Author Spotlight no.16 – writer and illustrator Vonnie Winslow Crist

To complement my daily blog interviews I recently started a series of Author Spotlights and today’s, the sixteenth, is of Vonnie Winslow Crist. You can read the others here.

Vonnie is an author of YA / adult speculative fiction, a poet, nonfiction writer, and illustrator. She also occasionally teaches creative writing classes at a college near her home, Wood’s Edge. Her love of myths, legends, folklore, and fantasy began at age 3 when she taught herself to read using fairy tale books from the 1930s published by Platt & Munk Co. She shares a poem that tells that story.

As a girl, she graduated from reading A.A. Milne and Beatrix Potter to C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll, and L. Frank Baum. A fan of Anne McCaffrey, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Terry Brooks, and Neil Gaiman, her favorite author remains, J.R.R. Tolkien. But it wasn’t only the words in books that fascinated her, the illustrations served as the impetus for her to pick up pencil and paintbrush. The art of Arthur Rackham, Howard Pyle, Eulalie Banks, Brian Froud, Michael Hague, Alan Lee, Linda Ravenscroft, and others continues to inspire her.

Her newest book, The Greener Forest, is a collection of fantasy stories (with a few poems and drawings tossed in for good measure). In each tale, the world of Faerie spills into our mundane world of city streets, flower shops, amusement parks, public beaches, and backyards. Between the book’s pages spriggans, goblins, Brown Men, mermaids, dragons, sprites, gremlers, giants, and more interact with humans. A poem that describes how to find Faerie creatures serves as the introduction to the stories of The Greener Forest.

And now from the author herself:

I believe the world is full of mystery and magic. You just need to look, listen, and believe that wondrous things are still possible. And I live my life certain that the magical is nearby.

Like many other writers, my life is the source of writing (and illustration). People I meet, places I visit, stories in the newspaper, snippets of overheard conversation, and just about everything else I encounter are the beginning places of my work.

“Wait a minute,” you might say. “You write fantasy. How can that be?”

Let me explain. In “Birdling,” the first story in The Greener Forest, The protagonist, Cora, goes outside after a storm to pick up broken branches that litter her yard. She finds a baby bird, nurtures it back to health, then tries to help the robin rejoin his wild kin. That part of the story relates an event from my life. I just added a Brown Man to the tale. Sadly, in reality, a hawk swooped down and snatched the robin from beside me. I like the fictional ending more!

Another example from The Greener Forest is “Angels.” In that tale, the protagonist is a woodcarver. I’d met a man from the Appalachian Mountains of the United States (my home country) who whittled animals from wood to entertain himself during the winter when he was snowbound. I asked him how he knew what to carve. He answered: “My hands know – the wood tells me.” I based the story’s other main character on a barber I took my sons to who had a barbershop in his house. Lastly, I added bee-lore I’d either read or learned when interviewing a beekeeper for a freelance article. A pinch of imagination, and you have a story.

A third example from my book is “Shoreside.” I’ve been to the beach with my husband, three children, and mother-in-law. I don’t like to go into the water, and my mom did go to a gypsy who made the dire prediction in the tale. My husband and kids do go into the sea – I watch them and read. And like Hiromi, I’ve spotted dolphins and felt an unnatural urge to swim into deep water. As to the gull-back riders and ningyo… Well, I’ll let the reader decide what’s real.

I encourage writers to write what they know, but also to speculate. I’ve been to Balnuaran of Clava, Iona, Tinturn Abbey, Conwy Castle, Giant’s Causeway, Dunbeg Fort, Hadrian’s Wall, Stonehenge, and many less touristy places that offer opportunities for experiencing the mystical. I’ve also been to the library (and online) to research the facts before stepping into the fantasy worlds I love to create.

My advice: read, experience life, research, imagine, and have fun writing. Speaking of fun, to download a free Greener Forest maze I drew.

Thank you Vonnie. 🙂 You can find more about Vonnie and her work via…

…her website, blogTwitter and Facebook author’s page and purchase her The Greener Forest here or her other books here. You can also read her guest blog on writing fantasy and she’ll be returning to talk about illustrating on Tuesday 25th October and I shall be interviewing her on Tuesday 15th November.

The blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with fantasy novelist Catherine Stovall – the one hundred and forty-sixth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. They love reading your comments (as do I and if you’d like to get involved in anything you can email me. You can also read / download my eBooks here.

6 thoughts on “Author Spotlight no.16 – writer and illustrator Vonnie Winslow Crist

  1. Heidi Ruby Miller says:

    Important point, Vonnie, about using what you know to write the fantastic! There is always something real that we can bring into our speculative writing.

    Thank you, Morgen, for bringing Vonnie’s thoughts to us.


  2. Vonnie Winslow Crist says:

    Heidi, I think we need to always bring a bit of the “real” to speculative writing. Those scraps of our real world (and life) we include are the ropes we toss to our readers as we call, “Come aboard this magical ship, and soar with me.” Without those recognizable, day-to-day details, I’m not sure most readers would be willing to journey with us into fantasy or science fiction worlds. What makes Hogwarts so believable isn’t the magical — it’s the school books, teachers, friendships, quirky relatives, etc. we all know in our real lives.


  3. Vonnie Winslow Crist says:

    Sandra, you have no idea how horrible the real life adventure ended. I cried for days, and still feel sad when I think of the little bird’s end. The robin had grown large & strong enough, that he’d fly to a low branch beside me and cheep. When I was ready to go inside, I’d whistle, and he’d fly to my hand. The hawk grabbed the robin within arm’s reach of me, then the large bird paused looked directly at me. After a few seconds, the hawk lifted off with the robin clutched in his talons. What I remember most was the silence. Though my stories end happier than real life, I think such experiences help fantasy writers balance the cheerfulness of dancing fairies with the darkness of goblins.


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