“What are you doing?”
I’m a park ranger, traipsing along in the footsteps of John Muir and Stephen Mather and the like. And a lot of people, most notably my family, have accused me of casting myself as Mae. This irks me, because it means I’ve committed the most rookie of all mistakes—just writing oneself as the protagonist, rather than creating a unique character. I thought I had left those days behind in middle school.
But beyond this, it irks me because Mae’s job is different from mine. She is, at heart, a conservationist rather than a preservationist. Responsible use of resources over preservation for the sake of preservation. In fact, this is why I chose October 4th as her birthday—the death date of oft-maligned Gifford Pinchot, father of modern forestry, with the thought that she’s continuing his work. Granted, Mae has a heart for the inherent worth of wilderness that Pinchot is often accused of lacking (she probably would have been on John Muir’s side over the damming of Hetch Hetchy valley), but her job as a Woodwalker is ultimately to oversee responsible use of the Silverwood’s resources. This is a society not merely passing through a stand of wildland as visitors, but living intimately in it and relying on it for their survival. As such, preservation probably isn’t even a concept the folk of the Silverwood are concerned about.
Now, the Silverwood will have been practicing silviculture and forestry much longer than post-European United States, and as such, they’ll have graduated out of some of Pinchot’s more outdated ideas (such as restricting wildfires at all costs). The Wood Guard would oversee strategic timbering to reduce the spread of blight or infestation and would monitor wildfires to facilitate forest regeneration. So that’s what Mae is doing in the illustration above—felling a pine that has fallen prey to pine beetles.
And this is where we hop to another, less famous chapter in the history of forestry and land use—the Women’s Land Army and the Women’s Timber Corps. These two organizations, like many others involving women in unusual workplaces, emerged during the First and Second World Wars. The two mentioned were in Britain, but there was also a Women’s Land Army of America and an Australian Women’s Land Army. Their work was closely related to entities like the US Forest Service, but I bring up these lesser-known organizations because the illustration above is referenced directly from a photo of a lumberjill in the Women’s Timber Corps.
As famine loomed in Britain in World War I, women were hurriedly recruited to fill agriculture and forestry jobs the soldiers had left behind. They were recruited again during World War II. Once each war was over and the men returned home, the organizations were disbanded—yet another instance of women being ushered into a workforce to compensate for a lack of men, only to be kicked out when the need was gone (or, in the case of the National Park Service, when word got round to Washington that women were working as rangers). And despite the amount of timber the Women's Timber Corps provided for the war effort, they were given no recognition for their work until 2007, when a memorial was erected in Scotland.
The Wood Guard is decidedly coed, as with any other profession and industry in the world of Woodwalker. Women serving as foresters or soldiers or politicians is so normal as to be beyond comment. This is perhaps the biggest fantasy element in Mae’s world. But I hope Mae serves as a little homage to these women, continuing their work for the good of her people and her love for her home.
I realize few people care about the differences between a park ranger and a forester, or a preservationist and a conservationist, but Mae is unquestionably more akin to the latter. With some exceptions, her convictions align more closely with Pinchot’s than Muir’s, and her work aligns more closely with that of the women of the Timber Corps and modern foresters than park rangers. In this sense, Mae resembles my conservationist friends building trail at Philmont Scout Ranch or the vegetation crews working to control hemlock woolly adelgids in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Which apparently means I've written fanfiction about my friends, rather than myself.
Boy, these past few weeks have been a whirlwind. Official edits to Woodwalker manuscript, redrawing the world map for the interior pages, a fourth draft of the cover art, and then feedback on my second manuscript... I'm pretty ragged. I thought I'd take a few days and work on some art to just calm my nerves a little, but I'm kind of sucking that up, too. I just don't have the stamina to finish anything. So here's a good old-fashioned sketchdump of concept work and doodlery.
Top left are a few inane doodles of Mae and Mona in a Pixar style, which I usually shy away from because all Disney-Pixar's female leads look the same, with the doe eyes and button noses. This gave me a complex as a kid because I knew with my big hawk nose I could never be cast as a Disney princess. But several of my favorite artists draw in this style and I can never resist trying to mimic my idols. (For the record, I'm over my childhood complex now--- turns out hooked noses were a sign of aristocracy in ancient Rome, and as my heritage is largely Italian...)
To the right of that is a junky sketch of Valien on his coronation day looking all smirky (and a bit like a mashup of Loki and Kylo Ren, which in all honesty, is pretty accurate). To his left is an unfinished concept of Mae with her archery gear. I've since changed the weaponry of the Royal Guard from recurved bows to flatbows, so this isn't quite right anymore, but she'd still have the hip quiver and spare arrows in her bow hand. I prefer hip quivers over back quivers because I've always found them easier and quicker to access, and they leave room for a backpack, which the Royal Guard would certainly need on days-long scouts in the forest. I also know highly accomplished archers would sometimes keep their spare arrows in their draw hands, but Mae isn't necessarily supposed to be the pinnacle of archery. She's good because she has to be, but she's not a prodigy, so I imagine she would be perfectly satisfied with keeping her spares in her bow hand.
Below that are two concepts for Lumen Lake, both of which led me to swear at my screen as I created them. In fact, one of them is actually saved under the name "arrgHATE.jpg." I'm just not that good at large-scale environments despite my love for them, and these didn't turn out how I wanted them to. But they gave me good practice, and they helped me with my worldbuilding. Tiny Colm is in the foreground of both.
Hopefully I'll be able to pull myself out of this funk before I have to write any more self-deprecating posts. Woodwalker is with the copy editor now, and my editor has a synopsis of manuscript 2. So things are still trucking along!
Emily B. Martin
Author and Illustrator