I am a novelist, but my career was shaped by other influences such as nature and art, which continue as inspiration and fodder for my work, and part of my writing process.
Nature is a touchstone that opens up my senses, restores mental balance, and sheds a lot of garbage from my mind, all those clingy negative inner voices and thoughts, the intrusion of the day's tasks, conversations, and difficulties. When I walk on the island trails where I live, I look for the colors of lichen on granite boulders, or the patterns of a cedar tree's snaking roots. I listen to the clamor of a waterfall, or cobblestones rattling in an ocean wave. It is healing and a delight to the senses.
Visiting family in the Adirondacks and fifteen years as a national park ranger allowed me to experience many different environments, from limestone caves to alpine mountain landscapes, and fostered an intimacy with nature I might not have otherwise acquired.
So, it is not unexpected that nature's details have found their way into the Green Rider Series. My fictional world owes much of its ecology to Acadia National Park in Maine, the spruce-fir forests, ocean waves, and to the smallest of lichens turning granite into soil over many millennia.
Art was an early influence. In the third grade, my teacher, Mrs. Foster, declared I was the official Snoopy drawer of the class. I loved Snoopy and devoured the little paperbacks of collected Peanuts strips I acquired through the Scholastic catalog. I did not quite understand the adult introspection of Charles Schulz's characters, but absorbed them nonetheless and kept drawing.
There was, also at the time, the matter of my horse obsession (there is a reason there are so many horses in the Green Rider Series). As I grew up, I read all the Walter Farley Black Stallion books and any horse books I could find in the school library. I read them repeatedly as if doing so would make a horse of my own magically appear. Alas, it never happened, but I did earn riding lessons by cleaning tack, sweeping stable floors, and mucking stalls at a nearby horse barn.
Meanwhile, the drawing continued through art class and at home. At some point, my sister gave me the book, Cat, by B. Kliban and I delighted in the weirdly funny cartoons. I resolved to become a cartoonist and embarked on drawing horse cartoons based on the horses and horse behavior I observed at the barn.
In high school, I doodled my way through many classes, and spent more periods in the art room than anywhere else. Then, The Lord of the Rings ate my brain and I started to write my own fantasy novels. Writing overtook cartooning, and yet never completely banished it, even in adulthood. Many of my drawings and cartoons appeared in park service publications, often alongside my writing. Cartoons and doodles are still an integral part of my writing process. I handwrite my rough drafts and doodle in the margins. Doodles aid my creativity by allowing me to pause and daydream, to work out what comes next in a scene, or to simply rest my brain. My manuscript doodles can be viewed in person in the archives of Texas A&M's Cushing Memorial Library.
The powerful influence of music came into play as I worked on the first draft of Green Rider (DAW 1998), and remains part of my process. Often I play soft instrumental music in the background. It helps me focus as it becomes a sort of meditative white noise. It might be tracks from old Windham Hill and Narada label albums, or Enya, whose music and voice are serene.
Some pieces of music grab me and suggest atmospheres and scenes. The cello music of Zoe Keating became a theme for a blossoming romance in Mirror Sight (DAW 2014). Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" inspired a whole sequence of scenes in Winterlight (DAW 2021). "The Loxian Gate" by Enya inspired the theme for an important scene yet to be written in book eight of the series. The music helps me form a picture of the scene, as well as its mood and atmosphere. I've a Winterlight playlist on Spotify for those who are curious.
Musical inspiration took a surprising turn when composer, Kristina A. Bishoff created soundtrack albums for Green Rider and First Rider's Call (DAW 2003), and to my delight, I was credited as lyricist for a couple of the pieces. I had written songs within the text of my novels and these are now actual musical pieces. Kristina's business partner, fine art photographer, Madeline Shayne, created the album covers and companion art books. I was accustomed to being inspired by art and music, but had not imagined my books inspiring them in turn. And yes, I do listen to the soundtracks as I write.
My art non-career took a surprising turn in The Dream Gatherer (DAW 2018), a collection of Green Rider-related works. I wanted to include drawings that were similar to a nature journal, and with the approval of my superb editor, Betsy Wollheim, desire became reality. After I thought I had finished all the illustrations, the following email conversation ensued:
Betsy: Marketing wants more illustrations.
Me: Really? How Many?
Betsy: As many as you can do.
I am not a professionally trained artist yet, I produced more illustrations to complement my stories (with varying success). Now I am at it again. Next fall, Spirit of the Wood, another Green Rider novella, will be released with some of my illustrations. Ask me about the ferns sometime.
When I was drawing Snoopy on the chalkboard in third grade, who knew what was to come? Currently I am writing the eighth novel of the Green Rider Series! Woohoo! Creativity and imagination of all sorts got me here, and are important in its many facets no matter one's endeavor--from science, drama, and medicine, to art, engineering, and beyond. It is part of the tapestry that makes us who we are.
About Kristen Britain:
Kristen Britain is the author of the New York Times-bestselling Green Rider series. Deep within the spruce-fir forest of coastal Maine, down a rambling mossy vale, and far beneath the inkwell of the sky, you will find her woodland home, where she crafts her tales and consorts with a pair of furry, tuft-eared sprites. Kristen can be found online at kristenbritain.com, on TikTok, Facebook, and Instagram.