Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Incredible Hulk and pixie dust - Storytelling with superpowers

I am back to doing some recreational storytelling at the University School, while getting a million other things done. I had to recharge some storypower after all the work at a front desk... Fortunately enough the kids still remember me, and so did the teachers, so it was only a matter of walking through the doors and asking.

I got 4th and 5th grade this week, and decided to give a trial run to some of the superpower stories I have collected for my book. I had them list whatever powers came to their mind. It was a surprising list. At first, all the boys would yell "THE HULK!" without even thinking about it. I keep running into this. Try it once, it's fun: Ask any group of kids to list superheroes or superpowers, and the very first one they think of will not be Iron Man, or Superman, or even Batman. It will always be the Hulk. Go figure.
In 5th grade one of the boys had both his hands up in the air the moment I asked the question. When I pointed at him he yelled "PIXIE DUST!" (no comment). Other kids listed the usual suspects such as flying, invisibility etc. I noted that this 5th grade class was the very first to mention shape-shifting and animal speech, probably the most common powers in folklore.

4th grade got Finn MacCool and the Giants and the Tengu's Cloak. The former has a whole bunch of heroes with powers, and is also a lot of fun to tell, provided the storyteller is allowed to mention witches, giants, archery, and mild violence (*cough*notatthecommunitycenter*cough*). When Finn McCool thinks he has defeated the witch and lets his guard down, and the baby he was supposed to be protecting is kidnapped, the entire 4th grade class broke out into a slow and sarcastic clap, shaking their heads at the great hero's mistake. It cracked me up. Similarly, the tengu's tale of a trickster being punished for mischief sits well with young kids. They have all been there.

5th grade got the Princess of Tomboso, with the mean princess stealing magical objects from Jack, and then being punished for it. The magical objects were a roaring success, I could hear the kids discussing which one of the three they would choose if they had a choice. Every time Jack ran into the princess' trap (even the first time around!) everyone would yell "DON'T BELIEVE HER!" and then groan when he did. These kids have a healthy survival instinct built in...
They demanded a second story, with shape-shifting and animal speech, and lucky I had one to offer. The tale of the Gold-spinners is one of my favorite new stories that I researched for the book. This was the first time I got to watch the kids' reaction to the story of people having the ability to talk to animals. It was the coolest thing on the planet.

I shall continue touring with these stories. I am totally selfish. I love the reactions they get from the kids.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Reflections from A to Z - Maybe next time!

So, this was my second year in A to Z, and the first time I had a theme going.

Tons of fun, people.

If you are reading this because you wandered in through A to Z: Cheers!
If you are not: Give it a thought next year. Great motivation to keep a blog going. Or two. Or three.

I did not get through even a fraction of all the princesses I have encountered so far as a working storyteller. Maybe I'll write my next book on the topic. Tales of Superhuman Powers was last year's NaNoWriMo baby, so maybe A to Z will give birth to the next...

Anyhow. In the meantime I am thinking about resurrecting a blog I started last fall under the name StorySpotting, you can find it here. It's a blog for hunting traditional stories in modern media.

As a summary for A to Z this year, similar to last year, here is a little something about female characters who did not get mentioned this year, but I love'em anyway.

Aicha the Merchant's Daughter, Demon-Slayer and adveturer (Algeria) (included in the upcoming book)
Blossom, a poor girl who befriends a dragon fond of flowers (China)
Circe, descendant of the Sun, sorceress with a vengeance against men (Greece)

Dalila the Trickster, thief extraordinaire (Arabian Nights)
Eithne, faery maiden turned mortal nun (Ireland)
Flame, or Miss Flame, Anansi's one-time fiery lover (Ghana)
Green Princess, a lady who can make flowers bloom and forests grow from the ground (Hungary)
Hiiaka the Monster-hunter, little sister to the goddess Pele (Hawaii)
Ilona, Fairy Queen of Hungary, equal parts royal and petty (Hungary)
Joan of Arc (obviously) (France)

Katamari's wife, a fisherman's daughter who fights a dragon with a single knife (Japan)
Lynet, the brave maiden in Sir Gareth's legend (Arthurian)
Maledisant, the Sassy Lady in Sir Breunor's legend (Arthurian)
Nang Sida, the Thai version of the princess Sita, from the epic Ramayana (Thailand)

Ogomiebunmielayo, the daughter of the Sky God, whose name suitors have to guess (good luck!) (Ghana)
Princess Mouse, the princess with the silkiest coat and the shiniest eyes (Finland)
Queen Anait who taught her husband what hard work is, and it saved his life in the end (Armenia)
Rhodope, the ancient Greek version of Cinderella who happened to be a prostitute (Greece)

Sarolt, wife to Chief Geza, who drank and rode like men and once killed a guy with one punch (Hungary)
Three Strong Women, a tall tale that might not be Japanese but is awesome anyway (Japan)
Urdr, Verdandi and Skuld, the Norns (Nore mythology)

Violetta, the girl who runs a series of practical jokes on a prince and gets away with it (Italy, Pentamerone)
Wanda, warrior princess and then queen (Poland)
Xiangu the only woman in the group of the Eight Immortals (China)

Yhi th Sun, main character in the prettiest creation myth ever (Australia)
Zaynab, daughter of Dalila, thief and trickster of the best kind (Arabian Nights)

See you all next year!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Northlands Storytelling Conference 2013 - The North Remembers

It took me five years, but I finally mane my way back to one of the first storytelling conferences I have ever attended: Northlands. Famous for great locations, the friendliest people, and workshops and concerts until you have stories coming out your ears.

We did this year's gig Supernatural style: Cathy Jo and I drove up from Tennessee to Wisconsin (with a short stop in Chicago) mostly listening to classic rock and slaying some demons on the way. Well, Cathy drove. I  navigated, counted dead possums, and watched the land go completely flat, and the foliage disappearing back into late winter. It was fascinating.

Northlands this year took place is Lake Geneva. I am ashamed to admit that it took me almost a day to realize why the name was so familiar: We were in the sacred homeland of Dungeons and Dragons. It could have been a true pilgrimage, except there really was nothing to pilgrim to, but still, the fact was enough.

The two keynotes were Andy Offutt Irwin (everyone's favorite hyperactive trickster) and Syd Lieberman (everyone's favorite badass Papa Smurf). They are both delightful people and great storytellers, and we shamelessly pestered them for wisdom all through the weekend. Storytellers can have fangirls too!

We also participated in workshops (divided by breaks filled with delicious buffet meals). The highlight of the weekend was Janice Del Negro's intensive three hour adventure into the modern adaptations of fairy tales. Janice is a lot of fun as a presenter - very well informed, witty, and very often sarcastic. She is also well versed in all things geeky, which just made the discussion on TV shows and Hollywood mishaps all the more lovely.
Another very well done workshop was led by Barb Schutzgruber and Dorothy Cleveland. It was about the Heroine's Journey, but it did not drift off into feminism - we talked about how there are two kinds of journeys, external and internal, and both can be done by male or female heroes. It was a very educational and thought-provoking hour and a half.

The concerts and the fringes were very exciting, and took us on a ride from emotionally heavy and deep all the way to hilariously funny. One thing I observed, however, was that over the course of the two and a half days we only heard personal stories, with one or two original ones in the mix. After doing the workshop on the use, importance, and popularity of traditional tales, this struck me as strange.

Cathy Jo and I did our Fringe of steampunk stories on Friday night. We spent dinner wearing our costumes to drum up some publicity within the conference, and many interesting discussions ensued about the nature of steampunk. The show went well, we had fun, although it was hard to keep up a rival's grumpy face during each other's stories... But we still left several people furiously Googling what steampunk is. You are welcome.

I did my workshop on role-playing games for storytellers the next day. I had thirteen people, which was absolutely ideal. We talked about what role-playing is and why and how it can be useful for storytellers and educators. We brainstormed about campaign ideas based on traditional stories (some of the ideas were awesome, like the one where the party of sever dwarfs were guarding Snow White from harm). We brainstormed characters, and then I handed out situation cards that the groups had to solve, or try to solve.
I love role-playing with storytellers. They are highly creative.

And of course there were the evenings when storytellers could sit around sipping cocktails and eating peanuts, sharing anecdotes of their latest travels, laughing, goofing off, and generally having a good time. We are all traveling people; we do not gather like this very often, and we always cherish the moments we have.

Goodbye, Northlands, see you next year!