Touchstones, by Emily Whitman

I like the word Touchstone. Touch. Stone. A finger reaching out and making physical contact. That's what it feels like when a book or song or picture speaks directly to me, cutting through all the usual protective layers: it's physical, a shiver on my skin, a pulse in my veins, a deeper heartbeat.

I've heard that the Buddhist concept of right speech means not just speaking the truth, but speaking when someone is ready to hear you. In the same way, touchstones meet you at a particular time in your life, right when you need them. I read E. Nesbit's books now and I think they're lovely, but when I was about ten years old, they jolted me awake with their absolute confidence that magic was alive in the everyday world. Later I read Mara Daughter of the Nile, and a kiss in a book was what created that shiver of wonder. In high school it was Leonard Cohen's songs. These threads--the everyday truth of magic, defying borders between worlds, the power of a kiss, the twining of physical love and spiritual truth--still fuel me and my writing.

In Radiant Darkness, Persephone crosses between Earth and the Underworld in a mythic journey with a modern voice--and all those threads are there, weaving back to early touchstones.

Part of the writing life is learning to recognize those shivers and moments of deep connection, and get greedy with them. The book you read over and over, the song you sing until it comes as easy as breathing, the story idea that makes you say "You're mine"--they're in your life for a reason.

Here's what I want to keep reminding myself: Listen.

(p.s. Radiant Darkness is a finalist for the Oregon Book Award! There's a Reader's Choice category this year--vote for your favorite here.)


  1. Mara: Daughter of the Nile is one of my all-time favourite books. I'll have to check out Radiant Darkness!

  2. I'm so happy to meet another Mara fan!


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