Monday, September 10, 2012

18 The Things That Travel With You When You Write


Today's guest post is by Jennifer Mason-Black, one of the authors who is part of the Euterpe Publishing Back to School Extravaganza. She lives in the woods of Massachusetts, surrounded by her human family and a menagerie of elderly animals. Her YA novelette, Phoenix, was published by Pan Books (Musa Publishing) in May 2012. Her short fiction has appeared in The Sun, Strange Horizons, and Daily Science Fiction, among others. Additional information about her work can be found at cosmicdriftwood.wordpress.com.

Comment on this post for a chance to win a free e-book of Phoenix.



The Things that Travel with You
 
by Jennifer Mason-Black

 



 There's a deer antler on my bookcase. It's full of stories.

Sometimes writing feels that simple, like stories are born of nothing but air and brilliance, like they just might be held within an antler on a bookcase. We are writers, after all. We’re drawn to magic.

The truth is that my deer antler is full of stories, but there is no magic as to how they got there. My final year of high school I took a class in survival living. Maps, compasses, starting fires, building shelters—we did it all. 

I was a shy kid. Outdoorsy, but very quiet. I started class as one of three girls in a large group of boys, and the three of us banded together, unsure of what to expect.

We found that being the only girls didn't matter, not for long. There's something that happens when you're working with a group of people toward a common goal, especially one like staying warm on a winter's night and reaching your destination together. You learn that some of the most important pieces of life you all share, and that some of the divisions that seemed so important are not. Finding your way through a thicket of mountain laurel on the side of a hill using a map and compass and common sense loosens tongues, and people start sharing stories they never imagined anyone else would want to hear.

And if you’re a writer, even if you’re a seventeen-year-old girl who does nothing more than scribble poetry on slips of paper that you then hide in books all over your house, you absorb those stories. It is what you do.

On an all-day orienteering course, almost to the top of the hill bearing our first flag, my hiking partner and I stopped for water. There, in the dead leaves, was a deer antler. Nearly perfect, just a few chew marks from where the mice had been at it during the winter. I picked it up, attached it to my pack and we went on up the hill, only to have to turn around because we'd left something. Back down, and then my partner found the other antler just feet from where I'd found mine. She took it, and we went on our way, talking the whole time.

That was a long time ago. I'm no longer in touch with any of the people in that class, but the antler has traveled with me everywhere I've gone. I like to imagine that somewhere in the world the matching antler sits on a mantle, and that sometimes the woman who keeps it stops and remembers that day, that hill, those stories, or if not the stories, the fact that we told them at all.

I think all writers have talismans. I think, I hope, that for some writers they’re smaller, and easier to pack, but I think they are there nonetheless. When we begin once upon a time, they help us fill in the rest. Not with magic, but with all those experiences, those moments we’re continually absorbing, storing, translating, all those lives we’re brushing against and carrying something away from.

And perhaps the truth is that that is magic enough for this world.

18 comments:

  1. Ooh, very intriguing! It's great to meet you, Jennifer.

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    1. Thanks, Sheri! Just stopped by your blog to say congrats on the multiple offers of MARKED BEAUTY and read up on your fantastic contest. So much great swag! Anyone who hasn't entered yet should run over there right now!

      Hugs,

      Martina

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  2. Such an interesting idea that we all have talismans. Thanks for sharing this Jennifer.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Natalie! Just read the interview you did with Mady today on Literary Rambles. Such a great reminder that what kids care most about is the actual book, not the author's blog or anything else. Your interviews always rock!

      Martina

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  3. I love this story, Jennifer! You've got me thinking of what my talisman might be. At the moment, I think it might be this Artemis of Ephesus statuette I have sitting by my writing desk which I picked up on a trip to Ephesus and greatly influenced a recent story.

    Thanks so much for sharing!
    Susan

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    1. Thanks, Susan! I wish I had more beautiful things around my desk, instead of clutter. I do have a little medallion made by my son that says "Mom the Book Writer."

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  4. Lovely blog Jennifer. I was given a large, beautiful sea shell once when I was younger. A gift from a sailor who had retrieved it on his travels. It has inspired many a story.

    Susan

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    1. Oh, I love seashells. A gift from a sailor--that alone could start so many stories.

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  5. I do believe Mother Nature gifted you with a souvenir that day! I seem to collect crystals and feathers for some reason. Cheers for a warm and inspiring post, Jennifer! Tweeted and shared.

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    1. I have lots of feathers as well. They are hard to pass up, especially the tiny little ones with the almost impossibly brilliant colors. Thanks, Sharon!

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  6. Jennifer, I love this post! I have a Popple (remember those?!) that I've had since I was five. It has traveled with me from country to country, city to city. I don't know why I still have it, but I just can't let it go...perhaps it's because every time I look at it, I remember my childhood, which may have helped unfold some stories in my MG stories.
    Thanks for sharing your story :)

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    1. Lorna, I don't have a Popple, but I still have some of my stuffed animals from when I was little. There's something about that tactile relationship we have with things as children...I can definitely see it helping when writing for an MG audience. Thanks!

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  7. Beautifully written, Jennifer. It made me think about the nature walks I take with my son and how we're always finding things, a little rock or something shiny to put in a pocket as a reminder of our trip.

    I can't think of any talismans, but there's probably something I may not realize. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. I always find myself slipping stones into my pockets when out. It was more of a challenge when my children were little and wanted to fill the backpack with large stones on every trip.

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  8. Wow I just love to meet to you..

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