Category Archives: Teens

Quiet…Teens Writing

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Cueva de las Manos (Spanish for Cave of the Hands) in the Santa Cruz province in Argentina

Telling stories is timeless, though the ways we do it have changed. I imagine the original storytellers speaking to tribe, family, friends under a million stars twinkling in the night sky. These ancient stories were as evanescent as the flames of the fire that warmed the gathered listeners, except for the tradition of oral transmission: parent to child to grandchild across generations.

The oral tradition survives today, but heiroglyphics, the alphabet, and writing gave those who had the power to create words and pictures a way to have their stories preserved forever–or at least until the next technological advance removed the storyteller’s advantage. Coal and chalk giving way to chisel, quill and ink giving way Gutenberg’s press, reel-to-reel tape recorders, television and, finally, our digital age giving way to an ever-evolving array of apps, platforms and tools.

Teens Write

But the constant, despite ever-evolving recording technologies, is the storytellers voice. So it was nice, in our soundbite and social media-dominated era, to engage with a group of teens learning and practicing the writer’s craft.

YA author Carolee Noury facilitated the group, offering a creative way to invite the group to think about perspective, setting and scene as key elements in constructing narratives. Setting out a diorama of seemingly random objects on a table that everyone could examine at length, the writers then picked out “mood rings” – small scraps of paper with the names of an emotion or mood on them cut out and formed into a link on which she had pre-prepared. The moods ranged from joyous to cranky. The challenge: to create a story that integrated this setting according to your mood.

After seven minutes of time in which everyone got down to the business of writing, teens were invited to read their stories. Some read aloud. Others, maybe too shy to share, passed. But all seemed intent on recording their stories.

As these teen writers grow in craft and confidence, I will be curious to see where their writing leads them. In another teen writing group, led by writer Mark Willen, one young writer has already published her first book, surely an amazing accomplishment.

Can We Hear You Now?

I came away inspired: we need to hear these voices.

I am now thinking about leading a writing group myself. Wondering if there are any young and aspiring writers out there who might offer their advice: What are the best ways to encourage, engage teens to share their stories with us?

What’s Worth More — the Story or the Merchandise?

Pen and inkAs I toil away on the second draft of my novel, Out of Time, thinking of the time, care, creative energy and effort I have put forth on this epic adventure, beginning with the seed of a story in 1997 through the prodigious output resulting in today’s (2014) screenplay-novel-tweet storytelling, Web-based learning platform, I wonder what it’s all worth. Not in the sense of the value in my life to serve this purpose of Creator-in-Chief of Charley’s adventures in Leonardo’s World, but in the marketplace.

As I learn more about the publishing industry today, and how much of the take on book sales flows back to authors–and compare that to the perceived benefits of self-publishing where, once the initial investment in the print process is recouped, 100 percent of the returns go to the author, the results even for bestselling authors look discouraging. For a $14.95 paperback, the author receives–wait for it–95 cents a book. Not much of an ROI, is it? How does anyone with less of a runaway success than Harry Potter ever hope to earn a respectable living.

Then there’s this: today’s Washington Post runs a story on this season’s Christmas must-haves for all little girls: the Princesses Elsa and Anna dolls from the Disney movie “Frozen.” These mass-produced molded dolls retail for $75.99 and $49.99, respectively, outfits sold separately.

By my reckoning, that’s $125.00 for dolls that will be left in the dust as soon as the NEXT BIG THING hits the shelves. Granted, the doll merch grows out of storytelling–and there’s nothing to say that a Charley superhero action figure couldn’t hit the shelves in a big way. But the marketplace again rewards the stuff and not the value that a book, a movie, a story can confer to nurture a child’s lifelong growth.

Barbie dollsBecause, honestly, I remember getting my first Barbie doll at my fifth birthday party at The Pee Wee Valley amusement park in Cincinnati, Ohio. After riding the rides, and having cake and milk at the picnic tables, it was that Barbie, with her frozen expression and her stiffly moving limbs and neck, that captured my attention for the rest of the party. This doll, and the Ken doll I later got (along with a Barbie wedding dress–in those days, my mom wanted to ensure Barbie would be married before she could play with Ken!) were the phenom du jour.¬† A certain amount of role-playing and rehearsal for growing up went along with these teenaged dolls of ridiculous proportions. But in the end, Barbie lost her hair in a swimming accident in the bathroom sink, her wardrobe in a garage sale, and her Dream House to the little girl down the street.

The Secret Garden, Fances Hodgson Burnett's classic

The Secret Garden, Fances Hodgson Burnett’s classic

But it is within the pages of kid and teen lit that I remember finding myself. A Wrinkle in Time, The Secret Garden, Little House on the Prairie…and later, Gone with the Wind, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, To Kill a Mockingbird–these were stories where I could identify aspects of myself, engage in pretend, and take on the problems of the world within a safe context as rehearsal for who I wanted to become.

But maybe I wasn’t the ordinary kid. I was more interested in creating worlds than living through someone else’s version.

I think every child has the creative capacity to become who they are meant to be, if only we know how to nurture, provoke, engage and further that superpower. Which is the genesis for all things Out of Time.

As an author, this is my 95 cents worth. Though I am hoping it is actually worth more to the children with the power to become. Impossible dream?

I like to think not. Let me know what you think.

Out of Time to be showcased on TV talk show “Think About It”

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Taping for “Think About It” to air Dec. 9 at 10 pm, Ch. 16 Montgomery Cable TV and online http://mmctv.org/video.html

Had a blast doing a half-hour interview with Sylvia Henderson, host of “Talk About It’, a biweekly community affairs program on MMCTV, here in Montgomery County, Maryland. We talked about the STEM to STEAM to MASTERY link that is becoming fundamental to student learning in K-12 education. MASTERY, here, includes learning across multiple disciplines, but with purpose: math, arts, science, technology, engineering, reflection (think social and emotional learning!)–for me, this happens through the “yarns of storytelling.”

In the interview, Sylvia asked me how to make that accessible to young people who might not otherwise be drawn to science, technology, engineering or math–the four pillars of STEM learning. The theory behind “Out of Time” in its many incarnations–novel, screenplay, Tweet storytelling adventure and flipped learning platform–is that young people can explore through whatever their own personal passions are and be drawn into the world of the Renaissance learner to explore further.Davinci_formula

In an “Aha!” moment, Sylvia revealed that, while she is not necessarily a “math person” (not sure there is such a thing, by the way!), she loves building dollhouses–scale models of life-sized homes. To create them, she uses architectural design principles based on mathematics: fractions, geometry, perspective and more.

Artists, musicians and craftspeople all employ STEM skills in their play–thus STEM becomes STEAM as arts integrates nicely into the equation.

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Sylvia is now an experienced time traveler. Shown here wearing Out of Time cap.

What’s your passion? Share with us in comments below how you get from STEM to STEAM to MASTERY and beyond.

And watch “Out of Time” interview here, or on Channel 16 on Montgomery Cable TV on Monday, December 8 at 10 p.m.: http://mmctv.org/video.html – scroll down to “Talk About It” and click on the link with my name, Robin Stevens Payes.

Finding cliche and going beyond, or The Art of Writing for Tweens

Listen-Shel Silverstein

“Listen to the Mustn’ts by Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends (credit: A Mighty Girl)

Excited that my intrepid new story editor Mari Lou is an expert on Middle Grades (MG) fiction. That, for the uninitiated (and me, among them!) is how publishers categorize novels geared towards 8-12 year olds, in particular. Notable classics in this genre: A Wrinkle in Time, Matilda, and The Giver, which was recently released as a feature film. Some would also place Harry Potter in this category–at least for the early books in the series.

Quite a category, and one where my own kids–and I, quite frankly–have spent many happy hours fully absorbed in story.

Where to place Out of Time in the pantheon of publishing for children has been an active matter of debate for months now, since before competing in the When Words Count Retreat Pitch Week competition. Originally, I felt the story was for teens and solidly within the Young Adults (YA) category. This matters vastly for publishers, parents and readers for widely varying reasons–from what section of a bookstore (real or virtual) displays the book, to whether parents find it appropriate reading for their kids (especially at younger ages where parents pick out and pay for the books), to how readers identify with the protagonist.

Because Out of Time is told across genres–book, screenplay, social media and, notably, Web site–the picture is far from clear. As one very obvious example, kids under 13 cannot have Twitter accounts or Facebook pages of their own, and these are places where I hope to spur social storytelling adventures. Is there a workaround in the realm of gated social media gardens that mimic Facebook without subjecting younger children to what can feel like the wild, wild West of Instagram and its like?

Of course, God-and-the-market willing, Out of Time can grow into a series. Now that Charley has unlocked the secrets of time travel, there is nothing to keep her from fulfilling her wish: to meet the “superheroes of history,” as she calls them. Like many such series, there is the potential for readers and fans to grow up with the book’s heroes, much like kids who mature alongside Harry, Ron, Hermoine and friends.

What’s Cliche about Kid-Lit?

Cliche is, perhaps, the wrong word here. It is more like defining the set of circumstances that launches a character on the journey that will lead her to her destiny. What Joseph Campbell calls “The Mythic Journey.” Think of Harry’s magic-wielding adventures in vanquishing the monsters that arise along the path of growing up. Or the obstacles Katniss must face to protect her sister, her friends, and her District from the machinations of The Capitol.

For Charley, I have identified these two qualities that force her out of the relative safety of her conventional upbringing and out of time and into the dangerous unknown:

  1.  Listen to your heart.
  2. Believe anything is possible.

As I work on redrafting this story, these are themes to revisit over-and-over. Interesting to strip down the story again to its skeleton and rebuild on a stronger foundation.

Ultimately, Charley must find a world where she is free to be herself, and supported in her quests.

And after all, isn’t that a dream we should vision into being for all children, everywhere, and throughout time?

Calling all readers to ponder. Do you have a favorite story of childhood where you could see your own hopes and dreams take wing? What were these, and what impact did they have on you?

Eager to read your stories in comments below.

 

 

The Out of Time Media Web site can