Sometimes, There’s This Book

Sometimes, there’s this Book. You know the one – it’s a book that you remember reading all your life. The one that you finish in record time, reading in great gulps, and then exclaim over, and pass along to someone else – all the while madly scrambling to see if the author has written anything else.

I was in high school, and I was on a Gothic-reading binge. Gothics had mystery, romance and a touch of suspense to them, all of which appealed to me. More importantly, they were readily available on the spinners and magazine racks in the stores of my hometown. And better yet, my mother would read them too, which meant that I could usually count on her to fund some of my reading habit.

One day, I found a book called Ammie, Come Home, by Barbara Michaels. It looked interesting, so I picked it up.

It was one of those Books.

In addition to the mystery and romance – which I had expected – Michaels had woven a deep stream of the paranormal into the book – which I had not expected. I loved it. In those days when urban fantasy did not exist as an official genre, Michaels was writing it.

Witch was the next of her books that I found. It confirmed that Michaels was an author I wanted more of, and more and more.

And the hunt was on. A book here, a book there – I found just enough to keep me tantalized and searching for still more.

It wasn’t until I got to college, with many bookstores available and larger libraries, that I found most of the rest of her books. I finally ran into that wall of having read everything I could find by a particular author, and was stuck waiting for each year’s new offering. A year is a long time to wait when you want that next book.

And then a librarian asked me if I knew that Barbara Michaels also wrote as Elizabeth Peters.

An orgy of reading followed.

Her Elizabeth Peters books had more archaeology and less of the supernatural, but they still sucked me right in and told a story that kept me there until I had consumed the entire book. Then they spit me out with a dreadful book hangover (that mix of rapturous oh-I-loved-it and miserable I-can’t-believe-it’s-done).

At least this time, when I hit the read-it-all wall, I could look forward to two new books a year.

Barbara Michaels/Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Mertz (her real name) died this past week, at the age of 85. There will be no more new books to wait for.

I will miss opening up the new adventures of an old friend from past pages. I will miss meeting a new character ready to dazzle with me with humor, intelligence and just enough quirks to make them seem like a real person I would like to know better. I will miss the plot twists Michaels/Peters tossed at her readers, and the romance – not heavy-handed sex or erotica but simple, sweet romance – that was in many of her books. Her regular use of older heroines appealed to me, particularly as I reached maturity myself. It was nice to see that you didn’t have to be twenty-something to have adventures!

Michaels’/Peters’ strong female characters – who could rescue themselves, thankyouverymuch – and her touch of the Unknown  – these things drew me in from the first book, kept me coming back for more for four decades, and have strongly influenced my own writing.

I could go on and on about my favorite Michaels/Peters characters and books, but if I got started, it would be hard to stop. Suffice it to say that she created many, many favorites of mine over the years.

So here is a huge thank you to author who not only entertained me for many years, but helped shape the path of the writer I have become.

Rest in peace, Barbara. You were a wonderful story teller – the highest accolade I can give an author – and an incredible influence on me.


Evolution of a Geek-Girl

I saw a video on Facebook today that I immediately identified with. I reposted it, and then started thinking and writing. Here’s the video, and the results of the thinking and writing.


My first steps toward geekdom were small ones. I grew up in a small Southern town in the 1960’s and 70’s, and there really wasn’t a lot of fodder for geeks there at that time. Comic books, three channels on television (and an early bedtime) and a public library that ran to mainstream fiction were all I had at my disposal. Still, I showed potential early on; I spent weeks being a cat at age two, with a tail safety-pinned onto me (role-playing and cosplay, anyone?) until my dad brought home a kitten for me, and at age four, I had a fairy-tale character as an imaginary friend. (I reluctantly dismissed her when my mother questioned whether or not she was a “good” imaginary friend. Okay, fine, so she was a four-year-old version of Maleficent, the evil witch from Sleeping Beauty, but it was before she became evil, I swear! I just liked the name and the cool clothes she got to wear! I mean, purple and pink robes? Way cool! And well, magic, but like I said, it was totally before she went to the dark side.)

I did have comic books. My grandmother, who was a teacher who understood the value of comic books in getting kids to read for pleasure, had a large stack of them, which eventually filtered down to the vacation cabin on Black River, (where we spent most weekends) for my cousins and me to read on rainy days. I started with Casper and Ritchie Rich and worked my way up through Archie to Superman and finally into the realms of scary comics that told Twilight Zone-type stories. (My mother tried to steer me away from these, telling me they were too scary, but I loved them – partly because they were a semi-forbidden fruit.)

My mother was an early geek. She taught high school math and read what science fiction she could find in our small town. I still recall seeing Isaac Asimov’s books in paperback around the house. She also watched the original seasons of Star Trek. (It was on way past my bedtime, but on a few occasions when I could not sleep, I remember hearing the haunting sounds of the theme music.)

When I was seven, Mom got me seven of the 14 Oz books, by L. Frank Baum, setting my feet firmly on the path of fantasy and geekiness. Several years later, she gave me D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, which I read over and over again. There wasn’t a lot of fantasy available for kids in the 1960s, so I did not read a lot of it besides Oz, myths and fairy tales. But I was ready and waiting, and read everything else I could get my hands on.

As I reached the middle and high school years, fantasy and science fiction became a little bit more mainstream, and therefore, available. Star Trek was in reruns, and I watched it faithfully. I found a few more books – the Narnia series, Watership Down (which was mainstream enough to appear on the book spinners at the drugstore) and the Asimov anthology Tomorrow’s Children, which the public library, for a wonder, actually had. During that era, Zenna Henderson’s short stories about The People were turned into a TV movie of the same name, and when I watched it, I wanted more. (Imagine my delight when, in college, I found the books this movie was based on!)

I sampled the harder science fiction my mother had around the house, but never found the right book to really draw me in. An aunt (who knew me better than I knew myself) gave me a boxed set of Tolkien one year, but I (stupidly) left it unopened on the shelf until I was in college, when I finally read the books. (I could have kicked myself to the bottom of the mines of Moria for ignoring it all those years. But at least I finally understood the graffiti “Gandalf Lives!” that adorned one of the buildings I saw every day on the way to class!)

I was the loner, the outsider, the girl who wrote poetry and got good grades and read a lot. The one who worked in the school library and took care of her parents. I wasn’t popular unless someone was looking for a person to torment for a while. And since what interested them did not interest me, I really didn’t care, except when they bullied me.

But something was missing. I just didn’t know what it was, yet. Dribs and drabs, drops and hints of what was to come for a lonely geek-girl who didn’t know that she was a geek – I was a butterfly still in the cocoon.

Then I went to college.

The University of Colorado in Boulder, in 1976, was a whole different world from the one I had grown up in.

Culture shock? Maybe a little. Okay, maybe more than a little. I had never even eaten a taco before. I had certainly not lived in a town with a real bookstore, let alone multiple bookstores!

I hadn’t been in the dorms more than a few weeks when someone introduced me to Dungeons and Dragons. I was hooked, immediately. Planning adventures with fantasy creatures and treasures, or playing a character who traversed someone else’s creation? Heady, heady stuff. (I still have my first D&D books – the set of three little books in a little white box, plus the first expansions of Greyhawk and Blackmoor.)

I read my Tolkien books, finally, and I found Anne McCaffrey’s first two Dragonrider books on the shelves of the university bookstore. The second semester I met a guy who liked games, science fiction books and comics, and he took me with him down to Mile High Comics and Science Fiction on Pearl Street when he went to get his comics.

Oh myyyy, to quote George Takei.

I was set loose in a veritable feast – at that time, the store had nothing but new and used science fiction and fantasy books and comics. Anything you could want was in there.

I ended up with a part time job there.

And I married the guy who took me there.

Star Wars came out during the first summer I was in college. I will never forget the first time that Imperial Cruiser rumbled overhead on the huge screen, with surround-sound vibrating the theater. Just, wow.

Within a year of leaving that small town I grew up in, wondering what else there was in life, I was set free as a geek and loving it. I had friends, I had hobbies, I had passions. It changed my life.

Geek-girl? From the bottom of my heart, and proud of it.

Ghosties for Halloween

tombstones in Prince Geoge Winyah graveyard

These tombstones from the 1700’s are in the graveyard of Prince George Winyah Episcopal Church in Georgetown, S.C., where I grew up.

People who know me know that I am a huge fan of ghost-hunting shows. I make no secret of it; in fact, I was openly put out that I had to miss the season premiere of Ghost Hunters a little over a year ago when city workers accidently dug up our power lines. I had been looking forward to that for weeks! I was, frankly, more annoyed about that aspect of losing power than any of the others, at the time. (Well, except the food in the freezer. No one wants to have to replace food.)

I myself have had very few experiences that could be thought of as paranormal, and most of those could probably be debunked quite easily. However, people I have known and trusted not to stretch the truth have had personal experiences, reinforcing my idea that there is a lot more out there than that which we can see and touch.

What ghosts are and how we can experience them is something I do not presume to know. Science tells us that time may not be linear – are ghosts the result of time slippages? Science, string theory in particular, also tells us that there are multiple dimensions – are ghosts echoes from those? The religion that I follow tells us that we have souls – are ghosts souls that have not yet found their way to whatever comes next? Whatever their source, I find the idea of ghosts interesting.

I suppose my interest in ghosts partially a product of where I grew up – the South, where if ghosts were rocks, you’d trip over one every time you turned around. The town I grew up in, Georgetown, South Carolina, was established in the early 1700s, and has many historic buildings, more than a few of them supposedly haunted. (Again, my personal experiences were minimal, and might be explained by faulty wiring and that sort of thing, but it was always fun to thing I might have annoyed one of the ghosts by sitting in the chair he was currently occupying.)

The clock tower of Prince George Winyah Episcopal Church in Georgetown, S.C.

Looking up at the clock tower of Prince George Winyah Episcopal Church. Both church and the surrounding graveyard date back to the 1700’s. History and ghosts are part of my cultural upbringing.

My childhood included the stories of the Grey Man of Pawleys Island, who supposedly warns people of hurricanes, and Alice of the Hermitage, who still searches for the ring her fiancée gave her, among others. Every child in the region knew those stories, and many had walked around the grave of Alice 13 times backwards in hopes of seeing her ghost; ghosts were very much part of our cultural heritage. Then, when I was in high school, I  took part in a project of collecting local ghost stories by interviewing the people whose homes were haunted. The flame of interest was fanned, and I have been interested in ghosts and ghost stories ever since. The advent of ghost-hunting shows on TV has kept me happily occupied for the last few years.

For Halloween this year, I treated myself to a paranormal presentation on campus. I abandoned Pat to the mercies the neighborhood ghosts and goblins, and went on a parking-spot hunt near the Wyoming Union building – no easy task, since there was trick-or-treating for the Laramie kids on campus. But I finally found a space at the far end of the parking lot, and dodged small costumed people all the way up to the Union.

The group presenting was Haunted Explorers, out of Denver. They had a guest speaker/investigator whose name had caught my attention right away when I saw the presentation announced on the University of Wyoming news website – Karl Pfeiffer. I knew who Karl was; I had been quite pleased when he was on the ghost-hunting TV show Ghost Hunters Academy a few years ago – someone from Ft. Collins, Colorado! Someone from my part of the world! Cool!

Karl Pfeiffer

Karl Pfeiffer, paranormal investigator and author

I watched Karl first on that show and later on Ghost Hunters International, so I was delighted to have a chance to see and hear him in person. (I’m afraid I was a bit of a fan girl; oh, well!) These days, he is guiding ghost tours at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. (This is the hotel that was used as the setting for Stephen King’s The Shining, and it has a reputation for being quite haunted.) Karl also has a new novel out, Hallowtide, which I promptly bought and got signed – I will be reading it over the next week or so.

The presentation was interesting, including some photos and EVP’s (Electronic Voice Phenomenon, for those of you who are uninitiated) from several sites the group had investigated in Colorado. Karl spoke next, and he is a very articulate and interesting speaker, bringing a lot of both practical ghost-hunting experience and theory to the discussion. It was over too soon for my liking, but the investigators had ghost-hunting to do.

After the presentation was over, Haunted Explorers, along with a group of students, was going to be investigating one of the buildings on campus. (I hope they had fun and found things – I know people who have worked in that building and had experiences there!) This was a student activity, so I took my employee-self home at that point. I’m not sure I could have stayed awake to hunt ghosts on a week night, anyway!

I had a wonderful evening, attending a presentation on a subject that fascinates me, and getting a chance to see someone in person that I have enjoyed seeing on ghost-hunting shows. This was my idea of a fun way to spend Halloween!

Text and photos (c) 2012, Jane W. Wolfinbarger

Memories of Photographs

Creativity takes many forms. In addition to writing, I enjoy photography. I am fortunate enough to be able to use a digital camera, so I can take as many photos as I like without having to pay for processing the ones that don’t come out. My father, from whom I undoubtedly get my love of the hobby, never made it into the digital age. (I think he would have enjoyed using a camera that allowed him to see his pictures as soon as they were taken.) He did, however, have a beloved 35mm Ricoh that he took everywhere. He preferred slides, and I have literally hundreds of slides that he took.

My dad had all the gear, and he knew how to use it well. He juggled the camera, a separate light meter, and a separate flash. I loved that flash. It had a reflector that spread out like a fan behind it, and closed up when you weren’t using it. It had to removed from small, curious hands more than once during my childhood. He had a big leather case he kept all of it in, too, along with spare metal canisters of film (plastic canisters in later years), cleaning tissues, and anything else he thought he might need. Dad’s camera bag was always fun to rummage through. (I’m not sure he felt the same as I did about having me go through it.)

Dad would shoot a roll of film and then take it in to the store, which in turn would send it away to get it developed. (You could send them in the mail to be developed, too. I sent rolls from my little Brownie camera to Jackrabbit for developing. It was always exciting to get them back!) Then, when the developed slides came back, out would come the projector and silvery screen, the curtains would be drawn, and we would look at slides. Usually, older slides would come out, too, and memories would flow. Slide viewing was a family event. For all of the convenience of digital photos, viewing them is a solitary thing. I miss the discussions and memories that went along with looking at slides as a family.

There were favorite slides, of course. My favorites were the oldest ones, especially from before I was born, probably because it made a time when I did not yet exist more real. There was one slide that always gave me a delicious shiver, because my parents said it had a ghost in it. There was, indeed, a large white shape on the river bank in photo – a white shape that my parents swore hadn’t been there when they took the picture. Frankly, it looks like a sheet blowing in the wind, except that there were no houses or clotheslines in the area of the photo. I guess we’ll never know for sure, but that photo always gave me chills when I saw it. (Of course, I often asked for that one and then hid my face when I saw it!)

Many of the slides are landscapes, particularly the autumn scenery along the South’s big, slow tidal rivers. After I came along, Dad added me to his subjects. And every year, he took a special photo to be made into a Christmas card. I was invariably dressed in something red – in one case, even a red bathing suit. Some of those photo sessions were candid, but others were not, and I recall wondering why I was standing in front of the pyracantha bush, with its bright red berries, and why I was supposed to look like I was doing anything but posing for my father and his camera, and thinking how much I hated the pants I had on because they had stirrups that went under my feet. (I was about three at the time.)

Jane jumping into the river.

From one of the Christmas cards. Probably the summer of 1963, when I was 4. I was jumping into the Black River in the Low Country of South Carolina. Note the red swimsuit – red was the color for the Christmas photo, no matter what time of year it was taken! (And yes, I swam like a little fish.)

A few years ago, a cousin of mine was going through some old photos and came across several of those Christmas cards. She posted them to Facebook, to my delight. Treasured memories came back to me, and I started wondering where I had put those slides. I finally found them recently. I transferred the boxes of slide carousels and plastic boxes of loose slides from the disintegrating cardboard box they were in to a plastic tub, wondering how I was going to look at them properly, since the projector no longer worked and the screen was long gone.

A borrowed projector solved part of the problem, but the long-term problem – what to do with hundreds of slides that you’d like to see more frequently – remained. Budget constraints keep me from sending them (there really are a LOT of them) to one of those handy places that scan them for you; I suppose I’ll have to bite the bullet and get a scanner that can handle the slides, along with a case or so of canned air to clean them. In the meantime, I have the few that were made into Christmas cards to spark old memories – memories that have made it into some of my stories.

My own photos are digital these days, but I have many pre-digital prints from when my kids were small crammed into a plastic tub, waiting to be put into albums. (My span is the opposite of my dad’s – I started taking photos of my kids when they were small, and now that they are grown, I have progressed to taking landscapes, although mine are mostly of the arid and dramatic West rather than the lush South.)

I hope that someday my photos can bring back the memories for my kids that my dad’s do for me. And I will continue to enjoy this form of creative expression that often adds inspiration to my writing.

Roads Going on (Or, Going on Roads that Go on and on)

We had an adventure this past weekend, my husband, Pat, and I. It was a small adventure – nothing on the Bilbo Baggins scale of things, but since we tend to be quite hobbit-like (typical hobbits, not the like the Baggins clan) and stay-at-home-ish, going on a weekend trip is an adventure for us.

We had our daughter and son-in-law’s dogs with us for the first part of the journey. They – the kids, not the dogs – had moved, and were ready for the dogs to join them. Since we wanted to see their new digs, we offered to bring the dogs, who had been staying with us for the past few weeks anyway.

Transporting the dogs was probably the most adventurous part of the whole thing. One of the dogs is a hyperactive, neurotic border collie mix (certain stubborn and high-energy personality traits make us think that the non-border-collie part of him may incorporate some terrier genes). The other dog is a one-and-a-half-year-old golden retriever who is just as sweet the breed is supposed to be. However, he is still rather puppyish, as retrievers tend to be for several years, which makes him prone to ditzy behavior. He is frequently the subject of  “blonde” jokes in our household.

To transport the dogs, we used my car. I drive a small car – a Chevy Aveo hatchback, to be precise, which my offspring fondly call “Mom’s golf cart.” That should give some indication of the size. (I just ignore them. It gets great gas mileage, and I like it.)

Anyway, we crammed our bags into the small hatchback area, wedged the dog food bins and travel jug of water for the dogs behind the seats, and put the dogs themselves on the back seat. Anything we deemed even it even remotely possible to need during the trip was shoved under my feet. Needless to say, I didn’t have much foot room. Things like bags with iPods, a satellite radio, allergy medicine, pain reliever, magazines, my Kindle (although to my everlasting frustration, I can’t read in the car, so it probably didn’t need to be there), my camera, sports drinks and water, the big book of maps (I love maps) and my purse (which is a small backpack all by itself) take up more space than you’d think. Or than I’d think, at least. I don’t seem to have a very good ability to estimate the space needed for stuff.

The dogs, once loaded in the car, were clearly confused. We left our two Labs behind at home, and then we didn’t go to any of the places around town that the dogs were used to going to. Not to any of the old apartments the kids had lived in, not to our son-in-law’s parent’s house, not to mountains, not even to the vet’s. Instead, we got on the highway and kept on going. It was something they couldn’t figure out, and as we left town and passed any possible known destinations, the border collie mix started whining and becoming more and more agitated.

Thankfully, at least one of the dogs was a good traveler – as long as we were in the car. The golden retriever sat and lay down like a gentleman for the entire six-hour trip. I think he might have slept for most of it if the border collie mix hadn’t been stepping on him every few minutes.

Well, actually the golden was a gentleman only as long as we were actually riding in the car. When we stopped at a road-side “look at the historical marker!” area to give the dogs a brief walk-and-sniff break, the golden retriever suddenly showed abilities that would have indicated sled dog in his background if I didn’t know better. He dug in with all four paws and dragged Pat across the gravel and weeds like he was trying to win the Iditarod, veering to the edges where the best smells – and the barbed wire – were. Yeah. I could just see explaining to our daughter and son-in-law why their baby had chunks of fur missing. (And Pat wasn’t too happy about the thought of getting tangled in the barbed wire, either.) Pat said that the golden retriever hauled even harder than our 115 pound Lab does. It was certainly impressive to watch, although Pat didn’t seem to be too impressed with being on the other end of the leash. We cut the stop short and got back in the car. Pat asked for pain reliever from the store of stuff under my feet for his now-aching shoulder.

Mr. Neurotic, the border collie mix, reacted exactly like I thought he would to the car trip. He whined, he panted, he paced the back seat and he tried to get into my lap in the front seat for three-quarters of the trip. Antelope, deer, horses, sheep, goats, cattle and things that I apparently missed seeing by the roadside got his immediate attention and upped his level of activity, and cars or trucks going past us drove him (and by extension, us) nuts. They must be things to herd, right? ( He is never allowed to herd them, and he just can’t figure that out. Physics and size differences aren’t his long suit.) I was thinking longingly of doggy seat belts before we had gone twenty miles.

But when we got out to stretch our legs, he was the gentleman, and I think he was just as annoyed with the golden retriever as we were about the shortened rest stop. (I am pretty sure he knew the reason for the hasty retreat to the car. Despite his inability to understand why we won’t let him try to herd vehicles, he is usually smarter than the rest of us.)

The border collie mix finally settled down for the last two hours or so of the trip. I thought I’d be relieved when the noise and action in the back seat stopped. Instead, I felt sorry for him. Frankly, he looked defeated, with his normally perky ears and tail drooping. He just could not, for the life of him, figure out what we were doing with him.

When I wasn’t wrangling the border collie mix or telling the golden what a good boy he was, I looked at the scenery. Such as it was. (By mutual agreement, Pat does most of the driving.) Much of our trip was through the wonderful open, empty spaces of southern Wyoming and northwestern Colorado.

Seriously, scrape off a layer of sagebrush, and you could expect to see the Mars rover Curiosity trundling along. (Mars, at least, has the allure of the unknown. The Red Desert, not so much) So there wasn’t a lot to see for a good portion of the drive. (Unless you were the border collie mix, who apparently could see things the rest of us couldn’t.)

There were patches of green here and there – pre-tumbling tumbleweeds. They start out as low, bushy cushions of greenery, looking very innocent and refreshingly green in an otherwise brown-and-grey landscape. But they are just waiting for the cold weather of fall and winter to kill them, so they can break off and start rolling down the middle of the highway in packs and wedging their prickly selves in fences. This time of year, they still aren’t innocuous. Every time we passed a big bunch of them, I started sneezing. (Hence the allergy medicine in the under-foot bags.)

This stunning lack of anything but wide open spaces is why the iPods and satellite radio were considered indispensable and part of the gear hanging out under my feet. One got plugged into the stereo so the driver could listen to his podcasts and sports talk shows and the other got plugged into my ears so I didn’t have to listen to his podcasts and sports talk shows (or the dog whining and panting). Winning all around. (Why satellite radio, you ask, and the not just tuning into whatever is available? In the areas we were traveling through, you are lucky if there is a tiny town every fifty miles, and by tiny, I mean towns too small to have radio stations. Usually, they consist of a gas station, a greasy spoon restaurant, and a bar. And maybe a motel that was new in 1949. There isn’t even cell phone reception for great swaths of miles.) Thanks to the entertainment systems we had brought, the miles and miles of sagebrush and rocks whizzed by and we were, indeed, entertained. It also helped defuse the tension radiating from the black-white-and-brown furry body in the back seat when we couldn’t hear Every. Single. Whine.

I know I sound very critical of the landscape. And quite honestly, there is a severe beauty to it. I especially love how open it is. The view is just very slow to change and very repetitive over the course of a long, long drive. It always brings to mind Tolkien’s poem from The Hobbit, “Roads Go Ever On,” because you can see the thing winding away like a ribbon over the hills ahead of you – for miles and miles.

We finally made our way to the kids’ new place. We only had to call for directions twice when we reached their town. Okay, three times. But that was because I didn’t get the directions down quite right the first time, and we missed the last turn. We drove right past their place before I had to call the third time.

Someday, both Pat and I will learn that I am not the best person to take down directions, and possibly the worst person to navigate, in spite of how much I love maps. If I say turn left, I might mean left, or I might mean your other left. Pointing tends to get better results for me, but the driver doesn’t usually appreciate my hand suddenly being flung into his face, and I risk whacking my elbow on the  car window when I try to point the other way. (There have been some memorable and pretty spectacular mis-navigation episodes when I have been in charge of interpreting the directions. Kansas City and St. Louis, in particular, bring back shudders. If you remember the part of the Chevy Chase Vacation movie when they end up in the wrong part of town, you’ll know what I mean.)

The dogs were ecstatic when we pulled into the driveway and they saw who was waiting for them. Our daughter and son-in-law were just as excited over being reunited with their furry family.

Pat and I were exhausted, the back seat of the car was covered with dog hair, I was covered with dog drool from all the panting and we were ready to sit on something that didn’t move for a while.

But it was a mission successfully completed, and a small (very small) adventure for the Wolfinbargers.

Jane W. Wolfinbarger ©2012

The Great and Powerful – Oz

Dorothy, from the original W. W. Denslow illustrationsWhen my husband called me into his home office to look at something on the computer, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Usually it’s something about computers, or the internet, or something equally geeky that he knows I’ll like and wants to share. But to my surprise, it was a movie trailer – for the new Oz movie.

My name is Jane, and I am an Oz-fanatic.

I have loved Oz since I first saw the 1939 movie as a small child in the 1960’s. It came on every year in the spring, and I always anticipated it eagerly. It became even better when we got a color TV. I was as amazed as Dorothy when she opened that door into Munchkinland.

The summer between second and third grades held an even bigger treat. No doubt realizing that my love of the movie would translate well into the world of books, my mother replied to a special offer and got me seven of the fourteen books L. Frank Baum wrote about Oz. These were sturdy, library-bound Reilly and Lee hardcovers, made to withstand years of hard reading. They weren’t in order; I received the first, second, fourth, etc. But I didn’t care. I was enthralled. A big box of books had come for ME!

Now, I wasn’t a reluctant reader by any means, but at the end of second grade, I was only just venturing into chapter books. The Oz books were a bit of a step. So my mother, ever the teacher, devised an evil plan. She would read me the first chapter of an Oz book, and then leave me with the book, after refusing to read any more to me.

It worked. By the end of the summer, I had read most of the seven and loved Oz more than ever. And although I didn’t read much other speculative fiction until I was in college (besides a battered copy of Andrew Lang’s Blue Fairy Book and C. S. Lewis’  Narnia series), the hook was truly and deeply set, and I eventually became a ravenous reader of science fiction and fantasy. Writing it followed.

Over the years, I read other volumes from the series. (For some reason, we never had a chance to purchase the rest of the series. I once asked my mother about this, and it had puzzled her, too.) I found a few at the public library, and others at book stores. To this day, I still don’t have the entire set in hardcover, but I was more than happy to fill my gaps when they reissued the entire series as paperbacks. There were Oz books by several other authors, too, and I found a few of them and read them. I got the entire Baum series, The Complete Wizard of Oz Collection (All 15 books) With table of contents, too, when I got my Kindle.

I read Philip Jose Farmer’s book, A Barnstormer in Oz, when it came out in the 1980’s and enjoyed it. I found the new take on my old friend Oz delightful. I didn’t have any problem with new embellishments to my childhood memories, perhaps because I have always seen Oz as a fantastical place where anything can happen.

I am ashamed to say that I have not yet read Gregory Maguire’s Oz books. I keep meaning to, and will someday. I have the first of them, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (Wicked Years), all ready to go on my Kindle. I hear great things about them, and I imagine I will be delighted with the new additions to the world that I have loved since childhood.

The new Oz movie looks like fun. It’s a back story, telling the story of the Wizard before Dorothy comes to Oz. I saw an interview with two of the stars, and it turns out they read and loved the Oz books as children, just as I did. That alone gives me great hope for this film.

Sam Raimi is directing the movie, and as a long-time fan of his, I am looking forward to seeing what he can do with it. And as for special effects – well, Oz was made for CGI.

I can’t wait to see what happens! In the meantime, I can re-read my Oz books and make a dent in the Maguire books, too.

Meeting Christie Golden

I went to Starfest in Denver in April, along with my friend and fellow writer S.M.R. Cooper. We had a table on Author’s Alley, where we promoted our books. Starfest itself was fascinating. I hadn’t been before, but my friends had, and had been nagging me for the last several years to come along. Well, for the sake of the table and promoting our books, I did it. And I was glad I did.

The costumes going by were fantastic – both in theme and complexity. Klingons, Stormtroopers, zombies of all descriptions, anime characters, steampunk ladies and gentlemen, and things that I could not place in any specific setting all passed by our table in Author’s Alley. Those in costume were always willing to stop and pose, and I have some wonderful photos that will find their way here before too long. (I take large photos, so anything I want to post has to go through PhotoShop first, to make it small enough for the web!)

One of the highlights for me was meeting Christie Golden, author of more than thirty fantasy novels, including many World of Warcraft, Star Wars and Star Trek novelizations, as well as several high fantasy adventures. She has been attending Starfest for years; one of my friends brought me some of her books, autographed, several years ago. This year, I got my own. (And I left her a copy of my book, too.)

I wandered down to her table, a little bit shy at the idea of meeting someone as successful as Christie. She sat at her table, which was covered with copies of her books, both new and out-of-print, and talked  freely with her fans as she autographed their purchases. She took the time to not only chat with me, but offered to have a picture made taken with me, which I quickly took her up on.  She is the lovely lady on the right. That’s me on the left, in my favorite geeky Gandalf shirt.

Jane W. Wolfinbarger and Christie Golden (right)

Christie was delightful to talk to. She said that she enjoys coming to Starfest – it gives her a chance to meet her fans. “My readers let me do this,” she said, gesturing to the table full of books. “Without them, I wouldn’t be doing what I enjoy, writing.” After this, she kindly helped me pick out one of her books that I didn’t already have, and autographed it for me. What a lovely person she is! If my brain had not been overloaded with Starfest and meeting an author I like, I might have actually managed to ask a few pertinent questions about writing, but at least I got to meet and talk to her!