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Archive for September, 2012

Today, at Washington National Cathedral, the USA said good-bye to astronaut Neil Armstrong (Aug. 5, 1930 – Aug. 25, 2012). High above the crowd of people there honoring a true American hero in one of that cathedral’s stained glass windows is embedded a moon rock the Apollo 11 astronauts, Neil, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins, gave to that church.

Real heroes are hard to come by. The men who traveled to the moon, especially those pioneers aboard Apollo 11, are heroes. And they left a plague on the surface of the moon that reads: “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”

I never got to meet Neil, but from all accounts he was a reluctant hero. He and his fellow astronauts have always been heroes to me. I wrote a poem years ago about my experience that fateful summer night when Neil left the first footprint in moon dust which was included in River of Stars, one of my books of poetry. I’ve posted it here for all to read:

Apollo 11

On July 20, 1969,

at the Manor Care Nursing Home

in the second floor television room,

two gnarled women and I watched

Buzz Aldrin land The Eagle.

I held my breath

as Neil Armstrong descended

the lunar module’s stairs,

as his left foot stirred the dust

of The Sea of Tranquility.

It was 10:56 P.M. —

long past patients’ lights-out,

my nursing aide shift almost ended.

But none of us left.

“That’s one small step for a man,

one giant leap

for mankind,” Neil exclaimed.

“Humankind,” a resident corrected

as she leaned closer to the TV,

raised an arthritic hand,

“Humankind.”

Beyond the set,

through thermal-plated windows,

I contemplated the moon

and knew that 240,000 miles away,

three men looked up into the black sky

at a blue-green sphere

with the same longing.

Copyright 2002 Vonnie Winslow Crist, River of Stars, Lite Circle Books.

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I, like many Americans, remember where I was when the Twin Towers fell. Usually not in front of a television that hour of the day, I happened to be working on illustrations for a children’s book by another writer. With art supplies spread on my kitchen table, I’d turned on the television for some background noise, and to keep myself aware of passing time. This was necessary, because like many creative people, I lose myself in my art, and don’t notice the hours slipping by.

I happened to look up as I washed out a paintbrush when the footage of the airplane slamming into the first tower was showing. I didn’t paint another stroke that day. Instead, I, like many Americans, watched in disbelief as another plane struck the second tower. Then, barely able to breathe, I watched the towers fall.

 The news of a plane crashing into the Pentagon felt like someone was standing on my chest. My godmother often worked at the Pentagon. I didn’t know if she was there on September 11, 2001. By the time I heard of the plane downed in a field by passengers willing to sacrifice themselves to save others, I’d cried. Not a few tears and a drippy nose kind of grief – but a sobbing, my heart is breaking kind of sadness. And I’ve cried about that day many times since.

Tragedy makes a strong people stronger and calls to action people of courage and conviction.

Today, I remember the victims of September 11, 2001. Today, I thank the police officers, firefighters, and other brave souls who rushed into harm’s way to help others. Today, I thank the military men and women who were called to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan as a result of that tragic day, and have courageously served their country.

As a small gesture of thanks to our service men and women, my ebooks published through Cold Moon Press are now a part of Operation Ebook Drop which makes free ebooks available to deployed U.S. Troops. Check them out, they’re a worthy cause: http://www.operationebookdrop.com

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Animals and Nature are usually woven into my stories, poems, non-fiction, and art. I think my interest in Nature and all her creatures started when I was young. My Granny, who lived on property that joined my parent’s backyard, gardened in the early morning and was kind to the neighborhood strays and neglected animals. As a child, I could usually be found tagging along with her.

My family vacationed for a week each summer from the time I was 5 in a cabin in the West Virginia mountains. Deer, raccoons, opossums, snakes, bears, crayfish, minnows, salamanders, bats, and birds were plentiful and often encountered. Unfortunately, so were mice – but that’s a different tale!

I’ve always enjoyed growing flowers, vegetables, and berries. I’ve always loved watching wild animals and having pets. In fact, since I’m short, have never been thin, and quite enjoy a well-prepared meal, I think I’d have made a rather good (though tall at 5’2”) hobbit!

In the beginning of The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien describes the day Gandalf stopped by Bilbo’s home to warn of the coming dwarves thus: “one morning long ago in the quiet of the world, when there was less noise and more green, and the hobbits were still numerous…” More green – that sounds lovely to me.

In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien writes that hobbits are fond of gardening. I especially like the picture painted by this quote from The Fellowship of the Ring (and I can close my eyes and see the image filmed by Peter Jackson for the movie):

Inside Bag End, Bilbo and Gandalf were sitting at the open window of a small room looking out west on to the garden. The late afternoon was bright and peaceful. The flowers glowed red and golden: snap-dragons and sunflowers, and nasturtians trailing all over the turf walls and peeping in at the round windows.

‘How bright your garden looks!’ said Gandalf.

‘Yes,’ said Bilbo. ‘I am very fond indeed of it, and of all the dear old Shire…’”

 I gaze out my window at flowers red and golden: roses, snapdragons, and butterfly weed, and at nasturtiums trailing over a brick wall, and scratch my dog behind her ear. I know I am very fond indeed of Nature, all her creatures, and of living at Wood’s Edge. In both of my short story collections, Owl Light and The Greener Forest, as well as my young adult novel, The Enchanted Skean, animals and plants play important roles. And I suspect, they will always have a special place in my creative work.

For those who’d like to listen to an excerpt from “On a Midwinter’s Eve,” the 1st tale in Owl Light, it’s the reading that begins about 14 minutes into the September 2012 “Nature and Animals” Broad Pod from Broad Universe: http://broadpod.posterous.com/september-2012-animals-and-nature In the excerpt, an owl, wolf, and the winter woods play a role. The complete story has even more animals in it.

So as Bilbo’s much anticipated Birthday Party approaches, I urge you to celebrate Nature and read (or listen to) a story featuring some of her creatures.

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In my mind’s eye and according to several dictionaries, Bards were traveling poets and minstrels who wrote and sang (or recited) tales of historical and legendary events. Sages were wise men and women who were calm, far-seeing, and prudent. And therefore, sages were often sought out as counselors or revered as philosophers. So it’s a great name for a speculative fiction magazine.

 Bards and Sages Quarterly lives up to the billing. It was with pleasure that I opened the April 2012 issue (which features one of my paintings on the cover), and discovered some delightful tales inside. Reading the stories printed in this issue made me want to sit down and write a piece of fiction worthy of acceptance by the editor of Bards and Sages.

As a writer, this isn’t the only time I’ve found reading a collection of stories inspired me to create a new tale. Fiction writers should be reading current fiction. Yes, the Classics are time-honored material, but in order to appeal to today’s readers – a writer needs to understand which books and stories are “hot” at the moment.

Plus, I recommend finding anthologies looking for submissions, and write a story (or poem or article) that would fit the theme. Even if you don’t manage to make the deadline or have a piece of writing accepted for that antho, it’s a challenge to write about a specific subject that’s perhaps outside your comfort zone. The worst that can happen is you have a completed story to submit elsewhere. One source for anthology markets is www.ralan.com

Tonight, I’ll be working on a tale for a themed anthology I saw listed on Ralan. Maybe, you’ll be doing the same. Or maybe, you’d like to see the full painting of Daughter of the Ocean for the Bards and Sages April 2012 cover at my website’s art gallery: www.vonniewinslowcrist.com/art_gallery You can also check out another painting, Garden Skull, on the wrap-around cover page of the gallery, that has been accepted for the cover of one of the 2013 issues of Bards and Sages.

Whatever you’re doing this evening, may your night be calm and inspiring.

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Owl Light, my next book, now contains stories and poems. I’ve sent the manuscript off to Editor Katie of Cold Moon Press, and await her comments. A little darker in tone than The Greener Forest, this collection includes fantasy stories, ghost tales, and a science fiction piece that reads like fantasy.

I thought I’d share more owl facts, folklore, legends, and superstitions which I came across in my research. First, an owl fact: A group of owls is called a parliament.

12 Bells large Second, an owl folklore tidbit:  Athena, the ancient Greek Goddess of Wisdom, chose a Little Owl (Athene noctua) as her favorite bird.  So it’s no surprise the wise Little Owl kept an eye on commerce from one side of Athenian silver tertradrachm coins.

Third, a scrap of literary words from A.A. Milne of Winnie the Pooh fame: “Owl is the grand and rather clever old man of the forest. He can also spell Tuesday.” – A.A. Milne

And lastly, a reminder: The biggest threat nowadays to owls are humans. Educate yourself, your family & friends about owls, preserve their habitat, watch use of poisons, and don’t believe all the negative folklore.

If you missed the 1st “Owl Notes,” you can scroll back a few blogs, or just hit this link: https://vonniewinslowcrist.wordpress.com/2012/04/16/owl-notes/

Update: Owl Light is now available from Amazon and elsewhere.

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