Q&A With The Winners of the Epic Worlds Fantasy Contest

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It was so lovely to have the opportunity to sit down (or should I say, exchange some emails) with each of the winners of the Epic Worlds fantasy contest! We decided to ask them some questions about their stories and themselves, and they definitely delivered with some delightfully fascinating answers :).  Check out the interviews below, and make sure read to their wonderful stories if you have yet to!


1st Place: Shawn Patrick Cooke, ‘Illuminated



Inkitt: Tell us a little about yourself!

Shawn Patrick Cooke: I’m originally from Memphis, Tennessee. I lived in Washington, DC for about five years, and then spent eight years on Long Island, New York. I just completed a move to Richmond, Virginia. I spent most of my time during the contest unpacking boxes — but I still took time to write every day.


I: When did you start writing ‘Illuminated’?

SPC: I started writing “Illuminated” on April 5th, 2008. The initial draft took approximately one week. I revised it in May of that year, then again in September of the following year, before sticking it in the proverbial drawer. When I first became aware of the “Epic Worlds” contest I immediately thought of “Illuminated.” After some major edits, I decided that the story was ready to post.


I: What inspired the story?

SPC: The story was inspired by a brief writing prompt in which an unnamed character opens a book to find a square area cut out of the middle. No doubt the creator of the prompt had intended that some small item be found inside, but I wanted to discover something altogether more surprising. While out on a walk after a spring rain, I saw a puddle. I imagined what would happen if someone opened a book and somehow found a pool of water magically inside. The rest of the story grew up around that initial concept.


I: Do you have any writing habits (eg. Special writing locations, listening to music, jotting ideas in a notebook…etc)?

SPC: I used to have special writing habits, places and times of day and specific beverages and music that I listened to. What I discovered is that in time, those habits became requirements that were more and more difficult to arrange, especially once I began traveling more for work. And so I stripped them all away. My new habit is to write wherever I like, whenever I like, whether it’s at my gate at the airport, in a hotel lobby, or in my own backyard. Writing is the one truly portable occupation, and I did myself a disservice in trying to tie it down to a specific place.


I: What do you feel is unique about ‘Illuminated’?

SPC: I believe that speculative fiction — fantasy, science fiction, alternate history, etc. — gives us a chance to shine a light on human character from a perspective that the real world does not offer. With “Illuminated,” I wanted to take this character-specific approach to a fantasy premise. Lasair begins his work casually, but soon finds that it consumes his life. He tries to control it, to use it for his own purposes, but in the end he finds that the only way to move forward is to serve the work.

In short, Lasair is an artist. I enjoyed the opportunity to tell a story about an artist whose passions consume him through the dual lenses of magic and historical setting.


I: Do you have any advice for other authors on Inkitt?

SPC: Writers write. Every day when I wake up, I have to prove to myself and to the world that I am a writer. The way to do that is, quite simply, to write. Every day. It doesn’t have to be a novel, or even a story. It could be a single paragraph, or a single sentence. It might be changing one word in an existing story. Once I’ve done that, I’ve become a writer for another day. I’ve heard it called the “No Zero Days” philosophy. If you have a goal, then you should make a step towards it, and thereby renew your commitment to it, every single day.

Writers read. Reading is the fuel we give the engine of our writing. Read widely, fiction or non-fiction, classic or modern, published or unpublished. Read where you find enjoyment, inspiration, challenge. Many young writers struggle to find their voice. But you’ve been hearing it all along, in echoes of what appeals to you in the books you read. That is why so many new authors begin with fan fiction — I did myself. We find a portion of our own voice in the writing of others. Take these parts of yourself, blend them with that ineffable something that you can never quite seem to find in the books you read, and there you’ll find your voice. I am a business intelligence analyst at a Fortune 500 company. Such a profession for a writer may sound counterintuitive, but the skill set is not so different as you might think. After all, devising a story is just beginning with a premise and then extrapolating based on what you know about the world and human nature. It is no coincidence that detailed discussion and critique of a piece of writing is also called “analysis.”


2nd Place: Joshua Grasso, ‘The Winged Turban’  



Inkitt: Tell us a little about yourself!

Joshua Grasso: I am an Associate Professor of English at East Central University, a small regional university in Southern Oklahoma. I teach mostly British literature, poetry, and writing (college writing as opposed to creative writing, that is), as well as the odd-class in Graphic Novels and Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature. Though born in New York, I have lived in various parts of the US, and currently live in the small town of Ada, Oklahoma, which was the subject of John Grisham’s novel, An Innocent Man. Being a professor of literature keeps me very close to writing, as I spend my life reading and re-reading classic and modern works, and then trying to make them “live” for my students. In a way, this is basically what I do in writing too–try to make imaginary words come to life through my storytelling and characters. I think anyone who loves reading and loves writing should consider a life in academia, since teaching–to me–is the greatest inspiration for creating literature (or just a well-told story).


I: When did you start writing ‘The Winged Turban’?

JG: I actually started writing this work 3 years ago, working slowly on it each summer when I have time (since I teach throughout the year). It’s an almost-complete novel, though the end is getting farther and farther away!


I: What inspired the story?

JG: The story was inspired by van de Weyden’s Portrait of a Young Woman, also known as Portrait of a Young Woman in a Winged Turban. This painting became the basis for a pivotal moment in the book, and generated the basic plot and some of the main characters. Most of my stories are inspired from classic works of art, since I like to imagine the world behind them and transport this to a fantasy setting.


I: Do you have any writing habits (eg. Special writing locations, listening to music, jotting ideas in a notebook…etc)?

JG: My only writing habits are always listening to music when I write–always classical music, which is my drug of choice–and writing in my very rudimentary desk in my study. I never write anywhere else and I cannot write in notebooks or by hand (since I’ve always written on computers since the late 80’s). The location triggers my ideas, and the music helps them flow. If I try to write elsewhere I usually just stare at the page/screen.


I: What do you feel is unique about ‘The Winged Turban’?

JG: While I hesitate to say that there is anything unique about my story (especially since it follows some conventional ideas/structure of the fantasy genre), I did try to veer away from some of the most conventional aspects of fantasy, particularly as regards the plot. In many ways, I try to write a story that sounds and feels like it’s rooted in the literature of an earlier period (esp. the 18th century, which is the literature I studied for my PhD), while still introducing elements that place it squarely in the realm of fantasy. I like to straddle the line between fantasy and historical fiction, though my intent is always to tell a story of fantasy and magic. However, I generally avoid the sword & sorcery elements for something quieter and mysterious, and often more Gothic (again, in the 18th/19th century sense of the term).


I: Do you have any advice for other authors on Inkitt?

JG: My biggest advice is to read as much as you can–not just in the genre you prefer, but in every possible field and genre. Read fiction and non-fiction; read classic literature and comics; read old dead white men and living teenage women of color. In short, be as diverse as possible in your reading since it all colors your writing. It will not only give you more perspectives from which to write, but it will challenge what you think writing is–or should do. Don’t settle for your reading comfort zone and if something scares or intimidates you, read it. It may be a crucial element in expanding your writing vocabulary or simply helping you grow as a human being. And the better you know yourself, the better off your writing will be.



3rd Place: Zeno Jones, ‘The Huntress



Inkitt: Tell us a little about yourself!

Zeno Jones: Right now I am actually in sales, distributing specialty off road truck components to manufacturers around the world (not exactly my dream job, but they’re flexible and I have the peace of mind at and after work to relax and do some writing among other things). I live in Louisville, KY. It is either the largest small city or the smallest big city in the world (it’s up for debate which is the case). I’ve heard that while Austin is the Portland of the south, Portland is the Austin of the Northwest; well Louisville is the ‘whichever’ of the midwest, and I don’t think I’d rather live anywhere else. I’ve been to many places both in the country and abroad, and while I love travel, there is nothing like home. I don’t know that I would suggest a tourist come and spend a week here, but it is absolutely worth a weekend stop. I could be in one place and simultaneously be 10 minutes or less from the prestigious and proper community of horses and racing, to the sideshow of the underground music scene, to the craziness of our collegiate sports or the calmness of country living. And anywhere you walk, I’m proud to say, someone is ready to “learn you a thing or two” about some bourbon. Hot damn, what a city.


I: When did you start writing ‘The Huntress’?

ZJ: I started writing The Huntress around two months ago. I wrote The Huntress when I saw the prompt on Inkitt for a fantasy world short story contest. I had it completed in time to enter the “Epic Worlds” contest.


I: What inspired the story?

ZJ: The story was inspired by multiple things. I have developed a fantasy world rather substantially over the last few years, with a few hundred references to lore, maps, history and culture that I have been contributing to as a hobby while on break at work. I wanted to take a different approach to writing fantasy (my success would be for others to judge) in that I’m pretty tired of fantasy books being set in alternate universes that are stuck in the dark ages, where lordships, castles and a British accent are consistent throughout (it seems if Tolkien did it, it’s best to copy him). As for the main character, Faye, I like to write about strong women, but have it hardly matter that she is a woman, if that makes sense; I’d much rather she be a strong person, and allow literally anyone who is reading to identify. The overall plot came to me as I wrote, so I can’t say there is any single source of inspiration there.


I: Do you have any writing habits (eg. Special writing locations, listening to music, jotting ideas in a notebook…etc)?

ZJ: What habits I do possess are nowhere near disciplined. I essentially have a series of bouts of energy in regards to writing, where I ramble and rant in somewhat of a story mode. Then I retroactively create an outline and make sure it all makes sense, and then go back and do some extensive editing. It creates a lot more work for me, but the initial writing is so much fun and therapeutic that I don’t care, haha.


I: What do you feel is unique about ‘The Huntress’?

ZJ: As far as uniqueness is concerned, I think the combination of the perspective of the ‘god’ as the narrator being revealed at the end as well as overall the setting and focus on so few characters is a bit more rare in the world of fantasy. So often a world is created, and the author demands that the world be shown immediately through writing. I prefer that the world exists in the background of characters. Sometimes some world building goes unused, but that’s how it works in real life, just as you and I don’t interact with everything in existence in our day-to-day.


I: Do you have any advice for other authors on Inkitt?

ZJ: If someone were to ask my advice, I could only speak to my experience. I found myself complaining about the banalities of the fantasy genre, the tropes that exist from author to author, movie to movie, so I attempted to fix those issues myself. It gave me perspective into how difficult it can be.


Safe to say that we are very happy to have such a quality batch of winners :).  Plus, we’re so excited to see what great winners come out of the Fated Paradox contest!  We already have some amazing stories, so make sure to submit, read, vote, and review!


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