The Uncial Letter ~ September 2018

Mary Patterson Thornburg ponders Point-of-View…

Is the classic fish story–“the big one that got away”–a sad story or a happy one? That depends on who’s telling it, the fisherperson or the fish.

Point-of-view is everything. I’d “known” this forever, in the sense that I’d read it, believed it, and seen it thoroughly demonstrated when I read Wide Sargasso Sea, which made me realize what I’d never quite liked about Mr. Rochester. But I didn’t really know what it meant until I got tangled up in a story I wanted to write about a young witch.

As with several of my stories, this one was inspired by a dream fragment. A young woman was walking through a forest and came to a sort of fairytale cottage; a man was in front of the cottage, chopping wood. I didn’t know either of them, but I somehow knew they both had some kind of “magic” power, and there was something about their meeting and the scene itself that felt electric, full of possibilities.

In just a few days I’d begun to write the story, and in a few more days I’d actually written enough that I didn’t want to toss the project on my growing pile of abandoned beginnings. But that was looking more and more like where it would end up. The plot, the setting, and the characters were already turning into clichés; if I continued as I’d started, what I’d have would be a mediocre example of the kind of magical fantasy I don’t like much in the first place. The only thing that might save it, I thought, would be the characters themselves, especially the heroine. If I could somehow turn her into a real person instead of a cardboard cutout, it might make up for the all-too-predictable plot.

I decided I should get to know this character, Vivia. Where did she come from? What was her childhood like? I’d write a short story about an incident in her girlhood, when she discovered her “guile,” which was her world’s name for magical powers. Since such beginnings are sometimes linked in myth to sexual maturity (I’d been rereading Mary Stewart’s Merlin trilogy), I’d make Vivia a young adolescent.

Then I made the decision that changed everything. I’d been writing from a third-person objective point of view without considering it deeply. But now, thinking I’d submit the story to a YA publication if it turned out well, and noting that first-person narrators seemed to be the norm in YA stories, I switched to first person with Vivia as the narrator.

Immediately, she started talking: “The summer I was twelve I entered my womanhood… I thought I was injured internally or perhaps mortally ill. ” It was the voice of a real girl in a real situation. She remembers being frightened and, to all intents and purposes, alone. And, more importantly, she remembers herself as growing up, mentally as well as physically, gaining determination, self-confidence, and a healthy dose of attitude.

All this because I’d started looking out of Vivia’s eyes, not pushing her around. Suddenly, because I’d changed the point of view, she was real. This meant that the people around her had to be real, too, as she saw them. Her whole world had to be real, as she experienced it. Her “guile” had to be real–not fairytale magic but heightened psychic powers, of which she was just beginning to be aware and of which she was not at all in control. And the plot? Because plot grows out of character and characters’ interaction with their world, mine stopped being the paint-by-numbers contraption it had been and started moving in unexpected but quite natural directions.

I ended up working alternately on the novel I’d begun and the novella introducing Vivia at twelve. Uncial Press published the novel, A Glimmer of Guile, in 2014. This month its prequel makes its appearance as an Uncial novel byte: “Vivia, Waking.”


Growing up is scary. Whether you are a boy or a girl, the transition from carefree childhood to responsible adulthood is fraught with hazards. Not the least of them are the physical ones, when suddenly the body you’re used to becomes one belonging to a stranger. When it happens without warning or foreknowledge, it can be even scarier.

Vivia travels with her father and brothers, trudging from town to town, burdened with packs containing the hand-crafted jewelry that is their stock in trade. This season, though, everything is changing, and she is frightened…elated…confused. To make matters worse, her elder brother is convinced she is becoming a witch, and will do whatever he must to prevent it. It is time for her to take her future in her own hands and decide its direction: Vivia, Waking  (ISBN 978-1-60174-243-8. $2.99), at your favorite ebookseller.

Next month we are delighted to offer another story by Michelle L. Levigne, about our favorite small town: Neighborlee, Ohio. You remember Neighborlee? The place where “normal” is a little odd, and no one notices…usually. It’s Living Proof that a wheelchair can’t stop a kinda-sorta superhero.

The best thing about publishing ebooks is that we get to read them. When we’ve read all the new ones, we have a fabulous backlist to delve into. After all, a good story is always worth re-reading, right. To celebrate the twelfth anniversary of our first releases, next month we will begin giving you a peek at some of those good stories you may not have discovered yet.

Live, laugh, read!

Star & Jude

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