Interview: Alicia Cay on “Campbell County Cook-Off”

In Alicia Cay’s “Campbell County Cook-Off,” the oldest of three elderly witch sisters always wins the County Fair’s chili cook-off…but this year, things are going to be different!

Rebecca and Leah steal their sister’s prize-winning recipe, whip up their own batch of chili, and head off to the competition ready to surprise their sister—and win the contest. But they didn’t follow the recipe correctly…or did they?

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A tower of flame erupted from the stock pot, instantly tarnishing the stainless steel into a burnt black. The volcanic eruption pushed Rebecca, Leah, and the three judges off their feet. The Mayor was knocked onto his butt and slid across the floor into the opposite wall. His eyes were circles of surprise, and the bottom of his beard was singed and smoking. He smacked at the sparks in his beard to put them out. “What in the hell was that?”

The answer unfurled its wings from the burnt stock pot that teetered on the edge of the table. The wings, brown and red and webbed, were followed by a gnarled creature covered in scales. It slowly pulled itself from the pot’s narrow confines. The thing looked like a mix between a baby dragon, a newborn kitten, and the daemon Leah had accidentally summoned from the Unders in the 12th Century.

Its body was the color of campfire chili, and its kidney bean scales clinked against the pot as the chili-daemon stepped onto the table. Red chili pepper flakes dotted its flesh and clumped into its slitted eyes—red, tan, and full of heat. It grabbed the stock pot with a beak formed of ground beef and launched the pot across the room. The chili-daemon screeched out a roar, another plume of flame spewing from its mouth. The pink and yellow flowered drapes on the community center windows burst into flames.

The silent shock in the room erupted into chaos. Suddenly, everyone was screaming, but the towers of fire surrounding each window made escape through them impossible. This sent everyone in the same direction:toward the double doors. A walker flew through the air, and old Ms. Emerson was pushed to the floor in the kerfuffle. In the rush, several pots of chili were bumped or pulled off their tables. Pots clattered, and beef and beans pooled onto the floor. Folks slipped and slid their way away from the rapidly growing chili-daemon, their Sunday-best clothing covered in stains that no amount of club soda would ever render wearable again.

—from “Campbell County Cook-Off” by Alicia Cay

The Interview

How on earth did you come up with the concept of a daemon made out of chili for your short story “Campbell County Cook-Off?”

Chili cook-offs were popular things when I was growing up in the South. I knew I wanted to write a story that puts witches in an environment where they aren’t often thought to be, e.g. the deep south/Texas. From there it was: what if my witches mixed up a cookbook and a grimoire when making their chili recipe—what would that create? Well, a summoned daemon made of kidney beans and chili flakes, of course! 🙂

Do you plan to write more stories about the three witch sisters from this story?

The sisters in my story were a nod to Shakespeare’s three witches (the Wyrd Sisters), and I can’t say they won’t ever pop up again in a future story, but I don’t have current ideas to feature them.

Why do you think so many people are drawn to reading stories about magic?

I think it’s because stories about magic show us that things beyond what we can see and hear are possible and do exist, that dragons can be slayed, and that everyone, even a simple hobbit from the Shire, is capable of great things.

You received an Honorable Mention from the Writers of the Future Contest for the very first short story you ever wrote! Wow! You’ve now won 10 Honorable Mentions, 4 Silver Honorable Mentions, have been a Semi-Finalist once and a Finalist once. Why do you keep submitting to this contest, and why is the Writers of the Future important to you?

My mom knew I was meant to be a writer long before I did, and years ago she bought me a copy of the Writers of the Future anthology (Vol. 27) to encourage me to start writing by reading the stories and entering the contest. Sadly, it took me a couple of years after she passed away to get the message. I entered this contest as a connection to my mom, but I continued because it gave me a place to send my stories as a new writer, a deadline to meet (you can enter every three months), and encouragement to keep going in the form of a beautiful certificate when your story places. I’ve also made many writing friends through this contest, built a writer’s group, and I was awarded a scholarship to Superstars Writing Seminars that was sponsored by Writers of the Future (one of only two awarded in 2020). I have a deep admiration for how this contest helps up-and-coming writers, and for how much it helped me get started and continue to develop as a writer.

You suffer from wanderlust. 🙂 Tell us about your travels—and where would you most like to go in the future?

Yes, I so do love to travel! My best friend and I like to select a new city every year to explore. We soak in the art scene, enjoy the food, see the sights, the history, and museums, etc.

I also try to get in one trip abroad. The last couple of international trips have been to Aruba to sit on the beaches, Mexico, we visited Chichen Itza and swam in a cenote, and Iceland, where we watched the aurora borealis dance, walked around inside a glacier, visited the volcano, Eyjafjallajökull, and ate Hakarl, which is fermented Greenland shark (it tasted, umm … interesting).

Our next U.S. trip will be to explore Austin, TX (to keep it weird), and then Scotland as soon as we can, where the fairy lore and folk tales abound!

Traveling is a balm for my soul, and helps me keep my well refilled. ♥

Is there something from a legend, fairy or folk tale, or myth that you haven’t yet used in your writing, but would like to?

Lately, I’ve been fascinated with the idea of Nephilim, the (giant) offspring of fallen angels and humans, and after a recent trip to the San Luis Valley in Colorado, I got the spark of a story idea to put them out there beneath the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. I get a kick out of using Colorado places and mixing them with legends or myths. My last Silver Honorable Mention story was the Pied Piper in the old west, in Gunnison, Colorado. I have fun mixing up things like this.

You’re working on a novel! Tell us about it!

I’m currently outlining a novel that falls into the Mystery/Thriller genre and plays with people’s preconceived ideas of who society views as villains. Should be fun!

What are you working on now, and what’s fun about what you’re writing??

I’m currently working on a short story that combines Spiritualism (think Mediums and the Victorian era) and Science Fiction. I tend to do a lot of research for my writing, and this one has sent me down many fascinating and fun rabbit holes! 🙂

About Alicia

Alicia Cay is a writer of Speculative and Mystery stories. Her short fiction has been published in several anthologies including “Hold Your Fire” from WordFire Press, and “The Wild Hunt” by Air and Nothingness Press. In 2020 she was awarded a scholarship to attend SuperStars Writing Seminars, and later that same year made Finalist in the Writers of the Future contest.

She grew up on her Dad’s hand-me-down collection of classic Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Horror, which now influences most of her writing. She has a B.F.A. in Interior Architecture, but worked as a 9-1-1 dispatcher and Evidence Technician for over a decade before retiring to pursue the things that bring her to life.

Alicia suffers from wanderlust, fears her to-be-read stack will one day topple over and crush her, crochets, collects quotes, and currently lives beneath the shadows of the Rocky Mountains with a corgi, a kitty, and a lot of fur.

Find Alicia

Website ~ Twitter ~ Instagram ~ Pinterest ~ Goodreads

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