Monday, August 1, 2011

A Life of Their Own

I grew up in a beautiful 1920s craftsmen bungalow with gorgeous woodwork, leaded glass bookcases framing the fireplace in the living room and the window seat in the dinning room, and a ridiculously small bathroom. Above the bathtub, several ceiling tiles had fallen, leaving designs in the remaining grout. My younger sister hated having her hair washed and I took to making up stories about the designs on the ceiling to distract her while my mom washed and rinsed her hair. With our heads tilted toward the ceiling, I told countless stories about The Roam, a magical land ruled by Glueshoe the Horse. Twenty years or more have passed and my sister still remembers those stories. Maybe not the details, but the characters still make her smile.

I think that's one of the most exciting things about writing for me. When my characters and my stories take root in someone else's mind, I get this incredible thrill. After I finished my first draft of Guardian, I gave it to my teenage sister (there five of us total, spanning 17 years - two boys and the three of us girls sandwiched in the middle). I knew I'd struck on something when I saw her sketching a boy with wings. 

Now that I have started to share my work with the larger world, I'm starting to experience that sensation more and more. Every time I hear someone mention one of my characters, I have this weird out of body thing and I feel like that person has tapped into my head. I mean, how can someone know a character I created?

I have so many stories, so many books, so many characters that have remained hidden in file cabinets or locked away in old notebooks, so sharing this story really is the first time I've had my characters take on a life of their own. I have a really horrible high fantasy novel I wrote something like ten years ago. I shared it with one friend. She loved it, but I think that was more because she loved me. Those characters are still incredibly real to me, but they've never made it beyond my head.

That's one of the reasons stories - and sharing them - are so important. They get ideas and characters and situations out of people's head and into the real world. They start discussions and open up awareness. They transmit information and inspire us to be better - or worse. They remind us that we're not alone and that there is more magic in the world than we can see. They teach us about love and life and loss. They allow us to escape and to confront. They tell us where we've been and show us where to go. They come alive every time someone reads them.

G.K. Chesterton once said (or at least Neil Gaiman once said that G.K. Chesterton once said. The actual quote is a bit longer and more complex) "Fairy tales are more than true — not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten." There is so much truth in that. I keep writing because I'd like to think that maybe someday, one of my stories or my characters will show someone that some dragon can be beaten. I think back to the stories and the characters that saved me as a teenager and I'm so grateful to the story-tellers who had the courage to let them out into the world and give them a life of their own.

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