Drafting, editing, and world building are the sapling in the sunlight, but the seed and roots that come first are the writer’s true creation story. As a child I often gazed out my window imagining, but that was but one root. I was also the child who was left alone for hours, sometimes until sunset—in the forest.
For years after I turned six I’d sit on a large rock amidst dense forest, lichen-painted and leaf-dusted boulders lurking in the undergrowth, a two hundred foot cliff behind.
At other times, in places where the cliffs were lower, I lingered beside a shallow pool beneath an overhang. In that place, the carriage road bordered the cliff so I was less alone.
Okay, I’m certain this all sounds a bit puzzling, so let me back up a bit…
My parent’s divorce decree (I was a couple of years old at the time) stipulated the children spend all vacations in their entirety with my father (and a vast number of weekends, too). Given I was the youngest by seven years I was quite often left to fend for myself while my father and brother rock climbed.
Seriously, the cliffs I’m talking about are a real place.
My father lived on Long Island and spent most of his time in the Shawangunk Mountains upstate. They aren’t high, but are known for miles of cliffs ranging in height from about 60-260 feet. Where the cliffs are low (a short stretch near the highway) the carriage road is close. Where the cliffs are higher the carriage road is more distant. The Near Trapps were the most accessible and popular, but there were many other named cliffs that required hiking the carriage road or trails to reach.
To say I was unhappy about making the trips is an understatement. Because I was too young, small, and, truthfully, afraid of heights, my father left me behind while he and my brother were climbing. Big snakes? Yes, there were those, and who knows what else.
This is forever before smartphones so it was me and my imagination, the first glimmers of a fantasy world entering my mind, a world I’d control so I felt safe. I wasn’t world building or piecing together a novel. Instead, it was me imagining scenes playing out around me or in places just beyond my vision.
Exploring caves and caverns with my mind wasn’t difficult given my rocky surroundings. They became my gateway to adventure, which in turn was a place where I felt safe.
“What doesn’t kill you makes you a better writer.”
That saying is true for me. As much as I detested those trips they’ve influenced my novels (as did events at home, but that’s a different root). As it happens, there isn’t a single Carrdia novel lacking a cavern or tunnel. At one point in the first novel, Trust in the Forgotten, Riparia laments spending too much time with no sky overhead.
At that time, though, and with limited contact with anything fantastical, my thoughts tended to be more selfish, the hopes of a struggling child. Might a cave or tunnel lead to somewhere safe? Were I to take off through the forest might I stumble upon someone who’d take me in? Someone who wanted me? Were I to hike around the cliffs might I spy far off lands to which I could travel?
In the end, my thoughts were less about scenes and more about the themes that became ingrained. Finding the warmth my life lacked. Wanting to escape. Discovering a found family. Having people I could trust find me. Trusting nature more than people.
Those themes remain in virtually every short story I write, but always in the novels. Sitting on one rock or another in the forest was where Riparia was born, her early life spent sitting on a boulder beside a river.