Building a Unicorn

Over the past year or so I’ve bought or been given unicorns by friends.

    

Just writing that statement makes me laugh because it sounds so ridiculous—or would have if you and I were talking on the phone and you did not see the above photos. It sounds like, “Yes, I own some unicorns. They’re parked out back.”

Lately, I’ve been crocheting a unicorn for a little girl’s unicorn-themed birthday party. The pattern was designed by ChiWei at OneDogWoof. You can find her blog here.

First, you crochet the head, then the ears, and the alicorn (what the horn was called way back when).

Next comes the body, which takes almost twice as long as the head, then the legs and hooves (both thankfully crocheted in one piece).

   

Lastly, you have to crochet the tail (made of multiple curlicues) and cut strands of yarn for the mane. I chose this yarn. A unicorn must have a rainbow tail and mane.

   

Once all of the pieces are crocheted, I have to build the unicorn—at least that’s what I think of the assembly process, which involves a lot of whip stitching to keep the pieces together.

It’s sort of like the process of writing a story with a unicorn as a character. Okay. I see that look. You’re thinking these processes are very different. But character building of any sort involves putting pieces together: characteristics of people you know, characteristics from your imagination; quirks of your character that affect relationships with other characters; dialects shaped by the setting; etc.

I have loved unicorns since I was a kid. I wrote a fairy tale about unicorns probably twenty years ago for my own amusement. But that was then and this is now. When I made the decision to include unicorns in a more recent novel, I did some research.

Maybe you wonder why I would bother. Aren’t unicorns pretty standard? Though they come from the mythology of many countries, they all seem to heal with the horn on their head and seem ethereal. Well, the thought of writing about a “typical” unicorn, one like cream floating on a breeze, offering a healing touch without saying or doing anything else, was not very inviting. I wanted to write about unicorns that had more personality.

I read books by Diana Peterfreund who has a killer unicorn series for young adults. Not killer in the slang sense of “That dress is killer,” but in the sense of “those unicorns kill people.” You can find details about it here.

I also read this series (photos below), which has more books than just the ones shown here. I love one snippy warrior unicorn character who demanded vows of service from people in exchange for assistance. So much for giving away free stuff like healing. I love a feisty unicorn.

   

Well, I’d better get back to getting the mane situated on this unicorn. It’s going to take awhile. (The unicorn might look small on the photo. But it is about 15 inches tall.)

What do you think of unicorns? Do you like to read stories about them? Are you indifferent to them? Please share your thoughts below.

Rampant book cover from Goodreads. Other photos by L. Marie.

Check This Out: The Book Passage Children’s Writer’s Conference

I don’t think I have ever talked about conferences for writers on the blog, let alone had someone on who coordinates one. But with me on the blog is the fabulous Pamela Livingston, who roomed with me during grad school. She’s here to talk about the Book Passage Children’s Writer’s Conference in Corte Madera, California.

  

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Pamela: 1. I was the Macy’s Easter Bunny.
2. I am the proud owner of both a VCFA MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults degree plus a Picture Book Certificate which I may have illustrated before finally finding space on a wall.
3. My newest aka is “Mama Goose” of Goosebottom Books since purchasing this award-winning publishing house from its founder, Shirin Bridges.
4. I’ve been a circus star stage mom.

El Space: Tell us about Book Passage. What is it? What is your role in this conference?
Pamela: Book Passage is one of the greatest indie bookstores in the world, having survived and thrived for forty-one years and counting under the eagle eye of Elaine Petrocelli, the voice of indies for NPR and other media outlets. I’ve been the conference director since 2016, although it feels more like a curatorial position, developing a potent experience for our participants. Over fifty percent of our attendees return year after year—this was the first writing conference I attended over ten years ago. Since I also head Book Passage’s Path to Publishing program, this conference provides me with an opportunity to mix in all of the components for children’s writers and illustrators.

El Space: How long is the conference? How many years has the conference been held?
Pamela: This conference is a three-day, Friday morning through Sunday afternoon, festival which includes meals with our faculty under a northern California sky. For almost twenty years we’ve held it at our Corte Madera store, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. It was the first children’s writers and illustrators conference in the San Francisco Bay Area.

El Space: What challenges do you face setting up a conference like this? What do you find most enjoyable?
Pamela: Embracing all of our children’s literary community is my highest priority while providing educational excellence. To that end, our faculty represents members of SCBWI, VCFA’s Writing for Children and Young Adults program, award winners from a wide range of genres, diversity in all sectors, experts in the business of books, plus dedicated editors and agents who can move our participants’ work to the next level.

I thoroughly enjoy every aspect of this process, from coordinating with the authors, editors, and agents whom I’ve long admired, to hanging out with the conference’s attendees. It’s as if a wand was waived by the Fairy Queen of Books to create a dream weekend for my favorite people in the world. When I take into account faculty such as Elizabeth Partridge, Ellen Klages, Gennifer Choldenko, Tim McCanna, and Ying Compestine; plus Creston Books’ legendary founder Marissa Moss; Jennifer de Chiara’s venerable agent Stephen Fraser and representatives from West Coast agencies; editors from Bloomsbury and Cameron Kids—all in one place—I know I’m in for three days nestled in the Land of Enchantment.

El Space: I’m especially stoked that Betsy Patridge (photo at the right) will be there, since she was one of my lovely advisors. Why is a conference like this important for a writer? What makes this conference unique?
Pamela: Conferences are the best way for a new writer to learn if this is a world they want to be in, what it will take, plus pick up the tools and network they need to get them there. As this conference is held at the most lauded independent bookstore in America, we are able to pull back the curtain on the business of books. My journey began as a storyteller, but I knew nothing about the mechanisms behind the business of bringing those stories from the page to the patron. Even my two graduate degrees in writing were light on the business end of this process. It wasn’t until I managed a bookstore and bought a micro-publishing house that I developed a clear picture of this process. This conference not only focuses on the craft of writing, it provides the creators of children’s stories with an understanding of the business of books.

El Space: What can a writer expect at a conference like this?
Pamela: Our conference is both intimate and active, with options for participants to choose their educational opportunities along with a comfortable bookstore setting and café to meet, chat and get to know the faculty and each other. At last year’s conference, I was as impressed with the participants as I was with the faculty, since our attendees included a multi-Grammy award winner, adult genre-published authors changing to the children’s market, author networking leaders, teachers, librarians, etc. And did I mention the food? Let’s just say that one of the best restaurants in the county caters dinner!

El Space: Who should people contact for more information?
Pamela: For more information, folks will want to check-out our website where updates are posted, along with our Book Passage Conferences Facebook page.

El Space: What are you working on?
Pamela: Besides the conference, finding the perfect illustrator for a Goosebottom Book on Marco Polo, learning Quark, and praying that a particularly wonderful editor flips over one of my circus picture books.

El Space: Thanks for being my guest, Pamela!

Photos of the conference crowd scenes by Ying Chang Compestine. Conference logo designed by Mary Osborn. Pamela Livingston photo by Valerie Kippen. Elizabeth Partridge photo from her website.

Why I Love Fairy Tales

I’ve mentioned on this blog many times that I grew up reading fairy tales. Consequently, I developed a love for them that goes beyond what people mean when they say, “I love chocolate.” Oh yes. I went there.

When you Google “what is a fairy tale,” this comes up:

fair·y tale
ˈferē tāl/
noun
• a children’s story about magical and imaginary beings and lands

• denoting something regarded as resembling a fairy story in being magical, idealized, or extremely happy
modifier noun: fairy-tale “a fairy-tale romance”

I’ve always wondered why fairy tales were called that—fairy tales—when you can’t find fairies in some of them. According to Wikipedia:

A fairy tale is a type of short story that typically features folkloric fantasy characters, such as dwarfs, dragons, elves, fairies, giants, gnomes, goblins, griffins, mermaids, talking animals, trolls, unicorns, or witches, and usually magic or enchantments.

I’ve also wondered why many people consider kids as the primary audience for fairy tales. Sure, my parents read them to me when I was a kid. But I never stopped wanting to read them as I grew older. I find them as soothing today as I did when I was a kid. I love being transported to a world different from my own, where magical activities are par for the course. This is why the stories I write primarily are fairy tales.

By why are they soothing? (Of course, not every fairy tale fits that description. There are many fairy tales—particularly those geared toward adults—that aren’t soothing at all. I can’t help thinking of Pan’s Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro’s brilliant 2006 movie, which was quite unsettling. But I digress.) In an article entitled, “On the Importance of Fairy Tales,” at the website of Psychology Today (you can find it here), Sheila Kohler writes

Here, in these ancient tales, the small boy or girl can through the hero/heroine triumph over the large and often dangerous-seeming adults around him or her. . . . There is something essential about the repetition of the same words which soothes the child, nurtures the imagination and assuages his fears.

I also love fairy tales, because many follow the hero’s journey model. (See Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces.) As the call to action is accepted, we get to travel along as the hero (male or female) sets out on a quest to find a lost treasure, vanquish a villain, or find true love. (Now I’m thinking of the “to blave” scene from the movie adaptation of The Princess Bride, a favorite of mine.)

Here are some of my other favorite fairy tales (or in the case of one, a book about an animated series), or favorite novels that have fairy tale elements (in no particular order; keep in mind that some books represent the series as a whole):

   

   

This seemingly untitled book is Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales. The spine of it is so worn out, I had to tape it.

    

    

 

   

  

There are many others I could have shown here (like Hans Christian Andersen: The Complete Fairy Tales and Stories, which I also have). Do you like fairy tales? What are some of your favorites?

My unicorn is just chillin’.

Fairy tale image from dreamstime.com. Legends of Windemere cover courtesy of Charles Yallowitz. Other photos by L. Marie.

A Night at the Opera

Have you ever had one of those days when you looked in your closet and picked out several things to wear, all the while thinking of each, Nah this won’t do? That’s how I’ve been the last several days with blog posts. I started one on writing tips from Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon (yes, really; it’s almost finished) and one on the great outdoors (less finished). But this post you’re reading is neither of those (Perhaps you’re thinking, Whew, I dodged that bullet), nor any of the other ideas I had swirling around in my head.

Last week, a friend of mine and I attended a student production of Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute (which also is playing at the Civic Opera House in Chicago). Though I have attended several operas over the years, and enjoyed them, I can’t say I’m an opera aficionado. But I have friends who love the opera, and one friend who is an opera soprano (and a faculty member at the University of Illinois). So, that’s how I found myself at the opera several times.

img_4143

I didn’t know the storyline of The Magic Flute beforehand (click storyline in the first part of the sentence for the synopsis), though I’d heard one of its most well-known arias elsewhere. That aria, “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen” (“Hell’s vengeance boils in my heart”) is sung by the Queen of the Night, a character who does what is needful to regain her kidnapped daughter, Pamina. You can listen to that aria here if you like.

You probably already know this (if you do, you know way more than I did last week), but I’ll tell you anyway. The Magic Flute is a fairy tale that follows the hero’s journey model. We meet the hero, a prince named Tamino, whose call to action from the ladies of the court of the Queen of the Night is to rescue Pamina from Sarastro—her kidnapper. Along the way, he gains a sidekick—Papageno, who is forced to accompany him on this mission. In Act I of the opera, you start off with one idea about who is good and who is evil, then find that notion overturned in Act II.

img_4126

At left in black is Abi Beerwart, who played Pamina; in yellow, is Bethany Crosby, one of the ladies of the court of the Queen of the Night

I love the hero’s journey story model and fairy tales. Having grown up on a steady diet of fairy tales and musicals, thanks to parents who took my brothers and me to musical performances, this opera was right up my alley. I love that my assumptions were overturned, but not in a frustrating, this-doesn’t-make-sense kind of way.

Several small children in the audience were very vocal in their commentary. Some burst into tears, wanting to leave halfway through the production. Others, knowing cast members, cheered when their favorites appeared. Still others just wondered what was going on. Early in the performance, I had the same question. But at least the children were there, soaking in the rich tapestry that was The Magic Flute.

I’m reminded of a recent post at Jennie’s blog, A Teacher’s Reflections.

Major pieces of art? Masterpieces? Introducing this to preschoolers? It is not easy to explain to people how and why art can make a difference with young children.

You have to read the post (click recent post above to do so) to understand why I thought of it as I wrote this post. Jennie ends the post with, “Art makes a difference.” Perhaps watching The Magic Flute will be life changing for the children who attended it as well.

What kinds of art (musical performance, movies, books, animation, dance, painting or other forms of visual art) were you exposed to as a young child? What difference did it make in your life?

P.S. Extra bonus points if you can guess where I got the title, “A Night at the Opera,” from. Though I had one specific source in mind, there is another possible answer.

Photos by L. Marie.

Childlike or Childish?

015The gang’s all here on my desk.
I spy with my little eye, Gandalf!

I have a lot of YouTube subscriptions. 😀 Two of my favorite channels are The Toy Genie and CookieSwirlC. These YouTubers talk about the latest toy sets and gadgets, and often demonstrate how to assemble these items.

Toy Genie    CookieSwirlC

In the comment section of one of Toy Genie’s recent videos, one commenter stated (and I’m going by memory here, so I’ll have to paraphrase), “I wish she’d stop being so childish.” That comment is the basis for this post.

Several of Toy Genie’s loyal subscribers immediately chastised the commenter. By the way, many of her loyal subscribers are kids and parents. She has over 860,000 subscribers (as of the writing of this post)—a group larger than the population of the state of Vermont. CookieSwirlC has over two million.

Zootopia-Nick-Wilde

Childish? Childish like a fox!

The Toy Genie video comment reflects feedback I’ve heard before in regard to adults who read and/or write books for children and teens. I can’t help recalling an article a couple of years back in which the writer took adults to task for reading young adult novels. Perhaps you read it. (Click here for a Washington Post article that boldly refutes that article.)

I have to wonder what the goal is for anyone who utters such negative feedback. To shame someone who doesn’t live up to a certain standard of adult behavior? I don’t know about you, but shame has never motivated me to do anything worthwhile.

Shame

All of the people I know who write books for children and young adults read books for children and young adults. They’re aware of what kids like and the activities in which kids are involved. If they didn’t know anything about what kids care about or were too concerned about looking “childish” in the eyes of someone who didn’t believe that writing books for kids is a worthwhile enterprise, they could never convincingly create the characters who populate their stories.

242144Brain Pickings, a great newsletter to which I subscribe, featured an article by Maria Popova on C. S. Lewis and his approach to writing for children. (You can read the article by clicking here.) Here’s a quote from that article, which is from an essay written by Lewis that can be found in the book, Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories.

We must write for children out of those elements in our own imagination which we share with children: differing from our child readers not by any less, or less serious, interest in the things we handle, but by the fact that we have other interests which children would not share with us. The matter of our story should be a part of the habitual furniture of our minds.

A commenter for the Washington Post article used another quote from Lewis’s essay:

Critics who treat “adult” as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. . . . When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.

That’s one reason why I enjoy the channels of YouTubers like Toy Genie and CookieSwirlC. They embrace a childlike sensibility, and have a blast making their videos. Their enjoyment inspires me.

Has someone ever tried to shame you about something you enjoyed? How did you respond?

005

Toy Genie image from youtube.com. CookieSwirlC logo from dailymotion.com. Woman ashamed from alisonbreen.com. Nick Wilde of the movie Zootopia was found at slashfilm.com.

Sights to Inspire

After reading an article on fantasy stories last week that annoyed me, though I agreed with some of the points made (go here if you’re curious), I was going to write a post about that experience. But rather than vent my spleen, I decided to take a more positive tangent.

The other day while heading to a four-year-old’s birthday party (you may not believe how often I get invited to those), I caught a faint shimmer in the sky off to the west. A rainbow on a sunny winter afternoon. I had never seen one on a rainless day. But there it was. And there it remained, uncaptured by my phone’s camera, since I was driving at the time. But it reminded me of a rainbow I saw last month. This was yet another first for me: I saw almost the whole rainbow from west to east. A cloud covered the top part of it. I could only capture part of both sides (sorry that one is so faint):

020    017

But I was at the right place at the right time to see both sides. Oddly enough both of my rainbow experiences occurred while I was in my car. At least for one instance—a rainy day last December—I had time to get out of my car twice to photograph.

Something as serendipitous as seeing a rainbow reminds me of what I love about fairy tales and other fantasy stories. Some of these aspects are what inspire me to write fantasy stories. (See, here’s that tangent I mentioned earlier.)

Dragon

You can’t read this blog for too long without knowing that I love Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings or the fact that my father used to read a book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales to me at bedtime. So I grew up feeling comforted by these familiar stories that took me to places where giants roamed and wily dragons hunted. They fueled my desire to see adventures unfurl around every corner. And when I eventually grew into a nerdy kid who was bullied by other kids at school, the desire to escape into a magical realm like Bastian Balthazar Bux does in The Neverending Story escalated.

Lord of the Rings    27712

Every book I read became my own private movie theater of the imagination and fueled my desire to write the kinds of stories into which kids could escape. The tales based on the mythology of myriad cultures (Welsh, Greek/Roman, African, Chinese, Japanese, Scandinavian) helped fuel the fire.

As a writer, I can only do my best to impart my vision as vividly as possible in order to come across in high definition on the screen of a reader’s imagination. That’s why I’m grateful for the flashes of inspiration that occasionally come my way. They’re like those glimpses I had of the rainbow the other day, which made a commonplace journey extraordinary. When I’m inspired, every sense is heightened, every moment fraught with possibility. (I’ll bet you’re thinking of Judy Garland singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” right about now.)

Judy Garland

Because of a pressing curriculum project recently and the holidays, I haven’t written much in the way of fiction in the last few weeks. But I hope to return to my story and the wonder to be had in a magical place somewhere over the rainbow.

What inspired you recently?

Wolf-fantasy-31454823-1280-800

This wolf howls because he’s not one of the three wolves on a T-shirt sold by Amazon.

Book cover from Goodreads. Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz from vickielester.com. Dragon image from dragonwallpapers10. Wolf image from fanpop.

Suitable for Adults?

What items would you deem suitable for adults? Why do I ask? Let me elaborate in case your mind is going in a totally different direction than mine. If I go to a store and purchase a DVD or blu-ray for an animated show or movie, most of the time the cashier will ask if I want a gift receipt under the assumption that I’m making a purchase for a child. The question is never posed to me if I buy a live action movie.

The same question occurs if I enter a bookstore and purchase a middle grade book. I once told a cashier, “No, I’m going to read that.” She offered a “You’re kidding me” look. Never mind the fact that people who write books for kids can learn a lot by reading books other people have written for kids.

Several years ago, before miniseries like Galavant were even a gleam in the eye of ABC executives, a friend gave me this as a gift.

012

(Um, not the books. The knight and horse.) Makes you think of this image, doesn’t it?

un-poster-pour-galavant

She knew I loved stories about knights and was researching them for a book. Yet this knight and horse have drawn some disbelieving glances from others of the “Why would you want that?” variety.

When I was a kid, I remember asking my parents if I had to dress a certain way and like certain things when I became an adult. Would I have to give up Chuck Taylors? If so, being an adult would totally suck.

conallstarhiredsidelrg

Well, I’m an adult, and my love of the above has yet to dissipate. But I guess I sometimes make other adults uncomfortable, because I still love

bubblegumPicture books
• Puddles (though I don’t jump into them these days)
• Animated series
• Bubblegum
• Graphic novels
• Fairy tales

You’re probably ready to sing “My Favorite Things” now, aren’t you? Part of being an adult is admitting to being childlike without being childish. For example, sticking my tongue out and going, “Nyeah!” when someone looks askance at a purchase I’ve made (though I really want to do so), would be childish. But I have to wonder why being an adult means you have to give up something you love just because you cross a certain threshold age-wise.

The apostle Paul stated

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.
1 Corinthians 13:11

But did Paul mean that being an adult means dictating how all other adults should behave? I can’t help thinking back to third grade when we used to say to each other, “Ewwww! You like that?” So are we suddenly more grown up if we utter the same statement about something harmless another adult happens to like?

Don’t get me wrong. I love books like this

18143977

which is an award-winning adult fiction book. And I love these Prada boots

Prada boots

though I can’t afford them. And in the winter, I love this:

002

(In case you can’t read the label, this is Windshield De-Icer. For those of you who live in warmer climates and don’t see products like this, it makes scraping ice off windshields a lot easier.) And I love this brand of lipstick no matter what season:

mac_stylishlylipsticks002

So, I need to take joy in the things I love and not worry if I get “the look” from someone. Instead of scowling, I can say, “Okay, sure” when someone asks me if I need a gift receipt, simply because it’s not worth the time to justify a purchase I have every right to make for myself. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to watch Justice League: War. And I might chew some bubblegum while I’m at it.

justice-league-war

Chuck Taylors from shoebizsf.com. Galavant poster from melty.fr. Book cover from Goodreads. Justice League: War image from mundobignada.com. Bubblegum from whoguides.com.