(Kelly was written by Kelly Blanchard. Leslie was written by Leslie Conzatti.)
The beach-town of Seabrook, just down the strand from Astoria, was a quaint conglomeration of buildings, with their shingled roofs and wood siding painted in cheery pastels. The paved roads of the “downtown” area garnered much foot traffic—shod and otherwise—from happy vacationers traveling back and forth from the beach to the many shops, and off to their rented cottages.
Only one building was closed to the public, occupying the upstairs apartment above a small tea shop, so no one was quite aware of its existence. In this sanctuary, burgeoning with papers and books, a lone figure sat, bent over a sheaf of papers, scribbling madly until an alarm rings.
“4 o’clock already?” She groaned, sending up a flurry of papers as her interviewer approached. “Welcome to Psyche, such as it is. Mind you don’t sit on any uncapped pens, and feel free to push aside any papers or books occupying the place you want to sit.”
Kelly smiled at Leslie as she pushed aside some books but careful not to let any of them fall to the floor. “Quite an interesting place you have here, Leslie. How are you doing today? You look quite busy.” She gestured to the paperwork on the table.
Leslie grinned bashfully and shrugged as she fingered the sheaf indicated by Kelly. “What can I say? The stories never stop coming. The best I can do is manage to keep up with them!” To illustrate her point, the circular window in the gable creaked open and two more reams fluttered in, settling themselves on a stack of books mounting toward the ceiling.
Leslie sighed. “I’ll get to those later. Meanwhile, the sun is FINALLY shining, so I am doing well!”
“Fantastic!” Kelly grinned. “So, Leslie, tell me about yourself. When did you first start writing?”
Leslie laughed. “Well, I started writing about as soon as I learned how to form the letters with a pencil… But I was making up stories almost before I knew how to read!”
She moved to a glass case on the side, where a battered old novel sat. The name on the cover wasn’t hers. “This was the first book I ever picked up,” she explained. “I distinctly remember flipping through it—I must have been at least four years old, or maybe five—and making up stories about the pictures, because I didn’t know the actual story!”
Kelly smiled as she looked at the book. “Quite amazing. And did you always know you were going to be a writer? Or did something happen in your life that made you more serious about writing?” She raised her brows as she leaned back in her chair and got comfortable.
Leslie considered the question with a faraway look in her eye. “I can’t say I always knew I was going to be a writer,” she mused, “but I knew that there was nothing I enjoyed more than making up stories. Being homeschooled, we mostly did our learning from workbooks in most subjects, so when I would get a writing prompt in my English workbook, I would regularly go above and beyond what they were asking because the activity of writing was so much fun to me!”
Kelly smiled. “You were homeschooled too? So was I! But writing has developed more for you than just English assignments, correct? You’re looking to publish some work, or maybe you’ve already published a book or several?”
Leslie shook her head emphatically. “Oh no, I haven’t published anything! Well…” she cast a sidelong glanced at the stack of self-bound books in the corner, “Unless you count Wattpad.” She indicated yet another bookcase full of binders, “or my fanfiction,” and finally, to a large bin of file folders, “Or even my blog. But as far as actual publishing—like with a registered ISBN and for-sale stuff, nope not yet…” A smile played around her lips as she regarded the book emblazoned with a mermaid’s tail. “But yes, soon…”
Kelly recognized that look–one full of hope and determination. “Okay, before we discuss you whatever story you want to talk about, I hear you run a unique blog with something about pictures and suggestion box. Tell me, what is that all about, and how does it work?” She tilted her head to a side.
Leslie giggled and clapped her hands like a giddy schoolgirl. “Oh, that was an idea I came up with in the early stages of my blog, The Upstream Writer. I started the blog because I wanted a platform on which to share my writing for free, and get feedback from people who didn’t actually know me personally (because we know that tends to bias the reader’s opinion, sometimes). One of the things I started doing right off the bat was Serial Saturdays, where I would take a finished story and break it up into installments, and publish one installment every Saturday. Well, about the first summer, I had “run out of stories,” as it were, so I was trying to come up with something continuous, and it occurred to me that I could feasibly come up with the plot of a story from only a name, a place, a time, and an object–and wouldn’t it be fun if I just asked random people for the things, so I wouldn’t have to come up with them myself? And so the Suggestion Box was born.
“Awesome!” Kelly grinned. “Amazing how things come to be. Now, you’re writing the story of the items they suggest. Is it all along the lines of the same story for you with the same characters? Or is each story completely unrelated?”
Leslie chuckled. “Well, for the first series, yes, they were unrelated because I actually had a little bit of trouble garnering responses–sometimes I couldn’t get a list from somebody till about Friday evening, and then it was a scrambling fury to get it all written up and ready to post by Saturday! The neat thing about the first series, though, is that I gave up trying to ask for more responses about two weeks before the end of October, and I took the lists I did have, pooled all the names, places, times, and objects, divided them into five groups, and for National Novel Writing Month that year, I wrote a five-part continuous story incorporating all the items from the entire series!” She grinned and flapped her hands excitedly.
“The next year, I decided early on in the series that I wanted to make it a continuous story from the get-go–and not only did I get more responses that time, but also, it just so happened that every list fit together perfectly in one narrative, from “Cailleach-Winter-Mausoleum-a flickering candle” to “Brandon-The year 4093-A secret passageway inside a tree-frozen orange juice concentrate”!
Kelly looked confused at first but then smiled and wagged her head. “You’ve got to be creative to tie all those things together! So, tell me, is this the book you’re hoping to publish? Or is there another story?” She leaned forward to hear.
Leslie sighed. “So that was Volume 2… By the next year, I had gotten into the habit of adding thumbnail images to the posts–so I decided that Volume 3 would come with pictures from the beginning—chosen, as always, by the submitter! After a while of just getting lists from people, without pictures, I started picking out image prompts for them to use—and that series is still going on.” She took a deep breath and sighed, reaching for a glass of water after all that explanation.
Considering Kelly’s question, she shrugged. “I’m not publishing the Suggestion Box yet; I guess you could say it’s a hobby or a habit–” another bashful grin, “or an obsession. But the story I’m getting published…” her voice trailed off as she picked up the mermaid book.
Her eyes sparkled as she looked up at Kelly. “This one was kind of important, because I didn’t know how it was going to end up. Actually, the story was originally something I wrote as a ‘fanisode’ for the show Once Upon A Time.” She pulled the requisite binder off the Fan Fiction shelf, titled ‘Poor Unfortunate Soul.’ “I admit I was a little bit miffed at the direction the show had taken, and I had a very clear idea in my mind how they SHOULD HAVE introduced the character of Ariel—and so I wrote this.” She placed the binder on the table in front of them, so Kelly could comb through it as she wished.
“For a while, that’s all it was, fan fiction,” she said with a shrug, “Then a group of sci-fi and fantasy authors I was a part of at the invite of a mutual acquaintance proposed the idea of putting together an anthology of fairy tales with our own personal unique twists on them.” She sighed. “There was a clockpunk puss-in-boots story, a historical fiction retelling of Snow White, a steampunk Pinocchio…” she grinned. “And I realized I could take the ‘fairy tale’ half of the fan fiction and re-tool it into its own story!”
Kelly began looking through the book. “But you changed it from the fan fiction, right? So it’s your own story now.” She glanced at Leslie, raising her brows.
Leslie nodded, pointing to the references to Ariel and Eric in the fan fiction. “Oh yes. I changed the names of the characters and places, I tweaked those things that would be too close to copyright infringement,” she glanced up proudly. “I even re-styled the mermaids to my own unique concept, instead of the half-person-half-fish things used so often!” She chuckled. “I never understood how it made sense, anyway.”
Kelly smiled, but then her phone chimed, indicating their time was up, and she glanced at Leslie. “Our time’s about up now, and I know you have someplace else to be, but if you have a moment, tell me, what’s something you hope your readers take from your story? Something that sticks with them long after they read it?”
Leslie squinted out the window. The sun was nearly setting and she’d promised Celian she’d meet him… How had it gotten so late already?
“Yes,” she answered Kelly. “One of the concepts I tried to emphasize in my story is the idea of influences and mentors. See, all the renditions of Ariel’s story either use her as a poor, naive thing who gets taken advantage of by the prince and the evil witch, which drives her to suicide, or in the Disney film she’s a defiant, progressive teenager who does her own thing and her father comes around after she’s all but killed the ones she loved and nearly ruined everything–but it turns out okay because True Love conquers all, right?” She snorted and rolled her eyes.
“In my story, both the mermaid princess and the human prince love their parents, but their fathers have both made the mistake of taking that relationship for granted. And in the absence of a parent, a mentor steps in: for Princess Ylaine, it is her godmother, and for Prince Nathan, it is his steward. Both mentors are given the opportunity to influence their charges, but one uses the opportunity to destroy the relationship, while the other endeavors to mend it. So the thing that I would want the reader to consider is: What kind of influence are you listening to? Is that influence making you a better person?” If not, they should seriously reconsider.” She nodded firmly.
“That is very interesting. Good take on the classic fairy tale, and I hope you the very best.” Kelly rose to her feet. “You’ll keep me posted on your progress and when you publish it, yes?”
Leslie laughed. “Absolutely!” She walked with Kelly toward the door of Psyche. “The most up-to-date information can probably be found on my Facebook author page, “Leslie Conzatti—The Upstream Writer”, but I will also post developments on my blog, The Upstream Writer. Either of those avenues will do.”
“Fantastic! I can’t wait to hear more. Thanks for this conversation. May you have a wonderful evening.” Kelly smiled at Leslie then left the Psyche.
Leslie Conzatti’s novel, ‘Princess of Undersea’, should be released this winter. Follow her on social media for more updates!
Author page: Facebook.com/leslieconzattiwriter