By Emma Young | Photos by Rob Jinks
Belinda Miller has created her own world. Filled with magic, wonder, gnomes, mermaids, pirates, fantastical creatures, and abounding adventures, this world comes to life in the author’s two book series, Phillip’s Quest and The Ragwort Chronicles.
Phillip’s Quest, a seven-book fantasy series geared toward middle-school readers, describes the perils and feats of Phillip, a gnome living in Twistedoak, his best friend, Edward, and Ava Dreamspinner, a dinosaur, as they seek to defeat the Red Witch of Winterfrost Castle.
The Ragwort Chronicles, a three-book fantasy series written at a third grade reading level, describes the Ragworts, a family of warrior gnomes, and their escapades getting to and in Brokenfell, a village near Twistedoak.
“The books are very ‘Middle-Earth’ [described by Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings trilogy]versus ‘Narnia’ [written in The Chronicles of Narnia created by C.S. Lewis],” Miller stated, comparing her series to these classic good-versus-evil tales. “They are values-based,” with true friendship, loyalty, and courage shown during the character’s adventures, she said, describing her books as “exciting and profound.”
Weaving tales has come naturally for the gifted author and Manassas resident. “I’ve written all my life,” Miller said. “It’s what I do. I love it. I love literature. I love to read. And I love children’s books.”
Having a passion for writing doesn’t mean the actual writing process is easy for Miller. She has facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD), a progressive neuromuscular disease. Diagnosed at age 22, “over the past 43 years, I have watched myself atrophy,” she explained. “It gives me limitations. I don’t walk anymore. I’m limited in my arm usage. My arms and hands are very weak. I’ve had a difficult time pronouncing words. I tire much more quickly, and sometimes I’m in pain.”
Miller outlined the physical process she undergoes to see her fantastical worlds come to life. “My right hand is pretty much gone. I can only use one finger to type,” she said. “My left hand is weak, but I can type for maybe a couple hours. I get cramps in my hand, and I get tired. It takes me a long time to type.” What about modern technologies, such as voice recognition software, that translate spoken word to text? “Because I don’t have a normal speech pattern [due to weakening across facial muscles], it’s very difficult for them to translate into written word,” Miller explained.
Yet the irrepressible Miller has always continued to press forward. “[Writing] is what my calling is and what I’m meant to do. I do what I can, when I can,” Miller said. “Some days I can go on and on, and some days I’m just not going to move. You have to take the good with the bad.”
“I have a life, and I was not going to put that on hold until the disease caught up with me. Until I’m to the point where I totally cannot do anything, I’m going to do as much as I can. Everyone is dealt certain obstacles,” Miller said. “It’s up to you whether to feel sorry for yourself. You’re either going to do it, or you’re going to make an excuse for not doing it. Every day is a challenge, but every day I wake up and do what I can.”
Beyond Writing, Creating an Interactive World
Miller certainly can do a lot. The world she has created extends beyond the written word. A former school teacher with a master’s degree in education, Miller witnessed the power of imagination and experiential learning in her classroom. She integrates the senses into her stories and creates treasures that supplement the books, bringing them to life.
Each book includes special recipes related to the story for children and families to try in their own homes, such as Roscoe Ragwort’s favorite snicker doodle cookies. “When he saw them at Lilly Willowflower’s wedding,” writes Miller in the appendix of The Ragwort Chronicles, Along the Way: Roscoe’s Journey, “he stuffed them in every pocket he could. They were the only thing he had to eat on his first night in the Dark Forest. Don’t over bake them, or they’ll be as hard as a rock in Bandersnatch Swamp!”
Miller has created action figures and dolls of the characters that can be purchased, giving an opportunity for imaginative play time with a moveable figure. Each comes with a description and is personally made by Miller.
A jewelry line inspired by characters and settings in her fantastical stories is available as well. Graced with beautiful detail, these handmade creations are one-of-a-kind.
The prodigious creator also includes instructions for fun children’s crafts based on the book series in an e-newsletter. Simply sign up on her website, belindamiller.me.
Miller enlisted the help of Lorraine Gonda, a Las Vegas-based illustrator, to ensure her fantastical world is beautifully depicted throughout her books. From fun crafts and food to taste to beautiful jewelry, actionfigures and stunning visuals, the creative process of bringing the books to life seems almost endless. “I want kids to understand the joy of reading and what using the imagination can do,” Miller said. “I’ve done these sorts of things all my life. It was what made me a successful teacher, that I could integrate all the senses.”
Miller is and has been actively involved in promoting literacy beyond authoring books.
She is the force behind the Little Libraries movement in Prince William County, establishing fun, small structures throughout the county that hold about 30 books that can be borrowed for free without check-out procedures. Prince William Living described that effort in our January edition.
Miller has supported the work of traditional libraries as well, serving for a time on the Library Foundation Board and currently volunteering with the newly-formed Friends of the Montclair Community Library to develop upcoming fundraisers that support and encourage local authors and reading.
Miller has also been actively involved in writing groups, such as Write by the Rails, Prince William Writers and the Greater Prince William Women Writers. “We’ve been pretty active online,” Miller described. “It’s all about writing and giving budding authors help—directing them to the right places and making sure they know how to publish. We’ll also promote literacy and work with kids. We hope to form a junior writer’s group.”
Miller is currently hoping to publish a coloring book later this year and is finishing her first adult-audience novel, The Centurion’s Lance, which chronicles the whereabouts and interesting history of the spear that reportedly pierced Christ’s side according to Biblical accounts. “I’m having a good time with that,” Miller stated. “It’s fascinating.”
Will the irrepressible Miller ever stop? Miller’s enthusiasm for life shines through in this response: “I’m doing what I love to do. I love my writing. I love living where I live. I’m happy. Life is good. This is cool.”
Both the Phillip’s Quest book series and the Ragwort Chronicles book series are available now on Amazon.com, wherever books are sold online, or at Miller’s website, belindamiller.me. In addition, four books have been translated into Braille. They are available through AIM-VA at aimva.org.
Emma Young ([email protected]) is a stay-at-home mother and freelance writer residing in Dumfries.