Well, Winter is here, and though it's been quite mild so far in our neck of the woods, there's a blizzard warning of some sort for the whole Northeast this weekend. Which reminded me. I have long meant to do a blog post about ice grendels. What ARE ice grendels, you ask? Answer: You tell me! *grin* We made them up.
These beasties get only a few, ominous passing mentions in Jake & The Giant, which of course was heavily inspired by Norse mythology. That seems like an appropriate topic, especially at this snowy time of year. From Odin, Thor and Loki to the frost giants and the---oops, I'd better not give away any spoilers, for those who haven't read it yet!
In any case, the research for our novels is one of the most rewarding and fascinating parts of the writing journey, and for my part, I found myself getting totally absorbed in reading translations of the ancient Norse sagas and listening to clips of readings in the original tongue when they are available. They are gripping, with all sorts of story- lines ranging from high adventure to war tales to comedy to horror to paranormal to romance to psychological suspense and family drama. But what strikes me most is the raw power of the language and mesmerizing rhythms of the ancient poetry. You can just imagine yourself among the Vikings sitting around a roaring fire in a frozen landscape, listening on the edge of your seat to the tribe's bard or volva (a seeress) share a poem, song, or tale.
Here's a short reading from the great work of Viking literature, the Poetic Edda, and how it might have sounded being performed in a great hall of a Viking chief. Have a listen...
Along with the Poetic Edda, there is a somewhat less ancient version, the Prose Edda, by the 13th century writer, historian, and politician, Snorri Sturluson of Iceland. Some call that Snorri the Scandinavian Shakespeare (though he was medieval, not Renaissance, and didn't write plays). His massive Prose Edda is another main treasure of Scandinavian culture, and yes, we did name our dull-witted but good-hearted giant Snorri after him, affectionately. Some of the Prose Edda's passages prove the man had a sense of humor and made us feel he wouldn't have minded having a character named after him 800+ years after he lived on earth.
But what does all this have to do with ice grendels? Well, as you probably know, the Vikings had a huge influence on the cultures of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and thus on all the cultures they, in turn, eventually gave birth to, like our own. Norse culture also clearly inspired our oldest surviving long poem in Old English -- and if you said BEOWULF, you get a gold star! Beowulf's story is even set in Scandinavia. Beowulf is a mighty wandering hero who comes to the aid of King Hrothgar of the Danes, who, along with his people, is being stalked and tormented by the monster, Grendel, and his mama.
What drove me nuts the first time I read Beowulf was that you get thru the whole story and the author (who is anonymous, by the way) never tells you WHAT GRENDEL LOOKS LIKE. It's just like a typical monster movie of today where they torment you with brief glimpses of the creature, but you never really get to see it until maybe the end -- if you're lucky! And then it's usually a letdown, lol. Anyway, since the original Grendel was never really described -- dragon? Yeti? Demon? It could be anything! -- I thought it would be kinda funny to let YOU, the reader, decide for yourself what ice grendels lurking in the far north lands might look like. Now that Jake & the Giant has been out for a while, though, here's what I think they might sort of look like. But if you prefer to think of them as a yeti sort of thing, we're good with that, too! :)
Have you ever made up a monster for a project or Halloween costume? Tell us about it below! :)
I love having this blog where Eric and I can take you behind the scenes for a little peek into the inspiration for our books. We must be careful, however, not to reveal too much and give out any spoilers! We don't want to ruin any of the surprises.
With that in mind, one of my favorite minor characters whom you'll meet in RISE OF ALLIES, Part I, is Constanzio, King of the Tenors! It is actually very rare that we would take inspiration directly from a real person, but when I saw this classic clip of the late, great Luciano Pavarotti, I knew we had our opera ghost.
Since the arts play such a prominent role in this book, it seemed like the perfect chance to pay a humble fictional tribute to one of the greatest musical artists of the last century. Enjoy this brief clip of the larger-than-life Pavarotti ~ or maybe, like Jake, you're just seeing a ghost!
Amazing voice aside, I love his crazy facial expressions and contagious smile. I can see why millions around the world hailed Pavarotti as the rightful owner of the title, king of the tenors! But did you know that Pavarotti was actually an elementary school teacher for two years before becoming a worldwide star? Can you imagine having him as a teacher?? Now that would be a fun day at school!
La Donna e Mobile ~ from "Rigoletto" (1851) by Guiseppi Verdi
Everybody's heard this classical song in commercials, but what does it mean? Now you know!
(Translation from www.classicalmusic.about.com)
To watch an excellent mini-biography video of Luciano Pavarotti, click here.
Hi gang! Gael here. Well, I have something special to share with you today. Let me introduce you to my sister, who has just become the third published author in the family (after me, then Eric). I don't know if you know this, but I come from a big Irish family of four sisters and we're all very close (and very different!). I'm the oldest (read: Boss of the World and Self-Appointed Protector of the Youngers whether they liked/needed it or not). My sister, Shana, is second-born (read: Diplomat, Peacekeeper, The Responsible One, and as I recall, the One Foley Girl Who Kept Her Room Clean Without Having To Be Yelled At during childhood, lol).
Well, Shana's debut book is a charming children's book for Ages 6-8, and its release is perfectly timed for the Autumn. If you love visiting Harvest Farm Festivals at this time of year, you're going to get a serious case of the warm fuzzies sharing this one with your kids.
Rosco the Rascal Visits the Pumpkin Patch is a chapter book for 6-8 year olds (Paperback, 130 pages) about a playful, oversized dog and his human family--especially the kids, Mandy and James. Shana describes Rosco like this:
"Although he is purebred German Shepherd, I like to say that Rosco is also a mix of several things: he's one part curious child, one part troublemaking puppy, one part loyal companion, one part junk-yard-dog, and one part hero."
Gael: So, Shan, why don't you go ahead and tell the folks a little about yourself? :)
I am originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but have lived in Southern California for 19 years. I have a wonderful husband, and I’m a stay-at-home-mother of two terrific school-aged children, a girl and a boy. We have a German Shepherd, named Rugger, who is (no surprise, here) the inspiration behind the Rosco character in the book.
I attended the University of Pittsburgh, and earned my Bachelor of Arts in English Writing in 1994. I tried my hand at journalism for a short time after college, then moved to the West Coast by way of a three-week-long road trip across the United States in 1995, when I needed to stretch my wings a bit.
In no time, I had settled in San Diego, and soon went back to school to train as a graphic designer. I went on to work in website design for nearly a decade, before retiring to stay home with my children full-time.
I truly love being a stay-at-home mom and feel very fortunate to be able to do so. But I always wanted to venture back to writing (a job I could do from home, where I didn’t have to change my situation or my children’s routine). And this time, I wanted to try my hand at fiction.
Eventually, I set my mind to doing just that. But I kept putting it away because I was too busy, either with my kids’ play dates and birthday parties, or as room mom for my son’s classroom, or because of all of the other things that mothers do everyday that cause us to shelf the things that we want to do for ourselves.
More importantly, I just plain couldn’t figure out how I could finish it. “Where was the plot going? What sort of moral lesson could this story teach? I’m stuck.” That happened again and again. I thought I’d never be able to publish it anyway, either.
But ten years into motherhood, two years after starting it, I finally finished and published it, my first children's book. My family: my sister Gael and her husband Eric, especially, and my parents, husband and children, all gave me loads of encouragement. I finally found the drive to make it happen, no matter how many setbacks I’d encounter (and boy, did I encounter setbacks!). And so it did, it happened!
Gael: I knew you could do it, Shan!!! So, tell them about the book.
Shana: The title of my book is Rosco The Rascal Visits The Pumpkin Patch. It is aimed at kids ages 6-8, but 4-5 year olds will understand it if a parent reads it to them. And my 10-year-old daughter assured me that it her age group would also enjoy it.
It takes place all in one day, at a farm, at the end of September, when the leaves are turning colors and the air is still warm. A family of four and their German Shepherd, Rosco, visit a farm to see the cornfields and scarecrows, feed the animals at the petting zoo, take a pony ride, follow clues on a scavenger hunt, and choose their pumpkin out of the pumpkin patch. It’s a yearly trip full of fun and tradition. The day progresses and the family has enjoyed many of the farm’s activities. Brother and sister duo, James and Mandy, who are ten and seven, are excited because their parents finally agree to allow them to explore the corn maze alone! They will take their dog, Rosco, and stick with one another, but they don’t have to take their parents!
Things go well until often-rascally Rosco forgets his orders to stay close to the kids, and runs off, mindlessly chasing a rabbit and disappearing into the maze. The kids must search for him, and later, they do find him. But they learn that Rosco has been protectively comforting an injured, lost, little boy whom he found out in the maze alone. The kids attempt to help the boy out of the maze to find his parents, when they encounter two other boys, still deep inside the maze, who are wearing Halloween masks, and scaring and picking on other children. James and Mandy are now faced with standing up to the bullies. With their trusted and able dog’s help, they do just that.
The book spends time exploring each of the family’s characters, not only the children and the dog, but also Mom and Dad and their quirky and entertaining qualities. The story takes the reader through a whole day of fun at the pumpkin patch, examining the family’s traditions, from details about carving pumpkins for Halloween, to their home life with Rosco. It’s a quick read and a sometimes funny look at family life.
What was your inspiration for this book?
I love the holidays, and I love the traditions that go along with them and with each season of the year. I love to look at them through a child’s eyes. As a parent, and the purchaser of the children’s books in our house, I like buying holiday-themed ones, even if they are very short or mostly illustrations. Because my kids will read them during the given season each year, then I will pack the books away with the holiday decorations, and unpack them again the following year. And voila, when the boxes are unpacked and those old books come out, the books are magically ‘new’ again!
Each of my children will have either grown just enough in that one year, that they often have forgotten the story until they read it again; or they’ve grown so far in their reading level that year, that they can now read by themselves, a book that the previous year had to be read to them. So it feels like a whole new book to them. Talk about getting your money’s worth.
Eventually these titles become favorites of ours, because they become part of our traditions. The act of snuggling up together in the evenings, reading a handful of our favorite stories set in the current season; this becomes a cherished activity.
So as I thought about what sort of book I’d really like to write, I realized, I wanted to write one of these! Something that I myself would want to buy for my children: a seasonal or holiday story that could be enjoyed again and again. This was also true because although we visit our local library frequently, the seasonal books in the children’s section are always the most popular during certain times of the year, and are usually already checked out before we can get our hands on them. So buying these kinds of books makes good sense to me. And so did writing these kinds of books.
I decided that for the first one, it would be about the activities that we regularly schedule into our lives each Fall, apple picking and pumpkin-choosing at a local farm, things that make us jump in a car on a weekend and drive a long distance. For instance, to ‘see the leaves’, ride a hay wagon, get lost in a corn maze, pet some baby goats, set our kids down on a big pile of pumpkins while we snap photos of them.
I knew that a story about regular kids doing these kinds of neat things so common to the average middle class family, would strike a chord with the readers that I would attempt to reach. That it would strike a chord with both the kids reading them and the adults who ultimately purchase the books that their children read. This book really is meant to be enjoyable to the child as well as to the adult who might read it to a child, or sneak a peak at it before the child sticks his or her own bookmark in it.
And I knew, that while there are plenty of great picture books about Autumn and Halloween, there are not as many chapter books for independent reading about this particular season. And certainly none that I could find, that capture enough of these types of real experiences that I wanted to see recorded for posterity (or at least for my own kids!). We all love to take our kids out to the pumpkin patch each Fall and we want them to remember what it was like, when they get older. That’s really how I started writing this book.
Equal to this motivation, was something entirely different and more of a simple realization one day. This was simply that our dog was hilarious. The personality that he was revealing as he grew from puppyhood into older puppyhood and ‘young adulthood’ was full of hysterical little side notes.
Rugger, our German Shepherd, whom the Rosco The Rascal character is entirely based upon, came into our lives almost three years ago. He was the first dog that my husband and I ever had as adults, and he was my children’s first pet. He was 8 months old when we brought him home. So we did not have to paper train him or protect him like you’d have to protect a little puppy. He was already a big, lively, fantastic dog that loved kids and never showed aggression toward us. He had been raised very well. He made us feel very safe. And as he grew, there was no denying it: he was also a sweet, extremely loyal, highly intelligent beast.
But yes, he was also hilarious! He would play and run off with toys, trying to entice us to chase him, with the tail wagging and the ears back. He knew he was supposed to drop the toy and give it back so we could throw it again, but he preferred it if you chased him for it. He would chew up the oddest things, like my car’s license plate and our barbecue, which wasn’t so hilarious. Or chew up store-bought toys, even the toughest ones meant to withstand any amount of jaw strength, in under an hour. We always had ‘another crazy dog story’ to share with friends, however short or long.
So Rugger provided great material for a story. Kids love dogs. Dogs love kids. Dogs can be funny, placed in various circumstances. But dogs can also teach us things about loyalty, honor, patience, friendship, the list goes on. So he became the basis of what I’d start to write about. He served several wonderful purposes. (I guess it’s easy to see why so many books for children feature dogs!)
I put these two things together, and eventually, I had the beginnings of a story line. After a lot of long days and late nights writing, I had some solid human characters too, taking a littlte inspiration from my own children and other children that I knew, and then fictionalizing from there.
Gael: What's next for you - and for Rosco?
Shana: Right now I’m writing the next book in the series, called Rosco The Rascal In The Land of Snow. There will be sled riding, snowmen, hot chocolate and icicles, all kinds of wintertime fun! Look for it in January, 2015.
I plan to write many more Rosco books, each with a different theme, whether it’s seasonal or holiday, or simply the everyday things in a child’s life if I run out of holidays! I’m very excited to get to work on those! Plans, plans, plans!
Gael: How can people get in touch with you?
Shana: My website address is www.shanagorian.com. There you'll find some activities for kids, related to the story. The site is new and I’ve got plenty of content to add. (Never enough time in the day!) But it shows you around my world a bit (and Rosco’s World, with more to come on that section!) I’d love to hear from readers. My email address is email@example.com. Thanks for reading!
Gael: Thanks for coming and doing a little interview with us, Shana! Hugs and best of luck to you and Rosco the Rascal! And thanks, blog friends, for reading.
Did you know that March is National Reading Month? It all started to coincide with Dr. Seuss's birthday on March 2nd. Now March has become a favorite month for reading challenges and read-a-thons of all kinds, for adults and kids alike.
You can create your own March reading challenge simply by setting a number of books you'd like to read in the month and assembling your TBR (to be read) pile. If you need some suggestions on children's books to try, a good place to look is BookAdventure.com.
Click on the Find a Book button and you can enter in the parameters of what sort of book you want to find, including grade level and a wide range of subjects. It will then do a search for you, and you can export your list to an Excel sheet. Ok that might sound a little obsessive, but if you have them all on one sheet, then you set up a system of gold star stickers, rewards, or what-have-you as the kids (ok, or the adults, lol) finish each book on the list.
Another fun aspect of Book Adventure is that readers have submitted multiple choice quizzes that you can take after you're finished reading the book to test your reading comprehension. For example, here's a Sample Quiz about Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. So you get the idea.
Reading is supposed to be FUN, and with Common Core coming in and tossing out some of the great classics of literature in favor of teaching kids to read things like product inserts, manuals, and EPA reports, it's never been more important (in my opinion--G. speaking here!) to foster the love of independent reading. National Reading Month is a perfect opportunity to create empowering reading habits.
And speaking of empowering...
The Lammily Doll is all the buzz this week. Have you heard about this? Pretty neat. Right now, she's a crowd-funding project with the doll's designer raising the funds to order the first batch of these dolls from a manufacturer. The great thing about Lammily is that she is designed as a type of Barbie doll - but with realistic proportions of the average American female. This would be a great gift for a school-age girl to help foster a healthy body image. Lammily's my kind of girl! Check it out.