The Stories Behind To the Victor: Tales of Magic and Adventure

To the Victor final cover 12-18, 4 inches highFor those of you who like to know the backstory of things, I thought a few snippets concerning what went into the tales contained in To the Victor might be interesting.


I’ve never met a real mermaid, of course, even though I’ve spent a fair amount of time on the ocean. My husband and I own a commercial fishing boat that’s berthed in southern Oregon where this tale is set. The cove that Anemone leads Joshua to is one of my favorite spots: Sunset Bay, an Oregon state park that does indeed have a little stream running out to sea. The main character, Joshua, is based on one of our former crew members. If he’d been stuck in my fictional character’s dire straits, I believe he would’ve hung on in much the same way.

Sunset Bay


We Are Eagles:

This story is also set in one of my favorite places–McArthur-Burney State Park in northern California. On one memorable visit, a family of eagles had built a nest high up in a dead tree that hung precariously over the falls (it has since succumbed to gravity). My husband made a comment about it being a wicked scary place to learn to fly, and we started a little “what if” on how frightening it would be to a baby bird. When we started giving our eaglets voices, I knew the tale had legs. It almost wrote itself.

mcarthur-burney falls

Feral Refrigerator:

This story was written back when I was still trying to get accepted by trade anthologies. Anthology editors tend to become incredibly jaded–reading too many stories using the same stock characters will do that to a person. So, I decided to come up with a character nobody had ever heard of before.

The fact that I had an extremely boring wait while showing up for jury duty might have had something to do with it, too–that sort of thing makes my mind wander. I focused in, though, when I heard the judge refuse to excuse a homeless person from serving. Seriously? This guy was already having enough trouble in his life. So that made it into the tale as well.


The backstory on this one is as sad as the tale itself. Our little corner of gold country had experienced an incredibly hot summer. From my front porch I had a view of a centuries-old spreading white oak with gorgeous twisting branches, majestic in every way. But the heat that year was too much for it. I watered it, I prayed over it–all to no avail. My beautiful tree died.

Tool Thief:

This story was set on an actual job site where I had to do the waterproofing for months by myself. There was one guy in particular who seemed to have it out for me (or maybe he was just disagreeable in general). The superintendent on that job was actually named Sean, just like in the story, and he was very much my guardian angel on site. Thanks again, Sean. : )

This job wasn’t particularly plagued by thievery, but it’s a constant hassle in construction. On one memorable occasion, I went to the local hardware store to buy a chalk line because I’d left mine at home, and within two hours, I was driving right back to pick up another. Grrrr.

santa rosa JC culinary


This extremely short story came from the thought that no matter how difficult it might be in the commercial fishing industry today, it’s not a patch on how tough it once was. Even without sea monsters. : )


This longer tale came from a niggling dissatisfaction with the story Beowulf. It might be the oldest yarn in the English language, but to modern sensibilities the structure is odd. The hero defeats the monster, and then afterward the monster’s mother. It seemed too repetitive. I wanted to retell it, to make it more accessible to today’s audiences while still staying true to the spirit of the original.

It wasn’t until I realized that the way to do this was to use the point-of-view of Grendel’s mother that the story threads came together for me.

To the Victor Go the Spoils:

The title story comes from a couple of challenges I set myself. I wanted a dragon love story, but one without any shifter sex stuff. I also wanted characters who were a lot like people you might actually meet. So I started thinking about what a dragon couple would want and what they would squabble over. I also wanted something funny and light-hearted after writing Agretan, which had quite intense battle scenes.

Cave Rendezvous:

I wrote this after going on a reading binge of our local history here in gold country, which was rife with banditry. (A particularly memorable character was named Rattlesnake Dick, the pirate of the placers.) As I flipped through stories, I realized no one had ever told a tale from the point-of-view of gold country itself. So, I did–or at least, from the perspective of a cave inside gold country. As I was writing, I tried to think of how I would feel about bandits if I were a cave.


Cappuccino and the Great Heist:

I’ve always loved brownies (the house hobs, not the dessert treat, although those are good, too). I actively looked for tales that had them–for some reason, they seemed the closest, most accessible faeries ever created. And even though I knew they weren’t real, I never quite lost my longing to meet one.

But for this tale I went with a character who was the exact opposite. Edwina had lived her whole life with a brownie–and she didn’t appreciate him at all. In fact, she thought so little of him that she only saw him as a means to an end. What would such a person do? Rob a bank, of course.

It also addressed one of my enduring world-building frustrations with the Harry Potter series. All those wizards, some of them wicked, and yet we never heard of the Ministry having trouble because someone used magic to pull off a major heist? C’mon. : )

And a character like Uncle Vernon would have definitely tried to intimidate Harry into doing something unethical so he could benefit financially.


The reluctant hero is a well-known trope in fantasy, one I used in Bellerophon. But this story uses the idea of a reluctant villain. It was poignant to me because my selkie character would truly prefer to keep his moral scruples, but his undersea world will perish if he doesn’t enlist human aid. Yet most of the people he tries to convince will be killed. I tried to make his love for the ocean shine through, to humanize the sort of person who is responsible for sending humans to their death. It’s a morally ambivalent story, a type I don’t often write.


For this tale I wanted a unicorn who was completely unexpected. If you think about it, unicorns get a pretty raw story deal. Here they are, innocently trotting through the forest, befriending maidens, and what do they get? Girls who are coerced into helping unicorn hunters catch them, possibly because Viagra hadn’t been invented yet.

So instead, I created a unicorn that lured humans into his trap. It seemed only fair.


Platypus cover

Those of you on my email list get this one for free. (See, there are good reasons to receive my updates. Click here if you’d like free stories and other fun stuff.)

This tale started with the desire for a main character named Allison, as an homage to my childhood friend who’d died of breast cancer. In junior high, she introduced me to The Hobbit. Later, when we were in high school and guys used to ask her last name, if she didn’t want them to know she’d always smile and say, “Alice in Wonderland.” I used to wish I had an answer that was that cool.

Anyway, my thinking went: Alice in Wonderland–Alice in Underland–Allison down under, hence Australia. I merged that whole train of thought with a surfing platypus idea that was going nowhere and came up with this story. The platypus doesn’t surf in this tale, but he does lots of other surprising things.

Time Out:

cat and mouse We travel a fair amount, back and forth from northern California to Oregon, and on one occasion I was stuck in a truck stop for twenty minutes, waiting for the next batch of pizzas to come out of the oven. You know what it’s like when you have time to kill–you wander around, reading the t-shirts and mugs, picking up the stuffed animals, and just generally checking out anything that catches your eye.

Well, this little glass-blown sculpture grabbed my attention. Something about the poignancy of that moment, with the mouse trying to find a way down while the cat is waiting for it, wouldn’t leave me alone. I rarely buy knickknacks, but I picked up this one. Time Out was built around that moment.


And that brings us to the end of the book. Behind every good tale there’s often another story. I hope you enjoyed these. : )


Avid writer and reader of Faerie tales and noblebright fantasy.

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14 comments on “The Stories Behind To the Victor: Tales of Magic and Adventure
  1. I love this back story about how you developed your ideas for these stories, Cathleen. Sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A feral refrigerator? That got my attention. As did “a niggling dissatisfaction with the story Beowulf”. Me too. I know I want to read that story but rarely can get through it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Beowulf really does make a lot more sense told from the POV of Grendel’s mother. It’s a much better ratcheting up of tension–although it also turns the tale into a tragedy. Updating the language didn’t hurt, either. : )

      And everyone likes the fridge. If I’d know it was going to be that popular, I would have written it into a story sooner.

      Thanks so much, Jacqui. : )


  3. Wonderful post, Cathleen… I’ve just finished reading the book and love these gold nuggets! ❤ Sharing and wishing you a weekend filled with wonders! xo

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That was fun, Cathleen. Anemone and Platypus were two tales that I just loved from this book. Thanks for sharing the sparks for each of these stories. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  5. mitchteemley says:

    Congrats on you many writing accomplishments, Cathleen!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. As much as I love reading people’s fiction, I love hearing what inspired their ideas! Thanks for sharing this, Cathleen. You make such a compelling case for diversity of influence! The more we experience, the more we synthesize in our work.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Some famous writer made a statement that I’m going to paraphrase here: Either write something worth reading, or go live something worth writing about. I’ve been in a living phase for a bit–I’d been feeling like I’d cashed all the checks my experiential bank account could handle. I’m planning to jump back into writing again soon, but it’s important to me that tales have some sort of real life “raison d’etre.” If too many tales are simply run through basic story frame hoops, it seems like mediocrity is the best you can hope for.

      Liked by 1 person

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