Secrets of the Flame: Jane Yolen and Finding Yourself in the Story

Sleeping BeautyJane Yolen, one of my favorite authors, once spoke about finding which of her characters represented herself and how that sometimes changes over time.

At a point, I realized Gwendolyn’s the mother I wished to be—openhearted; nurturing; pushing herself into bravery; and trying to be the best mother she can.

But I also had to face her flaws. She’s naive, oblivious even; wants to do it all herself; wants her children to stay her children; and sometimes gets stuff, even important stuff, wrong.Gwen to L

I’m sure you’ve figured out that Strange One, the dragon, represents my son. In the first draft of the book, he was young enough that I could fool myself that the story could have my happy ever after ending.Clay baby dragon

Then: adolescence!my clay dragon

So maybe John Sanford had a point—a bucket of water over the head didn’t sound so shocking.

New perspectives demand change. I rewrote and rewrote . . . and rewrote.

Hubris alert!http://www.amazon.com/Secrets-Flame-Protect-Cindy-Schuricht/dp/0989658023/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1421705373&sr=1-2

Every author has to answer the question of who is the audience?

My original hope for the story’s audience focused on parents and children who had read together for years.

Secrets of the Flame: The Power to Protect would be the grand-finale joint bedtime story—a story that helps a parent let go and a child claim his or her independence with grace rather than teenage rage at parental “stupidity.”

See what I mean about hubris?

Hubris confronted.

With all the bookmarks I put in for things I want to remember

With all the bookmarks I put in for things I want to remember

After rethinking Joseph Campbell’s jewel story, my hope is that Secrets of the Flame is an entertaining and exciting practice step for the journey to independence that parents and children take—a journey that starts with the first wobbly cruise around the coffee table.

Joseph Campbell also gave me a way to think about the family story arc. Parents and children bond. To become adults, children must claim their independence, sometimes painful for both kids and parents.

Eventually, something new has to go beyond or transcend the opposites of bonding and breaking apart. This something new has to include both—sacrificing neither the bond nor the independence to the other. Expect a certain degree of backsliding in one or the other, however.

I don’t feel comfortable until I acknowledge that I can’t promise you’ll fall in love with The Secrets of the Flame: The Power to Protect.

Some people do love it—they’ve told me they read it in one sitting, couldn’t put it down, or it made them laugh and cry. After reading it, some people have purchased more copies for gifts.

Cairns along Shelter Island and San Diego Harbor

Cairns along Shelter Island and San Diego Harbor

Other people have said it’s well-written, but not their cup of tea.

Which will it be for you? Beats me.

So my hope is that the book will find its way to the right people. I hope some of you will try the book and then leave an Amazon review that will help others make a decision about it.

Night blooming epiphyllum

Night blooming epiphyte

Thank you.

But Enough About My Book (for now), Let’s Talk About Boys

Statue of fishing boy at the entrance to the Whittier Library. That reminds me Bookfaire coming in March to Whittier College!

Statue of fishing boy at the entrance to the Whittier Library. That reminds me Bookfaire coming in March to Whittier College!

When people talk about reluctant readers, they almost always refer to boys. The number of boys who choose reading as a voluntary activity is decreasing.

So here are a few books I think many boys could get into . . . since I’m not a fourth grade boy, I can’t be positive.Spirit animals

The Spirit Animal series, published by Scholastic beginning in 2013. I’ve only read the first one, Wild Born, by Brandon Mull. (Put a bear on the cover and I’ll pick it up.) Hint: I found the number of character names confusing so I had to return to the beginning and keep a list.

The book comes with a code “to unlock huge rewards” in the game at spiritanimals.com I can’t tell you about the game other than, as a parent, I’d tend to trust Scholastic. And maybe with the game and visuals, the names wouldn’t be so confusing.

If a kid is just going to read the book, pay attention to and remember the names of the four main characters who are introduced in the first four chapters—two boys and two girls, the names of their spirit animals, and the names of the Greencloaks. There are only a couple of other names out of sixty I wrote down that resurface in this story. (But perhaps they do in later books.)

I didn’t think the writing was great, but I could see a kid having fun with the adventure of the books and the game.

4th StallChris Rylander’s, The Fourth Stall, (the first in a series) published by Walden Pond Press in 2011. I heard Chris speak a couple of years ago and was very impressed. His goal is to write books he wishes he’d had available to him as a kid. Good reason!

Mac (who reminded me of a machine boss) starts a booming business at his school helping other kids with their problems. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have some difficult problems himself. The book is humorous, but my funny bone was only mildly tickled (see above re: title and not the target audience).

For young adults who like adventure, I recommend the adult nonfiction Blind Descent. This book by James M. Tabor, published in 2010 by Random House, is a fascinating account of two very different teams of cave explorers trying to find the deepest cave in the world.blind descent

I was stunned to learn how many kinds of danger super caves present. People crawl through spaces that are unbelievably tight, cliffs plunge hundreds of feet, multiple tunnels dead end. Imagine diving into dark water to look for a drain hole that could lead you further along a submerged tunnel.
This type of exploration has been compared to climbing Everest backwards, but with even less chance of rescue if you get into trouble. The cavers can be as isolated with as much chance of getting help as the Sandra Bullock character in Gravity. Who ya gonna call?

This book had me riveted—twice.

To read more: Porter Anderson wrote a Feb. post on boys and books. It’s a bit long, but interesting and he adds pieces from other people. You can find him at thoughtcatalog.com

With thanks to Elizabeth Spann Craig and her tweets about info for writers.

Two days ago, when a plastic bag flew off the pier, a boy of about eleven cast his line beyond the bag. On his second try, he caught it, reeled it in, admonished the person who lost it, and said, "I like to protect the ocean." He's a hero in my book.

Two days ago, when a plastic bag flew off the pier, a boy of about eleven cast his line beyond the bag. On his second try, he caught it, reeled it in, admonished the person who lost it, and said, “I like to protect the ocean.” He’s a hero in my book.

Secrets of the Flame: Joseph Campbell and the Jewel

http://www.amazon.com/Secrets-Flame-Protect-Cindy-Schuricht/dp/0989658023/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1421705373&sr=1-2
Today I’m writing a bit about the process of parent and child separation, especially in the presence of strong bonds. Here are some random memories that served as road signs in the writing of Secrets of the Flame: The Power to Protect.

BTW, Secrets of the Flame is a parable of bonding with an other, in this case a dragon raised by a pig, with all that entails, and then the letting-go as a child grows into  independence.

Memory: Years ago I read a passage from Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth.

In India, a guru might ask a mother to give him something precious, maybe a jewel, as practice in releasing her child when the time came.

With all the bookmarks I put in for things I want to remember

With all the bookmarks I put in for things I want to remember

Did I make that up??? I looked.

Yep. That’s what I thought he said.

Stinks.

Bird walk: This is what I think I understand about memories. They’re not very reliable—especially over the passage of time and with hearing other people’s experience of the same event. A spider on your leg is much larger than that same spider in its web (unless you run into the web). This is to warn you that the snippets below are my memories only.

Visitor at lily pond, Balboa Park

Visitor at lily pond, Balboa Park

Memory: John Sanford referred to a culture where a boy, at age twelve, dumped a bucket of water on his mother’s head and moved to the men’s house. Sanford told us it’s better than the way we separate in our culture.

Surely not.

Memory: The witch, who kept Rapunzel in the tower in “Into the Woods,” asked why her love isn’t enough for Rapunzel. She sings, “The child you love only grows into the child you lose.”

What?

Think back to telling the story you want to hear. Confession: I wanted an “and they lived* happily ever after—together” ending to my story.

Detail from quilt made by the author

Detail from quilt made by the author

I couldn’t have the ending I wanted. Joseph Campbell said so. John Sanford, Steven Sondheim, and the dragon agreed. Watch the movie Boyhood if you don’t believe us.

I would have to let my character live his own life. “We’ll always be together” wasn’t realistic. Neither was any sort of “ever after.”

The story arc for Gwendolyn was going to be something of a map for myself.

Detail from quilt made by the author

Detail from quilt made by the author

And isn’t an ending just another new beginning?

Into the woods and a new, unknown beginning

Into the woods and a new, unknown beginning

*Did you catch the * up there?

When I proofed my phrase “ . . . ‘they lived* happily ever after,” I had actually typed “they lied happily ever after.”

Simple typo or the unconscious bubbling to the top? You decide.

P.S. The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell (copyright 1988) is extraordinary. Since I didn’t find my story until page 257, I had the opportunity to reread the whole book. It’s a necklace of treasured jewels collected by the guru Campbell.

Secrets of the Flame: Pigs and Dragons

The first step of writing the picture book I wanted to hear should have been simple. Pick the characters. Easy as jelly on a soda cracker, right?

Sand sculpture at Weston super mace of The Lion and the Mouse by Rachael Stubbs, courtesy of Wikimedia

Sand sculpture at Weston super mace of The Lion and the Mouse by Rachael Stubbs, courtesy of Wikimedia

What weak, small animal will save and care for its natural predator?

I must have tried a hundred combinations, and I’m embarrassed to tell you how long this step took—so I won’t.

A mouse and a lion? Been done.

A cat and a dog? Too everyday.

"Black Kitten" by Revital Salomon, also Public Domain courtesy of Wikimedia

“Black Kitten” by Revital Salomon, also Public Domain courtesy of Wikimedia

A hedgehog and a . . .? I don’t have a clue what animal preys on hedgehogs.

Perhaps it was the hedgehog that sent up the lightbulb with the word “pig.”

Cochon by vfdbsn, courtesy of Wikimedia

Cochon by vfdbsn, courtesy of Wikimedia

Hey, I like pigs! My grandad raised some on his farm. My aunt kept a motherless piglet in a box in the kitchen. She named it Fritz. He followed us around like a puppy. (That my grandad called the same pig Porkchop is another story.)

Detail from quilt made by the author

Detail from quilt made by the author

Once I had my pig, the dragon lightbulb switched on. As long as I can remember, I’ve wished dragons weren’t always the bad guys in old tales. I want them tamed, not slain.

I knew the beginning and the ending of the story I wanted to hear. Just needed to travel from Point A to Point B.

But the characters had their own ideas about the route. They definitely wanted to take the scenic drive and had no sympathy for my desire to reach a particular destination.

More about Secrets of the Flame: The Power to Protect

Detail from quilt made by the author

Detail from quilt made by the author