Then There Be Dragons
In author Terry Pratchett's Disc World series, dragons are real, as long as people believe in them. The stronger the belief, the more magnificent the dragon. In the series' first book, The Color of Magic, the main character is high above the ground, escaping on someone else's imagined dragon when he realizes doubting the dragon's existence could mean a long fall to the ground.
An article I wrote called Never Stop Believing was recently published in the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Bulletin magazine. It was about perseverance and fighting doubt in your work. I don't think I've ever met an artist or writer who hasn't faced doubt. For some, it's a constant companion. Writers experience it when their first drafts are criticized by peers, their polished work rejected by agents and editors, and their published work picked on by negative reviewers.
Yet, we keep on creating. It's who we are. Art grows inside of us and begs to be fulfilled. So we write our stories and craft our artworks and we try to believe they're worthy. That's where the dragons come in. I love the idea of a mighty beast as metaphor for our belief. The stronger our faith in our work, the more powerful the dragon. And it isn't just about our work, it's about believing in who we are, right now, no matter what we look like or what we've accomplished or how we compare to others. If we don't believe in ourselves, we cripple our abilities and potential.
Imagine you're nestled behind a dragon's wings, flying high over your town. You've just finished your latest art or story and it's good, maybe better than good. You can't wait to show it to others. Some love it and some don't. You downplay the praise and focus on the criticism. Your dragon starts to fade and you're falling fast towards the ground.
If we rely on others to confirm our art is worthy, we abandon the creative spirit inside of us. That spirit needs our faith to keep it flying high. So envision your dragon and feed it often. Grow it into something powerful and beautiful, just like you.
Reading from the Printz List
I've challenged myself to read five books from the Newberry award list and five from the Printz list by the end of this year. I'm starting with Sir Terry Pratchett's Dodger, a Printz winner.
Pratchett creates worlds and characters every bit as rich and amusing as the ones in Harry Potter's world, and he was doing it long before J.K. Rowling dreamed up the boy wizard. Makes me wonder if she might have been a wee bit influenced by him. Pratchett's fantasy series Disc World boasts forty-one books, including the Tiffany Aching subseries, written for YA readers.
Set in Victorian London, Dodger is historical fiction with a twist (Pardon the pun. I promise, it wasn't intentional.) "I'm Dodger on account of I'm never there if you know what I mean. Everybody knows Dodger." That's the voice of Pratchett's seventeen-year-old protagonist, a tosher by trade. Toshers troll the city's underground for the things people drop. On good days, that's coins and jewelry. On bad days, it's . . . well . . . it's the stuff people usually deposit in sewers. Although, believe it or not, in those days, London's sewers were fairly clean. Dodger is king of the toshers, an expert pick pocket and petty thief, and he's never once been caught by the Peelers (If you don't know what this is, you will by the end of the book).
Dodger also has a heart. Living with an old Jewish man that he saved from thugs, Dodger never hesitates to jump in if someone needs help. When writer and journalist Charles Dickens discovers Dodger saving a badly beaten young woman named Simplicity from attackers, he hires Dodger to help him discover who beat her and why. Dodger is smitten with Simplicity. He agrees to help Dickens. The mystery draws him out of his comfortable, lower class world into the realm of the educated and wealthy. While Dodger upends aristocratic London, he begins to believe toshing may not be all his future holds.
Pratchett wrote this book as a tribute to Henry Mayhew, a peer of Dickens who published articles and a book highlighting the horrible conditions of London's poor. Dickens' work is too dark and tragic for me. But there's no denying his talent for creating unforgettable stories and characters. Pratchett plucked Dodger from Dickens' Oliver Twist, added his limitless imagination and edgy humor, then set the teen loose to tell his story. It's a fantastic read. If you haven't already read it, what are you waiting for?
Sir Terry Pratchett is sadly suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer disease. But he continues to write with the help of a dedicated assistant and his daughter. He also enjoys speaking so there are lots of videos of him on YouTube. You'll find some of them posted on his site. Go there, check it out.
Dodger has a healthy respect for rats, being as he spends so much time with them. Since rats are notorious hoarders, I imagine they do their own toshing. And that's where today's sketch comes from.
I write middle grade and young adult books with a magical twist. I'm represented by the fabulous Leslie Zampetti of Dunham Lit.
Lorin Oberweger - Freelance Editor