I'm thrilled to have Jennifer Trafton here today with a great guest post and giveaway! Jennifer is the author of the brand new middle-grade, Henry and the Chalk Dragon!
Henry and the Chalk Dragon
by Jennifer Trafton
April 4, 2017
Rabbit Room Press
In the town of Squashbuckle, just about anything can happen, and when Henry Penwhistle draws a mighty Chalk Dragon on his door, the dragon does what Henry least expects--it runs away. Now Henry's art is out in the world for everyone to see, and it's causing trouble for him and his schoolmates Oscar and Jade. If they don't stop it, the entire town could be doomed! To vanquish the threat of a rampaging Chalk Dragon, Sir Henry Penwhistle, Knight of La Muncha Elementary School, is going to have to do more than just catch his art--he's going to have to let his imagination run wild. And THAT takes bravery.
Praise for Henry and the Chalk Dragon
★“A delicious face-off between forces of conformity and creativity run amok, spiced with offbeat names as well as insights expressed with eloquent simplicity.” —Booklist (starred review)
★“A perfect title to hand to young readers looking for laughs along with a wild and crazy adventure.” —School Library Journal (starred review)
10 Rules of Chivalry for Writers
by Jennifer Trafton
In my new middle-grade novel Henry and the Chalk Dragon, the artistic main character, Henry, has a knightly costume he’s fashioned for himself—a milk carton for a helmet, an aluminum-foil-covered raincoat for a suit of armor, a feather duster for a sword. He is a knight errant, after all—that is, a knight on a quest—wandering through the hazardous halls of a dragon-haunted elementary school. And written on the inside lining of his raincoat, so he won’t forget, are his rules of chivalry—such as “Be brave,” “Fight for the right,” “Eat your spinach,” and “Don’t feed girls to dragons.” These rules not only guide him in his knight-errantry, they help him with his friendships and his art as well. “Is there a chivalry for drawing things?” he wonders.
So I’ve been wondering, both as an author and as a creative writing teacher for kids: is there a chivalry for writing things? What are the ideal qualities of a writer errant (for writers are wanderers and adventurers in our imaginations, and we face many dragons of our own, real or not). Is there a code of chivalry that could guide us as wordsmiths (young or old) in our quests? Taking a cue from the vows of knighthood in the Middle Ages, here are a few “rules” I’ve come up with. If you like to write, heed them well! If not, perhaps you can sympathize with our clan’s unique perils.
1. Tell the truth. Whether you’re writing about real-life people you know or four-headed aliens from the planet Zorkon, your job is the same: to reflect the nature of the world as you see it. That means writing honestly about the inner truths of relationships, emotions, and conflicts. And that means imagining how you would feel if you were a four-headed alien.
2. Never trust an adverb. Don’t tell me the giant walked sadly (how boring!) Show me the glimmer of an ocean-sized tear in his eye as he trudges, hands thrust deep into his pockets, through a trampled castle. Paint a picture in my imagination.
3. Give a voice to those who can’t tell their own stories. As a writer, you have the power to put readers inside the skin of a character totally different from themselves—show them the world through a different set of eyes—let them hear the hearts of people (or creatures) they might never pay attention to in the real world . . . like four-headed Zorkonians. Use that power wisely.
4. Learn from the exploits of knights—ahem, I mean writers—who came before you, to find out how they did it. In other words, READ, READ, READ!
5. Persevere to the end of the first draft. Young adult author Shannon Hale says that when she writes a first draft, she reminds herself that she’s simply shoveling sand into a sandbox so she can build castles out of it later. I love that! The first time you try to write something, it’s going to be bad. I mean it’s going to stink to high heaven, I promise. But if you persevere to the end of that terrible battle against the empty page, you’ll have the raw material out of which you can make something awesome.
6. Do not fear rejection. Every writer faces it. Lots of it. Rejection is not the enemy: self-doubt is the enemy. The little voice inside you that says, “Your story stinks to high heaven; just quit now and bury your failure in a gallon of ice cream”—that’s the enemy. Rejection is a knight’s challenge, an opportunity to become stronger. Make the story better. Write a new one. Keep your sword swinging.
7. Think not of thy reward, for it rarely cometh. Kids ask me all the time how much money I make writing books; I tell them, “About enough to fill up a beetle’s lower lip, but that’s not why I’m doing it.” If you’re writing because you think it will make you rich, stop now and hire bandits to raid the king’s treasury instead.
8. Write for joy, not for glory. I secretly enjoy it when people praise my writing. But if I depend too much on that, I will become a ravenous, insatiable, approval-hunting, puffy-headed praise-glutton who instantly withers at the slightest criticism. Would you write even if there was no one around to praise you for it? Does it give you joy—deep down aaaaaaaah-I-just-squeezed-my-soul-into-a-story-and-it-felt-so-good joy? Then that, and that alone, is the reason for doing it.
9. Guard the honor of your fellow writers. We writers errant are on this quest together, jousting with words, searching for plots, and beating villainous self-doubts into submission as best we can, each in our own unique way. It’s an exciting and a perilous journey. Let’s defend and encourage each other.
10. Tie your shoelaces. It’s not enough to want to be a writer if you have nothing to write about. How do you get ideas? By putting on your shoes and going out into the world—watching, listening, meeting the four-headed aliens face to face, tromping though the trampled castles, riding the school bus, getting knocked down by foes, and rising up again. As Sir Henry Penwhistle learns in Henry and the Chalk Dragon, “It is a dangerous thing to open a door. But that, after all, is the only way to find an adventure.”
Jennifer Trafton is the author of The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic (Dial, 2010) which received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal and was a nominee for Tennessee’s Volunteer State Book Award and the National Homeschool Book Award. Henry and the Chalk Dragon arose from her lifelong love of drawing and her personal quest for the courage to be an artist. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where, in addition to pursuing her love of art and illustration, she teaches writing classes, workshops, and summer camps in a variety of schools, libraries, and homeschool groups in the Nashville area, as well as online classes to kids around the world. To learn more, and to download free materials, visit jennifertrafton.com.
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