Archive for July, 2013

On July 31, 1965, English author, JK Rowling, was born in Yate, Gloucestershire, England. By now, most of us have read at least one of her Harry Potter novels (or for those “I’d rather see the movie instead” folks – have seen one or more of the films based on her books). And many of us have heard about her journey from a barely-getting-by single parent to one of the most successful children’s writers of our time.

I won’t share the inspiring story of JK Rowling’s writing career here, but encourage the curious to visit her website: www.jkrowling.com and discover the details for themselves. What I will share is my gratitude to a writer whose fantasy series about a boy wizard, his friends, and their adventures encouraged many young people to pick up a book (or seven), and read.

Some books take readers on journeys whose destinations can only be reached in the imagination. JK Rowling’s Harry Potter novels are those kinds of books. I thank her for the sharing her magical world and for inspiring me to write my fantasy novel, The Enchanted Skean. And I wish her the Happiest of Birthdays!

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On July 28, 1866, English author and illustrator, Beatrix Potter, was born in London, England. Most of us read (or had read to us) The Tale of Peter Rabbit, which Beatrix self-published in 1901. In 1902, Frederick Warne & Co. published a 3-color edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, and Miss Potter’s charming vision of English country life and animals would soon become childhood favorites. Though I must mention, her second book, The Tailor of Gloucester, was also initially self-published!

We don’t usually think of Beatrix Potter as a fantasy writer, yet she is one. Her careful study and sketching of her pets, including mice, rabbits, kittens, and frogs, and vivid imagination helped her build a magical world of talking animals rendered in soft watercolors. But even the children who read and love her stories know that Peter, Benjamin, Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, Jemina Puddle-duck, Squirrel Nutkin, and their friends don’t really wander about England’s Lake District dressed in tiny jackets and shoes. Such foolishness is mere fantasy!

So Happy Birthday, Beatrix Potter! Thank you for your delightful books that introduced so many of us to a magical world where bunnies drink chamomile tea for stomach aches and farmers make scarecrows out of tiny rabbit clothes. And for those of you who haven’t seen Miss Potter, I recommend this movie about Beatrix’s life.

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Dear friend, Anne, is a marvelous cook and the source for many of my favorite recipes. I have an abundance of blueberries this year on my blueberry bushes. Anne made the most marvelous cake for a family Fourth of July picnic using blueberries and a lemon cake mix. I share it here today with you. Like my last recipe Brookies, Blueberry Citrus Cake works well for a book club or readers’ group get-together, family party, or any other fun gathering.

Blueberry Citrus Cake


1 package 2-layer-size lemon cake mix

½ cup orange juice

½ cup water

1/3 cup cooking oil

3 eggs

1-½ cups fresh or frozen blueberries

1 Tablespoon finely shredded orange peel (1 large)

1 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel (2 lemons)

1 recipe Citrus Frosting (recipe below)


1- Preheat oven to 350°.

2- Grease-and lightly flour two 8×1 ½ inch or 9xl ½ inch round baking pans; set aside. (Try coating the fresh blueberries with some of the dry cake mix to keep the berries from settling to the bottom of the pans.)

3- In a large mixing bowl combine cake mix, orange juice, water, oil, and eggs. Then, beat with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds. Increase speed to medium; beat for 2 minutes.

4- With a wooden spoon gently fold in blueberries, orange peel, and lemon peel. Pour batter into prepared pans.

5- Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near center comes out clean.

6- Cool layers in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Then, remove cakes from pans and cool thoroughly on racks.

7- Frost with Citrus Frosting (recipe below).

Citrus Frosting


3-ounce package of cream cheese

1/4-cup softened butter

3 cups powdered sugar

2 Tablespoons orange juice

1 cup whipping cream

1 Tablespoon finely shredded orange peel

1/2 Tablespoon finely shredded lemon peel

Orange peel curls and additional blueberries for garnishing (optional)


1- In a medium bowl beat together one 3-ounce package softened cream cheese and ¼ cup softened butter until fluffy.

2- Add 3 cups sifted powdered sugar and 2 tablespoons orange juice. Beat until combined.

3- In a small bowl beat 1 cup whipping cream to soft peaks; add to cream cheese mixture.

4- Add 1 Tablespoon finely shredded orange peel, and ½ Tablespoon finely shredded lemon peel. Beat on low until combined.

5- Frost cake. Garnish with orange peel curls and fresh blueberries, if desired.


Store frosted cake in the refrigerator. Serves 12. 

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Usually, I have a guest author on Mondays, and decided to do so this week through the magic of links and videos. As you can imagine, as both a fan and writer of fantasy adventure tales, one of my favorite authors is Terry Brooks. I own many of his Shannara books, and have read most of the others.

The World of Shannara One of the favorite books on my bookshelf is The World of Shannara by Terry Brooks and Teresa Patterson. (I own the 2001 version with a white cover, the newer blue cover version is the updated edition). It presents not only an informative guide to places, people, and events having to do with Shannara, but includes lots of wonderful illustrations. And as an illustrator, I admire the many beautiful pieces of artwork between the covers of this volume inspired by the fantasy world of Terry Brooks.

Terry Brooks has a great website maintained by webmaster and author in his own right, Shawn Speakman, and it is to a video of Terry Brooks on that site that I link. I hope you enjoy this amazing author speaking about “Why I Write About Elves.” Enjoy! www.terrybrooks.net/2013/06/tedtalks-why-i-write-about-elves/

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Skean copy Though I dislike competing “against others,” I understand that such contests raise the visibility of a book, or in this case, a book trailer. Authors need to do some of their own publicity, even if it’s outside their comfort zone. So I’m stepping into the scary world of promotion and asking for the help of my readers.
The book trailer for “The Enchanted Skean,” my YA fantasy novel from Mockingbird Lane Press, is competing for the You Gotta Read Video Award from July 21 until July 26.
So, dear readers, please go to: Http://yougottaread.com/category/video-contest/  and vote for #17 – “The Enchanted Skean.” That’s #17 – “The Enchanted Skean” by Vonnie Winslow Crist featuring excellent work on the book trailer by MLP’s Jamie Johnson.

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Sandra Saidak Thanks to fantasy author Sandra Saidak for stopping by and sharing how she’s used folklore in her writing. (As my readers know, this is a subject near and dear to my heart, too!)

Using Folklore in Writing Fantasy by Sandra Saidak

I guess I’ve always known about the shapeshifting seals called selkies. I’d heard at least a couple of old ballads, and even seen one printed up in a Beauty and the Beast fanzine. But when I began writing the story which eventually became The Seal Queen, I knew that selkies weren’t quite what I was looking for. I knew I needed some kind of animal shapeshifter, and since the book was going to take place on the southern coast of Ireland, seals certainly made the most sense.

It was while sitting in a Barnes and Noble with a hot chocolate and a copy of The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures by John and Caitlin Matthews, (a wonderful book, which I could not possibly have afforded at the time) that I discovered the roane. While similar to selkies, and just as likely to have their fur stolen and forced to become the wife of some fisherman, these gentle creatures were much more like what I was looking for.

I searched for more information, but could only find one folktale involving the roane, which I will briefly paraphrase here:

A seal trapper lost his knife while attempting to kill a bull-seal. That night, a stranger came to his door, asking to purchase a large number of seal skins. The trapper gathered together a sizable bundle, and while loading them onto the stranger’s horse, found himself pulled onto the horse behind the stranger, who at once rode them to the edge of a cliff—then over it, into the sea.

The trapper found himself in the sea cave of the roane. he stranger, who was actually a roane in human form, was now a seal. Gathered in the cave was a sorrowing group of roane, who surrounded an injured bull-seal. One of them, in human form, held a knife, and asked the trapper if it was his. Terrified, the trapper could only nod. Then, to his amazement, the roane handed him his knife and told him the seal could be saved if the trapper would draw a circle around the wound with the knife, smooth it with his hand, and pray for it to be healed.

The trapper did so, and before his eyes the wound closed and soon disappeared. The trapper swore an oath never to harm another seal and was taken home.

As soon as I read the story, I knew two things: these were the creatures I was looking for, and this tale would appear in my novel. So far, all I had of that novel was a scene in which a pregnant woman was fleeing an abusive situation, and then arriving on an enchanted beach where she could finally feel safe. There, she would begin to discover her own strength and resourcefulness. The themes I saw in the folktale—forgiveness, hope, redemption and healing magic—resonated so strongly that I knew this one little story would shape my entire novel. You can find my version of the tale in Chapter 22 of The Seal Queen.

Sandra Saidak The Seal Queen The Seal Queen’s Cover Blurb: “Drawing on Irish folklore, The Seal Queen tells the story of Briah, an escaped slave who finds sanctuary, for herself and her unborn child, on an enchanted beach. There her life is filled with contented solitude, the joys of motherhood, and even the possibility of love with a merman whose song haunts her dreams.

But Briah’s magical world is shaken when she discovers that her son is the long-awaited savior and future king of the roane (shape-shifting seals, and gentler cousins of the selkies). Briah wants to help these magical creatures, but is unwilling to see her son become a pawn in their deadly schemes. When faced with the choice between sending her child to battle his diabolical father or allowing the roane to be exterminated, Briah insists on finding a third option.”

Find out more about Sandra Saidak by visiting her on Facebook (Sandra Saidak) and checking out her website: http://sandrasaidak.com/

Her books can be purchased on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Sandra-Saidak/e/B006C1QZR8/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1 Including not only The Seal Queen, but also Sandra’s prehistoric fiction series, Kalie’s Journey, beginning with Daughter of theGoddess Lands, an epic set in the late Neolithic Age and continued in Shadow of the Horsemen. And a story set in the Kalie universe can be found in Sandra’s short story collection, In the Balance.

Thanks again to Sandra Saidak for her guest post. Watch Whimsical Words for more guests, blogs from me, and Readers & Writers Recipes. Have a magical day! – Vonnie

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109 For my birthday this spring, I received a most interesting tea-lover’s treat, a Numi Flowering Tea Enchanted Blossoms gift pack. The tea-gift arrived in a small wooden box worthy of treasure. And I had visions of the odds and ends I’d store in it: a small magnifying glass strung on a cord to hang around one’s neck, a pair of fingerless gloves, a tiny container of cicada wings, a book on reading tea leaves – you know, the usual things one finds around the house.

To my delight, besides a small glass teapot and lid, there was a box, thankfully with directions printed on the side, of Enchanted Blossoms – individually wrapped balls of handsewn tea leaves and flowers which bloom when steeped. I immediately heated up some water, selected a ball of compressed plant parts, dropped it in the teapot and set my favorite teacup on the table. With anticipation, I poured the boiling water into the pot and stared at the globe of plant material. As promised, the Flowering Tea opened to reveal a flower of dark pink petals in the center of olive green petals. A fragrant tea bloom of sorts.

The resulting beverage was pale and slightly fruity. The problem was, I had no idea which of the advertized teas I was drinking. Alas, the Flowering Tea balls looked much the same before dropping them into the water, and even when opened, could be easily misidentified. So I sipped a most delightful, but unknown cup of tea. But whether I was drinking Shooting Star, Sunset Oolong, Dragon Lily, Lavender Dream, or one of the other equally exotic flavors –it was delicious!

Which brings me to the issue of books. (You had to know I’d end up here). Sometimes, we readers need to be adventurous: pick a book that is different from our usual fare, a bit mysterious yet filled with promise, and try it.

I have my favorite types of books, as we all do, but I read other books, too. Sometimes, it’s because the column I write for Harford’s Heart Magazine requires that I read books outside of my preferred genres. Other times, a friend or family member recommends a book. And then, there are the books I become curious about because of their title, cover art, or opening sentence. (Note to authors: title, cover art, and opening sentence really do matter).

Do I always like new teas? No. Do I always like the books I read? Again, no. But discovering that satisfying new flavor of tea or that gem of a book make taking chances worthwhile. And so, I urge you to try something different, whether Flowering Tea Enchanted Blossoms or a new book genre or author. Perhaps, you’ll discover a favorite in the process. And maybe, it will even be one of my books: http://tinyurl.com/Vonnie-Winslow-Crist-Amazon or http://tinyurl.com/Vonnie-Winslow-Crist-UK-Amazon

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Carole McDonnell

Thanks to fantasy author Carole McDonnell for stopping by and sharing the genesis of her new spiritual fantasy novel, The Constant Tower.

Seeing the Constant Tower by Carole McDonnell

“I had had a dream of a world where each morning the inhabitants of a city woke to find the landmarks and geography of their city changed as if someone had moved around a jigsaw puzzle. Except that, a tower was always constant. I didn’t write that story but I started thinking. In the end, I wrote a story where the world stayed put but people were tossed around all over the planet.  

So what is the Constant Tower, anyway? Aside from the means whereby my characters steer their longhouses?

I generally write about religion and although The Constant Tower is not primarily a religious story, the tower does have a spiritual subtext.

The Constant Tower is a tower that all see but few recognize. To some it seems a mere accretion of men’s bones, a rickety structure that has no ability to hold itself up, let alone hold up any who would walk on its steps.

In many fantasy stories, the sought after McGuffin is far away, lost, forgotten. The ability to see it must be earned through great works (legalism), through much study (gnosis), or through some sudden enlightenment (nirvana). The Constant Tower is not like that. It is eternally present, waiting to be recognized. The journey to it is easy enough but for a hero who doesn’t see the importance of such a structure, the journey is difficult. The Constant Tower can be reached at anytime but it is unrecognized and belittled.

Carole McDonnell TheConstantTower front When I started writing The Constant Tower, I wondered how I could depict a search for something that is already there, that is close at hand. What keeps people away from the spiritual journey? In the case of Psal, my main character, he simply does not believe in the supernatural or God. He doesn’t believe in The Constant Tower, therefore, he doesn’t search for it. He’s a kind-hearted atheist who is not going to search for supernatural reasons about why nights on Odunao are as they are. The idea that it is a theological curse is laughable to him. He is patient and patronizing toward the belief of others, especially the beliefs of his friend and fellow studier, Ephan. He has studied the folklore and beliefs of the clans of the planet Odunao but he will not waste his time on them, The Constant Tower, or the Creator.

So, the idea of communicating to a far-off Creator is not important to him, and even if he encounters supernatural entities or happens upon a supernatural occurrence, he is well-armed against accepting them.

Therefore Psal has to see. He is unlike Ephan who is the traditional hero of The Constant Tower. On the planet Odunao, Ephan, is the historical hero of The Constant Tower. In my book, I didn’t write about Ephan’s journey. I wanted to write about his friend, Psal. Ephan sees, but doesn’t wish to see. To see the tower, to see the supernatural demands too much for him. So Ephan wills himself not to see.

Events occur and stasis happens. And even —almost to the end— Psal is unable to see. It is only at the end that both these characters will themselves to see and to capture what was always before their eyes.”

For more information about Carole McDonnell and her novels: http://carolemcdonnell.blogspot.com ,

The Constant Towerhttp://www.amazon.com/The-Constant-Tower-Carole-McDonnell/dp/1434442063   and  http://www.amazon.com/dp/1434442063/ref=pe_309540_26725410_item ,

Spirit Fruit Kindle ebook - http://www.amazon.com/Spirit-Fruit-Collected-Speculative-ebook/dp/B0069VMX22   and at LULU - http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/spirit-fruit-collected-speculative-fiction/18707980 ,

Wind Follower, a Christian multicultural fantasy – http://www.wildsidepress.com/Wind-Follower-by-Carole-McDonnell-PB_p_130.html

Thanks again to Carole McDonnell for her guest post. Watch Whimsical Words for more guests, blogs from me, and Readers & Writers Recipes. Have a spectacular day! – Vonnie

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AnneEJohnson Thanks to author Anne E. Johnson for stopping by and sharing the origins of her Webrid Chronicles. Enjoy!

Why I’m Writing The Webrid Chronicles by Anne E. Johnson

Almost three years ago, I wrote one bizarre sentence, having no idea what it meant or what it would lead to:

Ganpril Webrid handed a clod of jamboro cake to the roadman.

Obviously, I was expecting to write something very strange, maybe without a plot. I continued scribbling a few paragraphs as stream-of-consciousness. But, to be honest, that’s not my thing. By the end of the first page it was clear to me that I needed a story.

So I imagined a character named Webrid, who (in that first scene) is selling low-quality cakes from his pushcart on a hot day in a dirty city. When I changed roadman to blue-skinned businessman, I started to get a picture of Webrid’s life: a working schmuck with little patience for the people he’s supposed to serve, and who feels like he’s not in control of his own destiny.

Although that character description might be found in pretty much any genre, I approached the story as science fiction. And, considering the bizarre nature of the first sentence, I decided to make it extra weird, thoroughly alien, and funny.

GLD There are no humans or Earth in the Webrid stories, and the large selection of freaky species on display is influenced as much by Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books as it is by the Cantina Band scene in Star Wars IV: A New Hope (ahem, otherwise known to people of my age as just plain Star Wars, thank you).

To express the urban underbelly of Webrid’s world, I applied a layer of noir, complete with cutting sarcasm, off-hand slang, and sizzling babes. Combining such knowing, winking language to Webrid’s bumbling life and a posse of wacky creatures made for some fun writing. I hope it’s as much fun to read.

Although Webrid has two very different adventures in Green Light Delivery (Book 1) and Blue Diamond Delivery (Book 2), they have something essential in common: Webrid has no choice. He’s the victim of destiny, which repeatedly plucks him up and dumps him into circumstances where he and only he―with the help of some colorful friends―can solve a world-threatening conundrum.

BDD_cover_front.1 In the front pages of Blue Diamond Delivery, my publisher Candlemark & Gleam lists the title of Book 3 of the Webrid Chronicles. It’s called Red Spawn Delivery, and I’m writing it now. So, is that it? Is this a trilogy? Does Webrid get to retire for real next year and lead a calm life hanging out in bars and strip clubs?

Fate has a funny way of deciding questions like that…”

You can learn more about Anne E. Johnson on her website. Purchase Green Light Delivery and Blue Diamond Delivery at Candlemark & Gleam and other retailers.

Thanks again to Anne E. Johnson for her guest post. Watch Whimsical Words for more guests, blogs from me, and Readers & Writers Recipes. Have a fun-filled day! – Vonnie

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