Category Archives: Writing

Interview with Vicki Riske, Puppeteer, Author, and Illustrator

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Last November among the booths at the Tempe Festival of Books, some adorable puppets caught my eye.

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I was hooked. I had to know more.

Vicki Riske, long time puppeteer, had recently written and illustrated a children’s book about the characters she had created as puppets many years ago. I was so impressed with Riske that I asked if she’d be willing to be interviewed for ARHtistic License.

ARHtistic License: How long have you been a puppeteer?    

Vicki Riske: I have been making puppets for about 50 years.

AL: How did you get started?     

VR: I started making puppets in undergraduate school for plays.

AL: Are your audiences mostly children?     

VR: Yes, most of the time my puppet audience are children, but I have also made puppets for adults, who have used them for theatre and television.

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Vicki Riske     

AL: Describe your puppet-making process. 

If the puppet is for a play, I read the play and analyze the character that the puppet is playing. I also imagine the actions that a puppet needs to be able to do. Is it necessary for the puppet to have a mouth that actually moves? Does the puppet have to carry objects? Then I do a series of drawings, first just pencil and then I may add color to the drawings.

AL: How do you come up with their personalities?    

VR: Every puppet that I make has a specific story that they are telling. The puppet characters relate to other characters in the story. They may have a specific characteristic that can dictate the design, such as Leo, my lizard. He needs to do push ups, so he needs to have joints that allow that activity. He is also a lizard, so he needs a texture consistent with ideas about lizards.

AL: Have you worked in television? 

VR: Yes, I had my own TV show back in the 70s for a CBS affiliate in Fargo, ND. I created two owls, a dog and a worm for the show.

AL: And you also worked in movies? 

VR: Yes, I worked as a scenic artist on commercials and movies around Arizona. I have a film credit on Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

AL: Tell us about We Are Puppeteers

VR: We Are Puppeteers is a small company. We write books, make custom puppets, and we do puppet shows with children. The children are the puppeteers. We have puppet shows that we have written and puppets that the children use to act out the stories. We usually rehearse with the kids and then they perform for their parents or other kids. We do the shows for events such as birthday parties.

AL: Who are some puppeteers who have inspired you? 

VR: Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop, Jim Henson, Edgar Bergen, Caroll Spinney, and many more.

AL: What do you like most about puppeteering?   

VR: I like the magic around puppets. You have an inanimate object that you can bring to life to tell a story.

AL: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in making puppets and/or performing with puppets? 

VR: Don’t be afraid of your own style. You maybe inspired by someone and copy for a while, but let your creativity come out.cover_Med

AL: Now you’ve branched out to writing and illustrating children’s books. You’ve used the same characters as your puppets. How did you come up with the idea of The Polka Dot Tea Party?  

VR: I have a granddaughter who loved tea parties. We would have one tea party after the other. She was 3 years old at the time. So she was my inspiration. I love the desert and would see shapes in nature, so I thought polka dots and tea parties was a great combination of topics.

AL: What is the hardest part of the writing process? 

VR: Editing is the hardest. Once I have an idea it usually flows, but reworking the text can be a challenge.

AL: Did illustration come naturally for you? Have you always drawn, or is it a new skill for you?    

VR: I have been drawing my whole life, but had never illustrated a book before.

AL: How long did it take to write and illustrate The Polka Dot Tea Party?   

VR: It took about 6 months to write and illustrate the book.

AL: What advice would you give to someone who would like to become an illustrator? 

VR: I would tell them to look at books that appealed to you. And daydream about your book. I find that ideas come to me when I am cleaning house.

AL: What was your publication journey like? 

VR: I learned a lot about publishing a book. I think I was a bit impatient at times. The process for publishing took a long time.

AL: How did you connect with Outskirts Press?

VR: I found them on a recommendation from a friend.

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AL: What will your next book be?

VR: My second book, Grandma Bibi, was just published in December 2019. It is a children’s book about shared memories and love. It tackles memory loss as a family issue and opens a dialogue for families to discuss what is happening to grandma or grandpa. I self-published this book. I found a printer in Michigan, 360 Digital Press, that has been great to work with.

AL: What do you like most about writing?

VR: Puppets need stories to tell and I enjoy writing them. I also like the fun of sharing my ideas with young people and bringing them joy.

AL: What do you like most about illustrating?

VR: Illustrating is challenging, creating an emotion with a drawing is the best. Illustrations set the tone of the story, whether it is light or serious. I make many drawings until I have the right one for a page.

 

To learn more about Vicki Riske and her work, check out her two websites: The Polka Dot Tea Party and We Are Puppeteers.

Guest Post: 4 Out-of-the-Box Ways to Teach Poetry, by Tess Palatano

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Guest Post: 4 Out-of-the-Box Ways to Teach Poetry, by Tess Palatano

Poetry is a powerful outlet for a student’s expression. As a poet myself, I take great joy in introducing the power of the craft to the classroom. Admittedly, this can be difficult. While some students cannot wait to start learning about writing, others audibly groan at its mere mention. Others sit in silent indifference. So how exactly can a teacher start their students on their poetic journeys, or encourage them to begin loving the works of poets like Mary Oliver?

I’ve outlined some activities that have had great results in my classroom — regardless of students’ preconceived notions. The goals of these hands-on lessons are to have students appreciate the craft and get them inspired enough to write some poetry themselves.

Activity 1: A Poetry Tournamenttrophy-153395_640

This activity is a fun and engaging introduction to poetry. The poetry tournament takes very little class time each day, and it exposes students to poetry in small doses while also planting the seeds for independent exploration.

The idea is to create a basketball-like tournament-pairing chart using poems, determining a final winner by reading the poems as a class. Locate sixty-four poems and pair them off, just like basketball teams. Read two poems each day and let the students vote on the “winner.” Do this until you have a final four, and then the final winner.

I’ve found it most helpful when a combination of teacher and students choose the poems. I ask the students to browse and choose a poem from poets.org or poetryfoundation.org that they enjoyed reading, for whatever reason. When the students choose the poems themselves, they are actively engaged and feel some ownership over the activity. A combination of teacher and students read the poems out loud each day.

You don’t have to do more than just read and vote on the poems before moving onto something new — the simple exposure to poetry and the gamification of the activity has plenty of its own benefits. Still, I like to ask my students to choose one in a set of questions to answer in their notebooks about the poem that they vote for. We discuss as a class, then vote.

As an extension activity at the end of the week, I sometimes ask students to write poems inspired by one they read that week — incorporating similar themes or techniques we may have discussed. A great time to start a poetry tournament is during the spring, when both college basketball’s March Madness and April’s poetry month happen.

Activity 2: Black Out Poetry

A blackout poem is a type of erasure poem, formed when a poet takes a marker (usually black) to an already established text and redacts words until a new poem is formed. Because the text is already in place, this activity has an easy entry point and is not too intimidating for students to try.poetry

I photocopy and repurpose pages from texts we’ve read throughout the year and hand out black or dark markers. Next, I ask students to identify words that resonate with them, then “black out” parts of the page around those words to create a poem within the text. Sometimes the poems’ meanings are similar to the original text, and sometimes completely new meanings are formed. As an extension, you can ask students to add an illustration or design to the poem that connects to their newfound meaning.

Activity 3: Paint Chip Poetry

This is a fun activity that requires some out-of-classroom resources. However, you can pick up some paint chips for free at a home improvement store, so don’t worry about cost. In this task, students engage in their own word play by selecting a card with at least 3 different paint names. They will then incorporate these words into a poem of their own.

Students will write in each section on the actual paint chip card, making sure to include the paint color in their writing. They can change the form or tense of the word, or even make it a name. The idea is to let the constraint open avenues for their creativity. For example, if given a card with shades of blue, the colors may be named: ocean view, seven seas, and planetarium. A poem could be formed as follows:

I look at the ocean view
my mind escapes to the seven seas
the dark blue of night spills across
the ocean floor
while inside a planetarium
a little girl sleeps

There are multiple other activities you can center around paint chips: working with metaphors and similes, or simply meditating on a color and its mood.

Activity 4: Found Poetry

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Just as it sounds, this poetry activity involves students “finding” poems — often in places they least expect it. Have students choose words or phrases from texts around the room or cut out words from magazines or even maps. Students can also listen to a podcast, TED talk, or song and write down some of the words they hear.

Once students collect a certain amount of words (I recommend 15 or 20), ask them to use these words to form a poem. It is helpful to have students write these words on slips of paper that they can rearrange in whatever order they’d prefer.

It is up to you if you’d like the students to add their own words to the poem, or restrict the poem to only the words that were found. With either method, this activity invites students to look at the pedestrian world through a poetic lens while freely expressing their creativity.

 After trying one or all of these activities, students will have some wonderful work to celebrate. Once finished, you can create an anthology of student work, or have students assemble collections of their own that they can share with the class. You can also direct students who are particularly motivated toward writing contests to submit their finished works. Poetry is sometimes a difficult topic to breach, but these fun and creative activities prove that with a little inspiration, anyone can become a poet. 

Tess Patalano is a writer at Reedsy, a marketplace giving authors and publishers access to free educational content on self-publishing, along with an avenue to hire talented developmental editors. She has taught writing to students in South Korea, Hawaii, and China.

Creative Juice #176

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Creative Juice #176

Beautiful stuff and also sad news.

In the Meme Time: Write Without Fear

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Photo by Hannah Grace on Unsplash.

Guest Post: The Most Important Edit No One Talks About, by Laura Drake

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Thank you to Laura Drake and Writers in the Storm for this wonderful article about editing fiction.

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Everyone knows what I call the 10,000 foot edit – it’s the content/developmental edit – it’s looking at your story from a plane, to spot the plot mountains and canyons that need to be fixed. Genre no-no’s? Unsatisfying ending? That night with the weasel scene?

Everyone knows about ground level edits – copy/line/stylistic edits that look at sentence structure and grammar – they’re small, but important.

We all know those two edits are critical.

But there’s another edit that is very seldom talked about, that could take your manuscript from good to sold.

I call it the 5,000 foot edit. It’s the edit for EMOTION. I don’t care if you’re writing a romance or a legal or espionage thriller; if you don’t have a solid bedrock of emotion in your book, you’re not going to have readers. It’s what they come for!  Think of your favorite author. Why is he your favorite? I’ll bet right up there with plot, is the emotion. If we don’t have emotion, the reader won’t care about your character. And that’s a story-killer.

Have I convinced you? Okay, let’s move on to how to do this thing.

To continue reading, see the original article.

Monday Morning Wisdom #243

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Monday Morning Wisdom #243

MMWAn unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story. ~Ursula K. Le Guin

Guest Post: How to Revamp your Author Persona and Grow your Fanbase, by Web Design Relief

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This article has been reprinted with the permission of Web Design Relief.  Whether you’re just starting out or a best-selling author, Web Design Relief will improve your existing website or build you an affordable, custom author website to support your author platform, boost your online presence, and act as a hub for your social media outreach. Web Design Relief is a division of Writer’s Relief, a highly recommended author’s submission service. Sign up for their free e-publication for writers, Submit Write Now! Visit the site today to learn more.

It’s the start of a new year! What better time to give your brand identity a facelift? The experts at Web Design Relief know that a fresh approach to your online author persona can help you achieve your goals as a writer, increase the size of your fan base, and find the right voice for your author website and social networks.

5 Ways To Revitalize Your Author Website And Online Presence

Make A List: Check out your favorite authors and how they portray their personas online; then create a list of the qualities you want to exemplify through your online activity. You’ll be able to use it as a reference every time you make a website update or put up a new post. This will help you maintain consistency and develop your author brand.

Watch Your Words: Because almost all of our online communication is through text on websites and social media, your words and phrasing are incredibly important. Whether you are trying to appear friendlier, more approachable, or dark and mysterious—adjust your word choice to uniformly reflect this and stay on brand. Your blog updates and social media posts should all sound like they were made by the same person. Here’s what Neil Gaiman has to say about writing in your own voice.

Change Your Imagery: The images you use to engage with your fans online are also key elements of your author persona. Consider Instagram: Successful Instagram accounts tend to focus on a theme. Your theme should relate to your books or the genre in which you write. Make sure your images embrace your overall author brand, are high quality, and are tasteful!

Engage, Engage, Engage: Any author who’s been reaping the benefits of online success is one who actively engages with fans, friends, and followers. Be sure to answer questions, respond to messages, and acknowledge comments so that your visitors and supporters feel heard. Keep all of your responses kind, courteous, and as interesting as possible. Remember to interact in the same way you’d want your favorite author to respond to you! An active social presence will keep fans and followers returning to your accounts.

And if you end up with a few trolls to deal with (it’s an unfortunate reality of the Internet today), here’s how to keep your cool and protect your online reputation.

Keep It Real: It’s vital to keep your online persona sociable and interesting, but that doesn’t mean you should over-embellish. Your fans will be able to tell if you are being inauthentic. Also, if you put on a performance or establish yourself as an incredible character, your marketing attempts might actually backfire and turn off your target audience. Instead, be the best version of yourself. By being genuine and thoughtful in what you share and write, you’ll create a realistic persona that can enhance your author brand.

Once you decide to revamp your online persona, be careful that you don’t overwhelm your followers with too many changes all at once. Gradually incorporate any new elements and strategies to your online usage, and success will follow.

Question: What is the most important element to update on an author website?