Monthly Archives: January 2014



The Fishermen, by Dorothy Stevens

I am not an artist. I always start my introductions with that fact firmly stated. A writer, yes, but I don’t draw, paint, sculpt or otherwise do representational art. My mother, Dorothy Stevens, is a widely recognized painter and sculptor with decades of pieces to show for it. She has studied and taught. Her paintings have been shown in places as diverse as the Office of the Mayor of Cincinnati and the Longboat Key Arts Center.  Now in her late 90s, she still ruminates and philosophizes about art and its meanings, and wrote a one-act play to that effect several years ago, aptly titled, “What Is Art?”

My own first “professional” experience began at an art camp at the Cincinnati Art Museum.  I was eight. We were a motley crew of rising third-graders sitting outside with our sketchpads and mini-canvases, being taught about perspective, line, color, Monet, and artistic interpretation. Whatever that was.

Got Milk?Mostly, what I remember is snack time, where we were offered what were then-ubiquitous-to-school-lunchroom glass bottles of lukewarm white milk. Which we were to drink with flimsy striped-paper straws that inevitably collapsed under normal sucking conditions.

To this day, the thought of drinking that warm milk makes me sick.

Got Art?

Still, being exposed to art early on has enriched and enlivened my world. I learned to appreciate how everyone can look at the same scene and see something different in it. I learned to focus my attention on details – not just in a painting, but the world around me. I reveled in the skill it took to translate one’s vision on canvas—or through a photograph, in clay or even in a graphic novel or cartoon.


                                            Jack Maypole  ©2014

       What Would a Michelangelo Create Today?

One might even say that my picking an artist-sculptor-inventor like Leonardo da Vinci around whom to build my Out of Time science fiction story harkens back to a certain comfort and acceptance of the idea that art and learning go hand-in-hand. And, apparently, the difference in exposure to art—whether through first-hand exposure at an art museum, or just in a classroom, can play a role in later art appreciation.

Now there is some research that backs that up the idea that seeing art in person amplifies the experience. 

The study by researchers at the University of Arkansas, reported in the “Education Next” quarterly asked whether there was a difference in learning, understanding and appreciation of paintings with historical significance by third- through 12th-graders—half of whom were randomly selected to visit the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., and the other half who didn’t. Those who were exposed to another painting (not seen in the exhibit) in the classroom, but who did not attend the museum showed lower scores in engagement in observing, interpreting, associating problem finding, comparing and flexible thinking than the group who visited the museum.

Meaning live experience of art in conjunction with teacher preparation for the experience can enhance critical thinking, problem solving, observation, empathy, creativity and focus—all vital skills to educational achievement in every subject.

So, milk aside, maybe those long-ago summer experiences at the Cincinnati Art Museum were good preparation for creating the many storytelling facets of Out of Time.

Come to think of it, maybe I am an artist, of sorts, after all!

What do you think?

1. Can universal arts education have an impact on learning and engagement for our kids?

a.    If so, would you support increased attention to art education and, specifically, to providing arts-enhancement opportunities for field trips to museums, plays, dances, and other arts venues?

b.     I think we need more information and research before instituting changes to what is currently available.

c.      I don’t know enough about the subject to evaluate.

  2. How would you evaluate current exposure to the arts in K-12 learning:

a.              Insufficient.

b.              Good enough

c.               Draws too much time attention from “core” learning

3. What kinds of enrichment programs would you like to see offered for kids, in addition to what is already available?

Feel free to answer these questions in the comments below. We also welcome suggestions for future posts on the subject.


Traveling Across Universes and Learning through Story: Engaging in Digital Interactive Storytelling at Light Speed

I recently came across a delightful poem, “Fictional Characters[1]” by Danusha Laméris, in which the poet wonders this about the great characters in fiction:

“Do they ever want to escape?/Climb out of the white pages and/enter our world?”

As the author and creator of a teen time travel adventure story that crosses over from film script to novel to video to Twitter to educational tool, it’s a question I’m watching play out across all these platforms in some very interesting ways.

favorite character in fiction 2014-01-27 at 1.49.41 PM

Trying to tell a coherent story with characters who, through a science fair project gone rogue—cross 500 years and 6 time zones is complicated enough. What happens when you try to tell a story—same characters, same plotline, same historical, technological and scientific foundations—across media platforms?

And to make the experiment even trickier, adding in social media, where the author no longer controls the storyline, but allows friends and followers to add their own twists-and-turns to the narrative? The “transmedia storytelling” adventure, Out of Time, is continually emerging online and in fiction. The plotline:

Teen genius and da Vinci-wannabe Charley Morton adapts modern technology to travel to 1492 Florence where her illuminated “slate” reveals magic powers. Hunted for witchcraft she must either divulge secrets that will change history or be burned for heresy and, worse, miss winning her school science fair.

Can this modern teen outwit a fanatical mob and get back in time to win the middle school science fair – and what magical alchemy does Leonardo harvest from what she leaves behind?

Amid the many twists and turns of such a complex tale, the one I find most fascinating as a storyteller is the #TwitterFiction version, wherein the audience not only reads but participates in creating the plot.

Where else could our girl hero have a whole conversation with an expert to learn about the earliest excavated evidence of the tomatillo in South America 52 million years ago (related to that key ingredient—tomatoes—essential to creation of her favorite food in the universe, spaghetti pomodoro) and, sadly for Charley, not yet known to Old World Florence in the 15th century?

Tomatillo convo 2014-01-27 at 2.13.56 PM

This transmedia-trans-temporal form of interactive storytelling might cause severe dislocation for those not buckled in for the ride. A few of my questions:

  • Can a Twitter story—in a periodic series of 140 character tweets—make sense as an actual story?
  • Will people, and teens in particular, be willing to engage in this kind of interactive storytelling if they can help direct the action?
  • If readers are actually part of the storytelling, does it make it more interesting to follow along?

I’d like to know what you think. Please use the comments section of this blog to give me your thoughts on getting involved in the story. Or, better yet, tweet along at Here’s a primer on how to direct an online Twitter story adventure:

Story Tweet with Charley and Friends @OutofTime Movie #TwitterFiction

Oh, and I’m hoping to get together a group of regular tweet storytellers to interact with the Twitter narrative. Contact me to learn how to join our Tweep Storytelling Team at


[1] “Fictional Characters” by Danusha Laméris from The Moons of August. © Autumn House Press, 2014.