In the Fallow Places

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe

Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!

And, by the incantation of this verse,


Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth

Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!

Be through my lips to unawakened Earth


The trumpet of a prophecy!

O Wind, If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?


–Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Ode to the West Wind”


In that unnameable place that hovers between mind and soul, I carry a mythology.  I haven’t worked it out in Yeatsian detail, but it is there, rippling beneath the surface, hinting at ancient depths.  I suspect that our individual mythologies are like light-sabers–there’s sort of a basic function, but we each build our own, and its construction is a life’s work, a labor of love, a rite of passage.

I was raised in the Christian church by a storyteller and a scientist.  This accounts for certain aspects of my personality, and much of my mythology.  My sister pointed out recently that no matter what I write, there’s magic involved.  Whether I’m writing for adults or children, whether I’m writing contemporary fiction or high fantasy, whether I’m writing a blog post or a story for my boys, there is always magic lurking in the background.  My four-year-old asks me how God can do something or other, and I grasp for a way to put it into words, usually falling back on, “Well, God is magical–like a wizard.”  I’m pretty sure this isn’t sound orthodox theology, but one of the things about being a fantasy writer raising children is that I can say stuff like “wizard” and “kraken” and my kiddos know exactly what I’m talking about.

Sometimes, I think I have a pagan soul.  I read Old English poetry, and I get those guys.  This world is a storm-tossed winter, our homes and hearths towers of light against the darkness.  What we do on this middle-earth matters.  No matter what lies beyond the gusting wind and drifting snow, we can trail words and deeds behind us like incense.  We can make not only our lives, but our deaths, things of unspeakable beauty.

This time of year whispers of endings.  In my mythology, Halloween has gotten tangled up with New Year’s Eve.  It was the new year, once, and some ancient murmur in my soul insists that it still is.  Giants stretch their naked limbs skyward, their brilliant robes cast to earth, their toes deep in frozen soil.  I suspect that Ents are possible.  I wonder if trees dream.  The distant inheritors of dinosaurs wing south, their necks dragon-dark against the sky.  The sun hides behind a grey shroud, its summer fierceness turned watchful, weary.  Vegetable plants have withered and darkened until they look like things in a witch’s garden, and the earth gathers back to itself the riot of summer and early autumn.

I stand poised on the cusp of the year, bracing for winter, and suddenly it seems strange to think of winter as an ending, to describe old men and women as being in the winter of their lives.  Winter promises beginnings.  The frenzied work of harvesting and canning is done.  The yard won’t need mowing for months.  The firewood is stacked.  Now is the time to hibernate, to curl up by the woodstove with seed catalogs and stories.  Winter is gestation, the slow germination of the plant below the soil, the intake of breath.  Not an ending before a begining, but a pause before a continuation.  Because nothing ever really ends.

I’m feeling the truth of this now, as I meet my Halloween deadline for finishing the revision of my most recent novel.  As I type the final word on the last page, I feel again the hard, clear truth that nothing written is ever really finished.  But I’ve met my self-imposed deadline for the magical third revision (because magic always comes in threes), and now it’s time for this story to hibernate, to burrow back down to the place where all the stories start, and wait.

November is a wonderful time to embark on a writerly new year.  I’m going to participate in National Novel Writing Month for my second year.  Today, after I finish this overdue blog post, I’m going to take some time to sketch an outline for my next story.  This one isn’t YA.  It will be an adult novel, a dark fairy tale, a winter-story, something a little different from anything I’ve yet attempted.  There will still be magic, of course.  My stories can’t breathe without magic.  Neither can I.

I’ve been so caught up in revising my novel (set in October, ending on Halloween, so it felt important to bring it to some kind of conclusion now), that I’ve let the blogging slide.  It will probably slide a bit in November, too, or degenerate into brief bursts of semi-articulate triumph and frustration, as I pound out the draft of a new story.  But I won’t forget about it, as I haven’t over the past few weeks.  I am always thinking about it, as I am always telling myself stories in my head.  It’s just been lying dormant.

In my mythology, the fallow places are sacred.  They are the places that incubate magic.  From these stubble fields, dragons hatch and mysteries unfurl like bright banners on the winds of spring.