I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Jim Harold for the Cryptid Report.
Talking all about Dragons. Enjoy.
I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Jim Harold for the Cryptid Report.
Talking all about Dragons. Enjoy.
Month of the Dragon is winding down.
After a week of telling tales and getting a proper lesson in TANSTAAFL over Chipping-In Weekend, it is time to share the best of ourselves, our charitable selves, with our Dragon friends. It’s Adopt-a-Dragon Week.
The Adopt-A-Dragon program is an integral part of the Dragon Conservancy. It was started as an offshoot of WAFDE in the relatively peaceful decades following WWII, and came into its own at the end of the last century. In recent years of accelerated climate change and global upheavals, it is all the more important that we redouble our efforts to keep Dragons safe in the world.
Modeled after the U.S. Bureau of Land Management‘s National Wild Horse and Burro Program and the American Bear Association’s Friend of the Cubs, AAD is a way Dragon lovers around the world can stay connected to these marvelous creatures and feel like they are contributing to the continuance of Dragon welfare on a global scale. From the Tibetan Quad to the forests of Belize, Dragon-loving individuals can “adopt a Dragon.” You get a certificate of fosterage, and a weekend pass to the Dragon Sanctuary of your choice.
A recent adjunct is the KFD (Kids for Dragons) school outreach program, geared at classes of kids from the 6th-grade on up.* With parental consent—of course!—school groups can pool their resources and adopt a young Dragon. The fee is nominal and AAD tries to hook classes up with young Dragons from nearby sanctuary. As an environmental teaching tool and dispeller of negative myths, the program is without equal! And, as a field trip, nothing beats going to see the class adoptee, watching her grow through the years from gangly dragonlet to full-winged, fire-breathing adolescent. If you or your school are interested in partaking of all KFD has to offer, contact your local chapter of WAFDE.
Remember, AAD not only channels much needed support and goodwill into conservation efforts, it also provides dracophiles with a rewarding sense of chipping in. In this age of rampant species extinction, every little bit helps us all.
* Dragons are considered a little too terrifying for younger children. There are enough obstacles to our friends without adding irate parents and the wrath of the psychiatric community worried about youthful nightmares to the mix.
Swarms of Fears and Monsters
Fear tastes like a rusty knife and do not let her into your house.
There are so many hindrances – both mystical and mundane – to our process, yet a handful rise to the surface like apples waiting to be bobbed. They tangle together, crossing my mind in no particular order, so I offer them, simply, as the spirit moves.
Anideophobia – the fear of being bereft of ideas. What if the well has run dry and there is no rain in sight? This hits me every Monday as I ponder where to go with the week’s Editor’s Corner. Today, for example, I was all set to discuss writers’ groups, but then I discovered I’d done that already. Panic! What to do? Of course, elementally, every story has already been told; that’s just a given. And often with such blinding brilliance that there seems little point in even trying anew. Life, death, love, loss – what else is there? But if we think about it, it’s not the “what,” it’s the “how.” After all, Shakespeare had nary an original plot to his name, relying on Boccaccio and Plutarch, recent history and ancient legend. Thankfully, that didn’t stop him.
If you fear you’ve run out of ideas, go for a walk or sit in a café (or look at the calendar); be around other people, watch and listen to them. Glean a passing interaction or a snippet of conversation (eavesdropping has its place in a writer’s life). Then remember that you have your own voice – your own “how” to telling. From such kernels all sorts of tales can grow, and you will be never run out of ideas.
Vacansopapurosophobia – fear of the blank page. There it is, all crisp and clean, just staring at us, laughing, taunting us to fill it with scintillating prose. For how can we hope to match the existential power of the pristine page? Each word changes the void, shapes it to our will, but are they worthy? And if they’re not, can we go back or have we destroyed the unsullied surface beyond repair? Round and round we go, until the very thought of starting feels as profane as pissing on virgin snow. Best put it off for another day, right?
No, no, no. No! It is the emptiness which terrifies. Break the silence of the page! Forge ahead – put anything down, even nonsense – and the monster is sent packing.
Personally, I thank the computer for helping me over this fear. Light and pixels you can wipe away with a keystroke are less intimidating than actual physical paper marked with physical ink. (It also appeals to the Scot in me who frets over pennies and waste.)
Atelophophobia – fear of imperfection. What if our words are not the right words, or if, among a hundred diamonds, we let slip a simple chunk of coal. It could happen – it does happen. Always. On a certain level, we all strive for perfection, to write that flawless piece of prose or poetry. A lofty goal, perhaps, but totally unrealistic. Even brilliant ideas and well-honed craft all backed by a battalion of editors and proofreaders, there simply is no such thing as the perfect story. You make yourself crazy trying to achieve the impossible.
According to legend, the great artists of antiquity would put a deliberate flaw in each of their creations, lest they invoke the jealousy of the Gods. It might not be noticeable to the casual eye, but it’s there nonetheless. (Arachne forgot this bit of wisdom and it got her into a real web of trouble!) So don’t let the idea of perfection paralyze. A little coal does not necessarily spoil the luster of our gems; it can, make them dazzle the more brightly.
Atychiphobia/Epitychiphobia – the twin fears of success and failure. What if I can’t do it, what if I can? Beginning, middle, end, these fears raise their grisly heads at will along our writer’s progress, and just when we’ve conquered them for one book, they rise up again like necromantic hordes for the next. They stop us from starting, from finishing, from sending our literary children out into the world.
Worrying we’re not good enough – that one’s easy. While anyone can write, getting published is another matter entirely. The competition is fierce, rejects outweighing acceptances thousands to one. True, for better and worse, e-books and self-publishing open up new avenues and encouragements. But what happens if we put our e-book out there and no one buys it – or, worse yet, no one reads it even when we give it away? Such potential scenarios feed our fears of rejection. As thick skinned as we think ourselves, failure or the prospect of failure, can be devastating. It becomes particularly thorny as the rejection letters from agents and publishers start to pile up. We tinker and rewrite and send our MS out again – and again – and again. But, if we’re not careful, zombie fears can keep coming back until we toss our work into a draw and take that correspondence course in accounting we were holding in reserve.
Fight through. Write, heed critiques, write better, persevere. And remember that the rules of publishing are often not directly related to the quality of writing. If you doubt this, just meander through your local bookstore for an afternoon. Publishing is a business, and timing, trends, and luck, have a lot to do with catching a publisher’s eye.
As for epitychiphobia, or the fear of success, this is trickier. It afflicts some of us, but not all, speaking to the individual states of our individual egos. True, laboring in isolation for years writing the next “Satanic Verses” or “Interview with a Vampire,” only to have fame, fortune, even opprobrium come one’s way, can give the most extroverted narcissist pause. Then of course, there is the follow up, which, if not as good will only show what an absolute fraud one is! A nasty cycle.
For most of us, I say go for it. Be bold and brave and embrace whatever good fortune lands in your lap. It is a rare gift not to be shunned.
As ghouls and goblins roam the world and fears become manifest, remember that the ones that stop us writing are “what ifs” at best. “What if” is a pedant’s sport that distracts and mires us in inertia with its Medusa stare. This Halloween, don’t let the “what ifs” win.
We must not look at goblin men,
We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry thirsty roots?
Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen.
Don’t be afraid.
… Frederick Buechner
Some common house dragons around the world:
Wales and West Britain: fferm gwybers
Lithuania: aitvaras; smij
Eastern Europe: puki; žaltys pisuhänd
Volga River Basin: naui
India: gnar (house); mandir (temple);
dhuan (smoke) nagas (not to be
confused with the much larger
jungle nagas); tangaroas of the PaKorea: kyeryongs
Pacific Islands: tangaroas
Back on Jabberwocky Appreciation Day, I promised to devote a special day to house dragons – and one must always keep dragon promises.
Whenever I talk to people about Dragons, there are two responses which I can be sure to hear: 1) Dragons are awesome, and 2) everyone wants a house dragon.
The former is a no brainer for anyone who has spent one moment in the company of Dragons. I believe the latter is in large part a reflection of our species’ love of ‘cute.’ Face it: we are devoted to our cats and dogs but go gaga over kittens and puppies. In fact, if house dragons were not already ubiquitous, some entrepreneurial geneticist would likely be busy in a lab, splicing and dicing to create the perfect pint-sized dragon.
Thankfully, nature has already provided us with an abundance of draco domesticus, from the frilled walek of the Australian outback to the fiery-tailed kaukas of Lithuania.
“Seldom more than a meter in length, these nimble globetrotters are the toy breeds of the pseudo-dragon world, snuggling up close to human habitations, bringing good fortune to those who treat them well, travesty to those who treat them ill.
“The code of house dragon husbandry is simple: provide them with shelter, warmth, daily meals, and the occasional scratch on the tummy, and you will garner their lifelong loyalty and protection. They will control rodents and other intrusive pests, even keep unwanted solicitors and bill collectors at bay. Some of the more sociable species are particularly adept at watching children, though it is essential to teach your kids proper dragon safety. Dragon ivories are sharp and some will breathe fire or spit venom if threatened. Terrible though this sounds, remember that dogs and cats do not hesitate to use their teeth and claws, and a parrot’s beak can slice a hand down to the bone, and these are our everyday domestic companions.
“Though they choose to be close to hearth and family, house dragons are feral creatures and need to be treated with due deference. We’re talking Dragon Interaction 101: Don’t pull their wings or step on their tails, and never to put fingers near their mouths before they’ve eaten breakfast. These are simple rules but particularly important for children to know inside out. With a little preparatory work in hand you can avoid distressing your dragon and/or making unwanted trips to the emergency room.” [“Dragons for Beginners,” p. 89-90]
Since this is a week for Dragon Tales, I thought I would tell a little known but ne’er forgot tale of a Lithuanian aitvaras and the beginnings of the House-Dragon Rebellion of 1397.
Once upon a time, Europe was alive with Dragons large and small. Then the Dark Times came, driving many of the great Westies across the Pond or beyond the mystic veil, and leaving a world in which lesser dragons could thrive. For you see, try though the Church did to demonize Dragons, the people held onto the love and respect they had of them, even if they had to transfer it all to the wee house dragons of the land. This was particularly true in the continent’s stalwart pockets of Paganism, one of the last of which was the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
Sadly, even Lithuania could not hold back the tide of the times, and Grand Duke Jogaila Christianized the region in 1387. This did not prevent some on the more zealous Teutonic knights from rampaging through the duchy, routing out the few remaining Pagans in the land.
Which brings us to our story. In 1396, on the banks of the Sventa River, in the acrid shadow of the razed remains of Ukmerge Fortress, there lived a woman, Giedre, and her two children, Daina and Lukas. Giedre’s husband, Zydrunas, had been a good man, a man of the fields, keeping his family in creature comforts with just enough over to meet the Crown levies. Then the wars came, good men and bad were killed, and those left behind, like Giedre, survived as best they could.
One spring morning, the children were out mushrooming in the woods when they came upon an egg shimmering in a nest of leaf-litter. Wild eggs were a rare find, especially one larger than a goose’s, so they tucked it into their basket and ran back home to show their mother. Now, Giedre was raised in the old ways and knew a aitvaras dragon egg when she saw one. In her best iron pot, she wrapped the treasure in red wool and set it by the hearth. “Don’t touch,” she warned Daina and Lukas. “We must keep the fire hot and wait.”
Wood being scarce, they fortunately didn’t have to wait long. Two days later, at the setting of the full moon, the shell cracked open with the sound of twigs underfoot and a baby house dragon, black as night with a fiery tail. Giedre gave it an omelets – preferred aitvaras fare – which it devoured as only a newborn dragonlet would. Then it curled up on the red wool and fell fast asleep.
This was the start of a long and beautiful relationship between dragon – Blykstė (Flash) was his name – and family. An omelet in the morning and he was ready to go, watching over the family as they went about their chores, helping them find the best patches of wild herbs and ‘shrooms. And then, at night, while Giedre and her brood slept, Flash would slip out through the window and scour the countryside for trinkets, coins, and jewels. Like a proud mouser with his catch, he would place them in circles, like faerie rings, round his family’s pillows.
So it was that the fortunes of the family improved. Giedre was wise enough not to flaunt their dragon-found prosperity, but, over time, the roof was repaired, an extension added to the barn for the new goats and extra hens. Daina wore new ribbons in her hair and Lukas got a soft tunic to replace the one two-years outgrown. The family knew meat when they wanted and wood when they needed. Like was good. Life was terrific.
But they were suspicious times and, since the Teutonic wars, most followers of the old ways lived in fear, those who did not convert being circumspect at best. No matter how careful Giedre was or how far afield Flash foraged, their meager increase in status was met with leers and slander. Large or small, dragons were Lucifer’s minions and those who profited from their aid surely paid for their ill-gotten gains with their souls. It did not help matters that a Papal legate was personally overseeing the construction of Ukmerge’s new church.
When the bishop – flanked by the Duke Jogaila’s guard with pikes at the ready – traipsed through her garden and pounded on her door, Giedre was not surprised. Fortunately, the bishop was even more open to a bribe than the next man, and so an arrest was forestalled. She and her children – for children were hardly exempt from judgment – had only to appear before the ecclesiastic court in one week’s time and answer to the charges of church and state. (One is always curious: who was more outraged – the state for an upending of the economic status quo, or the church for a stray sheep lost to temporal temptation. While the two are certainly linked, my inclination is that cash trumps souls every time.
As soon as the bishop left, Flash took to the skies. From the Baltic coast to the banks of the Dnepr, from the Gulf of Finland to the Carpathian heights, he sent out the call to his house-dragon kin. Puuk, zlatys, pisuhänd,even gargoyles, rallied to Giedre’s need. As she and her children stood before church and crown, a flock of house dragons filled the sky, swooping down and lifting Blykstė’s family to safety is a glorious display of draconus ex machina.
With that action, on that day, the House-Dragon Rebellion began in fact and lore, generation after generation, century after century, Robin-Hooding it around the world.
So the WAFDE Chronicles record it.
And I for one, would never doubt a history told by Dragons.
Leave it to a glorious Harvest Moon to give Lorca the extra push/pull she needed to have her kittens! On the couch, surrounded by a passel of curious critters and her doting humans.
Last night, just after 8:00 p.m., the first of her tiny furry quartet popped into the world. With a yowl that woke all the other critters – and probably half the neighborhood – she gave birth to a little ginger kitten! Instincts kicking in, she cleaned him up and the tyke latched onto Mom for dear life and his first meal. (I say he/him/his for all of them, but it’s really too early to tell.)
Then Lorca relaxed, slept a bit, and, bingo, out came #2 around 8:30 – another ginger!
Mom did her thing and kicked back for a while – slept, had her belly rubbed, etc….10:00 p.m. and #3 arrives. At first we thought he was all black, but as he was cleaned and dried off, it became apparent that he’s a gorgeous black and silver tabby. Jennifer immediately claimed him as the one to stay, and named him Whitman.
It was fast getting past my bedtime, but I wanted to stay up for a couple more hours, just to be sure all was well and no more bundles were on the way. By 1:00, we put her and the kids in their box on clean bedding and I left Jennifer – who stays up ’til dawn anyway – to watch them through the night.
Their first day in the world is going well. Everyone is hungry – nay, ravenous! Lorca is the sweetest mom, loves being the center of attention and doesn’t even mind Carter and Poe dropping by to visit. I think she may have been stung by a bee, though, as her right paw inexplicably swelled this morning and she’s favoring it. A call to the vet in the morning if it hasn’t improved over night (though I can’t imagine her wanting to leave her kids for even a moment).
Thanks to everyone who participated in the kitten pool. A special congrats to the winner, Nancy Adams! I will be contacting you about your prize shortly.
Now, I will try to relax. An early night, tonight, for all.