Category Archives: 2012 reads

The Write Start: Nurture Writing at Every Stage

I don’t often take my own advice of taking the summer off from teaching. I usually find something to read at the very least. I think it’s important to develop professionally and books are a great way to do so.

I found this book over the summer at the library. I wasn’t looking for a teaching resource, but it kind of jumped out at me.

The Write Start: A Guide to Nurturing Writing at Every Stage, from Scribbling to Forming Letters and Writing Stories by Jennifer Hallissy.

There are some great ideas here that will get children writing. The book is aimed at both teachers and parents with ideas that would work equally well at home or in the classroom.

Hallissy also differentiates each activity to include preschool children all the way up to elementary school students. I like her four stages of development that make each activity accessible to all. She calls them “Scribblers” , “Spellers” , “Storytellers”, and “Scholars.”

One strategy she proposes is called “Treasure Hunt.” This activity takes a bit of pre-planning from the teacher or parent. It involves setting up a small scavenger hunt of sorts. To do so, start at the point that you want the students to end up at and then write a clue to help them get there. Continue doing this until you have a good sized hunt for the kids.

The best part about this activity is how Hallissy differentiates it for learners of all stages. For the scribblers, you can use picture clues. For the spellers, you can use one word clues. For the storytellers, you can write sentence clues. And for the scholars, you can write the clues in riddles.

Once the students are familiar with the activity, they can then create their own “Treasure Hunt” for the parent, teacher, or other students to solve. I so love this idea.

I also like how her strategies get students working with writing in unique ways. The activities are laid out simply and are quite easy to implement.

More Good Reads

Avid Reader . . . Still Collecting Book Experiences

I’ve never kept a reading log before. I always thought that it missed the point. I read because I enjoy it, because it’s a great way to experience stories, because I love the written word, and because I am a writer and appreciate the craft.

This year, I decided to at least keep track of everything I read and so far I have blogged about every single title.

I have read 42 books already in 2012 and I am not slowing down. You can find the complete list here with links to each particular book. I will continue to update it as well.

Here are the latest titles I’ve had the pleasure of reading.

The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta

This book tells the story of a sex-ed teacher who is faced with a big dilemma. She believes that the kids in her high school deserve to know about sex in a real, open, and honest way. She’s been teaching the program for several years but is faced with a new curriculum that stresses abstinence only. She stays on as the health teacher despite her objections to the new program.

I liked the idea for the novel and I enjoyed most of it, but it just petered out at the end. The main issues for the characters never got resolved and I felt kind of cheated because of it. I hate when a novel doesn’t have a powerful ending that ties things all together.

That being said, I understand that in real-life, our stories rarely get wrapped up in neat ways. This story felt real and I could identify with some of the characters, but I still want my literature to end nicely. Or to at least have something more poetic at the end.

Green Lantern Corp – The Weaponer by Tony Bedard, Tyler Kirkam, Batt

The Weaponer forged the first yellow power ring for Sinestro but now he has developed an even greater weapon and is bent on revenge. Meanwhile, the truce between the Green Lantern Corp and the Sinestro Corp is about to be put to the test. If the yellow and green ring-wielders fight each other without rings, the truce still holds, right?

Lanterns without their rings? A huge battle against an opponent with a very powerful weapon. The excitement keeps building in the Green Lantern books. This is the ninth trade paperback I’ve read this years and I must say that I am really enjoying the series.

Batman: A Death in the Family by Jim Starlin, Jim Aparo, and Mike DeCarlo

I hadn’t read this book since it came out in 1988. It was really cool to take it out of the plastic cover. It had the unmistakable comic book smell. The newsprint pages and the lightly coloured pages are a stark contrast to today’s comics.

In this story, Robin actually dies at the hands of The Joker. The scene was quite brutal for the time and it still is. There have been several Robins over the course of the comic, but this second lad to take on the role wasn’t universally liked by all of the readers. DC Comics actually had readers vote on whether or not Jason Todd should live or die in this story.

2012 Reads – My Ever-Growing List

There are over three dozen books in this list so far and I keep adding to it all the time. I wonder how many titles I will have read by the end of the year?

Residential Schools Novels, Memoirs, and Picture Books

Residential schools have had a considerable impact on children, families, and entire communities. In 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized to First Nations, Metis, and Inuit people on behalf of Canada for a over a century of residential schools.

This small action helped to expose Canadians to this long-hidden aspect of our history. This is a topic that is often ignored, denied, or brushed aside. It’s impossible for us to move forward as a country without acknowledging our past.

I did some reading about it this summer, and found some wonderful books that I’d like to share with you. I hope that teachers will find these resources useful. This is a subject that should be covered in social studies and history classes.

Wawahte as told to Robert P. Wells by Indian Residential School Survivors 

“The legacy of Canada’s  Indian Residential School system needs to be addressed if we, as a nation, are to move forward. Learning and knowing about our history is a prerequisite to our healing of today and the restoration of our families and culture.”

Very wise words from an elder who spent eleven continuous years at a Residential school. You hear her story and that of two others in this book. There is also a appendix that lists all of the schools that operated in Canada over a 150 year period and which church operated each one. There are historical records in here as well (including some of the official apologies that have been made to the First Nations People)

This is definitely a great place to start of you want to learn about Canada’s Residential Schools.

Fatty Legs by Christy Jordan-Fenton & Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

This is an amazing book. It tells the story of an Inuit girl’s experience at Residential School in a very real, open, and honest way. The artwork is beautiful and really helps tell the first person narrative. There are definitions of native words, photos, maps, and all sorts of interesting information.

The best thing about this book is that it tells a story that kids can relate to. I would highly recommend this for students in Grades 4 and up.

A Stranger at Home by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

This book is a sequel to Fatty Legs but it stands alone as well. Both books teach about the history of Residential school but this one helps illustrate the traditional life in the village more clearly. It also shows the damage the schools did to the rich culture of the First Nations people. You see this when Margaret comes home and she has forgotten her own language. As such, “she must begin a painful journey of learning how to fit in again, how to reconcile her old self with her new self.”

Shi-shi-etko by Nicola I. Campbell and Kim LaFave

Shi-shi-etko is forced to go to Residential School. It is the law, but her parents want her to remember that her name means “she loves to play in the water.” They want her to remember the sights and sounds of nature and their traditional way of life.


Shin-chi’s Canoe by Nicola I. Campbell and Kim LaFave

This is a sequel to Shi-shi-etko and it tells of how her younger brother brought a tiny wooden canoe that his dad had carved for him to residential school. He kept it hidden away and safe as a reminder of the rich culture awaiting him back home.

More Good Reads

Conducting Music with Michael Miller (Transcript and Podcast)

This is Part 2 of an exclusive interview I did with Michael Miller, author of The Complete Idiots Guide to Conducting Music. If you missed Part 1, you can go back and read it now. You can also listen to the interview for free. Stream it with the player below or download it to listen to later.

Enjoy!

Michael: “A conductor has to know a little bit about every instrument out there. If you are conducting your seventh grade band and your French Horn section is having trouble with a particular passage. You have to figure that out. Why are they having trouble with it?

You have to know how that instrument works. Are they having fingering problems? Is it breathing problems? You have to know a little bit about the instruments.

If you are conducting a choir, you don’t have to be a singer yourself, but you have to know how to sing and what proper vocal technique is. So that’s another part you have to layer on your skill set. You really have to know about the instruments or the choral vocalists that you’re conducting.”

Chase: “A teacher colleague of mine told me a neat way to do that. She doesn’t remember the fingering position for the French Horn, specifically, she told me that. But there are fingering charts in the back of the student books. She’ll go to the student and reinforce where to find they can find answer without having to admit that she doesn’t know.”

Michael: “You’re not going to be a virtuoso on every instrument. You’re the conductor. A few of the conductors I interviewed told me they rely on the concertmaster, the first violin, for example. If we have an issue with the string section, I go right to the first violin and to that section to see if we can figure it out. You have to rely on your players to some degree.”

Chase: “When I was in high school, I was really impressed with my bandmaster because if you had trouble, he would take an instrument and sit down beside you. He could do that with every instrument in the whole concert band. It just blew me away. I want to be able to do the same thing but I don’t know how to play every instrument. I’ve been learning the woodwinds this summer. I already knew the brass. I want to be able to, at least, play a couple notes on each one.”

Michael: “This is why I think the more difficult conducting jobs are conducting youth players because you have to do much more individual teaching. Not that it’s easy conducting a professional orchestra. It’s not. There are different pressures and challenges, but those guys know what they are doing.

Dealing with younger players, you have to teach them so much about dealing with their individual instruments and about how to play together as a group. With older, more experienced players, you take that for granted. But the conductors who have the hardest job and who I admire the most are the school conductors, the people who are conducting junior high and high school choirs and bands.”

Chase: “Ah, you’re scaring me. I’m just kidding, Michael. On page 58 of your book you say, .You should strive to maintain as much eye contact with your musicians as possible—and encourage eye contact in return. Keep your head out of the score, and the score in your head.’ Why is that important?”
Michael: “You need to make a connection with the players. You don’t want your players to have their heads buried in their music and you don’t want to have your head buried in yours either. You want to have that direct connection. So much of conducting is body language. It can be your hands, it can be posture, it can be the way you raise your eyebrows at a certain passage. That’s how you get across your point.

You need to be looking at them. They need to be looking at you. If you don’t know the music and you’re actually reading the score as you go along, you are missing a big opportunity to connect with the musicians.”

Chase: “That’s a really key point. Thank you. Another thing I was wondering is how exactly I’m going to cue the students to come in. On page 115 you say, ‘You should avoid pointing while conducting; there are better ways to let a section know they need to be ready. A former teacher of mine called pointing the ‘the finger of death.’ . . . The less you use it, the more effective it will be when you do.’

Michael: “This varies from conductor to conductor. Everyone has their own personal style. It also varies from ensemble to ensemble. With more experienced ensembles you have to cue them less. But pointing should probably be used judiciously. If you are pointing every other measure, pointing loses its point. Looking at a section and giving them a nod is a good cue.”

Chase: “Yeah, and it gets the students following you if you are conducting a good pattern while maintaining eye contact. You conduct the beat pattern with your right hand, but your left hand can do different things to cue people in without having to point as well.”

Michael: “Obviously, your right hand keeps going with the beat. Your left hand does everything else and the less it does the better. I think one of the temptations for a less experienced conductor is to cue everything. Your welcome wears pretty thin when you do that. You should try to use your left hand only when it’s necessary. Train the musicians to do what they have to do without having to be pointed at all the time.”

Chase: “So, your left hand should normally be relaxed at your side?”

Michael: “If you don’t have anything to cue, get it out of the way.”

Chase: “You have a four step plan in the book that shows how to use rehearsal time appropriately. On page 37 you say, ‘Start with a warm-up period, where everyone settles in and gets in tune. Use this period not just to warm up your vocalists or instrumentalists, but to also build a sense of ensemble, develop intonation, and solidify other basic skills.’ I want ito touch on e on point there – build a sense of ensemble. How do you do that?”

Michael: “It’s a matter of teaching the musicians how to play together. There are lots of practice techniques you can use. I talk about some of them in the book. It’s a matter of getting them to think outside of their own heads.

If you are dealing with brand new musicians, those in 5th or 6th grade or whatnot, they’re just concentrating on their own music. They’re not listening to anyone else. You’ve got to get them out of that so they are hearing what the person sitting next to them is doing. You can do it with a very easy piece of music, even if it’s just playing a scale, something where they don’t have to concentrate on the reading and you can get them listening instead. This is key.”

Chase: “I really like this quote on page 40 of your book. It says, ‘Finally remember to be positive, even when things aren’t going quite as planned, Let the group know that you enjoy their playing, and offer profuse (but honest) compliments throughout, Don’t focus on the negatives, but instead try to turn them around; instead of saying ‘that really stunk, do it again,’ try ‘that was pretty good, but now let’s try it a little faster.’ And if you do find yourself reacting too harshly to an error, try tempering that harsh comment with humor, a little laughter goes a long way.’

I think that can be applied to teachers in any capacity, not just in music.

Michael: “One of the guys I interviewed in the book, I forget which one, said, ‘I’m as much a psychologist as I am a musician when I’m dealing with a group of 20, 30, 40 people of all ages and experience levels. You’ve got to use a lot of psychology to deal with them.’

And just how do you deal with people? Some people come in very blustery and yell, and that might work for some but for most people that doesn’t work so well. You need to encourage them, not discourage them. That’s why during the rehearsal time, you always want to end on a piece that they can play well, so they end on with positive feeling about the rehearsal as opposed to a jumbled train wreck of a rehearsal.

You want everything to be as positive as possible. You’ll get the most out of your musicians that way, especially those who might be struggling otherwise.”

Chase: “There are those sections we need to work on and tough pieces but your advice is to do that in the middle of the rehearsal. Then towards the end, work on something more familiar, something they can have success with so they go out remembering that, but then also remembering that we are going to assign them homework and they need to practise this specific section.”

Michael: “Your rehearsal process almost looks like a Bell Curve. You start on the left side as you start the rehearsal with something easy to get them playing together well. Then you move into the harder stuff and you woodshed that. And you end up with something easier that you know they can play well and everybody feels good about it. That’s a successful rehearsal.”

Chase: “You know what’s amazing? I’ve taught music every single year of my career and I’m coning into my tenth year. I’ve taught primary music so it’s mostly singing, but I’ve also done recorder. I thought I knew a lot about music. When I started reading this book, it’s called The Complete Idiots Guide to Conducting Music, and for the first twenty pages I thought, ‘Woah, this really is for idiots.’ But then I started getting stuff out of it, even though I am a musician and I know a lot of this stuff. I took six pages of notes and wrote in the margins.

I think this is a book that people should get. If you are conducting music and you’ve done primary choir or something like that. You can still learn a lot from this book.”

Michael: “It’s designed for anybody. There are a lot of folks who get thrown into conducting, whether it’s the church choir, the high school musical, and even people like you who’ve been doing it for a while.

There is a lot more to conducting than just waving your arms around. 80% of it is the rehearsal process and how you interpret a piece, how you get the musicians to play, and there are always new things you can try. Hopefully, my book does some of that for people.”

Chase: “The interesting thing to is about whether or not to use a baton. When I did primary choir, I never used one. But I just recently bought one and it feels so good it my hand. I love it. Even though conductors are doing the same job, per se. You have a whole chapter in your book about that. But there are different ways to do it. Certain choirs or jazz bands don’t use batons. It’s interesting to see that it’s not just the conductor’s preference but also the style that seems to dictate that.”

Michael: “In the real world, a lot of choirmasters conduct bare-handed, a lot of orchestra and band conductors use a baton. But that’s not a hard and fast rule. A choirmaster might say, ‘Oh, I can’t get the finesse and the emotion I need with a baton,’ and that’s just bull. Of course you can. Or a band conductor might say, ‘I can’t get the precision with my bare-hands that I can get with a baton,’ and that’s bull also.

You can be as precise as you want bare-handed and you can be as emotive as you’d like with a baton. It really is just a matter of personal preference, what you get used to, and what you’re good at.”

Chase: “That being said, speaking as a musician sitting in the orchestra pit, I find it a lot easier to see a white baton than a hand.”

Michael: “That’s one of the reasons I prefer a baton. It does give the performers something to focus on. I’ve seen a lot of bad choir conductors in my day, like where’s the beat? They’re just waving their arms around, whereas with a baton it will cause some conductors to focus more if there is that thing in front of them and in their hand as opposed to just being bare-handed. But again, it doesn’t mean you can’t do it that way. It’s just about perfecting your craft whichever way you decide to go.”

Chase: “Besides conductors learning the basic patterns of the different time signatures, there are different ways you can conduct to indicate phrases and dynamic with your left hand. It’s very complicated. It looks like someone is just waving their hands around, but it is something that we are doing to communicate to our musicians in front of us.

I’m glad that you’ve written this book and that I’ve had a chance to read it. There is a lot in here that I didn’t know. I think I’ve learned a lot out of it and hopefully I’ll be better to go on the first day of school this fall.”

Michael: “If a conductor or an aspiring conductor reads the book and gets a half dozen useful things out of it, I think that’s money well invested considering how important the job is. A lot of people are probably going to get a lot more out of it than that, especially if you’ve never conducted before. It will take you from square one on up. You can jump in wherever you need to jump in. I’ll tell you that there are a lot of conductors who probably need the help, so I’m glad I wrote the book for them too.”

Chase: “Excellent. So tell our listeners and readers how they can get this book and get in contact with you.”

Michael: “This book and all of my books can be found at molehillgroup.com. There is contact information on there as well. I’ve written a lot of books about music, music theory, playing drums, that’s my main instrument. There are also books from different fields as well. I do a lot of writing.”

Chase: “Well, it has been a pleasure talking to you. I am thankful that your publisher sent me a copy. I’ll podcast it and transcribe it for the blog so hopefully a lot of people can enjoy the music. Thank you.”

Michael: “Take care.”

Download the MP3 of this interview or stream it with the player below.

MusicPlaylist
Music Playlist at MixPod.com

Ender in Exile (Recommended Read)

Ender’s Game is a science fiction classic and its sequel, which takes place some 3000 years later, is equally amazing.

The original books came out in the mid 1980s and sparked an entire series of novels. So far, there have been eight in total.

I found this hardcover of Ender in Exile in the discount section of the comic book store. I didn’t even know that there was a ninth book in the series, and one that takes place, chronologically, between the first and second books. I was so exited to see it.

Orson Scott Card is a very talented writer. I have read three books from the Enderverse, and two of his other original novels, as well as some of his work in the comics medium. In fact, the comics are currently telling an Ender’s Game prequel right now.

I absolutely love this series. I know that there are so many books out there vying for your attention and many of them are series as well. But I highly recommend this one.

Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead are two of the best books I’ve ever read. The latest novel, which bridges the two books together perfectly, is a nice edition to the saga. I really must get to work and start reading every book in the series. 5 more to go!

More Book Reviews

Scrabble Tiles, Word Games, and YA combine in "Mutiple Choice"

Multiple Choice is a novel by Janet Tashjian that I knew I just had to read. I found it in the school library and was immediately drawn to it.
It was one of those books that I just wanted to dive into and forget about everything else. Of course, I couldn’t do that. I was at school after all, so I borrowed it even though the library was technically closed at the time. It was late June and that’s the time librarians frantically try to account for every book that they started with this school year. Don’t worry I brought it back already and all is well. 
The story revolves around a fourteen year old girl who constantly obsesses over everything. 
“I wish my brain were a toaster. That way I could use it when I wanted to, and when I was done, I could pull the plug and shut it off. The reason I’m thinking about this is that I’ve just finished conducting a very important experiment. And after weeks of compiling and analyzing data, I have come to a scientific conclusion.98.762 percent of my time is spent obsessing. About what? Everything.Saying the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing, wearing the wrong clothes. . .”
She loves to play word games and make anagrams. One day after playing a game of Scrabble, she decides to keep four letter tiles and put them in her pocket. She keeps an “A”, “B”, “C”, and “D” and uses them to help her make decisions.
Her creative real-life game of “Muliple Choice” leads her to do some interesting and bizarre things, but in a way it sets her free of her constant worrying.
The book is extremely well-written and I had a hard time putting it down. That’s why I am adding it to my Recommended Reads.

Graphic Novels of 2012 (Part 3)

I am blogging everything I read over the course of this year. It’s a pretty impressive list and it is continuing to grow.

Here are the latest graphic novels that I have read this year.

Marvel 1985 by Mark Millar and Tommy Lee Edwards

This graphic novel was originally published as a six-issue series in 2008. It is set in the year 1985 and takes place in our own world, a world where super-heros and super-villains exist only in the pages of comic books. The story revolves around a young boy who discovers that the villains of the Marvel universe have somehow made their way into his world and are camped out in a old house. The story is very well done in both the art and the writing.

Foiled by Jane Yolen and Mike Cavallaro

This book surprised me halfway through, but I won’t spoil it for you. The book revolves around a young girl who is essentially trying to find her place in the world. She is a fencer and has to deal with people who constantly don’t understand her sport. The art and story work well together. It did seem to end a bit abruptly though. It feels like it should be longer or at least part of a continuing series.

Star Trek: The Ashes of Eden by William Shatner with Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens

This graphic novel takes place after the sixth film, The Undiscovered Country. Jim Kirk is near the end of his career but retirement doesn’t seem to suit him. He is a little disappointed when he isn’t appointed Commander in Chief of Starfleet and so he decides to go on one last adventure. This story was originally told in a novel but it is nice to have it as a comic as well.

Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps by Peter J. Tomasi and Chris Samnee

This graphic novel tells some of the side stories from the Blackest Night Saga. My favourite tells the tragic story of one of the first Blue Lanterns and shows just how powerful hope can be. In the final story of this collection, the fourth wall is broken as Superboy from Earth-Prime goes to the offices of DC comics. This collection is more of a bonus for the biggest fans and not really connected to the larger events in the saga.

More Comics from my 2012 Reads List

A Podcast of Inspiration and Encouragement for Writers (Barbara Abercrombie Interview)

We’re talking with Barbara Abercrombie, author of A Year of Writing Dangerously: 365 Days of Inspiration and Encouragement.

It definitely is a great book for anyone interested in writing. I know that I thoroughly enjoyed it and it was a privilege to be able to talk to her about it.


This is the second part of the transcript. If you missed Part 1, you can go back and read it now. You can also download the entire interview as a free podcast, or stream it with the player below. Enjoy!

Barbara Abercrombie teaches at the ULCA Extension Writer’s Program and we are picking up our conversation about teaching writing.

Chase: “If someone wants to write, you can’t simple say, ‘Here’s how to do it.’”

Barbara: “As a teacher, all I can do is bring in wonderful writing as examples. I always start each class with reading a poem, whether they like poetry or not. Some students just look at me cross-eyed like, ‘Oh my, what have I gotten myself into? She’s gonna stand up there reading poetry’ but I love poetry. I read them one poem at the beginning of each class. One of the most exciting things that I’ve had as feedback from students is that they’ve started reading poetry and started appreciating it. I think to write prose, studying poetry is very, very helpful and inspiring,

I don’t think there is any cut and dried way to teach writing. It’s giving people prompts, introducing the notion that there really are no mistakes in writing. You are writing your way into whatever you have to write. And like you were saying before, some people don’t necessarily want to become writers, they just want to write. And that is wonderful too. If you have a journal and you just want to keep track of your life, I think everybody should do that. There are so many other opportunities for people to write, like whatever your interest, you could create a blog and write in that every day or once a week.

There is also self publishing. It’s amazing and it has changed so much in the past ten years. You can write stories about your family, you can write your autobiography and you can publish it for your family. There are lots of new opportunities for people who want to write but nit necessarily become writers.”

Chase: “I have to find another quote. I took so many notes in this book. There it is. It’s from Day 78 – Dimes in Ivory Soap. There’s an anecdote about your family finding dimes in bars of soap. We don’t need to spoil that story for anyone listening but basically, if you don’t write down your stories, they’re gone. I think that is your point here, that we can write journals and we can write down these stories.

I’ve been reading up on Indian Residential Schools this summer. A lot of people who went through that experience didn’t want to talk about it because it was painful, but it’s starting to get written down now. There are some stories available now and I think that is very important to have those narratives out in the world so when the Elders pass away, we still have their stories behind them.

Barbara: “You can have videos and photographs and albums, but if people don’t write down the stories, they are gone. I think stories are valuable and precious. I encourage everyone to write down their stories and to keep track of their lives. It’s important.”

Chase: “Not only our own lives. In Day 306 of A Year of Writing Dangerously, you mention how we can borrow other people’s stories.”

Barbara: “Right, the stories you hear. I used to think of it as stealing but I think of it as preserving stories now. You know what, Chase? It takes energy to do it, to write down the stories. It also takes the realization of the importance of it. Going through our lives, we all tend to think as our lives are so familiar to us, we think, ‘Who would ever be interested in that, or in that detail? Why is that important?’ But if you write stuff down and go back to it, even if it’s just a year later, it’s astonishing and you do realize the value in all those details of your life.”

Chase: “I find writing helps me to remember. I don’t have such a good memory. But I write things down. I used to journal a lot more than I do now. My blog has kind of become my journal and every month, I actually look back to what I was writing last month at that time. It really is an interesting observation every time. It helps me remember some things I probably would have otherwise forgotten just because I wrote it down and I published it on a blog.”

Barbara: “Exactly. I’ve been keeping my blog, Writing Time . typepad . com for six and half years now. I go back to some of the old posts and it’s like I’m reading it for the first time.”

Chase: “That’s very cool. Nothing New Under the Sun. Day 51. This is one of the interesting things you do in the book too, you have a little anecdote or story or piece of advice. Every day takes up a page in the book. Some of them are only a paragraph and some are four or five paragraphs long. But at the end of each entry, there is a quote from another author or writer. It’s really interesting. I like to watch Book Television just to see what the authors are saying but I don’t often read a lot of writer’s quotes. It’s nice to see those in the book.

In this one, in particular, Paul Hogan says, ‘Everything has been said; but not everything has been said superbly, and even if it had been, everything must be said freshly, over and over.’”

Barbara: “Isn’t that wonderful? I love that quote too. It’s so true. There is nothing new under the sun. It’s a paradox as our stories are very similar but the details of our stories are different and new and fresh. In that section, I was quoting a student who was always emailing me. At that point, it was about Nora Ephron who just passed away a couple weeks ago, and she felt that Nora Ephron had highjacked all her material to write about.”

Chase: “You can still explore themes that have already been written about and explored. I love comic books and if you think about it, Spiderman has been out since the 1960s, but there are literally thousands and thousands and thousands of Spiderman stories but they still come out with a brand new one every week.”

Barbara: “Isn’t that amazing?”

Chase: “So, just because something has been said, it shouldn’t scare writers away from tackling that subject as well.”

Barbara: “Exactly.”

Chase: “Day 178 The Duty of Poets and Writers. I like this, ‘The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.’

That quote reminds me of Joseph Gold’s Read for Your Life: Literature as Life Support System. Are you familiar with that book?”

Barbara: “No, I’m not. I’m gonna take a note of it. I love that title!”

Chase: “It’s great. He uses books in his therapy sessions with patients and they can learn a lot through other people’s stories about their own experience. He believes that reading helps us in all aspects of our lives. Stories help us reorganize thinking, help to resolve problems by reviewing situations from a different viewpoint. Reading gives us more insight into those things.”

Barbara: “That’s fabulous. As soon as we are finished, I am going to look that up on Amazon. I believe that so strongly.”

Chase: “Yeah, it’s a great book. The same day, in your book, Day 178, the quote under that entry is, “Certaintly morality should come first for writers, critics, and everybody else. People who change tires. People in factories. They should always ask, is this moral? Not, will it sell?” and that’s from John Gardner.”

Barbara: “He was such a moral writer too. It’s so true. At the writer’s program at UCLA, I teach creative writing and most of my students are really serious about exploring their lives and putting something important down on the page. The screenwriting classes are very different, I think. And I don’t mean to make any mass generalizations here, but people are thinking more about breaks and making money, etc, etc. I don’t want to put screenwriters down because I know some very serious ones.”

Chase: “Writing novels is different from writing screenplays as well.”

Barbara: “Totally”

Chase: “I write both, but I let things develop organically. I know that there are certain beatsheets and things you can get when writing a screenplay that say, ‘This should happen on this page,’ and like you said before, some people can write with those kinds of plans but I feel it handcuffing. I also don’t think each story needs to follow that rigid path. Like you’ve mentioned it the book, there really aren’t any blueprints to writing.

But, I read a book entitled Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. He’s got a blog called Story Fix and he says that there are Six Core Competencies. He’s basically saying these six things need to be in your story and that you should block them out and you should figure out where they are. I read it, but I much prefer as a manual for writing Stephen King’s—“

Barbara: “His memoir book. It’s about his writing life and—“

Chase: “It’s called On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.

Barbara: “That’s a terrific book. I love that!”

Chase: “It certainly is, but I’ve been wondering a lot lately about my process. I keep reading blog post after blog post where it says we should plan out our stuff or we’ll have to write draft after draft to fully flesh out material that should have been in our original plan. It’s really been conflicting me lately, like am I writing wrong?”

Barbara: “You can’t write wrong, Chase. There is now way to write wrong. I think you are going to write draft after draft no matter how you start. I’m always reading those books and those blog posts like ‘5 things your story should have’ or ‘10 elements you need to tell your story.’ And they never work for me because I have to get into the story and find that for myself. It’s not like baking a cake where you are going to have a little of this and a little of that, where you are going to preheat the oven, and sift the flower. I think writing is an incredibly messy process and you just can’t be afraid of the mess to get into it.

Here’s an example. I have a grandson named Axle and I have a photograph of him at age 2 and he’s painting. He’s doing a painting that I have hanging in my house right now. He is covered in blue paint. He has blue paint up his nose and in his ears. And he’s created this beautiful painting out of the blue paint. I think that’s how we write. We gotta get into the blue paint and eventually we’ll create something beautiful.”

Chase: “Going back to what we were talking about earlier about being moral with our writing. These blogs posts that are ‘5 Ways to Write’ and ’10 Scenes You Must Have.’ Those kinds of posts sell. I don’t know why but anything with a number in it.”

Barbara: “That’s true. When I do writing articles, I always do that. I always put numbers in and push eberything into the numbers, but then you take the numbers with a grain of salt.”

Chase: “Another thing that really annoys me about Internet copy is stuff like ‘The Batman Guide to Writing’ or “The Eminem Guide to Writing Children’s Books.’ They put stuff together that doesn’t match at all and then they take some mythology from it. People searching will stumble across it and they’ll read it because it seems weird but to me, it doesn’t seem honest.

That’s one of the reasons I like your book because you say, ‘It’s messy, get in there and do it, and don’t be afraid’ and you give us all sorts of inspiration. Morally, I think that’s the better way to go.

I am so glad I got this book.

How can people find out more about you if they want to get in touch with you?

Barbara: “I have a website barbaraabercrombie.com and I have a blog writingtime.typepad.com. They can email me through my website or make comments on the blog.”

Chase: “This is your fourteenth book and I hope writers go and pick it up. Your fifteenth book is another one that writers are going to want to get as well. It has been a pleasure talking to you. Thanks a lot.”

Barbara: “It’s been a pleasure talking to you too. And by the way, you have the coolest name, Chase March. I love it!”

That’s concludes the interview. Please download the podcast for free, stream it with the player below, and share it on Twitter, Facebook and everywhere else you hang out online.

Thanks for listening! 

If you cannot see the audio controls, listen/download the audio file here

Write Dangerously with Barbara Abercrombie (Author Interview and Podcast)

Chase: “All right everybody, this is Chase March and I have Barbara Abercrombie on the phone, author of A Year of Writing Dangerously:365 Days of Inspiration and Encouragement.

Download the podcast of this interview for free, stream it with the player below, or keep reading the transcript.

I think this is a book that a lot of writers will be able to enjoy. You’ve broken it down so there is an entry for every single day of the year. They are vignettes or advice and things for writers. So how did you go about compiling this?”

Barbara: “I got the title first and I loved the title, and then I didn’t know exactly how I was going to do it. A friend of mine, who is a writer, who has published a number of books said, ‘You’ve got to do it day by day. I’d buy a book that had something day by day.’

It took me a while to find the voice for it. This is my fourteenth book and every book I write, it’s always a struggle – How are you going to tell the story? What voice are you gonna write it in? And it was just fun because I’m a literary groupie really, and there are a lot of anecdotes of writers in the book. And so I just sat in my office and read memoir and read biographies of writers. Then I used a lot of my own experiences too as a writer.

Chase: “That’s pretty cool how you were talking about finding voice because there is an entry in there, # 8 The Voice that Chirps and Chips and that talks about the negative voices, and I’m sure all writers have this, and even people in their regular lives. The quote reads, ‘We’re so good with negative voices: You idiot, what kind of an idea is that? Who do you think you are to be writing a book?’ The thought goes on that you can actually not listen to those voices.

Which reminds me of another book I just read, Maestro’s Stick to Your Vision. He’s a rapper from Canada here and he talked about how you could trick your brain. Every time you have one of those negative thoughts, you can replace it with a positive though, then you are tricking your mind by deleting the negative thoughts and inserting the positive thoughts. He said that you don’t even have to believe them, just as long as you do that, you will start to believe them and ‘Boom, you’ve tricked your mind.’


Barbara: “I think that’s really true. I really do, or you just tell yourself to do the work. Do the work, don’t judge yourself, write, and once you get into the writing, that’s the way to get that voice to shut up. I think everybody has a negative voice on their shoulder that kicks in every once in a while. The trick is, of course, to shut it up and to replace it with a sweetheart voice that says, ‘Just do the work. It’s okay. Keep going.’”

Chase: “Which reminds me of Day 11 in A Year of Writing Dangerously. “… you don’t have to ‘like’ your own writing. You don’t have to be calm and self-assured. In fact, it’s better if you’re not. It keeps you honest.” I think that is what holds some people back. They’re afraid that their writing isn’t good enough, but as long as you do the work, then you can try to put that thought aside.”

Barbara: “You know, it’s impossible to judge your own work in the middle of it. Fortunately, I don’t know too many people who just love their own work. They just do it because I think they are insufferable probably. But you are struggling to create something. It’s a work in progress and it’s hard to write. You just can’t judge it.

I also say, ‘Put it away. Don’t ever throw it out! Put it away, come back to it and you’ll find something in it.’ I also tell my students, ‘Whatever you write is important because maybe it’s not what is gonna stay on the page but by going through your writing, you are getting to what you need to write and will write eventually.’’

Chase: “That’s very cool. I’m a teacher as well. I’m an elementary school teacher. You teach creative writing at UCLA.”

Barbara: “I do, and the writer’s program which is part of extension, which I love because I get all ages, people, from 18 to 90. My oldest student was 87. It’s such a variety of people. Many of them wanted to be a writer or started writing in school and whether the mechanics of life, they didn’t have time to do it, or a teacher said something snarky and they got scared and stopped. It’s exciting because everyone comes to class with a dream and I think they’re easier to teach than children, which I’ve done also.”

Chase: “I was an English major so I was dissecting books in my undergrad. I really wanted to be a writer but the fact that I was looking going through all these books and looking at such minute things such as imagery and symbolism, and I thought, ‘There’s no way I can do that!’ It scared me from actually writing for a while.”

Barbara: “I think that’s true of a lot of people. I went to one year of college and I was a drama major. And then I quit and went to New York to become an actress because I realized that I had always wanted to be a writer but I always thought it would be too hard. Acting seemed much more easy than writing, and I was right. It took me ten years to go back to it after my first career.”

Chase: “The weird thing is, I found that when I started writing, I always grow my story, kind of organically and let it see where it goes and just write, kind of without a roadmap. You talk about that with the headlight analogy a lot of writers know about in Day 254.”
Barbara: “I love your expression, ‘grow your story’ because that’s really what happens. I’ve never heard it expressed that way before. But stories grow and you don’t know where they’re going. There are some writers who block everything out and it works for them. I don’t know many writers like that.

And I don’t know where what I am writing is really going to go. Even this book, I wasn’t sure of the voice or the tone, or would it have an arc. I didn’t know what I was doing, and I never know what I’m doing when I start a book. But that’s why it’s exciting to write because you are figuring out what you really think and believe.”

Chase: ‘It’s like we are exploring the unknown and we’re actually coming into things. When I get an idea,  it takes a while before that idea sort of cooks in my brain before I’ll start writing it. And then when I do start writing it, I’ll write something weird and I won’t even know why, some little detail, and I’m just typing as fast as I can. I like to get the first draft out quickly. And then further into the story, I’m surprised to find out why I’d said that little thing in Chapter 1 and this will happen in Chapter 10 and I don’t know how this happens. Am I planning in my head? I don’t know how that works exactly?”

Barbara: “I think we just have a huge well of creativity, and knowledge, and experience, and feelings, everybody does, and when we write, we’re letting this out. And I think we don’t necessarily know it ahead of time intellectually. As a teacher, I do a lot of five minute writing exercises in my classes because people don’t have time to think.

If you throw them an idea to write about and say, ‘You have five minutes to write. You can’t stop moving your pen.’ They are always astonished at what can come out of them. They will be reading something they’ve wrote in five minutes and they will start to cry and they’ll say, ‘I don’t know where this came from’ and they are surprising themselves. I think the surprise element of writing is wonderful and exciting and it happens if people allow it to happen.”

Chase: “I definitely agree. And that is something you can do with every age group. I’ve done it with primary students just be asking them for a word. I write the words on the board and we have about four or five of them and I time it. I actually write with them and then we share all of our writing afterwards. It really is a great experience, like, you say, it unblocks some of that negative thought or ‘Oh, I don’t know what to write’ because you just have to do it. ‘Who cares, let’s just go. Start.’”

Barbara: “Exactly. My next book is called Kicking in the Wall and it’s 365 Five Minute Writing Prompts based on that theory. What happens is, that you get out of your own way when you do a five-minute exercise. If you tell someone to write about horses, you have fifteen minutes, people will start agonizing over what they know about horses, or they don’t know about horses and they’ll start thinking. The trick is with the five minute time limit, they get out of their own way and simply write. It’s very exciting to be in a classroom and see that happen.”

Chase: “I was reading Day 19 and you talk about how you were going to be interviewed and how standard practice was to give the interviewer questions to ask because most interviewers rarely read the book. I read your book cover to cover—”

Barbara: “Bless you.”

Chase: “—with a pencil in my hand, and I thought, ‘What? People don’t read the book?’ This is the second interview I’ve done for a book and I read both books cover to cover.”

Barbara: “You are rare and wonderful, Chase. It’s much appreciated too.”

Chase: “I love reading and I love writing. I’m probably doing more reading than writing right now, which is a shame.”

Barbara: “I always tell my students, ‘This is how you learn how to write’ and they take out their pencils like I am going to say something really profound.  And I say, “1, read. 2, write.’ You have to read. I think writers go through periods where they read more than write and then you write more. Reading is such an integral part. I don’t know why anyone would want to be a writer if they didn’t love reading, do you?”

Chase: “People write for different reasons. I think some people write because they have a story, some people write because they think they are going to become famous, and I think some people write just because they have good taste in stories. I think I read that in your book. I have so many notes here on it.”

Barbara: “It was Ira Glass. He says, that we get into creative work because of our good taste and one of our problems is that our own writing doesn’t live up to our good taste. I just found that quote recently when I was writing the book and I love it. It’s quite profound. The better our taste is, sometimes the harder it is to write. It never really lives up to the writers you just idolize. But, like I say in the book, if you love writers and you love to write, to just be part of literature and being part of the community of writers, I think it’s a pretty happy life to do that.” 


Please come back tomorrow to read the conclusion on this transcript. In the meantime, download the podcast for free or stream it with the player below. 

Read Part 2

If you cannot see the audio controls, listen/download the audio file here

2012 – The Year of the Book

I am continuing my mission to document every single book that I read over the course of the year. Here are the latest editions to an already large list.

Fanstatic Four by J. Michael Straczynski and Mike McKone

This is the first story arc by the new creative team behind the first family of super-heroes, The Fantastic Four. Straczynski has long been one of my favourite writers, whether it be in comics or in television, he always delivers a great story.

This trade paperback contains issues #527-532 of the on-going monthly comic book series. After that many stories having already been published, it is hard to believe that a writer could come on board and add something new and exciting to the origin story of the superhero team, but Straczynski does just that. I won’t spoil it for you here, but I will give you a little background information just in case you have only seen the films.

Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic) and Susan Storm (Invisible Women) are now married and have children. They and the other two members of the Fantastic Four live in the open without having secret identities in the Baxter Building.

That’s all you need to know to enjoy this story, the great writing, and the amazing art. It is well worth your time. I really enjoyed reading it.

I Suck at Girls by Justin Halpern

This is a memoir, of sorts, by Justic Halpern. He is the creator of Sh*t My Dad Says, which started out as a Twitter feed and quickly became a phenomenon developing into a book and a television series. While this isn’t a particularly inspiring or hilarious book, the introductory story really caught my attention. It’s mostly about his awkward teenage years that of course include the observations and witty comments of his father.

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

This is a non-fiction text about the spread of ideas, products, messages, and behaviours. Gladwell notes that these things can sometimes spread so quickly that they practically become epidemics. He explains how this has happened with examples from all sorts of realms and with the help of three specific types of people.

I must admit that I actually listened to this book instead of reading it. I love bringing an audio book along for the drive whenever I have to take a long trip somewhere. Gladwell makes some really interesting observations in this book and talks specifically about why certain things “stick” while others are simply forgotten. If I had of been reading it, I probably would have marked down all sorts of passages to share with you. That’s the only flaw of listening as opposed to reading. Perhaps I will have to revisit this book in the future for just that reason.

Happy Reading