47North, Amazon, Arthurian Legend, author marketing, Coffee & Writing, fantasy fiction, Grimm's Fairy Tales, historical fiction, Mary Stewart, Merlin, Novel Writing, Roberta Trahan, The Well of Tears, Writing, writing life
It’s one of the questions always asked of authors – why do you write (insert genre here)? Every writer has a unique backstory – a collection of singular and often profound experiences that have informed and inspired them. For me, it all started with fables and fairy tales.
The summer of 1977, I traveled with my parents to rural western Montana on the occasion of my great-grandmother’s death. We stayed for nearly a week to help clean out the ancient farmhouse that had been the Davis family home for nearly 50 years. It was a somber time, and the adults, eager to keep the kids busy while they tended to the needs of the moment, assigned us all tasks.
Naturally, I volunteered to clear out the bookcases in the sitting room. Books had long been a source of solace for me, and I was so very sad. Sifting through these treasured relics from Granny’s long and well-lived life was a way for me to feel connected to her and still process the reality that she was gone. Better still, I was told I could keep as many books as I liked – since the whole lot was to be donated to the local community service center. My mother, the minimalist, limited “as many as I liked” to “a few” – and so I resolved to choose carefully.
In those many bittersweet hours, I sifted through hundreds of volumes of literature, periodicals, school primers, grammar books, historical biographies, and who knows what all else. Many of these books were well over a hundred years old, which both astonished and intrigued me. I had never seen such old editions of any book, let alone the classic titles I recognized.
When all was said and done, I had some tough choices to make – in the end, I came home with a first edition of Bernadin’s Paul Et Virginie in the original French, circa 1787 (I had never seen a book printed in a foreign language before); early printings of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair and the children’s classic The Little Lame Prince; and the best of the bunch – a very early English translation of Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
The book was pretty worn (as you can see from the photos) and missing the title page, but I was over the moon. I was initially captivated by this collection of what were called “household tales” because I recognized the titles of some of the fables as childhood stories I knew – or thought I knew. I quickly discovered that these were grittier and much more provocative versions of what I had always thought were Golden Book originals. Being a moody and maudlin tweenager at the time, this suited me just fine.
I spent several weeks obsessing over this book – partly because I was enthralled by the darkly romantic window into the past, and partly because I wanted to know “the story behind the story”. I knew that mythology and folk lore were allegorical and that cautionary tales were based on real fears and events, and this appealed to me on every level.
That summer I read every book on mythology I could find in the local library (which wasn’t many), and then the librarian turned me on to the fantasy fiction genre. She introduced me to Mary Stewart’s iconic Merlin series (The Crystal Cave and The Hollow Hills) – my first encounter with the real Arthurian legend, and the amazing world a masterful novelist could create by blending fact, fiction, and fantasy. I have been in love ever since.
Why do I write fantasy? The easy way out would be to say that I write fantasies because those are the stories that come to me. This happens to be true, but it only scratches the surface –the full answer is much more complicated than that. The genre calls to me intellectually, emotionally, instinctively, and spiritually.
I would have to say that underpinning those early inspirational reading experiences is the neuropsychology that is hard-wired into my DNA. I have a pathological need to understand the foundations of the human experience, as well as what could be called a clinical compulsion for research. I am also completely seduced by the “in-between” spaces in our histories and cultures which defy explanation, and the misty veil at the edges of our existence that hints at something beyond what we can comprehend.
This is where the magic lives, and sometimes, so do I.