Not Your Chosen One

by | Jan 23, 2024 | The Cuttlefish

In my new novel The Cuttlefish, Emelee is not a chosen one. Even the name echoes this fact—cuttlefish are not the most attractive fish in the sea.

If you are one of the three people who follow my literary journey, you’ll know that it takes years for me to write a novel. Working full time and squeezing writing into the margins of a life is a hard way to go. The whole process happens in fits and starts as my brain tries to leap the gap between technical professional and professional dreamer. My corpus callosum aches on good days and lies flaccid and spent on the bad ones.

(Side note: why is “flaccid” an adjective given to only one noun? Every time I try to reject that unspoken rule, the resulting imagery is disturbing.)

These past few years, I’ve been working on a novel called The Cuttlefish. Inspired by The Scarlet Pimpernel, but with witches, queers, and set in the fantasy world of Eire.

A common perception is that a writer knows what they intend to write about, then sets about doing it. My experience is different. I write my way forward into the fog, no idea what is happening, to whom, or why. Somewhere around the halfway point, it hits me, “oh, that’s what this is about!” I’m then obliged to go back to the beginning and start over, with a better understanding of what I am writing. In The Cuttlefish, I’ve noticed a theme: rejection of the “chosen one” narrative.

Not this Time, Luke

Look, I cheer for Luke Skywalker as much as anyone, but the concept of a predestined world savior often overlooks the nuances of real-life successes and struggles, and the true nature of heroism which, in my view, involves doing the most you can with the hand that you’re dealt.

Chosen one stories reinforce the juvenile faith that we are uniquely pre-destined for greatness. This idea, from Harry Potter to Paul Atreides often centers on a preordained protagonist marked by fate. These stories, while massively entertaining, suggest that waiting for one’s grand destiny is just as likely a route to success as actively shaping one’s life.

Comforting as this notion is, it can lead to disillusionment if you buy into it. My generation—thrown outdoors to raise themselves in a never-ending Lord of the Flies game of kick the can—hovered over their own children and raised them to believe they were uniquely destined for greatness, simply for drawing breath. This, in turn, has led to the privilege paradox in which young adults of well-off, otherwise healthy environments are suffering the highest rates of depression, substance abuse, anxiety disorders, and unhappiness of any group in the country. Life, as many of us learn the hard way, is less about a grand, cosmic unfolding and more about the everyday choices we make.

Again, don’t get me wrong. I love Neo, Lyra, and Rand al’Thor. Am I blaming Luke Skywalker? No. Does the current generational shift reflect on the themes in my work? Yes.

As an art teacher, I was always careful to say, “I like how you made that line.” Or “You did a great job of working past your frustration.” I avoided saying, “Wow, that’s great!” and definitely not, “You are talented.” I wanted every student to feel the accomplishment of their accumulated decisions. I mean, isn’t that most of life’s journey, really? All the small battles? Few of us, after all, are secret children of Zeus.

Find Out Who You Are and Do it on Purpose

In The Cuttlefish, I am realizing, Emelee is not a chosen one. Even the name echoes this fact. Cuttlefish are not the most attractive fish in the sea.

I wanted to mirror a more realistic and, arguably, a more inspiring paradigm. A tale where success is a collective endeavor, and heroism is accessible to everyone through their actions and choices. It’s a story for all of us who aren’t ‘chosen’ in the traditional sense but choose ourselves every day through hard work, collaboration, and the decisions we make.

In realizing my own influences and the threads I’ve been unconsciously weaving, I now need to go back to the beginning and pull them through deliberately. To quote Dolly Parton, “Find out who you are and do it on purpose.”

At this point in the writing process, I am reminded of those macrame owls every neighbor lady in America made back in the 70’s. If this book were one of those owls, it would be perfect from the top down until just below the chest, where holes and tangles and unbalanced knots would appear. At the bottom, there’d be no mustard yellow hemp feet clutching a branch, just a wad of mismatched cords dangling into space.

Here’s to the unsung heroes, the collaborative victories, and the hard-earned triumphs! Here’s to weaving this newly-discovered thread through my owl, which is my own heroic undertaking for now.

20 Comments

  1. Frances HowardSnyder

    Well. I’m excited for this novel. I love your writing and think you deserve to be a star.
    On the philosophical insights in this post: I think you have identified two separate dichotomies that can be separated. The first is the idea of fate, that one’s fate is chosen by forces outside of oneself rather than chosen by one’s own choices. The second is the individual versus the collective. I think those can come apart. Fate could choose a team of heroes or a single individual might be the only one who makes all the right choices and wins the day. I’m guessing you’re going to choose free will over fate and collective action over individual action but they are two separate choices.

    Reply
    • Andrea

      I love your clear-sighted view into distinctions that are a bit muddy for the rest of us. And yes, I think you are correct on all counts!

      Reply
  2. Laura Rink

    Love this blog post! Yes to collaboration and collective action. Have fun going back to the beginning and weaving in your well earned insights. I too write into the fog and have recently gone back to the beginning of my nonfiction book now that I have a better idea of what it’s actually about.

    Reply
    • Andrea

      It can be so difficult to trust the process. I did TRY to outline this thing, but nobody listens to me. Characters all over the place doing whatever they want. I imagine that memoir and other non fiction can be the same way. You start out with the point you intended to make, but then the real wisdom comes to the surface in the writing.

      Reply
  3. Annemarie

    “Here’s to the unsung heroes, the collaborative victories, and the hard-earned triumphs!”

    Hooray! And boo hissssss to the Chosen One trope, which has hijacked a new generation. There must be a happy medium between Smash-Piggy’s-Glasses and I-Know-Am-Chosen, and collective, everyday bravery is it!

    Reply
    • Andrea

      Right? How much happier we’d all be if we celebrated that.

      Reply
  4. Catherine O’Connor

    “thrown outdoors to raise themselves in a never-ending Lord of the Flies game of kick the can” —
    Andrea, there are so many wonderful passages in this blog… I can’t wait to read the book.
    As everyone has said here what a wonderful theme. (The theme of collective accomplishment. But at the same time the generational, what, shift downward is disturbing…)
    It is clearly already resonating with people and it will resonate on a large scale. I’m so glad I happened upon this. It’s so inspiring.

    Reply
    • Andrea

      Thanks for reading Cat. Keeps me inspired to write!

      Reply
  5. Dory

    “Few of us, after all, are secret children of Zeus.” Oh girl, don’t even get me started on the many people who think otherwise.

    I can’t wait for the finished product! In meantime, cheers to all the mortals who stumble and fall through life and proudly wear the scars.

    Reply
  6. Marian Exall

    “Where success is a collective endeavor” – Love this! And writing towards the truth, not following a paradigm.

    Reply
    • Andrea

      Thanks for reading, Marian. Yes, I am done with special mavericks. Poor old Tom Cruise will likely not be acquiring the script.

      Reply
  7. Kelli Mechelke

    Andrea, I love the theme of this blog. It’s such a necessary shift our culture needs to make. I love that you are weaving these themes into your novel. Can’t wait to read more! You go “macrame queen”.

    Reply
    • Andrea

      Haha! Thanks for reading! I might just have to make one of those owls now as a reminder.

      Reply
  8. Sara

    I can’t wait to read it! Your wonderful outlook in life and sense of humor are in your writing. Let me know when!

    Reply
    • Andrea

      I can’t wait for you to read it! You’ll get the advanced reader copy for sure.

      Reply
  9. Amy J

    Oooo, I can’t wait to meet Emelee!!!

    Reply
    • Andrea

      I am excited to send her to you! Just as soon as I work out these tangles. Lordy!

      Reply
  10. Pam

    Boy howdy do I wrestle with this generational divide everyday in my work. You wanna be special? You’re gonna have to work your ass off! It doesn’t just happen.

    I hear you, friend. From one hose-drinking latch key kid who spent her youth figuring shit out to another.

    Forward! Into the fog and beyond! Clarity awaits (maybe!)

    Reply
    • Andrea

      I bet you do. Definite job security for you. I meet a lot of young folks I think of as hot house flowers. They’re headed toward the sun fast as they can, but their stems are too spindly.
      And here’s to the hose-drinking olds!

      Reply

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andrea gabriel

About Andrea

Andrea Gabriel is an author & illustrator whose work, both for children and adults, is grounded in her love for the natural world. She has illustrated more than ten books for the children's trade market and written several more. Her books have been published by Charlesbridge, Albert Whitman and Co., Dawn Publications, Sasquatch Books, and Arbordale. She has published for the adult market under the name A.G. Bennett. She lives in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, with her family of two and four-footed creatures.

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