August 9 is a bit of a sentimental date that plays a somewhat significant part in my writing journey. August 9 is my Aunt’s birthday, and it is also the day I launched Mabel the Lovelorn Dwarf. The two are related in a roundabout way that I always think of on this day.
The Cool Auntie
My Aunt Annie’s birthday is August 9. I should say, was, August 9. More on that in a bit. She was my model for being the “Cool Auntie” that I aspire to be with my nieces and nephew. Aunt Annie was single, worked as a nurse, travelled the world, and loved to have us nieces and nephews over, no matter what age.
When we were kids, she had a box of Smarties (for my American readers, Smarties in Canada are more of an equivalent to M & Ms). We would eat them and ask for more. She thought she fooled us by re-filling the box from a bulk supply and pretending to hand us a brand new box. We knew, we didn’t care. Just give us the chocolate!
She used to call me Sush, which is German for Suzie. I don’t know why. She knew my name, of course, but it didn’t matter. It became my nickname. To me it became a term of endearment, as intended.
In February 2004, she became very sick. The doctors had no idea what she suffered from. She wasn’t in pain, she was just very weak, and her resting heart rate was up at about 150 or 160 beats a minute. Turns out, she had Angioimmunoblastic t-cell Lymphoma. She started chemo right away, but had a terrible reaction to it so they had to stop, wait a week, then try again. They didn’t get a chance to try again. Aunt Annie passed away in May, 2004.
I miss her, of course, but that is not why I am telling you about Aunt Annie.
As I mentioned earlier, she was single, and the “Cool Auntie”, because she could be. She didn’t have kids of her own to look after, so she spoiled us, then could send us home.
All of us nieces and nephews loved her (10 of us, not including spouses and great-nieces and nephews). In her will, she left her estate to the 10 of us. This was shocking, though maybe it shouldn’t have been given how she had lived her life. And it turned out to be life-changing.
She could never have known, I didn’t know it at the time, but my share of her estate played a huge part in my writing journey.
I don’t remember what my cousins, or even my brother, did with their share. I think some of them were going to do some home renovations, but I don’t know. We talked about it only once after her death.
Declaring Myself a Writer
Though I had written for years, my journey was truly about to begin.
I applied to the Odyssey Writing Workshop, and on acceptance, I used my inheritance to pay for it, and for a brand new laptop. My inheritance and the sale of my condo also allowed me to live and work for a year in Belfast, Northern Ireland, but that is a story for another day.
Odyssey was, well, an Odyssey of its own. As a writer fairly new to writing Fantasy, and though I’d been writing for quite a while, attending Odyssey was a major step for me. A declaration. Putting my stake in the ground. Me saying, “I’m a Fantasy Writer!”
This was back in the summer of 2005. Survivor had been around for a few years, and getting “Voted off the Island” was still the popular phrase. Don’t like someone? They got “Voted off the island”, or kicked out of the group.
At our first-night-dinner, we all introduced oursleves. Every one of us thought there must be some mistake, that we hadn’t really qualified for acceptance. We all thought this was going to be like Survivor and each week of the six-week program, a few of us were going to get “Votted off the island.”
Once we were all reassured we had, indeed, been accepted into Odyssey, and that we would not be kicked out of the program, we got down to work. We had class in the morning for a couple of hours, followed by the critique circle where we usually critiqued 2 stories a day. After lunch, was writing time. Each week we had a short story critiqued, so that’s a new short story every week for 6 weeks.
So what does Odyssey have to do with Aunt Annie and launching Mabel the Lovelorn Dwarf?
Here’s the story I tell all the time
Jeanne Cavelos, the Director of Odyssey, and our main instructor, mentioned more than a few times, that there weren’t any stories featuring female dwarves.
During one of the critique sessions of a classmate’s story that involved a beautiful she-elf that all the men were in love with, Jeanne asked, “Why is it always the beautiful she-elf? Why is it never a male elf that everone is in love with?”
When talking about genre tropes and making a story unique, Jeanne suggested combining genres.
Now here’s where these three things come together. We had to do a writing exercise on Point of View. I decided to have some fun, I love Fantasy, but I also love chick-lit. I decided to combine the two and wrote about this female dwarf, Mabel, who desperately flirted with this oh-so-beautiful male elf, Aramis, thanks to the guidance of self-help relationship-advice books.
In one of the appendices for The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien talks about a third of the dwarf population being female. My experiment got me thinking: What would life be like for a female dwarf if her gender made up only one third of the population? What would dwarves in that society consider attractive? You’d think that if only one third of the population was female, they’d have their choice of men to date, so what if my female dwarf had difficulty in the romance department? What if her obliviousness to the guys flirting with her, and her love of an elf, compounded that difficulty? Of course, everyone knows, because it is probably the oldest trope in Fantasy, that elves and dwarves hate each other.
I couldn’t let it go.
Mabel Goldenaxe is Born
I decided to write a short story about Mabel and her self-help books, going after Aramis the elf. Again, it was fun, and I got some decent feedback on it. Mabel became my thing. I thought I would write some Mabel short stories, make a collection of them and it would be a book.
Then I got into Seton Hill University’s grad program in Writing Popular Fiction. It became clear that a collection of Mabel short stories couldn’t work. Instead, I turned the ideas behind the short stories, into a novel.
I submitted Mabel to many agents and editors. Eventually she helped me sign with an agent who thought Mabel was more YA, and she didn’t represent YA. I had other novels that she would represent so I moved on and Mabel went into the drawer.
And yet, I still couldn’t let Mabel go.
August 9, 2014, I released Mabel into the world at When Words Collide, in Calgary. While When Words Collide and my launch time slot just happened to fall on August 9, it didn’t escape me that my book launch fell on Aunt Annie’s birthday. If it hadn’t been for Aunt Annie, I would not have gone to Odyssey, and I would likely have never encountered Mabel.
I think of Aunt Annie often, especially on her birthday. Her kindess, her generosity, the meals at the Dairy Queen, and her fun-loving spirit, will always live on in my memory. They are also forever tied to my journey as a writer.
That’s my story. I’d love to hear yours. Is there anyone special in your life who has helped you pursue your writing in unexpected ways, whether they knew it or not?