TL. Jef, just as an introduction, can you tell us a little about who you are?
JM. I am a nomadic artist/illustrator and an errant essayist. I reside in the sultry southern United States amid the rolling hills and formidable forests and fens of Georgia, along with my wife, author and columnist Lorraine, plus Hamster-in-residence Ignatius. If your readers know of me at all, it is most likely due to my contributions to Tolkien and Inkling-friendly publications and events (Mallorn, Amon Hen, Beyond Bree, Silver Leaves, Black & White Ogre Country, The Magic Ring, ALEP, ALEP2, etc.), or Catholic publications and networks (St. Austin Review – StAR, The Georgia Bulletin, EWTN, Gilbert Magazine,The Integrated Catholic Life) worldwide.
TL. Can you tell us what the book is all about?
JM. That is a challenging question! The book is comprised of short stories, poems, and essays, all replete with B&W illustrations that are evocative of 19th century woodcuts.
What are the tales about? Some deal with love, some with mysteries, some dreams and others with the natures both of good and of evil. There are wizards (of course!), dwarves, elves, vampires, angels…each tale can largely stand alone, yet there is much more going on "behind the scenes" for the purposeful reader to perceive.
TL. At first I thought you had written a novel, but it is in fact a collection of short stories and poems. But maybe it still is a book that can be read as a novel and has one main narrative we can follow?
JM. A narrative does thread through all of the tales, and significant characters appear and reappear, sometimes with different names, but still recognizable. There are overarching themes and an overarching poem, finally declared fully in the final tale of the book, that may help to tie the threads together for readers…at least somewhat. For, although I'm not trying to sound pretentious, there is more going on in this collection than even the author first perceived, and perhaps that is as it should be with all storytelling.
From the Introduction to the book, let me add the following:
"Each person encountering these stories and sketches will find something different awaiting them. And since many moons have passed since some of these journal entries were penned, I find that there remain unexpected epiphanies for me upon reencountering them.
Every time we enter into a story, a poem, or a picture, we are a different person. And buried within some turn of phrase or some couplet that we encounter, there may lie this suggestion, or that metaphor, or some word of encouragement that we most need in order to better understand ourselves and the nature of our own unique journey."
TL. What is the hardest part: the writing or the illustration?
JM. They are very different, and I rather think each complements the other. It's an odd thing about creativity: if you "push" too hard in a familiar direction, you often encounter a dryness or a "stop" in creative flow. It's at those times that swapping things up a bit can unblock you or help you see things in a new light. So, I've found it enormously stimulating to be able to go back and forth between writing and illustrating. That said, I still think of myself as an artist first and a writer second.
TL. A bit like the chicken and the egg, nonetheless always interesting to know.... what did you create first, the text or the art? And why in that order?
JM. Well, in most cases – most cases, mind you – the text came first. And this is simply a function of how these tales and poems came to be. I would literally begin writing, and rather quickly would find that a character had shown up on my page that was in an odd situation, or that was, seemingly, an interesting person. And from there, I'd want to find out what happened to them, just like any reader would. But in this case, I'd be finding out myself as I wrote the story down. The tales sometimes would "dry up" for long periods, only to be picked up again at a later time, but sometimes they would "write themselves" nearly in one sitting. Illustrating, then, became a process of capturing the images that had already appeared in the text.
However, there were other cases where the reverse happened…where a sketch or painting had a context "missing" that I found I wanted to explore in words. In this case, I'd already created a snapshot, of you will, of a bigger story; my job was to figure out what that painting or sketch was _really_ about, and put it down in black and white.
TL. What do you wish to 'do' with this book? Who do you want to reach and what is your message? What is your hope for your readers?
JM. Aside from a desire to intrigue and entertain, I think I can best sum up my intention by again quoting from the Introduction. In the following, the "afore-mentioned magic ring" is introduced twice in the book, and I believe the reader can intuit the nature of that ring's power.
"It is my personal prayer that this journal, like the afore-mentioned magic ring, might serve to help you see more clearly who you are, who you were meant to be, and perhaps encourage you to once more perceive what a mysterious, enchanted, and grace-filled world we inhabit."
TL. Was it difficult to pick the images for the cover? I can see some clear references to Tolkien there, was this done deliberately or did someone else decide what needed to be put on the cover? And will you be selling any of the artwork done for the book?
JM. I was extremely fortunate in having nearly full control over the look and feel of the book, in partnership with Lara Sookoo of Oloris Publishing, who is herself an immensely gifted and intuitive editor. The cover image, which was of my painting "Slayer of Darkness," references one of the two Blue Wizards from tolkien's Legendarium. This was quite deliberate, as that wizard is featured explicitly in one of the tales in the book ("A Cerulean Sorcerer").
But, there are many sketch and painting images in Seer that are available for sale, both as originals and as prints, and information on these can always be found at my website (www.JefMurray.com).
TL. Is there any special moment during the writing and creation of the book that you can share with us?
JM. There were many moments of wonder and grace, both in the writing of these tales and in my discovery (often long after the fact!) of what they were truly about. But let me share one aspect of the book's creation that I found tremendously humbling.
TL. Do you believe this book will be appreciated by Tolkien fans?
JM. I certainly hope so! There are many Middle-earth references, but there are also references to Narnia, King Arthur, and many other medieval and fantasy tales, legends, and myths that I'm sure will resonate with Tolkien fans.
But, more than that, these are new explorations that are largely from the point of view of all of us: here, now, in the 21st century. Yet, I pray that the stories might revivify in readers the certainty of magic, wonder, goodness, truth, beauty, and hope in a world that seems largely dismissive of all of these things.
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