Join us as we peek behind the scenes of our upcoming anthology, ON TIME. Learn more about Jacob Butlett in his featured interview.
ABOUT THE STORY
What inspired your story?
For the last several years, the line, “May I ask you something?” haunted my daydreams. I didn’t understand why I was fixated on this question. Sometimes whenever I used the bathroom, I would mutter the question to myself as though in a trance. After college, I was so determined to continue writing creatively that I aimed to write a story that I would not have dared to write in school. The story of a friendly, yet vengeful, witch who comes to terms with her traumatic past appealed to me, and the prospect of FINALLY using the question above, “May I ask you something?” excited me so much that I ultimately used that line in the story’s hook.
Can you tell us a little bit about your protagonist?
The protagonist—and, by extension, the story as a whole—is largely based on the Salem Witch Hunt and apartheid. Before I wrote the story, I had asked myself, “What would a futuristic, fantastical Earth look like if it were rife with prejudice, yet populated with magical and non-magical people?” Immediately, a metaphor came to mind: Why not create a world where witches and wizards are treated as second-class citizens, oppressed by a racist, fear-mongering government? I didn’t know how I could write a short story that begged such a provocative, involved question. Then I reminded myself that a story is about someone who wants something, but cannot get it. Crafting a protagonist with a troubled backstory—one that can reveal more about the thematic underpinnings of the story—helped me blend the protagonist’s chief desire (to enact revenge on a murderer) with the history and geography of the world. As a result, I had fun writing a story that boils down to this: a relatable, three-dimensional character, who so happens to be a witch, tries to find solace and meaning after the Great Segregation (our version of the Salem Witch Hunt and apartheid).
What is the most interesting thing about the world you’ve created?
I love that characters in my story travel by zeppelin. To make the story work, I needed a way to get the main characters together without stalling the plot. Having the characters travel to the same destination for different reasons via zeppelin captivated me instantly.
What genre or mix of genres does your story fit into?
My story is a blend of fantasy and literary fiction—mostly fantasy, but the heart of the story, the protagonist’s childhood trauma, came to me after several years of writing literary fiction. In fact, if it weren’t for my background in literary fiction, I probably would have written the story with less attention to the story’s backstory, which is crucial in a story like this.
How have your personal experiences influenced this story?
In college, I learned about apartheid and discovered that magical elements in stories often have deeper metaphorical significance. I didn’t know it at the time, but learning about apartheid and genre fiction had helped to lay the groundwork for my story.
What would you like readers to take away from your story?
I don’t necessarily want readers to learn anything new about the human condition from my story. If anything, I would like to remind readers that they can relate to unlikely characters, even witches.
What was your favorite part of the story to write and why?
Describing the world of my story brought me immense pleasure because I was not used to describing the settings in my work colorfully. I did, however, try to incorporate colorful settings in the stories I wrote for college, but my writing peers mostly disliked them. Regardless, creating the Ancient Prairie in my story liberated my imagination and reaffirmed my passion for literary precision.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
When did you write your first story, how old were you, and what was it about?
I wrote many stories in middle school. In fact, when I was twelve or so, I wrote a sequel to “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.” The sequel was about a mysterious owl teaching the titular mongoose how to defeat a demonic snake. I wrote my first official short story, however, as a fourteen-year-old in high school. The story, “The Keeper of the Cane,” was about an immature boy who learns how to treat others with respect by living with his kind-hearted grandfather. My local newspaper published an excerpt of “The Keeper of the Cane,” and afterwards, my high school teachers laminated the excerpt and gave it to me as a present.
What is your writing survival checklist? (Aka, what helps your write the best: music, snacks, coffee, complete silence, a stress ball, a cat, or an outline, etc.)
I tend to write in silence, but if I am having difficulty staying focused, I listen to hypnotic music. Because I like to be alone while I write, I usually write in long, uninterrupted bursts (I once spent nearly an entire day writing a large swath of a screenplay). Lastly, as someone who tends to write without outlines, I like to write impromptu stories on my computer and keep track of my notes on a nearby piece of paper.
What has influenced you most as a writer?
The musicality of language, the universality of individual lives, and my unending passion to create worlds on the page.
What font do you prefer to write in?
I typically write in Times New Roman, and I usually revise my stories and poems in Garamond. Recently, I read that revising or proofreading your work in a different font may help you catch more errors in your work. Revising my work this way has helped me polish my work significantly.
Do you have any writing blogs/vlogs/podcasts, etc. that you would recommend?
The only blog/vlog/podcast I can think of is my blog, which you can find here: https://jacobbutlettacademicreflection.weebly.com/teaching-suggestions. In my blog, I discuss the types of teaching and leadership styles that have helped me succeed in college.
What is your favorite and least favorite word, and why?
I don’t have a least favorite word. My favorite word, though, is “masquerade” because I love the sounds of the words and how visual its meaning is. I admire the word “masquerade” so much that I even wrote a college essay highlighting its significance in my life.
Jacob Butlett is an award-winning gay storyteller with an A.A. in General Studies and a B.A. in Creative Writing. In 2017 he won the Bauerly-Roseliep Scholarship for literary excellence, and in 2018 he received a Pushcart Prize nomination for poetry. Some of his work has been published in The MacGuffin, Panoply, Rat’s Ass Review, Cacti Fur, Gone Lawn, Rabid Oak, Ghost City Review, Lunch Ticket, Fterota Logia, Into the Void, and plain china. He was selected as a finalist in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards residency competition of 2019.
ON TIME is coming in Summer 2020. Be sure to follow us on Amazon.