I know you were worried you were going to have to head into September alone. Nah, bro. Smudge has got you.
My own “I’m not doing a whole lot of anything” time, I will note, extends to next Tuesday (this is not actually true, as I will be working at DragonCon this weekend, my first in-person convention in 18 months, but I mean in terms of worrying about posting deeply thinky stuff here). You’re likely to get a few more cat pics between now and then, I suspect.
A picture, they say is worth a thousand words. But as Elayne Audrey Becker is about to tell you in this Big Idea for her novel Forestborn, two pictures may be worth an entire book.
ELYANE AUDREY BECKER:
The idea for Forestborn began, not with words, but with two pictures in my mind.
The first: a girl who was a shapeshifter, alone in the forest, with a castle just visible in the distance. I didn’t know her story, but I could feel her sadness. Her loneliness.
The second: a group of giants swinging enormous vines among the treetops, causing the stardust stored there to come spiraling down. I didn’t know the exact reasoning, but I knew they were doing it at the behest of a king, and I knew he was a good king.
These two images coalesced into Forestborn, my fantasy novel about shapeshifters and a quest for stardust hidden deep in an unpredictable, magical wilderness. The story’s foundation took shape in my mind fairly quickly. But to assemble those pieces into the best version they could be, the true story I wanted to tell? That process took years of trial and error, draft after draft after draft.
Here is where I’d like to say that I wove those strands into a single central conceit. To pare the novel into one effective hook and share that “big idea” with you in this piece.
I tried. For days, I tried to find the right words. I thought—maybe I can talk about the fact that I knew, early on, I wanted to write a story about the long-term effects of trauma. How a difficult experience or set of experiences can shape a person’s life and continue to affect them years after the event itself. Thus, each of Forestborn’s main characters are dealing with their own form of hardship and emotional damage.
Next, I thought—I know. I’ll write about the deep love of nature and wildlife ingrained in me from a young age, and how I wanted to challenge the notion that nature must come second to human interests. I will tie that to the fact that Forestborn is a celebration of the untamed, an epic fantasy in which the land is part of the magic system and functions almost as a character itself.
Finally, growing nervous now, I thought—I should write about how angry I become when I consider the fact that so many people are still persecuted and punished for nothing more than being themselves. How, between certain facets of my family history and the world in which we’re all living today, I felt compelled to write a narrative that speaks to the danger of othering. This is why Forestborn explores the multifaceted wrongness of forcing one’s misconstrued beliefs on another person’s shoulders.
All of these would be true. But equally true is the fact that ultimately, it’s difficult for me to identify one big idea behind the book.
That feels vulnerable to admit. As if doing so makes me less of a “real author,” a demotion I’m already wary of receiving as both a woman and an author of Young Adult fiction. But there you have it. I cannot identify one central hook behind the story.
Yet, perhaps that is the idea behind Forestborn, the story of a girl who feels as if she’s been unfairly placed in a box throughout her life. A girl who fears she’s too selfish to be good, before she realizes she can be selfish and selfless both, and still be worthy of love. Many strands weave together to create the whole. A story, an individual.Each person has more sides to them than what one sees on the surface. Wilderness can be frightening and generous both, and one can be shaped by pain from the past and still find ways to walk toward the light.
In the novel and in life, I call this idea the grey space. It’s more than the idea that life doesn’t have to be, cannot be, black and white. Rather, the grey space blends the two and reminds us that something can be sad and happy at once. A step forward and a step back. It’s the fact that we all carry the good and the bad, past and present, sorrow and joy, in a single self, and it’s fine for these pairs to coexist. We have room inside for both.
I can’t tell you Forestborn’s big hook, but I can tell you the pieces that come together to make the whole. A pair of images in my mind. An investment in writing a book about trauma. A passion for the natural world, and the ever-present desire to see a better world going forward.