Friday, October 30, 2009

Poetry Friday - The Erl King

In keeping with the creepy classic theme, I'd like to offer up the Erl King, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

The Erl-King

Who rides there so late through the night dark and drear?
The father it is, with his infant so dear;
He holdeth the boy tightly clasp'd in his arm,
He holdeth him safely, he keeps him from harm.

"My son, wherefore seek'st thou thy face thus to hide?"
"Look, Father, the Erl-King is close by our side!
Dost see not the Erl-King, with crown and with train?"
"My son, 'tis the mist rising over the plain."

"Oh come, thou dear infant! Oh come thou with me!
Full many a game I will play there with thee;
On my strand many flowers there blossoms unfold,
My mother shall grace thee with garments of gold."

"My Father, my Father, and dost thou not hear
The words that the Erl-King now breathes in mine ear?"
"Be calm, dearest child, 'tis thy fancy deceives;
'Tis the sad wind that sighs through the withering leaves."

"Wilt go, then, dear infant, wilt go with me there?
My daughters shall tend thee with sisterly care.
My daughters, by night, their glad festival keep,
They'll dance thee, and rock thee, and sing thee to sleep."

"My Father, my Father, and dost thou not see,
How the Erl-King his daughters has brought here for me?"
"My darling, my darling, I see it aright,
'Tis the aged grey willows deceiving thy sight."

"I love thee. I'm charm'd by thy beauty, dear boy!
And if thou'rt unwilling, then force I'll employ."
"My Father, my Father, he seizes me fast,
Full sorely the Erl-King has hurt me at last."

The father now gallops with terror half wild,
He grasps in his arms the poor shuddering child;
He reaches his courtyard with toil and with dread,
The child in his arms finds he motionless, dead.

~~~~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Today's Poetry Round-up is at Biblio File
Art by Albert Sterner ca 1910

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Classics Gone Bad

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
by Seth Grahame-Smith

This novel is exactly what the title implies - Pride and Prejudice, with zombies added into the mix. You’ll find the same characters you loved in the original, but in this slightly alternate universe, there just happen to be zombies, too.

From Wikipedia - Elizabeth Bennett and her four sisters live on a countryside estate with their parents. Mr. Bennet guides his daughters in martial arts and weapons training, molding them into a fearsome zombie-fighting army; meanwhile, Mrs. Bennet endeavours to marry the girls off to wealthy suitors. When the wealthy and single Mr. Bingley purchases a nearby house, Mrs. Bennet spies an opportunity and sends the girls to the first ball where Bingley is expected to appear. The girls defend the party from a zombie attack, and attraction sparks between Mr. Bingley and eldest daughter Jane Bennet. Elizabeth, however, clashes with Bingley's friend, the haughty monster-hunter Fitzwilliam Darcy

And thus a classic love story becomes a romping adventure. If you’re into Horror or Humor, you’ll love the farce and parody. If you loved the original, it’s fun to see how the new element of zombies is interwoven into the plot, and how, even with the zombies added, the original story still remains and holds up. A very fun read.

Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer
written by Van Jensen, art by Dusty Higgins.

I’m not a fan of Graphic Novels, but as with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the title just sucked me in. I had to see what it was all about.

Vampire Slayer is a 128 page Graphic Novel that you can read in 20-30 minutes. It’s about a kid (well, a puppet) with a killer nose that grows in the blink of a lie - which comes in handy when you happen to be in need of a stake.
The story, (which follows the original Carlo Collodi) begins after Gepetto is dead, killed by vampires who have taken over the village. Fueled by revenge, Pinocchio, who is still made of wood, sets out to destroy the vampires and clean up his hometown. He is joined on his quest by a fairy, now old and tired, the carpenter who found the wood to make him, who now makes cool and deadly gadgets, and the ghost of the cricket he killed in the original version, who serves as a wise-cracking sidekick.

I wasn’t thrilled with the art, but what do I know? It isn’t my genre. The story itself has darkness and mood with a nice touch of humor, both slapstick and subtle, and the premise is clever. As a writer, it got me thinking about all the things you could do with it. Jensen and Higgins plan for this to be a trilogy, and book two is already in the works. Here’s a peek.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Mentor Monday - Horror: How Much is Too Much

Everybody likes to be scared. Even the littlest kids. Think about playing peek-a-boo with a baby. You cover your face with your hands, cutting off all eye-contact with your child, and you virtually disappear. If you peek through your fingers, you can see the worried look on the baby’s face. Keep your face covered too long, and the baby is overwhelmed with fear and cries. But if you time it right, you part your hands and shout ‘peek-a-boo,’ the baby gives a bit of a start then smiles or laughs, and you do it over and over, flipping him from fear to joy and back again.

Sounds sadistic, doesn’t it? Yet both adults and babies seem to like the game. Why? My guess is because scaring others, and being scared, is fun. There’s something in us that makes us enjoy that frightened, scary feeling, as long as we know we’re not really going to be hurt.

Unfortunately, once you pass a certain age, peek-a-boo just doesn’t do it for you any more. A good horror story can. But in the world of children’s writing, how do you know how much is enough? At what point does scary become too scary?

Early Readers - Make Them Imagine

Psychological terror is probably the scariest and most sophisticated type of terror there is. The things we imagine are always much worse than reality. Forcing readers to use their imaginations can create multi-layers of terror in a story. And if you’re writing for the youngest readers, it can be just the tool you need to keep things from getting too scary.

The Spooky Old Tree, by Stan and Jan Berenstein, is basically a haunted house story for the youngest readers. Three little bears crawl into an old, dark tree to explore. As they progress through the tree, they encounter a series of scary obstacles, (suits of armor with axes, a rickety stairway, a small chasm, a great sleeping bear.)

The text and illustrations are simple and straightforward, leaving readers lots of room to envision their own terrors. What is down in that dark pit? Is it bottomless? If the bears fall in, will they die?

If the Berensteins had answered those questions with text or illustrations, the story might have been too scary for some and not scary enough for others. In either case, a child might have put the book down. By leaving it up to the child’s imagination, each child may imagine something different, but the fright level for each is the same - just right - because we only imagine what we already know. The Berensteins have very skillfully allowed the readers to imagine their own worst fears, and what could be scarier than that?

Middle-Grade - Make Them Feel

Horror isn’t simply about fear. It’s also about making the reader feel uneasy and uncomfortable. It’s about making his stomach turn or his flesh crawl, making him gasp, go ‘eeeew,’ or turn away. One way to dredge up those feelings is to create clear, visual images.

This works particularly well in MG novels where the emphasis is generally on gross rather than terror, and the horrors are mostly monsters, the supernatural, or from the fantasy realm, rather than humans. Show your readers the blood oozing from the walls. Show them the headless corpse being eaten away by maggots at the bottom of the pit. Let them smell it decomposing. But be sure to use description carefully. Adding it gratuitously won’t do anything for a story, and may even turn some kids off. Like every other genre, a story should contain only the elements it needs to make it work.

Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell use description wonderfully in the dark fantasy, Beyond the Deepwoods. Their use of detail allows the reader to see a world of creepy creatures and gruesome deaths, and they do it without it being too much. The story is gory and gross and frightening, but it isn’t repulsive, and the horror is all kept a bit distant from the reader.

YA - Make Them Care

No matter how spooky or horrific your story is, none of it matters if your readers don’t care about your characters. The easiest way to create empathy is to put the reader into your character’s head. Let them understand not only what your character is thinking, but why. What makes him who he is? What makes him do what he does? And most important in horror, what is he afraid of, and why? Understanding people, and being able to empathize with them, is what brings people close. It’s not only the key to a great horror story, but to any story in any genre.

Creating empathy also gives your story more depth, which works well in YA. Teens can understand a more complicated story that isn’t simply about the scare. They can explore feelings and motivations, the darker fears and desires real people have, as well as why some people keep them in check and why others don’t.

A great example of this is Ray Bradbury’s, Something Wicked This Way Comes. Bradbury explores age in this story about kids who want to be older and adults who want to be younger, and what might happen if it were possible. He not only draws us into the lives of his main characters, but into the life of the town and the carnival as well. All his characters are unique with motivations of their own, and while we may not like some of the darker characters, he makes it possible to understand and empathize with all of them.

Writing horror for children can be a tricky thing, but as Australian Horror writer Robert Hood said -- How can we expect them (kids) to value the light if they never play in the dark.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Poetry Friday--Found Poems

Found poems are made up of words that a poet "found" somewhere--in print or in conversation--that the poet arranges on a page giving the words a whole new meaning.

Click on the link below for a delightful found poem from Naomi Shahib Nye:

One Boy Told Me : Poetry Everywhere : Video : The Poetry Foundation

An article by Hart Seely in Slate from 2003 gives many examples of found poems taken from official transcripts on the Defense Department's website during Donald Rumsfeld's term as Secretary of Defense.

Keep your eyes and ears open to the possibilities for creating a found poem of your own. Poems are waiting for you to find them.

Head over to Big A little a for the Poetry Friday Round-Up.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Women of Wednesday--Bosom Buddies

There have been many women whose battle with breast cancer is fought in the public eye--Elizabeth Edwards and Melissa Etheridge are just two. Most women, however, fight the battles away from the spotlight, but with the help of family and friends.

I'm a survivor myself. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, I made it through with the loving support the Write Sisters provided me during surgery, chemo, and radiation. They went above and beyond the call of a critique group when they accompanied me to purchase a wig! I'm eternally grateful.

This past weekend I attended the American Cancer Society's "Making Strides against Breast Cancer" walk in Manchester, NH. I've been suspicious of some of the "Run/Walk for the Cure" type events in the past because I was afraid that "the cure" meant more drugs and more chance for Big Pharma to make a killing (no pun intended) at the expense of women. I have a hunch, though, that the money raised in NH goes to provide NH women with support, like rides to treatment centers, and even hugs where needed. As of Monday, the total raised was $290,000 with more expected to come trickling in.

The walk this year, took place in the middle of a nor'easter that included rain, wind, and at points, SNOW. It was colder than a witch's you-know-what, but my heart was warmed by the numbers of people who showed up. Below are a few of the photos I took before my batteries ran out.

The weather's looking a little uncooperative!

Despite the weather the crowds came.

The Fisher Cats scoreboard flashed messages and photos from last year's walk. We attended last year, but we were still quite surprised to see our picture on the big screen!

Nice socks!

These lovely young women gave hugs freely!

There are seven of us Write Sisters, and of the seven, three of us have had breast cancer. So much for odds of 1 in 8!

I'll conclude with a HOPE that if you're a woman, you'll be faithful in getting a yearly mammogram, and with a WISH that if you do get breast cancer, that you'll have a group of bosom buddies as faithful as the Write Sisters!

(Note: Muriel alerted me to the organization Army of Women, which works for the prevention of breast cancer. Thanks, Mur, I've joined the Army.)


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Get Ready to Celebrate!

Tomorrow, October 20th, is the "National Day on Writing"! This day has been designated by the U.S. Senate because it recognizes that "people in the 21 st century are writing more than ever before for personal, professional, and civic purposes" and also that "the social nature of writing invites people of every age, profession, and walk of life to create meaning through composing." (Read the complete Resolution here.)

What a great reason to celebrate! If you're a closet writer, open the door and enter the National Gallery of Writing. If you're a long-time writer, organize a local Gallery. The National Council of Teachers of English is supporting the day and has more information on getting involved on its website.

Not surprisingly, the Gallery welcomes the submission of recipes! Hey, we all love to eat. And, how many stories have been inspired by dinnertime conversations? Hundreds! Here's a simple recipe that you can mix up in a flash, and while you're waiting for it to bake, sit down and write!


preheat oven to 350 degrees

Grease 9" pie pan
Spread 1 large can sliced peaches (drain liquid first) OR cherry pie filling in pan

Mix together
1 1/2 sticks melted butter
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Add 1 egg and beat well

Gradually beat in
1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Pour over the fruit in the pie pan.

Bake until golden, approximately 45 minutes.

Serve warm or cold.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Women of Wednesday... Enjoy Brunch!

The Write Sisters spend a lot of time researching and writing about strong women who have made a difference in the world. What they won't mention is that they are part of this group. On Saturday, October 3rd, it was my chance to entertain the Sisters and half a dozen other strong women and their friends and family members.

The third book in Apprentice Shop Books' America's Notable Women series is out! Women of the Golden State: 25 California Women You Should Know is now in print and ready to inspire future generations of notables.

The women who put this series together gathered to meet each other and share stories. They are pretty notable themselves. There are 16 writers for children, 1 fine artist/design specialist, 2 bookkeepers, 1 photo researcher and 1 intern. Their contributions to the field of children's literature is amazing. Besides the hundreds of children's books they have written or contributed to, many have worked in the teaching and library fields. They've raised families--some as single parents. They've cared for sick children and elderly parents, survived breast cancer and organ transplants, built careers and started new ones.

So what happens when you put a bunch of people like this in one room? Lots of laughs and lots of enthusiasm about the field of children's literature. Enjoy the show!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Mentor Monday: Where Are You?

There are many reasons we keep reading a book. We identify with the characters, we love a particular author’s style, we enjoy a certain genre. One other way an author keeps his reader turning the page is by giving the reader a real sense of place. A setting can be nearly as entrancing as the plot. Harry Potter lovers will understand what I mean. How difficult has it been to leave Hogwarts? Here are some other bewitching (pun intended) examples:

“Once upon a time, sixty years ago, a little girl lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, in a little gray house made of logs.
The great, dark trees of the Big Woods stood all around the house, and beyond them were other trees and beyond them were more trees. As far as a man could go to the north in a day, or a week, or a whole month, there was nothing but woods. There were no houses. There were no roads. There were no people. There were only trees and the wild animals who had their homes among them.”
Laura Ingalls Wilder

“If, instead of a pencil, I held a brush in my hand, I would paint the scene: the scene of Autumn Street…and Grandfather’s house would loom huge, out of proportion, awesome and austere, with the clipped lawn as smooth and green as patchwork pockets on a velvet skirt. The rough pink brick of the sidewalk, bordered by elms, would wind the length of the street, past the Hoffman’s house, past the bright forsythia bushes that grew around the great-aunts’ front porch, past the homes of strangers and friends and forgotten people, finally disappearing where the woods began.
…I would blur the woods. I would blur them with a murky mixture of brown and green and black, the hueless shade that I know from my dreams to be the color of pain.”
Lois Lowry

“In my father’s study there was a large globe with all the countries of the world running around it. I could put my finger on the exact spot where I was and had been ever since I’d been born. And I was on the wrong side of the globe, I was in China in a city named Hankow, a dot on a crooked line that seemed to break the country right in two. The line was really the Yangtse River, but who would know by looking at a map what the Yangstse River really was?
“Orange-brown, muddy mustard-colored. And wide, wide, wide. With a river smell that was old and came all the way from the bottom. Sometimes old women knelt on the riverbank, begging the River God to return a son or grandson who may have drowned. …but I knew who busy the River God must be. All those people on the Yangtse River! Coolies hauling water. Women washing clothes. Houseboats swarming with old people and young, chickens and pigs. Big crooked-sailed junks with eyes painted on their prows so they could see where they were going…”
Jean Fritz

So, where are you? Do you know where your story’s going? Are you taking your reader along?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Writer's Almanac

If you've never heard of The Writers Almanac with Garrison Keillor, you're missing a great daily dose of food for the intellect and soul -- to both writers and readers. If you can't listen to it during its daily broadcast on your local National Public Radio station, sign up here to get it in your inbox.

The offering for Wednesday, October 7 includes this poem by Katha Pollitt. She's also a regular contributor to The Nation with her column titled Subject to Debate, an offering The Washington Post called "the best place to go for original thinking on the left."

Amor Fati Everywhere I look I see my fate.
In the subway. In a stone.
On the curb where people wait for the bus in the rain.
In a cloud. In a glass of wine.

When I go for a walk in the park it's a sycamore leaf.
At the office, a dull pencil.
In the window of Woolworth's my fate looks back at me
through the shrewd eyes of a dusty parakeet.

You can read the rest of Amor Fati at The Writers Almanac for Wednesday, October 7.
This is Katha Pollitt:

You can almost hear Garrison Keillor's smooth, distinctive voice as he offers up this little nugget about Charlotte Bronte in another October 7 entry.

It was on this day in 1847 that Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre was published (some sources say October 16). The public reception was divided. William Thackeray, who wrote Vanity Fair, called it "the masterwork of a great genius." One reviewer said, "This is not merely a work of great promise; it is one of absolute performance. It is one of the most powerful domestic romances which have been published for many years."

But not everyone liked the novel. A lot of reviews were focused on trying to figure out who had written Jane Eyre, and especially whether the author was a man or a woman. Charlotte Brontë had published the book under the androgynous pseudonym Currer Bell, the same one she had used a year earlier when she published poems by her and her sisters, Emily and Anne. She changed Charlotte to Currer Bell, Emily to Ellis Bell, and Anne to Acton Bell.

Charlotte decided to publish the poems after she accidentally found some poems that Emily had written, and the three sisters realized that they had all been writing poems secretly for years. When she published Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell in 1846, only two copies sold. But she submitted Jane Eyre for publication the next year. It was rejected five times, and then she sent it to Smith, Elder, and Co., her eventual publishers. She sent it with a note that said:
It is better in future to address Mr. Currer Bell, under cover to Miss Brontë, Haworth, Bradford, Yorkshire, as there is a risk of letters otherwise directed not reaching me at present.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Poetry Friday: Tugging at Heart Strings

With the exception of a few years after college, I've been going back to school every September since I was 4-years old. My day job teaching is a huge part of my writing life. I find inspiration in my classroom every single day. Teaching also keeps my own experiences as a student as fresh as if they happened just yesterday. 

We've talked in the past about poems we memorized as children that are still with us. One of my favorites is Little Boy Blue by Eugene Fields. To this day, I get a bit verklempt (a word I didn't know in 5th grade when I learned the poem) when I read it. 

Little Boy Blue by Eugene Fields

The little toy dog is covered with dust,
   But sturdy and stanch he stands;
And the little toy soldier is red with rust,
   And his musket moulds in his hands.
Time was when the little toy dog was new,
   And the soldier was passing fair;
And that was the time when our Little Boy Blue
   Kissed them and put them there.

"Now, don't you go till I come," he said,
   "And don't you make any noise!"
So, toddling off to his trundle-bed,
   He dreamt of the pretty toys;
And, as he was dreaming, an angel song
   Awakened our Little Boy Blue---
Oh! the years are many, the years are long,
   But the little toy friends are true!

Ay, faithful to Little Boy Blue they stand,
   Each in the same old place---
Awaiting the touch of a little hand,
   The smile of a little face;
And they wonder, as waiting the long years through
   In the dust of that little chair,
What has become of our Little Boy Blue,
   Since he kissed them and put them there.