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Archive for the ‘Authors’ Category

Old news to the world, but new news to me so Imma blog about it: Neil Gaiman guest starred on “Arthur.”

In the episode, “Falafelosophy,” Gaimen shows up as a pale unidentified animal with pointy ears and encourages Sue Ellen through the process of writing her first graphic novel, first as himself and then as a falafel-sized figment of Sue Ellen’s imagination.

“Trust your heart, trust your story,” Falafel-Gaimen tells her, when she frets that her friends won’t enjoy her weird story about feuding triangles and circles. “You can’t assume your audience are all squares!”

Other classic lines include:

“Neil Gaiman, what are you doing in my falafel?”

(response) “I’m your Neil Gaiman. I’m your inner Neil, as it were.”

“You don’t want to be stuck with a warm smoothing. It’s like drinking fruity bathwater.”

“Writing can’t be just about pleasing other people. You’ve got a story to tell and you’re the only one who can tell it.”

And this quote from Instructions: “What you seek will be found. Trust ghosts. Trust those that you have helped to help you in their turn. Trust dreams. Trust your heart, and trust your story.”

The folks behind Arthur are on point with their guest stars. Since Neil Gaimean is like a gateway drug for elementary kids to nerdy, creepily imaginative and emotionally honest stories and writing, this is an extremely encouraging episode for any budding writer. Here it is in all its animated Neil Gaiman glory:

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20150911_191359I’ve been terribly delinquent about writing up the Jack Gantos talk I attended a few weeks ago, when he came to Porter Square Books to promote his latest novel/memoir, The Trouble In Me.

Gantos being Gantos, he took a long, meandering path toward explaining his book. It took him 15 minutes to mention Trouble. First, he summarized his writing process (fountain pen and paper), and how every book crystallizes through the messy process of jotting down random ideas and observations in a journal, which he carries everywhere. Somehow he transitioned from this to reminiscing about his childhood, and the day he stood on the U.S.S. Intrepid watching a military plane explode in the sky after a mechanical failure (no one was hurt–the pilot parachuted safely down). His father’s naval career features quite prominently in Trouble, not to mention Dead End in Norvelt.

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After reading Kelly Jones’ wonderful book, we decided to ask the author some questions about her writing and her inspirations. Kelly kindly responded–take a look:

author Kelly Jones with her unusual chickens (photo courtesy of Kelly Jones)

Author Kelly Jones with her unusual chickens (photo courtesy of Kelly Jones)

1. Your author’s note says you keep chickens. How did you get into poultry farming?

I grew up in a small town, and my best friend had chickens. Later, when I had my own suburban yard, I started reading up on chicken-keeping and touring urban farms. Finally, I took the Chickens 101 class from Seattle Tilth, and decided to give it a try!

2. How did your (presumably normal) chickens inspire the unusual characteristics of Sophie’s super chickens?

Henrietta’s telekinesis was inspired by a chicken who shoved other chickens out of her way. Chameleon’s camouflage came from not being able to find a chicken who was hiding in my backyard (it’s amazing how well they blend in!). And watching one chicken grab a slug and take off running, with all the other chickens in hot pursuit, inspired Roadrunner’s super-speed. I liked thinking about which superpowers would actually be useful to chickens doing chicken stuff, instead of, say, saving the world, which is just not that interesting to chickens.

3. Are any of the characters based on people you know? Is Sue?!?

All of them — and none of them! Sophie isn’t based on any one person; she turned up in my head exactly how she is in the book. The rest are all a mix of bits and pieces of people I’ve met or imagined. Real people are too complex to fit easily into stories; they don’t do what I want them to do. But to help characters feel real, I tend to borrow characteristics, names, hobbies, and other pieces from people I’ve met.
photo courtesy of Kelly Jones

Photo courtesy of Kelly Jones

4. What was your favorite book when you were 12 (Sophie’s age)?

I was a very strong reader, so by twelve, I’d already read and loved all the Daniel Pinkwater books I could get my hands on, including Sophie’s favorite: The Hoboken Chicken Emergency. I was ready for something new! On special occasions, when my family went out to dinner, we’d go to our local bookstore afterwards (RIP A Clean Well-Lighted Place in Larkspur, CA!) and my parents, my brother, and I would each choose a book. An awesome bookseller recommended Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer to me (it was first published the year I was twelve), and it immediately became my favorite. I’d never read an epistolary novel before, and I loved the idea that two writers wrote a whole book in letters to each other! I tried to talk all my friends into trying the letter game.

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penderwicks in springI was lucky enough to catch Jeanne Birdsall on her book tour to promote The Penderwicks in Spring. Porter Square Books was packed all the way to the door–and the person we have to thank for it all is a young Penderwicks fan who wrote to Birdsall awhile back, asking her to put the bookstore on her list of tour locations. That fan was in the crowd when Birdsall spoke, and I hope she got a free book or two as a reward.

Predictably enough, one of the first questions Birdsall got was, “where do you get your ideas?” You could almost sense Birdsall rolling her eyes, but she must be used to it by now, and patiently explained the influence of childhood favorites like Five Children And It, not to mention Little Women (though she stressed several times she wouldn’t be killing off any of the sisters). She also emphasized her steadfast belief in the importance of books for the 8-12 age range, which is why Penderwicks in Spring leaps forward five years in time, allowing Batty, age 10, to be our narrator. Although Jane, Skye and Rosalind show up, we never see anything from their perspective, and Birdsall confirmed she has no desire to get inside their teenage brains. Other highlights from her talk:

  • the Penderwicks have a new sibling! Lydia, age two, was added to the story so Birdsall could write the fifth and final book from Lydia’s perspective, when she’ll be ten or so. If Lydia’s toddler personality is anything to go on, I have high hopes for the sequel.
  • by Penderwicks in Spring, faithful Hound was so old he had to die, but Birdsall was kind enough to kill him off between books. Not that it made it any easier…any mention of Hound in this book is a tearjerker.
  • Hound’s willing-to-eat-anything personality is based on a dog Birdsall had as a kid. Her dog really did eat everything, including the labels off all the canned goods in the kitchen, setting off pandemonium on the cooking front.
  • for anyone who dreads the prospect of a Penderwicks movie, fear not. Birdsall has no intention of selling the rights, and she’s not a fan of the book-to-movie route, since it ruins how every reader has imagined the book. As Birdsall pointed out, can anyone separate Harry Potter from the face of Daniel Radcliffe anymore?
  • when Birdsall first began writing, the Penderwicks were named the Pendergasts. But when Birdsall showed the draft to friend and fellow author Patricia MacLachlan, MacLachlan, with much swearing, kept getting the name wrong by adding extra “r’s” where they didn’t belong, and got so frustrated she convinced Birdsall to change the name.
  • Birdsall may be the only New Englander who welcomed this past winter. Penderwicks in Spring begins in April, when there’s still snow on the ground. But the past winters have been so mild that Birdsall considered changing the book to begin in March–until this year, when the weather confirmed that snow in April still makes sense.

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Tomie dePaola

my rendition of Tomie dePaola, give or take a couple pen strokes

This year, the Leslie Riedel Memorial Lecture brought beloved author and illustrator Tomie dePaola, whose career in children’s book spans fifty years, to the Concord Free Public Library on Saturday. In attendance were a handful of children and rows of adults. The adults may have had more fun.

DePaola is the kind of guest you hope for at dinner parties. With an impish grin, a ready laugh, and impeccable delivery, he had us in stitches the entire evening. From his perch on a plump leather swivel chair, dePaola regaled us with sassy unfiltered anecdotes from his life. Topics of conversation ranged from what theater and picture books have in common, to how he got his start as an author, to his most infuriating picture book pet peeves.

Below are some memorable moments from the event: (more…)

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18405519Understatement: Star Mackie, of Hope is a Ferris Wheel by Robin Herrera, starts the school year on a rocky note. Not only is she the new kid, she 1) sports a mullet ‘do 2)lives in a trailer park on the edge of a dump and 3)starts an after-school club about trailer parks.

In other words, Star has no street cred or friends to speak off. Her teacher unfairly assumes she’s a delinquent and a bad influence on the class because she failed to turn in her first vocabulary assignment, a trend Star continues just to spite him. Meanwhile, Winter, her teenage sister, who used to be close, has become moody and distant with problems of her own. And her mother implodes every time she brings up her absent father, aka “her genetic donor,” whom Star knows nothing about and has only glimpsed once from the crest of a Ferris wheel.

Drawn to the poetry of Emily Dickinson, Star starts a marginally more successful club, the Emily Dickinson Club, and gains two new members, including Eddie, a fellow “delinquent” who memorizes entire poems and has strong opinions on Robert Frost. Along the way, she contemplates what poets have referred to as the “thing with feathers” and “dreams that fly,” and defines–and finds–it for herself in every corner of her life.

The discussions from Star’s club got me thinking, what does the author  think about hope? Robin Herrera gamely answers in this Q&A.

1. Since we already know Star Markie’s response, finish this verse in the style of Emily Dickinson but in the voice and experience of Robin Herrera: Hope is a…..?
I’m very in line with Eddie’s answer – a rock. But I got the idea from the Simon & Garfunkel song, “I Am a Rock,” which is one of my favorite songs. For something more original, I think hope is a cookie. (I’ve been associating a lot of things with food lately.) It takes a lot of work to make a cookie, and how it turns out depends on how much focus and work you put into it. (At least for me. I’m a terrible cook.) Hope is a lot like that as well – you can hope for something, but that won’t make it come true. What makes it happen is how much you work and focus to get it. Even then, you may still burn the cookies.

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In honor of the 2014 World Cup, The Guardian’s How to draw… series invited author and illustrator Dave Cousins to teach us how to draw a footballer (not of the American pigskin handling variety).

While I haven’t been following the matches as closely as some, while browsing through the live commentary, this second goal scored by Miroslav Klose of Germany against Ghana (whom the US narrowly defeated) piqued my attention. So here you go! Flipping awesome victory somersault not included…

IMG_3387

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(sorry--no camera on hand)

(didn’t bring the camera)

Tollbooth fans, thank Colonel Lemuel Q Snoopnagle and Juster senior for Norton Juster’s particular brand of humor. Snoopnagle, on his radio program, specialized in spoonerisms (a play on words where two opening syllables are switched) while Juster senior, an architect, would greet his oblivious young son with puns every morning.

“You’re a good kid. I’d like to see you get ahead. You need one.”

Clearly, both influences rubbed off. Light dawned on marble head and Juster has been a gunny pie ever since.

As part of this year’s “Gateway to Reading” Lowell Lecture Series, Juster visited the Boston Public Library last week in an event moderated by Megan Lambert of Simmons college. While Lambert was on a mission to coax Juster into recounting for us some stories he had told her previously over coffee, Juster mostly read some passages from his famous book, The Phantom Tollbooth and shared some stories behind the story. The event was filmed and will be available on the BPL site, but in the meantime:

  • on his writing process: “I discovered as a writer I simply could not start here, end there. I could only do bits and pieces.” So he’d put all his pieces into a drawer and come back periodically to write more bits, until he had an entire story
  • while in the Navy, Juster began sketching, and he would hang his pictures all over the boat to dry. His captain chewed him out for drawing fairies and castles and elves.
  • Milo, of course, is Juster as a boy; Tock is the perfect mentor you can trust; and because life’s not like that, Juster threw in the Humbug
  • Feiffer's portrait of Juster

    Feiffer’s portrait of Juster

    on how Jules Feiffer, a cartoonist for The Village Voice, ended up illustrating Tollbooth: since they shared an apartment at one point, Feiffer was one of the first people to read Tollbooth. He liked it so much, he began drawing little scenes for fun

  • send in the cat cavalry: Feiffer was adamant about not drawing horses, so he begged Juster to put the armies of wisdom on cats instead. Juster said no. In fact, he went out of his way to describe impossible things to draw, for example, the Three Giants of Compromise
  • Feiffer’s revenge: the Whether Man is Feiffer’s portrait of Juster in a toga
  • the one little kid that got it: usually, kids want to know where his ideas come from, or how much he makes. At one school visit, though, a boy asked Juster what was the point of school, anyway, since all he did was memorize boring facts
  • Juster replied, to make connections between the facts–a life-long process
  • the boy: and then what?
  • Juster answered, and then you die.

Juster concluded the event with a Cinderella story ripe with spoonerisms. It ended with the kicker, “if the foo shits, wear it!” (Sigh. And that’s why spoonerisms have gone out of fashion.) Commented another little boy during the Q&A: what did that story mean? It made no sense.

If he had mentioned the lack of Rhyme and Reason, he would have brought down the house.

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To follow-up on Jen’s post about sympathetic magic, I started thinking about all the other books that have sparked the Code Name Verity Effect–or rather, the [Insert Book Title] Effect. Like Jen, I don’t seek out those experiences to feel closer to the book. It’s the other way around–they introduce me to new concepts/places/things, or they make ordinary experiences extraordinary. For example:

  • In What Came From the Stars, Tommy Pepper hears a haunting rendition of Bach’s Sleeper’s Wake, the same song he used to play on the piano. That compelled Jen and me to find the music and try it out as a flute duet…with cacophonous consequences.
  • I never wanted to learn how to knit until I read The Grand Tour by Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer. I’m far from sending secret messages in coded stitches, but someday…

I also associate certain books with everyday objects. It’s like an inside joke only I can understand:

  • After reading Holes by Louis Sachar, I had a persistent urge to eat raw onions, even though I prefer them cooked. And I still think of Sploosh every time I see a jar of peach jam.
  • Every time I see a rabbit in profile, I’m reminded of the Watership Down book cover. Then I start wondering if the rabbit lives in a totalitarian society, or is a hero intent on saving said society from the tyrant.
  • The effect isn’t always permanent. For the first week after reading Out of the Dust, I couldn’t play the piano without thinking of Billie Jo’s burned hands and wincing in sympathy. Lucky for me, I got over it.

And of course,

  • Tea time is at four. We’ve never had tea time, but we know that’s when it would be, if we did.

Surely we’re not the only ones with literary inside jokes. What are yours?

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I highly recommend heading over to The Book Smugglers as they host daily guest bloggers throughout this December–including Elizabeth Wein, author of Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire. A scholar of folklore as well, Wein chose to talk about the sympathetic magic of reading. In academic terms, she defines it as “objects exerting action ‘on each other at a distance through a secret sympathy.’” For example, a Hershey Bar wrapper and her Pennsylvania childhood.

Wein goes on to theorize that when we give objects and places from works of fiction special significance to bring a fictional world to life, that’s a form of sympathetic magic. I was surprised when she referenced as an example The Code Name Verity Effect, because while I do think we experienced the sympathetic magic of CNV, it wasn’t exactly in the way Wein describes.

In what we coined the “Code Name Verity Effect”, objects, phrases, and places associated with the book gained a certain “cool” status they did not previously possess. At the very basic level, we developed a “secret sympathy” for ordinary items like egg cups and combat boots because they reminded us of Code Name Verity. It was like being in on a secret, delightful. But those vintage egg cups and RAF issue boots didn’t make us feel any closer to Julie and Maddie, or make these characters any more real. Instead, reading about egg cups and combat boots in CNV made us want to geek out over egg cups and combat boots as they exist in our world. Simply put, if Maddie enjoyed eating an egg served in an egg cup, maybe I would, too.

Same idea with flying over the Pennines and visiting the Holy Island Seals. Before reading CNV, we didn’t even know they existed. But once we learned about them from Maddie and Julie, the strength of their (or Wein’s) narrative made these places seem special in and of themselves. It’s Wein’s writing that makes us feel an affinity for the seals, not the seals that increase our affinity for Maddie or Julie. Sympathetic magic, the other way around.

Here, let me explain in a diagram.

Here, let me explain in a diagram.

I’m trying to think of a case in my reading experience where Wein’s application of sympathetic magic–ordinary objects, made special from a treasured book, brought me closer to the world of the book–and I keep drawing a blank. I was too old to hope for a Hogwarts letter on my eleventh birthday when I read Harry Potter for the first time. And no amount of Bertie Botts Every Flavor merchandising will make me less of a Muggle. But a real world experience that allows me to relate better to a fictional character–I suppose that connects me to a fictional world more effectively than any object.

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