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Friday, December 20, 2013

Interview with Kersten Hamilton on The Goblin Wars Trilogy

By Cynthia Light Brown

The Goblin Wars trilogy by Kersten Hamilton is one of my favorites – a rich YA fantasy set in our own world and Mag Mell, a mysterious “world-between-worlds” filled with creatures good and evil. Kersten mixes lots of action, memorable characters who make tough decisions and go through lots of changes and growth, and interesting themes and questions. If you’re still looking for a Christmas gift, it’s not too late to order 2-day shipping for the first in the trilogy, Tyger, Tyger
One of the most interesting things in this series is how Kersten weaves an Irish mythology and an underlying Christian worldview together in subtle and complex ways. The great majority of authors either leave religion out entirely, or write with an obvious – and often heavy-handed - religious perspective. The Goblin Wars series takes neither approach, but rather deals with reality—physical, emotional, and spiritual reality.

Kersten gives us a treat at the end of the interview, with a cameo that is an “extra”. For fans of her books, it’s another peek into a great character, and for those who haven’t yet read The Goblin Wars, it’s an invitation to read more.

Thanks Kersten!

Cynthia: You have woven Christian elements in and around the Irish mythology, something I see less and less of in current literature. Was that easy to do? Were there any tough decisions to make in whether or how much to bring in those Christian elements?
Kersten: Those elements – the worldview behind the story as it were, are actually the reason the books exist. Philip Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy was very much on my mind when I started THE GOBLIN WARS.  HIS DARK MATERIALS is a parable of the Republic of Heaven, a universe with no loving Creator; THE GOBLIN WARS is a parable of the Kingdom of God—a worldview that posits a loving Creator intimately involved with all creation.
It wasn’t really tough to decide how much to bring in or leave out; since this is my own worldview, I simply wrote my own struggles, fears, doubts, and stumbling faith into the characters.
Cynthia: Can you talk a little about the Irish mythology behind the Goblin Wars Series, and why you chose that?

The world of the pre-Christian era Celts was harsh and sometimes bloody, with wars between clans and occasionally human sacrifice.
But it was also wonderfully spiritual. The ancient Celts built no walls between the natural world and the supernatural, the secular and the sacred. Trees held a special place in the early Celtic understanding of the sacred. The destiny of a clan was twined to the life of a particular tree. Warring clans tried to attacked and destroy their enemies’ tribal trees. Their concept of reality was twined with threeness. 
The understanding of the sacred, the importance of trees, and the concept of threeness, became important bridges to Christianity. The Christianity which first found its way to Britan, however, was very different from the Christianity which was later forged in Rome.
Early Celtic Christianity traced its roots not through Augustine and Rome to the authority St. Peter, but through Aidan of Lindisfarne and Iona to the authority of St. John, the disciple who leaned his head against Jesus’ chest at the last supper.
In Britan this became an image of the believer listening for the heartbeat of God. The Celts had been listening for the heartbeat of the Creator of creation since before the dawn of time. They had little difficulty reconciling a God who was three–in–one with their own concept of the threeness. The tree upon which Christ was hung became a new sacred tree around which all clans could gather.
Early Celtic Christians believed that God was present with them as a friend to be talked to in every moment of life. They believed in a good creation. And they believed that the image of God was in every human being, waiting to be woken by the Holy Spirit.
St. Columba (521 –597) declared “My Druid is Christ, the son of God…”
The two views of Christianity in Britan—Celtic and Roman—clashed in 664 at a Synod of the Church Catholic. The Roman viewpoint won, and the Celtic beliefs were pushed aside.
But they were never completely vanquished. You can find them in the carvings of the Green Man (a goodly creature of creation!) on church pillars and benches, and in the writings of authors like George MacDonald.
Cynthia: Who's your favorite secondary character?
Do you have any habits as a writer that you always follow - whether habits of time and place, or just mental exercises?

Can I answer them both together? My favorite secondary character is Mamieo Ida. One of my mental exercises is the write a cameo of my character at some point before my book begins. Here is Mamieo Ida’s:

Samhain’s Eve

“What should I do, Rory?” Ida hugged the framed photo as she paced. He’d been dead for almost a year, but it was sometimes a comfort to talk to him. She needed comfort now. “I’m shaking afraid, and that’s the truth.”
It wasn’t the storm battering the caravan that put the fear in her. It was what she heard behind the wind. Sure, she’d heard the bean-sídhe cry before—but not the rider’s horn nor the baying of terrible hounds. Goblin kind was sporting in Mag Mell tonight. The same goblins that had trapped her Rory on the moor, torn him open and left his children orphans and herself a widow.
“It’s the Hunt, love,” Ida said. Their prey would be a human child they’d stolen from her home. A girl. They’d run her as long as she could run…and then she’d die alone and afraid, with no máthair to hold her. “It’s the Great Hunt, and there’s nothing I can do, is there?”
Ida stopped pacing. If the Almighty saw fit to let her hear what was happening, there must be a reason. And if there was something to be done, she wasn’t going to find it by cowering behind closed doors, was she?
Ida set the picture down carefully. She took the crucifix from the wall by the door and hung it close over Liam’s bed, then lifted Fiona out of the drawer that served as a crib.  She slipped the baby into her brother’s arms, and kissed both sleep–damp foreheads.
Aingeals watch and guard thee,” she whispered.
She took her shawl from its hook and slipped out the door. Ida walked past the caravans of the Travelers, some dark and some flickering with the blue light of tellies, and out onto the lane.
The wind pushed her towards St. Wilfred’s Chapel, so she followed it, then hesitated on the steps, unsure what to do next.
A passing car slowed, and a young man threw a beer bottle at her. “Clear out, Pikey!” he yelled.
Ida snatched the bottle from the chapel steps. “Who scraped you off a shoe, you rooter cack?” She shouted as she threw it back. The wind took the bottle before it smashed the rear window. It landed in the hedge as the car raced away.
Ida followed the wind again. When she saw the Green Man under the lamppost at the end of the road, she knew she had been right to come out.
Ida had met him long ago in a chapel on the other side of England after her first communion. He was standing in his great green altogether, studying his own face carved in a column.
“You should wear britches in church,” she’d told him. “They’ll throw you out.”
“Haven’t any,” the green man had said. “Just my leaves and such.”
“Take my cape, then,” Ida had taken it from her shoulders held it out to him. “Wrap it round you like a kilt. They’ll let you stay for tea and biscuits then.”
He’d laughed so hard the windows shook, and the priest covered his head because he thought it was an earthquake.
“You’re the only one here with eyes to see me, girl,” the Green Man had said. “So let’s be friends.”
He was the kind of friend who never showed up unless things were afoot. She’d seen him the night she met her Rory, and he’d brought her holly and ivy and bitter tea the day Rory died. From the look on his leafy face now, there was death in the storm this night.
“Let me through,” Ida demanded. “Let me into Mag Mell.”
“What would you do there, Ida?’
“Find the child. I won’t let her die alone.”
“Do you know what you’re saying, lass? No one escapes the Hunt, and that’s a fact.”
“I’m a Christian woman,” Ida pulled her shawl tight around her to keep her courage from escaping. “I’ll do what I can. You should be doing something yourself, you leafy ox of a man. Can’t you hear the baying?’
“I’m not strong enough to stop them, but this I can do.” The Green Man grabbed the corner of the night and ripped a hole into Mag Mell.
“I’ll leave a light on for you, Ida,” he said. “You’ll never be coming home without it.”
“Will I be coming home, then?”
He didn’t say a word. Ida nodded, pulled her shawl closer, and stepped through.
She staggered as the darkness of Mag Mell enfolded her. The storm was worse here, but even its fury couldn’t drown out the hound’s voices, or the insane wailing of the bean-sídhe. It was too dark to see — until lightning slashed across the sky, burning a black and silver picture into her mind.
It’s here you’ll die, Ida. Here in Mag Mell.
She knew it with all the certainty of her second sight. So this was why she had come. Well, Rory’d gone before her, hadn’t he? That man had never once turned away from what must be done. She tried to take a step. It was harder than she’d thought to walk towards death.
“I can’t do it,” she said, but at that moment she heard a new sound carried on the wind — the cry of a frightened child.
“I’m coming, then.” Ida ran towards the sounds of the horn and the hounds. Towards the crying child.
She hadn’t gone far when she saw the girl in her thin white dress, bare feet flashing over the ground. The child screamed when Ida grabbed her, but Ida sank to her knees and held her tight until her struggles turned to sobs. She was exhausted, and done running.
The goblins were coming fast. She could smell them, feel them in the darkness. They could smell her as well, because now the bean-sídhe was calling her name.
“Damn you,” Ida whispered. “I won’t let her die alone.” The girl went still, and Ida felt her heart beat close against her own, as close as her own babe’s hearts had been when she carried them in her belly.
“Shh, shh,” Ida rocked the child and tried to wait calm and saint-like, but it didn’t work. A fierceness rose up in her instead. She wasn’t willing to die, not with Liam and Fiona waiting for her in the caravan, and this one shivering in her arms.
Ida jumped to her feet and spat hard up into the darkness, praying that the wind would carry her spittle into the bean-sídhe’s face.
“Damn your goblin souls,” she shouted. “I won’t let her die at all!”
Ida turned and ran towards the faint green light, the girl child in her arms.

Thank you for having me on your blog today, Cynthia!



Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Gift ideas for Young Writers and Illustrators

By Carol Baicker-McKee

Olivetti Lettera 22, iconic portable typewriter, circa 1950s

I was lucky as a child and teen to have parents, grandparents, siblings, and friends who took my interests in writing and illustrating books seriously. In appreciation, I offer this list of excellent gifts that may boost the confidence and skills of young creatives. (And older ones too.) As a bonus, many cost little or nothing or can be thrown together at the last minute - a blessing for those of us who are so caught up in our own projects, we have procrastinated a wee bit on our holiday shopping.

Sketchbooks or Journals
What writer or artist doesn't crave the pleasures of a new, delicious-smelling book to write or draw in? There is an abundance of high quality options, but pictured above are three I love: 
  • Moleskines Okay, I know they're trendy-pretentious and overpriced, but they're just so...nice. And they come in a huge array of styles and sizes; there's a notebook for just about any taste or purpose. They're also widely available in brick-and-mortar and online stores, so finding them is a cinch. Be sure to check out Moleskine's website, which not only showcases their array of products, but includes templates for making some last-minute handmade gifts. Teens might also enjoy perusing some of the many tumblr and pinterest sites like this one that showcase the work of Moleskine lovers (WARNING: these sites sometimes contain art images that might not be appropriate for younger kids.) Young illustrators might enjoy the blog of Moleskine user Renata Liwska, illustrator of The Quiet Book, The Noisy Book, and her new release Once Upon a Memory.
  • Dick Blick's Artist Journals These lovely books have heavyweight paper that's great for watercolor, collage, pen and ink, even printmaking and stamping. Point your young artist to the gorgeous journals of Mexican-American artist Gennine Zlatkis for inspiration.
  • AVintage Journal or Notebook I snap these up at estate and yard sales whenever I see them, usually for mere pennies. The sellers usually consider them to be near worthless if they've been partly written in - but I just find the glimpses of lives gone by (and the lovely handwriting) to be intriguing.
Professional Quality Art Supplies

I still have - and use - the artist-quality set of pan watercolors that my parents gave me when I was about nine. Overnight, my art projects went to the next level, largely because good paint just works better! The set above was actually my grandfather's travel set, and I use it now when I travel. It was a gift from him that I treasure - which shows that even used supplies are welcome.

High quality permanent ink pens are always wonderful, as are artist quality papers for different media. Many craft stores have at least a small section of artist quality materials, colleges and universities often have outstanding (and reasonably priced) art sections in their campus bookstores, and there are many discount art suppliers. Two I often buy from are Dick Blick (their NYC brick-and-mortar store is almost my vision of heaven) and Art Supply.

A Cool Writing Utensil

 Sometimes all you need for a little motivation/inspiration is a new writing tool. Neil Gaiman, author of beloved children's novels like Coraline and The Graveyard Book (among other masterpieces, including adult novels and episodes of Dr. Who), says he usually writes his first drafts with a fountain pen - and I am increasingly finding it to be my tool of choice, at least for picture books. I personally like vintage pens, like the Parker 51, (but those tend to be pricey); inexpensive and still satisfying new ones (or different vintage ones) are widely available at stationary and office supply stores.

And don't forget typewriters! E.B. White banged out Charlotte's Web on a manual typewriter (an Underwood Standard Rhythm Touch) and Ian Fleming wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on one too. Although they sometimes go for scary prices on eBay, you can generally pick up old manual or electric typewriters for a song at yard or estate sales and Goodwill and other thrift stores. The Lettera 22, pictured at the top of the post and a favorite of field journalists, cost me a mere $15 at an estate sale recently - and it came with an extra ribbon, the manual, and the original case.

Classes, Camps or Conferences
Give a certificate to be redeemed for lessons of some sort. Classes are available through many sources, including museums, arts organizations, community rec centers, community colleges (which often have weekend youth programs), and many universities, which often offer summer camps for young writers and artists. Don't forget inquiring among local professionals; my most memorable art classes were taught by professional artist parents of school mates.

Life Experiences
Every creative person needs to have a deep well of experiences to draw on in his or her work! The opportunities here are only limited by your imagination and budget. A grand journey will inspire - but so will Saturdays volunteering together at the local homeless center. Offer to take a kid to museums, historical sites, festivals - or just out exploring in a new neighborhood. A sketch crawl - to capture the animals at the zoo, or write up the interesting characters you eavesdrop on at the mall - is a cheap but memorable experience, especially if you work side-by-side or let the young writer or artist bring along a like-minded pal.

A Room of Her Own
Or perhaps just a closet or a nook in the family room - a space separate from a kid's bedroom that's dedicated as a creative studio may be just the grounding she needs to work seriously. Check out this site for ideas in carving out a space.

Work to Emulate
How about a copy of one of your lasting favorite books, a subscription to a literary or art magazine, an autographed copy of a special book or a signed piece of art?

Any more ideas? Share them with us in the comments. Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


Ten of my Favorites
by Kitty Griffin

Is Underground by Joan Aiken
I dare you to find a more delightful adventure with a more daring heroine than "Is". She must find out why the children of London are disappearing. Where she goes, what she finds is an extraordinary tale of courage. Good for middle-graders, but your fantasy loving YA will also enjoy.

Truckers by Terry Pratchett
A colony of nomes live under the floorboard of a department store. Their wonderful life is about to be upended, for the store is to be demolished. "Truckers" is a riotous adventure full of humor as only Pratchett can deliver. The next two books are "Diggers" and "Wings" so if you buy the first, go ahead, get the next two.       

A Dark Horn Blowing by Dahlov Ipcar
This is haunting story has stayed with me since the first time I read it. Nora is called away from the two loves of her life, her husband and her baby. She finds herself in Erland, kidnapped by the wicked Erl King. He wants her to care for his newborn child, Prince Elver. The King promises Nora that she may leave as soon as the Princeling can walk on his own. Full of characters who enchant, plot twists that break your heart, this YA book is hard to put down once you start reading.

Tum Tum and Nutmeg by Emily Bearn
This is for a younger reader/listener. A tender sweet book where two little mice, Tum Tum and Nutmeg take on the care of two young children who move into the house. Charming black and white illustrations only add to the delight of this book.

This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel
So just why was Dr. Frankenstein so determined to reanimate a dead body? What in his past lead him to this stunning scientific experiment? Why, a dark endeavor of course. Richly told with haunting characters, this story leads the reader to a place where one see why a young man might challenge the boundaries of science. YA.

Skellig by David Almond
What would you do if you found a creature in your parent's garage and you realized it needed your help or it would die? Would you ignore your gravely ill sister? Would you ask your friend, Mina, to help? Weaving several taut threads together, Almond presents a tale mysterious and yet, fragile. Borders on young adult, but a clever young reader will enjoy this.

Mortal Engine by Phillip Reeve
This is one of those books that every time you catch your breath you're thrown off a cliff. The book opens with the city of London chasing a smaller city in order to capture it. Yes. London is mobile. And it's hungry. This stunning adventure stretches the imagination all the while giving remarkable characters whom you really care about. It's the first of the "Hungry Cities Chronicles". It's good for adventurous middle grade readers, it is YA.

East by Edith Pattou
What if? What if you took a small fairy tale and turned it into a complex novel? That's what Pattou has done with "East." Rose, an adventurous girl, leaves her family and her home in the company of a giant bear. While she thinks she's saving her family, the one she's really saving is herself. Middle-grade to YA.

A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck
I have given this book to many adults when they aren't feeling well. This book isn't a fantasy. It's a delightful, can't-put-it-down read that is for all ages. The name of the first story is "Shotgun Cheatham's Last Night Above Ground" and it makes me giggle just writing that. Full of humor and honest feelings, this book is stunning. Did I tell you I love it? Middle-grade readers all the way to grown up grown ups.

Which Witch by Eva Ibbotson
I love anything by Eva Ibbotson, but most of all, I love love love this book. Arriman the Awful, a very handsome Wizard who hails from the North, has decided it's time to get married. But which witch? Well, he'll marry the one who manages to perform, shall we say, something with a touch of wickedness and a sprinkling of dreadful? Belladonna doesn't want to be a good witch, but she is. And, she's very much in love with Arrriman. A recipe for disaster becomes a tale of delightful humor. Don't miss this! Wonderful for middle-grade and YA.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Gift Idea for the Young (or old!) Scientist or Artist

by Cynthia Light Brown

Sergey Kljatov http://www.flickr.com/photos/chaoticmind75/

Science and art intersect perfectly in the image of a snowflake. Snowflakes start as hexagonal molecules, and sprout branches as they fall to earth by drawing water from the air. Higher amounts of water in the air (humidity) cause thinner branches, and smaller amounts of water produce thicker branches. One snowflake is made from about 100,000 VERY tiny droplets of water.

If you have a young artist or scientist (which covers everyone, right?), give them a book and a beautiful photo of a snowflake for Christmas. It's easy: here's how.

Sergey Kljatov http://www.flickr.com/photos/chaoticmind75/

Sergey Kljatov http://www.flickr.com/photos/chaoticmind75/

Alexey Kljatov has taken gorgeous photos of snowflakes, and you can download high-resolution images from his website for free and print, as long as it’s for personal, non-commercial use and you give credit (which I think is very generous for such beautiful photos, so if you pin or post this, please give him credit). I can’t stop looking at these, and thought I would share a few with all of you.

Sergey Kljatov http://www.flickr.com/photos/chaoticmind75/

Sergey Kljatov http://www.flickr.com/photos/chaoticmind75/

Sergey Kljatov http://www.flickr.com/photos/chaoticmind75/

His Flicker account is here:

To print a photo, download the highest resolution, which is the original resolution. You can also view his photos on Alexey Kljatov Tumblr Account or Alexey Kljatov Facebook Account

Then, have the photo printed as unframed, mounted wall art; the unframed photos of snowflakes will seem to float on the wall. Shutterfly is one place that will print and ship it super-fast, in time for Christmas! A 16x16 photo from Shutterfly is $54.99:

Or you can use a different size of course, or frame it. If you use an inexpensive frame and a smaller print, it wouldn’t cost much at all. I’m going to have 6 of them printed and arranged on the wall.

Then, pair the photo with a book.

For young kids (ages 4 to 8), the perfect book is Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by Mary Azarian. It’s a Caldecott winner, and tells the story of Wilson Bentley, a boy fascinated by snowflakes who spent his life studying and photographing them.

For older kids (ages 8 and up), The Secret Life of a Snowflake: An Up-close Look at the the Art and Science of Snowflakes by Kenneth Libbrecht, a physics professor at Cal Tech, has stunning photographs and tells the story of a snowflake forming.

 Ken Libbrecht’s website also has numerous options of books for the adult scientist/artist in your life:


Sergey Kljatov http://www.flickr.com/photos/chaoticmind75/