My Library of Books for Writing Fantasy

5x5 fantasy bookA short time ago, Ernesto San Giacomo posted his 2015 Reading List. In the list was Writing About Magic by Rayne Hall.

I commented, saying I had several books about magic, herbs and stones to help me with writing my fantasy stories, but I hadn’t read that one. A list was requested, but I hadn’t gotten around to making it until tonight.

Some of these books are one-time reads, but others I keep on the shelf as references. I can’t remember all the properties of stones and herbs, and I can’t recall all the spells (though I make up a lot myself), so these are keepers for me.

Natural Magic – Spells, Enchantments & Self-development by Pamela J. Ball: This book provides insight to magic and how a sorceress might work her spells. Not every magic-user is the same, so you can take a little of this and a little of that to create a character. This book was okay, worth buying, but not my favourite.

The back cover states: Before there was formal religion there was magic, and to this day there are people who purport to perform ‘miracles’ with the aid of magical powers derived from nature or the spirit realm. These powers are still out there to be tapped into by us. All you need is the knowledge and know-how contained in Natural Magic.

This book reveals: How to become a natural magician, using knowledge gathered over thousands of years by magician and mystic alike. Techniques employing plants, trees, crystals and incense along with meditation, ritual, chanting and dreams. The tools to give expression to your creativity and beliefs. A wide range of methods to bring about positive changes in your life.

The Druid Magic Handbook – Ritual Magic Rooted in the Living Earth by John Michael Greer: This book speaks of Life Force, the alphabet of magic, the elements, enchantment and Ogham writing. It gives a great history on the druids, which I thoroughly enjoyed and ‘connected’ with. I discovered many potential story lines by reading it.

This is the book that gave me the proper name of the life force I sought as the source for the magic in my Shadows in the Stone book. Nwyfre (pronounced NOO-iv-ruh) is the third component of our makeup. The other two are body and mind.

The book states, nwyfre is the source of life, energy, and vitality, enlivening the dense matter of the body and connecting it with the mind.

You may know nwyfre or the life force by other names: spirit, secret fire, vital life force, Orenda, ki or astral light. George Lucas called it the Force.

Mind and body are connected by the life force.

This is one of my favourite books on this subject. I haven’t read it for a few years, so it is time to read it again. If you can release modern-day thinking and open your mind while you read this, the possibility of creating great characters who practise Druidry will jump off the page.

I follow the path of nature, one parallel to druids, so appreciating their philosophy is easy for me to do. Learning about their ideas gives me a deeper understanding of the forces that surround us, weave their way into our life being and shape our lives.

Practical Spellcraft – a first course in magic by Leanna Greenaway: Similar to Natural Magic, this book gives an over-all view of witchcraft. It provides examples of spells and recipes and notes things like zodiac signs. The book was okay, but again, it is just a book to see how others describe their philosophy. If you have never read about how to cast spells or what might go into casting one, this book will help. There are better ones, I’m sure, but I’ve not found a great one.

Instead what I do to create magic in my books is gather pieces of information from the many books (both fiction and nonfiction) I’ve read, movies, news stories (they’re out there), talking with others and letting my imagination run wild.

Just today while feeding the goats and thinking of a scene from Healing Stones, I realised a limitation in the Levitation Spell. I hadn’t realised this until I had the character push its limits. If I hadn’t been letting my imagination run with the scene, this would not have been discovered. Think the impossible and find a way to make it happen.

The back cover states: Cast potent spells created by a witch with many years of experience in the magical arts. Each spell has been tried and tested on numerous occasions. Some have been practiced for centuries; others incorporate modern technology like text messaging and email. Perform every spell safely and avoid the pitfalls that are bound to bring bad luck. Cleanse and bless your home, freeing it from any unpleasant energies you’ve absorbed from others or created yourself. Use nature’s bounty to stop your loved one from straying, restore self-esteem, and overcome depression. Create amulets and talismans to help you achieve your desires. From candle magic to spells for health, spellcraft will change your life.

Wicca – A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner by Scott Cunningham: This was one of the very first books I read on the subject of magic. It discusses rituals, spell casting, runes and the essentials needed to cast spells. It also covers the use of dance and gestures while working magic, something I incorporated into my books. Alaura of Niamh in Shadows in the Stones uses hand gestures to work her magic. When her hands are bound, she can’t cast a spell.

Within Wicca is The Standing Stones Book of Shadows.

Since it has been years since I read it, I can’t say exactly how great the information is. I do recall it was an interesting read, and since it was one of my first, I learned from it. It gave me reason to seek other books, and to explore the subject more to create characters.

Healing Wise – Wise Woman Herbal by Susun S. Weed: This is a wonderful book that provides properties of many weeds we have growing all around us. A character can easily use this to treat a patient or heal themselves. All healers in your stories should own a copy of this book. It is a great reference that sits on my shelf year ‘round.

This book introduced me the wisdom of Wise Woman and their philosophy. They walk the nature path, parallel to what I walk, similar to the druid.

The book describes how to make ointments, tinctures and oil infusions from everyday herbs (weed). Susun has her own website. You can check it out here.

Childbearing Years – Wise Woman Herbal by Susun S. Weed: You’ve guessed it; I loved Healing Wise so much, I bought this one when I was pregnant. A healing character might treat their ‘with child’ patients with the herbal recipes and methods noted in this book.

The incredible thing about this book and others by Susun S. Weed is that it is based on truth. I have made the plantain ointment in the book and found it works incredibly well on cuts, scratches, fly bites and chicken pox. I have always intended to try other recipes but haven’t had the chance yet.

Breast Cancer? Breast Health! by Susun S. Weed: Again, I enjoy the philosophy in these books so much, I bought this book even though breast cancer doesn’t run in the family. I was enlightened to many things that can affect our health, and put them into practice. The book includes recipes and rituals for good health.

The Writer’s Complete Fantasy Reference by various authors, introduction by Terry Brooks: This book covers many topics in general without going into too much detail. It discusses magic, world cultures, commerce, trade, law, dress, arms, armour, anatomy of castles and races. In my opinion, this book was certainly worth the read. It will provide the basics, and then you can choose which topics to explore further in other books.

Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy by Crawford Kilian: The book was okay. It is well laid out to easily find topics. I’ve read much of this information in one form or another in other sources. That’s the problem when you begin reading these books; eventually you encounter the same material, just said by someone else. This is not the fault of the author. There’s only so much to say about writing fantasy in general.

The front cover states: develop believable fantasy worlds, challenge your readers’ imaginations, and practical techniques you can apply today. It comes with a CD that gives ten steps for pre-editing, exercises on character-development and dialogue and scores of links to relevant websites.

I didn’t view the CD. When I read books like this, I stick to books not computers. There are many great websites that provide this information, so if I want to read the computer, I’ll go to them. Maybe someday I might take a look, but I dislike writing exercises and I own books on editing and character development and dialogue.

I notice when I flipped through the book, I’ve blacked out certain passages with a black marker. I believe they were references to god that had no relevance to the topic, but the author threw it in there…so I kicked it out. This is simply someone forcing their religious beliefs on readers for no good reason.

Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy by the Editors of Analog and Asimov’s Science Fiction: I was very happy to have read this book. It provided great tips on writing, some specific, some general. It covered the storytelling part: dialogue, plotting, characters and other items. Then it delved into ideas and foundations. When I was submitting stories to publishers, I found the last chapter very useful because it covered the mechanics of submission, revisions and market resources.

If you want to write humour, there’s a good section about this in the book. The examples were spot on, and I found myself laughing. I love to include a little humour in all my stories, but someday I plan to write a full-length fantasy comedy. The working title is Between This World and That.

Although this book was far from the first I read on this subject, I recall being very impressed with the information. There were new suggestions and ideas I hadn’t read elsewhere.

Although I don’t write science fiction, the topics discussed could easily be used in fantasy. Whether it’s character building or dialogue, the advice for writing it applies to all genres.

Sometimes the Magic Works – Lessons from a Writing Life by Terry Brooks: Some of the first fantasy novels I read were written by this author. In fact, his novel Sword of Shannara was a stepping-stone across the brook to my love of fantasy.

Although I enjoyed several of Brooks’ novels, the last two I sampled were not interesting. I read three-quarters of one before I gave up. The only reason I got that far was because I had spent most of that week in several hospital waiting rooms, preparing for surgery and had nothing else to read. There were too many characters involved in the story, and I felt no connection with any of them, so it was easy to put them down.

I didn’t find Sometimes the Magic Works inspiring. In fact, I was surprised to learn that between novels, Brooks was often at a loss at what to write next; he had no ideas, no inspiration.

As a writer who will never have enough time in her life to write all the story ideas running through her head, this confused me. Also, I had read much of his advice in other places by other authors. There was nothing new, no ‘ah-ha!’ moment. Perhaps I expected too much from him.

If I lose this book, I wouldn’t buy another copy.

These are the books I’ve read to help me specifically with writing fantasy. As I mentioned, I have other books to provide tips and advice on writing, but I won’t mention them here.

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