I am of Welsh descent, so I was immediately drawn to Shawn MacKenzie – she writes about Dragons, and Dragons are abundant in Welsh lore. And heck, there’s a Dragon on the Welsh Flag. Shawn’s writing is inspirational and full of amusing
imagination; her writing creates a world where Dragons truly exist. As Stephen King made us believe in vampires, Shawn will make you believe in Dragons. She has taken Dragon lore to its ultimate, and then pushed it beyond ultimate. Please welcome
writer Shawn MacKenzie.
Finding Calliope In Dragon-Song
by Shawn MacKenzie
The following is absolutely true. Except the parts which aren’t.
Miles Davis said, “Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.” The same is true of writers. That elusive quality known as the author’s voice seldom springs sonorous and fully trained the first moment we put pen to paper. When I think back to my earliest literary attempts, most were poor pastiches of my favorite—or at least latest—bedside readings. In hindsight, it’s more than kind to say those scribblings were embarrassing; but I was as tenacious (and frumious) as a bandersnatch, taking Samuel Beckett’s advice to, “Try again, fail again. Fail better.”
Now, a platitude, even one borrowed from Beckett, isn’t worth spit without a story to move it along. So let’s fast forward a decade or two. I’d dug in and learned my craft; I could spin a sentence with the best of them. Yet that wasn’t enough: to these ears, my voice remained thin and uncertain and I didn’t know how to “fix” it. Then, one day, I was on a head-clearing walk in the wilds when, through the undergrowth, I caught the flash of dappled Dragon-shine and had a “Eureka!”moment that could have driven Archimedes naked to the streets. Not the seeing Dragons part—I’d be surprised not to find Dragon-sign in the Vermont woods (and surely Dragons would have been familiar, if not common, to the ancient Hellenes). No, this was more along the lines of finding one of those cognitive keys that makes every tumbler in every lock fall into place (and makes you feel a moron, to boot, for not “getting it” sooner):
Write what you know. If you don’t know anything, write what you love.
I’ve known and loved Dragons since I was knee-high to an aspis. Not as plush Puffs or Elliotts (a k a Pete’s Dragon, though for anyone to claim possession of a Dragon, no matter how portly and ginger-haired, is the height of impudence), nor as monsters glowering from unlit corners and closet shadows, eager to lacerate the dreamtime. No, the creatures of my acquaintance were sleek and wild, with razor wits and crystal eyes; they were my glorious champions against the dark, fighting demons of every ilk with fire and fang. It wasn’t until that day in the forest, though, that it hit me: after such noble service, they deserved someone to speak for them, to tell their tales and set the record straight. And so, I finally wised up and began to write about Dragons.
The initial result of this epiphany was “The Care & Feeding of Dragons,” a slender guide to alternative pet maintenance which covered the basics of Dragon keeping for the young and young at heart. It began as a project for my own erudition and fun, to be shared with a few dracophilic friends; publication was the farthest thing from my mind. Of course, in the world of Dragons change is the one constant you can rely upon so it was only natural that, over the years, my work changed: 25 pages grew to over 200 and, refined and polished, came within a wyvern’s breath of being published. The blessings of the Great Dragon surely extricated me from that near disaster! (If all our horror stories about publishers were put end to end they would reach from here to Atlantis and back again! But that’s another story. I will not chafe and chuff now for the hard lessons I learned have proved invaluable.) Five years ago, the manuscript took up residence in my desk; I would take it out now and then, tweak it here and there. All good. It was time for new directions, new books, new tales—a few of which even found their way into print. The local Dragons didn’t mind. In fact, I think they were relieved to be able to continue living in Green Mountain obscurity. The last thing most Dragons want is thrill-seekers—no matter how Dragon-friendly—tramping through their weyr lands. Of course, I left mention of the book on my web site—just in case.
There is a refrain in Mary Chapin Carpenter’s song, The Long Way Home: “Accidents and inspiration lead you to your destination.” Nothing could more aptly describe the cosmic serendipity of the creative universe in which, just when we have all but forgotten a project, something amazing happens. With me, it was a matter of Mercury coming out of retrograde and the folks at Llewellyn Worldwide—a publisher attuned to the mystical and extraordinary— deciding they needed a volume on Dragon care in their catalogue. The acquisitions editor in charge of paranormal and crypto-studies went to the Internet, googled, “Care & Feeding of Dragons” and voila! E-mails were sent (bless the speed of Cyberia!) and then my manuscript. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite what they were looking for—too fictional. Couldn’t disagree on that score. There were talking
Dragons in it, for Ladon’s sake!—a sure sign of fantasy among those not fluent in Dragonese.
Time for another walk through Dragon country….
In the glorious rush of wing-shear that sharpens the senses and sets hair on edge, I remembered something: I was a writer, a teller of tales—and I knew Dragons. If the old manuscript wasn’t right, I would simply pen a new one, a better one. I would listen to the Dragons, and, with their permission, set down facts and fancies of their lives, both primordial and modern. I’d write the book Llewellyn wanted. I pitched the proposal and was given a green light. Then, every day for nine-months, I wrote. I didn’t always know where the Dragons were leading, but I attended with care and followed most willingly. It was, after all, their story.
When the last period was placed, the last reference triple checked, the last chapter proofed, I attached my labors to an e-mail, took a deep breath, and hit SEND. In that moment of letting go, the heart cannot help but sink a bit—your hatchling is venturing forth, alone into the world!—then came the fierce flutters of panic. Is it the book they wanted? (Yes!) Will the publisher like it? (Yes, yes!) Funny that, no matter how much we believe in our work or how well it’s been received by our friends and writers’ groups, doubt always lurks like an iaculus in an acacia, fangs bared, just waiting to pounce. The fangs may retract a little with the approval of publisher and later, press and public, but they are always there at the ready. Of course the thing about panic is that you can’t keep it up over the long haul. There are edits to make and galleys to review, not to mention new projects demanding attention. There’s simply no time to panic. But I digress.
That was almost a year ago. Now, twenty months from inception to birth—just like a baby dragonlet—The Dragon Keeper’s Handbook is about to hit the bookstores. It would not have been possible without the support of friends, my writers’ group, and everyone at Llewellyn. Most of all—and I trust my human acquaintances will not take offense at the superlative—I am indebted to the Dragons for their confidence, their magic, their awesome wonder. They have been generous with their teaching, but, more than that, they have been patient with me. They gave me the luxury to write about them for a long time, to wrap my words in the polyphony of Dragon-song until, at last, communing with my inner Dragon, I am writing like myself.
And not just about Dragons. But that’s another story, too.
For now, they are front and centre, where they belong, in a spiky-wiky book full of their truth, humor, and fiercely draconic prose. And for that I thank them every day and twice on Lammastide.
Shawn MacKenzie had her first Dragon encounter when she was four years old and happened upon a copy of The Dragon Green by J. Bissell-Thomas. That was the beginning of a lifelong friendship. A graduate of Bennington College, she’s a writer of sci-fi/fantasy and an editor of crossword puzzles. Her stories have been published in Southshire Pepper-Pot, 2010 Skyline Review, and as a winner of the 2010 Shires Press Award for Short Stories. Shawn is an avid student of myth, religion, philosophy, and animals, real and imaginary, great and small. Thoughts, writings, and ramblings can be found at: http://mackenziesdragonsnest.com.
Do you believe in Dragons now? If you do, make a comment here – by Thursday, September 8, noon central time – and be entered in a random drawing to win a signed copy of Shawn MacKenzie’s The Dragon Keeper’s Handbook (The Dragon Keeper’s Handbook will be available in bookstores early September. The lucky winner will get their signed copy shortly thereafter).