by Vonnie Winslow Crist
Please welcome Vonnie Winslow Crist to the Writers Journey Blog this week with the story of her Dragon Tales! I found the feature very interesting with some good advice at the end. Thanks Vonnie.
Dragons and More Dragons
I knew I wanted to publish a book of dragon stories in 2010. After writing a tale for Dragon’s Lure, an anthology about luring dragons, my journey began. When I researched ways to attract dragons, I discovered they were entwined in the folklore of many cultures. Which makes sense. Some folklorists believe dragons were created to explain the fossilized dinosaur bones found by ancient people. And there are fossils scattered throughout the world.
A dragon named Fafnir was one of the main characters in my Young Adult novel, The Enchanted Dagger, which I’d completed in 2010. (Though the 90,000-word novel would be revised several times before publication). So, as much as I loved dragons, my brain seemed empty of new dragon tales.
Instead, I realized many of the stories I was writing were populated by fairy tale and folklore creatures like spriggans, gremlers, ningyo, goblins, giants, and more. A poet friend, Michael Fallon, once told me, “Always write poems and stories with a book in mind.” As I looked at my fiction and poetry, it was clear my first collection needed to be about Faerie. So, I pulled the previously published work together, wrote new pieces to patch where there were holes in the manuscript, called it The Greener Forest (my phrase for Faerie), and found a publisher.
Maybe now, I thought, I’m ready to write about dragons.
Once more I reviewed my uncollected writing. Again, the folklore and fairy tale influences were strong. But rather than dragons, the stories and poems were filled with owls. Michael Fallon’s advice rang in my ears. So, I gathered the previously published work, then wrote new stories haunted by owls. While researching owls, I came across the term used to refer to the time between twilight and dawn when most owls are abroad: Owl Light. And that became the title of my second collection.
Maybe now, I thought, I’m ready to write about dragons.
But ravens kept flying into my fiction. Sometimes as central characters, sometimes as observers, sometimes as sidekicks—the black-feathered tricksters inserted themselves into my tales. Refusing to once more give up my dragon dreams, I alternated between creating a raven story and a dragon tale. Now, I was writing with two books in mind! As it turned out, Beneath Raven’s Wing was completed first and quickly found a publisher. Six months later, Dragon Rain was completed and found a publisher (Mocha Memoirs Press).
The difference between the books is that in Dragon Rain, dragons are never sidekicks. They are the focus of each of the 18 stories. But how did I come up with 18 tales about 18 different dragons?
First, I researched. I still had the notes from my Dragon’s Lure tale, “Weathermaker.” I added to the research. Next, I looked for synonyms for “dragon” and found wyvern, worm, drake, lindwyrm, sea serpent, and other terms. Lots of ideas there! Then, I used current anthology calls for inspiration. Although I was “writing with a book in mind,” I also wanted to continue to have stories published.
The submission call for Coffins and Dragons required my story to include a vampire and dragon. I wrote “The Hearth Dragon” set hundreds of years ago in an Eastern European country. For Sea of Sorrows, my story had to take place underwater. Thus, “What Lies Below,” a sea serpent tale set in a Maryland reservoir, was created. Curse of the Gods required each story to be about a Greek myth. So, I wrote “Motherhood” about Python, who guarded the oracle at Delphi. For Samhain Secrets, the story needed to occur on Halloween. I created an Appalachian tale of murder and revenge with a dragon demon, “Balancing the Scales,” to fit that anthology. Of Kami & Yokai required stories to be about a Japanese myth or folktale. Thus inspired, I scribbled “Kindness.” With Japan still on my mind, the love story, “Beneath the Cherry Blossoms,” was written for Castles and Kimono.
Similarly, an anthology’s theme challenged me to write other stories: “Salamander” for Burning Dreams, “Dragonskin” for Faerie, and “Riches” for Villains. The story I wrote for Release the Virgins, did NOT make it into that anthology. So, I submitted it to another anthology, Witches, Warriors, and Wyvern, where it was accepted.
Then, I looked at a couple older stories which featured dragons. One called “Bloodguiltless,” a science fiction tale set in the far future, needed revision, but worked. Another, “Wolfbane,” fit the book, too. And I scrawled a new story, “Dragonflies.”
Next, I took part in a contest. Each participant had to write a story which included their selected animal, plant, or other item (like a bridge) in four assigned genres. I, of course, chose “dragon.” Each genre had a two-week turnaround. So, in less than eight weeks I wrote four dragon tales: one each for Time-Travel, Gothic, Alternate History, and Magical.
Where did I find inspiration? I always keep my eyes and ears open for ideas. I recalled a song sung by The Chieftains and Mick Jagger called “Long Black Veil” about a man wrongly hung for murder. I thought, what better reason to time-travel (using dragon’s breath to facilitate the travel) than to save an innocent man? Rather than set a Gothic story in England, I chose a part of the USA I’d visited. I wrote a Southern Gothic tale set beside a bayou in a decaying mansion with a swamp dragon. For Magical, I set the story in Scandinavia with trolls, dragon-headed ships, wood spirits, and a lindwyrm. Lastly, I typed “Dragon Rain,” which rewrote history by examining the tale of Saint George and the dragon from the dragon’s point of view. All four tales were included in Arcane.
It was time to put the book together. First, I looked for duplicate language and images—changing text where necessary. Next, I needed to order the stories. When ordering a collection, the author must think of the book as if it’s a novel! Begin with a good story, build up to an exciting, climatic tale, then end with a strong tale which mirrors the vibe of the first story. In “Weathermaker,” dragons and rain are central to the narrative. In “Dragon Rain,” the precipitation at the conclusion is essential to not only that story, but to the overall collection. Thus, I had the title, Dragon Rain, and the two stories with which to “bookend” my collection.
Am I still tapping out dragon tales? Of course! My problem nowadays is many of my stories feel like they want to be novels. Still, I’ve spotted three (yes, you’re reading that correctly) reoccurring themes in my short fiction. So, I’m writing with three books in mind. Plus, I still do illustrations (I’ve included dragon ones her for you to enjoy).
As 2024, another Year of the Dragon, arrives, I encourage each of you to examine your stories, poems, and/or essays. Find a theme (or two). Begin to gather together work with a similar thematic thread. And write with a book in mind. Don’t worry if it takes a few months or even a year to get your collection in shape. Remember, it took more than 10 years for me to write Dragon Rain, my long-desired book of dragon stories.
Bio: Vonnie, MS Professional Writing, is an award-winning author of books and stories, poems, essays, and reviews which have appeared in hundreds of publications. Her books include Shivers, Scares, and Goosebumps - 2023 Imadjinn Award, Dragon Rain, Beneath Raven’s Wing - Intl. Edgar Allan Poe Festival 2022 Visiter Award & Imadjinn Finalist, The Enchanted Dagger - Maryland Writers Assoc. Book Award & Compton Crook Award Finalist, Owl Light - 2018 eFestival of Words Short Story Collection Award, The Greener Forest - 2017 eFestival of Words Short Story Collection Award, and Murder on Marawa Prime. Vonnie is also co-author (with Kelly A. Harmon) of How to Write for Anthologies. Believing the world is still filled with mystery, magic, and miracles, she strives to celebrate the power of myth in her writing and art.
Castle Rock Dusk Fafnir at Ravens Haunt 300
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/stores/Vonnie-Winslow-Crist/author/B001KCR6PE
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/WriterVonnieWinslowCrist
Praise for Dragon Rain:
“A delightful set of dragon tales that kept me reading right through to the end!” - Debbie Mumford, best-selling author of The White Dragon and the Red
“An enchanting collection of stories, sure to please every dracophile.” - G. Scott Huggins, award-winning author of Responsibility of the Crown
“Immerse yourself in Dragon Rain, eighteen fantasy stories penned by a master weaver of magical tales. Here also be wyverns, wyrms, drakes, and water dragons, so beware. You might well be swept away by Dragon Rain.” - Steven R. Southard, dragon enthusiast and author of What Man Hath Wrought series
“Dragon Rain is a rich mix of stories featuring these always fascinating creatures.” - James Dorr, author of The Tears of Isis