Edward Eager

Or, Don’t Hide Those Roots

Edward Eager, author of Half Magic and its sequels, was my absolute favorite author when I was a kid. Well, he wrestled constantly with Roald Dahl, because Matilda was my absolute favorite book. In most of Eager’s novels, he made it a point to reference Edith Nesbit. He did it to point his readers to his own inspiration, and to insure that the kids who loved Katherine’s adventures in Camelot*, would get to enjoy Mabel’s feisty adventures in fooling the kids next door into thinking she’s a magic fairy tale princess (at least until the magic becomes real.)

I didn’t listen when I was a kid, but I’m glad he put that in there. I did eventually happen upon a copy of Nesbit’s The Enchanted Castle, and the name bit me, so I picked it up. I read it all in a night like I had done Half Magic when I first found that book as a kid. It was wonderful, even reading it at twenty five, rather than the recommended ten. It has since informed my own opinions on the construction of fairy tales, and both Edith and Edward are in my personal list of references, which I’ll highlight if the story draws directly from them.

In the interest of being thorough on this blog, I’d like to mention that this sentence in particular tends to appear somewhere in my mind (either on the forefront, or in the muddeldy scribbly back bits) pretty much any time I set out to write:
There is a curtain, thin as gossamer, clear as glass, strong as iron, that hangs forever between the world of magic and the world that seems to us to be real. And when once people have found one of the little weak spots in that curtain which are marked by magic rings, and amulets, and the like, almost anything can happen. -E. Nesbit, The Enchanted Castle

I wrote a story about stories called Lawrence in the Last Days of Knowing (written about in my last post, too, yeah, still thinking about it…) and of course I had a lot of names thrown around the narrative. Names I love, like Nabokov and Kafka, but there had to be one name that stood above the rest. The really important name was in the character’s mask that she wore to obscure her identity; it was a paper mache mask made from a tattered old paperback. It was the only book in the story that the character chose solely for herself. I had a couple names written down in that spot on the page, something to fill in later… I scanned my bookshelf to find the perfect one… and I was lost.

I had to make a choice. Did I want to reference some highly lauded name that I hardly care about, thus perpetuating the canonical literature (and lie about my own background as a reader and writer), or could I really muster the strength to say “This story is brought to you in part by Moominland Midwinter, and Viewers like You.” I could. I did. And I’m still a bad Edward Eager, I don’t think I ever said Tove Jansson’s name aloud. But I stuck with the book I loved, and the story was true for that, even when I was lying about other things.

That small bit of writerly strength appeared in my main character later on in this passage:
For a week, Lawrence filled notebooks with desperate comparisons of famous authors he barely remembered reading. Juvenile assessments of literature perfected were torn from notebooks and discarded in the corners of his increasingly depressing apartment. He had nothing. This latest list of books was no more insightful than the last.

The conviction I had in my roots fueled the story, even when the fore-parts of my head were working against it. My subconscious is a lot smarter than I am. My subconscious is closer in relation to the leviathan that runs through the blood of all humanity, so it damn well better be. (Yours is, too… listen to it.)

*Katherine had the best chapter when I was ten, but as an adult, I enjoy Jane’s bizarre adventure becoming a thoroughly different person in a strange and unfamiliar family who thought to name her “Constance” and force her into piano lessons. It’s a good thing to read whenever you’re worried about the choices you’ve made.

A Spindle of Spiders

It’s difficult to be a writer in the age of Google.* If you make something up, it is very easy for a reader to discover if it’s all a sham. It’s easy enough to convince someone that the story is true within the confines of the story… hell, that’s the job, innit? But when it comes to phrases or words or concepts that don’t exist outside that single moment when you, the writer, need it to exist, and have to improvise, there’s a distinct chance that the reader will question it.

Spiders have a collective noun: Clutter. A clutter of spiders. I am writing about a collection of spiders and the story has to do with Order, which is the opposite (sort of, like emerald is an almost opposite for pumpkin) of clutter. These were many spiders, but definitely not a clutter. The other option for collective noun was cluster, which just sounded terrible. Michelle Kilmer (author of When The Dead, which has so far been fantastic) suggested Spindle. Perfect! Spindle, I have decided, is the term for exactly one thousand spiders.

One thousand, like one hundred, is a magic number. In case you didn’t know. It is, though.

And speaking of magic, I had to then incorporate the word Spindle as a collective noun for exactly one thousand spiders in a way that was convincing within the story. I’m not sure if I’ve accomplished it, but I didn’t do anything foolish like define the term at the beginning of the story… it’s a short story, that would have been too presumptuous. If it were a novel I might have gotten away with a definition, but shorts have to stand wholly on their own. Instead, I hid behind a scary witch of a character and had her convinced of the term’s correct usage. Scary witches are good things to have in fiction.

Sometimes, when I’m feeling afraid of my convictions, I pretend I am a scary witch and the keyboard is my cauldron and then all the magic lies in knowing one is Very Right in all actions, even when wrong. First drafts are for being the witch. Everything after is alchemy.

There is only one way to conquer Google: Conviction. If the confidence behind a phrase outweighs its un-google-ability, it doesn’t matter if you are wrong. You have made yourself right. It’s the rule of Trunchbull: You’ll never get away with anything you do by halves.

Of course, Roald Dahl was talking about the outlandish tormenting of school children, and how she’d never be caught because the Truchbull’s methods went so far as to be unbelievable to anyone but eyewitnesses, but I’ve found her mantra has other, less violent applications.

Now all that’s left is to send out the manuscript, and see if I’ve fooled anyone long enough to make myself right!

*Previous blog post would lead one to believe it was also difficult to write pre-Google, when I’d have to ask around to discover the shape of Johnny Rotten’s hair. I’d imagine that regardless of the era in which one writes, it is difficult to write in general, and the only thing harder than writing, is not writing.