Thursday, June 30, 2011

Ira Glass on the Building Blocks of Story

Any fans of This American Life out there? (Yes!) Producer  Ira Glass made this four-part video series on the basics of broadcast storytelling in 2009, but the principles are timeless.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Creative Writing for Physicians

Recently in Canada, some physicians completing their professional development requirements engaged in a creative writing exercise, described here by participant Dr. Erica Weir. The goal of the activity was to refresh the doctors’ empathy for their patients. “Storytelling in this context,” Dr. Weir wrote, “exercises one’s moral imagination to suspend one’s own beliefs in order to empathize with another’s perspective.” Using a non-fictional case study, participants wrote imagined dialog, fictional medical transcripts, a patient-perspective journal entry, and poetry—with fascinating results. “Translating statistics into stories through continuing professional development exercises such as this creates touchstones for doctors to rest and reflect upon at the busy intersections where art and science meet,” Dr. Weir says. "By pausing and putting pen to paper to imagine a story from another’s perspective, we hold up a mirror that casts a refreshing reflection of not only what is, but also what should be.” Indeed, stories that transcend their artistic qualities and improve the human condition, physically and otherwise, are singularly admirable.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The YA Fiction Kerfuffle

If you’ve been paying attention to the Wall Street Journal and National Public Radio (among others) this month, you’re aware that critics, reviewers, authors, and parents are in a heated debate over the state of young adult fiction. It’s too dark of late, wrote columnist and mother Meghan Cox Gurdon in the article that sparked the conversation. Difficult, controversial, and even morbid topics are delivered in shocking detail, capable of shaping young persons’ worldviews in negative ways. Others, such as author Sherman Alexie (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian) make well-articulated arguments that gritty, well-written stories save lives, and that most young adults read with the noblest of intentions. Gurdon had the opportunity to respond in a panel discussion on the topic hosted by NPR. What do you think, parents and readers? Are such “dark” books dangerous or necessary, or perhaps a little of both?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Kids Books—Now We Call Them “Apps”

digital version & app

I don’t have an iPad. Yet. But my two-year-old is a whiz with his Sony V-Reader, so I imagine an iPad is in our future. Media Bistro has started a list of classic children’s books now available for the iPad and has asked readers to contribute their favorites. Also, they noted that Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Thinks You Can Think is now available digitally. I’ll keep reading that one the old-fashioned way for now. There’s nothing quite like a preschooler walking around the house sing-songing, “Oh, the thinks you can think!” Do your kids read electronically?

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Question of Resolution

The TV series The Killing didn’t solve the central murder by the end of its first series. This article asks how upset viewers were by that lack of resolution. Critics pooh-poohed the storytelling decision. I love the lure and tease of unresolved storylines in my TV shows, but if they go unresolved for too long, I get impatient. I think my limit is about three seasons. What’s yours?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

This Guitar Is a Storybook

Each bit of Doug Larson’s remarkable 3,562-piece hand-crafted guitar has a story behind it. Read them in Storyteller Guitar.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Jack London’s Picture Stories

photo credit website

Jack London, “prolific photographer”? Who knew? This lovely book shows how “his photography and writing bolster each other.”

Monday, June 20, 2011

Friday, June 17, 2011


Is this a  story? Only if you participate in it. What kind of a story is it? That depends on you. Watch this interactive “film for computer” by Vincent Morisset. Try not to get lost in it, then come back here and tell me what you think.
A still featuring the main character in "Bla Bla,"
a new interactive film by Vincent Morriset.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

World-Record Read-Aloud

Taking part in the World Record Storytelling Attempt at Peace in the Park.

A new record has been set for the number of adults simultaneously reading aloud to children: 281 adults reading to 346 kids. Did anyone know what stories they were reading? I doubt it. Was it enjoyable? My idea of a good time reading to kids involves one parent and two children, max. How long do you predict it will be until this particular record is smashed (seeing that it’s been less than a year since the last one was set)?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A perfect portion?

Any short-story lovers out there? For many readers, summertime is the best time to dip into that epic novel you’ve been saving for vacation time. Cutting for Stone, anyone? For others of us (yours truly), the summer is an even busier time of year, and it becomes more difficult to steal away with a novel: the kids are home, and work still knocks at the doors of the brain. In seasons like these, a short story is like a perfectly portioned dessert: it satisfies, and there’s nothing wasted.

photo credit
Patrick West, a professor of creative writing at Australia’s Deakin University, suggested in this article that a great short story can be seen from two perspectives that, at first glance, seem contradictory: On the one hand, “The writing should feel like part of a world brimming over with other stories,” or, in other cases, “The writing should feel like a world unto itself, as if … nothing, neither words nor anything else, could be imagined beyond its seamless, unique borders.” Which style leaves you feeling most satisfied? What short story collections do you find yourself thinking of or returning to whenever you need this just-right portion?
Yes, I’m looking for a summer reading list. A short one.

Tags: short stories

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Rock Thoughts

As a novelist, I often think of storytelling as a solo effort. I hole up in MY office in front of MY computer and try to pull a good story out of MY brain. On the side, I try to keep up with the interaction of social media. Maybe I love this idea launched by former corporate lawyer Karla Valenti purely because it is the very opposite of what I do each day: public art, collaborative storytelling, for children. Here’s an excerpt from Latina Lista:

Photo taken from Rock Thoughts Blog
“The concept is simple enough: Find a palm-size rock; paint it to look like a monster; take a picture of the finished rock and send it to Rock Thoughts, who will send you a special code to write on your rock; create a story around your new ‘monster rock’ and submit it to Rock Thoughts; and finally, release the rock into the wild—or your nearest public space where someone will find it and start the process all over.”

"I wanted to create a virtual space that allowed participants to connect with people from all over the world, from different cultures and different lifestyles, exposing each other to unique perspectives as well as providing opportunities for people to collaborate in generating something new," Valenti said. "The collaboration comes in many ways: by creating a story for a rock that was painted by another and then hiding the rock for someone else to continue the narrative; by adopting rocks that have been previously painted and submitting a story for those rocks; by crowdsourcing a story for a featured rock; and by providing feedback to each other's stories.”

Fascinating. Will it catch on? I’ll be watching, and if I find a monster rock lurking around my comings and goings, I’ll see what stories it has to tell me. Would you participate in public art like this? Have you ever participated in any kind of effort to create collaborative art?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Babar at the Museum

Remember the dear orphaned elephant, Babar, from the days of children’s stories that weren’t politically correct? In Myrtle Beach (South Carolina), the Franklin G. Burroughs-Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum will exhibit an interactive look at Babar's World Tour through September 4. The exhibit will include original artwork by Laurent de Burnhoof, culturally relevant vignettes designed by the Coastal Carolina University’s theater department, and spotlights on some of the countries Babar visited in World Tour. (If they’d only add a few videos, some exotic hors d’oeuvres, and a Babar iPhone app, we’d have ourselves a veritable transmedia safari!) Which of your favorite childhood stories would you like to see brought to life in a similar way? I’d vote for Laura Ingalls Wilder’s tales. Or perhaps E. L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

Friday, June 10, 2011

DC Comics, All Over Again

Following "Flashpoint," DC Comics will
 renumber its entire DC Universe line of titles

I confess, I’ve never been one to follow comic books, but I accept them as legitimate story forms. And I love many of the superhero movies. Even if I didn’t, the comic strips, the anime, the graphic novels, and all their spinoffs are here to stay. And stay again. So, DC Comics will renumber and re-release it’s superhero line before the summer’s out. It’s even going to (gasp) reinvent some of its key heroes. (Not including Wonder Woman, who already got her makeover.) Comics fans, what do you think? Are you a purist, or are you all about embracing the evolution?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Storytelling that Heals

Hatsuo Yatsuo, right, presents a
picture-based story to children at a
gymnasium in Azuma Sports Park
in Fukushima on May 29. (Mainichi)

Back in May I mentioned a story about a Japanese man who was bringing a traditional form of storytelling to refugees of the March tsunami. His aim was to help them find healing in the humor of rakugo. Last week I saw this story about another refugee who lost his wife that terrible day. She used to perform for children a different form of Japanese storytelling called kamishibai, or storytelling with picture cards—something that reminds me of our Western flannel-board tales. He has taken up her mantle, gathering children around him to tell the stories she used to tell. What continues to impress me are the ways in which storytelling as a cultural form or as a deeply personal ritual has profound healing power. Perhaps the phenomenon is universal, and not only Japanese.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

As We Venture Into the Digital Forest

photo credit

We in the industry have been saying it for a while: the face of book publishing is changing. It’s looking more like a web page than a book cover. Consider the rise of electronic publishing houses like Booktrope, which is not a vanity press, and experimental sites that make community-building between readers and writers a new phase in the publishing process, such as Richard Nash’s still-in-beta-stages Red Lemonade. On the bright side, this market that started fragmenting two decades ago may have finally found a way to put books and the readers that want them together again, and they’re doing it more efficiently and cost-effectively. On the downside, are we drowning in an ocean of storytelling noise? How can one even decide what to read any more, with more choices than we can reasonably process? Some days even I, a book lover and reader, want to shut all my books, lock them in a room, and run away to silence; they are making as much noise as other media. I’m divided. What say you? As a reader are you happy with the shifting sands, or would you like to travel back in time?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Olympic Storytellers

Planning to attend the 2012 Olympics in London? UK communications company BT is looking for Storytellers ages 16 and up to join their national campaign to chronicle the excitement of the games from a variety of perspectives. The deadline to apply is June 12.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Life Is Story

Hats off to Joshua Olds of The Christian Critic, who has launched a new blog called “Life Is Story” that celebrates the power of narrative to speak into our souls, even into the very meaning of life. Here’s a blog worth following. I promise.

A Father's Gift of Reading

I saw this video on CBS Sunday Morning about a single father who read aloud to his daughter every night for nine years, until she went to college. Inspiring.

Friday, June 3, 2011

There's an App for that?!

Here’s a storytelling order we don’t see too much of: First, an animated award-winning short film about books come to life; then an app based on the film for iPad; then plans to publish “the paper edition of the short film.” I have to admit, even I could get hooked on this kind of thing!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

China helps King Gesar storytellers to continue "Eastern Homer"

This is a wonderful story about China’s invested effort in keeping a treasured element of their culture and history alive by finding and funding oral storytellers to tell “The Epic of King Gesar.” Somehow I don’t think this would happen in the U. S. (one-man recitations of “The Odyssey” might not draw large crowds).

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Are Artists Liars?

Is it helpful or harmful to think of art as “a lie”? Ian Leslie, author of Born Liars, Why We Can’t Live Without Deceit, writes, “[Artistic lies] have a meaning and resonance beyond their creator. The liar lies on behalf of himself; the artist tells lies on behalf of everyone.” I see his point, but I also think of art as a perspective that has the capacity to be “true,” even if it is imagined.