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Touring In: Quebec

Craft: Author

Genre: Picture Books, Junior Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, Hi-Lo Fiction

Ideal Audience Size: 30-60

Maximum Audience Size: As long as everyone can see the screen I show my slides and play video clips on, I really don’t have a max.

Grades: Grades 4-8

Special Equipment:

  • Projector I can attach my Mac device to (I have an adapter) for showing slides
  • Screen for showing slides and video clips on
  • TV and DVD player or a school computer I can play a DVD on so that the clips appear onscreen

Website: melaniejacksonblog.wordpress.com

Shortlisted for the 2010 Manitoba Young Readers’ Choice Award
Shortlisted for the 2008 Silver Birch Award

Presentation Information

Myth and mystery: How classical tales enhance understanding of stories—and of life
Like the ancient Roman god Janus, my presentations for middle-grade students really have two perspectives. One: explore the elements of a story to enrich kids’ reading and creative writing experiences. Two: draw on mythology as a way to illuminate not only their literary but their everyday experiences.

Journey through the elements of a story…
I take students on a journey through the elements of writing a story, from catchy beginning to problem and conflict; from character, metaphor and atmosphere to climax and resolution. To illustrate these elements, I read excerpts from my new young-adult mystery novel, Medusa’s Scream, and play four brief video clips from the Alfred Hitchcock film To Catch A Thief. All the while I show slides representing a harrowing, if tongue-in-cheek, journey along a roller-coaster ride, a roller coaster being a convenient way to illustrate the ups and downs of a story. For example, when discussing atmosphere, I display an image showing my hapless roller-coaster riders encountering an electrical storm.

The genre we’re travelling through is mystery, but the elements we discuss as cited above apply to any type of story. My goal here is to enhance students’ appreciation and understanding of both what they read and to help them in the stories they themselves may undertake to write. Note: as part of sharing my own experience of writing, I explain how editing one’s work, contrary to what students may think, in fact makes writing easier.

…with, ye gods!, detours into mythology
Throughout my presentation I make allusions to and discuss Greek and Roman mythology, both in regard to my novel, where the myth of Medusa plays a key role; and as part of illustrating the various story elements. For example, in creating a character, students could make that person self-absorbed like Narcissus or brave like Hercules or wise like Athena, etc.

I want to entertain young-adult readers so that they’ll learn about story elements and the classics without being too aware that it’s a learning exercise. It’s like that wise ancient Roman, Horace, advised: inform and delight. Or, as I also like to think of it, sort of like giving them yummy strawberry jam while they’re also getting the healthy whole-grain bread underneath.

I also want to show kids that it’s helpful and fun to carry about in their minds and imaginations a knowledge of mythology. Greek and Roman myths happen to be the ones I usually use in my writing because, as a girl, I read over and over my parents’ copy of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology—and I still have it! I’d like kids to realize that classical stories can enhance not only their studies and continued reading but other parts of their lives, too, whether athletics or hobbies or friendships or whatever.

As an example, in trying to understand a self-centred friend, young people might consider how Narcissus was mesmerized by his image reflected in a river. As we know, such self-absorption brought the young man to a watery end. But myths can also help to understand people other than the ones we know personally. How about current events? There’s an analogy to be made between Narcissus and, say, self-centred world leaders who gaze nonstop into their Twitter feeds.

The Resource Links (22.2) review of my most recent novel, Death Drop, which included the myth of Persephone, captured what I’m trying to do: “Readers are thus shown a teen world in which learning plays a positive role in the success of the characters.”

I wrote a post for my publisher’s blog on kids discussing: Persephone vis à vis the idea of the—brrr!—doppelgånger. You can find the post at http://blog.orcabook.com/3464-2/ And, as noted, my presentations are ideally for middle-graders, that is, Grades 4 to 8.

 

Book List

Medusa’s Scream
(Orca Book Publishers, 2017)

Death Drop
(Orca Book Publishers, 2016)

Eye Sore
(Orca Book Publishers, 2015)

High Wire
(Orca Book Publishers, 2012)

No Way Out
(Playfort Publishing, 2010)

Fast Slide
(Orca Book Publishers, 2010)

The Big Dip
(Orca Book Publishers, 2009)

Queen of Disguises
(Orca Book Publishers, 2009)

The Mask on the Cruise Ship
(Orca Book Publishers, 2004)

The Spy in the Alley
(Orca Book Publishers, 2002)

 

Biography

Born in Scotland, Melanie grew up in Toronto. She attributes her love of reading to her mother, a teacher, who opened up to her the wonderful world of books, from fairy stories, myths and fables to historical fiction. Also to the teacher at Rippleton Road Elementary who encouraged students to fill exercise books with writing and drawing: for stories and poems in creative writing class, and for reports in socials and science classes. The day Melanie realized she’d been concentrating solely on her book of stories and poems to the neglect of the other subjects, she a) had a panic attack, as the teacher was about to collect all exercise books for marking; and b) pretty well knew she wanted to be a writer.

After earning an Honours Bachelor of Arts, English major, at Victoria College, the University of Toronto, Melanie attained a Master’s in Journalism at Western University.

She and her husband, also a journalist, have lived in Vancouver since 1984. These days, Melanie is a business and advertising writer/editor. She likes the challenge of coming up with a story or a slogan or a sentence that will attract the attention of a consumer flicking through magazines or surfing websites. Not all that different from coming up with a catchy plot that will rivet a fiction reader.

Melanie has been thrilled to have Orca Books publish her young-adult mysteries, staring in 2002 with the Dinah Galloway mystery series. Why mysteries? Melanie thinks it’s the same impulse that led her into journalism. In reporting as in fiction-writing, she likes the idea of exploring, Theseus-style, a maze of questions toward a solution.

With her husband, who’s now retired, Melanie enjoys travel and hiking. She also likes playing, or trying to play, the piano. And, she leads a book club for the University of Toronto Alumni branch in Vancouver; in 2016 she was awarded U of T Alumni Arbor Award.

Melanie also enjoys being a mom—that is, when her busy millennial daughter will let her.

 

Awards

The Spy in the Alley

  • Shortlisted for the 2003 Rocky Mountain Book Award

The Man in the Moonstone

Shortlisted for the 2004 Chocolate Lily Award

The Mask on the Cruise Ship

  • Shortlisted for the 2005 Chocolate Lily Award

The Mask on the Cruise Ship

  • Shortlisted for the 2006 Silver Birch Award

The Summer of the Spotted Owl

  • Named as a CTV News 2006 Summer Best Read

 Shadows on the Train

  • Shortlisted for the 2008 Silver Birch Award

Queen of Disguises

  • Shortlisted for the 2010 Manitoba Young Readers’ Choice Award

The Big Dip

  • Named a Resource Links Best of 2009

Fast Slide

  • Named a Resource Links Best of 2010

High Wire

  • Named a CCBC 2012 Starred Selection

 

Praise

“Melanie does a tremendous job teaching a unit on the mystery story. The unit has been a huge success each year with now well over 300 students gaining artistically and academically from the experience. I truly feel privileged to be able to work with someone as talented and exceptional with students as is Melanie Jackson.”

—Amy Hughes, English Dept. Head/Theatre Teacher, Lord Byng Secondary, Vancouver

“Melanie is an incredibly engaging speaker and presenter. She clearly has the knowledge, the skills, the knack, the creativity and that elusive je ne sais quoi that we all wish every public presenter had. If you have the opportunity to avail yourself of this woman’s considerable gifts, you will not be disappointed.”

—Uta Stolbenko, Vancouver Public Library Children’s Librarian

“Melanie Jackson has a fantastic presentation on how to write a great mystery. She showed a [slide] presentation, did readings from her many books and showed clips from Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief to give examples for each point she discussed. Our students enjoyed the books and the teachers found them to be good read-alouds.”

—Janet Mumford, Teacher-Librarian, Richmond School District