First, let’s define it: A portal fantasy is a story about a character who gets transported (perhaps voluntarily, perhaps not) into a fantastic or alternate world. They pass through a portal of some kind (a wardrobe? a tunnel? an interdimensional hole?) and find themselves in a reality that’s different from the world they left behind.
“As anyone who reads science fiction and fantasy can tell you, life is full of doors … appearing unexpectedly, leading to unexpected places. Other worlds, other times. Narnia. An alien planet. The Bronze Age.” James Davis Nicoll
During December, you’re invited to explore a couple of dozen portals and doorways, via “Passing Through Portals,” a month-long promotion sponsored by StoryOrigin and 20 or so participating authors, myself among them.
In the Before Time (pre-2020 Pandemic) I enjoyed traveling. Recently I had occasion to look through old vacation photos, and I found three that must have served as direct inspiration for pivotal elements in my Waterspell books. Their influence operated subconsciously. I didn’t have the pictures before me when I wrote their imagery into my story. When I came across the photos, however, long after the fact, I instantly recognized all that they had given me.
The Lake of the Lilies
I snapped this picture at the Honey Creek State Natural Area in the Texas Hill Country, on a tour organized by the Texas Nature Conservancy. The outing was advertised as a wildflower tour, but when we got there our guide apologized for the almost complete absence of wildflowers—the deer had eaten them between the time the tour was arranged and before we arrived. I remember the beauty and wildness of the place, though. This old snapshot does not do justice to the shimmering of sunlight on the pads of the water lilies. Clearly, the vision stayed with me, and inspired the Lake of the Lilies in the woods near Verek’s manor house.
Carin’s Sanctuary Oak
During a trip to England, I got to see the Major Oak in the midst of Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire. We soaked up the whole Robin Hood–Sherwood Forest magic of the place. I came home with a beautiful Lincoln Green scarf woven of English wool and sporting an embroidered Robin with his bow drawn. Looking at this picture of the Major Oak, I have no doubt that the tree was the subconscious inspiration for the Sanctuary Oak that saves Carin from the wasteland dogs. The above photo by Jerzy Kociatkiewicz appears at The Treeographer and shows the tree standing alone in the midst of a clearing, just as Carin’s Sanctuary stands. The branching pattern of the Major Oak’s thick limbs suggests how Carin is able to leap into her sanctuary tree to escape the dogs, and how she can sleep that night, though uncomfortably, by lashing herself to one of its thick horizontal branches.
The Mirror Pool
Four stone benches ring the well of the wysards in the cavern of enchantment deep beneath Verek’s manor house. The benches are arranged like the four cardinal points of a compass. When I came across this old vacation photo, I gasped in recognition. Look closely, and you can see the ornate E, S, and W directional markers of this stone compass that’s laid into the floor of a watchtower (or observation deck). The letter N for North barely appears at the left edge of the picture. I can’t remember exactly where I took this photo in the Texas Hill Country, but I’m inclined to think it’s either Longhorn Cavern or Inks Lake State Park in Burnet County, next to Inks Lake on the Colorado River. Seen through the lens of my writing, I easily picture the mirror pool replacing that stone mosaic in the center of the floor, with the benches set around the pool at the cardinal points, the directional letters giving way to carvings of key, crescent moon, fish, and radiant sun.
“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” (Attributed, probably incorrectly, to St. Augustine.)
My next steps include looking into the usefulness of these things:
• The Fussy Librarian
• Blog tours
• Goodreads Giveaways
• Amazon advertising
• Written Word Media
I know who I’ll ask for new reviews to augment the glowing reviews that Waterspell received upon the books’ initial publication. The circle I move in, these days, is much changed from the social circle that I knew before my husband’s death in 2012. Now, I number among my friends many anti-fascist activists, folks I got to know after November 2016. Most of them didn’t even know I was a many-times published author; it wasn’t what drew us together. Now, gradually, I’m revealing my past life and enlisting the support of those who are willing to help me recover something of it.
Am I dreaming, thinking I can relaunch a 10-year-old fantasy series? Possibly. But I’m making final edits to Waterspell Book 4, preparing for a 2022 release. And the audiobooks are slowly coming together, after my wonderfully talented narrator endured a major upheaval in his own world. It took him away from the work for six months—disruptive, yes, but not as damaging to a career as was my own dark, nine-year period of grief and neglect. If nothing else goes too badly wrong, the audiobooks should be released in 2022, along with Book 4.
I’m thinking those two events could be and should be enough to spark new interest in the original trilogy. If I will get out there and promote, dammit. It’s no secret that promotion takes money, and I’m prepared to pay, within reason, for advertising. Here’s what I plan for my first sponsored Facebook post:
“Perfect for fans of Kristin Cashore and Charlotte Brontë.” From award-winning author Deborah J. Lightfoot, an unforgettable epic fantasy that readers call “extraordinary, enthralling, completely unpredictable.” Think “Jane Eyre meets a sorcerer.” Coming in 2022, Book 4 of Waterspell will complete the series. Print & ebooks available. Audiobooks in progress. www.waterspell.net
Amazon advertising and BookBub being completely new to me, I’ll need to discover how they may or may not fit into the budget. But at least I’ve got a little ready cash to spend on a new promotional push. The 2020 Pandemic Year not only gave me time and opportunity to pursue audiobooks and to write Book 4, it saved me money. I went nowhere and cooked meals at home. Everything I didn’t spend on travel and restaurants is now earmarked for book promotion.
I hope to Drisha this plan of mine will get these four books in front of the readers who will most enjoy them. At this point, it’s readership I want—not fortune so much, just a tiny bit of fame to validate the years I’ve spent obsessing over this story of mine.
This is the best definition of “literary fantasy” I’ve come across. The definer, Emily Temple, also lists and briefly describes recommended books in the genre. Of course, I must add the Waterspell series to the list, as it closely fits her definition:
“For the purposes of this list, I am using it [the term ‘literary fantasy’] to mean works of fantasy that prioritize sentence-level craft and/or complex thematic structures, and/or that play with expectations and fantasy tropes, and/or that focus on characters and interiority as primary goals of the work. I don’t just mean ‘well-written fantasy’ or ‘literary novels that have magic in them,’ though both kinds of books can be found here. What I mean is books that relate to and pull from the conventions of both genres: fantasy and literary fiction. This means there might be dragons, and there might be a hero’s journey, and there might be some lyrical descriptions, and there might be some family conflict. There is also some crossover with SF and literary SF, of course.” —Emily Temple
I found this presentation by Professor Harry Lee Poe (Union University) so enjoyable, I watched it twice. The second time through, I took notes, some of which I’ll share here. Any fan of Tolkien or Lewis will do well, however, to pay the $12 registration fee for unlimited access to the full lecture. Prof. Poe provided an enlightening overview of how Tolkien and Lewis related to one another in developing modern fantasy. Their works spawned an entire field of storytelling.
Among Poe’s points:
The Lord of the Rings is a three-volume book. It’s not a trilogy.
Lewis served as “the great encourager,” urging Tolkien to write his stories of Middle-Earth. Lewis gave Tolkien the idea for “the wound that would not heal” as well as the basic structure of the “journey story” — there and back again.
“In the journey story,” Poe said, “the hero risks all, ventures all, travels to the end of the world to do the great deed, and having accomplished the great deed on this fabulous quest, having fought all the foes, he returns a changed person.” (Sound familiar?)
For Watching & Reading …
I’m behind on my movie-viewing. Prof. Poe mentioned these films, only one of which I’ve seen:
He also mentioned the Scottish author George MacDonald, whom Wikipedia describes as a pioneering figure in the field of modern fantasy literature and the mentor of fellow writer Lewis Carroll. Clearly, I need to spend some time with MacDonald’s books, and catch up on all the movies I missed while I was absorbed in my own fantasy worlds.
I’m having a great time working with a skilled, extraordinarily talented professional narrator to turn the first three books of Waterspell into audiobooks. The way the narrator has moved into the body of my wysard is uncanny. The man sounds exactly like the voice I heard in my head during all the years I devoted to writing Books 1 through 3. I look forward with eager anticipation to each newly recorded chapter the narrator sends me. He’s finished Waterspell Book 1: The Warlock and is approaching the one-third mark of Book 2: The Wysard. We plan to release both audiobooks together or within about a month of each other, since Book 1 ends on a cliffhanger and I believe listeners will want to move immediately into Book 2.
For me, an unexpected side benefit of hearing my characters’ voices come alive in the real world, is the inspiration this experience has provided to finally get me writing again. After my husband’s sudden death in 2012, I had no impulse to write. People would ask about a possible Book 4, and all I could tell them was that Life with a capital L had kicked me hard, and I wasn’t writing. Then came 2016, and the shock of discovering that I wasn’t living in the country I thought I was living in. The country of my birth was, in fact, a breeding ground for the absolute worst in human nature.
Therefore, after spending four years trying to patch together my life, I found myself obliged to join the Resistance and spend the next four years attempting to save the soul of my nation.
Then came 2020 and Covid-19, and a months-long self-isolation that has been a godsend for me. I hate the pain, the loss, the suffering that this virus has heaped on other people’s heads. I’m a walking example of white privilege: I get to stay home, safely isolated out in the country, ordering stuff for delivery to my gate and going into town only to pick up groceries and my mail. My pandemic experience has been 180 degrees from the devastation that others have experienced.
After years of no motivation followed by years of exhausting nonstop effort to resist the tide of fascism, I suddenly found myself with both the time and the desire to create something of my own again. Almost immediately upon entering my bubble of self-isolation, I hired my audiobook narrator. After six or seven weeks of listening to his breathtakingly good interpretations of my characters and their story, I placed my fingers upon the keyboard and started pounding out Book 4.
I started Draft One on May 6, and completed Draft Two on September 6. Record time for me (Books 1–3 took me 16 years to write and publish).
The second draft will need to sit for a couple of weeks. I do still have obligations to my state and my nation—I’m supporting candidates and contributing to Get Out the Vote efforts. I’ll spend the next couple of weeks engaged in that effort.
But then I’ll be looking through my notes again, and settling down for a close reread and re-edit of Draft Two. I’m tentatively planning a Summer 2021 release date of the Book 4 ebook, to coincide (I hope) with the release of the Waterspell Book 3 audiobook.
How good it is to be writing again. Strange, how inspiration will arrive unexpectedly, and opportunities may arise from cataclysm.
Making a place for yourself in a world where you don't belong takes courage. So does moving in with a warlock.
"If you like epic fantasy that sweeps you to amazing, immersive worlds and while following intriguing characters, be sure to add this series to your to-read list." —Once Upon a YA Book
Castles in the cornfield provided the setting for Deborah J. Lightfoot's earliest flights of fancy. On her father's farm in Texas, she grew up reading tales of adventure and reenacting them behind ramparts of sun-drenched grain. She left the farm to earn a degree in journalism and write award-winning books of history and biography. High on her Bucket List was the desire to try her hand at the genre she most admired. The result is Waterspell, a complex, intricately detailed fantasy that begins with The Warlockand The Wysard, and concludes (for the present) with The Wisewoman. But a legal pad filled with notes, formerly tucked away in a desk drawer, has grown into a nearly finished Book 4 that will, in Spring 2022, complete the saga, at long last. Deborah is a professional member of The Authors Guild. She lives in the country south of Fort Worth, Texas.
Magic, mystery, murder, and romance. Waterspell: An intricate save-the-world fantasy adventure with complex characters, cosmic calamities, and the gothic sensibilities of Jane Eyre.
Mix environmental fantasy with magic, mystery, and a little slow-burning romance, add dark dystopian undercurrents, and that’s the Waterspell trilogy—a cross-genre story with too many layers for a single label.