How do I know what I think until I see what I say?

Yesterday, it happened again. I got stuck. Grrrrrrrr. Come on, already! I kept going back and rereading chapters, fine-tuning early pages and then chastising myself for not moving forward in the novel. And I always advise my students to move forward.

But I wasn’t paying any attention to my own advice.


So I thought at a critical juncture of wasted time – what would a 4th grader like to read? What would perk the interest of a kid reading this story? What would the kid in me like to read?

Since I’m 90 pages in now and a slow learner…

Then I knew.

I loved giants as a kid – “The Incredible Shrinking Man” and “Land of the Giants.” I loved “Jack and the Beanstalk” – stories like “The Borrowers.” I remember my friend’s child, Adena, told her parents once, “Giants Have Us In Their Books.” I loved that image from a child’s perspective.

So I knew I had to get Vulcan down off Red Mountain and interacting with Millie-Graciella.

Gulp. Procrastinate. Waffle.

It’s the whole fantasy thing. But I’ve always been told to write what scares you…

What is the scariest thing to write about?

For me it’s writing lame, cheesy fantasy.

I feel like I’m moving blindly through the world of this book, but that’s how I’ve written every book and it’s okay. I’ve also made a promise to myself to keep self-loathing at bay, which is really hard when it oozes in the doorway.

E.M. Forster said, “How do I know what I think until I see what I say.”

Flannery O’Connor said, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”

So at the moment, Vulcan is now walking through Birmingham with Millie-Graciella on his shoulders – a nod to the BFG by Roald Dahl, and it helps that Vulcan isn’t even sure what to do either, so he and I are in it together, following Millie-Graciella’s lead.

He’s also hungry which I didn’t know would happen either.

So here are some things Vulcan might see as he makes his way through Birmingham and of course to other parts of the city and beyond.

building in birmingham

more lyriclyrictheatrefigure

giant treesapplesheadlake oak mountain

And one more just because Olive is contemplating all the possibilities too.


And here is the scene where Vulcan first wakes up…

SOMETHING WAKES VULCAN UP. He’s been asleep for a very long time. His ears itch, and his nostrils twitch. What is it? The smoke from a child’s burning letter settles into his ears and he grows irritated. He looks around the city. Who is sending him such a letter? Who is this Millie-Graciella? Why does she wake him up? What does she think he can do about her problems? Vulcan’s legs feel stiff, his feet heavy. He looks at his torch pointed to the sky and tries to remember his life. But he’s been asleep for such a long time. From down below he hears a haunted crying in the woods but it is none of his business.

This is some of what he remembers. He was born in Birmingham, Alabama made out of iron ore smelted at the Sloss Furnaces where vats of pig iron bubbled and boiled in blast furnaces. He was shaped into “Vulcan,” Roman god of the forge by the artist, Guieseppe Moretti in 1903. His head weighed eleven-thousand pounds at birth. No wonder he has a bit of a headache with eleven-thousand pounds of memories rolling around in his cast iron skull.

Once he was built, some men hauled him up to the World’s Fair in St. Louis in 1904 where he won the grand prize for minerals or something or other. Vulcan can’t remember what exactly, but he remembers being a hero for a while. They even poured cool water on him from the Cahaba River, the longest river in the state of Alabama, to welcome Vulcan to the world. After the World’s Fair, they brought him home on the train to Birmingham where he lay in pieces by the railroad tracks until they put him back together again like a giant Humpty Dumpty made of pig iron.

Vulcan sighs a deep, rumbling sigh, and his breath shakes the piney woods beneath him, rattling tree branches like bones, spinning acorns, and ivy into tiny twisters that dance along trails that snake and crisscross each other above Birmingham. This was all a long, long time ago, and Vulcan knows one thing for sure. He is no hero and doesn’t care to be one. He will not reply to the girl who is writing smoky letters to him – this bothersome Millie-Graciella. No thank you. Buzz off. Be gone. Leave old Vulcan alone.




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