Sometimes I get asked why I like to write about vampires, werewolves, trolls and wizards. Let me try to explain.
We moved from Toronto when I was almost six, to the outskirts of a small town.
From the end of the driveway looking past one row of houses the countryside beckoned. Yes, a working farm controlled most of the fields, but there were trees to climb, a swamp not too far away to muck around in, an apple orchard to wander through, several streams to play in, miles of fields and rolling hills, and train tracks that we were told to stay away from.
We had a freedom back them not often offered to kids today. I remember leaving home, in the summer, with only the warning to be back before the streetlights came on. Sometimes I’d be alone, other times with friends. And we’d take off, for hours. No one knew where we were or what we’d gotten up to. My mother sometimes looked the doors, in summer, leaving us a lunch in the milk box at the side of the house. The outdoor tap available for drinks if we got thirsty.
Sure, sometimes we’d get hurt. Scrapes, bruises, a few cuts and little owies were all part of life. I don’t even remember anyone getting badly hurt. Not once.
I remember summer evenings spent chasing fireflies and the few I caught being kept in a glass jar with holes I punched with a nail and hammer in the metal lid dying in the new day. I had several pet spiders I’d feed with moths and insects. I’d sit in the dark and listen to bats fly all around me. I captured polliwogs every spring watching them change into frogs, hunt for salamanders to bring home, catch frogs and let them go. Once I caught a garter snake and managed to keep it for several months, feeding it on worms and grasshoppers. It escaped before winter, much larger than when I’d captured it.
In the cow meadow and forest glade, close enough no one worried about us disappearing into, I’d hunt for toadstool circles and shy forest flowers just past the tree edge.
At the swamp, if I managed to stay out later than when the streetlights came on, I’d be able to see what I now know as phosphorescent glows trying to lure me to my doom. They’d waver as if dancing, just out of reach.
All wonderful play areas to develop a good imagination. Especially after being allowed to freely dip into my father’s extensive library of classic novels, and the local library’s fiction section.
I read Grimms Fairy Tales and Hans Christian Anderson’s tales. Not the watered down versions of happily ever after the kids seem to read now. I read Bram Stoker and the Bronte sisters early. I hid in a fort to read Frankenstein, scaring myself silly with every crack and rustle around me.
I knew, in my child’s heart and imagination, all these things were possible. From the wicked witches, through monsters and trolls anywhere to fairies dancing in their velvet grass glades on the nights of full moon.
My parents acquired a cottage when I was nine, in northern Ontario, I heard the wolves call their eerie, long drawn out song after dark. I remember having nightmares about the wolves getting inside our cabin more than once the first few years we had the cottage.
Next door we had a swamp with dead and dying trees sticking out of the mud where we played pirates. We shimmied up dead trees, walking the plank of their dead, fallen limbs. With occasional dunkings and many wet or stuck boots. No one felt the least sorry for us when we picked bloodsuckers off bare limbs or pulled slivers out of legs, hands and feet.
We didn’t have electricity for a long time, and the outhouse was a good twenty feet down a forest lined path. I could make the outhouse before the side door slammed shut and lock myself in safely. Then I’d quiver, listening to all the strange night noises and wondering if I could make it back to the cottage safely. I’d stay in that stinky enclosure until my father called asking if I’d fallen in. He must have known about the fears because he’d stand at the door until I made it safely back inside.
Dawn seemed to call me more strongly up there. I’d get up long before the rest of the family. I’d be the only one around at the lakeshore, watching as the mist danced and rose in the dawn light. I saw the mink fish in the shallows if I sat still. I watched the snapping turtle bake itself on the rocks just after dawn. I’d see the fish leap at insects. And I’d hear the loon’s crazy laughter ring across the lake. I loved it up there. My father would leave us there at the beginning of summer, visiting every weekend and over his holidays, and my mother would visit with all the neighbours, feed us and watch over my younger siblings.
I can’t tell you how many dragonflies I saw, with their rainbow wings. To me they could be fairies, hidden from honest view. They’d transform in the evening, back to their beautiful selves, far from prying human eyes, find their glade and dance the night through.
During the days I’d swim and play in the water for hours if it was warm enough. And sometimes when it wasn’t. I knew, from nibbling on my toes while I swam, and from splashes in the water where I wasn’t looking, that underwater beings, not just fish, lived in our lake. I heard their laughter at dusk and in the early morning.
Otherwise I’d don my moccasins and tramp through the forest. I explored for miles. I found the sugar shack; an old building, repaired through the years with whatever was handy until it looked nothing like a well-maintained building. But the tools of sugar mapling inside held a patina of care, hanging on nails waiting for the next early spring use, of large vats carefully overturned on trunks, and what seemed to be miles of copper tubing balanced precariously over dusty windows and door frames. Little rustlings told me for sure there were a type of elf living there, waiting for spring to again help a human.
I found several burnt buildings far from our cottage. One attracted me over and over. Just a shell of huge, maybe two feet by two feet timbers, crusted with charcoal patterns, stone footings made from local Canadian Shield rocks, and a stone chimney that had to stand thirty feet tall. Oh the tales I told myself about that mansion. For, from the size of those footings, it would have been bigger than any house I’d ever seen. Its road had grown over, trees stood majestically tall in the centre of the ruins. So I knew the mansion had to have burned a long time ago. Someone, sometime had built a stone pier, jutting out into the lake. Rotting timbers crowded its side, some fallen into the lake.
Giant trees, fallen in maybe windstorms, with their huge rootballs still covered in dirt made awesome forts. I’d squirm in, of course. And sometimes I’d see some beings excavations leading deep down underground. No I never had the courage to follow. Who knew what I’d find? Some demon or goblin, maybe a gnome or leprechaun? I’d leave special rocks or shells as offerings sometimes, just in case. Under one such rootball, I read The Hobbit.
The cottage was in the Canadian Shield area. All jutting rocks and cliffs rising from the ground. With caves. Mostly the caves were shallow, just barely big enough to creep into. But a few I found, dark recesses twisting and turning far beyond daylight’s illumination; well, those I quailed before. I didn’t even feel comfortable sitting at their entrance. Maybe they held passages to fairyland, where I’d be welcomed. But what if they weren’t?
AS I grew little older, my friend and I canoed around parts of the lake. Not all around, it is a very big lake. We found swamps where monster pike swam, playing peek a boo with us under the lily pads. One trip we discovered a quartz island with caves under water one bright sunny day. Oh how they sparkled, beckoning us to forget all our lessons and safety. I knew if we could but follow, they’d bring us to a long-forgotten castle. How could they not? We swam into those caves, but not very far. Though we agreed to bring flashlights next time and swim further in, we never found the spot again.
Those were the early years, when I knew, deep in my heart, that monsters, witches and fairies were real. I wanted them to be.
Now I live where I can see the Canadian Rockies. Every clear day. Their majestic peaks play upon my knowledge of caves and gold mining tunnels populated by imaginary dwarves, or mountain streams rushing over boulders and forests climbing the mountain shoulders so high. Oh, and peaks looking like castles built on precipices, overlooking deep, empty valleys.
On a clear day, where the blue sky seems to go on forever, I can see, in my mind’s eye, a dragon flying from its mountain stronghold, playing on air currents just like the hawks and eagles I see above me every day.
So, when someone asks why I write paranormal fiction, I have to pause and remember. I can’t bend their ear for the hours it would take to explain my vivid childhood landscapes and explorations, or the scenery even now I am blessed to behold. They wouldn’t see what I saw or have the memories that help me create a rich tapestry background for the beings I want to believe inhabit this world beside us.
And maybe they wouldn’t even believe.