Archive for October, 2010

DRAGONFLY: Historical Notes and Pictures

October 16, 2010

In honor of the recent round of comments and questions about Dragonfly (see the previous post for some wonderful stories of how readers first encountered the book), I wanted to give you a few more glimpses into the book’s origins. In a long-ago post (still available for reading/viewing on this blog) called “Dragonfly: The Commentary Track,” I posted a couple photos of the “Dragonfly Grove” at Niigata University — the little grove of trees under which I had the first concrete sparks of the idea for the novel. But of course, the book began to percolate long before that. As Tolkien wrote: “[A book such as The Lord of the Rings] grows like a seed in the dark, out of the leaf-mould of the mind.” The “mould” of fallen autumn leaves that produced Dragonfly lies back across the decades in the little prairie town of Taylorville, Illinois, where I grew up.

Taylorville is the seat of Christian County. Here's the famous courthouse. This is the angle from which I most frequently saw it, from the corner nearest our family's bookstore.

In the book’s opening chapter, the eponymous main character, Dragonfly, walks down an alley after a school open house. That alley was based directly on the alley I walked down every afternoon, after school, to get to our bookstore.

The DRAGONFLY alley, looking west. The section I frequented runs from the offices of our local daily paper, the Taylorville BREEZE-COURIER, straight to the back door of our old bookstore, The Book Center.

In that chapter, Dragonfly encounters mysterious figures lurking near the back entrance of the bank.

The name of this bank has changed many times, but in my childhood it was the First Trust and Savings. This is where the mysterious strangers in Chapter One of DRAGONFLY lurked.

Dragonfly’s Uncle Henry owns and operates a funeral home. From the back door of our bookstore, I could see Shafer’s Funeral Home. I remember the visitation for my Grandma Emma there. That experience features largely in the part of the book in which Willie is captured by the denizens of Harvest Moon. I was picturing the interior of Shafer’s.

Shafer's Funeral Home is in downtown Taylorville; Uncle Henry's is more at the outskirts of town, next to a millet field.

Can you picture a jack-o'-lantern aglow in every window?

Here's the building in which we had our bookstore. I had forgotten how steeply-sloped the street is!

The Book Center in May of 1970. Along that left-hand wall, I made the discoveries of H.P. Lovecraft, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Richard Adams.

The white storefront was our bookstore. Eddy's Studio was next-door on the left, a photographic studio and camera shop.

And Eddy is the guy who took these pictures of me, right behind our store. I'm leaning on the hood of Mom's car. This would be in about the era that my head was full of The Planet of the Apes, soon to give way to Jaws.

Heh, heh, heh!


This photo was taken by Phil Jacobs for the DECATUR HERALD & REVIEW in the summer that DRAGONFLY was first published by Arkham House, 1999. Mr. Jacobs chose our old chickenhouse as the background.

This was taken in Tokyo's Kinokuniya Bookstore, when the Ace edition of DRAGONFLY was on the shelves there. I was excited!

Since I'm throwing pictures of me around, here's my favorite fairly recent one. This was taken in the summer of 2009, I believe.

This photo by Chris was taken in 1979. That is not my bicycle. (I wish I could claim the clothes weren't mine, either.)

October Sunset Walk

October 8, 2010

This time I’m going to go completely visual and let the pictures take center stage.

One of my favorite courses for my hour-long daily walk is one I call the "Summer Trees Course." This is a view from near the beginning.

The pictures were taken late in the day, at about the time I normally walk. I often pause at this point to peer into the trees, listen to the insects, and admire the evening light. Whatever I'm working on at the time is turning in my head.

The path leaves the first group of trees and heads into the setting sun. This is a pavement permanently blocked off from any car traffic, so kids and families from the apartment building at left often play ballgames here.

This is a look back in the direction of my place. It's a view I ordinarily see on the return trip.

Now I'm out on the main part of the course. A long, narrow park of sorts has been built along the Shinano River (Japan's longest river, which reaches the sea in Niigata City). Nice rock gardens and wooden footbridges abound here.

This evening as I passed this location just after the sun had set, a crow was sitting atop one of the rocks, silhouetted against the light western sky with willow branches beside him. It would have made a fantastic picture. I'll have to be content capturing it with words.

These log benches are ideal for lying down on. You lie in the notched part, and the raised section at the end makes a perfect pillow for your head. You can put your hat over your face, or else leave your eyes uncovered to gaze up at the shifting clouds.

Sunset approaches. Lord Dunsany wrote of "Those godlike shapes among the sunset's gold." In Japan, willow trees have ghostly connections. They're the trees beneath which ghosts appear.

Sunset on October 1st: warm, yet cooling. The sunset takes on a new character.

Beside the path, this little circular course is designed for relaxation and good health. The railed-in walkway has a variety of textures to stimulate pressure points in the soles of the feet. You take off your shoes and walk around it over inlaid rocks -- some rounded and smooth, some sharp, some rather agonizing -- and you come away a better person.

The Sunset Gate. There it is: the gate you need to go through to reach the setting sun.

The Shinano River: Here, we're looking toward the sea.

The pale sunset of October.

Briefly, the path dips away from the riverside and follows this stone wall.

Off and on over the years, I've heard the notes of the riverside trumpeter. Some trumpet player has discovered he can practice without disturbing anyone beside the river; and he can get amazing acoustics under one of the bridges. I've never encountered him close up, but I've often heard him at a distance, playing his scales and melodies across the river. In years past, I did the same with my trombone.

Scenes of solitary beauty lead one to reflect on how amazing life is: the things one is given to see and experience in our brief span of years.

This is my favorite part of the course, with trees on one side and the river on the other. The trees are dense and filled with singing insects. Fish splash at times on the river's surface. The sky is amazing.

When I was a kid, having seen JAWS at age 9, I dreamed of becoming a shark fisherman. I'd while away my days out on the sea in a little boat like this one, and I always pictured myself between battles with sharks, sitting in the cabin and reading the latest published Frederic S. Durbin novel, which, in my daydream, was a paperback with a silver cover. So I'm not sure if my fantasy was more about shark fishing or more about being a writer . . .

Walking is, for me, an essential part of writing. It's when I work things out; when I unravel those vexing problems of plot; when I begin to understand where the book or story is going.

Throughout this wonderful, hot summer, I walked this course. Since it's fairly private, I could be noisy if I wanted. I sometimes worked on my vocal impersonations -- specifically, Christopher Walken and Al Pacino. Yes, I practiced those two quite a lot in the summer of 2010.

Bobby Frost: "The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, / But I have promises to keep, / And miles to go before I sleep, / And miles to go before I sleep."

Sorry about the "Bobby." I'm still thinking like Al Pacino. The sun really starts talking once it's down.

At the very beginning of this blog, I quoted Bilbo and his thoughts about the road that "goes ever, ever on." This is a part of it.

Yes, this is the part of the road that runs along beside the Shinano. Followed far enough, it runs beside your door; and it runs to the deserts beyond Faraway; and it leads to Elvenhome.

This is a factory that makes cement. This is just about at the 30-minute point, where I turn around and head back to hearth and home. In the twilight, even this factory seems an enchanted place, with piles of rock and silent machines, with chutes and bridges and sometimes a late workman putting a saurian machine to bed.

This bridge marks the terminus; this is where I turn around. Sometimes the ghostly trumpeter plays here, though always on the far bank.

Have you ever seen such amazing colors? This, my friends, is October. October in the sky; October in the water; "October is In the Chair" (fantastic story by Neil Gaiman in FRAGILE THINGS). You know, this would be a good time to read DRAGONFLY. Does anyone have a story about how you first encountered that book? I'm thinking of the wonderful anthology titled OCTOBER DREAMS, edited by Richard Chizmar and Robert Morrish. There's a beautiful October sky on its cover, too, and its contents are the quintessential October experience.

And now the path turns homeward.