Friday, October 5, 2012

A Reader’s Journey into Writing Fantasy by Melissa McPhail

Reading has always been an irreplaceable part of my life. I’ve my grandmother to thank for this, for it was she who picked up The Chronicles of Narnia and read them, paraphrased, to her five-year-old grandchild. Looking back, it seems like all the books in those early childhood years were full of magic and exploration—from The Arabian Nights to Swiss Family Robinson—and they opened my nascent eyes to new realms of possibility. Books in my teenage years became an effective escape from childhood bullies and difficult algebra problems, while the literature I read in high school inspired a tradition of lifelong learning.

There were three books, however, that set me on a fantasy writer’s path.  First, as already mentioned, came The Chronicles of Narnia. You cannot read these stories as a child and not come away expecting to see nymphs flirting among the trees and talking animals peering shyly at you from around every corner.  This series solidified my love of fantasy from the earliest possible age.

Next, and quite unexpectedly, came Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. This influential novel made a profound impression on my fifteen-year-old psyche. Though the story is more of a social commentary on the ideologies of nations, it’s also something of a fantasy in its presentation of John Galt’s utopian gulch, where everyone carries his or her own weight, and all contribute to the motion of progress. It’s the fantasy of socialism married to capitalism in harmonious confederation. 

But Rand’s objectivist philosophy notwithstanding, I left Galt’s Gulch and Atlas Shrugged wondering where those people were in real life. I wanted them to exist in mine. The only way to spend time with John Galt and his entourage was to read the book repeatedly, but doing so never revealed new experiences and became ultimately unrewarding. Eventually I resolved to create my own characters in my own story who I could admire with equal fervor and who I would never be without (for they would exist eternally within that intimate relationship between writer and character).

Perhaps it was Atlas that pitched me toward philosophy as a major, but several years passed wherein my only pursuits existed along that intellectual vein. Then came an afternoon browsing a friend’s library of used paperbacks, wherein I landed upon Anne McCaffrey’s The Rowan. This lovely coming-of-age story set in the far future (with a bit of McCaffrey’s original take on magic thrown in for good measure) was the perfect reintroduction to the SF/F genre. I recall with perfect clarity how I rejoiced in reading what is essentially a love story disguised as Science Fiction.

Suddenly, I remembered how desperately I adored the fantasy genre—suddenly, those early years spent as a child in Narnia, and the magic that had infused my life as a result, came back with purpose as its standard. 

I knew then how I wanted to recreate Galt’s Gulch. My studies in philosophy found an outlet in the inherent explorations of good and evil, of nobility and loyalty, honor, leadership and courage that all great fantasy stories involve. I was ready to introduce my own Atlas characters into the world. Philosophy merged with the fantastical, and Cephrael’s Hand was born.

About the Author

Melissa McPhail is a classically trained pianist, violinist and composer, a Vinyasa yoga instructor, and an avid Fantasy reader. A long-time student of philosophy, she is passionate about the Fantasy genre because of its inherent philosophical explorations.
Ms. McPhail lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, their twin daughters and two very large cats. Cephrael's Handthe first novel in her series, "A Pattern of Shadow & Light," won Best Fiction and Best SF/F from the Written Arts Awards and was a ForeWord Book of the Year Finalist. The second novel in the series, The Dagger of Adendigaeth, will be released this fall.

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  1. I am glad you had your grandma to read to you,mine could not read.She had to drop out of school in 3rd grade to work of family farm.However,my mother did read to us when we were little.All I remember her reading was Children's Bible Stories from this big book every night.

  2. Th two books that inspired my love for reading is This Present Darkness and Piercing the darkness by Frank Peretti

  3. Very interesting post.

  4. tales of known space by larry niven got me into scifi when i was a kid - regnod(at)yahoo(d0t)com

  5. Fantastic article Melissa! I loved The Narnia Chronicles as a kid (even if I did skip through half of The Horse and His Boy)... I actually live in an attic (which is very writer-ish of me I know!) with a closet that has a "secret" backdoor onto another room for attic storage: I tell people it leads to Narnia :)

  6. Thanks, all! I'll have to look into Peretti's work. Thank you for the recommendation.

    Brewin, attics are the best, especially the ones with secret passages. Very cool! I'm with you on The Horse & His Boy...meh. :)