"I don't merely want to survive. I want to live..."~ Society's Foundlings, Ellie Lieberman
Survival vs. living is a theme commonly found in my books, including Society's Foundlings when resources and finances are limited or Solving for X when fear rules the world. It can also be found in my upcoming books, like Be (a prequel short story can be found in The Playlist Anthology).
When we first think survival, we often think Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. In a nice, geometrically organized pyramid, it lays the foundation for the necessities in life. First and foremost are the physical needs in this structure. Food, water, rest, etc. Next are the psychological, going in order of safety, social interactions, self-esteem, and the such. The idea is you can't get to the more complex psychological levels until the physical needs are met.
There is a truth to this. My grandfather always said, "Feed them first." Whenever anyone came to the door in need, the first thing he would do is offer them food, because it's easier to come up with solutions on a full stomach. Child Development shows this, too. If a child hasn't eaten breakfast before class starts, there is more difficulty learning. When one level is achieved it is easier to move up the hierarchy.
That being said, we often forget that we need all of it. If a physical need is not met due to poverty, for example, or a safe environment is not or has not been provided, whether through abuse or war or natural disaster or what have you, as human beings we crave all aspect of the pyramid, still.
There is often the idea that people who are missing one of these levels need solely that level. Kids in poverty just need food, often forgetting they are still kids. Yes, they need food for breakfast before class, but they are also kids who see their friends at school getting bags of chips and cookies with their lunches or coloring with sparkly crayons during free time. If you donate to charities or gift drives for kids in need, yes, necessities are essential (underwear, socks, toothbrushes), but also realize they need the magic of holidays and special events, too (toys, games, candy, things that allow them to be a kid despite limiting circumstance).
When a fire burned down my mother's house when she was younger, a friend of the family made shoe boxes of toiletries. It had tooth brushes, deodorant, etc, but it also had perfume and little extras that weren't necessarily a necessity. There's a reason why there are hairstylists that spend their free time offering free services to people who are homeless.
Sometimes what is needed when a lower level isn't achieved is what Maslow considered a higher level. Often times, Maslow's pyramid is the wrong shape. Like life, it cannot be so easily organized. Often times, what is needed is not survival, but living.
Recently, someone I follow on twitter observed they do not include their characters eating at all in their writing. This made me think of my own writing and made me think of my old blog, Popcorn: More Than Just A Minor Detail.
Sometimes in books, details are just details. Blue curtains could just happen to be blue and the meaning we take from these details are often what we ourselves, as readers, read into the books. But, sometimes, as authors we intend these details to carry more weight.
I can't say I always intend for food to be important to the characters and my books, but food tends to be very important to me. A lot of this is family traditions, like Prime Rib, Yorkshire Pudding, and Green Beans Amadine on Christmas Eve and Chinese Food on Christmas. Some of this could also be influenced by my Jewish background, like Latkas on Hanukkah or Matzoh on Passover. Outside of traditions and holidays, it's the slice and bake cookie dough or mom's mac and cheese.
It's no wonder then that food shows up frequently in my writing, whether it's the popcorn in Society's Foundlings, baking birthday butter biscuits in The Butter Thief, growing tomatoes in Ben's Little Tomato, imagining different uses of pumpkins in Peggy's Little Pumpkin, or drinking hot chocolate in The Memory Tree.
There's traditions, memories, and connection tied to the food in The Butter Thief, Ben's Little Tomato, Peggy's Little Pumpkin, and The Memory Tree. In Society's Foundlings, popcorn is lack of money and resources. It is a dividing line, the feeling of being an outsider, a reminder of all the goals and dreams that are still out of reach, friendship, and feelings of belonging and security depending on the character.
In an upcoming WIP, food is always a source of tension between siblings. There's frustration in lack of resources, but also frustration in what has and has not changed from the past. There is still that feeling of belonging or exclusion.
What does food mean to you? How do you use food in your own writing?
As many of my readers know, The Butter Thief explores the origins of the word "butterfly" in a fun and imaginative narrative. One of the theories that inspired aspects of the book, and continues to inspire aspects of the series, is the part fairies play.
It was believed that fairies and witches would turn into butterflies to steal the family's butter. One element of that theory appears to be missing on the surface of the overall story. But, is it really left out?
Upon closer observation, this is not the case. Readers might recall the purple fairy door that Brigid receives as a gift and in turn gives to the brimstone fairy. What does a purple door have to do with anything, one might ask.
Purple doors are often a sign of a witch.
Before people start conjuring up images of a green-face, wart-nose, evil devil worshiper, let me set the record straight. Fairies and witches are actually very closely related. They way they respect, nurture, and connect with nature is very similar. Often witches are individuals who recognize, harness, and utilizes their inner-most magic and intentions. Like a fairy, they refuse to be ignored, forgotten, or used. Both work in balance. It cannot be all take. Offerings need to be made.
If the brimstone butterfly fairy more than just a fairy? You, as the reader, can decide. Just know, as the author, the witch part of the theory was not forgotten.
Also, The Butter Thief fairy doors will be available soon for your own garden!
"Handing the cup over, she gets the nastiest look from the customer, as their eight-year-old snickers at her cursing. She's oblivious to it, but it kind of pisses me off. Who the hell are they, bringing an eight-year-old here past midnight and buying their kid caffeine? Then they have the nerve to get all righteous?"- Society's Foundlings, Ellie Lieberman
Many have different opinions about cursing in books, especially in children's books, Middle Grades, or YA. Certain books, such as Bridge to Terabithia, have been banned or challenged for it. Other books, such as the also banned, The Catcher in the Ryee, discuss one of the issues many people feel about cursing, seen whenJ.D. Salinger draws a connection between the graffiti that reads 'Fuck You' with a loss of innocence.
In Society's Foundlings, there are about fifteen "fucks." I know this because after watching some interviews about The Perks of Being a Wallflower and learning that in order for a movie to be considered PG13, it could only say "fuck" about once, I got curious about my own work. While this fact about my book will turn away some readers, as an author, it was important, essential, and at time deliberate for the reader to understand the characters.
For Carver, as seen in the quote at the beginning of this blog, cursing is the not the worst thing in the world to him. He chooses to be more concerned with the physical health for a child, for example, rather than his co-workers use of expletives in front of the child. That can be taken a step further. He is more concerned with the parent's judgement of his co-worker and the hypocrisy of said judgement.
It can be said this is hypocritical from a character who takes his sixteen-year-old friend for burgers and shakes at midnight (arguably for both of their well-being, though) and also says later he'd prefer his caffeine "in an IV drip. Stat." Or, the fact that the co-workers use of cursing was during a conversation about how Carver was judging his cousin's friend. This situation in and of itself can show how we, as people, don't always recognize a negative trait in ourselves as easily or readily as we do with someone else. It can also show the difference between Carver and his co-worker, Ophelia Cortes, especially in their reactions.
However, hypocrisy aside, Carver is also a character who has messed up a lot when he was in high school and who has seen some of the darker sides of humanity. Whether it is directly stated, implied, or inferred, Carver hasn't had the nicest or easiest life. His choices in the past are part of this, but so are the choices of others who had been around him ( i.e. why doesn't he mention a parental figure?). A big part of him, especially during the story, is choice and that extends to his choice in vocabulary, as well as his choice of what he concerns himself with.
That being said, he also reads extensively. His choice in books also shows more a freedom with vocabulary. As the author, I have my own opinions and thoughts about this that may differ from yours, as the reader. Please keep in mind, your interpretations are not wrong. These are just mine.
To me, Carver's search for that "more," for that freedom, to not feel the constraint or burden of financial struggles and past mistakes would extend to his philosophy about vocabulary and how he speaks. To me, it seems like he's the type of character who would not necessarily view a word like "fuck" as an offensive word. I don't think curses hold the same power for him.
This is also where he differs from say, Clem or Math. The only time Math says "fuck," is at the climax of the story, when emotions are running high, and conflict is running higher. To someone like Math, the word holds a certain power, especially for expression. It can also be argued that what Sampson, Math's brother and Carver's cousin, has said and what both Sampson and Carver have done is more offensive than Math's use of the word "fuck."
Here's where I throw my two cents in as an author. There are certain words that we have that are offensive. By this, I don't mean curses like the ones we are discussing. Should they be in literature? There is still that debate about books like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
This book was written a very long time ago. That one word was prevalent and it remains just as offensive now as it did then. It can be argued that a book like this can be used to start the conversation about the power of words and the importance of learning from the past. Especially with how easily and how often it appears in the book. That illustrates another problem, though, if the conversation is not had. I've also heard arguments that you shouldn't tell an author what they can and cannot write, or change a classic.
I think the issue is bigger than this, though. Between the way people are reacting about taking down Confederate statues, the fear caused by the election and other current events, and even someone like Bill Mahr cracking a joke, whether he meant to or not (which illustrates it's own problem with our society and use of certain words), these conversations need to be had. There needs to be a dialogue.
Should that dialogue occur with a book like Huckleberry Finn? It's written by a white man with a character who is a white boy. There are probably better examples out there, but the fact this is the first book that comes to mind speaks a lot about the society around me and myself, one of the things I'm trying to work on personally.
Also, I am a white author. I will never know what it's like to have a word like that, with so much history and connotation tied to it, directed at me. I know this word has power. I know this conversation needs to take place. It's not me who should be talking, though. It's me, as someone who is white, who needs to be listening.
Conversation makes it sound like I have the right to speak on a subject that I have never lived through. I can't say the word, nor do I think I ever could. Ice-Cube was on Bill Mahr, and he said the word was their's now. And it should be. It's time white America starts to listen.
I'd like to think, even Carver, would find there are more offensive actions and words out there than "fuck." As a YA author, I don't think we do any of our readers justice if we try to shield them from important conversations. I also don't think it is very fair to them to be more concerned with whether or not the book they read has curse words than what they're hearing on the news and seeing in the society around them today.
This blog was technically written months ago, but only just found it's way to this site.
It's 1:14. I shouldn't be up late. I have two new, big ventures that fulfill more dreams than I could possibly explain. I need to get up before noon. There's things to do, general life to live. But, I can't stop clicking on Button Poetry links on Youtube.
It started with things I couldn't possibly know. Things I will never experience. Searching for a hint of understanding because spoken word poetry can sometimes move a heart ore than anything else. If a picture is worth a million words, spoken word poetry is worth an infinite amount.
What this late night foraging turned into was stumbling on ones that hit a little too close to home. And like a sadist, I continued to watch. Searching once more for that hint of understanding. To not feel so alone in my loneliness, to not feel so insane in my insanity.
I have a life to live come morning. I should go to sleep, instead of haunting my personal skeletons at some god forsaken hour. But, sometimes we need that understanding more. Sometimes we need the power of words. Maybe just another poem.
I used to get C's in 6th grade English class for writing too much. Guess the jokes on that teacher because not only am I the author of two published books, but I also have two short stories in anthologies, with a third and fourth on their way and a few children's books in the works.
My mother used to get phone calls from my middle school advanced art program about how I never followed the instructions. Well, jokes on them because now I am the illustrator of about eleven children's books, four of which are already published, and at my last event I sold two art prints.
Everybody knows JK Rowling's amazing story. How many rejection letters? How many times did Walt Disney's business go under before Mickey Mouse? What's that quote from Edison? "I didn't fail. I just found 2,000 ways how not to make a lightbulb."
Barbara Lieberman was told in first grade that she should never pick up a pencil to draw again. So, she didn't until she was an adult. Not only has she returned to painting miniature canvases, which she originally did as part of a miniature business with her father in the 80's, but she is also co-illustrating our upcoming My Mom is in a Wheelchair.
I leave you with these thoughts:
"Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts"- Winston Churchill
"You fail if only you stop writing"- Ray Bradbury
But also remember, Jackson Pollock stood in his own paintings. Vonnegut would sometimes write himself into his own books. Shakespeare and Dr. Seuss made up words.
Forget what they taught you in Kindergarten. My mom always said, "You don't have to color inside the lines." And no matter what anyone tells you, no matter if that voice inside you is telling you that you got it wrong, every time you see a mistake or are marked down, remember it took even the greats more than one try and never quit.
Earnest Hemingway said “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
When I write, I truly write. There’s not only an investment in the characters and storylines. It is pouring heart and soul. It is knocking down the barriers of the everyday, exposing and vulnerable and naked on a blank page.
It is said that if there is no tears in the writer there will be no tears in the reader. From what I know of books like Chip Davis’s Angel’s Song in The Playlist Anthology and Barbara Lieberman’s To Miss The Stars (which comes packaged with tissues, by the way), there is truth in that saying.
Each week I revisit my manuscripts to participate in the local twitter event, 1lineWed, where writers share lines from their work based on a weekly theme. This week’s theme is Chaos and in Society's Foundlings, which was published two years ago, I came across this one line, “There’s a comfort in what you’re accustomed to. Chaos becomes its own sort of peace.” It amazed me how a simple line could still stir those same feelings in me as when I first picked up the pencil to write them.
2015 was a chaotic year, if not for external reasons, then for internal. In the years following the outward became its own sort of chaos. Now, I am in a much better place in both ways.
We have terms we use in my family for PTSD moments. Those little triggers that send you back to moments your body can’t seem to forget no matter how much your mind wants to. Those responses so ingrained in the brain, your breath catches, your heart seizes, the pain from that moment mere months or years ago is just as fresh and present now as it was then. But, revisiting this honest and sometimes brutal text that I created is different.
It’s as bittersweet as the story itself. I’m better. My world is better. The characters will forever remain frozen in that moment, in those conflicts, though. I have moved on and in a way, while there is hope on that final page, it is a final page. It is a scar, that indelible reminder, but it’s the scars that let the light shine through.
A couple days ago was National Popcorn Day. So, of course, what came to mind for some of my readers as well as myself was Society's Foundlings, since the main item of food consumed within the 90 pages is overly buttered, stale, movie theater popcorn. While this is but a simple detail, it got me thinking about what that popcorn represented to each of the characters.
The popcorn is a very minor detail. It is used to illustrate the lack of food, finances, and resources offered to the character. Yet, despite this simple view of food, it has a larger meaning to Sampson, Carver, and Math in particular,
Sampson sees it as a divide between himself and others, such as Nicole Brennerman. He wonders how she could possibly understand comparing past cheap food that created a regular diet (plain spaghetti and minute rice) to the assumption of richer, more expensive foods she grew up eating (lobster). This is not only used as a dividing line, but to illustrate and represent the feeling of being an outsider.
For Carver, it remains solely a representation of things he cannot have. Lack of resources, lack of security, lack of the 'more' he's constantly searching for. It remains a barrier in not only what he can provide for himself, but what he can provide for the people he cares about, seen when he questions what else the three other main characters had to eat that day.
Math views popcorn as the complete opposite. For him, it is belonging and security. He includes it in his descriptions of Sampson and Carver's place, which in and of itself is a sanctuary. It is a sure and constant thing for him in a world that is slowly falling apart around him.
Each of these representations become even deeper when the reader recognizes nobody else would necessarily think of or even know they eat mostly popcorn. It illustrates an internal struggle, and how they view themselves and their situations.
Home and belonging is a common theme in my books. Whether it's the dragon from A Dragon's Treasure in A Horde of Dragons. or it's Math from Society's Foundlings wondering why what feels like home can't be where he rests his head at night.
For the dragon, belonging is a chain around his neck until a friend tells him, "There's a difference between being someone's treasure and being treasured by someone." For Math, home transforms from a brick-stepped, light-flickering sanctuary where no one can trespass to a hand that catches you when you fall.
Home, what it is and how we define it, changes as we do. It doesn't always look the same, but there are common elements. As Billy Joel sings, "Home is just another word for you." One constant is the people. Those you've known all your life who become more than just family, and communities, no matter how big or small, who become more than just friends. These Shadows, as I like to call them, like Shadow from The Treasure of Ravenwood. Those bosom friends and kindred spirits as Anne of Green Gables called it.
For Jenna from Solving for X it was the memories within the place or the person. The plaid blanket where she and Erik watched fireworks. It was the line of photos. For Erik, it was the smell of salt water and the old basketball courts.
Sometimes home is in the traditions. Mom's coffee in the mornings. Jenna's painting. Decorating for the holidays or Friday night dinners with the grandparents.
And, home can be a place. Where love abounds and there lies a type of safety one can only find in those four walls.
Home for me is a lot of things. It is paint and pencils, notebooks and sketchpads. It is an orange, furry hug. It is a steaming cup of tea.
It is laughter and kisses goodnight by a porch light and under stars. It is a hand on my knee, fingers that tickle mercilessly, and his hat that I wear like a crown.
It is smiles and shared dreams and a hand to hold and a hug I've known since birth. It is my mom. It is a Christmas tree decorated the day after the turkey is cooked. It's dancing and singing Ten Minutes Ago from Roger and Hammerstein's Cinderella. It's Chinese Food for Christmas. It's stories I now know by heart.
It's a neighbor who I count as family. A blessing in the form of fabulousness. Another Pheonix- I am so fortunate to be surrounded by so many!
My Fairy Godmother! Filled with as much wisdom as magic. Who could touch dust and turn it to gold. Whose sparkle always makes the day brighter.
It is a goddamn masterpiece. A modge podge worth of 21 years. Home is where I rest my head at night.
I think Sally Fingerette said it best, "Home is where the heart is. No matter how the heart lives. In your heart where love is, that's where you've got to make yourself a home."
What do you consider home?
For as solitary as writing and art is, creative people tend to build communities around each other. They gravitate to one another, sometimes without even meaning to. Whether it's my soul recognizes something in your soul or the need to create is as basic the need to breathe and is a primal urge shared among all, communities tend to grow around us.
History has shown us the inevitability of this converging of souls. The group of artists who got together in the 'Cafe Gurebois,' which included Monet and Degas and Renoir. The Algonquin Round Table. Even today, we've seen it taken to a new, ever expanding platform online. A prime example being IABB (https://www.facebook.com/HeyIABB/?fre... ).
Though one could actively seek out such communities, they also tend to build themselves. My own little writing group came to know each other before some of us even put to paper. There was simply a mysterious connection. Such a phenomenon is an amazing thing to experience.
While there is something equivalent to a high in the act of writing or drawing, getting together with other like minded individuals gets the creative juices really start to flow. One of the many things my group and I discover is that we also feed off each other and leave feeling even more inspired.
As long as there is a seed of creativity in you, a community will bloom around you. If you are a writer or an artist you are never truly alone. After all, history is on your side.
Gathering dust in the depths of my mind, random thoughts dusted off and put out there for the world to see...