Monthly Archives: September 2011

Word on the Street — Books and some Street Theatre

Here are my video impressions of Word on the Street 2011. It’s my favourite annual celebration of booky goodness. This little video was taken with a Flip video camera and edited with Adobe Premiere Elements.

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Self-Publishing Plays — A Helpful Idea or Publishing Suicide?

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.”

Self-publishing is tempting, but not for the novel. I have a backlog of school plays which I know work because I have produced them. It’s fairly easy to see what works with multiple audiences 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 remounting my old ones in bigger venues. I direct my plays for the love of working with kids. If I self-publish my plays, it will be to share them with other teachers and get their feedback. I doubt they will make 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 imaginative adults. 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 project. When I try to interest them in my novel 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’m pessimistic about publishing my plays through the usual channels because the demand for kids’ comedy scripts is small. I’m optimistic about my novel because I’ve 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.

Drama over the P. A.

Morning announcements. They can be so boring. School announcements often follow a set format with the national anthem, followed by the date, a few information items and then the thought of the day. It’s natural to tune out something so routine, especially for students who aren’t quite awake.

Right now I’m publicizing book fair at my school with only two weeks to go. The book fair manual recommends you start planning at least five weeks ahead. Drama skills to the rescue! I am using student-created skits on the P.A. for publicity. These attract the attention of teachers and students much better than information items read by the principal. Get maximum impact by writing a real scene with snappy dialogue and some kind of conflict, however small.

Wondering what writing assignment to give your students next? Why not ask them to dramatize some morning announcements. They could be inspired by fictional schools in novels like Hogwarts, Wayside School, or Prufrock Preparatory School. Alternately, let them spoof pop stars like Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus or historical figures to tie in with the curriculum.

Back to School with Podcasting

It’s Labour Day weekend in Canada and like most teachers I’m thinking about school. My preparations are done: haircut, lesson plans and materials for the first week, walls decorated and desk organized. I think teaching is the only job where, while you are on holiday, your furniture gets moved, your computer unplugged and you have to unpack your desk before you report back to work!

I can’t complain about the vacation time, of course. I love having two months off for relaxing and writing. I’m still editing my novel-in-progress so I didn’t write  a play this summer. Instead, I’ve been concentrating on learning how to manipulate digital pictures and film. It’s quite astounding what you can create on a home computer.

This fall, I’m a new librarian which gives me daily access to a computer lab with students. Instead of a play or a film, this year I’m thinking of exploring podcasting. We might make videos or radio plays and upload them to school websites or even iTunes. It all depends on the interests of the students in the Media club and to what extent other teachers want to get involved with their classes.

September, so full of terror and promise.

Have a happy return!