by Ferguson Williams
A new post by a member of the Surfside Chapter of The South Carolina Writers Association
A fellow writer in my critique group has an interesting take on where ideas come from. Now I wonder what I can glean from Facebook.
I think I have a story to tell. How do I get started? A member of SCWA Surfside Chapter has some advice.
My father, Roy Neil Miller, was eccentric. He created his own reality. But he loved us kids. I was the firstborn and a tomboy. My brother was fifteen months younger than I. He wasn’t interested, so Dad taught me how to fish, although I never got the hang of fly-fishing. On the Blackfoot River near Missoula, Montana, when I was eight to ten, I caught a lot of gooseberry bushes. I didn’t catch many fish, but I ate plenty of berries.
I was the trout measurer. They had to be six inches long. My father had a good eye, but sometimes he put some in his creel that weren’t quite long enough. If they were a tad small, I stretched them to make the limit in case someone from the DNR came around checking. One summer we camped on the river outside Missoula, Montana, while we waited for an apartment in grad student housing. My mother fried the little trout almost every morning for breakfast. You could eat them bones, tail and all. They were delicious. At night my dad heated stones in the campfire and brought them into the tent in a bucket to keep us warm at night.
There were bears aplenty in the area. Dad said that if we saw one, we should take shelter in the car. But he was at school most days with the car. There was a rock formation near our campsite that formed a natural walled in area. Mom said we should go there if we ever had to escape a bear. Mostly, the bears left the campers alone because everybody took precautions.
We kept food in a large aluminum suitcase Dad hung from a tree. One night a bear decided he wanted what was inside. He made a great deal of noise and woke us and the other few campers nearby. The bear severed the rope, and the suitcase crashed to the ground. But the bear couldn’t get inside the suitcase. He batted it around for a while and then gave up. For years my father showed people the claw and teeth marks on the suitcase. He considered it a badge of honor to his survival skills that the bear didn’t get our food.
My father earned two master’s degrees from the University of Montana, one in English and one in education. Second semester of my fifth-grade year, Dad became the school superintendent of the tiny school in Ismay, Montana. There were eight kids in my classroom, fourth through eighth grade. I was the only one in my class.
It was there in eastern Montana that my father became a rockhound. He taught me to hunt agates. I got pretty good at spotting a likely rock at a distance. I opened and closed the cattle gates, and, undaunted by prairie dog holes, he drove his Packard across the badlands, following two ruts of what looked like a little-used road. It turned out once to be a cowpath that diverged in two different directions. So he drove across the scrub grass with no guidance, always knowing where we were going. Serenaded by grasshoppers that hummed of drought, we walked in sun-baked gulches where dinosaur bones jutted from layers of ancient rock. In the dry washes he constantly told me to be wary of rattlers. They were everywhere. I found petrified wood whose crystal rings measured hundreds of million years of frozen time. I pounced on rough stones and imagined that when Dad sliced them with his diamond saw, there would lace and moss hiding inside the translucent quartz.
We cooked dinner on a campfire and slept under northern lights with curtains the colors of jasper, aventurine, tiger eye, and carnelian fluttered above us. I still have a piece of agate jewelry that came from a stone I may have found. It’s a pin with an oval-shaped agate. In it, a black tree is silhouetted against brown and gold striations that look like the colors of the badlands: a lasting souvenir of memory.
Dad got the school in Ismay to buy a telescope. On cold winter nights when the sky was so clear it seemed the stars were close enough to touch, he set it up on the hill beside the school building. He showed the solar system to all who came, kids and adults. I saw the rings of Saturn and the faint lines on Mars. Jupiter was a mysterious ball of swirls with a barely visible red spot. Instead of a misty streak across the sky, I saw the Milky Way’s stars and nebulae. I knew I was looking into the past beyond the age of agates and dinosaurs, and I wondered if there were others out there looking at us. My father always thought there would be others.
When my father was around 24, he was in the Air Force, stationed at Lackland AFB in Texas. He told us how he was asked to pilot a C-47 carrying desperately needed iron lungs to a hospital somewhere along the gulf. He volunteered, along with a crew, and they flew through a terrible tropical storm. One of the machines broke loose and dinged the side of the plane, but they made it safely, and half a dozen people survived the illness.
I received the polio vaccine because of my father. He often told about his experience delivering the iron lung machines. When we lived in Ismay, he contacted the state health department and had them come and administer the new Salk vaccine to everybody who wanted it.
My dad wasn’t perfect. In fact, he was a bit odd. But he was a decent person who did the best he could for his family. He died in 1999 after speaking to a local VFW group. Mom said he talked about his experiences as a pilot in WWII. My brothers and I didn’t know until after he died that he was in Air Force intelligence and flew missions over Germany taking photos of different areas.
I made the digital scrapbook page in his honor. The photo is one I took in 1994 when he was standing in the doorway of a garage he’d bought and had moved to the house he and Mom bought in Iron River, MI.
Fantasy world building is fun. It is also difficult. There are so many things to consider: cultural differences (their are some regional dialects), technology (about where our world was in the mid-1800s), a monetary system (tokens: 10 coppers = 1 silver; 10 silvers = a gold), and magic. In my Fire Song books, some people have the innate ability to summon elemental magic: Earth, Fire, Water, and Wind. My world does not have is religion. It has nothing to do with the story, so I left it to the readers’ imaginations.
I invented a tree for the second book.
Lools live only in the far northeast of the Four Realms in the Fayazor Realm. (A single other lool exists, but that comes later in the story.)
People historically ignored the lool tree because its wood is incredibly hard, so it is not harvestable. It is almost impervious to fire, insects, and cutting, and is virtually immortal. A century ago, following the Lee-Ath war, a group of people established a community in its lower branches aptly called Treetown. They built platforms (made of wood from other trees) that connect from tree to tree. Since the platforms cannot be nailed to the trunks or branches, they are attached by a system of ropes. The ropes allow for minor movement when the trees sway, thus making them stable. The lower branches have needle-like leaves that, when distilled, make a soporific painkiller, which is the town’s only export and its sole source of income. The townspeople make more than enough to provide for their needs.
The canopy leaves are the size of dinner plates and provide enough shade to keep the ground beneath the trees free of undergrowth. The leaves also move and follow the sun. Since the forest is on the western side of a tall range of mountains, the movement of the leaves allows them to absorb maximum sunlight.
The trees have porous cores in their trunks and branches. Treetowners long ago invented a waste system that utilizes that space. It takes a month with a heated iron bit to drill into a tree. A pipe inserted to the core allows for drainage of gray and black water which the tree utilizes for nutrients. Thus humans have a sewage system, and the trees benefit. The townspeople collect rainwater in cisterns atop their houses which are built snugly against the smooth trunks. The trees also provide water: their cores absorb nutrients from the waste water, thus purifying it and, since they require very little water, they exude the excess via the canopy leaves, which drips into the cisterns.
Have you invented a world? Tell me about it.
In 1958 I lived in the little town of Roy, Montana.
One night a friend was visiting me, and my father decided it was too late for her to walk the three miles home alone. She lived out in the country. The population of the town couldn’t have been more than 500 at the time. In 2010 the population was 108. So out in the country just meant three miles from where I lived.
My father’s Packard bumped along on a road that was two tracks across a stretch of prairie. We dropped my friend at her house and were returning when things got weird.
It was a warm summer night, and the loud hum of grasshoppers filtered through the open car windows. We both saw what looked like an airplane’s lights, but the lights were blue. The blue glow came at us as if it would land. My dad stopped the car. The light grew larger and solidified into a craft that landed about fifty yards from us. My father asked me to get the spotlight.
You should know I was a champion jackrabbit shiner. The DNR paid a bounty on them because they ate the grass that the cattle and sheep needed. One night a month I held the spotlight while my father shot them. I got a cut of what he earned. Occasionally he bagged a coyote, which was worth more. Sometimes I went with him to collect. I remember dozens of rabbit carcasses in the trunk of the car. Not proud today that I participated in such wanton slaughter.
Dad plugged the light into the cigarette lighter, and I turned it on. The light showed a disk-shaped flying craft perhaps fifty feet across parked on my side of the car. Its sides looked like metal but were not shiny. No markings were visible. There were bright areas that looked like windows, although I saw nothing inside, except lights that blinked and twinkled.
Dad ordered me to roll up my window and lock my door. He got out and came around to my side of the car. I held the light on him as he walked toward the craft.
Suddenly an incredibly bright light blasted from the craft silhouetting my father in stark black against the light that seemed brighter than sunlight.
He ran back and jumped in the car and looked scared as I’d never seen him look. The Packard stalled, and the spotlight went out. Then the beam from the craft went out, leaving us in deep darkness.
We sat in stunned silence for a long moment. With a hum deeper than the sound of grasshoppers, the craft rose perhaps a hundred feet in the air, hovered a moment, then streaked away from us at about a ninety-degree angle.
My father was a pilot during WWII. I heard him counting until whatever it was vanished over the horizon. He could tell how fast an airplane overhead was flying, or a car at a distance was moving with unerring accuracy.
“Twenty-five hundred miles an hour.” His voice was shaky. “Nothing goes that fast.”
He called someone at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls to report what we had seen. Later I overheard him tell my mom that whoever he spoke to said it was nothing, and it would be best not to file an official statement.
Are they aliens? Time travelers? Who knows? I just know that what I saw was unexplainable even now and gave me bad dreams for years.
There were many reports of unidentified flying objects in the Montana skies in the 1950s and ‘60s. If you’re interested, here’s a link to a well-known incident.
The Rules of Magic
#1 There are two kinds of Magic: Creation Magic – the Magic of Making – and Old Magic – the Magic of Unmaking. Something made with Creation Magic can only be negated with Making. If the magic of Unmaking is used, a cataclysmic instability can occur. Think antimatter.
When I was little, I believed magic was real, and if I only knew how, I could access it. I thought Candy Land existed in the clouds, and little people lived and died inside the television. When a TV repairman came to our house I was upset because I thought he was removing all the cowboys and Indians that died during TV shows like Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and the Lone Ranger.
I’ve outgrown those fantasies and left my belief in real magic behind, but I still believe in the reality of fantasy. How’s that for an oxymoron?
I love contemporary and dark fantasy, but not usually high fantasy. Although, I do really like Jason J. Nugent’s Curse of the Drakku series. I was lucky enough to beta read a couple of them, and then I had to buy one. Check him out.
Gatekeeper, Book 1: Kerrick Malone’s wife is salughtered by otherworldly spider creatures directed by a malevolent entity, Nadra. Kerrick must learn to control real Magic that can open portals to other worlds. He meets Arden McEwan, who, like him, possesses supernatural abilities. Kerrick and Arden must prevent Nadra from unleashing her hideous spider creatures on all the worlds.
In a previous blog post I recounted how the idea for Gatekeeper came from a friend’s dream. In my friend’s dream a woman appears in a lightning bolt. She is riding a horse and is wearing old fashioned clothing and a leather cloak. The horse thunders through driving rain and arrives at a tavern in the middle of nowhere.
My friend wondered if there was a story in this dream image, but she had no idea what any of it meant. I knew exactly what it meant. I knew who the woman was and the whole story behind her appearance. The entire novel flashed into my mind. It was about gateways between worlds and those who could operate them.
“Well,” my friend said, “if you want the idea, you can have it.”
Thus, Gatekeeper was conceived.
I had the story, but not the nitty-gritty, the most important of which was how magic works. I had to invent my own rules of Magic (with a capital M) to conform to my narrative.
Lyriel, a wizard, has come from her world to ours to save her newborn son from the clutches of Nadra, an evil wizard. Lyriel’s actions will have repercussions in both worlds and result in a life or death confrontation.
Chaos, a dark fantasy, the sequel to Gatekeeper, is available on Amazon.
Let me know what you think.
I have published dark fantasy involving giant spider creatures and good and evil Magic, a contemporary fantasy/time travel story set in 10th century Ireland and modern times, and children’s books.
As an independent author I hustle my books wherever I can. I recently took part in an art fair with artists and other authors. There were lots of grandparents in the crowd, and I sold 17 of my children’s books, Meena Mouse’s Perfect Raspberry and Hubert Little’s Great Adventure. It was a successful day.
I keep saying I don’t need any more ideas. I’m currently about to release a dark fantasy called Chaos, sequel to Gatekeeper. You can get a free copy of Gatekeeper for a short while here:
I got the Chaos proofs in the mail a few days ago. You can see by the image there is a glitch in the font, as the O doesn’t show up on the cover. The O doesn’t show on the back or in the interior either. But I love the font and figured out how to fix it. I’m also working on two other novels: a paranormal and an other-world fantasy.
(Technical info: I turned the title into a png file and imported it to the inDesign document. Voila. Problem solved.)
While at the fair I was in an area with other writer friends. I should have known not to join in the conversation about next projects. Someone mentioned companion books, and the discussion turned to perhaps I should do a companion book for Circles in Time, my time travel fantasy. Perhaps a book of magic spells or something like that?The floodgates opened. I now have a completed draft of a personal journal to accompany Circles in Time. It’s called Circles in Time Spell Book: A Personal Journal. It’s a small volume in which to write or doodle ideas and reflections. There are made-up spells, “potions” (some involving alcohol), and quotes from the book. Great fun. There are written and visual prompts. I’d like to think the little journal will encourage readers to find magic in their lives. Here’s the cover and two sample pages.
As if all this isn’t enough to keep me busy, I’m editing a short book for a client, and putting together a video for another client. I also formatted a book of poetry for a friend. The poems tell a raw but sometimes gentle story of abuse. When she publishes it, I’ll post a link.
Even when I’m not writing for myself, I always find ways to keep busy.
Watch for my forthcoming Spell Book. Perhaps you will find your own magic. And check out Circles in Time.