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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Memento Mori

Again, I use this blog to call attention to the works of two great authors, the ones who shaped my writing and characters. I have just found out that both Brian Jacques and Diana Wynne Jones have passed away quite recently, Brian Jacques last month and Dianna Wynne Jones last Saturday. Brain Jacques was the author of the Redwall series and Diana Wynne Jones penned one of my favorite books of all time, Howl's Moving Castle.

I really don't have words to describe what I'm feeling right now. I feel like I just lost two well-loved, trusted friends. I have never met either author, but their works have imprinted themselves so indelibly on my mind and my writings that it's like I might as well have known them.

I read the first Redwall book when I was in the fifth grade, by my brother Aaron's urging. He said it had talking animals in it, like Reepicheep in Narnia and I would like it. I borrowed the book from one of the library of a teacher at my school. That was the first book I ever stayed up until two o'clock in the morning to finish reading, because I couldn't bear to wait for morning to finish it. I couldn't believe how much I already loved this book, and I had only read it once. Brian Jacques made his creatures so real it was easy to forget that they were animals, and not, in fact, humans with paws. After that, I read every one of his Redwall books that I could get my hands on. From Brian Jacques I found noble, heroic mice, dashing, perilous hares, daring, cheeky otters and squirrels, steadfast and sensible moles, and fearsome, war-like badgers. I learned heroes didn't have to be huge and tall and epic, they could be small, humble and unassuming--like a mouse. From Brian Jacques I had the fortune to see the good guys always win, and the bad guys suitably punished. From him I learned some hard, unhappy, unchangeable facts of life--that sometimes, good people die for no reason and we lose dearly beloved friends. But I also learned that we honor those we lose by our actions, to pick ourselves up and to keep calm and carry on.

I read Howl's Moving Castle out loud over one spring vacation to my brothers in my father's hometown in rural Mexico. Diana Wynne Jones had my brothers and I helpless with laughter at her clever, inimitable one-liners, her incredible plot twists and characters who seemed to speak the words in the head of the readers as they thought them. From Diana Wynne Jones I found bossy, sensible, downright heroines, and glib, slippery, sly heroes who, despite all evidence to the contrary, have quite soft hearts. I learned magic from Dianna Wynne Jones, how to catch a falling star, and get a child with a mandrake root. I learned about dwimmer and griffins and unicorns, how cats are indeed immensely magical creatures. I learned how sometimes, those with authority don't seem to always know what they're doing, and how we have to think for ourselves.

Brian Jacques taught me courage, honor and selfless sacrifice. Dianna Wynne Jones taught me cleverness, strength and belief in yourself and how to tame a fire demon. I am not only sad because they have passed on, but because two great lights of children's literature and fantasy have gone out--and we might not ever see their like again.

My thoughts and prayers are left with their surviving families.

Over & Out,

Monday, March 21, 2011

Opening the Channel

Since some minor changes have come up in Halcyon House as of late, I decided to lift the restriction on letting characters have their say on blog posts. Since Sydney hasn't had his chance, I'm letting him chat for a bit.

Sydney: So I'm Sydney Maddox now.

Me: Yes, you are. Is that a problem?

Sydney: I was Jenkins for almost seven years. It's kind of a change.

Me: Well, yes. But this way I can tell the difference between you and the other Sydney.

Sydney: Wait--now there are two of me?

Me: From that fantasy sequence that I was working on. The one this blog is named after. The one I'll get back to as soon as I finish Halcyon House.

Sydney: Is there any discernible difference between me and this...other Sydney? I sound like a crazy person.

Me: You're older than he is. And you sound no crazier than me.

Sydney: Is that supposed to reassure me? Because it really isn't.

Me: You're also a lot snarkier and tormented.

Sydney: Awesome. I've always wanted to be tormented. Got anything else you can add on? Inhuman speed? Golden eyes? Sparkling skin?

Me: I will not dignify that with a response.

Sydney: Of course you won't. On another note, why does Maddox sound an awful lot like McKenna?

Me: Coincidence. Also, your dad is Welsh and Jenkins seemed like such a typical Welsh surname that I wanted something different. Maddox fit the bill nicely.

Katriona: It's also because Ayden didn't like the way her name sounded as "Ayden Jenkins." "Ayden Maddox" sounds much better.


Sydney: Wait a minute. The only way her name would be "Ayden Jenkins" or "Maddox" is if she married...

Katriona: Well, she certainly wouldn't marry any of our cousins or me, for that matter. Most of our cousins are too old and I'm spoken for. 

Ayden/Sydney: Since when?

Me: Back behind the curtain! The lot of you! I really should know better...

Over & Out,

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Ad Memoriam

This week I re-read one of the enduring classical book series of my childhood, The Chronicles of Prydain, by Lloyd Alexander. This week's entry is my own humble tribute to the late Mr. Alexander, who passed away in 2007, and how his stories have shaped me and my writing and characters.

My mother first read the beginning chapters of The Book of Three when Aaron, Adam and I were ten and nine, respectively and it fired our imagination since. Aaron and I finished the book ourselves when we left off reading out loud (an unfortunate habit in our family)  and even Adam devoured the next four books in the sequence. The characters that Mr. Alexander created are as well-known and beloved to me as my own family. Well-meaning, heroic, if not somewhat bumbling Taran, the sharp-tongued, clever Elionwy, faithful Gurgi and his everlasting devotion to "crunchings and munchings," the valiant, hot-headed Fflewdur Fflam and the noble Prince Gwydion of the House of Don. I read these books now and I am in awe of what Mr. Alexander accomplished. Stories rousing and clear enough for a child to read, but deep and layered enough for teenagers and adults to enjoy them.

It would be too easy to say that Mr. Alexander's stories, the ones in this series in particular are wonderful, his characters fully realized and fleshed out and the world of his imaginings, Prydain, inspired by Wales as is as real as any country in myth. But it is all that and more. To me, it's on the level of Tolkien and Lewis: every time I read the series again, I read it with new eyes and see something that I haven't seen before.  I read Alexander before I could fully appreciate the works of Lewis and Tolkien and I realize now that Alexander's Prydain paved the way for Narnia and Middle-earth. Fantasy worlds rooted in something familiar and yet altogether fantastical.

I am a fervent devotee of the rest of Alexander's works, not just his Prydain Chronicles. The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen, Gypsy Rizka, The Arkadians, The Iron Ring  and The Rope Trick are some of the few books I periodically check out from the library whenever I get the chance. It never fails to amaze me how Alexander took real world cultures, countries and mythologies and remade them into something wholly original and his own. Italy, ancient Greece, Central Europe, China, India and many other lands are woven into his stories. There are arch types in his works, ones that he uses again and again, but to great affect and different result every time. A well-meaning hero, a clever, sensible heroine (who usually gets the best one-liners), a unprincipled, if not good-at-heart rogue, a faithful companion to the hero and sometimes, a truly noble and epically awesome nobleman, such as Gwydion of Don. You can see similar characters all throughout Alexander's works, but to me, they are as new and as unexpected as if they had been freshly created.

Alexander's character types inspired my own; Taran and Elionwy are cousins under the skin to Ayden and Sydney. I've never gotten tired of reading Alexander's works, and I hope I never will. I'll pass them on to my own children, and I hope they love them as I do.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Some Cupid Kills with Arrows, Some with Traps

I suppose I should just come out and say it: as the title above suggests, I am an unabashed Shakespeare addict. I read his plays for fun and quote the lines to myself when I feel I need encouragement. My favorite play is Much Ado about Nothing (where today's entry title comes from), because a) Beatrice is awesome and b) Benedick is awesome and c) Kenneth Branaugh and Emma Thompson in those roles are awesome. In Beatrice and Benedick, my Ayden and Sydney have their inspiration.

Like their Shakespearean counterparts, Ayden and Sydney are incapable of doing anything simply. I've tried reasoning with them, cajoling with them, negotiating, and finally, out-and-out ordering them to get their act together, but when either one of them has the bit between their teeth, they don't let go. While I wouldn't dare call either one of them sentimental in any way, but Sydney does have a dramatic and romantic streak in him and Ayden just hides hers to the point of non-existence. Sydney would like nothing more to than to make some grand gesture, but Ayden's not having any of it. It's not that she enjoys foiling Sydney's plans, mind you, it's just she genuinely doesn't understand why he would.

Ayden is practical and straightforward, while Sydney would rather take a window if the door is closed, if you get my drift. They're both fiercely stubborn and incredibly strong-willed individuals, but Sydney's dramatic streak tends to get in the way of his good sense at times. Ayden's down-to-earth practicality provides a nice foil to his ideals. Of course, Sydney's passionate and playful sense of drama lightens Ayden's single-minded determination. And they both have to have the last word. It's like a contest between them, one that neither one is going to win anytime soon, but they're having the time of their lives doing it.

Of course, Ayden's got a romantic streak buried deep, deep, deep down (Mariana Trench deep) underneath her practicality and it aggravates her to no end that Sydney seems to be able to cause it to surface with little to no effort. You see, Ayden's got six brothers who scared off any potential suitors for the majority of her life. Sydney could give a rap as to Ayden's brothers, and he is sincerely curious as to how far Ayden is going to go to suppress it.

If this roundaboutation between them keeps up, then I'm going to have Silas or Katriona intervene and then that could end all kinds of badly. Let's hope it doesn't come to that!

Over & Out,