How I Met Death by Blythe Woolston

Blythe Woolston is the author of The Freak Observer, which received the 2011 William C. Morris YA Debut Award. You can read an excerpt of it on Figment here!

The Freak Observer is a mashup of art and science. How did physics, a cloned sheep, cartoon cats, and a bunch of centuries-old oil paintings come into the story?

The answer is…

85% “That’s the stuff I love.”
15% “Pure, random chance.”

Most writers write what they love. I trust you know how to fall in love. I should also warn you that I can fall in love with almost anything—I recently fell in love with an outboard motor. So what I have to say about love is probably not useful to you. The only clue I have about love is that it happens when you are paying attention.

I’m here to make a case for that other ingredient, chance or discovery, in the experience of writing. This is the story of how Death (a.k.a. De Dood) and Jaël came to be in The Freak Observer.

I took the train from Voorburg, where Huygens, who studied physics and wrote science fiction, once lived, to Utrecht, where a great wind knocked down the cathedral in 1674.

Christiaan Huygens is one of my dead boyfriends. He argued that light consists of waves. He studied the rings of Saturn. Some artists have made him rather beautiful. He studied probability, a subject entwined with random chance.

The train station in Utrecht is in a shopping mall. I don’t care for shopping malls, actually. They make me nervous because I am bad at shopping. I was lucky though. In Utrecht I disembarked into a crowd of cosplayers: some Medievalish; others more inclined to the Cybergothic. I just trailed after them, and they led me into the old city.

It was market day, and I could have bought dusty books in languages I don’t read or a yellowing lithograph of a polar bear or a fistful of cheap scarves shot through with Lurex so they sparkled in the light. But, when a person is bad at shopping, a few centuries makes no difference. I bought nothing. I was rescued by a bunch of drummers and people with orange vuvuzelas. They paraded through and gave me a path to follow. So it was that I came to the Museum Catherijneconvent.

The door opened, and I entered in. They gave me a map I couldn’t read. The whole time I was there, I never saw another visitor. I did see heroic saints who had been reduced to nothing more than a piece of lint or a comb with broken teeth.

That was where I met Death Triumphant and Jaël. They impressed me. Death especially. I stopped to make a quick drawing to help me recognize him. I often draw things I hope to think about later. Drawing helps me observe and remember. Drawing helps me write.

A quick sketch of De Dood to help me remember that “he has very white teeth and his pelvis reminds me of the posture of the roman horse.”

The original Dood

As I left, I found I would not have to depend upon my sketch. There were postcards on sale in the lobby.
• •
Later, in Montana, some postcards fell upon the floor.

(Caption: Postcard images including Jaël, Deborah en Barak by Salomon de Bray, 1635 and De Dood als boogschutter by Hermann ton Ring, ca. 1550-1555.)

Since I was seeing with Loa’s eyes and living in The Freak Observer’s world, these became postcards from Corey.

15% “Pure, random chance.”

You can also find Blythe on her blog, on Twitter, on Facebook, and on Figment.

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