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IMG_1833“I wish I could write as mysterious as a cat.” – Edgar Allan Poe

Viewed as a master of the macabre, Poe recognized that a feline was by nature (and when magnified by human imagination) more mysterious than most writers can ever hope to be. I love the simplicity of the quote – and its truth.

IMG_1803 For those who’ve never been, I recommend a trip to the Poe House and burial sites in Baltimore (where the pictures were taken).

And for Poe fans, here’s a link to some little known Edgar Allan Poe facts. IMG_1821

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 Today, before I begin working on my November novel, YA Urban Fantasy, I glance out the window. I expect the arrival of this year’s Gunpowder Review any day now, and I don’t want to miss the delivery person. I pick up last year’s issue with a water lily photo on the front cover from writer, photographer, and 2012 Balticon chair, Patti Kinlock. I flip through the pages, pausing every now and again to glance at a favorite piece of work.

As the editor, I know every word between these covers. And a year after the 2010 issue appeared, every error that I didn’t catch when proof-reading jumps off the page at me. I sigh, and hope that our wonderful designer, Katie, or I have spotted and corrected all errors in the 2011 issue. But there are gremlins hiding everywhere – so mistakes do happen.

 I turn The Gunpowder Review 2010 face down, determined to write another 2,000 words on my November novel today. But can’t help admiring one last time, the fabulous artwork & photos from Mary Lou Lanci, Mary Stevens, Wendy Stevens, and Kristin Stephens Crist that grace the magazine’s back cover. As impatient as I am for the 2011 Review to arrive, I’m also a little sad to see this fine collection of women’s work put on the “back issue” shelf.

Now (if the gremlins will stay away from my computer), back to the rats, pigeons, and goblins of my YA Urban Fantasy.  Now, where was I? Oh, yes: “A hand grabbed Roni from behind as she walked past an alley on her way from Casa Rosa to the subway entrance…”

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 We’re right in the middle of National Magic Week – when it seems all the world acknowledges that magical things are still possible. And I think it’s no coincidence that Halloween is just a few days away. But rather than magic in general, I’d like to celebrate the illustrators (like Gary Lippincott pictured here) I met at last year’s FaerieCon who bring their visions of the usually hidden worlds of fairies, elves, trolls, giants, and such to the reader.

 I’m one of those devoted readers and appreciators of illustration who drags a knapsack worth of books to a conference and patiently stands in line for the signature of the artist or author. FaerieCon, held this year November 4-6 in Hunt Valley, Maryland, is a great place to meet these artist-magicians. Last year, I met the gracious Michael Hague (see my Jan. 6, 2011 blog) and the fabulous doll-maker, Wendy Froud (see my Dec. 12, 2010 blog) – but they weren’t the only artists I chatted with. Brian Froud (pictured on the left), Wendy’s husband and perhaps the most well-known fairy artist working today, spoke as part of several panels and shared his delightful tales of bringing Faeriefolk to life. And if you took the time to stop by and visit with the Frouds, both Brian & Wendy signed their books and chatted amicably with their fans.

 Faerie Magazine, www.faeriemagazine.com , usually hosts several illustrators and authors at their FaerieCon booth. Last year, the colorfully-dressed and always-smiling Linda Ravenscroft signed 2 books for me. She seemed happy indeed to converse with her many fans as well as talk a bit about her art. (Linda is pictured on the right).

For those who decided they wanted to know more about the business of illustration, businesswoman and illustrator extraordinaire, Jessica Galbreth, gave a workshop.  Not only did Jessica tell the audience about the ins & outs and ups & downs of life as an illustrator, wife, and mom – but those who registered for the workshop also received a copy of her Artists Manual. And as the owner of an autographed copy of that manual, I can tell you it was a worthwhile workshop. (Jessica is shown to the left).

And lastly, but never leastly, Charles Vess, autographed 2 of the Neil Gaiman children’s books he’d illustrated, for me to give as Christmas gifts to my daughter. This year, Charles has a wonderful painting that will be displayed at FaerieCon.  For those who’re interested, you can see the progress of the enormous painting on Charles’ facebook page. I’ve already got my copy of a book of his magical art ready to take with me to hopefully get autographed when I visit FaerieCon in a little over a week from now. (That’s Charles in the photo to the right).

And what of my illustrations? I had a successful exhibit of fantasy paintings this summer (sold 4). My illos have been published in a few speculative magazines recently, and are scheduled to a appear on the covers of several more in 2012. A small crocus fairy illo of mine will be appearing in an upcoming issue of Faerie Magazine as part of an ad. And of course, I included over 30 of my drawings in my recent book from Cold Moon Press, The Greener Forest. For those who’d like to read more about what I have to say about illustration, check out a guest-blog from me at Morgen Bailey’s Writing Blog:
http://wp.me/p18Ztn-17n

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 Folks often ask me how to find the magical, and today’s response is, “Get off of the bus!” Let me explain… In 2009, I visited Scotland with my mom, sisters, and about 45 distant cousins that were part of a Scottish Clan Irwin tour. One afternoon we were scheduled to make a last stop at Balnuaran of Clava before heading back to our hotel. It was late and rain was beating heavily on the roof of our bus. We pulled into the parking area (which seemed to actually divide one of the circles of standing stones), and the tour leader asked, “Does anyone want to get out and walk around? It’s just a bunch of stones.”

 I raised my hand. Luckily, a couple of the other members of the group wanted to see the Neolithic graves with their Bronze Age standing stone circles, too. So a handful of us got off the bus bundled in raincoats and toting umbrellas. And the place was magical!

Balnuaran of Clava is one of a number of prehistoric cemeteries built more than 3,000 years ago in the Inverness region of the Highlands near the River Nairn. It’s surrounded by woods and farmlands — and on that gray afternoon, it was quite lonely. I took out my camera, doing my best to shield it from rain, and snapped a few pictures before the bus driver beeped the horn and summoned me back. But I could have stayed much longer in that misty woods.

 There were 3 stone cairns or graves. The one closest to the parking lot was a passage cairn. The central grave was a ring-cairn with no entrance into its pile of stones. And the grave furthermost from the parking area was also a passage cairn. According to authorities, each grave was constructed for a single individual, and as I touched the moss-covered, lichen-riddled boulders, I felt the ancientness of the site. And I felt it was alive with the unseen.

When I stood at the entrance to the far Southwest passage cairn, it became evident that it aligned with the entrance to the Northeast passage cairn. Later, I learned that alignment marked the Midwinter sunset. Perhaps the astronomical meaning was part of the magic I felt.

 The construction of the cairns seemed a bit haphazard at first glance, but upon looking closely, I could see stones were carefully stacked without mortar of any sort. To help stabilize the smaller rocks, large boulders had been placed around the outside of each grave as kerbs. As I examined the interior of one of the passage cairns, I could swear I heard a murmuring of voices along with the raindrops pelting rocks, leaves, and my raincoat.

Then, I noticed one of the standing stones that surrounded each cairn was split. For what purpose? I had no idea.  But the writer part of me imagined it was a gateway to Faerie or the past or another dimension. So I snapped a quick picture as I realized I was the last person at Balnuaran of Clava.

“I’m sorry I can’t stay longer,” I whispered to the spirits that seemed to hover nearby. I did not take a pebble or even a blade of grass away with me. To do so seemed wrong. Later, I heard one of the locals say that a tourist once took a rock from Balnuaran of Clava home and suffered so much misfortune that he later mailed the rock back to the Inverness Tourist Board. Perhaps the story is a bit of foolishness — but I had known not to take from the unseen amongst us.

 Because I got off of the bus that day in Scotland when others chose to remain warm and dry — I saw the magical. I experienced the mystical. And perhaps, I even caught some of that on film! The images published here have not been altered. The blurred areas in some of the pictures are most certainly raindrips or condensation or faulty photography of some sort. Or perhaps not.

I leave it to the viewer of these photographs and others who’ve visited the ancient burial and astronomical site of Balnuaran of Clava to decide for themselves. As for me?  I still believe the mystical and magical are all around us. And I write about it in my books: The Greener Forest, Owl Light, The Enchanted Skean, and elsewhere. (And here’s the Link for UK readers).

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As another ice storm approaches Wood’s Edge, I haul seed out by the bucketful to the wild birds perched on the branches of the trees and shrubs at the forest’s edge. Even with coat, hat, boots, and gloves, I shiver. I glance up at the heavy gray sky before filling the feeders. The chickadees, juncoes, wrens, cardinals, blue jays, red-winged blackbirds, sparrows, nuthatches, and tufted titmice (titmouses?) bravely swoop down and clothespin themselves to the perches of nearby feeders as I fumble with the first suet basket. Crows caw from the fence rail, several woodpeckers hop down the tree trunks, and a solitary hawk watches the goings-on with much interest.

 Meanwhile, Sandy the Black-mouthed Cur is bounding through the drifts, grabbing mouthfuls of snow, and rolling with abandon in the loose, fluffy snow in the corner of the yard. Joyful is the only word to describe her behavior. She looks at me, eyes bright, muzzle whitened by snow, tail wagging so hard the rear half of her body has joined its back & forth motion, and woofs. A playful woof that seems to say: The world is wonderful and isn’t it great to be alive!

Last winter seemed to be a long string of snowstorms. This winter appears to be much the same. I get lots of writing and drawing done it’s true, but I miss morning walks. Ice is not something I choose to tread upon when trying to manage an enthusiastic 60-pound dog. And tonight we expect more ice. 

But even as I cringe at the thought of another month of bad weather (and I suspect we shall get another month’s worth of frozen precipitation whether or not that famous Pennsylvania groundhog sees his shadow) — I think of crocuses and the sound of spring peepers. And since Sandy has only been with me since last June, I secretly wonder what she’ll think of frogs!

 And so, I share a quote from Anne Bradstreet: “If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant.” Indeed!  And if we had no winter, Sandy the Black-mouthed Cur would surely miss the snow.

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 Spring has finally come to our bit of yard near the edge of the woods. Even after the snowiest winter on record in Maryland, the dogwood trees are loaded with blossoms as if to confirm their symbolism. According to a reprinted version of Kate Greenaway’s 1884 book, “Language of Flowers,” dogwoods stand for durability.

Durability is an excellent attribute to have if you’re a smallish tree in a county that has bitter winters. It’s also an excellent trait to have if you’re a writer. You have to endure repeated rejection of your prose or verse. And even when an editor says, “Yes,” there are often multiple revisions to work on before the publishable version of the writing is ready for print.

At the foot of my favorite dogwood, which is rooted in the beginnings of the woods, are some snowdrops. Their nodding white flowers bloomed weeks ago when there was still snow hunkered down in the shadowy crevices of the forest. I recall the lovely blossoms, even though all that’s visible now are the spear-like leaves of the snowdrops.

It’s no wonder in floriography (the language of flowers) snowdrops symbolize hope. And hope is another characteristic that’s quite useful for a writer. Even when a publisher says,”No,” to one of your projects, you must push on. Writers submit and resubmit their stories to editors always hopeful that as they work on their craft, they will find a “home” for each tale.

On the north side of this dogwood tree there is some moss. It appears to be an ordinary moss to me, though a botanist would surely have a special name in both Latin and common tongue for this fuzzy member of the plant kingdom. According to Kate’s book, moss represents maternal love.

 Sometimes, writers think of their stories and illustrators consider their art work to be their children. How silly that sounds to many, but are these small creations not the result of months of incubation and hours of intense concentration as each detail is perfected? In the end, the birth of a tale or painting is followed by some loving discipline as the unruly bits are eliminated and new meritorious characteristics are added. The final step in the creative process, like motherhood (or fatherhood for that matter), is the sending forth of the child into the world — knowing even as you watch your little one climb onto the school bus or your envelope of poems vanish in the mailbox slot that what happens next is out of your control.

The world of writers and illustrators requires durability, hope, and tough love. But aren’t those also qualities each of us needs as we find our way through the maze of our day-to-day world?

 Learn more about Vonnie’s writing at www.vonniewinslowcrist.com

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 The editor from an eShort publisher just requested an edit on a science fiction short story, Assassins, I submitted to her earlier this fall.

This is good news!  Writers need to remember when an editor likes your story (or poem or article or book) enough to spend her time editing your words, it’s a compliment. I know it’s difficult to change or shorten your story, but good editors know what a reader needs. And a good editor is always editing for the reader.

 “But it’s my story,” many writers say. “I should decide what stays and what goes.”  And you’re right — but be flexible. Often if a writer refuses all editorial suggestions, they come across as “difficult” and their piece of writing isn’t accepted for publication.

Therefore, every writer needs to remove their emotions from the decision-making process when it comes to editing. Both you and the editor want the same thing: readers to have access to the best possible version of your story.

 So let’s hope I correctly applied those editorial suggestions and “fixed” a few problem areas in Assassins well enough that you’ll get to read the story soon.  🙂

As for the 3 pictures in this post — they’re possible cover photos I sent to the publisher. It will be up to her which of these, if any, she’ll use. The editors might decide to use a different cover entirely — but they’re the experts, and as an author I need to rely on their expertise. By the way — which do you prefer?

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