I know, I’m playing fast and loose with the term “week” — but we have here a week of posts related to The Star Shard, do we not?
Be sure not to miss Day 7 of STAR SHARD WEEK on artist Emily Fiegenschuh’s blog, where she exhibits some of her favorites among the 39 illustrations she did for the story in Cricket. (I think I have 39 favorites, but Emily was able to narrow it down for herself.) If I had to choose only three expressions for Cymbril that I truly love and that I think convey her character, I would choose (in no special order) Emily’s picture of Cymbril in the grape arbors, the one of Cymbril at the Rake’s railing with the two cats, and the image of her singing between Argent and Bobbin. (That last one makes me want to write a book starring Argent and Bobbin — their adventures would make another tale unto itself! Great illustrations inspire stories. I’m intrigued by that partnership between visuals and text. Each can give birth to the other. Much of the writing I’ve done has been triggered to some degree by my memories of pictures I saw in books as a young child.) Another of my absolute favorites is the picture of Loric refusing to abandon Cymbril when her foot is caught . . . and another is the one of Cymbril singing her heart out at a market, while in the foreground, the crowds are fascinated by Loric’s Fey-ness. (In that last picture, I’ve always admired how the mom and the two girls are so clearly related — how do artists do that?!) See? If I keep going, I’ll get to 39 favorites, so I’ll stop on that topic.
Today I had my first experience of carrying The Star Shard out into the world and talking about it with others. I visited Redeemer Lutheran School in Verona, Pennsylvania. (Yes, I believe there are exactly two male teachers at the school: they must be the Two Gentlemen of Verona.) I worked with the sixth-grade writing class for an hour, and then I worked with the combined seventh-, eighth-, and ninth-grade writing class. The students were a joy to speak to — receptive, interested, disciplined, and full of great ideas.
I was greatly blessed to have along prints of Emily’s illustrations, which I showed as I was explaining and reading selections from The Star Shard. We talked about some principles of good writing, noted them in some examples, and then the students set their skills and imaginations to improving a story that needed a lot of improvement. We celebrated the innovative ways in which they did that. It was a great deal of fun, and for me as the writer of this story, these days are bringing me a kind of completion of the circle. The Star Shard has left the nest.
Isn’t that an interesting aspect of all art? Its path is quite analogous to the parent-child relationship. It begins with the artist (or writer, in my case). For a long time, the artist through whom the work enters the world is the only one who spends time with it. Then some other people get involved, helping the originator refine it. But then, for most of its life, the work’s relationship is with the recipients. True, the originator is stitched into the fabric of the work; it entered the world through that person’s mind and perceptions. But if, for example, The Star Shard endures for awhile, readers will, collectively, shape it a lot more in their imaginations than I ever did.
Do the math. I’ve lived with “The Star Shard” in its two forms for eight years. Now the novel is launched. Like a parent, I can do no more to influence it — it must stand on its own, and people will know about it only what they find in it. Copies of the book are being sold all across the U.S. Let’s be extremely conservative and say that only 1,000 readers ever read the book carefully. Let’s say that it remains in their minds in some form for the next eight years. That would total me times a thousand. See what I mean? Most of a creative work’s life is lived among its recipients. And that’s amazing to me — that’s staggering. It makes me physically tremble. There are people in the world I’ll never meet, people I’ll never hear from, people who will hardly notice my name on the cover — but who will spend some time with Cymbril, Loric, Urrt, Miwa, and the others. They’ll smile at the funny parts, turn pages to see what happens, escape from their workaday lives into a world of fantasy for a few hours, and perhaps feel a bit warmer when they read of loyalty and friendship.
When that happens, we artists of every stripe are among the Storytellers. As Paul Darcy Boles said, “We are all storytellers, sitting around the cave of the world.” Story is ancient, as old as we humans are. It is fundamental. Universal. We need it like we need our food and sunlight, and it links us around the world, across the millennia.
I told the kids at Redeemer today, after seeing their show of hands regarding who liked what: Whether you like books, manga, movies, TV shows, or video games . . . it begins with Story. It begins with writing down the ideas that come into the world through us.
You go, Cymbril! Fly high. Write home once in awhile. Stop in when you can and tell the old man your own stories. And then go out again, as far and free as you can.