Teaching Writing–Inviting New Stories into Your Life

IMG_1587Someone said I was returning to square one, teaching writing at night. It’s been about a decade since I passed the creative writing torch at Sheridan College to other authors.(During that time I’ve continued to visit classrooms and libraries and instruct and conduct various workshops.)

But teaching at the Mississauga Living Arts Centre is not the same.  Just look at my classroom. It doubles as a visual arts studio. Imagine having to shut the door so we can hear ourselves over the symphony practising across the way.  (instead of the cleaning lady vacuuming).  A weekly routine was  asking the members of the orchestra to clear their palates of drums from our classroom’s front door. Another routine was to collect my attendance papers by walking past a row of parents and their daughters in tutus, most of them reading, some from traditional books,  others devices, as they waited for class; later returning these same papers, passing through the same hallway this time listening to classical piano while these children danced, parents still reading outside the door.

But it’s never about the setting. It’s not even about the learning that you do when you try to articulate your passion through notes and exercises to your students.

It’s about the students themselves.IMG_1589

On our last night together four dedicated people,of the original six,shared homemade butter tarts, cinnamon buns, and non-alcoholic bubbly. It is such a privilege to be able to get to know these four individuals so closely over eight weeks. (The cut off number to run a course is five not ten as it is for credit courses at colleges.)

We toasted creativity. I am so delighted not to have to mark and grade stories (the way I would have had to do for a college credit course.)It takes away that level of imposing values and passing judgment on writing just meant to be listened too and celebrated.

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To Ryan, Glorien, Sarah and Sneya, thank you for sharing your stories with me.

IMG_1596Is it a sunset or a sunrise returning to teaching at night? Interesting that when you look at a photo, you can never really tell the difference.  Can you?

 

 

Pitting Personality Against Hunger Games and Hollywood–The Signing

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“Hey there, would you like to have an autographed book mark from a famous Canadian writer?”  The punch line is always something about famous and Canadian combined being a bit of an oximoron; also If I were famous, they should probably know me.

Last Sunday I signed at Chapters Fairview, Burlington where a fair number of students from Canadian Martyr School came to visit, thanks to a fabulous teacher, Linda Rivard, who read two of my latest novels out loud to her class. It was a writer’s dream to watch the girls jump up and down and giggle with joy at meeting me and carrying their new books to checkout.

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Sunday, I signed at Indigo, Milton, which had painfully few customers that afternoon.  I may have signed all of seven books but I did give out some business cards to the young readers. “If you need to write a book report, and you have any questions, email me.  I can help you get an A.”  On Monday I received an email from Claire, one of my few new young readers saying “I met you at Indigo on Sunday and I bought the book that you wrote, Dying to Go Viral and I loved loved loved it. My favourite part is when Scratch kisses Jade for the first time.  I started reading the book on Sunday (right after I bought it) and finished it today (Monday).  I could NOT put it down, even for a second!

Okay, so maybe the Sunday signing was worth it too.

This past Saturday, March 21, I scored a Globe and Mail review to coincide with my signing.  This would be my first ever in 25 years of writing. Citing it as one of three YAs worth a read, Lauren Bride says “the tone is fresh and present day appropriate, challenging stereotypes, racism and how families integrate into Canadian Culture.” Thank you Lauren!

Surprisingly this did not draw any of the many customers to my table but it helped seal the deal.  I would hand out the autographed Best Friends Through Eternity post cards and quote the review shamelessly.

I lost count of how many books I sold–which is a good thing.

Does this make the whole signing thing at the blockbuster bookstore seem easy?  Because it is not.  Most often it feels like you should have written anything but whatever theme or story that you tackled.  I watched kids stream by with cartoony Wimpy Kid wannabe American books if they were younger and Divergence and Insurgence if they were older.

If I could tear them over to my lonely signing table, at some point I would have to always prove my books were “appropriate” for them to their parents.  It felt as though parents wanted a Canadian Heidi for their young readers if they were buying from me while they were okay with buying American movie books where teens slaughtered and tortured each other.  I kind of get that–they want broccoli books from me if they have been talked into buying it but they’re happy buying potato chip novels from the US/Hollywood  because their kids will gobble them up and be seen as cool just carrying the chip stories around.

So signing at a bookstore becomes pitting my friendly banter about reading and writing against Hollywood buzz. Surprisingly sometimes it works. I tell them teachers love Canadian books.  Some of them do.  Witness Linda Rivard at Canadian Martyrs. We’ll have to work at our “It’s cool to read Canadian” promotion.

In the meantime, look at all the books Chapters sold (albeit to me).  There was a buy three YAs get one for free sale!IMG_1571