When I sat down to write When Dragons Die with the intention of people reading it, it’s self-evident I wanted people to enjoy the story. I wanted the world to engender fans who would be as passionate about the world as I am. I knew I would like hearing from someone who enjoyed the work, but nevertheless I was overwhelmed and surprised when one of my readers took the time to create fan art and share them with me.
Last year, I posted thoughts about Readers and Writers, and how an artist doesn’t own their own content once there’s an audience involved. Now, I’d like to refine that by considering a work (or body of work) as an experience. The author might “own” the content of the book… the author gets to decide the final course of the story, after all, but the author doesn’t own the experience. It’s shared.
Ahmbren is a fictional world. The setting, and the characters in the setting, becomes a shared experience between me and the reader, and between readers. Writing stories is a complete act of magic: you imagine something, you etch it into letters and words, and someone else reads it and experiences the sensations and imagery that the story evokes. If you’re any good at it, their experience will approximate what you experienced writing it. However, a reader’s experience of Ahmbren will be different from my experience writing Ahmbren. They’ll put in different inflections and nuances in the dialogue and text when they read, they’ll imagine things a bit differently, and they’ll project their own life experiences into interpreting and judging how characters behave and evaluate situations. This is a kind of intimacy.
There’s something special, I think, when a reader experiences your world, and then is inspired to create in it, to add to it, and to show you the reflection in their own inner world. It comes back to you, no longer a projection of yourself, but a blended creation. I had this experience for the first time this Spring, and it moved me.
Erin Cooper, graphic designer and co-owner of Cooper House, bought both Lightfall and Covenant. She used to work for me during her days in the Air Force as a graphic artist, and after she separated from the service, she and her husband started their own successful graphic design business in Oklahoma City. It’s awesome to see two creative people go off on their own, start a business, and turn their passion into their profession. Due to the power of Facebook, she and I had remained in on-again off-again contact through the years, where you’re not really “in touch” with someone, but you’re never really “lose touch” either… social media, where losing contact with someone takes more emotional work (cleaning up and fretting over the friends list) than pressing an occasional “like”.
I come from a creative family, and one of my brothers is a fine-arts major (he did the cover art for When Dragons Die). Because of that, I’m especially interested when any FB friend posts art of their own. I’d noticed Erin’s abstract art in my FB from time to time, and was impressed with the evocative use of abstract color. Her paintings garnered many “likes”. Examples, from her artist site Pippin & Pearl, include:
This last one immediately reminded me of a night-time skyline of Artalon (though this was painted before I wrote the books), the hemispherical mile-wide city of glass and copper skyscrapers, overlooking the sea. (Erin, really bummed this one is sold, BTW… this one I would have very much liked to buy.)
At any rate, she saw my FB posts about publishing the books, and after Covenant was released, she decided to get both of them. As she read them, I started to get more comments from her, sharing the experiences of her journey through Ahmbren. That alone was a bit heady, because Ahmbren found a fan.
Then, I got this portrait of Aradma, the elven druid, sent to me:
Obviously, Aradma is one of my favored characters (as polarizing as she is for readers). This was not the face I had envisioned in my mind when I first wrote it, but there was something magical about the first time I saw this on my iPhone. I had envisioned this character, and then someone else had experienced her, and then shared with me her experience of her. The eyes here really struck me, and captured what I think is the essence of Aradma’s character: she sees into the truth of your being and accepts you for who you are rather than who you project, or who you think you are. In this picture I saw Aradma reflected back at me, as the projection of someone else’s creative mind.
There’s no other way to describe it than to say I was overwhelmed. The experience changed how I view this character, and now when I write or reread scenes with Aradma, this portrait is how I see her.
That is awesome. The experience is shared, and no longer my own.
Aradma came after her reading of Lightfall, which makes sense. Aradma is the focus for most of that book. The other two heroines, Arda and Anuit, take a much more prominent role in Covenant.
And through the course of the next few weeks, Erin drew them as well. First came Arda, the darkling paladin:
I adore each of these pictures. In a way, they have made the characters become more “alive” for me, because these represent how the idea of these characters has grown and been shaped by a reader.
And this, I think the most, is why I write. It’s in the title of this blog: Inner Worlds Fiction. There are worlds in our inner selves, hidden in our hearts and minds, waiting to be shared.
Until next week,