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Archive for the ‘Authors’ Category

An author of several very popular young adult novels, Laurie Halse Anderson, put up a writing challenge on her blog at the beginning of August.  The challenge: write for 15 minutes a day, every day in August.  I decided to accept this challenge because even though I love to write I haven’t been making time to do it on a regular basis.  So I took up the challenge and so far, I’ve written every day in August.

Some days are easier than others.  Some nights I’m so exhausted that it’s all I can do to drag myself to the computer or to pen and paper.  But it’s been really fun, rewarding, creative, and I’ve learned a few things. 

Laurie puts up writing prompts every day on her blog to help us if we get stuck in knowing what to write about.  I’ve used quite a few of them and come up with some interesting and crazy stuff (and some of it was actually good).  Yesterday’s prompt was to choose a fairy tale and write your own modern or twisted version.  I started this assignment last night so tired that I could hardly keep my eyes open.  I just wanted to get the 15 minutes over with and go to bed (and this was at 8pm.  I was tired!).  But I started having so much fun that I ended up writing for an hour.

Due to popular request, I’m putting it up here.  Be warned, it’s long.  And it’s not the best or most exciting fairy tale you’ll ever read.  But I had fun coming up with a different twist.

Little Red

by Kiirsi Hellewell

Once upon a time, there was a girl who had a normal name but was always called little Red. She was an annoying child. She was always pestering, always whining, never satisfied with anything she had. When her mother spent hours brushing her long, curly golden hair and it lay in shining ringlets down her back she’d complain that it wasn’t a different color. When she got her wish and got a pony for her birthday, she complained that it wasn’t a dolphin. Her breakfast was too cold, her dinner too hot. The only thing she did like was a bright red hooded sweatshirt. She wore it everywhere.

As the years passed, the whining took its toll. Finally, one year her parents got sick of her and sent her to spend the summer with her grandmother. “Enough is enough,” they said. “We’re going to Hawaii on vacation.”

Her grandmother was quite a free spirit. She’d been very much the 60’s flower child. Her house was covered in crocheted things and beads and fringe. She had long bead curtains in every doorway and her daily clothing of choice vacillated between either long, fringed leather vests covering flowered button-ups or a crocheted poncho in mustard yellow. She wore bellbottom pants, of course, and platform shoes. Her neck was always covered in long strings of beads and her long, straight hair fell to her waist. It was more white now than blond but she still liked to wear crazy shades and a headband to complete her outfit.

When Red arrived, she expected life to be pretty nice. After all, she’d heard her parents complain enough about how easy-going and laid-back Grandma was.

But she got quite a surprise. Grandma was a drill sergeant! She wanted Red to clean, make the beds, sweep the floor, and carry in wood for the (ancient!) old black stove so they could cook. Any time she saw Red lying around she’d say “You look bored! I’ve got just the thing for you” and make up another horrid chore.

One day, Red had enough. “Anything’s better than this place,” she said, and took off—not before packing herself a very large backpack of goodies, though, of course. She stuffed it with all sorts of treats, sweets, and other good things—but didn’t think about taking anything to drink. Granny was always trying to get her to drink water but she never touched the stuff if she could help it.

She didn’t bother leaving a note, either. Granny was a slave-driver. She didn’t deserve a note, Red told herself. Red walked confidently into the forest bordering Granny’s property, following a wide trail. She felt sure if she walked for an hour or two the forest would give way to a city. And surely, anyone in the city would take one look at what a wonderful girl she was and want to adopt her, right away, and give her a mansion to live in full of candy and toys.

She was so wrapped up in these visions of her future life that she didn’t notice at first that the path was becoming smaller and smaller and darker and darker. Finally she realized she was terribly thirsty and sat down on a rock to have a snack. She opened her basket and looked inside, temporarily dismayed to find in the mess of crushed and crumbled cakes, candy, and cookies that she had forgotten to pack any cans of soda. “What’ll I do?” she said.

Just then she heard a trickling sound. After listening for a while, she realized it was the sound water outside makes…she’d seen it often in movies. She followed the sound, leaving the path, and blundered through dense bushes and branches until she crashed into a clearing. There, in front of her, was a sweet little cottage with a clear stream flowing past it. She forgot she disliked water in her thirst and ran to the stream. After drinking her fill, she wiped her face off with a corner of her hoodie. Looking in her basket once more, she wrinkled her lips with distaste at the crumbled mess. “Maybe this place has something to eat,” she said, and barged into the house without knocking.

In one corner sat a wolf, rocking and knitting. Wait…a wolf?!? She rubbed her eyes and looked again. “Hello, my dear,” said the old wolf in a quavery voice. “Would you like something to eat?”

Red decided to forget about the strangeness of this situation until she got what she wanted. “Yes, and it better be good,” she grumbled. The old wolf ignored her rudeness and set a plate of good things before her. Red tore into them, making a mess, and finally pushed her chair back, temporarily satisfied.

“That was actually okay, for once,” she announced, patting her stomach.

“I’m glad you liked it, dear,” the wolf said, smiling in a way that made Red feel…nervous, for the first time in her life. Her old lips turned up at the corners, exposing a row of rather gleaming sharp teeth.

Red stood and backed towards the door. “Well, I’d better be…going,” she said, feeling unsure of herself, another first. “My, um…granny…will be worried about me.”

“Oh, I don’t think she will, dear,” the wolf said, smiling even more widely. “She would never recognize you, anyway, even if she could find you.”

“Wha…what do you mean?” Red continued backing until she felt wood behind her. She reached for what she thought was the door.

“Turn around, dear.”

Red turned, though she hated having her back to the wolf. The wood she’d felt wasn’t the door. It was a frame around a large square mirror. When she met her frightened eyes in the mirror she let out a shriek. Staring back at her was a WOLF! A wolf wearing shreds of a red hoodie.

She jumped backward and whipped around. “What have you DONE TO ME?!” she yelled, completely beside herself. “My beautiful golden curls—GONE!”

“You never liked your hair, dear,” the wolf said complacently, rocking and knitting again in the corner.

“My lovely soft peaches-and-cream skin!”

“You always wished it was softer, dear,” said the wolf.

“I didn’t want FUR!” Red screamed, shaking her fists. The wolf just smiled, showing her teeth again.

Though Red raged and shouted, paced and shook, nothing fazed the wolf. She continued to rock and knit long into the night. Finally Red collapsed on the floor, exhausted, and fell into a sobbing sleep. The wolf smiled.

Morning finally arrived. Red awoke, stiff and sore from sleeping on the wooden floor, hoping the last few hours had been just a horrible nightmare. When she lifted her hand and saw a furry paw, everything came flooding back. She began to gear up her lungs for another scream-fest when she remembered all the hours she’d screamed last night. It hadn’t done her any good. And besides, her throat hurt.

She stood up and looked around. The old wolf was gone. Her finished knitting lay on the rocking chair. Red went over and picked it up.

It was a soft new hoodie, sky-blue, and just her size…at least, her old size. Now it wouldn’t even fit over her paw. She set it down and ran out the open door.

In the clearing outside there was a note printed in large block letters under a rock:

“Dear Red,

I had to go hunting for some food today. I’ll be back at dinnertime. In the meantime, I would appreciate it if you would clean the house, weed the garden, and catch some fish to go with dinner.

“Love,

Mama Wolf”

Red crumpled the list under a paw. “Who does she think I am? Her personal slave? First Granny and now her! Well, I don’t think so! I may be a wolf, but I’m going to do whatever I want.”

Red spent the day lazing around in a nearby meadow, picking flowers, and just lying on the soft grass, watching the puffy white clouds drift by. The rumbling of her stomach finally made her get up and mosey back to the cottage in the clearing. Delicious smells coming from the house made her hurry even faster.

She burst into the cottage and was met with a smiling, “Hello, dear. Your dinner is outside.” Before Red knew what was happening, she was outside on the stream bank.

“Of all the…”she spluttered, and ran back in the house. This time she was bounced right back out before she could even blink, and so hard that she landed in the stream. Mama Wolf stood in the doorway, arms folded, smiling, as always.

“You didn’t do what I asked, dear. Since I cleaned the house, caught the fish, weeded the garden, and prepared dinner, I get to enjoy the clean house, hot fish, and garden vegetables. You spent the day doing what you wanted to do, so now you get to spend the night where you spent the day—outside.

“Sleep well, dear.” The smile was the last thing Red saw as the door was firmly closed and bolted from the inside.

She sniffed and hiccupped. “Who wants her smelly old dinner, anyway!” There was something “smelly” on the river bank…a few old wilted carrot tops and some fish bones. Red ignored them as long as she could till hunger drove her to it. “I can’t believe I’m eating this slop!” she moaned.

Two more days of this behavior and reward left a very different Red. Going without food—let alone good food—helped her decide that maybe it was in her best interest to at least attempt the items on Mama Wolf’s list. After a day where she pulled up more vegetables than weeds and her paws were sore from scrubbing the floor and her fur so soaked with water from standing in the stream for hours trying fruitlessly to catch a fish, she hauled her sore, bedraggled self to the stream bank and curled up for the night, as usual. Much to her surprise, the cottage door opened and warm light streamed out. “Come in, dear,” the wolf said, smiling gently. “You’ve earned it tonight.”

The simple, rough bread, onion soup, and tasty trout tasted better than anything she’d ever had. That night as she lay on a blanket on the floor, she felt warm, contented, and for the first time in her life—truly happy.

After several weeks of work and play, one night the wolf kissed her goodnight tenderly. “Sleep well, dear,” she said, smiling still. Red yawned her goodnights and was asleep instantly. She’d worked hard that day.

When morning came and she opened her eyes, things looked different somehow. Then she realized that she wasn’t in the cottage. She was lying on the forest floor, at the starting point of a broad path. When she stretched and got up she shrieked once more in fear and excitement. The paw she’d stretched out wasn’t made of fur anymore—it was a hand! She was a girl again!

She skipped and danced and whirled. “Hurray! I’m me! Hurray!!!” Then suddenly she stopped, her head drooping. “But where is Mama Wolf?” She’d grown fond of the old gray wolf in the past weeks. She looked all around her in the dirt but saw no trace of any animal tracks, wolf or otherwise.

Her steps heavier with sadness, she followed the path. After many hours’ walk she came out of the woods and saw…

…Her granny’s house! “GRANNY!” she screamed, running out of the woods and into the house. Her granny sat in a chair in the corner, crocheting yet another fringed poncho. At the sound of Red’s voice she looked up and smiled, gathering the girl into her arms. “Red! How nice. You’re back.”

Red pulled back and looked at her granny, puzzlement in her eyes. “Granny! I’ve been gone for WEEKS! Weren’t you worried? Have the police been looking for me?”

Granny smiled, her eyes dancing. “Silly Red. Have you been playing another one of your games? You went into the forest just this morning. But look here! A few minutes ago there was a knock at the door and when I opened it, this was on the doorstep with your name on it.”

She handed Red a parcel of squashed brown paper, tied with blue yarn. “RED” was printed carefully on it in large block letters. Red turned it over in her hands, wondering, and then carefully took off the yarn and opened it. She smiled and her eyes grew wet.

Inside was a beautiful, soft, sky-blue hoodie.

 

Copyright 2009 by Kiirsi Hellewell; author retains all story rights.

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I’ve just finished a couple of books.  The first one, Mira, Mirror by Mette Ivie Harrison, was pretty good.  This book is fairy tale-ish along the lines of Snow White.  But instead of re-telling the fairy tale, the story follows the wicked queen’s magic mirror.  The story begins with two peasant girls, apprentices to a local witch.  The girls think of themselves as sisters but the first sister only seems to care about beauty.  She becomes more and more power-hungry and evil, eventually trapping her sister in a mirror. 

The rest of the book is about the mirror’s journey.  Not just her physical journey, but her emotional one, too—how she enters the lives of two other girls and as she helps to change them, she herself changes and learns what love is. 

I found the writing in this book quite good.  It flowed very well and it must have been hard to show everything from the point of view of a wood-and-glass mirror that has to be carried everywhere, but it was wonderfully done and didn’t feel contrived for the most part.  The story was fascinating and made me want to keep reading.  The characters seemed real and fun and interesting.  The mirror’s gradual change in feelings and beliefs was done pretty well; there were only a few spots where I was pulled out of the story to think, “Where did that come from?  That was sudden.”

When I finished the last page last night I closed the book, puzzled.  It was not a very satisfying conclusion.  Yes, there’s redemption and a form of happiness, I suppose.  But it felt very rushed and not complete.  I wanted to see much more of Mira, after all her long years of waiting. 

Final grade: B+

 

Deeper by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams

I also (finally) finished Deeper this week.  It’s a sequel to Tunnels, which I read last year and found very different, boring in some parts, and quite scary/freaky in a lot of ways.  I was interested enough to read the sequel, I guess.  These books follow two teenage boys who stumble upon a mysterious Victorian society deep under the streets of London.  In Deeper, the boys go…where else?…deeper underground, many miles below the surface of the earth.  They encounter strange plants, animals, giant bugs, lots of dirt and dust, really evil bad guys, and a plot to take over the earth.

It took me a really long time to read this book…nearly two months.  That’s because I found a large part of it really boring.  It’s far too long, for one thing—I love long books if the story is a page-turner, like Harry Potter.  I can’t get enough.  But for this book, most of it felt like all they did for several hundred pages was wander around in the dark, exploring yet another dusty, hot tunnel.  643 pages of this can get pretty old.  I think I only kept plodding through it because after 300 pages I thought, “I can’t bear to waste all the time I already spent…I might as well finish.”  So I’d read in brief, 10-minute stints.  The characters are okay, but really annoying at times, and they do things that don’t really make a lot of sense.  They’re not completely believable.   The authors also seem to have a goal to be as gross as they possibly can…gory stuff, really disgusting stuff, they don’t seem to care as long as it’s nasty.  Perhaps they think this really appeals to teenage boys?

That said, though, it did get more exciting toward the end, and I’ll probably force myself to read Freefall, the next book, when it is published in the U.S.  (It’s already available in the U.K.)  I do feel vaguely interested in the fate of the characters.  But if you have to “force yourself” to read something, that kind of speaks for itself.

Final grade: C+

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Every time I finish a book (and that’s quite often…I usually read two or three novels a week), I write a review in my head.  It’s not even conscious—I just automatically re-play the best scenes and tell myself what I liked or didn’t like.  I always intend to write down the reviews but never actually get around to it.  Soon the finer points of the book fade from my memory as I read the next story.

Today I’m actually going to do it.  I recently read two pairs of books that were quite alike in some ways, and perfect for contrasting and comparing in reviews. 

The first pair is a sort of Regency-era historical romance type, kind of like Jane Austen. 

                                

Bewitching Season by Marissa Doyle was the first one I read.  Here’s a summary from Marissa’s website:

In 1837 England, young daughters of viscounts pined for handsome, titled husbands, not careers.  And certainly not careers in magic.

Twins Persephone (Persy) and Penelope (Pen) Leland are anticipating their first London season with mixed feelings.  Pen can’t wait for the balls and parties and crowds of handsome young men to flirt with, but Persy would far rather stay home with their governess, Ally, and continue her magic studies.  The only thing drawing her to London is the prospect of seeing Princess Victoria, her and Pen’s idol.

But then Ally disappears from a busy London street and the twins are drawn into searching for her…and find that her disappearance is linked to a dastardly plot to enchant the soon-to-be Queen.  Persy also discovers that a good lady’s maid is hard to find, that one should never cast a love spell on anyone after drinking too much brandy punch at a party, that pesky little brothers can sometimes come in handy, and that even boys who were terrible teases when they were twelve can mysteriously turn into the most perfect young men.

Sounds fun, yes?  It was.  It was a nice, light book, fun and Austen-y without much to detract from the story.  The characters were fairly realistic; the author did a good job portraying Regency girls but making them relatable to modern girls, too.  The story/plot was engaging and moved along at a good pace once the book got going after the first couple of chapters.  I liked the magic.  As a fan of both fantasy and Jane Austen, this book had just the right touches of each.  It was a lot of fun. 

The cover is beautiful, though the girl resembles Kiera Knightley and has quite a lot of makeup, and the title is appropriate.  I really liked the historical details and the plot about Princess Victoria and Sir John.  It was so interesting, in fact, that it prompted me to do some reading and research about Victoria and John to find out the whole story about that point in Victoria’s life.  You hear a lot about “Queen Victoria” but not a lot about when she was young.

I read this book a few months ago so the details are a bit hazy, but I think the main criticism I had was that it took a little while to get into the story.

 

Next, here’s The Season by Sarah MacLean.  Here’s the summary from her website:

Alexandra Stafford and her two closest friends, Vivi and Ella, weren’t much looking forward to the London Season of 1815…but, between dress fittings, glittering balls, a murder that only they can solve, and the little fact that Alex’s heart is very much in danger of being stolen…this is one season that is shaping up to be unforgettable!

It’s funny how similar the titles of these two books are.  The cover of this one was not very appealing to me—the girls look very fake and made-up with very modern gown fabric, especially the blond one.  She looks like she belongs on a teen drama TV show.  I was fully willing to give it a chance, though, and plunged right in.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a very fun swim.  The book makes a good attempt to portray a loving and deep friendship between the three girls, but it was very lacking for me.  Alex’s two best friends really didn’t serve much purpose to the story at all…they were very similar and mostly sounded like an echo of Alex, the protagonist, when they could’ve been an effective counterpoint to her crazy ideas and whims.  Alex herself was very annoying.  She spouted off constantly about her political and historical views to anyone who would listen.  Her friends joined her.  I understand the author’s intent, I think—to show that this trio of girls wasn’t your typical husband-hunting Regency socialite, that they have thoughts and opinions and are free-thinkers—but it really didn’t work very well.  I found myself annoyed by all three of them but especially Alex.

Another thing that didn’t particularly work was the romance.  The author spent so much time setting Alex up as a guy-hater who wasn’t interested in marriage and thought “the season” of balls and parties a total waste of time…yet suddenly, she’s in love?  It wasn’t very believable.  I do believe that stories of this sort can work if the author is careful, but in this case, it didn’t work.  The love interest was likable enough but I didn’t feel very drawn-in to their relationship. 

The characters were all pretty flat.  The touch of mystery was ok but not very consistent or making me want to keep turning pages.  I also really didn’t like the slang and very modern-American-way of talking the characters had at times.  It kept pulling me out of the novel and the time period.  

I much preferred Bewitching Season in this pair and would recommend it as a good, fun read. 

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I just read on Twitter tonight that there’s a *yearly contest for the worst first sentence in a fake novel.  W-O-W, there are some howlers!  I gasped and choked and snorted until, breathless with laughter, I couldn’t stand it anymore and had to read one to my husband—it was the Spiderman entry that put me over the edge.  Here are my favorites:

 

Detective Pierson mentally reviewed the group of suspects milling around the recent crime scene-two young siblings eating gingerbread, a young girl in a red hoodie, a beautiful girl with narcolepsy, and seven little people with the profession of miners-then gave his statement of "It’s a grim tale" to the press.

Shannon Gray
Wichita, KS

 

No man is an island, so they say, although the small crustaceans and the bird which sat impassively on Dirk Manhope’s chest as he floated lazily in the pool would probably disagree.

Glen Robins
Brighton, East Sussex, U.K.

 

Towards the dragon’s lair the fellowship marched — a noble human prince, a fair elf, a surly dwarf, and a disheveled copyright attorney who was frantically trying to find a way to differentiate this story from "Lord of the Rings."

Andrew Manoske
Foster City, CA

 

On a fine summer morning during the days of the Puritans, the prison door in the small New England town of B—-n opened to release a convicted adulteress, the Scarlet Letter A embroidered on her dress, along with the Scarlet Letters B through J, a veritable McGuffey’s Reader of Scarlet Letters, one for each little tyke waiting for her at the gate.

Joseph Aspler
Kirkland, QC, Canada

 

Mortimer froze in his tracks; the rhythmic clicking on the stones of the path (well . . . not really a clicking sound so much as a kind of clinking sound, more like the noise made by shaking a charm bracelet filled with Disney characters to a salsa beat) made him suddenly realize he had forgotten to buckle one of his galoshes.

Rick Cheeseman
Waconia, MN

 

He slowly ran his fingers through her long black hair, which wasn’t really black because she used Preference by L’Oreal to color it (because "she was worth it"); her carrot-colored roots were starting to show, and it reminded him of the time he’d covered his car’s check engine light with black electrical tape, but a faint orange glow still shone around the edges.

Lisa Mileusnich
Willoughby, OH

 

Their relationship hit a bump in the road, not the low, graceful kind of bump, reminiscent of a child’s choo choo train-themed roller coaster, rather the kind of tall, narrow speed-bump that, if a school bus ran over it, would cause even a fat kid to fly up and bang his head on the ceiling.

Michael Reade
Durham, NC

 

It was a dark and stormy night, well, not pitch dark so much a plumby, you know, that time of night where it turns into that kind of eggplant color, which I hate– eggplant not the time of night–and it wasn’t stormy so much as drizzly, like a cold that’s not so bad but really annoying, where you sound a little plugged up and all your mucus just sort of hovers at the edge of your nostrils or drips down the back of your throat, it was like that.

Maisey Yates
Jacksonville, OR

 

As she slowly drove up the long, winding driveway, Lady Alicia peeked out the window of her shiny blue Mercedes and spied Rodrigo the new gardener standing on a grassy mound with his long black hair flowing in the wind, his brown eyes piercing into her very soul, and his white shirt open to the waist, revealing his beautifully rippling muscular chest, and she thought to herself, "I must tell that lazy idiot to trim the hedges by the gate."

Kathryn Minicozzi
Bronx, NY

 

George scratched his head in abject puzzlement as he tried to figure out where he’d parked the rocket this time in the 100-acre parking lot of Nallmart 75B, but then he remembered that a ship-boy had taken his DNA key-but which one, the kelly toned humanoid or the atmosphere-of-Rylak-hued android; scanning the horizon, he at last turned to Babs and asked "how green was my valet"?

Leigh A. Smith
New Douglas, IL

 

Using her flint knife to gut the two amphibians, Kreega the Neanderthal woman created the first pair of open-toad sandals.

Greg Homer
Placerville, CA

 

There were earthquakes in this land, terrible tsunamis that swirled flooding torrents of water throughout, and constant near-blizzard conditions, and not for the first time, Horatio Jones wished he did not live inside a snow globe.

Rich Buley-Neumar
Amityville, NY

 

The skydiver jumped out of the plane and felt his skin being pulled back like that of a dog sticking its head out of a car going 110 on the highway, owned by a driver rushing to be on time for work or else he would get fired by his boss with the curly mustache who owned a large speedboat.

John Faherty
Queensbury, NY

 

Grimly aware of the rapidly approaching disaster, Spiderman leaped from rooftop to flagpole, from flagpole to fire escape, hurling himself recklessly from building to building, darting glances through every window in his desperate search for one vital room, while silently cursing the fact that the last thing he had done before donning a one-piece skintight costume, was to eat a large bowl of hot chili.

David J Button
South Australia, Australia

 

How best to pluck the exquisite Toothpick of Ramses from between a pair of acrimonious vipers before the demonic Guards of Nicobar returned should have held Indy’s full attention, but in the back of his mind he still wondered why all the others who had agreed to take part in his wife’s holiday scavenger hunt had been assigned to find stuff like a Phillips screwdriver or blue masking tape.

Joe Wyatt
Amarillo, Texas

 

A dark and stormy night it was; in torrents fell the rain –except at occasional intervals, when, by a violent gust of wind was it checked, as up the streets it swept, (for in London it is that lies our scene), along the housetops rattling, and the scanty flame of the lamps fiercely agitating, that against the darkness, struggled.

(The story of Paul Clifford, is Yoda, to a padawan telling)

Jay Clifton
Berkeley, CA

 

*Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

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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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