Preschool. I opened the heavy glass door and entered the colorfully decorated room. A reading area, books and cushions, occupied a corner off to my left. Miniature tables for miniature people filled the center of the room, the chairs neatly organized. Around the tables, shelves overflowed with paper, crayons and other arts and crafts materials. It was quiet. The happy, busy preschoolers were outside in the play yard, scampering hither-thither.
An easel stood in the entryway. It presented the day’s activities to parents coming to reclaim their small people. On it hung a chart entitled, “If I had a superpower, I would…” Below, next to names, was the list of superpowers. Be super strong. Be invisible. Fly. My eyes stopped on one: run really fast. I smiled at the name next to it. Sofia.
That’s my girl.
A disclaimer—I am 95% certain we had not yet seen the Pixar film The Incredibles (in which the boy’s superpower is to run fast). I had, though, been running my daughter around in a jogging stroller since she was three months. We routinely did sprint workouts together in a grassy area near her preschool. I am no pro runner, very amateur, but I do enjoy running very much. It made me smile to think that this was rubbing off in some small dose.
And it gave me an idea.
Recently I had begun to think about writing a book. I wanted to write something for Sofia, something novel sized, but also fun and engaging for her and me.
I began to think about a girl who could run really, really fast. But I didn’t have a story. Yet.
That came while I was on a run in a nature preserve near our house. I began to wonder what a young girl who, like my daughter, still believed in fairies, but who also could run incredibly well, would discover if she were to wander the mostly wild mountains of the Coastal Range in Northern California. Might she not come across something magical out there?
I shan’t disclose too much. Read the book if you’re curious. Elf Hills is about a girl with a prodigious talent for running who begins to suspect that there is something magical about the hills behind her home. And she is determined to discover what it is and who lives there.
I will say that I can see the hills of the book from my office window. I have to stand in just the right place to see them, but I know they are there. My family and I have gone for numerous hikes in those hills (small mountains, really) and it always astounds me how remote they can feel—only 60 miles from the bustle of the Bay, with its millions of inhabitants (San Francisco, Berkeley, etc.).
Elf Hills was born from my desire to know this girl, Linda, who could run so well. Why? Why did she love running so much? Was she just talented, or was it something else? The story grew the more I wondered about the mysteriously uninhabited hills. What magic could hide there? Who might hide there? And why? As I wrote, new characters appeared. Nugu, Linda’s cousin, for one. He loves all things reptilian and fantasizes about having his own dragon. But he is skeptical of Linda’s stories. Might he change his mind? He should, but he is getting into science. And other characters—like Biergo, the impish gnome intent on tripping Linda—joined the narrative, taking it in directions I never initially expected.
I recall that C. S. Lewis started on Narnia with only an image of Aslan, the lion, in mind. He wanted to know more about him. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe was born from this desire. The mustard seed for me was a girl who runs fast, planted in some dry, dusty, lonely hills. It was a long, hard, arduous process bringing Elf Hills to fruition. The story became too big for a single book, so I had to split it up and rework it numerous times. Fortunately, this means the sequel, Fairy Trees, is well on its way to being finished. And there will be more to follow.
It amazes me how something so small, so simple, can grow so much. Elf Hills started from a couple of simple notions, which grew as I folded in elements from my own interests and from the geography around our home. All the time driven to discover the story and share it with Sofia. Bringing a book to life is a process—not unlike raising children. It reminds me to enjoy the ride.