Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I Think, Therefore I Explore

The Blog:
When I hear “explore,” I tend to think first of men like Columbus sailing past the edge of the earth. For most of us, though, the majority of the exploration we experience in life involves not going anywhere. Instead, it’s about questioning and soul searching. The middle grade novel I chose this week includes some of each.

The Quotes:
Exploration is really the essence of the human spirit.
Frank Borman

We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started... and know the place for the first time.
T.S. Eliot

The Book:
Middle Grade Novel: A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park (Newbery Winner)

None of my kids has read A Single Shard—yet—but it’s my very favorite middle grade novel. Set in a twelfth-century Korean potters village, the story follows an orphan boy who wants to learn to make the celadon pottery the village is famous for. Beginning with this simple longing and ending with a dangerous journey, the story is poignant and beautifully told and well worth the read, for adults as well as kids.

The Links:
To learn more about Linda Sue Park and her work, try her website at http://www.lspark.com/.

The Metropolitan Museum has a fun interactive site about celadon pottery; to check it out, go to http://www.metmuseum.org/explore/celadon/html/startpage.htm.

I found the above exploration quotes at the following link. To find more, look at http://thinkexist.com/quotations/exploration/.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Columbus and the Age of Exploration

The Theme: Exploration
I thought about using an obvious theme for October like Halloween or mystery but settled on exploration instead since Columbus Day falls in October. I couldn’t resist exploration since I can, with some creativity, place two of my very favorite books under that umbrella.

Mystery is also a strong pull, though, so if I’m really with it maybe I’ll manage to pull off both themes. We’ll see! In the meantime, on with exploration.

The Example
A strip of desert about twenty feet wide ran between the west patio wall of my childhood home and the chain link fence which marked the edge of our property.

We called that strip “The Jungle.”

For us, it was a jungle in the desert. Pungent creosote bushes grew thick and waved above our heads; in the middle, bushes once weighed down by a freak winter snow bent their tips together to form a shelter of sorts. A mulberry tree grew next to the shelter. Large, sloping branches sprouted from a thick trunk only a couple of feet from the ground. A small tree with dark, rough bark and long, twining leaves grew at the south end of the Jungle near a forever-locked gate.

We spent hours there, setting up house in the shelter, picking insect exoskeletons from the tree, examining small furry plants with purple flowers and yellow berries.

I learned in the Jungle that journeys long or short begin internally, with questions, and that if no far-reaching explorations move on our horizons, the familiar can be forever re-discovered.

The Book: Land Ho! Fifty Glorious Years in the Age of Exploration, by Nancy Winslow Parker
“We suffer from a disease that only gold can cure.”
-Hernan Cortes, quoted on title page

Starting with Christopher Columbus, discover the life and times of twelve explorers. Each explorer has a fun two-page spread with text, maps, pictures, and text boxes. My son, nine or ten at the time we purchased the book from Scholastic book orders, couldn’t put it down.


Try the link above to preview the book.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Author Interview with Joyce DiPastena

I'm excited to wrap up September's castle theme (let's pretend it's still September) with an interview with Joyce DiPastena.

Author of LOYALTY'S WEB. Joyce DiPastena fell in love with the Middle Ages when she first read Thomas B. Costain’s THE CONQUERING FAMILY in high school. A graduate of the University of Arizona with a degree specializing in medieval history, Joyce lives in Arizona with her two cats, Clio and Glinka Rimsky-Korsokov.

Joyce, thank you for agreeing to do this interview. To start off, could you tell us how you became interested in the Middle Ages?

Thank you, Sarah. I appreciate this opportunity to talk with you today.
How did I become interested in the Middle Ages? It sort of came about as a "narrowing down" of interests. I've enjoyed learning about history for as long as I can remember--ancient Greek history, ancient Rome, the Middle Ages, the Tudor, Stuart and Regency eras of England, and the American Revolutionary War. I read a lot of Regency romances in junior high, high school and college. Regency author, Georgette Heyer, was a huge influence on me back then. So I was very interested in many different eras of history for a long time. Then, during high school, I read a series of books by Thomas B Costain that dealt with the Plantagenet kings of England. Edward I was the first Plantagenet king to intrigue me, but then I read about Henry II (who actually came first chronologically) and I completely fell in love with him. Not in a romantical way. There was just something about his personality as described by both his friends and his foes that fascinated me. And because I was so interested in Henry II, I began studying his time period more in depth, so that when I finally chose a time period to attempt my first novel in, I set it in the time of Henry II.
I still enjoy reading books set in other time periods, but the more I wrote about the Middle Ages, the more I seemed to bond with it. So that's where my stories continue to be set today.

Do you have what you would consider an area of expertise or special interest during this time period?

I don't know that I would label myself an "expert" on anything. As I said, however, I do have a special interest in the time period of Henry II of England. I enjoy playing with the disfunctional, and ultimately, tragic relationships in his family. My novel, Loyalty's Web, uses as a backdrop the conflict between Henry II and his second son, Richard, who eventually becomes Richard the Lionheart. I've written a follow up novel, titled Illuminations of the Heart (presently unpublished), that plays with the tensions between Richard and his eldest brother, known as Henry the Younger. Such historical tensions always remain a backdrop, rather than the ultimate focus, of my novels, though. Historical characters may or may not actually appear in cameo scenes in my books. I prefer to "make up" my own characters, kind of "plop them down" in the time period, and then see how each reacts to the political environment they find themselves in.

Do you have a favorite castle or site rooted to medieval history?

I'd be thrilled to be able to visit any medieval castle someday! But I think I would have a special interest in visiting the castle of Chinon in France, which was one of Henry II's primary residences. It was a castle the he seemed to love. It's also where he died in 1189, and is buried nearby in Fontevraud Abbey, which I would also like to visit.

Tell us about your blogs, Medieval Vignettes (http://medievalvignettes.blogspot.com/), and Medieval Research with Joyce (http://medievalresearch.blogspot.com/).

I started Medieval Vignettes just as a kind of fun way to "fill in the blanks" of events that are mentioned in Loyalty's Web as having taken place in the past, but having little to no actual bearing on my book's plot. For instance, there is a mention in Loyalty's Web of "that last Christmas we all spent together" between my heroine's and a neighbor's family. What happened that Christmas has absolutely no effect on the plot line of Loyalty's Web, but I found myself wondering what everyone might have talked about at that "past" Christmas. So I wrote a scene to find out! And just in case any of my readers were interested, too, I decided to post the scene on a blog. A second "flashback scene" shows a "vignette" of my heroine, Heléne, receiving some of her earliest lessons in herbal healing. Both of these scenes probably give a little more insight into my characters, but again, they're for fun, and are not strictly necessary to enjoy the narrative line of Loyalty's Web.

I started Medieval Research with Joyce as a way to share the research sources and some of the research techniques I used to write Loyalty's Web with other writers of medieval fiction. My original goal was to share new research sources as they corresponded to new stories that were being published. I've pretty much covered the sources I used in Loyalty's Web, and as Illuminations of the Heart remains at the moment in manuscript form, Medieval Research with Joyce has kind of been put on hold. But maybe I'll browse through my medieval library and see if I can come up with a new post soon to tide my readers over during the interim.

Your book Loyalty’s Web will shortly be coming out from Leatherwood Press. Can you summarize the book for us?

To quote from the back cover blurb:
The year is 1176, and the Earl of Gunthar and his knights have been sent to France by King Henry II of England to enforce a peace treaty. The rakish earl falls in love with Heléne de Laurant, the younger, spirited sister of the beauty he is supposed to wed in an arranged marriage designed to unite the two countries. But when Heléne and her family are accused of plotting against the king, Heléne is torn: should she betray the man who could send her family to the gallows, or should she follow her heart and risk her safety to save him?
Loyalty's Web is scheduled to begin appearing in Deseret Book stores in November, but it can be pre-ordered now at http://deseretbook.com/store/product/5011757.

What made you decide to write historical romance?

As a reader, I've always preferred books with happy endings. In my opinion, life is hard enough to muddle through. We're surrounded by a world of frightening scenarios that we can't control, and can't tune out. At the end of the day, I just want a break from "reality", even if it's only for a few minutes. I want the reassurance that somewhere, even if it's only in someone's imagination, regardless of all the struggles the characters I'm reading about are going through, everything comes out right in the end.
Ultimately, I'm a romantic, I love history, and I like to write. It just seemed a natural combination to put together. And if I can use whatever talent the Lord has given me to provide a few hours of simple entertainment to someone else, a temporary release from the cares of the world, then that's all I really want to accomplish with my writing. (Well, and if I can stir an interest in the Middle Ages, that would be a nice bonus.)

What do you like most about writing? Least?

What I like most about writing is seeing my characters take on a life of their own. I love it when they surprise me by charging down a path I didn't expect them to go. That's when writing gets exciting!
What do I like least? Facing a new blank page every day and wondering whether my talent completely dried up over night. That tiny little voice that haunts me every time I sit down "fresh" to write, that says, "Sure, I had a great writing session yesterday, but that was yesterday. What if I can't think of anything to write today?" That little voice of self-doubt can be terrifying and paralyzing. And it makes nearly every day a new struggle to write. I have learned that if I'll just push my way through the fear and start typing anyway, I'll get caught up in the story and characters again and that fear will go away. But I also have learned that it will be back the next morning. I don't know if every writer faces this, but I do. And that would have to be absolutely the worst part about writing for me!

Tell us about any upcoming projects.

As I mentioned earlier, I've written a kind of "spinoff" to Loyalty's Web, but I can't tell you much about it, because unless you've already read Loyalty's Web, it might give too much of that book away. If you have read Loyalty's Web and would like a clue (just a clue, mind you!), you can email me at jdipastena@yahoo.com. I'll tell you who the "spinoff" character is in Illuminations of the Heart, but after that, you'll have to draw your own conclusions for now. :-)
Also, please be sure to check out my website at http://www.joyce-dipastena.com. That's where I'll keep you updated about future writing projects. And sometimes I hold drawings just for fun, so check back often and click on my News & Contests page while you're there!

Thanks so much, Joyce.

Thank you for inviting me, Sarah. It was a delight to talk to you and your readers today!