Camp and Class Updates

Chore BearWhew! This month is seriously kicking my butt!  I’m slogging through Camp NaNo- waaaay behind schedule- and barely keeping up with this class I’m teaching at the school and I’ve upped my (admittedly small amount of) hours at work by 50%. Yikes!

Still, it’s been a good month. I feel like I’m doing reasonably well, and I hope to play a little more catch up later in the month.  I’ve put my submissions stuff on the back burner until May, and I haven’t been able to do as much reading as I’d like, but I’m actually keeping up in all my other regular chores.  (For example, not every pan in the house is dirty.) For now, that’s gonna have to do.

Next week, we’ll have a reblog from the ever amazing Madison Dusome, but for now, enjoy a super unedited bit of weirdness that I thought was kind of fun regarding the plight of a low-tier camp counselor. Enjoy!

 

Bear Attacks: How Not to Die

Alright kids, you have so far done an excellent job of not dying. And in the interest of not getting sued by your parents, we’re gonna talk about how to keep that winning streak going.

Atticus! Put that down and get over here. Pay attention.

Now. Who here’s seen a bear? Wow, all of you? Wait, no, Zoo Boise doesn’t count. I mean, like, you and some big ball of teeth and fur, and nothing between you but like a few thorn bushes and an outhouse. Okay, that’s what I thought.

Me? No, I’ve never seen one either. But we’re gonna learn about it today anyway because this is a summer camp and Smokey doesn’t care if you’re a moose or a third grader.

So who can tell me the two kinds of bears they have here in the Alaskan Interior?

That’s right! Brown bears. What else?

Gummy bears will not kill you in your tent for a granola bar, so no, Sophie, not gummy bears. Try to take this seriously.

Come on, Alex, do you really think they have panda bears here?

Seriously, guys? It’s the same two we have back in Idaho.  Didn’t your parents ever take you camping?

Thank you! Black bears!

Okay, yes, Alaska does have polar bears, but they don’t come this far south and if one of those starts hunting you, you’re pretty screwed anyway.

Okay, so black bears and brown bears. If you-

No, grizzlies are just another name for brown bears.

I don’t know; they just call them that.

No, those are just-

No.

N-

Sun bears? Where do you think we are?

Atticus, sit down.

Okay, guys, we’ve got black bears and brown bears, also known as grizzly bears. Who knows how to tell them apart?

Well, because you have to do different things when you encounter different bears.

Just don’t get them mixed up, okay? Now pay attention.

Sophie, put your gummy bears away.

Okay, how do you tell brown bears and black bears apart?

Okay, good! Color. What else can you look for?

No, Alex, don’t be silly.

Come on, guys.

Okay, which one’s smaller?

And one more guess.

Yes! Black bears are smaller. So brown bears are…

Yes. Thank you.

Black bears are only like five feet tall standing up, but brown bears are like eight feet tall.

Well, yeah, they’re both taller than you kids. But brown bears are a lot taller. Black bears also have a kind of straighter face and curvier claws.

Alex, come one. Would you seriously walk up and check its claws?

Well don’t, okay?

Yes, I’m checking the paper, I don’t want to mix this up.

Of course I know what I’m talking about. I’m just making sure.

Atticus- Sit. Down.

Okay. So say you want to go down to the waterfront, but you want to be bear safe. What do you do?

Okay, sure, but you’re not riding in a car, you’re walking.

Sophie. Leave her alone.

Sophie, you! You’re going to the waterfront. How should you get down there?

Um. Alright. But would you go alone?

Okay, but don’t, okay? If you walk in groups, it’s a lot safer. And if you make a lot of…

Make a lot of…

Come on, guys, you’re doing it right now.

Noise! Yes! Make a lot of noise. Bears don’t like to be surprised.

So you’re heading down to the waterfront and you’re in a group and you’re making noise, but there’s a bear on the trail ahead of you.

Well, okay, for this part it doesn’t matter. Black or brown, there’s a bear. What should you do?

That’s a good idea. Just heading back the way you came can’t hurt. Slowly back up, and don’t put your back to it. Always give bears a lot of space, and never-

Atticus! Do you want to spend the afternoon cleaning outhouses?

Thank you.

Alright, guys, let’s just get through this so we can go make bead necklaces or something. Give bears space. Never run. If you run, it’ll chase you and it’ll be a heck of a lot faster. What else?

No, please don’t try to climb a tree. Bears can climb, and they’re way better at it than you.

Yes, you too, Lily.

Lily, seriously, you cannot outclimb a bear.

I don’t care if your cousin is Tom Brady; beating some punk cousin in a tree climbing race doesn’t qualify you to escape a bear up a tree. And even if you did beat it to the top, it can just keep climbing up after you.

No climbing.

Okay, so say you haven’t been listening to anything I’ve said and you snuck up on a bear and now you’re in for it. So it decides to attack and it’s a black bear. What should you do?

Eh, screaming won’t help.

Okay, someone might come help you, but mostly you’re just telling the bear, ‘Sure, I’m prey! Easy pickin’s!’ Screaming isn’t gonna help.

No, it’s a black bear. You play dead for a brown bear. For black bears, you…

Yes. You fight back. Beat it around the nose as much as possible, they have sensitive noses.

And what if it’s a brown bear?

Come on, guys, I just said it.

Play dead. Thank you. Lay on your belly like this…

And then cover your neck with yours hands like this…

And spread your feet like this.

So you’re harder to flip over.

Well, I guess your back’s got more bones to protect you if it starts clawing you open.

No, I mean, it won’t. Probably.

No, no, seriously, the odds of a bear actually attacking are like really really small.

No, honestly. Look, it says right here.

Oh, Alex, don’t cry, honey. This’ll seriously never happen.

Well, because there’s a really really small chance that it might happen so you should know what to do just in-

I don’t know. It just says ‘rare’.

I really don’t know.

Because whoever wrote this pamphlet didn’t think percentages were important. It’s just rare, okay?

Oh, Alex. Nobody’s gonna eat you.

Atticus, sit down!

You know what? Let’s just… review this later. Who wants to run up to the obstacle course?

Yeah. Me too.

Designing Graphic Novels Class

ColorHello, internet! Would you believe that the good folks at Pearl Creek Elementary School have once again trusted me to teach a writing class to the impressionable younglings they’ve sworn to instruct and protect?  Because they have!

Two quarters ago, I did a NaNoWriMo group as part of the after school program.  And I’m at it again this quarter, with a class about designing graphic novels.  The idea is to help the kids design their own story, art, and layout style, which they can then spend the summer turning into a full graphic novel.  (Haha, we’ll see if the lazy imps actually carry through with that part.)

And now, with this handy dandy post, you can follow along too!

Week One (last Tuesday): Story

We briefly talked about the difference between a graphic novel and a comic, and then about what makes a story.  We did a little bit of brainstorming- talking about building a story based around a cool character, or a what if question, or whatever- and then set them loose.  This group of twenty kids ranges in age from five to twelve, so there’s quite the skill span, but the beautiful thing about art is that it’s adaptable to all levels.  They did great, and had fun decorating the covers of their workbooks.

Week Two (tomorrow! into the future!): Characters

Outline in hand, the kids will begin sketching their characters.  Ideally, they’ll do sketches of their main cast from a few different angles, and do at least one sketch of any secondary characters, recurring pets, or whatever other livey-movey bits they plan to include.  This will be their chance to decide how much detail they want in their art, and give them an idea of how much time that will take.

Week Three: Setting

Sketching the characters should give them a better idea of their art style, and so this week, we’ll hop into setting.  I want them to sketch out at least two scenes in detail, and then do a couple smaller sketches of maybe the buildings or trees or whatever that will be populating their backgrounds.

Week Four:  Layout

For this week, the students will begin thumbnailing the first few pages of their graphic novels, to get a feel for the amount of dialog, people, movement, panels, etc that will fit on a single page.  We’ll also work on the visual pacing of their story, what style of panels/sound effects/speech bubbles/all the things they want to use, and how much action they want to leave in the gutter between the panels.

Week Five: First page, rough

The kids will start working on their actual first page this week.  They’ll pencil in their panels, their characters, and the background, making sure to leave space for appropriate speech/thought bubbles, sound effects, etc.

Week Six: First page, final

In this the final week, students will ink their comics and put in all the finishing touches of color, text, whatever they’re going with.  At the end of class, each student will be sent home with their workbook, containing all the outlining and sketching we worked on for the first four weeks, and a (hopefully) complete first page.  And I’ll probably offer some kind of extravagant bribery to try to get them to come show me a completed graphic novel at the start of the next school year.  They’ll all be really excited about it, but maybe one will actually take me up on it.  We’ll see.

So that’s the plan!

The kids seem to be enjoying it so far (you know, one session in), and I am too.  I plan to write about an Alaska Native girl who joins her middle school’s Pre-Pre-Med Club (someone on the internet should seriously give me a better name for this) and has to struggle through the prejudices and expectations of her primarily white peers and teachers to prove herself.  Maybe I’ll throw up my first page at the end of the class for you all to admire!

In completely unrelated news, it’s another NaNo month! Yay, Camp!  Between a few submission deadlines, the graphic novel class, and a month unusually full of obligations, I decided to go easy on myself and set a low goal; I’ll be writing at least ten short stories, weighing in at at least 30k.  Totally do-able.

How about you fine internet folk?  Anyone else out there doing camp?  Lemme know your goals for the month so I can cheer you on!

Happy writing!

Writing Events!

I wanted to recap on a couple writing events I participated in earlier this year, but they were both small enough that they didn’t quite merit a full length post.  So rather than taking the time to expound meaningfully on each one and really dig into it, I’ve decided to be lazy and crowbar them together!  (Plus this is my last full week before we take off for our three-month-long roadtrip through the Lower 48.  Oy, so much to dooooo.)

Panel Poster

 

SCBWI Panel

Earlier this year, I helped to organize an author panel and workshop in Fairbanks Alaska, riding on the coattails of the statewide librarian’s conference taking place that same week.  The panel featured Carole Estby Dagg, author of The Year We Were Famous and Sweet Home Alaska, and local authors Cindy Aillaud, Lynn Lovegreen, Jen Funk Weber, and Marie Osburn Reid.

The turnout was pretty small, so we all managed to wedge in around a few large conference tables, and it was all very snug and casual.  The panel was more of a round robin, with the authors- or anyone else present with writing or publishing experience- sharing tips and advice.

Here I’ve picked out the best advice for you!  (Ain’t I sweet?)  Common core, at least in Alaskan school districts, has upped the need for informational stories for children, so there is a high demand for fic-informational (also known as faction).  National SCBWI conferences are awesome, and check out savvyauthors.com for even more networking opportunities.  SCBWI itself is very helpful for non-agented writers, but agents can get a much better deal than an unrepped writer can.  Take your time, and write what you love.

Following the panel, I ate too much candy and then Carole Estby Dagg presented about the stages of writing, from selecting an audience through writing and editing, and on to publication and marketing.  She approached the topic through the lens of her own work as a writer of historical fiction.

While I love a gal who plugs research so heavily (because research! I love it!), I think the most relevant thing that I pulled out of her presentation was the Shrunken Manuscript technique.

Shrink your manuscript to the tiniest print you can read.  Cut out all the open spaces: paragraphs, section breaks, everything, until it’s crammed onto as few pages as possible.  Then get three highlighters.  Everything with high emotion, highlight in red (or whatever).  Everything with high conflict, highlight in blue.  Every major plot point, highlight in green.  Then lay your whole manuscript out.  No matter how much you love them, any spots without color need to be either cut out or amped up.

 

AWG Reading

Just a few days after the SCBWI stuff, I attended an AWG meeting.  It was actually one of the meetings I usually skip- a chance to read some of your own work and get feedback.  But I had a short story competition coming up and I wanted a test audience for the piece I was planning to submit.  So why not?

I’d never done a critique group thing like this before, so I wasn’t sure what exactly to expect.  I managed to position myself in the seating circle so that I went dead last, which afforded me the perfect opportunity to chicken out, or for the meeting to run out of time, or all kinds of exciting possibilities.

None of which materialized.

I took my turn in the hotseat and read a short story I’d been prepping for a writing competition.  Historically, I have always been a terrible reader when it comes to my own works.  I stumble on words, read too fast, too quiet.  I get nervous.  But I knew this going in, so I had read it through several times out loud.  I find it’s harder to suck at reading when you memorize the piece instead. 😛  So the reading didn’t go as terribly as I’d been anticipating.

After I finished my reading, I whipped out my notebook.  The others in the group had lots of excellent questions and suggestions that really helped me zero in on what was working in the story, and what could use a bit more tweaking.  It was great to get some alternative perspectives on the piece, since I’d so thoroughly exhausted my own.  But on top of that, they were all very encouraging, and meaningful encouragement is sometimes had to come by in this line of work.

In the end, though, the critique must have done something right, because the piece took first place in the competition, leading to many a happy squeal.  So maybe consider trying a live critique some time, even if you never have before.

Until next time, happy packing writing!

Gates, p.2

Gates2

Things I cannot draw:

  • forearms and hands
  • faces
  • hair
  • armor
  • anything with any degree of consistency

And that water splash kind of looks like she’s being attacked by an exploding octopus, but frankly, it’s better than I thought it would be, so it was spared the list.

This concludes this year’s blogiversary celebration!  I hope you’ve enjoyed these few peeks at Gates. Maybe I’ll slip you another page here and there for future monthly comics. (And if you’re part of my Saturday crowd, this week saw three- three!- posts, so remember to check the previous updates.)

Happy writing!

Blogiversary the Third

Whoo! Three years!

As usual, I have nothing wise to say on the matter (see The Birthday Cake and Blogiversary Dos for previous annual shenanigans), and so I’ll just fling some art at you and run away!

I’ve been wanting to do a certain comic for a while and I figured the blogiversary was a good time for such things.  But instead of just doing a single update, I’ll do three! As a thank-you for putting up with me for the last three years!  So be sure to come back Wednesday and Friday for your bonus updates.

For those of you who can’t get enough of my more –ahem– stupid comics, never fear.  Next Monday, we’ll still have our regularly scheduled comic, tentatively titled How to Traumatize Your Children.  In the meantime, have a comic cover!

GatesCover

(Okay, but for the next two updates, lower those art standards a bit. A bit more. Uh-huh. Keep going. Keeeeep going. Liiiiiitle more. Okay. Yes. Low expectations are the secret to happiness.)

 

DIY Writing Prompt Generator

DiceYou’ve probably all known me long enough by now to know that I’m pretty much a dork on a multitude of levels. (For those of you who hadn’t picked up on that yet, check out any of these posts.) And so it was that, in the name of good dorky fun, I set out to create my own writing prompt generator! Whee!

So after kicking around the idea for a couple weeks, I had a list of a few features that I knew I wanted. I wanted it to have an element of randomness. I wanted it to deal with various parts of a story instead of just one. (So, it might prompt me on either setting or inciting action or characters, rather than just one of those things.) I also wanted it to be practically infinite- it wouldn’t be just cycling through the same handful of prompts every time. And despite all these things, I wanted it to be about as basic as I could make it. Because, as has been manifested many times in many ways, complicated things- mostly in the form of technology- frighten me. (For those of you who hadn’t picked up on that yet, check out any of these posts.)

And what could use randomness and be less complicated than a die? I considered using a d20, but didn’t want to do that much work (see point on basicness), so I stuck with the classic six-sided die. Everybody has a d6 laying around!

If you too would like to make your own random prompt generator, all you need is a die (or dice! You can do as many prompts as you want!), a writing utensil, a piece of paper, and your fantastic brain. And fantastic hands for writing with. And maybe a hard surface to write on as well. Anyway, you get the point. Dice, paper, pen.

Number one through six (or however many faces your die has). Then decide what elements you want your rolls to prompt you on. If you want this to be even simpler, you can do them all about characters, or settings, etc. I wanted to incorporate more than one element, so my list looked something like this:

  1. Object
  2. Inciting Action
  3. Setting
  4. Character
  5. Opening Line
  6. Inciting Action

(This really doesn’t have to be complicated. Skip this step entirely if you’d rather, and just write a bunch of random stuff. Because random!) After you know what topic you want each face of your die to represent, flesh it out a little further.

Think of a prompt regarding each element that is simple enough to make sense in just about every context with which you use it; is broad enough to be open to a variety of interpretations; and has the potential to be different each time it is applied. For example, here’s the generator I came up with:

  1. Walk into the adjoining room. What is the first physical thing you notice? Put this item in a story being used in a nonconventional way.
  2. Look at the newspaper/go to an online news outlet. What is the main headline? Without reading any more of the story, write a story based on this premise.
  3. Text the person you last texted and ask what their favorite show/book was as a kid. Write a story based in that world.
  4. Look out the closest window. What is the first moving thing you notice? Write a story from his/her/its point of view.
  5. Turn on the radio and listen for one complete sentence. Use that line as the first line of a story.
  6. Go into a nearby bathroom or closet. If you knew you would be attacked in one minute, what would you use to defend yourself? Write a story that starts with that preparation.

I guess #2 is kind of Inciting Action/Character/SomethingElseEntirely, depending on what the headline is. But you get the point! Each prompt is designed to have the potential to be different each time, thereby making it (almost?) infinite. But they’re also each simple enough to be broadly applicable (can be used in nearly any situation you would typically find yourself in- might not work as well if you’re camping or in the middle of a global robotic takeover), and widely interpretive (can be understood in a variety of ways, thus adding to the number of possible stories being generated).

So after working all that out, the only thing left to do was to field test it.

I rolled a four! So I turned around in my seat and the first moving thing that I saw was a… raven! Darned things are everywhere! (At least this one wasn’t killing half my flock and then not even eating any of their remains besides just one of the heads. Seriously, raven, that’s creepy.) So I set about writing a short story from the POV of a raven. And here is the totally-unedited-don’t-judge-me-it’s-a-first-draft result! (Yes, I wrote this just before posting, haha. But I like it! Maybe worth cleaning up?)

All in all, this was fun. I don’t know how often I’ll use my little generator, but I felt more creative just after having made the thing. Got the writing juices flowing! Yummy! And most of the time, that’s all I really need. So, good job, writing prompt generator. I’ll keep you.

Let me know in the comments if you whipped up your own writing prompt generator! I’d love to hear about your prompts, or any stories that came of it. Happy writing!