A 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.
Since I was a wee lass I’ve hunted for the perfect location for a fantasy novel to take place. Oft times, my camera sat only a stretch away, so if the magic of the scenery moved me, I could attempt to capture it on film. This was more difficult to do than one can imagine.
I’ve found many pockets of wonderful locations throughout Atlantic Canada and on my travels. The pictures I’ve gathered easily show the location, but when it comes to revealing their beauty through words in a novel without pictures, at times they’re tough to describe. That’s when you need landscape lingo.
Writing fantasy requires me to learn landscape lingo, the basic names for the structure of the land. After all, who wants to travel through a bland forest all the time when the countryside, glen and meadow are free for the taking?
The translucent lustre of spinel cast the spell of loyalty and calmness. Wearers of the stone are shown the path to peaceful meditation and self-healing. When separated from loved ones, the power of the stone reduces anxiety and aides in coping with the separation. Spinel protects from troublesome influences and helps one find their way.
Isla gives her best friend Liam a handmade necklace containing a blue spinel in my fantasy novel Shadows in the Stone. She chose the gem carefully, sensing he’d one day need a resilient inner strength to help him survive and remain loyal to her. He’d also need extensive healing from the horrendous path I’ve plotted for him and positive encouragements to combat the negative influences in his life.
You’ve heard the old expression, To really know someone, you must walk in their shoes.
This expression reminds us to not judge people before we get to know them and to not assume we know what they’re thinking and feeling. This expression holds true for the people in our life as well as the characters in our stories.
Writing about someone without knowing them first makes them flat, uninteresting and possible unreliable. When I begin a new story with new characters, I often stumble my way along, wondering if my character will go this way or that. If they are faced with a challenge, what will they do? Turn and run? Or stand and fight?
I began this year by looking back, way back. On my hunt to find a western novel I had written in my early 20s, I found my old Reflections Duotang from grade ten and a project I had written on witchcraft in grade 7 (1979-1980). In the coming months, I’ll share my old reflections on the blog, but today, I wish to share my project (complete with footnotes and bibliography): Witchcraft. This is word for word, just as I had written it when I was twelve years old in my first year in junior high. My mark was 18/20.
About twenty-five years ago Penhorn Mall in Dartmouth was a hopping place with many unique stores. I loved shopping there: park once, walk a spacious mall with no stairs or escalators, be protected from the weather and pick up everything from groceries and alcohol to boots and tires. Woolco was on one end, Sears on the other and Sobeys was stuck midway. For a mall, I found it very relaxing even on Christmas Eve. Sure it was busy, but the people who shopped there were the neighbourhood-kind of people.
The day had been pleasant. John and I had celebrated the rising of the sun with dear friends. As we made our way home from the festival, my white ceremonial gown shimmered in the fading sunlight. We walked along the wooded path in silence, occasionally stealing glances and giggling in a giddy-kinda way. The raspberry wine left us both with a care-free spirit.
John reached over and stole a kiss and I snuggled into his side. The dry leaves uncovered from the snow by the heat of the sun rustled beneath my leather shoes. The air was crisp and cooling and by nightfall, the warmth near the hearth would be beckoning.
I was a thirteen-year-old kid, racing after my friends through the lounge of our Girls and Boys Club when pixies first sprinkled magic dust of Dungeons & Dragons in my hair. It wasn’t my first glimpse into the lives of elves, dwarfs and halflings, but it was the first time an entire world was exposed. Until then I had thought these creatures lived amongst us, hiding in the shadows of the forest, deep in forgotten caves and in rock structures invisible to the human eye.
Do you remember doing that weird thing with your arms when you were a young teenager? You know, the trick where you took turns with your friends standing in a doorway with your arms by your side and the back of your hands pressed hard against the frame? You applied pressure for a full minute then released it and stepped from the doorway. Letting your arms go slack you impressed your friends and yourself when your arms began to slowly rise all on their own.
It was as if someone had cast a magic spell on your body, wasn’t it?
Imagine stepping between enormous ferns and entering a world filled with horse-size elephants, rats the size of dogs and ten-foot-long dragons. As you make your way through the gigantic flora, you stumble upon a massive turtle basking in a ray of sunshine. To your left, a strange, colourful bird cries out and takes flight. It sails over a small pool fed by a crystal clear spring and surrounded by blue and pink hydrangea and wild flowers of vibrant colours.
In the distance, you see a caldera atop an inactive volcano. You imagine it is filled with water. High peeks on the horizon sharply contrast the deep valley in which you stand. Sniffing the air, you smell the unmistakable odour of sulfur. There must be a hot spring nearby.
Movement to the right catches your eye, but what had caused the leaves to shake has gone deeper into the shadows. You approach cautiously. What was it? A child?
I’ve always been interested in ancient ways. Thankfully, writing gives me the opportunity and the excuse to read about unusual things and explore them in ways that might make some people roll their eyes.
“It just research,” I said when I bought The Druid Magic Handbook.
Let’s get this straight: I love snow. Okay, maybe sometimes I think I don’t, but deep down inside, when the forecast mentions snow, my ears perk up and my Nova Scotian heart skips a beat. Is there anything more perfect than snow?
Can you tell I’ve just come inside from shovelling the patio, walkway and part of the driveway? It was 30 minutes of fruitless shovelling because the snow is still falling like hares and polar bears. By the time my son and I returned to the step, it was already covered with a centimetre of flakes. My son gasped at the discovery, but I smiled inside, knowing there would be plenty more to shovel come morning. The way it was blowing, there’s going to be drifts to conquer.
Snow is one of those things some people dread. But I think they – and sometimes me – think too much about the bad things of snow to enjoy the good. We think of the cold, but if we dress appropriately – snowsuit, mittens, hat, boots – then the cold can’t touch us. We think about leaving the comforts of the inside to deal with something heavy and wet that will go away eventually when the temperature rises. What we forget is that exhilarating feeling of being outdoors, the fresh air and exercise. It is energizing and uplifts the spirits.
Snow has a special quality that can’t be measured in centimetres or inches. This quality can’t be detected by standing near a window and watching snow blanket everything in white. One must be outside, stirring it up by shovelling it, walking through it or piling it into mounds to feel its magic.
I’ve felt it many times and have become lost in it. It is why I make snowwomen, build castles with tunnels and shovel driveways fruitlessly. It is why I set out to get the mail, spot the shovel leaning against the step and begin shovelling a driveway that would be ploughed anyway. I promise myself, just ten minutes . . . that’s it, then I’ll go back inside.
I’ve seen those ten minutes magically turn in to an hour or more. Once I get started, it’s difficult to stop. One line across the driveway stirs up something. I’m forced to make another. Then I must join the two. Back and forth, sometimes at strange angles, I plough my shovel through the snow. It is hypnotic, therapeutic . . . magical. Before I know it, the driveway is clear and a sense of accomplishment stirs within. I return my wand . . . I mean my shovel to its home and get the mail.
Now and again, I find myself looking out the window, admiring my work. A plough truck can’t create something that neat, that precise, that pretty. The truck can’t stir magic, feel it or create with it. Only hands can do that.
Some might wonder what’s going on in this crazy woman’s head and what does this have to do with writing?
Learning you love snow has everything to do with writing. Let’s get this straight: I love writing. Okay, maybe sometimes I think I don’t, but deep down inside, when someone mentions writing, my ears perk up and my Nova Scotian heart skips a beat. Is there anything more perfect than writing?
Sometimes though, to fall in love with writing again, I must begin reading the unfinished draft from the beginning, sit and dream about my characters or discuss the plot over a cup a tea with a friend.
Writing is one of those things some writers dread. But I think they – and sometimes me – think too much about the bad things of writing to enjoy the good. We think of the blank page, but if we are prepared – notes, dictionary, story outline, cast of characters – then writer’s block can’t touch us. We think of words as if they are things to deal with to get the story down, a story that may not be out best. What we forget is that exhilarating feeling of being in the middle of the plot action, becoming intimate with characters who jump off the page and igniting the fire that fuels a story. It’s energizing and uplifts the spirits.
Writing has a special quality that can’t be measured in word counts or pages. This quality can’t be detected by standing near a blank screen, watching the curser blink on and off. One must sit down, strike a few keys, put dialogue in a character’s mouth and toss them into one incredible situation after another to feel its magic.
I’ve felt it many times and have become lost in it. It is why I drag my leading men through the forest by their scabbards, swing my heroines from a frayed rope on a castle wall and send my horses to find their masters in snow storms. It is why I set out to get the mail, spot the curser flashing and begin typing the great idea that just popped into my head though it may not have anything to do with what I’m writing at the moment. I promise myself, just ten minutes . . . that’s it, then I’ll go get the mail.
I’ve seen those ten minutes magically turn into an hour or more. Once I get started, it’s difficult to stop. One sentence is written, then another. I think of a second character and write his dialogue. Then I create a setting. My fingers fly over the keys. A twist in the plot is added. It is hypnotic, therapeutic . . . magical. Before I know it, the page is filled and a sense of accomplishment stirs within. I return my wand . . . I mean slide my keyboard in and get the mail.
Writing is like snow: Sometimes we must remind ourselves we love it.