Once I was sitting at a convention table promoting That Which Wills, the first story of which being outright gay erotica. Sometimes when guys pick it up they either put it down straightaway like their hands have been burned, or act like they’re holding a baby upside down. Then up comes the biggest dudebro to ever dudebro with his dudebro friend, and my expectations were very low when they picked up the book.
"Oh, hello!" He starts laughing when he turns to one of the sexier pages. "They look like they’re having fun." And proceeds to keep reading.
His friend rolls his eyes and comments he didn’t know mr dudebro was into that sort of thing, to which dudebro snorts back. “Why do I have to be into anything? Gay people exist in real life so it makes fucking sense they should exist in stories, dude?”
He ended up reading half of the book, chatted happily with me about the characters, bought it, shook my hand, and went on his merry way.
It’s something I remember from time to time because it’s an example of how uncomplicated it should really be.
"Anywhere" is always a good start, but how can I pass up to rec DWJ books!!! Here’s a guide of some personal favorites.
I could make the list so much longer because there’s so many more favorites (Hexwood, Fire and Hemlock, Eight Days of Luke, Unexpected Magics, Time of the Ghost—-ugh!!! so many!!! check them all out too) but I was restrained and limited myself to describing five.
I may draw something if I have the time and the right inspiration. Who knows. I’ll be coming back to DWJ sooner or later, she’s never that far away from me.
But for now I can share my story about her.
I discovered Howl’s Moving Castle when I was 19 (eight years ago). I wrote her a letter when I was 21, when I was getting very deep into her other books, especially Chrestomanci. The year when I was 21 was very, very awful, I went through some pretty brutal events, but her books were a great comfort and a great inspiration. They helped sort out a lot of understanding and tangled knots in myself. Naturally, I drew a ton of fanart, which a lot of people probably still know me by. It’s pretty old now. So I sent her some of that fanart, and a really embarrassing letter sharing what I appreciated about her books (her family dynamics, the lessons in them, how to deal with people you love and trust who disappoint you, among other things) and asked some questions about her characters that were plaguing me.
I honestly didn’t expect her to write back. So when I got a mysterious envelope with no return address and opened it up and saw what it was, I legitimately dropped it on my desk and went to go hide under my blankets. Eventually I crawled out and read it.
Thank you very much for sending me your fan pictures. The finished ones are awfully good and all of them show that you have really got inside the characters and their relationships, as if you knew them personally. You seem to be as interested in family dynamics and personal relationships as I am. I discovered I was while writing a story when I was fourteen (a long time ago now) about a large group of kids who, for various reasons, kept splitting into smaller groups - where upon the dynamics among them changed markedly and kept surprising me. I always like to be surprised by people in my books, as well as other things. For this reason I never actually plan what it is to happen in any detail. Teachers are always surprised and disapproving when I say this to kids, but it is really the best way. The story then becomes a living thing, going its own way.
It is good to think you are searching out my books and reading them. Have you read my Dalemark Quartet yet? I think you’ll enjoy those. The relationships in the earlier books took me totally by surprise in the last one, by more or less standing on their heads. And if you read the books in the right order, they build into something more, in a way that I am quite proud of.
As for Cat, it is fairly obvious that he has been damaged by his sister and slowly healing. There is certainly going to be another book with him in it. But I am not sure about Chrestomanci’s earlier life, largely because I suspect his knighthood was a boring matter of government endowing him with it for Services to Magic. But it may not be. We shall see. You have probably put ideas into my head.
Thank you, and best wishes,
Diana Wynne Jones
I only wrote her one other letter after that, a couple of years later. I put it off for so long because I wanted to draw her something more worthwhile. I don’t think I managed, but I accumulated a lot of sketches and art, and hearing news of her sickness I decided better now than never, so I bundled all that together and sent her that.
I received a reply about half-year before she died. In it she mentioned how she had stopped responding to letters because of how difficult the cancer was, but she handwrote one to me anyway to tell me she hung up my pictures on her fridge and her family had wonderful things to say on it. I would say that it’s an honor (I mean, it is) and that she was so considerate of me (she was), but I was grateful my art could delight her even a fraction of the way her writing delighted me.
I’m a little sad I never got to draw an illustration for her I felt was worthwhile, but that’s why one of my great dreams is to do an art fanbook on her bibliography, but I feel I still need to learn a thing or two first, about art and myself. Her stories are still helping in that regard. I still haven’t finished reading all of them (I have about eight or so left, including the Dalemark Quartet, which I’m saving for last). I imagine the day I do is the day I start working on that artbook.
And I spend a lot of time wondering about that first letter, and the stories she ran out of time to tell. I’m less sad about that, though. I can’t really say why. Maybe it’s because she told so many already. Or maybe because she’s always had a healthy respect for the imagination of her readers to carry things out where she didn’t.
People are always desperate to give what they wish others would give them.
The worst suffering anyone can experience is suffering alone.
Hoard as many good memories and experiences as you can. Be wealthy in laughter and smiles. It’s currency for when shit happens.
Emotions aren’t problems. They can’t be fixed, they simply exist. It’s like trying to cut water with a knife.
Emotions are symptoms of your experiences, in the same way swearing hysterically is when you stub your toe.
Emotions are like water. It can be carried. It can be drunk to nourish you. It can clean you. It can also drown you. Water is a force of nature and there is an ocean inside you.
The people around you are reflections of who you are. The people around you are the people you think you deserve.
Money makes things a business contract. Always honor your contracts, but be careful not to sell your heart. If you do, though, it’s all right. Hearts grow back. It just can take a while, like trees.
If anyone gets offended because you’re having a hard time, don’t talk to them until they apologize. You may get your apology or you may never talk to them again. Either one is a victory.
Falling outs, divorces, or breaks between people are growing pains. People learn with each other. When people stop interacting with each other, there is nothing left to learn.
Sympathy for the dead doesn’t exist. They are dead. The sympathy is for the living that has to deal with the dead.
Compassion is a strength, no matter what everyone says. It’s fucking difficult to care, especially when people shame you for it. That’s exactly why you’re stronger for it, because they’re too scared of being hurt.
You’re never the same person tomorrow as you are today.
If you’re tired, sleep. If you’re hungry, eat. If you’re thirsty, drink. It’s amazing how often people need to be told this.
It’s not weird at all. In fact, it’s incredibly kind and sweet of you. Thank you.
If there’s any part of my online presence that helps motivate you or give you clarity in your own living, then it’s served some good.