I was lucky enough to interview the witty, award-winning Canadian author, Richard Scrimger. Versatile, he writes for small children, middle grade, young adult, and adult categories. My current favorite is his YA novel Zomboy, in which a new student turns out to be undead, and unwanted, by unenlightened members of his community. Zomboy provokes thought but still delivers suspense and laughs. It has been nominated for a Red Maple award by the Ontario Library Association.
This year I am running a Silver Birch book club and a Red Maple book club. I’m looking forward to what my grade seven and eight club members have to say about Zomboy.
Are you a traditionally published author, looking to open up new markets? Do you have an idea for a book that would make good serial fiction? This interview with Linda Poitevin is partly about writing, partly about marketing, but mostly about how Wattpad can help you find new fans.
Since doing this interview in December 2014, many things have changed for me. I have completed my first Wattpad novel, Feeding Frenzy, which went on to be featured and then win a Watty award. Unlike Poitevin’s novel, mine is going to be independently published after its world debut on Wattpad but I did benefit from her advice. One of her biggest suggestions was to post regularly and following this tip my story went to #11 in Mystery/Thriller. I’m certain it never would have done so well if I hadn’t been disciplined about posting every week.
Wattpad works for Linda Poitevin
Wattpad is a fast-growing platform for reading free serial fiction. I interviewed dark urban fantasy and contemporary romance author, Linda Poitevin about using Wattpad to reach a wider audience. She has a lovely personality and a good grip on the business of writing. It’s clear that she and her fans enjoy falling in love with her romantic lead characters, but there are takeaways here for all kinds of writers.
Art versus Commerce?
I recently checked out Linda’s Twitter page @lindapoitevin with its new tagline: Evocative Romance/Unexpected Evil. It’s a good way to express the different genres she writes in. I think this is a challenge many creative people face. How do you write your truth, or write the stories you would most want to read, without confusing potential readers? When I sit down to write, I never know if I’m going to come up with a poetic serial killer story or a play, or a quirky kid’s book. It probably comes from working as a teacher-librarian. Where once I was almost a literary snob in my twenties (a hazard of doing an M.A. in comparative literature), now I read a lot of kid’s books, Y.A., and genre fiction of all kinds. None of this will make my writing easy to market or clear a straight path to a writing career, but I’ve never needed writing to pay the bills. Working full time allows me to indulge in art for art’s sake, for which I am grateful.
That said, I am still fascinated by the business of writing and the breakout indie authors. Success stories like The Martian or Wool, come easily to mind. While I honestly think few writers get into this business for the money, writing is only rewarding with an audience. Let’s hope that Poitevin’s insights and encouraging experiences will help you find an audience for your work on Wattpad and beyond.
If you are looking for content that is actionable and focused on converting Wattpad readers to book buyers, Poitevin’s advice is as relevant as ever.
I Wish My Teacher Knew, the non-fiction online book I made to collect first-person stories about education and creativity, has received over 1050 reads on Wattpad. This is exciting because the more people read it, the more will contribute. The hope is that these stories will inform Creative Teacher Librarian with fresh ideas for renewing education. Find out more about it by clicking on the story below. Drop me a line if you have a story of your own to add. It would be great to hear from you.
Creative Writing Update
As of October 31, the new serial novel, Feeding Frenzy, is underway. Over a hundred readers have perused the first three chapters. As it grows, the hope is many more people will read it. Serial fiction is a great motivator and antidote for writers’ block. Since making a promise to update weekly, there is real pressure to follow through. Last week I posted chapters on Wednesday and Friday. Reader comments have been encouraging. Writing Feeding Frenzy is a nostalgia rush too, as it forces me to reflect on my first year of university, although mythical Loon Lake University is nothing like my alma mater, University of Toronto. If you like fiction with a little humour, mystery and paranormal suspense, this one may be for you.
The Wattpad experience has been stimulating in a lot of ways. I attended a second Toronto meetup at the Wattpad offices in October, which resulted in a new Halloween Story compilation. This platform makes it easy to engage online with writers and readers in their late teens and twenties. Who better to discuss creativity and new ideas in fiction?
My schedule for http://sfcontario.ca/ has firmed up. If you are in Toronto next weekend, and you are interested in speculative fiction, attending a convention is worth doing. I’m moderating three discussion panels and I’ll be running a flash fiction contest, open to attendees. If you are at the convention, be sure to say hello. Here is my schedule:
Reviews and Critiques – Saturday 11 AM
Tricorders in the Classroom – Saturday 12PM
Flash Fiction Slam – Saturday 7PM
Sherlock vs Elementary – Sunday 1pm
In case you are wondering what a Flash Fiction Slam is, I admit I made it up. The idea is to have writers perform their own 500-1000 word stories, and have the audience choose the winners. In a traditional poetry slam, a couple of volunteers are chosen from the crowd who give each slammer a score of 0-10 for his or her performance. No props or costumes are allowed, and only 20% of the offering may be sung. Beyond that, there are few rules. Whatever the reader does to make the performance exciting is allowed. My idea is to take this format and apply it to flash fiction, all in aide of engaging entertainment.
Guy Gavriel Kay is known for his fantasy novels, starting with the Fionavar Tapestry trilogy, set at my alma mater, University of Toronto. He has written twelve novels, a book of poetry and numerous reviews and articles for Canadian and English newspapers. His internationally bestselling works have been translated into over twenty-five language. Among others, he has won the International Goliardos Prize for contributions to literature of the fantastic. Along with astronaut Chris Hadfield, in 2014 he was named to the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian honour.
In September, I attended a ceremony recognizing 30 years of the Fionavar Tapestry at Bakka Phoenix bookstore in Toronto. Kay is a witty speaker, who underlined how lucky he was to have collaborated with such ‘tolerant’ and wonderful people over the years, many of whom he met during the writing and production of his first novel, The Summer Tree.
The store was packed with fans who lined up to have their books autographed by Kay, and also Martin Springett who created the iconic Summer Tree cover back in 1984. In his speech, Kay also recognized writer Sue Reynolds, creator of the first published map of Fionavar. It was fascinating to hear how the bay she drew on the map, based on Kay’s writing, inspired him to ask for a tower to be drawn there, and how that tower became essential in book three, The Darkest Road.
The ceremony began with original music performed by Martin Springett. It ended with three fabulous Dufflet cakes, each sporting a cover from the Fionavar trilogy. It didn’t surprise me at all when hungry fans ate their way around the outside, but refused to cut into the photographic decorations. As part of the Sunburst award group, who awarded him a Copper Cylinder Award for River of Stars, I was invited to the after party.
While I’ve met Kay before, this was an intimate gathering. He even bought us a round. Guy Kay is personable and generous with his observations. Speaking to a small group of bibliophiles and writers, he commented candidly on his current work-in-progress. In his remarks, there were lessons for creative types of all stripes:
At 100 000 words, the point where most novelists are finished, he is halfway through his epic novels and said he ‘hates himself’ because what he is writing never measures up to his artistic intention. Quoting T.S. Eliot, Kay compared this artistic disconnect to the ‘desire versus the spasm’
Kay is an international bestseller with a reputation for literary prowess. How inspiring to hear such an accomplished writer admit to ongoing artistic struggle. It encourages me to keep going and finish projects, since you never know when the project you are working on right now will be the one to change your life.
The other lesson was how important people and friends are to creative work. Gathering a group of creative people who understand your vision and can help you express that to an audience is crucial, especially for word artists. It takes a team of people to put out a book and for me, since I am researching indie publishing, it was a good reminder that any publishing project depends not just on the appeal of the author’s work, but also on the talents of the team who edits, formats, prepares and distributes it.
At Bakka, Kay said author tours used to be common and joked that in October, you couldn’t go through a Canadian airport without bumping into an author. How things have changed! Publishers no longer have money to publicize new authors but an established publisher like Kay’s (Penguin) represents more than prestige and publicity. It’s also about working with a publishing team of the highest quality.
Kay’s most recent work, River of Stars, continues the story begun in Under Heaven, which is inspired by Tang Dynasty China in the eighth century. Kay is known for creating epic novels set in well-researched fantasy realms that resemble real places and times. From fictionalized Ancient China to Byzantium and beyond, if epic drama, exotic realms and history pique your interest, visit his author page to discover Kay’s unique worlds.
I will be doing a reading of short fiction and poetry at Can-Con in Ottawa, Saturday October 4, 2014. My co-reader will be novelist S.M. Carriere. One of the best things about conventions is meeting and discovering new authors and making new friends. Conventions are magnets for creative people in the arts and multimedia.
Can-Con is an Ottawa convention which brings together Canadian authors and content creators in science fiction, fantasy and horror. I attended last year for the first time and was impressed by the warmth and welcoming atmosphere. I spoke on the NaNoWriMo panel which brought together a variety of writers. The highlight for me was going out to lunch together and trading stories.
According to their website:
CAN-CON is Ottawa’s premiere Science Fiction and Fantasy gathering celebrating the written word. This yearly event brings together readers, writers, artists, scientists, and publishing professionals for panel discussions, workshops, presentations, readings, book launches, networking opportunities and to have fun. CAN-CON is a function of The Society for Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature.
The 2014 Can-Con guest of honour is author Jo Walton, winner of the Nebula Award, the Hugo Award, the John W. Campbell Award, and the World Fantasy Award. The editor guest of honour is Gabrielle Harbowy of Dragon Moon Press. Also check out the panelists.
Why Attend a Convention?
Conventions are fun if you like science fiction and fantasy novels, and/or speculative movies and shows. There are even conventions dedicated to comic books.
Much more casual than conferences, ‘cons’ run on volunteer power. Organized by and for fans, at a convention it’s easy to meet a favorite author. He or she will probably attend the same parties as you.
If half the convention action is at the parties, the rest is split between concerts, award ceremonies, panel discussions and special events. At some cons there are workshops and fashion shows for fans who build and wear costumes inspired by anime, books and movies. There might be an improv show, fire works or even a star gazing workshop. It depends on what the organizers and participants decide.
The panelists at conventions discuss topics as far-ranging as politics, art, science, technology, genre conventions, cultural diversity in literature, and music. My favorite panels are about writing, including workshops, publishing panels, flash fiction contests, author readings and small reader-author meetups called “coffee klatches.”
Conventions for Creativity
My very first convention was AD Astra, in Toronto. The experience was so creatively stimulating, I went home afterward and wrote my first (unpublished) novel in a six-week streak. If you are into speculative fiction and appreciate geek culture, attending a local convention might be your ideal creativity boost.
The first week of school is over. Routines are starting to gel, kids are on their best behaviour and starting to make friends. Teachers are breathing a sigh of relief. It’s the honeymoon period for elementary teachers. This glistening doorway of opportunity, lit by September magic, will not stay open long.
Invite all the kids in, before that dull ‘day-to-day feeling’ arrives. Hook them with creativity. Kids love to be stimulated and challenged to imagine. They want your teaching to take them places they could never go on their own. Surprise them and help them stretch their minds, and they will know you are on their side when things get harder.
With this goal in mind, here are a few book suggestions for September:
Steal Like an Artist. Long books on creativity can be counterproductive. This short book by Austen Kleon is full of art, poetry ideas and inspiration for teacher-artists, or anyone who wants to live more creatively. I recently reread it and find it excellent for visual, material, dramatic and literary artists.
Kleon suggests that you take whatever artistic thing you do to procrastinate and do more of it. He gives practical advice for artists like ‘learn about money,’ and describes ethical ways to draw inspiration from the work of others. One of his big projects is Newspaper Blackout, a website which begat a bestselling poetry book.
You could have a lot of fun doing newspaper blackout poetry with your students. How? Students take fat markers and strike out words on a newspaper page, until the remaining words form a poem. The result might be a simple message like “Eat your vegetables!” More sophisticated students could juxtapose the title of the original article against their ‘secret’ message. For example, they could take an article about war and block out words to reveal “give peace a chance,” or “support our troops.”
Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends appeals to boys and girls. It’s not new material but his poem, “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out,” is a guaranteed giggle. I introduce it by telling kids how my Dad used to recite it to me when I was little. “Sylvia Stout,” is a good model for student ‘chore’ poems or poems about garbage. With Green Philosophy paramount in modern schools, it’s time for young Silversteins-in-the-making to write recycling poems. If you like his style, there are videos of many of his poems and songs available on YouTube. “I’m Being Eaten by a Boa Constrictor,” is fun to sing with young children. Just be careful, not all Silverstein material is safe for school. Ever heard “Never Bite a Married Woman on the Thigh?”
Make your own crazy character mix and match flip book. Have you ever played this game? Fold over a small stack of paper and staple to make a booklet. Make two scissor cuts to divide the book in three, top-to-bottom. Students draw the head of a character or creature in the top box, the body in the middle and the feet at the bottom. Students open the booklet to the next page and pass it to the next student. This student continues by drawing another monster, athlete, animal or character, aligning the head, body and legs in the correct box. This process continues until all pages are filled and the books are returned for sharing, flipping and discussing. This little art and creativity project can be a jumping off point for writing “What if” stories or just a fun get-to-know you activity. Enjoy!
‘What if’ story starters:
What if you woke up with the legs of an Olympic runner?
What if you had the chest of a fish and could breathe under water?
What if you had the body of a bird and could fly?
What if your head was an octopus, legs and all?
What if you woke up with a hairy gorilla body?
What if you woke up with the pitching arm of a pro baseball player?
This one is just for writers. As a writing book junkie, I procrastinate by reading about writing. What better way to goof off and still feel productive? In my home office, I have a bookshelf of reference and writing advice books. Other titles I’ve purchased as ebooks or borrowed from the library. I’m not proud of my addiction, but it puts this next statement in context.
Elizabeth Lyon’sManuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore, is the best book on fiction editing I have ever read. Reading it feels like having an editor at my side, pointing out potential flaws and providing techniques for reworking and deepening the second draft of my novel-in-progress. The chapters on polish and proofreading are short compared to those on style, craft and characterization. This is no grammar book for beginners.
If you want to do more substantive editing before you submit your work to a professional, this book is an excellent reference to read, and reread. The checklists at the end of each chapter help diagnose weak points and prioritize the complex processes of rewriting: adding, subtracting and re-imagining to enrich voice, style and emotion.
Neil Gaiman’s inspirational speech at the University of the Arts 2012 deserves to be shared with older students, graduates and anyone likely to be inspired by his exhortation to “make good art.” He points out how good it is to start a career in the arts without knowing the rules, because that way nobody can tell you what is impossible. His advice applies to all artistic disciplines and emphasizes the importance of risk-taking and failure in the route to doing good work.
Takatsu wrote the first North American cell phone novel. I met with him to speak about creativity, multimedia art, writing, and education reform. His current project, Espresso Love, is a Wattpad novel. You can look at the video trailer, which he produced himself using Animoto to add mysterious signs to the urban landscape. His multimedia productions include songwriting, stories, video and graphic arts.
Takatsu praised the rigour of the Japanese school system and the close relationships and teamwork inherent in Japanese culture. Paradoxically, the strictness and high expectations bring out students’ talents and develop their abilities. Takatsu says that by working inside such a strong box, students learn to think outside it.
The same students who work together on a rigorous curriculum during school, and then clean their classrooms together, must participate in one club after school. These clubs involve many hours of daily practice in one area chosen by the student according to interest and talent. Choices include music, sports, visual arts and drama. The creative or athletic skills developed last a lifetime. Takatsu laments that in North America, although many people have a passion for the arts, many forget their talents once they enter the workforce.
There is a place for teachers on platforms like Wattpad, according to Takatsu. Educators are needed for collaboration, to teach net etiquette and also to mentor and teach writing skills.
I hope you enjoy this interview in which Takatsu speaks passionately about art and education. You can find his multimedia projects at Takatsu.tk.
The very first Creative Teacher Librarian newsletter has been sent. Subscribers will receive a mini unit introducing spoken word or ‘slam’ poetry. Tips, instructions, useful links and a Spoken Word Rules page are included. Lessons can be adapted for a wide range of ages from grade school to high school.
Back-To-School with Feeling: Poetry in September
Poetry gets a bad rap ;-). Quick, when you think of poetry, what comes to mind? Spring? Acrostics? Singsong rhymes? Archaic language?
Students tire of poetry if they associate it with sappy greeting cards or bygone eras or a cookbook approach that emphasizes rigid form over self-expression.
Don’t miss out because of old stereotypes. In September, poetry makes an excellent get-to-know-you and formative assessment tool. In a two or three week poetry unit, students will produce many short poems on different topics and in different forms, affording the teacher multiple chances to assess written and spoken language. The trick is to make it fresh and relevant for young people.