Monday, December 08, 2008

The Secret Place in Your Heart

image Rick asked me what inspired me to write a children's story. It's a bit of a fable, actually, about that secret place in your heart. If there is one thread in all my writing, it's that I believe there is a secret spot in our heart, a kernel of wishes we hold so dear, we don't dare tell anyone. Or if we do, we do so with a fair bit of panic, LOL.

I'm not talking about ambition or anything at all like that. It's a vulnerable place, an embarrassing place, filled with wishes that may be silly, foolish, socially "not cool," or just plain embarrassing.

But there they are, deep inside our heart.

All my stories hope to find and touch that special place in my reader's hearts. If there's any "why I write," it's that.

imageSaturday, while wandering the aisles, I happened across The Magician's Book, by Laura Miller.

The reason I picked it up was because it was about Narnia, my favorite series ever. And in this critical discussion of Narnia and memoir of the her journey with the series, the author professed her feelings of betrayal and anger when someone dared suggest the books were a thinly-veiled not-really-but-almost allegory for Christianity. (Exactly how I felt!)

I immediately bought the book (on my Kindle, of course), when I read how Laura Miller describes herself standing on a corner in her neighborhood as a child, yearning for the Narnia world:

...I'm wishing, with every bit of my self, for two things. First, I want a place I've read about in a book to really exist, and second, I want to be able to go there. I want this so much I'm pretty sure the misery of not getting it will kill me. For the rest of my life, I will never want anything quite so much again.

Oh my gosh, if that's not how I felt/feel about Narnia, too! And that's why the whole Christian allegory thing didn't do it for me, because let me tell you, HEAVEN IS NO MATCH FOR NARNIA. 

I vividly remember sitting on my bed and bawling my heart out, after reading and re-reading through the series six or so times, because I could not visit Narnia. My mother asked me what was wrong, and it took me almost an hour to control my sobbing enough so that I could choke out that Narnia wasn't real, and I couldn't go there.

(Santa Claus, in comparison, was a mild disappointment. No tears were shed.) 

image Laura Miller continues, in the introduction, to remind me what it was like to be a reader, when I was a child. Remember how vivid the worlds were? Remember how you disappeared completely in the world, how you became the main character, how all your hopes and desires were brought to life in reading?

I think I've lost the purity and joy with which I read as a child. Reading Laura Miller's discussion made me realize that most of what I write is a yearning to live in those worlds I read and created as a child. There are days, even now as an adult, where I would do anything to live in Narnia, or even in one of the many worlds my imagination populates.

So all that was stirring in my  head when I came home and wrote a children's story.

And today, I made a new resolution. I want to recapture that feeling of living in a story. I want to read as passionately as I did as a child. When I write, I want to make stories just as big and vivid and engulfing.

imageHave you ever forgotten what it was like to read as a child? Do you read differently now? Do you find, as an adult, that it is more and more difficult to recapture the same childhood joy you had while reading a book, the completeness of the experience, where you left your life and stepped inside the world of a book?

Were there any books you just wanted to live in so badly, you cried? Which were the books of your childhood that you held most dear? And did you feel it, too, as Laura Miller describes it? "For the rest of my life, I will never want anything quite so much again."

Those books we grew up with were magical, weren't they? Gosh, the love I had for my library! I still feel it, in bookstores.

Is that why we write, to recapture that magic?

Today I am grateful for the books of childhood.

54 bonus scribbles:

Janna Qualman 12/08/2008 02:42:00 PM  

People Magazine just reviewed this book, and I'm so glad to see someone mention like you have.

And I do know what you mean, when you talk about a place we may have read about, but can't - under any logical, or even illogical circumstances - ever visit. It's harrowing.

Edie 12/08/2008 02:57:00 PM  

I didn't read the Narnia series when I was younger. Maybe because we were Jewish. I certainly read everything else!

I can't remember wanted to be in a fictional place so much I cried about it. Every once in awhile, I find a book now that takes me to a special place. I'm more critical now -- but not just because I'm older. Because I know more about writing. So I love it when that happens.

And I do think part of the reason I write is to share special places and characters with other people. In fact I used to think writers were "special." And we are!

Robin 12/08/2008 02:58:00 PM  

I wanted to go to Oz and meet Princess Ozma and Dorothy and all the other characters. I wanted it really really badly. I would have even put up with the Gnome King, but I was never invited, despite going outside during rainstorms and hoping for tornadoes.

Melanie Avila 12/08/2008 04:11:00 PM  

I don't remember being upset that I couldn't live in those worlds, but I did lose myself completely in them. I still do that now, to an extent. I reread lines that jump out at me until I absorb them more fully, and still catch myself flipping the page back once more so I can be sure I really got it.

LaDonna 12/08/2008 05:55:00 PM  

Spy, you touched a place in my heart today! I'd love reading as a child, and disappering into a book. For me, it was Nancy Drew. I read every night, and really hit the weekends hard. lol.

Even today, my stories fill something inside of me that nothing else can. Maybe that's what writer's do, what we yearn for?

I have several stories I'd love to walk inside.

Anonymous,  12/08/2008 06:36:00 PM  

You're right -- no books can ever involve me the same way The Wind in the Willows did or the Thornton W. Burgess tales of the animals inhabiting the meadows and woodlands. At least I don't think so. Books were magic then. Now they're all gears and springs.

lainey bancroft 12/08/2008 07:16:00 PM  

To Narnia. To the Island to drink cordial with Anne, and later to university to see her fall in love with Gilbert, and later yet to comfort her daughter 'Rilla when she lost a brother in the war. To Jo's attic to scibble in war time, and then to be a part of her boy's school. To boarding school with Katie, to the war with Cherry Aimes or Florence Knightingale, a ranch with Trixie Beldon, the southern states with Meg, to Larkspur Lane with Nancy Drew...ah, yep apparently I wanted to escape.

And Gah, now I want to go write a YA! Like I'm not already scrammbled enough.

Thanks, Spy! (No, I mean that. Thanks. I feel this desperate urge to crawl into a dusty loft and recapture my fav. escapes)

Lisa 12/08/2008 07:45:00 PM  

I still get lost when I read - that is, if I like the story!

I liked Nancy Drew when I was a kid also.

I also read some love stories that IF they made them into movies they'd be rated X. If my father only knew what I was reading!

Spy - as we spoke about animated decorations, I added some holiday decoration photos on my blog:

do you know how to force the specific text to STAY beside a photo?
I finally grouped all of my photos with header tags.

Engaging books: Read "Shadows of the Wind" it's a story within a story. I nearly cried when it was over because I didn't want it to be over.

Anonymous,  12/08/2008 08:54:00 PM  

Thanks for this post, N.

"I want this so much I'm pretty sure the misery of not getting it will kill me."

This gave me one of those moments in which my heart seized up and threatened to quit beating. As a thirtysomething, I still feel this way, and truly, honestly don't believe that someday I won't find these magical places. They must exist, somehow.

(About Narnia: I'm a Christian theologian, it's what I am trained for, what I do for a living, and I hate it when ppl say that about the Narnia books.)

Heather Harper 12/08/2008 09:17:00 PM  

We read the Narnia books in religion class at my Catholic high school,(9th grade) but the comparison didn't sway my fictional experience.

I know a lot of Christians who will not read the Dark Materials trilogy because it's supposed to be an allegory for athiesm. But IMO, an author's hidden message doesn't always extend to the reader. Once it's in the the reader's hands, it belongs to them to make of it what they will.

Rick 12/08/2008 10:58:00 PM  

Hello Spy. I believe that this is your most inspiring post ever. For myself, I was totally immersed in the world of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and Watson. I had read them all by the time I was eleven. Also, I was captived to the worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Jules Verne. I didn't really know there were children's books- of the type written for children- until I was much older. I was aware of them, of course, but never read them.

colbymarshall 12/08/2008 11:50:00 PM  

Oh, gosh, I think this is why I enjoyed the Harry Potter books so much. It was escapim reading, the type of reading I did as a kid where it was just pure fun.

mom2brie,  12/09/2008 12:45:00 AM  

Someone else read Trixie Beldon!!! I loved that series. I'm always grateful for the worlds that books allow me to escape to. Now, I like to read stories about friendships/families that make me feel like I'm a part of their camaraderie. Hard to pick favorites - but Laura Wilder series and Charlotte's Web stand out (along with Trixie of course!).

But you are right - you feel things differently, more intensely as a child.

Barbara Martin 12/09/2008 01:28:00 AM  

I read the Narnia series, when I was older, for my mother as she had a huge caseload of books to read for her Children's Literature course one summer.

But the first Narnia movie swept me back into that land where I could see Lucy walking in the snow with Mr. Tumnus and his umbrella. It was lovely to revisit all the characters again.

The books that held my heart as a child were "Black Beauty" and "National Velvet". I never wanted to live in those eras except it was morely likely I would be able to ride more often. As a child I lived, breathed and slept horses.

My great aunt from England would send books every year at Christmas, and I waited patiently while my brothers finished theirs before secretly reading them. They always got the best books, while I received sissy girl stuff.

Aimless Writer 12/09/2008 09:44:00 AM  

I love the discription of that 'secret place in your heart'. How true. (and what a great title for a book!)
I never read Narnia but I've escaped into many books. I think I have the fly on the wall syndrome. I want to go into that secret place to understand. If I could just watch and observe then maybe i could know this too is true.
Am I making any sense here??? lol

spyscribbler 12/09/2008 10:30:00 AM  

Janna, I MUST check out that review! I've never picked up a critical analysis book, unless you count To Read Like A Writer.

I love that word: harrowing.

spyscribbler 12/09/2008 10:32:00 AM  

Edie, I definitely think we're a special lot. Or all my blogging buddies, who are writers, are definitely special!

I'm kind of sorry C.S. Lewis did the whole allegory (well, it's not an allegory exactly) thing, because my Jewish friends didn't get to read the series! It's the most magical thing I've ever read, maybe even moreso than Harry Potter.

spyscribbler 12/09/2008 10:34:00 AM  

Robin, I LOVED the Oz series! I remember when I discovered The Wizard of Oz was a book, and I was so excited! And then I found out there were more and more books. They were tall books, I remember, with lots of pictures. The library didn't have the whole series, but I would look every week to see if they had a new one. (They never did.)

I didn't know you could request them from a different library, back then. :-)

spyscribbler 12/09/2008 10:34:00 AM  

Aw, Melanie, that's cool! You're the one who has a super good memory, aren't you?

I'm going to try your method. I constantly have to force myself to slow down when I read.

spyscribbler 12/09/2008 10:36:00 AM  

LaDonna, I LOVED the Nancy Drew series! Oh, gosh, there was something about it. And I also loved The Hardy Boy series. I liked Nancy Drew best, but somehow, the Hardy Boys had more fun. This always annoyed me, as a child.

spyscribbler 12/09/2008 10:37:00 AM  

Anonymous, I understand about the gears and springs. It takes a really amazing book for me to click off my analysis and just immerse myself in reading, like I did when I was young. I really want to get that feeling back, more.

spyscribbler 12/09/2008 10:39:00 AM  

Lainey, YES! I loved Anne! SO much! And Jo... Jo's Boys was one of my favorite novels, ever. I wanted to grow up and BE her. The guy, the house, all the boys, writing... I think that's pretty much my perfect life.

I want to crawl up in that dusty attic and read for WEEKS. Remember when we read 2-3 books a night? Gosh, I wish I had that time!

spyscribbler 12/09/2008 10:43:00 AM  

Lisa, do you mean the one by Carlos Ruiz Zafon? There were a couple with titles just so close, I wasn't sure.

I read the sample, and it sounded absolutely charming! Thanks for the recommendation!

I have no clue how to make text and photos to do what I want them to, LOL. :-)

I LOVE your Christmas decorations!

spyscribbler 12/09/2008 10:44:00 AM  

Aerin, I hope so! I had the SAME reaction. It totally took my breath away. And the next bit, too, when she said she will never want something quite so much in her life again.


I'm going to read the Narnia series again. I'm feeling lonely for it.

spyscribbler 12/09/2008 10:46:00 AM  

Aw, *blush.* Thanks, Rick! This book also mentions several writers who were equally inspired by the Sherlock Holmes series. I never tried one, but they seem to be beloved!

And I was grateful: in our children's section, there were plenty of adult classics, even moreso than in the "young adult" section. We had a great librarian!

spyscribbler 12/09/2008 10:47:00 AM  

Colby, I love that! Escapism is it, just the entire experience of being taken out of my world and inhabiting the world of a book. I miss that.

spyscribbler 12/09/2008 10:48:00 AM  

Mom2Brie, I remember you mentioned Trixie Belden before! I only got to read a couple in the series, but I remember loving them. I didn't get the close relationship you and others got with her.

I miss our Narnia-fests. I'm hoping maybe some day we can have one with Brie. :-)

spyscribbler 12/09/2008 10:50:00 AM  

You were lucky, Barbara! I always wanted a horse, but it was not within the realm of possibility. I loved those books, too!

I had an uncle who would send me the most beautiful children's books, hardcover, with gold-leafed edges. Remember those? They were practically a work of art.

You can't find those anymore.

spyscribbler 12/09/2008 10:54:00 AM  

Totally, Aimless! I imagine I become the character. I like that feeling that I'm a whole new person in a whole new world.

spyscribbler 12/09/2008 10:56:00 AM  

Heather, oopsy, SO sorry, I scrolled past you! Sorry!

That's cool. I was in second grade when a teacher broached the possibility, and let me tell you, I was NOT happy. I didn't want my world destroyed by the comparison. I clamped down on her Christian connection so quickly I can even imagine I was rude, and I was really, really shy and was never rude at the time!

I LOVE what you say: "Once it's in the the reader's hands, it belongs to them to make of it what they will." That's AWESOME!

Lisa 12/09/2008 11:17:00 AM  

Yes, I'm referring to Carlos Ruiz Zafon - Shadows of the Wind. Awesome story. The 'prequel' in English will be coming out next year (it's already out in spanish - wish I could read spanish)

Glad you enjoyed the decorations - I so love to have the holiday cheer in my home. I had to scale back on the garland in my doorways since my new little babies like to yank that sort of thing down and I was worried about them a. chewing it and b. stepping on tacks.

Adorable little brats that they are.

One of my kitties - Bruiser (the biggest baby of the bunch) plays fetch.

All this talk of Narnia, perhaps I need to read them. Saw the one movie and LOVED it.
I love the children's shows, so it would stand to reason I'd probably enjoy the books.

Realmcovet 12/09/2008 11:28:00 AM  

The Very Hungry Caterpillar was my first love. I would run my fingers over this amazing book of holes and colors and wish I was the caterpillar, eating away and turning into a beautiful butterfly. I later fell in love with Where The Wild Things Are, and anything else Maurice Sendak had to offer up. I loved the Ramona Quimby series and then got into Judy Blume in my adolescent years. I never knew that what I was doing was "masturbation" until I read Blubber. :D

Flowers For Algernon, The Good Earth, and Of Mice and Men had my heart yearning to write something truly profound as a teen. I love where the books took me, and continue to take me.

I delve into books like Neil Gaiman's Sandman series feeling like the same child I was 20 years ago, and frolic in worlds that I envision "heaven" to one day look like.

Realmcovet 12/09/2008 12:00:00 PM  

Whoops. I meant "Deenie". Not "Blubber". *giggle-giggle*

Janet 12/09/2008 02:13:00 PM  

I used to live in Narnia too. By age seven I was handing out the series as my favourite books ever. And yes, it was a horrifying thought that it didn't really exist. I refused to even accept that for a while.

While there are some very clear references to Christianity in the Narnia series, it's not an allegory. It lives and breathes on its own. But I always liked those references myself, and I think Lewis is probably a major reason that I became and remained a Christian, to the chagrin of my father.

Now I want to read your children's story...

Liz Kreger 12/09/2008 03:00:00 PM  

Wonderful blog, Spy. It really brought back some memories. I used to be able to lose myself in books as a child ... not so much anymore. For me it was anything with horses, Little Women, Robin Hood and Zorro. I also used to read comic books by the dozen and imagine myself as part of the adventures of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. Those were good times.

JaneyV 12/09/2008 03:42:00 PM  

Well for me it was The Secret Garden and Ann of Green Gables.

I came via Aerin. She's very forceful! Of course she's also absolutely right. Beautiful post.

Lauren 12/09/2008 04:57:00 PM  

I love this post. I totally know what you mean. However, for me it was Peter Pan. I was convinced that I'd find the right combination to make fairy dust and fly away to never-land. Of all the books that I've read I think it's the ones I read when I was young that stuck with me the most.

Amy Nathan 12/09/2008 05:20:00 PM  

How I wanted to be Anne of Green Gables...and Laura Ingalls in a little house on the prairie. I always imagined myself a March sister as well.

Not to be overshadowed by marrying Donny Osmond once I was a bit older, mind you.

pjd 12/09/2008 07:04:00 PM  

I had no idea Naria had anything to do with Christianity until I was about 35 years old and read it on a blog somewhere. Whatever.

When I was a child, any book that had magic or space ships was that book that made me wish that world existed. I remember certain scenes from Niven, Asimov, and Heinlein 30 years later. I was also enthralled by Piers Anthony's Split Infinity and Blue Adept, and Niel Hancock's Circle of Light series... though I really can't remember much of either one. I just remember loving the Circle of Light and reading all four books while I was sick one week, and feeling a sort of guilty pleasure in them because I totally wanted to be there, but I got the sense the story and characters were sort of formulaic and trite. But I enjoyed it just the same at the age of 10 or however old I was.

Melanie Avila 12/09/2008 07:37:00 PM  

Spy, yes I do have an insane memory. I also have Reading Like a Writer sitting on my shelf. That might be one of my next reads.

After reading your comments, I remember I wanted to be Jo at the boys' school too.

Susan Helene Gottfried 12/09/2008 08:41:00 PM  

Completely unrelated...

I am SO sorry I forgot to tell you that I moved. I'm at the point where I've told some people three times and others not at all.

Back in August, Blogger declared me a spammer. I've been filling out their "Please review my blog" form weekly ever since.

Last week, they locked my blog and are now threatening to delete it. So we moved before we were ready to.

It won't be a smart move on Blogger's part, if they delete it. *grin*

spyscribbler 12/10/2008 12:55:00 AM  

Lisa, I might say the Prince Caspian movie is better than the first. They were both great!

We had to get rid of the tinsel, too. I normally like a tree covered in it, but I kept reading horror stories about cats dying from it.

I downloaded that book to my Kindle. I've only read a couple pages, but it's amazing so far!

spyscribbler 12/10/2008 12:56:00 AM  

Realmcovet, I ADORE Neil Gaiman! Love his books! Love his writing.

I think that Judy Blume book was not put on my library's shelves. :-( Now I'm really curious, though, because I never learned officially, LOL.

I LOVED Blubber!

spyscribbler 12/10/2008 12:58:00 AM  

PS: Realmcovet, I learned from a biography of Catherine the Great, when it talked about how she "rode her pillow like a horse."

Is that TMI?

spyscribbler 12/10/2008 12:59:00 AM  

Janet, you're right, it's not an allegory. Even C.S. Lewis himself took great pains to explain it wasn't.

Speaking of Christian fiction, I had this darling little book called "The Little Pilgrim's Progress."

I can't tell you how much I loved that book. I don't have it anymore, and I haven't been able to find it.

I really, really, really loved that book.

spyscribbler 12/10/2008 01:00:00 AM  

Liz, Zorro was a book? You mean, like the Mask of Zorro, Zorro?

Wow, I have to find that!

spyscribbler 12/10/2008 01:05:00 AM  

Thanks, JaneyV! And OHMIGOSH, I LOVED The Secret Garden! Definitely one of my favorite books ever! I must have read it a hundred times. And have you seen the musical?

There's this one song in it, The Girl I Mean To Be, which I just LOVE to listen to!

spyscribbler 12/10/2008 01:06:00 AM  

This is sorta funny, Lauren, but the first time I saw your picture, I actually thought of Tinkerbell. I don't know why, but I swear I did!

spyscribbler 12/10/2008 01:07:00 AM  

Amy, I loved the Laura Ingalls series! And the shows, too. I wanted to be Michael whathisname's daughter so much. No, I wanted to be LAURA so much!

spyscribbler 12/10/2008 01:08:00 AM  

pjd, I totally had a Robert Heinlein phase. To this day, I just adore his short stories. And I think, of all his books, I enjoyed Friday the most, even though I remember Stranger in a Strange Land the best.

spyscribbler 12/10/2008 01:09:00 AM  

Oh, Melanie, I LOVE that book! That book completely revolutionized my reading and writing experience.

Definitely put it next!

JaneyV 12/10/2008 02:39:00 AM  

I didn't know there was a musical. I wonder if it's on YouTube? I will check! Thanks SS.

Michelle 12/10/2008 04:39:00 AM  

Spy, I know and understand exactly what you've just said. I could be and was consumed as a child by the books I read. Narnia chief among them.

This is exactly why I write. To transport myself and others to that place of pure magic again.

Realmcovet 12/10/2008 10:51:00 AM  

Lol Spy!! No, not TMI, hell, I initiated the terms, so blame ME for "TMI".

Riding a pillow like a horse? I had a stuffed bear named Footprint for that. Now THAT'S what you call "TMI".

Glad you're a Neil fan. His prose gives me such joy!!