Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Did You Know ... Roald Dahl

I have always loved books by Roald Dahl, from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to James and the Giant Peach. He wrote so many interesting books in his lifetime, it's amazing to me that he came up with so many great ideas. I thought it would be fun to see it I could come up with some little known facts about his life and his books. Turns out, he led a fascinating life. Here's what I discovered.

Did you know...

  • He was born in Wales in 1916? His parents were Norwegian.
  • Dahl grew to be six and a half feet tall?
  • The Cadbury chocolate company sent boxes of new chocolates to his school to be tested? Dahl dreamed of devising a new flavor that would impress Mr. Cadbury. The idea inspired Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
  • He was a fighter pilot in World War II and shot down five enemy aircraft, making him a flying ace?
  • He was attache to the British ambassador to the U.S.? 
  • During this time Dahl provided intelligence to an organization called the British Security Coordination? This was a group that was working to combat the American isolationist movement. It's members included Ian Fleming and David Ogilvy.
  • In 1953 he married actress Patricia Neal?
  • In addition to his children's books, Dahl also wrote short stories for adults? These were usually darker stories of the macabre.
  • Tales of the Unexpected, a collection of his adult stories, was made into a TV series? 
  • Dahl wrote the screenplays for the film version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and You Only Live Twice?  Both were rewritten and finished by other screen writers. The Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was his creation.
  • He died in 1990 at the age of 74?

Monday, May 26, 2014

Between the Lines: Buck From Call of the Wild

Hello, hello. Happy Memorial Day! I hope you are all enjoying your day. Please remember to take a moment to remember all those who served our country, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can be free.

It's Monday, so that means Between the Lines. This time around, I'm in the frozen north--Alaska to be exact. I've traveled here to talk to Buck, the dog gone wild from The Call of the Wild. 

Greg:  Hi Buck. Thanks for letting us visit with you. You've had quite a wild life. How did you wind up with a pack of wolves?

Buck:  Well, it's kind of a long story. My life was uneventful enough to start. I had a very happy early life with my first master, Judge Miller, in California. He treated me real well, and I had no problem with humans. As a matter of fact, I kind of liked them.

Then, the Judge's gardener, Manuel, stole me. That's when everything changed.

Greg:  What happened?

Buck:  I was shipped up north in a crate. Wound up in Seattle. They treated me bad. Didn't give me any food or water. There was this guy in this red sweater, he was the worst. When I got out of that crate, I was on him quick. I'd turned mean. But he taught me a lesson. He beat the tar out of me with his club. Taught me that a man with a club was someone to be careful of.

Greg:  Did you stay long in Seattle?

Buck:  No, thank goodness. A couple of nice people named Francois and Perrault bought me and took me up to Alaska. They trained me to be a sled dog. It was tough going at first. Alaska was cold--a lot colder than anything I was used to. Plus, I had a hard time fitting in.

Spitz, the lead sled dog, saw me as some kind of a threat or something. Finally, he challenged me to a fight. Luckily, I won, and the rest of the sled team accepted me as the lead dog. After that, things were easier, but it didn't last.

Greg:  Oh my, why not?

Buck:  Because people can be cruel and greedy. When they get the gold frenzy, they don't care how they treat anyone, man or beast. It doesn't matter, they treat everyone like dogs. The sled team was sold to some guy who delivered the mail. The load we had to pull was terribly heavy. It was brutal, I can tell you.

Finally, it got to the point where we were just exhausted. We weren't any good for anything, so we all got sold.

Greg:  I hope they were decent. Who were they?

Buck:  Three of the tenderest greenhorns you ever want to see. They had gold fever, but didn't know the first thing about living out in the wild. It was awful. First they fed us too much. Then, the food starts getting short, so they don't feed us anything at all. I mean, make up your mind already. 

Well, we meet this guy, John Thornton, who tells the greenhorns not to cross the river. It's thawing out, and they're bound to fall through. I had to agree with him, but the greenhorns didn't want to hear it. So I decided that heck, I wasn't going to cross any thawing river. I lay down and didn't move.

Greg:  What happened then?

Buck:  This guy Thornton cuts me loose and takes me with him. The rest of the team and the three greenhorns die in the river, of course. Thornton--he was good to me. He takes care of me. I hadn't been so happy since I left the Judge. I saved his neck a couple of times.

Round about this time. I met a wolf. He gave me a strange feeling, one of a wild freedom that I wished I could share. Eventually, I found myself without a master again, and decided that I'd had enough of human society and would answer the call of the wild.

Greg:  Well, thanks for your time, Buck. It was interesting to hear your story.

Buck:  No problem, the woods are cold, and it was nice to sit by a fire again, if only for a little while. But I think I prefer my pack mates to you humans. Later.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

A Writer's Week #113: On Tour (Sort Of)

The weather is warm and that means the Deliverers Summer Tour is heating up! Last Saturday, I participated in the Shoreline Spring Festival in Madison, CT. This week, I confirmed an appearance at the Summer Fun Fest on June 21st in Fairfield, CT.

I really had a fun time in Madison. Everyone was great, from the organizers to my fellow vendors and the attendees. The day before the weather forecast was dodgy, but thankfully the rain cleared out and the day of the show dawned bright and sunny. It wound up being a beautiful day.

I really enjoyed sitting under my canopy, feeling the cool breeze and chatting with whoever stopped by. I met some great folks, sold a few books and was just happy that it was spring! I used my new credit card reader for the first time and I have to say that I was very impressed with its speed. My phone is a clunky 3G smartphone and there was absolutely no lag time, even though my reception on my phone was a little spotty. Best of all, the funds landed in my account on the first business day rather than the two business days Square disclosed. If any of you are thinking about taking credit cards for your business, I heartily recommend Square.

My goal is to attend one show a month over the summer. It's not very ambitious, but I can really only spare one weekend a month. If anyone knows of good shows in the Connecticut area in July and August, please let me know.

On the writing front, I have to admit that I have not written anything for a while. I am going to try and rectify that by doing some writing this weekend. I'll let you know how that went next week!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Did You Know...J.R.R. Tolkien

I was thinking of something to post last night and I realized that it's been a while since I wrote a Did You So, guess what I'm posting today? You've got it--Did You Know!

I'm surprised that I haven't done this one yet. J.R.R. Tolkien is my all-time favorite author. I know all sorts of things about him and his two most popular books--The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Do you? Let's find out!

Did You Know...

  • That Tolkien was born in 1892 in South Africa? His father had accepted a job there as a bank manager.
  • That Tolkien's father died when he was three and his mother died when he was 12?
  • By the end of World War I all but one of his closest friends was dead? The war had a profound affect upon Tolkien that would surface in his writing (such as in his description of the Dead Marshes).
  • His father was Catholic and his mother converted to Catholicism? Tolkien was a staunch Catholic all his life, somewhat of a trial in England, and this affected his writing as well.
  • Tolkien distrusted machines in general and cars in particular? Whenever possible, he rode his bicycle. He thought the world was being overwhelmed by machines and loved the green, peaceful English countryside.
  • He fell in love with his future wife, Edith Bratt, when he was 16, but was forbidden by his guardian to communicate with her until he was  because Edith was Protestant? He kept his promise. On his 21st birthday, he wrote to Edith asking her to marry him. She was engaged to be married to someone else, but cancelled that engagement, converted to Catholicism, and married Tolkien. They were married over 50 years.
  • He did the illustrations for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings himself? Although he downplayed his artistic skills, he was better than most and his publisher, much to his surprise, agreed to use his illustrations.
  • Tolkien's devout faith was a major reason than his friend and fellow author C.S. Lewis converted from atheism to Christianity? Lewis chose the Church of England over Catholicism, which dismayed Tolkien to some extent, but I believe he got over it.
  • The Lord of the Rings was intended to be a children's story, like The Hobbit before it, but became darker as the writing progressed? It touched more on the myths and legends of Middle Earth that Tolkien had been working on for years. This was Tolkien's true love and would be published posthumously by his son Christopher as The Silmarillion. 
  • The Silmarillion was Tolkien's attempt to write a distinctly British mythology? The lack of a truly British mythology was a gap that Tolkien tried to fill through the history of The Silmarillion and his poetry.
  • The Lord of the Rings took more than ten years to write? As Tolkien so aptly said in the forward, "The tale grew in the telling."
  • Tolkien was a professor of languages and knew 13 languages including Latin, French, German, Middle English, Old English, Greek, Italian and Welsh? He had a working knowledge of eight others? He also developed his own Elvish languages; Quenya and Sindarin.
  • Tolkien died on September 2, 1973 at the age of 81? He was buried in the same grave with his wife Edith who had passed away 21 months earlier.
  • Tolkien's translation of Beowulf and a transcript of a paper he delivered on the ancient poem was published this week (no, I am not receiving money from the Tolkien estate!)?

Monday, May 19, 2014

Between the Lines: Oliver Twist

Hi all! I hope you had a nice weekend. Mine was excellent. I had a beautiful day in Madison, CT on Saturday at the Shoreline Spring Festival where I met some great people and got to talk with a lot of kids about writing and the Deliverers Series. Then yesterday, my son Christian and I went to see a great movie--Million Dollar Arm. Really great stuff.

Anyway, today I've got the pleasure of talking with an interesting lad. He has no father or mother of his own and he's known some really tough times, but he's managed to rise above all that and make something of himself. I'm speaking of Oliver Twist. Let's hear what he has to say.

Greg:  Hello Oliver, what's the good word?

Oliver:  'Ello guv. Good word, why I ain't sure what ya rightly mean. I've found there's precious little good in the world.

Greg:  That's really too bad. I know you've been through some tough times, but surely there's more good in the world than you say.

Oliver:  Could be you're right, things did work out al right for me in the end. But not ev'ryone can say that. Take Nancy, for instance.

Greg:  Nancy? Oh yes, the girl who tried to help you.

Oliver:  Aye, one o' the few what ever did me a kind turn in me youth. What did she get for it, eh? Beat t' death by that bugger Bill Sikes. I've knowed a mess o' folk in me life, but precious few good 'uns I can tell ya. How about them Bumbles in the workhouse? Worked us all 'alf t' death they did, and fed us next t' nothin'. All skin and bones we was. It got so bad I had t' take me life in me 'ands and ask for more.

Greg:  Well, there's bad people, I'll admit, but there are also good ones. 

Oliver:  Then there was Fagin and the Artful Dodger. They was no saints. Fagin put us t' work in the streets, pickin' pockets. I was never no good at it, and I got pinched.

Greg:  True, but didn't that lead to a change in your fortunes? You met Mr. Brownlow that day.

Oliver:  Aye, that may well 'ave been true, but it weren't all peaches and cream from there on out. For one thing, Nancy were done for and Fagin and Sikes were still a thorn in, um, side it ya take m' meanin' and all.

Greg:  Still, you can't say that things did not start looking soon after that.

Oliver:  No, I don't s'pose I can. I 'ave t' admit, things are a lot better now. Especially since I met Aunt Rose. I'm livin' with Mr. Brownlow now and things 're lookin' up, all in all. I thank you for remindin' me that things is much better now.

Greg:  No trouble at all. I'm glad to help. By the way, whatever happened to the Artful Dodger?

Oliver:  Oh 'im? He was shipped off t' Australia. Funny, but I here tell he's back. Still somewhat of a criminal I hear.

Greg:  Oh dear. Is he still picking pockets?

Oliver:  In a manner of speakin'. He's got 'imself inta politics.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Show Time!

Spring has finally sprung. As a matter of fact, I think we've just about jumped straight from winter to summer. Temperatures have been in the 70s and 80s of late--straight from the 40s a couple weeks back. With the warm weather comes the chance to attend some outdoor craft fairs.

The first one of the season for me is this Saturday. I'll be appearing at the Shoreline Spring Festival in Madison, CT. The show runs from 10 to 5 on the 17th. I'll be there signing all three books in the Deliverers Series and handing out bookmarks and pencils. If you're in the area, I hope to see you there.

I'm really looking forward to this event. Madison is a great book town and it's National Children's Book Week, so how can I go wrong? I'll let you know how it went on Sunday!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Between the Lines: Long John Silver

This week's interview is with one of my all time favorite villains, Long John Silver from Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. Long John is an interesting study for a bad guy, because throughout Treasure Island we see more of the nice Long John than we do of the evil Long John. Oh sure, he shows flashes of brutality, but most of that is only hinted at. For me, this makes him much more interesting.

Okay, enough with the character analysis. On with the interview!

Greg:   Welcome, Long John. Thanks for coming ashore.

Long John Silver:  Aye, you’re welcome, matey. I don’t often come ashore, ground’s too firm beneath m’ foot. Not enough give. ‘Sides it reminds me too much of m’ time on that cursed island lookin’ for Flint’s treasure.

Greg:  Were you always a seafaring man?

LJS:  Aye, almost since I can remember. I run away from home as a lad, and stowed away aboard His Majesty’s frigate Unrepentant. It were there I came into His Majesty’s service. I served under a number o’ fine naval gentlemen, squire.

I started off as cabin boy, then midshipman, an’ finally seaman. It were a good enough existence, I suppose, but it wore on me to have to take orders from them as claimed to be m’ betters, but weren’t..

Greg:  How did you lose your leg?

LJS:  I lost it in service to Baron Hawke, one o’ the toughest sailors to ever trim a sail. None better at it, ‘ceptin’ maybe Captain Flint, but it’d be a close call there.

We were fightin’ pirates, strangely enough. Cannonball took it clean off. Guess I should of gone below decks and steered clear in m’ berth, but that aint ol’ Long John’s way. General quarters was soundin’ anyhow, so I was stuck an’ had to meet m’ fate, so to speak.

After I lost m’ leg, I weren’t fit for the service of His Majesty, so I had to shove off. We were in the Indies. I couldn’t even work my passage home. Well, says I to m’self, what other sea work can a mostly able bodied sailor get in these here waters?

That’s when fate smiled on me, squire. I met up with an ol’ shipmate I used to know what had jumped ship and turned pirate sometime back. He got me to sign on with Cap’n Flint.

Greg:  What was your role on Captain Flint’s ship?

Now Flint were hard, but I were never scared of him. Ol’ Long John had put in too many years and seen too many things on the high seas that would make a lesser hearted man’s blood run cold. I weren’t afraid of his rantin’ an’ he knew it.

Before any time at all had passed, he had made me quartermaster, second in command only to him. So I knew all about Flint’s treasure and the map. Flint gave the map to Billy Bones, his mate, an’ died of the effects o’ rum. Bad business, that. Rum also done for Billy. I never touched it, an’ I’m still here, so that should speak for somethin’.

Greg:  Describe your relationship with Jim Hawkins.

LJS:  I aint sure what he thinks o’ me, but young Master ‘Arkins is foursquare, he is. Reminds me more’n a bit o’ m’self he does. There’s no truer lad, nor braver. ‘Course ol’ Long John didn’t get away with all the treasure, but it all worked out for the best in the end, I’d have to say. It’s good enough I got away with m’ skin and some gold to boot, enough to retire by in the colonies.

Greg:  What do you like most about the sea?

LJS:  The freedom of it. Give me a sturdy craft an’ a star to sail her by, an’ I wouldn’t have to ask for much more, squire. I’d be right capped with that. ‘Course, a nice pile o’ gold would warm the cockles of m’ heart, too, heh, heh!

Greg:  How do you want literary history to remember you?

LJS:  I don’t rightly reckon that it would. But if anyone did happen t’ trouble to think o’ ol’ Long John, I’d want ‘em to say “Long John were a stout sailor an’ true shipmate. He’d twist a dagger in your gut if ya crossed him, but he were as good as gold to those as stood by him.”

Aye, that’s how I’d like to be remembered. It’s how anyone’d want it—wouldn’t you, squire?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Writer's Week #112: Nothing to Do With Writing

Hi all! Sorry it's been a while since I last posted. I spent a large part of this last week away on business in Washington, DC. I had a very  interesting and enlightening time attending different sessions on training. I found the ones focusing on e-learning techniques and performance support to be particularly interesting.

Of course, it was not all business. There was a great networking evening that was held at the Smithsonian Air && Space Museum. That was really cool. We had the museum all to ourselves. I had an interesting time in the flight simulator spinning around trying to shoot down planes while upside down (got 7 of them--the world is safe for democracy!). I've sprinkled some pictures from the night throughout this post.

Needless to say, this did not leave any chance for writing. I wasn't totally idle, however. I let my wife, Stephanie read the 59 pages of The Deliverers 4: Sparkling Mist of Time. I have been having a rough time focusing on writing lately. Although there have been a lot of distractions, I had been wondering if the main reason I've been dragging my feet might be that deep down I wasn't happy with the story itself.

Stephanie's reaction indicated that my hunch was correct. She thought it was okay, but that it was moving very quickly. She couldn't see how it would be a full length book. That was my worry as well. I've written about this a couple of times. I think there will be a couple of surprises coming that will flesh out the story, but it's still a valid concern. She also said there were a couple of things that she couldn't pinpoint that didn't feel right. She's going to read it again to get a better sense of what.

Anyway, I'll have to do an assessment of my own to figure out why I'm not 100% happy with the way this project is going. I'll let you know what I find next week. By the way, a very happy Mother's Day to all mothers out there. I hope you all have an excellent day!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

A Writer's Week #111: School Visit!

This week I was able to do one of my favorite things as an author--make a school visit. Because life has been so hectic this year, these trips have been all too few. On Friday, though, the stars aligned and I was able to pay a call on Mrs. Robinson's 5th grade class at Middlebury Elementary.

It was a whole lot of fun (as usual). The class had really great questions and provided fantastic input. We talked about ideas and where they come from. The students were influenced by many things--personal experience, books, music, movies, their imagination, games. The list went on and on. I shared some of my inspirations for The Deliverers Series. This year, I'm incorporating a view visuals, such as my stone owl, Stig, a stone lion, and my Chinese dragon that was the inspiration for The Golden Dragon of Ang. I handed them around. Then I showed them my journal and we all chatted  about where we record our ideas.

Next, it was time to take a look at my blog where they got a chance to see some of Christian and Abigail's posts. We took a little tour of Calendria, the Did You Know and the Here Be Pirates pages, too. It seemed like they enjoyed that and I hope some of them will visit from time to time.
Reading Crew

Then it was time to listen to a reading from The Golden Dragon of Ang,  the third book in the series. It was fun to read to the kids. I've only read my own stuff to classes a few times. Every time I do, I marvel at the ease with which narrators like Jimm
Singer do all the character voices. Even though I've got them in my head, it's difficult for me to get them out properly.

At the end, it was time for bookmarks and pencils. It was really great getting to spend time with the kids and answering all their questions. A big thank you to Mrs. Robinson for having me for the third year in a row. By the way, she and her co-author Jessica Haight have a book coming out in a little over a year. It's called the Secret Files of Fairday Morrow. Stay tuned for more info on that as the publication date draws nearer.