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A Labyrinthine Journey: The Making of a Straightforward Bedtime Book

A Labyrinthine Journey: The Making of a Straightforward Bedtime Book

NIGHTY NIGHTY, JAMA JAMA!  A bedtime book for busy minds. A sweet mother-daughter project.

Available NOW – Click HERE

Just like that.

Right.

The Starting Line

My first choice in Illustrators is always my daughter, Savannah, although she is not always available. Our first project together was NIGHTY NIGHTY JAMA JAMA!, when she was eight years old. The story was inspired by these guys:

Hoi An kids
Hoi An, Vietnam

.. who can smile and sleep, no matter what.

The illustrations started – with a little bribing, but not as much as you’d think – like this:

IMG_3605

Add a little color and computer magic with Denise Burkard, like so:

Denise Burkard

Some editing and laying out of book with Jan Camp of Arc Light Books, and:

IMG_0275

thar she blows!

Okay, I am such a newbie – I was so far ahead of myself. That was proof #1.

A . . . truthful . . . reviewer led to more than a few hair-pulling editing session. The reviewer, however, was right. There were several points in the story where I had to stop and ask myself “what am I trying to say?” This was just a simple bedtime story with a little foreign language, wasn’t it?

The Power of Edit & What Was I Trying to Say?

Already a fan of Joseph Campbell, I turned to the world of myth. Sounds great. But you should never lead a flibbertigibbet to something like ‘the world of myth’. Though I focused on sleep mythology, I got completely, ecstatically lost in this world of cow-headed creatures with the milky way on their bellies, of shape-changing ‘gods’, and of course, the solar barge. Wikipedia will tell you that a solar barge (also solar barque/boat, and sun boat) is a mythological representation of the sun riding in a boat.

Aha, thought I, feeling so Lewis-Carroll, the boat in my story! My subconscious is so smart!

Meet the Crew

I imagined the sun god, Ra, emerging every morning with serpent pieces hanging from his shoulders, washing his hands of blood and guts, before changing his head from ram, to hawk.  Morning honey.”

Sun boat

Here is a scant, (flibberti) summary of the main characters of sleep myth:

The Greeks have Nyx (goddess of night) who begot Hypnos (sleep) who didn’t stretch himself too much to marry Pasithea, a deity of hallucination or relaxation. Pasithea begot the creepy, winged trio of daemons, called the Oneiroi (dreams): Morpheus, Phobetor, and Phantasos. Straightforward enough.  Then there’s those wild and crazy Egyptians. They worshipped Hathor, ancient Egyptian goddess of joy, feminine love, and motherhood, who was either, or both, daughter and mother to solar god, Ra. Don’t ask. Ra had a ram- and falcon-head form, and (coolest of all), he had two sun-boats, a morning and a night boat. Ra took other gods on the ‘Mesektet’ (the Night boat), into the underworld, where they (always) defeated gods and beasts of darkness, to emerge in the east, every dawn  – sort of a horror version of Groundhog Day. Hathor was sometimes known as the ‘eye of Ra’ and would ride the sun-boat across the sky (as the personified sun). Awesome!

In my mind-soup of Greek and Egyptian gods and goddesses, these mythical stories, and beings, blended together into a wonderful visual. I imagined a sky of magical creatures who lorded over every element and event – gods and goddesses of dawn, dusk, sun, earth, moon, wind, horizon; where sun and moon gods travelled the ‘waterways of the heavens’ in chariots and barges, from dawn to dusk. Battles raged through the night in a world that existed underneath sleep. I imagined the sun god, Ra, emerging every morning with serpent pieces hanging from his shoulders, washing his hands of blood and guts, before changing his head from ram to hawk. Morning honey.

I pondered and admonished the Oneiroi. They were like winged monkeys, tricking our dreaming minds.

I started several projects including a Middle Grade book.

When I finally returned to NIGHTY NIGHTY, JAMA JAMA! to address its shortfallings, there on page 11, was Hathor, goddess of creation, riding in a solar barque (or close enough). She had always represented the sun in my mind, but there she was in Ra’s barque, traveling across the sky, with my sleep-deprived guy, the protagonist, Michael, who was tormented by bad dreams. I decided that I would call the queen ‘Hatti’. And! And! And!- there! in the book, on page 7, in Michael’s dreams, were the Oneiroi (as growling birds). Incredible. Drawn by Savannah many months earlier, the feathered forms of Phobeter, Mr Nightmare himself; and Morpheus, the shape-changer, were clearly there in the dream bubble. The third Oneiroi, Phantasos, Mr Cryptic Dream-maker, does not make an appearance in the book, but he may be the one who orchestrated Hatti’s visit to Michael in the first place.

Pg #2 Cropped

I was starting to wonder if this was a fluke, an all-knowing subconsciousness, or selective research. I had changed all of five or six words, but the creatures lurking underneath the story now had my attention.

Now What? (The Plot, of Course)

Once the queen was ‘Hatti’, and the birds (in my mind) were the Oneiroi, I could see that Michael needed to pass through a better threshold than just the classroom window. I wanted him to choose a dream gate, but I was too far along to change the illustrations. Choose a dream gate?

The ‘dream gate’, of course, refers to the literary terms also touched on in Greek mythology – the gates of horn and ivory. Don’t you hate it when someone says ‘of course’? Of course, I didn’t know this until I went a googling. Try it, it’s an enthralling time-waster.

Here are some links if you are interested: GatesOneiroi and more gateseven more about gates

gate

The fancy gates of ivory deliver false, meaningless dreams of deception. The more modest gates of horn allow a selective number of truthful dreams to pass through – dreams of insight and fulfillment. I wanted Michael to choose the gates of horn. (Duh!)

And though I do understand gates of horn are meant to be made of horn, I decided that Michael hears a horn, to avoid bugging my illustrator-daughter to change the images. Perfect – Michael hears a horn when he steps out of the classroom window and agrees to be ‘shown’ a world of children putting their worries to rest, as the sun moves west. A horn sounds again when Michael mindfully lets go, and is carried by one of the feared birds, into the unknown, to wakefulness.

Michael’s great understanding of all that lies beneath his journey, allows him to be escorted in sleep through the underworld,  where all beasts are defeated by otherworldly warriors, like Ra, and those who came before him. In the page-turn from the bird Morphi (Morpheus) lifting Michael from the boat, to the classroom, Michael passes through the invisible Gate of Horn, to defeat his own night-time demons.

RA! I was excited. 

And then I went to three children’s book writing conferences. I was awed by veteran authors who had perfected the dance between illustration and text. And I sat and stared at our little book, feeling humbled and defeated.

It was not elegantly brilliant. It was not 250 words of mastery.

But to leave it, meant leaving Michael with his bad dreams.

So I festered on.

Don’t Give Up. Expose the Ruby Slippers!

I started seeing that Hathor (my Hatti), goddess of creation and eye of the sun, could speak to Michael’s intuition through the celestial ladies, Selene, Eos and Gaia. Apparently . . . Selene, the moon goddess, drove a chariot drawn by gleaming horses, bringing the moon’s light to the earth through the darkness of the night. And after the daemons visited with their dream trickery, and the monsters of the night were defeated by Ra and his mates, as they always were, Eos, Selene’s sister and goddess of the dawn, rose daily in the east from a gold throne. And always there was, and is, Gaia, earth goddess and mother of all. Somewhere I read that Gaia is the great connector of global consciousness and healing.

What would Hathor say to Michael, to help him make sense of all of this? Something like:

“When you see a night shadow, Michael, remember the moon.
She crosses the night close behind you.
When you blink at the shadows, remember the earth,
And sleep will always find you.”

The final piece of the NIGHTY NIGHTY, JAMA JAMA! puzzle came together when I imagined Michael in the sky of my myth’y mind-soup. A sky busy with invisible hybrid gods, primitive flying craft, and no air traffic control; with winged daemons taking different forms as they pass through enormous gates. How could a small boy find the courage to fall into sleep and make his way to morning?

(I know I’ve mushed up the various mythologies but hey – they did a lot of inbreeding themselves for a bunch of worshipped icons.)

I swear I was not thinking of Dorothy when I wrote the original story. My original manuscript had the scary bird from his dreams drop a random, unidentified-flying-blanket into the boat. I didn’t know that the random blanket, the blanket rolled up in the birds mouth, was his own. But there, on the pages of NIGHTY NIGHTY, JAMA JAMA!, in the middle of Michael’s dreamtime journey, were the ruby slippers of the story – the blanket! The blanket on his bed was green, and blanket that the bird drops into the boat: green. Coincidence?

blanketDrop

“”It’s time,” she says. The bird swoops. A horn sounds.
Down comes . . . a blanket? “Hey, that’s mine!”
He opens his arms and catches his blanket.”

Perhaps I didn’t need the queen to pipe in, but she does.

“You’ve had it, all this time.”

The moment of reckoning.

“Michael understands, and he lies on the blanket.
The bird gathers the corners, and flies!’

Michael knows, by some kind of myth-osmosis, that he must succumb to this blanket, his bed, to sleep. His blanket, his power, is gathered around him and he is carried through the sky to arrive back in the classroom.

Gratitude, and When Enough is Enough

These stories that personify and personalize the forces of the universe, helped me see what Michael gains from his flight across the sky. He connects to a world of sleepy kids, that part is clear. But he also understands the way of the night, recognizes that letting go is powerful, feels the support of the moon’s glow, and the inevitable dawn; the love of mother and earth. And that is there for every child, for all of us.  That (!) is what I was trying to say!

~~~

Looking back, I’m thankful that somebody said (in essence) this book sucks. (I also appreciate those who said it rocked, even if you were lying). It made me take a deeper look, and chase the story to its rightful end.

I changed only four or five pages of NIGHTY NIGHTY, JAMA JAMA! I wanted to have Michael wear his blanket in the last scene, like a super-hero cloak. I wanted to have more languages and cultures represented, and an author page with information about each country. But, in truth, I could edit now every day until I croke, and the story would be the same. There is no other story. The gods have spoken, and Michael can get some sleep.

PS
I had an interesting comment on this post. Mr Anonymous wanted to know about the little bird that Michael brings back from his dreamtime journey.
Q: >>”The little bird from golden clouds. Is that supposed to be Toto?”
A:  Dear Mr Anonymous: An astute question. Thank-you for reading my lengthy blither-blog! The bird is a link or connector, a reminder, a comfort that Michael has somehow brought back to his ‘real’ life from an other-worldly experience. As for taking the role that Toto played in The Wizard of Oz?  Let me sleep on that.

Here’s the blurb:

A children’s treasure, NIGHT NIGHTY, JAMA JAMA! gently reinforces the delight of bedtime. When Michael suffers from bad dreams, he gets sleepy in school. One day, a lovely queen arrives at this classroom window and, in her rowboat, they float across the sky. With magic glasses, Michael sees children all over the world going to sleep, and hears their foreign bedtime traditions in the book’s rhyming text. When a frightening bird from his dreams becomes a surprising part of his journey home, Michale’s nighttimes are  transformed. Illustrated by Savannah Pritchett, age eight.

Here’s the disclaimer:

Every foreign ‘good night’ scene in the book reflects a story from friends who grew up with their very own night-time traditions. Like Francisco, from Tijuana, who slept in a hammock; and friends from Italy, who said their rosary before bed. If there is any stereotyping in NIGHTY NIGHTY, JAMA JAMA!, you can blame my friends for going to sleep stereotypically.

 

 

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