(Kelly was written by Kelly Blanchard. Joshua was written by Joshua Cejka.)
Kelly sat in the lobby of the Mfuwe Lodge in Zambia waiting for her interviewee to show up. He had really wanted to meet here—and not to meet her but rather the elephants that would pass through at this time of year. Kelly had laughed at the idea but agreed, but so far neither Joshua nor the elephants had shown up.
Finally she heard some hastened footsteps on the stone floor, and she looked up to see a man jogging toward her. She smiled and rose to her feet as she observed how he darted his gaze around as if worried he missed the elephants. “Don’t worry,” Kelly reassured him. “They haven’t come yet. You haven’t missed them. So shall we sit until they arrive?”
Joshua sat at one of the rattan chairs, glancing out the door every so often, clearly distracted. You can feel excitement radiating off of him. “Yes. That would be great. I’m so excited for this. You have no idea. I love lelephants. And just think, any second…they’ll all be checking in to the lelephant hotel!”
Kelly smiled at his excitement and made a mental note that he called them ‘lelephants’ because of the writing group both of them were in online, but she had to ask because it was something she never understood, “Why do you call them ‘lelephants’? I must have missed when that became a ‘thing’ in the group.”
Joshua craned his neck around towards the door. It was still empty. He pulled his gaze back to Kelly. “Hmm? Um…I don’t know. I guess it just happened. Because they’re adorable and i can’t handle it and it just became lelephants. Probably not a great or satisfying answer but i can’t seem to help myself.” He hears a noise and whips his head around, waiting for the giant beasts to come through the doors.
Kelly paused to watch—Joshua more than the elephants as they came strolling through the lobby. “Josh?” She tried to get his attention. “You aren’t gonna faint on me, are you? ’cause that’d be the shortest interview ever.”
Joshua swooned a bit and stood up. He was wobbly on his feet as he watched the giant gray creatures file through. A look of sublime glee, creating and almost idiotic expression, filled his eyes. “Look at them!!!! JUST LOOK KELLY!!!!! THERE’SSOPRETTYANDTHEREARELILONESJUSTLOOKITTHEIRLILLEGSIJUSLUVITWHENTHEYRUNITSLIKEALLLITTLELEGANDTHEYDON’TKNOWHOWTOLEG!!!! HEEEEEE!!!!!” He crashed back into his seat, nearly breathless, eyes still fixed on the lelephants. The smile didn’t move at all. It’s as though he was transported to a place of pure joy.
Kelly laughed, and the huge smile stayed on her face. Yes, the elephants were majestic and impressive—and she was a little worried his reaction might scare them—but they moved through the lobby as if they owned the place.
Kelly waited for the huge creatures to pass through before gesturing for Joshua that they should follow and watch them eat, but she seriously had to get started with this interview. “So…I take it you kinda sorta like elephants, eh? Have you thought about working at a zoo or elephant sanctuary?”
Joshua was still in complete rapture and was just barely able to keep his brain on what was happening. He followed in a sort of fugue. “Not really. I like visiting zoos and such but i never really thought of working in one. Science isn’t my strongest subject.”
Kelly grinned as she cast Joshua a look. “Who says anything about science? You’d just be there to cuddle them.” But then she shifted her gaze back to the elephants as they ate the fruit but kept her attention on the interview. “So what is it that you do anyway? Besides writing, that is.”
Joshua watched as a little fuzzy headed lelephant dashed in circles around the larger ones. It was, quite possibly, the most adorable thing he’d ever seen and he once again fought to keep his feet. “Well, besides wrestling cats on a regular basis, I work in the servicing department of a window and door installer”
“But then you admin a rather impressive writing group on Facebook, and you write.” Kelly motioned to a picnic table outside, where they could sit and watch the elephants. “So tell me about your writing? Published work, work in progress-whatever you want. How’s it coming?”
Joshua plunked down on the bench of the picnic table, All the energy and joy he experienced seemed to have sapped something from him and he dragged his fingers through his hair. “Well…it’s not bad. I’m in the middle of revising a rather large novel that is sort of a cross between police procedural and fantasy. Somehow, without me looking, it ballooned into a 250,000 word epic that i’m now trying to whittle into three separate novels. It’s a challenge but I think it’s getting there.”
“Wow. that’s impressive!” Kelly sat on the same bench because she wanted to watch the elephants too. “So, before we get into detail with your stories, how did you become a writer? What inspired you to become one?” She furrowed her brows as she glanced his way.
He was finally coming to. The little lelephant still dashed around like a wild thing among the legs of it’s family but he was at least able to focus a little. He scratched his chin and looked back at Kelly. “I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I don’t really know what started it, to be honest. I can’t think that far back. My mom likes to say I was born with a pen in my hand. I don’t know. There was just something about a book, I guess. I loved them instantly. The idea that you could just pick something up and be instantly transported to a different world, with stories and characters. I wanted in and I wanted to write immediately. The first thing I ever really bought for myself that I absolutely loved was an old ribbon typewriter and I used to crank out stories on that thing. You know, the kind with the manual carriage return. Ahhh…. those were the days.”
Kelly smiled at him and nodded. “That’s amazing.” Then she saw the two baby elephants chasing each other, and she laughed. They were being so distracting, but they were adorable!
Shaking her head, Kelly focused back on Joshua. “So, what story do you want to talk about? I’d love to hear anything!”
“Just look at them,” He whispered in wonderment. “Have you ever seen anything that cute before in your life? Those big ears!!! HEEE!!!” A moment later, he recovered and pulled his fingers back through his hair. “Well… I’d like to talk about The Stonemaiden’s Cup. That’s the big epic. I’m in the middle of revisions and I’m really excited about it. It’s got legs I think. At it’s heart, of course, it’s a murder mystery. I never stray too much from my roots, but I really like the idea of exploring our world in a different light and that’s what this is all about. I mean, what if is always the key to any fantasy and this one starts with ‘what if a huge chunk of the population of earth were spontaneously replaced by beings that look like they’re straight out of a fantasy story? It’s exploring a lot of the issues that come up with that – what does that say about the state of politics, economics, racial relations? And what do these newcomers think of us? Can they work together to build a new world?
“That sounds complicated!” Kelly shook her head as she tried to process it. “So who are the main characters? I’m assuming part of their conflict is fitting into the world, but what other conflict is there?”
“It’s not all that complicated really. Or at least i’m trying hard not to complicate it. At it’s core, it’s still your standard mystery story – who killed who and why? So that simplifies it a lot. But you inject magic into forensic science, and add a dash of necromancy to the coroners office…. that sort of thing. And it’s building a new world – sort of on the ashes of the old – which means introducing the races that populate the world and are trying hard to make due in this one. It’s really a lot of fun.”
“The main character is a homicide detective in Milwaukee who’s partner is also his brother-in-law, a Dwarf named Max—though only humans from earth call them Dwarves. They tend to get a little offended by it actually. But I also have an Elf named Chance who is a lot of fun, and a necromancer who works with the coroners office, a Mage who is the liaison with the police department, all with a bit of a ‘political intrigue’ back drop as the US Government is doing their best to contain things—and failing quite spectacularly as you might imagine. It’s just not easy balancing out the native humans who are desperate to preserve the world as they knew it, and the forces of change that they sort of need in order to progress.”
“Very interesting!” Kelly tried to piece together everything. He had explained it very well although it sounded like a huge project still. “So who exactly are they up against? Just bad guys who committed crimes or what exactly?”
From nowhere, a black cat wound its way through the herd of elephants, jumping straight up onto the table where it took a position in Joshua’s arms. It immediately began twisting about and rubbing itself all over him, much to his annoyance. “As so often happens with these things, it’s sort of a conspiracy. We have bad guys – who are basically your run of the mill homicidal losers—members of a Nativist (racist) group bent on preserving the purity of the native population of earth, but there is someone else pulling their strings. The real key is who that is and why. It’s definitely the twistiest of any story I’ve tried to write, but it helps to keep things in perspective and know the why before you head in. I’ll admit that I got pretty lost in it on the first draft, but sometimes getting lost is the best way to figure out where you are.” He tried to put the cat down several times but each time the cat repositioned and jumped back into his arms, continuing to squirm for attention.
Kelly chuckled at the cat loving Joshua’s attention. “Might as well just pet the cat.” She reached over to pet it to because she loved cats. “Okay, so your story does sound different than any other mystery story I’ve ever heard of before, so I’m not going to ask you that question, but what do you hope your readers walk away with after reading your story?” She furrowed her brows as she looked at Joshua.
“I’m really hoping it gives them a different view of the world we live in, honestly. That’s where the whole idea came from to begin with. I mean, of course I want them to be entertained and energized and mesmerized by all the magic, fall in love with the characters, but also to look with very different eyes at the world they live in and take for granted. What if you found yourself on a different planet very suddenly? I mean, we read all these fantasies and such but what would it be to live them – and vice versa? What would it be like to live a fantasy if you didn’t even like the genre?”
He grudgingly pet the cat with his one free hand as it maneuvered around him again, rubbing its head into his chin. After another moment or so, the cat was satisfied enough to dash off back through the legs of the elephants, startling the two little ones who stared at it with stunned amusement. “Okay, now THAT was adorable. I just don’t think I can handle that. HEEEEE!!!!”
“That is very thought-provoking!” Kelly nodded, satisfied with the answer, but then she looked at the time on her phone and frowned. “Our time is up unfortunately. Sorry we weren’t able to talk longer, but hey, you can hang out with the elephants! Maybe…if it’s safe.”
“Oh I’m not moving. I love them soooo much! JUST LOOK AT THEM ALL!!!! THOSELILONESARETRYINGTOPETTHECAT!!!!LOOKATTHEMKELLLYYYYY!!!!” A wave of euphoria washed over him. He got light headed and blacked out, rolling off the picnic table bench. It only took a second to recover. “Umm…I’m sorry. You were saying? Was there a question? Oh. We’re done? Why does my head hurt? Did I fall over again? There’s supposed to be mattresses. Why aren’t there any mattresses when that happens?”
Kelly was concerned when he fainted, but she wasn’t entirely surprised. When he came around, staring up at the sky, she cocked her head to a side and looked down at him. “Yeah, sorry, no mattress, and yeah, we’re finished here. You’re welcome to stay if you’d like.” She motioned to the elephants. “I’m sure they’d love your company. I need to head back though. Got another interview!” She rose to her feet. “It was great meeting with you! I love the sound of your story, and keep me posted on it, okay?”
“Will do. And thanks! This has been a lot of fun… maybe slightly too much.”
Kelly chuckled. “Have fun, Josh!” With that, she headed out.
Joshua Cejka’s story, ‘The Stonemaiden’s Cup’, has no release date set for it yet, but be sure to follow him on social media for updates!