“Do you have a name?” asked Gerta.
“I do,” said the raven.
The raven fluffed its beard. “I am the Sound of Mouse Bones Crunching Under the Hooves of God.”
Gerta blinked a few times. “That’s…quite a name.”
“I made it myself,” said the raven, preening. “I stole the very shiniest words and hoarded them all up until they made something worth having. Sound and God were particularly well-guarded. Crunching I found in a squirrel nest, though.”
“May I call you Mousebones?” asked Gerta. “It’s…a lot to say all at once.”
It was hard for a creature with a beak to scowl, but the raven managed, mostly with the skin around its eyes. “I suppose,” it said. “If you must.”
“Mine’s Gerta,” said Gerta.
“There’s your problem right there,” said Mousebones. “Much too short and not enough in it. I don’t know how you expect to become anything more than you are, with a name like that.”
“Do you have a name?” asked Gerta.
I keep pulling rabbits out of this hat.
It was fine at first. People were grateful. Nothing wrong with that.
But I kept pulling them out. And now they’ve gone strange and there’s something wrong with their faces. I don’t like the way they look at me.
But what can I do? People still expect rabbits…
Prints available! I was feeling sort of Arthur Rackham and then it got a bit weird on me.
I am not dead! I am busy, very wretchedly busy, but not yet dead.
Among the many irons I have jammed in the fire, I have lately been working on a retelling of the Snow Queen. I thought it was a novella, but we have made 11K without getting Gerta more than a few days down the road, so I may be wrong. We’ll find out, I suppose.
This is a hard story to work with, mostly because after about ten minutes, I want to drop-kick Kay into the sun. He’s about as sympathetic as dirt. Theoretically we should feel sorry for him because…uh…he’s a kid who had something bad happen to him that wasn’t his fault, I guess, except I kinda ditched the magic mirror bit as unworkably weird, so basically Kay is now a totally normal self-centered obnoxious angsty teenage boy, and I have no patience with him whatsoever and as far as I am concerned, the Snow Queen can have him and good riddance.
(In my own defense, Hans Christian Anderson did NOT give his much later retellers a lot to go on. Kay does nothing in the entire story except get kissed and be a jerk.)
God help me, Kay is basically a somewhat malicious McGuffin. You could change the whole story so that Gerta is trying to get back a rug that ties the room together and it would make just as much sense and also you probably wouldn’t want to punch the rug.
Obviously I am shipping the hell outta Gerta and the robber girl, but I am running into the problem where Kay is so profoundly worthless that I am starting to get impatient with Gerta for going after him in the first place. And while I am very sympathetic to “loyal and broken” as a character type, the whole story sort of hinges on them both being so damn young, and I am old and grumpy and sort of just want Gerta to stay home.
(Also, hoo boy, but this is a weird one. “Oh, yeah, your buddy the raven? Dropped dead off-screen, very sad.” “I’m outta paper, let me write this note on a fish. LIKE YOU DO.” I am having fun with some of it, like the plant dreams, but kind of worried that no one who isn’t familiar with the source material will find this story even remotely readable…)
So Scholastic approached me awhile back to do an illustration for their “My Favorite Teacher” campaign, and this is what I came up with.
Even though I am basically as busy as a human can possibly be without dying, I forewent sleep for this one. Partly because of Ms. Faunce, my high school freshman English teacher, who told me I could be a wordsmith, and partly because it was so cool that a big publisher wanted my art. (I mean, obviously Penguin and Random House have both wanted my art in the past, but they’ve always wanted it with my words attached. I love writing, but the illustrator in me was very flattered that somebody in New York thought I could do art that stood on its own in august company without having my words along to do the heavy lifting, if that makes any sense at all.) (Also, they paid quite well.)
Since it’s not out in the wild yet, they asked me to put this paragraph with it when I post it:
Created as part of Scholastic Reading Club’s year-long celebration of teachers. Teachers change the lives of their students every day. Sometimes a small moment has a huge impact on a child’s future. Other times it’s the year-long influence in a classroom that can change the course of a student’s entire life. Scholastic Reading Club is celebrating favorite teachers this year and will be interviewing students, parents, authors, illustrators, and celebrities about teachers who impacted their lives. If you’d like to share your own memories, you can email them to: judy.newman (at) scholastic.com
(E-mail altered so as to save the poor person on the other end from spambots)
Anyway, I thought that was pretty neat. And now, back to drawing ALL THE HAMSTERS FOREVER…
…which is a local SF magazine. But this thing is on-line. They wanted an article for their column “The Hardest Part” about the tough part of any given project, so here’s T. Kingfisher talking about the hard part of assembling Toad Words.
If you have an itching to purchase Toad Words or did not know it was available and want to know what I’m talking about, all relevant links and info are here, on the new T. Kingfisher website, which TOTALLY DOES NOT WORK THAT WELL YET and many things may change and some of the links aren’t linking but I’m working on it very hard right at the moment and hope to have all the links connecting to stuff within a day or two. Hopefully.
But that particular page should work great. I hope.
(There was a call to make an LJ post today, so since I was thinking about how Hufflepuff gets absolutely no love the other day, you get my sorry attempts at fic.)
“Help!” cried the very junior wizard, falling down on the doorstep of the medium-sized cottage that would someday be Hogwarts. “Help! The giants are invading!”
“Giants?” asked Godric Gryffindor, sticking his head out of the window. “I thought we beat those last week.”
“These are different giants,” said the junior wizard. “Also wolves. And basilisks.”
“Wolves and basilisks?”
“The wolves are riding the basilisks,” said the wizard. “Look, it’s a bit of a mess, all right?” He rubbed his forehead.
“Are they werewolves?” called Helga Hufflepuff, from inside the cottage. “I firmly believe that werewolves should be judged by their actions as individuals. This anti-lycanthropic discrimination has got to stop.”
“They’re riding basilisks,” said Godric. “They’re probably not upstanding members of the werewolf community.”
“Wouldn’t they have turned to stone?” asked Rowena Ravenclaw, who was sitting in an armchair with a book. She turned a page.
“Smoked goggles,” said the junior wizard shortly. “Incidentally, I’m bleeding rather a lot.”
“Oh, you poor dear,” said Helga, wiping her hands on her apron. “Come in and we’ll get you fixed up.”
The junior wizard sat at the dining room table and was given cookies and a very large brandy, while the four great wizards planned their next move.
Unfortunately, they were still not very good at working together. Godric wanted a straight charge up the middle, death-or-glory style. Rowena wanted an elaborate battle plan involving perfect timing and the movement of a great many troops they didn’t actually have. Salazar suggested they just seed the enemy’s supplies with botulism and canine distemper.
“Cowardly!” cried Godric. But Rowena looked thoughtful. Helga tapped a fingernail on her teeth.
In the end, it was agreed that they would simply all meet on the field of battle tomorrow, ready to fight, and see what the future held.
In the morning, three wizards gathered on the field of battle. It was a broad, grassy bowl, bordered by hills. Giants and basilisks and werewolves wearing glasses lurked on the far side, although the werewolves were looking a little strung out by the lack of moonlight.
Rowena was surrounded by a swirling cloud of ravens. They flapped and shrieked in harsh voices.
“Nice,” said Salazar. “Bit goth, though.”
“Says a man wearing a giant snake as a bandolier.”
“That’s not goth, that’s metal. It’s different.”
Godric was riding a griffin and was a bit annoyed that no one had mentioned how cool it was.
“You know that thing’ll go to sleep if somebody throws a coat over its head,” said Salazar nastily.
“Shut up,” said Godric. “You can’t ride your snake.”
“A snake big enough to ride would need a redesigned nervous system,” said Rowena absently. “You couldn’t get the messages to the tail fast enough. Not sure the circulatory system would hold up, either, to be honest—“
“I notice somebody hasn’t shown up,” said Salazar.
“I’m sure Helga will be here in a minute,” said Rowena.
“What’s she going to do, bake cookies at them?”
“She can be the healer,” said Godric. “Healers are important.”
Salazar rolled his eyes.
They waited. The griffin crapped and everybody had to move upwind.
“We should never have invited her,” said Salazar. “She can’t found a wizarding school. Her greatest ambition is to get the garden weeded before company comes over.”
“I’ve seen some pretty lethal plant wizards,” said Godric loyally. “With…um…you know, big thorn hedge things…” He made hand gestures. Salazar looked at him like he was an idiot.
The ravens were getting bored. They ceased swirling and landed on the grass, grumbling to each other. “Ark. Ark Ark? Ark.”
Godric ran a hand through his hair. “Okay,” he admitted. “Maybe this isn’t really playing to Helga’s strengths. We could…errr…”
The ground rumbled.
The ravens took flight. The griffin squawked. Salazar’s snake constricted in a panic, and Rowena had to help him get it unwound from around his neck.
The grassy hillside split open.
Claws as long as a man’s thigh emerged from the earth. Clods of dirt flew as a gigantic beast emerged, shaking its head. A cloud of wet air belched over the three wizards, smelling of worms and turned earth.
“Sorry!” called a voice from inside the cloud. “Sorry! Monty, you came up too close! You’ll trample the wrong people!””
“Oh dear god, it’s a badger,” said Godric.
“Dire badger, I believe,” said Rowena. “Meles dirus. I thought they were extinct…”
Salazar put a hand over his eyes.
It was the size of a house. Helga’s saddle was halfway up the creature’s back, nearly lost on that vast curve of spine. She was still wearing her apron and her gardening gloves.
The badger shook itself again, spattering them all with dirt. The black and white stripes were visible now, along with tiny reins that ran to the base of the creature’s whiskers. It was wearing goggles that appeared to have been cobbled together from ship’s portholes.
“Good badger!” said Helga. “Who’s a good boy, then?”
“She named the badger Monty,” said Salazar to no one in particular.
“Sorry I’m late,” said Helga. “It was hard to get the goggles on him. But he’s such a good badger! Does a good badger want to stomp the mean giants for Mommy?”
The dire badger gave another belching roar and waved its claws.
“Kill me,” said Salazar to Rowena.
“Godric would love to.”
“I don’t want to give him the satisfaction.”
“All right,” said Godric, feeling that his authority was somewhat diminished by the fact that his very cool griffin was only about a tenth the size of Helga’s badger. “All right. Um. It’s not the size of the—“
“Keep telling yourself that, Godric,” said Rowena.
Monty began lumbering toward the enemy.
“Would it be okay if we charged now?” called Helga. “I hope it’s okay! Monty’s not very good at waiting…”
The dire badger broke into a waddling run.
Godric spurred the griffin, because there was absolutely no glory in being left behind by a badger.
Rowena and Salazar walked, rather more sedately, toward the enemy.
“So, about letting her help found the school…” said Rowena.
“I can admit when I’m wrong,” said Salazar, once Godric was out of earshot.
“Yes, but you never do.”
“This is me admitting that I am possibly wrong.” He adjusted his snake. “But you have to admit, you didn’t see the badger coming either.”
“No,” said Rowena Ravenclaw, “no, the giant badger was a surprise.” She considered. “Hard work and loyalty aren’t bad principles.”
“They’re a lot better when you’ve got a giant goddamn war-badger to back them up.”
And none of the other founders ever questioned Helga Hufflepuff’s right to found a wizarding house ever again.
I can’t actually draw the scene in the fic, but since my head-canon is now that Hufflepuffs are all given a warbadger upon graduation, here’s Portrait Of The Artist With Her Badger Mister Digglesworth.
First doodles with new version of Painter. I wish a new user interface only emerged every seventeen years…