On Monday, I wrote about a lizard character I’m struggling to illustrate. I can’t get her to look right! A big reason is the facts. She is one of several pond characters and, originally, I researched all of them to make sure they could in fact inhabit the same ecosystem, even if I made them cartoony in style. By rights, my lizard is best being a Collared Lizard, and she and her friends live somewhere in or near Missouri. Does that matter for story? I don’t know, but it’s my personality to get caught up in such details, to let them drive me, in fact. And I’m annoyed that I’ve cast as far afield as Malaysia for cute lizard picture reference. Should my Liz really be a gecko?
It’s a good thing, I guess, that I’m also working on a couple of bona fide non-fiction projects. Former classmates of mine will recognize one of them: limericks about animal tails. My agent has the MS out with several publishers. So far, one editor has said that their non-fiction tends to be more narrative based. (So get the fiction out of the non-fiction, I suppose….) Another said that there was some great info here, but that she had trouble with the similarity of the poems. Limericks all have the same meter! But to me, these responses point to the difficulty of having fiction and non-fiction in the same place.
But, really, that problem has to be overcome, because we depend entirely on metaphor for understanding the biggest ideas. Take the big bang, for instance. Was there a bang? Was it big? Questions about this specific metaphor would normally make no difference to me, except that I am now trying to write about gravity, which is physics.
I really know nothing about gravity, except the most obvious facts. In trying to learn about it, I checked out children’s books on the subject. My eyes glazed over. I was bored. It seems to me that the authors/editors/publishers are mainly bent on using playful typography and cartoony but not informative illustrations with arrows to explain this subject that even scientists consider a mystery.
Well, I don’t know if I can do better, but I’m going to try to inject a little something figurative or metaphorical or imaginative into the subject. I’ve been listening to Nobel Laureate Richard P. Feynman lecture about gravity (and other physics matters) to Cal Tech students back in the 60s. Feynman is famous for being not just brilliant but accessible and funny. Listening to him is helping me understand gravity (which hasn’t changed much in the decades since he was alive).
One of my best friends, Julie, is an electrical engineer at Stanford University. She got her BS in physics at Berkeley, and she used to listen to Feynman’s lectures just to make sure she understood her own lessons correctly. She then got her PhD from Standford and now works “on the beam,” a device they use to smash atoms – or something like that. Anyway, she agreed with me that the standard descriptions of how gravity works are boring and hard to “feel” – my word, not hers, but it works perfectly, doesn’t it?
I’m not sure how I’m going to make kids feel the pull of information in a book on gravity, but I’m going to have to use metaphor or figurative language in my text and imagery. And Julie will help me if I float off into space.