Greetings, Wingfeather fans!
Over the past few years I’ve had the great pleasure of visiting schools to talk about the Wingfeather Saga, and there are several questions that I’m asked every single time. I figured it would be fun to share some of those questions and answers here.
Where did you get your inspiration?
The answer here overlaps quite a bit with songwriting. The biggest thing is this: by paying attention. I don’t mean to make it sound as if that’s easy. It’s not. But the act–the discipline, rather–of paying attention is something you have to fight for. Life goes by pretty quickly (quicker the older you get) and it’s all too easy to let it slip by without your brain turned on. You mean to write songs, or to write a new chapter outline for your story, and then you look up and realize a month has gone by and you haven’t really added to your mental arsenal of ideas by taking the time to write down the little moments of surprise or wonder or sadness.
It’s always good to take stock of what’s happening by writing it down in a poem, by drawing a picture of a tree, or by learning the name of that butterfly you always see fluttering around the zinnias. That’s the first part of the answer. Cultivate your curiosity. In the age of iPhones and the Internet, it’s easier than ever to take a second and google “Tennessee wildflowers” to discover a little more about black-eyed susans or spicebush swallowtails. I’m not saying I do this all the time, but I’m always aware of the conflict that exists between letting those things escape your attention and forcing yourself to dig in and learn something new about the world around you. This is also true of humans, by the way–stop and ask yourself why you feel the way you do about something someone said or did, have a conversation with them to better learn about who they are or what makes them tick. It doesn’t always lead to some revelation that will make its way into your story, but sometimes it does. This is the life you’ve been given, and one way of giving thanks is to harbor some wonder for it. Pay attention.
The other part of the inspiration answer is this: READ. Read all the time. Read widely. I’ve heard a lot of people say that you should study your genre, as in, if you want to write fantasy novels, then read tons of fantasy; if you want to write historical fiction, read lots of that. Well, I don’t want to be contrary, but I think that sticking too close to the genre will hurt your writing. The truth is, in any given genre, there is a pretty narrow sliver that’s truly excellent. Take fantasy, for example. Other than The Lord of the Rings, there just aren’t that many fantasy novels out there that transcend the genre and become widely accepted as Great Literature. (I don’t just mean your favorites–I have lots of guilty pleasures when it comes to fantasy novels, but I’m also ready to admit that they’re not that well-written.) The point is this: there are so many great books out there waiting to be read, and you may be surprised how much you like, say, a book about the Chicago World’s Fair, or a battle in India in 1798,or a battle on Mars in 2037, or theology, or poetry. Writer Alan Jacobs says in his book The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction that Whim should guide a big part of your reading list. He means that you should forget all those “100 Books to Read Before You Die” lists and just let a sense of whim guide your reading. I guarantee you’ll be surprised. This doesn’t mean you should turn off your discernment, but that you should be willing to eat your vegetables. Try something new, and you might fall down a rabbit hole of great books you never would have read otherwise.
Then, when you come back to write your fantasy novel, your arsenal is jam-packed with new information, examples of good sentences, characters, settings, and stories.
Finally, I would be remiss not to mention that, as a Christian, I believe that God is the source of everything beautiful and good and true. I heard somewhere that whenever Bach sat down to compose a piece of music he wrote at the top of every manuscript, “Jesu juva.” Jesus, help. If Bach needed that kind of help, I know I need it about a thousand times more. So there you go. Pay attention. Read good books. Ask for help from the ultimate helper.
So have you ever been surprised by a book you thought you’d never read? Have you learned the names of those flowers in your neighbor’s yard yet?
What questions do you have for Andrew? Post them below!
This week, Madame Sidler will be reading chapters 54 through the end of The Monster in the Hollows. Check back on Friday for an excerpt, and to share one of your own.