Science Fiction & Fantasy Author and Illustrator
Vonnie Winslow Crist is a writer, illustrator, and editor.
Born in the Year of the Dragon, Vonnie Winslow Crist, BS Art-Education, MS Professional Writing,* has had a life-long interest in reading, writing, art, myth, fairytales, folklore, legends, and science fiction. *(Towson University, Towson, MD)
Vonnie's stories have been published in a variety of magazines and anthologies including Chilling Ghost Short Stories (Flame Tree Publications, UK), Cast of Wonders, Faerie Magazine, Dia de los Muertos, Les Cabinets des Polytheistes, Defending the Future's Dogs of War, Dragon's Lure, Potter's Field 4 & 5, Hoofbeats - Flying with Magical Horses, FrostFire Worlds, Outposts of Beyond, Trysts of Fate, The Night Cafe', and Tales of the Talisman.
Over 200 of her poems have been published in magazines and books in Italy, Canada, Australia, India, Finland, the UK and USA.
Over 1,000 of her illustrations have also been published.
Her speculative writing had been nominated for Pushcart Awards and won several Writers of the Future Contest Honorable Mentions, a Maryland State Arts Council Grant, National League of American Pen Writing Contests, and other awards. Her fantasy novel, The Enchanted Dagger, was a Compton Crook Award Finalist.
A cloverhand 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.
Currently, Vonnie is one of the editors of Pole to Pole Publishing's anthologies, editor of The Gunpowder Review, and continues to draw illustrations, and write poems, stories, and books.
You can read Vonnie's blog at: vonniewinslowcrist.wordpress.com
I think one of the best ways to get to know an author is to read an interview or two with them. Here's an interview I did with Douglas R. Cobb at BoomTron. (Alas, the original was taken down from the site).
Douglas R. Cobb's BoomTron Interview of Vonnie Winslow Crist:
"Recently, I had the pleasure of reading a great anthology of poems and short stories about the Fae folk, or faeries, by Vonnie Winslow Crist. The stories included ones about giants, dragons, mermaids, Mud People, and more, and they all were enthralling. The collection is titled The Greener Forest.
If you don’t know of Vonnie Winslow Crist yet, I’m sure it won’t be long before her name joins the ranks of today’s elite fantasy authors. Vonnie agreed to do an interview with me, and the results follow–I hope you enjoy reading it!
Douglas R. Cobb: Vonnie, you are one of a rare breed of authors who not only write their short stories and poems, but you also illustrate them! Would you please tell our readers who some of your influences are, both artistically and as a writer of fantasy literature?
Vonnie Winslow Crist: As a little girl, I taught myself to read using Platt & Munk Co., Inc., fairytale books from the 1930s. From that moment on, I loved to read–especially fairy stories, folktales, and legends. Though I hate to pick “favorites,” I think I’ve been most influenced by ancient stories from Gilgamesh and Homer’s Odyssey to the tales from the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen to the wonderful works from C.S. Lewis, L. Frank Baum, and Lewis Carroll. The traditional works I’m most fond of are The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. Some of the modern masters whose writing both influences and inspires me are Neil Gaiman, Charles de Lint, Terry Brooks, and Jane Yolen.
As to illustration, the work of Arthur Rackham, Howard Pyle, NC Wyeth, and the illustrator from those 1930s fairytales, Eulalie Banks, were all influences. Again, I’m loathe to pick “favorites,” but I think some of the modern artists who influence and inspire me are Brian Froud, Michael Hague, Alan Lee, Linda Ravenscroft, and Gary Lippincott.
This question is related to the first one. Do you first think up a story, and then draw an illustration for it; or, do you come up with a drawing first, then the story; or, does the sequence vary?
Usually, the story comes first. And to be truthful, it often arrives in a dream. I will myself to continue the dream the next night and the night after that. In the dream, I “see” the characters and settings. So I guess the storyline comes first and I draw/paint second. Once in a while, I just want to create an image I’ve “seen” while dreaming or daydreaming. After completing the picture, I might write a poem about the image.
Would you say that you’ve been drawing for more years, or writing? Also, are there certain Fae beings/creatures that you like to write about and draw illustrations for more than others?
Art came first. I’ve been drawing and painting as long as I can remember. One of my grandfathers enjoyed sketching and oil painting, and he put a pencil in my hand and paper in front of me before I’d even started school. In elementary school as I learned to write, I jotted down poems and stories, but their fantastic nature was discouraged by teachers. Ditto for secondary schools. Next, I earned a BS in Art and Education from Towson University. Again, fantastical work was discouraged. Then, I wrote literary stories and poems and illustrated for literary magazines and cookbooks for years.
Later, after my kids were grown, I returned to Towson University and earned a MS in Professional Writing. But I encountered the same attitude towards speculative work–fantasy, science fiction, and horror writing wasn’t appreciated by most of the instructors. An exception to that was Dr. John L. Flynn who taught “Writing Science Fiction.” Dr. Flynn also served as my adviser for 2 Independent Studies where I continued to write speculative stories. Now, I think I’m finally comfortable in my own skin: I’m a speculative illustrator/artist and writer. And I’m happy about that!
As to favorite Faeryfolk to write about and paint–I’m drawn to the lesser known. The more obscure the creature, legend, or folktale–the more I want to explore it.
You name your anthology of short stories that has just come out The Greener Forest after a poem you wrote that introduces the collection. Could you tell our readers the significance of the title, what it is that makes the “forest” of it “greener” than other forests?
Actually, the title has 2 sources. Several years ago, I had a poetry collection, River of Stars, published by Lite Circle Books. One of the poems about venturing into the woods and discovering a kelpie began: “Stroll through the too green/ glades of June/ to the forest core…” I’ve always thought Faerie would be overwhelmingly lush–almost too much green for we humans. Then, in the summer of 2009, I visited Scotland with my mom and three sisters. After attending a service in an ancient chapel on the grounds of Drum Castle, I wandered amongst the nearby trees. Perhaps it was the moss or the leafy canopy. Perhaps a bit of Faerie really did leak into our world that day. No matter the cause, I said out-loud to no one in particular, “This is the Greener Forest of the elves.” And when it came time to name, then puzzle together my collection of short stories, The Greener Forest was a natural for the title. I believe there’s a bit of Greener Forest, a wedge of Brighter Sky, a pool of Bluer Water, and a shadow of Darker Shade near each of us–where the veil that separates our everyday world from the magical worlds beyond is thinner than a spider’s web.
In “Birdling,” you write about an Acorn Cap Brown Man. I’d never heard of these beings before. Are they your own creation, or did they originate elsewhere, in possibly some legend/myth?
Brown men are present in the folklore of Cornwall and Scotland. Katherine Briggs in An Encyclopedia of Fairies, Edain McCoy in A Witch’s Guide to Faery Folk, and Teresa Moorey in The Fairy Bible mention them. They’re suppose to be protectors of animals and healers who dress in leaves and bracken. Brown Men can be friendly towards humans if you’re kind to the wild creatures they love. I added the “Acorn Cap” and a few other quirks to the Brown Man, and had him reward a young woman who’d saved a birdling. (Sigh. I believe my geekiness just raised its misshapen head!)
“Appleheads,” as I mention in my review of your anthology, is one of my favorite short stories in it. I was wondering, were you inspired by actual applehead dolls you own to write this story? Have you ever made or bought any yourself?
I learned to carve appleheads years ago while staying in a log cabin in Mathias, West Virginia. I own one doll, but have a jar filled with carved heads on sticks ready to make into dolls. I love the way the appleheads look when huddled jowl-to-jowl in their jar –creepy and comical at the same time. By the way, when they dry, they really do shift position! How could I not make them into a race of gnomes?
What are “spriggins”? In “Tootsie’s Swamp Tours & Amusement Park” you write about them. They seem to be pretty evil and mischievous. What does one of them do to Jess when she is pregnant, and how does she eventually learn to ward them off?
According to various fairy reference books, spriggans are ugly, destructive, thieving fairies with no love for humans. Known to blight crops and steal children, they’re creatures to avoid. Out of general spitefulness, a spriggan causes Jess to fall down a flight of stairs and lose her baby. After the fall, Jess can see the spriggans and other Faeryfolk that exist in our world. When Jess, her husband Dane, and her Uncle Zeb visit Tootsie’s Swamp Tours & Amusement Park, she’s given a protection necklace by Cat, a craft vendor selling her wares beside the airboat dock. By the way, according to fairy lore, the various beads and trinkets used to make the protection necklaces in the story will indeed protect humans from malicious fairies, goblins, bogles, and such.
Reading “Weathermaker,” which has a Chinese dragon in it named Lung, in the anthology Dragon’s Lure which I also reviewed here, was the first time I’d ever read anything by you. Why does the character May go to Lung to ask him to help end a drought? What power does he have over the weather? What is May’s eventual fate?
I’m delighted you reviewed Dark Quest Books’ Dragon’s Lure and selected “Weathermaker” for your comments. Though it was the first time you’d read my work, I’m glad it wasn’t the last.
When I was writing a story for the dragon’s lure-themed anthology, I wanted to use a non-Western dragon. Chinese dragons are complicated and often viewed as benevolent creatures who’ll help humankind. In the story, May has been visiting Willow’s Watch Pond with her grandfather for years. Papa Chang honored the dragon he believed lived in the pond by bringing him milk and burning incense at water’s edge. After Papa Chang’s death, May doesn’t keep her promise to honor the pond’s dragon. She begins to wonder if the severe drought her county is experiencing is caused by an angry dragon. According to Chinese mythology, dragons bring rain–so May searches through her grandfather’s secret book for the directions on how to beseech a dragon for a favor.
May manages to lure the dragon, Lung, to shore and secure a promise of rain from the magical beast. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, because it’s written in Chinese, May wasn’t able to read the entire text of the Weathermaker Ritual from “Supplications and Deals with Dragons.” Lung informs May that she’s offered herself as a bride to the dragon in exchange for rain. Quick as lightning, after May agrees to marry Lung, she finds herself transformed into a dragon, soaring through the skies with her beloved, and bringing rain to the drought-stricken land.
I love carving wood, so your short story “Angels” was another one I really liked a lot. It’s about an aging fellow called Porter who carves angels which he then gives to people he senses are about to die soon. They help ease the way for them to the afterlife, and help them to cross over. It’s a very touching story. What does Porter think about bees and their relationship with angels? Why does he want to teach the teenager, Tim, to carve angels?
According to legend, bees are the only creature to arrive from heaven unchanged. They’re considered little messengers who can take messages to God, the dead, and even angels. Myth also holds bees to be both wise and industrious–which is why monks in certain areas of Europe built their huts in the shape of beehives. In my mind, Porter is aware of and honors the mystical qualities of bees–and of angels.
As to why Porter wants to teach Tim to carve–he’s tired from a lifetime of angel-song urging him to carve. Porter hopes by teaching Tim his craft, he can finally hand over the carving of angels to another. Then, maybe his angel will appear, and he can cross-over and join his parents, best-friend, and Bea.
Stories involving zombies are some of my favorite kinds. That’s why I loved reading “The Return of Gunnar Kettilson.” He’s not called a zombie, but instead, a “draugr.” What’s the difference, if any, between these two entities? What’s Gunnar do to Lars Kettilson, and why?
I wanted to write a zombie love story, but wanted a fresh approach. When I researched zombies, I found in Norse mythology there was an undead creature called a draugr. A draugr or “again walker” often has more magical powers than the familiar zombie of New Orleans or the Carribean. I used as much of the draugr lore as I could scrape up in not only the description of the draugr Gunnar and the procedures used to keep him in his grave, but in how Celia and Rona try to put him to rest. As to other practices in the tale–a welcome candle in the window for travelers, sprinkling salt around to keep away evil, spreading the ashes of dead on the waves to scrub them clean, etc.–these can be found in a number of different cultures.
Now, to the fate of Lars Kettilson. One of the things draugr are known for in Norway (and to a lesser extent Sweden and Denmark) is seeking revenge. Gunnar’s beheading and de-hearting of Lars was as much for revenge as for protecting Celia and his unborn child. But even with the maggots and gore and violence, I still consider this a love story.
Could you explain to us a little bit about what Mud People are? Are they your own creation? How does the Mud Person Brook help Annabeth, and why is it strange that a Mud Person interacts with a human?
Muds are a people of my invention. I wanted to create a race that was both alien and part of earth. Muds have their own mythology (system of belief) that explains how they were created by the Mother. Their mythology even explains the evolution of animal life, including humankind. Long-lived shapechangers, Muds existed before homo sapiens and will exist after our species has run its course.
Still, Muds are fascinated by humans. Forbidden from interacting with them by Mother, there are even rules that Muds recite when tempted to reveal themselves. And there are cautionary tales about Muds who became entangled with humans and were destroyed or suffered shunning from fellow Muds and Mother as punishment.
Drawn to the woman Annabeth, Brook reveals himself to her in order to comfort her after the loss of her cat. Eventually he helps her confront her abusive husband. To me this tale is a love story, in which violence and death can’t prevent Brook from spending eternity with Annabeth.
I read at your website that a portion of some of your sales goes to help a very worthy cause–helping injured soldiers and their families, I believe it is–what first got you interested in this cause?
A friend emailed me contact information for the nonprofit group, Books For Boots (note: this group is no longer active, so I'm now participating in Operation Ebook Drop), while one of my sons was deployed in Iraq. I looked at their website and it seemed a worthy cause indeed–and one that appeals to the writer/reader in me. Books for Boots partners with selected authors and publishers. Authors donate money from the sale of their books and publishers donate books. The money goes to VA hospitals, where it’s used for special needs and emergencies, including helping families with travel costs so they can make a bedside visit. The books go to vets in the hospital. I’ve pledged a donation from the sales of some of my books to the group.
One last question. Would you please tell our readers about any book you might be working on now, and a title for it, if you’ve come up with one yet?
I’m at work on several projects at the moment. I have a high fantasy novel, The Enchanted Skean, that’s complete and looking for a publisher. Originally, the book was represented by a NY agent, but that agent quit the business–so I’m back to finding either a new agent or a publisher. In the works are two short story collections–one science fiction and the other fantasy. Both are named; which is finished first depends on the Muse! Plus, I’m typing away on another novel which is, of course, speculative. And then there’s this children’s book I’m drawing sketches for…. In other words, I’m too busy, as usual.
I and the entire staff here at Boomtron (that’s our new name–isn’t it a cool one?) thank you once again, Vonnie, for agreeing to do this interview with me! We strive to have the latest & the greatest, not to mention the coolest, news, reviews, and interviews around, and this interview certainly qualifies for that! We wish you much luck & success in the coming years!"
Organizations Vonnie is a member of include:
Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.: www.sfwa.org
Broad Universe: www.broaduniverse.com
Society of Childrens Book Writers & Illustrators: www.scbwi.org
MD/DE/WV Society of Childrens Book Writers & Illustrators: http://aseraserburns.wordpress.com/
Mythopoeic Society: http://mythsoc.org
National League of American Pen Women: www.americanpenwomen.org
Maryland Writers' Association: www.marylandwriters.org
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For the curious, here's a picture of me at Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, Colorado with my husband, daughter, and a grandchild.