Category: Fantasy, Magic, Fairytale
Tour Date: October, 2014
Available in: Print & ebook, 180 Pages
“When you die, your spirit wakes in the north, in the City of the Dead. There, you wander the cold until one of your living loved ones finds you, says “Goodbye,” and Sends you to the next world.
After her parents die, 12-year-old Sophie refuses to release their spirits. Instead, she resolves to travel to the City of the Dead to bring her mother and father’s spirits back home with her.
Taking the long pilgrimage north with her gruff & distant grandmother—by train, by foot, by boat; over ruined mountains and plains and oceans—Sophie struggles to return what death stole from her. Yet the journey offers her many hard, unexpected lessons—what to hold on to, when to let go, and who she must truly bring back to life.”
Craig Staufenberg is a writer and filmmaker living in NYC.
Buy ‘The Girl Who Came Back To Life’:
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Where does the inspiration for a story come
from? In particular, where did the inspiration for my most recent story—The Girl Who Came Back to
The answer to both is the same— I don’t know.
I’m not playing up the “aloof, mysterious author” angle here. I really don’t know where the inspiration for this story came from, nor do I know where the inspiration for ANYTHING I’ve written came from. I’m envious of those people who read an article in the newspaper and transform it into a book. They have a clear answer to this question.
And yet, even with no clue where my inspiration comes from, I can tell you what helped me receive that inspiration— music.
I know, I know… that’s vague and obnoxious. I’ll explain further.
Before I write a story, I first sit down and find some music for it. Sometimes I’m ambitious and work out a proper soundtrack and assemble a bunch of different songs that fit the mood of the piece. But usually I just find the one right song, or the one right band, or the one right album, and then I listen to it constantly— early in the morning as I walk to the coffee shop where I’m going to write, while I’m writing, and throughout the rest of the day and night, as I let the story wander abound inside me.
Now, with all this repetition I’m not trying to get the song stuck in my head. I’m trying to get it stuck in my heart. As I said: I look for music with the same emotional tone as the piece I’m writing, so when I listen to that music over and over again, I am able to:
1. Sink into the piece’s emotional world easier than if I sat by myself and tried to will the feelings into being.
2. Stay in that emotional world as I write.
3. Keep those feelings active in the background as I go about the rest of my non-writing day. (This helps with all that daydreaming about the story that’s so essential.)
I’m sure there are complicated theories about why music works so well facilitating all this emotional stuff. In fact, here’s one— in film they say music carries the emotion of the film. OK, you got me… That wasn’t really a “complicated theory” but rather corroborating evidence. I’d rather leave it up to other people to find the scientific explanation for why music is so good at evoking emotions. Though when they do, I probably won’t read it, or give it much mind. Those theories change every couple years, and I’m not so interested in things that change quite so quickly.
Instead, I mostly just care about what works. And when it comes to finding “inspiration”, listening to the right music works for me, every time.
(For those wondering… while writing The Girl Who Came Back to Life I primarily listened to the band The Naked and the Famous. Mostly “Passive Me Aggressive You”, but also “In Rolling Waves” towards the end of the process.)
Sophie proved a quick study and, under her grandmother’s expert
guidance, she took to the cards swiftly. She played constantly, learning
new skills during those long, slow days, and sharpening her tactics
during those quiet moments at night when the moon poured in through the
cabin’s open windows and provided enough silver to illuminate a silent game
with whichever woman found sleep elusive.
When the train stopped, Sophie began to divide her time between playing
cards and running circuits. Those runs now sustained themselves without her,
the children finding their legs on their own. A few of the men began to join
the running children, immediately taking those light jogs too seriously and
soon devolving them into races, after which the winner exalted and the loser
sulked in shame.
The children mimicked the men and began to hold their own races among
themselves. After her many runs, and with her fiery heart bursting through her
legs, Sophie ran far too fast for any of the children to catch her and she joined
the men’s competitions instead. She offered a true challenge to the grown men,
and the threat of being outrun by small and scrawny Sophie goaded the boastful
men into believing their petty races meant something resembling life and death.
The men heightened their competitions and they began to bet on their
races, though only small amounts, as no one had much of anything to wager, aside from pride. When a man occasionally bet too much his women scolded
the winner and retrieved their family’s losses.
The train’s women understood wagering better than the men. They
gambled at their cards from the start, though always with small sums. Sophie
didn’t understand the parity of this sort of wagering, and she occasionally
pushed too far and won too much, excited by her skills and unaware of the
discomfort it caused her circle of card players. When Sophie won too much,
her grandmother told her to spend her newfound wealth on food to share with
the others, to keep the peace among the women.
During these games the old woman taught her more and more about the
subtleties of wagering, the way even a small bet dramatically changed the
game. She showed her granddaughter the delusions people paint over their
own eyes to avoid the devastation of loss, of all loss, of any loss, especially
those small hits that wound the pride more than the purse. The old woman
taught Sophie how to keep her face straight, how to eliminate the tics and tells
threatening to give away her true intentions, and to never wager anything she
wasn’t prepared to lose.
Sophie learned the cards so quickly and so deeply that those lazy matches
turned into bouts between grandmother and granddaughter. By late spring,
the other women split the games in two: one ruled by the old woman, the
other by Sophie.
As the sun hung longer in the sky with each passing day, the farmland
rose into higher hills and the looming mountains pulled Sophie’s
train closer and closer.
During their card games, the train’s women discussed how they would pass
through the mountains. They said walking from one side of those peaks to the
other was too difficult to consider. The mountain’s paths wound and cut too hard,
and the mountain’s towns and base towns stood too far apart. The only ones who
walked the mountains were the roving bands of the truly lost, those with no other
means, and those whose buses broke down without hope of repair.
The women admitted those buses, as uncertain and unpredictable as they
were, offered the best chance at crossing the mountains quickly. They resigned
themselves to the reality that they might have to wait days, if not weeks, to
find an open space on one of those puttering, wavering carriages, a delay that
was clearly preferable to crossing the mountains by foot.
The closer they got to the mountains, the more the women appeared
troubled, anxious and concerned over their chances of making it to the other
side in one piece.
They bolstered their resolve by speaking of the loved ones they were
traveling to Send, laying down their memories like a thick balm over the talk
of the hardships they all knew stretched ahead.
Some of the women spoke of lost husbands, others of friends and family.
Some spoke of their parents and others of children half gone from this world,
waiting in the north to finish their journey to the next. Each of the women
spoke of their passed loved ones intimately, as if they had just seen the dead the
other day. When they spoke of Sending, they spoke as if their pilgrimage was
just another in a long line of favors they provided their loved ones, conducted
more from necessity than love.
The old woman said little during those discussions. Sophie remained silent.
She never said a word of her desire to bring her parents back to life. She felt
unwilling to lose the warmth of the camaraderie she found on the train. As
the conversations floated over her card games, she buried, deeper and deeper
in her heart, her desires to regain what had been. To stay close with those
women, Sophie pretended she was traveling north to release her parents and
Send them to the next world. If the other passengers doubted her intentions,
or if they had their own desire to return the dead to life, they hid their hearts
as thoroughly and as skillfully as Sophie shrouded her own.
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