“Welcome, welcome! Welcome to the first ever… Interview Saturday!”
A brown-haired girl bounces out from behind a blue curtain onto a stage, facing the curious readers who await the first-ever character to be interviewed. Ashley holds her arms out, expecting applause, and frowns when there is none. Or maybe there is. Either way, she turns back to the curtains.
“Come on!” She spins around. “Will everyone please welcome Sula from The Swan Prince, a newly-released novella by Danielle E. Shipley! Below is the summary of The Swan Prince, and a little bit about Sula herself.”
Catching her leg in a bear trap proves the least of Sula’s worries. Haunted by an enchanted monster from a past she dare not reveal, and hounded by the perilously perceptive young village doctor, Villem Deere, the headstrong girl of the woods gambles with fate by binding hers to that of Sigmund, the captivating orphan boy with mysterious nightly business of his own.
16-year-old Sula claims to hail from Rohrburing Town, kingdom of Tipsilvren. She says her parents died before she was old enough to know them, leaving her in the care of various foster homes until her recent appearance in Wilderhark Forest. She expresses the hope that further questions steer clear of her backstory, because she’s tired of making up lies.
Sula walks onstage (with a valiant lack of limp, considering her recent encounter with the bear trap), waving like the focal point of a parade. “Hello, everyone. If you’re applauding, keep it up a little longer… yes, that will do; thank you.”
Ashley smiles and beckons Sula to a seat sitting off to the side, and grabs a chair, turning it so she leans forward against the back of the chair. “It’s nice to meet you, Sula. How’s it going?”
“My pleasure to be here, Ashley. And as far as I know, it’s going well enough.” She shrugs an unruly lock of chestnut hair off her shoulder. “I don’t pay much attention to the business side of things, once the story’s typed up. I just live it; and, well, live beyond it, of course. ‘The End’ is nothing like the end, you know.”
“Definitely not,” Ashley agrees. “So how in the world did you get caught in a bear trap? And by the by, who’s this Sigmund?”
“You know how grownups tell you not to run around with a sharp stick?” Sula says. “They should throw in a warning about running around in dark forests where people leave steel traps lying about, as well. Or they should post signs, or something. Honestly, is a big, red ‘BEWARE’ and a little picture of spring-powered metal teeth too much to ask? I doubt most bears would know the difference, and it might have spared me a world of pain! As for Sigmund…” Her eyes slide away evasively. “Oh, what to say about him? He’s a boy I met and stalked for a bit and happened to be able to relate to on… certain levels. We were traveling companions, for a good portion of the book. Anything more than that, I don’t think my publicist would be terribly happy about me discussing in detail. …Well, I suppose I can say he’s strangely beautiful. That’s allowed, right, author?” she calls offstage.
With a mischievous grin, Ashley responds, “Companions, sure. At least you’re admitting to call him beautiful.” She snickers, then nods. “This story is kind of like a fairy tale, judging by the blurb of the series itself and by the words of your author. Do you see it as a fairy tale…or nightmare? Why?”
Sula lifts an ironic eyebrow. “Who says the two need be mutually exclusive? Some old tales of the genre read like a surreal pageant of horrors. My story’s not as bad as all that, thank goodness; no murdered people’s body parts singing at me, or any such nonsense. Still, to read, it’s an obvious fairy tale. And to live... yes, I would say ‘nightmare’ sometimes applies. Dealing with a magical curse is not all sunshine and roses; more like moonshadow and thorns.”
“I’ve never heard of moonshadow, but it doesn’t sound pleasant. Nor does singing body parts…” She shies back uncomfortably at the mental image. “If you could tell or do something to your creator, what would it be? Please keep it rated G! Though if you wish you could punch her in the face, I totally sympathize. Just don’t punch me. No violence permitted on this stage!”
“Oh, I can tell her anything I want. She lives for verbal abuse from characters.” Her lips’ corners tug upward. “All right, perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration. But anything I want to tell her, she’s heard. Now, if I could do anything to her… I think I’d write her into a book or three, and see how she likes going through ‘adventures’ for the entertainment of others. Maybe I’d give her a happy ending, maybe I wouldn’t. No guarantees, the story does what it will, blah-blah-authorial-blah.”
“Well, that’d be the scary part for her,” Ashley says with a hint of sympathy. “Having no idea what sort of ending you’ll get.” After a moment, she inquires, “So, this Villem Deere guy… What’s with him? He helped you out of the trap, I’m guessing. What’s with the animosity?” Ashley grins. “Is he cute?”
“Unfortunately, yes.” Sula grimaces. “Yes, he is. And yes, he treated my injury. All of which would be all well and good, if he weren’t so sky-blasted nosey. Not all of us have the luxury of honesty, you know. Some of us have secrets to protect, which becomes far more problematic when you’ve got people like Doctor Deere trying to dissect your soul at every turn with that scalpel-sharp gaze of his.”
Ashley laughs, then says, “The story you’re in just recently released. If you could say something to the readers, what would that be?” Ashley taps her chin. “I’ve never thought about that myself… I guess I might tell them to not be jealous over my awesome power and…” She blinks at a probably glowering Sula. “Right. Sorry. Speak! Speak to your readers.” She gestures audience-ward.
“Well, if they’ve bought the book – or even just nagged their local librarians into stocking the book to be borrowed (hint, hint, audience: These are good things to do) – I would like to extend my thanks. Most of the readers have probably never been fictional characters, and so they may not know, but having your story out for sale is a big, legitimizing deal. Having total strangers in another world reading about your misfortunes makes living it more worthwhile; like, oh, good, somebody’s getting something out of this fiasco; cheers. And triumphs are made to be shared, so I like readers knowing about the good parts, too. I also like letters. It would be nice to receive some fan letters.” She peers narrowly out into the darkness beyond the stage. “I do have fans, don’t I? I’d better. I mean, I don’t know that I would necessarily get along with myself, but I would certainly be Team Sula!” Decisive nod.
I think I’m on Team Deere, Ashley decides. “Alrighty, then. Something a little in my realm. If you had a superpower, what superpower would you want? It can go as far as flying to being able to make your bed with a snap of your fingers!” Ashley snickers. “Other than the one I have, that last one would be awesome.” She catches herself before running off on another tangent.
Her eyes gleam greener. “Any superpower? The one that flies to mind is invisibility. My life would have been drastically easier if nobody saw me when I didn’t want them to! But then, it wouldn’t have solved everything. What would have?” She presses her lips tight and squints into the distance, considering her options, then thrusts a finger in the air. “Aha! An anti-enchantment power! No magic-worker’s power would work upon me – no, sir, it would backfire right onto them! – and any curse I came in contact with would automatically unravel.” She crosses her arms, expression smugly victorious. “That would set my story to rights by Chapter Two!”
Ashley starts laughing. “But then what would the point be of releasing your story?” she asks. “What if you could just decide which curses would be lifted? Some curses have good reasons…” She trails off. “Hmm, hmm… Okay, here’s one. If you had a library, what books would someone expect to find in it? Aside from yours, of course!”
“Mm, the exciting kind. People doing things, not just a lot of talk and philosophizing and rubbish. Something with attractive men being daring, and clever girls being daring… I’m all for those who dare. Not terribly thick books, I expect; I like stories to get to the point. And I expect high-quality binding; a good book, like a good dinner, should be a feast for the eyes as well as your innermost parts. That’s what my father liked to sa— would have liked to say,” Sula says abruptly, her face gone tight and hot. “Or so I like to imagine; as those who’ve never known their parents are known to do.”
“I agree!” Ashley states passionately, but seems a little confused at the double-take. “So, judging by the fact he seems to be the other half of the equation of this story, aside from this Villem Deere… How does Sigmund perceive you? How do you perceive yourself?”
“Oh, he started off thinking I’m pigheaded and full of myself with an inflated sense of entitlement,” she says dismissively. “I won’t say I’m not those things, to a certain, wholly justified degree. But I’m also adaptable; I know how to play nice, when it’s necessary – which it was with Sigmund, a wearying amount of the time. So I sucked it up, soldiered through, and got him to change his tune about me pretty quick, thank you very much.”
Ashley tilts her head to the side, just a bit. “Um, okay.” She hesitates. “You know, you’re kind of…uptight. You might try to relax a little. On that topic, how do you alleviate stress? I dance, myself.”
“Alone time. I swear up and down by it. No people, no playacting, just me and a few hours to kill wandering around. It helps me clear my head, settle my blood, get my masks back in order and ready for wear. Sula Time: It saves lives.”
“Seems effective…and sounds like a friend of mine. Okay, so since we’re all human, we’re bound to have downfalls. Or at least I hope we are. Or there’s something wrong with me. Help me out…name one or two of your downfalls.”
“When I fail to think twice before I speak.” Her mouth twists downward. “That’s caused problems. Being clever only works when you remember to involve your brain. Blind impulse will only take you so far. Not that my impulses are blind to everything; just the things to either side of the straight line between me and my goal. I get single-minded about going after what I want, and everything else gets blurred out. It’s all too easy to miss important things, that way.”
“I actually sympathize there,” Ashley murmurs. “Alrighty, I think I’ll call just one more question. Hm, let’s make this a good one.” Ashley stands up and turns in a circle, looking around, hmming in search of a question. “Ooh, I know!” She turns back to Sula. “In the traditional interview manner…” She tips her chin up to give the best impression of an official-businesswoman look she can. “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
“Oh, I know exactly where I’ll be in five years,” says Sula, her smile both keeping and flaunting a secret. “I’ve seen my story’s sequel, which I’m afraid you won’t be able to do until the fall. I can give you a few hints about the five-year mark, though. One, I’m happily married to my true love. Two, I use the term ‘happily’ loosely; my husband and I shall actually be privately distressed about something. Three, that distressing something will be resolved by the second page of Book Two’s first chapter, and I won’t have a care in the world. …until about a page-and-a-half later. Read all about it upon the upcoming release of ‘The Stone Kingdom (Book Two of The Wilderhark Tales)’.”
“Whoo! Looking forward to it! Thank you so much, Sula.” Ashley runs over to her and pulls her out of her seat, dancing in a little circle. “For being part of the very first Interview Saturday! Here’s to hoping your book gets lots and lots of sales. It was awesome getting to know you more.” She holds her hand out to Sula to shake. Then she turns to the audience. “Wave!” And so she waves, probably waving Sula’s arm out of her socket as well.
Sula glares offstage like, So help me, if this little goose doesn’t unhand me in the next half-a-second… In the shadows, her author can be seen making gestures like, Just grin and bear it, you’re nearly through!
“With that, we’ll see you next week! C’mon, let’s grab lunch. It’s on me!” With that, Ashley drags Sula offstage, probably off to ask her brother for money for said lunch. Then she leans back on stage. “Thanks for reading, audience!”