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!

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.

Secrets of the Flame: Joseph Campbell and the Jewel
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.


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.”


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.