Writing and illustrating always bring Emily Benson Martin back to her childhood.
Before Martin could write she’d sit on her mother’s lap and tell her stories, which her mom would write down on big sheets of lined paper. Martin would take the paper and illustrate her words. Before middle school, Martin and her best friend realized they no longer had recess for adventures so they took to notebooks, writing their stories down and then trading their tales with each other on the bus home.
Now as a part-time park ranger and a mother to two girls, Martin will entertain a broader audience as her debut novel Woodwalker, published by HarperCollins, hits stores this month. Woodwalker tells the story of a fierce girl, Mae, who is exiled from Silverwood and the people she loves. In her wanderings, Mae comes across three strangers and risks death to help a deposed queen regain her throne.
“In middle school is when I really started writing for real. It was just something that was always a hobby for me. … Once I had kids, it became a way for me to connect back to who I was before I had kids,” said Martin.
The story began as a germ on one of the first hikes Martin and her husband took near Issaqueena Falls and Stumphouse Tunnel Park after their youngest daughter was born. After the girls were in bed that night, Woodwalker began. Much of Woodwalker is also inspired by her travels and internships from her time as a Clemson parks, recreation and tourism major (PRTM) and park services interpreter. Martin’s setting of southern Appalachia and the influence of fireflies on Mae’s spirituality comes from her time as an interpreter at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Mae’s survival ingenuity also comes from lessons learned by Martin while attending Clemson, from bird calling to using medicinal plants.
No matter how busy she gets, Martin says she makes time to write. Even looking back at her childhood with the massive amounts of free time compared to her life now, she said she couldn’t fathom a life without a creative outlet.
“It wasn’t like a choice, you know, like ‘Why do I eat?’ ‘Why do I do anything? ‘Why do I have friends?’ It was just a necessity for me. And so art and writing have just always been a thing I’ve done regardless of whether I had time,” she said.
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