Week 1 of the Thalia Book Club Camp 2011 started off with a fun morning on the Symphony Space stage, with some games to help us get to know everyone’s names. We talked about our favorite books — which include Harry Potter, the Pendragon series, Matilda, Kiki Strike, The Hunger Games , the Alchemist series, Breadwinner, the Maximum Ride series, the Box Car Children series, Eragon, The Penderwicks, The Golden Compass, A Mango Shaped Space, The Phantom Tollbooth, and The Giver. We gathered in mini book groups to discuss our thoughts about the books of the week.
When we got back to the camp studio, we talked a little about the week’s activiites, then we headed out to Riverside Park for lunch and a good, if brief, game of Capture the Flag. We also learned how to play the detective game, Mafia.
After lunch, the highlight of the day was our visit from Adam Gidwitz, author of A Tale Dark and Grimm. Adam talked about the roots of fairy tales, about the Grimm Brothers who wrote in Germany 200 years ago. Adam brought a collection containing hundreds of Grimm’s tales, which he told us are very dark and scary and bloody. We weren’t surprised to learn that the word for ‘grim” in German is the same as the English word — so the Grimm Brothers seemed to have found their true calling! Adam told us that the original of the Cinderella story is much darker than the one most of us know. He told us that some of his Grimm tale adaptations are very faithful to the originals and some are very different. He looked for the strangest and bloodiest Grimm tales he could find to adapt. One of the stories in his book is based on a tale he just heard a tiny but vivid and wonderful description of — “the hero drinks in a stream and turns into a wild beast.” He loved that snippet and wanted to imagine an entire story with that scene. He also explained that his style of writing is to give just enough detail but not too much — so that the reader can flesh out and imagine the characters and scenes him or herself.
Adam told us that as a boy growing up in Baltimore, he loved to tell himself stories and was constantly inventing them to entertain himself — these were the beginning of his becoming a writer. He told us about his next book, also a fairy tale book, based on Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen tales. It took him a year and a half to write A Tale Dark and Grimm and then another year for the publishing process and it will take as long for the new one, which will be called In a Glass Grimly.
Adam described for us his writing day: He makes toast and tea, puts on his slippers, does one hour of writing and then lies down on the couch and stares at the ceiling. When his wife gets home from work, there he is on the couch, staring — and creating his stories in his head!
Next we learned from Adam his secrets for plotting out a story: He explained how he structures his stories. He begins by coming up with the characters — he emphasized that having just one or two heroes of your story is best. Every story must have the following: A set-up, a Catalyst, the New World, New Challenges, The Biggest Problem, All is Lost, Big Idea, The Climax and finally, the Aftermath. We all talked through these parts of a story, using Harry Potter and other books we all knew as examples. We agreed that most books have these elements/develop in this way. Adam gave us a worksheet to work up examples of our own for stories we might write later in the week. We shared some of our story ideas with the group.
Finally, Adam held us rapt, as he read us the beginning of the gruesome Grimm tale, The Juniper Tree, and then Adam, a mesmerizing storyteller, told us the rest of the story in his own words.
Before heading out into the rain, Adam signed our books, we took a group photo and we got our camp t-shirts.
See you tomorrow!!