Thursday, November 29, 2007

Uninvited Dragons

For about ten years, maybe twelve, I've been working on a sprawling fantasy that keeps growing like southern kudzu. No matter how much I chop, it still sprouts tendrils and vines and leaves. I can't walk away--though it does allow me to work on other stories, I am always pulled back to The Fantasy.

Might as well tell you its name: Dragon's Rook.

Yeah. There's the word "dragon" in the title. And I wasn't even going to write about dragons or any mythical critters. Then one day while I was innocently writing, sitting at my desk, minding my own business, one shouldered its way in and wouldn't leave.

Uninvited dragons are as hard to make leave one's home as, say, a bird that swoops inside when one opens the door (that happened to me), or a squirrel that wanders in through the chimney (that happened to a friend). It's a tricky business. Uninvited dragons are not afraid of sudden moves, loud noises, sharp objects, or flaming matches. Uninvited dragons lumber in, look around, turn a few times to make their nest, and then lay there, curving their long necks to look down at one: Make me.

So I allowed him to stay.

He didn't say much at first. In fact, he said nothing. In that sense, he made the perfect roomie. On the other hand, there were all those noxious fumes. (I'd open the windows, but then the neighbors complain.)

Then, while I was once again minding my own business, sending my characters on their way--some of whom were prisoners of other characters, and therefore had to go whichever way their captors went--the dragon spoke.

Turns out he has a beautiful voice for such a bad sort. He is intelligent and has a dark sense of humor. He doesn't take well to authority--go figure--and he could use some dental hygiene, but when he speaks he's the James Earl Jones of dragons.

He told me all about himself--his name, his history, what in the world he was doing in my house--and now his story is the backbone of mine. It makes sense. Because he is such a formidable antagonist, albeit a sympathetic one, the protagonists can become stronger, greater, more worthy of the tale.

And, for the sake of the story, I'll say nothing more.

Except this: I've noticed lately that the stray cat population in the neighborhood has decreased. When I mentioned as much to "James Earl Jones", he sucked on his teeth as if removing an obstruction and didn't say a word.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


I may not reach the finish line for NaNoWriMo, but I've enjoyed the effort. Six days to go. That means I still several thousand words to cram into this remaining week.

The novel so far still reads like a pale Firefly knockoff, but I'm having fun! I might post an excerpt later on, either tonight or on Sunday, for anyone who's interested in just exactly how badly I can write!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Change of Plans

So, I posted the Basic Story Formula (see post below), thinking it would be the most recent post for a while, especially since this is National Novel Writing Month. Was I wrong.

A stray little Lhasa dog showed up at my door around 1:30 a.m. Saturday, and she's been occupying a good chunk of my time. An indoor dog, she's been outside for a long journey. Her once-groomed coat is a nest of matted hair (I've slowly been removing the snarls, as she allows me to do so), and her paws are still tender (they were bleeding when she arrived). What should be a luxuriant long tail is merely an awkward stub, as if she lost it in an accident or an attack. She's been sleeping a lot since she arrived, but two baths and a few meals later, she's perking up a little.

I feel like the main character in the sci-fi flick Avalon, who prepares hearty meals for her basset hound but eats junk food herself, because I've cooked more for the dog than for me. But she's not eating the regular dog food, only soft stuff. This morning, she had the puppy version of potato salad (mashed potatoes mixed with whole milk, hardboiled eggs, a smidge of salt).

I'm not able to keep her, but I have let local veterinary clinics and the Humane Society know she's here. There's little hope, though, that anyone will come forward. My dad and his wife are coming by this afternoon, and perhaps they have found someone at church who wants a dog. She's a perfect house guest, and a sweetheart.

Between all several trips out of town (another one is coming up this weekend), fighting off illness, and taking care of an unexpected visitor, I've fallen far behind in my NaNo writing. Thousands of words behind. Ah, well. I've been writing, though, and that's never a failure.

Photo taken at Little Portion Hermitage in the mountains of northern Arkansas, November 2007.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Basic Story Formula

As promised, here are some of the notes I took during the writing class for kids held at The Writers' Colony at Dairy Hollow last Friday. The instructor, Marian Szczepanski, broke everything down quite well for eager young writers, and some of these concepts may be old news to those of us who have been writing for a while, but it never hurts to take a refresher course.

Basic Story Formula

The 3 Ps

Person - description, desires, friends/family, enemies/antagonists; as the story progresses, include "movie extras" as needed to flesh out the rest of the population

Place - affects person and problem, and can become a character of its own

Problem - what person wants but is prevented from or finds difficulty in obtaining

Essential Extras


Secrets - doled out sparingly, and thus keeping the suspense, rather than being dumped all at once


More later about the whole rollercoaster analogy, also a familiar concept with long-time writers, but a good reminder, especially in November while many of us around the world are typing away on our NaNo offerings!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

More Pics from Dairy Hollow

Group shots with this bunch were a challenge; below is one of the better ones, with writer-in-residence Marian in the back on the right, writers' colony staffers Linda in the middle and Jane on the left. As you can see, my crew is precocious!

And here are miscellaneous shots of kids intent on creative pursuits.

I will always remember the time one of my junior high English teachers paved the way for me to attend a one-day writers conference for kids. It was one of the most encouraging days of my life, and one of the most exciting. It taught me that I was not alone in the fiction universe.

My hope is that the kids pictured above are similarly encouraged to pursue their creative passions. What I would give to read their names in print, or see their artwork on a gallery wall!

Kids in Dairy Hollow

The field trip was a fantastic success! Despite getting lost and having to turn around a few times to find our way, we had a great time, and the kids were well behaved (no "are we there yet" whines until just about lunch time). We hung out at the park, where we ate lunch, and then we trooped on over to the Writers Colony at Dairy Hollow, where we spent the afternoon with our instructor, Marian Szczepanski, current writer in residence. (You can see a photo of her here.)

She teaches college courses, so she wasn't sure how elementary and junior high kids would respond. Marian and I were both surprised. Kids who were normally reserved became talkative and avidly involved; those who were often disruptive were quiet and attentive. They all took notes, asked questions, answered questions, jumped into activities without restraint. It was awesome! And all along the way, they learned the basics of good storytelling. (I might share a few of those notes in a future post.)

We stayed forty minutes past the scheduled time, because everyone was so into the final activity -- cutting out pictures from magazines and pasting them to pages for a visual directory of characters and settings.

As you can see, we had less attendance than expected (9, instead of 12), but that only meant more time with each kid, and more room for them all to spread out in the van, especially on the way home, when they were tired.

Even before the event was over, I had requests of "Can we do this again?" asked in eager voices.

Wow. What better gift?