By: AJ Eversole
I grew up living with my mom and grandparents on an old rural farm in Northeastern Oklahoma. The adults in the house lived by the idea that if the sun was up, the children should be finding something to do outside and away from view or they would be put to work. Obviously, I chose to spend most of my time exploring the fields and forests around the farm, usually dragging a cousin along with me.
I have always been a reader. I would pick up a book at the school library, spend the day reading it and then the next morning show up to exchange it for another. My creative well filled abundantly. My cousin wasn’t a reader, but he really liked Saturday morning cartoons. We would use storylines from both sources to create intensely vivid make believe games.
These stories were filled to the brim with tropes, sibling betrayal, turning to the villain to be their apprentice, hidden powers, forgotten memories, secret siblings, mysterious parents and tons of magic. The emotional investment in our stories rose the longer we played them. Some stories would last a day, others we would stretch into weeks. We would be forcibly kicked out of the house in the morning and by the time dark fell we would be forcibly dragged back inside.
Looking back at these games I know that these are the heart of my desire to create and share my own stories. It’s about the thrill of adventure, experiencing the fantastical and doing it while being a person who can pretend to feel big things, often in a way that brought about understanding and empathy that might have seemed obvious, but wasn’t always. This make believe contributed to the bulk of my imagination, which I am extremely grateful for. Even now, I draw on those old plot lines every now and then when I want to go back to the heart of why I love story in general.
People tend to think if you read, then you love English class in high school. I’ll be honest, it took me years to appreciate literature. I brought things like Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (Little, Brown, 2005) and City of Bones by Cassandra Clare (Margaret K. McElderry, 2007) to read at school and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1925) and 1984 by George Orwell (Secker and Warburg, 1949) just got in my way. Only in college did I begin to find beauty in literary classics. Despite a lackluster attitude, I did have a teacher who would offer quiet encouragement when I told her I enjoyed creative writing.
I remember telling her about how there was a fox that would visit our farm. How it got used to my grandpa feeding it a hot dog every now and then. I told her it always looked like it was smiling when it took the food, or maybe laughing at how it trained my grandpa to feed it anytime it wanted. She interrupted me to say that the observation was a great example of what to use in writing. Isn’t it fascinating to think how the simplest throw away comments can mean so much to a 15-year-old? It was the first time anyone outside my family had recognized a seed of talent in me.
Later, I came across the book, Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon (Workman Publishing). I remember being blown away by the concepts, because this is essentially the method my cousin and I had used growing up to make up all the stories and games we did. We took little pieces of everything we loved and wrote a story that was what we wanted to see. I incorporate this into major reasons to refill the creative well. You never know what piece of an artwork will inspire your own art.
Then the concept hit me on an even deeper level. I as a person am formed by everything I consume and everything that touches me. I learned these lessons through the characters that I lived through by reading. Big concepts on humanity, forgiveness, revenge and resentment and how to carry those, how to process them. All of that came to me through story and through those other lives I lived. I love the ripple effect this implies about the relationship with an artist and the ones who interpret the art they create. You get to put something out there for interpretation and maybe not everything will connect, maybe not even the intended purpose, but the little piece that stirs another person, that’s what is magical.
This is why I want to share my writing as my art. I want to pass on the opportunity for little sparks of understanding in others. The same way that I have learned so much about myself and the world around me through the art that is writing.
In The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas (HarperTeen, 2013), the main character, Iolanthe, is arguing with Prince Titus. She is struggling to accept her call to action and states that there is no guarantee of success. Titus replies, “No, but we will never accomplish anything worthwhile in life if we require the guarantee of success at the onset.”
Such a simple lesson. One you can find in many stories. But the timing for me was life changing. I came across this book when I was in college. I was nervous. I wanted to write more than fanfiction. I wanted to be serious about it. I wanted. But I was scared. I’d like to say this was some inspirational turning point towards success. But it was mostly just character building. Specifically, running the race of endurance.
As with most writers I’ve encountered, sometimes my confidence is alive and ready to get to business, other times I feel like I just toil away at my art. Scared, but doing it anyway. Titus’s words keep me company as I push forward. Success looks different for everyone. It’s easy to reach one goal and find yourself looking up and already seeing another. Because of this I celebrate all victories and forgive myself the interruptions of life.
Doing so ensures the journey will be steady and bright.