This post is part of the Candlesticks and Daggers Interview Series run by contributor Sati Benes Chock. For more about the book, please follow the link here.
Excerpt from Victoria-Elizabeth Panks’s Short Story “Starry Night in Venice”
Languishing amongst a tangle of Galliano tulle in a chaise lounge on an aging balcony overhanging a backwater Venetian canal, I gazed at the stars, pinholes in the indigo night.
The party, a highlight of the festive season, had been a whirlwind of Pierrots and Pulcinellas, gleaming in burnished golds and shimmering in lustrous satins; all eyes concealed behind elaborate masques
The never-too-distant chimes of church bells noted the three o’clock hour, as a breeze wafted through the alleys and byways of the water’s course. In my languid stupor, for much champagne had wafted down the alleys and byways of my own aqueducts, I surrendered, under the cloak of night. I was enfolded in silence, only broken by the cats lurking in the shadows. The feline patter was broken by human footsteps; two pair; one delicate and clicking (a Manolo knock-off to my deft ear); the other a more refined, leonine Gucci loafer, sedate and sexy, with an exhalation of Milan in its gait (this was the genuine article, no doubt in my effervescent mind).
Publisher’s note: This week we intended to talk to the lovely Victoria-Elizabeth Pank, but a mysterious femme fatale unexpectedly hijacked the interview, and mayhem ensued. Read below to see what happened.
Sati: Welcome, Victoria-Elizabeth! How did you become a writer?
Victoria-Elizabeth: After years piddling around dreaming up stories I finally sat down and composed a coherent plot, with a beginning, an ending, and some middle bits, that was built up over a paced set of dramas. All of a sudden, a wealth of potential had been unlocked—
Mysterious femme fatale storms into room: Whoa! Hold up! Don’t believe this fairytale. These are the words of a crafty, imaginative composer/poseur of fiction. Trust me, I know.
Sati: Um…excuse me, but…who are you, exactly?
Femme fatale (glaring at her): Who am I? I am Stellare Notte, agent provocateur, and if it’s one thing I know, it’s what’s really going on in this author’s mind. I’ll be answering these questions now. Let the truth be told! And the truth is, this smarty pants authoress thought she’d invented the wheel; unlocked potential, indeed! She just sat her butt down (in pajamas, no less) and nimbly typed words into her state-of-the-art laptop. Next question!
Thank you for that insight, Stellare. We, er, appreciate your candid views. Do you believe that Victoria-Elizabeth knew that she always wanted to be a writer?
These author types are the dreamers of the world, n’est-ce pas? She used to daydream while driving to work, in rush hour traffic! She felt she had this fire burning inside her (most likely caused by heartburn from all the coffee she consumed). But that “fire” was the catalyst for the so-called unlocking of potential; she felt certain she had one good novel in there.
What does Victoria read for fun?
Well I’ve seen her book stacks and let me tell you, they aren’t for the faint of heart and they’re definitely a hazard to anyone less agile than a cat. History, physics, philosophy. You call that fun? I mean, Brian Cox is a rockstar, as well as a physicist, but I’m not too keen about sitting in a cafe with Roland Barthes—a girl has to draw the line somewhere. And novels? Her library is sorted by country and Europe takes up two IKEA Billy bookshelves. There are a lot of men in her literary world, I’ll say that much. Calvino, Eco, Perec, Houellebecq, Gaiman, Chabon, Mitchell, and Murakami, to name but a few.
Do you think she’d have any specific advice for those beginners seeking to be published?
From my own experience, I can tell you that the best route to publication is by way of revision, workshop critique, and pragmatic submitting. With “Venice” there were a few drafts, an interesting round of critique with her esteemed colleagues (my ears were burning as they discussed my “attributes”), and then I sat around for a while until one day, I was sent off to be examined by the staff of two journals. One of them rejected me. I was humiliated. But then I was sent off to a third and and I was accepted. I would shine as befitting my nature in a cloak & dagger, excuse me, candlestick and dagger anthology. I was redeemed. Then I experienced the editorial process, and I must say, it was painless, even with the many oversights of my authoress. It takes a good editor to get the job done properly, much like executing a successful covert op.
Does your author employ the same themes in her other work?
Well, she has created a similar stylish femme fatale that I’m aware of and let me tell you the competition for attention is fierce. I signed on for a five-story deal that was supposed to take me to several glittering cities in Europe, but I’ve been usurped by this other woman. Aside from that pursuit, the other fictions are quite different, but they retain a certain style quotient. Wild stretches of the imagination coupled with a soupçon of irony applied with a scathing wit are the telltale ingredients whose residue is caught between the lines of even the most emotional dramas. At the end of the day it’s really the voice that shines through, wouldn’t you agree?
I suppose this is true–your voice is certainly memorable. Let’s see. Where were we? I’ve quite forgotten what I was going to ask you. Oh, yes. Are there any rituals or routines that keep Victoria’s writing schedule on track?
Ha! That five story deal I mentioned? That was five long years ago! That should give you some insight into her slovenly methods. Ok, to be fair, she has written a slew of other stories, a few novellas, even a couple novels in that time, but her output is scatty at best. Let’s be truthful—she’s lazy! Do I sound annoyed? Harsh? I was supposed to be tracking that Greek tycoon to Barcelona! Meanwhile she’s off scribbling about a dude chasing historical zombies in Versailles and an immortal guardian lurking in the shadows, haunting San Francisco women. I think I have a right to be annoyed!
Do you think you will have a role to play in future projects?
I deserve to! After all, I’m the one whose been published, printed on proper paper and bound into a proper book, with fashionable cover art and everything. What have those other blokes ever accomplished? Nothing! And it’s no secret that they’ve been sent off to several editors of literary journals, but seriously, that Parisian thing—nobody’s gonna fall for that! The other one has possibilities, (to be fair, one excerpt has been published). I wouldn’t mind teaming up with that immortal guardian. He looks a bit like Ralph Fiennes and wears a gorgeous silk brocade waistcoat under a distressed leather greatcoat and he’s got a certain look in his piercing eyes—
Goodness…is it getting warm in here? I’ve always had a bit of a crush on Ralph. Ahem. It’s been terribly interesting, but we really have to wrap this up. I’m afraid that Victoria has disappeared! We need to find her and apologize or she might write you out of any future books….uh, Stellare? Oh, dear. What is that in your hand? Wait! You can’t hurt her! If you do, what will happen to you? Wait! Stellare–
Kelly: I’m afraid that this dramatically concludes our interview series. Sati has disappeared. It seems that Victoria has also vanished, though several sightings have been reported in Barcelona. Or was it Stellare? Someone Instagrammed a blurry photo last week, but the woman was wearing a mask…and who really can say where Victoria begins and Stellare ends?
Let this be a warning to all who write fiction: beware characters whom are too accustomed to getting their way, your life may one day depend on it.
Victoria-Elizabeth Panks was brought up along the central coast of California and the northern shores of Lake Michigan, but finds herself landlocked, inexplicably, within the southern suburbs of New Jersey, where she translates French symbolist poetry and composes a wide range of fiction. Her stories have appeared and are forthcoming in The Writing Disorder, Sick Lit Magazine, and Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, among others. She is currently at work on her second novel.
Stellare Notte is what they call in the biz une slâsheuse—not just a secret agent—but a secret agent/femme fatale/provocateur. She may appear to be just another ingenue, but she’s a woman with a past, wielding an attitude for intrigue that compels one to follow in her fashion-forward footsteps. “Starry Night in Venice” is the first installment of her memoirs.