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A spark in the dark with @lottacraft!

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  Coffee? Yes, please. Can I have some chocolate to go with it? No? That’s ok, no worries. Some chocolate cake perhaps? No cake either? Ah, well (sigh) let’s get on with it then.
Do not let yourselves be distracted by the drama. Or, by all means do! It spices up who I am or who knows; perhaps it brings out the best in me. I find that a bit of drama can’t hurt: it flavors life and helps getting through the day. As an introvert or “hedgehog” (someone that keeps to themselves and drives everyone else away – as lovingly described by a very close family member when I was about 18), I still get the occasional bouts of needing to hide away.

Misfit throughout the biggest part of my teens and tweens.Closeted nerd and gamer. Trying to adapt just to please others and be accepted only succeeded in scraped knees and a wounded soul. So, what’s a girl to do? Tell them all to go fish and just be you, do a bit of drama, enjoy the day. After all, if you feel comfortable in your own skin, no one should tell you otherwise.

So, here I am now. Open nerd and declared gamer. Wannabe writer, dividing my time between my day job, family and children, (neglected) hobbies and writing. I love the theater but haven’t seen a play in the last five years. Cinemas make me slightly claustrophobic, so if I have to go, I pick a morning show, with a half empty room.

I have many faces. One of then spent about 14 years being a teacher, which is not much different than telling stories: why you’re supposed to do things this way or why it would work better the other way around (yes, this also applies to Math). After a while I decided that sugarcoating the educational curricula is not suitable as a long term plan unless you have an overwhelming desire to go mad. I don’t.

The Drama Queen spent every Saturday with the drama club and the Singer used to go to church choir rehearsal every Thursday; the latter sang every Sunday during Mass.

The Crafter in me sat down with needlework, crochet and knitting, paper, scissors and glue, paints and inks, pencils and markers. Oh, to wander through a well-stocked stationary store!

The Baker baked three tiered chocolate cakes decorated with marzipan roses and was able to bake cupcakes with her eyes closed and one hand tier around her back. Her Christmas coconut meringues were gone in seconds. Did I mention that she made mean profiteroles?

The Chef cooked salmon en croute and slow cooked roasts, made soups and sauces like a pro. The Child went out to play in the virtual realm of fantasy and fiction. The Scholar went to college and the teenager was yearning for love and understanding.

All these faces are still neatly squished together in my head, however they need a playground otherwise they wreak havoc. Someone had to take hold and let them out, one by one, to hone their skills. No one was strong enough, so the Scholar picked up the challenge and lets the others come out to play, one by one. So, if today I’m the Drama Queen, do not worry, I might be the Baker on the weekend and I am definitely the Singer once a week.

#FP: What do you love most about writing? What speaks to you?

LC; I love the way a whole world starts from an idea, from a spark in the dark, much like every journey starts with a first step. It’s also a bit like knitting: you start out with a few balls of yarn and slowly transform them into something you’ve set you heart and soul into.

I love the clicking of the keyboard in a completely silent house or the scratching sound of a pen on paper. It’s so satisfying to see a new world unfurl from your fingertips!
Funnily enough, I get the best ideas when doing repetitive motions: cleaning dishes, mopping the floor, knitting, cooking. Then it’s just a matter of trying to remember everything after I’m done with my chores!

#FP: So, what have you written?

LC: Ah well, about that… I have written a few poems, some of them are on my blog, others still on paper. I also have a few WIP’s such as the first part of a children’s story that I had to make up on request, at bedtime.
Nothing is finished yet; I probably need another few gentle pushes from @Melfka to finally get things done.

#FP: When did you know writing was for you? 

LC: I was always a storyteller but rarely wrote anything down; I didn’t think it was worth it and besides, no one would be interested to read my ramblings anyway. It dawned to me in my early twenties that maybe writing some of the ramblings down wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all.
By then, my head was filled to burst with stories and I needed space for new ones. I was afraid I would forget the nicer parts of my stories or a certain twist that I considered being unexpected, so I started writing them down and the act of writing opened a whole new world of possibilities for me: you could say I got hooked. I do wonder sometimes how come it took me so long to get started.
In my pre-laptop era I used notebooks and pens; I probably still have a few forgotten notebooks hidden in my book case, with stories in various stages of progression.

#FP: What are you working on at this minute? What was the inspiration for it?

LC: At the moment I have a few WIP’s that I try to tend to at least once a week. One of them is a series of short stories about fairies (not the traditional fairy tales, though), originating in requested bedtime stories, such as “Tell me a story about the [insert object name here] fairy!” I am trying very hard to keep them as children’s stories but sometimes they have a will of their own and go mad!

The first one is about a fairy (what else!) that has to bring embers through a dark forest as part of an old coming-of-age ritual. The embers are used to light small beacons in the forest, for the fairies to find their way home at night.
She gets lost in the woods at night time, she is alone and cold and decides to use the embers to warm herself. The forest is pitch black; she feels a thousand eyes watching her, critters are crawling on her skin and something or someone is tugging at her hair and her wings. She is too scared to go ahead or go back, so she sits down and opens the box with the embers. The embers are glistening and glowing and she is mesmerized by them. She tilts her head into the box to get a closer look and a strand of hair is falling in, touching the embers. The little specs of light and heat are caught in her hair and while she is shaking her head, trying to remove them, they cover her dark hair with a warm golden glow and rain down onto her wings, lighting them up. The fairy is now very scared, as she fears to burn her wings and she’s fluttering around, up and down, trying to put the fire out. When she finally sits down, crying from fear and exhaustion, she is amazed to notice a glowing light that seems to come from behind her. She tries to turn her head half expecting to find her wings burned down, but her wings are there and they are glowing! She touches them carefully, as not to get burned but the light is cool and won’t harm her. The darkness surrounding her slowly gives way to the mellow light from her wings. She picks up the now empty box and continues her path through the woods.

Upon arrival, everyone gasps in amazement at her new wings but they are concerned that the ember box is empty and that they wouldn’t be able to light the beacons. The fairy goes to the final beacon and opens the ember box, hoping to find one last ember, but there is none. As she turns away from the beacon, one of her wings lightly touches its surface and lo and behold, the beacon lights up in a blaze!
Followed by her friends, the fairy goes back into the forest and is able to light every beacon along the way using her wings.

I haven’t decided yet whether the fairy will be the only one with the magic wings, or if she will be able to pass on her new found powers to other, so that they might light up the beacons at night.
The Violin” (this one actually has a title) is about a boy who’s very close to discovering his quite unique legacy. He comes from a long line of gifted people with roots in the past and a very uncertain future. He’s torn between his passion and the need to keep it under control and hidden as much as possible, knowing to well that too much success would cause not only his downfall but endanger his family as well.

And thanks to #FP prompts, I have another few WIP’s that originated there; “Dishonorable”, “Troubles thoughts”, “Prophecy”. Everything else is still waiting to emerge on paper. 

#FP: Do you work to an outline or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you? Plotter or Pantser?

LC: Pantser it is …Mostly I start with a first sentence then let the story unfold and carry me away. It can take twists and turns and I usually let it have its own way. Sometimes I do change the story line and rub my hands thinking: “Let’s see how you get out of this one!”
The fairy stories have an outline, as they have to be fun, time limited (suitable for bedtime tales) and contain at least one (preferably female) fairy. Everything else is relative.

#FP: How do you find #FP helps your writing?

LC: One of the best things that I learned to appreciate at the #FP prompts is the character limitation per tweet: it pushes me to compress my thoughts and get right to the point; otherwise I would go on and on rambling.
I’m tickled pink every time I am feature in the weekly collection. Thank you so much for that: boosts my wannabe-writer’s confidence.

#FP: What draws you to flash-fiction, to #FP? What do you love and hate about it?

LC: I like the challenge of telling a story in as few words as possible (well, sometimes more). I love to read entries from all the other #FP addicts and I am thankful for the received feedback: shows me that my writing goes the right way.

#FP: What inspires you most about writing? 

LC: That’s a difficult one: I suppose it’s to see the way a story flourishes, to see it grow from a seedling into a fully-fledged tale. Oh, and I like the idea of leaving something behind when I’m gone, even if no one’s going to read it apart from family and friends.
Have I mentioned that I’m not brilliant at gardening?

#FP: Who are your writing inspirations? How do they influence your creativity?

LC: In terms of authors, I’m drawn to sci-fi and fantasy. I remember my first contact with sci-fi; I was twelve and I discovered “The Cyberiad” by Stanisław Lem. The cover looked nice and I had a brief look inside and before I knew it, I had read the whole book. It was fascinating to read about fairy tales with robots, cogs, planets and creational dilemmas.
Once a sci-fi fan, always a sci-fi fan. Further down the reading road followed Ray Bradbury, Orson Scott Card, Isaac Asimov, Fredric Brown, Frank Herbert, Ursula K. Le Guin and A. Heinlein, just to name a few.

I’m also inspired by tales of myths and magic; I read “The Mists of Avalon” at least a dozen times and I still manage to find new depths and undiscovered phrases.
My aspiration is to successfully combine fantasy, myth, magic, sci-fi and elements of the pagan religions (which I find intriguing and fascinating) in an amazing story which will knock everyone socks off!

#FP: What is the hardest thing about writing for you?

LC: Finding time to do some actual writing would be a first one. Next in line is the actual typing of the story; this is always somewhat of a struggle, because I tend to get distracted by adding this and that to the sidelines instead of focusing on what I actually want to say in my story. The stories sound so much better in my head! The lazy part in me is considering speech recognition software, but then I wouldn’t be able to get anything done when not alone. But still, so very tempting!
And once I actually manage to finish typing the story out, editing is not that much fun either.

#FP: Do you have any secret and wacky writing rituals that help the words flow?

LC: Apart from secretly wishing everyone was in bed and asleep, not much. Even then, I find that the ideas I was pondering upon earlier had just flown away as soon as I have time to do some actual writing. So I just stare at a blank page and start typing out random words, hoping that one of them will light a spark.

#FP: What advice would you give to aspiring writers and poets, anyone who wants to free the art within? What helped you make it to this point?

LC: I’m a cat person and a story idea is very much like a cat. You don’t own it, it owns you. If you are too insistent or too pushy, it will arch its back and hiss at you. Be gentle and bribe it with some (brain) food, such as chocolate or cake and wait until it grants you permission to pet it or scratch it behind the ears. Once the story idea has nestled comfortable in your (brain) lap, feel free to explore it at leisure, knowing that it has accepted you as its master.

In other words, do not lose faith and do not despair. Take it one day at a time, wait for it. Patience and perseverance will be rewarded in the end.

#FP: What genres do you find yourself most drawn to? In your books and in your #FP’s?

LC: I like the possibilities that fantasy and fairy tale have to offer; also the way a tale can take an unexpected turn and go in the opposite direction. I find that adding a shred of every-day life to a fantasy story makes it sound that much more real. A hero has to do chores after all; otherwise he’s not too credible.

#FP: How can readers discover more about you and you work?

LC: My twitter stamp is @lottacrafts and my blog (which needs updating) can be found here:
lottacraft.wordpress.com

The Violin

It is one of the first memories I have of the new house. It stood on top of a soft hill, was built from brick and wood, painted powder blue and white, and had large airy rooms and windows overlooking the hills. On clear days you could see the dark edge of the forest from the kitchen window.
The house came with a huge garden with vegetable and flower patches and a handful of trees in the back, growing behind a downtrodden shed. Later that year, in autumn, Dad would discover the grape vines embracing the outer fence.
We had just moved in that summer and I spent the first days running around the garden and climbing every apple tree in the small orchard. I chased butterflies and looked for hedgehogs, shrieked when spiders crawled up my shoes and collected snails in an orange bucket, to make my own snail farm.
I started school a few weeks later and I felt excited and nervous at the same time. We were still new to the parish and I hadn’t really met any other children my age so I was looking forward to new friends and playdates.
I remember waking up on the first day of school to the smell of cinnamon waffles and coffee. I ran barefoot downstairs into the kitchen, where Mum lifted out the last waffles and placed the heaping plate onto the table. She smiled and opened her arms; I flew into her embrace and buried my face into her long auburn curls. She smelled of lavender and cinnamon and I didn’t want to ever let go.
Dad stepped into kitchen and poured coffee and tea into powder blue mugs; coffee for them, peppermint tea for me. The scent of the hot beverages, mum’s lavender and Dad’s aftershave blended together into the smell of my childhood; my safe haven.
My brand new school bag was waiting on my chair, together with an oddly shaped wooden box. I didn’t know yet what it was, but I felt strangely drawn to it. I reached out to touch it and was surprised to find that the surface wasn’t cold, as expected, but mildly warm. I ran my hand along the raised parts of the box and looked up to see Mum and Dad smiling:
“It’s a violin,” she said. “Your new school will teach you how to play it.”
My hand was still resting on the violin box and I could feel the wood getting hot under my palm.
“Why is the box so warm?” I asked. Dad’s brow furrowed but he was quick with a smile. “It’s ok,” he said, “That’s a sign that the violin likes you!” The box was starting to burn my hand but I couldn’t let go; tears were welling up in my eyes. Mum gently lifted my hand from the box and handed me the schoolbag: “Now, who wants to go to school?”
The rest of that day and the weeks afterwards are a blur. I remember sunshine and red maple leaves in the school yard, the pitter-patter of raindrops on the windowsill at night, the smell of freshly picked apples, ink and new books, morning mists rising from the valley and flocks of geese flying south. Strangely enough, I can’t remember any music or learning the violin.
On a Sunday in October, Mum baked her famous apple pie and Dad cleaned the whole house, from top to bottom. Aunt Morag would pay us a visit.

*

“You have clearly not given this decision enough thought,” Aunt Morag was sitting at the kitchen table, her back perfectly straight in the oaken chair. Mum and Dad were sitting on the opposite side of the table, looking nervous, yet determined.
“Have you considered the implications?” she asked.
“We have, “said Mum. “He always reacted different to music, even as an infant.”
Aunt Morag pressed her thin lips together. “Yes, well, Julia, infants react different to a whole range of things. There is no way of knowing yet and this is just calling it out. He may not be a Musical. David here liked music too, but that was not his calling.” Aunt Morag turned to Dad.
“David, you of all people should know that the Calling cannot be determined this early. Have you forgotten that already?”
Dad reached out to hold Mum’s hand. “I haven’t forgotten,” he said in a firm voice. “And I won’t let anything like that happen to him. If he’s not a Musical, we won’t force it upon him. He’s free to find his own Calling.”
Aunt Morag did not seem pleased: “Fine, and what if he is a Musical? How will you be able to contain it? It’s far too early for him to master it and it will only be a matter of time until it consumes him or worse, expose us all! There is a very good reason why the first step on the path to the Calling starts when the child is ready! Are you willing to risk his sanity and our safety?”
Mum sat up straight in her chair: “We are not going to risk neither his sanity, nor our safety. If Music is not his calling, he simply won’t follow that path; we will teach him to look out for signs and guide him towards them.”
Aunt Morag shook her head: “I pray to the gods that you are right,” she sighed. After a few moments of silent brooding, she turned to Mum and smiled: “Now, Julia, give us a slice of that glorious apple pie. All this worrying has made me hungry!”

*

I remember the very first violin lessons; there was no music-making involved and I was somewhat disappointed. We were taught how to get the violin out of the box, how to hold it under the chin. We had to memorize the parts of the violin: the scroll, the pegbox, the turning pegs, the neck and the fingerboards, the upper and lower bout, the waist and the F holes, the bridge, the fine tuner, the tailpiece and the chinrest. The strings are E, A, D and G. The bow had a stick, the bow tip, the bow grip, the frog; the adjusting screw and the hair were horsehairs.
At first, I didn’t want to touch the violin box again; I was afraid that it would burn my hands. I discovered that once I had opened the box and taken out the violin for the very first time, the box would never get hot again. The violin was smooth and nestled comfortably under my chin and in my hand. It felt like a part of me.
It was a misty morning in November when Miss Matthews, our violin teacher, said that we were going to listen to our violins today. We were each told to take our violin out and place it under the chin. Then Miss Matthews whispered: “Your violin will now speak to you. First, make a fist with your right hand. Now stretch out your pointing finger and bend it to make a little hook. Move your arm, your fist and the little finger hook over, above the strings and carefully pluck one string.”
The silence was broken by a cacophony of sounds, a storm of buzzing pizzicatos, as each one of my classmates plucked wildly at the strings of their violin. I was ready to pluck a string too, but I couldn’t make up my mind which one to choose. They are looked equally enticing and I didn’t know how to choose one. As I looked down at the strings, with my index finger in the air, one of them seemed to vibrate, emitting a low hum. I lowered my finger and the humming stopped; when I lifted my hand, the hum was back: it was like the violin was telling me which string to pick, so I gently plucked the A string.
The string vibrated under my touch, filling the room with a sound that reverberated into every corner. As all the other violins went silent, I could see the sound roll up from the violin, touching my finger and unfolding into bubbles of crimson hues and deep reds. The room suddenly smelled of apple pie, cinnamon and lavender. The bubbles looked very real and I reached out to catch one, dropping the violin.
The bubbles were suddenly gone, together with the smell of apple pie, cinnamon and lavender. I couldn’t hear anything, except the roaring laughter of my classmates. I couldn’t see or feel anything, except the hot tears running down my cheeks. I turned around and ran out of the classroom, ran blindly out into the street until I couldn’t breathe anymore.
I’ve tried so often to think back to what happened next, but I can’t. The only thing I can remember is that after running until out of breath I suddenly smelled lavender and found myself nestled in my mother’s arms. I cried uncontrollably while she was holding me on the way home, when she put me to bed and while she sat with me, holding me tight until I drifted off to sleep, dreaming of our apple orchard and of blue lavender fields on the horizon.
I woke up briefly that night to hear loud arguing downstairs. I could make out Mum’s voice, then Dad’s, and then Aunt Morag’s, then Mum’s again and then another voice; it sounded familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it. I couldn’t understand what they were saying and I was too tired to get out of bed and go downstairs, so I closed my eyes, conjuring up the apple orchard and the lavender fields.

*

Later I would learn that Aunt Morag stayed the night and the voice I couldn’t quite place was Miss Matthews’. Aunt Morag summoned her to the house, planning to triumphantly lay the blame on my parents for making me attend violin classes and to forbid Miss Matthews to ever teach me again. It could have gone very bad that night. Surprisingly, it was Miss Matthews who achieved the impossible: she and Aunt Morag talked for a long while after my parents went to bed and it was agreed that I would not attend the violin classes in school anymore. Instead, Miss Matthews would come to the house once a week and teach me. Either Mum, Dad or Aunt Morag would have to be present as well; for my own safety, as I was later told.

It’s a little bit of fun with @Ste_clarkson90!

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qmdpcbkc I’m Stephen Clarkson, Civil Engineer by day and author by night. Earlier this month I self-published my first piece of work–Vitalize: A Zombie Novella. As the name would suggest, it’s a novella… about zombies. Well, it’s about a hell of a lot more than that; family, friendship and sacrifice, but there’s definitely zombies too.

I actually started Vitalize as a side project to the fantasy novel I’ve been working on since I started writing in November 2015. At first, I thought I could happily work away on several projects at once. I quickly learned I can’t, which is fine–lots of people work on lots of projects synonymously, others don’t. As writers, we are all individual creatures and we all work in our own quirky ways. Hence why no one in the world could tell a story the same way you can, but I digress. My point is, it turns out and I’m a one project dude. So when I started Vitalize for a little fun halfway through my novel, it swept me up and didn’t put me down until it was on the shelf. It was a hell of a ride, and I’m incredibly grateful I let myself get distracted. I’m ecstatic with how the book turned out.

paperback-cover

Since the release, I’ve picked Aeana back up and I’m storming through it at rocket pace (compared to before I published Vitalize, anyway). If I can maintain my current pace, the first draft of Aeana will be done by the end of November. Exciting times!

Oh, I’ll take my coffee with milk and two sugars. Awesome. Thanks.

#FP: What do you love most about writing? What speaks to you?

SC: The escape. It’s that simple. I’ve always been an imaginative individual. I spent my youth conquering the videogame world–I still play, but it’s not so much conquering as limping along slowly for a couple of hours every so often when I find the time. I always used to read a little but never really delved into the fantasy world except for some of the harry potter books–like some kind of mud-blood I stopped reading at ‘Order of the Phoenix’ because I was a teenager and had the attention span of a goldfish. As I got a little older, I developed an obsession for crime-thrillers, namely the works of Tess Gerritsen. I loved her Rizzoli and Isles series but eventually moved away from that too. Then bummed around without reading much for a long while before I discovered Peter V Brett’s ‘Demon Cycle’ series. The first book–The Painted Man–did it for me. I was hooked on fantasy and I couldn’t stop. Ever since that book, I’ve been a voracious reader of all things Fantasy, Sci-fi, and my other guilty pleasure, Zombies! (What else?) After a lot of reading I decided I’d write a book. My first attempt–A novel titled ‘Chronicle Z’ –was a train wreck, and when I got 30,000 words in, I gave up. A couple of years later, after a not-so-enjoyable short break in Paris, I decided life was too short and easily expended to not do what you love. For me, that feeling you get when you’re entrenched in a scene with a character, feeling everything they feel, is incomparable. I’ve never felt any emotion so strongly with film, music, art, or any other media, as when I’ve been writing. It’s incredibly addictive.

#FP: So, what have you written?

SC: A couple of blogs on my website. (I always intend to write more of these but never find the time!)
A couple of flash fictions on Wattpad, one of which is a teaser for a planned novel.
A couple of short stories; A dark fantasy story titled ‘Manor Dark’ and a submission to a zombie anthology titled ‘Outbreak Earth’. (Also available on Wattpad)
A novella, the first I officially published, titled ‘Vitalize: A Zombie Novella’.
And I’m currently 83k words into my first full length fantasy novel, currently titled ‘Aeana’.

#FP: When did you know writing was for you?

SC: I enjoyed the process the first time around in 2013 but I got frustrated when I couldn’t make it work and thought my characters were boring. Hence my giving up. The second time around in 2015, I fell in love with writing. I wanted to learn everything I could about the craft and still hunger to learn everything I can to make my stories the best they can be. It helped when I discovered the amazing community to which aspiring and indie authors belong. I have never met such a large group of helpful and motivational people.

#FP: What are you working on at this minute? What was the inspiration for it?

SC: As I’ve probably mentioned far too many times already, I’m currently writing my fantasy novel Aeana.

aeana

The summary on my website reads thus:

‘The city of Oralen – The first to conquer to thriving jungles of Oralea.Where a divided population fights a constant battle against the flora that tries to reclaim the stolen land. When rising tension between the Noble and Lesser classes ends in a family being torn apart, a young boy is forced into the harsh jungle where he must learn to live like one of the savages he had been taught to fear.

Deep in the jungle, he learns that everything he’d been taught is a lie and that there is much more to Aeana than the people of Oralen knew.’

I need to tweak this. When you break it all down, it’s a story about family, prejudice, revenge and sacrifice (did you spot some similar themes to Vitalize?).

It’s hard to say where I got the inspiration from. When I decided to write a book, I spent a short while sitting around trying to come up with an idea. Then one day, I was sat in my car in the car park of the local supermarket with my girlfriend, and the idea just hit me. I came up with the world and the magic first and foremost, then came up with the spark of a story, then it evolved from there.

#FP: Do you work to an outline or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you? Plotter or Pantser?

SC: It depends on the story. The longer the story and deeper I need to dig into the characters/world, the more detailed my outline. For my short stories, I tend to do a few bullet points, maybe have an idea of a beginning and an end, then just go from there. For Aeana, which will probably be a trilogy when all is said and done, there’s a chapter list, a timeline, an ‘encyclopaedia’ of the world (plants, animals, cities, cultures, religion, disease, etc.), a dictionary for some of the ‘Nuta’aalan’ phrases that appear in the book, and a character list. I’m not too rigid with my outlines though, I leave plenty of wiggle room, for the characters to do what they need to do on occasion.

#FP: How do you find #FP helps your writing?

SC: It’s a fun way of helping me stretch my creative legs. It’s challenging because of the 140 character limit (137 if we’re being pedantic), so it forces you to try to tell a story to the specified theme in a very short space. Sometimes I like to try and conjure an image, other times a very short scene. I always try to hit different styles too so I can keep my mind fresh. My latest favourite invention was the Hamsteraptor (a hybrid hamster-velociraptor), which got a series of #FP tweets dedicated to it. When the theme allows, Hamsteraptor will definitely be rearing its fuzzy, scaly, terrifying head again.

#HamsteraptorFoLyfe

hamster

#FP: What draws you to flash-fiction, to #FP? What do you love and hate about it?

SC: I enjoy it because it allows you to create a little micro-universe for a small space of time. There’s no pressure to be profound, or push boundaries, or anything. It’s a little bit of fun. It’s a way of breaking your writing cycle and keeping fresh. Although it’s not happened for me, I’d be interested to learn how many writers have taken a concept that started with #FP and turned it into a full blown story.

#FP: What inspires you most about writing?

SC: The thing that inspires me most with scenes is music. Often, I’ll have my idea for a story and I’ll ponder over it occasionally in the same way we all do; when I’m walking, driving, showering etc. Sometimes I’ll be listening to music and a scene will burst to life in my mind. I’ll be watching the scene in my head, often some cataclysmic fight scene with some music that’s heavy on the bass.
Take ‘Founding Dark’, for instance–A prequel novel I have planned for ‘Manor Dark’. I knew I wanted to write a prequel that explored more of the world; specifically a group of people known as the Order of Reapers. I had an idea for some characters and was forming something of an idea about a plot. Then this song came on SoundCloud as I was shuffling along:

(Yeah, I have odd taste in music… I vary between classical, classic rock, metal/heavy rock, hip-hop, whatever is in the charts, then lots of weird and wonderful stuff while I’m writing).

I was on the way to the train station at the time, this song came on and a scene came to life. A huge battle, with several of the main cast demonstrating the new technique they’d discovered for harnessing the power in their soul shards called Pulsing. It was awesome.

#FP: Who are your writing inspirations? How do they influence your creativity?

SC: My writing inspirations have to be my favourite authors, of course: Brandon Sanderson, Peter V Brett, and Mark Lawrence. I’m not sure how they influence my creativity to be honest. I love their stories, and hope that I can write stories as entertaining, evocative, and captivating as theirs. One thing I’ve loved about all their work is that none of it has been the standards knights and dragons fantasy that everybody pictures when they think of the genre. Damsel’s in distress, noble knights, gluttonous kings, trope after clichéd trope. In that same way, I’ve wanted to deviate from these standards the best I can. That being said, Manor Dark and Founding Dark have that clichéd medieval Europe type setting, but I’ll forgive myself that oversight because of the lore I’ve managed to conjure up.

I feel like I’m doing a disservice to all of the other fantastic authors who I’ve enjoyed over the years, but it’s safe to say that every one of them has inspired me in one way or another. If I could list every one of them, I would.

#FP: What is your favourite motivational phrase or musing on writing, and why?

SC: ‘A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit’ – Richard Bach

I love that saying because it tells us that anyone can become a novelist. You don’t need a degree from Oxford, or a PhD in English Literature of the 18th Century. Hell, you don’t need stunning grammar or outstanding spelling. All you need is an idea.

That’s not to say that writing a story is easy. Beginning a story is easy. Seeing it through to the bitter end, slogging through the dreaded ‘middle’, editing, editing, then editing again, then sending it off for someone else to look at and hoping all your sleepless nights have been worth a damn, is insanely hard. Giving your writing to another human being is not something to be taken lightly. These creations that spawn from our deepest desires, that are born of our burning passion, are all precious to us. Even that story that was complete rubbish was precious. It was ours, and we wrote it because it meant something. But we distance ourselves from it, we listen to the feedback and we work our asses off to make that story the best it can be. We do whatever we can to make sure the characters, plot, and setting live up to the astronomical expectations we have of them.

#FP: What is the hardest thing about writing for you?

SC: Time. Always time. There’s never enough of it. After working, and commuting, and driving, and speaking to friends, and doing everything that allows our existence to continue, finding a spare hour can be difficult. I’ve managed to find a routine that’s working for me at the moment. I’ve also set myself the goal of 1000 words a day. No excuses. So far I’ve been hitting it. Sometimes I smash it out of the park, sometimes I’m scraping the barrel for motivation after 600 words. It’s working though; I’m writing 1000 words a day and that means every day I’m 1000 words closer to my finished manuscript.

#FP: What do you tell yourself every time it gets hard? Every time the stars stop aligning? What do you do when writer’s block knocks on your creative door?

SC: Punch it square in its beady, drooling face.

In the year I’ve been writing I haven’t really been plagued by the dreaded block. Sure, I’ve had days where I sit at the laptop and think, ‘what the hell am I going to write about today’ but I don’t let that stop me. This is where having my outline helps. Usually as long as I start, even if it’s complete crap, it’s enough to inch open the gate and get the juices trickling. Then the more words I get down, the more the gate opens. Another effective saying, ‘You can’t edit a blank page’. So, don’t worry about writing perfect, beautiful prose, just worry about getting something, anything, down on the page, then come back and perfect it later.

#FP: Do you have any secret and wacky writing rituals that help the words flow?

SC: Usually, I wait until the moon is in Capricorn then form a spirit circle with my neighbours. I lure one of my hundreds of enemies into the circle, often with some kind of delicious sugary treat, then we sacrifice them to the writing gods. That bags me a good fifty words.

sacrifice

Failing that, I sit down, put my headphones in and bash the keyboard until sentences happen. Coherence and depth are a bonus.

#FP: What advice would you give to aspiring writers and poets, anyone who wants to free the art within? What helped you make it to this point?

SC: Do it. No, stop scrolling through Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or Pinterest or Myspace or Grindr or whatever else (unless of course it’s the witty tweets found on FridayPhrases newsfeed–we can call that inspiration). Use the time you spend thinking about writing, or telling people you want to write, to actually write!

Even if you spend 20 minutes a day writing, you are still writing. There’s no time limit. No rules. And once you start, don’t stop–some people will write a chapter then go back and edit it, then keep going over it and over it. Once you have that momentum pushing forward, seize it. All the editing can come later on.

Also, join some writing groups on Facebook or twitter. Or give Wattpad a whirl, it takes some dedication, but it can be very rewarding. Speaking with likeminded authors who are willing to help you every step of the way is incredibly motivational.

#FP: What genres do you find yourself most drawn to? In your books and in your #FP’s?

SC: Fantasy and Sci-fi are my go to genres–though I do have plans for a paranormal crime novel… I just love having an entire world or universe at my fingertips, not being bound by the laws and shortfalls of this one giant, watery, dirt ball we call home.

With my #FP’s I like to try and stretch my legs a little, so I might do something a little romantic or try and do something funny. Not to say my books are devoid of humour and love, but they aren’t the driving themes.

#FP: How can readers discover more about you and you work? (*Include links to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube channel, whatever you’re on and wherever you are.)

SC: I’m always happy to talk writing, reading, gaming, or anything else for that matter on social media and my website. Obligatory links below:

Website – www.stephenclarkson.co.uk
Twitter – twitter.com/ste_clarkson90
Facebook – facebook.com/stephenclarksonauthor
Wattpad – www.wattpad.com/user/StephenClarkson
Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15905823.Stephen_Clarkson

Be sure to sign up to my mailing list for announcements on my upcoming novels!
http://eepurl.com/cjTNXb

Manor Dark
Chapter 1 – Swift

Swift swung over the eaves, landing in a crouch on the moonlit roof and taking deep breaths as she listened for signs of movement below. Glancing at her hand, she dashed across the tiles. Her form-fitting black gi clung to her allowing no rustling in the gentle breeze. Silence had been her first lesson.

The Manor remained quiet beneath her. No windows lined the walls for light to escape and only two heavily guarded doors permitted entrance. There was one more option for Swift, difficult for any normal warrior but well within the skills of a woman of her calibre.

This night had been weeks in the planning and timing was key. She paused, sparing another glance at the tiny silver watch carefully sewn into the fabric of her glove. The moon glinted from its hands as the time ticked away rapidly before her. A watch with a hand to mark the passing seconds was a large but necessary expense. Her actions required vital precision. The rewards would be worth the cost.

Darting into motion she ran along the crest of the roof towards the bell tower. Less than sixty seconds to midnight. The bell would be rung twelve times to mark the hour and at the final ring, she would strike. She reached the tower and crouched below the battlement with only seconds to spare.

The bolts to the tower hatch clashed as they were worked free, the number of locks confirming the Lord’s rumoured paranoia. The trap slammed open and a grizzled man in servant’s uniform rose from the void, a sword tied hastily at his hip. He went to his task without hesitation. He pulled on the rope and the great brass bell resonated deafeningly. Swift felt each ring in her bones, yet her heartbeat was normal and no sweat trickled on her brow. She let a peace settle over her, calming the thrill she felt before every mission and allowing her to look upon her task with perfect clarity. No emotion would mar her judgement or slow her hand.

Anticipation held the breath in her lungs as she counted. The final ring sounded out and she hopped onto the rail next to the servant. He had no time to react before she slammed her blade deep into his neck, cutting off his cry. Arterial spray shot from the wound, spilling hot blood over the wooden platform. She took his head and removed the slender dagger, lowering him gently to the tower floor. An innocent bystander in a terrible crime but the loss was necessary. It had been a long time since she had felt even a flicker of guilt. She wiped the blood from the steel onto his shirt. A blood-soaked knife was prone to rust and she had a particular fondness for this one.

She slipped through the open trap, her time short before the guards would question the man’s return. The complete absence of light staggered her while her eyes settled, but it was of little import. Darkness was a familiar ally. She slithered down the tower and listened at the door to the Manor’s upper corridor. Hushed mutterings accompanied by the quiet clink of guards armour as someone approached. She counted only two voices. Time was moving against her. They were already searching for the missing servant.

“The Lord would go into a frenzy if he knew that fool was bumbling about up there.”

“Should I shout up to him?”

“No… We mustn’t wake Lord Armis.”

Their lantern light pooled in the doorway to the tower. She could hear each footstep, every rustle of the chain on their arms as they walked. The peace washed over her. Her training had been extensive and brutal, preparing her for any challenge she might face. This would be the night’s first true test.

The lantern came in first with an armoured arm attached. She pursed her breath and waited for her opportunity. The guard leant in and craned his neck back to look up the ladder. In that instant, her hand darted out like an arrow, carrying her blade in a fatal slash across the guards exposed neck. Blood sprayed in a violent eruption, his screams muted by severed vocal chords. The walls became a symphony in crimson. The voiceless guard dropped to his knees in a startlingly loud clash. The second only managed to get his sword half drawn as she emerged from the tower and cut his life free. In her mind, she cursed the eager guards for breaking her silence. She would have to increase her paced. The lanterns soft orange glow was dazzling in the infinite abyss. She blew out the flame as she wiped her blade clean on the fallen guards tabard. The plush corridor was an assassin’s dream, her footsteps falling like feathers as she stalked her prey. The informant had said the Lord’s bedroom was the corner most room. The pervading dark made finding the final door its own challenge but through accustomed eyes, the corridor awoke in dull grey tones. Simple yet expensive decorations, paid for in blood and broken bones, stirred the bile in her stomach.

She found the handle and eased the door open, bracing herself against the stone wall, where she awaited a final line of defence but was greeted by only looming quiet. Peeking into the room, she saw her target lay still in his bed. Her heart threatened to burst free of her chest, but the familiarity of the dagger’s grip soothed her as she stepped into the doorway. There would be no honour in gutting the Lord in his sleep, but honour could never return what he had taken.

Her anticipation mounted with each step, forcing steady breaths as she approached the bed. She stopped, hesitation gnawing at the back of her mind. Pausing with full lungs, she allowed the unease to manifest, waiting for her senses to assess and enlighten her. The figure was too still in its slumber. Her heart thundered as she cast her eyes around the room. Suddenly a figure darted from the shadows, great and powerful hands wrapped around her shoulders and lifted her into the air.

“It seems you really are quite skilled,” her attacker said in a refined tone. He seemed excited, thrilled by the presence of the viper in his den.

She planted her heel on his neck and thrust as hard as she could, attempting to collapse his larynx. He might have been an iron statue for the good it did. He smiled the Devil’s smile and wisps of smoke burst from the his chest. His shoulders broadened and his body bulked as he grew. She struggled in a rising panic, facing down the monster with no way out. His face grew stern and angry as she fought, his hands like vices as he shuffled her down.

Her neck snapped like a rotten twig.

He dropped her limp body and began to shrink as the power faded. With a sigh he pulled the pendant from his shirt. The purple crystal cracked and faded before his eyes. The shard, black as coal, crumbled away from the chain as ash and flitted gently into the air.

“A pity to waste a crystal on one so… weak.”

There’s nothing like a convenient flow of caffeine with @alannarusnak!

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alanna-rusnak-headshot  I like my stories deep and brooding, my chocolate dark, and my coffee with a little milk and sugar. I dream of the day when my passions will afford me the luxury of pursuing them full time; however, real life keeps me firmly planted in my responsibilities and I chase dreams in whatever spare moments I can steal back.
#FP: What do you love most about writing? What speaks to you?

AR: I love the freedom I find through writing. As an introvert, unless I’m very comfortable with a person, I tend to hide myself quietly in the background. I’ve found a boldness through writing that I’ve never known in my face to face living. I like to think of myself as ‘internally eloquent’ — in other words, when I try to say my thoughts out loud, they feel thin and forced; when I write them, they have a fluidity that boasts confidence. I used to wonder if this was a character flaw on my part, but I’ve learned to embrace it.

#FP: So, what have you written?

AR: I began a blog in 2010 as an exercise in discipline. Forcing myself to be vulnerable and write publicly helped organically grow my confidence. As more people saw my words and encouraged me to continue, I began to feel an obligation to produce content. That public motivation was powerful.

In 2013 I published a book of poetry, When We Were Young (ASIN: B00F3QNT9A) and just this year I published two short stories, Eve Undone (ISBN: 978-0992125530, ASIN: B01F4MQ51G) and Kissing Johnny (ASIN: B01F4LDQQ4). I’ve just had a piece of creative-nonfiction published in Under The Gum Tree, a literary magazine from Sacramento, California, and in May of this year I started my own Canadian Lit magazine, Blank Spaces.

kissingjohnnycover

I’m working towards the publication of my completed literary novel, The Church In The Wildwood and I have another novel, Black Bird, approaching first draft completion.

#FP: When did you know writing was for you?

AR: I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing. I have a tiny trophy in my office from a writing contest I won in the 2nd grade! I’ve always known I had the heart of a writer but it hasn’t been until these last few years that I’ve gone all out, throwing my soul in the mix too.

#FP: What are you working on at this minute? What was the inspiration for it?

AR: The inspiration for Black Bird came from a dream, one image: the shadow of a dandelion. That image birthed the first scene and from there, the story of Bird Mitena seemed to blossom on its own. I’m excited to see how it all comes together. With the launch of my magazine I’ve had less time to work on my own projects. I’m learning to navigate the extra workload and set boundaries. I hope to get back into my novel very soon.

evecover

#FP: Do you work to an outline or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you? Plotter or Pantser?

AR: I’m definitely a pantser. I admire the writers who can plot their entire story but that method is so foreign to me. I love the game of discovery writing presents. There’s nothing more thrilling than when a character surprises me! I will often have a sense of where things are going, and I may have ideas for certain scenes, but I never really know the whole picture until it’s pounded out through my fingertips.

#FP: How do you find #FP helps your writing?

AR: Participating in things like #FP have been brilliant for my editing process. I’m a wordy person. If you could say it in three words, I’m likely to say it in twelve. Having to limit myself to 140 characters is an amazing challenge. I find, as I search my projects for something to fit the theme, I’m forced to edit phrases down to fit within the tweet and the end result is often better than my original.

#FP: What inspires you most about writing?

AR: There’s something so beautiful about creating something from nothing. I love looking back two years ago, before I began writing The Church In The Wildwood, and thinking ‘Iris Carver (one of my main characters) didn’t even exist.’ It’s motivating to know I have within me the power and imagination to create whole worlds. That inspires me to keep going and build more.

#FP: Who are your writing inspirations? How do they influence your creativity?

AR: Anne Rice is my writing hero. Not only is her writing beautiful, no matter her topic, I love how she doesn’t seem to care what anyone thinks. She writes what she wants to write and doesn’t apologize for it. You can see much of her personal journey reflected through each story and I adore that vulnerability. She bleeds on the page. I want to do the same.

#FP: What is your favorite motivational phrase or musing on writing, and why?

AR: Leonard Cohen said, “there’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” This is isn’t about writing specifically but I love the reminder that nothing is perfect. Too often we stop ourselves because we don’t think whatever we’re doing is good enough. This reminds me to push on. There’s beauty in imperfection.

#FP: What is the hardest thing about writing for you?

AR: Definitely time management. I have a “real job” in communications and graphic design, I’m a magazine editor, I’m a wife, a mother to three children, and a volunteer in my community. I’m tired. Most nights I’d rather just crawl into bed and watch Netflix. Without intentionally setting aside time dedicated to writing, it would never happen for me.

#FP: What do you tell yourself every time it gets hard? Every time the stars stop aligning? What do you do when writer’s block knocks on your creative door?

AR: I get out of the house! Sometimes all it takes is a change of scenery to get things moving again. I have a few local coffee shops where I like to set up. There’s nothing like a convenient flow of caffeine to get those characters on the right path again!

#FP: Do you have any secret and wacky writing rituals that help the words flow?

AR: I can’t make anything happen without a title and an image to go with it. I have great fun designing covers for all my projects. Something about the visual representation unlocks the words for me. Even when I write a new blog post, I almost always have to have the post image ready before I can write one word.

#FP: What advice would you give to aspiring writers and poets, anyone who wants to free the art within? What helped you make it to this point?

AR: Tell your fear to shove it! If you really want to write you won’t be happy until you do. And when you do, do it proudly. Tell people. Shout it out. Find a community of like-minded people and be active in it. I was terrified to admit I wanted to write. I was sure people would think I was a fool. It took me far too long to realize it only mattered what I felt about myself. If I was happy chasing after my heart, others would be happy for me too, whether they “got it” or not.

whenwewereyoungkindlecover

 

#FP: What genres do you find yourself most drawn to? In your books and in your #FP’s?

AR: I like dark, edgy fiction. I want to be unsettled and left questioning how I look at the world. This comes out in my own writing but with an underlining softness I used to balk at. I’ve learned to accept the romantic that hides deep down inside me. My fiction writing still has some darkness but I don’t fight the light that squeezes its way in there anymore.

#FP: How can readers discover more about you and you work?

AR: My website and blog: www.alannarusnak.com
twitter: @alannarusnak
facebook: facebook.com/alannarusnakauthor
amazon: author/alannarusnak
instagram: www.instagram.com/alannarusnak
my magazine: blankspaces.alannarusnak.com

Fairy Tale

(The following story is an excerpt from Black Bird, an English assignment written by the main character)

She was made for bravery. Beauty the beacon of her eyes—those oceans of forever reflecting that glimpse of heaven she surely had on her way to earth. Wings, the sweet wisp of a secret, elegantly resting against skin as white and pure as freshly fallen snow. “I am made as God has made me,” she declared to a world enrapt with her charms. “He has crafted me of all things perfect and sent me as his light-house of goodwill towards man.” And all the world bowed in reverence to this fairy gift.
But one stood against. One looked upon this soul with a spirit of spite and desire. A troll, not of ill-face nor bent back, but handsome and tall with eyes that pretended kindness and hands rough from work but gentle in a moment of persuasion. He baited his trap and wetted his lips at the waiting, biding his time until she places a lithe foot within his vicious net.
To taste her was to taste paradise. She  lay upon the metal as he pulled her light into himself. She lay as one crucified while he stole every bit of her grace, erasing the fingerprint of God and placing the scar of himself upon her very soul. He took her into himself. All of her. Felt the warmth of her within his belly as he watched her grow grey beneath him.
Her breath turned to ice. Great waves of fog roiled from her cracked lips, blue with the memory of a perfect sky.
He stumbled back, calling out for forgiveness that was not his to take. His eyes grew wide and his body quaked as he watched the fog boil. Her bravery he had so vilely ingested turned to bile and fear.
When the whole world was covered in ice, the fog crawled back and he saw that she was gone—the fairy was no more. From her ashes rose a shape as white as the sun. A woman of dark edges and piercing eyes. She stood before him, naked and blinding; rolling sculpted shoulders until great black wings opened behind her.
“Are you of me?” he asked her.
“Yes.” And her voice was like a thousand souls crying for salvation.
“Am I forgiven?” he asked, feeling the burn of tears against his cheek.
“You are only what you are.”
“Are you an angel?” he asked, for she was more beautiful than any other creature.
“No.”
“Are you a demon?”
“I am only what I am.”
“Can you take this cup from me?”
“Yes.” She knelt before him and cupped his face and her fingers were as ice.
He stared into the fire of her eyes and felt its chill deep within her chest. She lowered her lips to his and took a great pull and he felt his body turn to stone. Her fingers closed around his upper arms and she squeezed with a strength not bred of this world until he burst into a tidal wave of putrid water, rushing over her. She took him into herself in great draughts, then returned to the pile of ash from whence her mother went and that too she ingested.
And the water and the ash swirled against her heart and built a wall against all she had ever loved or ever would again.
She turned from the violence and walked out upon the ice, her bare feet leaving behind the wet prints of her map.For this was now her world—all this ice.
This was the price of victory and vengeance for the fairy daughter.

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