Creating Fantasy Creatures: It’s Okay to be Unoriginal

Everybody loves Hobbits and Thestrals and Wookies.

A Thestral from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

A Thestral from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

What do these creatures all have in common? They are unique to their particular stories or worlds (as in Middle-Earth, the Harry Potter series, and Star Wars, respectively). It’s fun to read about (or watch) new creatures in fantasy stories, and it’s just as fun to create them. Inventing the name for your new creature, what the adults look like versus what the babies look like, culture and language, what they eat, where they live. All of these are important world-building tasks, especially if you’re inventing a new species from scratch. We all want to be original and have our fantastical races stand out in the fantasy-creatures crowd.

But I’d like to make the argument that it’s okay to be unoriginal – at least to start with. Thousands of years of human culture has given us hundreds of amazing and creative creatures in mythology and folktales from around the world. Continue reading

My Top 10 Favorite Authors

I realized that since this is supposed to be a writing blog, I ought to make mention of other authors occasionally besides myself. In the various “top favorite” posts of this and that, I have never covered my favorite writers. So, I am now remedying that. Here they are, in a sort-of one to ten listing:

C.S. Lewis – Once I graduated from Little Golden Book versions of fairy tales, C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia is what I cut my fantasy teeth on. I’ve reread those books probably more than any other book or series ever.

J.R.R. Tolkien – Middle-Earth was the next logical step after I mastered the Narnia stories. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are not easy reads, but I loved the stories and Tolkien’s words enough to read the books several times.

Beatrix Potter – My mom read me stories about Peter Rabbit and Tom Kitten along with those Little Golden Books, but I never actually outgrew Peter Rabbit. Beatrix Potter is one of my writing heroes in general, and not just because she wrote about bunnies.

L. Frank Baum – He is a recent addition to my favorite author list, because I only recently started reading his Oz books. Baum’s vivid imagination and love of the fairy tale style is evident in The Wizard of Oz and all the subsequent books.

Chris Claremont – He wrote all of the greatest X-Men stories of the 80s and 90s, in my opinion. I’ve always loved comics, and Claremont had some of the most vivid characters and elaborate storylines during his time on the various X-Men series.

J. Michael Straczynski – JMS, as he’s often known, is primarily a writer and producer for TV (though he has written a few comics, as well). I love him best for his show Babylon 5, which featured epic sci-fi storytelling on a Tolkien-esque scale. JMS not only drafted the overall concept for the series, but he wrote the script for almost every single episode himself.

John Maxwell – Here is my token non-fiction writer for the list. John Maxwell is known as a leadership expert, and I’ve read quite a few of his books. While I don’t have a desire to be a leader in a corporate or political sense, I do want to be able to positively influence people with my writing. And as John Maxwell says, “leadership is influence.”

Jeff Smith – Another comic writer. He’s actually an artist, too, and he wrote and drew his famous Bone saga. Bone is equal parts epic fantasy and slapstick humor, and a very unique cast of characters.

Lois Gladys Leppard – She wrote the Mandie books – an inspirational children’s mystery series. Unlike most of the books on this list, the Mandie books aren’t fantasy. They’re historical fiction, set in North Carolina around the year 1900. Believe it or not, I do enjoy the occasional non-fantasy tale.

Dr. Seuss – Who doesn’t love Dr. Seuss? His books have that fun, timeless quality that makes them enjoyable at any age.

Who is your favorite author?

ABC Book Challenge

I borrowed this idea from The Magic Violinist, a great writer and blogger who is always giving me good ideas.

This challenge is to list books that I’ve read, one for every letter of the alphabet (skipping words like A and The in the titles, of course). My list is a little bit of everything – fantasy, children’s books, classics, non-fiction. So here goes!

AAleutian Sparrow by Karen Hesse

BBeezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary

CThe Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

DThe Devil’s Horse: Tales from the Kalevala by Keith Bosley

EEchoes of Mercy by Nancy Alcorn

FThe Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

GThe Greatest Salesman in the World by Og Mandino

HThe Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis

IThe Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

JJust-So Stories by Rudyard Kipling

KKirsten’s Surprise by Janet Shaw

L Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

MMara, Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw

NNight Mare by Piers Anthony

OOnce Upon a Time in the North by Philip Pullman

PPiercing the Darkness by Frank Peretti

QQ-Squared by Peter David

RRebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

SThe Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

TThe Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter

UUltima Thule: Explorers and Natives in the Polar North by Jean Malaurie

VVoyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

WWisdom by Bonnie Watson

XX-Men: Empire’s End by Diane Duane

YYertle the Turtle by Dr. Seuss

Z Zero: the Biography of a Dangerous Idea by Charles Seife

What about your reading list? Have you hit every letter yet? Please share!

A Father’s Day tribute to Great Dads of Literature

This coming Sunday we celebrate the fathers in our lives. So, in keeping with my earlier blog post about Mother’s Day, here’s my Father’s Day celebration of dads in books.

5. Pongo, from The Hundred and One Dalmatians, by Dodie Smith

Pongo’s wife Missus made it into my Mother’s Day list of literary moms. Pongo, like his wife, was loyal to his spouse, loyal to his children, and loyal to his Dalmatian friends Perdita and Prince. And compassionate enough to adopt eighty-some other puppies as his own kids.

4. Pa Ingalls, from The Little House on the Prairie series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Perhaps Charles Ingalls doesn’t belong on this list, since he was actually a real person. But he was a top-notch dad nonetheless. He led his family into the great unknown of the west, because he believed it would be the best opportunity for his family and provide his children with the best future. And all through sicknesses, natural disasters, and the general hard labor of a farmer, he kept a positive attitude, kept his love for God, and always showed love for his daughters.

3. James Henry Alden, from The Boxcar Children series, by Gertrude Chandler Warner

Grandfather Alden must have been a good dad, because he was an excellent granddad. The parents of the Boxcar Children had passed away, and so Mr. Alden went hunting for his elusive grandchildren. The self-sufficient kids were delighted to have a family again, but Mr. Alden never let them lose the independence they’d gained. He provided a home, love, support, and advice, and was there to bail them out if they truly got into danger—but he let his grandkids explore their world in their own way, and always treated them with respect, no matter their age.

2. Samwise Gamgee, from the Lord of the Rings series, by J.R.R. Tolkien

Sam didn’t actually become a father until the very end of the last book. But we learned what sort of father that he would be based on his undying loyalty to Frodo and his determination to always do what was right. These traits, along with his eternal hopefulness and his love of all living things, earned him hero status. Every dad wants to be a hero to his children, and Sam achieved this—despite his best efforts to remain a respectable hobbit and stay at home in his garden.

1. Mark Christopher, from The Choice, by Og Mandino

Mark did all the right things as a dad—provided a stable and loving home for his family, and showed his kids how to pursue a dream and deal with the consequences of achieving it, both good and bad. And he was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice—to lay down his own life to save his son’s. That’s a loving dad.

Don’t forget to wish your dad a happy father’s day!