Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Spoken Word Commencement Speech to the Grads of 2017

I was honoured by this year's graduates of Byrne Creek Community Secondary School by being asked to give the annual commencement address. Each year, the students choose not only a valedictorian from among their own ranks, but a teacher to speak to them as well. I wanted to give them something they would not forget: a little piece of themselves through my eyes.

I asked each grad for a single word that they felt summed up their experience at the school, and then used each and every word to compose a Spoken Word poem. Partly I wanted to do something that hadn't been done before by a teacher during a commencement address. And partly I figured that if they were all listening for their special word, then they would all be listening. Of course, I didn't manage to get a word from every student ; after I was notified, I only had three days to gather the words so that I would have time to have the speech ready. But I got enough--maybe 60%? I made the last edit while sitting on my chair waiting to be announced.

Six lists of words from the 2017 Grad Class.

I wouldn't have had a recording had it not been for one of my students, Sopithan Rajeswaran, who has won awards for his short films. Sopithan is an excellent filmmaker and happened to have been filming parts of the evening for a grad video he was putting together. When I began, he had camera in hand, and the video which follows was also edited and subtitled by him.

This was both the most challenging and most enjoyable speech I have had the chance to write. Thanks to Byrne Creek's graduates for inviting me!

Monday, January 9, 2017

Choosing Your Era: Two Approaches

Thinking of writing historical fiction? Struggling to decide upon the era in which to set your story? I'm not sure historical fiction authors actually approach their stories this way, but I made a couple of interesting observations when I came across this very interesting Timeline of Middle Grade Fiction 2016 on

I was surprised to notice that The Inquisitor's Tale by Adam Gidwitz is the first selection, taking place in the year 1242, and my own novel Caravaggio: Signed in Blood is second, taking place in 1606 and afterward. Not one story from ancient times? No Renaissance? (1606 is really after the Renaissance, what we call the Baroque now.) Compare this with the 1940s: 11 titles in that short period alone. The nineteenth century has 10 offerings. Granted, this is not necessarily an exhaustive list, but consider its implications.

On the one hand, there is opportunity for writers to delve into these less-explored periods, and of course greater competition from other writers if you choose one of the more crowded eras. On the other hand, this may also be a reflection of book buyers. Perhaps there is a greater hunger for books of the 1940s, less desire to read stories set in ancient times.

I don't have an answer. Like I said, I only find the differences interesting.

The truth is, we write where we see the potential for a story, whatever the era. Still, I'm glad I was able to fill in the 1606 slot!