Three Writing Games to Spark your Creativity

I hope that you have started off the new year well. I continue to accumulate ideas through the Storystorm challenge. As of today, I am up to 28. Hey, not bad! Certainly not all of them will turn into stories, but the more I have, the more chance I have of at least one being a winner.

Are you writing? I am trying to write when I can, and when I am not working on a story, I have been trying out several creative writing games that I was fortunate enough to receive as Christmas gifts.

game 1

It also includes a timer.

1. The Writer’s Toolbox
There are three different sets of devices in the toolbox:
a) Four palettes to spin to come up with a protagonist, goal, obstacle, and action.
b) Sixth sense cards: those are cards with a description using one of the senses or a memory that you are supposed to use to write a sensory landscape. It is one of my weaknesses, so I am trying to do this more often. Yesterday I started with “last year in Berlin”. Not that I was in Berlin last year, but I was there in 1994, so I managed to incorporate those memories into the story. After three minutes I drew the card “mouldy oranges”. Yikes! That took a rather compelling turn…
c) Sticks that allow you to start with a first sentence and then after a few minutes require you to add an unusual twist. There are also sticks that prod you to write about conflict, often a weakness in writers. I know it is one of mine.

game 2

2. Storymatic
This is a deck of cards that promises “six trillion stories in one little box” .
There are several ways you can use the cards, but the one way I like the best so far is choosing two gold cards to create a main character and then choosing two copper cards to lead you into the character’s story. For example, yesterday’s character was an animal psychic who carried a grudge. I had to incorporate a roller coaster and the main character leaving town in the story. Interesting…
It also has a junior edition I would like to try with the younger set.

game 3

3. Writer Emergency Pack
This is a deck of cards with two types of cards in it: an idea card and a detail card.
There are several ways you can use the cards. For example, you can pick out a matching set if you are stuck in a story to see where it takes you. I did that with my animal psychic story to see where it would lead me.
I also chose to do the writing exercise of using a well known story or fairy tale and then applying the cards to the story to see where my story could go. I chose “lose the cavalry”, that is, what happens if the “cavalry” doesn’t come to rescue the main characters, but instead they have to rescue themselves? I decided to write a piece of “Star Wars” fan fiction: what if Leia Organa rescued herself, this being a sore point with many people including myself. Why wasn’t she trained to use the Force? That would have been a whole different story!

I highly recommend all of these games. They allow you to work on different skills and provide some unexpected but also fascinating twists to your stories.

Have you ever tried any of these games? Do you have any creativity games you would like to recommend? I have written about this topic before here and here and here, if you would like more suggestions.

Leave me a comment below about your thoughts on creative writing games.

Halloweensie 2017: Monster’s Delicious Treat?

It’s one of my favourite times of year again. Yes, it’s time for Susanna Leonard Hill’s Halloweensie contest.

Here is a condensed version of this year’s rules, as taken from her website:

“Write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children (children here defined as 12 and under) (title not included in the 100 words), using the words candy corn, monster, and shadow. (Candy corn will be counted as 1 word.)”

I hope you enjoy reading this year’s story as much as I liked writing it.

Monster’s Delicious Treat?

Monster wished that kids would run screaming from his Hallowe’en decorations instead of from his mom’s treats.
Carrotgrams instead of candygrams.
Cauliflower instead of marshmallows in the s’mores.
Sardinecicles. Yuck!
“Why must everything be nutritious? I just want it to be delicious,” said Monster to his best friend, Shadow.
“Boys, I have a treat for you. Candy corn,” yelled Monster’s mom.
“Candy corn?” The boys dashed to the kitchen.
Mom held out a plate covered in long shapes.
“What’s this?” asked Monster.
Mom smiled. “It’s candy covered corn on the cob.”
“Awwww, Mom…”

Come early to get my daughter's origami with your treat!

Come early to get my daughter’s origami with your treat!

Thanks for stopping by!

To read the rest of the rules and some more Halloweensie stories, which are sure to get you in the mood for Hallowe’en, click here.


Have You Got the Creative Blahs?

Sometimes we all need to kickstart our creative side. When I am feeling that need there are several books I turn to.

1. “Rip the Page: Adventures in Creative Writing” by Karen Benke
This book is full of creativity exercises, which are interspersed with pieces of advice from writers.
One of my favourite creativity exercises from this book is “list poems”. “You can make a poem from a list of just about anything…” states Benke at the beginning of the exercise. She goes on to give several examples such as, “10 Things I Thought About As I Walked From School Today” or “What My Father Taught Me”.
Here is an example that I did in April:
10 Things that make me happy
A rainbow, especially if it’s a double one
Waking up to the sound of birds singing
Violets covering the lawn
Taking a walk in the sunshine
Laughing with people
Colouring in my colouring book
Something yummy baking–mmmm
Cream in my tea
A purring cat
Sitting in front of a fire

2. “Leap Write IN! Adventures in Creative Writing” by Karen Benke
This is the followup book to the first one. It is similar in format to the first one without the writers’ advice.
One of my favourite exercises in this book is found poems. Benke has this to say about found poems: “OK, so all you need to find found-poem treasure is to copy down words, phrases, fragments, and entire sentences exactly as you see them written or hear them spoken…They’re everywhere…On ordinary road signs. The covers of magazines. In book titles, chapter headings, and newspaper articles. Written on candy wrappers…”
One place that this is fun to do is in the car, especially on a long drive.
Here’s one I wrote in May from 1 newspaper headline, 2 notices written by my student, 1 sentence from a colouring set, and 1 sentence from a letter from school.

3. “Unjournalling” by Dawn DiPrince and Cheryl Miller Thurston

This book promises exercises that are “NOT introspective, NOT personal, and NOT boring”. Certainly the exercises are fun.
One exercise asks you to write about “What are the best reasons for doing nothing? List them.” Another asks “How many ways can you find to say no…without using the word no?” What do you think?

These books are ones I also like to use with my daughter and my writing student, who are both in grade 5.
Leave me a list poem or found poem in the comments below, if you want. I’d love to read it.

Telling Tales Festival 2017

I wrote in my blog last week that I had submitted a micro fiction story to 50 Words Stories. Well guess what? I received word on Sunday that I was going to have my piece published on Monday! Yay! Click here to read my submission, which is called “Lost”. It’s been a while since I have been published, so this was certainly a confidence booster.
My next target is Commuter Lit. I am planning on revising and then submitting the story that I submitted to the WOW contest. For Commuter Lit’s submission guidelines, click here.
Now I know I wrote in my last blog post that this week’s subject would be books on creativity. However, I forgot that it was the Telling Tales Festival in Rockton last week, so I will push the books on creativity blog post to another week.

Melanie Fishbane introduces "Anne of Green Gables" and "Anne of Avonlea"

Melanie Fishbane introduces “Anne of Green Gables” and “Anne of Avonlea”

My daughter and I arrived just in time at the festival to hear Melanie Fishbane talk about her novel “Maud”. “Maud” is a historical fiction about writer L.M. Montgomery, who is most famous for her book “Anne of Green Gables”. “Anne of Green Gables” is one of my favourite books of all time, so I can’t wait to read this novel about Montgomery’s life, although it is to a certain extent fictionalized. However, Fishbane certainly did her homework when she researched Montgomery for the story. It took Fishbane 4.5 years to write the book, and she used many primary sources including Montgomery’s journals. I was surprised to hear that Montgomery was actually very funny and satirical. That was never my impression of her. Was it yours?

Elizabeth MacLeod

Elizabeth MacLeod

Next we listened to a talk by Elizabeth MacLeod, who wrote “Canada Year by Year” to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday. I was surprised at how much knowledge MacLeod imparts in her book. In her presentation, she talked about people from a wide range of history starting with Alexander Graham Bell and ending with Craig Kielburger. How was she able to research it all? MacLeod was very engaging and got the audience involved with her questions and props.

Melanie Florence

Melanie Florence

The final speaker was Melanie Florence. I loved Florence’s first picture book called “Missing Nimama”. At this talk, Florence was introducing her second picture book called “Stolen Words” . This story is based on a conversation she wished she could have had with her Cree grandfather. Her grandfather attended residential school and erased all records of his life before attending residential school. They don’t even know what his name used to be. Can you imagine? I admire Florence for her ability to make difficult topics accessible to younger readers. Both books are well worth a read. I look forward to reading her soon to be published third picture book called “My Blue Suitcase”, also about residential school.
What I most like about the Telling Tales Festival is that it is still small enough that many of the author talks feel like intimate gatherings. I really enjoyed my time there, and I am already looking forward to next year’s event.
Have you been to any recent book events? Are there any new books that you have read recently that you recommend? Leave me a comment below.

Writing and Life Update, September 2017

After a long hiatus, I have decided to start blogging again.
It’s been a busy time for me in the last few months. We had a great summer, going to several places including to Vancouver via the No 1 train, the Canadian. This is the trip I’ve always wanted to do, and I was not disappointed. We saw everything from the rocks and trees of Northern Ontario to the canola fields of the Prairies to the Rockies of the west. It’s an eye opening experience to the diversity of Canada.

My favourite part of the trip: the Rockies of Alberta

Besides the fun of summer travelling, there were couple of major changes for me. For one, I have been training to sell doTerra oils. I have always been interested in natural health products–having struggled with health problems most of my life–and I am impressed with doTerra’s ethics as well as the purity of its products. They have a great membership program. One of my favourite oils so far is a blend called “Serenity”, and you can read about it by clicking here.
The second change was a sad one for me, which was that my dad passed away at the end of the summer. I have blogged before a bit about my dad’s situation, and you can read about it here. My dad was 87, and although his life was challenging, it was also interesting. He was very responsible and respected, and I am touched reading all the sympathy cards that we are receiving. May you find peace after all the difficulties you faced, Dad.
Despite all the chaos, I continue to write. I am still working away on my ICL course, learning how to write magazine articles for children. But I have also gone back to writing for adults. Perhaps it is my way of coping with the grief of my father’s decline and death, as many of my adult stories deal with his illness. For example, our slightly fictionalized relationship was the subject of a story I submitted to a WOW contest. I didn’t win, but I got some great feedback. If you haven’t heard of WOW’s contests, head on over to this page. They have one for every season. As well, I just entered a micro fiction story based on my dad’s life to Fifty-Words Stories. I have always loved writing short stories, and the challenge of writing one in exactly 50 words appeals to me. Check out submission guidelines by clicking here. Read the 2016 winner, a subtle death story, by clicking here.
I intend to divide my time between writing for adults and children. I have already signed up for the Picture Book Summit, which is in October. This online conference is in its third year, and it has never failed to disappoint. This year one of the superstar keynote speakers is Tomie dePaola. I look forward to hearing what he has to say.
I am undecided as to whether I will attend the CANSCAIP conference, which is in November, this year. I may attend virtually this year. In the meantime, I am awaiting results of their Writing for Children Competition. I entered one of my picture book stories this year.
Finally, I continue to volunteer tutor a grade 5 student in writing. Stay tuned for my next blog, which will highlight several books that I use to spark her and my own creativity.
So what have you been up to? Please leave me a comment below.

Two Picture Book Biographies about Inspirational Women

Every March I discover so many fabulous new (to me) picture books through ReFoReMo!
I love picture book biographies. My daughter and I often learn about someone we have never heard about, and, if we are really interested, we can do some study on our own to learn more.
This year I will share with you two picture book biographies I was introduced to through ReFoReMo about inspiring women.

1. “Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine” by Laurie Wallmark, Illustrated by April Chu
This book was mentioned in this blog post about comparison titles.
I was curious to find out more about one of the main characters in “The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency” series by Jordan Stratford, one of my daughter’s favourite middle grade series. (For more on that click here.)
The book does not disappoint. The illustrations are equally as remarkable as the words.
Ada Lovelace was always fascinated by numbers. As a young woman she met Charles Babbage, a famous inventor, who showed her his “Difference engine”, a mechanical calculator. If you want to see a “Difference engine” and how different it is from today’s calculators, you can check out this video.

Imagine having to take this to school!
Charles Babbage also told Ada Lovelace about his “Analytical Engine”, a mechanical computer. But this device had never been built. The “Analytical Engine” was the inspiration for the world’s first computer program, written by Ada Lovelace.
I look forward to Laurie Wallmark’s next picture book, which is called “Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code”.

2. “Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois” (Words by Amy Novesky, Pictures by Isabelle Arsenault)
This book was introduced to me in this blog post of mentor texts for books that are layered in both art and writing. The luscious language combined with the gorgeous illustrations do indeed make this a fabulous read.
Louise Bourgeois grew up surrounded by tapestries as her mother ran a tapestry workshop. She studied math in university but after her mother died she turned to art, eventually becoming a world famous artist. She is most know for her spider sculptures. Many people find spiders scary, but Louise Bourgeois did not. Spiders are weavers, like her mother was, spinning and repairing webs.



I realized after I read the book that I had seen one of her famous spider sculptures (Maman) and even posed in front of it for a picture when I was in Ottawa.
Here is a video explaining more about the Ottawa installation.

Amy Novesky has also written about Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo, and Imogen Cunningham.

Both of these books are also mentioned in this ReFoReMo blog post by Vivian Kirkfield for having great first lines.

Have you been following ReFoReMo? If not and you are looking for some mentor texts for picture books, I highly recommend it.

Have you found some new favourite picture books?

Valentiny 2017

As Valentine’s Day approaches our thoughts naturally turn to…Susanna Leonard Hill’s second annual Valentiny contest!
This year, we have to “write a Valentines story appropriate for children (children here defined as ages 12 and under) maximum 214 words in which someone is confused!“ For the full rules, click here.
Last year at this time I was sweating in tropical Hainan, celebrating the Chinese new year. I remember desperately trying to find a place where I could connect to the internet to upload my Valentiny 2016 story. This year I am at home and it’s a totally different story. For one thing, IT’S COLD! But at least I have no problem connecting to the internet.

Candy Calamity

“Package delivery for Mr. Cupidus!”
“That’s me.” The head candy maker climbed down the ladder.
“Sign here, please.” Mr. Cupidus signed.
“Your load’s over there. Enjoy,” said the delivery man.
The head candy maker rubbed his hands. He danced over to the load of 1000 tons of chocolate, just waiting to be moulded into heart shapes.
Mr. Cupidus whipped off the tarp.
He stopped. He stared. He gasped.
Mr. Cupidus’ heart beat faster. “What’s this?”
Instead of a big brown blob there was a huge mound of red and white goop.
Mr. Cupidus sniffed. “Mint.”
He tasted. “Yes, definitely mint.”
He tugged at his heart shaped tie. “What am I going to do with 1000 tons of candy cane fondant?”
“Hey, Mister,” he yelled at the delivery driver. But the driver sped away.
Mr. Cupidus hung his head. “It’s too late anyway. Valentine’s Day is tomorrow.”
Then his head snapped back up. “Unless…I just adjust my controls?”
Mr. Cupidus jumped into action. “Yes, that’s it!”
The next morning, Mr. Cupidus looked at the newspaper.
The headline read:
     Heart-Shaped Candy Canes a Valentine’s Day Hit!
     Mr. Cupidus Declared a Genius!
Mr. Cupidus grinned. “I wonder…What should I do for Easter?”

Don’t forget to read some of the other stories. We participants appreciate it.
And Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope that you enjoy it with your partner and/or children or just giving yourself some self-love.

The Animals’ Twelve Days of Christmas

It’s time for the sixth annual holiday contest!

Here is a condensed version of the rules, as taken from Susanna Leonard Hill’s website: “Write a children’s holiday story (children here defined as approximately age 12 and under) using the basic format/concept of The Twelve Days Of Christmas!  Your story may be poetry or prose, silly or serious or sweet, religious or not, based on Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or whatever you celebrate, but is not to exceed 300 words.”
Now this is a challenge! After starting with 424 words, I managed to whittle it down to 299. I hope you enjoy it.

The Animals’ Twelve Days of Christmas

Blinky Elf rubbed her hands together. Winky Elf stomped her feet.
“I just don’t understand why we have to do this,” said Winky.
“You’ll see,” said Blinky.
Winky frowned. “We have to do this how many places?”
“You’ll see why…”
Both cleared their throats.
“On the first day of Christmas…my true love gave to me…Some black oil sunflower seeds.”
Blinky scattered the seeds.
“On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me…Two bales of hay.”
Winky put down the hay.
“On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me…Three pine cones.”
Blinky hung them up.
Winky saw a few birds land.
“On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…four corncob pipes…”
The elves stopped and looked at each other.
Blinky shuffled the papers. “Ah, this is the right version.”
“On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…four cobs of corn.”
Winky dropped the corn.
“On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…five water tubs…”
Both elves heaved the tubs of water over.
Rabbits and squirrels joined the birds.
“…Six balls of suet.”
Blinky hung up the suet.
“…Seven tempting raisins.”
Winky saw some deer now and more birds.
“…Eight yummy flowers.
Blinky put them down.
“…Nine scrumptious hawthorns.”
More and more animals arrived.
“…Ten tasty carrots.”
Blinky flung the carrots.
“…Eleven luscious berries.”
Winky scattered the berries.
“Last verse,” said Blinky.
“On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…twelve fragrant apples.”
Blinky threw the apples.
“OK, let’s go,” said Blinky. “We have a tight schedule.”
Winky looked back. Deer, rabbits, mice, cardinals, chickadees, sparrows, squirrels, nuthatches, and woodpeckers feasted.
Winky smiled. “We have to do this how many places?”

<Phew!> I look forward to reading the rest of the entries.

And for those of you who want to sing it, here’s the whole last verse:

On the twelfth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me:
Twelve fragrant apples,
Eleven luscious berries,
Ten tasty carrots,
Nine scrumptious hawthorns,
Eight yummy flowers,
Seven tempting raisins,
Six balls of suet,
Five water tubs,
Four cobs of corn,
Three pine cones,
Two bales of hay,
And Some black oil sunflower seeds.

And if you haven’t read the distinctly Canadian version “A Porcupine in a Pine Tree” by Helaine Becker, you’re in for a treat. See a preview in the video below.

Merry Christmas! Happy holidays!

The Gift of Inspirational Words

I love Alayne Kay Christian’s idea of “giving the gift of inspirational and touching words” to blog readers. She is doing this for a contest; however, we should make this a regular feature in our kidlit community, don’t you think?

My journal

My journal

While looking for an appropriate quote, I revisited my journal, one where I had saved quotes and pictures and cartoons over the years. I had not looked at it for many years, and I really enjoyed myself. I should do it more often.
In the end I decided to go with two quotes that I have had hung up for years. But because they have been hung up, they have sort of blended into the landscape. Yesterday I read them with fresh eyes.
Both quotes have to do with the topic “Believe”. “Believe” is something especially relevant to my life right now, as I have been really struggling with my writing since September. Last week’s five rejections in three days didn’t help…
And so I present to you my two inspirational quotes. I hope you like them as much as I do.

When you come to the edge of all that you know, you must believe one of two things:

There will be earth to stand on,
or you will be given wings to fly.

Author unknown

Come to the edge.
No, we will fall.

Come to the edge.
No, we will fall.

They came to the edge.
He pushed them, and they flew.

Guillaime Apollinaire

I look forward to reading the other inspirational quotes. Perhaps I will find several to add to my journal.
I encourage you to take a look at the quotes too. Maybe you will find something that you needed today.
And if you want to enter the contest, it is open until December 25.

CANSCAIP 2016 Conference

Yesterday, I attended my third CANSCAIP conference. As always, I came home inspired and full of new ideas.
I will wrap up my experience by giving you one insight I gained from each speaker.
Ashley Spires, who has written several fabulous picture books including “The Most Magnificent Thing” and “Small Saul” (our gift this year), was the first keynote speaker. She spoke on author insecurity, which she called “the not-good-enoughs”. She ended her lecture by telling us that coming to a conference like this one is like shouting in the face of the “not-good-enoughs”. I agree!

Kathy Stinson

Kathy Stinson

Kathy Stinson, best know for “Red is Best” (Canada’s “Where the Wild Things are”) and the more recent “The Man with the Violin”, talked about several challenges of writing picture books. She said that most beginnings of picture book manuscripts sounded like a lot of “throat clearing” before a speech. That is, there were many unnecessary words before the actual beginning of the story. So if you are looking for a good place to cut words, then look at your beginning first.
Helaine Becker, the hilarious and very straightforward author of many nonfiction books, gave us a lot of information in her one hour lecture on nonfiction books. She told us that when evaluating an idea, the “kiss of death” is when the information about the idea is readily found on the web.

"Breaking In" Panel

“Breaking In” Panel

My next lecture was a panel of four newly published authors (Joyce Grant, Mahak Jain, Kate Blair, and Caroline Fernandez) who shared their road to getting published. All four, who three years ago were unpublished, had very different stories. They also had loads of advice. One thing that was suggested is to go to the Ontario Library Association (OLA) SuperConference, at least to the expo. There you will find most of the kidlit publishers, as well as librarians, teachers, and book store owners. Hmmmm, I have never been, but it looks like an excellent opportunity.

Patricia Storms shows us her storyboard for "Never Let You Go"

Patricia Storms shows us her storyboard for “Never Let You Go”

My final lecture was on storyboarding with Patricia Storms, author of “Pirate and Penguin” and “Never Let You Go”. She suggested that even if you are not an illustrator, you can draw pictures along with your text when you storyboard. That way you will see what you can leave up to the illustrations and so cut out of your text.
We wrapped up the day with a final keynote from David Booth, an author and educator. He talked about how Canadian children’s books used to be and how they are today, reflecting more of actual life. He reminded us that the future of Canadian children’s books is in our hands. As he so eloquently put it, you can kill a dog in a children’s story, as long as there is a puppy later. In other words, always leave a child with hope.
Bonus: One of the comments made during the breaking in panel by a member of the audience was about the CSARN mentorship. Check it out. It’s free!
What new and/or inspiring writing information have you learned recently? Feel free to share in the comments.