Face the dragon. Face the mice. A sonnet in WU form.
Please welcome longtime Writer Unboxed community member Lancelot Schaubert back as our guest today! Lance is the author of the novel Bell Hammers.
“Schaubert recounts a mischievous man’s eight decades in Illinois’s Little Egypt region in his picaresque debut BELL HAMMERS. Remmy’s life of constant schemes and pranks and a lifelong feud with classmate Jim Johnstone and the local oil drilling company proves consequential. This is a hoot.”
– Publisher’s Weekly
More about Lance from his bio:
Two excerpts of Lancelot Schaubert’s (lanceschaubert.org) debut novel BELL HAMMERS sold to The New Haven Review (Yale’s Institute Library ) and The Misty Review, while a third excerpt was selected as a finalist for the last Glimmer Train Fiction Open in history. He has also sold poetry, fiction, and nonfiction to TOR (MacMillan), The Anglican Theological Review, McSweeney’s, Poker Pro’s World Series Edition, The Poet’s Market, Writer’s Digest, and many similar markets.
Spark + Echo chose him for their 2019 artist in residency, commissioning him to write four short stories.
He has published work in anthologies like Author in Progress, Harry Potter for Nerds, and Of Gods and Globes — the last of which he edited and featured stories by Juliet Marillier (whose story was nominated for an Aurealis award), Anne Greenwood Brown, Dr. Anthony Cirilla, LJ Cohen, FC Shultz, and Emily Munro. His work Cold Brewed reinvented the photonovel for the digital age and caught the attention of the Missouri Tourism Board who commissioned him to write and direct a second photonovel, The Joplin Undercurrent, in partnership with award-winning photographer, Mark Neuenschwander.
Lance shares free resources for writers on his website, HERE, where you can also learn more about him.
Stanza I: The Dragon.
In every medieval occidental story about dragons — actually, even in some of the medieval luck dragon stories — a dragon unattended grows. When it’s an occidental dragon, your own and the dragon’s greed and anxiety and unattended consequences worsen. The longer you refuse to face it, to do something — anything — to try to deal with the problem, the more the problem grows. That’s the nature of invasive species, of viruses (can I get a witness?), of mold, and of extended family drama or workplace gossip. It’s the nature of ignoring preventative maintenance for your mental health, of waiting until you’re 55 to start working out (you lose 1% of your muscle mass from that point on until you die), and of waiting for an oil change in your car (a relative of mine blew hers up this way).
It’s also the case internally. The problem left unattended grows your anxiety, your bitterness, your shame. Your refusal to grieve, to encounter the world with wonder, to play, to dance in the minefields — these all grow the problem in your mind. And so (to borrow a metaphor from a shared text, setting aside the reasons we share it) while Voldemort grows in the world, he also grows in your head. And you have to deal with the Voldemort within in order to kill the Voldemort without.
The longer you ignore the dragon, the bigger he gets.
How do you think Smaug got so powerful?
No homely lakelander wanted to deal with a dragon. No dwarf would harm his hoard.
Stanza II: The mice infestation.
Recently, the super of our 80-unit building (probably 400 people in our apartment complex) painted the basement with fresh waterproof paint and sealer. It looks great. It’ll help with flooding. It sealed off all sorts of cracks and issues and will make the basement resilient for another fifty years.
But for the fumes.
Turns out, humans aren’t the only ones who hate off-gasses. Waterbugs (read: outdoor roaches the size of Kit-Kats) and mice hate them too.
So when they sealed the basement, it drove… had to be hundreds of mice into the wet walls of the six floors above. A non-extant rodent problem became a polydomestic infestation overnight. My wife, Tara, and I have grown relieved to discover that our apartment is on the left side of the bell curve — some neighbors had mice on the stovetops during the day. Some have caught a mouse a day for a month or more.
A Ratatouille situation is less cute from the perspective of the humans. It starts to feel like Willard.
Luckly we only caught eight. Eight mice. And we didn’t get them as fast as I would like. I and my father-in-law had prepared for this contingency with caulk and gap filler, but I called a contractor friend and we—together –doubled down on sealing anything we could find last Sunday.
But that left the closet.
They’d gotten into the pantry, you see. We now have four closets in Brooklyn — an asinine luxury — and use one for a pantry. And those wormtailed demons wreaked their gluttonous glutenous havoc. We left the closet until last.
The dragon grew. In our minds and in the closet.
It got bad enough that I had to take a week off work to deal with it. 311 got multiple calls from me and our neighbors. Traps. Seals. Cleaning. Disinfecting. Throwing away a British stone weight in flour and another in rice and crackers.
But we faced the closet and started, simply, by throwing away a small bag of sugar.
One half-empty bag.
And the dragon got smaller.
Because that first stroke proved it too can bleed.
Stanza III: The manuscript.
You’ve got notes in a drawer you’re avoiding. You’re avoiding them because the stack’s huge and disparate and connected to everything (or not) and you have no idea what to use. It’s easier to add research to the pile than to look at the bottom of the pile.
You’ve got an outline you’re avoiding. You’re avoiding it because it’s easier to figure out the first draft as you go along and because outlines are freaking hard, annoying, generally unrewarding work. And yet having one will make our first drafts all the cleaner and requiring of so much less revision.
You’ve got backstory you haven’t written. You haven’t written it because only 10% of it will go into the final word count and you’re either on deadline or you’re shooting for a word count goal or you’re winning Nanowrimo this year, oh by gosh by golly, before it’s time for mistletoe and holly.
You’ve got submissions you haven’t sent. You haven’t submitted them because submitting is a third full time job that has nothing to do with the writing or your day job. Except, of course, that it does because you’re a pro and that’s just time you have to allocate and speaking of which…
Perhaps submissions would be easier if I had built a better system for keeping track of them and sending a story out for a new market the second it gets rejected. Of course, that takes time that isn’t day job, private life, writing, submitting…
Or maybe it’s the novel that’s nagged you from the dark nooks in your soul for years. The one your agent won’t let you write because it’s unsalable. Or the one the authors you agent or authors you edit won’t let you write because that’s not your place. Or the manuscript you’re afraid to write because it’s not the normal thing you do. It’s too complex. It’s too weird. Too personal. Too academic.
Of course, that’s the sound a train makes, little engine. The sound of the one you feel called to write. The one, having written, you feel called to put out there anyway.
And that nagging feeling grows.
As grows the nagging feeling, so grows the infestation.
There be dragons.
There be mice.
What to do when you hear the train a’coming?
Couplet: The solution.
What did it take for Smaug to be defeated? For us to clear the mice?
They faced the dragon. We faced the mice.
And took a playful bite.
Turn and face the foe — do the hardest thing in the direction of the highest good, highest beauty, highest calling. Pressfield calls it meeting resistance head-on every morning in the direction of that high and noble call. Which way? they once asked Frodo:
Towards danger, but neither too rashly nor too straight.
Fools rush in, yes. And addicts confuse the poison for the cure and therefore move too straight towards suicide. But the virtuous knight faces the dragon alone in the field, moving towards the danger. Neither too straight, nor too rashly.
Playfully. The courage of my friend’s daughter who tried the monkey bar circuit some twenty times in a row before she nailed it, exhausted and laughing.
How did Bilbo initiate the defeat of Smaug? Like the way he defeated Smeagol:
Playful riddles. Play. The sort of thing that comes from hardy, pipe-seasoned, embeered, tumbledown folk who walk barefoot in the good, tilled earth. Bilbo it up, Rothfuss might say. Execute operation blanket fort and stage your next attack.
When a child plays in their playroom and sweats over a tower of blocks, one block at a time, and begins to sweat, I ask you: are they playing or are they working?
If your play isn’t hard, it isn’t really play. And if your work isn’t playful, it isn’t really working. What would it take for you to have an iterative, playful, one-bite-at-a-time response to the mice and the dragon?
What demon has grown in the shadows that you need now face not with a sword, but a duel of fiddles? What’s the next hard thing? The next right and good and beautiful thing?
What would be the most playful way to attack that problem with the first parry and riposte?
What danger need ye playfully move towards neither too rashly nor too straight?
How can you make and fail and make and fail and make and fail and make?
Over to you, WU Community. Answer any or all of the above, or tell us a tale (or a tail!) about your own Dragon, your own Mice, your own win over a growing presence of doubt or shame or fear in your own writerly life.