Imagination doesn't just mean making things up. It means thinking things through, solving [problems] or hoping to do so, and being just distant enough to be able to laugh at things that are normally painful. [Some people] would call this escapism, but they would be be entirely wrong. I would call fantasy the most serious, and the most useful branch of writing there is.
--Diana Wynne Jones

Friday, April 24, 2009

Why "Storyfires" ?


I like the Native American tradition of telling stories around a story-fire.

And because...

It's in one of my novels. In that little world, every full moon is a Telling Night, where villagers sit beside seven fires and listen to the village storymaker weave their world into sense. Hopefully. Unless that storymaker happens to be the village outcast. Who happens to be a witch in self-denial. Then maybe the villagers just chuck rocks at her head.

And also because...

Storytelling in the blogosphere feels oh so public sometimes, and the fire sets a friendly mood. Even if it's a fake fire. Imaginary can be good. We can pretend we're all sitting around a massive fire on a bunch of logs. Unless you plan on chucking rocks at my head. 

And last, most of all, because...

Story is its own kind of fire. The best stories light up something inside a person, burn away the old, make room for something new, and the whole world suddenly looks like a different place.

Happy reading!

Fantasy and Faith

Here's a real-life story for a Friday afternoon.

Once upon an actual Sunday morning, not too many months ago, a couple of lovely, polite, and very earnest people knocked on my door, Bible in hand.

Earnest Woman: "We're worried about the disturbing trend of children's books about witches and wizards and magic."

Me: (blink)

Earnest Woman: "I see you have children, I'm sure you're concerned about their well-being?"

Me: "Mmmm."

Earnest Man: "We'd like to read you a verse from the Bible about the dangers of witchcraft, if you don't mind."

Me: "Mmmm."

Whereupon they proceeded to read a verse where Paul warns against seeking out witches and wizards who "peep and mutter."

These people were so earnest, and really nice, I didn't have the heart to tell them that I, myself, had written two books about witches and magic. I didn't want to horrify them.

I also didn't have time--I would have been late for church--to explain how I (and a large number of fantasy-writers out there) can claim to be Christian and justify writing witch books: George MacDonald, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien among them, not to mention J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyer. These books we're talking about ARE imaginary, after all, not how-to books, or tracts.

Fantasy is not supposed to be literal, I wanted to say. No witch is ever really a witch, no monster is ever just a monster, as author Brandon Mull (Fablehaven) likes to point out, and magic isn't exactly magic, either. Symbolism allows a story to take on as many different meanings as it has readers, each person bringing his own real-life experiences with him. Story is inherently interactive that way, even read alone under the covers at night.

I could go on: fantasy lets a child lay out her fears and look at them in a way that doesn't have to hurt so much it cripples her. It lets little people go away for awhile and do the impossible, and then they can come back to regular life and see new possibilities. Ideally, it leaves them with hope, and that's not imaginary at all. Not incompatible with Christianity, either, as far as I can see.

Well, I didn't say all that to the people on my porch. I didn't want to burst anybody's earnest bubble. I also didn't feel like apologizing for what I do all day. So I just said, "Thank you," not even a little bit sincerely, and let them go on saving the neighborhood from witchcraft. I shut the door, got dressed, and tried not to giggle hysterically all through church.

You can bet if you peek in my window on any given day, you'll see me typing away at my latest witch book. I didn't hear anything in that Bible verse to make me think that's such a terrible thing.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Ten-second Vision

Mountain and morning collided again today,
The usual explosion
Of sun over cliffs--
Never common, though quotidian--
That eruption of airy light-magma
Flowing down the face of ragged rock,
Of warped and stunted scrub oak
And sorry straggles of spring growth;
Burning, bursting
The dry and the dead,
Dredging out the dark corners
Of the world, and of my head
With fire and light
Too hot in the soul for ordinary
Bland plain or dull feeling.

Another moment of light-fire
And I might be transformed altogether

But no, the collision is only
Gone before I have time to take
More than a few awed, desperate breaths
And I'm crawling again,
Back in dimmer air,
With scraped hands and knees,
Trying to remember, to resurrect
Out of the droppings and dustpiles of my mind
That one flash of fire burning
Away the darkness--
Just a few small seconds of relief.

Playing High and Dry with Sourdough

Lately I've been playing with dough. It's become a sort of a compulsion. Maybe because I'm tired of driving all the way to som...