Mary Relindes Ellis is a Wisconsin native and author of the award-winning novel The Turtle Warrior, which is set in the rural north of our state.
The Chippewa River near my birthplace has always been part of my childhood animism in that it is a deeply spiritual place. Ashland County is the poorest county in Wisconsin but that poverty has ensured that the county’s spectacular beauty hasn’t been developed. One of the few beliefs I retain from my childhood Catholicism is that there is divinity in everything. I can’t, however, hold that belief towards skyscapers and such. But a river, particular the river of one’s birth, holds my soul. We are nothing without such places.
I’d like to think that Eleni Karaindrou’s Ulysses’ Gaze appeared in my albums of its own volition. A find during my graduate school years, when I struggled with my instincts over what my professors declared to be good writing. Literary fiction sprang from dark, terrible real-life things. No one likes to read happy endings, and for Christ’s sake, don’t write for kids. And, of course, the unspoken rules, the loudest of them being genre stories were a waste of time. So I was left trying to understand what “proper” story could be told in my voice, its confidence shattered.
The voices in Ulysses’ Gaze contend over the same melody throughout the album. The melody remains the same; it is the sound of that melody, so altered by the simple shift from viola to other instruments, that creates new emotion, be it longing, uncertainty, or malice. As the oboe, French horn, and others speak the melody to each other, I cannot help but imagine the four Pevensie children first entering Narnia together, unsure as to what they stumbled upon or what to do, the French horn voice of Aslan calling from afar.
The music encourages footsteps into the unknown, even if your characters cannot agree on how to go about it. It struck me that such a scene could help reveal important traits in my protagonists, who escape the plans of their scheming parents by fleeing into enemy territory. Once surrounded by stars and silence, they quietly argue over their plan, back and forth like Karaindrou’s variations of “Ulysses’ theme.” Their freedom is precious and sad. Yet hope is out there, echoing their words in the wilderness.
Perhaps your characters need some time in a quiet wood to debate their future. Give them Karaindrou, and watch your story step into the unknown.
Victoria Houston is author of the Loon Lake Mystery Series, a collection of murder mysteries based in Wisconsin, the author’s home state.
My husband Bo still revels in the moment he first introduced The Three Stooges to our daughter Blondie. All it takes is the butler to inform his rich masters that “I’ve hired three new plumbers, so everything’s going to be fine,” and the two are kicking up on the couch giggling like ninnies.
I have yet to revel in any such moment, and honestly, I’m getting pretty impatient. Baby Blondie latched onto the theme of Dragnet, one of Bo’s favorite shows. If you don’t know the song, it is approximately twenty seconds long and uses maybe six different notes. I had to sing that melody for the sake of quiet as we drove from Fargo to Bismarck to visit my parents. That drive lasts three hours. A twenty-second song. For three. Hours.
Wee Biff and Bash’s tastes demanded more sophisticated fare. Only “Bonanza” could get those babies to stop crying AND smile, even laugh the newborn laugh that spins the heart round and makes me dizzy and gooey all at once. Bo again.
“They’re never like this with any shows I liked when I was a kid.”
“Sorry, dear, but the theme to Murder, She Wrote just isn’t that catchy.”
“Is so!” I hum it. Nuthin’. “Okay. But they’re never like this with any music I like, either.”
Bo rolls his eyes as he bounces Biff and Bash on each knee. Blondie gallops around singing “Bonanza” notes at the top of her lungs. “The theme from Hunt for Red October is not exactly what I call bouncy.”
I take a crack at the melody, but Blondie drowns me out.
Blondie peers into the living room from the hallway. She refuses to let both eyes round the corner. “Mommy, what are you watching?”
I bend over and speak with all the eagerness of a Sesame Street Muppet. “It’s a story called The Hobbit. It’s about adventure and fighting an evil dragon and bad goblins and finding treasure!”
“Mom I don’t like this.” She keeps her voice as small as possible so I’m not allowed to stand up straight.
Biff and Bash run into the room from their naps. Bash takes one look at the 1970s animation and sits with his back to the screen to read about helicopters. Biff stands fully in the room, eyes set on the story.
“Mommy I don’t like this,” Blondie repeats and presses her face into my stomach. “Please turn it off.”
John Huston’s Gandalf has only just introduced himself.
“Just give it a chance, kiddo. It’s one of Mommy’s favorite stories when she was your size. Time for a song!”
The greatest adventure is what lies ahead
“Is it done yet?”
Bash puts down his book and watches the dwarves leave Hobbiton, then returns to helicopters. Biff remains silent and studious.
At the moment Biff is still unclaimed territory. Bash has taken his own path, obsessing over all things helicopter. Blondie enjoys a mix of fairies, ponies, trains, and Stooges. But Biff only notes these things politely before settling down to a book or a box of cars. His love for reading makes me hope that perhaps I can finally imprint my childhood loves on my own spawn. 1 out of 3 ain’t bad.
Blondie goes to her room and closes the door. Biff leaves the movie and comes by me. “Mommy!” His voice is a tiny version of Don Corleone’s. “What are you doing here?” I turn him back to the film. He leaves the room to find the car box. Bash follows with two helicopters. Thorin and Company’s adventure ends before they reach Rivendell.
I come upstairs from teaching online to rip-roarin’ laughter. Biff jumps and wobbles the toddler dance while his eyes remain locked onto the screen.
Just two good ol’ boys…never meanin’ no harm
Bash and Blondie are laughing so hard their voices cut in and out as the General Lee jumps yet again and somehow sends Roscoe P. Coltrane into one of Hazzard County’s many rivers with a bridge missing.
“Mommy, Mommy, look, Mommy! It’s the Zero One Car!” Biff hollers.
“Just two good ol’ boys…” Blondie laugh-sings and stops, not knowing the other words. Yet.
Bash laughs. “Weeehoo! Woah! Yahoo!” He nearly falls off the couch.
Bo gives me his happy smile. He’s won again.
“Dukes of Hazzard now?”
“Not just.” Bo holds up season one of Airwolf. Bash spots it before I even notice the “HELICOPTER!” on the case.
I resign myself to the rocking chair in the corner. Biff is officially claimed. All of them love what their father loves. Bo was so nervous when Blondie and the boys were born, scared to death he’d never relate to the kids. Now he’s found a way to connect, even if it is over old television shows. That should be a good thing. But this good thing was also a competition, undeclared and cut-throat. I’ve lost completely.
Bo knows my face. “JB Fletcher doesn’t do car chases.”
I smirk. “JB Fletcher’s life is plenty exciting with all sorts of coincidental intrigue thanks to her dozens of nieces and nephews and old school mates being set up for murder once a week.”
“Muuuurdeeer!” Biff picks up on the only word not good for a toddler to say in public and turns it into a car sound. “Look Mommy look!” He climbs onto my lap. “Mommy, I am soooooooooo proud of you.” And he pats me not-so-lightly on the cheeks. “Oooh, a hug.” And he leans against my chest, expecting his hug.
I hold Biff, once my last hope. I absently wipe the tears dripping from my eyes onto his hair and watch Blondie and Bash race down the hallway, grabbing each other from behind, pulling each other down, and then running up the hallway to start again. “Bash, Bash I’m Roscoe, and you’re those Duke boys! I’m going to get you!”
Bo turns off the television and hands me Oh the Thinks You Can Think. “You know, some of us didn’t have imagination when we were kids. All we had were car chases and middle-aged men performing slapstick.”
“That’s kinda sad, Bo.”
Bo plops Bash into my lap; Blondie balances on the armrest. I have to weave my arms through wriggling bodies in order to hold the book. “It is. But look at me now—a functioning member of society.”
“Uh huh. ‘You can think about red you can think about pink—’”
“You are adored. You know that, don’t you?”
I pause. Bo looks down at me. He is, for once, completely serious.
I finish the story. “Neeeew book!” Each child says in turn as they slide off the chair and plow each other over in a mad dash for the book shelf. Bash gives up and grabs some superheroes. “Hello, Superman. Hello, Batman,” Bash says in his best Super Friends narrator. “Wait for me, Batman!” He has different voices for each hero. Biff finds a book on trucks and rattles off nearly every letter on the page before going back to point at the words he knows. Blondie locates her Tinker Bell book and starts speaking for the fairies in the pictures. Just when I think they’ve given up on story time, each runs at me with a different book and hurls themselves onto my lap.
All three have kicked their blankets off. I walk into the dark and watch Bash’s fingers finally give way on his helicopter book. I move the tiny General Lee away from Biff’s ear. Blondie’s buried her head in ponies—heaven help the person who tries to move them. Each has found a thing on which to fixate their final waking moments of the day. Do their dreams ever revisit the music and worlds that I share? Or are they surrounded by wall or water, a secret to be discovered when their imaginations are ready to create magical realms of their own?
Blankets and kisses, I step out.
Bo waits until I close the door before whispering, “Be sure to ask Blondie about the running policeman tomorrow.”
“T.J. Hooker, baby.”
If anyone knows of a lovely storybook version of The Hobbit, please let me know. Please.
My love for Holmes and his London goes back into childhood. Little did I know Hans Zimmer had also settled into a corner of my music-world at that time through his involvement with Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and Muppet Treasure Island. Now his Sherlock Holmes score is integral in my writing for children.
When it comes to writing about trolls, I wanted to relay a sense of their industriousness and superior attitude. They are particularly proud of their city hidden away from the rest of the world, but a hidden city is no fun to live in when you are a child. My narrator is the pet human for a girl troll who insists on finding adventure in the least likely places. That is, I wanted the character to insist on adventures, but I had no clue how to get the girls into trouble. Originally I played the first half of the track “My Mind Rebels at Stagnation” over and over as I described the girls’ walk to their mutual schools. What better way to sneak in descriptions of the bustling city and the trolls’ day to day life? How…normal.
I felt like the boy in To Think I Saw it on Mulberry Street. Should the girls imagine an adventure? How would the readers know what is fact in this universe and what isn’t? Way too confusing so early in the story. Then I finally allowed the second half of “My Mind Rebels” to play out. The tone shifts completely here from the rhythmic gear-like sounds of strings to brass swelling with menace. I finally pictured a bully showdown. Too normal. A bully showdown involving a dare. Better. A bully showdown involving a dare with the monster guarding a magical troll bridge. Take that, Mulberry Street!
This picture was taken at my home in rural Wisconsin. I love this setting because spending time outside riding my horse is the best way I have found to clear my head. When I get stuck in my writing, sometimes the best thing I can do is step away for a while and spend some time outdoors. Fresh air and sunshine are often the best cure for a block, and the beautiful farmland surrounding us makes for a great place to think. And if I have a story line or plot twist I need to talk through, my horse is always willing to listen.
Adrianne Lemke is author of Earthshaker Series, a YA collection about a runaway capable of commanding the very earth to protect him. She lives near West Bend, WI.