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Posts Tagged ‘Tolkien’

Bonshaw Tower & Estate

Several people have asked me of late  why I chose The Greener Forest as the title of my first book of fantasy short stories. The title actually comes from a trip I took to Scotland with my mom, 3 sisters, and a bus full of distant cousins in 2009. These cousins are all associated with the Scottish Clan Irwin Association — and yes, if you go back a few generations, one of my ancestors was the American Revolutionary War hero, General William Irvine.

Drum Castle

The trip included visits to numerous historical and cultural locations: Edinburgh, Isle of Iona, Culloden, Fort George, Aboyne Highland Games, Urquhart Castle along Loch Ness, Glencoe, Aberdeen City Hall, Stirling Castle, Wallace Monument…

One of the most unique things about this trip was a tour of Bonshaw Tower & Estate in the border area led by present laird, Christopher Irving, and a tea hosted by his lovely wife, Claire. The second very special part of the trip was a tour of Drum Castle & Gardens given by David Irvine, 26th Baron of Drum and Chief of the Name and Lady Carolyn.

Drum Castle Greener Trees

It was while visiting Drum Castle, that I wandered into the woods near the small stone Drum Chapel. This little bit of Irvine woods seemed greener and more steeped in myth & Faerie than almost anywhere else I’d ever been. I was quite certain that if no one else was about, a hobbit or elf or other shy Tolkien creature might pop his head around the side of a tree and motion for me to follow them into the even greener depths of the forest. Or I’d stroll between an arch of branches and find myself in Narnia chatting with a faun.

More Drum Castle trees

And that’s when I decided the book of fantasy stories I wanted to put together should be titled: The Greener Forest.

My stories are certainly not equal to those of JRR Tolkien or CS Lewis, but I nevertheless try to put a little of the same magic into them. Readers, if you like fantasy, I hope you’ll give The Greener Forest a look. Writers, if you have the good fortune to travel — keep your ears and eyes open. You never know when inspiration will be standing in front of you. 

 And writers, remember Cold Moon Press: http://coldmoonpress.com  is actively looking for new authors. What do they want? Buy my book and you’ll see!

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 At November’s FaeryCon, I had the honor of meeting and chatting briefly with illustrator extraordinaire, Michael Hague. An admirer of his work for many years, I’d brought along 2 books with hopes for an autograph. Not only did he sign, The Little Mermaid, but he sketched in ballpoint pen a wonderful mermaid and fish on the first pages of the book. His sketching style, quiet manner, and kind smile reminded me of Pop (my grandfather) who used to spend countless hours drawing with me when I was a child. I must admit to being a little misty-eyed when I thanked Michael and turned to leave.

“Wait, isn’t that Tolkien’s World?” Michael asked pointing at the unsigned book I held.

 “Yes,” I responded, and began to explain I didn’t want to take too much of his time since there were other fans waiting in line for autographs. Michael waved his hand in the air, then proceeded to sketch a roaring dragon’s head opposite his painting of “Smaug the Magnificent” from The Hobbit.

 Born in the Year of the Dragon, those legendary creatures remain my favorite fabulous beastie. And in 2010, not only did I manage to place my dragon story, “Weathermaker,” in Dragon’s Lure: Legends of a New Age and became the proud owner of a Michael Hague dragon sketch – but I just learned that a recent review of Dragon’s Lure features a paragraph about “Weathermaker.”

So thanks to BSC Review and their book reviewer. For those who’d like to take a peek at the review: http://tinyurl.com/review-of-dragons-lure (Paragraph #4 focuses on “Weathermaker”)

 And now, to begin a dragon sketch of my own!

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 It’s the day after JRR Tolkien’s birthday. Yesternight, though the wind whooshed through skeletal rather than fully-leafed trees in the nearby woods, I thought of Bilbo’s birthday party tree: “There was an especially large pavilion, so big that the tree that grew in the field was right inside it, and stood proudly near one end… Lanterns were hung on all its branches” (LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring, p26). For on the evening of January 3, 2011 at my home, Wood’s Edge, stars twinkled between the tree branches and the forest seemed alight with distant lanterns. And I thought about the debt I owed Tolkien.

I was a girl when first I read: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit…It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle…This hobbit was a very well-to-do hobbit, and his name was Baggins…I suppose hobbits need some description nowadays, since they have become rare and shy of the Big People, as they call us” (The Hobbit, p11-12). And I quite understood the need for further explanation, since I had to often explain the various little folks I spotted while hiding beneath droopy pines and sprawling forsythias.

A few of the elderly adults with whom I shared my stories and sketches of these creatures, smiled a knowing smile and whispered, “Do what you love.” Most grown-ups discouraged such foolishness, and suggested I find more realistic and practical subject matter for my artistic endeavors. “No one will pay to read such crazy stuff” and “Medical illustration, now there’s something you can make money at” were oftentimes what I’d be told by well-meaning relations. Thus, it has taken me a lifetime to feel comfortable in my skin. And I quite admire those lucky writers and illustrators who’ve managed to embrace from the beginning their fantastical leanings.

So yester-evening as twilight crept from the shadowy places beneath the maples, I raised a mug of spiced tea to Tolkien. “Happy Birthday, to a man of great imagination who opened the doors to Middle-earth for us all,” I said.

The Greener Forest 300 dpi cover From childhood, Tolkien and his fellow fantasy writers encouraged my imagination’s wanderings, and for that, I owe them a great debt. Tolkien wrote,“Not all those who wander are lost,” and finally as silver hairs twine amongst the brown, I not only understand Tolkien’s words, but have the courage to embrace my own worlds and the creatures who inhabit them.

And so I invite you, dear readers, to sample a few of those tales in my books: The Greener Forest and Owl Light. And for you in the UK, here’s the link.

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 Milder temperatures and a slight breeze made today perfect for trimming the boxwoods, roses, and holly trees in my yard. The trick to trimming shrubs is to snip away the weak bits and tidy up the gangly parts that have grown too large. A gardener’s goal is to have a well-shaped, healthy shrub that’s not only pleasing to the eye, but strong enough to withstand wind, drought, freezing temperatures, and the like.

 A writer must trim their fiction in much the same way. She needs to read through her story with a critical eye and clip away the sections that stick out. She also needs to either strengthen the weaker parts of the narrative or cut them out. No matter how lovely the prose, a misshapen story with over-written sections and malnourished paragraphs stands little chance with most editors.

 And speaking of trimming, those who’re fans of JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings will remember how Sam Gamgee gets himself in trouble by eavesdropping while trimming the grass outside Frodo Baggins’ window. Gandalf grabs Sam, drags him into Frodo’s home, and asks the terrified hobbit what he heard. Sam’s reply to the wizard: “I heard a deal that I didn’t rightly understand, about an enemy, and rings, and Mr. Bilbo, sir, and dragons, and a fiery mountain, and – and Elves, sir. I listened because I couldn’t help myself…”

And I, like many writers, must admit to being guilty of eavesdropping. Over-heard conversations in malls, fast-food restaurants, in supermarket lines, in darkened movie theaters, etc. are a fabulous way to learn the rhythm of dialog. I couldn’t make up some of the conversations I’ve jotted down on a napkin or paper place mat. When my ear catches the strange snippets of strangers’ conversations, I can’t help myself – I write them down, and later season my fiction with those words.

 And finally, a sentence or four about those dragons that Sam mentions to the wizard. With or without well-trimmed claws, these magical creatures are one of my favorite beasties. To read a free poem of mine entitled, Dragons, that was published by EMG-Zine visit: http://tinyurl.com/vonnie-dragon Or you can check out my dragon tale in the new anthology, Dragon’s Lure, illustrated by Linda Saboe (the illo reprinted here with permission from artist) & published by Dark Quest Books: http://www.tinyurl.com/vonnie-dragonlure  

My message today for writers: Trim your fiction, gather good dialog while eavesdropping, and add a little magic to your prose (or poetry).

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The third eye, the eye that sees into the mind of another or into the future or past, is often needed when writing a speculative fiction story.

In Science Fiction, it’s common for diverse cultures and alien beings to cross paths. But how do they communicate? A version of the Star Trek universal translator can be employed. I used a translation device in my SF short story, “Pawprints of the Margay.” But that technology isn’t always available in the storyline.

Another SF communication option is to have one or more of the characters able to read minds or sense feelings. An empath (think Star Trek Next Generation’s Troi), a mind-reader, even Spock’s Vulcan mind-meld will all do. The ability to see into another’s thoughts can be a trait of one of the races included in the tale, or a special talent of a select character or group. The singing opossum in my story, “Assassins,” seems to know what is going on in the mind of the central character, Flynn. In this case, the reader is never certain whether an animal third eye is being used, since the point-of-view of the tale doesn’t include the opossum.

In Fantasy, the universal translator is replaced by a wisewoman or wizard character who understands multiple languages (and quite often has special third eye abilities, too). JRR Tolkien’s wizard, Gandalf, and The Lord of the Rings’ elf queen, Galadriel, are examples.  In my story published in UK’s Ethereal Tales, “The Garden Shop,” the main character has the ability to speak and understand the language of plants — certainly an uncommon linguistic talent, but one necessary for this tale.

Sometimes in Fantasy (and SF) there is a Rosetta Stone that serves as a translation device. At other times, a “common” language (or tongue) that all races understand is present. But most often, one or more of the characters has third eye abilities.

In the new anthology from Dark Quest Books, Dragon’s Lure, the dragon in my story, “Weathermaker,” can both send and receive communication by thought. The young woman at the center of the short, May, speaks out-loud. She soon realizes the dragon must be talking to her in mind-speak as well as in an audible voice.

The Residential Aliens anthology, When the Morning Stars Sing, includes my fantasy short, “Blood of the Swan.” Liv, the swan-maiden at the center of this tale has foreknowledge of the arrival of Jorund, the man who comes to ask for her help as a healer. Liv not only has foresight, but also the ability to read some of what is in a person’s mind or heart. And that special ability is intrical to the plot.

Whether called an empath, psychic, mind-melder, thought-reader, swan-maiden, wizard, or dragon — it’s common to find a character with a third eye in speculative fiction. Just take a look at your favorite SF/F tales, and you’ll see what I mean.

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 As I sit with J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit open on my lap, I’m thankful for the wonderful speculative fiction that I read as a child. It was those books from long ago that stirred my imagination and inspired me to write stories.

I still have a stack of 10-page fairytale booklets, published by The Platt & Munk Co., Inc. in the early 1930s, given to me 1 at a time for “something to look at” when my parents visited with an elderly friend on the other side of Baltimore.

Before I entered kindergarten, I’d taught myself to read during those visits using Cinderella, Chicken Little, Dick Whittington, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Tom Thumb. And who knows, maybe the seed for the precocious opossum in Assassins formed as I read Platt & Munk’s Puss in Boots.

Three of my favorite books when I was a second grader were Ruth Stiles Gannett’s My Father’s Dragon series. In her tales, right under the noses of people in the “real world” lived a family of blue and yellow dragons. I had such vivid memories of the beautifully-colored dragons. I didn’t realize until I bought a copy of the books years later as an adult that the pictures were rendered in pencil. The stunning hues of the dragon family had been imagined by me. And dragons remain one of my favorite things to draw and write about.

Perhaps the most serendipitous introduction I had as a preteen student to the world of magic and folklore came from the librarian at Perry Hall Elementary. In the fifth grade, I’d rush through my regular classwork, and then, ask to go to the library to help put books back on the shelves. By the end of the year, not only did I know the Dewey Decimal System quite well, but the librarian gifted me with 2 slightly damaged books.

The first gift book was Lupe de Osma’s The Witches’ Ride and Other Tales from Costa Rica. I was immediately infatuated with the ghosts, witches, fairies, and other magical beings written about in that book. The beginnings of Bells? The second gift book was about prehistoric creatures that never existed. Among the critters written about were mermaids. The beginnings of Sideshow by the Sea?

Writers tend to write about what they know. What I’ve known since toddlerhood was fairy tales, folktales, myths, legends, and magical creatures introduced to me by books.

Still an avid reader, I gravitate to work by Neil Gaiman, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Charles de Lint. It’s the fantastical and sometimes dark worlds created by these writers that draws me in. And as a writer, I strive to create my own darkly magical worlds for my readers to enjoy.

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 As a fan of fantasy & science fiction, I’ve found that although characters, plot & dialogue are vital to a genre story —  the location where a story is set has a tremendous impact on the success or failure of the completed project.  Discovering at FaeireCon that I need a Steam Punk setting for my novel’s faeryland was a breakthrough.

Some readers & writers might be shaking their heads, but those of us who’ve tumbled with Alice down a rabbit hole, walked with Lucy through a wardrobe, or stepped with a character through a looking-glass, know location often decides the direction of a story.

Without The Shire, the Mines of Moria, Rivendell, Helm’s Deep, Mordor & the rest of Middle Earth, J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasies wouldn’t be the same. Many of the challenges faced by Bilbo, Frodo, the other Hobbits & their companions are a result of the places where they find themselves while on their journeys.

When George Lucas imagined the adventures of Luke Skywalker he took us from the wastelands of Tatooine to the forest moon of Endor, the swamps of Dagobah, the interior of the Millenium Falcon, the ice world of Hoth, the Cloud City of Bespin & dozens of other locations in the vast galactic sprawl of moons, asteroids & planets that is home to the Star Wars saga. The contrasts in the various settings gives rise to action, encourages character development & helps the reader “suspend their disbelief.”

Another favorite of mine, Neil Gaiman, chose the sidewalks, pubs & subways of a city in Great Britain for his Neverwhere. He knew the claustrophobic closeness of tunnels, subways, apartments, and urban nooks & crannies would make a difference in the feel of the story. Likewise, when he wrote about Wall & the world of Faery that existed next to it, the settings made a difference in what it meant to locate a fallen star in Stardust.

And what about Harry Potter? J.K. Rowling’s decision to have Harry travel from a cupboard under the stairs to Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, the Weasley home & the rest of the author’s wizard world gave rise to the change & growth of Harry, the dialogue, the other characters, the antagonists, the plotlines…

In each of these examples & countless others, location is one of the keys to the success of the tale. In my story, Sideshow by the Sea, the boardwalk-carnival-seaside location was an important element. The locale’s flavor added not only a touch of reality to the fantastic, but was a familiar presence for many readers. In my next eShort, Assassins, the vast prairies, mountains & canyons of the planet Konur Prime are a familiar touchstone. In fact, this science fiction adventure tale could be classified as a “Space Western” — with updated versions of the stagecoaches, saloons, gunslingers & heroes of the Old West moved to — why, a new LOCATION of course!

For those who want to know what a number of authors think a Space Western is — check out: http://www.spacewesterns.com/articles/73/  If you scroll down in the article, I’m the 6th author interviewed.

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