It was the ancient guardian who spoke next in a voice that covered the distance to the departing dragon. We will meet again soon, dear friend.
Mareduke was not sure why he made the effort to track down the unpleasant maiden dragon … again. It wasn’t that he didn’t understand her pain. Part of him would like to give in to vengeance for the violence that ended his own parents. But he’d long ago come to terms with his principles over killing. Nothing good came of it.
He thought Cindra might believe that deep down, somehow sensing her destructive ways ate at her. Convincing her to change was another matter. Eliana and Pantheos assured him it was worth a try, so they flew with him to yet another human village they had pegged on their map of Cindra’s territory. Mareduke didn’t want to admit it, but he could feel her in his heart, which assured him they were on the right path. He put the idea away for now that his sensitivity was due to a mate bond already forming.
They saw the blaze rising above the trees before they spotted the silver dragon camouflaged against a low cloud.
Sending his thoughts to his passengers, he said, She is one headstrong beast. But this village was prepared. Do you see the trebuchets lined up around the perimeter? The brave ones are determined to load them even as some die under her fire.
Pantheos added, “And it appears half contain buckets of tar, while half are fireballs. That’s quite a defense.”
The guardian said in a grim voice, I foresee those wicked devices causing her death. We must disarm them.
I will not risk you, Eliana. We should put you down somewhere safe.
You needn’t worry about me, Mareduke. We have one shot at a pass while they are focused on her. Let’s go.
The little one was right. Mareduke flew low and fast, knocking the legs out from most of the machines before the humans realized another dragon had descended on them. The flaming ammunition dropped to the ground, and the villagers scrambled to put out their own fires. But they were prepared, tying cloths over their mouths, and pulling covers over each spot to snuff out the flames.
Still, Mareduke couldn’t fly to them all fast enough. Pantheos shouted, “To your right!”
The trebuchets still standing were repositioned, tar buckets set ablaze and aimed their way. Besides the tar, fire from above rained down from a device before he could topple it. Mareduke twisted and shot up, managing to dodge the tar, but the flames hit his flank, and he faltered under the searing pain.
Hang on! He shouted to his passengers. I can get us away.
Even as he listed to the side, he managed to power his wings enough to lift above the machines, but not out of range of a tar bucket, which hurtled towards his chest. If he ducked the wrong way, the missile would hit his precious cargo, so he braced himself for the pain.
A silver scaled wing appeared between them and the tarry danger. Mareduke roared out his fear for Cindra. The bigger dragon smashed the bucket to the ground with her outstretched wing, which collapsed the remaining trebuchets, but not before her wing was doused with the thick, flaming goo. She listed horribly sideways, then crashed to the ground, and the smell of gaseous tar and her burning flesh filled Mareduke’s nostrils.
The humans closed in with more tar and torches.
Set us down next to Cindra, Pantheos commanded.
Mareduke wasted no time landing, then rose to his full height to shield the dragon struggling to stand. Her voice, full of pain and frustration, sounded in his head. What are you doing, you murky dragon? Go! Get that child out of here!
Beams of brilliant light flared from Pantheos’s staff in every direction, like a prism. The humans stopped in their tracks to shield their eyes, then looked to the source atop Mareduke’s back.
“I am the High Mage, Pantheos. I bring a decree from the King, who swears to protect the last of the dragon kind, provided my apprentice and I found the last two alive. It is not right to destroy them.” He paused, “Or that they exact revenge on you. That will change. There will be peaceful coexistence. Eliana and I will see to it. Now, back away and let us leave with the injured dragon.”
One of the men stepped forward. “Many have died today. What does King Lathan say about that?”
Eliana reached for Pantheos, who picked her up, so she could face the crowd. A beam of sunlight washed over her, and the sweet, halting voice of a child sounded across the smoldering village. “There has been much death on both sides. It must end here.”
Though many in the crowd appeared swayed, the man shouted. “Until there is another king who will decide differently. My descendants may yet avenge our dead.”
The toddler guardian bowed her head and said, “That may be, if you decide that is your legacy. For now, let there be peace, and let me go home with my friends. I promise you, one day you will need them.”
Artwork by D. L. Lewellyn using Photoleap and Canva, and the funky-limbed dragon came from Shutterstock.com. I love him anyway.
Thanks so much for visiting, Jorma! When you announced your plans to republish your series in February, I thought it would be a really fun idea to have you stop by to talk about it before the big event. What prompted you to give your YA Series A PENDALE TALE a fresh look?
First of all, thanks for having me! There were a couple of factors. The first book in the series “Wild As The Wind” (Part 1) got a rock solid reaction from readers and reviewers when it came out in Fall 2020. It went into the Top 5 on the YA Fantasy charts on Amazon a few times. But after diving deeper into the creative writing world – I’ve done primarily sports (primarily, soccer) PR work since my college days in the 90s – I wanted to switch the narrative from a passive voice to an active one. And that required a new editing process and copy editor (credit goes to Small Seeds Editing). I needed to find a new cover designer as well. I loved the original cover of Part 1 but I had to use a different designer for “Deep As The Sea” (Part 3), which came out this past September. Getting the covers of the first three installments to match in design and feel was another big reason behind the relaunch.
Great information. Thank you. I’m planning the same for my three part series, wanting to have the three books have a cohesive feel. So far, I’ve done my own covers, editing and publishing, all while learning how I might tap into professional services for my next round, and which ones to make a priority on a tight budget. But I do know the importance of investing in my writing. It is so encouraging to see that it can be done and get some insight on the process.
I am hooked on all the fabulous reviews and the intriguing topic; fantasy in the Berkshires involving soccer. Wow! I love writing fantasy in real world settings. Is that what we can expect? Tell us about the series.
Having this series based in the “real” world was a priority for me. A lot of fantasy writing happens somewhere off on a far-away world, and I wanted the “magic” in this series to be nearer to us. An attainable quality that with the right mindset can be accessed in the here and now. And as you see with legends like Stephen King, having the book’s setting take place in the area where you live (and love) adds a special quality to the writing. With its rolling hills and dells, western Massachusetts has a lot to offer the creative mind. As far as soccer is concerned, I’ve worked in the sport for over two decades. From my very first outline, I wanted the main character to have soccer as a major part of her life. The women’s soccer players I’ve worked with and covered have been huge inspirations for Viola Ferriman, one-half of the the main protagonists alongside her fraternal twin Sebastian. The role Quidditch played in the Harry Potter series – and how it showed an ingrained loner like Harry the merits of being a team player – was a big influence.
You have talked about your focus on this epic series and your passion for telling this story, and I can relate to that dedication. But are there other works in progress or ideas percolating after this? Any spin-off stories?
As with any fantasy book, there’s an underlying universe serving as the base the plot can be built upon. With that said, I definitely have a prequel series in the mix (centered on Viola and Sebastian’s grandparents) and possibly a sequel as well. The prequel may have an “Indiana Jones / The Mummy” (the Brendan Fraser & Rachel Weisz version) feel to it. The twins’ England-based grandfather is a professor at the University of Cambridge while their grandmother is the daughter of an influential family from Hong Kong. Lots of fun stuff to work with there! Speaking of fun, the first two “The Mummy” movies with Fraser & Weisz are so gloriously cheesy and over-the-top I’ve watched them numerous times. Their chemistry is off-the-hook. I’m still ruminating on the base plot for the sequel series. I already know how the APT series will conclude, so I don’t want to give too much away in regards to the ultimate fate of the Ferriman twins! (laughs)
Wow! Thank you, Jorma, for sharing your super exciting ideas for more stories, right here on my blog! They sound right up my alley. I’ve loved the Mummy movies forever, for the same reasons and because they seemed to be right out of the pages of Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody stories I used to love to read. The two of them were adorable, and it was easy to imagine them as actors doing an original Mummy movie set in the 1920s.
How did it feel to reach Number 1 on Amazon? Anything you can share on how you got there?
It felt like a dream come true! Even if it’s for the briefest of moments, reaching #1 is a validation that your work has merit and appeals to your target audience. Even with all my PR experience, promoting a creative work is a different gig altogether. Yes: there are base similarities between business/sport PR and book PR but whereas I’m promoting someone else’s vision with the former, the latter requires putting yourself into the limelight. I’m a Finn at heart, and being self-effacing is literally inscribed into our DNA! Similar to yin-yang, a firm belief in yourself and your work is essential in the creative realm. Since Part 1 came out in Fall 2020, I’ve become much, much better in the latter part and it’s helped to build the manifest energy behind the promotion of this series.
How did you decide on your genre? Maybe here you can tell us about your journalist background. How did that morph into fantasy fiction?
Ever since I was a child, I’ve been a fantasy and science fiction fan. Both in books and movies. JRR Tolkien had a bedrock-like influence on me. “The Hobbit” was the first big book I read and, right from the start, I fell in love with Middle Earth. The otherworldly visual work of Ralph Bakshi and the animated movie “Heavy Metal” really hooked me in as well. On the sci-fi side, I was lucky enough to be a kid when “Star Wars” came out. It was a world-wide phenomenon and I was just as caught up in the fervor. As a teenager, I got into music and wanted to be a rock star. When I went to school at UMass in my mid 20s, the writing bug bit me again and I started to work for the college newspaper The Collegian. I wrote for a few different departments, but as a former hockey player, covering sports became my priority. For my junior year, I went on exchange to the University of Manchester in England and creative writing started to leak back into my life. The time I spent in England is a major reason why I began this series. One night in Oxford, me and a friend of mine stumbled upon the same booth in a pub where Tolkien and CS Lewis used to have lunch everyday. It was a WOW moment. Looking back, that was a sign post of where this road has led me to! (laughs) My advisor at the University of Manchester also saw a larger role than sports writing in my future as well. It took a few more years for me to fully realize that – the downturn in fortunes in journalism in the late 90s helped – but when I did, the first outline for APT came soon afterwards.
This is just one of the reasons I enjoy so much getting to know my writing community friends through these chats. I’m always finding links that influence all of us. Heavy Metal was a wild ride. I saw it in a theater in the 80s and was entranced. One reason I love a vignette format. And that pub in Oxford has been on my bucket list since watching the sixteen hours of extras on my LOTR movie collection. I can hardly imagine what that must have been like.
Speaking of writing communities. We met through the Fantasy Sci Fi Writers Alliance. What are your thoughts or advice on belonging to a community? Are there other online groups you’re involved in? Are there local writing communities or events you like to participate in?
I’m so glad I joined the FSFWA Alliance! And it happened at the right time too. When I restarted the creative process for this series in 2019 with a Kickstarter campaign, I was advised by some former associates of mine to join a writer’s group. That was when Discord first came to my attention. But I was so far in my own forest that it took me a while to get involved in the wider world of writing and… I’m glad I did! It’s been a fun yet very, very informative experience with FSFWA. Never mind the great advice, talking to people who are going through the same things you’re going through is always helpful. No matter what stage in life and/or career you find yourself in. Living in a well-educated region with top-notch colleges and universities (it’s actually called the Five College area, with a respected state university like UMass alongside premier private colleges in Amherst College, Mt. Holyoke, Smith College and Hampshire College), there’s a strong undercurrent of scholarly and creative writing here. The vibrant international community brings in a lot of different flavor and substance to our collective dialogue. It’s hard to not be inspired!
How did you find your support services, editors, beta readers, arc readers, cover artists, etc.? Can you share some highlights or tips you’ve collected on this process and how to find satisfactory collaborations?
The first cover for Part 1 was part of my “vision board” for the series. When it came time to decide on a cover, my better half loved that digital illustration and suggested I reach out to the artist and… oui-la! After a manic search to track him down, we finally connected and he was more than happy to provide his hi-res illustration for the cover, as it was an older work of his. He only required proper accreditation, which was a big help to my budget! (laughs) But as time went along – and his lifestyle changed with a new family and job – I had to find a new cover designer. Thus, that switch was another primary motivation to relaunch the series. At first, the support I received as far as ARC and beta readers are concerned were from my journalist background. There were advantages and disadvantages to that; especially considering I was writing a fantasy & sci-fi series. By the time Part 3 came out last fall, that switched to the fantasy & sci-fi reader realm which is a big reason why “Deep As The Sea” had success as an Amazon bestseller. You simply have to reach out and ask! And hopefully – of course – find the right people to work with. Belief and diligence play a big part.
Great advice and a really interesting journey. Thanks for sharing that.
How do you balance all your creative pursuits with life and work?
Not easily, that’s for sure! To get Part 1 up and running, I had to step away from my sports/business PR work for a year or so. Even though my initial Kickstarter campaign failed, I was lucky enough to touch base with a couple of patrons who wanted to see my first book be completed. With their help, I found the time and space to put in the hard work and build the foundation for the series. And since that time, I’ve been able to write in between my busy seasons. Being a free-lancer in charge of my own work schedule has been key to that. I have so much respect for those writers who have to fit their creative work in-between families, full-time jobs (with much stricter schedules) and the like. It’s been an arduous task for me! Never mind for them. They really need to pat themselves on the back. I mean… WOW. They’re the true rock stars.
We all thank you for that pat, Jorma. 🙂 I can’t wait to retire and write full time. It’s hard to even imagine that, but it’s not far away.
Thank you again for chatting with us today! Any parting words of advice for those who are seeking their creative passions in writing or otherwise?
I know it sounds cheesy but… just do it! This too-modern world we live in can put so many obstacles and distractions in our way when it pertains to becoming the “real” you, and not what the world wants you to be. And that is a key message behind the storyline of my series: finding out who you really are, as opposed to what the world thinks you are. The attainment of the real you and not the manufactured you. Doing what you’re born to do. I’m a firm believer in we all have a predetermined expertise, and when we discover that, both you and the world around you will benefit. My experience in Eastern philosophy and medicine has really helped me to realize that fact. Thanks for having me! This has been a blast.
All the best to you and that relaunch, Jorma, which is coming tomorrow in fact! February 20, 2023.
If you were a giant god sentenced to eternal torture, how would you entertain yourself during your vacation?
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 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 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, always watching, always ready to condemn. Tityus hoped his father just witnessed 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 everyone 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 were tugged out and slurped up like so many earth worms that shared his home.
It took the better part of the first week, once the vultures finished their meal and 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 to toy with humans.” She laid back on her elbow and propped her head in her hand, while her vines wove a canopy over her, anchoring them themselves around 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 Nathan with that earnest look of concentration. Parts of him clenched enough to be uncomfortable when she pushed her glasses higher on her pert nose, which was smudged with red dust. Not only did his heart thump erratically, but he almost groaned out loud.
That embarrassing prospect broke the spell she was weaving over him, and he cursed to himself. If she could read his lusty, turbulent thoughts, she would for sure request his replacement. He reminded himself that she’d shown him a few signs these past weeks to give him hope.
Nathan turned his attention back to the brush he held in his hand and focused on the shard of pottery they were 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. Do you agree?”
He was struck by her eyes that glittered with excitement and had to give himself a mental shake before answering. “It’s 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 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. On the other hand, it could be his long-awaited opportunity.
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. “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 rattle 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.
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 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. His heart plummeted like a stone.
Sarah sat 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. Then, he saw their clasped hands and a pink tongue darting in Sarah’s ear. Sarah laughed and pulled back, her eyes glittering with excitement, and something else.
He couldn’t believe he 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 expertly snagged 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 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 there.
“Will you be good with getting Sarah back to the site, Eman?” He’d spoken so abruptly 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 at his lame humor, but judging by Sarah’s furrowed brow, his face must look as wan as he felt.
He slapped a few bills 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 all of 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 better.”
“What do you think Nathan will do now? Will he be able to endure working so closely with Sarah?”
“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, which 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 it 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.”
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 meticulous care on a spot in the strata at the level of her eyes.
But the anxious archaeologist bobbed up the ladder at every sound to check the dirt track meandering towards Luxor. Her voice was overly loud when 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 fifteen minutes ago. But I’m concerned, too. I sent Jack to hunt for him this morning. I’m sure he must have 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 drifted over the sand between them, the sound of a car had them springing up their respective ladders to peer over the edge of their pits.
Back in the grotto, Persephone said from where she reclined in her vines from the spot on Tityus’s shoulder, “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 stopped abruptly 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,” she drawled. “It’s Father. Hell’s gate! How did he find out?” She barked out a laugh. “Never mind. Stupid question. We’re better off working on our plausible deniability.”
They looked over the scene again to find the car arrived at the encampment and parked under a cover. 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.
“Nathan!” Sarah shouted as she scrambled the rest of the way up her ladder and ran to the car.
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 colleague who was turning wobbly before her eyes, and her voice hitched. “You scared me to death, Nathan.” She stepped closer and softened her words. “I’m 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 puffy 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 a shining face to Nathan’s as she wrapped her arm around his waist and walked him to the med tent. The look in her sea green eyes 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 deep beneath the earth in his lonely grotto 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?
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?
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.
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!
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!