Wednesday, May 9, 2012
The Wonder of What-If: An Author’s Joy in Writing
By Danielle Ackley-McPhail I have and always will be a dreamer. Unabashedly, unashamedly, delightfully a dreamer. Realism has its place, but I revel in the possibilities. Were I more analytical I would have been a scientist, but with my fanciful bend and my love of books there is no perplexity in how I ended up a writer. It’s more than telling a story, for me at least. It’s building worlds and creating people out of no more than words. No matter what I write there is a magic to the very exercise. There is no better question than “What if…” While from the very beginning I showed an interest in telling stories (or is that tales…) I did not become serious about writing them down until I discovered mythology, which consequently corresponded with high school English and regular writing assignments. I had an English teacher who focused on mythology one year. My report was on centaurs and I was fascinated by the legends…the history. The magic. It made me wonder, if myth is man’s attempt to explain the unexplainable surrounding him then what did he see that would explain a centaur? Thus began my interest in mythology. First rationalizing it, just to see if I could; then using my knowledge to extrapolate from it and even create my own myths and legends. It is such a complex process, but so exciting I have been blissfully “lost” ever since, my mind constantly running away with me asking what if. What if vampires were born? What if elves were real, and they lived in NY city? Okay….so that last was a leader. One of the things that has always enthralled me was Irish…well…anything. The music, the culture, the legends and myths…. When I became serious about writing it was because I found myself writing a novel based on the Irish myths. A simple idea (a girl going to a pawnshop) transformed over ten years into a girl saving the world (after having been to a pawnshop.) The journey was amazing. Some say that Irish myth is one of those overdone in genre literature, but being a voracious reader I found in many instances the Celtic-flavored fiction had very little to do with the rich legacy of the Irish. It was window dressing that gave the authors a romantic identity for their creation, which was mostly fanciful. I wanted more than that for my work. I wanted to explore. I wanted What if… See, everyone “knows” all about the Sidhe—the Celtic elves—but how much of that knowledge is substantiated by the actual myths and legends? In the Eternal Cycle trilogy (Yesterday’s Dreams, Tomorrow’s Memories, and Today’s Promise) I made a concerted effort to take the popular beliefs (elves are allergic to iron, elves rarely have children, etc.) and tried to find their roots in the real world. Not always easy, particularly give that the Irish elves have a blacksmith god. (Hard to be a blacksmith if you can’t handle iron.) This is where my earlier experience with the centaurs came into hand. If I couldn’t substantiate the popular belief I extrapolated how the men of that time could have come to the conclusions that lead us to this perception For instance, did you know that the ancient Irish believed in reincarnation? In their version you come back as your descendents. So, what can be extrapolated from that? For me, it was the fact that someone had to die for someone to be born. That would make it kind of unlikely then for a near-immortal race to have bushels of kids, wouldn’t it? See what wonderful places What if… can take you? My series originally (when I finally realized it was a novel) was intended to be a single book. Thanks to the joy of research, and my discovery of the legend of the goddess Carman and her three sons—one of whom just happened to have the same name as my antagonist—I just had to keep playing with all the lovely pieces of the myth and culture that just kept dovetailing with my plot.