Sunday, January 17, 2016


While packing up papers in anticipation of returning to Tennessee for a short visit to my home on The Mountain, I came across an old book entitled Of Other Worlds by C.S. Lewis. It includes an essay concerning his speculations about the famous Narnia stories for children, as well as those about his science fiction trilogy. The short essay that interested me, “It All Began With A Picture,” focused on how Lewis came to write The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, in which he explains that all of his seven Narnia books and three science fiction books began with seeing pictures in his head; e.g., the Lion began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood.

I experienced a sudden “aha” in my own head when I read this line, remembering how Kajun Kween, a young adult book I wrote several years ago, originated with a picture in my head of a six-foot, two-inches tall, 13-year old girl with feet that required size 12 shoes. The entire story, in comic book form, unfolded in my head. It featured this giraffe-like girl who interviewed for an actual comic strip publisher and beat out more ordinary jolie catins in a contest for a character who would become the heroine of this comic strip. Her job was to provide true adventures about her native Cajun French Louisiana; e.g., an encounter with a mama ‘gator protecting her egg nest; a stand-off with a giant snapping turtle; and an experience with a loup-garou late at night in a cypress swamp. The pictures in my head were described for and beautiful executed by Paul Schexnayder, New Iberia artist, for Kajun Kween.
Sketch by Paul
Schexnayder for Kajun

The picture that came into my mind as I planned the trip back to Tennessee was one of Petite Marie Melancon fulfilling the last line of Kajun Kweenshe would be exploring new kingdoms. Thus, she might consider The Mountain at Sewanee in Tennessee. Pictures of adventures flashed in my head: ghosts appearing to Petite at Rugby, Tennessee where a Brit once tried to establish a Utopian colony; Petite attempting to hike to Fiery Gizzard;  a “See Rock City” trip to Chattanooga where she plunges off a cliff; an experience in which she becomes Queen of the Moon Pie Festival at Bell Buckle, Tennessee…

Since I’ve just completed a book of poetry, Street Sketches, which should appear in a few weeks, the pictures that appeared in my head about Petite Marie seem like they want to tell a story in 2016. Like Lewis, “I don’t know where the pictures came from, and I don’t believe anyone knows exactly how he/she makes thing up. Making up is a mysterious thing…” All I know is that the pictures will persist until the story is told. In Petite Marie’s case, four or five years passed before she was birthed. We’ll see how she responds when I return to the winter cold on The Mountain next week; that is, before we move on to Florida for a few days. Pictures of her exploring Florida may become cut lines for a comic strip based there -- elusive crocodiles in the Everglades, Disney World experiences, glass-bottomed boat rides, explorations of coral reefs… Petite has begun to travel a lot.

As Lewis notes, “the right sort [of stories] work from the common, universally human ground the stories share with the children, and indeed with countless adults.” Meanwhile, I’ll just enjoy the pictures forming in my head.

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