Here are a few photos from my visit, but I highly recommend that you make the trip yourself. Alice is on view at the Ransom Center through July 6, 2015. To see what other events are happening this year as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, go to www.Alice150.com.
At the Harry Ransom Center, Austin, Texas, through July 6, 2015
I’m helping Alice fend off the cards!
I love pop-up books, so I was drooling over an entire display case full of them.
Alice in Wonderland has been translated into a staggering number of languages.
The exhibition guide/brochure is a keeper. When I’m done showing it around, I’ll be slipping it inside my copy of Martin Gardner’s “The Annotated Alice” to save it for posterity.
“Oh my ears and whiskers. I’m late! I’m late!” I’m nearly a week late getting this posted, but you still have time to take in the Alice exhibit at the Ransom Center, through July 6.
On my father’s farm, environmentalists grew with the cotton. I was my daddy’s Earthchild. In my earliest memories I’m clambering over the West Texas sandhills past straight rows of crops. I’m digging bare toes into the cool dampness that hid beneath sun-blasted surfaces. I’m sharing with the rattlesnakes the scant shade under the cockleburs along the fence rows.
The land nourished me. Quantities of arable soil made their way into my mouth. I ate dirt and it did me good. Modern science reveals that children from antiseptically clean, urban homes are more prone to asthma and allergies than those who grow up in rural environments. Though I waded in stock tanks awash in cow manure, I suffered few infections, never had asthma, seldom saw a doctor for any childhood complaint.
Our family wasn’t big on going to the doctor. My mom treated my itchy chickenpox with calamine lotion. When I dropped a knife-edged sheet of tin on my foot and nearly cut off a toe, she doused it with Merthiolate and wrapped it in a cotton rag. The active ingredient in Merthiolate is toxic and a cause of birth defects. Luckily for me, my sliced toe bled so profusely it washed out the poison. I wasn’t rushed to the doctor, neither then nor when a rabbit bit me. Both wounds healed with little scarring and no complications—no rabies or tetanus. Growing up on a farm makes for a wonderfully vigorous immune system.
Past fifty now, I still reap the benefits. I’ve been hospitalized only once, to have my wisdom teeth out. My tonsils and appendix live in me still. I can eat almost anything and not get sick. On trips to Mexico I enjoy lettuce salads and fresh tropical fruits, indulgences that leave most turistas throwing up their toenails. Blessed are we who had the chance to eat dirt and muck about in cow shit.
Few people remember Euell Gibbons now, but he was my childhood hero. Mr. Gibbons showed my generation how to eat naturally, how to live off the land, foraging for our food outdoors like primitive hunter-gatherers. Like him, I was game to try anything: roots and shoots, dandelion crowns, cattails, tree bark. These days when I go hiking I’ll taste any fruit, grain, or berry that lines the trail, picking them fresh from field or forest as Euell taught me. My husband swears I’ll poison myself someday. He’s probably right. As a young thing I nibbled an oleander blossom and swelled up like a toad, Mom said. I don’t remember that. But I now know that one leaf of an oleander is enough to cause death. Eating any part of the plant can stop your heart. Euell didn’t tell me that.
I went to college to become a park ranger or a wildlife biologist. Those ambitions succumbed to the impatience of youth. When the subject of careers arose, my professors let slip that jobs for rangers or ecologists were few and far between. This was the 1970s, at the dawning of the environmental movement. We had Earth Day (first celebrated in 1970) and the Clean Water Act of ’72, but we didn’t have anything approaching a “green” industry. (The 21st century hasn’t yet reached the healthy shade of green we should be enjoying, this many years on. But we’re getting there. More about that in a bit.)
The prospect of unemployment scared me. I wanted work after graduation, I needed work, and so I quit as a wildlife science major and switched to agricultural journalism. I’d grown up on a farm; I’d written since my earliest days as a crayon-wielding diarist: the combination fit. And I knew firsthand that family farmers were not the rape-pillage-plunder-the-Earth villains that urban ignorance held them to be. I’d watched my daddy put on the brakes, stop his tractor dead in the field even with the day’s last precious rays of sunlight fading in the west, so he could jump down and move a box turtle or a bird’s nest safely out of the plow’s path. My dad’s environmentalist instincts ran deep.
Now I survey my tech-laden home and I wonder what happened to me. What became of that primitive nature-lover who went barefoot through dunghills and wanted to live like a savage? I have all the comforts: a microwave oven, a fax machine, central heating and air; two computers, two printers, two scanners, two DVD players not including the ones built into the computers; four phones counting landlines and cells. How did I become so materialistic? When and why did I replace simplicity with clutter?
Writers are often told to write what we know. Thus, it is not surprising that many authors choose to write about books and the people who love them.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak tells of a girl who steals the things she can’t resist—books. The hero of Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story becomes a character in the mysterious book he is reading. In When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, the protagonist relies upon her favorite book, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, as a kind of “life compass.”
Following in that tradition, Lewis Carroll’s Alice books appear “as themselves” in my Waterspell trilogy. My heroine, Carin, first encounters Through the Looking-Glass (TTLG) and discovers the book holds within it a powerful weapon that only she can wield. Later, Carin gets her hands on a copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (AAIW) and continues to find veiled connections between the Carrollian world and her own perilous situation.
As an enthusiastic fan of Martin Gardner’s The Annotated Alice, I like to imagine how the late Mr. Gardner might annotate the Waterspell trilogy as he picked up on my novels’ subtle homages to the Alice books. I think he would remark on the reversed order in which Carin encounters the books. Lewis Carroll wrote AAIW first, then TTLG some years later. Throughout TTLG, things “go the other way,” so it is appropriate (as well as necessary to the plot of Waterspell) that Carin reads the books “the other way”—second book first.
Another play on the “other way” can be seen in the spelling of the names of the two leading ladies. “Alice” is vowel-consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel, while “Carin” (also five letters) is consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel-consonant.
The names of things are important in the Waterspell trilogy. In AAIW, the dormouse speaks of drawing all manner of things that begin with the letter M. I don’t doubt that Martin Gardner would notice the characters in Waterspell whose names start, like his, with M: among them Myra, Megella, and Merriam.
In no way, however, are the Waterspell novels a retelling of the Alice books. Though there are analogies—Carin’s reflective “mirror pool” recalls Alice’s looking-glass—my story follows its own unique trajectory.
To capture the gist of Waterspell, one might say it’s “Jane Eyre meets a sorcerer.” The relationship between my main characters is reminiscent of the stormy sparring between Jane and Rochester. Waterspell is a story for young adults and older. Though an Alice motif runs deep in my trilogy, Waterspell is no more a “children’s book” than is The Hunger Games or Philip Pullman’s epic trilogy of fantasy novels, His Dark Materials. My characters encounter great danger, violence, murder, and betrayal.
Writing this blog post has helped me pull my thoughts together as I prepare to attend the April 18 meeting of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America in Austin, Texas. In the company of fellow Carrollians, I might have occasion to explain how my books connect to Alice. I want to be prepared, for I can think of no more appropriate readers than a group of Lewis Carroll enthusiasts who know the Alice books backwards and forwards. (There’s that reversal theme again!)
“If you like epic fantasy that sweeps you to amazing, immersive worlds and while following intriguing characters, be sure to add this series to your to-read list.” —Once Upon a YA Book
“Keeps you enthralled until the final sentence. Carin and Verek are such rounded and full characters.” —Kim Durbin
“I really loved the main characters, particularly because they are complicated. I also enjoyed the writing. It is stylized perfectly to the story, so you feel you are in the Waterspell world. I definitely recommend these books!” —Beck Digs It
“I was hooked instantly when I started reading [Waterspell Book 1] The Warlock. I willingly gave up sleep and honestly could not wait to get up to read more of this book. I’m reading the whole series, and I absolutely am loving it.” —Sarah
“… a fabulous trilogy that should be read by every fantasy reader who would like something a little different. The author cleverly creates tension without resorting to the battles, complex political intrigue and predictable structure favoured by many in the traditional fantasy genre. I give it 5 stars without hesitation.” —Tahlia Newland
“The writing is absolutely fantastic with so much detail and description. The imagery was so vivid that I felt like I could see this mystical world forming around me.” —Laura Hartley, “What’s Hot?”
Making a place for yourself in a world where you don't belong takes courage. So does moving in with a warlock.
“I absolutely loved all four books! You kept your storyline throughout the four books brilliantly. The characters were all genuine and relatable.” —Carol, Goodreads
“Addictive epic fantasy, with drama and adventure. I binged through the books, eager to see how the story unfolds. Great book. 5 stars.” —Di, NetGalley
“A great read that features world building with drama and magical characters. Highly recommended.” —Neil, Amazon
“Jane Eyre meets Beauty and the Beast. Amazing story, very original. Great series.” —Emma, Amazon UK
“An entertaining, fast paced, and well-plotted fantasy series. The world building is fascinating, and the characters fleshed out. Highly recommended.” —Anna Maria, NetGalley
“Captivating. I loved this series from beginning to end. Complex characters who mature through the series and unexpected plot twists kept me reading far too late into the night.” —Amy, Amazon
“I was HOOKED. I read until 3 am two nights in a row to finish this. The magic system is unique and the characters are as morally gray as they come.” —Megan, Goodreads
“An extraordinary book, four in fact! I read these over a five-day period and found the storytelling fantastic. See for yourself!” —Michelle, NetGalley
“I was hooked instantly. I willingly gave up sleep and could not wait to get up to read more. I’m reading the whole series, and absolutely loving it.” —Sarah, Amazon
“A riveting series. Well written, excellent world-building with an engaging plot in each book and well-developed characters. I was gripped right from the start with twists I didn’t see and unpredictability.” —Aria, NetGalley
“Such a joy to narrate this. It didn’t feel like work. The story and characters take flight so naturally and then soar.” —Simon de Deney
“Lightfoot has a sure touch with regard to characterisation. Each of her characters has their own authentic and convincing voice. Narrative, description and speech are exceptionally well-balanced.” —Martin Dukes, author of the Alex Trueman Chronicles
“In this four-book saga, the author has created an epic fantasy world full of magic, danger, romance, and travel through time and space. The characters are vivid and complex. This is a most enjoyable read for fans of fantasy and fine writing.” —Shirley, NetGalley
“Complicated characters, plot twists, romance, adventure, and magic — all written in a voice that immerses you in a fantasy world both foreign and familiar. Get the box set because you won’t want to leave this world.” —Beck Digs It, Amazon
Castles in the cornfield provided the setting for Deborah J. Lightfoot’s earliest flights of fancy. On her father’s farm in Texas, she grew up reading tales of adventure and reenacting them behind ramparts of sun-drenched grain. She left the farm to earn a degree in journalism and write award-winning books of history and biography. High on her bucket list was the desire to try her hand at the genre she most admired. The result is Waterspell, a multi-layered, intricately detailed fantasy about a girl and the wizard who suspects her of being so dangerous to his world, he believes he’ll have to kill her … which troubles him, since he’s fallen in love with her. Deborah is a professional member of The Authors Guild. She lives in the country near Fort Worth, Texas.
Magic, mystery, murder, and romance. Waterspell: An intricate save-the-world fantasy adventure with complex characters, cosmic calamities, and the gothic sensibilities of Jane Eyre.
Mix environmental fantasy with magic, mystery, and a little slow-burning romance, add dystopian undercurrents, and that’s the Waterspell series—a cross-genre story with too many layers for a single label.