Tuesday, 21 May 2019

KDP paperbacks - Katherine Roberts

Createspace is dead... long live KDP paperbacks!

I've previously used Createspace to publish indie paperback editions of my titles, but CS has now been retired by Amazon so this month I tackled my first ever KDP paperbacks with two short story collections Mythic & Magical and Weird & Wonderful, which up to now have only been available as ebooks.



Each collection contains seven of my short stories, so they both come in at around 125 pages, plenty long enough for a paperback edition. Being the same length also meant I could use the same KDP cover template for both titles, which made the design a bit easier. I'm calling this series 'Ampersand Tales' because the collections are additional to my novels, as well as being for older readers who might have enjoyed my children's books as young readers when they were first published. Some of these short stories helped inspire my novels, and each carries an introduction setting it in the context of my writing career, making Ampersand Tales of interest to authors, too.

But back to the publishing process. You'll need to format your book for print in exactly the same way as you did for Createspace, starting with choosing a trim size (I usually go for the American YA standard of 5.25" x 8", even though standard paperbacks are slightly smaller than this in the UK - I figure they're not going to be sitting on many shelves in a UK bookshop, anyway). You then add your front and back matter, make sure your title page agrees exactly with the title you've entered for the book on the KDP, and upload your interior. For simplicity, I usually upload my Word document, which then gets converted into a pdf by amazon's software, but if you are fussy about formatting you can upload your own pdf. KDP then prints the interior on either cream or white paper (you can choose... for fiction, I follow the standard and use cream). The paper is of a good quality, which makes the books slightly heavier than mass market paperbacks of the same length. Here's a sample page from the interior of Mythic & Magical.


Next you need to tackle your paperback cover, and again the process is similar to the one at Createspace. The KDP also has a cover creator tool for simple covers, though I prefer to do mine at Canva. You can use any photo editing software you like, including Photoshop if you have that, but you must get the cover exactly the right size for your selected trim, which means downloading the correct-sized template from the KDP and doing a small bit of maths before you start... if you're a beginner, I wrote a post about paperback covers for this blog. Take extra care to keep all your text - including the spine text - out of the red areas on the template. The KDP seems quite fussy about this (more so than CS, I think, since despite my experience it took three attempts to get my spine text the correct size on the first title I uploaded).

Remember you'll need smaller text for a narrow spine.

There's an online previewer at the KDP so you can check the results, although you'll need to upload both your interior and cover files before you can activate this, which I found a bit annoying. At CS, I used to check the interior file before designing the cover, because sometimes I decided to change the number of pages after previewing my first attempt, and if you're between different cover templates (which are provided in multiples of 10 pages), that could mean redesigning your whole cover to match. Also, be warned that the KDP previewer does not include the final page that gets added for the barcode on printing, so your actual book will be at least one page longer than it looks in the preview - again, this might cause a problem with your cover if you are near the maximum pages on a template. But once you know all this, it's fine.

You are then invited to do your pricing (the KDP handles the maths), and then you can either send for a proof copy (which has a 'NOT FOR RESALE' band printed across the entire cover so isn't much good for proofing your cover), or send your files straight for publishing. At this point, they will undergo a final manual check at the KDP - which I seem to remember CS used to do earlier in the process, before publication. You might get an email from the KDP alerting you to something wrong at this stage, in which case it's back to the drawing board... but if you did everything properly, your book will be 'published' (i.e. made available for order), although at this stage it's unlikely any actual copies will be printed. You can then order an author copy at cost price to check that it looks exactly as you expected it to look from the online preview... this is what I'd call a proof, but I suppose the pre-publication one with the 'not for resale' band on the cover would be okay for a final proofread of the interior, or if you want to send out nicely-bound copies to your proofreaders, The Devil Wears Prada style... although, Harry Potter aside, even big publishers rarely do bound proofs these days. More likely, your editor will send a pdf by email for the final proofread, and the 'proofs' sent out to reviewers are free copies of the actual book hot off the press, no doubt accounting for the large number that turn up for sale 'as new' on Amazon, sometimes before the actual book is officially launched (explaining that ugly NOT FOR RESALE band, I suppose).

The one thing missing on the KDP is the 3D 'spin' tool we used to have at Createspace, which showed your uploaded cover from the back, side and front as your 'book' rotated virtually on the screen. At CS, I used this spin tool to check my spine text was in the correct place - it's not quite as easy to check the placement with the guidelines on the KDP previewer, so you might need to use a bigger screen to do your online previewing, or send for an actual copy before you are sure.

One final thing: do not be misled by the colours you see on a backlit screen, as usually these print darker. My first attempt at Mythic & Magical arrived a darker blue than expected, and I struggled to read the black text I'd used on the spine and back cover, so I decided to change all the text to white. I also wasn't entirely happy with the contrast of the unicorn, so I've lightened the background slightly. I'm still awaiting the new version (which I just hope does not print too pale now) but the beauty of print on demand is that you are not stuck with a thousand duff books under your bed if you make a mistake. You simply upload a new cover, and within a few days the new version is available for sale worldwide.

Mythic & Magical - first attempt
(black text a struggle to read in dim light)

The result? Two short story collections, now happily available in both ebook and paperback... and as a special treat for reading this far, the Kindle ebook of my science fiction collection Weird & Wonderful is FREE FOR FIVE DAYS.

KINDLE EDITION
(free until 24th May 2019)
paperback
(not free, sorry)

*

Katherine Roberts writes fantasy and historical fiction for young (and older) readers. Find out more about her books at www.katherineroberts.co.uk.

Monday, 20 May 2019

My Cornish Little Nan by Sandra Horn


After watching the last episode of Line of Duty, when I think I forgot to breathe much of the time, I needed something to read in bed that would let me cool down and get to sleep. In the pile of re-reads by my bed is Jill Paton-Walsh’s The Serpentine Cave. Perfect. 




As you’d expect, it’s beautifully written and beautifully crafted, a story of a mistaken episode in childhood and a search for a missing piece of identity – and it’s set in Cornwall, which is a plus for me. My Grandmother, Little Nan (so-called to distinguish her from Big Gran, my Great-grandmother) was as Cornish as cream.  Mar’Ellen Harvey from St Just in Penwith. She was from a poor family (tin-miners?) and was born in the workhouse at Madron. She’d had pernicious anaemia as a child and had lost all her teeth to gingivitis by the time she was fourteen. She was ‘taken up’ by a couple of early property developers she worked for, and went with them when they left St Just – a scandal still talked of 70 years later by her childhood friend, Lily. She married my Sussex Grandfather, raised eight children out of eight and also cared for his six unmarried brothers until they wed and left, and his parents. Washing was boiled in a copper and the grate had to be black-leaded. I can see her now, bringing huge dishes of spuds and meat and veg from the kitchen to feed the hungry hordes when they came in from work, and I’m humbled by her strength and tenacity. I loved her. The Heligan books, stories, based on the statues of the Mud Maid and the Giant,  are partly a tribute to her memory, and whenever I’m in Cornwall or thinking or reading about Cornwall, I feel close to her. 







She is Granny Ellen in The Silkie, too, and although the legends of the seal-people are usually found around the coast of Scotland, the ‘islands in the West’ could as well be off Cornwall in my mind. 


                                           Nan with some of her children. My Mum at the back.

I’ve written stories and plays about her, trying to capture the essence of her indomitable spirit in her under-grown body, and imagining a future for her in the Suffragette movement, as a pupil teacher or librarian – fanciful stuff, I know, but her one great treat to herself was to have a book always in her pinny pocket in case she got a moment to sit and read. Those moments were few and far between, but I’m gladdened to think that she could find some solace in reading. She liked romances.  
She did escape the extreme privations of her early life – food was always plentiful in the Sussex house and, although the family was never well-off, they did not want for the necessities of life. Nevertheless, she was a drudge all her life until old age and illness stopped her, and she was then cared for and cosseted by her large family until the end. I wish she had known that she was an inspiration to me, and that she is in my work in one guise or another.
This is not even remotely the blog I’d meant to write! It was going to be about a community play we saw at Restormel, but Little Nan took over. She’s done it before. She’s welcome.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Coroners and Crime Scenes -- In 1940 by Jan Edwards

On reading out a section of work in progress at my writing group I was asked whether a coroner really would attend a scene of crime in 1940.  And I had to admit that I didn't know. Online  research had let me down somewhat on this one as the only references I could find were in a modern context.
Pottering back from an appointment pondering this question I realised that I was strolling past the Coroner’s Offices on Hartshill Road (as you do). So with a little time to spare I wandered in and asked. The Coroner’s clerks were really helpful and gave the following info.
In a modern context a coroner will rarely if ever attend a scene of crime, at least when the body is still on site. This is because SOCO teams now gather all of the necessary evidence. (One said he had never known it happen in the 20 years he had worked there.)
I was then told that in 1940, however, a coroner may well have gone to the scene of a homicide because SOCO teams, and indeed forensics to a great extent, were not so much in their infancy as positively embryonic, so that both coroners and/or pathologists would have had to be more hands-on in collecting evidence. Added to that is the small fact of it being war time when there were also far fewer police officers to do the leg work.
A little more research is required on the duties of coroners V pathologists in that era, but those few minutes unscheduled chatting were well worth the effort!
***
You can read more about Jan and her Bunch Courtney books on her blog HERE
In Her Defence is available through most leading booksellers in print and digital formats. AMAZON (PAPER)   US  / UK/  /  AU INDIE BOUND / BOOK DEPOSITORY  / WORDERY /  Waterstones  /  Foyles Barnes & Noble  / Digital sources: Kindle  US / UK / AU/   Apple/  Nook  / Kobo  
Winter Downs  Amazon (paper and kindle)  US  / UK/  /  AU 
Indie Bound /Book Depository /Wordery Digital sources:

Thursday, 16 May 2019

The Importance of Food, by Elizabeth Kay


…And not just to keep body and soul together! In 1952, C.S.Lewis delivered a talk at the Library Association titled “On Three Ways of Writing for Children,” which was eventually adapted into an essay and published in Lewis’s Of Other worlds: Essays and Stories. What he says is this:
In my own first story I had described at length what I thought a rather fine high tea given by a hospitable faun to the little girl who was my heroine. A man, who has children of his own, said, ‘Ah, I see how you got to that. If you want to please grown-up readers you give them sex, so you thought to yourself, “That won’t do for children, what shall I give them instead? I know! The little blighters like plenty of good eating.” 
How right he was. When my children were small and it was snowing I used to follow Mr Tumnus’s menu to the letter, and it became a very popular event. But only when it was snowing!

            …A nice brown egg, lightly boiled, for each of them, and then sardines on toast, and then buttered toast, and then toast with honey, and then a sugar-topped cake…

            Of course, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was first published in 1950, when rationing after the Second World War was still in place and a sugar-topped cake was a rare luxury rather than a precursor to diabetes. An overweight child was a rare phenomenon. But Lewis could make even soil sound utterly delicious. The meal produced for the talking trees at the end of Prince Caspian is a tour de force.

…They began with a rich brown loam that looked exactly like chocolate; so like chocolate, in fact, that Edmund tried a piece of it, but he didn’t find it at all nice. When the rich loam had taken the edge off their hunger the trees turned to an earth of the kind you see in Somerset, which is almost pink. They said it was lighter and sweeter. At the cheese stage they had a chalky soil, and then went on to delicate confections of the finest gravels powdered with choice silver sand…

Note the remark about Edmund trying some, to discourage his readers from heading into the garden for a snack.
Adults do occasionally get served fiction with food at its core – Chocolat, by Joanna Harris, The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, by Douglas Adams. However, for children it’s an absolute must. And then you can use magic… I had great fun with that in Back to the Divide.

 …“Have you two finished your dinner?”
            “Certainly not,” said Betony, pushing her plate away and picking up the pudding menu. “Oh yes,” she enthused. “Got to have a slice of sparkle-meringue. Why don’t you have the glitter-bomb, Felix, then we can fizz together.”
            This sounded like fun. When the puddings arrived, they looked delicious – frothy and creamy with a crust of caramelised sugar on the top. Betony grinned. “You first,” she said.
            Felix took a spoonful, and tasted it. The flavour was a bit like vanilla, but as he removed the spoon from his mouth a shower of silver speckles exploded around him, and he yelped with surprise.
            Betony had hysterics. Then she started on the sparkle-meringue, and a glittery starburst of pink enveloped her head. “It’s lickit cooking,” she said. “Magical recipes. I haven’t had one of these since I was little.”
            They shovelled the puddings into their mouths as fast as possible, giggling as the silver and the pink collided, producing flecks of other colours which shot off at angles and then disappeared like sparks burning out…

I think that encouraging children to try something new is really important in these days of burgers, chips and fizzy drinks. Reading about children enjoying strange and unusual foods is surely a way of promoting a bit of experimentation? I still haven’t tried witchcetty grubs, which I read about as a child, but I would do given half a chance!
            Non-fiction is a different matter entirely, of course. The biggest sellers are cookbooks and diet books. When I was a kid my mother had only one cookery book – The Radiation Cookbook! This came free with her gas stove, and was the only one she ever used.
When I write about food in adult books, it’s to make another point, either about the setting if it’s abroad, or the characters – or preferably, both. These are two extracts from Beware of Men with Moustaches.


…They found a self-service restaurant for lunch, where they could point to what they wanted. What they got wasn’t always what they expected, but the cost of everything was so low that they just stopped worrying about it, and ordered anything that took their fancy.
The cakes were divine. There was a strong similarity between shoe design and cake decoration; it was easy to believe that people switched from one profession to another, taking their themes with them as they went. The barnacle and seaweed motif was equally at home in either leather or marzipan.

...The restaurant, like many of the shops, proved to be underground.
“Does it double as a nuclear bunker, then?” queried Sybil.
Maxim laughed. “Who would want to window-shop above ground in the winter, when it is snowing so heavily you can’t see your own private parts?”
They went down some steps. The moment the proprietor saw Maxim, he beckoned to a waitress and issued orders as rapid as gunfire. The girl showed them into a little side-room, and they seated themselves round a table. The menu even had an English translation, although they were all in hysterics by the bottom of the first page. It was debatable whether this was the menu alone, or the effect of the cocktails.
“Fish in water?” mused Steve. “Doesn’t sound frightfully appetising.”
“Crap,” said Sybil.
“Carp,” corrected Steve.
“Tea for sad people?” queried Julie.
“Presumably someone’s translated the cup that cheers into Karetsefian, and then back into English again,” said Ferris. He turned to the next page. “Ah. The poultry list.” After a moment he added, “Good grief.”
“Duck,” Julie read aloud. “Goose. Pigeon. Snip. Snip?”
“Snipe, I’d imagine.”
“Quail casserole, roast partridge, bruised peasant… braised pheasant, presumably…”
“I think the first one was probably right,” said Sybil.

Food is awfully useful in books, because it plays on all the senses. Its appearance, its texture, its smell, its taste – even what it sounds like. Crunchy? Squishy? Slurpy? If your narrative has got stuck somewhere, send your characters out to eat!





Monday, 13 May 2019

'A Yorkshire childhood?' - Alex Marchant


Last weekend I was asked to join a fellow author in an event at a local library. I’m a member of a group called Promoting Yorkshire Authors (PYA, https://www.promotingyorkshireauthors.com/), which is exactly what its name suggests: an organization of authors working together to promote their books. The ‘Yorkshire’ part covers both authors born in the English county of Yorkshire and those who currently live there. The event in question was to be two children’s authors talking about and reading from their books. And the theme was ‘A Yorkshire Childhood’.
It has to be said I was a little uncertain whether this was really an event for me. I come under the latter category of membership of the PYA – I wasn’t born in what the locals call ‘God’s Own County’, although I recently realized I have now lived here something more than half my lifetime. (I was once told I could qualify for my Yorkshire passport after about fifteen years, but I’m still waiting…) But that ‘half a lifetime’ has been the latter half – not a moment of my childhood was spent here, unless one counts the single day on which I visited the city of York for a university interview at the age of seventeen. So I felt a bit of a fraud. Am I in any way qualified to speak about ‘a Yorkshire childhood’?
My fellow author undoubtedly is. Maggie Cobbett, author of Workhouse Orphan
Maggie Cobbett reading from Workhouse Orphan
among other books, may be the daughter of a Kentish-born father, but her mother was born, and she herself grew up, in what was once known as the West Riding (and still is in true Yorkshire circles, although now known officially as West Yorkshire). Workhouse Orphan draws upon that heritage in various ways, from basing its central character on a distant family member from the early 1900s to its setting in a fictionalized coal-mining (or ‘pit’) village in the West Riding. In addition, much of the dialogue is in local dialect, which Maggie is of course able to render brilliantly on the page. 
Interestingly, though, the title character of the book, David, isn’t himself from Yorkshire at all. He is as much an ‘off-cumden’ (an outsider, ‘not from round here’) as I am myself. Until the age of twelve, he lived in London – could in fact have been neighbour to my own forebears, all of whom at the turn of the twentieth century lived in England’s capital city. And most of whom, like David’s father until his early death, were dock labourers or similar – very much from the lower classes, living in some of the worst slums in the world at that time.
But as in many of the best children’s books (and perhaps adult books too), the drama stems from someone being uprooted from all that is familiar to them and shipping up somewhere very different, alien even, and seeing that place (and the people who inhabit it) from the point of view of an outsider. And having to deal with life in that strange place and the events that unfold there. In David’s case, this means adapting to life two hundred miles away from his brothers and sister still in the London workhouse, toiling long hours in the dark depths of a coal mine and living among the family of strangers to whom he was sent by the workhouse authorities so they no longer had to pay for his keep. 
Related image


In some ways, David has in fact left his childhood behind – such as it was. There is of course some debate over what constituted ‘childhood’ in the past – was it really a concept at all before the Victorian period? And even then, for youngsters such as David – forced into a life of hard labour and looking after his younger siblings – in what way was it so very different from the toils of adulthood?
My own books provide a sharp contrast. Set four hundred years before Maggie’s, in
the medieval world of the Wars of the Roses, they show a very different childhood, albeit one that’s also gradually eroded by events out of my characters’ control. And it occurred to me while writing my talk that it’s perhaps not so much the era (early twentieth century vs. late fifteenth) or the area (Yorkshire vs. London) that dictates a young person’s experience as their class and access to wealth and power. The young characters in my books are from what would today be called the middle and upper classes – Matthew, the lead character, being a merchant’s son, most of the others being the offspring of noblemen. And in my first book, The Order of the White Boar, we see them leading a relatively carefree existence in
The Yorkshire Dales, through which The Order roam
the Yorkshire Dales, just a few miles from the West Riding. They go to school, studying very similar things to children today (albeit in a castle), make friends, play together and roam about the surrounding countryside in much the same way as I did when I was a kid – albeit my horse and those of my friends were make-believe, and the ‘countryside’ was a suburban park in Surrey. 

My own childhood games in that parkland often involved forming gangs or secret clubs with my friends – like the Famous Five or ‘Secret Seven’ of Enid Blyton, or Malcom Saville’s ‘Lone Pine Club’ – or perhaps today, Harry Potter’s ‘Dumbledore’s Army’ – with secret dens, oaths of loyalty, codes, messages written in invisible ink, and covert signals (once upon a time I could passably hoot like an owl). And these childhood pleasures of course found their way into The Order of the White Boar. Its very title is that of the ‘gang’ (in this case, a secret order of chivalry) that the child characters form.
When I spoke about all this at Harrogate Library, I saw our audience nodding and smiling with recognition. And as Maggie and I answered questions after our individual talks, and discussed our books together, the more it became clear that, despite the differences dictated by class, many aspects of childhood are very similarly experienced across space and time. In our books, two boys of the same age, although with very different backgrounds, are plucked from their families and relocated in the depths of Yorkshire, and each feels the same insecurities and vulnerability, each makes firm friends among welcoming people, each faces bullies against whom he must stand firm or go under, and each takes what simple pleasures he can, wherever he finds them – among those friends, in those games. And my conclusion? That there are sufficient common experiences in childhood – whether in Yorkshire, in Surrey or in the working-class slums of London – in the nineteenth, twentieth or fifteenth century – for me to be able to speak about at least one version of ‘a Yorkshire childhood’. But for all that, I still don’t expect to receive my Yorkshire passport any time soon…
Maggie and Alex at Harrogate Library
 Alex is author of two books telling the story of the real King Richard III for children aged 10+, the first set largely in Yorkshire, and editor of Grant Me the Carving of My Name, an anthology of short fiction inspired by the king, sold in support of Scoliosis Association UK (SAUK). A further anthology, Right Trusty and Well Beloved..., is planned for later this year and submissions are welcomed from published and unpublished authors. Details can be found at https://alexmarchantblog.wordpress.com/2019/02/24/call-for-submissions-to-new-richardiii-anthology/ Deadline 19 May 2019.


Alex's books can be found on Amazon at:



Saturday, 11 May 2019

The Truth about Launching a Book -- Misha Herwin





Yesterday I launched the second book in the series “The Adventures of Letty Parker.” It’s a MG book, aimed at the 8-12 market, though as one reviewer, Kerry Parsons from www.chataboutbooks said “it will be enjoyed by children and adults alike. I think it would sound great read aloud and enjoyed by the whole family.”
There were more reviews, loads of comments on FB and Twitter and I felt much supported by friends, fellow writers and book-bloggers.
All in all a very positive experience, but one which left me totally exhausted. Switching off the computer, pouring a glass of wine I wondered why I was so tired. What I’d been doing was enjoyable. I love interacting with people on social media and it was great to be able to thanking friends for their comments and likes. After all, I hadn’t done any hard physical work. I’d sat at my desk most of day, fuelled by cups of coffee and glasses of water –I’d made sure I wasn’t dehydrated, so I should have been fine.
Talking to other writers, I found I wasn’t alone in my reaction to launching a new book and I came to the conclusion that, however enjoyable the experience is one level, it is akin to being on stage and performing for hours on end.
There is also the lead up, week, or weeks, where blogposts are being set up, requests for reviews sent out and tweets twittered to keep the forthcoming book out there in people’s mind.
And beneath it all is the sneaking fear that none of this will work. That no one will notice, let alone like your new book. That it will sink into obscurity and the months, possibly even years, of writing, editing, re-writing and re-editing will come to nothing.
It’s the fear of rejection that is so draining. The fear of stepping out there on that stage and being booed off, or simply ignored. Of having made the mistake of daring to think you’re a writer, when you so obviously aren’t.
And then suddenly, it’s all over. “Bridge of Lies” is out there. No point in worrying, time to enjoy the short moments of freedom before getting on with book 3.


Friday, 10 May 2019

To Teach or Not to Teach | Karen Kao


This week marks the start of my third term of teaching creative writing at the International Writers’ Collective, a creative writing community here in Amsterdam. It seemed like a good occasion to revisit a blog post I wrote in December 2017, wondering out loud in truly Hamlet-like fashion, whether I should be teaching at all. My existential doubts stemmed from a question Francine Prose asks straight up in Reading Like a Writer:
Can the love of language be taught? Can a gift for storytelling be taught? … The answer is no.
What then was I expected to teach?

Image source: Pixabay

the first time

When I was in college, I worked as a tutor. One semester, I taught math to local high school students. Another semester, I’d help premed students learn to write an essay.  The latter was a deeply painful experience because it turns out that, in order to write you need to be able to think.

When all you’re trying to do is pass your freshman humanities class, then writing is a matter of getting from A to B. Hopefully, you’ve also taken your reader along for the ride. But if you start at J or end at 13, it’s unlikely you’ve mapped out a road anyone can follow.

I had a similar experience as a lawyer trying to teach young associates how to construct a legal argument. That’s an art in and of itself but it builds on some pretty basic communication skills. For example, if you want to get your point across, it helps to use words that everyone can understand. A pleading or a contract or a memo riddled with complex sentence structures, antiquated phrases or Latin, for God’s sake: these are the signs of a weak writer. Someone who either doesn’t know what he wants to say or is afraid to say it.

in a circle

For a long time I thought, maybe some people just can’t write. Their thought processes are so entangled, they couldn’t reason their way out of a paper bag.

But then I think of the poetry writing workshops I took with Charles Wright or the Paris Writers Workshop led by Sam Chang. These were both first come, first serve classes. No gatekeepers, no committee review, no peer recommendations. Of course, there was some degree of self-selection. The people in the room wanted to write and some of them probably thought they already could.

Charles would make us sit in a circle and critique each other’s poems. At some point, he would make a gentle comment in that lovely Tennessee drawl of his. Something like, that plane’s in the air, you can take away the stairs now. And then all of us would see what he saw from the very start: that this poem gets going in the seventh line and not the first.

Sam also put us in a circle. Her talks were about craft techniques like narrator, tone and voice, pacing and arc. From a dozen manuscript pages, she could see the novel in its entirety, possibly with greater clarity than even the author. I submitted to her the ending of what would become The Dancing Girl and the Turtle. She was able to reverse-engineer the entire story and list for me the plot points I would need to address in order to make that ending deliver.

to teach well

Francine Prose says: in order to teach writing, you need to teach reading.
What writers know is that, ultimately, we learn to write by practice, hard work, by repeated trial and error, success and failure, and from the books we admire.
So a good teacher is someone who points the way. Who can talk about all the various craft techniques but, more importantly, can illustrate each one with examples from the literary canon.

Why the literary canon, you might ask. First, because not everything is worth reading. And second, you only live once. Jason Guriel of Canadian magazine, The Walrus, puts it this way in The Case Against Reading Everything:
Learning the craft of writing isn’t about hopping texts like hyperlinks. It’s about devotion and obsession. It’s about lingering too long in some beloved book’s language, about steeping yourself in someone else’s style until your consciousness changes colour. It’s Tolkien phases and Plath crushes. It’s going embarrassingly, unfashionably all in. (And, eventually, all out.)

from good to great

Vladimir Nabokov once gave a quiz to his students at Cornell. He asked them to define those qualities necessary to be a good reader. He even made it easy by offering multiple choice. These were the qualities Nabokov listed (paraphrased):
  1. Belong to a book club;
  2. Identify with the hero or heroine;
  3. Concentrate on the social-economic angle;
  4. Prefer a story with action and dialogue to one with none;
  5. Go see the movie version;
  6. Be a budding author;
  7. Have an imagination;
  8. Possess a good memory;
  9. Own a dictionary.
  10. Have some artistic sense.
Sadly, his students failed the test.
[They] leaned heavily on emotional identification, action, and the social-economic or historical angle. Of course, as you have guessed, the good reader is one who has imagination, memory, a dictionary, and some artistic sense.
I’m guessing that Nabokov was the kind of teacher who inspired his students. In other words, a great one. It doesn’t matter whether you teach creative writing or auto mechanics. The point is to light the flame.

Get a student so excited by what you teach that she’ll go home and get her arms greasy up to the elbows. Take that engine apart and examine every part until she knows what each one does. Then put it all back together and listen to the engine hum. Not humming, yet? Try again.


Note: To Teach or Not to Teach was first published by Karen Kao on her blog Shanghai Noir.