Why Does the World Need People Who Write? (TPL Teens on Writing)

October 22, 2014 | E Writer in Residence - Emily Pohl-Weary | Comments (0) Facebook Twitter More...

In honour of tonight's massive celebration/launch of the 2014 Young Voices magazine, I give you our latest video, in which Toronto teens weigh in on why the world needs people who love to write...


They believe that people who love to write evoke the dreams we all want to be part of, provide great entertainment, pass down ideas from the past, generate new ones, and encourage empathy.

Why do you think the world needs people who love to write?

First Weekly Writing Exercise: Write a List Poem

October 21, 2014 | E Writer in Residence - Emily Pohl-Weary | Comments (1) Facebook Twitter More...

Get your creative juices flowing by trying a new writing exercise each Tuesday!

This week, can you write a poem in the form of a list? It's one of the most fun kinds of poetry to write. I'd love to see what you come up with. If you post your responses in comments below, I'll read and respond to them!

One of my favourite examples of a list poem is by Joy Harjo. Joy Harjo was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma and is a member of the Mvskoke Nation. Her seven books of award-winning poetry include How We Became Human: New and Selected PoemsThe Woman Who Fell From the Sky, and She Had Some Horses

Harjo's stunning poem starts like this:

She Had Some Horses
by Joy Harjo
She had some horses.
She had horses who were bodies of sand.
She had horses who were maps drawn of blood.
She had horses who were skins of ocean water.
She had horses who were the blue air of the sky.
She had horses who were fur and teeth.
She had horses who were clay and would break.
She had horses who were splintered red cliff.
She had some horses.
She had horses with eyes of trains.
She had horses with full, brown thighs.
She had horses who laughed too much.
She had horses who threw rocks at glass houses.
She had horses who licked razor blades.

You can read the rest of the poem  or listen to Harjo read it out loud over here

"She Had Some Horses" is a literary one-two punch, and the very last lines help to clarify the poem, but are still open enough to be interpreted in several ways:

She had some horses she loved.
She had some horses she hated.

These were the same horses.

What are the horses? Are they all aspects of the poet herself? Is she talking about the struggles of First Nations women? Both?

Mariko Tamaki, author of the Governor General's Award-nominative graphic novel One Fine Summer (illustrated by her cousin Jillian), wrote a hilarious list poem for a high school English text I worked on. 

The poem's called "News Feed," because it's inspired by what seem like mundane posts to a social media site like Facebook. All together, the updates paint a complex picture of a person's mood swings and daily habits:

News Feed
by Mariko Tamaki
Mariko Tamaki is fine.
Mariko Tamaki is just one more day.
Mariko Tamaki is a piece of work.
Mariko Tamaki is a piece of cake.
Mariko Tamaki settles for a piece of cake.
Mariko Tamaki is looking for peace of mind.
Mariko Tamaki is now friends with your friends.
Mariko Tamaki is ...
Mariko Tamaki is no longer in the mood.
Mariko Tamaki is sitting down. Are you sitting down?

You can read the rest of "News Feed" if you go to McGraw-Hill Ryerson's website and click on "Sample Collection 3".

Because they're so fun, I've written a list poem or two myself. Here's one that starts with numbers, as an example of another way to approach the task.

60 Reasons to Love Without Mercy
by Emily Pohl-Weary

1.         Cracks in the sidewalk could open at any time.
2.         Fear will swallow you whole.
3.         People are messy.
4.         No one ever gets enough.
5.         Hell is other people.
6.         There is no hell.
7.         Heaven is here on Earth.
8.         Most people work for an hourly wage.
9.         Babies are born, after not even existing.
10.       Broken hearts heal stronger.
11.       Monsters exist.
12.       Demons and angels are really just us.
13.       Laws are broken every day.
14.       There are no superheroes.
15.       Addiction can make a villain out of anyone.
16.       Shopping is addictive.
17.       Most of us don’t get rich or die trying.

Continue reading "First Weekly Writing Exercise: Write a List Poem" »

Your Bookmark Here: Crossing Divides

October 21, 2014 | Alice | Comments (1) Facebook Twitter More...

I've just finished two books in a row with strong themes around race relations in the 70s in the US, and they were both really interesting, so I thought I'd share them this week. Divisions among races in that time and place were still deep, it seems, and segregation into neighbourhoods or cliques was common, making it rare to have much to do with people who weren't the same colour as yourself as you grew up. In each of these novels, friendships are formed across these invisible but clearly drawn lines, and the teens find themselves questioning what they knew about the world as a result.

Let's be honest, that could be a cheesy, preaching kind of read if it's not handled right. But from a boy examining himself and finding that he has, deep-down, some racist ideas that he is not proud of to one who is forced to open himself up and share secrets he is mortified by, these are not the trite, easy answers that you might expect, and they are all the better for it.

If i ever get out of hereIf I Ever Get Out Of Here, by Eric L. Gansworth

The difference between life on the reservation, life in town, and life on the miilitary base is shown in sharp relief in this novel about struggling to learn acceptance and trust when you've been taught otherwise. Lewis is at a new school for high school, and as the only native in the "smart" stream, he's finding it hard to fit in until George, an army kid, befriends him. Only trouble is, Lewis is both mistrustful of white people's ability to be true friends and deeply ashamed of his family's poverty, so he doesn't want to invite George over. Even his friends from home seem to be distancing themselves from him, and he's doing a tricky dance, trying to keep some distance even while he grows closer to George. It all comes to a head during a blizzard during which George and his father are forced to stay in Lewis' family's home for a few days, forcing adults and kids alike to consider their thinking about each other.

Also available as an ebook.

Call me by my nameCall Me By My Name, by John Ed Bradley

Rodney may be more open to a friendship with a black kid than most people in his small Louisiana town, but he's still got his hesitations about going against the grain too much. He wants to be the kind of person who doesn't care, and he does support Tater all the way to the wall when it comes to football and Tater's amazing athletic skills, yet somehow, when his sister starts to fall in love with their friend, Rodney's feeling just as uncomfortable as his father, whose racism runs pretty deep. This book, set in the direct aftermath of desegregation, isn't about total transformation and acceptance, but about the difficulties in overcoming what you've learned, and the need to challenge yourself and others to do better.

Music Monday: The Return of Sleater-Kinney

October 20, 2014 | Alice | Comments (0) Facebook Twitter More...

The music-ish corners of the interwebs have been ablaze this weekend with the news of a new single from Sleater-Kinney, the iconic band that broke up nearly 10 years ago, just ahead of the release of a box set of their decade of music on SubPop.

I'm having a hard time choosing a single example of them at their best to show you because SO. GOOD., but maybe a fun one called You're No Rock & Roll Fun is a good start...  And then, of course, that new one to follow, which I'm really quite enjoying. Hope you do, too!




Your Bookmark Here

October 20, 2014 | Amanda | Comments (0) Facebook Twitter More...

To Be or Not To Be: A Choosable Path Adventure By: Ryan North

To Be or Not To BeLet me start this blog post by saying that I really enjoy reading all kinds of books and this includes plays by William Shakespeare. I read Shakespeare in high school and I liked his plays for the most part but technically they were REQUIRED READING for English class….. so when I picked this book up (a recommendation from a friend) I was expecting a story that was somewhat similar (obviously!) to the original story….Wow, was this book ever different!

 Let me explain….

Author Ryan North -- best known for Dinosaur comics and writing the Adventure time comic-- spins the original story of Hamlet to be a hilarious, fun filled adventure keeping the story and plot line open to the reader’s own interpretation! He models the book after the popular Choose Your Own Adventure series from the 80s and 90s.

Before I tell you more about the book, I will talk to you about the CYOA book series. These little books were super popular in the 1980s and 1990s. Each one allowed readers to interact with the plot in a whole new way; choosing which way the story would unfold and ultimately end. These books allowed readers to become part of the story, to act as storytellers, and to get through a book reasonably quickly (some people are into that...no….. seriously, some people will read a book based on the number of pages).

Okay, so now that you know about CYOA books, I will talk to you about what awesome comic writer, Ryan North did with the Shakespeare classic Hamlet. You begin reading the book by choosing your character - either Hamlet, Ophelia or King Hamlet and then you choose which path the character will take. Each page directs you to another page depending on which way you want the story to go. North makes it easy for those of us who find it hard to make decisions by using small Yorick skulls (these are Shakespeare’s actual plot decisions) to direct the reader to a new part of the story. I should let you know that this book is NOT Shakespeare's original story. It is however, full of jokes, awesome plot twists and wonderful visits to faraway lands and to ill-fated deaths (sometimes). You can read this book over and over and over again to make new choices every time! The book is filled with hundreds of pages, each with new stories, plotlines, and AMAZING colour pictures drawn by over 60 (yeah, that’s right...) amazing artists.

This book is super funny! I found myself laughing out loud on the subway (awkward) and reading late into the evening. Okay, so all in all, you need to read this book! Even if you only get through one story from it… YOU NEED TO READ IT!!!!!! I’M SERIOUS -- READ IT!!






To see which Toronto Public Library locations carry this title, click here: http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/detail.jsp?Entt=RDM3078590&R=3078590


The Kickstarter Story:

Ryan’s project was first launched on the popular Kickstarter website. North campaigned for the book to be crowdfunded. The site raised upwards of $500,000! The project became the most funded publishing project in Kickstarter history! (It has since been beaten -- but ….this is still AMAZING!). North planned his project very well, communicating with his backers and providing them with information throughout the book’s conception. For more information on the Kickstarter story, follow this link


Super awesome bonus items to go along with this blog….

Choose Your Own Adventure Books at Toronto Public Library


 More plot your own adventure stories at Toronto Public Library



~ Thanks for reading ~

Writing Tip #1: Don't Give Up

October 20, 2014 | E Writer in Residence - Emily Pohl-Weary | Comments (0) Facebook Twitter More...

Each Monday, I'll reveal my supremely 100% not-guaranteed foolproof tips for becoming an author.


This advice probably sounds stupidly simple, but is actually really, really, really hard (really). 

That's because there is a little vampire that lives in your head and its only undead purpose is to argue with you, drain your energy, and suck your creativity. That little vampire voice is your writing's arch-enemy. 

Some of the things it's been known to whisper at me include:

"Get a real job. Stop wasting your time."

"You suck. Your writing sucks."

"Why would anyone be interested in this?"

"So-and-so already amazing famous author is too good. You could never write that well. Better to give up now."

"If you write about your experiences/life/family/friends, everyone will hate you. You will die alone."

etc. etc. etc.

You know how to deal with the vampire voice? Picture Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Stake to the heart!


Nah. I almost never carry a sharp pointy stick. The way I deal with vampire voice is to mentally wave "hello again, dude," then tell it to please shut up for a couple hours, while I finish today's 1,000-word goal or edit chapter seven or revise a few poems or draft a blog post. It can blab as much as it wants once I've done what I need to do.

Horror kingpin Stephen King says, "You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself."

This is true. So teach yourself that what you love and want to do is worth it. Teach yourself how to get better by reading and writing and editing and editing again. Put as much time and energy as you can into it. 

I started off the TPL Teens residency by discussing why I write, then posting interviews with Jim Munroe, Terry Lau, and Carlyn Zwarenstein, three Torontonians whose work first appeared in Young Voices, and didn't give up and have gone on to do many inspiring things. I also included their early publications to show you that nobody starts out perfect. 

To recap: most of us write because it's how we entertain ourselves and make sense of the world. Writing keeps us company. Stops us from losing our minds. Gives us space to know ourselves. So cherish those things. Return to them. There's nothing in life that's more important than that. (Okay, maybe food and sleep.) Your work will only improve if you don't give up.

Journalist Carlyn Zwarenstein: Young Voices made me feel "proud and fundamentally understood"

October 18, 2014 | E Writer in Residence - Emily Pohl-Weary | Comments (2) Facebook Twitter More...

Carlyn zwarenstein headshotBecause the YOUNG VOICES WRITERS CONFERENCE happens on Sat, Oct 25 (register now!), I've profiled a couple Torontonians who were published in the yearly Young Voice Magazine.

Carlyn Zwarenstein is the third Young Voices superstar I'll feature here. She's one of those incredibly versatile and sharp writers who has a nose for what makes good news.

She has written for the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, Spain's La Vanguardia and the UK's The Guardian; for Our Times (labour rights) and High Times (pot smokers' rights). She's written numerous features, news pieces and unsigned editorials for eye weekly; covered city hall for NOW; social movements and activism for Canadian Dimension; and written for This Magazine, Spacing, Kiss Machine (!) and the recently-departed FUSE, and most recently Canadian Geographic and Our Times.

She's also highly engaged with the community. She mentors and supports other writers, for example helping young people edit and publish op-eds when she worked for a children's rights organization called Voices for Children, and supporting the work of internationally-trained journalists (including some really amazing writers for whom English is a second language) as the editor of New Voices, a magazine produced by a Toronto settlement agency called the Mennonite New Life Centre.

Less well known is that Carlyn writes poetry, because she's only published it rarely. She had a piece in the Malahat Review a few years ago and studied at the University of Toronto with Ted Chamberlin and Al Moritz.

Carlyn z poemEmily: Tell me about your connection to Young Voices Magazine

Carlyn: I contributed a single poem to what was probably one of the earlies issues of the magazine. It was a poem called "Things that Cannot Be," inspired by the title of a big reference book I have called The Encyclopedia of Things that Never Were (Michael Page, Robert Ingpen). The poem was a very structured series of verses with internal rhyming that described different images of magic and fantasy.

Looking back I realize that I was good at playing around with language and rhyme and image, but I really could have pushed myself more to explore ideas and meaning--still a challenge these days. Still, after the reading that was held for the launch of Young Voices, a woman (ie. a grown-up person!) came up to me and said something very nice about my romantic imagination. The way I felt then was I guess what an author feels like when they get a review that isn't just nice, but where they feel like the critic nailed it. Happy and proud and fundamentally understood. It was a wonderful, flying moment. 

Emily: How did getting published in the magazine make you feel?

Carlyn: Very special. It was incredibly affirming, particularly because of the pretty high quality of the contributions as a whole, the professionalism of the production and the 'realness' of the reading that we gave. The whole thing was structured to feel like a real, adult publishing opportunity and contributed to my early sense of commitment to writing as a profession. I felt capable, I felt validated and I felt dedicated--like this was something that I could devote my life to, with all the passion and the professionalism involved in setting out to make your living doing something you love and take very seriously.

Emily: Why do you think it's a great feature of the Toronto Public Library's yearly programming?

Carlyn: Just because of that taking-kids-seriously thing. Young people can produce some really wonderful writing and need the encouragement to see it as important to them because of how it makes them feel and the impact their words can make in the world. It's very different from a school assignment in that way. It feels like an opportunity to contribute, not a duty.

Emily: Whatcha working on these days?

Carlyn: A novel (of course). I'm also waiting very anxiously to find out if a proposal for a short non-fiction book that received initial interest is going to actually be accepted by the publisher I approached. And am wondering whether freelance journalism, which I almost completely dropped over the last two years due to a combination of worsening market, fewer exciting opportunities, serious health issues and raising children, is something I might yet explore again.

This year's Young Voices Magazine is being launched on Wed, Oct. 22, and will be appearing in a branch near you shortly thereafter. Consider submitting next year! There's more info on how to submit over here.

Guest Blog Post -- Writing Habits by Chantel Guertin

October 18, 2014 | Christine | Comments (0) Facebook Twitter More...

Hi everyone,

Over the summer, I did a blog post on the Word Out site about a great book called The Rule of Thirds by Chantel Guertin. Since then, Ms. Guertin has taken the time to write a guest post for the TPL Teens site. Take a look below at what she has to say.:)


So you want to write a novel? You can do it! Here are five tips I wish I’d had when I first started writing novels.  By Chantel Guertin

1. Write, write, write. A lot of hopeful authors ask me the secret to writing a novel. There’s no real secret (I wish there were, like you could eat 3 Oreos while doing the limbo and singing a Taylor Swift song at the top of your lungs and your book would be written). But that’s sadly not the case. Instead, here’s the only thing I know: you have to keep writing if you want to finish a novel. Even when you’d rather watch TV. Even when you get stuck and don’t know where the story should go next. Remember this: it happens to every single writer out there, and the only way to finish the book is to keep writing. Write through the problem. Write around the problem. Eventually you’ll solve the problem. And eventually you’ll finish the book.

2. Make writing a habit. Like eating breakfast. You have to get in the habit of writing every single day, so that it’s not overwhelming, it’s just something you do. A good way to make sure you fit writing into your day is to do it first thing in the morning, just like having breakfast. And just like breakfast, some days it’ll be memorable (like homemade cinnamon buns) and other times it won’t, but at least it will be an accomplishment that’ll get you that much closer to your goal.

3. Cut the boring parts. Believable characters are important, but that doesn’t mean we have to see the characters brushing their teeth before bed, unless while they’re brushing their teeth they hear a strange noise, and go outside in only their underwear only to discover … You get the idea. Otherwise, I think it’s safe to say that a brushing-teeth scene is Capital-B Boring. Here’s a hint: If you’re bored with what you’re writing,  your reader will be bored reading it. So just cut the boring stuff even if you think you need it, and just move on to the next scene. Chances are all you need is a one-line segue to get you to the next section, and you can add that in later.

4. War and Peace is the exception, not the rule. I’m talking word count, here. A lot of hopeful authors tell me their manuscripts are 200,000 words. (War and Peace is nearly 600,000). Both are in all likelihood too long! The typical commercial novel is about 90,000 words and the typical YA novel is about 60,000 words. That doesn’t mean your book can’t be longer or shorter, but ideally it should be about the same length as books you think it’s comparable to. It doesn’t mean you can’t tell the story you want to tell, it just means that the story you do tell will be a tighter, more polished read.

5. Be specific with your writing goals. Do you want to finish writing a first draft of your novel by Christmas? Then do the math. Figure out how many words you want your book to be, how many weeks you have until your deadline, and then determine how many words you need to write every week to meet your goal. Then break that down by day. Can you write more on Saturdays than on Thursdays? Give yourself word-count specific goals for each day of the week.

Some days it may take you hours to meet your word-count goal, and other days the time may fly by and you don’t want to stop writing. But meeting your daily goal is a good way to ensure you meet your ultimate goal of finishing your book. *Some authors set a time goal instead – telling themselves they have to sit in front of the computer for half an hour. They find this works – that eventually if they sit there long enough they’ll start to write something. This doesn’t work for me because I can sit in front of my computer for hours, reading gossip blogs, planning my next vacation or checking my email. So I find the word count goal works better because I’m forced to meet the goal, and the sooner I do, the sooner I can go do something else with my day. Like read a novel while eating popcorn on the couch.

Creative director at Beehive Design Terry Lau: Young Voices "is a celebration of the talent and energy in the city"

October 17, 2014 | E Writer in Residence - Emily Pohl-Weary | Comments (1) Facebook Twitter More...

TerryLeading up to the YOUNG VOICES WRITERS CONFERENCE on Sat, Oct 25 (register now!!!), I'm profiling Torontonians who got their start in the yearly Young Voice Magazine.

Let me introduce Terry Lau. He's one of these uber-talented people who make Toronto a more creative and beautiful place to live. He's an artist and the creative director of Beehive Design and has headed up a number of award-winning design initiatives. 

He was a consultant on the redesign of the imagineNATIVE film + media arts festival identity and has been involved with a number of art and culture based projects, such as Art Toronto International Art Fair. He leads the team that creates the Japan Foundation’s print collateral, including event calendars and brochures.

Terry has also been a member of the Design Faculty at the Ontario College of Art and Design for the past eight years.

And... most exciting of all... he's a former cover artist for the TPL's own Young Voices Magazine!

Emily: Tell me about your connection to Young Voices

Terry lau coverTerry: I was in Grade 11, back in 1989. My good friend Jim Munroe was submitting his poetry to YV and he asked me if I would submit some artwork. We got the good news we were included in the project and my artwork made it on the cover.

Emily: How did getting published in the magazine make you feel?

Terry: It really provided me with confidence and made me more proactive about my path in my vocation. 

Emily: Why do you think it's a great feature of the Toronto Public Library's yearly programming?

Terry: It is a celebration of the talent and energy that lives in the city. It is vital to recognize and highlight what young people has to offer. It’s a great honour and privilege to be part of the festivities.

Emily: Whatcha working on these days? 

Terry: We just finished the design campaign for the imagineNATIVE film + media arts festival. also we are working on the annual report for Ontario Arts Council and also their Media Artwork to speak with the public on their grant processes. We recently launched our own print magazine called Novella. It’s about local lifestyle, fashion, art + culture. 

This year's Young Voices Magazine is being launched on Wed, Oct. 22, and will be appearing in a branch near you shortly thereafter. Consider submitting next year! There's more info on how to submit over here.

Filmmaker and novelist Jim Munroe: "Young Voices was the first place I got published!"

October 16, 2014 | E Writer in Residence - Emily Pohl-Weary | Comments (2) Facebook Twitter More...

Jim munroe headshotIn celebration of the YOUNG VOICES WRITERS CONFERENCE on Sat, Oct 25 (register now!!!), I'll be profiling three successful Torontonians who got their start in the yearly Young Voice Magazine.
We start with “pop culture provocateur” Jim Munroe, a published author and an indie culture maker in various media, including graphic novels, lo-fi sci-fi feature movies, and award-winning text adventure videogames.
He’s also helped found and run indie arts organizations, notably the North American touring circuit The Perpetual Motion Roadshow and The Hand Eye Society, an incorporated videogame culture not-for-profit. He lives in the historic Junction neighbourhood.
And, most importantly, he has an amazing story about Young Voices Magazine! Read on...
Emily: Tell me about your connection to Young Voices
Jim: YV was the first place I got published, back in 1989! I have since gone on to have a 25-year career writing science fiction novels, indie feature films, videogames, and graphic novels, and I owe it all to the library!
Jim munroe poemEmily: How did getting published in the magazine make you feel?
Jim: Amazing! Like a real writer. I still remember going to the launch party with my pal Terry, whose art was used for the cover.
Emily: Why do you think it's a great feature of the Toronto Public Library's yearly programming?
Jim: So many young writers are nurtured by the library -- I got most of my books from the library -- that it's extra special to have that connection to the institution.
Emily: Whatcha working on these days? 
Jim: I've got a webseries about a near-future videogame subculture coming out early next year called Haphead. And I'm organizing WordPlay, a writerly games festival that's held at the Toronto Reference Library.
This year's Young Voices Magazine is being launched on Wed, Oct. 22, and will be appearing in a branch near you shortly thereafter. Consider submitting next year! There's more info on how to submit over here.

Young Voices Writers Conference Information My Curved Border

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