On ambrosia, beginnings, and the inner fangirl

Every year there comes a day, a singular, spectacular day, when you step out of your front door at the exact moment when summer has transitioned to fall. Sure, the process began long before you took that fortuitous step, but somehow you manage to tap right into the flow of it. It seeps in through your skin to the marrow of your bones, ravaging every nerve ending it encounters along the way. In that pivotal moment, the world stops. A massive silence drowns out every sound as one season shifts into the other, before the world takes a thunderous breath and is born anew; recharged, vibrant, and infinite.

A Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum) in the Portland Japanese Garden, photo by Jeremy Reding.

It’s the kind of feeling that you wish you could bottle up and take with you the rest of the year (I imagine it’s what Greek ambrosia would taste or feel like).

It is also the kind of feeling that I strive to convey in my writing.

I’ll readily admit that I can be long-winded at times, and a large part of my editing process is filtering my inner fangirl (I tend to incorporate my epic obsessions into my writing), but if I can’t make the reader feel, palpably, then I’ve failed at what I set out to do. Even in writing this blog, the purpose is to stir emotion. I want the words to follow you long after you’ve put down the book or closed out the window with my latest post.

Every writer dreams of being published, but what really matters to most of us is that you are moved or touched by our words; that the story and its characters somehow made your life richer, if only for that brief moment. I’m certain that’s the purpose of all Art.

As I finally sat down to begin writing in March of 2011, after I had lost and regained my muse, that wish is what propelled me forward.

For me, beginning was the hardest part. My mind is very linear, so I’m not the kind of writer (or reader) who enjoys beginning in the middle. I may not be very subtle in real life, but I enjoy (some) subtlety in writing. So what did that mean? It meant that the fantasy elements wouldn’t be present right from the start—because the story begins with Elena and her seemingly ordinary life. My roadmap called for three mythologies/cultures to explore, and I knew I wanted each of those sections to embody that culture’s aesthetic. The same needed to be true of the beginning of the story (to make her ordinary life somehow move you), which meant I would need to infuse Elena’s personality and aesthetic into the writing, as well as those of her city’s.

As mentioned in the description to The Butterfly Crest, Elena’s journey begins in New Orleans. Considering what I just said about embodying Elena as well as her city, I found myself facing somewhat of a conundrum. Because of her past, Elena’s personality is not what you would consider to be New Orleanian (not by a long shot). Also, the time the reader would spend in New Orleans would be short—just enough to introduce the characters and get the ball rolling (no indulgent adventures into the city, sorry!). So how could I embody New Orleans in such a limited space?

Enter Cataline.

Now, I don’t want you to think I planned that—actually, it wasn’t until much later that I realized why Cataline had spontaneously manifested herself—but I truly believe my conscious wish to affect/touch/move my reader filled in a blank I didn’t realize existed. Cataline embodies the vibrancy of New Orleans, a beguiling decadence that pulls you in and endures, providing the perfect counterpoint to Elena’s more reserved and stoic nature.

Writing is supposed to be a right-brained exercise, but looking back now I think it’s impossible to affect your reader if careful thought, analysis, and planning have not gone into creating the foundation for your story. There’s a heck of a lot more to writing than simply putting pen to paper.

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