Thursday, September 20, 2012

Guest blogger Tali Spencer

The Known Sky 

During the editing of The Prince of Winds, one of the editors at Dreamspinner commented on how much she loved the scope of the world and the many landscapes it presents. Her observation homed in on something I deliberately wrote into the book—and that also mirrors my own life. More than any other of my stories, The Prince of Winds showcases the landscapes of my childhood and youth.

When I was seven, I looked out the living room picture window every morning at a view of Pike’s Peak. My father often drove us on day trips into the Rocky Mountains, along narrow roads into valleys filled with golden aspens. He also took us into a mountain, Cheyenne Mountain, where he worked. As a kid, I didn’t appreciate NORAD’s nuclear bunker. Most of my memories are of soaring peaks and deep gorges to the west, and of beautiful sweeping plains to the east.

We moved a lot when I was growing up. My father’s work in missile guidance systems took us to Massachusetts, the Marshall Islands, Texas, California, and Virginia—and several other states as well, every part of the continental United States but the deep South. Such diverse landscapes gave me a deep appreciation for nature’s variety and power. I know firsthand how quickly the desert cools at night, and how wide the sky can be, filled with stars. I drove into El Paso during a sandstorm and when we got out of the car, we saw the paint stripped down to bare metal. A blizzard in Boston left snow drifts deeper than I was tall—and I’m not short. I’ve driven a car on a frozen lake and nearly got caught in a flash flood in an arroyo. The dunes at White Sands, New Mexico are blinding. The Ohio River is a highway of water.

As a young mother, I spent time in South America, living for a while in Bolivia. There I experienced more new landscapes. Beautiful blue-green lakes reflected volcanoes. Inca terraces and inscrutable ruins shared mountainsides with native villages. I grew faint after ten minutes of playing basketball at 13,000 feet above sea level—yes, the air is that thin. Standing on the spine of the Andes while llamas graze nearby is amazing. The snow-capped mountains march to either side like enormous teeth. The triple peaks of the Illimani rise so majestically above the Altiplano, it’s no wonder the Incas believed it to be a god. The Amazon forest has both more sounds and more silence than any place I have ever known.

Cruises reveal as many wonders. Turquoise water and pink sand beaches. Storms at sea are terrifying when a ship stands between you and disaster. Beautiful islands surrounded by sea are nonetheless dependent on rain for water. The sun seems stronger at sea, and I adore watching the sun rise and set across the ocean’s vast horizon.

And I haven’t mentioned the amount of time I’ve spent in the air, flying over mountains, forests, deserts, oceans, and plains through every season.  It’s humbling and amazing to watch the landscape change across the miles.

So when I wrote a story in which one of the characters could fly, I drew heavily on my experiences and the landscapes I love. The story of The Prince of Winds starts off in a desert. It moves to an island with a shore like that of Peggy’s cove and crags that resemble those I knew from hikes in El Paso. Melkor flies Rimmon back to his home over fields like Wisconsin and dunes like those of White Sands, toward mountains based on the Andes. The snowy mountain trails are pulled from Colorado. The gullies of the battle scene originated in Texas. There’s a scene at a mountain temple which is pure seven year-old me standing at the edge of an overlook atop Pike’s Peak. Every scene has roots in images and memory.

I gave the world of The Prince of Winds a name: The Known Sky. That’s what every invented world is. It’s what the writer knows. I hope readers enjoy the landscapes in this one.

Links to me and my books:

Twitter: @tali_spencer