Thursday, April 7, 2011

A View from Marianne Herring's Window - THE IMAGINATION STATION SERIES from Focus on the Family!

What a pleasure to have Marianne Herring visiting with me today to discuss Tyndale's latest time travel series The Imagination Station! Attack in the Arena and Voyage with the Vikings are the first two books in this terrific series, and I know you will be fascinated to learn about the inspiration and work that went into its creation!

Please, help me welcome Marianne Herring to my Window!

What was the inspiration for this series? Why did you choose to start with the Vikings?

Paul McCusker wanted to write some books based on the Imagination Station from Adventures in Odyssey. I wanted to write exciting books at an easier reading level for struggling readers. At the time he proposed the series, our children were in second grade, which is the target audience.

I started with the Vikings because I knew the story of Leif and wanted kids to know that he was not only a brave explorer, but also a Christian who went counter culture to a Thor worshiping crowd. I chose it for the theme and because I thought boys would read about Vikings.

How much research was required for this series?

I went overboard on the Vikings and the book Voyage with the Vikings. I’d say around 200 hours. I called people in the Greenland museum and read dozens of books. I waded through all the original stories about Leif Ericsson and his bringing the gospel from Norway. I’d start writing and then need a fact that wasn’t readily available and had to read a lot more. The Vikings on Greenland at that time didn’t use runes at the time, so there was no written material of theirs to go on. But don’t tell my boss I spent that much time, please!

For the Rome book,I got a lot more efficient. That book, Attack at the Arena, was based on an Adventures in Odyssey script written by Jim Ware. The research on the Colosseum was easier because the scholarship is better documented.

The third book, Peril in the Palace is more typical of what the series will be like. I found the materials on Marco Polo and Kublai Khan readily enough. The material available about the Mongol shamans was sketchy, and so that part is more fiction than historical.

Why do you think ancient history offers relevant lessons for young readers today?

Technology may change, but these are really stories about the human heart and condition. They are relevant lessons because kids can relate to people who have problems and challenges.

Was your portrayal of the spiritual conflict between Eric the Red and his son, Leif Erickson based on historical fact or did it represent general conflict between early Christians and pagans of the time?

It was based on the legends. The Norse stories tell two different version of Eric’s life. In one, he’d dead before Leif returns with the gospel. In the second, Eric is resistant to the gospel and thinks it’s for wimps. He eventually comes around through the efforts of his wife. That’s the version I chose to use as the basis for the book.

Again – fact or fiction – how accurate was your portrayal of the ending of the Roman arena and its bloody history?

Paul’s and my ending was a lot tamer. Telemachus was probably killed by the gladiators; that‘s what Foxes Book of Martyrs and The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire record. I thought that having Telemachus die in the arena was too violent and heartbreaking for the age group. We touched on the other possible endings in the wrap up with Whit, though.

Are we ever going to find out why the Imagination Station will only work for Beth and Patrick? Why Mr. Whitaker’s ring is not always visible? Who the stranger is that appears at the end of the Attack in the Arena?


What is the most important message you want to convey to young readers who choose to enjoy your series?

God works through history.

Why do you think time travel appeals to young readers? Is it your intent to help them learn that a good book can take them anywhere they want to go?

Time travel appeals to young readers and older readers. I write books that interest me. Most kids like history in school. It’s story-based and therefore reaches them intellectually and emotionally—a great learning combination.

While I am committed to books as a storytelling medium, I think all storytelling should not only entertain but also communicate truth. One of the taglines for this series is “The key to adventure lies within your imagination.” I’d like kids to read these books and have their imaginations revved up so that they become the next generation of storytellers.

What has been your most interesting historical fact to surface so far in the creation of this series?

While researching the Mongols, I was awed and grossed out to learn that Mongol warriors drank horses’ blood to survive while crossing the Gobi desert. They slashed open a vein in the animals’ legs and carefully drank only enough blood to survive, and then patched up the horse’s wound. I can’t get that thought out of my mind.

In the Viking book, I thought it was charming that Leif Erickson had a pet polar bear. Neither of those facts made it into the books, but if you go to the Web page The, my notes about the research of each book are posted. I mention those and other obscure facts online.

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