Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween Horrors: The Playlist

It's no secret that I like songs of the strange. The more off-beat, the better. And there's no time like Halloween to compile a ghoulish list of tunes. These songs can really put you in the spirit of the season. And as always, I welcome any additional suggestions.

The Party Mix: Approved for all ages and great for dancing.
"Toccata In D Minor" by Johann Sebastian Bach
"Zombie Zoo" by Tom Petty
"I Put a Spell On You" by Creedence Clearwater
"The Purple People Eater" by Sheb Wooley
"The Devil Went Down to Georgia" by Charlie Daniels
"The Mummy" by The Naturals
"Beetlejuice" by Danny Elfman
"Witchcraft" by Wolfmother
"Witch Doctor" by Sha Na Na
"Time Warp" by Rocky Horror Picture Show Cast
"Ghostbusters" by Ray Parker, Jr.
"Monster Mash" by Boris Pickett
"The Boogie Monster" by Gnarls Barkley
"Love Potion No. 9" by The Clovers
"This Is Halloween" by Marilyn Manson
"Costume" by The Mollies
"Trick or Treat" by Fastway
"Witchcraft" by Frank Sinatra
"Superstition" by Stevie Wonder
"Werewolves of London" by Warren Zevon
"Thriller" by Michael Jackson

The Unexpected: For an older audience or not as fun for dancing.
"Enter Sandman" by Matalica
"Already Dead" by Beck
"Dragula" by Rob Zombie
"Dead!" by My Chemical Romance
"Voodoo" by Godsmack
"Candyman" by Christina Aguilera
"Iron Man" by Black Sabbath
"Dead Man's Party" by Oingo Boingo
"Spill the Blood" by Slayer
"Soul Meets Body" by Death Cab for Cutie
"Snake Devil" by Scary Kids Scaring Kids
"Bodies" by Drowning Pool
"DOA" by Foo Fighters
"Wolf Like Me" by TV on the Radio
"The Hand That Feeds" by Nine Inch Nails
"Feed My Frankenstein" by Alice Cooper
"Doctor Blind" by Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton
"Die, Die My Darling" by The Misfits
"The Phantom of the Opera" by Andrew Lloyd Webber
"Devil Inside" by INXS
"Love Me Dead" by Ludo

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Halloween Horrors: I don't do scary

Really, I don't. I don't watch scary movies, I don't read scary books, and I don't go to haunted houses. Just thinking about it makes my skin crawl. So while I have books lists for paranormal, supernatural and mythological, none of those books will leave you with that unsettled feeling of fear at what might lurk just around the corner, or even worse, that horrible feeling you get when you just know something bad is going to happen and there's not a thing you can do to stop it.

So if you want a scary Halloween read, you won't get it from me. You're just going to have to ask Neil Gaiman or your local librarian. Because chances are I wouldn't touch the book with a ten-foot pole.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Fantasy Freak Week Meets Halloween Horrors Week

From Edgar Allen Poe and the macabre to Steven King and the scream queens, elements of the fantastical walk hand in hand with horror fiction. Even the bible features witches and nightmares right along side the wonders of miracles. And John Kendrick Bangs might have given it a name, but Dante Alighieri was writing Bangsian Fantasy (a literary sub-genre featuring famous figures in the afterlife) hundreds of years earlier.

Paranormal: Phasmophobia is a fairly new idea. In many Asian and South American cultures, death is something to be respected, not feared. The Greeks viewed the Underworld as a place of waiting and the unknown--just look at the story of Orpheus' journey to there and back, which is more a heartbreaking tale of love lost than one of fear. Probably the earliest literary reference of scary ghosts comes from Shakespeare in both Hamlet and Macbeth.

Supernatural: It's only because Charlaine Harris wrote the Sookie Stackhouse books that The Vampire Diaries is able to enjoy its status as one of the critics current favorite shows. And before that, Bram Stoker's Dracula cashed in on the relatively new phenomenon of supernatural fiction in the late 1800's. But even he received inspiration from local legends and the ancient Mesopotamians and Greeks stories of bloodsucking fiends. Since the beginning of oral tradition stories have featured dark super-human beings to illustrate the battle between good and evil. Are these night-dwelling creatures real or made up to frighten people into walking a straight and narrow line?

Romance: Stephenie Meyer's Twilight might have made it popular, but flooding the classic dark elements of horror with the bright light of romance is nothing new. Joss Whedon did it with Buffy, Anne Rice did it with Lestat, the Greeks did it with Persephone and the Egyptians did it with Isis. Everyone loves a story about love that transcends death, but I'm not sure I want to know how this turned into borderline necrophilia.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Finding my tribe, or highlights from the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Fall Conference

I love when authors talk about the heart of the craft. I think this is especially important in children's lit. As the New York Times likes to remind us, the industry is constantly changing, and you can't open a copy of Publishers Weekly without hearing about lagging book sales. Writers don't write to make money, they do it because they have to. Because the story's too important not to be heard.
"We do it even though we fail…And you have to wonder why, but we do it because we care."
-Kathryn Erskine
(Kathryn Erskine, author of Mockingbird, reenacts what it felt like to be nominated for the National Book Award.)

Yet good writers have more than heart. They also have mad technical skills. Think of your favorite book. You know the one that has the cracked spin and crinkled corners from rereading your favorite passages so many times. The one you've had to buy three copies of because it fell apart or it's too full of notes in the margins or you loan it out so often you need an extra copy just for you. Yeah, that one. Do you ever find yourself analyzing the writing style or going over a passage twice because of confusing syntax or getting frustrated by typos? No! That's because the writing's so good you stop noticing the individual words and only see the story.
"'Said' is like punctuation to us. We don’t notice it when we read it...Readers shouldn’t have to think about it."
-Andrea Tompa
Writing is hard work, and it also takes sacrifice. Maybe it means the dishes don't get done right away or you can't take that long weekend with friends because you have to take a personal day to talk to that expert. Even without a family to care for, I feel the time crunch, so I can't imagine how moms and dads get it done. And often it happens despite people not understanding why you do it or even supporting your efforts.
"I am giving you all permission today to lower your standards."
-Lisa Yee
(Lisa Yee, author of Warp Speed, keeps the audience in stitches until she breaks their hearts reading from her upcoming book.)

Conferences are the best place to meet people who just get it. And it's not all about writing--it's about the industry. I love that I can sit at a table and have an hour-long conversation about the best audiobook production companies or the increased popularity of mix-medium picture books or the use of boarding schools as a literary device. People don't look at me funny when I say I've read 20 books this month (because they've read 25), and the understand what it feels like to cut your first chapter to move your initiating action forward (because they cut three last week). Everyone is in different stages of their careers, but we all share a love of the children's book industry.

As Lisa Yee says, this is my tribe. They don't judge, they don't laugh. They just get it.

Fantasy Freak Week: Final Words

Mostly this post is just an excuse to mention some of my favorite fantasy books and themes because I wasn't able to write an entire post about them. I could probably fill a few hundred years worth of posts about fantasy, but I really want to move on to other topics.

There were so many classics I wish I had time to discuss:
Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander
Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest by William Shakespeare
The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser
Beowulf (author unknown)
The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer

I also could have gone on about so many topics:
Flood stories
Comics and Superheros
Fantasy movies
Fan fiction

I hope you enjoyed Fantasy Freak Week. I'm planning on doing a couple Halloween Horrors posts next week, but it probably won't be every day--these posts take way too long to put together.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Fantasy Freak Week: Fairy Tales and Legends

There's just something about reading a story that stars with "Once upon a time..." and ends with "...happily ever after" that makes me want to curl up with a cup of hot cocoa and sigh in contentment. Passed down from generation to generation, fairy tales inspire a kind of timeless storytelling that transcends all other literature.

They might not be the ones who first told the stores, but Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were the first to popularize retellings. Newcomer Jessica Day George re-examined their stories in Princess of the Midnight Ball and Princess of Glass. Gail Carson Levine made a name for herself with Ella Enchanted and now has an entire collection of fairy tales retold. Shannon Hale takes retellings to a new level by pushing past the "...happily ever after" and seeing what happens after the after like with her Books of Bayern and Book of a Thousand Days. Though she wrote The Outlaws of Sherwood and several Greek myth-based novels, Robin McKinley is best known for her fairy tale retellings, including Beauty, The Door in the Hedge and Spindle's End. Alex Flinn gives Grimms' tales both a modern twist and a new perspective with male protagonists in Beastly, A Kiss in Time and Cloaked.

Donna Jo Napoli finds inspiration in many fairy tales such as Zel (Grimms' Rapunzel), Bound (a Chinese Cinderella-esque fairy tale) and Sirena (the Greek myth of the Sines). But she is the only author I know who has examined the Viking legend of the captive Irish princess in Hush. She has duel citizenship in the United States and Italy, which might account for her love of exploring Italian legends, including her newest novel The Wager. One of the best parts of her books? The "...happily ever after" is rarely what you would expect.

Although she's been creating beautiful picture books for years, it wasn't until Where the Mountain Meets the Moon received a Newbery Honor last year that Grace Lin burst onto the scene as the authority on Chinese fairy tales. Her traditional illustrations and knowledge of Chinese culture makes her a stand-out among all the other authors writing Asian-inspired fantasy.

With dozens of movies, TV series and songs, Robin Hood is a mainstay in Anglo-Saxon folklore. Best known for her contemporary work, Cynthia Voigt wrote the Robin Hood-inspired Kingdom Series, Beginning with Jackaroo. The Kingdom series tells the tale of a link of brave women who do more than just steal from the rick and give to the poor--they gain the trust of kings and change a nation.

The Arthurian legend is a common theme in fantasy. From Mark Twain with A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court to Meg Cabot's Avalon High manga series,  a lot of authors have gotten in on the mid evil action. (Of course you can't forget Monty Python's musical parody and the much more tragic real-life story of JFK's Camelot.) Winner of both a Newbery Medal and the Newbery Honor, Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising Sequence provides one of the most captivating interpretations of the Camelot tale.

With her own twist on the Arthur story set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, Pamela F. Service has written sci-fi versions of many fairy tales and legends. Weirdos of the Universe, Unite! has to be one of my favorites as in brings together the mythical legends of Norway, Russia and America. I also just heard about another Scandinavian fairy tale retelling--Plain Kate by Erin Bow.

And Jane Yolen has written it all. She'd done Arthur (The Young Merlin Trilogy), Robin Hood (Sherwood), Grimms (Briar Rose). I mean, this woman even wrote an anthology called Favorite Folktales from Around the World and wrote the forward to Fearless Girls, Wise Women & Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales from Around the World (one of my personal favorites). And that doesn't even begin to touch on the original fantasy books and numerous picture books she had written. She's like the Grimm brothers, Hans Christian Anderson and J.R.R. Tolkien all rolled into one.