Annie Dillard, the Pulitzer Prize winning essayist, in answer to a question from the audience about what is needed to become a writer, gave an answer, obvious, yet profound. It surprised me. She replied that the writer has to do more than live out in the world. In a firm voice she declared, “Our minds are our capital. You must write about what you particularly love.” (University of Richmond, 11/83.)

What did I particularly love?

Maps of all kinds – mental maps of familiar places, old maps of oceans and islands with creatures raising their giant, scaly heads above the waves and basking on shore. Maps drawn on the frontispiece of fantasy novels. Pre-internet AAA maps, with strange town names in tiny print.

A wonderful book, Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will by Judith Schalansky has illustrations of the remote islands. Each island is drawn in proportion to the vast waters of the Arctic, Atlantic, Indian, Pacific and Antarctic Oceans. I studied the illustrations while working on a book called Feathers & Wax.

Let’s apply this knowledge.

In the opening scene my character Adam begins a series of recurring dreams:

The island stormed over Adam. Sharp wind burned his face and hands, white sky and land down to the ocean, turned a dizzying white. The land scarred by jagged rocks, tore his feet and over his shoulder he saw his bloody footprints following. His legs flew out and propelled his body through the air. His enormous legs and feet turned into unrecognizable balloons. He soared with ease. Flying on his back, he still saw land below. Huge legs, a hairy chest, furred belly and feet, his unfamiliar body flew almost to the sun. He basked in golden rays, hidden from the storm.

Miles from the ocean, he floated into a snow drift. On all fours, he pushed out of the drift and examined the land. Distant noise, dogs or wolves. Dark shapes blurred on the horizon. Wolves. He stopped, paralyzed, as sleep paralyzes the body. The wolves raced toward him and didn’t swerve, chests heaving, dark tongues lolling. They climbed on him. No escape, ice imprisoned his feet. He collapsed into the heap. They licked blood off his feet, stared into his eyes with their bright eyes. They washed him and the numbness melted away. Their thick fur cocooned him.

No one would yell or kick him here. In dreams, terror about attacks didn’t linger, they drifted away into another scene.

Leave a Comment