Today we started off with a fun book-related game called “Bring Your Own Book.” Someone picks a card from a deck with a prompt, like “lyrics to a punk rock song,” or “name of a new sitcom.” Everyone then flips through the book they have with them to find a word, a phrase or sentence that they think fits that category. It was enjoyably absurd!
Then we returned to the camp room to meet our guest, J.A. White, author of the very spooky four-book series The Thickety. In addition to writing books, he’s a teacher! And a dad of three kids! When does he get time to write? Between 5:00 – 7:00 am every day, of course! Wow! Well, he always wanted to be a writer. As a kid, he wrote a lot during class, putting his classmates in his stories, and then passing the story around to get peer reviews from those same classmates. The reviews varied based on whether he had killed off any given reviewer in the story.
After writing one novel that disappeared into thin air when his computer died, and another one that bore too close a resemblance to a just-published Neil Gaiman book, he and a friend started making short movies. (You can see them on YouTube: “Misfortune Cookie,” “Duel at Red Table,” “Good vs. Wiivil.”) Before long, they started winning prizes. One movie, “Path,” became the basis for The Thickety.
We then settled down to another stimulating writing workshop, honing our skills of “showing” rather than “telling.” He encouraged us to be really specific. To practice, he gave us some very general words: “dog,” “school,” “car,” “monster,” and we had to find a way to describe that thing in a way that would make a reader unable to put down the book. The results were really remarkable: scary, poetic, atmospheric, and really really good. The final assignment was to take this sentence: “The students were really excited about the field trip, so they were loud and noisy,” and write it from the perspective of two different characters. In one version, a winged student and a horned student were on a field trip to see endangered dragons.
In the afternoon, we went on a field trip to see endangered dragons – no, seriously, we went to Radio City Music Hall for a tour. We chose this venue because of its relation to tomorrow’s book, Snow White: A Graphic Novel, in which the classic fairy tale has been transplanted to New York City in the 1920s, and the evil queen is a star of the Ziegfeld Follies. Today, the Rockettes and the spectacle of Radio City Music Hall is as close as we can get to the Follies of the early 20th C. What a tour we got! We were onstage, backstage, under the stage, in the hallways, the bathrooms (OMG! those bathrooms are like walking through a museum! Each one was designed by a different artist,) in the house, in the lounges, the private apartment of Mr. Roxy; we met a Rockette and got to ask her lots of questions.
A few fun facts: the huge hydraulic lifts that raise and lower sets onto the stage a) are original and so effective that they have never been updated; b) during World War II had to be guarded by US Navy personnel since they used the same technology as that used on aircraft carriers and the government feared enemy spies (disguised as mild-mannered audience members) might steal it; and c) the humps of the camels, who are part of the Christmas spectacular, are too high for the elevators, so they have their own dressing room on stage level. There was just one word for it all: amazing!
It’s hard to believe that tomorrow is the last day of this week! But we’re looking forward to meeting Matt Phelan, the author of Snow White: A Graphic Novel.