This week, a treat, a guest blog by writer Vonnie Winslow Crist.
JRR Tolkien wrote: “Don't adventures ever have an end? I suppose not. Someone else always has to carry on the story.” And thank goodness it's true! For carrying on the story is my mission as a writer, and I believe the goal of most writers.
I've always been a listener – the first ingredient in becoming a tale-teller. I vividly recall the stories told by relatives and family friends from the time I was a toddler. Granted, I recollect the version my child's mind heard – but journeys taken, dangers faced, choices made, prizes won, tragedies overcome, and sad endings were all a part of those tales. As I grew older, I paid more attention to the specifics, but often not enough attention. By the time a story about an ancestor who fought at Valley Forge got to the nitty-gritty details, my imagination had him mounted on a horse, swinging his saber, and fighting off goblins rather than Red Coats. Or maybe skewering goblins sporting red coats!
Goblins? Yes, for the second ingredient in my development as a tale-teller, and I daresay the development of most writers, is books. Impatient for grown-ups to sit down and read to me, by age three, I'd taught myself to read. I read fairy tales, folktales, myths, and legends whenever the opportunity presented itself. By the fifth grade, I was helping in the school's library instead of going outside for recess. Thereby, earning the privilege of checking out more books than most students were allowed to take home. Plus, I managed to learn the Dewey Decimal System and was a whiz at using the card catalog – most necessary research skills prior to computers.
Which brings me to the third ingredient in the making of a tale-teller: research. Whether research is the result of curiosity or need, finding the facts, discovering what's gone before, understanding the science, embracing the culture, and even making certain you're using the correct words are important when building upon and continuing an adventure.
Decades later, I'm still a listener, reader, researcher, and storyteller. And in my books, I attempt to carry on the adventures. “Angels,” a tale from The Greener Forest, began with a stable owner I met in West Virginia who carved wooden animals to pass the time while customers rented and rode his horses. When I asked him how he knew what to carve, he responded, “The wood tells my hands.” Now, there was a story that needed to be told.
My father once shared a rather grisly tale about a family member who is buried in two places. It seems, the young man was killed far from his birthplace and buried where he died. His mother wanted him brought home, so she got a cousin to take a trip by horse-drawn wagon to retrieve her son's bones. Alas, due to the climate, the body had mummified. The only way to bring the boy home in the smallish box purchased for that purpose was to boil the body to separate bones from flesh. After rendering, his flesh was re-buried in the first grave, and his bones were brought back to his mother and interred in the family graveyard. Gruesome? Yes, but what a beginning to my soon-to-be-published high fantasy adventure, The Enchanted Skean.
“The Burryman,” a story in my soon-to-be-released speculative short story collection, Owl Light, began with research. I was thumbing through Christina Hole's A Dictionary of British Folk Customs for an entirely different project, when I stumbled upon the entry, “Burryman's Parade.” I'm not sure I would have made up a lad sacrificed to the sea wearing a hat decorated with herring, riding a white horse, and covered with sheep's wool and burrs. But there he was, and all I had to do was continue the story.
The beginning of adventures surrounds us in family memories, books, and day-to-day life. Writers need to listen, read, research, then add that magical fourth ingredient: imagination. We won't all be a JRR Tolkien, but each of us can lift up a pen (or pull out a keyboard) and carry on the stories.
Born in the Year of the Dragon, Vonnie Winslow Crist has had a life-long interest in reading, writing, art, myth, fairytales, folklore, and legends. Both her stories and artwork are filled with mystery and magic, perhaps because she grows fairy-friendly plants in her garden, believes in miracles, and has found so many four-leafed clovers that she stores them in jars. To learn more about Vonnie, visit her website: http://vonniewinslowcrist.com and blog: http://vonniewinslowcrist.wordpress.com Her books are available at bookstores and online: http://tinyurl.com/Vonnie-Winslow-Crist-Amazon & http://tinyurl.com/Vonnie-Winslow-Crist-UK-Amazon