Posts Tagged ‘podcast for kids’

Look what my publisher sent me! Isn’t it amazing?

Cover to the MG fantasy novel, Masters of Air & Fire

Cover to the MG fantasy novel, Masters of Air & Fire

This is the cover to my middle-grade fantasy novel, the one I podcasted three years ago because I was so sure it would never be published. It’s also the reason I started this very blog you’re reading right now.

What’s it about? Well, DRAGONS! (You knew that, I’m sure.) Specifically, three young wyrmlings who are torn from their home and struggle to stay together in a world dominated by alien beings called “humans.” Orlik wants to avoid them. Romik wants to make friends. And Yazka has darker designs.

So far I don’t have a release date from Sky Warrior. Rest assured, I’ll announce prices and such the moment I get them. As with my previous novel there, the initial publication will be e-book only. I hope you’ll all consider it as a gift for your favorite young people this year.

Just For Fun

Q: Why did the dragon cross the road?

A: The airport was on the other side.

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I have some exciting news. Masters of Air & Fire, the middle grade fantasy novel I podcasted because I’d give up on selling it, will finally be published! Sky Warrior, the publisher of my fantasy novel The Seven Exalted Orders, will shortly be sending me a contract. If they follow their usual marketing, Masters of Air & Fire will be an e-book first, and a print book if sales warrant.

In essence, Masters of Air & Fire is a family drama where the family happen to be dragons. Three young wyrmlings are orphaned by the eruption of their volcanic home and must struggle to find their place in the world. Not only do they strive against each other, determining which of them is in charge, they also run afoul of some small, hairless, alien creatures called humans.

Some of the humans seem friendly. But do they have dark intentions toward the wyrmlings? Other humans are hostile, until the wyrmlings see them as captives with a shared purpose. Deciding which humans to trust is a major challenge of the book. The question of humans domesticating dragons is a sore point for me, and I enjoyed exploring that.

What makes my dragons different, you may wonder? Besides that I call them ‘wyrms’ rather than dragons, that is. I was really interested in examining the fearsome legendary dragon in a more vulnerable position. As kids who haven’t grown their scales yet and could be lost and scared. I tried to create a credible society among gigantic predators who mostly live alone once they reach adulthood.

I also tried to give them a different physical presence than other stories, with patches of color-changing skin that they use to express emotion and communicate over distances.

Once I have a firm publication date for Masters of Air & Fire, I’ll share that with you. For now, if you want to check out the podcast edition, it’s still up on my web site. I hope you’ll check it out.

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I asked for reader referrals about stories where dragons are hunted to the point of extinction. David Summers was kind enough respond.

“At the risk of being self-serving, I’ll point you to my 2001 story “The Slayers” which first appeared in Realms of Fantasy Magazine. In the story, humans hunt dragons for the fuel that allows them to breathe fire. Because it’s a valuable resource, they hunt dragons with a combination of airships and small personal fliers… Anyway, I recently reprinted the story as an ebook, if you want to take a look. More info at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/slayers.html”

Actually, David’s isn’t the only story I’m aware of that features humans hunting dragons with aircraft. Last summer I blogged about Carrie Vaughn’s YA contemporary fantasy Voices of Dragons, where modern humans use specially designed jets to fight dragons. Clearly, the human ability to make tools and weapons would be crucial in taking on a dragon.

Another of my frequent commenters, L. Palmer, remarked that she, too, wondered why the dragons wouldn’t just fly away. This was my reply.

“I guess the obvious answer is, the dragons eventually have to land somewhere. Even fantastic long-distance flyers, like albatrosses, have to rest and nest on land. So a sufficiently obsessed hunting party could, theoretically, just keep following the dragons until they are so exhausted that they have to come down.”

Actually, wearing the dragon out first would probably help the humans as much as their equipment would. And I could see some exciting scenes where humans hunt dragons not with airplanes but on broomsticks or flying carpets. The flammability of carpets and brooms would add a special element of danger to the chase.

Technology aside, there could be an emotional reason for a dragon to not “just fly away.” Maybe they refuse to leave their hoard behind, or they have a nest with eggs. E. E. Knight used this strategy in his dragon fantasy series Age of Fire. A human and dwarven consortium waits until a dragon pair has hatched their eggs, then sneaks in to kill the parents in the confined space of the hatching cavern. Afterward they abduct the baby dragons to train as steeds.

I have to mention, too, my own middle grade fantasy podcast, Masters of Air & Fire, which is still available from my web site. In this story, a young dragon is severely wounded by a ballista (that’s the thing that looks like a giant crossbow).

As before, I welcome any other ideas about how humans would take down a dragon.

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For more than 20 years, Magic Tree House is probably the first fantasy series most kids in American have read. These are chapter books — for those not versed in children’s publishing, chapter books are very short novels with lots of illustration — wherein two kids travel in time by means of the tree house named in the title.

Jack is 9 at the outset, the analytical brother who takes notes on everything. Seven-year-old Annie is more intuitive and open to mysteries. These two share adventures in time over nearly 50 volumes. The first of the series was published in 1992, and new books continue to come out each year. Although some of the books have linked plot lines, each one stands alone, so kids can drop in anywhere to the series.

Since Jack and Annie have been absolutely everywhere, it shouldn’t be surprising that they’ve encountered a few dragons. The first was in Vol. 14, “Day of the Dragon King.” This book is set in China, at the time of Emperor Ch’in. He’s the one who first unified China and had all those soldiers made out of terra cotta. Ch’in is something of a metaphorical dragon, since he believed in controlling his populace by burning books and limiting who could read! I thought it was an interesting choice to mention censorship in an early chapter book.

The second dragon appears in Vol. 37, “Dragon of the Red Dawn.” This is an actual dragon/rain spirit. Jack and Annie travel to Japan and befriend the poet Bashou, originator of Haiku and similar poetry. Again, there is some commentary about how Japan was isolated from the outside world. The kids constantly run away from guards who want to see their passports. When fire strikes, young mystic Annie is able to persuade the dragon to help them.

The Magic Tree House series is successful because of the accurate science, strategic use of cliff-hangers, and sibling chemistry between Jack and Annie. They can feel formulaic to adults, but the familiarity of the format is a big help for kids in first or second grade who are just mastering the printed page.

If your kids or grandkids are learning to read (or are having trouble catching on) The Magic Tree House series is a great bet for your family.

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It’s still summer, it’s still hot, and I’m longing to go to the lake. We’ve already talked about sea serpents, so this time let’s talk about lake monsters!

In their own way, lakes are as beautiful and mysterious as the sea. The surface is deceptive. You can’t tell what’s under there most of the time. Hidden objects can suddenly break the surface — even large objects like floating logs. The water is constantly shifting, so things bob and float, distorted by swells. Whether on a boat or a dock, you often don’t know what’s coming toward you. It could be a floating log with a branch sticking up… or it could be a lake monster!

There is an amazing variety of legends and myths about monsters living in lakes.
This list, from a Wikipedia article, includes folklore from 28 countries. The greatest number of reputed lake monsters is in the United States, by far, with 27 on the list (and that doesn’t include a report I was already aware of). Canada, with 19 entries, comes in second. In fact, nearly every big lake in North America seems to have its own mysterious critter.

The cynic in me wants to point out that it’s in affluent countries, like the US, that people have enough time to sit around at their lake cabins, maybe with a drink or two, and see things in the twilight… But! Where’s the fun in that?

The two main kinds of lake monsters are crocodile-like, low-slung with huge jaws, or dragon-like, long and thin with smaller heads on very long necks. There are any number of theories as to that they are. Surviving dinosaurs or whales! Elephants swimming! Floating logs! Large fish! Or some kind of prank…

But you and I know the truth — they are dragons, coming up for a visit. Next time, I’ll talk about some famous lake monsters from North America and beyond.

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Recently I found out that a friend of mine had a children’s book published through a publisher I also work with. I was excited to see it, and I planned to review it here. Then I actually read the book.

I’ve been agonizing since. If I give an honest review, it will be fairly harsh, and I’ve no wish to embarrass my friend or my publisher. If I don’t give a review, then I have no topic for my blog. Oh, no! you all say. Deby has nothing to talk about??

So what I will cover, without naming names or titles, is some general problems in the manuscript, and one great big puzzle.

In this specific case, the author did have some interesting ideas and a few good plot twists. The problem? The author’s approach was very dated. All the characters were simple and one-dimensional, the child protagonist particularly romanticized. That isn’t how we do it any more. Even in short picture books, characters are multi-faceted. Kids are allowed to be naughty.

The vocabulary was at adult level, perhaps under the assumption that adults would be reading to a child. That isn’t how we use children’s books any more. In the 2000s, we want kids to read to themselves as much as possible, so we use accessible vocabulary and grammar. You also need to know what age child you’re writing for, so you can choose appropriate subject matter and vocabulary.

The language was indirect, with lots of passive voice, and the plot wandered around inconsequential details for many pages before arriving at an exciting event. In children’s books today, you have to be concise and direct.

It’s certainly possible that a book like this could have been published… fifty years ago. It shouldn’t have been published in 2012. It just isn’t suited to today’s market.

This brings me to the puzzle: Why do people, with no background in children’s literature, think they can just sit down and write a children’s book? (Not just my author friend, but rock stars and news casters.) Honestly, would you go into a doctor’s or lawyer’s office and start seeing clients? Jump in a plane and take off without ever having flown? But people do this. Just because they graduated high school at some point, they assume they can write for kids!

Children’s writing is not any easier than other kinds of writing. It has its requirements, and you have to educate yourself to know what they are. Join a group like SCBWI, that is devoted to children’s writing. Go to your library and borrow a bunch of books in the genre you want to write. (Make sure they’ve been published within the past few years.) Read those books, study the plots and characters. Then start to write the same way, so your approach will be suited to today’s marketplace.

Please, don’t just dash off a story like the stories you read when you were a kid. The world has changed. If you want to be published, you have to keep up.

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Last week I wrote about Lego dragons built of plastic bricks, and that got me thinking about other forms of game and toy dragons in mass media. One of the biggest recent conglomerations has been Bakugan. I say conglomerations because there are anime, manga, toys, cards, and more about Bakugan.

The series began as competition to the enormously popular Pokémon video, card game, anime, manga, etc. conglomeration at the turn of the 21st Century. The first Bakugan products were released in Japan around 2007, where they were considered a flop. However, the line caught on in North America. US and Canadian audiences really took to the toy/card game and animated shows.

I first became aware of Bakugan when I was a school staffer. The toys are small, plastic creatures that compress into a sphere about the size of a walnut. Our school didn’t allow toys, because they distract from learning, but Bakugan easily fit into pockets and I was taking them to the office quite often.

Along with the plastic creatures are playing cards. “Gate cards” contain magnetic strips. When you roll the plastic toys over the cards, it causes them to pop open and, the tale goes, absorb the powers of that Gate. You can also play non-magnetic “ability” cards on your creatures, or play trap cards to handicap your opponent. Add it all up, and the highest total wins.

Sounds like fun, but are there any dragons? You bet! Dragonoids are one of the most popular types in game play, and in the anime one of the main Bakugan is a Pyrus Dragonoid called Drago.

Now, I must confess, I have some homework to do. I need to watch a few episodes of the show before I can write any more. So in a few days I hope to be talking more about Drago and his fellow Bakugan.

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This is the starter of a classic dragon series from 1982, Dragons of the Sea. Interesting that this was around the same time McCaffrey’s Pern series really took off, and Jane Yolen wrote her Pit Dragon series (see my post from last week). It was a dragon age, indeed.

Here we have Asian dragons in the purely mythic Chinese style. Shimmer is an exiled dragon princess whose home was destroyed when the wicked sorceress Civet stole the sea and shrank it into the form of a blue bead. However, as it develops, not all the drama is Civet’s fault. Shimmer, who seems trapped in perpetual adolescence, had her own troubles with her noble family before the ghost girl came along.

Hardened by her centuries of exile, Shimmer is resistant to the friendship of a runaway servant boy, Thorn. Yet his irrepressible nature and faithfulness win her over. Together they fight their way through many trials in their quest to get the bead away from Civet and restore Shimmer’s ocean home.

It’s a fantastic landscape of Asian myth, with appearances by other great folkloric figures such as the flamboyantly flawed hero Monkey. Like dragons and monkeys, these books spring from a bygone era. There’s a focus on character rather than action here, and the battles are described in a less visceral way than contemporary work would do. To me, this is actually a big recommendation.

Laurence Yep has had a long career and won many awards, including the presigious Newberry Honor. His bibliography includes quite a few works with dragons in them. If you like Asian folklore or any kind of dragon, you’ll like these books.

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I posted last time about the legendary Chinese writer and anti-corruption cursader, Qu Yuan, who devoted his career to the Kingdom of Chu and was banished after the ruler listened to rumors spread by his rivals. Chu was eventually conquered by Qin Kingdom as Qin expanded and eventually became the realm we know as China.

In grief, Qu Yuan drowned himself in the Miluo River. Local people were distraught when they learned of his suicide. They rushed to the site and rowed their boats up and down the river, banging on drums and stirring the water with their oars to keep away evil spirits and fish who might have eaten Qu’s body. They also threw rice into the river, hoping the drowned poet would not get hungry.

Qu’s ghost (or some say he had been resurrected) appeared to his loyal friends. He told them a dragon was intercepting the rice and asked that these offerings be wrapped in silken cloth before being tossed into the river.

Several aspects of the modern Dragon Boat Festival spring from this legend. The boats are carved and decorated with elaborate and colorful dragon heads. The eyes are painted with blood to bring them the life. A traditional food at the festival is zongzi, sticky rice wrapped in leaves. The boats are strictly human-powered. Rowing teams are kept together by the beat of a drum.

Initially, the festival also held an element of human sacrifice. Since Qu Yuan had given his life in protest, the racing crews were also offering their lives. If any individual, or even an entire crew, fell into the water, this was believed to be a sign that the river dragon wanted them as a sacrifice. Onlookers were forbidden to help.

In modern times, Duan Wu is one of three traditional festivals sanctioned by the Chinese government. Dragon boat racing has spread world-wide as Chinese migrants have spread out from their homeland. The sport is especially popular in countries with large Chinese populations. Click here to see an official Taiwanese tourism video about dragon boat racing.

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When you’re on a good meme, you just can’t let go! So here’s my nod to that catchy pop song, and the five dragons I would never, ever, EVER want to meet.

1) Tiamat, of Sumerian myth. Sea monster and chaos incarnate. Need I say more?

2) Hydra, from Greek myth. Nine dragon heads and so poisonous that even stepping into her footprints will kill you!

3) Smaug, from J. R. R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit. The archetypal European dragon: huge, hungry and greedy, with fiery breath and armor plates — but his intellect is what really scares me!

4) Vermithrax, of the movie Dragonslayer. Much like Smaug, though she doesn’t have as much to say.

4) The Copper, E. E. Knight’s Age of Fire. He starts as a runty outcast and works his way up to emperor of dragons, complaining and feeling sorry for himself all the way. I get enough of that from my teenagers, thanks.

Besides the interesting things my choices might reveal about me, I was struck that all my choices in the category of dragons I would want to meet were the creations of 20th Century authors. Like the sparkly vampires and woebegone werewolves of Urban Fantasy genre, dragons are portrayed in a much more sympathetic light these days.

Today’s five is slanted much more to the classic dragons of myth. Even Smaug and Vermithrax, though they spring from modern works, hearken back to the terrifying monsters that have made our ancestors shiver for millennia.

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