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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ode to the Frozen North: a guest post from Jessica Day George

~*~* guest post *~*~
~*~*~* by *~*~*~
~*~*~ Jessica Day George~*~*~

Ode to the Frozen North

I love Norway.  I love the fjords and the mountains, the sea and the forests.  I love the music, and the history, and the magnificent folk tales about trolls and princesses and clever youngest sons who go off to seek their fortune.  This is unusual because my family are indeed of sturdy Viking stock . . . directly from Copenhagen.  Yet somehow it was Norway that always appealed to me.
I had decided to be a writer when I was eleven years old, mostly to avoid becoming a bitter elementary school teacher, like Mrs. Edgeley, the bane of my fifth grade existence.  As the Norway mania descended on me in my teens, I also decided I would go to Norway, and write books set there.  But where to begin? My parents not going along with the exchange student plan, I endlessly perused guide books, histories, and novels, and decided it would be best to pre-plot the books I would one day write, and fill in the details after I had actually been there.  Perhaps, I decided after some deliberation, I would start with my favorite fairy tale of all time, East o’ the Sun, West o’ the Moon, that strange, purely Norwegian mixture of Beauty and the Beast and the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche.  No sooner had I decided this than I stumbled upon P. J. Lynch’s magnificently illustrated version of the story, featuring an auburn-haired beauty looking for her lost love in terrifying northern lands, surrounded by gruesome trolls and wizened hags.  I found this picture book to be so wrenchingly lovely, so rich in color and detail, that I vowed that I would work doubly hard to bring the story to life with words, in hopes of coming even marginally close to Lynch’s version.
Inspired, I studied Norwegian and German fairy tales in college, and took four years of Norwegian.  I took Old Norse, and learned to translate the sagas and journals of my Viking ancestors.  I studied the history and art of Scandinavia, and saved scraps of paper and old notebooks on which I scrawled notes about this future book.  Other books that I had planned to set in Norway were cast aside.  This would be the Big One.  It would be THE Norway Book.
And then it came time to actually write it.  I was a college graduate with a minor in Scandinavian Studies.  I had a book (Dragon Slippers) being published by Bloomsbury, and the editor wanted to see what else I had.  I had written six other fantasy novels, but none of them were good enough for my editor, I decided.  It was time to write The Norway Book.
I have never been so tense.  I paced the floor in between each paragraph.  Friends, family, housekeeping and personal hygiene flew out of the window, and copious amounts of licorice of all colors were consumed.  
But it was all worth it.  I lived in that palace of ice.  I could taste it, like rotting meat beneath a thin veneer of frost.  I could feel the cool slick carvings with my hands.   I could smell the polar bear’s fur, and Rollo the wolf’s.  I heard the winter wind howling outside the window of the woodcutter’s hut, and knew what it would feel like knifing through a crack in the thin walls.  I went and cleaned my contacts, convinced that there was grit in them, when the West Wind blew the Lass as far as he could go.  I felt myself growing faint as I described the Lass being carried by the North Wind, and had to rest my head on the table next to my laptop.  I emailed my Old Norse professor some questions, and then plunged on without waiting for an answer, there was such a sense of urgency as I wrote.  I had to get the story out, had to get it right on the first try or . . .
What?  I don’t know.  Perhaps the trolls would have come and taken my firstborn if I hadn’t gotten it right.  All I know was that I wrote faster and faster, moved by the power of all my years of preparation, until at last my tale was ended, and I flopped in my chair like a damp rag.  I sent it to my editor, she suggested some changes, some of which I took, most of them small, things that had nagged at me as well.  But to other, bigger changes, I simply said,
This is my Norway Book.  It begins in the dark and the cold, travels the world around, and comes home to golden sunshine.  It’s as old as the hills, as new as I could make it, and it is finished.  
At last.

Jessica Day George is the author of a number of middle grade and YA books, including Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, one of my all-time favorite fairy tale retellings.

She has graciously agreed to be a part of the upcoming Fairy Tale Fortnight event, where I will be discussing 2 of her other books, Princess of the Midnight Ball and Princess of Glass.
I'm going to be interviewing Jessica, so if you have any questions for her, please leave them in the comments.
And make sure you check back during Fairy Tale Fortnight for all the great goings-on [spoiler: there will be a JDG giveaway!]
Until then, you can catch her at http://www.jessicadaygeorge.com/
Also, make sure to check out my "ice world" excerpt of Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow!

1 comment:

  1. Oh my goodness!! This was an absolutely wonderful post! Jessica, if you are reading this, I think that this book is as amazing as all your preparation suggested it should be. It is one of my all time favorite fairy tale retellings! Wonderful!


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