Vonnie Winslow Crist is the author-illustrator of a YA fantasy novel, “The Enchanted Skean,” 2 collections of speculative short stories, “The Greener Forest” and “Owl Light,” a children’s book, “Leprechaun Cake & Other Tales,” 2 collections of myth-based poetry, “River of Stars” and “Essential Fables,” and 5 ebooks – 2 of which are still available: “Blame it on the Trees” and “For the Good of the Settlement.” She’s also edited numerous publications including “Through A Glass Darkly,” “Lower Than The Angels,” and “The Gunpowder Review.” Her writing appears in anthologies and magazines: “Ocean Stories,” “Dragon’s Lure,” “Shelter of Daylight,” “Dia de los Muertos,” “Potter’s Field 4,” “Sideshow 2,” “Zombies for a Cure,” “In the Garden of the Crow,” “Tales of the Talisman,” “Cemetery Moon,” “Faerie Magazine,” and others. Born in the Year of the Dragon, Vonnie has had a life-long interest in reading, writing, myths, folklore, fairy tales, and art. And she believes the world is filled with mystery, miracles, and magic.
What inspires you to write?
Everything inspires me to write. I just wish I had the time (and energy) to jot down all the ideas that come to me as I go through my day. The shape of a tree I stroll by when I walk the dog might make me think of a goblin. A strange word in the dictionary might be the beginning of a story. A quirky scrap of folklore about a celebration in England might be the impetus for a tale. A painting in a museum or photo in a magazine might spark a story. The sound of the squirrels scolding me from the trees, the evil look of truck rushing up from behind on the highway, the conversations overheard in a restaurant while I wait — all of these and more inspire me. And, lest I forget, the marvelous writers whose books filled my life from childhood until today with their stories inspire me, too.
Tell us about your writing process.
I think about my stories long before I write them! Often, an idea comes to me for a tale, and I let it brew in my imagination. I do research about the subjects I’ll be incorporating into the narrative and find (or create) names for the characters who’ll be inhabiting the tale. By the time I sit down to write, my mind is filled with possibilities and a feel for the world I’ll be setting the story in. Usually, I know where the story is headed — that said, sometimes the characters take over and propel the plot in a new direction. I try to be flexible enough that when the narrative wants to wander down an uncharted path, I allow it to do so.
I don’t do character studies or outlines for my short stories. The only time I really had to do character sketches was for my novel, “The Enchanted Skean.” The world I created is complex and the relationship between characters has to hold true not only in this book, but in any other books I write set in this world. Working on another novel now, I suspect character sketches, maps, notes on locations and customs, etc. will be necessary in all my novels. I think it’s just the complexity of the world that must be built to sustain a longer narrative requires notes (whether in outline form or not) to maintain consistent details.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
I’m not sure my characters talk to me as much as they talk to each other, and I listen. Sometimes I feel as if I’m an eavesdropper. The worlds of my fiction seem to exist independently of me – I just need to jot down what’s happening! Of course, I’m making the word choices when I write down the action whirling in my mind, and I’m also picking which characters to follow, which of the myriad details to include, and perhaps most importantly, which bits of the worlds to leave out.
What advice would you give other writers?
Write, read, write, read, revise, and revise again. Join a writers’ group or a critique group where there are generous people who will kindly share their experiences and opinions. Read current books/stories/poems/essays (pick a category that fits your work) that are similar to yours. By reading what is currently being published, you can see if your writing is up to par and often discover the preferences of different editors.
Submit your polished writing to a publication (or publishing house) that is interested in what you are writing about. If the publication’s description says it’s a science-fiction magazine – don’t submit a fairy tale; if the guidelines say the magazine is interested in free verse – don’t send a rhyming poem to them; if the website says previously unpublished work only – don’t send as essay that was published by your local paper; etc. Proofreading your work and submitting according to the guidelines to an appropriate publication are half the battle.
Persist. Sometimes, I think the editors who’ve published my writing realized I wasn’t going away. I’d submit new work that seemed an even better fit than my precious submission to editors again and again. Perhaps a few of them threw their hands up in dismay and wrote “Accepted,” because I persisted despite rejection letters.
And lastly, find joy in the creative process. You should be writing because you need to –not to make money, not to find fame, not to retire from your job – for those goals aren’t realistic. Very few writers will achieve that sort of success. Instead, focus on expressing yourself in the best way possible. Take a course or workshop to help you grow as a writer. Enjoy the company of writer friends. And celebrate the completion (and if you’re persistent and lucky) the publication of your writing.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
My books have been published with various small press publishers. Each publisher was the most suitable for the specific book. Serendipity played a role in each contract. But before I give the impression it was all luck, I must say I was always “ready” with a manuscript and a willingness to work hard to get the book in the form the editors required for publication.
I was working as an illustrator and designer for VRGroup when an author backed out of their publication schedule. Therefore, I knew there was a “slot” that had newly opened for a book. I immediately sent in my manuscript, and “Leprechaun Cake & Other Tales” became a reality.
I received a Special Merit Award for a poetry chapbook manuscript in a contest judged by Mary Oliver. When a poetry publisher in my area heard about the award, he asked if it was part of a larger collection. And indeed, I had incorporated the chapbook in a larger collection. I corresponded with Mary Oliver through her agent and was granted permission to include her comments about my poetry on the back cover. I think that “tipped the scales,” and Lite Circle Books published “Essential Fables.” A few years later, “River of Stars,” was also published by LCB after it had won a Maryland State Arts Council Award and I was able to get cover comments from the state poet laureate.
Through networking with local writers, I heard about a new ebook short story line coming out of Echelon. I submitted work, and had 3 eShorts published. Again through networking,
I heard Cold Moon Press (brand new at the time) was looking for a book to publish. I’d been focused on writing short stories for a couple of years, so I pulled together a collection of fantasy tales, and thus “The Greener Forest” found a home.
“The Enchanted Skean” was harder to find a publisher for. I actually used a market website: www.ralan.com to research small publishers to submit the novel to. It took several tries, but before too long I got a “yes, we’d like to publish your book.”
My advice to others: Research appropriate publishers and submit your manuscripts. Network – at writers’ meetings, conferences, readings, etc. Always be ready. Many of my publications were as a result of being ready with a polished manuscript when opportunity knocked.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
I think the future of book publishing will change with the new technologies available. Electronic devices, book trailers, blogs, podcasts, Skype, etc. are changing the terrain of publishing and book promotion (and therefore sales). But there will always remain a group of readers who love the smell of a “real” book, the sound of its pages turning, and weight of it in their hands.
What genres do you write?
Fantasy, Science Fiction, Fiction, Children’s Books, Poetry, Young Adult, Non-ficition.
What formats are your books in?
Both eBook and Print