Carman land of elyon
Keywords: land of elyon, patrick carman, jocasta stones, elyon
Description: Discover the magical world of Elyon and meet a curious and precocious twelve-year-old named Alexa Daley
Patrick Carman, who lives in the Northwest, was in his mid-thirties before conceiving The Land of Elyon series, and writing his first book, The Dark Hills Divide. An entrepreneur like his father, Carman can't remember a time when he wasn't searching for a way to creatively express himself, an urge that led him to start an advertising agency, then create board games, and finally develop and sell a dotcom before finding the thing he was obviously meant to do: write youth fiction.
One could say it was serendipity how he finally got up the courage to take that path. The father of two young daughters, Carman began trading places once a week with his wife, so she could have a night out, and he took over reading to their young daughters.
As the months passed, Carman began spinning a tale for his four- and six-year-olds about a girl trapped behind the walls the town elders had built around her village and her exploits in trying to find a way to explore the forest that lay beyond. In the year that followed, he "journaled" his thoughts and sketched out impressions about the characters and place, which became The Land of Elyon series.
Carman: It was a journey. Getting to the point where I was ready to write a book has been about a 20-year journey of being, really honestly, too afraid to try - which I think is pretty common for people who are trying to write a large piece of fiction.
Carman: I remember all the way back in high school thinking about writing books. And in fact, I've written a lot of stories. I've got dozens of stories I've written that no one's ever seen.
Carman: I took English courses in college, but I don't have an English degree. I have a degree in economics. But, for me, I think it was more about the creative process. I've always been somebody who wanted to be involved in creative things and felt like that was my passion. And so I was really involved in filmmaking and film studies when I was in college, and put on a big film series at Willamette University for a couple of years and was just really into that whole scene.
Carman: For the nine years I spent owning my own agency, I think I tried to fulfill that desire. I mean, I actually did a lot of the design, but I never felt like I was really doing more than looking at what everybody else was doing and just kind of doing the same thing. That's pretty typical of designers. So I was just spitting out work and running the business, but I felt frustrated in terms of the creative process. And I think it was the same thing with the board games I designed in a sense.
And what got me into writing was I finally came to the conclusion that I can't really draw. I really am just an okay designer. I can't paint or sculpt. No matter how hard I try there's no way I'm ever going to be very good at those things. And with writing, it was like from the very beginning - when I started thinking, okay, I can do this - it just felt like this is perfect. I can totally do this. It feels very natural. It's a great creative outlet and I just love doing it. And so I think that for me part of that journey was just coming to a place of understanding about the creative process. For each person it's different, but for me writing feels very natural. So, anyway, that's kind of the journey I went through.
Carman: Yes, we're pretty into books around my house. We have lots and lots of books around. We have TV, but really no one ever watches it.
Carman: Pretty much everything. We read everything from the classics to Captain Underpants. It just depends on their mood.
Carman: Right. And I did a lot of research, and I just like those stories anyway. I just like youth fiction myself. I read it just because I like to read it. You know, they just tend to be good, fun stories.
Carman: It started out where Karen and I decided she'd get out of the house one night a week and I'd just hang out with the kids. And I came up with this idea of a girl who's in this town surrounded by walls and she has to figure out a way to sort of crawl under it and she'd go out and have these little adventures. And more than anything that was the spark that kind of got it started.
I had been working on all these different stories. It was like, okay, I'm ready to write a book. And for whatever reason, this just sort of emerged as I started keeping a journal as I was weaving the story for the girls each week. I spent about six months with this journal working out the rest of the characters and the plot. And it just developed from there.
Carman: As I tell students at the schools where I speak, if you have some idea for a story, start making little pictures about it and writing little notes about the characters and where they are and all this kind of stuff and pretty soon it'll evolve into something interesting. And so this journal that I had started out as, well, what does this place look like? So I was drawing all these crazy little maps and things. And then who were some of the characters? And what might happen in this story? And so a good deal of the work was kind of done before I even started. I spent all this time doing all this research and all this writing on little notes to myself in this journal. And then, of course, once you start writing, everything changes.
Carman: I would say the actual writing of the book started at least two and a half years ago. It took about six months to write the first draft, then it went through all the editing. I hired a professional editing company to go through it.
Carman: I actually went through all the books on my bookshelf and picked the one I like the best, which was The Thousand Balloons. And it had this awesome illustration by Brad Wienman. His name was in the back of it and I looked him up and called him.
Carman: I put his name in on Google and it came right up, because he's so well known. You know, honestly, I didn't think I'd be able to afford him. I was like, well, this is going to be way out of my league. But he's going to do all three books. He's under contract to do illustrations all the way through, and we're releasing a new sketch every month to anyone who signs up for our e-newsletter.
Carman: Probably a good passage to illustrate what I was really trying to get at with this book is on page 70 in Chapter 10. This is the first time she's been outside the wall, and she's walking up into the mountains and turns back and sees the circumstance she's been living in her whole life.
"I looked back over my shoulder and saw the wall getting smaller and smaller in the distance. I was surprised at how insignificant it looked, cowering at the foot of the mountains. Beyond the walls the Dark Hills rolled on and on, into ominous and forbidding valleys unseen from Bridewell itself. I turned to the mountains and began walking again. The higher I went, the higher they seemed to go, ever farther and brighter in the sunlight, ever expanding to places I could never fully discover. I stopped and turned to look upon Bridewell again, and I saw it as I had never seen it before. It sat squarely between darkness and light, its roads a three-headed snake, bound at the center with a hideous head, dividing vast lands. It had a certain balance, a symmetry - as if each land were pushing against the walls, trying to bring them down, to dominate, and to rule. As I began walking again, following the little man, I felt a profound sense of exhilaration and fear, and I promised myself never to venture out into the Dark Hills no matter what duty might call into its sinister lands."
Interestingly enough, the second book begins with her going off into the dark hills. But this to me describes in a metaphorical sense what the book is trying to get at: if we're going to build all these walls around ourselves, then not only are the bad things not going to be able to get at us, but nothing good is going to be able to come in either.
Also, there's another scene, where she's in the forest with the big grizzly bear and she finally starts to understand: well, who's the real enemy here? And the real enemy is the walls themselves. And so, in a very real sense, it's a story about her beginning to understand as a young person that "I can't just protect myself from everything. If I try to protect myself from all the bad things that can come into my life, then nothing good is ever going to come in either."
Carman: The walls in the book are very much like the emotional walls that kids build around themselves to cope with all the peer pressure. They feel they have to dress a certain way, to act a certain way, to talk to only certain people, and all of that. That's not what being a kid should have to be about. You should be able to just be yourself and be with the kids you want to be with and dress the way you want to dress and, you know, have a good experience with school. But so many kids are so afraid. And they lose themselves and they lose the opportunity of meeting the kids they probably should have met - of being the kid they really should have been.
What makes Alexa so interesting to follow around is that she's far from perfect. She's very normal for her age.
Carman: I wanted the story to also be an examination of a person's choices. Alexa tends to lie. She does it three or four times, and there's always some sort of consequence to that. What I wanted to show is that you're responsible for your own behavior whether you like it or not. It always comes back to bite you. And there are things she does and she has to say she's sorry, that she has to come clean about.
Carman: When we get to the point in the discussion where, well, what's the story really about? I try to get them to totally visualize themselves in this story. So I say, imagine yourself on a cart. One of the old-style Western carts. And you're sitting with your father, and there's a couple of horses in front and you're just going down this nice dirt road. And it's a hot day. It's just like an oven. But if you look to either side, there are these walls - big walls that go very high up in the air. And you're on this road with these walls next to you and they just go on and on like that. And pretty soon you come to a big, giant wooden gate. They open the gate for you. You go inside, and you're in a town where you're going to spend the summer. The houses are all single story. They're all well below the wall. And the town is also walled in. And so that's the way it is and you've never known anything different. There have always been these walls everywhere. And when you ask adults about it, they say, well, there's this legend about why they were built and who built them - but you really don't get the answer you're looking for. So you're just kind of hanging around for the summer with not a lot of kids around. And you have one desire and really one desire only: this is the summer you're going to figure out a way to get outside the wall. To find out what's out there.