Like many children who suffer from an abundance of imagination and a shortfall of social skills, I was always on the lookout for a door into a more magical world. Narnia, Middle Earth, Starfleet, Sherwood Forest– I wasn’t picky. Anywhere with spaceships, swordfights, or telepathic dragons would do. Reality stubbornly refused to provide me with the longed-for portal, stranding me in the eccentric but disappointingly literal world of early 1990s Seattle. Halloween, the Fremont Solstice Parade, and my grandmother’s subscription to Seattle Children’s Theatre buoyed me considerably, but they still left me with 358 days on the calendar to fill.
Games of playground pretend were a decent outlet, but my playmates often lacked commitment. One second grade friend fled a sleepover in existential terror after I insisted that my imaginary character was now stranded, irretrievably and for all eternity, in a voidlike prison dimension. (I’m sorry, Hillary, wherever you are; it was just where the narrative led me.)
Writing and illustrating my own stories, and the worlds to contain them, was the most satisfying solution left to me. Two places offered me the solitude, raw material, and sense of self-determination I needed to hone my skills: the rich archipelago of local independent bookstores and the misty, forested sweep of the Washington coast.
While I was a speedy reader, I didn’t possess the one-title-at-a-time discipline necessary to get through library books without racking up fines, so my allowance was allocated almost entirely to reading material. (My parents’ overall anti-materialism had some carefully legislated loopholes for pleasure reading and restorative trips to nature.) My father also found regular excuses to visit a cluster of local bookstores: work research, WWII biographies, a new title from a favorite hardboiled-detective author. In the era before cell phones, we would set a generously distant time to meet up at the cash register, and then happily tumble down our individual rabbit holes. Mine was an eclectic mix of children’s books, grown-up fantasy and sci-fi, historical fiction, contemporary adult fiction with compelling Staff Picks hangtags, books of weird facts, and the few graphic novels that appealed to a young eye circa 1991.
These bookstore visits showed me the possibility of creating stories that other people would appreciate. Weird kids like me could grow up and be taken seriously enough that entire businesses were devoted to sharing their work. Even the fact that some of the books I picked for myself turned out to be perceptibly not very good was a wild source of encouragement– a world that reserved shelf space for mediocre telepathic dragon novels might eventually have a space for my (hopefully superior) telepathic dragon novels.
Meanwhile, my parents had saved enough to buy a small 1970s cottage across the street from the grey, gathering dunes of Moonstone Beach. After being imprinted with a neurotic awareness of the dangers of sneaker waves and riptides, I was given free rein to roam. I wandered amidst piles of spookily bleached driftwood, artfully rotting seagull corpses, abandoned train trestles, and blackberry brambles so gnarled and immense that they would make Sleeping Beauty nervous. I swiftly made this empty beach the setting for my varied careers as an elemental sea-queen, a peregrine falcon shapeshifter, a wood sprite, a cursed prince, the lonely psychopomp of an oddly sandy underworld– anything I could work up before hunger struck and I returned inland to a lunch of Cheetos and instant ramen. (A lot of parental standards were lowered exclusively at the beach. This greatly assisted the impression that the coast represented a thin patch in the membrane between realities.)
In the evenings, I holed up by the wood stove to study my bookstore haul, and then I’d pull out a sheaf of yellowing dot matrix printer paper and a fistful of ballpoint pens and get to work.
New worlds were waiting for me.
The plaque for the 2020 PNBA Book Award for Queen of the Sea will be awarded to Dylan Meconis at a bookstore event, to be announced soon. We will update this post when a date and location are set.