Sunday, March 4, 2018

Girl Power

JANICE:  Girl power is nothing new. Way back in 1703 Antonio Vivaldi was teaching girls in a Venetian orphanage to play every musical instrument, including the bassoon. The girls' orchestra became famous all over Europe. You can read about Vivaldi and these girls, who were ahead of their time, in this book.

Since they were orphans, many of the girls had no last names, so they were given the name of the instrument each one played, such as Catarina of the Viola or Bettina of the Bassoon. Here they are.

Tom's illustrations are true to Venice. We made several research trips and stayed in a palazzo in the square where Antonio grew up. Tom took photos, sketched, and did some plein air painting.
Kirkus Reviews said: "Giving even Canaletto a run for his money, the illustrator sets expressive, natural-looking figures against golden-toned backdrops of 17th-century Venice's rich interiors, splendid vistas, opulent churches and serene canals . . . (A) fetching introduction to one of the great masters of the Baroque era."

By the time we finished this book I had fallen in love with Vivaldi and these orphan girls, so I wrote another book about one of them, Anna Maria.

Her father made a violin for her before he died. When she plays it, she hears his voice. At the orphanage she quickly becomes Vivaldi's favorite student, making Paolina, one of the other girls, jealous. One night she steals Anna Maria's violin and throws it into a canal. Can Anna Maria ever get it back? Read this book and find out.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Love and Loss

JANICE:  There is a price to pay for great love, and that is great loss. My soulmate, my husband, my book partner, and the father of our two sons, Karl and Daniel, passed away last Christmas. Tom and I were like one and now I am one-half. The only respite comes from the love of my family, close friends, and my work.
Our Home
Tom gave his artistic talent, his strength, his humor, his gentle manliness to our sons. They say he was their first and best teacher. He also left a legacy of his award winning architectural designs - churches, libraries, schools, and homes, including ours. And he left illustrated children's books and watercolor paintings of scenes from all over the world. Thus he achieved immortality.

Bethany United Methodist Church
On the Edge: Santorini

Illustration from  I, Vivaldi
We met in Aspen, Colorado, during the Christmas holidays of 1953. After our courtship and marriage we set out on a yearlong trip around the world. Along the way Tom sketched and painted what he saw.

Jaipur, India
Tom always made birthday cards for me, all of which I have saved. Here is one of his most recent, and it breaks my heart.

 Inside he wrote:

Dear Janice,
Queen of my life!
May I forever sit beside you!

Yes, Tom, you will forever sit beside me.

I know Tom wants me to go on writing books for children and young adults, and I'm doing so for both him and me. The current work in progress is a historical novel set in ancient Egypt, called I, Nefertiti. I never write about a place I have not seen and experienced. My second trip there was with Tom. In the presence of the pyramids we stood and marveled at their sheer size that dwarfs the humans flocking around, and at the ingenuity of their builders. As Tom said, "I feel privileged to stand here. The reality is worth a thousand pictures."

I feel privileged to love this man. The reality is worth a thousand teardrops.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Why Not Historical Fiction?

JANICE:  There are writers who can create fantasy and contemporary fiction but I am not one of them. As for fantasy, I don't read it so how can I write it? Contemporary fiction is beyond my abilities because I don't understand the present! My passion is reading and writing historical fiction. I love to bring the past alive. So much research of the past exists in libraries, online, and onsite that helps me understand the times and gives me ideas for story.

The problem is that historical fiction is not as popular today as fantasy and contemporary fiction. There is little market for the genre so publishers are not publishing it. My question is why? Is historical fiction not a form of fantasy? It brings the past alive with characters that a young reader can relate to? What better way to learn history than through a well-researched novel like the following:

Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes, about a young apprentice silversmith during the American revolution who becomes involved with the Sons of Liberty.

The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare, that tells of a young Israeli boy who revolts against the Roman occupation.

Wolf by the Ears by Ann Rinaldi, the story of an unacknowledged daughter of Thomas Jefferson and his house slave, Sally Hemings.

Cleopatra's Moon by Vicky Alvear Shecter, the story of Cleopatra's daughter who is taken to Rome when Egypt is conquered.

Comanche Song by Janice Shefelman, that tells about the clash between the Comanches and the Texans from the viewpoint of the son of a Comanche peace chief.

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff, the story of a young Roman centurion in Britain whose cause is to discover what happened to his father's Ninth Legion when they marched north and never returned.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

A Moment of Grief

JANICE: Recently I did an author visit with fourth graders to talk about  A Paradise Called Texas, the story of my German ancestors' immigration to Texas in 1845, which they had all read. Afterward the teacher told me that one of her students had just lost his father and took great comfort in reading how life went on for Mina, the main character, after her mother died.
Cover art by Karl Shefelman
Later I received a letter from that student. Here, in part, is what he wrote:

Dear  Frau Shefelman,
I want to be a poet. Did you start out as a poet?
Have you ever had a moment of grief in your life? I have.

I was stunned. A moment of grief?! I have always been amazed at how young readers relish the sad parts of books. But now I understand that they are practicing life by reading about others. That is why children's literature is so important. We all need practice. So I wrote back:

Dear Marshal,
No, I did not start out as a poet, but that could be your way. And
yes, I have had a moment of grief. No one escapes such a moment. It is what makes us thoughtful human beings and even poets.
Your book friend,
Janice Shefelman

Looking back on my other books I see that many of my characters have had a moment of grief. In Anna Maria's Gift, her father dies, leaving a violin he made for her that seems to hold his voice. When she loses the violin, it is as if she loses her father again.

Cover art by Robert Papp

Cover art by Tom Shefelman
In Young Wolf and Spirit Horse, his beloved mare is stolen and Young Wolf's grief sends him off on a quest.

In Sophie's War, her father must join up to fight in the Civil War. When she learns of a massacre on the Nueces River, she fears that he is dead and makes a dangerous journey to find his body.

Cover art by Tom Shefelman

Cover art by Tom Shefelman
And finally in Comanche Song, Tsena's father, the peace chief, is killed in the Council House Massacre along with many others. Tsena joins his tribe in seeking revenge.

Never underestimate the depth of thought of which children are capable.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Every Author's Dream

JANICE: Here is Hazel who is ten years old and a "great reader," according to her grandmother who keeps her supplied with books, including two of mine. She is also being a good model for her cousin, Athena (a name to live up to).
Hazel is the kind of reader every author dreams of - intent and absorbed in the story. Look closely and you can see she is reading Anna Maria's Gift, my latest chapter book. Notice how lovingly she holds it. She even looks like the girl on the cover. Hopefully as she reads, Hazel will become Anna Maria.
Behind her on the couch is another book, Sophie's War, a historical novel set in Comfort, Texas, during the Civil War.
Thank you for being a great reader, Hazel. Now I can go back to work on a first draft of I, Nefertiti with renewed vigor.
My author-reader story is quite different from an experience Sinclair Lewis had after publishing Main Street back in the 1920s. He was crossing the Atlantic on the Queen Elizabeth for a vacation in Europe. As he strolled the deck, Lewis spied a woman sitting in a deck chair, reading his latest book. Excitedly he hid behind a post to watch her reaction. Suddenly she slammed it shut, stepped over to the rail, and tossed it into the ocean! Every author's nightmare.
As for Hazel, not only is she a reader, she wants to be a writer. And she doesn't just want to be, she is a writer. This summer she is attending a summer writing camp and already submitting her work for publication!
Next comes acceptance or rejection. Acceptance is glorious, but rejection can be good, too. To find out how, read my blog, "Good and Bad Rejections," posted on June 27, 2010.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Cheetah Named Halima

JANICE:  Meet Halima, my new writing partner. I needed a model for a character in my historical novel-in-progress and found Halima at our Whole Foods store. She was sitting on a top shelf, watching everyone that passed by. I stopped. "It's Halima!" I said to Tom.  "And it's your birthday," he said. She leaped down, with the help of an employee, and into our grocery cart. As we wheeled her across the parking lot, Halima attracted a lot of attention and photos.  Now she sits beside me at my desk.

She may not be alive but she is a real presence, with her keen golden eyes. Bringing her alive is my job. Her ears perk when I talk to her, and I can hear her loud purr as I stroke her soft furry head and neck. Sometimes she chirps to call me to my desk. If I don't come she growls. Look at the black "tear marks" that run from the corners of her eyes down the sides of her nose to her mouth. These marks keep sunlight out of her eyes so she can see long distances when she hunts. Halima can run up to 75 miles an hour for a short time to catch her prey. Otherwise, she is content to sit by my side and watch.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Esprit d'Escalier

JANICE:  French for Wit from the Staircase: Meaning, as you leave the party in a friend's apartment and start downstairs, you think of the perfect answer to someone's remark, too late to say it. Which is one reason I write books. It gives me time to think of what my characters need to say.

I remember working on A MARE FOR YOUNG WOLF at our dining room table (before I had a real studio). Young Wolf has just been thrown off his horse in front of two other boys. What does he say or do? He's angry and humiliated. Maybe he curses, I thought. But what words? Suddenly they came. "Oh, buffalo chips!" I had a good laugh. As did my editor at Random House, Mallory Loehr, and her colleagues.

At the end of A PEDDLER'S DREAM when Solomon, a peddler, finally realizes his dream of having an elegant store of his own, he and his beloved Marie host an opening party. When the musicians begin to play, Solomon takes Marie's hand and asks if she will dance with an old peddler whose dream has come true.

What meaningful words could she say? What was this story about? I asked myself. It's about a dream, making a dream come true. I put myself in her place, looked up at Solomon's expectant face, and my answer came. "A peddler with a dream is more than a peddler."

They danced and so did we.

Solomon and Marie
Janice and Tom

Now for COMANCHE SONG, my historical novel set in the Hill Country of Texas in 1840. This is the story of  a Comanche boy, son and grandson of peace chiefs. 

We are in a council meeting where the tribal leaders are discussing how to deal with white man's invasion. After the peace chief has proposed establishing a line between them and making peace, the war chief says, "The tejanos will stop at no such line. The only way to show them the land is ours is to kill any man who steps upon it!"

It is Grandfather who replies: "We have a saying among our people that the brave die young. But I say, the wise grow old." The corner of his mouth twitched, and he paused. "When the young stop listening to the elders, they run blindly like buffalo and follow one another over the cliff to die."

I love it.

And finally some words from SOPHIE'S WAR, another historical novel set in the Hill Country, this one during the Civil War.  Sophie is the daughter of German immigrants, many of whom were Unionists in a state that had seceded from the Union. They were called traitors and persecuted by Confederate ruffians who burned their cabins and hanged their men. Sophie's father is an editorial cartoonist who expresses his Unionist views and thus is in danger. Sophie must find a way to save her family.

She comes home from school one day and finds Papa at work on a cartoon about the death of Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston in a battle with Unionists. Boldly she grabs the cartoon from his drawing board and tears it in two, saying he can't send it to the newspaper. 

"I'm afraid the Vigilance Committee will come after you."
Papa laid down his pen and stood. "I have been patient with your fears, Sophie, but this is going too far." He reached out his hand. "Now, give it back"
I shook my head.

What can Papa say? He brought his family to Texas so they would be free to speak their minds. After pondering, I thought of his reply. And it involved William Tell.

"Sophie, do you want to let the Vigilance Committee rule the world? If so, go ahead, tear the cartoon into a thousand little pieces, and I'll cower at their feet. Is that what you want - a coward for a father?"
I shook my head. Oh, what did I want?
"Do you think I'm not afraid too?" Papa asked.
"I don't know, Papa. Aren't you like William Tell?"
"I try to be, but he was afraid when he was forced to shoot an apple from his son's head. Remember how his arm trembled?"
"I remember."
"But he did what he had to do. And I will do no less, even if I have to draw the cartoon again. In times like these we all have to do what we are afraid to do."

He did and so did Sophie.