One Book After Another: David and the Phoenix

The book David and the Phoenix by Edward Ormondroyd was first published in 1957 (I have an edition from 1958). It was sort of an accidental thrift store find for me, because I always scour the kids’ book section for obscure children’s fantasy books that I’ve never heard of before. It was the illustrated dust jacket, which features the main character, that attracted me to it: David standing on the beach with the Phoenix and a gentle-faced sea-monster asleep in the sand. I was instantly convinced that this tattered copy was worth the read. I later created a sculpture based on the cover illustration, but for some reason I can only find a couple work-in-progress shots:

the_phoenix_by_modastrid

Basically, the general premise of the story is that a young boy moves with his family to a new house and is instantly drawn to the mountain that looms just beyond the back fence. His longing for exploring the mountain is what leads him to encounter “the one and only, the Unique, Phoenix.” Rather than being a ferocious, mythological bird creature, the Phoenix is a highly educated and charmingly arrogant character. After being convinced to stay, and not fly away to South America in order to avoid the scientist that has been hot on his heels, the Phoenix becomes David’s friend and mentor. Together they plot how to turn the tables on the persistent scientist – who doesn’t just want to study the Phoenix but has plans to shoot him! It’s not until they purchase the most frightening wail from a former banshee (who turned to being a witch, because running a witch apothecary is where the money is at) that they succeed at derailing the scientist’s plans. If your weakness is unlikely friendships with lovable monsters, then this book’s beautiful ending might make you sniffle.

sea_monster_by_modastrid

Aside from the charming plot and illustrations, it was the conversations between the Phoenix and David that lent inspiration to my own writing. Here is where Ormondroyd’s writing truly shines. The Phoenix is an extremely witty character and is always imparting his wisdom on the impressionable young David in something close to a proper English accent. (When I read his lines, I always imagine a voice similar to Roddy McDowell’s). What the Phoenix feels is important and common knowledge always borders on the fantastic and amusing. While they are wildly different, the two characters, boy and bird, find kinship in their love for adventure and strawberry ice cream.

Go read it online through Project Gutenberg. Or, if you get lucky, you can purchase a copy at your local bookstore!

I’ll leave you with a favorite passage from the book. The Phoenix knows a thing or two about the other fantasy creatures:

“Gryffins,” explained the Phoenix, “are the small, reddish, friendly ones. Gryffons are the quick-tempered proud ones. Gryffens—ah, well, the most anyone can say for them is that they are harmless. They are very stupid.”

“I see,” said David doubtfully. “What do they look like?”

“Each looks like the others, my boy, except that some are bigger and some are smaller. But to continue: Sea Monsters, Leprechauns, Rocs, Gnomes, Elves, Basilisks, Nymphs—ah—and many others. All are of the Better Sort, since, as I have many times truly observed, one is known by the company one keeps. And your education will cost you nothing. Of course it would be agreeable if you could supply me with cookies from time to time.”

“As many as you want, Phoenix. Will we go to Africa?”

“Naturally, my boy. Your education will include—”

“And Egypt? And China? And Arabia?”

“Yes. Your education will—”

“Oh, Phoenix, Phoenix!” David jumped up and began to caper, while the Phoenix beamed. But suddenly he stopped.

“How are we going to travel, Phoenix?”

“I have wings, my boy.”

Advertisements

One Book After Another: The books that turned me into a writer (Starting with Mercer Mayer)

As I considered what to fill my blog with, it dawned on me that I could share with my blog readers the books that have influenced my development as a writer. As most writers will tell you, our passion to write usually began with an insatiable appetite for reading. The more books we consumed, the more stories began to form inside our own busy minds.

The obvious person for me to begin with talking about is Mercer Mayer. His work has had an impactful presence in my life from the time I was first learning to read. Just Go to Bed and I Was So Mad were Little Critter books that my parents fell back on whenever my brother and I wouldn’t go to bed or when we got into heated arguments over Legos. Characters like Little Critter and Little Monster were relatable and the books were always visually zany and entertaining. Mom would encourage us to take the time to look for the frogs and other quirky creatures always hidden within the main illustrations. There was another layer of story existing within each page.

While many of his books hold a special childhood memory for me, it’s been One Monster After Another and Professor Wormbog in Search for the Zipperump-a-Zoo that have most captivated my imagination. The beautiful illustrations throughout these books are the kind that you can stare at all day long; there are so many layers and different creatures, with all sorts of witty speech bubbles and hidden, inside jokes. The Trollusk and Little Laff are my favorites of all his monsters. I should also mention that, for some reason, Professor Wormbog was a stylistic influence on me as a child; his pith hat, long white mustache, and safari jacket were the epitome of cool.

prof1

How is this NOT the epitome of cool? He has his own monster zoo, even! 

As I was writing my own book, I was trying to ensure that my words were as vivid as Mayer’s illustrations are. When I described the setting, I wanted it too be made up of the same bold lines and dark colors I saw in the Trollusk’s forest from One Monster after Another. When I imagined what the bramble goblins looked like, I fused Mercer Mayer’s monsters with Brian Froud’s goblins. They would have to be varied and unexpected; a little frightening, but entirely charming.

b5bb07631b6beafd7352cd725240cb6a

Mercer Mayer’s stamp collecting Trollusk 

My Mercer Mayer book recommendations:

  • There’s a Nightmare in My Closet (1968)
  • A Special Trick (1970)
  • One Monster After Another (1974)
  • Professor Wormbog in Search for the Zipperump-A-Zoo (1976)
  • How the Trollusk Got His Hat (1979)
  • Just Go To Bed (1983 Little Critter book)

The Responses Begin to Pour in!

13920915_10153959888543883_7748769969482358697_n

The editing never ends! But the book really gets sharper and better with every re-write. Thanks to all of the readers who have already given such great feedback. So far, it feels like everyone who has read the book has given me different sorts of feedback. Some have focused more on characters, while others have focused on grammar, story flow, and the meaning beneath the surface of the story. I feel like I need to add a chapter just to thank everyone for being a part of the process. Annette would like me to mention that she is very much a part of the process too. She nips my toes when I’ve been writing for too long, and she does her best to provide me with plenty of mischievousness to write about.

The feedback I have been getting has been positive and extremely constructive. As people sent me their comments on the book, I bounced them off of my dashing editor (Mr. Bacavis) and we kept revising and improving the book. The result of all this feedback is that my book’s plot is getting stronger and its language more vivid.

What did readers want to see more of? Readers wanted to know more about how the characters looked and what their deeper motivations were. Best of all, the readers wanted to know what would happen next to their newly discovered friends: Lila, Annette, Wilden, and Pim. Having kid readers come back to me with eager questions and genuine concern for the characters let me know that something within the book was working.

Best compliment of all? A girl who isn’t a strong reader and shies away from books thought it was fun to read part of my book aloud with her mom. I could quit here and I’d be happy with that measure of success.

Some time after draft three…

I’ve revised my draft over the course of several months (three drafts so far), with the help of some awesome test readers and my ever-willing editor husband (well, willing to an extent. I think I did detect a slight groan the last time I mentioned we should do another edit, just in case we missed anything).

My book is almost formatted for printing, and we are just planning to do one more read-through before we get 8 test-reader paperback copies. It will be exciting to hold a physical copy of my book, but I’m not stopping there—I plan to see it traditionally published! These copies are intended for getting more valuable feedback, especially from kid readers.

Between revising dialogue and adding in some more character descriptions, I’ve also been sketching out ideas for the goblin characters in Beyond the Bramble: 

wilden2

Early on, I had contemplated doing my own illustrations but had changed my mind after reading an article about the creation of Yoda (see An interview on the topic of Yoda). There were so many different visionaries, artists, fabricators, and puppeteers that were involved in creating Yoda. This is why he was so dimensional and lifelike—he wasn’t just the figment of one artist’s mind. For my characters, I have already given each of them a voice, a name, and a general description. I wanted a brilliant illustrator to take it from there. Fortunately, I know an incredible illustrator who also appreciates the world of goblins and all things magical. But more on that later!

pimpage