Writer Spotlight: Estelle Maskame

Writer Spotlight: Estelle Maskame

I’m so excited to introduce yet another teen author in the Writer Spotlight series—this time, Estelle Maskame, the 18-year-old author of the Did I Mention I Love You? trilogy. Growing up in Scotland, Estelle began writing about teens in faraway cities when she was just 13 and finished her DIMILY trilogy three years later. Estelle’s writing has garnered more than 4 million hits on Wattpad, and she’s amassed a huge Twitter following to boot. The third installment of her trilogy will be out in January.

Meet Estelle Maskame

Tell us about your upbringing and how you got into writing.

To put it simply, I wasn’t really good at anything else while growing up. Most of the people I went to school with were in dance schools or taking gymnastic classes or were on a football team, so it took me a while to figure out what I was good at and what I enjoyed.

Once a week at school we were required to do “storywriting” where we were usually given a prompt and were asked to work from there, writing a page or two. I could never write enough. Writing those short stories at school were my favorite time of the week, and I couldn’t get enough of it, so I began writing at home. I’d spend hours on end in my room, typing away on my laptop, crafting together short stories which gradually turned to novels. I was twelve when I decided that I wanted to be an author, and I’ve never looked back.

Your books are set in several different cities. Have you been to those places before, or did you do research? Describe your process of establishing setting and making it realistic.

I’ve never stepped foot in any of the cities mentioned throughout the trilogy. The last time I was in the U.S. was when I was seven, so I didn’t have that much knowledge about the country as a whole other than what I’d read in books or watched on TV. I honestly can’t count how many hours I’ve spent in total researching these cities over the past four and-a-half years!

There are so many small details that need to be looked into, and I try to be as accurate as I possibly can be, so it takes a long time. After I’ve researched what I can by scrolling through Wikipedia, Google maps, weather history and so on, I usually talk to people who live in the city just to verify that everything is correct.

Do you have a writing routine or process? How do you avoid getting stuck or burned out?

I don’t do anything fancy. I don’t create a plan, but rather I just start writing and see where it takes me. Sometimes I totally hit a wall after I’ve been writing for too long or if I’m writing an important scene that I’m trying too hard to make perfect, and I find that just stepping away and taking a break does wonders for me. I end up coming back later with a clear head.

You’ve talked about the darker side of success in the form of cyber bullying. How do you deal with the trolls and keep the negativity from affecting you and your work?

It used to really get to me when I was younger, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve learned that those who want to tear others down are the ones who have the problem, not me. I’m the one who was working hard and having fun and had pride in my work and was actually achieving something worthwhile, while they were the ones spending their time focusing on my life rather than their own. They weren’t gaining anything from making me feel bad, because I only worked harder to prove them wrong. Now that I’ve got my book deal, I feel like telling them, “Look at me now.” And it’s fair to say that it’s all gone quiet over on their end!

Describe what it felt like seeing your books in print for the first time. What went through your mind?

It was honestly the most overwhelming feeling in the world. Seeing the books in stores for the first time was what hit me the hardest, because it was always something I had dreamed about which I never thought would happen. Walking into a store and picking up something I wrote will forever be insane to me.

Writer Spotlight: Estelle Maskame

What can readers expect in the third installment of DIMILY? What do you love most about your third book?

The third book is different in the way that it focuses a lot more on the family as a whole this time rather than mainly just Tyler, Eden and their friends like the first two installments. The third book is very complicated and intense, I think, and it’s definitely a bumpy ride, but I like the way every scene plays out.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

John Green, Jennifer Niven, Rainbow Rowell and Lauren Oliver are just some of my favorite authors!

Do you plan on being a career writer? Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I don’t tend to plan too far in advance into the future, mostly because things can change so easily, but ideally, yes. That would be another dream come true. And in ten years’ time, I like to think I’ll still be hunched over a laptop every day stringing sentences together. That would be nice.

What advice would you give to young writers?

I think a lot of young writers feel that their writing isn’t up to par or that they’re not taken seriously because they’re young. The most important thing when writing at this age is to keep on going, because this is when our writing is constantly changing and improving the most, so don’t worry if your writing isn’t yet up to the standard that you want it to be. I can’t even look back at the stories I wrote when I was 12 without cringing, but at the same time I’m proud of them because without writing them I would never have improved. Always be proud of what you write!

Young writers have the ability to write novels as unique and interesting as a person in their fifties could, so never think of your age as a setback, and don’t be afraid to get your work out there. I really do recommend posting online. It can seem terrifying to let strangers read your work, but on sites like Wattpad, people are never often negative. You’ll always find people who love your work and you never know who could be noticing it—a lot of writers get discovered online, and you could be one of them.

 

Thanks so much, Estelle, for stopping by, and congrats on the upcoming release of your latest book! If you enjoyed Estelle’s interview, please let her know in the comments, and don’t forget to follow her on Twitter.

 

ICYMI: Writer Spotlight on Anna Caltabiano

Writer Spotlight: Anna Caltabiano

Writer Spotlight: Anna Caltabiano

Today’s interviewee is a teen author with a massive social media following. Anna Caltabiano is the author of The Seventh Miss Hatfield, All That is Red and the forthcoming The Time of the Clockmaker. Anna self-published her first book at just 14 and now, at 18, is in college pursuing a medical degree. Here, she talks about writing as a practice, working with editors and how she hopes a career in medicine will affect her writing.

Meet Anna Caltabiano

I understand you started writing because of a bet you had with your dad. Can you give us the backstory on that?

It’s a bit of a strange story, actually. I’m an only child, and normally every summer my dad does what a lot of parents of only children do—sign their kid up for summer camp so they don’t spend their summer being a couch potato. One summer, to escape summer camp, I told my parents that I was going to write a novel. I loved to write short stories, and I had always meant to write a novel someday, so I decided that that was as good a time as any. Of course, my dad said what any parent in their right mind would say: “Yeah, right.” I ended up parking myself right in the middle of the dining room table all summer to write the first draft of what would later become my first novel, All That is Red.

Have you developed a writing routine over the years? And how have you balanced writing with school?

I try to write a little every day. Of course, that doesn’t always happen. But I think of writing as something you practice. You can’t automatically become “good” at it. It’s something you get better at just by the sheer number of hours you spend on it. And what’s the best way to practice something? Doing a little of it each day.

Many of my classmates spend hours practicing their sport or running through lines for their musical. Writing is my activity. It’s not the only think I like to do, but it’s something that I love that I want to spend time practicing. I’m in an eight-year medical program in school, so I’m looking forward to learning about people in different ways. What better way to learn about the ins and outs of people than through studying and practicing medicine? I think what I will see and learn could only improve my writing.

Which part of storytelling do you love the most? What is the most challenging part?

My personal favorite part of writing is creating the dialogue. That’s where the storytelling becomes real for me; when characters have real dialogue, they become real people.

The most challenging part for me is writing the middle of the novel. I always start with the end of the novel in mind. Then I come up with a suitable beginning, and work forward by writing from start to finish. The middle is a wide-open mystery. I need to work through the story from beginning to end to find out what happens to the characters just as the reader works from beginning to end.

Can you describe what the process of publishing your first book was like? What did you learn during that process of working with editors and publishers?

I think that the most important part about being published is that you get to work with a professional editor. Their job is taking books that authors like me write, going through them in detail, and recommending how we can make them better. How lucky am I to have two world-class editors (one in London with Hachette and one in New York with HarperCollins) giving me advice on improving my books. Editors are often worried about hurting the feeling or confidence of writers by critiquing their books. I look at it totally differently. I am truly grateful to have such great editors spend time on helping my writing.

What about before you got your publishing deal—did you face rejection? If so, how did you deal with it and push past it?

Writing is very personal; you put down your own thoughts and emotions on the page, so when you get a rejection, it can sting a little. But what does one “no” really mean? All it means was that it was one “no” out of the way on your path to getting that one “yes” that could mean everything.

How was writing your first book at 14 different from writing your third book at 17?

Aside from the circumstances of writing my first book, which I previously mentioned, writing my third book was not that different from my first. Yes, it helps to do some basic planning, but in the end you cannot spend too much time diagramming and preparing to write. You just need to get down to the writing. Put pen to paper—or these days, fingers to the keyboard. Write every day. Don’t worry about being a perfectionist when writing—save perfectionism for when you are editing.

Anna Caltabiano

You’ve got a huge social media following, especially on Twitter. How did you build that? How important has it been to have that platform as an author?

I wrote my first book on a very sensitive, rarely discussed topic—self-harm, specifically cutting. Being a young teenager, and writing an allegorical novel on this topic, gained me immediate attention. I appeared on TV, in newspapers, and in various magazines, which, in turn, seemed to enhance my online following. Interacting online is incredibly important for an author these days, since social media has replaced bookstores and newspaper book reviews as the primary way that authors communicate with potential readers.

Do you intend to be a career writer/novelist? What would you like your life to look like in 10 years?

I plan to write the rest of my life. However, to be the best possible writer, you also need to experience life. Now, I am going through the college process, full of excitement, wonder, stimulation, exhaustion, and stress. Everything I do professionally and personally, everyone I meet, affects my writing.

I am studying medicine at Brown University. I plan to build a career in medicine and the mental health field, but I will always share this profession with my writing. In fact, I am sure that my professional and writing worlds will enhance each other and make me both a better doctor and a better writer.

What advice would you give to a young writer?

It’s easy to want to make things perfect—to sit in front of your computer or pad of paper and stare at it until the perfect words come to mind to write down. Writing rarely works that way. Put something down and tell yourself that you can—no, you should—change it later. Not only are you allowed to edit your own writing, you should; it makes you a better writer. If you wait for inspiration or perfection, you’ll be waiting a long time, maybe forever.

 

Thanks, Anna, for your thoughtful responses! If you enjoyed Anna’s interview—or if you have any questions—let her know in the comments. Don’t forget to follow Anna on Twitter.

Writer Spotlight: Sofia Marie Gonzalez

Writer Spotlight: Sofia Marie Gonzalez

I’m so excited to introduce today’s interviewee: writer, actor and comedian Sofia Marie Gonzalez. Sofia is the creator of We Need To Talk, a comedy web series based on real-life breakups. You may recognize her from the viral BuzzFeed video, “If Latinos Said The Stuff White People Say.” (She’s also appeared on network television in shows like NBC’s Community!) Here, Sofia shares what it’s like to work and play in the world of comedy writing.

Meet Sofia Marie Gonzalez

Tell us a bit about your background, upbringing, and how you got into comedy.

The first part of my life was spent in the beautiful city of San Francisco. My father was elected to the board of supervisors and it was a very exciting time. I remember my mother and father catching up about their days at dinner and me and my siblings trying to get in on the conversation.

In school there were a lot of field trips to museums and live theater. I loved performance art from a very early age and started auditioning for the school plays right away. I’m so grateful my mom would help me with everything from my costumes to running lines.

When we moved to Sacramento there was a lot more celebration for sports and athleticism. I got to play soccer and basketball and learn the value of being a teammate. I was lucky to have fantastic teachers. My brother was a couple of grades above me and watched out for me. My sister began college at UC Santa Cruz and I remember getting to hear about all of the exciting things she was up to over the phone. I ended up attending UC Santa Cruz for college and majoring in politics.

When my brother Jaime and I released We Need to Talk, our friends from high school and college were the first to help us spread the word.

What was the impetus for We Need to Talk?

The truth is, I was busy with my one-woman show and my boyfriend at the time took me to a Starbucks to tell me he had gotten another girl pregnant. Now most people would have gotten up and stormed out, but I thought it was such a peculiar moment and I felt compelled to investigate.

The more questions I asked the more hilarious the specifics of the situation seemed. He met her at Applebee’s, he thought she was “hot or whatever” and he didn’t find it weird to answer a phone call from her while we were talking. My comedian friends encouraged me at the time to write it down and hyperbolize different aspects of the reality. Then when I looked back at other dating flops, I thought, Wait, maybe this is a fun theme to explore, when two people fire each other from their lives.

What (or who) else has influenced your work and passions?

Maya Rudolph on Saturday Night Live inspired me to follow my dreams. Her Pamela Bell character singing the National Anthem can still bring me to laughter to the point where tears are streaming out of my eyes from glee! It was important for me to see a woman shining and sharing her intelligence and talent. When I started my training at The Groundlings School of Comedy, I took a meeting with a manager by the name of Pam Thomas. She had represented Maya early in her career. I took it as a sign from the universe and Pam became my manager. Years later I got to meet Maya and tell her how much she inspired me. She was so gracious and kind. I hope she knows how much that meant to me.

How much time do you spend writing or editing material on any given day or week?

The days range for me with professional projects, but I write every day. I start the day journaling about what I want to achieve for the day. I am always writing things down on my phone whether it’s silly observations, a cool place to do a scene, or big ideas that I would love to explore. I think it’s important to carry a journal. If you love writing, you should treat it how you would a great romance! Lots of attention and excitement.

There are the days where I will avoid a deadline, but then when I start I think why the hell was I avoiding this? This is awesome!

What is your writing process like?

I chase feelings. I love to write when I’m feeling sad. It’s so dramatic and dark and later very funny. So I’ll feel hurt by a friend or boyfriend and then write the scene. Then I’ll go back and say okay how can I make this more fun? Where could they be having this conversation that would complicate the matter in a humorous way? Are they at a costume party? What details and specifics can I layer in while these characters hash this thing out?

Your work also involves a lot of collaboration with other writers, comics and actors. How does the collaborative process usually work?

Writers rooms are, to use an old lady slang, “da bomb.” I look forward to collaboration. Your idea can grow and get so much better. When I first started out I was very controlling of my work and didn’t want notes or suggestions. Then when I finally opened the door, I was so mad at myself for not being open to being collaborative sooner! Sometimes actors can make your written lines so much better, so give them a take or a chance to say it their way. If you truly don’t like it at least you gave them the respect as a collaborator to try. Also sometimes your ideas don’t have “legs,” and that is okay. It may just be a great one-liner and can be implemented in a different way.

Usually for a TV show you will pitch episode ideas. From there the group will discuss which ideas are the most exciting. Then the episodes get assigned to various writers. Then you regroup and punch up the script to make it better.

Describe the performance aspect of your work. How do you prepare for standup routines? What do you love most about them?

I usually write down things in my phone all the time that I think could be a “bit” or something to rave or rant about on stage. I am falling madly in love with stand-up comedy. I was lucky to join a class here in L.A. called Pretty Funny Women and then train privately with Jodi Miller. I am very lucky to perform consistently with awesome female comics. I am finding that revealing my fears and truth on stage is getting me bigger laughs than my observational humor.

What’s been your favorite project or gig so far, and why?

We Need to Talk was my favorite even though it was a lot of work to be wearing hats of writer, producer, actor and editing assistant! But I had so much fun working with the talent and the crew and of course my brother. I associate many happy memories with We Need to Talk. And I hope we get to do it again.

I also got to sit next to Chevy Chase one time in our make up chairs on NBC’s Community. And he was my favorite character in Three Amigos, so I get to brag about that!

With BuzzFeed I had the opportunity to make some social commentary with a video that received almost 5 million views, “If Latinos said the Stuff White People Say.” I am glad it resonated with so many people. Also I was part of the writer’s room for Fusion Comedy’s digital channel show SHADED and that was extremely rewarding to see our work come to life.

Comedy is still such a male-dominated arena. Have you faced sexism? How do you deal?

The truth is yes, it is there but I just say fuck that and keep moving. Yes, I have faced it and it was gross and awkward and awful. But then you just point it out to them in a clever way and you leave that B.S. in the dust. I’m cursing a lot in this answer aren’t I?

I have met amazing men in this business who have held my voice in high regard because I am a woman. I am proud to be a collaborator with men who are excited to work with women in comedy.

What’s your next plan? What’s your dream project?

I would love to write a feature film. I am also very excited for We Need to Talk to have a second life with other people’s stories.

What advice would you give to a young woman trying to make it as a comedian or comedy writer?

Do great work. I also advise finding community. There are so many great theaters, acting studios and excellent writing programs out here and if you hang around you will meet exciting, ambitious and lovely people. When you have great work to show people, the managers and agents will come. I am continuously working on making my reel and writing samples excellent and impressive.

Also have the most fun with your life and get inspiration from there.

 

Thank you Sofia for giving such an awesome behind-the-scenes look at the life of a comedian and writer. If you enjoyed Sofia’s interview, be sure to let her know in the comments and follow her on Twitter. Don’t forget to check out her series We Need To Talk.

Seema Bhakta: So you want to be a writer (but don’t have the degree)

This is a reader-submitted post. Leave some love for the author in the comments or share it!

So you want to be a writer (but don't have the degree)

We’re taught from an early age about grammar and semantics—how to eloquently weave words together to paint a picture. Throughout the course of our education, we write reports on everything from what we did last summer to colonial imperialism and later scramble to put pieces together from research for our term papers. But not all of us choose a college major in English Literature, Communications or anything else in the Fine Arts where we can actually refine our writing to be a professional writer.

We are the people who have these initial hopes of reaching other careers, whatever they may be, by choosing another specific major in college—a time when most of us are first navigating the real world, wondering if the mystery meat in the dining hall is edible, and trying to set up a study date with the cute boy in ecology class. Thus, that dream you had at 17 may not be the same dream you have at 25.

When I was in graduate school for a non-fine arts field, I began to explore the potential of serious writing. Although most of my writing was through assignments and reports, I began to write just for myself. I would have deep conversations with passionate friends, I would write down witty titles, and I kept a journal. As I looked back at the imaginative world that was brought before me through the chapters of various books, I stumbled upon that missing piece that I was hungry for: to tell a story.

I had already begun volunteering with a storytelling organization, and I got involved in reproductive justice. I began to read personal narratives, opinion pieces, and stories about things happening around the world. I began to look at storytelling through a journalistic lens, and I knew that one day I wanted to have a career that took that approach.

The summer I graduated, I was lost because I had already dipped my toes in research. Research in my field (or where the jobs were), consisted of analysis of large data sets to produce percentages and statistics that never could tell a story, just a fact. Once I realized I wanted to explore the right side of my brain, I looked at countless job listings that preferred candidates with a degree in creative arts, journalism, communications, or anything of that nature. I thought, “Well, it’s too late.” I didn’t want to go back to school, and I was already drowning in student loans.

I was discouraged at first, but I learned a lot about myself and that I was willing to push through these barriers. You may come across the ideal job that’s perfectly suited for you, but feel discouraged because that piece of paper you got after college highlights your major in a non-writing field. Although these job requirements may seem to emphasize a degree preference, you can do the job just as well as someone who has that desired major of expertise.

Here are a few things you can do to make you stand out and begin a career as a writer:

Find balance

Look for a job in your field in the meantime for steady cash flow. You can find other ways to contribute in your department such as asking your supervisor (if they are super cool) to connect you with the communications director or public relations manager. Show your interest and offer up your skills.

Start a blog

Begin developing your platform online by writing whatever interests you, whether it’s journalism or even fiction storytelling. Follow like-minded bloggers. They can be really good inspiration.

Keep a journal

Document everything you see, hear, or read that inspires you, whether it’s from your own experiences or something you witnessed while riding the train. Keeping a journal can help you come up with topics to write about. Personal narratives or inspirations from outside can one day be used for a memoir, short story ideas, or even a post for an online magazine.

Volunteer/intern

There are a lot of internships and volunteer opportunities for those seeking communications or editorial work. Start by finding something in your field, then look for opportunities in public relations or social media management. This is a good starting point for developing your skills as well as showcasing what you can really do. Who knows, this could even lead to a job!

Contribute to online publications

Find blogs and websites that are looking for contributors and pitch an idea to the editor. This is a good way to build up a portfolio and collect writing samples for future job applications. Start by writing on your own blog or a platform like Medium and then offer contributions to publications you’re interested in and read regularly.

Offer to proofread

Ask your writer friends (or anyone) if you can proofread what they’ve been writing. You’ll sharpen writing and editing skills, and you can add this to your resume (and maybe even get testimonials out of your friends).

Start small. Go big.

Seema BhaktaSeema Bhakta has a photography blog which she rarely updates. She has a degree in Public Health and works as a Data Analyst and volunteers for storytelling organizations for health & human rights. You can follow Seema on Twitter.

 

 

 

Witty Title Here publishes works from emerging, female-identifying writers. Want to submit your short work of fiction, journalism, humor or opinion writing? Send drafts or pitches to wittycassiehere@gmail.com.

Marnie Silverman: Excerpt from “Incident Pit”

Excerpt from "Incident Pit" by Marnie Silverman

This is a reader-submitted post with a spooky theme (note the author’s headshot!). Support your fellow writers & share it!

Oakes looked up, angling the video camera so that it focused on the slowly diminishing disc of light where Jacob’s Well opened up to meet the divers jumping into it. His nostrils were burning – a few more feet down and he felt his ears pop. The four-meter-wide opening to the Well became a half-moon shape, then a sliver, hidden by a large outcropping of rock. Oakes felt the familiar, fluttery stirrings of an anxiety attack in his gut. What if we can’t make it back up? His vision swam.

Derry tapped him on the shoulder, and Oakes made the mistake of yelling in surprise. A stream of bubbles shotgunned from his mouth. Derry cocked his head and motioned up towards the mouth of the Well, and Oakes understood immediately, pushing off the closest rock with his feet and trying desperately not to hit his head on anything on the way up. His chest felt like it was caving in, his lungs straining to make air, his heart hammering as it worked overtime. Finally, he broke the surface and levered himself painfully out of the Well.

“Oakes!” Derry appeared out of the water seconds later. “You okay?”

Oakes forced himself to the closest platform of rock and sat down. His muscles were singing in pain, and he slicked his wet hair back from his forehead with hands that had started to shake violently. Most of the footage from the ascent was probably going to be unusable.

“I’m okay,” he said hoarsely, more for Derry’s benefit than his own. “I just panicked when I couldn’t see the way out. I can’t hold my breath as long as you can.”

Derry sat down next to him on the rock. “Do you want to stay up here awhile? It’ll look cool if you do some shots from above of me swimming down into the cave, right?”

“Yeah.”

 

“What if we can’t make it back up? His vision swam.”

 

Oakes kicked his feet in the water. Even though he’d been playing cameraman-slash-significant-other to Derry for a year and a half already, it was hard to keep the two roles separate, and the lingering anxiety that something was going to go terribly wrong was always there in the back of his mind. Oakes wasn’t sure he would ever understand why half a million people got such a kick out of watching Youtube videos of Derry doing stunts where one tiny error in judgment could send even a true professional to the ER. But he loved Derry, so when Derry said things like “Let’s go to Texas over your spring break so I can jump into an underwater cave system that people have died in,” Oakes said, stupidly, “Okay.”

“Come on.” Derry kissed Oakes on the cheek, and stood, ignoring the flush that spread across Oakes’ face. “I’ll go down a couple more times and then we can go back to the lodge and order a pizza or something.”

“Can’t we go now? I have hours of footage,” Oakes said. The sun was going down, and doing this kind of thing in the dark made him even more uneasy than doing it in broad daylight.

“Fifteen more minutes. I just want to swim down two more times. Please?”

Derry looked up with big, hopeful eyes, wringing water out of his cargo pants and readjusting his chest binder. He was a blurry, brown figure in Oakes’s vision, and got blurrier the farther away he became, prompting Oakes to dig his glasses out of the backpack of dry clothes they had brought with them.

Not as begrudgingly as he would have liked to, Oakes got up and tightened the camera strap around his hand. “Fine.”

He followed Derry back to the opening of Jacob’s Well, standing on the lip of the expansive hole, where the water only came up to his shins. Dipping the camera into the water, Oakes watched Derry’s body at the center of the tiny screen, growing smaller and smaller until it was only a few pixels, enveloped by the blackness of the long tunnel below.

✂✂✂

“Did you know mountain lions are native to Wimberley?”

“I’m not going to film you wrangling a mountain lion.” Oakes stepped out of the bathroom, toweling off his hair and ducking to prevent smacking his head on the doorframe. “If you wanted to do that, we could have stayed closer to home.”

“There are no mountain lions in Indiana,” Derry said knowledgeably.

“Right.” Oakes’s lips twitched into a wry smile. He rooted around in his suitcase for a moment until he came up with his Purdue University Fort Wayne sweatshirt and a pair of flannel pajama pants, and began pulling them on as he spoke. “Are we going back to Jacob’s Well tomorrow? What time do you want to wake up?”

Derry rolled over on the bed, placing the trail guide he had been reading back on the nightstand. “I already set an alarm. I want to stop at the dive shop near there and rent some equipment so we can go deeper in the caves.”

“Deeper? You know people have died in there, right?”

Oakes turned his back to Derry, no longer feeling capable of faking a smile. Instead, he busied himself with plugging the waterproof camera into his laptop, which sat on the large wooden desk in the corner of the room. He clicked on the video files one by one, opening them and booting up the editing program he used to make their footage palatable for aspiring daredevils on YouTube.

“That’s why I want the equipment,” Derry explained. “It’s a lot easier not to die when you’ve got a tank of oxygen strapped to your back. Do you mind if I turn the light off?”

“Go ahead.” Oakes waved a hand dismissively. It was met with the room falling dark, lit only by the persistent glow of his computer screen. He heard Derry shifting on the bed, rustling the sheets.

“Don’t go to bed too late. I set the alarm for seven.”

Oakes sighed. He had been hoping to sleep in. “Okay.”

✂✂✂

Oakes watched footage of Derry scaling rock formations and diving into Jacob’s Well until Derry began to snore, then got out his noise-cancelling headphones and began to edit the clips down into a ten minute video that he could post to the YouTube channel before they left in the morning. It was another fifteen minutes before he saw the strange anomaly in the film he had taken towards the end of the day.

In the shots he had taken from above, watching Derry descend into the Well, something else was moving around in the water. It was oval in shape, and at first Oakes mistook it for a speck of dirt on the camera lens, but it was clearly swimming. The way the bottom of it undulated provided the bare suggestion of paddling legs. It was only on screen for a few seconds, in the interim between Derry vanishing from sight and swimming back up towards the surface again.

 

“The way the bottom of it undulated provided the bare suggestion of paddling legs.”

 

“Probably a fish,” Oakes muttered to himself, and tabbed over to the next file.

It was another video of Derry swimming, taken while Oakes had been standing on a rock above the water. He pulled his chair closer to the desk and scanned the computer screen for signs of anything else but Derry moving around in the depths of the well. There was nothing. At least, nothing until Derry had resurfaced from the Well. The shot zoomed in on the mouth of the hole, and at that precise moment, something large and flat skittered over the jagged walls within, deeper into the water.

Oakes’s heart surged up into his throat, the sudden, unexpected movement making him jump. He played the clip over again, slower, to make sure his eyes hadn’t played tricks on him. The footage hadn’t lied. The creature was still there, even the second time around.

“What the fuck is that?” Oakes asked under his breath.

He paused the video and went back to look at the others, at the ones he had taken while in the Well with Derry. The creature wasn’t in any of them, not as far as he could tell, even when looking at the clips in slow-mo. None of them except the last one he had shot underwater – he had thought that the footage of his ascent from the Well would be too shaky to be used, but he had somehow managed to keep his hand fairly steady. Steady enough to reveal the underside of something looking down at him from the outcropping of rock that blocked out the sunlight from the surface, its antennae twitching, jaws opening and closing so distinctly that Oakes could almost hear the click-clack of them doing so.

How did I not see that while I was underwater? Oakes ground his teeth together. It probably wasn’t even anything to worry about. Just a crab, maybe. There were probably a lot of weird fish that lived in those caves. It was stupid, to be scared of a non-threatening fish.

Nonetheless, he shut his laptop and decided that it was time to stop editing for the night. Being tired was making him jumpy and unfocused, and neither of those were things he could afford to be tomorrow, when he and Derry would be going into the caves proper. Oakes put his glasses on the nightstand and climbed in under the covers next to Derry, who grunted and tugged him closer without waking up.

His dreams were disturbed by the memory of his chest compressing, the feeling of spindly, hooked crustacean legs latching themselves in his clothes and hair and dragging him down through cold, dark water, his body bouncing against rocks like a ragdoll.

 

Marnie Silverman

Marnie Silverman is a junior creative writing major at Goucher College, who also makes music and art in what little free time she has. Currently, she is doing a semester abroad in Norwich, England, which boasts such exotic wildlife as swans, hedgehogs, and an entire army of wild rabbits. She is also the author of Something Waiting, a book of original short stories, which you can find here.

 

 

 

 

Witty Title Here publishes works from emerging, female-identifying writers. Want to submit your short work of fiction, journalism, humor or opinion writing? Send drafts or pitches to wittycassiehere@gmail.com.