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.
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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.