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Archive for February, 2012

Angels aren’t confined to heavenly choirs and altar paintings. I believe their enchanting presence can be felt everywhere. And that’s how I present angels when I include them in my writing.

The angels in the 10th story in The Greener Forest sing in the trees. They also tell a wood-carver named Porter what to carve, and who to give his angel carvings to. Yes, I’m geeky enough to have selected Porter’s name because according to several baby naming books, “Porter” comes from the Latin “keeper of the gate.” How appropriate a name for the man whose wooden angels transform into real heavenly beings and lead the newly dead to the afterlife.

At the moment, I’m working on a story that features guardian angels. These comforting creatures are near the central character all of the time, and leave feathers for him to find as a sign that they’re watching over him. (A polished version is included in my book, Owl Light, so you can read what the guardian angels do in “Feathers” there).

How many of us have found a feather in the grass or at the beach or on the sidewalk? Sometimes I view these feathers as a gift from the wild birds that I feed. Perhaps they’re a sign an angel is close at hand. Or a swan maiden. Or even a fairy with feathery wings rather than one with butterfly-like wings.

If the feather I find is tattered or in ill-repair, I still say, “Thank you,” to whom ever left it for me. Then, I make a small wish (just in case the feather has got a pinch of magic) and place its shaft’s tip in the earth. I’m returning the feather to nature, and perhaps it will be useful to a forest creature of the animal or magical kind.

If the feather I find is whole, I thank the giver, and take it home. In my house at Wood’s Edge, I have jars filled with gift-feathers. Whether crow-black or sparrow-brown or cardinal-red or gull-white, every time I glance at the feathers, I feel blessed by the spirits of nature and the angels.

To read an early version of my story, Angels, for free: http://tinyurl.com/vonnie-angels

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I love my readers, and so does my publisher. So, for a limited time, Cold Moon Press is offering its readers one of my stories, Blame it on the Trees, as a FREE eBook. Now, let me tell you how this eBook came to be…

Last January, I thought The Greener Forest, my 1st fantasy short fiction collection was complete. But Editor Katie had another idea: “You’ve got trees and tree images in all of these tales. I want one more story where the trees are a character that interacts with the rest of the characters.”

Yikes! Trees as a character. So, I thought about what sort of person trees might care about. I’d used fairies, a Brown Man, she-elf, applehead gnomes, swan maidens, mermaid, dragon, Mud people, and other nature spirits in the book’s stories already. I needed someone different. While leafing through A World of Baby Names [T. Norman] trying to find a name for a main character that might spark a tale, I spotted, Berg: “Directly derived from berg (mountain).” Woot! I’d found my name and my Faerie race: a giant.

I decided to write against type, and make my giant kindhearted. But where would a giant go to interact with others and why? My answers: a zoo, because he likes to hunt animals – with a camera, of course. What kind of job would a giant have? That’s easy – one where he counts gold, or in this case, money. So I made Berg an accountant. Besides being tall with big hands and feet, I also gave him the “typical” large, scary, yellow teeth readers associate with giants. But Berg is embarrassed by his ugly teeth.

Next, I need someone who chooses to interact with a giant. A damsel in distress seemed a reasonable choice. My damsel, Shelly, is a woman babysitting her nephew. Since opposites attract, I made her short and good with words rather than numbers.

And here’s where the trees come into the tale. From placing a wire-like rootlet on the path so the  stroller’s wheel gets tangled, to pushing up the sidewalk with a root and tripping Shelly, to shoving a teen into the grizzly bear pen – the zoo’s trees play an active role in the love story. And, yes, it is a love story.

blame it on the trees cover When Editor Katie suggested giving away one of my stories as a gift to my readers, Blame it on the Trees seemed a natural. Now, I needed cover art. I’d done a watercolor (with a few inks & a touch of acrylics) called Poet’s Moon which seemed perfect. A small square of the painting had been used by Scifaikuest as the cover art for their February 2012 issue, but over half of the painting remained unpublished. That half was filled with trees in the pinks and purples one often associates with Valentine’s Day.

So – a belated Happy Valentine’s Day to my readers. Visit http://tinyurl.com/vonnies-blame-trees-story for your FREE copy (or enjoy it as the last story in The Greener Forest should you like to read more magical tales). There is a time limit on the FREE, but I hope to have the eBook available for those who want a quick read for quite some time.

And should you decide to read either Blame it on the Trees or The Greener Forest, I hope you’ll take the time to “Like” the book and give it a brief review. Thanks, readers. I really do appreciate your support.

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A month ago, I spoke at the Library of Congress along with Katie Hartlove, editor at Cold Moon Press, and Michelle D. Sonnier, a fellow Cold Moon Press author. Wow, is the only word I have for the marvelous building, helpful staff, and receptive audience. For those who’ve never taken a tour of the building, I highly recommend it.

The title of our presentation was: Zombies & Angels & Boogeymen, Oh my! Though I’ve used all 3 characters in my stories, my area of presentation was Zombies. I did a bit of research to show that the idea of the re-animated dead is shared by many cultures. Here are a few of the tidbits I unearthed:

Africa: The word zombie comes from the Kongo zumbi or zombi [Matthews, p.641] which means an enslaved spirit.

Caribbean: Priests in the Haitian voodoo religion sometimes use a nerve toxin to simulate death for up to 2 days. Haitian lore says that people who are dug up after being buried can no longer think for themselves because of oxygen deprivation, and therefore become slaves to another’s will. Feeding a zombie salt will return it to the grave.

Wales: In the story of Branwen, dead warriors are put in a cauldron and returned to life. These re-animated dead warriors are then placed back into battle.

Ireland: The Well of Slaine is used by the Tuatha de Danaan to re-animate warriors who’ve died in the fight against the Fir Bolg. Though they can fight, these re-animated soldiers are unable to speak because they’ve seen what exists after death.

Iceland, Norway, etc.: Draugr (plural Draugar, pronounced: droo-GORE) are dead Vikings who not only drive mad anyone who comes near their grave, but crawl from their burial sites and visit the living. They are very strong, smell like decay, and sometimes have magical abilities like shape-shifting. (This is the zombie of my love story, “The Return of Gunnar Kettilson”).

Tibet: (Just stumbled on this info, so more research needs to be done). Ro-langs are ro (corpse) + langs (rise-up). They cannot speak, so they communicate by wagging their tongues. Lore says that they can’t bend either, which is why it’s best to have a low entranceway into your home — to keep out the ro-langs.

Where in the world do I find interesting tidbits like these? Many places, but some of my favorite research books: The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creaturesby John & Caitlin Matthews, Encyclopedia of Things That Never Were: Creatures, Places, And People by Michael Page & Robert Ingpen, The Enchanted World series of books from Time-Life Books, and An Encyclopedia of Fairies: Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and other Supernatural Creatures by Katherine Briggs.

So have a great day, and remember to carry a bag of pretzels to feed to the re-animated dead in the case of a zombie attack (see Africa above).

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It’s February 2nd, and that means Punxsutawney Phil and a plethora of other groundhogs have looked for their shadows. Some of the critters have seen their shadow when they crawled or were hauled out of their burrows – thus predicting 6 more weeks of winters. Other groundhogs (or in the case of Alaska, marmots) didn’t see their shadow – so they’re predicting an early spring. But where did this groundhog weather prognostication skill come from?

As usual, my fascination with folklore sends me back to Europe. Ancient Roman, Celtic, and Early Christian beliefs all seem to contribute to the importance of February 2nd as a weather-predicting date. But whether Candlemas or Imbolc or the Feast Day of Sretenje, a furry animal and the amount of sunshine seem to hold great importance.

Various sources say groundhogs (and Alaskan marmots) are substitutes for the hedgehogs, badgers, and sacred bears of Europe. As for me, I’m pretty sure I’d be willing to watch a hedgehog creep from his burrow and look for his shadow. A badger seems a far more formidable creature, and I don’t think I’d want to be too close when he clawed his way to daylight and checked out the shadow-casting abilities of the sun. And I’m quite certain, I’d leave the “checking for a shadow” duties to the professionals in the case of a sacred bear.

I must admit to visiting Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania a few years ago. I drove to Gobbler’s Knob and walked down to the hut that Phil is placed in prior to his prognostication appearance. Then, visited the famous groundhog in his library home where he lives in a climate-controlled environment eating dog food. And, by the way, there is a back-up groundhog living right next to him – just in case Phil the First isn’t quite up to snuff on his big day.

I was disappointed to learn that the movie, “Groundhog Day,” starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell was not filmed in Punxsutawney. It seems the snowfall in the area was too unpredictable. Nevertheless, the little town in Pennsylvania was a charming place to visit.

Charming is perhaps the right word for Groundhog Day. There’s a charm to the customs brought by the hodgepodge of immigrants that settled the United States. And for me, those charming customs that wind back to olden times in far places, are the beginning places for my fiction.

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