Arranging An Author Visit – ‘Who You Gonna Call?’

Suppose you are a teacher or teacher-librarian on the hunt for an engaging presenter. Or conversely, suppose you are a published author who wants to visit schools and classrooms. To borrow a line from the Ghostbusters theme, “Who you gonna call?”

If you live in Winnipeg or rural Manitoba, you might contact Prairie Bookings, an agency that connects teachers and teacher-librarians with local or visiting authors of children and teen material. Started a few months ago by two energetic Winnipeggers, Nancy Chappell-Pollack and Jen Franklin, Prairie Bookings is the only firm in Manitoba to provide such a service.

Chappell-Pollack is a sister to award-winning Winnipeg YA author, Colleen Nelson. When one of Colleen’s books was nominated for a White Pine Award for the Forest of Reading program in Ontario, Chappell-Pollack saw first-hand how an Ontario-based agency – Author’s Booking Service – expedited the process of connecting authors to schools. Believing there was a need for a similar service in Manitoba, Chappell-Pollack and Franklin founded Prairie Bookings.

“I strongly and distinctly remember author visits when I was going to school,” Chappell-Pollack, a mother of four, said in a phone interview. “I can tell you probably all of them and what they wrote or if it was a graphic novel or poetry. Those stick in my mind so I really feel strongly that it is important to have that in our school system.”

While Prairie Bookings might be the new kid on the block, it already has an up-and-running website (www.prairiebookings.ca) and a roster of willing and capable authors with more expected in the coming months. “We connect authors from Manitoba and beyond with interested educators and libraries for professional paid presentations,” Chappell-Pollack said.

Each author has a webpage on the Prairie Bookings site that features a biography as well as details about the author’s presentation, fee structure, and grade level suitability. To connect schools and authors, Prairie Bookings charges a 10% booking fee. This is deducted from the fees collected by the author. When necessary, Prairie Bookings will organize transportation for out-of-town authors. “We take care of the details,” Chappell-Pollack noted.

To communicate with schools, Prairie Bookings emails flyers and announcements to teachers and teacher-librarians on their mailing list. Currently, Chappell-Pollack and Franklin have 100 contacts in their database.  They expect the number to grow rapidly as word spreads. While they are currently targeting Winnipeg schools and rural centers close to the city, they plan to extend their service to other areas of Manitoba eventually.

Prairie Bookings prides itself on offering quality classroom experiences. Chappell-Pollack noted that not every author might have the right mix of ingredients to be a successful presenter. “You could be a strong writer, but not a strong presenter or vice versa. It’s finding that right mix between an author who has a strong product and can also present it well and keep kids engaged that is the key to a successful experience. So far, we have been lucky to have reached out to authors, or had authors reach out to us, who are really strong candidates.”

Prairie Bookings offers a diverse list of presenters, from authors specializing in dystopian fiction (Melinda Friesen) and historical fiction (Gabriele Goldstone, Marsha Skrypuch) to others who write non-fiction (Larry Verstraete) or  realistic fiction (Maureen Fergus, Anita Daher, Colleen Nelson). That said, it is difficult to pigeon-hole the offerings since many authors write in more than one genre and present to a variety of age levels.

Chappell-Pollack and Franklin are hoping to add other published authors to the roster, and those interested can contact them through their website. Teachers and teacher-librarians wanting to be added to Prairie Bookings mailing list can send an email request to prairiebookings@gmail.com. Prairie Booking can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

For Larry Verstraete, an award-winning author of books for young people, writing is all about the journey and often the perfect writing storm occurs when high adventure, science and history converge. An advocate for literacy, Larry often visits schools and libraries to share his passion.

The Story Behind Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’

Marley was dead: to begin with.  There is no doubt whatever about that.  The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner.  Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to.  Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

All in all, 1843 was not a good year for Charles Dickens, especially late 1843.  American Notes, a narrative about Dickens’ travels to Canada & the United States, sold well the previous year.  In 1843, sales slumped.  Feeling that Dickens was poking fun at them, Americans steered away from the book.

In 1843, Dickens published Martin Chuzzlewitt.  Like other books, it was released through newspapers in chapter-by-chapter installments. English readers lost interest quickly.  Americans, already irritated, only became more annoyed.

Dickens’ reputation as a best-selling author took a hit.  So did his income. He had mouths to feed – 4 children with a 5th on the way – and writing was his primary source of revenue.  By late 1843, things were looking bleak.

Charles Dickens had been poor before.  In 1824, when he was twelve, his father was imprisoned.  John Dickens had run into debt.  Unable to pay his debtors, all his household goods – furniture included – were sold and John was incarcerated at Marshalsea Debtor’s Prison. Ultimately forced to give up their home, Charles’ mother and siblings moved into prison with his father.  To sustain himself, Charles pawned his own possessions, left school, and found alternate lodging.  He worked for meager wages in a boot-blacking factory, pasting labels onto pots of blacking.

The experience affected Dickens’ entire life.  Keenly aware of the social injustices and terrible working conditions facing the poor, especially children, Dickens advocated for change.  He toured the Cornish tin mines, wrote articles, and challenged parliamentarians to do something.

In the fall of 1843, Dickens travelled from London to Manchester to speak about child labour and the plight of the poor at a fundraiser.  On October 5 , 1843, he spoke to a capacity crowd at the Manchester Athenaeum.  The sight of healthy, well-fed people in the audience contrasted sharply with the poor, overburdened subjects of his lecture.  With Christmas not far off, the contrast cut even deeper.

With two books on the wane, with the plight of the poor so evident, and with the Christmas season drawing near, Dickens plotted a new novel during his three days in Manchester.  When he returned to London, he started writing.  Within six weeks, he had a complete manuscript.

Released on the 19th of December in 1843, A Christmas Carol was an immediate success on a number of fronts. The book breathed life into Dickens’ fading career and restored his reputation.  The cast of characters echoed the deep divisions of society and highlighted the appalling conditions facing the poor. The tale of retribution rang true and reinforced the spirit of Christmas giving.

All the elements of success fit except one.  The book did little to buffer Dickens’ sagging income. The first edition was too lavish, the price was too low, and Dickens’ profit was marginal.

The rest, as they say, is history. Dickens’ story of tight-fisted, mean-spirited Ebenezer Scrooge’s conversion to generosity and congeniality is a Christmas classic, told and retold now for almost 175 years.

Are there lessons to be learned from Dickens’ experience for those who write?  Probably there many, but for me, one stands out.  Dickens wrote about something that deeply mattered to him.  Passion drove his story, and that is evident on every page.  Find your passion – the subject you can’t wait to explore, the message you just have to deliver – and while you may not write in the style of Dickens, chances are that you will be able to write like the dickens.

For more about Charles Dickens check http://www.dickensfellowship.org

This post was adapted from another at Larry Verstraete’s The Story Behind blog.

For Larry Verstraete, an award-winning author of books for young people, writing is all about the journey and often the perfect writing storm occurs when high adventure, science and history converge. An advocate for literacy, Larry often visits schools and libraries to share his passion.

My Year of MYRCA

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This past year the Manitoba Young Readers Choice Award (MYRCA) celebrated its 25th anniversary. Each year for a quarter century now, grade 5 to 8 students across the province have been offered 15 to 18 shortlisted Canadian novels to read, discuss, and assess. In mid-April, students who have read or heard read a minimum of 3 titles vote for their favourite. Votes are collected, tabulated, and when the dust settles a MYRCA winner and two Honor Book winners are announced.

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This year, my mystery-adventure novel, Missing in Paradise, was among 17 other honoured titles on the 2015-2016 MYRCA shortlist. My book didn’t win. That honor went to Kenneth Oppel for his wonderful novel, The Boundless. But, as with many things in life, winning isn’t everything. In my case, it was definitely the journey that counted.

Here are a few highlights from my banner year:

Early May, 2015– The shortlist for 2016 is announced. I see names I recognize – icons like Eric Walters, Deborah Ellis, Kenneth Oppel & Jennifer Dance. Wow!  I  am on the same list.

AT Ste Anne School in Ste Anne, Manitoba
                      At Ste Anne School in Ste Anne, Manitoba

October 19-21, 2015 – On a MYRCA blitz sponsored through grants by the Manitoba Arts Council, I visit schools in Carmen, Ste. Anne & Richter. City or rural, kids everywhere share a common bond over books, but for many rural students meeting a ‘real live’ author is first-time experience. As MYRCA’s ambassador I spread the word of its merits, hoping to hook teacher-librarians not already involved in the program.

At the Roundtable-MYRCA event
                          Hopping tables at the MYRCA-Roundtable event

 

With fellow authors Melinda Friesen, Suzanne Costigan, Gabriel Goldstone Deborah Froese
               With fellow authors Melinda Friesen, Suzanne Costigan,                                      Gabriel Goldstone & Deborah Froese

October 21, 2015 – At a combined MYRCA & Winnipeg Children’s Literature Roundtable dinner event, I sit at a table with 7 others. Some are teachers, others students , librarians, parents. We engage in a lively discussion about reading, writing, school, travel… A half-hour later, I move to another table. A new group. A half-hour later yet another move, another group. It’s a unique experience – readers of books meeting the people who write them, and finding common ground in their love of stories.

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December 16, 2015 – Walking into the library of École Saint-Avila during lunch break, I am floored by what I find. Sixty-five students are involved in the school’s MYRCA program. It’s a huge number! In collaboration with the teacher-librarian, two parents spearhead the operation. The kids are totally hooked. Many have already read more than their required quota and are eager for more.

MYRCA Display at Ralph Maybank School
               MYRCA Display at Ralph Maybank School

Feb. 10, 2016 – An email arrives from the mother of a home-schooled student. Her son has read my book and has a suggestion. At the one point, my main characters use a home-made metal detector. He’s researched the topic and found a website with detailed information. Could I add the link to my author website? I write back. Certainly and thank you my resourceful reader.

April 2016 – After an author visit, a grade six student lingers, waiting for others to leave before approaching. He describes his favourite scene from the book, then high-fives me for “doing such a good job” . Later, his teacher tells me that he has Aspergers. She’s surprised by his response. Normally, he is detached and rarely engages, but this time…. Somehow this time, it was different.

So there you have it. A few highlights from my MYRCA journey. The goal of the program is to promote literacy by celebrating the best in Canadian literature. As an author, I saw evidence of literacy at each stop – eager readers gobbling up books, speaking of characters and plots that resonated with them, and networking with the writers who crafted the stories they love.

Considering the 400 plus titles offered by MYRCA over its 25 year history, and the thousands of young readers involved in the program, MYRCA has achieved its goal in spectacular fashion.

Congratulations MYRCA on 25 outstanding years!

For Larry Verstraete, an award-winning author of books for young people, writing is all about the journey and often the perfect writing storm occurs when high adventure, science and history converge. An advocate for literacy, Larry often visits schools and libraries to share his passion.

Entice Readers With Double-Duty Writing

sof_sof_0000 / Pixabay

Recently, author Nick Hornby (About Boys) offered this comment in The Telegraph:

“I have boys, and boys are particularly resistant to reading. I had some success recently with Sherman Alexie’s great young adult novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian – I told my son it was highly inappropriate for him, and one of the most banned books in America. That got his attention, and he raced through it.”

Bribery? Perhaps. But sometimes that’s what it seems to take to entice pre-teen and teen boys to start a book and stick with it to the end. Research shows that when it comes to reading skills, boys lag a grade – and often more – behind girls, and while girls might have patience for lingering starts and slow moving plots, boy will often quit unless they’re embroiled in action from the get-go.

Brain chemistry complicates things even further. Boy brains are wired front to back with little cross-over between the right and left hemispheres. When reading, boys largely process information with their left hemispheres. Girls are hard-wired across the hemispheres, a bonus when it comes to interpreting visual or spatial clues. Girls also have a language processing center in their right front hemispheres that boys lack. End result? When it comes to sniffing out sensory details or to assembling visual-spatial impressions, girls leave boys at the starting gate.

So what’s a writer to do? Long descriptive passages are killers for reluctant boy readers, yet many boys need sensory details to fully realize the world that the writer creates. A quandary, n’est pas?

One solution is to multi-purpose scenes so that they do both simultaneously. By carefully choosing words that imply action while at the same providing sensory information, the writer delivers a double hit for action-craving, sensory-starved boys.

Here’s an example from Rick Riordan’s The Sea of Monsters:

Sea of Monsters“Another fireball came streaking toward me. Tyson pushed me out of the way, but the explosion still blew me head over heels. I found myself sprawled on the gym floor, dazed from smoke, my tie-dyed T-shirt peppered with sizzling holes. Just across the center line, two hungry giants were glaring down at me.”

The entire paragraph is bristling with action. Notice the limited number of adjectives: tie-dyed, sizzling, hungry. Notice the abundance of verbs: streaking, sprawled, dazed, peppered, glaring. Riordan carefully chooses verbs that not only denote action, but also embody sensory impressions. Readers can see ‘sprawled’. They can feel ‘dazed’. And that T-shirt ‘peppered with sizzling holes’ – now there’s a verb-adjective combination that readers can see, hear and possibly even smell.

Here’s another example, this time the opening paragraph from a non-fiction story called ‘Lynmouth’s Challenge’ that I wrote for At the Edge: Daring Acts in Desperate Times:

At the Edge“On January 12, 1899, wind battered the tiny seaside village of Lynmouth, England, shattering windows and blasting doors. The fierce gale brought sheets of rain and tossed waves from the nearby Bristol Channel into the streets. Only the foolish dared venture outdoors.”

I find beginnings difficult to write. In a few lines, it’s my job to engage readers while also setting the stage for the rest of the story. In this case, I hoped to paint a scene, providing readers not only with images of the storm, village and villagers, but also of the fight ahead. Word choices like battered, shattering, blasting, and tossed all echo the intensity of the storm while enabling readers to see, hear and feel it for themselves.

Show don’t tell is an oft-repeated rule for writers. For boy readers, writers might need to go a step further by building a range of sensory impressions through carefully selected actions.

Larry Verstraete (www.larryverstraete.com) is the author of 14 books for youngsters, the most recent being Missing in Paradise, his first middle grade novel.  Currently he is working on Dinosaurs of the Deep, a book for Turnstone Press about the Western Interior Seaway.

Other posts you might enjoy:

Writing for Fickle Boy Readers

Great Beginnings 1: The Five Line Test

Hanging Ornaments on Your Story Tree

 

For Larry Verstraete, an award-winning author of books for young people, writing is all about the journey and often the perfect writing storm occurs when high adventure, science and history converge. An advocate for literacy, Larry often visits schools and libraries to share his passion.
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