Monday, November 24, 2014

World-Building in 1/12 Scale by Kell Andrews

I spent the day cleaning the house. This one:
Which is the same as this one:

That's me in the heart-shaped deely-boppers, behind my little sister. It was my 13th birthday, and that was my new dollhouse. Dollhouses weren't the coolest thing in eighth grade, but that didn't stop me. I liked to build worlds, even if I didn't know that's what I was doing. 

There were no Minecraft, no MMORPGs. Some kids had 12-sided die; I had an X-acto knife and embroidery floss. I used it to recreate my Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables, Witch of Blackbird Pond dreams (all historical periods mingled in a Mercer Museum fever dream.Here's one of the bedrooms, with a patchwork quilt, cross-stitched pillow, and miniature acrylic self-portrait.
In that painting, I was 14, and I was reading. Age 14 was more of a no man's land then than now, so the book was probably Charles Dickens or Charlotte Bronte. But reading and miniature making were sides of the same coin -- immersion and construction of imaginary worlds.

Writing, whether fantasy, history, or contemporary, requires building the world from the ground up -- and often from the ground down too. Whether a world is faithfully reproduced or entirely invented, the writer must construct it on the page.

I constructed my dollhouse out of scrap calico and wood. I populated it with costumed fur mice, which didn't seem ghoulish at the time but definitely were when I took them out of the non-archival storage of our garden shed. Generations of live mice had scurried through those open-sided walls. My mouse house had become real with time, like the Skin Horse in the Velveteen Rabbit. Like the stories I wrote and bound myself that turned into other stories, and still others that are real books and books-to-be.

So this weekend I cleaned out the mouse droppings and washed the linens. Salvaged broken furniture and paged through the mini newspapers and magazines I had made, complete with crime reports and cigarette ads. (The past was no paradise.)

And now the dollhouse belongs to my daughters to rebuild, redecorate, and repopulate with their own imaginations. I do have a few ideas for hardwood floors and curtains, and I may have time to squeeze them in between drafts. Worlds must be built.


What activities, seemingly unrelated to books, helped shape you as a writer or reader? 


  1. This is awesome, Kell! For me, what activities helped shaped me? I was one of those kids with the twelve-sided die.

  2. Matthew, it's cool now to have been a Dungeons and Dragons kid. I long for the day when hipsters start embracing dollhouses. I am quite sure that publishing would not welcome a book about a dollhouse-building teenage protagonist (and this is why I don't write YA).

  3. There's an MG series about miniature rooms (which I have yet to read.) Maybe there's hope for dollhouse adventures yet!

  4. I love this, Kell! Especially the miniature self-portrait capturing your love for books. I grew up directing soap operas with action figures. Star Wars, GI Joe, Transformers. And I read comic books. Lots and lots of comics books. I've never had a thing for doll houses, but there's a company that makes detailed (and lighted) replicas of all of the Disneyland rides and buildings. I want them all.


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!