A! Magazine for the Arts

Charles Vess

Charles Vess

Charles Vess releases new novel inspired by a dream and a ballad

September 27, 2022

World-renowned artist Charles Vess, who has had a 50-year career of illustrating comic books and fantasy works, has now written his debut novel, “Queen of Summer’s Twilight.”

The novel was born from a dream that Vess had about two people racing across a field on a motorbike with a trail of burning grass in their wake. It was also inspired by the Ballad of Tam Lyn.

When teenager Janet Ravenscroft is rescued from the night-time streets of Inverness by a mysterious man in a black automobile, little does she imagine what lies in store. How could she know that this man holds the key to the mysteries that have plagued her life: her mixed heritage, her father’s casual cruelty, her mother’s absences and her sense that she has never belonged?

Janet’s search for answers leads her from the familiar world of contemporary Scotland to the realm of faerie.

Fantasy writer Charles de Lint says that the novel “is just the sort of antidote we need these days, brimful as it is with a sense of wonder.”

Vess has been drawing since he was a child. His long list of accomplishments includes cover and interior art for Marvel, DC, Tor and Subterranean Press, as well as many illustrated books and graphic novels for which he has won two Hugo, four World Fantasy, three Chesley, two Locus, a Mythopoeic and two Will Eisner Awards.

His four-year collaboration with Ursula Le Guin resulted in a fully illustrated edition of all her Earthsea stories. Last year saw the release of “Honeycomb,” written by Joanne M. Harris with color and black and white illustrations by Vess, and “The Art of Stardust,” an informal history written by Vess, with an introduction by Neil Gaiman.

You can find Vess at www.greenmanpress.com and Charles Vess on Facebook.

Where did “Queen of Summer’s Twilight” come from?

By Charles Vess

Over 10 years ago, I woke up one morning with the remnants of a dream still buzzing in my head. In that dream I was on a high outcropping rock looking down on a vast yellowed field of dead grass and blackened trees. Riding across that field were two people on a motorcycle that was leaving a burned path of grass behind. Somehow, I knew right away that that landscape was the realm of faerie.

As I got up and put my clothes on, I started humming the iconic Richard Thompson song “Vincent Black Lightning” under my breath, thus naming the cycle.

Then, driving into the studio that morning, the two people on the bike started talking to each other in my head. I let them.

Over the next six weeks they and other characters kept talking to me and, not being a fool, I wrote it all down. Mornings, before I began work on my art deadlines, became a mad dash to scribble all the words that streamed through my head to the pad of paper.

When their voices finally grew still, I realized that I had a rough story outline with beginning, middle and an end.

My ‘gift,’ from who knows where, was in fact a novel.

I typed it up and for months, and years to come, I continued to tinker with the story, rearranging scenes and inserting dialogue. [Friends] read my story and made suggestions that sometimes had me rewriting vast chunks of narrative.

In the course of time the manuscript also passed in and out of the hands of two separate agents who both confessed that they didn’t know what to do with my story. Mostly they worried about the reception it might receive from today’s hypercritical audiences since I was an older white man writing about a protagonist who is a young woman of color.

All I can say in my defense is that I wrote the story that I was compelled to write, so please forgive me if indeed I have offended any of my readers.