“I’ve learned a lot from writing. It thrills me to see characters come to life and bring new elements to the story.”
I sat down with an old friend.
I was able to sit down with my good friend, Zavier Alexander. One of my oldest writing friends, we met in college and he has truly been one of my favorite people since. Take a few moments and read the interview and then a sample of his work below.
Me: How did you get started with writing?
Zavier: Officially, 2015 marks the year that I started pursuing writing. I wrote when I was younger, but it was only as a way to vent out my emotions being a very introverted person.
The thing that pushed me over the edge was when I was searching online for some stories to read. I tried to read blogs, but none of them held my attention or were so poorly written that I had to stop reading. Not to put a chip on my shoulder, I said to myself, ‘I can do better than that.’ and that was when I started looking into how to blog and setup a website.
This led me to try my hand at affiliate marketing. A deadline of one year to profit from it was set and as secretly predicted, not a dime was made. However, I did discover that I could build a website for writing short stories and thought that this could be a route to take to becoming a writer.
Now, I try to write a short story a week and work towards building collections for publication. The thrill of the chase is another factor. When someone says, “I could never do that.” I tell myself, ‘Challenge accepted.’
Me: What motivates you when writing?
Zavier: The primary reason I write is for self-therapy. I use writing to heal wounds, clear my head, and learn more about myself and others. I read in an article that you can figure out what you struggle with the most by writing a story. My loving wife has also been a huge help in that aspect. She recently pointed out that almost all of my lead characters exudes characteristics of being a loner, has parental relationship issues, or suffers from a limited social circle. Which is exactly the issues that I struggle with. See, it works.
However, my wife and I have an incredible marriage and we are able to talk about the really deep and difficult issues we experience. With this new revelation, I am now working towards expanding myself and my writing.
It takes an incredible amount of self-confidence to write. Writing is not easy and anyone that says it is is not delving deep enough into it to know the difference.
I’ve learned a lot from writing. It thrills me to see characters come to life and bring new elements to the story.
Me: Why do you write fiction?
Zavier: I look at writing as one of the biggest opportunities a person can choose to express themselves with. When I was young, my hearing didn’t properly form. It isn’t something that I use to gain pity from because God allowed me to form the way that I did because He wants me to be who I am.
With what is referred to as ‘Cookie-bite hearing,’ I had to develop other ways to learn. The words on the page have been my biggest asset in learning as my hearing was a few steps above useless. If you look at my spelling grades in school, you wouldn’t think that I would want to pursue a writing career. So I felt like the system wasn’t fair. To base an intellectual score on what an individual can hear was cruel in my opinion. I would study to learn the words and definitions, but was unable to understand the words spoken come test time and since the words were only spoke once, I failed a good many tests.
That experience was further fueled by the repeated failing of hearing tests and sent to ‘special teachers’ that did nothing to help me. Because of these experiences, I felt like no one understood me. This is turning rather depressing so liven it some. All these negative experiences led me to develop an imagination. I wasn’t able to fully experience music so that wasn’t a route that I could feel confident with. But, my eyesight and imagination worked in abundance, so I wrote and learned the trade.
As of 2017, I can say that my life has turned for the better socially. In April, 2017, I bought a set of hearing aides that were programmed for my hearing and my life has turned around. I can’t say that the habits of thirty-six years have been unlearned overnight, but ask anyone close to me and they will tell you a thing or two.
(Cont.) My list of friends has opened and I’m finding talking to people is becoming tolerable. It is a hard struggle for me. I’m still getting used to the idea of being able to hear and experiencing things for the first time. This has been, in my opinion, a major player in my writing. I write from a very deep place in my heart and try to give my readers a chance to experience things for the first time. I will never forget the moment I first walked outside wearing my hearing aides and I heard the birds in the trees. I didn’t know birds were there an hour ago and the noise was magical. That evening, I spent hours outside with my wife listening to the birds. She pointed out one after a call and told me what bird it was.
I asked her, “Are the birds always this noisy?”
She laughed. “They are usually louder than this.”
Life is incredible to experience and writing is another way to see more of it.
It is hard to put into words what one experiences when they truly let their cares fly with the wind and pour out their heart and soul on the page. If my stories don’t challenge me as a writer, they won’t challenge the reader either. Every story I write challenges me in some aspect. It might be small, or a major key player. Either way, I want to give people an experience that will stick with them.
Me: When writing, where do you find yourself heading? How do you know where you are going or where you will end the story?
Zavier: Whenever I get into a story, I have two methods of going about it; a loose plan and pantsing it. By far, pantsing is an exciting way to write. My favorite character came from a combination of both having a loose plan and going with what came. There are as many ways to approach a story as there are to getting dressed in the morning. You are only limited by what you perceive goes together.
For me, stories are the single greatest gift God gives me. Some of the stories completely shock me as I write them. It happens a lot. I don’t know if I’m just not that great at seeing where things are going, or if there truly is magic in the story.
At the same time, there are times when I do want to have a story go a certain way. For instance, when I was in a writing contest in 2015, one of the judges was really irking me bad. Everything was criticized beyond acceptable and only ended up infuriating me. So, I did what any angry writer does, I took it out on my characters. This gave birth to the one and only story in my collection that I feel compelled to put a warning on for violence. I wasn’t nice to my main character of that story and it actually impressed the judge and made another judge have to stop reading to prevent being sick. I don’t typically write that stuff, but I feel like it is another corner of the writing room for me that I don’t visit much.
Ending stories is the tricky part of writing. Does the story end with a cliff-hanger that majority of people dislike? (Ahem, my wife.) Or does it tie up everything nice and tidy and leave the reader with that warm fuzzy feeling? The truth of the matter is that the ending needs to compliment the story and give the reader the reward they seek. Why else do they read if not to find the treasure at the end? Side-note, cliff-hangers and hand-of-god endings are like finding the pot at the end of the rainbow and it’s empty. Write them at your discrepancy.
Me: What advice would you give other aspiring writers?
Zavier: First off, I give you irrefutable permission to write absolute garbage. Because once you have this mindset, you won’t be ramrodding yourself about writing perfect stories. If you look at the stories of your own life, how many of them were the perfect stories that so many people strive to write?
Read every day without fail. Write as much as possible. Don’t allow your emotions to dictate when, where, and what you write; instead, use that fuel to make your stories that much more powerful.
The reader MUST care about your characters in order for them to keep reading. Give the reader a way to connect with the character. We need to be rooting for the character at all times. Make us feel sorry for your antagonist. They are real people too with thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
Me: If you were not writing, what else would you be doing?
Zavier: Pursuing some type of creative craft. Doesn’t matter as long as it’s fun. At one time, I was close to being addicted to hobbies. Start one and go with it until I grew bored and then moved on to the next. That was when I told myself that if I could find one craft that was flexible enough to allow me do anything I wanted without costing me much money that I would dive in and give up everything else. I’m a writer now and it has saved me so much money. Odd way to save some cash and still have fun.
The peeking sun over the horizon greeted Everett as old friends do. The chickens’ gentle clucking began his day the same as all the rest. As he entered the woven-wire door, he cast a careful glance around the run, checking for damage. Opening the small doorway for the chickens, he clicked his tongue, calling the chickens out. The last few hens hesitated until they heard him digging into the grain bin. Two big handfuls of grain were flung across the run as thirty chickens darted in all directions with their heads nodding in agreement to the grains found.
Everett brought a hand to his eyes, scanning the sky. Going to be a nice day. Whistling softly, he headed to the barn.
The weathered wood of the big sliding doors clung to its flaking mismatched paint. One day I’ll get around to painting it all one color. Although, the colors do add a certain something to it.
Inside the barn is where he practiced ax throwing for the annual town contest. The chipped, wooden ring hung from the ceiling by a rope, creating a natural target. Only twice did his aim bring it crashing down to the straw covered floor. He ran a familiar hand across the surface, feeling the chips and remembering the exact throws producing them. Off to the side was a worn table that his father used to repair tack and bridles with. One of the numerous tuxedo cats watched him from the loft with a bored expression.
A whetstone lay beside a sheathed ax on the table. Releasing the knotted leather, the gleaming metal came alive in his hand and the edge anticipated the exercise. Placing his back to the target, he counted out ten paces and toed a line into the dirt beneath the straw.
After settling into his stance, he drew the ax back and with a step forward launched it at the target. A small splinter skipped off as the blade pierced the wood, sending it spinning and swaying. A single, hearty clap was the only celebration Everett displayed. Lurching the ax free and stabilizing the target, he returned to the line and threw again. He practiced until he hit the center nearly every time.
Wiping the sweat from his brow, he went over to the table and spat on the whetstone and set about honing the edge. As he did, he hummed an old farm song his father taught him.
The chickens come in to lay,
and the horses start to bray.
The cows have had their fill of hay,
and the sheep have gone astray.
Master, Master, can it be,
an apple pie for me?
A hard day’s work is now all done,
so now let’s have some fun.
After a long day of chores, Everett closed the door to the chicken coop and returned to his house as the clouds were consumed by the blazing reds of the sunset. A simple meal of jacket potatoes filled his belly before sleep caressed his head for the night.
A new day began with the sun leaping from its hiding place, bringing light and warmth to the world. Everett could hear the restless chickens as he struggled out of bed. The cool of autumn grasp the air firmer with each passing day. Only a sense of duty permitted him the motivation to swing his legs over the bed and stand on a pair of tired, wobbly legs.
His steps dragged through the fallen leaves creating a steady swishing rhythm as he headed to the chicken coop. The grain flew through the air sending bickering feathers after it. It was the final day of the farmer’s market and his last chance to get a new entryway rug before the cold winter claimed the land. The monotonous, white winter months were nearly impossible for him to survive without a source of color.
Exchanging chore boots for leather shoes, he checked the hiding spot in the top of the front door. His fingers found the money stash.
Well that’s a hard pill to swallow. I’m going to need this and I don’t have anything else except the chickens.
The old green buggy with its pale yellow lichen on the side boards clattered along the road, announcing he was coming. Against his will he choose a few younger chickens to bring along as collateral. The town wasn’t far away, but his speed of travel stretched the road another twenty miles.
The weekly farmer’s market gathered around the square every Saturday morning. All the neighboring farmers scoured their property for extra items to trade or sell. Not all the sales consisted of money transactions. Many would barter and trade services for what was lacking on their farms. Young men gathered in loose groups trying to secure work for the winter months from the few farmers that could afford the extra help.
The town square was packed with farmers, cattle drivers, hired hands, and dozens of other types of men and women bustling about their business. Everett drove around to the east side of the square where the household vendors set up small booths and makeshift tables. While there were several talented and established weavers there, one woman’s work was bold enough to catch Everett’s eye more than once.
After setting buggy’s brake, he unloaded his chickens and searched for her table. The potters and carpenters preceded embroiderers and glass blowers. Leather workers and painters were next. At the end of the street were lace makers and weavers.
Rugs were displayed on the grass resembling a lush garden with flowers in full bloom. They were bold and unashamed of the bright colors that composed their composition. He politely dismissed the elderly lace maker as she held up a doily made in the likeness of a snowflake.
The young weaver looked up at him with curious brown eyes. “Hello, Everett. See something you like?”
His eyes traveled over her various rugs and runners with a longing. “Yes. I find that I’m in need of a new rug for my front door.”
“Well, I’ve had a slow morning so I’ll make you a deal on one.” She braided her flowing chestnut hair down her left shoulder ending it in a knot. Her skin was the silky smooth of cream and Everett thought he would fall into those twinkling hazel eyes.
He set the chicken cage down. “That’s the problem. I’m short on money and I was hoping that you would consider a trade. I brought two of my best layers. They’re the only value I have.”
She leaned forward, taking a look at the chickens. “I’m sorry. I can’t accept your birds.”
His eyes flicked between the rugs and his chickens. “I see. Have a good day, Miss.” He picked up the cage and turned to leave.
“I’m not done with you.”
As he turned around, a smile hinted at the corners of his mouth. She signaled with her finger to come closer as the lace maker leaned an ear in.
“I’ll make you a deal. You pick out one you like and we will work out payment in the spring.”
Everett scrubbed his mouth with his hand as he mulled the idea over. Turning back to her, he walked the few steps back and placed his chickens on the ground.
“You would wait that long? Surely you need the money for winter.”
A smile broadened across her face. “I’ll be fine. Please?”
Her contagious smile spread across his face as well. He walked down the line of rugs displayed across the green grass. His eyes settled on a rectangular one that was primarily blue with highlights of orange and deep purple. Squatting, he grasped the end of it and rolled it up.
Her face glowed. “I was beginning to think no one wanted that one.”
“They were saving it for me. It was a tough decision, though. They’re all beautiful in their own way, just like chickens. Are you sure that you won’t take payment now?” He gestured to the cage.
An amused laugh brightened the air. “I’m sure. Take your girls and enjoy the rug. I’ll see you again in spring.”
Everett headed towards his buggy with his chickens and an iron grip on his new rug.
Over the following weeks the temperature steadily fell until the animals needed the pond broken several times a day. Snow drifted down from the sky casting an ethereal effect on the land. The pines and cedars with their evergreen limbs held out shelves of snow until they grew tired and dropped it to the ground. Snowdrifts sculpted the landscape into an uneven rolling scene of brilliant white hills.
Everett looked through the window at the miles of landscape covered in a white blanket. The steam from his coffee fogged the window. Humoring himself, he drew a smiling face onto the window. It was weeks since he last seen another person. Holding the coffee mug closer again, he added long hair to the face.
The cold months dragged on blending one day into the next as Everett paced his house. Breaking his routine were chores and natural functions that forced him outside into the bitter cold. Melted snow provided the water for coffee and tea. Bathing was limited to once a month due to the effort it took to warm enough snow for a bath. Spring would be coming soon with its vibrant colors and newness of life. He longed for the time to go to the creek with a towel and soap. Until that day, he passed the hours staring at the rug by his front door.
Early one morning, as Everett was nursing a strong cup of coffee, something caught his attention. It was just beyond what his bleary eyes could focus on. Putting his cup on the table, he pulled on his coat and stuffed his flannel pajama legs in his boots. Up went the zipper of his coat and down his fur hat over his ears as the front door flew open and he crunched through the remaining snow to what he saw.
Underneath the largest cedar of his yard was the small green plant. As he loomed over it, a wave of joy overcame him. A single snowdrop pushed its way through the crusting snow. It was the first sign of life in ages.
He squatted and with a finger lifted the white, downcast petals, revealing the green center. Looking around, he noticed the area was dotted with snowdrops. A smile broadened his face as he puffed out a laugh and put his feet to a little celebration. Life had once again came to the hillside.
The following mornings had Everett wandering the nearby area for more snowdrops. Hundreds dotted the landscape as the temperature continued to rise as spring strengthened its grip on the landscape. He checked the roads the day before and they were clear enough for regular traffic.
Closer to town the trees were thinned out to make room for crop fields. Thick hedging, full of wild brambles, lined the borders of fields keeping feral pigs and unwanted animals out of the crops. The buildings grew taller and larger as more and more clustered together, pushing against one another for space. As old as the town was, the ways of the people preceded it.
Everett stopped at several businesses purchasing supplies and catching up on the local news and gossip. Nothing notable had occurred except a single new comer had moved into town. The talk about the man was surrounded with contradictions and suspicions. The barber said the man moved into the area to start up a business. The tailor said that he had a conversation with him and he was an orphaned young man seeking to start his own orphanage for local children. The baker said that the man was an escaped convict trying to lie low. Every man Everett spoke to had a different story to tell. The women, however, were all in agreement; he was young, attractive, and full of manners.
With a full wagon of supplies and his head spinning with thoughts and questions, Everett slowly lead his pony towards his last stop, half a mile from the town. Turning into the lane to the farm, colorful banners flew in the breeze atop the trees and festival poles were still wrapped in crisscross patterns. Everywhere he looked, bright colors added cheer and joy to the land.
Sheep bleated as they trotted away from Everett’s creaking wagon. The idea of fencing was lost on the owner, giving the animals free range of the land. His last visit here was before the snow fell and the uneasy feeling in his stomach reminded him of who lived here.
Picketing his pony at a tall standing elm tree, he made his way to the door of the log cabin with his boots echoing on the wooden porch. A few short raps on the screen door announced his arrival.
“Coming.” A cheery, female voice said. Elinore, the young weaver came from the kitchen wearing an apron while wiping her hands on a towel. “Everett, it’s so good to see you again.”
He ducked his head as redness flushed his face. “I, I came to settle my debt with you.”
She crossed her arms, “And what debt do you owe me this time?”
Reaching into his pants pocket, he pulled out a handful of change and bounced it in his palm. Displeased, he stuffed it back in and fished around for some bills. Pulling out a few bills, he offered Elinore his payment.
“Nothing you owe me can be settled with money.”
They stood there in silence as he tried to comprehend the situation.
“I don’t understand. We made a deal last fall; I took a rug in exchange for payment in the spring. It is clearly spring and I have come to pay my debt.”
She watched the trees bend with the breeze. When Everett thought he could take the silence no more, she whispered. “Did you look at it?”
“Every day. It was the only bit of color for miles.”
A smile exploded across her face as her eyes lit up. “Good. Then our debt is settled. Pick some irises on your way out. They grow all around the house. I’ve got cookies in the oven. Have a good evening.” She turned on her heel and returned to the kitchen, leaving Everett alone on the porch.
He took the steps one at a time and plucked a single iris from the flower bed. It’s vibrant yellow throat contrasted the deep purple of the petals.
A week passed since his visit with Elinore. Everett sat at the table, dipping crackers in tomato soup. The rug by the front door filled his sight. Its bold colors mirrored the creator’s personality. Even at the peak of day, little light passed through his dirty windows. The candle in the center of the table flickered with tantalizing movement, reminding him of the upcoming annual festival. Everyone would be dressed up in elaborate costumes to celebrate the new crop seasons. He normally avoided the crowd, but something deep within nudged him to reconsider.
Elinore grasp her bag and slung it over her shoulder as she walked out the front door. The screen door banged shut scaring the tabby cat napping on the porch chair. Saddling the horse, she picked some wildflowers and pushed them into her pulled back hair. Heading into town, she softly whistled a song about marriage and raising children her grandmother taught her.
By the time she made it to town, the festival was at the height of its entertainment. Two men were facing each other juggling clubs, occasionally tossing one across to the other. A group of men were gathered around a pedestal watching a pair of men engaged in an arm wrestling match. A big hurrah sounded as one gave in and wagers were handed out to the bet winners.
Women wearing skirts and paper wings danced in a circle, drawing an audience of all ages as everyone’s laughter lightened the mood. Some people dressed as crops and flowers while others resembled animals of the surrounding area. Elinore couldn’t resist a smile as her eyes searched the crowd for one face in particular.
She recognized the cocky strut as the newcomer approached her. He stopped two paces away, allowing Elinore to fully admire his costume. He bowed with a flourish and she returned a curtsy of equal magnitude.
“It’s good to see you again, Elinore.” His voice flowed like warm honey. A row of perfect set white teeth gleamed in the sunshine.
“Are you still an arrogant, obnoxious jerk?”
His smile faded. “I’m sorry about the past. I truly am. I’ve moved on and I want to apologize to you for how I was. I’m not that person anymore.”
She scrutinized his face before crossing the distance and embracing him tightly. Taking a step back, she punched him square in the chest. “If you weren’t my brother, I wouldn’t put up with you. Why did you move into town and wait until the festival to come find me?”
“I wanted to come sooner, but, I was preparing for tonight. I’m a performer now.”
They spent a few minutes discussing the finer details of life. With a final hug, they said their farewells and he strutted off to the wagon in the middle of the clearing where a small platform was being constructed. Elinore stood watching the men work and the children play games.
“You look wonderful.” The deep, husky voice behind her sent a flutter through her heart. Suppressing an urge to spin around and embrace him, she slowly turned and cocked an eyebrow at him.
“And who are you supposed to be, Everett?”
“A traveling poet. Although, I’m afraid I’m not much of a poet.”
“Have you ever tried?”
His face gushed red as he rubbed the back of his neck. “Miserable attempts, I’m afraid. More fit to work the land than work words in a fancy sense.”
“If it comes from your heart, that’s poetry in my eyes.”
“I’ll remember that.”
The festival was received well into the night. Laughter echoed across the fields as people departed with hearts overfilled with mirth. Elinore’s brother had the audience in the palm of his hand as he performed magic tricks and illusions for them. Games and races were held and the winners crowned with various types of laurels.
The evening hours convinced people to return to their homes. Everett said goodnight to Elinore and had a thousand thoughts going through his mind, keeping him up late. Likewise, Elinore lay awake in her bed looking out the window at the moonlit hills. Her weary eyes soon closed as her dreams filled with fairies dancing around reciting poets.
Several days passed before Elinore gathered what she needed for a trip to town. Riding at a steady pace, she covered a quarter mile before she yanked on the reins drawing the horse to a stop. Dismounting, she came closer to a towering oak tree near the road. Carved into it was a crude heart with E + E within it.
“Do you like it?” Everett came from behind it.
Elinore fought back the tears. “It’s wonderful.”
“I wanted Macky to carve it for me, but he wanted a little more than I could afford.” He looked over his shoulder at it. “It isn’t the best, but it comes from my heart; and I would like to ask you for yours. If you’ll have me.”
Elinore wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him.
If you like what you read here, you can find more short stories and flash fiction from Zavier at his website…