This month in YA Outside the Lines, we’re exploring fact vs. fiction in our stories. This topic made me smile, and of course I wanted to share this here as well, as this is exactly what “happens” in WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN. The boy is thrilled when a dragon takes up residence in his “perfect” sandcastle and wants to share the magnificent news with his family…but no one believes him! The story, thanks to brilliant illustrator Howard McWilliam actually allows the readers to decide for themselves. Is the dragon real? Or just a figment of the boy’s imagination?
I love to share this picture book during my author visits. When I ask these questions at the end, the decision is usually a 50:50 split within the audience, and each child is adamant about his/her decision, armed with passionate arguments to back it up.
Personally, hard as someone may try, I don’t think it’s possible to create anything without at least a teeny bit of our own selves running through it. After all, we see the world through our own eyes, processing it piece by piece based upon our own references.
The same can also be said of reading. We all bring our own emotional baggage and experiences to the stories we explore, which means that in a sense, we all read a completely different tale.
But here’s the question. Does an author know whether he/she is writing fact or fiction? And are the lines sometimes blurred?
This past week, I picked up a manuscript I hadn’t touched for about a year. This happens to me a lot. I get started, but then lose my way. Sometimes because I haven’t thought the whole thing through (yet). Sometimes because another project speaks to me in a louder or more insistent voice.
This project had a little of both. Although I couldn’t find the words to finish it earlier, it now seemed to call out for me like a child in need. Or perhaps it was my own inner child begging me to return…
You see, I grew up in a development of houses that bordered a golf course. In the winter (much to the irritation of the ground keepers), it made for some fantastic sledding trails. One afternoon, when there wasn’t anyone around to sled with, I decided to take myself on a nature walk through the wooded section. Near a clearing, under a tall tree, I found a baby bird. He’d obviously fallen from a nest, thankfully unscathed. I remember looking around to see if the mother was anywhere near. She wasn’t. In fact, I didn’t even hear another bird. It was just me, and this little guy.
Alone. In this big, big world.
(Note: since I obviously didn’t take pictures when I was six, the part of the little bird will be played by our dove, Bake, who has always wanted to be in theatre.)
In my six-year old mind, it was up to me to save this baby. To teach him how to fly back to the nest where he’d be safe. Of course, I’d been taught never to touch wild animals, for reasons of safety…theirs and my own.
But I looked around and found a feather. Speaking in a soft voice, I explained the plan to my new little friend. And then I prodded him. Ever so gently. With the feather. He hopped forward. I praised him, then prodded again. Once more, he hopped. I must have spent over an hour doing this. Each time, he’d hop farther. A little bit higher. Soon, his wings began to flutter, then to flap. We kept working together. Tirelessly. Prod. Flap. Prod. Flap. Prod. Flap.
Until he flew.
At first, he only traveled a few feet, and in the wrong direction, wobbling like Snoopy’s best friend, Woodstock. But we never lost hope, this bird and I. Over and over, he’d try, and I’d cheer. And finally, I watched as he fumbled his way up, up, up and landed in his nest.
I remember my heart filling. I remember spinning around as the snowflakes began to fall. And I remember hearing birds all around me, chirping, celebrating, rejoicing for my little buddy and me.
Did the last part really happen? I don’t know for sure. In my mind, it did. In my heart, it did. In my memories, it absolutely did.
I guess it will be up to my readers to decide whether it was indeed fact, or fiction.
May you all experience, and spread, a bit of kindness…today and forever.