Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Narrative Arcs: Part 3.2 Light and Dark
When I first read the text to The Dream Stair, it beckoned me both ways. Go up the stair to your attic room. Go down the stair to your cellar room. Think about that.
Betsy James, herself an illustrator, set aside her paint brush and wrote this spare, dreamlike text, then sent it out into the evening light. Her publisher gave it to me to illustrate.
On these "stairs" we exchanged many letters. Betsy and I explored both light and heavy ideas, which infused my approach to the illustrations. She wrote that she "read Jung and realized that deep fantasy is universal and the root of spirituality."
As I began my work on the book, she sent the following note:
"Richard--I wanted to send you something by way of blessing for the beginnings of this work; puzzled over it; then found it pinned to my studio wall. So blessings, Betsy
A cow gave birth to a fire.
She tried to lick it, but it burned;
She wanted to leave it but she could not,
For it was her child.
From another letter she sent (as therapist):
"No, I'm not in the least worried 'what some clod will do to my lovely creation.' What collaboration teaches us is that we own, and manifest, the world in common: when I can let go of my hoarded image of it to join with another's image, it grows and I grow. All light (and dark) and joy to you!"
A lovely slice of this book's story arc was inspired by our editor, Linda Zuckerman's request to make the protagonist Hispanic. I gave art classes at an elementary school in Hollister, California, in exchange for choosing one of the students to be the model for The Dream Stair.
Betsy reminded me, "All of us transplanted "U.S.ians", regardless of our origin, half want to remember and half to forget. It's the abuelitas who remind us, and hold the memories."