One Year of Vast Imaginations

New YearHAPPY NEW YEAR!

It’s that time when no one lives in the now. We are all looking back, then looking forward. Today, is no man’s land. It neither belongs to past nor future.

We started Vast Imaginations in January of 2013 after months of planning. Today marks the end of our first year of blogging. Our growth has been modest, but steady. This year:

  • We gained 108 blog followers
  • We wrote 208 posts
  • We had precisely 9,000 views at the writing of this post

We’ve worked hard to bring quality content to our readers with every single post, but some posts have been more popular than others. I find it interesting what grabs people’s attention.nerf guns

Our top 5 posts of 2013:

  1. Chekhov’s Nerf Gun with 1,053 views
  2. Solving Story Flow Issues with Scene and Sequel with 358 views
  3. Katniss vs. Bella with 192 views
  4. Poetry for Children with 169 views
  5. Millions of Cats with 144 views

Now to the future. We want to continue to bring our readers well researched and well written content. One goal we’ve set for the coming year is to bring on guest bloggers to give some fresh perspective.

I’ve thought a lot about my personal writing goals, remembering that I should only set goals with outcomes I can affect (see Striving for BalanceMy goals for 2014:

  • Blog more about the Canadian publishing landscape.
  • Complete three more novels
  • Continue to pursue publication of Solar
  • Improve my writing skills
  • Blog once per week on my personal blog
  • Build my social media presence

Okay, I’m already tired!

Thank you to all our followers, our readers, and our commenters. As always, we love your feedback. If there are topics you’d like to see us tackle, a guest blogger we just have to bring on-board, or any other way we can be a resource to you, our reader, then please leave a comment and let us know. What are your 2014 writing goals? Please share!

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Melinda Friesen writes short stories and novels for teens. Her fingers resemble skinny popsicles as she types this post with Winnipeg weather hovering around a balmy -35 C. She’s currently working on her ninth novel and trying to ignore the Christmas Lego scattered over the living room floor.

Melinda Friesen authored Enslavement, a young adult dystopian novel, released by Rebelight Publishing. When she’s not writing, Melinda works as marketing director and acquisitions editor at Rebelight Publishing Inc.

Rhymers are Readers – Maybe Writers, Too

A small advertisement in the newspaper caught my eye the other day.

“Children who know 8 nursery rhymes by the age of 4 are usually among the best readers and spellers in the class by the age of 8.”

Tiny print along the bottom of the ad gave the name of a literacy agency and its website.  Curious about the statement, I followed the trail, first to the agency’s website and then on to other literacy-based ones.

imagesM7JZAIOUQuestions about how we learn to read and write, and especially why some of us become proficient at these skills while others do not, have long interested me. Reading aloud to children at an early age is one key to literacy, and it was a practice I employed when our own children were young – a long time ago now. We spent many happy hours together sharing stories just before bedtime, first from picture books like Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar and  Robert Munsch’s Love You Forever, then as the kids edged towards adolescence, novels the likes of  J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, Ken Oppel’s Sunwing, and Lois Lowry’s The Giver.

Today, both our “kids” are avid readers and competent writers and I give credit to the read-aloud experience for a good part of that. Research backs me up, too.  One study maintains that a child needs to have 1000 books read to them before they are ready to begin reading themselves.

But the newspaper ad claimed something slightly different – a benchmark connection to nursery rhymes, and in particular to memorizing poetry.  Here are a few other facts about nursery rhymes-poetry that I gleaned from my research:

  • Children who don’t recognize that two words rhyme, like head and bed, have a hard time learning to read
  • Children who are able to rhyme can make more guesses about what a word might be when they are reading.
  • Rhymes are a great way to learn early phonic skills (the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate letter sounds)
  • Nursery rhymes are easy to repeat so they become some of a child’s first sentences
  • Rhymes contain sophisticated literary devices – alliteration, onomatopoeia and the like are imbedded in many of them
  • Rhyming poetry often tells a story that follows a sequence of events with a beginning, middle and end – a precursor to understanding complex story structure

Dr. SeussWhile there are classic nursery rhymes – the whole Mother Goose series, for one – there are modern takes, too.  Anyone who has read Dr. Seuss aloud to a toddler can testify to its power.  (“Hands, hands, fingers, thumb…” still resonates with my “kids”, and occasionally the patter resurfaces in my head, refusing to leave no matter how hard I try).

The writing of rhyming poems and rhyming stories seems deceptively simple, but anyone who has tried it knows it’s not that easy. I discovered this myself when writing a couple of alphabet books for Sleeping Bear Press.  Every letter of the alphabet stood for something, and while I was allowed 150 words of expository text to develop content for middle-years readers, a simple 4 line rhyming fact-based poem for younger readers had to accompany each page.  Trying to align facts into a rigid structure was difficult, and getting rhythm, rhyme and explanation to play well with each other took some doing – lots of rewriting, clapping of hands/stamping of feet to check patterns, consulting a rhyming dictionary when desperate, and now and then a mumbled curse word or two.

Here’s a sample from S is for Scientists: A Discovery Alphabet where the letter Q tells about the dramatic moment when Percy Spencer discovered the magnetron’s awesome power, all of which eventually led to the development of a favourite kitchen appliance– the microwave oven:

Q is for Question

Questions popped into Percy’s head:

           he wondered how and why

chocolate could have turned to mush

           and eggs could be made to fly.

Like I said, deceptively simple, but time consuming to craft.

Writing Picture BooksAnyone interested in writing rhyming material would be well advised to consult Ann Whitford Paul’s Writing Picture Books (Writer’s Digest Books, 2009).  Paul devotes a couple of chapters to the subject of rhythm, the sounds letters make, and the four basic rhyme schemes that commonly populate picture books.  Each of the four fosters a unique mood that a writer can harness: iambic – comforting because it emulates the human heartbeat; anapest – humourous; trochee – more serious; dactyl – darker still. To internalize rhythms and patterns, Paul suggests that writers memorize poems in each of the 4 categories then recite them over and over.  She recites hers on morning walks, keeping pace, I assume, with each one’s distinctive beat.

If nothing else, writing in rhyme can be a playful way to unleash your creative self.  Paul includes this quote by Theodore Geisel, more famously known as Dr. Seuss: “Write a verse a day, not to send to publishers, but to throw in wastebaskets.  It will help your prose.  It will give you swing.  Shorten paragraphs and sentences, then shorten words…Use verbs.  Let the kids fill in the adjectives…”

Life or DeathLarry Verstraete (www.larryverstraete.com) is a Winnipeg educator and the author of 13 non-fiction books for youngsters.  His next book, Life or Death: Surviving the Impossible (Scholastic Canada) is set for release in Spring 2014.

If you liked this post, you might like these too:

This Bud’s For You, Too

Vertical, Horizontal & Other Writing Habits

Writing Groups: What Makes Ours Tick

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 Big Three

I read about “The Triple Crown of Success” in an online interview with children’s author Nancy Sanders and it sounded similar to the pattern of writing I follow so that encouraged me. Nancy who has published more than 75 books suggests that children’s writers always have at least three different kinds of writing on the go. They don’t have to work at each kind of writing everyday but should try to include all three kinds of writing in every week.

what next logo#1) Write for personal fulfillment. Nancy says you should try to write about something everyday that is tugging at your heart strings, something you are passionate about.  I like to think that for me that’s my blog What Next. Here I write about things that intrigue me, make me think, make me ask questions, touch me emotionally.  It is good writing discipline for me to have to write something on that blog everyday.

cropped-final.jpg#2) Write to get published.  You work deliberately and in a focused way to get published in the children’s writing market.  You send in queries to magazines. You work on novel projects, article ideas and picture book manuscripts.   I’ve built in motivation to do this kind of writing by joining a children’s writing group where I try to send something out to my fellow writers for critique once a month. That group also hosts this blog Vast Imaginations. It often proves to be a catalyst for my writing. I’m taking a children’s writing course by correspondence and making sure I send each assignment not only to my instructor but also to several places where it might get published. I’m reading books about writing for children and doing the suggested assignments with the idea that they will lead to a written piece I can submit to a publisher. My goal is to always have at least four projects out there. As soon as one is rejected I have to send it elsewhere or replace it with a new project I submit. 

#3) Write to earn income. You write whatever you can to earn money, even if  it is something you are not passionate about or you don’t think is neccesarily very creative or in even in the children’s writing field. For me this is my weekly newspaper column, contracts with local magazines, devotionals I write for a religious publisher and writing for contests and anthologies.

What’s interesting of course is that all three kinds of writing can intertwine. A blog post (#1) can lead to a newspaper column(#3). The research I did for  a middle years novel project I’m working on (#2) led to a series of blog posts.(#1) A newspaper column (#3) gave me an idea for a query to a children’s magazine. (#2)

A writer has to do such a balancing act all the time between quantity and quality and passion and practicality.  Keeping the big three in mind is one way to try to maintain that balance. 

If you enjoyed this post you might also like……….

Inspiring Children’s Christmas Books

Short, Seductive, Specific, Suck -Up Cover Letters

Bill Martin- Champion of Children’s Literature

MaryLou Driedger is just beginning to write fiction and non-fiction for children after working as a teacher, newspaper columnist and free-lance journalist for thirty years. She also blogs at What Next?

 

MaryLou Driedger is a free lance writer with a long career as a newspaper columnist, curriculum writer and contributor to lifestyle, education and religious publications.

Fascinations & Fears

Before we become old and life makes or attempts to make us cynical, we all have something we latch on to, something that fascinates us, either because it intrigues us, puzzles us or amuses us.

wi-kosher-champagne-cocktail-344Something as simple as how a drink can be fizzy.

One of the first books I read told of an attic full of old treasures and keepsakes. I asked my mother if there really were such things, because the only houses I knew had small attics stuffed full of insulation. Her confirmation fed my imagination with all sorts of goodies.

I was fascinated by my grandma’s teapot, a dachshund up on hind legs, his head the lid, his front paws the spout. She told me proudly how her favourite brother gave it to her, and the concept of having a favourite sibling when you’re all grown was just as fascinating a concept.20130526_165359 sm

Or how in the morning, with the light flowing through the window, our bed is the coziest place to be and yet in the evening, when the room is dark, the window even darker, and under the bed or in the closet it is the darkest yet and bed is no longer a place to enjoy.

I remember jumping in as quick as a wink in a blink, tucking my heels up under my blanket just as quickly. Visions of wolves crouching underneath with dripping fangs, and eyes of white, flooded my little brain. And yet I was sort of fascinated all the same. Where’d they come from? Why did they sleep whenever I slept, so that I woke safely every morning?

Fascination and fear sometimes go together like that. And the way everyone has different F and F’s define our individuality.

In writing, we need to make our characters stand out from each other too. Sure you can do this with their looks, but you can do so much more with personality, and to do so we can give them all different fears and fascinations. Make a list of all the important characters in your story. Think about what fascinates them. Think about what they would fear.

Cats are fascinated with fish. Dogs with bones. Birds with bugs. With our characters though, we want to come away from the stereotypes.cat-fish

Like a 10 year old girl protagonist who loves to take apart her fathers discarded computer bits to see how she could rewire them as a robot memo pad, always improving it. Or an 8 year old boy who is fascinated by how his grandmas makes all these loops on long needles and they turn into a sweater or mittens.

Deirdre, who lives on a farm, may not like the animals at all. Maybe she’s just bored of them cause she grew up with them, and can only think of the work. Maybe she fears the cows because one once stepped on her arm and broke it.

Instead she’s fascinated with the city life her cousin leads, hearing stories of how she stays up late every night, goes to a large happening school, has a boyfriend who plays in a band, and she always wears the latest footware. Deirdre loves cool shoes.

In contrast, Deirdre’s young sister, Amy, loves the farm. She’s fascinated by the births of the calves, loves to watch the eggs hatch. Everytime it’s new to her. But her fear lies in the loud bustle of the city where she once slipped from her mother’s grasp and wandered lost in the parking lot for 5 minutes, in which she feared ever seeing anyone in her family ever again.

Even just a point form chart for each character will give you insight into who they are and give them the depth needed to make them unforgettable.

Now, what are your own fascinations?3q3n04ddo5baj7zlceg.

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Christina’s motto is:
Some people see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?” (George Bernard Shaw)

Our Holiday Schedule

Happy Holidays to all of our readers!

We are almost a year at blogging away at Vast Imaginations and have immensely enjoyed seeing our regular readers consistently grow. We’ve appreciated your feedback and comments. Thank you.

Over the holidays we may be hit and miss with our posts as schedules get a little hectic. We just wanted to let you know that we will be back in full swing in the new year.

All of us from Vast Imaginations, wish you all a safe and happy New Year filled with bright ideas and tapping fingers (or pen ink swirled pages).

Suzanne’s first novel, Empty Cup, is an edgy contemporary young adult story about a seventeen year old girl who lives through life’s ultimate betrayal. Suzanne lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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