Starting With a Memory

Holding Glasses over BibleAs children we are reared on stories of faeries, superstition, and magic—all sorts of fantastical myths. Why? Because myths are important to our culture, our values, and our belief system. They’re simply resplendent with lessons of life. And I think you would agree that we don’t outgrow the need for them.

Picture yourself as a child, sitting on your parent’s lap, storybook in hand. Hmm, let’s say it’s the classical story “Pandora’s Box.” Colorful pictures show a gruesome Zeus handing over a box to Pandora with the strict warning “Do not open the box.” HA! Well, we know what she does—and, more importantly, why. It’s all about curiosity. She, of course, opens the box and releases all the miseries of the world. Can’t you just see them flying out of that forbidden box and onto the splendidly illustrated pages of the book? And even today this archaic myth has meaning in our own world—one that could stir up a bit of discussion, don’t you think?

Nietzsche, the controversial but well-known German philosopher, believed that all stories are myths. And it’s partially true. Think back to your school days … to your classroom. Remember your English teacher harassing you with questions: What is the meaning of this story? What is the significance of so-and-so’s actions? Why do you think the author uses this setting? Well, you know what I mean. And I know that as you read novels today, some of those same questions come to mind. Well, okay, at least some of the time.

With that said, I would like to share with you how my novel, Dancing Naked in the Rain, came to be written:

Many years ago (actually three), a lady who had always dreamed of becoming an author finally sat down to begin her first novel. And she wrote and wrote and wrote. She wrote 50,000 words (enough for a short novel). But she knew it wasn’t the book she wanted to write. So, she wrapped a rubber band around the stack of papers and threw it in a box in her closet.
Then she went on a trip to England’s Lake District and the Scottish Highland. She walked walled cities, explored Roman Amphitheatres, and marveled at 14th century wood carvings of dragons, kings, angels, human caricatures, and monsters. She walked 50 million-year-old valleys and lakebeds and reread Wordsworth’s “Daffodils” as she sat in his garden overlooking hundreds of the golden flowers “fluttering and dancing in the breeze.” She walked the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond and even peered into Loch Ness with the hopes of a glimpse of the monster. But what really caught her fancy? No, it wasn’t the Cairngorms or Pitlochry or Edinburgh or Inveraray Castle. It was an unscheduled stop in a Celtic graveyard.

‘Woven from the many centuries of decayed debris of fallen limbs, leaves, and sphagnum, the soft earth sank like a richly nubbed carpet under her feet. The woodsy scent wafted up to fill her nostrils, carried by the simultaneous disturbance from her physical presence and the wind’s sinuous movement. She breathed in deeply, delighting in the fragrance. The towering trees whipped above, casting flickers of sunlight and shadow. She spread her arms, leaning back, her face tilted towards the sky. She fancied something, maybe some spirit …’ –from Dancing Naked in the Rain.

Anyway, that experience filled her (that’s me) with ideas, ideas that would speed my novel’s protagonist on to an adventure of her own, one involving an unfulfilled dream.
So I returned home and pulled my manuscript out of the box. In the end, I axed 20,000 words and added 60,000 more, spinning my story out of the Scottish folktale “Tam Lin,” a story that should definitely be one of our own. In the tale of Tam Lin, a young laddie is stolen by the faeries, and a lassie, as luck would have it, decides to save him because she decides she must, yes, I say must have him. (You know how that story goes.) In the process, she suffers through many horrific trials. Sound familiar?

Amidst the struggles of the young lassie in “Tam Lin,” as with the struggles of Megan McEller, the heroine of Dancing Naked in the Rain, is a moral, a lesson to be learned—that anything worth having is worth fighting for. You can choose to ignore the lesson if you like. The story is still entertaining. If you choose to look deeper, you’ll find some questions on my web site to help you along the way.

I wish you the best. Hold on to your dreams and don’t let go—no matter how many monsters wag their heads.