Author Interview: A.E. Bross

There are some books that couldn’t be written by any other author than the one that penned it. No one else has the same voice, the same experience, and the same history it would take to pull off that particular book. There’s something so singular about some books that it would read as insincere from any other voice.

When I read The Roots that Clutch, I got the feeling that I was reading one such book, and interviewing A.E. Bross, I could understand why. The book was a love letter to found family, a remembrance of strife and resilience, and I was captivated by its charm. I was thrilled to sit down with the author to learn more.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Well, I’m a nonbinary, genderfluid individual who has a lot of passion. Of course, I have a lot of passion for writing, but I’m also a librarian and I’m heavily invested in the access to and sharing of information for everyone. I am married to a wonderful geek of a man, and we have ourselves a very smart, vibrant child, and one kitty who my kiddo insists is my grandchild.

Tell us about your novel, The Roots That Clutch.

I’m so excited to finally be sharing this novel with the world. It follows a young girl, Tirzah, as she tries to find her way in a world that is aggressively antagonistic. The world itself, Theia, is a complete desert. It doesn’t rain and the only water comes from underground springs that are controlled by tyrannical rulers that some people view as deities. They call themselves the god-kings. They control the water, they control the people, and they control Theia’s magic, which is called thaûma. Thaumaturges—those who can use thaûma—are actually forced to enlist in the god-kings’ employ if they’re discovered. Well, Tirzah finds out she’s a thaumaturge, and much of the novel is her navigating this world and trying to learn and protect herself from the god-kings and from others who would use her to their own ends.

What is your favorite novel, and has it inspired how you write? How?

You’re making me pick JUST ONE? That’s just mean. I will pick ONE of my favorites (I have many). Persuasion by Jane Austen is probably one that inspires me the most because of its ability to portray flawed characters that make mistakes, mistakes that follow them their whole lives, and yet they can still recover from them. I like the concept that people need to be able to make mistakes and learn from them. There are still consequences to their actions, but they take those consequences and they learn from them. I like to include that in my own writing. My characters can be wrong, they can make mistakes. They might trust someone they shouldn’t or they’re in a relationship that doesn’t work out, and it can get messy. That’s just being human. Also, Austen’s portrayal of found family, how the main character, Anne, is an outcast in her own family but welcomed and loved by those around her, is another great aspect of the book that I love. Found family might be my favorite of the tropes, and it always inspires stories for me.

What are some key takeaways you’re hoping readers get from your books?

That blood family can be toxic. I think there’s a very strong misconception out there that family is family, no matter what, and you always have to be there for family, even when they treat a family member in a toxic manner. It isn’t true. I mean, yes, familial bonds can be the strongest bonds ever, but not all of them have to be biological. There’s my love of “found family” rearing its head again! Also, I’m really hoping they leave with an investment in Tirzah and her story. I do have 3-4 more books planned with her as the main character!

What is different about your novel?

The fact that I wrote it. And I don’t mean that in a pretentious way. I just mean that, when I write something, I bring myself to the table and put myself into it. You can see my passions, my biases, my fears. Not that I literally write myself into it, but it comes from my imagination, which means it’s going to be different from something that maybe my spouse or a friend could write.

What are your plans for future novels?

Oh, do I have plans! The Roots that Clutch is actually the first book in a four or five-book series, The Sands of Theia. So, there is plenty more to Tirzah’s story. I also have at least two more fantasy series planned for the world of Theia. I plan on taking it from this sort of high fantasy world all the way up to a steampunk/urban fantasy/Victorian era inspired setting, and the different series will take place at a few different points in history. I also have plans for two standalone sci-fi novels, but those are in the early planning stages. I’ll be spending most of my writing time in the coming years working in Theia and sharing all the stories that take place there, with some possible shorter novellas or short stories to fill in some of the gaps. I’m really looking forward to delving into the world.

What inspires you to write?

Honestly, I’m not sure. I know that there’s this feeling in my brain that if I don’t get everything out and on paper, I’m going to explode with the sheer amount of it. So, I write, in the hopes of not exploding. As for what inspires the actual stories, that could be so many things. A particular song. A long walk. Sitting in traffic on my commute. The muse is fickle and adventurous.

What do you enjoy about publishing, and what do you struggle with?

Honestly, I’ve both loved and struggled with almost every step of the self-publishing process. I love learning new things and having the creative control that I do, but part of that is also being really conscious that if I make a big mistake, there’s no way to diffuse it. It all falls back on me. And that’s been a bit nerve-wracking. I’m a perfectionist in general (and I do not say that as a positive trait) so I tend to go over things over and over and over to try and make sure I’ve missed nothing. It is/was really challenging to step back and finally say, “All right, it’s done. I cannot make it any better.” I’m still not sure if I agree with that even now, but I’m committing to not letting myself fall down into the doubt again.

What has been your greatest struggle writing, and how would you inspire other writers to overcome it?

My greatest struggle in writing is also my greatest struggle in general. I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder in my early twenties, though I struggled with them regularly. Because of that, it’s hard a lot of the time to find the energy to be creative. At the end of a workday (yes, I work a full-time job) my brain is so tired that getting the motivation to actually write is almost impossible. Most of the time, I wind up working on my writing during my lunch break at work, because it’s the one time I can really sit and concentrate.

I’m not sure if I’m really inspiring other writers. I just try to support the ones I can. Writing is hard, and the way it’s perceived (often as not being “work”) makes it more open to harsh blows against confidence. So I try to be available (mostly on Twitter), because I know how rough those patches can be.

How can we purchase your book?

Right now, the ebook is available for preorder on Amazon. The paperback and ebook will both be available on August 4, 2020, on Amazon and the ebook will be a part of the Kindle Unlimited program.

Flash Fiction: Framed

The thing about death, Liza thought, is that every new experience feels like the hardest one you’ll have to go through.

She set the crocheted throw into the ‘keep’ box, tucked safely next to the small pile of yellowed paperbacks and porcelain knick-knacks. After the arrangements, the funeral, the will, the estate, and divvying up the various items of value, it had fallen to Liza to sort through the rest of her father’s miscellaneous belongings that were left in his three-bedroom ranch home.

She heard a scuffling, and two quick barks in the other room, and sighed. And oh yeah, that thing too.

Along with his belongings, she’d been tasked with either adopting or re-homing her fathers’ one hundred pound plus Old English Sheepdog.

It’s not that Liza hated dogs. It’s just that this particular dog had tried even her father’s patience, who was known for his ability to train even the most stubborn or cognitively challenged dogs. Shena had proved him wrong at every turn, made worse for the fact that she didn’t fully realize her own size. There was already a pile of broken antiques that Liza was forced to delegate to the trash pile that had either already been broken when she’d arrived, or subsequently broken in Shena’s excitement at having another person in the home again.

She sobers at the thought. A kindly neighbor had been stopping in to take care of Shena, but she’d been alone a good portion of the time since Liza’s father had died. Shena’s excitement had been palpable, and the guilt was like a gnawing beast in her gut, the grief slithering into her veins around it.

There had just been no time, no matter her feelings now. Her father’s death had caught everyone off guard.

Defeated, she drops the coffee table book into the ‘donate’ pile and sighs. I won’t be getting much more done today, she thought. My heart just isn’t in it. The more she went through, the closer the memories, and it was like a blindfold around her eyes. They stung, her throat closed around the grief.

She was drawn from her thoughts when she heard a crash and jumped to her feet. She rounded the corner in time to see Shena’s tail disappear under the desk in her father’s study, but it was too late for her departure to make a difference. One of the small bookcases was overturned, the books halfway spilling out of the shelves. But what caught her attention was the shattered snowglobe, the carpet a wet stain with white sparkles and a smiling snowman scattered on the floor surrounded by glass that had fractured into a hundred pieces.

She felt light-headed, her face heated in anger for a moment before the blood seemed to drain from it completely. There was no use getting angry, and though anger was easier, the overwhelming sense of loss was more than she could bear.

Liza leaned against the doorjamb and slowly let herself fall to the floor, legs crossed and hands dropped onto her knees. She leaned her head back and let the tears fall down her face, felt the heat like a balm on her cheeks. Her eyes burned with the sheer unfairness, not of some silly bauble crushed on the floor, but the loss of a great man who meant so much to her.

The sobs wracked her body in a way she’d never let anyone else see. She was alone, no one to pretend for, no one to save from her misery. She wailed out her pain, crushed into herself as she cowered into the doorjamb, held her arms to her chest.

When the sobs died down and the tears were a trickle, she felt the soft brush of fur on her forehead, and looked up to see Shena sitting in front of her. She wasn’t yet ready to forgive her and debated shooing her away when she saw she was holding something gently between her teeth.

She reached for it, and Shena let it go into her hands. It was a wooden frame with a photo, a bit bigger than the palm of her hand. She vaguely remembered seeing it in the living room. Looking closer, it was a picture of her entire family on her father’s last birthday. It was the last time when her immediate family had all been together, brothers, her father, and herself.

Curious, she opened the clasps on the back of the frame and found several other photos behind it, dating back several years, each featuring the entire family. She replaced the photos and clasps and turned the frame over.

She brought it closer to her face, realized that there were the tell-tale signs of teeth marks along with the wood—not just from today, but as if Shena had done this before.

A smile played on her lips and she gave Shena a fond look. “Trust dad to train you to bring him a photo whenever he was upset. Of course, he wouldn’t brag about something like that, would he?”

Shena butted her head against her cheek, nose wet and fur tickling her face. She giggled a wet sound that was equally laughter and sob. “Alright, alright,” she said and reached out a hand to pet her. “I guess you and I are going to get better acquainted then.”

Liza looked down at the photo, at the smiling face of her father, his square jaw, and close-cropped white beard. Happy.

“Family is family.”

<Back to Flash Fiction>

Book Review: The Roots That Clutch

Those who control the waters control all. They are the god-kings. 

The Roots That Clutch by A.E. Bross is the beginning of a series centered around found family, the struggle for survival and independence, and what it ultimately means to love someone knowing that doing so can lead to loss and heartbreak.

In a world without rain, steady access to water is a privilege enjoyed by few. What little can be found in wells and trickling from dying springs is heavily sought after. To thirst is to know suffering in the shadow of the god-kings that control the water source, tyrants that dominate bustling city-states under false divinity.

Under it all is magic, the thauma. To be a wielder of the thauma, a thaumaturge, is to be hunted and enslaved by the god-kings. 

In a disgraced city on the edge of civilization, we meet a young child, Tirzah, who in her desperation reveals her secret powers and begins a journey for freedom that may change the world of Theia forever.

This is the first book in the Sands of Theia series, and so much of the book is centered around the growth of Tirzah from a five-year-old ‘curse’ tortured by her older sister into a woman running from her past and the ones that would enslave her.

We’re introduced to several characters throughout that become her found family, happiness a fleeting thing that she clings to as harshly as it’s torn from her grasp. Her elder sister Naomi, the steadfast Bariah Iram, and others along the way. Throughout it all ties the question in the back of Tirzah’s mind—is she the curse that her sister Sathar claimed her to be, or is the world simply a cruel place where happiness is found in inches?

The Good:

When we talk fantasy novels and series, the worldbuilding will often be modeled at least partially after the Tolkien genre of Medieval and mythologically influenced fiction. This model is a quick shorthand to get readers into the story more quickly by allowing them to focus on what is different from other fantasy books, rather than focusing too much on what is the same.

Bross took a different approach in The Roots that Clutch. The world is inspired by Arabic climate and culture, something that isn’t unheard of in fantasy but not as common. It was refreshing to get a different take, and the worldbuilding was so seamless it never once got in the way of the story—a sign of a steady hand backed by research.

There was also a lot of diversity, without any of it seeming forced or unnatural. Bariah Iram, one of Tirzah’s adopted family, is non-binary, or neutral as it’s called in Theia. There are same-sex relationships represented in the story. None of this is seen as odd or unusual, but as another natural aspect of the culture.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that about halfway through the story, I came upon a section that had a pretty significant emotional effect on me, to the point where I had to stop reading for a while to process. Without spoiling anything, suffice to say that the section was extremely well written, and the suffering Bross brought out on the page affected me so deeply that it brought up a lot of pain from my own life that I haven’t fully processed. This wasn’t a detriment of the book, rather a testament to how well Bross managed to evoke emotion through these characters that it brought me to tears.

Should You Read It?

As always, please see the triggers before you consider picking up this book. I would like to add that there are areas that can get pretty heavy so practice self-compassion and awareness if you’re reading this (or any book really) and need to step away for a while to process like I did. You can always come back when you’re in a better place.

That said, this book is a great beginning to what feels to be a pretty epic fantasy series in a world that is both unique and treacherous. There are no guarantees for safety in any corner, but even in a world where every shadow can mean danger, there’s time for happiness and joy. That’s what makes this book great. It doesn’t promise a happily ever after but it does promise there will be happiness along the way.

If you like fantasy with a twist; epic reads with treachery, assassins, magic, and fighting; tales of broken families filled with betrayal and revenge; or just want a book you can’t put down, I highly recommend The Roots that Clutch. I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

Spark Level:

I rated The Roots that Clutch as spark level Torch. I’ll carry the lessons I’ve learned along with Tirzah with me throughout my day, remembering that found family is stronger than blood and that the happiness of now, together, is worth a million tomorrows. 

Trigger Warnings: Contains depictions of abuse, violence, and death/dying.

Stories

Here I have a variety of lengths and genres of stories that I’ve written and are available for free on this site, categorized by length.


Very Short Stories
These stories are about a paragraph long, and so are succinct and meant to grab you’re attention right off the bad.


Flash Fiction
Between 250 and 1,500 words, flash fiction is a step up from Very Short Stories, for breaks at work and when you’re waiting at the doctors office and need a quick fix.


Short Stories
Meant to be relished, short stories are longer and more involved, complete. In this section are also stories performed on podcasts.

Rue|Lou Prompt Series: “We’re Only Braiding Roses”

For the 7/9/2020 prompt, Rue submitted “We’re Only Braiding Roses”

Below are the prompts submitted for this week. Thank you to all the participants!

Click on the links to read each individual submission.

MASTERLIST:

“Bren carefully picked her way across the scorched grass, darkened patches of ash the only reminder of the battle that once was.
Untitled, Ash @AshDawnWrites

“I was ten when my great-aunt caught me picking flowers from the edge of the forest. She damn near screamed, “Child, stop!”
I dropped the bunch of daisies as she grabbed me by the wrist. Her ragged fingernails bit at my skin as she dragged me away from the treeline.
Braided Roses, EM Harding

“The bell rings softly, telling me it’s time for lunch.
I push away from my desk, rolling back on my wheeled chair. I can’t get away from the computer fast enough.
Braiding Roses, Dewi Hargreaves

She wove in flowers and baby’s breath into the braid in my hair as I let the tears fall on the plush rug.
“It’s like braiding roses. Beautiful if you can make it work, but watch out for the thorns.”
We’re Only Braiding Roses, Rue Sparks

“My fingers tie around her wrist like a bracelet. We’re cold, fighting away frost with every heartbeat, and our breath seems to crystallise before it leaves our lungs.
Braiding Roses, Lou Willingham

Flash Fiction: We’re Only Braiding Roses

She wove in flowers and baby’s breath into the braid in my hair as I let the tears fall on the plush rug.

“It’s like braiding roses. Beautiful if you can make it work, but watch out for the thorns.”

I let out a sound somewhere between a snort and a sniffle that only makes me wish for a handkerchief. “Couldn’t you just cut off the thorns?”

She’s quiet for a moment as she braids, the feeling of her fingers in my hair soothing despite the terror wrapping like vines around my lungs. When she speaks it’s quiet and I can barely hear, but her reply is without any heart. “It’s a metaphor. You don’t remove the thorns from metaphors.”

We have run out of options. 

“Just mind your words, do as he says, keep yourself sparse until you know what kind of man he is. That’s what I did with your father. Maybe you’ll find yourself lucky.” We both know from the reports from the guards and nobles we’d bribed that this was unlikely, but she holds out hope. Has to for her own sake. I won’t disavow her of the belief, even when it turns out to be false hope. 

He is the worst sort of person, the man I am to marry. Quick-tempered, drunken tirades, a womanizer. A terrible ruler who is likely to run his kingdom into the ground.

But a treaty is a treaty, and my father won’t be moved.

“You’ll write,” she says with finality as she lets the braid drop. “And I will visit, of course.”

“Of course,” I repeat with no vehemence. I stand from the bed and wipe the wrinkles from my dress.

A lamb to slaughter has never looked so beautiful.

He hasn’t revealed his face.

The fact shouldn’t have bothered me, but it does. I had a story I’d run a thousand times in my head, that as they opened the towering doors to the cavernous hall with its cold draft and monstrous tapestries that at the end of that aisle I’d see the face of the man I was to marry, and it would be like a doorway to the life I wanted to live would be locked away forever. A key sliding into a lock and melted away that I could never retrieve.

But even that was forbidden to me. It would be another few hours it seemed, possibly after the wedding itself, when I would see his face, as he wears armor of all things. The tradition isn’t unheard of, but certainly a helmet isn’t necessary.

If the wedding guests are surprised they don’t show it, but then again, who would show surprise at the chosen wedding regalia of a king?

My father walks me down the aisle, me with an unnecessarily long train of blood-red velvet behind me that sweeps up the petals the flower girl has dropped before us. It all seems such a cruel farce that I want to vomit.

When we reached the end, at the moment when he is to give me away, I plead at him with my eyes. He looks back at me with no expression, but pushes away my arm with a strong grip, towards the arms of my suitor. There is no missing his intentions.

The rest of the ceremony passes by at a crawl, each word tiny cuts onto my shivering skin, and I feel a cold sweat along my neck. I want to scream, to choke on my own spit, to run. But I am surrounded by guards that I am sure my father will have no trouble using against me.

“I pronounce you wed. You may kiss your bride, my king.” I can feel the color drain from my lips, but I turn to my husband.

“If it is no offense to the church, I will save that for a more private affair,” my husband says, and I choke back relief, as brief as it will be. Instead, I am lifted by my knees until I am being held in a bridal pose. I squirm and instinctively move my arms to grab at his shoulders, hating myself for the action but wary of falling.

There are chuckles, and then cheering, but then my husband raises his voice to speak over the crowd. 

“I thank you all for coming. As it were, my wife does not look well. I fear the excitement has gotten to her. I would bring her outside so she may breathe before the festivities. Please, welcome yourselves to the dining hall, and we will join you soon.”

The terror is like ice in my veins. We are alone, and I’ve never known fear such as this. “Please,” I start, “let me down.”

We are in a side corridor, far from the wedding party. I know not why we have wandered off so far, but It can’t be for any reason I’d be happy to hear. Part of me wants to at least know my torture before I am to feel it.

“It’s me, Cael! I’m breaking you out of here!” My husband—or is it?—lets me down on my feet, and I turn to the stranger. They remove their helmet with difficulty, and I gasp as their face is revealed.

Mira?!” She is one of the squires, a young woman who I often snuck out to train with as a child, before my father had caught wind of it. We yet spoke though, through coded messages and late-night walks. “If you’re found you’ll be hanged!”

She smiles wide, showing her missing front tooth where one of the knights had knocked it out after she’d scratched his sword polishing it when she was younger. “No one’s going to find out, least not until it’s too late, because we’re making a run for it. I got two horses all ready to go, come on!”

She grabs my arm, and I don’t struggle as we run through corridors, sneaking past guards all the way to the stables where indeed there are two horses saddled and ready to ride.

It’s then that we hear the alarm.

“What’s that?” I ask, sudden suspicion clouding my mind.

Mira scrunches up her nose, baring her teeth and sticking her tongue through where her tooth is missing in amusement. “Probably found the king.”

“What do you mean found the king?”

Mira pushes me up to the saddle and pats my leg. “Well, I had to get to the wedding somehow. I snuck into his quarters and trussed him up like the pig he is. Guess they got impatient and found him.”

I can’t repress the laugher that follows, as Mira mounts her own horse.

When we’re both mounted and ready to go, the alarm of the guard ringing in my ears, I turn to her before chaos falls.

“What if they find us? Where are we going.”

She pats her horse on the neck, and this time there’s no teeth in her smile, only a soft blush and a hint of embarrassment.

“We’re going to Leoria. They won’t mind we’re married there. And you’re royalty. They’ll protect us.”

I raise an eyebrow at her, returning her smile.

“We’re married, are we? We didn’t kiss on it.”

She turns away, her face turning redder by the moment, and I let out a loud, throaty laugh before I kick my horse into a canter, then a gallop, leaving behind the only home I’ve ever known for the only home I’ll ever love.

<Back to Flash Fiction>

Author Interview: Jana Jenkins

Sometimes as readers we forget that there’s a soul behind the page. From what I’ve seen and heard of Jenkins, I can tell she’s got a good one. She’s earnest and thoughtful, and does more for kids in her day job than most of us could hope to do in our whole lives. That she finds time to write in her busy schedule speaks to her passion for it.

I’ll let her tell you more in her own words, but I will say I was honored to interview her, and I truly am excited to see what things this kind-hearted (but sharp as a tack) author has in store for us.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Hello! I’m Jana Jenkins, and I live in the middle of nowhere, Indiana, haha! My days are spent as a social worker, teaching child abuse prevention programs to kids age 5-12 across five Indiana counties. My spare time is spent writing, beekeeping, and raising my two boys.

Do you feel your experience as a social worker has influenced your writing in any way, either in subject or themes?

Yes, social work has definitely influenced my writing. I spent about ten years working as a case manager in the foster care system. I’ve written several flash fiction pieces about foster care and adoption; those causes are still very near and dear to my heart.

What is your favorite novel, and has it inspired how you write?

I have kicked this question around for over a week, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t have a favorite novel! There are so many books that I love, across a variety of genres, that I simply can’t choose a favorite.

When I think about a book that has inspired me to write though, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn comes to mind. Anyone who has read my flash fiction knows that I love a good twist, and she pulled off some masterful twists in that book!

Tell us about your flash fiction anthology, Tiny Tales.

It’s still crazy to me that I even have a flash fiction anthology, honestly!

I’d never even heard of flash fiction until stumbling upon the Twitter writing community and #vss365 last February!

For anyone who might not be familiar with #vss365, it is a daily writing prompt on Twitter; it stands for very short story, 365 days a year. A daily prompt word is tweeted and then anyone who chooses can use that prompt to write a tweet-length story (280 characters).

I saw people writing these tiny stories and was intrigued. When I finally got brave enough to try one, I was hooked.

After a while, people started encouraging me to put my tweet stories into a collection, and Tiny Tales was born.

Tiny Tales contains about a year’s worth of tweet-length stories, and these stories cover pretty much every genre and contain a good amount of twists and surprises.

What are some key takeaways you’re hoping readers get from your books?

I’m currently working on my first novel, so Tiny Tales is the only book I’ve published so far, but my goal for both (and any future works) is the same. I want people to pick up my books and forget about anything else that may be going on in their lives; I want my books to be the kind that you start reading and can’t put down, the kind that helps you escape and entertain you. I just think, especially with everything going on in our world right now, it’s so important for people to be able to leave stress behind and do something they enjoy. I hope someday my books can be a part of that.

You say that you’d like readers to escape into your stories. With the stress of a job like social work, do you find yourself using reading as a similar escape, and has that influenced your writing in any way?

Yes, reading has always been an escape for me, and that definitely proves true when my job or life is really stressful. When writing, I think back to the books I’ve gotten lost in and study on how they did it and what it was I loved about them.

What is different about your books?

In most anything I write, I try to incorporate a twist or something unexpected. I love inviting people on a journey, teasing them with a destination, and then making a hard right turn at the very last second.

What are your plans for future books?

I am working on a novel, but it has been a pretty slow process thus far. My goal is to have the first draft finished this summer, so fingers crossed. After that, hopefully publishing it and then many more!

Your VSS anthology certainly does pack a punch with a lot of twists and turns in such short word counts. Do you find you enjoy writing short fiction over long? How is your experience been going from microfiction to writing a novel?

Short fiction definitely comes more naturally to me than writing longer pieces! I have a short attention span and get distracted easily, so staying focused on a novel has been a challenge. I’m just trying to take it a chapter at a time so it feels more like short fiction and doesn’t seem so overwhelming!

Do you think you’ll continue to self-publish or will you try querying for your full-length novel? Why or why not?

I think I’ll at least give querying a try, though just thinking about it stresses me out! Haha! I love the creative part of writing, but I don’t really like the business/marketing side of it, so it would be nice to have someone handle all of that for me. If querying leads nowhere though, I’d definitely self-publish again or check out some of the great small and independent publishers.

What inspires you to write?

Most of what I write is inspired by everyday life. I’ve worked in a variety of social work positions over the years, and they have given me a front-row view to the best and worst of humanity. Often, real-life really is stranger than fiction!

What do you enjoy about publishing, and what do you struggle with?

I’ve only published once so far, so the entire process was a huge learning experience for me. I chose to self-publish my tweet collection, and the biggest struggle for me was actually the formatting. I lost count of how many times I had to reformat the ebook and paperback versions before I finally got them right.

I actually really enjoyed doing the cover, though. I used free graphic design software and went through several versions before settling on the final cover. Finally seeing my name on a cover when it was finished was such an amazing feeling, and it made all the stress feel worth it!

What has been your greatest struggle in the writing process, and how would you inspire other writers to overcome it?

My greatest struggle is absolutely, without a doubt, making myself sit down and actually write. I have a million ideas and I love daydreaming about them and coming up with stories, but putting those stories onto paper is where I always lose steam. My time seems so limited and writing often gets pushed to the back of the line.
I wish I could give other writers help to overcome this, but I’m still trying to figure this one out myself!

How can we purchase your books?

My book, Tiny Tales, is available on Amazon as ebook and paperback.

Flash Fiction: Weather The Storm

By the time it was Elijah’s turn to peel off his headphones and unpin his nametag for lunch, the rain fell from the end of his nose in a steady drip, and his clothes clung to him like a second skin. The seat of his desk chair squelched when he rolled it back to stand, the wet wheels squeaking over the soggy carpet.

The cloud had accumulated over his head shortly after he’d arrived at the office, sometime between when he’d put his lunch into the overstuffed refrigerator and snuck away from a one-sided conversation with two overly-enthusiastic interns. It had been small at first, cotton candy in texture and white as cotton. He’d spotted it in the reflection of his still-dark computer screen, but shrugged off its presence as no harm done.

It was after his second phone call but before Deborah had finally snuck into her cubicle almost an hour late that the first drops had started to fall. He felt it like pinpricks along his uncovered arms and face and barely-there touches over his shirt and pants. It distracted him enough that he misquoted a price to a customer, and had to quickly backtrack before he dug himself into a hole he couldn’t dig himself out of.

He hoped his manager didn’t catch wind of it.

That thought seemed to be like poking a dragon though, because the rain kicked up and the air around him started to move like a current—as if he were at the center of his own little hurricane. His bangs fluttered in the slight wind, the rain soaking through his clothes within a few minutes. When the rain started to drip on his paperwork, he pushed everything to the back of his desk, hoping to save what he could. He snuck a peek at the cubicles around him, but no one paid him any mind.

Now it was lunchtime, and Elijah’s teeth were starting to chatter from the air-conditioning cooling his soaked clothes and skin. He left damp footprints on the thin carpet in his wake on his way to the restroom. His only saving grace was that he’d yet to draw attention to his unfortunate circumstances. There had been no questions or reprimands, which he silently thanked whatever gods he could think of for. Admittedly, he couldn’t think of many. He idly wondered if that was how he got into his current predicament.

Once in front of the restroom mirror, he groaned at the severity of his situation. The cotton candy cloud had become a dark, woolen swirling of grays and blacks, lightning striking along his hairline, lighting the edges of the cloud, and sending some of his hair to stand on its ends.

The rain was near torrent level now, his bangs drooping wetly into his face. His shirt was soaked through, outlining his shoulders, chest, and gut, his blue tie near black in its water-logged state. He could feel the water dripping down his face, his arms, his legs into a puddle on the sink and onto the tile floor.

Elijah was at a loss. He couldn’t recall how to handle the appearance of your own personal rain cloud, and he wasn’t sure what his next steps should be. Should he call off? Go home and call the doctor? Was it a physical illness or mental? Was it an illness at all, or divine intervention?

With shoulders lowered and face in a sullen droop, he pulled down several wads of paper towel, trying unsuccessfully to dry off his hands and his arms, but it did no good. They quickly became soaked again, and he gave it up as a lost cause.

When he got back to his chair, to his water-logged seat and damp desk with puddles under the mouse and keyboard, he was hit with a sudden wave of exhaustion. He sat hard into the seat, sending water squelching in sudden drips to the floor, and the noise seemed loud in the near-silent room, the click-clack of keyboard keys the only other noise.

“Elijah?” He jumped and turned, feeling relief to find his co-worker, Jamie at the entrance to his cubicle. They’d always got along, acquaintances if not nearly friends. “You doing okay?”

The question caught him off-guard, but his response was immediate. “Of course. I’m fine.” Even as he said it, he knew it was the wrong answer. Her raised eyebrow seemed to echo his feelings, so he sighed and turned his creaking chair to fully face her.

“To be honest, I’m struggling. Have been for a while. I think it’s getting to me today.” As he said it, he felt something lift. The rain started to stutter, the lighting and thunder near his ears quieting.

“Maybe we can grab dinner after work?” she says, leaning against the wall of his cubicle and giving him a soft smile. “I got some time, and I’ve always meant to ask. You’re the best salesman we have, so I’ve always been kind of intimidated. But you’ve seemed down lately. I’ve been worried.” The way she tilts her head, her eyes earnest, and brow furrowed makes the rain turn to a drip.

“I’d like that,” he says, and he means it. The rain stops. “And really, I admire your attention to detail. You’re so organized, I’ve never been able to keep things straight like you do. Maybe we can help each other too.”

She nods, and her smile widens. It’s slightly crooked, one cheek raised more than the other. He doesn’t know how he didn’t notice before. “We can do that, but not tonight. Tonight, let’s focus on what’s getting you down.”

With that, he doesn’t have to look to know the cloud dissipates like a waking dream.

Hours later, his desk dry and his seat left with only a few damp spots, he wonders at rain clouds and how sometimes the answer to rainy days is knowing that someone else will stand with you in one.

<Back to Flash Fiction>

Book Review: Tiny Tales

Tiny tales that cover everything from love, to heartbreak, to murder, and are sure to satisfy even the shortest of attention spans.

I first came across Tiny Tales by Jana Jenkins when I was starting to initiate a new reading habit. It had been nearly a decade since I was an active reader, and while I was making progress, I was struggling to find books that would hold my attention. Tiny Tales is a series of bite-sized stories that range in genre, but all of which leave you with an aftertaste that lingers.

Tiny Tales is a collection of microfiction—stories that are three-hundred words or less. In Jana Jenkins case, these stories are the size of a tweet, and were originally posted on her twitter under the #vss365 tag (very short stories 365.) They are at most 280 characters long to fit into the size of a tweet.

It’s broken into five sections: The Wicked Ones, The Wholesome Ones, The Creepy Ones, The Bittersweet Ones, and The Cheeky Ones. Each section has a different tone—you can guess which is which from the section titles. Though each story shares a mood, the characters, settings, genres, and plot are different in each individual microstory.

The Good:

Many of the stories in Tiny Tales employ a literary technique that always, always gets me excited, because it’s one of my favorites that I often use in my own fiction. Most of the stories have a plot twist at the climax or at the end of the action. That is to say, many of the stories lead the viewer into thinking it’s going in one direction, but pull the rug under us surprising us with a creepy, amusing, or heartwarming twist. This technique is a great tool in microfiction which often relies on extreme plot changes for intrigue, and Jenkins wields it well.

The advantage of having the stories fit into categories is that you can pick a story based on the mood you’re in or the mood you aspire to. Feeling down? Read some of The Cheeky Ones. Need a good cry? Read some of The Wholesome ones. The brevity means you’re not committed to spending large chunks of time on any one story, so you can be flexible on where you’re reading.

There are some stories that broke my heart, some that gave me chills, and some that literally made me laugh out loud. It was a rollercoaster that was well worth the minute cost I paid for such a wide variety of moments.

Should You Read It?

The beauty of Tiny Tales is that the stories are so compact. You can read through the stories in one big go through like any other book, but if you have the Kindle app on your phone, you can also read it story by story between waiting in doctor’s offices, between meetings, or on your break at work. The stories themselves can be read in a minute or less, making them easy to swallow quickly in short spurts. This made them such a good break for my mind, taking me a bit out of my life and into another world for just a little while. A small escape.

And that may be the biggest strength of Tiny Tales: it teaches non-readers the fine art of how to escape into a book. When I saw the premise for Tiny Tales, it was like it was written for people like myself. We’re trained by our technology, advertising, and media to not give anything any more than a few seconds of our attention at a time to begin with. It’s no wonder many of us struggle with such an attention-intensive activity as reading a book. While by no means should the novel go by the wayside, there’s something to be said about books like Tiny Tales being used as a bridge between the inattentive reader and the one who can read a full novel. It’s a teaching tool as much as an enjoyable experience.

Spark Level:

I rated Tiny Tales by Jana Jenkins a Spark Level of Book of Matches. Each tale made a small spark that gave me an inkling of an emotion, a tiny moment of time in a life not my own.

Trigger Warnings: None

Rue|Lou Prompt Series: “Watch Me As I Fly”

For the 7/9/2020 prompt, Rue submitted “Watch Me As I Fly”

Below are the prompts submitted for this week. Thank you to all the participants!

Click on the links to read each individual submission.

MASTERLIST:

“Erendar sat with his hands folded in his lap. The cloth of his long sleeves tucked them away.
He took a deep breath, glancing around his garden. He saw his blue iceflowers, their petals dripping like icicles.”

Watch As I Fly, Dewi Hargreaves

“‘Art is never finished, only abandoned.’
Untitled, Elli @ibrokethestars

“Eleven, he thinks, more than last year, less than the year before. He marks the number on the small spiral-bound notebook that sits on the weathered table next to him. Beside it, a half-full glass of amber iced tea, the many ring stains next to it telling of many such mornings.”
Watch Us Fly, Rue Sparks

Nicky turns up at my doorstep in the middle of the night, face drained of colour and petrol station carnations in hand. He and the flowers are dripping wet, and this is such a surprise that I step back into the hall and let him in.
He always stuns me.”
Watch As I Fly, Lou Willingham