Ideamancy – Ideas for Back-To-School Magic

A running start to Fall.
A running start to Fall.

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?

 

Here are some examples of different flip books:

http://www.firstpalette.com/Craft_themes/People/Body_Flip_Book/Body_Flipbook.html

http://sketchbookchallenge.blogspot.ca/2011/11/flip-book-animals.html

 

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’s Manuscript 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 – Make Good Art

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.

Spies are From Mars – The Horse can see the barn!

Have you ever had a feeling of regret as you finished reading a book? You knew you would miss the characters and their stories, as if they were old friends. Well, it’s a little different when you are writing the book. Sure, I’m a little sorry to finish rewriting Spies are from Mars, but I’m happy about it too. Today I reached page 223 of my manuscript, which adds up to 66 700 words out of  between 70 000 and 90 000, depending on the editing process.

It’s exhilarating when you get close to the end and the writing goes faster, like taking a trail ride when the horse suddenly sees the barn and gallops towards it. Nothing can stop it or slow it, especially not a newbie like me, hanging on with arms and legs any way I can.

Note: In my metaphorical version of this story, the horse does not stop fast when it reaches the barn and send me flying over its head.

Update: Aug. 14, 2013. The new draft is done. Stats: 74 100 words/ 247 pages.

Sandra Kasturi talks ChiZine at WOTS

Since I discovered CZP through local readings and SF/Fantasy events, I’ve been curious as to how this publishing company got started. Sandra reveals ChiZine’s audacious successes and economic setbacks. It’s a cautionary tale for those who might think starting up an ezine is an easy road to financial success. I found her talk honest and inspiring. It’s all done for the love of books, in her case, dark fiction and poetry.

 

This video is recorded with a flip camera and edited in Premiere Elements. I apologize for the rumbling when the subway goes under Queen’s Park. Word on the Street talks are held outdoors in Toronto every fall. I go for the books but I also enjoy the author readings, workshops, publisher displays and magazines.

To self-publish or not

Focus is supposed to be the key to success, in art, business, hockey, anything. If you lose focus, you are bound to make mistakes. Lately I have been reading too many blogs, tweets and self-appointed online experts. They all say, follow the John Locke method. Publish an ebook. I even spent a couple of days reformatting one of my plays to publish on SmashWords. Is this procrastination? I should be polishing my manuscript, “Marmalade Cat Detective: The Astounding Vampire Dogs.”

Self-publishing is tempting, but not for the novel. I have a backlog of school plays that I know work because I have produced them. It’s fairly easy to see what works with an audience of 250 or so kids when you can observe directly. The problem is, children’s plays are notoriously difficult to get published, especially for someone like me who has not produced my plays in a professional venue.

The rational solution would seem to be self-publishing. It seems low-risk. My plays are written and collecting dust. I’m more interested in writing new plays than putting my old ones on in bigger venues. I do plays for the love of working with kids and the love of writing. I’m not interested in quitting teaching and going into theatre.  If I self-publish my plays, it will be virtually as a service to other teachers. I doubt they will make  a lot of money.

There is just one problem. I have a novel almost ready to send to agents. It’s a YA novel which might also suit an imaginative adult audience. This is where the warnings begin. I’ve heard that once you publish anything with an ISBN number, publishers and agents look you up every time you submit a manuscript. The first time I try to interest them in a manuscript, will they will look up my sales figures see my plays aren’t selling and take a pass?

Does it have to be a catch-22? I am pessimistic about publishing my plays through the usual channels because the demand for kids’ comedy scripts is small. I am optimistic about my novel because I have read many children’s novels and I haven’t seen one quite like mine. I think it might attract readers of Sherlock Holmes novels, and of Shane Peacock‘s excellent boy Holmes mysteries. My story is also a spoof on Gothic elements in mysteries, like James Howe but for older readers. Obviously, I’m not comparing the quality of my writing to these authors. I’m trying to give an idea of my story’s flavour.

Like any artistic hopeful, I believe in my ‘thing’ and hope other people will too. I just wish I knew what to do about it.