Monthly Archives: December 2011

It’s a matter of myth conception

I discovered mythology as a seventh grader.

My Jr. High school was a mile from home, and I walked in all but the very worst weather. Often I would find a brief refuge in the public library which was on the way home.

I remember one illustrated book about the Greek and Roman gods. The artwork was amazing and in my mind’s eye (probably enhanced by memory) as detailed and amazing as Michelangelo’s triptychs.

The 12-year old me was launched on a love affair with all things mythological. The librarians in the children’s section were happy to provide me with age appropriate versions of the Iliad and Homer’s Odyssey. I devoured the tales of King Arthur and Camelot. I hunted out every version of the tales of Greek and Roman gods that I could find. Eventually, I became a bit of an expert.

When I became an adult, I discovered a new genre. These books took the well known myths and rewrote them from a new perspective. I loved them as much as the original stories, and even in some cases, better.

Current day authors, the most well known – Rick Riordan – portrayed a retelling of Greek gods in present day incarnations in his Percy Jackson Heroes of Olympus series. He went on to take a look at Egyptian mythology in his next series, the Kane Chronicles.

But hold on there, he’s not the only author writing these amazing tales. Here are some other books to try if you are mythological tale hound like me.

Tracy Barrett has several tales drawn from antiquity. But says she is only following a long tradition:

I’ve always been confused by the notion that the stories we know from Greek and Roman mythology are the “real” version, and that when I write a book based on one of them, I’m retelling a story from an authoritative text. The fact is that the myths, the hero legends, the incidents of the Trojan War (if such a war ever took place), the voyages of Odysseus—all these tales were told orally for centuries before someone wrote them down. Whoever that writer was, he (almost certainly a “he”) picked and chose which details of the traditional tale to include, invented others, and put on his own stylistic stamp. A poet a generation later who told the same story would have a different spin on it.

That’s all I’m doing in King of Ithaka and Dark of the Moon. I love hearing stories told by a narrator who is a minor character in a familiar tale, so I chose Telemachos (Odysseus’s son) to relate his own coming-of-age story in the former, and Ariadne (sister of the Minotaur) to set the record straight about what was really going on with her monstrous brother in the latter.

Each poet in King of Ithaka says at the start of his song, “Hear this,” and finishes it by saying, “And now my tale is told.” The first words in King of Ithaka are “Hear this,” and the last are, “And now my tale is told.” I’m just one in a long line of people who have taken inspiration from the adventures of Odysseus and the story of the Minotaur.

A mysterious talisman transports a boy back to ancient Italy

No one ever listens to Hector. He wanted to hang out with his friends this summer, but instead he’s stuck in Italy at an archaeological dig with his mom. The ancient Etruscan artifacts are interesting, but no one has time for him.

Then he makes a discovery of his own-a strange, unsettling stone that looks like an eye. The stone brings nightmares about Arath, an Etruscan boy who died thousands of years ago but now begs for Hector’s help. Are these just dreams, or is Arath really in danger? As Hector unearths the truth, he realizes that he can make himself heard when it counts.

Ariadne is destined to become a goddess of the moon. She leads a lonely life, filled with hours of rigorous training by stern priestesses. Her former friends no longer dare to look at her, much less speak to her. All that she has left are her mother and her beloved, misshapen brother Asterion, who must be held captive below the palace for his own safety.

So when a ship arrives one spring day, bearing a tribute of slaves from Athens, Ariadne sneaks out to meet it. These newcomers don’t know the ways of Krete; perhaps they won’t be afraid of a girl who will someday be a powerful goddess. And indeed she meets Theseus, the son of the king of Athens. Ariadne finds herself drawn to the newcomer, and soon they form a friendship—one that could perhaps become something more. Yet Theseus is doomed to die as an offering to the Minotaur, that monster beneath the palace—unless he can kill the beast first. And that “monster” is Ariadne’s brother . . .

The King of Ithaca Telemachos has a comfortable life on his small island of Ithaka, where his mother Penelopeia keeps the peace even though the land has been without its king, his father Odysseus, since the Trojan War began many years ago.

But now the people are demanding a new king, unless Telemachos can find Odysseus and bring him home. With only a mysterious prophecy to guide him, Telemachos sets off over sea and desert in search of the father he has never known.

L.J. Smith pens an enjoyable series based on the characters from the Arthurian Tales.

The Night of the Solstice Four siblings join forces with a talking vixen to rescue the vixen’s mistress, the sorceress Morgana Shee, and stop the evil sorcerer Cadal Forge before he can pass through a gate to Earth during the winter solstice.

A year and a half after Alys, Charles, Janie, and Claudia complete their quest to the Wildworld, an earthquake hits California, potentially destabilizing the passage between the mortal world and the magical one. But with their parents overseas and the sorceress Morgana searching for the epicenter of the quake, the four children are on their own. Strange happenings in their town force them on a journey that will test their combined resources, for Thia Pendriel, Morgana’s archrival, has stolen a powerful gem—the Heart of Valor—and is waiting to spring her trap….
Here’s what she shared about magic and myth:
When I was ten, I was still searching for magic, real magic. One day my family went to the movies to see something called Camelot, which I was happy to watch until I saw a billboard that said it was an epic romance. Romance? Yuk! Cooties! But my dad dragged me in and I watched, and I cried, and I knew that I had glimpsed a kind of magic I had to have more of. I didn’t notice any of the film’s flaws—I was a kid. What I took away was the idea of a round table and “might for right” and, of course, the idea that we are all just drops of water in the great blue ocean. But some of the drops sparkle!As soon as I could I read the book, The Once and Future King by T.H. White. After that there was no stopping me. I was determined to be a sparkling drop (and find magic, rescue a prince, fight a great foe, and also, as I quoted to people’s understandable bewilderment, “Die a hero or not at all!”) I read everything I could about the Arthurian legend and somehow, slowly, my entire life started to develop around it. I became a militant idealist.When I was in high school I began The Night of the Solstice, meaning it to be the first book of a trilogy. It was about magic, of course, and by the time it came out I’d already written the sequel, Heart of Valor, introducing the idea of a female descendant of King Arthur. I meant to sum it all up in Mirror of Heaven, and I still mean to—someday. Perhaps when the once and future king comes back. The world is certainly ready for his return.

A nail biting series where the hero battles evil to save the world is the Erec Rex tales by Kaza Kingsley.

No list on mythology would be complete without a tale of beasts.

Though not strictly a middle-grade book, Jane Yolan’s newest graphic novel offering is too beautiful not to be included. The Last Dragon tells a tale how two hundred years after humans drove the dragons from the islands of May, the last wyrm rises anew to wreak havoc, with only a healer’s daughter and a kite-flying, reluctant hero standing in its way.

When asked about this book, Ms. Yolan replied:

“Dragons (as well as unicorns and selchies) have been great inspirations to me. But dragons–because they can be good, bad, and ugly, have fascinated me for as long as I’ve been a writer. This book began as a short story called “Dragonfield” (close to novella length) published in 1984 in a collection of mine also called DRAGONFIELD. The first publisher who saw the graphic novel version and wanted it was DC, but they have a contract that is not known to be “creator friendly.” In fact they wanted all rights to my story till the heat-death of the universe. Which may be just about okay if I’d been writing in one of their created worlds, but this story was all mine–characters, setting, etc. So my agent and I took it from them and sold it to this wonderful young editor at DarkHorse Rachel Eidden who was a fan of both Rebecca Guay’s artwork and my storytelling. (She has a blog over at the DarkHorse site which tells you about how she approached the book.) It took about half a year to write and revise at least eight times on my own, before I started doing revisions for the editor. The illustrations took Rebecca closer to two years. And aren’t they astonishingly beautiful! I own one of the original pieces.” Jane Yolen

While I love and am fascinated by what other authors come up with as a new spin on classic tales, my daughter thinks it’s oh so wrong. She complained bitterly about how the Percy Jackson gods were not themselves and totally out of character. She declared that Mr. Riordan must have not done his research very well and just made things up because he wanted to.

Which side of this equation do you fall on? Do you love seeing old tales with a new spin? Or are you like my kid and just wish authors would leave well enough alone?

Wendy Martin spends her days drawing fantastical worlds. In the evenings she writes about them, then she visits them at night during her dreams. Visit her universe at her web site

All I Want for Christmas is a Brand New Book! Or several.

So it’s the Holidays again and that means tons of wrapping paper, lots of ribbon, some delighted faces and some hidden bits of disappointment when that one gift didn’t make it under the tree. (Like Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Prince: I’ll remember this, Santa!! *shakes fist in air*) And of course every book lover is hoping for their favorite book this year, or a copy of their favorite much-anticipated sequel. This is especially true of teenage girls around the U.S. who have to and I mean HAVE TO KNOW what happened to so-and-so in whatever land. But when you are the relative of an author who loves supporting other authors you are especially lucky when Christmas comes around.

Each year when a fellow author of mine happens to publish a new book I RUN to the nearest bookstore to buy it. Well, run to my car, and then from the car to the store and back again–or maybe stroll from the car to the door but you get the drift ;-). Then proceeds the agonizing wait until I’m done with my current project or writing my own book or that book I started reading last week until I can read my newly purchased book!

Well, needless to say, many exciting must-have books come out each year so when I go and buy my book there may or may not be a group of books who may or may not wait a while until I can read them—but rest assured I eventually get all my piles of books read!

I also love to share books so a couple of times a year I gather up all the books from the various parts of the house they’ve ended up in (my kitchen, the living room, nightstand, under my pillow, peeking out from under the clothes pile in my son’s room, etc.) and sort them into Middle-Grade and Young Adult. Then I box up the stacks of beautiful books with ribbon and lots of packing tape; print out some lovely labels, insert notes, and ship them to some Adorable Girls who share a last name with me (usually my nieces to whom I dedicated my recent book, Circle of Secrets).

Then I bask in the love, affection, and “OMGosh!” texts that proceed to follow for the next month as they plow their way through the piles of books, and devour the written word of So Many Talented Authors from Around the World.

So there is a weird little tidbit from my world to yours this Holiday Season!

The moral behind this story is Get yourself an Author Relative who likes to share! Or an Author Friend might do just as well, too!

Hope y’all received lots of great books this past week, and are enjoying a bit of snuggle time in front of the fire with cocoa or tea.

In the comments, please tell us about one of your book-giving traditions!

Kimberley Griffiths Little is resting contentedly with a tottering stack of 25 books to read after a fun and crazy Fall launching Circle of Secrets (Scholastic), and turning in her new manuscript, When the Butterflies Came. Teacher’s Guide for Circle of Secrets & Mother/Daughter Book Club Guide

Scary Reads for the Holidays-BOO!

One of my all time favorite Christmas reads (and watches) is A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. It is a tale that I’ve loved since about the age of ten. I originally fell in love with it because of Scrooge’s ghostly visitations. Now, the inner ten year old is still with me and has taken that love of ghostly things to a whole new level to include the funny, the bizarre, the monster-ly (you know, werewolves and vampires and zombies, oh my!). If you’ve a similar type reader in your household for the next week, why not take them to the bookstore or library to feed the need for scary? Here are some of my suggestions. Plus, at the end I have included a list of scary books for 12 and under from The Monster Librarian.

Now, on with a some of my favorite reads, old and new. Ghost Hunters, the series by Cornelia Funke is inventive, funny and much more. It’s one I recommend all the time. (I’d also suggest checking out the audio of this particular one. Very well done.) Notes From a Totally Lame Vampire is hilarious and came recommended to me by at 11 year old boy who was sure I would love it as much as he did. He was right.

Scary School is a recent favorite read and one I look forward to booktalking. You can check out the this interview with Derek the Ghost, he includes some of his own recommends for good scary reading.

Carol Matas The Proof that Ghosts Exist and others in the series. This one is fast paced, adventure filled and the ghost is creepy times a hundred. Plus, Matas is a wonderful writer with books that are language rich. School of Fear is funny, funny and well loved by my middle school book club kids, too. More about fears and phobias and what scares us, but it is a must include. Great website for the books, too.). Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood. Beware what lurks in the forest in this one. There is some good creepy, funny mystery afoot! And one for the slightly younger, but I’d still show it to the olders, is Angie Sage’s Araminta Spook.

Finally, anything by Mary Downing Hahn. Wait Til Helen Comes being my favorite. Anything by Betty Ren Wright, as well. You will most likely have to track some of her books down at the library, but well worth the search, especially the Doll House Murders) I could go on and on with more, but will stop and leave you with this FABULOUS monster list created by Monster Librarian. It has even more of my personal favorites on it and if you are always being asked, “Where are the scary books?, this is a must have resource. Happy Reading and Happy Holidays!