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.

Let them die!

I have a few pet peeves when it comes to stories. Love triangles. Zombies. Unnecessary swearing. Insta-love.

And CHARACTERS WHO WON’T STAY DEAD.

This is a plague that runs rampant in stories today, be they in books, TV shows, or movies. If a character you like dies, have no fear! The writer(s) will find a way to prove that the character actually cheated death. Even if this character has “died” three or four times before, there’s no need to worry.

Last night, I watched the newest Doctor Who. They brought back a character who died at the end of last season (who, incidentally, has “died” at least three times in the new series alone). Thirty minutes later, this character was “dead” once more. And I had zero emotional reaction. Because, seriously, people–when was the last time a main character actually died in Doctor Who? (You may bring up a certain beloved character from season 8, but I’m not convinced he’s really dead for good, and I won’t be until Clara is long gone.)

(Which brings me to another obnoxious trend of the latest Doctor Who series–this stupid fixation on claiming that the Doctor is going to die. People. The ENTIRE STORY is based on the fact that the DOCTOR DOES NOT DIE. Cut the drama and find a more creative plot device.)

But seriously. If you’re going to kill your characters, make it count. Leave them dead and make your other characters (and readers) deal with the heartbreak. This is something I love about the Harry Potter series–even in a world of magic, characters who die stay dead. Not even the Resurrection Stone could truly bring someone back. The grief shapes the story and has a far more profound impact on the reader than a wishy-washy she’s-dead-but-no-she’s-not-just-kidding sort of event.

How do you feel about characters coming back from the dead? Are there any other plot devices that make you crazy?

Family History, I Am Doing It

You know where you can find some really amazing stories?

Your grandparents.

Your great-grandparents.

And so forth.

I’ve been up to my elbows in family history work lately, formatting a life history of my grandparents, typing up various life sketches from generations back, translating German letters from my aunt’s ancestors, scrapbooking, and exploring the endless documents available on Ancestry.com.

The longer I work, the better I get to know these people who came before me, and the more interesting stories I find and file away to tell my children later. The boy who stole his teacher’s whip during church and chopped it into tiny pieces, the man who was shot through seven times and survived to pass on his faith to his family and countless others he served throughout his life, the woman who kept a tenuous balance between association and enmity with an aggressive Indian as she established a home on the plains.

If you’re looking for some good material to hack apart and reform for your own creative purposes, take a look into your own family history. Talk to your parents and grandparents, great-grandparents if you’re lucky enough to have them. Take a look at family history websites. Google people. You’d be surprised what you can find about your ancestors in this day and age.

Have you done much looking into your family history? Any good stories that you like to tell? Anything you’ve stolen from ancestors past for your creative writing?

Memorial Day Heroes

When I was twenty years old, I ate lunch at a table filled with men in their eighties and nineties. The man beside me could hear very little, spoke much too loud, and sprayed like a fire hose with every word—and he was one of the most charming men I have ever met, still possessing all the suavity of the brash young airman he had once been. The man across from me could hear even less, but he sat quietly for the most part, his sweet wife taking up his part in the conversation. Down the table a little ways were a group of veterans who talked and laughed as boisterously as if they were sitting in a mess hall instead of a country club.

They spoke of brave friends they had lost and brave enemies they had fought. They reminisced fondly of the Tuskegee Airmen, the fanciest-flying guardian angels they had ever met. They told stories of landing a helicopter in the river to wash blood from the floor, then coming up with a farfetched explanation for their superiors as to why there were fish in the flooded floor compartments.

I spent six months transcribing these men’s oral histories, along with many other World War II veterans. Of all the stories I have read in my life, few have impacted me as powerfully as theirs. Too often in school, we spend all our time learning about dates and names of battlefields and which country was allied with which others—but we forget the men and women who did impossibly brave things without thinking twice because that was simply what was required of them.

Never forget. Never forget the sacrifices they made. Never forget why they fought, what they were willing to give their lives for. Remember, and be grateful for the blessings of freedom and opportunity that we so often take for granted.