I am so excited to introduce my co-judge for The Unicorn Writer’s Second Flash Fiction contest: Mariella Taylor! Mariella is a library cataloguer who assists with many projects including children’s programming, customer service, interlibrary loan, and collection management in Iowa; however, she considers herself a Mississippi girl at heart. Mariella stated, “I grew up on the Gulf of Mexico somewhere between Jackson and New Orleans and the ocean side is my favorite place on the planet. It’s my home and no matter where I go on this earth, I always come back to that.”
When asked about what she enjoys doing in her free time, Mariella said, “I would love to say I have a lot of hobbies outside of reading and writing, but I don’t. Occasionally, I enjoy doing puzzles and paint by numbers or coloring with gel pens. I embroider, quilt, and crochet as well. I love watching Disney movies and musicals. The King and I is my favorite musical, closely followed by Les Misérables, Newsies, and The Sound of Music. I’ve recently become fond of the musical Ninth Hour and my favorite song from it is ‘I Believe in Peace.’ I love taking walks outside, rollerblading, ice skating, and I’ve recently taken up kick boxing. I also love creating way too many DnD characters that I will probably never get to use.”
To learn more about Mariella read the full interview below!
Q) Is there a fun fact about yourself that you would like to share with readers?
A) I am the first generation in my family born in America, and I was the first to complete a master’s degree in my choice of study. My family is from a small mountain village in Italy, and our home was used as a hospital during World War II. When the military took over our home, my family went to live with some neighbors in their sheep barn. One of my grandfather’s favorite stories to tell is that he doesn’t actually know what day his birthday actually is. The neighbor’s wife was pregnant at the same time as his mother, the babies born two days apart. The neighbor man wrote down both children’s information, took it into the city when they went to sell wool, and came home with birth certificates bearing the same date. So no one knows if my grandfather’s birthday is actually August 5th or August 7th because no one could remember.
Q) How long have you been writing?
A) I have been writing for a little over 20 years now, and I have been editing professionally for a little over 10 years. My work is featured in multiple anthologies, both Indie and academic.
Q) Why do you write?
A) For me, writing is like breathing. I need the ability to pour my soul onto paper in the same way that my body requires oxygen. If I could guess, my body is formed more from letters and ink than from blood and bone—but maybe at some point they’re the same thing. Stories have been my saving grace in so many ways throughout the years, and when I realized that I could take words and create beautiful things from the hardships of life, it healed something inside of me. Writing serves many purposes for me, but at the end of the day, I write because I need it, and I can only hope that I’m creating stories and characters and worlds that in some way, others need too.
Q) What are your top three favorite books and why?
A) What is it with people trying to get me to pick favorite books these days, haha! My standard answer is basically that that is impossible to choose a top three, unless we’re separating them by genre. My favorite genre is always, ALWAYS fantasy. That said, I will make an effort to name a few of my favorite books and loosely define why.
- The Great Gatsby – I will be the first to say that I am not a fan of most classics. But Great Gatsby and its themes and characters have a special place in my heart. I would also say that Fitzgerald did a good deal toward helping me discover my own writing style. I read all of his work once I discovered Gatsby because there was something in the way that Fitzgerald’s voice as an author that stayed with me and really made me think and feel the stories, and that was something I wanted to emulate in my own work.
- Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern’s debut novel will ALWAYS hit the top of my list, time and time again. I may not have the history with it that I have with Gatsby, but I remember the first time I saw the cover in my local library. I remember holding it in my hands and knowing this book would change my life. I have reread it countless times, and every time I learn to love it more. The worldbuilding and description in this story are immaculate and beautiful and I never tire of them.
- Palimpsest and Deathless – I know this is two, but you’ll have to bear with me because both of these are of equal importance to me only in different ways. Both stories are by Catherynne Valente, and while they definitely aren’t for everyone, I find them incredible. Palimpsest was one of the first dark punk fantasies that I ever read and whenever I’m struggling with my descriptions, this is the book that I pull off the shelf and flip through to inspire myself. Deathless, on the other hand, was the first retelling that I ever read. It’s a retelling of my favorite Russian myth, The Death of Koschei the Deathless, and this book was one of the stories that made me fall in love with well-written dialogue. Many of my favorite quotes come from the pages of that book, and it’s one that I gravitate toward whenever I’m teaching about writing dialogue.
Q) Describe yourself in three words.
A) Protective, Snarky, and problematic.
Q) What song would be your life’s theme song?
A) Dream of Mississippi by SJ Tucker. It’s one of my favorite songs that I come back to again and again. The lyrics and the music are beautiful. (Also, that entire album is DELICIOUS, but that’s a topic for another day.)
Q) Who is someone that inspires you?
A) My mother, Tammy. She adopted me into her family and healed a lot of things in my heart that I didn’t know I needed. She amazes me continually and inspires me as both a person and an author. She’s come through so much and guided me through so much on a personal level, but as an author she’s equally incredible. She, alongside my sister (Annie Grace), taught me what it was to write out the hard things in my soul. The things that wouldn’t come out but needed to find a resting place. And knowing all the things that these two women have come through, I’m deeply inspired by them and their beautiful stories.
Also, my sisters. My sisters inspire me so much, whether they’re blood or chosen. I have so many wonderful girls in my life, and they all inspire me in so many different ways. My sister, Dee, just wanted a small, quiet life with a husband and children where she could stay home and write her books, and she made that happen for herself in a world that scorns not entering the education or work fields. My sister, Benji, decided she wanted to spend her life being challenged and after failing high school chemistry, turned around and pursued a degree in it. She fell in love with science in college, and now she’s a chemical engineer working in pharmaceuticals and loving life. My sister, Annie Grace, who struggles with chronic illness amazes me every day with how she continues to push forward and pursue her books and make those around her happy even when she’s not feeling well herself. And there are others, so many others, that I don’t even have the space to mention without taking up entire pages. But if they’re reading this, they know that as I’m writing these words, I’m thinking of them. ❤
Q) Can you tell us about your stories featured in the anthologies Whispers From Before, The Depths We’ll Go To, and For the Love of a Word?
A) I can absolutely do that!
My story in Whispers of Before: Tales of Myth and Legend is a retelling of two Polynesian stories. One of them is a loose retelling of Maui and the Fire Goddess, Mahuika. The other is the story of The War of Two Sisters, Mahuika and Namakaokahai. Which inspired the title “Namakaokahai’s Treasure.” The story is about a boy named Kai raised beside the river in the great jungle and the struggles he must overcome to heal his mother’s heart and to save his beloved, Mele.
The Depths We’ll Go To features two of my poems, as well as my short story, “The Sea’s Beloved.” This story is a loosely inspired by my own Italian heritage, as the main characters are a young village girl from the mountainous seaside and a Sicilian river god. “The Sea’s Beloved” is a story that invokes both history and fantasy through its world building and its references to the ideas of early siren mythology, fae-style courtship, and witch hunts. A re-edited and expanded version will be released in the anthology, Aphotic Love in spring of 2022.
For the Love of a Word is a little bit of a different anthology. The purpose of the anthology was essentially to write encouragement and love letters for discouraged authors. My short piece is technically a lyrical essay reminiscing on an author watching their protégé grow and exceed them.
Q) Can you tell readers about any of your current writing projects?
A) I have a LOT of ongoing writing projects. I am currently working on two novels. One a middle grade fantasy mystery reminiscent of high fantasy adventure, as well as Howl’s Moving Castle and other works by its author. The other is a dark political thriller fantasy entitled Destruction of Kings and featuring an orphaned queen reclaiming her father’s throne and her immortal guardian as they try to strengthen her failing kingdom and discover who is attempting to assassinate her. I’m also working on putting together a collection of poetry, as well as a collection of short story mythology and history retellings.
Q) What advice would you offer aspiring authors?
A) Write for yourself. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have people in mind when you’re writing but write first and foremost for yourself. Write the things, both good and bad, hard and beautiful that are inside of you. Write the things you need, and others will flock.
I read a quote once that said, “Don’t discount the beautiful and ruinous things that made you.”
That is why people turn to story. For truth, to find people and ideas they relate to and can claim as their own. You want to write a story people love? Then you must risk the things inside of you. And that starts by allowing yourself the freedom to make your stories, your poems, your art the things you need them to be—not just the things you think people want to see.
Q) What do you like most about flash fiction?
Flash fiction amazes me when it’s well done. I love seeing how much world, story, character, and description that authors manage to pack into such a small word count. I love watching author’s careers develop the more they publish and seeing how their skill and stories emerge in finer and finer detail over the years.
Q) What are you most excited about being a guest judge for The Unicorn Writer’s flash fiction contest?
A) I LOVE judging contests, and it’s been a long time since I’ve been invited to do so. I am so excited to get to read the entries. Not only because I ADORE the theme that’s been set before the authors, but also because I love watching all of you have fun creating.
Q) Is there anything else you would like to add?
A) Go forth and have fun! Write your little hearts out, dears. ❤
Be sure to follow Mariella on social media:
We cannot wait to see all your wonderful entries for the flash fiction contest! Remember to see last week’s blog post for more details on the flash fiction contest. You can also visit this link for submission details.