I was one of those kids who had a giant imagination growing up. It wasn't just the fact that I was creative, but I tended to carry my what-if's into whatever real life situation I was in. Family vacations turned into epic adventures in my head, the little day to day tasks became romanticized while looking at them from new angles. Everything presented a special possibility, everything opened up questions. What if a relative I was visiting was really a witch (I had a thing for haunted houses even then, so this wasn't an insult)? What if aliens landed and I had to teach them what everything was for on Earth? What if magic was real?
I loved playing outdoors, and loved hiking trails with my parents in the nearby state parks. There was just something about trees that opened up possibility for me, that made me feel safe and gave me a sense of freedom I didn't get walking around the neighborhood. It wasn't hard to imagine that creatures lurked in the underbrush. Between my early love of folklore and the fact that all of the 1980s marketed magical creatures to girls, it wasn't hard to make the leap in my mind. Of course pixies hid under the trees! Why couldn't some Midwest version of selkies hide in the creeks? A friend of mine once found an alligator snapping turtle in his backyard, so who knew what I could wake up to!
Deep down, I knew it was pretend. It was never anything I tried to convince other people to believe--I knew how reality worked, even as a kid. I treasured those moments, though, those peaceful walks where the air smelled green and every rustle of leaves held the promise of something elusive, something that may or may not exist. Those ruminations always got me thinking, and in some ways, I think they made me very self-aware and in touch with my own emotions. They also opened up the possibility of public embarrassment and many, many family stories of which I'll never hear the end of, but it's a small price to pay.
As I got older, those what ifs served me well as a writer, but they took a more adult tone. What if a person wished hard enough, worked long enough, and it just still wasn't enough? What if magic wasn't enough to save someone? What if two characters loved each other, but never got around to actually admitting it to each other? What if magic was real, but it couldn't cure every problem?
That mix of childhood daydreaming and adult sensibility led me to Birch's story. After the death of my grandparents over the years, I came face to face with the fact that they were people who had ups and downs, did their best, loved and lost, just like a lot of people do. I had to face the giant wall that now separated me from them, had to face the swirl of emotion that each passing brought up. Each death also brought me closer to who they were as people, and made me question my own place in the world. T
Inevitably, they eventually merged with my story ideas and mental meanderings through imaginary forests. My grandparents had no magic cure for the hardship in their lives, so what would happen if a magical creature had to accept the limitations of their power and consequences of the human realm? Could a creature like that take joy in the little things, or would it forever be a game to it? The character of the Erlking has always fascinated me. He's someone who's known for his cruelty, for stealing away maidens and feasting on the souls of children. There are many different interpretations, and you see hints of him pop up in other characters--you'll never convince that there isn't at least a bit of Erlking in Labyrinth's Jareth. There's also loads of stories alluding to the relationships of faeries and mortals, but what would that even entail? What would that mean in the modern world, and what would a faerie do if even his power couldn't protect him from love, or protect the object of his love from death?
What if, indeed.
Thanks, Selah! Very interesting!
Be sure to check out "Visiting Hours" and all the other stories on February 28!