I have a dragon.

His full name is Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre—you know, after the dude who overthrew the French monarchy—but I call him Max. He’s the size of a small human, can’t breathe fire, and is horrifically ugly, but I’m okay with that. I share those traits.

Max is younger than me by ten years because that’s how old I was when I stopped going outside. I’m thirteen now, which makes Max three years old. That’s very young for a dragon. He’s more mature than most humans I know, though.

Max isn’t real. I’m okay with that, too. I don’t have any real friends except for our mailman, who sometimes taps on my bedroom window to show me an updated picture of his Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and discuss gas prices. He smells like burritos and I don’t like burritos, but whatever. Mom says I need to socialize.

Lilly Hunt

Lilly Hunt is the recipient of a National Silver Medal and an American Voice nomination from Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. She also placed first in the Eudora Welty Creative Writing Contest for high school students. When she’s not writing, she may be found playing guitar/lute, drawing, or actively obsessing over obscure historical figures. She lives in Mississippi.

Patrick Ryan on “Bulletin Board Dragon”

In junior high school, I knew a boy with a heart condition. I knew a girl with progeria. I knew a boy who couldn’t stop tapping his pencil on his desk because he honestly felt like he would die if he did (this was pretty disruptive during a pop quiz, as you might imagine). And I knew a girl who believed she was close friends with a very famous rock band that lived on the other side of the world, and that she and this rock band had shared many adventures together. The people around these teens who were roughly their age fell into one of two categories: 1) those who allowed them to be who they were without giving them a hard time, and 2) those who gave them a hard time. Why everyone couldn’t have fallen into the first category remains a mystery to me.

The new issue of One Teen Story is called “Bulletin Board Dragon.” It’s about two teens who live next door to each other but have never met (until now). Each one of these teens has a particular condition not shared by the other, and each one of them does her or his best to understand and accept the other. Is it easy? No. Is it a smooth process? No. Are they successful? You’ll have to read to find out—and keep in mind, stories are always about the complications before they get around to the resolutions (if there are resolutions to be had).

“Bulletin Board Dragon” is one of the winners of our Teen Writing Contest, and its author is a teen named Lilly Hunt. She’s a wonderful writer, and after you read the issue you should treat yourself to our Q&A, where she discusses, among other things, what it was like to write a short story with one character who is not only invisible but a figment of the imagination.

Q&A by Patrick Ryan

PR: Where did the idea for this story come from?
LH: I was following a story prompt that said to write about imagination. It’s a cheesy prompt; my mind went immediately to a couple of five-year-olds playing with a kitchen set. I had to think hard to come up with a story—how is imagination relevant to me? As a kid growing up with multiple anxiety disorders, I had (and still have) imaginary friends to distract me from reality and help me get through stressful points. My parents raised the question—is having imaginary friends an unhealthy coping mechanism for mental illness? I didn’t know. Maybe Zoey would be able to tell me.
PR: The story focuses on the budding friendship between Zoey and Louis (a.k.a. Denton), but you tell it exclusively from Zoey’s point of view. Did you ever think about telling the story from Louis’s point of view instead? How different would that have made the story?
LH: “Bulletin Board Dragon” has always been Zoey’s story, mostly for structural reasons. There’s a lot more going on with Louis than we see. Is Louis hearing voices when he goes to Zoey’s window for the first time? Probably. Is it a struggle for him to concentrate while he’s talking to her? That’s a distinct possibility, but we don’t see it because Louis mostly keeps quiet about his struggles. Zoey already has an open personality; Louis is the one who has a hard time being vulnerable. If I switched to Louis’s point of view during the story, I’d be showing all of Louis’s hidden thoughts, and the little glimmers we see of his private life wouldn’t mean as much.
PR: Tell us a little about their two conditions. Did you do any research for either of them?
LH: Mental illnesses vary from person to person, so I won’t get too deep with this. Zoey has agoraphobia, which is an unusual fear of situations or places. There are usually other conditions beneath it—social/general anxiety disorder, PTSD, etc. Louis has schizophrenia, which can affect how someone thinks, acts, and feels (delusions, thought disorders, hallucinations, etc.). Both agoraphobia and schizophrenia are treatable, and it’s completely possible for people with these mental illnesses to live fulfilling lives. Research is always a major part of writing stories like this. Mental illnesses aren’t cut and dry—I hear voices or I’m scared of going outside. There are layers. You can’t just google the definition of a mental illness and run with it. You have to dig. Research, yes, but make sure your research includes firsthand accounts and analysis. The last thing you want is for your character to be a list of facts.
PR: Max is the invisible dragon Zoey has invented to keep her company once she stops going outside. Louis draws a picture of Max for Zoey. Our cover artist has drawn a dragon for the cover of this issue. Have you ever drawn a picture of Max? Do you have a fairly solid idea of what he looks like to Zoey?
LH: I usually don’t know exactly what my characters look like. It’s more of an I’d-know-them-if-I-saw-them kind of thing; I have a feel for how Max looks. I’ve considered drawing a picture of Max, but I draw with pencil and charcoal. I don’t think black and white would do Max justice. I do love the cover!
PR: Finish this sentence in just one word—the word you think best captures it: “This story is about __________.”?
LH: Trust.
PR: What are you working on now?
LH: My abs, but I doubt that’s going anywhere. I’m working on a series of YA historical thrillers set in sixteenth-century Europe. Lots of swords and spies and asylums. I’m hoping to explore how mental illnesses were viewed before we even had names for most of them.
PR: What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?
LH: Write what you don’t know. I’ve learned so much through taking little steps outside my comfort zone. Sometimes you find a part of yourself that you didn’t know existed in the unknown.