As part of an effective writing process, we’re told to delve into our characters’ backstories. That’s how we get to know them and understand their motivations. Even readers become involved with backstories by writing fan fiction and making sketches and riding on the coattails of the author’s small fame.

What about the author’s backstory?

I spent two days at FantasyCon in Salt Lake City. I had the fortune of being invited by Johnny Worthen to speak on panels about villains and contemporary fiction, and as part of that I had attendance to the conference and a +1 for my son. I traveled with Lehua Parker, and the best part for me was being with people I know and respect, talking shop about the craft and industry of writing.


My son played Magic for several hours and I wandered with Lehua among the elves and the hobbits and a seven-foot-tall knight with a battleax and a baby stroller. We looked at the variety of trinkets and armor and artwork and I liked some of it, but nothing impressed me enough to spend money on it. I have plenty all-American self-indulgent entitlement and I was pretty determined to buy myself some souvenir to take home for my office.

After participating on the panel for contemporary fiction, my day was supposed to be over, but I got distracted on the way to the car.

I walked back into the massive vendor space and stood and stared at a massive vertical banner for The Last Unicorn. This story was the first fantasy story of my childhood. This story defined fantasy for me, defined unicorns and magicians. The movie came out before I had even learned to read, and within my family’s little single-wide trailer, my sister and I wore out our VHS copy.

And I knew what I wanted to buy. I walked up to the vendor booth to find a copy of the book for my sister, and Peter S. Beagle was there. I hadn’t noticed before because I had been too busy staring at the unicorn sign. I paid for my copy—ordered for shipping—thanks to an enthusiastic guy staffing the booth, but I was instantly fascinated with Peter Beagle himself. He’s a handsome man with a storyteller’s voice and a lifetime of stories. I listened to him until my son came over to remind me that I had people waiting on me to go to dinner and home. I don’t want to give away any of his stories because he’s going to publish some of his experiences soon, but I can tell you that the rest of the world disappeared while he talked.


I wish I could have listened to him longer. I hope to see him again in the world of authors and people. Peter S. Beagle has more stories to tell, so it’s a good thing that “There are no happy endings because nothing ever ends.”

What was your first fantasy influence? What author’s backstory would you like to hear?

3 thoughts on “Backstories

  1. Margaret Weis was my first influence. Even had the opportunity to see her lead a world building panel, but staying up until 4am means you’re not in real good shape by 10am. But Dragonlance with her and Tracy Hickman really drew me in. Today she makes awesome table top rpgs.

    As for backstories, I’m addicted to GRRM’s stories. His childhood and how it led t where he is today is just twisted and marvelous. I can’t read/watch/listen enough of his interviews.

  2. The first fantasy books I read were by Alan Garner. Elidor is what I suppose we would call urban fantasy today. Didn’t exist then, nor did fantasy. They were just great books of imagination. I agree about the fascination with invented characters. I have found myself writing endless spin-off stories to my series just because I want to get a bit deeper into a character who, in the course of writing thousands of words about them, has grown to be almost flesh and blood.

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