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 FRESH FROM THE INKWELL 

V: VANDERGRIFF

How do authors come up with names for characters? Their own lives? The telephone directory? The sound of a name, or its meaning/connotation? All of the above?

Jandy’s favorite teacher at the International school in Iran got her last name from Vandergriff Park in Arlington, Texas. It had a special association for me. My SCBWI chapter held workshops and conferences in a building there, before we outgrew it. As with many of my own teachers, I don’t even know Miss Vandergriff’s first name! Presumably I gave her one. It must be in the bio sheet I drafted when I began to plot SECRET OT THE SEVENTH GATE. So I can look it up if needed.

Miss Vandergriff wears her hair In a French knot, paints her fingernails pearly pink, and wears a jasmine fragrance. That much I rememember. She may not appear physically in RIDDLE OF THE SAMOVAR. I’m not ruling it out, as most Americans have left Iran by 1979, or soon will. Maryam heard a rumor that she was engaged to an Iranian pilot, so she may choose to stay. But her influence over Jandy’s life continues.

Admiring her set for the Ali Baba show, Miss Vandergriff had pronounced her the “best little artist this side of the Dez River!” This gives Jandy confidence to pursue art when she returns to Hickory Bend. Might she become the "best little artist this side of the Red River"? Unable to fit art into her class schedule, she volunteers to paint scenery for a local production of Alice in Wonderland.

Jandy had also been in Miss Vandergriff's class for 8th grade English, but Maryam attended a separate class with students whose second language was English. For the lesson featured in SEVENTH GATE, Jandy created an Arabian Nights tale (number 1,002) while listening to Rimsky-Korsakov's "Sheherazade" - absorbing Persian and Russian culture at the same time.

A teacher's approach to life and work affects kids' lives in big and small ways, for better or for worse. His or her words are imprinted on minds and report cards for decades to come. Read More 

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Q: QUEEN OF HEARTS

After a 5th grade production of "Alice in Wonderland" thirty years ago, a parent thanked me for letting her shy daughter play the Queen of Hearts, because it had boosted her self-confidence. Sally's classmate Brian had relished the role of King. Both children were what you might call solidly built, making their presence felt like Pavarotti onstage. Then there was absent-minded Chester scurrying about with his watch on a chain as the White Rabbit, and Mad Hatter Michael pontificating at the tea party in a top hat, priced 10 shillings and sixpence. It would be interesting to know how much of it they remember now, in their forties, likely with kids of their own at the same school!

As I get to know my characters in the fictional town of Hickory Bend, I will enjoy drawing up a cast list for "Alice with a Texas twist" and watching the drama unfold, on and offstage. Cal wants to be the hookah-smoking caterpillar, but he and his cousin Luke might end up as Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Costumes made by Sue Graham and other moms will offer possibilities for mistaken identity, or notes hidden in pockets, clues to the Riddle of the Samovar.

Let the show begin!  Read More 
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