(Kelly was written by Kelly Blanchard. Jim was written by James Struck.)
“Give me the money!” A masked man demanded, pointing a gun at Kelly’s face as she stood behind the counter at her Muse Shop late one night.
She slowly lifted her hands to calm him. “Sir, you really don’t want to do this.”
“Stop stalling!” He shoved the gun in her face again then threw a bag at her. “Put the money in there. Now!”
Kelly took the bag, thinned her lips, thought for a moment, and then looked up at him. “Sir, would you like me to be polite or honest with you right now?” She couldn’t read his expression due to the mask, but she sensed his utter confusion. “You see, if I were being honest, I would tell you that there’s a knife-wielding assassin behind you who loves to stab people. Also, there’s a sharp-witted sniper up in the loft, and he has you in his crosshairs.” She nodded at his chest where there was a little red dot dancing on his chest. “Not only that, but there’s a powerful sorcerer waiting in the shadows, and that’s not even mentioning the guardian on my left.” She tilted her head in that direction but then smiled. “However, if you’d like me to be nice and quiet, I’ll simply let Vixen stab you.” She nodded behind him.
“What?” He spun around and saw a woman wearing a vest of blades, and in her hand she wielded one of her knives and pulled it back to throw at him. Freaking out, the thief raced out of the shop as quickly as he could, slamming the door behind him.
All the characters in the shop relaxed and turned back to Kelly. “Are you well?” Vixen lifted her brows, and Kelly nodded, brushing away her concern with a gesture.
“Of course. Thanks for coming.” She nodded her thanks to Lorrek in the shadows, Conrad off to her left, Rex up in the loft, and smiled at Vixen before her. “You may all go now.”
Conrad frowned as he stepped forward. “You should close up shop and retire for the night. That thief may return with more comrades.”
“And if he does, you will all sense I’m in danger and come back.” Kelly smiled at him. “But for now, I still have one last interview to do today.”
“This late?” Rex called from the loft as he leaned his sniper rifle up against his shoulder.
Kelly turned and glanced up at him. “It was the only time he had available. Relax, guys…“
The door chimed as someone entered, and all the character resumed protective stances—Rex with his gun, Vixen with her blades, Conrad with his sword, and Lorrek with a magical fiery orb.
James Struck stopped in his tracks at the sight.
Kelly sighed. “Guys, stand down! This is my interviewee! Now go, shoo away!”
“Are you sure…?” Rex asked from his position on the loft, looking through the rifle scope.
Rolling her eyes, Kelly let out an exasperated sigh. “Yes! Now go!” She snapped her fingers on both hands, and all the characters vanished from sight. Fixing her gaze on James, she gave him an apologetic look. “Sorry—it’s late, and characters can get protective of their authors.” She stepped around the counter to properly greet him with a handshake. “Are you doing well?”
“Umm, yeah, just not the greeting I was expecting.” He brushed his shaggy hair out of his eyes and smiled. “But then again, this is your world. I should think anyone you invite would be safe…relatively speaking.”
“Oh, if I’m ever proven otherwise, well, that would be interesting.” Kelly chuckled, knowing just how quickly her characters would assemble to come to her aid. “But anyway, come on in.” She gestured for him to follow. “So tell me about yourself—what you do, about your life, and you being a writer and all.” She went back behind the counter but then motioned to their surroundings. “And you’re welcome to look around while you talk. I can hear you.”
“First, call me Jim. James makes me sound like someone’s butler.” He went into a horribly overdone British accent. “James, bring the Bentley about, there’s a good chap.” He started walking slowly around the shop, not touching anything but holding out his left hand as though checking for a draft. “I love the way this place feels. Old magick in the walls.” He turned back to Kelly with a smile. “Fantasy has always held a special place in my heart. I was reading, actually reading, at age 4, and all my childhood favorites were stories of the fantastic. My mom always challenged me, intellectually. She’d read to me from books of poetry and from the Bible. Loved the plagues of Egypt of course, typical boy. I think my favorites were the Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling, though. Have you ever read them?”
“Might have, but I’ve read so much that I can’t recall everything anymore.” She shrugged but then smiled. “And everything here comes from a different realm—a story behind everything.” Then she focused on what he had said about his mom. “That’s great your mom challenged you like that. Since you were reading at such a young age, when did you actually begin to write?” She raised her brows but then took a book from off the counter and moved to put it on its place on a shelf.
“That’s the funny part, I didn’t start writing until I was in my teens, and even then it was only poetry.” He shrugged. “Insecurity issues. Poetry was short, so I could finish it while the Muse burned bright, before the doubt would have a chance to creep back in. My main creative outlet and my first love was actually music. I have a degree in Music Composition, I sing and play several different instruments. It wasn’t until I was out of college, married, and had a kid that I really started devoting some time and energy to writing.”
“It’s good that you started with poetry actually. I find it stays with you even when you expand to stories, and it adds an unseen depth to your writing.” Kelly mused as she rearranged a few books on the shelves then tsked her tongue when she found a dagger behind them. “What are you doing back there?” She wagged her head, pulled it out and showed Jim. “Things in this Shop literally have a mind of its own.” Smiling, she went to put the dagger back in its display case but inquired after her visitor. “So what inspired you to start getting serious about your writing?”
Jim reached out and ran one finger along the edge of a small mirror, his face suddenly sad. “I’d have to say it was the death of my oldest brother, Mike.” He smiled again, but it was melancholy, full of memories. “He and I were exactly alike, except in the ways we were completely the opposite. He was 18 years older than me, old enough to be my father, and by the time I have any clear memories of him he was moved out and married. So I didn’t really get to know him until we were both adults. He was this great big bear of a man, well over six feet with a huge, booming bass voice and a personality to match. Me, I was the quiet, reserved, lanky tenor. But in other ways, the important ways, we were brothers. Music brought us together. He and I and our brother Richard would jam together, Mike on bass, Rich on guitar, me on keys, singing three-part harmonies. He also wrote, but just for himself, funny short stories, bits about our family. But the way we were most alike and most different was our spirituality. Both of us had a strong sense of the Divine in our lives, both of us were drawn to make this a big part of how we chose to live. But the direction couldn’t have been more different. I am, for lack of a better term, a New Age philosopher. Mike was a die-hard, Born-Again, evangelical Christian.” He held up his hand. “Not the bad kind. Not the judgmental, close minded kind. The best kind. The “I’m going to devote my life to walking in the footsteps of my Savior” kind. He devoted the last 10 years of his life to his faith. He went all over Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin founding youth ministries, Bible study groups, and music groups, always the music groups. He was, bar none, the truest Christian I have even known.”
Jim paused then and sighed. “One day, back in 2003, he went on a trip to California with some friends. He hadn’t been feeling well for a couple of weeks, but he’d really been looking forward to it.” He looked up at Kelly. “He went to bed one night during the trip and didn’t wake up. Some sort of rare virus, attacked and enlarged his heart.” Then, surprisingly, Jim smiled, broad and happy. “His funeral was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Something like 1,200 people showed up to it, people from all over the country, people whom my brother had touched. Afterward, 20 or 30 different musicians he’d played with over the years all went up to the front of the church with me and Rich and we jammed for at least two hours, every song we could think of the Mike loved. It was…incredible.” Then he added, “That is what inspired me to get serious about my writing. I want to touch the world the way he did.”
Kelly just stared at him, listening to his tale, and she smiled warmly. “That’s amazing. My big brother was very influential to me becoming a serious writer as well. Wish he could see me now.” But then she shrugged with a sigh, dismissing all those memories, but she could relate to Jim in a way.
Having put the dagger back in the display case, she secured it with a lock—mentally telling the dagger to stay put and not get out again—and then she straightened from behind the counter and smiled at Jim. “So, what are you writing? Have you published any work?”
“Well, I have one work that has been accepted for publication by Booktrope, and I have a work-in-progress that is chugging along wonderfully. The first is called The Curious Snowflake: A Parable. It’s a tale about religious and spiritual beliefs, told in the style of a children’s chapter book. The Curious Snowflake travels all over the Great Cloud trying to find out why snowflakes fall and what happens to them when they do. All the different flakes give her different answers, but none really satisfy her. She then visits the First Flake, the oldest snowflake in the Great Cloud, who says she has to find the answer for herself. She spends a long time traveling, trying to find her answer, and then Falls herself and discovers that all snowflakes return to the Ocean, the benevolent source of all clouds and snowflakes. She then returns to the clouds as a new First Flake so that she can spread what she has learned.”
“My Work-In-Progress is called Children of Dusk, and it’s a YA modern fantasy novel, probably the first of a trilogy. I’m about 40K words into the first draft, and so far I’m loving it. It’s the first time I’ve really gotten deep into fiction, most of my writing is more philosophical, but so far, so good.”
“We need more fiction that makes us think rather than merely entertain—though that is okay too, so that is good.” Kelly nodded. She then motioned to the chair on the other side of the counter, inviting Jim to have a seat if he’d like while she pulled up a stool as well.
Once seated, she sat on the edge of her seat, elbowed on the counter, chin in her palms as pondered her next question. “So what inspired your WIP?”
“Well, like yourself, I read WAY too much.” Jim craned his head around, taking in the books scattered throughout the shop, on the odd table, shelves against the wall. “This, I’m sure, is just a taste of your collection if it’s anything like mine and my wife’s. Well, one thing I noticed in a lot of the popular YA stuff was a pattern in the protagonists. The girl main character who thinks she’s plain and awkward but has this really hot guy, or two, or more fawning over her, for example. I wanted to write something where the characters were not the pretty people, not the typical tropes. I wanted a story about the outcasts. Also, I wanted a story about generations, not just about the main characters. That is one thing I loved about the Harry Potter books, the layers of generations, their stories all intertwined and affecting each other.”
“And so you put all of this into a single story?” Kelly raised her brows watching Jim pick up a book a flip through it. What he didn’t know was it was an ancient text from the palace of Cuskelom her character, Lorrek, let her bring here, but Kelly smiled as she observed. “What exactly is your story about? Who are the characters and such?”
“The main character, Tim, is an outsider. He got burned badly in an accident when he was young, has scars all down the left side of his face and left arm. The accident was caused by his father, who has schizophrenia and voluntarily institutionalized himself after the accident.” Jim looked up over the book he was holding and grinned. “But his father may not really be crazy. Tim runs into a couple of troublemakers at school, twins named Vee and Gideon, and catches them talking in another language, yet somehow he can understand them. The twins are actually searching for people with magical gifts, and the fact that Tim can understand them means he has it.” He set the book down and leaned in closer. “The kicker is that, once someone starts Weaving, as they call it, they can’t stop. It’s like a drug. It can even drive someone insane if they give it up. And the talent usually runs in families. So Tim is convinced that his dad is one of the Opacaroi, the Children of Dusk. But it goes much deeper than that.” He smiled and sat back, knowing he just baited the hook.
Kelly pulled back and crossed her arms, giving him a look. “And how much more can you tell me without giving away spoilers?” She then smiled, willing to listen to whatever he wanted to say.
“Tell you? Not much. But I could show you a few things.” Jim then reached behind his neck and undid a clasp, pulling a medallion on a fine silver chain our from under his shirt. “You said you wanted to meet some of my characters, yes?”
Surprised, Kelly brows went up, but she leaned forward. “Well, yes—but that’s going to be a Character Interview in a few weeks…” But she wasn’t protesting to see whatever he wanted to show her. Curiosity got the best of her.
“Hold this, then.” He placed the medallion in Kelly’s palm. It was about the size of a quarter, a center square of black with four triangles coming off it like the points of a compass in green, red, yellow, and blue, bound by a circle of silver. He then folded her fingers over the medallion and took her hand in both of his.
“Close your eyes.” She did so, and immediately she felt a tingle from the medallion. A series of images flashed into Kelly’s mind: a circle of stones at the top of a hill, surrounded by huge trees and, beyond them, a wall of fog; a wide hall all of wood of a thousand different shades with pillars carved like trunks and a massive sandstone fireplace; an old Victorian mansion surrounded by a gated fence, strange shadowy figures closing in on it from all sides; a strange, long-bladed spear made of ivory with sky-blue striations through it, like a summer sky forged into a weapon; a large man with red-black eyes carrying a black staff; and finally a young, skinny boy with a scarred face and floppy black hair, arcs of electricity flowing around his fingers.
With a gasp, Kelly opened her eyes.
She stared at Jim wide-eyed but with excitement rather than confusion. “What was that?” She knew what it was—a glimpse into his world. “That was amazing!”
He smiled, please with himself. “Keep the medallion. It’s the sigil of the Opacaroi and when you want to meet Tim, it will grant you access to the Duskrealms, the places inbetween.” He looked around the shop. “And when you’re done it will have a nice home here.”
Kelly stared at the medallion in her hand, and it felt warm—like it was at home here in her shop. Then she smiled up at Jim. “And this is how I get these awesome stuff for my shop. People like you are just amazing! Thank you so much for this! It’s so lovely, and I do really look forward to meeting Tim.” Then she reluctantly glanced at the clock on the wall and knew it was late—just much later than she expected.
Shaking her head, she glanced back at Jim. “Thank you so much for this again. Totally wasn’t expecting it. I would love to hear more about your story, but unfortunately, I need to close up the shop. I don’t want my characters to hound me after what happened earlier this evening.”
“Understood, and I’m sorry I kept you up so late. This has been amazing, even the part where four fictional characters almost killed me.” He stood and stretched, popping in several different places, then gazed around the shop one more time and smiled. “I like this place. I shall have to visit it under more typical circumstances.” He smiled sheepishly. “That is to say I should read your stuff. Should I show myself out?”
“Sure thing. I need to secure a few more things before leaving. Thanks again for visiting! It was a pleasure to meet you and to hear about your work.” Kelly smiled but then paused, “and sorry about the characters—like I said, they can be protective sometimes.” She shrugged.
“Yeah they can be, even when we are cruel to them. They are, after all, our children.” Jim sketched a little bow, slipped out the door, and closed it behind him.
James Struck’s story ‘Curious Snowflake’ is due to be released December 1st. His other story, ‘Children of Dusk’ has no release date yet, but you can follow him on social media for more information:
FB Author page: https://www.facebook.com/curioussnowflake,