Her short fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, over the years. Her most recent short fiction publication is in Fiction River: Alchemy & Steam edited by Kerrie L. Hughes. But like many writers in the last few years, Leslie’s marvelous novels have appeared because of the changes in the publishing system. I’ve had the privilege of reading parts of these books for years, but only in the past couple of years have the novels reached a wider audience.
Those novels include three books in The Faery Chronicles series, Hunt, Demon, and the latest release, Faery. Her novel Night Awakens, Book One of the Soul Forge series, debuts in the summer of 2016. You can get Hunt in the Women in Fantasy Storybundle for the next week or so, along with 9 other books (including a Fiction River). You can find out more about Leslie and her work at her website, leslieclairewalker.com.
Paying It Forward—With Heart
by Leslie Claire Walker
I came a little late to fantasy—well, later than many people I know who love the genre.
My childhood and teen years were filled with fairy tales, Walter Farley’s Black Stallion novels, and every single word written by Louisa May Alcott and Charlotte and Emily Brontë. I preferred to sit inside and read on scorching southeast Texas summer days. When my mother demanded that I go outside to play in the fresh air, I did as she asked. But instead of playing, I took my books and set up shop beneath the ash tree in the front yard, dappled sunlight streaming through the branches, humidity settling on me like second skin, mosquitos buzzing in my ears.
Those memories are some of my best. I loved those books. I will always love them because they touched my heart.
Shortly after I became officially old enough to buy my first beer—a truly fantastic, rich stout —a close friend handed me a book from his library. Then he explained that the book was the first in a trilogy, and gave me the other two. I wouldn’t want to wait to read those, he said. I’d want to have them on hand right away. The trilogy was by Mercedes Lackey. The Last Herald Mage series: Magic’s Pawn, Magic’s Promise, and Magic’s Price.
I fell in love, and I fell hard. With the mage Vanyel, and his journey to become who he truly was without apology. With his allies, friends, and lovers. With his struggles as he mastered his magic, and the sacrifices his power demanded of him.
The Last Herald Mage series captured my imagination completely, especially the third book, Magic’s Price.
I saw my life through the prism of Vanyel’s. I saw the world through the prism of Valdemar. And I learned something about myself and about the world in a different way than other genres of fiction had allowed.
Fantasy spoke to me in languages older than the words on the page—the languages of myth and symbol and metaphor wrapped in magic, the language of possibilities untethered by the rules of the world I lived in. Fantasy slipped under my skin and into my heart and it never left.
For me, heart has always been where it’s at.
I read voraciously after The Last Herald Mage. Mercedes Lackey became a storytelling heroine of mine. I read every book of hers I could get my hands on, and when there were no more of those available to me, I branched out. My love of the genre took me in many directions, first as a fan, then as a tabletop role-playing gamer, where I had the opportunity to create my own characters out of whole cloth, and finally as a budding writer.
I wrote my first novel in 1995. I hadn’t yet found my own voice, and that first book was a voice experiment in which every word was beautifully crafted but failed to convey my intended meaning, so I stuck the book in a drawer and started work on the second. I finished writing that second book in 1997, and then set myself to learn everything I could about publishing. How to submit the book to agents and editors, how to write a short synopsis. I remember feeling very excited and frightened all at once—a particular combination of emotions that dear friend of mine coined as “ex-frightened.”
This was right about the time that Mercedes Lackey’s and Larry Dixon’s White Gryphon was released. I bought a copy of that book as soon as I could, and a few weeks later, I read an ad in the Houston Chronicle about an event at a nearby hotel where many authors would be reading and signing. Among them were Ms. Lackey and Mr. Dixon.
I’d never attended an event like that before. I’d certainly never met an author, much less one whose stories I loved. I went by myself to the event, the skin on my arms turning to goosebumps in the chill of the air conditioning, the folding chair on which I perched digging into the back of my legs, my belly full of fluttering butterflies. I listened rapt to reading of the first chapter of White Gryphon and the stories about how it was written.
After the reading, I lined up with the rest of the crowd to have my copy of the book signed, fidgeting more and more as I drew closer to the front of the line, my fan girl enthusiasm and awkward introvert, ex-frightened nerves at war with each other. As Ms. Lackey signed my copy, I thanked her profusely for her stories. As an afterthought, I mentioned that I was a new writer who’d just finished my first novel.
She asked me a question that surprised me: Did I know how to write an outline of my novel? That was the kind of thing an editor would ask me for, and I should know how.
I froze for a moment. I told her I had no idea.
She waved me closer, and then she waved me around the back of the table to stand beside her. Her fingers worked the keyboard of her laptop. She told me to take a look at the screen and to go ahead and page down until I got to the end. Then she went back to signing.
I hunkered down beside her and blinked in disbelief at what I saw on the screen: the outline for Magic’s Price.
I lost my balance at that moment and almost fell over backwards, but I managed to grab onto the edge of the folding table. I spent the next fifteen minutes trembling as I scrolled through the outline of a book that had shifted the ground of my world and sealed my love of the fantasy genre. I read every word twice. I don’t know if I remembered a single one of those words, but that wasn’t the point, of course.
The point was that a storytelling heroine of mine had given me a gift of the kind I’d never in a million years dreamed. I resolved to pay that gift forward whenever I could, as many times as I could, and I left the hotel on Cloud Nine. I don’t think I’ve ever really come down.
It’s almost twenty years since that day. I can no longer drink those rich stouts I loved—Celiac has made me gluten-free, and fond of cider and whisky instead. I’m a huge fan of so many writers, so many stories. I’m grateful for the friendship and camaraderie of other writers, readers, and fans. And more than anything, I still love to read and write fantasy that brims with heart.