Building Worlds with Marika McCoola
Wayfinder has always lived in the written words of its community members. Any world we create and explore starts with someone hunched over a computer, furiously typing histories into existence. It seems natural then that Wayfinder have so many community members with a literary streak to them. We had the chance to sit down with Marika McCoola, whose book Baba Yaga’s Assistant was a New York Times bestseller and Eisner award nominee, and talk about the experiences she had at Wayfinder and the ways those have helped to form her as a teacher, a writer, an illustrator, and most importantly a person.
Camp offers a diverse field of experiences, all of which have creative elements attached to them. To explore a fantastical world we have to do everything from write the background of that world to actually building the physical aspects of it, not to mention teaching everyone to create and live in full characters for the duration of the adventure game. Marika was one of our rare staff members who has the talents and the knowledge to work in any of our departments. “Working with people to create a story is what I do. It’s interesting I ended up going into graphic novels because you describe the scenery and what’s going on, which is the production part, and then the game systems part which is figuring out what your world looks like, because I write contemporary fantasy pretty much exclusively, and doing all that building. Then in terms of characters I use all of that improv. You’re writing in different character’s voices so how do you take on each character and write them?” Having grown up at Adventure Game Theater, the camp that eventually spawned the Wayfinder experience which Marika was also a very active member of, all of these skills were at that point second nature to her.
Being around for years and years of camp and adventure games it can be hard to pin point favorite moments or games out of all of them. One of the things that stood out most for Marika was a prop she designed and built. A stained glass window, which we still use in games today. “When everybody saw that for the first time all lit up at night, that totally made it. You can still kind of separate yourself as a creator and as the character you’re playing, and to see people react to that, and to make it magical for them was really exciting, which I suppose makes total sense because I’m a writer now, and I make worlds for other people to inhabit.” That magic she talked about, the look of wonder you see on players’ faces, is something she has truly been able to capture into her writing. The worlds which she builds are fantastical, and it is clear there is an understanding of what magic looks like in the real world behind the work that goes into to creating those written worlds. She clearly points to experiences at Wayfinder as putting up the scaffolding for a lot of that work, and we were lucky to have her building that kind of magic for us. Like I said that stained glass window is still in use, and never fails to produce a look of awe and wonder from players seeing it for the first time.
While she isn’t participating in any LARPs anymore she is very aware of the effect that it has had on her life. “It was an extremely important phase. That’s what Molly Ostertag and I talk about a lot, she’s also a cartoonist and writer. What we do is so much influenced by that so it’s a very special piece that we don’t want to write about because it’s this preserved lovely thing.” So while you might not see Wayfinder directly showing up in either Marika or Molly’s books, both of them published authors of graphic novels, it is very clear that having camp and the space to explore themselves and other worlds was hugely influential on their lives and their work. Camp is, underneath everything else, a creative space. You get a chance to be surrounded by people who, even if they don’t produce any other creative works in their lives, are engaged in the process of creating a world, creating a storyline. “We were able to create space and it helped us realize things about ourselves at this very difficult age when you are all over the place. It allows you to explore different facets of yourself and that’s really really important.” That work never stops, neither does the joy or graciousness it produces. Like with every community member you could ask about camp, Marika’s face lit up to talk about Wayfinder and the time she spent there. There is nothing better than knowing we are providing space, and have provided space, to people who go out and do good work in the world, and remember Wayfinder as a piece of what brought them to that work. We were blessed to have Marika at camp as long as we did, and still blessed to have her as a member of the community.
“How we lead up to the game is important in how camp does it versus other LARPs in that it’s really about the opportunity to explore a facet of yourself in a character that you don’t get to explore in regular life. So there’s the freedom to do that in a safe space in a way that you can then reflect upon and learn something from, and I think that’s really nice to be given that space to do that. There’s also something really nice about having a community and having a camp that’s truly about community, cooperative play, and creating together rather than having battles against each other (though we do that as well), but it’s all about creating an experience for everybody and I think that’s extremely important, and it results in long lasting friendships.”
Make sure to check out Marika’s website: http://www.marikamccoola.com/
–Written by Judson Easton Packard I from an interview with Marika McCoola.
*First Picture from Marika’s website. Self Portrait: digitally altered photograph of clay, wire, paint, embroidery thread, and ink on paper. ©2014 Marika McCoola