Post-Career Old(er) Guy Finding His Way as a Full-Time (Publishable) Writer Describes the Process of Retelling Greek Folktales

dsafThere’s no way I would have come close to retelling or writing culturally authentic Greek folk- and fairy tales without the guidance of Soula Mitakidou, my Greek colleague, who led me through the inner sanctum of Greek culture. As we searched through hundreds of tales, looking for ones that attracted us and held promise for readers in the English-speaking world, we often sat at the same desk or computer in Thessaloniki, Greece, with Soula interpreting the tales we were translating into English, providing cultural contexts for them, showing how they expressed past and present cultural values and beliefs, and demonstrating how traditions still to this day serve as bonds uniting the Greek people.

You need a few examples of the cultural characteristics I took hold of once Soula and I were deep into the process of working through a batch of tales, don’t you? Take “Mirsina,” a tale in our anthology of twenty stories, Folktales from Greece: A Treasury of Delights (Linworth/Libraries Unlimited). “Mirsina” is a good example of a supernatural tale that is both universal in its themes and specific to its culture. In this story, the personification of the sun demonstrates a distinctive feature of Greek folktales, namely, the use of celestial elements to assist a character encountering life’s predicaments. What I learned from Soula is that the close relationship between mortals and celestial bodies in Greek tales can be explained by the fascinating folk belief that every individual is assigned a star that accompanied him or her throughout life. A person’s life begins and ends at this star, which means that every individual is guaranteed a preordained origin and a destination. You meet up with celestial characters that come to the aid of the young protagonist in our most recent picture book, The Orphan: A Cinderella Story from Greece (schwartz & wade/Random House).

Ah, here’s another distinct characteristic of Greek tales I learned along the way. It’s this: The harmonious blend of the ancient and the contemporary, the secular and the religious. For instance, the reference to the number forty in several stories in our anthology, namely, “Anthousa, Xanthousa, Chrisomalousa,” “The Crab,” and “Brother and Sister,” can be tied to the Biblical story of Noah or Christ’s test in the desert for forty days and nights. In contemporary Greece, it is customary for folks to fast for forty days before Christmas and Easter, and families take their newborns to church to be blessed forty days after they are born.

A similar element that is a remnant of ancient tradition is the reference to a loved one as “my soul,” which, in the anthology, appears in “The Axe and Yannis,” and “The Goat Girl.” This, I discovered, is a very common expression in everyday conversations in contemporary Greece and can be traced to the ancient story of Cupid and Psyche, the literary form of which first appeared in The Golden Ass by Lucius Apuleius in the second century, C. E. Today, Cupid, representing love, and Psyche, representing the soul —as they did in ancient times— still symbolize everlasting love —yes, indeed, as can be seen by the numerous images of the couple that appear, for instance, in Valentine’s Day paraphernalia.

Okay, so there you have a few cultural elements that keep the cultural integrity of Greek tales intact. And now you see that anytime you or I, the foreigner, come across tales you love in a culture not your own, then the telling/writing of these tales begins with the challenge of vigorously navigating your way into the beliefs, rituals, ceremonies, that is, the ancient and contemporary contexts, that make that culture tick.

What more is there to say about the process of translating raw folk narratives into acceptable stories that make sense? Stay tuned …

Today’s writing prompt: Weave a tale that begins, “Once upon a bygone time, there lived a king and his three sons, and all three wanted …”

Sony Vegas vs. Adobe Suite

The Musings of an Award-Winning Author's Apprentice | Katya Szewczuk (Shove . Chuck)

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone. What am I doing today instead of watching ‘The Notebook’ on Lifetime? I’m finally uploading Dr. Anthony L. Manna’s finished promotional Book Trailer to Youtube and organizing my next videography/animation projects for my portfolio.

This is the first Book Trailer Dr. Manna and I worked on together and to be perfectly honest it wasn’t all that easy. I might have a long history with Sony Vegas Pro 12 and all of its Plugins such as New Blue FX, but editing illustrations is much harder than putting together a montage for a wedding or tribute to your favorite television characters. For years I’ve been studying Videography and animation so the technicalities were easy for me to master, but choosing which scenes to use from the book with Dr. Manna was the biggest challenge of all.

For years I have been using Sony Vegas for projects such as…

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Post-Career Old(er) Guy Finding His Way as a Full-Time (Publishable) Writer Explains How He Happened to Become a Folklore Author

dsaf

As a writer, I’ve been working in folk- and fairy tale mode for quite a few years now. Tales from Greek traditions. How did I get there, and why am I staying there for the interim?

Well, as it happened I was working in a Greek university in the mid-1990s and that assignment led me into a Greek kindergarten in the university’s child development center. I was welcomed into that room by two talented teachers who granted me a carte blanche to carry on a research project among those perky kids, my intention being to explore their literacy development, which is to say, how they grow into using language to learn how to navigate their experiences and come to make sense of the world, themselves, and others, given the “proper” conditions, of course. Lo and behold, when it came to daily story time in that room, the foreign guy with very limited Greek language skill over there—namely, me— joined joyful teacher-led sessions that brought to life gorgeously-illustrated picture books and traditional songs and dances that got all of us singing and line-dancing around the room! Now during those story times —with my language skills improving— I would sometimes find myself following the tried-and-true plot of a dramatic Greek myth. I heard Zeus, Demester, Atlas, Helios, Athena, Artemis, Icarus, and I witnessed their exploits and shenanigans.

But then, at other story sessions, I’m being welcomed into a fascinating story world filled with distressed virgins, belching giants, rival stepmothers, charming princes, confused brothers, liberated sisters, wise and witty daughters, wretched goblins, mysterious talking spirits, celestial beings visiting earthlings, animated cauldrons, powerful witches, and ghastly ghosts, and, of course, the promise of living happily ever after or at least somewhat better. What are they reading? I ask. Our folk and fairy tales, I’m told.

Well, let me tell you something I know for sure. Survey children’s and teens’ lit in the U S of A and you’ll find all sorts of Greek myths in all sorts of formats, from picture books to heavy-duty collections, but look for Greek folk- and fairy tales and you’ll find a wasteland. And thus began the Greek folklore project with my Greek colleague, Professor Soula Mitakidou, our intention being pure and maybe not quite so simple, given the competitive nature of the publishing world: to bring Greek folk- and fairy tales to children and teens here at home (even though folk materials of any kind were never invented to kindle only the imagination of kids).

And so, off we gladly go into the public domain, searching through folklore archives, collections, internet sites, and the like for these deceptively simple, wise, often brutally violent tales, these magical, mysterious, spellbinding, supernatural, often bizarre and absurd stories filled to the brim with human struggle, survival, betrayal, trickery, hope, enduring love (as in the “happily ever after” brand) and, oh, of course, given the human need for comic relief, there is a huge offering of humorous tales showcasing foolish characters in zany predicaments.

We gather tales that particularly attract us and hold promise for young readers, as well. And then what happens? Stay tuned … the work begins.

Today’s writing prompt: Weave a brief story around this Swahili proverb: “Charity is a matter of the heart, not the pocket.”

Post-Career Old(er) Guy Finding His Way as a Full-Time (Publishable) Writer

To all old(er) seniors who have dreamt about becoming a writer, who find themselves saying about this or that recurring memory or current experience, “I really should write that down,” listen up!

I’m a retired professor gaining years like some folks seem to gain weight by merely eyeing a bowl of delectable steaming pasta, and one of the ways I’m staying alive is by writing and sometimes publishing stories for kids and ‘tweens’. If I can do it, you can too, but you’ve got to believe in yourself and conquer any of those internal voices that tell you, “You ain’t got no talent”.

Those other voices that would have you believe, “You’re either born with the writer’s special talents, or your not.” How do I know those voices demand attention? ‘Cause they haunt me—and as it turns out—many other writers I hear about, listen to, read about, meet. And what’s the remedy? Ah, simple: WRITE. Five, ten, fifteen minutes a day…twenty a week…thirty a month. Write about what? Name it. Your dog. Cat. First love of years ago. Your legacy. Your kids—both easy and difficult. Who cares if it ever is seen by anyone else, but wouldn’t it be grand if you eventually—inevitably—decided to become the vulnerable writer, going public…in a writer’s/reader’s group, in a blog (more about that later), with a friend.

Now, here’s what I’m finding: The more I write and look at each piece carefully and honestly, the more confident I am growing, and what my published stories tell me: I may be getting better. You write because you need to, have to, because you believe that the Word can help the writer in you see yourself and your life and others better, maybe even with more compassion. And if you pass the writing on to another, then you pass on the hope and means of having them see their lives better, with much more understanding. Know what I mean?


Today’s writing prompt: From one of your photo albums or a collection of photos, choose one that catches your eye. After you look at the photo for a few minutes, write for 5 to 10 minutes or more about the feelings and memories the photo brings up in you. Don’t censor. Just write.