An Artistic Field Trip
One of my big projects this summer has been to get my web site redesigned, in preparation for the publication of SOMETHING REAL and, not too long after that, the first book in my jinni trilogy. Finding the right designer is fodder for a whole other blog - suffice to say that I've found a great design firm. One of the reasons I wanted to work with them was that they asked intriguing questions about who I am as an artist and what ties all my books together thematically. In the process of having to articulate both of those things, I discovered something huge about my work: despite how different my books are (jinn, reality TV stars, combat vet Marines), they actually DO have something in common. And that thing they have in common is my sort of de facto artist's statement of purpose, what drives me to create. Here's how I discovered this missing piece to my writing big picture and why I encourage my fellow writers to go on their own exploratory trek through their work.
First, what do my books have in common' I have a jinni who's been trafficked to Earth--an empress in exile who is desperate to be free of her master and return home. I have a girl who's trying like hell to get off of her family's reality TV show, and a couple stuck in a small town, battling personal demons and trying to find a way to break free of the life their community wants to impose on them. I realized, in laying it all out like that, that all of my protagonists are young people who are trying to break out of their current lives. They are characters who are constrained in some way (a cruel master, overbearing parents, poverty and the effects of war) and the story is of their fight to live life on their own terms. There's always something in the story that keeps pulling them into the life they're trying to reject and it's this push-pull that the story focuses on.
In terms of the website design, I realized that was why I felt so drawn to imagery of people who seemed to be stepping outside of boundaries. It was really cool to understand WHY I was drawn to certain art--what about that art was making me see myself in it' I used this image from Australian design firm, Racket, to articulate how I see myself and the reader in terms of my stories. For us (writer and reader), these stories are a window into other worlds, whether they be fantastic, as my jinni trilogy is, or realistic. Regardless of setting or story, all my characters need to imagine what life'could'be like for them on the other side of their obstacles. That's why I'm so drawn to surreal images that call forth the imagination and ask it to come out and play.
My designers asked me for images and quotes I like to help them inspire the collage art I want for the website (Who IS Heather Demetrios, they asked), so I took myself over to Pinterest to find stuff for them. It was amazing, looking at all these images and thinking "Is that me' Is that my work' Why or why not' What do I look like artistically' Aesthetically' Thematically'" It's like seeing yourself and your stories in a whole new light. I started pinning things to my boards, then sent them the images and a list of the quotes that are so me'(one of the designers asked, Are there any quotes you read or hear and you just think, YES'). I've listed the quotes at the end of this post, for your reading pleasure.
Ultimately, the website is an introduction to who I am as an artist, a sort of grand calling card.
This image really spoke to me, because it's what I want to do as a writer for the reader and it's what reading has meant to me. I see writers as architects of the imagination that build temples in the reader's heart and worlds for their minds to play in. I see reading as a transformative experience, one that anchors us to what it means to be human--the beauty and wonder of it, despite all the hardship. As a kid, reading was an escape from the world, but also a way'into'the kind of world I wanted to live in. Like my characters, I, too, was trying to break out of confinement and figure out who I was and what it meant to be me. This, of course, is a yearning nearly all adolescents have, no matter how great their family life or financial situation. 'These observations helped further solidify why I want to write young adult lit, for teens and also for people like me, adult readers who gain inspiration from remembering their own struggle for identity and who find joy in that discovery--and who want to keep'discovering it in their own lives, again and again.
So, writers: I encourage you to go on your own artistic field trip. Try to find what the common threads in your work are. Why are you drawn to certain themes or characters' What do your settings suggest about your own artistic motivations and personal passions' Is there a problem you want to work out, again and agin' Find imagery that speaks to that and maybe put it up in your office or use it as a jumping off point when you're lost in the mires of writing No Man's Land. Crack open your world and take a peek inside.
"Teenagers read millions of books every year. They read for entertainment and for education. They read because of school assignments and pop culture fads. And there are millions of teens who read because they are sad and lonely and enraged. They read because they live in an often-terrible world. They read because they believe, despite the callow protestations of certain adults, that books-especially the dark and dangerous ones-will save them...And now I write books for teenagers because I vividly remember what it felt like to be a teen facing everyday and epic dangers. I don't write to protect them. It's far too late for that. I write to give them weapons'in the form of words and ideas-that will help them fight their monsters. I write in blood because I remember what it felt like to bleed."
"I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable, I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world..."
-John Green "An Abundance of Katherines"
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