Cake and Wolves: A Literary Narrative by Celia McMahon
A college professor once told my riveting creative writing class to “write about something that you love.” At the time I thought, hey, that’s my wonderful non-cheating boyfriend! Suffice it to say, I did not write about him. What I did write about was a girl who was banished from her town for practicing magic which was ultimately taken in by a pack of talking wolves. The girl had an aptitude for baking, and she made lots of different types of pastries for the wolves, which was what kept her in their company for so long. The story was poorly drafted and would make future Celia cringe until she could cringe no more. But that professor’s advice stuck with me all these years. “Write about something that you love,” is right up there with, “Kill your darlings,” and “If it’s boring to you, it’s boring to the reader.”
I was always a writer. I still have stories written in wire notebooks and typed with an old-school typewriter. I have children’s stories, sci-fi stories, and one ambitious Stand-like book that stood at around 700 pages. FutureCeliasaywhat.
Anyhow, most of these stories revolved around something I loved, and as I got older, that thing that inspired me the most was music. Not including ambitious Stephen King wannabe novels, I have nine full manuscripts currently (only one published so far!), and each one started with a song. That song grew into a full-fledged playlist that grew into a story. Now music can only take you so far. It’s like a gateway for me. The rest comes from deep inside. The heart of any good story comes from the writer’s determination and focus: that and some cake.
I am going so far off script with this blog post, but that’s okay because this is who I am as a person. If you speak to me, I will talk and talk, and we will segue into new topics with ease. I will go off about things I love, and sometimes things that annoy me to no end. My mind is the same. They are a never-ending barrage of thoughts. I am so tired. I wonder who the Rottweiler is on The Masked Singer. German potato salad. Monkey, monkey, underpants. It’s a wonder I get any novel done at the rate I go.
So, back to the things you love.
When I started writing Unspoken, I had just given birth to my rainbow baby and settled into my new life as a mother. At this time in my life, I was adjusting to so many changes and discovering new things not only about my son, but about myself. It wasn’t always easy, physically, and emotionally.
I was working out during one of his naps when Pandora played a song I’d never heard. It was called, I Dreamt We Were Bank Robbers, by Black Diamond Bay (Planas Remix, get it right) and a scene of a girl standing amongst a crowd of masked people, feeling lost and confused and this was a direct mirror of how I felt somedays as a new mother. I always felt as though people were looking at me, judging me for doing things wrong. I crawled into myself most of the time, feeling just as lost as this nameless girl. I started writing about her, and her name became Izzy.
Izzy’s story could not have been written without the emotions running through me at the time. Her anxiety was a huge player in who she was as a character, as it was mine. She had the determination to stay strong for her family and friends despite the obstacles working against her. She found more strength in her love for Fray, despite his flaws, showing her that love was not black and white, and sometimes it wasn’t something massive staring you right in the face. It can come in tiny increments over time, that you must learn about to cultivate it. And you must learn to love yourself, first and foremost.
Izzy is one of my favorite heroines in my works because of her flaws, or rather because of her strengths, and because she came out of tragedy with grace. And maybe a little bit of vengeance, but let’s skip over that for now.
There’s a little bit of me in every protagonist I write. I came out of a cancer scare in 2005, and while having thyroid cancer was not the greatest thing to happen to me, I found myself feeling as that if I could get through that, I could get through ANYTHING. Now, cancer was not my first serious health issue in my life, and I went through more than any person should with various pregnancy losses and surgeries. Each time I felt that sorrow, each time I saw hope as something unattainable, I knew that somehow, I would get through it because the people (and the one who wasn’t yet born) that I love needed me. They said I may not be able to have children, but I would fight no matter what.
Izzy fought. She saw that hopelessness at times, but love got her through. So, as I wrote Unspoken, I had this tiny little miracle who looked to me for safety and comfort and who needed me. Izzy mirrored me in every aspect of her journey in Unspoken. From her courage to her sadness, she is a heroine after my own heart, because she is my heart.
Write about something that you love.
So, here’s a little tidbit about me before I let you go. I love cake. I have zero self-control when cake is put in front of my face. It’s like that scene in Lilo and Stitch when Stitch eats both Lilo and his cake without remorse. That is me. I am Stitch.
I also love wolves. Looking back, it’s kind of a problem. Wolves are in almost every one of my manuscripts in one way or another. I don’t have a deeper meaning for it. I wish I did because it would make this paragraph so much more delightful. I love wolves. (Insert shrugging emoji.) Ultimately, I wrote about something I loved. Izzy loves cake in a way that is so me, it’s almost scary. And there are wolves. Bad wolves, good wolves, wolves who climb on rocks. It’s all in there.
Most of all, Unspoken is a testament to girls who feel lost and alone, who do not think they can break free of the mold society thrust you into. Sometimes, life is not always easy, and it will throw stones at you, wanting you to bend at the knee. Look to what makes your soul sing, and sing it, write it, dance it, do anything. Just don’t ever bend for too long. Also, eat cake. Eat all the cake and love all the wolves.