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  • Writer's pictureElaine Marie Carnegie

Faeries, Owls, Ravens, Dragons, and More! By Vonnie Winslow Crist

Please welcome Vonnie as this weeks Guest on the Writer's Journey Blog!

I've always loved stories. When I was very young, I'd sit for hours listening to my grandparents, great-aunts, great-uncles, and anyone else who was telling a family story. As they spoke, in my mind I created the visuals to go with the tale. By the time I was three, I'd taught myself to read using 12-page fairy tale and folklore pamphlets from the 1930s. Each booklet contained not just a story, but evocative illustrations and a short poem.

Soon, I was the one telling the stories. Some were versions of fairy stories, folktales, and the narratives of books I'd read. Many were my take on real events. For example, when my family went to West Virginia for vacation, the white-tailed deer, garbage-stealing raccoon, prevalent poisonous snakes, and occasional black bear were woven into my imaginary worlds. I'm sure my teachers and the parents of my friends thought I was a practiced liar—but I was just creating stories.

Starting in middle school, I chose art to tell stories. I earned a Bachelor's Degree in Art-Ed, then became an illustrator using drawing and painting to share a narrative. Over 1,000 of my illustrations were published. Many were of mundane subjects, especially when I was a staff illustrator for The Vegetarian Journal. But even with those illustrations, I tried to insert a story by adding architecture, art, animals, and people to the drawings. Of course, the illustrations I enjoyed doing the most then, and still enjoy, are speculative.

The publishers of The Vegetarian Journal eventually published my children's story-cookbook, Leprechaun Cake & Other Tales. The book's four stories and over 100 illustrations featured a dragon, leprechaun, unicorn, trolls, and other creatures.

Next, I ventured into poetry. Encouraged by older poets, I soon felt comfortable telling stories using lines and stanzas. Several hundred of my poems have been published, including 2 award-winning collections, Essential Fables, and River of Stars. Once again, fairy tales, folklore, legends, and myth played an important role. I was so enamored with poetry, in coordination with a local college, I scripted and produced both a limited-run radio and television series devoted to poetry. I also taught for the Maryland State Arts Council as a Poet-in-the-Schools for 10 years hoping to inspire kids to find joy in creative writing.

Finally, I tiptoed into prose with some flash fiction and non-fiction. I wrote book, movie, and restaurant reviews and human-interest articles for local papers. I also did some editing for small press publications. But I quickly discovered my true love was fiction.

I knew I needed help with my fiction-writing skills, so I returned to college and earned a Masters in Professional Writing with a focus on Creative Writing. Though older than any other student in my classes and most of my instructors, I was determined to learn as much as I could. I wanted to tell stories better. Which brings me to the title of my writer's journey: Faeries, Owls, Ravens, Dragons, and More!

The fantasy reading of my childhood continued throughout my life. From the simplest fairy tales, I moved to more complicated speculative work including The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, the books of Andre Norton, Terry Brooks, Anne McCaffrey, Ray Bradbury, and so many more. But reading stories of fantastical worlds wasn't enough. I wanted to create those worlds and write those adventures.

I scrawled, then submitted hundreds of short stories (if you count flash fiction). Many have been published, but lots of them are still searching for homes. As the published short stories and novelettes began to accumulate, I realized I often used certain images and creatures. My first story collection, The Greener Forest, is filled with trees and Faerie creatures. In my second story collection, Owl Light, not only are owls a part of every story, but the tales occur after twilight and before dawn—during “owl light.” My recently-released dark fantasy collection, Beneath Raven's Wing, is bursting with ravens. My next collection, with the working title of Dragon Rain, has a dragon in every story.

Though each collection has a different theme, they're all filled with tales inspired by folklore and fairy tales. I often write in my bio, that I believe the world is still filled with mystery, magic, and miracles. And I do. That sense of wonder is what I try to capture in my fiction.

I've even waded into the world of the novel. My first novel, The Enchanted Dagger, had a long, twisted road to eventual publication (a story for another time). But it was tremendously satisfying to complete a story of over 90,000-words. Though I found sustaining not only a narrative but consistent characters, creatures, locales, magic, etc. extremely challenging. And yes, The Enchanted Dagger does have faeries, owls, ravens, a dragon, and more between its covers.

I hope my writer's journey continues as long as my fingers can still type. This year should see the publication of my next novel, Beyond the Sheercliffs (set in the same world as The Enchanted Dagger), and the publication of Dragon Rain. A non-fiction writing book is on the horizon as well as a fifth collection of stories (still in the very early stages). Then, there's this other novel I've been typing away on in my spare time and a stack of stories that need revision before I can send them out. Not to mention, a few poems and illustrations are needing a little work before I can submit them...

I continue to look forward—to persist. I hope to put to paper all the stories swirling in my head. I believe I was born to tell stories.

The media—paint, poetry, prose—changes, but not the need to share a story.

BIO: Born in the Year of the Dragon, Vonnie Winslow Crist has had a life-long interest in reading, writing, art, science fiction, myth, fairy tales, folklore, and legends. An award-winning author and illustrator, she is a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, Horror Writers Association, Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators, and National League of American Pen Women. Her speculative stories, poems, and/or illustrations have been published in Italy, Spain, Finland, Germany, India, Pakistan, Australia, Japan, Canada, the UK, and the USA. A clover-hand who has found so many four-leafed clovers she keeps them in jars, Vonnie strives to celebrate the power of myth in her writing and art.

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