A LIFE-LONG LEARNER

When I was still teaching Spanish in public school but thinking about taking early retirement so that I could write full-time, I happened to be talking about that idea in the beauty salon one morning while getting my hair done. An elderly woman overheard the conversation and said, “Oh, you don’t want to do that. You’ll be bored to death.” She went on to expound on that thesis, saying that I would soon tire of not having enough to do as she had done. She found herself bored and miserable. For her retirement was nothing but a drag.

That woman’s prediction couldn’t have been more wrong. I have found that there is not enough time to do everything I want to do. Life in retirement has been exciting and fun, as I’ve realized my lifelong dream of writing and being published. I retired from teaching, not from life and not from work. Writing has become my career, though I don’t think of it as work. I love writing and learn much as I do it—much about the writing process and much about myself. Each book I write teaches me new things. Although I gain a lot of knowledge through research, I’m not primarily talking about that type of learning. I’m talking about the kind of learning that comes through doing and that teaches new skills.

There have been many times when I’ve said about some part of the writing process or something related to writing, “I don’t know how to do that.” But that statement is not the equivalent of “I can’t do that.” I have had to learn manuscript formatting. I have had to learn the manuscript submission process. I have had to learn the difference between “telling” and “showing.” I have had to learn that editors know better than a writer—at least than this writer—what works and what doesn’t, what readers will accept and what they won’t. And I’ve had to learn to accept rejection and understand that rejection does not mean defeat. WriterAtWork

Now that I’m doing some self-publishing, I’m learning a whole new set of skills. I’m learning a different style of formatting. I’m learning how to promote. Promotion involves skills different from writing but skills, nonetheless. Promotion takes time away from writing, and dealing with that involves learning to better allocate time. The need to promote also involves learning to do things I’ve said I could never do. I have learned to do my own promotional videos. I’ve had some done professionally, and mine certainly do not compare favorably with the professional ones, but I’ve learned not to make that comparison. I do the best I can, and I manage to get the message across. I use Windows Live Movie Maker, get advice from friends and acquaintances who are familiar with the technique involved, and experiment and redo until I’m fairly well satisfied. I’ll admit that the first videos I did are pretty rough, but I’ve learned more with each one. Now I’m learning a new program that will allow me to do more and produce better results with the promotional videos and may even allow me to do book covers using digital art. It’s exciting to learn and to discover that I can do things I never expected to be able to do.

Here are the videos for the three books in the Arucadi: The Beginning. The first one was done professionally; the second and third I did.

I’m not an expert on anything. I don’t pretend to be. But I am stubborn and I am persistent. And most importantly, I’m an optimist. I believe I can do things if I try hard enough. That belief carries me through many rough spots, many discouraging setbacks. I believe in “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” It isn’t always easy. I get impatient, wanting to see results that refuse to come easily. I don’t like having to wait, to do over, to start afresh. But those things are a necessary part of learning.

Learning is what prevents life from becoming boring. And learning is a lifelong process.

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My Newest Book Is Out and I’m Excited!

I have a new book out now in the Kindle edition and soon to come out as a trade paperback. Its title is A Mix of Magics, and it is the third book in the Arucadi: The Beginning series. When I started working on it, I expected that series to be a trilogy, and that this book would complete it. But as I approached the ending, I decided I’d need a fourth book to complete the series. However, as I don’t like cliffhanger endings, the story in this novel is complete. And here’s the cover art: Front cover_Mix_of_Magics

Quite a few characters from Mistress of the Wind and Bringers of Magic appear in the novel, so although I’ve tried to supply all the information a reader will need who reads this book, it will be clearer to those who have read the first two books. But, I repeat, the story told in this novel is complete.

Here’s the blurb from the book’s back cover:
Old friends reunite. A childless couple adopts an orphaned infant. The Gifted Community gathers to celebrate the baby’s Naming-Day. At that most joyful time disaster strikes!

An old enemy, bent on vengeance, kidnaps the child and her nursemaid. The Community must pool its magical powers to defeat the evil one. Their several abilities all unleashed against him should easily overcome a solitary foe. But …

Egos clash. Powers collide. Tempers flare. Buried fears surface to paralyze the power wielder. Despair leeches strength. Death looms over them all.

If they cannot cooperate and learn to work together, they are doomed!

*Spoiler alert* If you haven’t read Bringers of Magic, you may want to skip the next paragraph.

Readers of Bringers of Magic will recall how Ed Robbins discovered that the idyllic place created in his mind as an escape from the abuse he endured from his cruel father turned out to be real and a refuge he could actually flee to in times of danger. ??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? At the conclusion of Bringers of Magic Ed takes Jerome Esterville to the land and leaves him there where the hate-filled man can do no more harm. A Mix of Magics begins five years after the events of Bringers of Magic. During those five years Jerome has destroyed Ed’s beautiful land, turning it into a barren desert.desertBut while the land has deteriorated to the point of devastation, Jerome has grown stronger, his magic powers have increased, and along with them his hatred and desire for vengeance.

When baby Dreama and her wet nurse vanish at the conclusion of the baby’s Naming-Day ceremony, Marta knows immediately that Jerome is behind their disappearance. She, Ed, Kyla, and Veronica all understand how dangerous Jerome is. But most members of the Community have never come up against such evil and don’t know how to combat it. As all the members try to marshal their powers for a concerted attack on Jerome, they find themselves getting in each other’s way, losing their tempers, not knowing how to apply their magical gifts, giving way to discouragement and despair. They must learn to cooperate and have faith in one another if they are to have any hope of defeating Jerome, rescuing little Dreama, and saving themselves. http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-baby-girl-lying-bed-portrait-alert-looking-four-week-old-covered-white-blanket-wearing-pink-knitted-hat-image33929415
Find the Kindle edition of this novel here.

The cover art above is by Gail S. Dark. The other images all come from Dreamstime.

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REVIEWS: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY

Authors love it when someone takes the time to review their book. We need reviews. They feed our fragile egos. More importantly, they encourage others to read the book, and they are helpful in promoting the book on other sites. What author isn’t thrilled to see a five-star review, not by Aunt Jane or Cousin Sid but by a total stranger who picked up the book, read it, and liked it well enough to take the time to write a review of it. That is gratifying in so many ways. It is validation, and above all, it means that your words resonated with someone, perhaps touched someone, that someone, at least for the time span spent reading the book, shared your vision. The reviewer may have gotten insights from reading the book; perhaps even saw something in it that you had not been aware of. It is not at all unusual for a reader to see a meaning or message in a work that the author was unaware of, but when it is pointed out says, “Of course! Why didn’t I see that?”

I doubt that any book, no matter how well received, gets only five-star reviews. After all, we don’t all like the same things. Tastes differ. But a four-star review or even a three-star doesn’t mean the reader didn’t like the book. It means only that the reader found some flaws in it, perhaps minor, perhaps more significant. Authors can learn from those reviews and should value them as much as or more than the five-star review. They are just as useful for promotional purposes, but they also point out places where perhaps we can improve our writing. In my own case, many readers found the ending of my novel Seduction of the Scepter ambiguous and puzzling although they enjoyed the book. I did not intend the ending to be ambiguous. To me it was perfectly clear, and I assumed it would be for the reader. But that is always a dangerous assumption. Readers can’t read the author’s mind. If several readers have the same problem with a work (as was the case with Seduction of the Scepter), it means that I as an author did not clearly communicate my vision to the reader.

But what about the reviewers that did not like the book and say so and tell why? We may consider those “bad” reviews, but they still show that the reviewer read the book and took the time to review it. A mix of good and bad reviews may simply indicate that the work is controversial, and if the author intended the book to be controversial that mix shows that she succeeded. Such a mix may intrigue readers and encourage them to read the book and judge it for themselves.

Some readers give a book a poor review because it isn’t the kind of book they wanted and expected. Again using my book Seduction of the Scepter as an example, the book has garnered many five-star reviews. However, it is clear from reading less favorable or clearly unfavorable reviews that in some cases the reviewer read the book expecting it to be a paranormal romance. It is not; although it does have romance in it, the book does not fit the pattern of a paranormal or fantasy romance. However, its title and cover may well lead readers to think it will be a paranormal romance. Others read it expecting it to be a historical romance or just a straight historical. Again, it is neither. Although it is set in although it is set in eastern Europe, the country in which it is set is an imaginary one. I did do research to have the clothing, food, and dances accurate for the period, but it is not historical in any other sense. And although I do call it a fantasy, the fantasy element is slight, so readers who expect a fantasy with wizards or mages or dragons or unicorns will be disappointed. There are no elves, orcs, trolls, fae, or other fantasy beings. The only fantasy element in addition to the novel being set in an imaginary country is that the protagonist sometimes hears someone’s thought in her mind. This happens randomly, and when it happens in a crowded room, as it often does, she has no way of knowing whose thought she has heard. It is not anything she can control, and it is not a gift she wants. But it is vital to the plot of the novel, which is why I label it a fantasy.

I fully understand why readers who come to the novel with expectations it does not meet will be disappointed. I would hope that some would be pleasantly surprised, but that will not always be the case. And a reviewer who expects one kind of novel and gets another may well be sufficiently put off by it to express his dissatisfaction by giving the book an unfavorable review. I don’t fault them for that. I am sorry that they were disappointed, but I do not get angry or take the review personally. An honest review may express disappointment, dislike, even disgust, but that is no reason for the author to be upset about it. No one can please everyone. No book is to everyone’s liking. We may consider a review to be bad, but rather than fret over them, we can ignore them or even learn from them.

An ugly review is another matter. It is a review intended to hurt or insult the author. It has no helpful explanation of why the reviewer was displeased with the book. It criticizes the author more than the writing. It might be intended to warn other readers away from the book, but in its language and tone it says more about the reviewer than the book or its author. I have only received one such review, for one of my early books, not Seduction of the Scepter. It consisted of a single sentence, a question. It simply asked, “What is this shit?” My initial reaction was anger, as you might expect. But then I thought, why be angry? This person obviously didn’t like the book. So what? The reviewer is showing nothing about what was wrong with the book or the way it is written but is only being rude and crude. An ugly review like that one reflects back on the reviewer, not the work being reviewed.

In conclusion let me say that authors need and value reviews. When you read a book, if you possibly can, please take the time to write a review. Good or bad, it will help the author to improve her writing and build her readership. Be honest, tell why you liked or disliked the book. Mention anything that especially impressed you about it. Recommend the book to other readers if you wish, or warn them not to read it if you prefer. Just don’t be ugly.

And if you haven’t yet read Seduction of the Scepter, I hope you will look at the reviews, read the novel, form your own opinion, and write a review. Of course I welcome reviews of any of my books. Find them on Amazon. cover art

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WRITING – FROM SOUR TO SWEET

Yes, yes, I know. It’s been way too long since my last blog. I’d kind of soured on writing.

I’ve been dealing first of all with my oldest dog’s kidney failure. She has less than 10% of her kidney function remaining. To keep her going I’ve had to learn to administer subcutaneous IVs—starting at twice a week and now three times a week. She is a beagle/walkerhound mix, a rescue, age not really known but probably 10 or 11 years old. Kira waiting for her dinner 06_12_14
She’s very good about letting me give her the IV, sits quietly, winces when I stick in the needle but doesn’t jerk away. I’m getting better at it but had a hard time at first as I’d never done anything like that and it not only made me very nervous but I felt guilty about being inept and hurting her. So I was depressed about all that. But Kira is doing well, has a good appetite, and to see her you wouldn’t know anything is wrong with her. She’s a sweet, friendly dog, tail always wagging, and that hasn’t changed at all.

Another thing was that I’ve been querying a long list of agents, trying to find an agent for an urban fantasy novel titled Were House. No luck so far. But writing and email the queries took a good bit of time, and the results have been discouraging.

But the troubles with Kira and the agents’ rejections or lack of response only aggravated the real problem, which was that the novel I’ve been working on just wasn’t going well. I didn’t have writer’s block. I was working on it regularly, but it was like slogging through thick mud. The words I put on the page didn’t sparkle; they just clunked down and lay there like lumps of coal. I was seriously considering giving up but didn’t feel I could, as I’d promised a third book in the Arucadi: The Beginning series, following Mistress of the Wind and Bringers of Magic.cover artMagicBringer-510rev
So, what to do? I tried various things, and nothing was working. I wanted this book, A Mix of Magics, to bridge the gap between the Beginning books and A Perilous Power, the prequel to A School for Sorcery. PPpbk2schoolpbk2I kept telling myself that it shouldn’t be so hard to write. I knew and loved the characters in Mistress of the Wind and Bringers of Magic, and many of them carried over. I also had several new characters that should have been intriguing. But the novel wasn’t grabbing me as my other novels had. Was it just my mental state? Or was it really as bad as I sensed it was? I believed more and more that it was the latter.

I was washing dishes one evening and thinking about the futility of continuing work on a novel that just wasn’t going anywhere and that didn’t even interest me anymore, so how could I expect it to interest a reader? With my hands in the hot, soapy water, I pondered one particularly troublesome scene. It suddenly dawned on me that the problem was that I had the wrong protagonist. Changing protagonists when I was over halfway through the book seemed daunting, but as I thought about it, I finally understood that I’d never make the book work unless I made the change.

Understand, this is a book that has several viewpoint characters. That wouldn’t change. I wouldn’t have to change everything I’d written. And I wouldn’t be introducing a new character. But I would be changing the whole emphasis and tone of the novel. I dried my hands, went to the computer, and wrote a new first chapter.

It worked!

Everything fell into place. I was excited about the book and the characters again. I could make it come alive. My whole attitude changed—toward the book and toward life in general. I was eager to write. And write I did. In no time I’d rewritten the problem scenes and had great fun writing the climactic scene. I took the advice of a writer friend as to how to handle a scene with a large number of characters. Her advice was to use omniscient viewpoint. I did that for two or three scenes. These were action scenes that were hard to describe from a single character’s viewpoint, as I’d been trying to do. Writing them in omniscient solved the problem.

Like a dam bursting, ideas flooded out. A couple of days ago I finished the first draft of Mix of Magics. I’m happy with it, although I know I still have a lot of editing to do on it. It will probably need to go through several more drafts. But the important thing is that I now have confidence in it.

One surprise awaited me as I wrote the final scene of the book. I had intended this to be the third and final book of a trilogy. But the ending, while in no way a cliff-hanger, did open itself to something I needed to explore further. So there will be a sequel. I have the characters, the setting, the plot. And it will take the series exactly where I wanted it to go.

I also have a stand-alone fantasy that I’d started when I was stuck as to how to proceed with Mix of Magics. I have to go back to it and finish it. And that should go well, because ideas are pouring forth for that novel too.

This sort of thing is what makes writing such fun. Just when nothing seems to be working and I’m ready to give up, a small thing, a “What if …?” opens up a whole new line of thinking. A suggestion from a friend. A picture in a magazine. A casual conversation. A line in a book. And suddenly ideas pour forth and the muse returns from vacation all ready to inspire, and everything falls into place.

I love writing! Life is sweet.

Find my books on Amazon.

#SFWA
#ASMSG

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Watch Those Participles!

I’m blogging today about a grammatical pet peeve of mine: the misuse of participial phrases.

Participles are tricky little devils. They are verb forms used as adjectives. They come in three forms: past, present, and perfect. Past participles most often end in –ed or –en. Present participles end in –ing. Perfect participles combine having and the past participle. Examples are “having eaten,” “having written,” and “having looked.” Participles introduce participial phrases that modify nouns. Here are some examples. “Wandering through the woods, we spotted many types of fungi and lichens.” moss_lichen_fungi “Having finished their dinner, the guests helped their hostess clear the table.” “Thrown against the wall, the ball bounced back and hit me on the forehead.”

Writers need to be careful to use participial phrases correctly. There are two incorrect usages that occur too often in written work that does not receive careful editing. The first is the dangling participle.

A participial phrase, like a single adjective, is used to modify a noun or pronoun. In the examples above, the phrase “wandering through the woods” modifies the pronoun “we.” The phrase “having finished their dinner” modifies the noun “guests.” The phrase “thrown against the wall” modifies the noun “ball.” A dangling participle is one that does not logically modify the noun it precedes. It “dangles” because it is an adjective with no noun to modify. Here is an example: “After eating our dinner the sky cleared up.” Its position in the sentence indicates that the phrase should modify the subject of the main clause, but the subject is “sky,” and the sky did not eat our dinner. So the participle dangles with no noun to modify. The sentence can easily be corrected by supplying a subject for the phrase to modify: “After eating our dinner, we were pleased to see the sky clear up,” or “After we had eaten our dinner, the sky cleared up.”

Returning to the sentences I used as examples in the first paragraph, I’ll show you how a dangling participle makes the sentence ludicrous. “Wandering through the woods, many types of fungi and lichens proved easy to spot.” The sentence now has the fungi and lichens wandering through the woods. “Having finished their dinner, the table was quickly cleared off so that the guests could play cards.” Here the table has eaten the dinner. “Thrown against the wall, I was hit on the forehead when the ball bounced back.” Ouch! Being thrown against that wall really hurt!

Here are two examples of dangling participles I spotted recently when reading stories of folks finding or rescuing pets. “After showing an apartment in one of our buildings, a big, dirty gray cat crawled from under the porch and rubbed against my leg.” “Being all white, I was going to name her Snowball.” The people who wrote these aren’t professional writers and merely wished to express their happiness at acquiring the right pet for them, so they can probably be excused for the inadvertent humor of having “a big, dirty gray cat” showing an apartment or the pet adopter “being all white.” A professional writer should never make this sort of mistake. Yet here is an example from a published work: “Splashing aftershave on his freshly shaved face, the sting on his skin was stimulating.”

The second common error in the use of participial phrases is one I’ve seen more often in work by professional writers. The action expressed in the participial phrase must be simultaneous with the action of the main clause. In the sentence “Wandering through the woods, we spotted many types of fungi and lichens,” the action of spotting the fungi and lichens is simultaneous with the action of wandering through the woods. But in a sentence like this, “Standing, he went to the coffee machine,” the action of standing is not simultaneous with going to the coffee machine. One follows the other. It would be simpler and more correct to say, “He stood and went to the coffee machine.” Because writers like to vary their sentence structure, they can too easily fall into the trap of making mistakes like the one just quoted or like this one—“ Pulling into the driveway, he got out of the car.” He did not get out of the car while pulling into the driveway. What he did was pull into the driveway, park the car, and get out. Such an error is easy to make, but it is just as easy to correct. The author or copy editor should check participial phrases to be certain they reflect action that can occur simultaneously with the action in the main clause.

One other caution about participial phrases: Don’t overuse them! They are a way to vary sentence structure, but they stand out and distract when overused. A simple, declarative sentence does not call attention to itself, but a large number of sentences that begin with a participial phrase will divert the reader’s attention from the story to the structure.

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Book Recommendations

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog, having been preoccupied with other matters that kept deterring me. I’ll try to get back on a more regular schedule, but in the meantime, here are reviews I’ve done recently of four books by friends of mine. These are books I can unhesitatingly recommend, not because their authors are my friends but because they are well and professionally written novels worthy of attention. I should add that I don’t like giving a book a bad review, so if I’m asked to review a book and after reading it I find I cannot give it a good review, I won’t review it at all. I was not asked to review these books. After reading them, I wanted to review them. These four novels are books I have not the slightest qualm about reviewing favorably. I enjoyed reading them and look forward to reading other books by these authors.

Weapon of Blood, by Chris A. JacksonWeapon of Blood
This sequel to the fantasy novel Weapon of Flesh is every bit as good as the first book, though if you haven’t read Weapon of Flesh, I recommend starting with it. Warning: once you start reading either book, you’ll find it hard to put down. The characters are well developed and compelling, the plot is enthralling, and the action nonstop. There are thrills and surprises in every chapter. I can’t wait to read the third book.

The Alien Within, by J. M. Bolton
The Alien WithinThis is an intriguing science fiction tale with believable characters and several unexpected twists. I love space opera, which this is, but it is more than that. It delves deeply into the psychology and motivating factors that have molded the lead characters, Winter and Shaw. Both have events in their backgrounds they have suppressed and concealed, and those events must be faced and dealt with as they cope with alien attacks, difficult decisions, and questions of loyalty and to whom it’s owed.

Captive Audience, by William HatfieldCaptive Audience_
When the cruise ship Jade Viking is drawn up into the hold of a huge alien spaceship, no one on earth knows what has happened to the ship. It seems to have simply disappeared. But its passengers are all too aware of their perilous situation. Some panic, others try to bluff and bluster their way out of the situation, and some, led by actor and martial arts expert Jim Morris, resolve to find a way to free themselves. This is a rousing good adventure with intriguing characters. It kept me reading and left me eager to read the sequel. Morris’s feats of strength and agility at times strain credibility, but that quibble is easy to overlook in this fast-paced, high action space opera.

Billy Boy, by Joyce Milne D’Auria
Billy BoyAs she did in My Blood is Royal, in this related novel D’Auria has again transported her readers to another century and another place. The mining town of Whifflet , Scotland in the mid-1800s is dirty, unhealthy, and filled with families condemned to a hard and poverty-stricken life. Despite or perhaps because of the precariousness of their existence, the people of Whifflet revel in the rivalry between the Scots and the Irish, between Protestants and Catholics, the orange and the green. Into this world comes Billy, born of an unwed young Catholic woman and a married Protestant man. His mother dies shortly after his birth, and Billy spends his first year of life in the poor house. His aunt , his father’s sister, learns of his existence and rescues him. Although the home to which she takes him is in only marginally better surroundings, his aunt is determined to give him an education and a decent chance in life. But his mother’s family are aware of who his mother is, and as he grows up and learns the circumstances of his birth, he is caught up in the rivalry between the Irish and the Scots. The vivid portrayal of the hard life led by the mining families and the difficulty of escaping that life is heart-breaking. It is assumed that all able-bodied young men will leave school at an early age and go to work in the mines. Billy cannot escape the tension between his Irish Catholic relatives and his Scottish Protestant aunt. The reader will keep turning pages, hoping that Billy will not fall into the almost inescapable hardscrabble existence that characterizes most of the villagers. Short chapters make it easy to keep reading “just one more,” eager to follow the ups and downs of Billy’s life. The novel is not all grim. There is laughter along with the tears as the pages are turned and the story unfolds in its unforgettable way.

I hope these reviews will inspire other readers to review books they’ve read recently, and I dare hope that some of you will review books of mine.

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On Childhood Fantasy Writings and the Childhood of Fantasy Writing

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I came across two things in my recent reading that inspired this blog.

First, I have to explain that I am a long time reader of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine. I read it from cover to cover. However that takes me some time, and I am now exactly one year behind in my reading. So recently I was reading Robert Silverberg’s Reflections column in the December 2012 Asimov’s. The subject is libraries, and as he spoke of libraries he visited in his childhood it brought back many memories. But that is not the thing that most caught my attention. It was a single sentence in which he said that by 1948 (when he would have been thirteen years old), “I had begun to write my own first pitiful little short stories.” It was that adjective, “pitiful,” that caught my attention. Robert Silverberg is one of the top science fiction writers of our time, and I can’t imagine anything he wrote being “pitiful.” But of course, he’s speaking from the vantage point of a much published author at age 77, and from that vantage point I’m sure those early writings did seem pitiful. And were we to read them now and compare them to his adult output, we might agree with that word choice. But I doubt that he would have used that adjective to describe them at the time he wrote them. I’d guess that he would have been proud of those first efforts, and rightly so, since no matter how pitiful they might seem to him now, they launched him on a path that led to a stellar career.

That reminds me that as adults we need to take care how we judge the early works of children. I discovered as an adult and already beginning to write, a file of stories my mother had kept and stored away. I had written them all in fourth grade when, for some reason, I spent a rather lot of time writing fantasy tales. They are written on wide-lined paper in heavy and now smudged pencil, and I could easily describe them as “pitiful,” probably with far more justification than Robert Silverberg had in describing his stories in that way.

I prefer to think of them as seedlings, needing to be nurtured and allowed to grow. I am exactly one year younger than Robert Silverberg—we share a birthday. But Silverberg never put aside his dream of writing. His seedlings grew and became sturdy plants, flowering into wonderful tales of science fiction and fantasy. I never put aside my dream, either, but the circumstances of my life caused it to languish for many years while my career choice took me in a different direction, and I began to write seriously rather late in life.

However, I am not writing about my experiences nor about Robert Silverberg’s, but about children being encouraged to write and to use their imagination. A child’s imagination, allowed to run wild, can be a wonderful thing. I’ve read a lot of children’s stories, many though certainly not all, with elements of fantasy. Now, I don’t know what elements may have characterized Robert Silverberg’s childhood writings, but I’d hazard a guess that they involved spaceships and aliens. However, my early writings, like many of the writings by children that I’ve been privileged to read, dealt with princes and princesses and fairies and magic and marvelous quests. And gems. Lots of lovely jewels adorning clothes and castles, with golden crowns and walls of gold studded with gems of every color and description.

And that brings me to Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, who lived from 1623 to December, 1673. Margaret Cavendish was a brilliant woman, a scholar of science and philosophy, and a writer of essays, plays, and novels, one of which is variously labeled as science fiction or as fantasy and is surely a forerunner of both.

Margaret (Cavendish, nee Lucas), Duchess of Newcastle, of Welbeck Abbey (c1623 - 1673). Duchess Margaret was frequently depicted by Abraham van Diepenbeeck. Image, Courtesy Maureen E. Mulvihill, Princeton Research Forum, Princeton, NJ.

Margaret (Cavendish, nee Lucas), Duchess of Newcastle, of Welbeck Abbey (c1623 – 1673). Duchess Margaret was frequently depicted by Abraham van Diepenbeeck. Image, Courtesy Maureen E. Mulvihill, Princeton Research Forum, Princeton, NJ.


That novel is titled The Blazing World, and while it explores the scientific knowledge of her time and also delves deeply into philosophy and theology, its framework story bears all the characteristics I listed as being present in many early literary efforts of children. A woman from one world (not ours, as we eventually learn) goes on a quest that takes her to another world, called the blazing world at least in part because of the gold and gems that abound there. In it she encounters a weird variety of “men”—bear-men, bird-men, worm-men, fish-men, fly-men, magpie-men, parrot-men, ape-men, and more. She becomes the empress of this world, and engages in long discussions with the various types of “men” on scientific, philosophical, and metaphysical topics. She also summons spirits to question them on theological and philosophical matters. These long discourses are of historical interest, in that they reflect the best knowledge of her era, and are put forth by an educated and highly intelligent woman who dared to write under her own name.* The lengthy discourses would never be acceptable in a modern novel, and The Blazing World is not a novel one would read today for entertainment. It is a window into another time and valuable for that reason.

It is also a glimpse at the childhood of the fantasy novel. Just as modern children writing fantasy indulge in wild imaginings, Margaret Cavendish, an adult woman and a brilliant scholar, allowed her imagination to run rampant. Not reined in by any established canon, ignorant of today’s novelistic strictures, she constructed a world unfettered by precedent and based wholly on her inventive imagination. She even places herself in the story as a visitor in spirit to the blazing world, where she communes with the empress on the aforementioned topics and also on governmental policy.

Today’s readers might find Margaret Cavendish’s novel strange and unappealing because of its lengthy discourses that take precedence over plot development, but they would be judging from the vantage point of over three centuries of evolution in literary styles and tastes. It is as unfair to judge it in that way as it is to find a child’s first efforts at constructing a fantasy tale wanting. Her work is never childish, but it is childlike in that it exudes that type of unfettered sense of wonder that children pour into their stories with no restraint and no concern over exigencies of plot.

Let children explore what it means to construct a story. Encourage them to use imagination to fashion a world of their own making, and let it blaze with gold and gems. Value rather than criticize their literary output, regardless of its shortcomings as seen from an adult viewpoint. A child’s early efforts may seem pitiful, but if encouraged and praised for what they are and not all that they are not, they may well lead to a future of producing commercially viable novels and even literary masterpieces.

*To view other images and information on Cavendish, visit:
http://www.scribd.com/doc/152459896/Mulvihill

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