Ravens, Writing Desks, and Series Writing

When I was little I used to watch certain videos over and over again. One of them was Disney’s Alice in Wonderland. My favorite part was the mad tea party. It looked like it would be a good time if you weren’t desperately trying to get home. I imagined drinking cups of tea, talking to the March Hare and the Mad Hatter and coming up with crazy riddles that no one could solve.

If you search for the answer to “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” on the internet, everyone has an answer. When I finally read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice through the Looking Glass, I learned that the Mad Hatter didn’t know the answer either. In graduate school I wrote a paper on the mind of Charles Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll. He was a mathematician who wrote the Alice books as a way to entertain the children of the Dean of Christ Church at Oxford. And it was written during the Victorian Era when the fanciful and the scientific were by turns at odds and in agreement. He admitted that many people wrote to him asking for the answer to the unanswered riddle.

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“Enquiries have been so often addressed to me, as to whether any answer to the Hatter’s riddle can be imagined, that I may as well put on record here what seems to be a fairly appropriate answer, viz: ‘Because it can produce few notes, tho they are very flat; and it is never put with the wrong end in front!’ This, however, is merely an afterthought; the riddle, as originally invented, had no answer at all.” –Lewis Carroll

In other words, he wrote the question without having an answer. Sometimes when I’m struggling with edits for my series and feel inadequate when I have to refer to my notes or previous books to remember what one of my characters looks like, or where someone lives in relation to their mode of transportation, I think of Charles Dodgson and feel less frazzled. Series writing is like an unanswerable riddle—it’s open-ended, has tons of possibilities and relies on whoever is in front of it. Now back to the slog…

Oh, my favorite answer to the raven/writing desk question is neither is made of green cheese. It’s correct and absolutely ridiculous, which is what series writing can feel like sometimes.

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