Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Kane Chronicles

A friend of mine in Tucson has a daughter who is now about 16. But when she was 12 she had a tendency to get into trouble, which forced both parents into the principal’s office with a fair amount of frequency. Back at home, a punishment would be pronounced which was usually making her read for an hour. It wasn’t any of my business, but I wasn’t 100% sure about associating reading with something as dreadful as being locked away in a bedroom with a book shoved in your hand. I had visions of kids in stockades with books in their hands with the guards commanding them to read. I think I have an overactive imagination.

As it turned out, the penalty backfired because the young lady ended up loving to read and welcomed every reading consequence she received. In fact they rarely saw her because she’d get home from school, grab her book, and wasn’t seen until dinner. She read everything she could get her hands on.

Now, you may ask what in the world this has to do with Rick Riordan’s Kane Chronicles. Well, my friend’s daughter reminds me of Sadie Kane, one of the two protagonists. Sassy, smart, and fearless.

The Kane Chronicles is a series of books about Sadie and Carter, brother and sister who were separated at the death of their mother. Nearly strangers, the two come together in the first book and set upon a series of quests based in Egyptian mythology. If you want your kids to learn a little history without having to dive into a textbook, this is one way to do it. Rick Riordan has done his research and weaved Egyptian culture into the very fabric of the plot.

Both boys and girls can enjoy the books since the brother and sister play equally into every plot. Although designed specifically for fifth graders and up, don’t let the suggested age group fool you. Adults can also have a great time with them – with or without kids.

The hard copies are fun, but if you want a real treat, get the Audible Audio edition. The performances are absolutely marvelous and are ideal for long trips. There is enough action to keep most kids interested for hours and you may find they don’t want to get out of the car. When I read the Red Pyramid on my itouch, I confess that I found myself sitting in my truck in the garage in order to find out what happened next.

Here's a great YouTube video that gives you the plot straight from Rick Riordan.

Please leave a comment if you’ve read these and if you liked them. Or, perhaps, if you’re going to try them out. Thanks!

Monday, February 27, 2012

The King of Clubs

Back in college, which seems like forever ago and a day, I took a creative writing course. Although I loved to read, it seemed to me that turning into a mermaid was easier than writing a story. But I needed a humanities course and it was the only one offered that semester.

I walked into the class and the first thing that struck me was the professor, who looked like a mix between an evil villain and a leprechaun. He was about five feet and some odd inches with hair the color of red clay and a pointy beard to match. His trousers were hitched almost near the center of his chest and he wore wingtip shoes. A pointer was always in his hand, which he rarely used to emphasize any fact, so I figured it was some kind of threat to keep us in line. Right off the bat he scared me, and his opening remark didn’t assuage my fears. It was similar to today’s reality shows. He said, “Only one of you will end up passing this course.” Game on.

I put more effort into the writing homework than I did on statistics, which is really saying something since I spent about 14 hours a week trying to get through that maze of numbers. Nevertheless, I ended up with a final short story entitled, “The King of Clubs.” It was the tale of a young girl in college who squandered her time in a bar down the street from the campus. That described half of the girls in my dorm, so the plot was easy to come up with. Back then I had to write the drafts on a legal pad because there were no word processors. The finished product had to be typed on a manual typewriter and there was no such thing as correction tape. Egads!!!!!!

The day the final paper was due, I practically crept up to his desk to add my creation to the ever-growing stack of fiction, only one of which would pass his final inspection. Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility could have come in handy because I didn’t want him to actually see me and associate my face with failure. Nevertheless, "The King of Clubs” made it to the grading pile. I walked back to the dorm that day as if I were walking down a gangplank.

That class met on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Wednesday night of finals week, my stomach was like a rock tumbler. I didn’t want to be one of the 39 out of 40 that would fail the course. But I wasn’t going to feel any better until I knew my fate and at ten o’clock the following morning I started out to the final session of that creative writing course.

He was one of those instructors that folded papers in half long-wise, so you had to open each one like a greeting card to find out your grade, with all the associated comments and strike outs in stunning red. But most of the greeting cards today were going to offer sympathy. I prayed I would get the one that read, “Congratulations.”

He always arranged our papers in alphabetical order by last name. Mine began with “C,” and the moment he began the walk to my desk was predictable. As the paper finished its return journey back to me, my rock tumbler stomach was going a mile a minute. I paused before I slowly opened my card and nearly lost my breakfast over what I read.

Nice work, Holly. Not only do you pass, but you get an A. I’ve never given an A. Never.

I slapped the paper shut, not wanting anyone else to see my grade, or the bold red comments, just in case the other students would want to take the winner into a back alley.

All these years later, I still remember that instructor and that moment. He pushed me harder than I have ever been pushed, yet because of the grade on that paper, I continued writing.

As far as “The King of Clubs,” well, I lost that paper somewhere along the paths of my life. And that’s okay except that I sure do wish I could remember its ending.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Micro Flash Friday

It’s Friday, Fans, and time for you to “flash” your humor, creativity and overall brilliance.

What you’ll see here on Fridays is some kind of prompt for a micro flash from you. What’s a micro flash, you ask? A new term for microfiche, which is totally outdated technology?

Nope. It’s a scene, or a literary snapshot about something. Whatever that idea is that’s knocking around in your head, it’s not enough to be a story, but it’s enough to get someone thinking, or even laughing. The end is unexpected, like the punch line of a joke, but it’s not exactly a joke, either. It can be a moral, a value, a family bombshell, or something completely different.

So today’s idea to get your juices going is itself a micro flash. The myth is that Ernest Hemingway wrote it in response to a bet. The way I heard it way back in a college literature class is that he took the bet and wrote it on a paper napkin. Who keeps napkins? Hey! That can be a flash idea. Anyway, I don’t actually know for sure about the Hemingway theory and never bothered to track it down. But I always remembered the six words because they’re kind of creepy.

Even if you don’t want to write a piece of micro flash, or anything else for that matter, leave a comment about what you think of this alleged Hemingway story.

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Super Adventures of Sophie and the City - All in a Day's Work

I’ll be honest and admit I received this children’s book as a Christmas gift from a good friend. If you’ve read my profile, you’ll learn that shoes are a personal weakness and the book utilizes Madison Avenue as the setting for the story.

The plot is simple. Sophie wants to spend the day with her dad, so hides in his car and sneaks to work with him. But before she can surprise him, she gets lost inside his building and finds herself at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Here she creates an enchanted world of fashion and design history.

Kelly Florio Kasouf’s writing is good, but you may find her frequent use of designer names and brands questionable. On the other hand, fashion is part of the fabric (no pun intended) of our society and so, given the scenario, her approach makes sense.

Whether you agree with Kasouf’s point of view or not, there is one thing I feel certain you’ll concur with and that’s the book’s stunning watercolor illustrations. Judit Garcia-Talavera does a wonderful job capturing the aesthetics of the costumes and the appearance of the designers while also creating the magical quality so inspiring in a child’s imagination. Even at my age, I was transported into Sophie’s world. While the website doesn’t do the illustrations justice, it does give you a sense of how beautiful they are.

The tale ends with Sophie appreciating the richness of shared experience, but the true value of the book is delighting in its luscious watercolors.

Monday, February 20, 2012

So, What's the Deal With Poetry?

No, this isn’t a recap of a Seinfeld episode, although I wonder if it could have made for a good script. Today’s blog is about poetry vs. prose.

Back in the early 2000’s I attended one of the annual weeklong writers workshop at Antioch University in Yellow Springs, Ohio. I camped, in a tent, at the local John Bryan State Park, which was kind of a cool experience and possibly the subject of future posting which I’ll bear in mind.

During that week I wanted to get feedback on my writing. Prose writing. Not poetry. But I quickly learned on day one of that sweltering July week that a prose writer was somehow a second-class citizen. It was the first time I was the subject of phrases like, “beneath the pale” and “just south of center.” No one was really interested in reading prose and as it turned out there were few seminars all week for us minority redheaded stepchildren who allegedly lacked the intelligence or creativity to understand poetry, let alone write it. The bias was unmistakable.

In advance of the workshop I had paid an extra hundred bucks to obtain a one-on-one critique of my writing by a published author. Wouldn’t you know that author was a poet. Ashamed to submit my prose, I quickly wrote some poetry back at camp and handed that in instead. Yes, I succumbed to poetry pressure. I really did. Shocking, isn’t it?

I’d love to say I don’t remember her feedback, but it would be a lie. Her comments are burned into my memory, along with the hazelnut colored picnic bench where we sat while she correctly decimated my work. I remember what we both we wearing and even our sitting positions. Included in that memory etching is the oil slick colored trashcan that looked like an oversized pencil sharpener where I crumpled up and tossed all of my poems once the session was over.

Later that blistering afternoon she practically tackled me in the parking lot. It seems she had forgotten to mention her poetry anthology book was for sale and would I like to buy one. I don’t know what’s worse. That she tried to do it or that I actually bought one.

I’m sure she never thought another thing about that afternoon, but all these years later, I still do because it taught me something about writing what I know in the way I know it. To quote (somewhat adjusted) Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy from Star Trek, “I’m a prose writer, Jim, not a poet.”

Friday, February 17, 2012

Is There Life After Harry Potter?

A few months ago a friend of mine saw the last Harry Potter movie. Shortly after that he announced he wanted to re-read the books. In order. Start to finish. But he didn't have all the books at his disposal. So I accommodated his objective by giving him all of mine. Every last one. As a bonus for him, I included all the movie CDs, books analyzing the series, and some articles on J.K. Rowling. I am a Harry Potter junkie.

Two weeks ago he handed me back all of the materials. He admitted he ignored all the ancillary materials, but proudly announced that he had read all seven books. In order. Start to finish. His next goal is to re-read the Tolkien series in order – for the fourth time. The man has an appreciation for a good yarn.

Harry Potter shows us that a well-written story with magic, action, conflict, and character development can capture our interest, regardless of the age group for which it is crafted. But what comes after Harry Potter?

I suggest Matched by Ally Condie, a New York Times bestseller written for young adults. In that dystopian society, young men and women are perfectly paired to one another. Or are they? Do the methods of that society work any better than our own contemporary dating services? From the beginning of the book, Cassia finds herself in conflict. Can she be certain that the mate selected for her is the right one? If she refuses, what happens to her? We care about Cassia and the choice she makes because even as adults we can relate to her confusion. What if her soul mate isn’t the perfect match at all?

Pick up the book and its sequel, Crossed. I think you’ll enjoy both.