Needing to believe, and believing to be needed

Growing up, my favorite Narnia book was easily The Silver Chair. I loved when Prince Rilian came out of his enchantment, slew the giant serpent, and destroyed the silver chair. I loved dear old Puddleglum. I loved the trenches that spelled out words.

But mostly, I loved Jill Pole.

Jill wasn’t a Pevensie. There weren’t prophecies about her. She was just a girl struggling through school the best she could.

But when Eustace told her about this magical place he had visited, a beautiful place far beyond the reach of bullies and gray English skies, she believed. She believed so much that she had to go there.

And when she got there, she found that she was needed. She alone heard the signs from Aslan. She was given the quest to rescue Prince Rilian with Eustace. She kept their little trio going with her fire and determination.

And she made mistakes. Oooh, she made mistakes. But she worked doubly hard to fix them and still saved the day in the end. And as a girl who was constantly making stupid mistakes, that gave me a lot of hope for myself.

I used to think that if I hoped and believed hard enough, I could get to the Wood Between the Worlds and travel to all the lands I had ever read about or imagined, as well as the ones I had never in my wildest dreams encountered. And in a way, I did. I believed in stories the way August Rush believed in music. I believed, like Uncle Hub, that good will always triumph over evil, that true love never dies.

And I believed, like Jill Pole, that there was a magical land out there that needed me.

And now I’m building my own Wood Between the Worlds, an already-enormous collection of places and people and powers, some of which will never be read by eyes other than my own, some of which are out there already. And I’m no Shannon Hale, but even with my small-but-growing readership, I’ve had kids tell me how this or that or the other part really meant something to them. And it makes me want to cry a little every time.

Because it means that I’ve reached my magical land, and I have found that I’m needed.

And I think that’s what life is. It’s believing in something–stories, music, business, people, math, whatever–and believing in it so hard that it (whatever it is) really needs you, even if it doesn’t know it yet. Charles Wallace didn’t know how much he needed Meg. Mount Eskel didn’t know how much they needed Miri. And Narnia didn’t know how much it needed Jill Pole. But all of these ladies believed in their it, and nothing was ever the same again.

So whatever it is you believe in, be it writing stories or teaching high school math, know that you are needed. Go forth and change the world.

When you least expect it…

At the park today, Scout made friends with this adorable little boy who was about her age. I got talking with his mom and found out she has one son in the Air Force (so much respect for her there) and one son prepping for Olympic trials (which son, incidentally, began his diving career with the same woman who coached me in high school). 

Stories are everywhere, folks. This is what makes Humans of New York so brilliant. Every person on earth has a story to tell, including you. Take a little time today to listen to someone’s story and find the wonder in it.

Stumbling across inspiration

I’m having a hard time getting anywhere with my writing this week. I’m probably burned out on most of my projects, but just not writing isn’t an option for me. I’d go stark raving mad.

So yesterday, I decided to shift perspective on one of my stories and write a bit from a side character’s point of view. It was refreshing and led to some great character development, which in turn influenced how I’m seeing this plot unwind.

AND it made me realize:

I’m telling one of my other stories from COMPLETELY the wrong perspective.

And so, this morning, one of my stories changed from adult to middle-grade. An extremely lame plot arc has turned into an exciting and emotional adventure. It’s gonna be good.

Sometimes, all we need to push out of a slump is a new way of looking at the old, tired things spread out in front of us.

Have you ever had to completely change who is telling your story?

Visual Inspiration

One of the fun things about being an author is that it brings you into contact with so many incredibly talented creative minds. With my cover now out in the world, I wanted to take a minute to introduce you to the man behind the cover image.

Let’s start by sneaking a look at the photo that ended up on my cover:

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Isn’t that stunning? I saw this picture on Kesler Ottley’s Instagram when I was just starting to think about how I wanted my cover to look, and I knew it was PERFECT. It’s basically a scene directly out of the first chapter of Stone Alliance. And it’s gorgeous.

Kesler was fabulous to work with and made so many little tweaks and adjustments to make it come out just right. He was totally invested in making his photo work for my cover, and I’m so grateful for his talent and dedication!

I wanted to showcase his work for you a little, and he graciously sent me some of his photos to post on my blog. So sit back and enjoy!

Isn’t it lovely? And there are EVEN MORE amazing photos where those came from! Check out his accounts below and order some prints to hang around your desk and inspire you!

Mountains of wearisome height

We have a poster hanging in our house of Thomas Cole’s “Journey of Life: Youth,” which shows a young person setting off in a boat, looking toward a beautiful castle in the sky. There’s so much between this youth and the castle–water, forests, plains, mountains–and as I looked at it, I recalled the words of Sam Walter Foss:

I know there are brook-gladdened meadows ahead
And mountains of wearisome height;
The road stretches on through the long afternoon
And passes away to the night.
And still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice,
And weep with the strangers that moan,
Nor live in my house by the side of the road
Like a man who dwells alone.
(Foss, “A House by the Side of the Road”)

In this month of gratitude, I am thankful for the many people who rejoice and weep with me through all the meadows of sunshine and wearisome mountains. So often, writing is depicted as a solitary venture, one in which the author holes up for months before emerging with an earth-shaking manuscript; but that’s not how it works. You can’t write in a void. You have to have experiences to draw on, personalities to reflect on, people to lean on.

One of the things I love the most about Foss’s poem is that it’s not about lifelong friends or soul mates. It’s about people passing by, crossing paths with him for a brief moment, travelers and strangers and people both good and bad. And yet he reaches out for them, appreciates the light that they bring to his life, seeks to help them in their journey.

And so today I am grateful for my fellow travelers who have touched my life even for a brief instant, who have paused on the path just long enough to share in the joy of our mutual journey towards our castles in the sky.

Satisfaction in creation

I was probably eleven or twelve when I first picked up James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small. To this day, it remains one of my all-time favorite go-to books for a good laugh. Herriot has a gift for impeccable depictions of idiosyncrasy, and his books neatly temper the absurd and hilarious with the somber and uplifting.

A few months ago, I discovered that Herriot’s son had written a biography of his father, and I had to read it. And I only love the man more.

Toward the end of the book, Wight covered his father’s first ventures into the world of writing, which started out as a sort of journal of all the wonderfully, lovably eccentric people he worked with as a country vet in the 1930s and ’40s. His family persuaded him to send the manuscript to a couple of publishers, who, though they spoke highly of his writing, eventually rejected it.

Wight then remarks,

“He still felt proud of what he had done. Quite apart from having written a book that could be passed down through generations of his family, he had had the satisfaction of having his work genuinely praised by John Morrison and Juliana Wadham, two highly-experienced readers who had no reason to enthuse over his little book other than that they thought it had real potential.” (Jim Wight, The Real James Herriot, 245)

Wouldn’t it be grand to have that kind of satisfaction in our own writing? It’s so easy to get caught up in the world of bestseller lists and Amazon ratings and contracts and movie deals. But in the end, no matter what happens with it, you’ve written a book. Or a short story, or novella, or poem. Whatever your thing is. The point is, the very act of creating something beautiful is worth taking pride in.

So next time you doubt your ability to be an author because you’re afraid other people won’t like it–square your shoulders and write on! Know that you are going where others fear to tread, and just getting that book out from beginning to end will earn you the right to praise and admiration. It’s not an easy thing, this writing stuff; but in the end, it certainly does have its rewards.