Sunday, June 9, 2013

Disneyland Through The Eyes Of A Writer

By Mark Young
Disneyland looms just ahead in our family’s vacation plans. In a few weeks we will travel to that happy place where everyone goes to have fun and to put the cares of the world far behind. Over the years I have loved taking my three daughters there as a family. Now, I have only one daughter at home and in a few years she will be spreading her own wings in preparation to leave the nest. I don’t want to think about that right now. I just want us to have fun. To live in the moment.

Maybe I will always be a kid at heart. Maybe that is why I became a novelist.

One thing that Disneyland does well is to create an environment in which everyone’s imagination can be unleashed. There is nothing in this amusement park to detract people from reliving their favorite childhood memories, to spend time in places that bring back those special moments. And to create new ones.

I would imagine for many folks picking out which part of the park is their favorite can be hard. Some of the memories I share are of characters and movies that I enjoyed as a child. Peter Pan and the ride through Neverland, fighting Captain Hook and never growing old. Mickey Mouse and his friends in Toontown. And later, Raiders of the Lost Ark, once again wondering if that giant rolling rock is going to crush you or if those spiders will sap you with poison this time. How about walking through the New Orleans quarter, listening to the jazz quartet amidst the aroma of Cajun cooking.

Hard to pick your favorite, huh?

As each of my daughters grew up, I think back about certain experiences unique to each child. One was sort of a daredevil. Disneyland is filled with these experiences—and brings back memories from yesteryear.

Recently, I asked my youngest daughter which ride was her favorite. She just
shrugged her shoulders and said, “I dunno.” I know how she feels—I can’t pick my favorite either.

On one of the days at the park, we will get a special pass and go early—before most of the park is opened for the general public. We get to stroll through there before the sun rises up and heats up the place hotter than the gunfight in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. In those early morning hours, we get to jump on rides that have no lines. It is like Christmas and birthdays all rolled into one. The park is cool and unhurried, and we can race from ride to ride without any long waits.

Can you spell ‘Heaven’?

The Disneyland experience for me is akin to writing novels. Back when I began writing my first draft of Broken Allegiance (A Tom Kagan Novel) due out later this year, I felt that Disneyland feeling about writing my new novel—or reading a new book. Anything can happen. Pare it down to one word—magic. An opportunity to let your imagination run wild, to let words and scenes run through my mind in unending possibilities. It is like being in the park early in the morning before crowds moved in. Before an unkind reader leaves a less-than-flattering comment about the novel I just penned. Before my editor—whose advice and suggestions I truly appreciate—can point out those areas where I really missed the boat and my Great American Novel runs head on into reality. Before that first blush comes off the rose, that first excitement of writing that very first draft begins to fade.

That is part of the Disneyland experience.

When I sit down to write, I like to pick places I have been to before—if at all possible. Sometime, I need to do research for places I've never visited, like the city of  Baku, Azerbaijan on the Caspian Sea, and then try to imagine that place as it came alive in my novel,  FATAL eMPULSE (A Gerrit O’Rourke Novel). And I find myself often creating mind picture characters who resembles actors I have seen on the big screen—at least at the beginning. Before these characters begin to take on a life, looks and attitudes all of their own.

It is all about imagination.

Disneyland is laid out like a novel as it sparks one’s imagination. The ‘Happiest
Place on Earth’ is filled with all kinds of scenes—castles, rocket ships, mountains, and submarines. It is not bound by time. You can travel in the past, into the future, or in the here and now. You come across a variety of characters to fill these enchanting places. Some are good, some are evil and many fall somewhere in between.

Disneyland—like each novel—is divided into genres of entertainment—western, futuristic, medieval, and historical, to name but a few. You can choose which genre you would like to visit, or, you can sample them all. You are free to roam wherever you want until the place closes down. Morning turns to afternoon, and afternoon to dusk. As the hours slip by, so does the atmosphere of Disneyland. Places of mystery and intrigue during the day, seem to change as darkness sets, morphing into something entirely different at night. Lights become more intense, crowds seem to change, and at some point fatigue sets in as the hours wear you down.

It is like reaching a point in the novel, as you lie in bed, and start looking for a
bookmark to save your place for another day. You are too tired to continue, and your imagination needs to take break until tomorrow.

Which brings me to the question I asked my daughter: “What is your favorite ride?”

My favorite moment in Disneyland is not the rides or any of the entertainment. It is when you approach the front gate and see Mickey Mouse or one of his friends on the other side waving back. It is about the excitement I see in my family’s eyes—if those 'tween' girls who try to pretend that Disneyland is for kids, not almost teenagers like themselves. I enjoy that moment where we are about to cross over into the Land of Imagination where everything is possible. That little moment in time when everything about the day is still fresh and you feel anything is possible. That your imagination can go just about anywhere and unleash a whole new world.

Like when you pick up a new novel—particularly one written by one of your favorite authors—and you have no idea where this story is going to take you. You just know it is somewhere worth visiting. And you can’t wait to start the journey.

That is my favorite part of Disneyland. And I experience it every time I return with my family.

How about you? What is your favorite experience in the enchanted world of Disneyland or the enchanted world of books?