Friday, August 29, 2008

Recent Reads: Coville, Landy, Kenner

Read some great books lately that I wanted to share with you guys...

DARK WHISPERS by Bruce Coville

Third book in the Unicorn Chronicles. Lovely and magical and awesome. Worth the wait. Cara continues her adventures in Luster, the world of the unicorns... These books are for every girl who has (or had) a unicorn poster in her bedroom. Really, they are the quintessential unicorn books. Classics.


Sequel to Skullduggery Pleasant, involving a kick-butt girl heroine and a skeletal detective (who's the good guy, despite the whole freaky skull-for-a-face thing). Lots of fights. Lots of magic. Lots of deadpan humor. Don't read this while drinking milk or you will spray milk out of your nose.

DEJA DEMON by Julie Kenner

Latest installment in the adventures of a demon-hunting soccer mom. If you have kids and like Buffy, you must read this series. Must. Read. They're exciting and fun and hilarious and romantic. But more importantly, they're empowering. I find myself thinking, "If Kate can pull off a dinner party while juggling two kids and a demon apocalypse, then surely I can get through today..." Okay, so a zombie hand did crawl through the dining room during her dinner, but still...

Happy reading!

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Hour of the Wolf Radio Show

I was on the radio yesterday! I was the guest author on Hour of the Wolf, a two-hour radio show on WBAI (99.5 FM, broadcast from NYC), hosted by the fabulous Jim Freund. Here's me on the air!!

I had such a fabulous time! We talked a lot about fairy tales and a little about Sir Nils (a penguin who was recently knighted -- how awesome is that?). I read two scenes from Out of the Wild, and we listened to music from Sondheim's Into the Woods.

If you'd like to hear the interview, the recording is now available online. Click here to listen to the streaming audio. I start talking about fifteen minutes in... And if you listen carefully at the end, you might be able to hear baby barn owls squawking...

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Obscure Fairy Tale: The Seven Ravens

Since a number of you seemed to like last week's brother-to-bird tale, The Six Swans, and since AnnaDee made a special request, I thought I'd follow up with another, The Seven Ravens, which is actually my favorite of the sibling-to-fowl genre. Without further ado...

The Seven Ravens (from the Brothers Grimm)

Once upon a time... a man has seven sons and wishes for a daughter. When she's finally born, he sends his sons to the well for water for her baptism.

Really tempted to make a "how many fairy-tale characters does it take to screw in a lightbulb" joke here. Must resist.

The sons accidentally drop the jug into the well.

Every time I read a fairy tale like this, I am grateful for indoor plumbing. Seriously, how many times in fairy tales are people dropping things down wells, climbing down wells, falling down wells...? Those things are hazardous.

The sons are afraid to return home without the water. Meanwhile, the father grows impatient and shouts, "I wish they were all turned into ravens!"

I never think to say anything like this. Sure, I grumble when I'm annoyed, but it never occurs to me to curse someone with a totally random transformation. "You, sir, failed to stop at that red light! May you turn into a manatee!"

A few seconds later, seven ravens fly overhead.

Talk about an "uh-oh" moment.

The girl grows up without knowing about her brothers until she overhears someone say that she is to blame for their fate. She asks her parents to explain, and they tell her the truth.

Now that must have been an awkward conversation.

She sets out to rescue her brothers, taking only some food, water, and a little ring.

Douglas Adams would also recommend taking a towel. I'd recommend a change of underwear. And a toothbrush.

She walks to the end of the world where she visits the sun, but he's cruel and likes to eat people so she flees from him.

Sensible girl.

She visits the moon, who is also wicked, and flees from him.

The thing I love about this story is that there's a whole cool kick-butt adventure implied in that simple action. I mean, evil moon! Awesome! I'm picturing snowmobiles and leaping from airplanes with the yawning maw of the moon closing in behind her...

Then she visits the stars, who are kind to her. The morning star gives her a drumstick and tells her to use it as the key to the glass mountain where her brothers live.

What are they doing in a glass mountain? How did they get there? Why would a bone open the door? Why does a star have such a bone? How does a star hand her anything without opposable thumbs? Just askin'.

She journeys to the glass mountain, but when she arrives, she discovers that she's lost the drumstick.

This is the other thing that I really love about this tale: she's lost the magic item. I think that's totally plausible. It makes me think of those fantasy novels where there's a sixteen stanza prophecy stated once about three thousand miles before the finale and yet somehow the hero remembers every single line. I'd totally blank.

So she cuts off her little finger and uses it as a key.

Gross, yet strangely awesome. You go, girl. Way to commit to a rescue. On the other hand, if all that's needed is a bone, I think I'd head back to town and fetch me a chicken leg.

Inside the glass mountain, she finds a table with seven plates and seven glasses. She drops her ring into the last glass, and she hides.

I love a sensible heroine. In other fairy tales, there are ogres and giants and robbers and so forth in such locales. She doesn't know what she's going to find. Her precaution is admirable. Also, remember she's never met her brothers. It's possible that they're, y'know, evil. The ring makes a good test.

Soon after, she hears a flurry of wings. Seven ravens sit down at the table to eat. The seventh raven discovers the ring and says, "Someone is here! If only it were our sister, then we would be free!"

Um, why? Why would this set you free? Who is holding you? Did the father issue a caveat with the curse? I mean, I shouldn't complain. It's very nice for poetic reasons, but who made the rules? And why would anyone utter such stilted dialogue?

She emerges from her hiding place, the ravens are restored to human form, and everyone lives happily ever after.

For once, I actually believe this really is a happily ever after. I hope they get to keep the Glass Mountain. That would make a sweet summer-home...

For more obscure fairy tales (with commentary), check out the Obscure Fairy Tales page of my website, where I've gathered links to all my prior fairy tale posts.


Thursday, August 07, 2008

Events and Dancing

Upcoming Events

Tomorrow, I'll be up in Massachusetts for two book events:

Library Visit
Friday August 8th at 3pm
Townsend Public Library
276 Main Street, Townsend, MA

Book Signing
Friday August 8th at 7pm
Borders - Shrewsbury
476 Boston Turnpike, Shrewsbury, MA

If you're in the area, I hope you'll stop by!

Happy Dancing

You may have already seen this, but it makes me smile (and then tear up) every time I watch it. It's a guy doing his Snoopy Dance of Joy all around the world...

Thanks to Tim Liebe for the link.

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Monday, August 04, 2008

Obscure Fairy Tale: The Six Swans

Today's fairy tale is "The Six Swans." It belongs to the subcategory of fairy tales about brothers who turn into birds. (Yes, there really are enough of them to have a subcategory. It's called type AT-450. There's a whole list on the fabulous SurLaLune site, if you're interested.)

My favorite brother-to-bird story is actually "The Seven Ravens." In it, the heroine embarks on a quest to save her brothers, escapes from an anthropomorphized (and cannibalistic) sun and moon, and then cuts off her own finger to use as a key to the glass mountain... It's kind of awesome in a gross way.

But I use The Six Swans in my books, so I'd like to talk about that tale today...

The Six Swans (from the Brothers Grimm)

Once upon a time... Okay, so this king gets lost in the woods. He meets a witch who says she'll show him the way out if he marries her daughter. He agrees, even though he suspects she's evil.

Now that's a marriage that's sure to work out.

Concerned for the safety of the children of his first marriage, he hides his six sons and one daughter in a secret castle.

Yeah. Not a love-match. Kind of feel sorry for the king.

He can only reach the castle by following a magic ball of twine.

Really? A magic ball of twine? It's a CASTLE. You know, really big building? I mean, I appreciate a good Theseus/Labyrinth reference as much as the next girl, but couldn't he just, I don't know, stand on a hill and look for the giant stone structure?

He spends a lot of time visiting his children.

Look! A nice daddy in a fairy tale! He's not dead, absent, or even cannibalistic. How refreshing.

His wife grows suspicious, steals the twine, and follows it to the castle. When she arrives, the six sons run out, thinking their father has come to visit. The girl, suspicious of the approaching figure, stays hidden.

Um, boys... your father is male. Your evil stepmother, not so much. Do we really need to talk about the differences?

The queen throws six enchanted shirts on the boys, and they turn into swans. She leaves without knowing that she missed the king's daughter.

I like that she just happens to bring along a stack of swan shirts with her. What else is in her pockets? I carry my keys, a cell phone, and Chapstick. Do evil queens carry compacts with miniature talking mirrors? Spare poisoned apples in case they feel peckish?

When the king arrives to visit his children, the girl tells him her brothers were turned into swans. The king is sad, but he doesn't suspect his new wife.

Why not? What part of "my brothers were turned into swans by a woman in a gown and crown with a majestic bearing and an evil disposition" did not arouse suspicion? Okay, fine, so maybe the girl hid on instinct and didn't see anything... why not suspect the woman who has access to the twine and witch heritage?

The king decides to bring his daughter home to keep her safe...

Bad plan! BAD plan!

So the girl decides to rescue her brothers, and she runs away.


In the woods, she finds a little hut with seven beds...

Oops, wrong story.

... with six beds. She's afraid to lie in them so she crawls underneath one to sleep.

Smart girl. Me like. Clearly, she knows that if you fall asleep on a stranger's bed in a fairy tale, you wake up to find a few pissed-off bears or dwarves-who-need-a-housekeeper staring down at you.

In the night, six swans fly in and transform into humans.

Well, isn't that a lucky coincidence.

She emerges from her hiding place. After they all hug, the brothers tell her that the only way to save them is to sew six shirts of asters over six years without speaking or laughing.

Not so lucky after all. Seriously, this task makes the impossible tasks from other fairy tales look easy. Pick lentils from the ashes? No problem. Just call in some birds. Level a mountain of sand with a spoon? Call in some friendly ants. But this... where does she find enough flowers? What does she do when they're not in season? How does she keep them from wilting over six years? And how do the brothers know how to cure their curse anyway? I can't imagine the queen told them while she was tossing the enchanted shirts on them. That would be, like, the stupidest James Bond villain move ever.

She climbs into a tree in the forest and begins to knit.

A tree?? She couldn't just sit in a chair? And what does she do for food? Those swan-brothers of hers had better be catching her lots of fish... or whatever swans eat...

One day, the king of this kingdom (not her father) is hunting in the forest. His hunters find the girl in the tree and ask her who she is. Hoping they'll leave her alone, she throws down her gold chain, her garters, and lastly her dress.

Is this really the best plan? Perhaps getting naked is not the best way to inspire them to leave.

The hunters fetch her from the tree and carry her to the king, who falls in love with her beauty, brings her home, and marries her.

This has always bothered me. The girl just wants to sit in a tree and sew flower shirts. How much choice did she have in this marriage? I really, really hope he gave her a chance to at least nod yes.

His mother disapproves of his marriage.

Kind of can't blame her. "So, son, where did you meet her?" "In a tree." "What's her family like?" "Feathery."

In time, the girl, now a young queen, has a child. The king's mother takes the child and tells everyone that the young queen killed him.

Whoa. Talk about not getting along with your mother-in-law.

The king defends his bride, saying she would defend her innocence if she could speak, while she continues silently sewing flower shirts.

How about sign language? Or just pointing and miming? Perhaps writing a note or a pictogram? Shake your head no and point to the king's mother. Something!

When the third child was taken away...

Third child? This happens THREE times? And she just keeps sewing. Is it just me, or is this profoundly disturbing?

... the king can no longer defend his wife, and the law demands she be burned at the stake. She carries the flower shirts with her to the stake. The six years are nearly up. She has finished all but one sleeve of one shirt.

C'mon, at least try to communicate now! How about charades? I'm sure you can find a way to mime "sounds like: your mother is psychotic and kidnapped our children in hopes you'd divorce me."

Suddenly, the swans appear.

Hey, about time! Couldn't you have helped your sister sooner? Like, three kids ago? Where have you been? Migrating?

She throws the shirts on them, and they transform into humans. The youngest is left with one swan wing, due to the unfinished shirt.

Poor kid. What do you do with a single swan wing? And it must make for some awkward first dates...

Now that she can speak, the young queen explains the king's mother's deceit. The old woman is punished, the children are found, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Hey, wait... What about the boy with the swan wing? And what happened to their father, married to the evil witch? And how much trauma must those children have suffered? And what sort of marital problems must the king and young queen have after he nearly had her burned at the stake? Happily-ever-after land must employ a LOT of therapists...

For more obscure fairy tales (with commentary), check out the Obscure Fairy Tales page of my website, where I've gathered links to all my prior fairy tale posts.