Suzanne Williams, Author of the Month: How to Reform a Villainous Character

Six years ago, when Joan Holub and I began writing Goddess Girls (the first of our three co-authored series), we picked the snakey-haired Medusa (who acquires her snakes in Book 1: Athena the Brain) to play the part of the villain in the series’ initial four books. She antagonizes our four main goddess girls  with the snarky comments she makes, plays nasty tricks on fellow students — such as using her stone gaze to turn Pandora into a statue — and is just downright unpleasant overall.

 

Still, we had to admire her…well…for lack of a better word, spunk. And as the series began to expand (there will be twenty-two books by the end of 2016), we thought it would be fun to let Medusa star in a book of her own, doing our twist on her mythology.
But first we needed to get readers on her side. Otherwise they might not care to read about her!
So first we decided to explore why she behaved badly. In our first book about her, Book 8: Medusa the Mean, we gave her a back story in a brief prologue that showed her six-year-old self being teased by kids who “pinched their noses and said she smelled like a stinky cheese.” (Her last name is Gorgon and the mean kids call her “Gorgonzola Head.”) Little Medusa copes with the teasing by creating a comic strip in which her alter ego, the “Queen of Mean” gets even with her tormentors by bonking them on the head with a big yellow magic cheese.
As the story progresses, we reveal Medusa’s hitherto hidden desires, such as her wish to become immortal. (Unlike her two sisters, she’s mortal, and because of this her parents have always favored her sisters over her.) We show her vulnerabilities — her doomed crush on the godboy, Poseidon, for example, and her humiliation at a school dance. And we show her softer side — her kind treatment of her snakes, which she regards as pets, and her protectiveness toward a kindergarten buddy she ultimately rescues at great cost to herself. In short, we show the more admirable side of her that readers haven’t yet met. The part that makes readers want to root for her.
Our second book starring Medusa, Book 16: Medusa the Rich came out just days ago. This book centers on the King Midas myth. Medusa, who is always short of drachmas since her allowance is much smaller than what her sisters get, needs money to pay the fee to enter a comics contest. She is happy, therefore, to let King Midas transfer his golden touch to her when he regrets having asked for it. She’s easily able to keep her stone gaze in check by wearing “stoneglasses” that prevent her from accidentally turning mortals to stone, so how hard could it be to control a gold finger?  A glove should do the trick. And it does. At least at first. But then the unthinkable happens…which I won’t reveal here…and Medusa must rise from the depths of despair to face challenges that further develop her character.
Joan and I had lots of fun writing a second book starring Medusa. We hope readers will enjoy it as much as the first book. New releases in our other two co-authored series include Grimmtastic Girls #6: Goldilocks Breaks In  and Heroes in Training #9: Crius and the Night of Fright.

 

 

Want to enter a discounted half hour virtual visit and book giveaway contest?  The prize is a half-price ($60) Skype visit with me, plus autographed copies of Medusa the Mean and Medusa the Rich for your school library or classroom. Two winners will be chosen. To enter, just shoot me an email with “OAV contest” in the subject line. The contest will run from May 1–May 15, 2015.  U.S. and Canadian entries only. Winners can schedule a visit during either 2015 or 2016.

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Martha Brockenbrough, Author of the Month: A Favorite Kid Question = Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Kids love to know where stories come from, and they often ask authors where we get our ideas in visits.

I love this question. For one thing, ideas can come from anywhere, and it’s a lot of fun to show kids how stories can spring from their everyday lives. What’s more, it’s also fun to show kids how they can deliberately seek out stories using inspiration from art, music, pictures, and more.

My soon-to-be-published book, The Game of Love and Death, is one that came from both my own experience and from external inspiration. I was at one point stuck on a different book, and a friend sent me a vintage photo and told me to write a story about the people in it. I was amazed at what came out, and really came to like using the technique, which is one that can be adopted for classrooms. It works equally well for nonfiction and fiction, and also shows how research can be leveraged in storytelling.

The Game of Love and Death is set in 1937, a year when a government agency took a lot of photos of houses and businesses as part of an economic stimulus project. It was a lucky thing, and there are many, many ways to find images to serve any kind of writing project.

Here are a few pictures I looked at as I worked, trying to get a sense for the clothing and lighting and facial expressions and other details that revealed a bit about the time. They can also be mined for possible characters (although I had mine and didn’t need the help there).