Sunday, July 12, 2009

Thief of Time, or, Why I Idolize Terry Pratchett and Why I Am Unlikely to Write a Time Paradox Novel

It never fails. I crack open a new Terry Pratchett novel, and before I've turned page one I'm writhing on the floor (figuratively, at my age), groaning, "I'm not worthy! I'm not worthy!" I'm scorpion-zapped by the knowledge that I'm in the company of one so vastly my superior, in wit, wisdom, and wordplay, that it's almost enough to make me hang up my word processor. But here ecstasy and torture overlap, and I happily plow onward. Someday I may need to write an essay, for my own education, on all that Terry Pratchett does so well, but that sounds suspciously like an Auditor thing to do.

But back to my unworthiness. The first Pratchett novel I read that was not written for children was Wyrd Sisters, and before I'd gotten five pages in I ran for my college paperback of Macbeth, not wanting to be deprived of a single allusion. Thus Pratchett is both delicious and nutritious. I don't know if all his novels are a direct parody of a cultural touchstone, or not. Thief of Time, as near as I can tell, wreaks happy havoc upon snips of the book of Revelation. Any attempt at plot summary would be futile. I'm going to need to read it again myself. Time paradox stories always make my eyes glaze over. Sooner or later, every fantasy series inevitably wanders into that sand trap and loses its credibility somewhat thereby. Do they ever work? I would scarcely know. I'm in it for the yarn. Smoke and mirrors don't bother me much, unless the failure is so obvious, so lame, so hastily contrived by Hollywood committee, that even a metaphysical dumbhead like me can spot it plain as the zit on your nose. Oh, but I'm dithering off topic. The thesis of this post is that Terry Pratchett makes me swoon, and snort out loud with glee, and those are two things I like a man to make me do. I mean, a book. If there are any time wrinkles in Thief of Time, Pratchett greases his machinery so well with yak butter-whimsy that it doesn't matter anyway. All roads lead to Ankh-Morpork, The Death of Rats and Quoth the Raven are never far away, Nanny Ogg has a cameo and Igor gets featured billing, the Schoolteacher from Hell finds a soulmate, War finds relief from intermittent flatulence, much weight is attached to a bottle of strawberry yogurt, the murderous properties of chocolate creams are laid bare, and proper stress is laid upon Rule One: "Do not act incautiously when confronting a little bald wrinkly smiling man!"

Good rule, Rule One. But if you've never read a Discworld novel, Rule One for you is, Do So.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Princess Bride's Perfections

Our family watched The Princess Bride tonight. It was the first time any of our boys had seen it, the first time I'd seen it in probably twelve years. We'd purchased the Blu-Ray disc from a bargain bin, and the quality was fantastic. I loved seeing how much my boys enjoyed it. The Fred Savage & grandpa dynamic was perfect for them.
As I watched, I was struck by all the elements that were so successfully packed into this story. I confess, I haven't read the book, but using the movie as a source, I jotted down a list of The Princess Bride's assets, just as Westley would have liked. Character types. Plot devices. Props. Motivations. Defining qualities. Here's my brain dump. I'd love to hear any additions I missed.
Romance, right off the bat
Thrown within minutes into huge problems: Westley dead, Buttercup betrothed to froglike prince, and wham, she’s kidnapped.
Pastoral beauty, magnificent geologic variety, creating evocative settings
- opening farmland
- festive city settings
- eel-infested waters
- Cliffs of Insanity
- mountains, ravine
- Fire Swamp
- Thieves Forest
- Royal castle w/ chapel, dining hall, kitchens, honeymoon chamber, corridors

Impossible or improbable settings: fire traps, sand pits, sheer cliffs
Florin & Gilder, rival kingdoms
An artificial plot to start a war
Attempted murder
Chases, rescues
Impossible feats of strength
A flaming holocaust cloak
Contest of wits, daring
Long-brewing revenge
An evil prince
A sinister advisor
A pirate with a pen-name
A giant
An alcoholic swordsman
An egotistical mercenary
A mutant with a recognizable mark: the six-fingered man
A beautiful princess (least interesting part, oddly, titular character and focus of exciting male activity)
A senile king
An underworld descent where hero must die: The Pit of Despair
Hidden entries (into the pit)
A resentful miracle worker and his nagging crone wife
Other hideous crone: the “Boo” lady who castigates Buttercup
An albino stooge
Mad science: Count Rogin doubles as evil advisor and evil Faustian/Nazi sicko scientist/inventor
Freak monsters (Rodents of Unusual Size, Shrieking Eels)
Storming a castle
Blocking a wedding
Reviving a dead man
Miraculously locating “the man in black”
Miracle cure via chocolate coated pill
Dead, and yet …

For each character, a defining attribute

Buttercup: brainless beauty
Westley: indestructible confidence
Inigo Montoya: passionate sense of honor
Vezzini: unscrupulous greed, ego
Fezzik: unflappable, benign
Humperdinck: arrogance
Rogin: perverse sadism, sycophant
Miracle Max: wisecracking
Wife: calls it like she sees it

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Thoughts on THE ILIAD

Tonight I finished listening to THE ILIAD of Homer on audiobook. First I listened to a great audio course from The Teaching Company, taught by Elizabeth Vandiver, on The Iliad, then I listened to the poem itself. So the Trojan War has occupied my commute and my walks for weeks now. I wish I was studying the poem in a classroom setting and could discuss it with other interested students. For a poem purportedly written some 2800 years ago about events thought to take place 3400 years ago, so much of it feels startlingly contemporary. To put myself in a place where I could appreciate it best, I tried in my limited way to set aside whatever cultural biases were incongruous with Homer's (if there was a Homer. I know.) and let myself be led by the values manifest in the text. I tried to understand Achilles as a hero and as a wrathful figure, whose first wrath was for bruised honor and whose later wrath was caused by inconsolable grief. I wondered why he remained heroic, though his inaction cost the Greeks so much. I tried to see his actions through the lens of a different code of ethics, one valuing devotion to a panoply of gods at war with each other; one where Fate could be blamed for all things; one prizing retribution and conquest. I tried to understand the motivation for the war. Was it really Helen? All the jargon from the Greeks in the beginning about avenging her cries of pain when she was raped by Paris don't seem to gel at all with the relationship between Helen and Paris. In the Odyssey she refers to herself as a whore for her adulterous union with him. So which was it? Does it matter? Was it about woman as property? Or was that simply a justification for land and wealth conquest? The scope of the war was baffling -- so much time, so much cost, so much death. How does any of it make sense?

Things I loved: the sumptuous language. The richness of metaphor. The gruesomeness of battle details. The vividly memorable and wholly human characters. The many moments of deep pathos. Laugh out loud moment: Zeuss's praise for Hera's sex appeal. Unforgettable images: Achilles' battle yell in the ditch with a cap of fire, his chasing Hector around the city, his battle with the river. Priam's grief, Hector's valor, Patroclus's courage, Aegamemnon's waffling, Hecuba's pleading, Odysseus's arrogance, Hera's cunning, Athene's ruthlessness. The starkness of specific details which carry the ring of truth. The deep complexity of Achilles -- a contemplative musician, a devoted friend, an arrogant boaster, an invincible warrior, a citizen of his community and an exception to the rules of community, a servant of the gods and an impious slaughterer, one who honors and desecrates, one unable to forgive, yet one who fully forgives and empathizes.

American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang

I realize I may be the last person on the planet to read American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, but even so, here I am posting my thoughts.

Superior storytelling on countless levels, including but certainly not only the graphical. Skillful and convincing weaving of comedy, legend, satire, and contemporary school story. A sophisticated and unsentimental look at race, culture, and identity, and, simultaneously, an impressively candid tribute to the author's faith. Funny and poignant and painful, a hopeful, many-layered narrative, and a watertight comic. Strongly recommended for approximately grades 7 and up.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

A reverent tribute to The Jungle Book which moved me as much for its devotion to the beloved classic as for its affection for its characters. There's a boundless, ungovernable quality to the universe Gaiman conjures. It combines life, afterlife, other realms, and ancient legend, and while I imagine this aspect of the novel could incur criticism, it felt appropriate to me. Gaiman's universe is as brooding, savage, and ungovernable as Kipling's jungle. A novel filled with deep compassion; strongly praised and recommended. Reading The Jungle Book first is encouraged.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Gargoyle's week in review

The week in review, in no special order:

1. Happily gobbled The Last Olympian. It was just what I needed. Now I'm onto Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book. I may be the last kidlit person in America who hasn't read it.

2. Got the downstairs squalor (I'm not kidding) cleaned, mopped, dusted, scrubbed, disinfected, baked a cake, shopped for baloonscandlesfavorschipsdipveggiesfruitgoodiebagsicecreametc and threw a 5-year old birthday party, start to finish, all in eight hours. The only thing I didn't get done before the guests arrived: shower. The first guest arrived, wrinkled his nose, and said, "This house stinks!" Grr.

3. Saw Star Trek. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Time travel logic flaws don't bother me much because I never even bother trying to figure them out. Terrific casting, juicy effects, and huzzah for the new James T. Kirk! I never expected someone could make his character so appealing. But what's with Ohura and Spock??? "I'm so sorry. What do you need?" (Breathless smooches.) Spare me! And I'm wondering if I'd have more allure if my skin was green. Still, great Saturday night movie fun.

4. Thanks to my dear friend Gladys, discovered these articles in Deseret News. A review of The Amaranth Enchantment, and an interview I'd done earlier this spring.

5. Had a wonderful author visit at a Boston elementary school, which I will blog more about later as soon as I get the pictures.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Chosen One, The Last Olympian

This picture is courtesy of Willow Books in Acton, MA, my nearest indie bookstore. This is the New Releases shelf. The Amaranth Enchantment sits right next to The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams, which made me wriggly with happy joy. Carol is my dear, dear friend from the Cliffhangers class group at the Vermont College of the Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. We met there in July of 2006, when I was just starting the project that would eventually become Amaranth, and she was working on a draft of her polygamy project. She's been a lifeline of friendship, encouragement, and support throughout my writing journey. When we first met, she told me, "You will publish, and you should think about Bloomsbury." I read The Chosen One this week, and I was unfit for human consumption until I'd finished it. Most strongly recommended. Needed blood pressure medication afterward. I could hear her voice on every page. Her courage, talent, and kindness are boundless. Award committees, take notice!
Oh, and by the way, Amaranth also sits next to The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan. He's an okay guy, too. :) Heard him speak last week at the Wellesley Booksmith event. A star, perfectly at ease and natural in front of ~800 middle schoolers and their parents. Thanks, Rick, for giving us Percy Jackson! And thanks, Bob @ Willow Books, for humoring a lunatic local author and snapping this picture on your cell phone.
PS -- I'm kidding about the blood pressure meds.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A huge thank you to the Fusion Group, and to the Orchard House

To the members of the Fusion Group who made me feel so welcome Friday night at The School of Philosophy, many thanks, and blessings on you. I enjoyed our evening together tremendously. I was so honored by both the invitation and your warm reception. I'm so thrilled that so many people were so eager to hear my thoughts "in defense of fantasy." Also, thank you for the generous gift certificate. Phil and I trotted right out Friday Night to Cast Iron Kitchen and celebrated your generosity. Yum!

A few things:

1. Several people have asked me for copies of the speech. It will take me a little time to clean it up and edit it properly (finish the bibliography, remove any incriminating details about people who might sue me, etc.). When I do, I would love to send anyone who was present a copy. Here's the hitch: I'll need to mail it to you. I don't want to put the speech online in any kind of electronic format, since that will squash any potential for me to give a version of this address again to another group. But if you'll email me your name and postal address, I will put a copy in the mail to you within a couple of weeks. Send it to julie at julieberrybooks dot com.

2. The books I talked about during and after my presentation were:

A Door Near Here by Heather Quarles, The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams (just out), Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Pope, Beauty by Robin McKinley, and Skellig by David Almond. A Door Near Here is the book I read from. When it's announced, within the next year, that The Chosen One has won gobs of awards, remember that I told you so. :)

3. If anyone took photos that came out at all, please send them to me and I'll post them here.

4. Can I join Fusion? I love what you're about!

Thanks again for such a rewarding evening. Please, keep in touch.

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young, er, Man?

The miracle of Facebook has brought me this incriminating flash from my past (courtesy Laura Berry Cooke, no relation despite the name. I'll get you back, dearie.). This is me at, oh, thirteen or so, at a summer Girls' Camp near Buffalo, NY. Note the jaunty thrust of the chin, the cool, haughty sneer from underneath the mascara'd eyebrow. I ooze machismo, if an Anglo-Saxon like me possibly can. I made a hot Latin as a thirteen year old girl.
People were always telling me how much I looked like my brother, a hot ticket himself. I never saw it then, but I see it now.
This is the author as a child, thinking her deep, inspired, creative, authory thoughts. Like how many frogs might crawl into her underpants if she jumped into the pond at camp.
(And incidentally, I really enjoyed Joyce's Portrait Of ... . Does that make me weird? Then again, with photo evidence like this, does that point need further establishment?)

Monday, May 11, 2009

"In Defense of Wonderland" speech, 5/15 at Louisa May Alcott house

I'll be speaking this Friday, May 15, at 7 p.m. at the School of Philosophy at the Orchard House, 399 Lexington Road, Concord, MA (Louisa May Alcott's home). My subject is, "In Defense of Wonderland (and how one frazzled mother clawed her way in)." I'll discuss children's fantasy, its relevance and significance to me, the importance of creativity, and the imperative for humility. All in 45 minutes or so! Books will be available for purchase and signing. This is sponsored by The Fusion Group ( and is open to the public. RSVP is appreciated, though, for seating purposes. Contact me at for more information.

A pox upon me!

I intended, when The Amaranth Enchantment released, to chronicle the adventures of a first-time author on this blog. But it's been Swampsville! Nutty crazy travel, book events, and lots of crazy fun. It's been a two-month whirlwind. So I'm going to gradually attempt to fill in the blanks and turn over a new blogger leaf.

Book travels have taken me to Massachusetts, Utah, New York, and New Hampshire. I've presented to thousands of school children, hundreds of library and bookstore patrons, answered dozens of letters and emails and interview requests. I had no idea that this was what happened when a gal sets out to write stories. Much as the housework and yardwork and minutae of life are flagging, I love love love meeting readers. So it's all good.

Here's a happy-making review I saw today on

More to come! Incidentally, the photo is courtesy of

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The countdown: one month till release day

The Amaranth Enchantment hits the stores one month from today -- and a short month at that. Four weeks precisely, and not a penny more. That means I have only twenty-eight days to accomplish all the items on my "Authors Oughtta" list.

Authors Oughtta, if they're me,

1. Get a haircut, get some decent clothes, get to the gym now and again, and, in general, try to look more like the girl on the cover of my book.

2. Reread the book so I'll have coherent answers to questions people ask me about it.

3. Stock up on breathmints so I don't fumigate any would-be customers.

4. Practice writing my name over and over in a firm, decisive, legible hand, chock-full of personality, and above all, spelled correctly.

5. Order a backup stash of books, so that when I do misspell my name in someone's newly-purchased copy, I can make good.

6. Memorize the list of people I need to thank, including the book store owner, the publisher, the agent, the editor, the book designer, the Founding Fathers, my second-grade teacher, and especially, don't forget this one, my husband.

If you're anywhere near one of the book events I'll be doing this spring, stop by and tell me how well I did on my Authors Oughtta list. And just in case, please, bring me a breath mint.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Dream Incarnate

The book arrived yesterday. Mr. U.P.S. and I pulled up to my driveway at the same serendipitous moment, and I had to wait until he'd dropped his offering on my porch and driven off before I could pull in. I wasn't expecting a package, but packages have a way of showing up unannounced these days.

It was my book. Shiny jacket, hard red cover, and pages of beautifully formatted story that I'd written.

In hallucinations I'd imagined this would be an ecsatatic moment, where I'd weep, suck in an enraptured breath, and, in an instant, all my life's woes and inadequacies would be swallowed up and disintegrate. Voila! Fulfillment and bliss. There's my name on a book.

It was nothing like that. More of a "Hm. Whaddya know."

This dream, like most, unfolded in so many gradual stages, there were dozens of incremental steps toward it. Before I saw the book, I saw the cover. Before the cover, the final art. Before the final art, the mockup. Before the cover, the formatted pages, in several rounds. Before that, manuscript after manuscript. The contract. Draft upon draft upon draft. The agent, the pitch. It wasn't one moment of explosive creation, a Big Bang Birth of Julie Berry's dreams. I arrived there before I knew it, and the transformation, if there was one, was quiet.

I still have all my weird hangups. I double-checked. They're alive and kicking.

The pleasure, I discover, comes not from realizing the hope of holding my book in my hands, but from the hope that someday, you will hold it in yours.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Welcome to The Book Gargoyle, blogger home of Julie Berry, children's book author

Welcome to The Book Gargoyle, the official blog of Julie Berry, children's book author. My debut novel, The Amaranth Enchantment, releases March 3, 2009 from Bloomsbury Children's Books, with much fanfare and frivolity -- at least in the Berry home.
In the meantime, meet Priscilla, the gargoyle for whom this blog is named. She's the one with the book.

She's illustrated by my inimitable sister, Sally Faye. She lives on a bookmark, of which I've just ordered a squijillion copies, and as soon as I get my P.O. box figured out, anyone in the universe may have one for the asking -- autographed, even! -- if they'll send me a S.A.S.E. (That's a self-addressed stamped envelope, for anyone who's forgotten what stamps are for...)