Book Review: 8 Steps to a Side Character

Overall Impression

5/5 craft book with an easily accessible style that gave my poor frazzled engineering brain a much needed break from academic drivel, extremely useful summaries that made writing his article about 1,000,000x easier, and rock solid advice I will immedietly be adapting into my ever-expanding Storge excel outline.

Content Summary

Step 1: WTF is a Side Character – This chapter explains the kinds of roles a side character can play in a story. Every character is a plot device; they are vehicles we use to tell the story, but side characters have to do their job from the sidelines, which leaves them in a unique position to meet needs we can’t get from our protagonists. Sacha explains the difference between cameos, minor, and major side characters, to help authors understand the amount of attention each deserves.

Step 2: The Web of Connectivity and Theme – The plot, characters, setting, motifs, and metaphors you use in a story all work together to create your theme, regardless of if you know what that theme is. It’s worth building these pieces with intentionality to make sure they thread together as seamlessly as possible. This chapter discusses how side characters can contribute by challenging the protagonist, representing the theme through their choices, or flipping the script as part of their arc. It also talks about believing theme lies vs theme truths, and how you can use these juxtapositions to create complex inter-character dynamics.

Step 3: Flesh and Blood – Why are your side characters here in the first place? Why are they described like that? This chapter unleashes the inner two-year-old to interrogate your cast for their motivations, positive and negative traits, backstories, and the descriptive details that make them interesting and memorable. It also talks about how to pull off flashbacks, surprises, humor to deepen their POVs and hone their voices. But with so much work going into these guys, it’s also important to understand how to anchor them in the reader’s memory so they don’t get lost among a large cast, and how their relationship with the protagonists takes shape. If you need a primer on creating a side character from the ground up, this chapter is a good place to start.

Step 4: Voice of an Angel – Here resides the most useful definition of Author vs Character Voice I have ever found. I always assumed Voice was some nebulous assesment of your writing style that was a pass/fail scenario. You have a unique and interesting voice, or you don’t. It’s impossible to quanitfy and incredibly difficult to intentionally develop if you don’t know what kind of voice you want to have. This chapter breaks down the process in a way that FINALLY makes sense. It talks about how to use a hero lens and split it into action, dialouge, thoughts, and feelings to convey the character beneathe the words.

Step 5: What do they do anyway? – This chapter details the common archetypes that side characters take in a story, such as the sidekick/best friend, mentor, foil, comic relief, etc. Each role covered includes structure tips, mistakes, and both good and bad examples for you to reference when slotting your side characters into these spots.

Step 6: Arc Weaving – This chapter breaks down all the different types of arcs you can give your side characters: Positive, negative, static, change, growth, and fall. It also talks about how to set up the stakes in order to give the story momentum and the reader a reason to keep turning the page. Character development through the story is what makes them so compelling, so knowing now to build arcs that intersect with plot beats is essential to mastering pacing.

Step 7: Killing your Darlings – Following the idea of establishing the stakes, this chapter shows you what can go wrong if they don’t meet their goals. Side characters are unfortunetly, by nature, more expendible than our heros, so it’s important to make these deaths count in order to carry the emotional weight. This chapter goes over intangible deaths – important losses that hurt the character but leave them breathing, and properly putting them 6 feet under. Sacha shares shit and solid reasons to kill characters, how to make them work before, or during, the story, and how to deal with the reactions of the other characters. Following this guide ensures no character’s death will be without consequence.

Step 8: Fight to the Death – This chapter deals with conflict and how to most effectively cause problems for our beloved fictional children. It goes over inner, micro, macro, and story conflict, and how to build tension to the story’s complex to resolve in a satisfying ending.

Final Thoughts

I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to take their writing craft to the next level of professionalism, who’s endeavoring upon a 2nd draft, or who’s side characters have hijacked the plot and taken it careening off a cliff. A warning that it’s quite sweary for anyone who minds that, but I think Sacha understands how to write with intention, and the cusses served to illustrate a point, which I appreciate haha. You can find Sacha’s other books on goodreads, listen to her Rebel Author Podcast for more advice from industry experts during their interviews, and find all her other info on her website.

Thanks for reading! Next week I’ll be sharing a Storge excerpt from the perspective of one of my favorite characters, Keenan, who’s a Debilan guard in the Atilan court. If you like my blog and want to support my writing projects, please consider donating to my Ko-Fi. Until then, happy writing! 🙂

Torn Universe: An Interview with Faye Fite

Today I’m pleased to introduce you to Faye Fite, one of my longtime writing inspirations, and the author of The Terebinth Tree Chronicles, which I reviewed last week! I am thrilled to have her on my blog today to talk about developing characters, specifically fighters. This was such a fun interview, and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed conducting it!


Welcome! First, for a general introduction, can you tell me about yourself, how long you’ve been writing, and what you write?

Faye: Absolutely! My name is Faye Fite. I’m a disabled author of Christian speculative fiction and author of the Torn Universe, an expanded universe of science-fiction and fantasy short stories containing such things as desert elves, Aztec-inspired vampires, and sci-fi mermaids. I primarily write YA fantasy with tough, raw characters, vibrant cultures, and themes of strength, courage, and brokenness. I have been writing long before I knew how to spell properly. In my spare time, I am a college student studying nutrient metabolism and research assistant studying nutritional metabolomics.

Etta: Ah, that’s such a good pitch! It absolutely fits what I’ve seen of your work so far, and I love you say you do college “in your free time” haha. Big mood there. I’ve most recently read your Terebinth Tree Chronicles, so I’m most familiar with those characters, but if you think another character fits better for the questions, feel free to tell us about them too!

When you start a story, are your characters built from the ground up as the story forms around them, or do you start with a plot and create characters to fit the story you want to tell? Or is it a combination of both?

Faye: That’s a great question! I almost always start with a character first, as well as a theme or a question I want to explore, and then the story falls into place around them. Because my characters have such strong personalities, and because my world-building is very specific, I’ve found that letting them lose into the world results in a fairly instantaneous plot.

Etta: That makes sense! The themes in your stories are also super interesting and I want to circle back around to talk about that later. I love that you’re able to make your characters both so dynamic and distinct so it’s cool that they guide you through the story as you go. I can absolutely relate to that feeling.

What are your favorite types of character arcs to write?

Faye: I really enjoy writing angry, hurting characters who mean well, but don’t always know how to direct their emotions in a healthy way. As for arcs, I tend to enjoy writing what I refer to as “non-linear” character arcs, in that the characters don’t follow a clearly improving or backsliding trajectory, but instead take steps forward, mess up, try again, fail, rinse and repeat. These types of characters are interesting to write because they feel like a more honest reflection of most human beings, and also help myself and my readers learn how to pick ourselves up after we fall.

Etta: I respect that perspective, it great that you’re trying to capture the more nuanced and messy parts of life in your fiction – because that’s what makes the characters feel real and relatable. I especially noticed that personality with Jayel, especially in her fight with the magician. She’s doing her best to make a positive change in the world but is as often a victim of her own impulsive decisions as dire circumstances, putting her in that place where she has to act. It’s compelling, because there’s not always a right answer. The three books in the Terebinth Tree Chronicles all set up these characters’ arc and leave you with a satisfying conclusion of one arc, but you can tell they still have more growth ahead of them and I’m cheering them on.

Faye: Thank you for that awesome summary of Jayel! She is my beloved disaster child. I’m glad to hear you’re excited to see where their stories go next. I’m looking forward to publishing them!

Etta: Ahaha, “beloved disaster child” is such a fun way to describe her! I’m super excited to see her dynamic with Wanderer that you teased at the end of Flames of Courage. They’re a fun duo.

Tying into the comment about angry hurting characters who mean well, you write a lot of fighters, which I think is super cool! They face a ton of challenges in their world – be they physical threats, societal pressures, disabilities, or spiritual attacks. How do you decide which battles to give to which characters?

Faye: This is always one of my favorite parts of character creation! All of my main characters have some form of a disability (except for Ishtaka from Vengeance Hunter in the Phoenix Fiction Writers Antiheroes anthology), as I am disabled myself and am working to increase disability representation in sci-fi and fantasy. So the disability is pretty much always a given. The other circumstances are ones that I feel most threaten something important to that character, as it pushes them to grow and change. For example, Wanderer faced a lot of societal pressures in Colors of Fear because he is a fearful character who needed something to spur him into finding his purpose and his strength.

Etta: I love that, “circumstances are ones that I feel most threaten something important to that character, as it pushes them to grow and change”, what a succinct way to sum up character development, wonderful writing advice right there I will definitely take to heart. Wanderer’s story especially resonated with me when I first read it in high school working on college admissions. Maybe it’s not the same as joining the hunters, but the competition, anxiety, and “three in five” motif really hit home. And yes! I’m so glad you brought up the disability representation, because I was going to ask you about that next. It’s one thing that initially drew me to your stories and the indie author space as a whole, since you don’t see a lot of characters like that anywhere else!

When you write a character with a disability you don’t experience yourself, what do you research to represent the experience accurately?

Faye: I love this question! I do a combination of things. I watch YouTube videos created by people with those disabilities and read blog posts by them. I also tend to follow a lot of disabled people online and am always actively learning from them, so I absorb a lot that way. Additionally, I am involved in a lot of disability activism at my university and thus work alongside many other disabled people, so sometimes I will ask them for insight about their specific disabilities (if they are open to that). It’s a lifelong process and I’m always in “educate myself” mode.

Etta: Oh, that’s awesome! I can ditto following disabled folks online – I have a blind character in my book Storge and Molly Burke’s YouTube channel has been such an invaluable resource. Completely agree with lifelong learning, it’s great to connect with other people like that.

Another general character development question because now I’m curious about your process. How are your character’s strengths and weaknesses related to their motivations?

Faye: I often like to take a look at how people have the tendency to try to push through their weaknesses when they should instead by asking for help. This means that my characters are motivated to “overcome” obstacles that are usually of their own making….or that their motivations stem from them trying to fix external problems so they can ignore internal ones. I also like to play with character dynamics so that one character’s weaknesses result in them relying on another character’s strengths to ultimately succeed.

Etta: That’s interesting! On some subconscious level, I understood the tension that comes from conflicting internal and external, but hearing it articulated like that just made something click for me, wow. I also really like that “no man is an island” message. Team dynamics are always a ton of fun to explore and that setup is great for pushing characters to grow in ways that are outside their comfort zone.

You often have rich supporting characters who are fighters in their own rights. How do their lives affect your protagonists, and would you want to tell their stories too?

Faye: Yes, I love me some fighters! Often they are there to push my protagonists in a specific direction, either through inspiring them, teaching them, or showing them how not to behave. Many of them are characters that we will see later on, such as Fendred from Colors of Fear and Shelumiel in Flames of Courage. In fact, Wymund from Sounds of Deceit is making an appearance in the 4th Terebinth Tree Chronicles: Taste of Rage. These are all characters I’m excited to explore further.

Etta: Yay! Oh, oh, oh, now I’m so excited to see more of Wymund in the fourth book. That’s the first time I’ve heard the title, and it sounds so intense! And that’s cool how all the characters we’ve met so far are all there for a deeper purpose and will reoccur in the series. I’m looking forward to seeing how their stories all tie together. It’s like that saying, everyone is the protagonist of their own story.

Faye: Thank you! Character creation is always my favorite part of the writing process, so I love getting to pull side characters back into the spotlight in later stories.

Do you have any advice for writers about creating a compelling character arc?

Faye: Oooo. Yes! Don’t be afraid to be bold. Remember that people in real life are complicated, messy, contradictory, and that they don’t exist in a vacuum. So let your character have real highs and real lows, let them think they know what they want only to realize it’s not what they need, and remember that character arcs are often influenced by the arcs of surrounding characters.

Etta: Ah, that’s great to remember. Thank you so much! I will keep that in mind as I’m editing Storge and working on the arcs. My first draft suffered from hesitating and not going for the hard emotional beats, so it’s good to hear that reminder. 🙂

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me! This was super informative and interesting and I’m glad I had the chance to chat with you! Where can we find you and your work online?

My website is my one-stop-shop to finding me and my stories. You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram (@_FayeFite).


Thank you again to Faye for agreeing to do this interview with me and for sharing such thoughtful and thought-provoking answers! If you enjoyed this, be sure to go check out her other work. Thank you for reading, and until next time, happy writing!

Reading Rec: Terebinth Tree Chronicles

Hello everyone and welcome back to another reading rec! This month I want to talk about an author that I’ve enjoyed for quite a while now: Faye Fite. I found her blog back in high school when she still wrote under her other name, and the perspective she shared in her writing advice inspired me to get serious about my writing. Her books introduced me to the indie publishing space and the worlds of possibilities that open when you can control the content of your stories. Faye writes Christian speculative fiction that isn’t preachy and features badass disabled characters.

The Terebinth Tree Chronicles is a series of high fantasy short stories that share the backstories of Wanderer, Jayel, and Ailith – the future protagonists of an epic who are on a mission to assassinate the dark lord that’s plagued their world and ruined their families. Currently, three books have been released in this series: Colors of Fear, Flames of Courage, and Sounds of Deceit, but there are more on the way! Faye also has a few standalone books, including Skies of Dripping Gold, and So I Accidentally Killed the Chosen One, which are both part of the same expanded story-world as the Terebinth Tree Chronicles, called the “Torn Universe.” I’m not sure how they all connect yet, but it’s a really cool concept! Faye is also a member of the Phoenix Fiction Writers, and has published three short stories in their anthologies.

I can wholeheartedly recommend all of her writing, but today I especially want to focus on the characters in the Chronicles and how their arcs are set up to have satisfying conclusions within each backstory book, but leave enough open-ended questions for the rest of the series to continue building.

Colors of Fear

The first book in the series follows the story of Wanderer, a desert elf who’s desperate to join the Hunters – an elite group of fighters dedicated to taking down the dark lord, Elgar. Three out of five Hunters dye within their first year of service, but he has a family to protect: his mother and chronically ill younger brother, Twig. While his brother wastes away from the disease that plagues their world – called Muria – Wanderer recovered, only to be left with a strange ability. He sees emotion as blinding color.

“Some days, he couldn’t even see the sky through his fears.”

When the colors choke his vision and make him stumble on the qualifying obstacle course, the Hunters turn Wanderer away, and force him to find a different path. He must choose between staying home, and watching his brother suffer, or leaving, following the orange strings, pulling him West, and putting his life on the line to kill Elgar and end their suffering once and for all.

Flames of Courage

The second book in the series follows Jayel – a partially deaf she-elf who also wanted to join the Hunters. Despite a perfect run, she’s turned away for her half-blood status. Boiling with anger, she returns to town, where she finds a slave trader abusing another young half-blood boy. Jayel springs to his defense, and when she escapes the guards and makes it home to her mentor Shelumiel, she’s concocted a new mission: bring justice to her people. Shelumiel warns her she won’t be able to accomplish her goals alone, that her plan is half-formed and that she must learn how to wield a sword. Unwilling to be dissuaded, Jayel sets off into the desert alone.

A day’s journey and a sandstorm later, she finally reaches the Spirit-Arch, a gateway to Maiah’s afterlife. There, she’s attacked by a human magician, and a slave, sent by Elgar to kill her. In self-defense, Jayel’s fire powers erupt, and betray her true identity as one of the Athelan – the Holy Warriors of Maiah. Upon realizing that she’s fighting slave, Jayel tries to persuade the magician to surrender. The woman reveals that if she doesn’t bring Jayel back to Elgar, he will kill her village. There are no right answers, and no innocent parties. When the fight finally ends, Jayel is left mourning the stranger and holding her blade.

“It was a lie. I don’t protect. I just… fight. For me. Not for anyone else.”

With her plan in shambles, Jayel follows the last directive she has left – learn how to use a sword. She continues West, and encounters a familiar figure – a fellow fighter, an elf cursed by colors, and a partner in training. The story ends with a hopeful, resolute tone. We don’t know how their stories will end, but we know that there’s a cause worth fighting for.

Sounds of Deceit

The third book in the series doesn’t take place in the same desert as Wanderer and Jayel’s stories. In a city controlled entirely by Elgar’s forces, Ailith and her brother Durran are ex-Hunters who struggle to survive by taking dangerous jobs from the remaining Faithful. Her powerful magic lets her perform incredible feats at the expense of her sanity, as the cacophony of noise that accompanies each spell causes her incapacitating brain-fog. She takes impulsive risks to distract herself from the lies and fear that rule her life, but that changes when they’re approached one night by Wymund – an acquaintance from their Hunter days. He asks them to join the group that plans to assassinate Elgar, but the siblings refuse to break their self-imposed exile.

As Ailith watches the suffering in the city, she keeps her head down. In the shadow of the clock-tower, she hides when she could help the Faithful being persecuted, because she is afraid of her magic, and is losing faith herself. With the encouragement of her elderly priestess friend, Nyara, and the long pressures of her past, she reaches a breaking point.

“I want our pain to be worth something… I want to stand tall.”

That night, they take out the guards, free the Faithful caged within, and destroy the clock tower that tormented her with its noise all along. She’s taken the leap of faith, and though we don’t know where it will take her, there is a promise that her power will prove to be a blessing in the end, when she joins forces with the other protagonists to set their world to rights.

If any of these stories sound interesting to you, I highly recommend you check out Faye’s site and read her books! These are just some of a wonderful universe to explore, and I hope you enjoyed learning a little more about the characters. Make sure you check back next week to read our interview, but until then, Happy Writing! 🙂


Best Ways to Support Indie Authors and Booksellers

With holiday season coming up, I know many of us are frantically scrambling to put our lists together. But there’s no time like Christmas to spread a little cheer in the book community! Holiday season means survival time for many small businesses, who both rely on the shopping spree to make their sales for the year, and are forced to compete with huge retailers for people’s business. If you’re buying for a bookish friend or family member, or you are the friend or family member receiving books as gifts (because lets be real, if you’re reading this that’s probably the case), here are some ideas on how to support your favorite indie authors and local bookstores!

Buy their books! (or art, or merch, if they have it)

Search the author’s name and try to find a personal website: if they maintain it well, it should be at the top of the search results. Find out if they have a personal store on their site, or if they offer copies of their book in a PDF or EPUB format for being paid directly through a service like PayPal. If you buy the book this way, 100% of the profits go to the author, except maybe a small (10%) transaction fee.

If they don’t have the option to buy their book on their website, next check your local bookstore. If they don’t have it, you can almost always request the book, and they’ll order it in, or maybe even start carrying stock. This goes a long way to support both the local bookstore with your patronage and the author, who will receive closer to 70% royalties on each purchase. If you don’t have a local independent bookstore, most major retailers like Barnes and Nobles, Kobo, Apple books, Google books, etc. also offer better royalty rates than Amazon.

Amazon is the largest book retailer out there. Full stop. Unfortunately, they only give authors 35% royalties, unless they publish exclusively through kindle unlimited. If you can’t find the book you’re looking for on any other platform, it may be because the author opted for a limited distribution plan. For indie authors, it’s difficult to persuade physical stores to carry their books, or they may not have set up the other channels during the publication process. In this case, it’s totally fair to buy the book from Amazon! A sale is better than no sale after all, and they will appreciate your support.

Other ways to support the book community monetarily are to donate to their Kofi pages, signing up for their Patreon groups. Many indie authors don’t make a living off book sales alone and supplement their income with donations/tips. Some bookstores will run holiday fundraisers or charity events. If you like the work that they’re doing, consider tossing a coin to your author.

Don’t have a big gift budget? That’s ok, me neither. There are still plenty of ways to support authors and small bookstores without spending a cent!

Talk about it! Word of mouth is the most powerful marketing tool for small creators who don’t have a huge marketing fund or a full social battery. It’s also the avenue they have the least control over. If you really enjoyed a book, but you can’t afford to buy a copy for a friend, maybe you could do a book swap instead, and include a homemade bookmark. If other people are asking for your wishlist, give them your TBR. Mention your favorite reads from the year when you meet up with friends and relatives, and it might persuade them to go check it out. Post a quick review on your social media. Every small bit of visibility helps because you never know who will be interested enough to check it out, and pass on the word.

Request the book at your local library! Not only do you get to make friends with the librarians (who are objectively the coolest people in the world), you also get to read the book for free! Meanwhile, the author gets both a sale, and exposure as they land on the “new” shelf with a shiny new barcode, and the library may receive better funding from the footfall and check-out data. More funding = better book buying budget and fun programming for next year. Rinse and repeat.

Leave reviews! Once a listing hits 50 relatively good reviews on Amazon, the site begins free promotion for the author, because they recognize that if enough people liked it enough to leave a review, it’s worth showing to other people in the recommendations list. Once it hits 75 reviews, it’ll also be included in email promotions. Both advertising feats normally cost a ridiculous amount of money, but hitting this threshold is one of the most important landmarks for an indie author.

It also ties into word of mouth, because how will people know if the book is good enough to buy if there aren’t reviews? It’s important to emphasise that these should be honest reviews, so don’t feel you can’t leave one just because you didn’t feel it was 5 stars. Truthful, detailed, 3 and 4 star reviews also help hit that threshold, and won’t be as likely to be marked as spam. If you especially liked the story, every 5-star helps a ton. Also review it on platforms like BookBub and Goodreads if possible! You can copy and paste your thoughts, and it doesn’t have to take long, but it goes a long way.

Join their mailing lists/newsletters: Remember what I said earlier about how most of us don’t have huge marketing budgets? In the realm of social media algorithms, promoting your book is pay-to-play, and even then, your chances of being seen are slim as the posts get swept down the feed. The most reliable way to get news about an author’s sales, new releases, and other events is to join their newsletter. Emails are much less likely to get lost in the internet’s void, and they allow authors to say more than what would get caught in a short post. They also usually come with free reader magnets, which is always a fun treat.

Bookstores and libraries also host events like book signings, giveaways, and holiday programs alllllll the time but might not have the best social media presence. Unless you’re following their mailing list, you’ll miss them. I know nobody wants an inbox over-flooding with promotional material, so it makes sense you’d be picky about which you choose to follow. You can check release schedules if you’re concerned about being overwhelmed, and always unsubscribe if it’s not what you’re looking for anymore. But this is seriously one of the best ways to support authors and small bookstores, though following them on social media doesn’t hurt either.

Flaaawwwless transition into shameless self promotion: I have a new edition of my newsletter coming out next week! This one includes a short story told from the POV of the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Future. You should sign up now, so you get the newsletter when it comes out, but in case you miss it, you can still read the backlog of stories later! That list currently includes a narrative poem about Jack of Fables, and a magical realism/sci-fi short story called “Matter.” If you’re looking for something fun and short to read while you’re curled up by the fire this winter break, this is your chance to get three free pdfs. I send out new emails (and new stories) quarterly, so I’ll only be spamming you every three months. I think that’s a fair trade, if I say so myself. Here’s the link to sign up if you’re interested!

I think I’ve rambled enough for today, so now it’s your turn! Tell me about a book you read recently, and I’ll be sure to check it out! Happy reading. 🙂

Author Interview: Hyba Ouazzani & Apartment

Today I’m pleased to introduce you to my good writing friend and inspiration, Hyba! I’ve mentioned her before on this blog: specifically to promote her podcast in my writing resources post, and to leave a glowing review of her novel, Apartment, in my last goals recap. I’m thrilled to have her on the blog to talk about how she developed her book, and I hope you enjoy reading this interview as much as I enjoyed conducting it.

Etta: Can you start by telling us about yourself and what you write?

Hyba: My name is Hyba Ouazzani, and I’m a Muslim author, podcaster, and blogger based somewhere on the vast continent that is Africa.

I enjoy writing in a range of genres. Apartment is my psychological thriller, and I’m currently working on a murder mystery called Marie/Elise, a high fantasy novel called The Pirates of Sissa, a futuristic sci-fi called Neon Vape: A Vaporwave Odyssey, a horror novel called An Entity in Your Midst, a GameLit serial fiction called The Beast of Ildenwood, an epistolary Gothic tale called Letters to Adam, and many, many more! Sometimes, I write poetry and short stories. In short, I enjoy writing in all kinds of formats and genres. If the story and concept idea are good enough for me, then that’s all that matters.

That being said, I am most interested in writing pieces that make certain statements about society and humanity at large. Pieces like Apartment are meant to challenge the reader, make them ask questions about the darker aspects of human nature and the world we live in. The Pirates of Sissa deals with justice, conflict resolution, and the lasting effects of imperialism. Neon Vape takes a hard look at the extent to which companies are willing to go to make a profit and be market leaders—in other words, the dark side of capitalism. I’m working on a short story that challenges the impossible beauty perceptions and other expectations pushed upon women. Anywhere there’s a good discussion to be had is where I want my books to be!

Etta: That’s a wonderful variety, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of your works! I recently finished Apartment, so I wanted to know, what gave you the idea for that story?

Hyba: Apartment came out of the blue as I was sitting criss-cross-apple-sauce on my bed. I had the urge to write something, and I started writing it—though I wasn’t even certain what I was writing at that time. There was just the apartment building, huge and ugly and empty. And there were just the two inhabitants—two in the midst of this great, big beast of a building. Those first words that the book starts off with are the first words that I wrote for Apartment (though they’ve undergone a bit of editing ever since, especially when it comes to keeping track of the numbers!). I chose a place to anchor my ship and got to work.

It was weird, messy, and entirely unexpected. But somehow it worked together in such a way that I began to see it take some kind of form. These characters that went about their mundane everyday lives but were just a little off. That sticky suspense that clung to their skin like sweat. The cold, isolated, hollow building set in that sprawling hot desert. All of it came together, and as I started weaving all of these elements into a picture that made sense, I knew that this was an intriguing project.

I wanted it to mean more than what I was putting on paper, so I took a lot of care to craft the story in such a way that it could be analyzed, read and re-read. The story unfolded, the characters came to life, and even when I got to that muddy middle, I somehow found a way to trudge through and see the whole book to the end. It was the first book I’d ever finished.

Etta: This story is labeled as ‘magical realism.’ How did you choose which aspects of the story to make fantastical and which to keep grounded in our world?

Hyba: I knew that the fates of certain characters needed to be metaphorical and symbolic of wider themes—for example, James and Eli have very fantastical ends as characters. In other areas of the book, I chose to insert magical or fantastical elements to highlight key points about the plot, characters, settings, or themes—and almost always signal to readers that “This means something deeper!”

In other words, the fantastical aspects are almost never added just to be there. Most, if not all, convey specific messages and invite readers to think about what these strange and unexpected events and characteristics actually mean about the characters, the settings, or the themes found within the story.

Etta: Do you think horror and suspense stories based on speculative fears (demons, supernatural, ghosts etc.) or real world fears (stalkers, serial killers, natural disasters, etc.) are more effective? Or do you think it depends on the particular story?

Hyba: Not only do I think it depends on the story and its execution, but I also think that it depends greatly on the reader and what they believe in. For some readers, the supernatural is a very real thing, and is therefore a very real fear, but others scoff at the supernatural and find pure entertainment within the pages of such horror. For some, fear of the unknown is stronger than fear of the known, while the opposite is true for others. An unstoppable event, like a natural disaster, may be much more frightening for some readers than something that could potentially be stopped, like a stalker. And yet, there are also some that will find a natural disaster much less horrifying than a malicious, evil human being.

I think it boils down to the psychology and beliefs of the reader. We all have those little things that really make us tick—that make us smack those pages closed and check to make sure our doors are locked and the windows are closed and the bathroom light is on before we fall asleep. At the end of the day, any kind of horror will find its intended audience, and that audience will appreciate it as a horror that is true to them and, in some ways, very real.

Etta: Psychology plays a large role in the story: how did you develop the characters with such specific neuroses that play off each other so dramatically?

Hyba: The characters’ psychologies are based on real-world issues, arguably magnified (and arguably not). I think when you get a cast that has such a diverse set of vices, opportunities for these vices to come head-to-head start popping up naturally. While I didn’t set out to have their neuroses play off of each other, I did enjoy pairing together characters that are destined to meet again (ex: Alex and Eli), and characters whose meetings are unexpected (ex: Angela and the Manager).

In fact, my main focus was on their demises. I knew that Eli and Alex’s fates were intertwined, and therefore their final scenes had to be with one another. I also knew that their destructive nature meant that one of them wouldn’t make it out of that final meeting alive. I knew that Angela’s new-found delusions of grandeur would lead her to her downfall, and what better way to do that than at the hands of the Manager, whose own superiority complex and history places him much higher up the abominable “food chain”, as it were? And, I knew that the Manager, for all of his arrogance and self-confessed hunting prowess, needed to be put to a stop in a way that was entirely unspectacular and unimportant—and so his death came at the hands of the driver. And, the driver, for his part, comes to meet his fate as a result of Eli’s death. Some deaths are interlinked in ways that are fantastical, which allows me to paint a broader, more profound picture for the reader.

That being said, I can see how putting two characters together because of their psychological conditions might turn out various intriguing scenarios. Say, for example, a pyromaniac and someone with a pyrophobia being stuck together in a setting rife with flammable items. I can certainly see this playing out into a very tense psychological thriller!

Etta: How fascinating! Thank you for explaining your reasoning! Now, of course, the setting is crucial in any suspense story, and especially in this one. What inspired the aesthetic of Apartment?

Hyba: It was so long ago, I’m not quite sure what first inspired me to create the Apartment aesthetic anymore. I want to point to the concept of the liminal space, and the idea of someone existing in an empty place on their own. I might also point to various architectural styles and buildings, especially the strange not-quite-rightness of brutalist and/or constructivist architecture—especially those huge buildings that seemed to dwarf everything around them. It seemed so alien, so impersonal, so isolating. I think these are a couple of aesthetics that may have inspired Apartment in its early days.

Etta: That makes a lot of sense! Carrying off the last question, what prose choices did you make to help build up the atmosphere such as a certain extended metaphor or motif or symbol?

Hyba: One of the big decisions I made, though it might have happened subconsciously at first, was creating a sense of the mundane in the prose, especially towards the beginning of the novella, to help strange events (hopefully) stick out in stark contrast to the regular everyday goings-on of the characters. For example, you have a scene where James is going about his usual morning ritual until something strange happens, something out of the regular day-to-day, something that stands out in contrast to what he has become used to. And from there, that little thing starts picking at him, again and again, becoming more and more apparent, demanding more and more attention, and ultimately transforming him.

There were many reasons for choosing this kind of narrative technique. Not only did it serve to create contrast, but it also served to pull the reader into an almost sleepy lull—until they come upon a little detail, pass it, recognize that it wasn’t altogether a normal thing, and go back again to double-check. I wanted readers to almost-miss these little threads that begin to unravel at the beginning of the story. In addition, it also created a sense of suffocation. We’re so trapped inside the characters’ heads—stuck with them in their minds, and stuck with them in this building—that it creates a sense of frustration and restlessness, a sense of suffocation. I believe it helps readers understand better why certain characters are so easily led astray once they are given the chance, and why some of them seem to act almost desperately restless, just looking for something to do.

There are quite a lot of other elements in the book—choices that I made for a variety of different reasons as it pertains to prose, symbolism, metaphors, and more—but it would take a long time to write about them. If anyone is interested in learning more, though, I’ve written and released an entire literary companion for Apartment that’s available here (for free). Check it out—but only if you don’t mind spoilers!

Etta: Thank you for sharing that resource! One last question, what was your favorite part about writing Apartment?

Hyba: Writing suspense—building it into my stories—is one of my favourite parts of writing in general.

With Apartment, I felt it was almost all suspense. In fact, that was one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much, and possibly one of the reasons that I was able to push through and finish it in a shorter amount of time than any other book I’ve been working on. That slow-burn, rising tension is one of my favourite things to write, especially when laid into the perspective and mind of a character that may or may not be completely alright—or completely reliable.

Up until Apartment, I didn’t think I could write something that was almost purely suspense-driven. I always stumbled upon plot, and how to reconcile suspense with other elements that were—well—not so suspenseful! Apartment was a huge learning experience for me as an author, and I’m very happy with the result, and so happy to know that readers have enjoyed it, too.

Etta: Well, I know I loved the story, and I’m sure others have as well. Where can people find you and your writing?

You can find me over on my blog (hybaiswriting.blogspot.com), where I share short stories and snippets, a range of updates for WIPs, talk about my characters and worlds, and sometimes write advice or research posts related to books and writing. To connect with me on my social media, find me on Twitter (@HybaIsWriting), Instagram (@hybaiswriting), Tumblr (@hyba), and Pinterest (hybaiswriting). Finally, you can also check out my podcast over on Anchor (anchor.fm/hyba) or your go-to podcast app!

Thank you again to Hyba for agreeing to do this interview with me and for leaving such thoughtful and thought-provoking answers! If you enjoyed this, be sure to go check out her other work. Thank you for reading, and until next time, happy writing!

Jack of Fables

Once upon a time, there was a boy named Jack…

Wait, do not walk away!
Don’t wander off to play!
You think you’ve heard this tale before?
You think this rhyme will be a bore?
Please give me but a fighting chance.
I bet two cents you’ll be entranced.

This poem tells the story of one eccentric fellow who lived a rather eventful life (and afterlife)! Jack of Fables is the name I’ve given to the character behind the stories of Jack in the Beanstalk, Jack the Giant Killer, Jack be Nimble, Stingy Jack, Jack and Jill went up a hill, Jack O’Lantern, and Jack Frost. His story has been sitting in my phone notes since 2015, and I’ve been itching for a chance to tell it ever since. It made the perfect candidate for a newsletter launch giveaway as a short story, but when I put pen to paper, I found that poetry fit better, and had a ton of fun writing this new rhyming version. A special thanks to my good friend Siarven for beta reading this!

I did this illustration as a “cover” and a teaser for the story! Can you find the symbols from each of the fables I mentioned in the last paragraph? If you haven’t signed up for my mailing list yet, here is the link to do so. Once you sign up and confirm subscription, the first email should be sent right away. I hope you enjoy reading!

Reading Rec: How to Market a Book by Ricardo Fayet

Hello dear readers! This month’s book review is a little different from my usual fare because I’m covering a non-fiction craft book. Following last week’s post, I was motivated to dig into some deeper research on marketing, and was pleased to stumble across this How-To guide from one of my favorite resources. Today I’ll be sharing some notes and major take-aways that I hadn’t already learned from my earlier research! Hopefully this will include some insightful new information

How to Market a Book: Overperform in a Crowded Market (Reedsy Marketing Guides Book 1)

This book is an incredibly detailed, thoughtful, and relevant look into the online publishing industry in 2021. It reiterates the fundamentals of building an author’s platform and offers advanced ideas for anyone who wants to take the business side of writing seriously. If you’re anything like me, you grew up with a lecture of “Writing isn’t a real career” and “you don’t want to be a starving artist, do you?” While it’s true that an extremely small number of authors become household names, there are countless other authors making a decent living off their craft and even working for themselves full time.

If this is your end goal, and you’re familiar with or at least willing to learn how to be a businessperson, then I highly recommend this book for you. If you’re not sure yet how much time and effort you want to put into your author’s platform, I still recommend this book, but specifically sections 1-3, which explain the fundamentals of how to make it in the publishing world. The language is very easy to understand, and it’s an excellent in-depth primer to get you thinking and planning for the future. Then, when you’re ready to tackle the advanced marketing and advertising sections of the book, you already have the reference material in your back pocket.

Additionally, the e-book is completely free. It’s roughly 60K words, but its an easy read and I got through it in about a week. The author, Ricardo Fayet is an expert in the industry and the co-founder of the company, Reedsy, which is how I found the book. Reedsy has proven to be one of the MOST valuable resources I’ve found in my researching endeavors, and I look forward to taking advantage of their free courses and other resources when I reach those points in my author’s journey.

So, without further ado, let’s get into the big ideas, shall we?

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Author Platform Crash Course: Marketing and Publishing Tips

When I started my writeblr during a rotation break at my lifeguard shift, I never expected I’d be writing this post today. What I’m about to share with you is the result of two years learning how to navigate online writing communities, two marketing classes in my business minor, countless influences from successful authors I admire, and 22 pages of notes taken from my marketing and publishing research. I’ve learned so much and I’m honored to have come so far since I first started putting my writing out there on the internet!

Before I get started with the information, I’d like to include a few disclaimers:

  • This information is accurate and up-to-date as of Summer 2021. If you are reading this post at a later date, keep that in mind, and do your own research accordingly.
  • I am a white English speaker based in the US, so this research does not include a nuanced view of other countries’ markets, legal processes, and publishing industries, nor information on publishing in other languages or as part of a minority group. While I tried my best to make it as inclusive as possible within a realistic scope, it is by no means all-encompassing.

If you’re reading this, I’m assuming that you have a story you want to release! The first step to publishing is getting the manuscript into a state where it’s ready to be sent out into the world, which means editing. If you’d like a comprehensive guide on the editing process, check out this post first! That being said, I’ll start by sharing my publishing research!

Traditional vs Self/Indie Publishing:

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Mythology, Fantasy, and Adaptations – an interview with Karkki

Welcome everyone! In June, I focused on the topic of tropes and adaptations, and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to interview one of my writer friends about her area of expertise! I’ve been following Karkki’s The Shield-Maiden Saga and other WIPs over on tumblr for about two years. It’s always a blast to see the new updates and lore, so I was happy for the excuse to host a Q&A, and honored to share the results with you! Thank you Karkki for agreeing to do this! I’m super excited to share her creativity with you all today. For this interview, my parts and questions are in the headings, and their responses are everything written below.

Question 1 – First, can you tell me about yourself, how long you’ve been writing, and what you write?

Thank you so much for inviting me to be interviewed! I’m Karkki, a Finnish architecture student in my mid-twenties. Other than writing I paint, sew, pet my cat and hike. I’ve been writing since I was around ten. At first it was just scenes of my OCs (I had a whole cinematic universe of them), but the first book form story I started to write, I did around 14, I think. Nowadays I write mostly adult dark fantasy, often smashed together with various different genres 😀

Question 2 – You write a lot of stories inspired by history and mythology; how did you first get into these topics?

I had a very strong Egyptian mythology phase when I was kid, like many others it seems. I was obsessed with it and I’ve always been fascinated by history. Later, in my teens I read an article about historical research on Vikings and it rekindled my interest in history and mythology. I got one of my earliest book ideas from that too, which after many twists and turns has become a historical fantasy WIP, The Shield-Maiden Saga. I gained interest in the more recent history after watching Pride and Prejudice (1995 of course) like many others.

Question 3 – How do you go about doing research?

I start with Wikipedia. It is a hole that sucks me in and won’t let me go. But even though it doesn’t contain the most in-depth and nuanced info, it’s a great way to learn of the things you want to learn about. After I’ve found interesting things I want to learn more about, I look for articles, books and videos. Depending on what I’m writing I pay attention to the credibility of the information. For historical fiction I look for multiple sources and make sure the text has proper sources. If I’m researching for fantasy, I only really focus on what is interesting and gives me inspiration.

Question 4 – How much of the research actually goes into the stories? Do you prefer to write AUs, strict historical fiction, or historically-inspired-fantasy?

All of them actually. Well, by AU I mostly mean our universe but with fantasy elements. My WIPs include historical fantasy set in Viking Age (which I mentioned) with some grounded history and a ton of fantasy elements, high fantasy inspired mostly from Regency period, Roman Empire and Finnish mythology, high fantasy inspired mostly by Victorian Era and Republic of Venice, and my newest WIP historical fiction set in Golden Age of Piracy with some magical realism. I’d say in the end a lot of the research never, at least directly ends up in the book. With historical fiction most of it is building the world and it’s in the background but might not be directly referred to. With high fantasy it’s even less as most of it is for inspiration and therefore not included as it is.

Question 5 – Do you get the idea for the story first, and then do research around the premise, or do you get story ideas from your research? Top down or bottom up?

My writing process is very messy 😀 I usually get a very broad idea I vibe with. Then I start researching it and get a lot more ideas and the story starts to shape up as I’m researching. I sometimes also read something not related to writing and inspiration hits. With high fantasy it’s usually more top down, I research something specific I need ideas.

Question 6 – What are your favorite historical periods and mythologies?

I have always a hard time picking my favorite anything so I’ll have to mention several. My favorite historical periods are the between World Wars period, Victorian Era, Golden Age of Piracy, Italian Renaissance, Late Medieval Period, Viking Age, Classical Rome, Ancient Egypt, Edo and Meiji periods in Japan and the Warring State Period in China. For mythologies: Finnish, Sámi, Egyptian, Celtic, Japanese, Slavic and Etruscan mythology. There’s a lot more historical periods and mythologies especially outside Europe I’m really interested in, but don’t know enough yet to say if they are my favorites or not. I am in the process of learning about the things I never learned in school.

Question 7 – What are some of your favorite tropes from mythology to use in your own writing?

One of my favorites, that I can’t stop using, is the concept of spirit and or magic residing in blood. I’ve come across it or something similar at least in Norse, Finnish and Sámi mythology. In Norse myths there’s stories of drinking the blood of an animal and gaining some of their abilities. In Finnish mythology though, the magic is described to be specifically inside bones, where the blood gets created. Another related trope I enjoy a lot is magic and spirit being one and the same. In Finnish mythology humans have three souls, one of them is an elf, also known as luonto (nature) or väki. Väki means both folk and power. The elves are often referred to as “väki”, but so is magic. It’s where humans gain their magical abilities.

One last trope I’ll mention is the very common trope of natural spirits. There’s the Finnish elves and Greek nymphs and many many others. I just really love anthropomorphic nature.

Question 8 – Do you subvert any of the classic tropes that you adapt? 

One thing I like to do is include evil spirits and reveal they are not that evil actually and include good spirits and show them to be more questionable. Nature can see evil sometimes in it’s hostility, but it never really is. It’s always neutral. A specific instance of a subverted trope I’ve done is how I included Tyrfing, a cursed sword from Völsung Saga into The Shield-Maiden Saga. The sword is not actually cursed, rather it has an imprisoned elf inside, who just happens to be very bloodthirsty and sadistic.

Question 9 – How do you fit magic systems into your historical elements? 

I often base my magic systems at least partly on mythology. I always make sure though that the magic system never works exactly like in mythology (or the internal mythology of the world). Mythology is born to explain the world people don’t understand so it would lose a lot of cultural context, if it was an accurate description of the world. When I create my own world, I often start with a magic system and then think about what kind of mythologies different cultures would build around it and other natural phenomena. When I use real world, I start with the existing mythologies and think how the magic would really work. I often combine different mythologies and add my own spins, as I don’t want to give the impression that any one culture got it right. I also often use a softer magic system. I feel like it better conveys the feeling of how science and magic worked back then. People didn’t know how they worked, but by trial and error they found some things that worked often, but not always.

Question 10 – Do you have any advice for other writers looking to build a historical-fantasy-scifi story?

First of all, if you take inspiration from the history of a culture you are not part of, do your research extra well. And if you’re writing historical fiction, double that. Use sources by the culture, since you’ll easily get a very biased view from the sources written by outsiders. If you are planning a world of your own, I’d suggest taking a broad look at a lot of different cultures and eras even if you know what period you’ll take inspiration from. It’ll give you a feel on the ways societies and cultures shape and what things are not universal.

But the main point is to have fun with it. If you don’t like researching, no worries, there’s no rule that says your fiction has to be historically accurate. Though if you don’t already know the culture intimately this approach might not work well. At the end of the day though, there’s no rules in writing at all. Read about the things that interest you and emphasize them in your writing. It shows positively when you lean into your passions.

11 – Where can we find you and your work? 

I tell about my writing progress and WIPs more or less regularly on my Tumblr blog @kittensartwriting! I’m always happy to find more like-minded writing buddies!


Thank you so much to Karkki for agreeing to be a guest on today’s post! I enjoy picking my friends’ brains with overly specific questions about certain things, so it was fascinating for me to read through all the detailed thoughtful answers with SO MANY brilliant ideas behind them. I’m thrilled to be able to share it with my readers too. If you liked reading about her process, I highly recommend checking out the rest of Karkki’s work and supporting her WIPs! You absolutely won’t regret it. Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you next week! 🙂

The Test: A Runaways Excerpt

Runaways is my middle-grade portal fantasy novel, currently in the drafting stage. If you’re unfamiliar with its plot and characters, you can find an introduction to the story and read its first lines on the WIP Page. This scene comes from near the middle of the story, once Hannah has finally reached the faerie realm in search of her younger sister. 1447 Words, CW for glamour/illusions. I hope you enjoy reading!


The guards led Hannah from the cavern through a dark tunnel that twisted one way, then another. She tentatively reached one hand out to follow along the wall, and they didn’t stop her. It didn’t help her sense of direction. The walls of the tunnel occasionally caved out into branching pathways, and they turned so many times, Hannah was sure they must have retraced their path twice or thrice. Seashells in the woods wouldn’t help her find her way home. A spool of golden string did Theseus no good sitting back at home. She doubted there were seashells aplenty or string long enough to find the way through this maze.

Something roared. Distant growling grew louder as her captors forced her ever forward. Hannah didn’t dare slow her steps, even as dread knotted in her stomach. But her fears were unfounded as finally, the earth took a sharp slant upwards, and they emerged out of a cave behind a waterfall. The thunder of water echoed off the rocks, and she let out a sigh of relief as she realized it wasn’t a monster. The mist sprayed in her face as they rounded the barrier and emerged into a forest of blazing red. Autumn leaves graced the branches of trees that towered unbelievably high. She craned her neck, but couldn’t see the end.

A million twinkling stars hung in the dark sky. A galaxy of fireflies lit the clearing with dancing lights. The stone path continued before them, lined by wildflowers that grew as high as her waist. Garlands that held golden lanterns lined the path as well and drew the attention of diaphanous gossamer moths. They flitted about the party, and one even landed on her hair. Hannah couldn’t stifle a laugh of delight as it perched on her head. She caught the lead guard grinning at her out of the corner of her eye, clearly pleased that she enjoyed the spectacle.

In the distance, the sights and sounds of a gathering solidified into the form and sounds of a palace. The guards marched her up the front steps, through the towering columns, and through the throng of gawking fae. Hannah could scarcely watch before they spun away in a mad dance. It felt like Masquerade. Each played the phantom, and she the unwitting attendant. The music soared and twisted, a lively melody that wound around her and pulled her into the intoxicating revelry. She resisted the urge to twirl in time with the tune. If she began, she could not stop, and for the first time, she was thankful for her guards pulling her on ever forward to her destination. She clapped her hands over her ears. What if the piper was here? As part of the band, with his mask of a face, and colorful clothes, he’d fit right into the motley crowd.

As she entered the throne room, she thought maybe she shouldn’t be thankful they brought her to yet another trial. Two thrones stood atop a raised dais in a semi-circular room. Servants hurried to bring trays of food to their monarchs. The queen sat distinguished in a silvery celestial gown and enjoying delicacies, dropping no fruit on her dress. She had a wild look in her large golden eyes, indigo skin that marbled with violet, and black hair that spilled over her shoulders like clouds of ink. Her wings were like Luna moth’s, huge and pale green, and she held a glass of chocolate wine just in danger of tipping over.

If the queen embodied night, the king personified day. He sprawled across her lap, leaning casually sideways in the throne they shared. Dark freckles stood out like sunspots on pale yellow skin. A tousle of golden curls framed his face, crowned with a wreath of ivy. He wore a plum colored robe and sandals that now dangled from his feet. One hand held a glass of sparkling champaign, and the other held a leg of meat. He laughed with an attendant, and his dark eyes flashed with enjoyment.

“Now what do we have here?” Hummed the queen.

The guard that had been leading Hannah stepped up to speak with a sharp salute, lifting the beetle wings high and proud. “We found this one at the northern gate. Fell through fighting one of the Piper’s agents. Said she wasn’t a spy. Looking for a changeling. Told her we’d let you decide.”

“Well done, soldier!” said the king. “What fun, what excitement! A wonderful opportunity!”

Hannah shuddered to wonder what that meant. She took a step back, abruptly sober and wary.

“May we have your name, little one?” The queen crooned. Hannah set her jaw. She prepared for this.

“You may not have my name, but you may call me Maria,” She answered. There were millions of Marias in the world and they bore a good name – a safe, powerful, beautiful one, but not hers.

“Let us offer you these sweet cakes then, Maria,” The king said. A platter materialized out of the air, filled with luscious tarts.

“I humbly decline, for I had my meal at home.”

They grinned, an identical, sharp-toothed grin. “What do you seek from the Seelie Court of Autumn?” The queen asked.

“My sister.”

“Which do you want?” the king asked, “For there are many.”

“Mine.”

“My dear,” the queen purred, “You’ll have to be more specific than that.”

Yes, she would need to be exacting in her request, lest they pull a horrid trick on her for their amusement. Lest they endanger Cec- her sister. Best to avoid even thinking her name in their presence. Who knew what they could do?

“I believe your people took my sister last night during the thunderstorm, between the hours of midnight and four today. She spoke of the Piper, and his flutes on the wind. I couldn’t hear his music, because he didn’t come for me. She vanished the next morning. I wish for her freedom to return to our home and our parents.”

“You wish, hmmmmmm?” The king mused. “We do not owe you a wish, but yours is a noble plea.”

Her heart leap with hope. Would they consider?

“Why?” the queen asked.

Why? A million reasons, but should she reveal her heart now? Hannah ventured for a safe answer. “Because our mother and father will be cross with us if we return late for dinner,”

“Why?” Insisted the king.

Hannah’s stomach turned as they pressed into her with that driving tone. The facade of indulgent amusement dropped like taking off a mask, leaving behind hard, angry eyes. Why did they toy with her? Was her request so unreasonable?

“Because she left without a word, and I am worried for her.”

“Why?” Hissed the queen.

“Because I miss her. Because I love her.”

They gave her those same, sharp-toothed grins again. Hannah wanted to slap those smiles right off their silly little faces. She held her breath as they waited for an agonizingly long moment before the king spoke.

“How do you know her, when you cannot call her by name?”

Around her appeared a dozen figures–girls that all looked exactly like Hannah’s sister. They all gazed at her with wild, desperate expressions. She shrunk back, but more popped up behind her. Hannah scowled at the ring of possible imposters as she realized the trick. One would be the truth, trapped in the game. The others would be illusions. She had to choose.

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath to steady herself.

“I know her by her footsteps when she creeps into my room at night to watch the thunderstorms.” They took a step towards her, menacing. Those three, those were wrong. Hannah snapped open her eyes and banished several of the imposters. With a wave of her hand, they vanished into a puff of smoke.

“I know my sister by her laugh when I tell her a terrible pun,” Hannah said. The girls all laughed, seemingly on command. She couldn’t tell apart individual voices, but there was a silence from one side as one didn’t laugh. She had said nothing funny. Banished. Vanished. Smoke.

“I know her by her kindness when she sneaks our cats extra treats. I know her by her competitiveness when she jumps off the top of a maple tree to beat me in a race.” One flinched at the idea of breaking bones, but her sister never hesitated with heights. Banished. Vanished. Smoke.

One remained. Hannah locked eyes with it through the smoke and her eyes stung with tears. “I know my sister,” she repeated. “And she knows me.”