Percy Jackson and the Process of Writing

I finished reading the latest Percy Jackson novel, The Son of Neptune, and enjoyed myself very much. I’ve always loved adventurous and fantastical novels. As a kid I read and reread all the Greek Mythology stories I could find. I loved Demeter’s search for her stolen daughter, Psyche’s flight on the cloud down to Cupid’s palace, her betrayal of Cupid and later quest to find him again, the story of Theseus overcoming the minotaur in the maze, and Hercules and his twelve labors. The stories caught my imagination, and I cried for Icarus when he died, laughed at Midas’ donkey ears, and felt appalled by Hera throwing her son off of Olympus.

Rick Riordan loosely weaves the myths into Percy’s adventures, creating challenges, directing quests and adding little touches of silly humor. Somehow, though I know my mind is being manipulated into following the stories by Riordan’s intricate storytelling skills, still I find myself enthralled by unrolling events. Quite simply, the novels are fun and exciting. I admire Riordan for managing to produce a book complete with action and charm on what appears to be a yearly rate.

The movie image of Percy standing on top of a building, drawing a tsunami of water up from the water tanks to attack his friend-turned-enemy Luke comes to my mind. I wonder, does Riordan draw the novel from his imagination the same way Percy can influence water, knowing ahead of time exactly where he wishes each drop, or word, to fall?

My own process of writing is somewhat more arduous and less fierce: more like moving a teaspoon of water one at a time from one tank to another, dropping some, wiping away others, returning some back. And perhaps because of the way I work, the task of writing the novel is a never-ending one. I can always add a little more, subtract a little more, or keep something for a later novel.

At the end of each Percy Jackson novel, Riordan always leaves something unfinished, yet another prophecy that needs to be fulfilled, the promise of yet another expedition. Like my writing, Percy’s adventures are a never-ending succession of quests: more monsters to fight, giants to vanquish, gods to subdue, friends to support. Black and white, all of it, good and evil. But that, perhaps, is a beginning for another post.

Playing the Violin Vicariously

My son started playing the violin last May. I felt nervous about it. The violin appeared to me a bewildering instrument requiring great hand dexterity and supreme hearing. I couldn’t quite understand why Uri chose it. I wished he’d pick something simpler, better suited for quick rewards and success.

Turns out Uri is very good at playing the violin. He has been progressing steadily, grasping new notes and concepts swiftly, and even better, he enjoys practicing and is conscientious about it.

I enjoy sitting through Uri’s violin lessons and listening to the teacher’s directions, praise and corrections. At home, when Uri practices, I sit at the piano as he stands over my shoulder with his violin poised. I help him make sure he plays the notes accurately. Surprisingly, the source of turning his practice time and the lessons into a mommy-and-me effort came from Amy Chua, the Tiger Mom.

In contrast to Amy Chua’s arduous practices with her daughter, we only play for fifteen minutes at a time at home. We even get up if we want a snack, water, or to go to the bathroom. What I learned from Ms. Chua was having faith in my son and his abilities, and the importance of giving due attention to his projects and providing him with the encouragement necessary for him to succeed. By sitting with him, I let him know that his playing the violin is more important to me than washing dishes, folding laundry, or cooking. I give him support in his efforts to master this complex instrument, and I give him another incentive to practice — after all, how often do we get to spend one-on-one time just the two of us?

As an added bonus, I’m learning a lot vicariously through him. I’m learning to trust Uri that he knows what’s best for him and what he can do, and that the stars are the limit when he wants something and is willing to put in the effort, even if it’s difficult and requires a longer time commitment to do.

And maybe, as a result, I’ll be a bit better myself in the wanting-instant-gratification space. Maybe I’ll learn to invest the time and the effort to gain the rewards I seek. Like in my writing, for example, or this blog, or painting, or singing. After all, the stars are the limit for me too.

Birthday Gifts: Can I Give My Kids the Moon?

I’ve always loved birthdays.  When my brother, sister and I were kids, my mother used to prepare a table near our beds with some candy and a gift or two on our birthday. I loved waking up to this surprise table. I loved the family birthday parties with my grandmother dancing with me, the flower circlet my mother made for my hair, the decorated chair on which I was lifted once more than my age. I loved my mother’s cakes and the little cream cheese sandwiches which she decorated with colorful veggies.

When I became a mother, my love of birthdays changed focus to the kids. After the kids go to sleep the night before their birthdays, I decorate the house with paper chains and birthday signs, bake a cake, wrap gifts, bag candies, and set everything on our kitchen table. I prepare gifts for both kids, even though my son’s birthday is in October and my daughter’s is in May.

I do the same for them on my birthday. As a divorced mother, I made a decision not to expect the kids to buy me gifts or plan a party. The kids were (and still possibly are) too young to do anything except make me a card. I keep those cards in my closet and consider them more precious than any gift could be.

But sometimes I wonder what I’m teaching them by my dramatic and selfless birthday overtures. I know by now they expect this table of goods, but do they appreciate what they get? Do they realize that it takes a special effort to prepare all this for them? Does it teach them to be generous with others, to do something to make another happy, or do they only learn entitlement from it?

Then I ask myself, does it matter what they learn, and, most importantly, am I doing this for them, for what they can learn, or for me?

A Holiday of Freedom

I live in a bubble. I don’t read newspapers or watch the news. I tend to avoid any mention of unpleasantness in the world, even walking away if people start a conversation about world tragedies near me. But though I live in a bubble, somewhere in my consciousness, for the past five-and-a-half years, there was always the knowledge that Gilad Shalit was in the hands of Hamas and not yet returned home.

I found out about the agreement to return Gilad home on facebook. One of my friends wrote, “the holiday has become a Holiday of Freedom.” Another wrote her best wishes to Gilad and his family. Many others wrote about their happiness that a deal has come through.

My curiosity awake, I looked on Ynet to see what was going on. For the first time in a year and a half, I read, Gilad’s family are re-entering their home. For the past year and a half they have been living in a tent outside the government building in Jerusalem, letting the world know they are not giving up until Gilad is home.

And now he’s coming home. Gilad, I wish you health, happiness and hope. I wish you the ability to look forward instead of back. I wish you wings to soar over the publicity and find peace.

And to all of us, have a wonderful, wonderful holiday of Freedom! Hag Herut Sameach!

About My Princess

An agent asked me once how the main character of my book came to be. Princess Anna Mara came to me as I was sitting outside the high school in Ra’anana, Israel, waiting for my friends to come out of class. I wrote to entertain myself while I waited to hear from my parents that we are moving from South Africa, where we’d lived for the past ten months, to the United states. I was in blank space — in between schools, countries, homes — and into that blank space came words.

Anna Mara grew since then. She began as a princess with barely a name, screaming as she was kidnapped in a flying car over New York. Over the years she metamorphosed into a multi-dimensional though papery human being with opinions as to what I should write and how I should write it. Slowly but surely she became a heroine. I can feel her in the world, breathing, growing, getting ready to blaze out on any adventure which might come her way.

Blogging and Frog and Toad

I’ve been wanting to write a blog for a long time, but the idea scared me. I normally don’t see myself as a very consistent person, and the thought of committing to write something on a daily basis seemed pretty much impossible.

In fact, in the grand scheme of things, and out of my great love to Arnold Lobel’s books, I have always considered myself more of a Toad personality than a Frog. Will power has never been one of my strong points (I’ll always prefer to go home and bake a cake), I’m very picky about the size and shape of my buttons, and though I might put a lot of effort into a garden (including singing and talking to the plants), it would be a one-time concerted effort rather than an on-going project for life.

I can see Frog blogging on a daily basis, writing about his philosophical and wise exploration of life. But would Toad have a blog? And what would he blog about? Cake recipes? Disasters with ice cream? Embarrassing encounters of the bathing suit kind?

Well, either way I have taken the plunge. This Toad is going to have a blog, a blog about the books I read and about my writing. I’m still trying to determine whether it’s a good platform to complain about the dogs or the amount of homework I need to do with the kids. And maybe, once in a while, if I bake something exceptionally good, I’ll put the recipe up here for you, or maybe just a photograph. I don’t know.

Sigal Tzoore (650) 815-5109