For this week, until March 8th, my children's book, The Spy Game will be free on Smashwords.
Last week, for anyone who knows or cares about Ukraine, was one where reality outstripped most scary stories or fairytales.
Any story that was being told, of a choice between the European Union and Russia; of ultra-nationalists versus a democratically elected government; of a gradual exchange of power from president to parliament; of things reverting to normal once all the homeless bums realised they couldn’t live in protest tents forever and went back to whatever gutter they’d crawled from – whatever the story was, however coherent and persuasive the narrative, it was utterly overtaken by events.
Who could make up police snipers shooting down unarmed protesters with live ammunition? Or charter flights of the wealthy and well-connected with their suitcases of cash queuing nose to tail to take off for Russia or the West? That the tanks and soldiers allegedly heading to Kiev would never arrive? That the president would sign an agreement to hold early elections and then disappear? That next day his country residence would be open to the public to wander around and gawp at his ostentatious and thoroughly kitsch display of stolen wealth?
Truth stranger and more fantastic than any fiction. I’ve been making stories out of Ukraine for several years, both as a journalist and as a fiction writer. This last week I’ve just stared in horror, astonishment, awe, sadness, cautious hope. I could never have guessed what would happen, let alone made all this up.
|Barricades in central Kiev (photo by Max Bibik)|
|Memorial for those killed (photo by Max Bibik)|
Years ago, when I was a young mother and babysitter, I rode the bus with my son and my young charge - everywhere. What else do you do with two five-year-old boys with endless imagination and energy? We rode downtown, to libraries, to parks, to the next town over, to visit friends. We also walked and later, in the summer, we rode bikes.
Everywhere we went, we told stories. After reading William Steig's The Amazing Bone, we came up with a story about a talking donut. Every bus trip for a month or so, we added adventures about the donut and King Rupert, the donut's best friend.
And then there were the tales of Llewellyn the Lion, who worked as a late night radio host and rarely went out in the day. He rode a motorcycle and had a tab at the butcher's. He lived in fear that people would realize that he was not just a gravelly voiced, hairy recluse but a lion - a real lion. As time went on, Llewellyn told us of his friends - all graduates of the Philadelphia Zoo's secret Animal Intelligence project - and we met Llewellyn's teacher, Professor Freeman. The animals were tricked into a reunion and were drugged and kidnapped to become stars in a traveling animal act. Fortunately, one of Llewellyn's friends was a dainty gorilla. Along with the Jaguar, ocelot, rhinoceros, several lions, a seal and a rhinoceros, they all managed to escape.
I wrote that story up and shoved it into the glove compartment of my old black Impala. When the car broke down and we had it hauled to the junk yard, the story was lost forever. The rhinoceros - or was it the seal? - was a poet and some of her poems were in that story. They were haunting and surprised me. Stories can be pieced together. Poems evaporate.
And then there was Super Anders and his sidekick Critter Man. These stories were made up bit by bit of the things that my boys suggested, cartoon characters that they enjoyed. Danny Dunn and his friends got tossed in there, too, since we read every Danny Dunn book we could find. I liked these stories best of all. The boys were always trying to save Little Annie, the Orphan Apple Selling Girl from danger. But Little Annie just as often had to save our heroes.
I miss Llewellyn and his friends. I miss Critter Man, who ba-a-a-a-rked! And I miss King Rupert and his talking donut.
Perhaps, I will ride the bus for nostalgia sake and remember small boys, stories and a time when I was young.
This is a sketch for a short story called, The Boy In The Leaves, which will be in my short story collection: SHORT STORIES AND OTHER IMAGININGS FOR THE READING SPOT.
StoryFUSION begins soon, very soon. Go to the StoryFUSION page for all the details but it is fabulous stuff.
Check my Storytelling page - above - for the Guerrilla storytelling events on Tuesday, April 16th and Wednesday, April 17th. These events are FREE and out in public places near you.
On Thursday, NCC and the members of the LVSG are offering FREE workshops at Northampton Community College. I am offering "Story in a SNAP", a workshop that will use improvisational exercises to combat both writer's block and stage fright. It will be a lot of fun and it would not be possible without the help of Professor Susan Petrole.
Story in a SNAP workshop - Thursday, April 18th at 11 am at Northampton Community College, in Room CC 165. (CC stands or College Center - the BIG building in the middle of the main campus.) FREE and open to everyone. Please join me.
To keep us all in the storytelling mood, I must share this video from just a year and a half ago. Kelly will be telling on Wednesday. Look for her.
ReadWave has just announced the launch of a new reading widget, that aims to revolutionize the way that stories are shared and authors promote themselves online. The widget allows bloggers and website owners to embed stories online in a compact form.
An example of the ReadWave Widget can be found at
The ReadWave widget is the first reading widget to allow readers to “follow” the writer. When a reader follows a writer they are added to the writer’s fanbase and can receive updates on all of the writer’s future stories. The widget is designed specifically to help writers build up a fanbase and grow their readership online. The widget is also the first to be directly integrated with Facebook, so that content is automatically shared via social media.
Raoul Tawadey, CEO of ReadWave commented, “The ReadWave widget doesn’t simply provide the technology for embedding stories online, it also provides a legal framework for re-posting other people’s content within the bounds of copyright law. Every day, millions of indie writers post up their creative writing for free on their personal websites with the aim of attracting as many readers as possible. Currently other website owners can’t repost those stories due to copyright law. Our widget eliminates this copyright problem, and enables anyone to post your story anywhere without limits, and it does so in a way that ensures the original writer is reaping the rewards.”
Existing widgets use a predefined page size, so when the widget is made smaller the text is made smaller. The ReadWave widget is the first reading widget where the width and height are fully customizable and the text automatically adjusts itself to fit the space available.
“The ReadWave widget is great news for website owners,” says ReadWave’s Chief Technology Officer, Simon Van Blerk. “Rather than linking to someone else’s website, the ReadWave widget allows you to keep traffic on your own website. This means website owners can retain visitors and keep them engaged for longer.”
ReadWave is a community of readers and writers who love to discover and share new stories from contemporary writers. Readers can access thousands of stories and read them for free on mobile or desktop. Writers can use ReadWave to build up a fanbase and market their stories online. ReadWave puts writers in touch with the readers who are just right for them.
Peruse some of our past posts that will help you and your students find more things to write about.Add a Comment
I'm in that strange space between finishing art for one book and waiting for sketch okays on another. Time to pull out a story I've been needing to tweak for the longest time. I've missed it! It's funny how hours spent illustrating other people's stories gives you ideas on how to deepen your own. I love how creativity works sideways like that.
This was in the drawer. Drawers are good for when you need a total break in order to come back to your story with a fresh mind.
Now it's back on the wall.
Reading – we all recognise it as a core skill. By ‘intelligent reading’, I mean reading with a level of comprehension commensurate with the child’s experience of the world they inhabit. Fortunately, reading to children is now encouraged as being supportive of reading literacy and as a sound foundation for future learning.
Not that long ago, children were seen as passive recipients of the eager parent’s input via the quality time spent in ‘read to me’ and ‘bedtime story’ sessions.
I always felt sure my children were taking in much more than the professional opinion allowed.
Recently, I borrowed a copy of Dr. Virginia Lowe’s very excellent book, “Stories, Pictures and Reality: Two children tell” (Routlege 2007) based on the record of her own two children’s responses to books from birth to adolescence. Dr. Lowe’s book vindicates what I felt all along as a parent! This book should be set reading for students of primary, early childhood and remedial teaching, child and family psychology and for anyone with an interest in literacy!
Her children had a smorgasbord of stories proffered continuously, both Dr Lowe and her husband being librarians who were passionate advocates of children’s literature. The children’s reactions to and responses concerning elements of story and illustrations provide a wonderfully insightful peek into the psyche of the child. Both Lowe children clearly had a blessed and privileged childhood, but being ‘read to’ is within the reach of most children. Public libraries and school libraries are accessible to most families. Even if parental work commitments make a nightly ‘reading’ impossible, there are weekends and visits to grandparents when a ‘storytelling’ session can be included in the agenda.
There are other options.
And online resources such as “Ripple Reader” and “A Story Before Bed” provide a way for even absent grandparents and parents to read to their children. In the USA and Israel, ‘bedtime stories’ are part of official early education policy. Programmes like “Reach Out and Read” and “Read to Me” do a monumental job in promoting literacy and the power of storytime to be a deeply meaningful and bonding time in families.
The Untangled Tales website is the best of the Summer Reading sites. Going over the site, was like being in one of the famous ‘But WAIT, there’s more!’ advertisements! At every click of the mouse, there was more! There is something here for children of all ages [preschool, primary, secondary], for their parents, teachers and librarians. The site is gorgeous [literally] to look at, easy to navigate, entertaining in content and layout and engagingly informative!
The Celebrity Corner questions brought out the creative quirkiness of authors and illustrators in a very entertaining way and featured a very diverse group of creatives!
The Untangled Tales game is a blast – great fun! It challenges memory and prods research capabilities and informs about other cultures, their customs and attitudes as reflected in their fairytales and legends.
Check out the side tabs and their drop down menus – there is heaps and heaps of fun activity, fantastic tales, playful poetry and fanciful stories, arty opportunities, creative competitions in writing and art activities and painless learning along the way!!
Ralph Tells a Story written and illustrated by Abby Hanlon (Amazon Children’s Publishing, 2012). It doesn’t matter if your five or twenty-five—if you’re in school, you’re gonna have to write. And lots of times you have to write stories—stories about yourself. Maybe it’s a daily journal. Maybe it’s a “My Special Moment” essay. Maybe it’s a descriptive narrative for a college composition class. Well, if you’re one of those kids who has NO IDEA what to write about and can’t think of ONE SINGLE STORY, then Abby Hanlon’s Ralph Tells a Story is the book for you. Ralph’s teacher always says, “Stories are everywhere!” and the kids in Ralph’s class have no trouble finding them. They write pages and pages and pages during writing time. But Ralph can’t come up with anything. Zero, zip, nada. So Ralph does what all smart kids do. He stalls. He goes to the bathroom. He gets a drink. He offers to help the lunch ladies. And finally, finally, Ralph thinks of the start of a story. But then he gets stuck. Which is exactly when his teacher asks him to share his story. Luckily for Ralph, his classmates ask lots and lots of questions. [...]Add a Comment
Much thanks to storyteller, Robin Reichert, for bringing this to my attention.
Over on Brain Pickings, Maria Popova highlights experiments done by Paul Zak, a neuroeconomics engineer. (And, no, I don't know what a neuroeconomics engineer is. It sounds a little scary, though.) These experiments showed how listening to a story effected brain chemistry and changed test subjects behavior.
You can watch the video and read Popova's article here.
It's nice to have empirical data that confirms what we storytellers have known all along. Stories change us. So, be careful what you tell. Stories are not just for entertainment - and they never have been.
I just finished The Violinist's Thumb by Sam Kean. Not a story book at all. HOWEVER, Kean tells the stories of how dozens of scientists, explorers, and other learned folks - to say nothing of isolated Scandinavian villagers and good old Neanderthal - contributed to what we know about DNA, the building block of our very selves.
If Kean had given his readers, "Just the facts, Ma'am," as Joe Friday was wont to say, I would never have finished the book. The science is daunting - all those A's and C's and G's and T's and mitochondria and mtDNA and messenger RNA and, please, please DON'T ask me what these things are (I sort of know but I will bungle it, I'm sure). But the stories, the life histories, the theories, the mangled logic, the loves, the victories and failures...the embarrassments and personalities - even the insane experiments - add them all together and you have a page turner. Man, that Sam Kean can sure tell a good story.
And after we find out everything that is now known about DNA, Kean tells us stories of how scientists hope to use what they have learned. DNA is awesome. We, this world, all living things - totally awesome and scary and thrilling and wow.... Read the book.
Storytelling is a most effective way to get humans to swallow facts and remember them. There is an organization dedicated to helping educators teach through storytelling. Good Stories for Good Learning is made up of storytellers and educators who have seen how their personal stories have made the subjects they were teaching become real to their students. Adding stories, your own or folktales or riddle tales or other people's stories, brings life to learning. Try it.
There are studies that have shown how the brain reacts to stories differently than to lectures, and there are studies that have proven that students remember the stories they hear - and the facts attached to the stories - longer than those facts without stories. (And, yes, I promise to share links to some of those studies soon but I am already a DAY LATE with this post, OK? You can trust me. Honest.)
So the next time you want to make a point, or help someone remember a fact, or teach something to someone, do what Sam Kean did in his book and what effective teachers are doing in classrooms all over the place - AND what humans have been doing since language began. Tell a story.
The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories by Dr. Seuss. 2011. Random House. 72 pages.
I love Dr. Seuss. I do. And I was oh-so-happy to discover that Random House was publishing a new collection of Dr. Seuss stories. These seven 'lost' stories were originally published in magazines in the early 1950s.
The seven stories are:
The Bippolo Seed
The Rabbit, the Bear, and the Zinniga-Zanniga
Gustav, the Goldfish
Tadd and Todd
Steak for Supper
The Strange Shirt Spot
The Great Henry McBride
I enjoyed almost all of these stories.
The Bippolo Seed is about greed. A duck finds a magical seed. He's told to make a wish and plant the seed. But before he can make a wish--a practical, simple wish--a cat stops him. He must want more than just a week's worth of food. How unimaginative a wish is that after all? So with a little encouragement, this duck named McKluck gets a little out of control.
The Rabbit, The Bear, and the Zinniga-Zanniga is about a rabbit NOT wanting to become the bear's dinner. The rabbit has to think quickly to make sure that does not happen! But it's not enough for the rabbit to manage an escape, it has to be done in style!
With the Forts series wrapped up, I've moved onto something else, and believe it or not that something else is getting released in March!
Goats Eat Cans is coming soon!
What the heck is Goats Eat Cans and why should you care about it?Trust me when I tell you that you're going to like this thing.
If you hated Forts and you hate me for writing Forts, you're still going to like this.
Goats Eat Cans isn't Forts. It's nothing like Forts.Nothing at all.
Click the picture below to head over the official Goats site.You won't regret it.
Cammie Bliss, the protagonist of my first young adult novel, The Stalker Chronicles, is a teenage girl who routinely, almost pathologically goes too far in pursuit of love. Because of this, her classmates have labeled her a “stalker,” and while it’s not a name she enjoys, Cammie realizes that she’s earned it. But when a new boy named Toby moves to her small town, Cammie—with the help of her best friend Rosie and a sympathetic teacher—hopes she can change herself and win his love.
My interest in creating a character like Cammie was initially very personal. I’d written a long prose poem about five years ago, entitled “My Friends and Enemies” which was published in the journal Fence. This poem was my attempt to create a catalogue or imagistic list of all of the people from my childhood, quite literally my friends and my enemies (not that I had all that many of the latter!). I suppose I was interested in mini-histories, in how a list can somehow create stories. But I was also struck by how many of those stories, for me, were about embarrassment, or moments in which I felt misunderstood or couldn’t quite speak my mind. I thought of all the boys I’d had crushes on, and how many of those boys I scared away because I was a little bit too aggressive or a little bit too out there. I wanted to tell some of those stories, and a young adult novel seemed like the perfect venue. But of course, Cammie is not entirely me, and I’ll leave it to readers to decide which things in the book I may or may not have actually done. But the flashback format is there. Cammie remembers the boys she stalked so that she can figure out how to stop.
I’ve also always been intensely fascinated by the horrors of high school and the ways in which outsiders—nerds, punks, skaters, Goths, LGBT kids, theater and band geeks, you name it—cope with the daily humiliations of being different. When I briefly taught high school in New York City, a colleague and myself asked our freshmen to perform monologues or scenes from Julius Caesar. These performances were wonderful! I remember one young woman in particular, who was as awkward as awkward can be—she had frizzy hair, a whole lot of orthodontia, and a very excited, high-pitched voice that sometimes cleared the room, but she was very comfortable in her own skin. She was a bit of exhibitionist, actually, and her performance was particularly good. We all gasped as she pulled a fake sword out of its sheath! She was totally invested in her character! She made me think about the difference between my students who could own their awkwardness and the ones were devastated by it. Cammie Bliss is very much in the middle of that struggle. Can she change? Does she even want to?
I think we live in a culture that encourages us to be voyeuristic, and girls in particular can be easily embarrassed or even choose to embarrass themselves as a way to establish community and closeness with other girls. I wrote my dissertation about Seventeen magazine and one of my chapters was about a column in the magazine, “Traumarama!.” In “Traumarama!”, girls submit short, embarrassing stories about daily humiliations. I became a student of this column, and obsessed with its repetitive, stylized, and heavily edited stories. The Stalker Chronicles, in some small way, was an attempt to make some of those stories more real, more huAdd a Comment
This morning I went for a nice walk. I almost always end up in a coffee shop sometime during my walks. Coffee shops draw me in. They are full of people and people are interesting! Everyone of them has a story. Sitting across from me was a man with shining white hair. He was bent over his newspaper and chasing down his seeded bagel with warm coffee. I wondered what he did for a living when he was working. Is he married? Is he widowed? What did he look like when he was a little boy? Where did he live? What is his story?
The man in front of me was graying, but not retired. He had his work papers spread out before him and he looked entirely too serious for that time of the morning. He had a real coffee cup, not a paper one. He had on a nice dress shirt, Dockers, matching socks and black dress shoes. He could be a lawyer or even a teacher. I try to guess.
As I sipped my coffee I watched two girls behind the counter making a tall whip creamy chocolate drink for a young girl who looked to be a track star. Miss track star left and more customers poured in. None of them stayed, all left for work or play.
There was one more man sitting on the couch. His white curly beard was out of control. He had a vacant stare as he drank his coffee slowly. I wondered about him. Another man sat down on the couch across from him and Mr. Vacant began talking to him. He chatted about the hot summer forecast.. The other man barely listened to him. Mr. Vacant went back to his vacant stare. I felt sorry for him. Did he have family? Did anyone care about him?
That was my coffee shop morning. It was full of stories. stories of people whose lives I peeked into as I sat drinking my coffee.