Twelve-year-old Dorothea Barnes was thoroughly un-chosen, not particularly deserving, bore no marks of destiny, lacked any sort of criminal genius, and could claim no supernatural realtions. Furthermore, she'd never been orphaned, kidnapped. left for dead in the wilderness, or bitten by anything more blood-thirsty than her little sister.
Don't even begin to entertain consoling thought of long flaxen curls or shiny tresses black as ravens' wings. Dorrie's plain brown hair could only be considered marvelous i its ability to twist itself into hopeless tangles. She was neither particularly tall or small, thick or thin, pale or dark. She had parents who loved her, friends enough, and never wanted for a meal. So why, you may wonder, tell a story about a girl like this at all?"
Because Dorrie counted a sword among her most precious belonging. Yes, it was only a fake one that couldn't be relied upon to cut all the way through a stick of butter, but Dorrie truly and deeply desired to use it. Not just to fend off anothger staged pirate attack at Mr. Louis P. Kornberger's Passaic Academy of Swordplay and Stage Combat but, when the right circumstances arose, to vanquish some measure of evil from the world.
so without further ado, because we've had quite enough of THAT....
my ten inspirations...
1. A desire to keep my family in winter coats, swim shirts, and butter.
Which is to say, I needed to bring in money for the family. Does that sound unromantic? I think it's part of the satisfying truth. I love to write. My husband is a mad gambler saint. This explains why after he lost his job and we had just got our little organic donut business up and running, and I said, howzabout I write my dream kids' book now instead of getting a job even though we're living on credit cards, he said: "Go for it. I'm 100% behind you." (Full disclosure: He stayed 100% behind me the entire, long, scrimping and pinching way. Also: we serve our butter in plain old sticks)
2. My love of libraries
With all my soul, I have loved libraries since I remember loving anything. As a kid, libraries seemed like magic palaces of possibility. The shelves seemed to hold rows and rows of moveable worlds, each one fronted by a door in the shape of a book cover. All you had to do was swing it open and walk inside. And voila! Imaginary people and situations and places and choices. Those childhood books made it clear that I had choices about what kind of person I wanted to be, how I could live, what might count as “normal” or “good”. Libraries have to rate as one of our most beautiful human inventions, especially public ones.
3. My love for Librarians - As a book-loving child, I regarded librarians with a strange kind of awe (and our local library as a sort of magical palace, stuffed with a dragon’s hoard worth of riches). Librarians were the keepers of all this treasure, and as such, mysterious and powerful custodians. There always seemed to be more to them than met the eye! Something secret and well-intended and unadvertised. Something underestimated, devoted, and heroic. My opinion didn’t change as an adult, as I began to understand that literacy, information and literature often occupied contested territory! It was easy and fun to imagine librarians – professional book protectors, literacy encouragers, and privacy champions -- as literal warriors, with swords as well as shortish pencils in their arsenals.
4. A wish for a place where curious open-minded thinkers from history could hang out together. Maybe play tiddly-winks.
In fact, the idea for the story began with a concrete vision of a group of people from many different times sitting around a table chatting in a very casual way. You know putting their boots or sandals up on the table, and making off-color jokes that everyone else got. There may have been belching and a parrot making a nuisance of itself. I found this appealing because its easy when we look back at history to see people as very flat and unreal, or not quite human, the sum total of their achievements as we know them – books, works of art, paintings, music, schools of thought, buildings, etc. The people around the imagined table scene seemed thrillingly exotic and absolutely roundly human at the same time.
I love that kids and adults dress up at these events. I love that the world is full of people who like to imagine themselves into the past.
6. A remembered younger self’s anxiety and frustration about facing the world without a plan for battling the darker forces I sensed lurking in the nightly news.
The story revolves around a kid, Dorrie, who stumbles upon the secret headquarters of a group of warrior lybrarians whose mission is to protect those whose words get them into trouble. It’s an uncomfortable time in Dorrie’s life when she’s losing her faith in her old vision about how she’s going to fight the world’s villains, and hasn’t yet conjured a new vision. I believe her conundrum came from my own memories of being a kid who in games of "pretend" played out opposing threatening social realities like war, violence, racism, totalitarianism, etc but as I got older struggled to find the the source-point of these miseries and real-world ways to oppose them. I wanted to write a series of stories that showed a kid navigating that change, and finding a path.
8. To try in my own small way to give whichever kids would have me the kind of funny world-stretching reading adventures that I got to enjoy thanks to the work and imagination of innumerable wonderful authors I read as a kid. Authors like Madeline L'Engle, and Ursula Le Guin who gave the gift of new perspectives and ideas to consider. Writers like Lloyd Alexander, C.S. Lewis and Dorothy Canfield who transported me to other worlds and helped me figure out what counted as honor, courage, happiness, friendship, and a life well-lived. Writers like Roald Dahl, Astrid Lindgren, and Betty MacDonald who made me laugh, snicker, snortle, and grin, and see truths through their humor.
10. My awe of how much real courage has been displayed by people throughout history in order to merely express themselves.
People with everything to lose, and nothing to gain but another day of feeling honest, have put personal well-being, social acceptance, houses and homelands, and their very lives on the line in order to express beliefs and thoughts. Abolitionists, poets, scientists, critics of all sorts of power-wielding institutions - nations, established religions, corporations, etc. Their stories make me catch my breath, and long to do some small thing, any small thing to champion them. Telling some of their stories in THE NINJA LIBRARIANS series feels like a beginning.