I do believe that. You don’t get The Lord of the Rings by setting out to write a killer sequel. You get it when a linguist loves his imaginary language so much that he makes up the people who would speak it and the world they’d live in, and the politics and perils that beset them. And you keep at your obsession for years on end, against all advice and opposition.
My writer’s journey started early. Anything that looked like a book was fair game—notebooks, outdated diaries, composition books. I printed them neatly in pencil, I drew illustrations. I made little dust jackets. I was under the spell of Mary Stewart. Literally, as that’s the title of a Doubleday Book Club anthology—though lacking her life experience—so I wrote Gothics, and kept at them till I could write “The End”, even if they were pathetic books.
I read historical fiction—Mary Renault’s Theseus books The King Must Die and The Bull From the Sea, Martha Rofheart’s Fortune Made His Sword, Rosemary Sutcliff’s Sword at Sunset—and Mary Stewart again, when she released The Crystal Cave. That’s when I realized that wizards need not be old men with long gray beards.
The Crystal Cave could have been historical fiction, but Fantasy was a rising genre, and a rich vein to tap into. I read Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn and was intrigued by the notion of a wizard whose magic didn’t actually work.
By then I was out of school, working in advertising, reading much Fantasy and thinking of trying to write my own book, for real. I was given a “write your own book” notebook for Christmas, so I decided to write a short story. There was a knight on the cover, riding through a forest. Perfect. I started plotting and planning characters.
That winter was horrible. Cold, loads of snow, snowplows breaking down, natural gas supplies running out. An old house, poorly insulated. Frost on the windowpanes is one thing. Frost on the walls is something else again. So was Darkenkeep born.