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Archive for May, 2009

I’m going to try REALLY hard to keep this as spoiler-free on the details as I can, for those of you who haven’t yet seen this movie.

John and I got to double date with my sister Kaatia and her husband last Friday night—our “anniversary date” (11 years for us on May 23.  Huge thanks to my mother for babysitting all the sleeping kids!)  We decided to see Star Trek at The District. 

The theater: very nice!  I’ve never been there before.  It has automated ticket machines which are very cool and so fast, and you get to choose your seats.   My sisters and I are definitely going there to see New Moon on November 20.

And now, the movie.

The Good:  It’s very full of action, right from the first second.  I was never bored.  It’s pretty funny, too, in many spots.  And I do appreciate and enjoyed the many nods to Star Trek fans with little details and familiar things.  It was also fun to find out how a main character got their nickname (even though I’ve long heard a different reason), and another character’s previously-unknown (to me, at least) first name.  The acting was actually pretty good, particularly the main characters of Captain Kirk and some of his officers. 

The look of some parts of the ship was fairly cool and the technology was really good, considering this is way before The Next Generation time period.  The camera work and special effects were pretty good most of the time, though sometimes the camera was shaking around so much it was hard to see what was happening in some of the big action sequences.

The Bad:  The bad guys were terrible.  Really, really terrible!!!  Did I mention how terrible they were?  I can’t imagine what the producer/director/casting director was thinking.  For half the movie I didn’t even know what race they were supposed to be because they were so unlike themselves.  They came across as bumbling, lame, bald world-wide-wrestling types with a bunch of tattoos.  I half expected one of them to throw a chair on the other and jump on his face.  And this is supposed to be an alien race that’s injected polite, formal, understated menace and cold, evil calculation every single time they’ve ever shown up in a Star Trek episode??  It was unbelievable. 

Also, my main “peeve” about this movie was that one of the characters acted in a way that is totally and completely out of character for himself.  He did something that his character would never, ever do.  It kind of ruined the movie for me, in a way.  Especially since I am a lifelong “Trekkie” and have loved this character since the age of 9, when I first saw re-runs on NBC in the 80’s. 

The plot was also a bit confusing in spots and didn’t make sense sometimes.

I was really looking forward to seeing Captain Kirk’s Enterprise updated and on the big screen, but the ship’s interior was completely unrecognizable.  Every room, every area was so different and “cluttered” that I had a hard time with that.  I wish they had stuck with the look of the early ship, just a bit more modernized.  The exterior of the ship was nice—that felt very familiar.

The other main big thing that bothered me a lot was the whole time paradox/alternate reality thing.  Here’s what I want to know: because of the events of this movie, does this now change Star Trek history forever?  Because if the events of this movie are now considered “Canon,” then that means every single episode of every Star Trek show and movie (with the exception of the very-lame Enterprise, since it came more than a hundred years before Captain Kirk’s time) is now changed and can’t have happened the way they did.

I would be eternally grateful if someone could explain that one to me, and help me not feel so badly over it. 

My husband John loved the movie, as did my sister and brother-in-law.  John’s perspective on it was, “It’s just a movie.  Who cares?  Enjoy the shows just like always.”  He’s right, in a way.  It is just a movie.  It was made for entertainment.  If I were a person who had little or no exposure to Star Trek previously, I would’ve loved it. 

As it is, I am a diehard Trekkie and found it to be sorely lacking in spots, though it was fun and entertaining enough that we will probably buy it on DVD when it comes out.

I would give it 3 1/2 stars out of 5.

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In the afternoon more than 30 authors had signings for their books.  It was very exciting to meet some of the authors of my favorite books!  My kids were very excited, too, especially my oldest daughter.  She’s inherited my love of reading. 

               

First up is Brandon Mull, author of the very-popular Fablehaven series.  Brandon stated on Facebook last week that he is currently working on the fifth Fablehaven book, which will be the last one.  He’s also written a new book, The Candyshop War, about four kids who discover a candy store full of candy that has magical side effects.

               

Jessica Day George signed books for us, too.  Jessica is the author of a fun and exciting series about dragons, starting with her debut novel Dragon Slippers.  (The third in the series, Dragon Spear, just hit stores last week.)  She’s also written some terrific fairy tales-turned-novels including Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow and Princess of the Midnight Ball.  Meeting Jessica again was a real treat and she even remembered our names and how to spell them (we’d just met her the night before at the Dragon Spear launch party.)

                 

Dean and Shannon Hale signed Rapunzel’s Revenge and Shannon autographed The Goose Girl.  (I really like the lovely new Bayern covers!)  They were wonderful to meet, also.  Their Rapunzel illustrator, Nathan Hale, was busy on the other side of the room drawing requests for a long line of children.  It was a pretty cool set up: he drew on a projector so his drawing and hands were magnified on the wall for everyone to see.  It was amazing how fast he drew!  Two of my kids requested a fairy and a snake:

                                 

He spent 2-3 minutes on each drawing, tops.

Aprilynne Pike signed her debut novel Wings for me.  Wings has only been out a week or two but just hit #1 on the New York Times best-seller list.  Congratulations, Aprilynne!

We also got to meet Rick Walton, author-extraordinaire of more than 50 picture books.  My 8-year-old son loves his book Bertie Was a Watchdog and was excited to get some autographed books from Bertie’s creator. 

On our way out we met Laura Vaccaro Seeger, who gave the keynote address that morning.  She was charming and friendly; my kids love her books.  Here’s Laura:

The festival was chock-full of activities for children: coloring pages, bookmark-making, face painting, making pin-on buttons, and choosing a free book.  Several storybook characters also wandered around in the crowd, making it extra fun for the kids (we spotted Alice in Wonderland, Little Red Riding Hood, and Count Olaf).   The organizers of the Provo Children’s Book Festival couldn’t have done a better job.  They created a wonderful annual event.  My family will be back next year.

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Shannon Hale needs no introduction.  If you haven’t read her books yet, they are wonderful and I highly recommend them.  She and her husband Dean co-wrote their first graphic novel last year, Rapunzel’s Revenge.  The sequel, Calamity Jack, will be out…possibly sometime next year?  I didn’t hear a date for that one yet.  It’s got a cool cover, though!

Shannon and Dean did a half-hour reading/Q&A session on Saturday afternoon.  But before they read, they said they wanted to show us how their collaboration works by doing an “interpretive dance.”  Shannon assured us that they had never practiced or rehearsed this dance, but she knew it was some brilliant choreography.  Enigma’s “Return to Innocence” played as they did their slow poses.  But enough description…on to the pictures!

                         

 

            The pictures can’t do it justice.

 

After this hilarious (oops, I mean thoroughly moving) performance, Shannon and Dean read from Rapunzel’s Revenge.  Shannon took the part of Rapunzel; Dean read Jack’s part.  I took a short video with my phone but it’s not good quality and hard to hear, so if you want to listen, turn your speaker up:

"Rapunzel’s Revenge" reading

Here’s Dean modeling the Rapunzel poster:

Shannon and Dean also showed us the way “movie kisses” are done, with the girl being leaned unnaturally far back and head twisted strangely to the side:

There was quite a lot of kissing going on, actually.  :)  They informed us that this is the way Rapunzel ends.

 

After the reading, the Hales took some questions.

 

Q: What’s your biggest waste of time while working?

A: Not doing it.

 

Q: What’s your biggest waste of money on writing stuff?

A: I don’t spend a lot of money on writing.

 

Q: Why did you choose The Goose Girl as the fairy tale for your first novel?

A: I read Robin McKinley’s Beauty many years ago and it really stayed with me.  My favorite fairy tales are not necessarily my favorites, but the ones I actually like the most are the ones that bother me the most—the ones that raise the most questions.  [Dean interjects: That’s why she married me, too…I wasn’t her favorite, but I bothered her the most.]

 

Q: Do you ever get burned out coming up with ideas?

A: No.  I never seem to run out of ideas.  But one thing I try to make sure I do is have time to read for fun, so I don’t get burned out on writing.  It recharges me.

 

Q: Was River Secrets hard to write from a male point of view?

A: As a kid, I swore I would never write from a male perspective.  But by the time I started working on this book I knew Razo so well that it just came naturally.  Dean corrected me in a few places, to help me know how a boy would see things.  [Dean: I think there were only two places like that.]

 

Q: How much do you write each day or week, and how do you balance it?

A: Dean: I try to allocate time as possible.  I still work a full-time job.

Shannon: I set daily goals of words.  Right now my goal is 1,000 words per day, Monday-Friday.  I used to be able to write during my first child’s nap but now, with two children, that isn’t possible.  I do hire a sitter a few hours a week and I sometimes write at night if I haven’t reached my goal.

 

Q: Dean, what can you tell us about your picture book?

A: Shannon was busy writing one night, so I thought, “I’ll do some writing, too.”  I wrote the text of a picture book I called Scapegoat.  It really was a perfect name, I thought!  It’s about a little boy who blames everything he does on the family goat. 

One day we were in New York—why were we there again?  [Shannon: We were on the Today show, honey.]  Oh yes, that’s right!  Anyway, Shannon was in a meeting with her publishers and I was waiting for her so I showed the book to her agent.  The agent liked it and said, “Let’s do it!”  But they made me change the title.  They said kids wouldn’t understand what a scapegoat was.  Also, I had to change the name of a character.  He had a wonderful name: “Hasby the Croat.”  They were afraid it would be offensive to Croatian people, plus they were pronouncing it “Cro-at” and it didn’t at all fit with the rhyme scheme.

 

Q: What’s your favorite music?

A: Oh goodness, no idea!  Right now we have 800 songs on the iPod.  My current favorite song is “Golden Years” by David Bowie.

 

The very talented Rapunzel illustrator, Nathan Hale, was also in the room.  That is, until they started up their dance again at the end and asked him to join them!  He escaped—err, I meant, had to leave—very quickly.

Nathan Hale

Shannon and Dean were absolutely delightful to watch/listen to.  My whole family thoroughly enjoyed their presentation and my husband liked it so much that he went down to the bookstore, bought Rapunzel’s Revenge, and insisted on getting it autographed to him. 

 

It was a thrill to meet one of my favorite authors.  If you ever get the chance to see the Shannon/Dean dance team, you shouldn’t miss it.

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Immediately after Laura Seeger’s presentation ended, the Fantasy panel started across the hall.  6 authors participated: Jessica Day George, Brandon Mull, James Dashner, Shannon Hale, J. Scot Savage, and Brandon Sanderson, who was also the moderator.  He asked the panel questions and gave each author time to answer.  Unfortunately, they were rudely interrupted before question 4 because some child had pulled the fire alarm and it was impossible to hear anything until the fire department arrived 15 minutes later to turn it off.  But it was still a very enjoyable discussion and so fun to see and hear these authors talk about my favorite kind of children’s fiction—fantasy.

Question 1: Why do you write fantasy?

James Dashner: Because chicks dig it.  Seriously, fantasy is crazy, whacky stuff we can’t do in the real world.

 

Shannon Hale, James Dashner, Dean Hale in back

Brandon Sanderson: In 5th grade I read Dragonsbane.  This book grabbed me as no book ever had.  I love the added level of complexity in fantasy.  Fantasy books can do anything from any other genre plus magic.  Why not?

J. Scott Savage: Farworld forced itself on me.  At 2 a.m. one night I decided to write one chapter of fantasy to prove to myself that I couldn’t do it.  Next thing I knew, the sun was up and birds were singing.

Brandon Mull: I’ve always loved amusement parks and daydreaming.  Fantasy lets me write [elements of] both.

Jessica Day George: I’m reading to have a good time.  Fantasy is what I like to read.  I like to escape and go somewhere else.

Shannon Hale: Because a little more is possible.

Question 2: What’s the most important element you include in your books?

Brandon Mull: The thing that intrigues me the most about fantasy is figuring out how to break the rules of reality—to make those new rules seem real and keep the novel held together.

Shannon Hale: The journey.

James Dashner: The basic storyline—really intriguing developments, plot twists, and interesting characters. 

Brandon Sanderson: A sense of realness to the story.  I write because I want to write make-believe, people read because they want it to be real.

Brandon Sanderson and James Dashner

Jessica Day George: The characters.  The writer AND the reader has to believe/care about them or it doesn’t matter how cool the fantasy world is.  I was first attracted to fantasy because of Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown.  I loved the similarities between the heroine and me—a girl with red hair, etc.  The character seemed so real that I believed everything she did.  I would think “This could be real, she could be my friend.”

J. Scott Savage: I love, in fantasy, that the characters—good and bad and even minor ones—can be so much bigger than in other genres.

Question 3: Where do you think fantasy is going and/or what exciting things are happening in the genre right now?

Brandon Mull: I love that there’s a great space/need for middle grade and YA novels.  There’s lots of room to grow.

Brandon Mull

Jessica Day George: I’m seeing lots of kids’ sub-genres, like historical.  Patricia C. Wrede’s Sorcery and Cecilia or the recent historical fantasy Bewitching Season.

Shannon Hale: Paranormal romance is really big right now.

J. Scott Savage: I love that all ages are reading fantasy now.  I get as many grandparents e-mailing me that they love my books as I do kids.  I think this has to do with how books are being written and marketed.

Brandon Sanderson: I’m an armchair scholar.  I really like to study and see what the genres are doing.  I see fantasy moving toward Harry Potter for adults—lots of epic fantasies.  I also see fantasy with mainstream cross-overs, like historical.  Some people think YA will move toward science fiction, as with Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series.  Harry Potter and Twilight have opened many doors, and we have to thank the big superstars for that.

James Dashner: It’s exciting how the teen market has exploded.  It’s selling really well; people want more.  Maybe it’s all the young readers of Harry Potter grown up.  You’re lucky if you are writing YA right now.

Question 4: Why specifically do you write children’s fantasy?  Why do you think kids love fantasy?  Kids tend to be so much more forgiving, even though so many adults are reading children’s fantasy now.

James Dashner: You can get away with more.  You can be as crazy, weird, psycho as you want and no one cares.

Brandon Sanderson: Fantasy is about exploration.  The woods behind your house, the country you haven’t been to.  Kids want to know, what’s over there? What’s that? Why?  Adults don’t care or take the time.  Fantasy gives you the chance to explore.

Jessica Day George: Fantasy is timeless.  The fashions never go out of style—tunics and robes will always be in.  :)  It’s never dated, and full of classic and enduring themes that everyone always cares about.

Jessica Day George and J. Scott Savage

J. Scott Savage: We grow up using our imaginations and when we get older, we’re told “You can’t do that anymore.  You have to do real things and solve real problems.”  I remember the first time I watched Indiana Jones.  By the time you’ve gone in that cave with him and the rock is about to crush him and he’s running, the fantasy totally engulfs you and pulls you in.  It’s not about the phone bill any more, it’s about an ogre attacking the castle.  Also, kids give you no room for error—if they read 3 pages of boring, they’re done.  A good YA/middle grade novel will pull you in and keep you on the edge of your seat.

Brandon Mull: I write books I would like and then try to make them accessible to kids.  Adults are reading kids’ fantasy now because they want something light and fun—not big and imposing.  Some premises don’t work in adult fantasy, like my new book The Candyshop Wars.  But adults will enjoy reading a kids’ story about candy that gives kids superpowers.

Shannon Hale: When you read realistic fiction, the book is about whatever issue it faces—the new kid in school, or whatever.  But fantasy possibilities are open and the reader can take away whatever they want from my stories—it’s not my job to decide.

Dean Hale added: Before Shannon “got into the biz,” as we say, I had some preconceptions about fantasy and writing.  I wondered “What if she isn’t good enough?”  Then I started reading the fantasy that’s out there now and I couldn’t believe how awesome and un-boring it was, and so well-written.  And of course, now she’s my favorite writer. 🙂

Random cool Count Olaf fantasy look-alike.  He even had the tattoo on his ankle!

Unfortunately I was a few rows back, and my cell phone doesn’t take the clearest pictures.  But the panel was thoroughly enjoyable.  It was so thrilling to see/hear these terrific authors talk about their books and interact with each other. 

Tomorrow: Part 3: Shannon and Dean Hale’s Reading and Dance

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Setting: the beautiful historic Provo library

Time: 11:00 a.m., Saturday, May 16

Laura Vaccaro Seeger is a pretty, vivacious brunette with a passion for books and art.  She’s the award-winning author of beautiful die-cut (and regular) picture books such as:

First the Egg

Lemons Are Not Red

One Boy

The Hidden Alphabet

Black? White! Day? Night!

Walter Was Worried

Dog and Bear: Two Friends, Three Stories

Laura gave an absolutely fascinating presentation using animated videos and pictures about the process she goes through to make each book.   Here’s some of the things she shared with us:

–She loves using die-cuts

–She says, “My books give the reader the opportunity to look at things in a different way than they’ve done before.”

–She starts her story around a cool concept and builds the book around it

–Her studio is the beach about 5 miles from her home.  She goes there almost every day and walks in the sand, thinking about her stories, and comes home energized and ready to write them. Her kids think they’ve got the rough end of the deal when she says she’s tired from working. “Mom, all you do for work is hang out at the beach…we have to sit in school all day!”

–For The Hidden Alphabet, she wanted to see if she could find letters and objects in the negative space around normal letters. 

–For Lemons Are Not Red, she wanted to work with colors; also the concept of not.  She wanted to play with what things are/are not.

–For Walter Was Worried, this story began life as the title Typefaces.  She explored how you show emotion: with your facial expression, hand movements.  She began taking away little bits of the expression to see how much she could take away and still have an easily understandable emotion.  The book went through several drafts before her editor was satisfied.

–For Black? White!, the powers-that-be at her publishing house insisted the rubber duckie page had to go.  Ducks don’t sink, they said.  Get rid of it.  She was so attached to the cute little duck that she fought valiantly for it.  After going through a couple of more changes, she came up with an acceptable compromise: change the duck to a dolphin.  That way, she still gets her water creature and it’s still cute, but everyone else was satisfied with the concept.

–For First the Egg, she showed us some pages from her journal as she began to think about specific things in nature that go through remarkable transformations.  Out of that list her story was born.

–For Dog and Bear, the story started with a unique and colorful stuffed bear that she brought home one day and her dachshund dog, Copper.  She journaled characteristics that friendly dogs, cats, and bears could have, then sketched and painted different versions of what she wanted them to look like. 

She had a few minutes for audience questions when her presentation ended.

Q: Is it a deterrent in publishing a children’s book to do expensive things like die-cuts?

A: Yes and no.  It is probably a deterrent if you are a brand-new author trying to break into publishing—the editor may not want to take a chance on your book in the current economy.  But for me, my publisher is committed to making beautiful books.  They figure out how to do it and how to do it right.

Q: Do you have any favorite experiences with kids discovering your books?

A: I love it when older children and adults pick up my books and say “Oh, COOL!” I believe picture books are not for kids only.  They’re just books with pictures and meant for everyone.

Q: Have you noticed popularity of themes in children’s books?

A: Yes, but my publisher is not interested in the current themes (princesses, celebrity authors, etc.).

Q: What did you like to read as a kid?

A: I asked my mother that once, because I honestly didn’t remember reading any picture books as a kid! I asked her if we had any in the house.  She said “Yes, but you were so busy making your own books that you didn’t read very many!”

Laura’s talk and presentation were so fun and engaging that even my three kids were mesmerized.  My husband, who is a non-book-lover, said to me later, “That was pretty cool, seeing how those books were made.”  Quite a compliment coming from him!  I recommend Laura’s books to everyone.  Pick one up at the library or a bookstore—you won’t be sorry.

Coming soon: Part 2: 6-Author Fantasy Panel.

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