Born in the Year of the Dragon, Vonnie Winslow Crist is author of Dragon Rain, Beneath Raven’s Wing , The Enchanted Dagger, Owl Light, The Greener Forest, and other award-winning books. Her speculative fiction appears in publications in Japan, India, Australia, Spain, Germany, Canada, the UK and USA. She also has more than 200 poems and 1,000 illustrations published. Believing the world is still filled with magic, mystery, and miracles, Vonnie strives to celebrate the power of myth in her writing and art.
Welcome, Vonnie! Can you tell us what you find inspiring?
Vonnie: First, thank you, Clare, for inviting me to contribute to your blog.
As for inspiration, I find everything inspiring! Believing stories help us learn from the past, embrace the present, and prepare for the future, I write lots of stories. So I need lots of inspiration. Myths, legends, folklore, and fairy tales are important to understanding people and their fears, familiar networks, societal structures, and core values, so I use them for inspiration. To be honest, they are the beginning place for most of my fiction.
How about some examples from your new book, Dragon Rain?
Vonnie: In the story, “Veil,” I used the song, “Long Black Veil,” and Appalachian folklore as the inspiration. My favourite version is performed by The Chieftains with Mick Jagger singing lead. Here’s the link if you’d like to take a listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4F-4rY4g4Do
In my story, the woman who said nothing and let an innocent man hang travels back in time to change the past with the help of a dragon. But there’s a terrible price she must pay.
Another example is my inspiration for “Bloodguiltless.” First, I stumbled across the word, bloodguiltless, which means someone who is not guilty of murder. Not long afterwards at my doctor’s office, I read a magazine article about some of the folkways and superstitions of the nest gatherers who collect swallow nests to make bird nest soup. When I got home, I added in a pinch of Native American folklore, set the story on a distant planet in the far future, and began writing. In my story, instead of collecting birds’ nests, the nest gatherers are collecting the nests of tiny dragons. Unfortunately, the nest gatherers become greedy and break a taboo.
Then, like all rule-breaking in legends and myths, there are consequences.
Speaking of swallows (which are a favorite dragon snack), my inspiration for the first story in Dragon Rain, “Weathermaker,” is Chinese lore about dragons. I included not only their weather-making abilities and growth from snake to dragon, but also milk as a means to lure a dragon. Since the story is set in modern times, I decided rather than just milk, the main character would honour and lure the dragon with yogurt and mozzarella cheese sticks. May, the protagonist, happens to be an artist and mentions some of her art materials. With my art background, this was an easy way to connect with May and add richer details.
Though each of the 18 stories has an unique inspiration, I’ll only mention one more tale. The final story in the book, “Dragon Rain,” was inspired by not only the legend of a dragon living beneath the city of Krakow, but also by the tale of St. George and the Dragon. I’d noticed in paintings, and again when I gazed at the statues on the front of a cathedral in Basel, Switzerland,
The dragon St. George killed was a baby!
That small detail certainly diminishes the dragon threat. So I told the story from the point of view of the mother of a brood of wyrmlings. Her mate was slain in a cave beneath a city so his family could escape. Since George wasn’t the only saintly dragon-slayer, I added in Theodore Tiro, Demetrius of Thessaloniki, and a group of soldiers in pursuit of the dragon family. I also had the mother dragon entertain her brood with stories of their great ancestors (dinosaurs to us) as she does her best to save her children. Alas, not all of the wyrmlings make it safely to the Seihan River. Which is when the reader learns what dragon rain really is.
Every story in my 4 collections and my fantasy novel, The Enchanted Dagger, began with folklore, fairy tales, legends, and myths. I also use those same things as inspiration for much of my poetry and illustrations. Speaking of illustrations, I’m sharing a couple for your readers to enjoy.
Thank you so much Vonnie. That’s so fascinating.
Now enjoy a free extract from Vonnie’s collection Dragon Rain
Trees had spirits. As did waterfalls, fjords, and even the land itself.
Which was why Oddvar was told to be careful when selecting wood for carving the dragon heads and tails to be mounted on the stems and sterns of his village’s longboats. One had to be careful. Humans weren’t the only beings living in the forests, waterways, and caverns.
Tomorrow, he’d be going into the wilds alone to find the wood for the next dragon head to be carved. His thoughts jumped from one otherworld creature to the next, wondering if he’d encounter any of them on his wanderings.
“Where are you, Oddvar?” asked Farfar Tor as he nudged his grandson with his elbow.
“I’m here,” answered Oddvar with a smile. He paused a second to clear the cobwebs from his mind before continuing. “I was thinking about the soul of the ship we’re working on. Wondering where the gnome who guards this longboat hides when we’re onboard.”
“One doesn’t need to see the otherworld folk to know they’re here,” replied his grandfather. “When the tree used for the keel was cut, the ship-spirit emerged from the tree. Then, he came with the timber to the shipyard. Now, he’s somewhere on the boat keeping the timbers clear of rot and woodworms. But if we should fail to properly construct and attach the figurehead, I dare say he’ll make an angry appearance.”
Farfar Tor raised his bushy brows, pulled his lips down, and glanced sideways at Oddvar.
Oddvar laughed at his grandfather’s grimace before rubbing the last of the oil into the carving of a fearsome drake which graced the bow of the boat. When whittled from a blessed tree and well-shaped, the carving would scare away enemies and ward off evil spirits on both land and sea.
No other local woodcarvers could guarantee this protection. Only Oddvar’s family, because Farfar Tor, like his father and grandfather before him, knew how to imbue timber with the magic of dragons. The trick, which their family kept secret, was to boil a dragon scale in the oil used for polishing figureheads.
“I think the iron curls we inserted into the wood add a regalness to the drake,” said Farfar Tor as he caressed the arched neck of the dragon.
“And they provide protection for ship and crew from sea serpents, merrow, and kraken when they journey across the waters,” added Oddvar. “Just like our trollkors.” He touched the iron troll cross hanging from a leather cord around his neck.
“Iron works most of the time,” agreed his grandfather, “but be cautious nevertheless when wandering in the forest. Some creatures of the otherworld won’t be deterred by a trollkor alone.”
“You don’t have to worry, Farfar Tor,” he boasted as they climbed off the longboat, “I’m always careful.”
His grandfather answered him with a shake of his head as they hiked back to their house.
After feeding and watering the livestock, Oddvar and Farfar Tor locked the barn, then entered their stone, wood, and wattle-and-daub home. The fire crackling in the central hearth took the bite off the evening air. Though the days were still bright, the nighttime chill indicated autumn’s first frost was near.
Oddvar sighed. It was always comforting to return home at the end of the day. He felt the tension in his shoulders vanish when he saw his grandmother’s loomwork hanging at one end of the room and her preparing a meal at the other.
I’m lucky to live with Farfar Tor and Farmor Britt, he thought as the aromas of one of his grandmother’s savoury stews bubbling in a pot and fresh bread made his mouth water. When his mother died in childbirth and his father was killed in a raid across the sea a year later, Oddvar could have been given to another family, sold into servitude, or even left out for trolls to find. Instead, he was cherished by his grandparents.
“Another boat outfitted with a dragon head and tail,” announced his grandfather as he stretched his arms above his head, yawned, then sat on one of the wooden beds running the length of each side of their home.
“I’m sure it looks fearsome indeed,” said Farmor Britt before handing her husband a bowl of stew and a hunk of bread.
Oddvar’s grandmother smiled at him. “Are you ready to whittle and mount the carvings by yourself yet?” she asked as she gave him his supper.
“I think so,” he answered. “I’m going out tomorrow morning to look for a piece of wood from which to carve the next dreki.”
“But not alone!” exclaimed Farmor Britt.
“Yes, alone. If Oddvar is to someday run the business, he must do more on his own,” insisted Farfar Tor. “Now, sit, woman. You need to eat, too.”
The sun had not yet risen when Oddvar woke. His grandmother was already up preparing porridge, while his grandfather was carefully placing items into Oddvar’s travel bag.
“I can do that,” he said as he pulled on his boots.
“I know,” replied his grandfather. “But now that packing is done except for the ax, you’ll have time to help me with the animals before you depart.”
Oddvar grinned, slipped on his outerwear, and followed Farfar Tor to the barn. They filled the hay bins, milked the goats, collected a few eggs, then turned the livestock out in their pen—except for their horse, Stig. They left Stig in his stall with extra feed. Then, they attached the harness to the cart. By the time they returned to the house, Farmor Britt had sliced what remained of last night’s bread and ladled steaming porridge into three bowls.
“You’re wearing your trollkor and carrying a knife?” his grandmother asked after breakfast when Oddvar slipped his leather travel bag over his shoulder.
“Yes, Farmor Britt.” He kissed his grandmother on the cheek. “We even tied a small trollkor onto Stig’s halter.”
“Remember, mark your path as you hike…”
Thanks so much for sharing with us, Vonnie! More dragons to you.
Want to know what happens next? Here are Vonnie’s links: