Rescuing a Dragon(fly)

Creatures fill my world, my imagination, my dreams, my stories. odd variations erupt from dreams. I’ve ridden tigers the size of Clydesdales. A spaniel-sized zebra gave birth to zebra twins in my laundry room. I’ve faced challenges in getting a basilisk ready for a reptile show, including cooking up bait-treats for the show ring and making goggles to cover its eyes. My neighbors have threatened to call animal control when I had a minotaur calf grazing in the backyard.

Sooner or later, some version of a dream creature shows up in a story.

There are, of course, natural ones: dogs, cats, horses, a wide diversity of wild animals. Insects, too. Observations about them are sprinkled throughout my journals, fodder for stories. Last summer, I rescued a dragonfly from a spider web, and as it flew away, another story erupted.

Not about the dragonfly. No, lop off the last syllable—a new dragon story.

People ask where an author gets ideas. The pat answer is everywhere. I don’t often hear writers give any specifics beyond everywhere. Maybe the idea founts are so varied or so ephemeral that the writer him-/herself isn’t exactly certain. For myself, something as simple or as odd (or simply odd) as hearing a single word or glimpsing a color/texture/shape ignites a story. Often, though, it’s more substantial than that, even if the substance is a dream. Or some moment in life that others might not give a second thought.

I have one dragon story in progress already, so this one has to wait **ahem** in the wings. The one in-work is steampunk with dragon, set in the same milieu as my “Tools of the Trade” story. The characters from that one make a cameo appearance, but the focus is on characters from a different part of the world. Research into the Orient of the 1800s has slowed but not stopped the writing.

But the new story beckons  as brightly as a shiny bauble attracts a crow’s gaze. Will this one be the rescue of a dragon? Perhaps the companion of a dragon? Or something else? Don’t know yet. I only know this dragon’s purpose isn’t to guard a mountain of precious metal treasures, but it is under siege, with enemy snares around it and venom poised to destroy it and that which it guards.

Just like the dragonfly of last summer.

“Tools of the Trade” appears in my short story collection:

Leyfarers and Wayfarers   http://tinyurl.com/n8svgxs

Behind “Spider Dance”

“Spider Dance” wasn’t the story I set out to write when I decided to follow Nerelos (the main character from “Ley of the Minstrel”) into the lands of the Spider Lords. I had a vague idea of a bunch of evil spiders similar to Tolkien’s Shelob or Ungoliant. It was very, very vague.

Spiders. Hmm. Things I knew about spiders: they spin webs and they eat other bugs. Lots of eyes and legs. They can move fast and the stubby ones jump. A spider frightened Little Miss Muffet. An itsy-bitsy one climbed up a waterspout. I played with daddy-long-legs when I was a kid, and I still capture the occasional wolf spider in the house to set it free in the garden so it can eat other pestiferous bugs that annoy me.

Not enough to fill a story.

The trouble with research is that sometimes you find yourself fascinated by the subject totally aside from finding what you need to write a story.

My foray into arachnology left me amazed and humbled by the little creatures that inhabit our world. Did I think I had imagination? Hah — what a joke! One look at the anatomy of a spider, at the microscopic photographs of the tiniest hairs or the fangs on them boggled my mind. A table of spider silk’s tensile strength compared with other materials (such as rope, nylon, or steel) blew my feeble creativity away.

Things I now know about spiders:
Their blood is somewhat clear and faintly blue-tinted because it contains copper rather than iron as ours does.
They can regenerate body parts, even vital organs under some circumstances, during subsequent moultings.
Some spiders can rearrange their retinas as they look at different things.
Some have more intelligence than others. The little jumping spiders can change strategy when they are hunting according to what the prey is doing; sometimes they watch us, seemingly with interest.
There are pirate spiders that prey on other spiders by mimicking web-touching rituals of courtship or prey.
Some spiders fast for incredibly long periods prior to moulting.
Clean cobwebs can be used for impromptu bandages for cuts.
Spiders hear by interpreting air movement touching the complex hairs on their legs.
In some parts of the world, spiders are kept for the sport of spider fights.

The list goes on.

Think of it — real creatures stranger and more astounding than any fictional alien. We only notice them when they startle us or when we clean their abandoned webs from corners. I found myself reluctant to vilify them, to present them as nothing more than spawns of hell. It’s hard to do when research leads to respect.

Final note. In spite of all I learned, I didn’t rush out to purchase a pet tarantula. That will never happen. Probably.

“Ley of the Minstrel” and “Spider Dance” are available in my short story collection:
Leyfarers and Wayfarers http://tinyurl.com/n8svgxs

World-building: Musical Notes

 Comp-lute score close-up

The hunt is on. Somewhere in my files is the key to what notes on the bearing score I created mean. Notes on notes. Not how they work—that’s already in two published stories plus two more in progress set in the same milieu.

I love music, but my musical ability usually falls in the please-do-something-else-dear category. My only success is in learning to play a mountain dulcimer (a forgiving instrument for my limited repertoire) and a kalimba (ditto previous aside).

Otherwise…well, my singing voice has wonderful range—distressed cat yowl to grumpy bear growl—and probably qualifies as audio assault. Bam! The judge’s gavel echoes, and his sonorous, melodious voice pronounces the sentence: permanent house-arrest with duct tape for my mouth if I even attempt Mary Had a Little Lamb.

Relationships with most other musical instruments were brief and/or disheartening. Two months of accordion lessons ended when my dad got mumps and the teacher refused to return to our house. Guitar efforts took a lengthy hiatus when a chair leg impaled my guitar during a move. My teeth were too bad to continue clarinet lessons in 6th grade. I can annoy the dogs with my ocarina, but I’ve never advanced beyond an almost recognizable rendition of do-re-mi. And so on.

Still, the principles of music aren’t foreign to me, and time spent learning them wasn’t wasted.

Numerous authors incorporate music into their story worlds, whether this world (as in Anne Rice’s Violin or Elaine Bergstom’s Nocturne) or another milieu (J.R.R Tolkein’s Middle Earth, Anne McCaffrey’s Pern sub-series about Harper Hall, Louise Cooper’s Indigo series).

The writing books on worldbuilding have much to say about developing geography, history, religion, politics, but when it comes to culture, music rarely receives more than a paragraph or so (if any) about including it in a milieu. How strange is that? Consider how music is present in every aspect of our own lives even when it’s only somewhere in the background.

World-building notes now incorporate music as a major cultural aspect for any milieu I create.

Thus, in the pre-Scattering milieu of the AiFanir, melodies of harp-ships ring out across the oceans even as their notes serve as a type of sonar to judge water depths. Navigators on those ships plot bearings by music, and one learns to travel the bearing scores of leylines, a blend of music and pseudoscience.
My milieu of Kamanthia reveals musical similarities and differences as a character travels there. It also briefly explores non-human music (a stone creature singing?).

Music is in several of my stand-alone short stories, too.
The many voices in “Shell” are punctuated with snatches of sea shanties and ballads.
“Étude on the River” features the main character’s love of music and his concertina.
“Flipside” has a dj spinning strange but somehow familiar tunes.

I can’t make much music myself, but I can certainly write about it. And maybe make my worlds just a bit more well-rounded.

(Thinking about trying percussion. Bongo drums? Tambourine?…)

Leyfarers and Wayfarers is at \http://www.amazon.com/Leyfarers-Wayfarers-G-L-Francis/dp/0692336834/

Under Every Moon is at http://www.amazon.com/Under-Every-Moon-G-Francis/dp/0615870694/