Monday, September 17, 2012

Dinosaurs...They're Not Just For Breakfast Anymore

The story goes like this: A kid pesters his mom to buy Frosty Loops cereal for the toy advertised on the front of the box, a "Giant Dinosaur". At home, when mom's not looking, he does what any kid would...he goes elbow deep into the cereal to claim his prize. But, he gets more than he bargained for when the tiny T-Rex comes to life. It grows, and grows, and GROWS!! until it breaks the box, the house, and the neighborhood before turning its attention to the nearby metropolis. This plastic monstrosity sets out to destroy the city, all with this kid sitting on its head. Breakfast just took a turn for the worse.

A modern interpretation of the original cover
This week, the Lucky 13s are discussing when and why we started writing. What you just read was the premise for "Giant Dinosaur Inside", the first original story I ever wrote (and, ahem, illustrated). I was 9.

Please understand that there's a bit of revisionist (get it?) history happening here. This is me describing the premise with 20+ years of experience under my belt. If you'd asked me to break the story down for you back then, I probably would've curled my fingers into claws, growled, then stomped around the room. In other words, you would've gotten the kid's version of a first draft query letter.

Anyhow, that covers the "when" portion of the topic. Here comes the "why"...

Me, and all of my 4th grade classmates, were participating in the school's Young Authors Competition. I don't know if you had/have this sort of thing at your school, but essentially we were given as much construction paper as we thought we needed for our masterpiece (I picture a young Stephen King requesting several reams), and told to write/draw a story, which we'd later bind ourselves with glue, staples, and/or yarn. The best ones would get announced over the PA system and put on display for all to see. You can probably guess what happened next. A bunch of 9-year-olds with access to glue and art supplies made for glittery fun times, but produced very little literature. I, however, took the assignment seriously. And there's another, deeper 'why' in the reason this mattered to me more than the other kids.

This contest took place around the time I'd been identified as an "advanced" student. Something that happened after I took some test, and the results suggested that maybe I might not grow up with aspirations of robbing people at ATMs or starting a militia. I was unceremoniously plucked from a class full of children--my friends--who, by the implications of that same test, would go on to do mediocre-to-horrible things (in most cases, they went on to do good-to-great things), and dropped into a room with the brightest minds in the school who were--heck, I'm just going to say it plain--mostly white. Making me one of the few minorities in a class of 20+. I was a part of both the groups, but apart from both groups. I became something of a grade school "Man Out of Time", like Captain America, only without the super powers, fighting skills, buff beach boy looks, or neat outfit (actually, I'm glad I didn't have HIS outfit, but you get my point). My outsider status led me to become heavily dependant on fiction to cope. In that coping mechanism, I unconsciously laid the foundation for a future career.

But first, the competition.

I came up with "Giant Dinosaur Inside" on the spot, which still amazes me. I wish it was that easy now. The first draft was the final draft. I turned it in, happy to have completed a fun assignment. About a week later, they announced the 4th grade winner--Me--and I felt good about something other than spectacular report cards for once. In retrospect, I wasn't up against stiff competition. I was probably one of the few students--if not the only student--who took the challenge seriously enough to write a full, original beginning-middle-end story.* I still don't know that I stuck the landing (I think I had some F-16s fly in to kill the dinosaur with missiles and as my hero fell from the flaming carcass, Superman saved him...I wasn't wise enough to know I was using an old technique known as Deus Ex Machina, so see, I was a natural hack). In an odd convergence of grade school events, I started a pattern that I would come back to again and again throughout the years. When life gets tough, write.

There have been many hard days since, as is the nature of living. My childhood home burning down. The death of my grandfather. Heartbreak. Money woes. Illness.

Write. Write. Write.

Why do I write? I don't know how to live without writing. Regardless of paychecks, reviews, or career longevity, I'll be doing this until the day I die because, for me, having a pulse and filling a page are co-dependent activities.

Also, if you discovered you could make a Giant Dinosaur destroy a city, would you relinquish such power? I think not.

*In case you're wondering, when it was time for the 5th grade Young Authors Competition, I cracked under the pressure of a potential repeat. A crushing mix of Writer's Block/Sophomore Book Jinx got me, and I turned in a thinly veiled retelling of a 'Captain N the Game Master' episode. You could argue I was a visionary who pioneered the adaptation/reboot trend we know so well today, but to keep it simple, let's call it laziness and plagiarism. Funny thing, though...I'm pretty sure the winning story that year featured some form of Giant Dinosaur.

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Lamar "L. R." Giles writes for adults and teens. Penning everything from epic fantasy to noir thrillers, he's never met a genre he didn't like. His debut YA mystery WHISPERTOWN is about a teen in witness protection who investigates his best friend's murder and stumbles on a dark conspiracy that leads back to his own father. It will be published in Summer, 2013 by HarperCollins. He resides in Virginia with his wife and is represented by Jamie Weiss Chilton of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Find out more on his website, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

4 comments:

  1. Love the dinosaur story! My fourth grade creation was Camille, the Unicorn Born at the End of a Rainbow. Yes, it was truly that awful. Yours sounds like it deserved to win. And mine deserves to languish in the box with the halves of my crumbling arm cast and rusted track medals.

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  2. Angelica, thank you. And I doubt Camille:TUBATEOAR was as bad as you think! :)

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  3. Ha! This is just a lovely story. I'll bet you were a handful and a funny one at that. I'm going to share this with my grandkids. I think they will say they wish they knew you. You are just the kind of kid I loved to have in my classes -- irreverent, funny, and smart. Love the story.

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  4. Thank you so much, Rosi. That's very kind of you to say. And I'm glad you liked the post.

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