Monday, December 31, 2012

On the Eve of … What, Exactly?

Well, Happy holidays to everyone!

I hope you all had a beautiful, restful, peace-filled holiday season. I was lucky to have my family around me this year in our newly renovated house and on the occasion of my big birthday. So, I survived all that, ate too much, drank too much, slept too much and soon will be starting a new year and for the first time in a decade I’m not sure what my new year’s resolutions will be. I feel like I’m on the eve of something important but haven’t figured out what that something will be. Definitely in limbo. Which is kind of okay for me right now.

I say ‘kind of’ because I’m usually the person who needs a plan. I don’t take meandering go nowhere walks. I like to walk with a purpose. I don’t take vacations that aren’t mapped out to the tiniest detail. I shop with a purpose. I started writing with a purpose. Now I find myself a little … purposeless. It feels weird. Not bad, but weird. Like I’m a slacker or something. Like I should be forcing myself to do this or that and, for sure, to be writing something, dammit! But it's like I’ve hit the pause button. I think I need to do that right now. Life can be extremely hectic and the last ten years have been on speed dial. Where the heck did they go? If the next ten years go by that fast I don’t think I can handle it.

So, for now, I guess my New Year’s Resolution will be this:

Take each day and savour one thing slowly.

Dinner with your husband or children.

Reading a book for more than ten minutes.

Doing needlework.

Walking the dog.

Talking with an old friend.

Calling your parents

Writing when you feel like it, not because you feel guilty that you’re not.

Whatever it is, don’t rush it. Don’t be thinking of the next thing you have to do or that you’re not doing at that moment. Every moment can have meaning if you appreciate it for what it is – not what you want it to be or think it should be.

Happy 2013, everyone. Make it a meaningful year.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

One Month till End of Days. So, what are your plans?

In exactly one month, December 21, 2012, th so-called Mayan Apocalypse, the End of Days, the obliteration of the modern world, the ... oh, you get the idea. The world's gone as of December 22nd. Do I sound flippant? Nay, Nay! as John Pinnette might say (very funny comedian. Look him up.) I'm not flippant at all about the upcoming disaster. My standard response to someone commenting on this disaster is: Of course the world's ending on December 21st! My birthday's the next day and it's one I don't want to face (it ends in a zero, in case you all were curious).

Alas, my un-concern over the destruction of the world did not go over well with The Boy. When he first heard about this so-called Prophecy last year he got very anxious. He tends to believe in things mystical and there was so much coverage of this event in the news that it seemed like quite a real thing to him. My making jokes about being quite happy not to face the day when I turn ... ugh. That number. ... he did not find funny. So, to make him feel better I said,

"Well, December 21st is a Friday. Last day of school before the holidays. If it really will be the last day of the world do you want to spend it in school?"

He shook his head. Of course not.

"Okay," I responded. "Then here's the plan. For that day and that day only I will take a day off work, let you skip school and we can spend the whole day at the movie theatre watching one movie after another. That way, if the world does end, we can ignore most of it since we'll be busy watching some good movies. Does that make you feel better?"

He was totally on board with that.

So, for the last year that's been our plan. We're actually looking forward to it. Daughter One wants to join us now too. She's suggesting we sneak into as many movies as we can on one ticket. I'm not so brazen. Even if no one's around to check, I'll still feel guilty for not paying for a ticket. Not even the end of the world can stop my innate guilt-ridden personality!

So, what are your plans for the Apocalypse?

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Need to Withdraw

I have been feeling distinctly social media unfriendly lately. Not that I don’t check in occasionally. I do. I always check Verla Kay’s Blueboards. I read my Twitter stream. I sometimes pop into Facebook (not my favourite site). But I have been an unenthusiastic poster (and blogger!) lately. I’m not sure why that is. It’s not so much social media fatigue, everyone gets that these days. It’s more, I think, to do with my writing. Or, should I say, my lack of writing. And if I’m not writing then I’m feeling a bit … unfocussed. And ticked off with myself. Which makes me feel less like interacting within the community of writers. All because I’m not writing!

Part of the problem lies with the fact that no particular story is calling to me right now. I have three different stories in progress. One is on the brink of being finished (has been that way for years) and two others that are just babies with only a few chapters in. I’ve hopped from one to the other to the other, writing a few thousand words here and there but I’m not feeling the compulsion to finish them. Is it because I’m not loving their stories? I think they’re good ideas. Is it their characters? Maybe. I have to love my characters with a passion that borders on obsession. Maybe it’s all the chatter out there about what makes a book sell in this tough market. I’ve completed two books this last year with which I’ve tried to entice agents and editors and neither was enough. Both have paranormal elements and I know the fatigue in paranormal is huge right now. But I loved (still love) both of them so very much. So, I should just stop wallowing and move onward right? Just write another story. And if there is more interest in contemporary and all three of my WIPs are contemporary, then why not finish those?

Maybe it’s because now, after ten years of slogging through the trenches, finally getting published, I know how difficult it is to sell a book. The knowledge about the business side of publishing is creeping in more and more and affecting the artistic side of the process. I keep wondering whether I should focus on this story or that one? Which will entice an agent more? Which one will be more likely to sell?

Well, I finally figured it out. I’ve been asking the wrong questions. I have to stop thinking about the business and think about the story. The questions I should be asking aren’t about what will sell. The questions are, and always should be,

What story do I need to tell?
What characters do I need to find out more about?
What excites me the most?

But if I’m constantly hearing/reading about agent searches, publishing deals, what’s selling, what’s not, how tough it is out there, how saturated the YA market is right now, it pulls me away from what I used to do, every day for years: writing in my little notebook the story of a few people and their lives that may interest only me. I need to get caught up in my characters lives – not get caught up in the life of the publishing industry (as fascinating as it may be).

That means I have to withdraw a little. Not completely but enough to center myself again and see if I can get caught up in a story that consumes me more than the idea of selling it does. So, I’ll be a sporadic blogger, twitter, facebook checker for the next while. I hope withdrawing from that side of things means I can find a story I’m passionate about writing again. Because that’s the reason I started writing in the first place. Like one of my favourite quotes says:

Follow your passion. You never know where it will lead you.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Seasonal Writing

Have you ever wondered what ‘season’ of writer you are? No, I’m not talking about when you wax poetic in your writing about the spectacular fall colours, the bitingly cold winter season, the fragrance of blooming spring flowers or the hot, sticky dog days of summer. I’m wondering whether there are certain times of year whether you feel more or less productive or inspired as a writer?

Fall has always been my favourite season. No humidity, blazing colours, crisp, cool, earth-scented air. Back to school, back to routine, boots, scarves, sweaters. Ahh, I love fall. And, for some reason, it has also been one of my most productive writing times. Maybe it’s that ‘back to routine’ business – a remnant from prepping to go back to school. That little surge of adrenaline about the school year to come. When I’m getting the kids organized for school and getting my house organized (well, trying to, anyway) after a summer of outside busy-ness it makes my mind sharper. Maybe it’s the cool days and nights where I want to curl up with a good book or, better yet, curl up and write MY good book! Whatever it is, I just feel this particular season helps me to focus better as a writer.

Winter isn’t far behind as my favourite writing season, mostly because I’m indoors a lot. No surprise, but I’m not a big winter sports fan. Yes, I have to schlep The Boy around to hockey arenas and that does take time but, for the most part, I can carve out some writing hours throughout the winter months much easier than I can in spring or summer mostly due to the weather outside being ‘frightful’.

So, what about those last two “S” seasons? What is it about Spring and Summer that makes it harder for me to write? It’s not that I don’t write at all during those times. In fact, I just finished my last wip this past June. But the spring fever does hit me hard and I want to be outside, planting flowers, taking in the warmer air and feeling like I deserve a bit of a break from my writing hibernation over the winter. And, with the winters we sometimes get up here, I am pretty much stir crazy by the time April hits. I NEED to be outdoors. Then, in summer, when kids are home, vacations are taken, life just gets more, not less, hectic.

I know many writers stick to their schedule of daily writing rain or shine, fall, winter, spring, summer, without fail. And I admire those who can do that. But, for me, it’s not that simple. So, I accept that I’m primarily a fall and winter writer and I try and make up for my lack of writerly output, especially in the summer months, by writing as much as I can in the two seasons that I find most productive for me as a writer. I ‘yam what I ‘yam.

How about you? Do the seasons affect your writing? Or do you shut everything off to write, even the weather outside?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Like versus Love

“I liked it but I didn’t fall in love with it.”

Writers have heard this phrase so many times it’s become one of the lexicons of the publishing language. Variations of this phrase have come across in rejections for eons and, intellectually, I know what agents and editors mean when they say this but I hadn’t really understood it myself, in my own writing, until recently.

I’ve now published two books and I love both of them. I have reread them countless times through the editorial process and did not get vomitously sick of them. That is love. I loved the idea of them before they were written. I loved their characters. I loved how they ended. The love has, and always will be, solid.

However, during the last few years while my two published works were put out into the world, I also wrote and completed four other books. Some have gotten the “like but not love” from editors and agents. One I haven’t even sent out to get rejected yet and another one has only been slightly submitted. Out of those four books, there is one that I still, absolutely, unequivocally, love. But it is a YA supernatural and the market is so, so tight and saturated I don’t know if it will ever be published. But I don’t, I can’t, give up on it. I may self-publish it. I may keep trying to sell it as different imprints open up (many of the major publishers are trying digital only imprints and who knows, it may find a home there. Hope springs eternal!). But I know what agents mean now when they say they must love a book to take it on because then you don’t want to – you CAN’T – give up on it because that love is so strong. They need that love to sell that book and face the rejection when it comes in. And when it doesn’t sell, you can’t understand why.

But those other three books sitting on my hard drive? Well, I think I just may be in like with them.

I have had critiquers who have indicated their love for some of them and I appreciate that so much. But while I see the books qualities, I also see their weaknesses. Two of them may have the potential to go from like to love. But they need to change. In some way. But here is the dilemma. Do I spend hours of limited writing time trying to change the like to love? Or do I start fresh, with no baggage, on a fresh shiny idea that has a strong potential for Love? I used to think that if enough revision happened on a 'like' book then the passion would explode. Bam! Love! But I now believe that you can’t manipulate that love. It has to be there from the get go. That excitement and passion must be strong enough to sustain you through the long, hard slog of the writing. And I truly believe that the writer’s interest and passion shines through in the words.

I have also heard that some writers have no clue sometimes what will sell. That the work they are passionate about and are sure will sell doesn’t and that quirky little weird book that they didn’t think had a hope in heck of interesting anybody is the one that succeeds.

I don’t know what’s right but I do know that with all the demands on a writers life that if he/she is not writing something that is bringing him/her some strong measure of satisfaction/excitement/pleasure/interest then there is no point in working on it. It’s okay to shelve it for a while. It’s okay to go back to what you once thought was a love and see if the spark reignites. If it doesn’t, don’t beat a dead manuscript. There is passion to be found in many places, in many stories. Keep looking. And, as a good writer friend told me recently, “Just don’t stop writing.”

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

My Hockey Mom Prayer

Fall has not quite officially started but hockey season for The Boy already has. Opening game of the season is tonight and as I prepare for the onslaught of games, practices, tournaments, traffic, bad coffee, stressed parents, dinner in the van and other crazy that is the hockey parent/child life, I wrote a little prayer to get me (and any other hockey mom's and dad's!) through the next eight months.

My Hockey Mom Prayer

May I find the best route to the hockey arena in rush hour traffic. May there not be any road closures, beginner drivers or other stressed out hockey parents in my path.

May The Boy have remembered all his equipment. May I hold my incredulous yell of frustration back when we're running late and he tells me that he MIGHT have left his hockey gloves on the floor back home.

May I find the grace not to scream at an opposing player who has just elbowed my son in the head.

May I find a spot in the arena that is actually under a working heater.

May I not get sick of Tim Horton's coffee, bagels, sandwiches and Timbits in the next eight months.

May I try, for once, to just enjoy the game and not get stressed out and embarrass my son by screaming in the third period "Jesus, Mary and Joseph! SKATE!!!!!!!"

May I have the right words to comfort and encourage him when he has a bad game and the exuberance to celebrate with him when he has a good one.

May I remember that he loves this freezing, time-consuming, money-sucking sport and that he is a thing of beauty when he skates.

And, most of all, may I remember that his childhood is passing all too quickly and that, one day, I will actually miss the all the time we spent in the van hustling back and forth between arenas. One day I will wish for that time back so let me hold it in my memory as long as I can because it is flying away from me, faster than my son on hockey skates.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Guest Blog Post – Why Doubting Your Writing Can Be a Good Thing!

Just a quick note to let y'all know that I'm guest posting on Cheryl Rainfield’s blog ( where she was kind enough to let me muse on something all writers go through – doubting their writing. Do you doubt yourself/your writing sometime? Let me know how you deal with it.

Hope you can drop by for a visit!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

September 4th - Celebration Day!

Hello poor neglected blog! It has been a summer of de-stressing and recovery after a year (and more!) of house reno madness so the poor neglected blog has been, well, poor and neglected!

But September has arrived and with it a hint of fall (my favourite season) and so many things to celebrate.

First, my little baby, whom I fondly refer to as THE BOY, turns 13 today. No longer a boy, not quite a man, still, always and forever my baby. Though my baby is taller than me now! Here we are at the cottage this summer. Happy Birthday, baby!

Next thing to celebrate? Two of the nicest writers on the planet have their book birthdays today too!

Debbie Ohi's 'I'M BORED' releases today!

Debbie illustrated this book with Michael Ian Black writing and I'm SO looking forward to the launch at Type books later this month. Debbie is one of the friendliest, loveliest writers (and illustrators!) I've had the pleasure of meeting. She was the one who got me on Twitter (she's SUCH a convincing speaker! :) and has been one of the guiding lights of Torkidlit. She deserves all the accolades this book is getting so what are y'all waiting for? Go order a copy now!

Speaking of lovely writers, one of the first people I met on Twitter was the lovely Linda Grimes. She is nothing short of HILARIOUS. And kind. And sweet. And wicked funny. Her book IN A FIX comes out today too! Yay for Virgo birthdays! Here's the cover

With an endorsement by one of my favourite authors Diana Galbadon! Not too shabby for a debut, eh?

Go forth and order now!

September is shaping up to be one birth-tastic month! Now ... where're the cakes?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

In Praise of Persistence

Persistence isn’t very glamorous. If genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration, then as a culture we tend to lionize the one percent. We love its flash and dazzle. But great power lies in the other ninety-nine percent. ‘It’s not that I’m so smart, said Einstein who was a consummate introvert. “It’s that I stay with problems longer.”

Susan Cain
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in A World That Can’t Stop Talking

There are so many quotable moments in the book Quiet by Susan Cain, I could spend the next six months using them as blogger fodder (btw, I love that term!). But today this passage spoke to me.


We all advocate for it as writers. It’s one of the three P’s of publishing for me: Passion + Persistence = Published. But how eloquently Cain describes it! It’s not glitzy, it’s quite boring and almost designed to drive a soul to drink sometimes but it’s oh, so necessary if we are to get ahead in life – and not just for writing.

Daughter 2 was getting quite discouraged over her part-time summer job search. She’d been looking and submitting her resume for months but nobody was calling. Her self-esteem was slowly being whittled away because of the lack of reward for her efforts. She was close to abandoning the search but, lo and behold, she got a call for an interview a couple of weeks ago and was offered the job yesterday. Persistence, not giving up, paid off for her. But, more importantly, because she didn’t get a job right away, she truly appreciates the opportunity for work more now. She will not take this job for granted because it did not come easy. I think she’ll be a better employee because of it.

And so it is with the journey to publication. Your reward may not happen immediately but when it eventually does, the reward will taste that much sweeter for having taken a while to get to. Think about it. Do you HAVE to get an offer today? Would you be any less happy if it came in six months? Or six years?

As the Einstein quote stated, if you stay with a problem longer, you will become smarter. You will be a better writer because in the length of time that you are waiting you are also studying, connecting, crafting and developing expertise. Remind yourself daily that persistence is your friend. Embrace him well.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Charisma: Does Your Main Character Have the “It” Factor?

I went to see The Amazing Spiderman last weekend and I really enjoyed it. But why? I mean, I wasn’t expecting to. I already knew the story, had enjoyed the first two movies of the Sam Raimi interpretation so this reboot seemed unnecessary to me. The villain wasn’t especially scary or fascinating to me (a Lizard?? Really?), the special effects were on par with other superhero movies franchises, and the script was just okay (with more than a few moments where belief had to be suspended (genius Peter Parker using Bing as a search engine one of the funnier, minor examples). So, then, what sold this movie for me? Andrew Garfield’s portrayal of Peter Parker. He put the ‘amazing’ in The Amazing Spiderman.

Now, I was a big fan of the first two Spiderman movies (let’s forget the third ever happened) and I thought Toby Maguire did a great job. Until I saw what Andrew Garfield did with the angsty teen character of Peter Parker. He imbued Peter with such emotion, sweetness, and anger I completely forgot about the earlier movie version. It was a pleasure to see an actor so accomplished and still so young (and, yes, the scenes between him and Emma Stone are filled with chemistry). It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what it was but the best word I can use to describe his performance is ‘charismatic’. And it got me wondering about the main character in my current WIP, Jake, and thinking what I can do as a writer to make sure he is as charismatic as possible.

Webster’s dictionary defines charisma as “a special magnetic charm or appeal”. This doesn’t mean every main character in every story has to have this magnetic factor but I argue that your main character should definitely have a special ‘appeal’. Every character who is the star of the show/story needs to be able to have that special something in order to draw people in to them and their problems. Even mean or nasty main characters need that charm. Scarlett O’Hara is a vain, selfish, sometimes mean main character but she has that ‘it’ factor, that charm, that something in the way she sounds that makes her compelling to the reader. Hannibal Lecter is the most disgusting killer yet he is fascinating to the reader because his intelligence, his wit, draws people in like a beautiful, yet deadly, Hemlock flower.

So, then, what are the keys to charisma? Well, if it were as simple to define as all that, everyone would be charismatic and it wouldn’t be ‘special’ would it? But here are some things that make a main character charismatic to me. Others may disagree but charisma is very dependent on the connection between the character who has ‘it’ and the reader who is reading ‘it’. So while these factors may do it for me, they may not do it for you.

  1. Shows Emotion
Like Andrew Garfield’s tearful response when he comes in battered and bruised and his Aunt May embraces him, a character must be able at some point to show his pain, happiness, anger, so the reader can feel what he is feeling. So the reader can sympathize with him. So it shows that your character is not a robot. Don’t be afraid to have your main character laugh or cry.

  1. Shows Humour
Like Spiderman’s snarky jokes to those trying to capture him, a sense of humour shows a characters wit/intelligence. The ability to make a reader/viewer laugh draws someone to a character. I bet comedians have a lot of friends!

  1. Shows Vulnerability
Andrew Garfield perfectly captured the loneliness of Peter Parker’s orphaned, friendless self. His yearning for Gwen Stacy and his wonder at realizing she likes him makes him sweet and creates viewers sympathy and their wanting to protect and help him. Your main character needs vulnerability to draw the reader in. Make sure he isn’t Mr. or Ms. Perfect. Nobody can sympathize with perfection.

  1. Shows Strength of Character
I’m not talking physical strength here but rather the ability to make difficult choices when the world is going one way and your character needs to go another way. Peter Parker eventually chooses to use his powers for good and not selfish reasons. He can walk away from helping others since he gets no reward and more anguish/pain than most but he chooses the right path. Even if your main character makes mistakes, eventually, his strength of character – his ability to make the right choice despite the difficulty of it – that creates a special charisma and appeal for the reader. After all, don’t we wish we all had the strength of character to always do the right thing?

Well, I could probably come up with a few more, but for me, those are the ‘it’ factors for a main character. So, tell me, does your main character have ‘it’?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Five Do’s and Don’t’s of Good Critique

Every time I agree to judge a writer’s contest (like I'm doing now) I get very mixed feelings about it. Part of me is thrilled to do it as it gives me an opportunity to give back to writers since, when I was starting out and entering contests, I received valuable, thoughtful advice and words of encouragement when I really needed it. Part of me is also terrified that I might write something that is too critical and will end up wounding what can be a very fragile writer’s ego. That’s happened to me too. Where the critique felt not so much as advice/guidance but more like little cuts to my skin, exposing all my weaknesses, feeding my doubts and telling me I wasn’t good enough. 

That is the power of giving critique: the power to help elevate a writer’s craft and grow his/her confidence and the power to tear down that confidence with one or two comments that might seem innocent to you, the one giving the critique, but actually slicing a writer’s confidence in himself or his writing down to the quick. Since I’m in the middle of judging …argh. hate that word so I’ll substitute critiquing. Since I’m in the middle of critiquing a contest right now, I thought I would jot down some key things to remember when giving good critique.

            1. Do Start with the Positive
I don’t care if you have to dig through every page six times but, like most everything in life, there is always something good to be found in it. Find something you like about the piece, whether it is the endearing character, the lush descriptions, the snappy dialogue. Make sure the writer knows that there is something to celebrate in his/her writing. Those are the comments that feed the ego which is just as important as feeding the craft.

2.   Don’t Be Afraid to Point Out the Negative
Well, of course, you say. What’s the point of critique if you don’t point out what’s wrong with the piece? But not everyone is comfortable pointing out the negative. I always say that I prefer getting a critique filled with things to improve rather than a gushing “Everything is just perfect!!”. I once had a critique partner who was so sweet and supportive and never had a bad thing to say about my writing (great for the ego, for sure!) but I stopped sending her stuff because I wasn’t getting what I needed – I needed to hear what I had to do to improve. Every writer does. That’s why good friends and family usually should not be your critique partners because they will care about your ego more than your writing. 3.

3.  Don’t Re-Write the Work
It’s very tempting to suggest alternative dialogue or a change in style when you see an awkward turn of phrase or dialogue. I’ve been guilty of doing this myself. You think you’re helping the writer by offering another option to how he/she has written that scene. But, really, what you’re doing is injecting your own voice/personality/style. Don’t do this! Point out the awkward turn of phrase. Ask a question. Suggest that the dialogue perhaps sounds more mature than what a fourteen-year-old girl might sound like and the writer might want to read it over to see if they agree. Your job as a critiquer is to note the things that make you stop reading and your reactions to it. Their job as the writer is to re-write that phrase or scene (if they want to).

4.  Do Be Aware of Your Biases
We all know that reading fiction is a subjective experience. I’ve read stuff in contests that I would never pick up on a bookshelf because it’s just not my thing but, sometimes, there were so many entries in one genre that I was asked to step in to help the overloaded judges. So I know it can be difficult to review something and provide useful commentary when you aren’t into high fantasy or murder/mystery or whatever. But sometimes you are reading things that aren’t your preference and you have to put that aside so you can critique the writing. You can still make comments on whether you think a pace is too fast or too slow, or whether a character is sympathetic or not. Try not to be overly critical because you don’t like the genre. It’s like a good teacher who must teach to 30 different personalities – we expect the same professionalism/treatment from her for each child – no matter their behaviour.

5. Do Remember that Each Writer is At A Different Stage
You might be reading the first draft of the very first story a person has put to paper. You might be reading the ‘polished for the 100th time’ work of a veteran writer. Each critique you give must adapt to the level you can see the person is writing at. That beginner writer may need more commentary and encouragement but don’t assume that the polished work of the veteran just needs a “Great job!”. They too need to be told that the main character is working for whatever reasons (funny, sympathetic, driven, etc.), they need to know whether the pace is going well. Point out what stands out as exceptional if there is nothing really negative to critique.

Those are just some of the main things I think about as I go through a critique exercise. What I also need to point out is that doing critique helps me with my writing in a thousand different ways. It makes me think about what I’m doing right and what I need to improve on. I think giving critique is absolutely essential to ensure a writer develops in his/her own writing.

How about you? What things do you think about if/when you critique?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Bookshelves Make a Home

As some of you may be aware, we’ve undergone quite a massive reno to our home the last year. I haven’t posted pictures of the reno because I’m a bit private about certain things and one of them is the space I live in. While many of you who read this blog are friends and family and I would have no problem showing you pictures of my kitchen or my bedroom, for the general public it kind of freaks me out. But I have no problem writing about the reno and one of the things I haven’t really discussed is my addiction to incorporating bookshelves into the new space.

Making sure we have a few bookshelves in various rooms is probably not surprising given the fact that I’m a writer and I love books. But part of this reno was done so that we could de-clutter and use our space efficiently. I’m trying to downsize the number of books I have and I got a Kobo Vox at Christmas for the sole purpose of downloading e-books so that I wouldn’t have to keep lugging books from shelves to make room for even more books. So what's with my obsession with bookshelves?

Well, I’ve always loved the way bookshelves warm up a room. I love searching through the titles to see what people have read. It tells me a little bit about who that person is. One of the arguments my husband and I are having is whether to incorporate many of the hardcover books he inherited from his dad. While they are quite impressive I have not read nor do I intend to read the collected works of Winston Churchill. If I or my husband haven’t read it (or glanced through it if it’s a coffee table type book) then I have no interest in seeing it on the shelf.

I love bookshelves that are cluttered and crammed, or colour coded, or neatly stacked with occasional nic-naks and photos interspersed among the books. I love any kind of shelf that has books in it!

So while I won’t post pics of my personal bookshelves I can give you an idea of the type of shelves I’ve got by showing you reasonable facisimiles.

I’ve got bookshelves in the kitchen (with cookbooks displayed, natch).

I’ve got a built in bookcase in the den which will have neatly stacked books (hardcovers) interspersed with art work and photos.

I’ve got a bookcase in the second floor landing nook that has all the YA books my author friends have written arranged in colour coded perfection by Daughter One.

I’ve got an entire wall of built-in bookcases surrounding my window seat in our bedroom that will, I’m sure, eventually be crammed full of every paperback and odd and end book that has come into our home (interspersed with photos and collectibles we’ve inherited from family).

Art, comfort, warmth. That’s what bookshelves in homes mean to me. How about you?

Monday, June 11, 2012

5 Critical Things to Make a YA Story Stand Out

I was recently invited to speak to a children’s writing class taught by the fabulous Bev Katz Rosenbaum. Bev suggested that if I had any tips on writing YA novels the class would appreciate hearing them. I have no idea if what my two cents is worth but when I wrote down what I thought five critical things to make a YA story stand out (to me anyway) were I thought it might make a good blog post. And since I haven’t blogged in a dog’s age here they are. Like I said to the class: Take what you want, throw away the rest, simmer on the back burner but ultimately cook your own recipe. :)

1. Write Believeable, Age-appropriate Dialogue

If a teen sounds like someone who is fifty-years-old you better have a solid reason why that teen sounds like that. Very formal language, using words that the teen wouldn’t know unless they went to a graduate class in English Lit., pull a reader, especially a teen, out of the story because it doesn’t sound real.

By the same token, try not to make dialogue sound too ‘teen’ – or what you think ‘teen speak’ sounds like. Trying to do teen lingo can work but use it sparingly. It can also date a novel pretty quickly. If you don’t regularly hang out with teens, you will more than likely get it wrong anyway. I wouldn’t recommend peppering every other conversation in your story with “like” or “totally” or “whatever”.

Also remember that when you are writing commercial YA or commercial YA with a literary bent (I would put John Green novels in this last category) you can have very different writing styles that will influence your dialogue. The key is making sure your character (what makes up the personality of that character) is saying what he or she would say at that particular age in his/her life. Dialogue is as much about the words being used as it is in the cadence and tone of the sentence structure. Make sure each character sounds distinct and not a carbon copy of their best friend or, God forbid, their mother.

2. Make the Pace and Conflict Fast and Plentiful

Good YA stories throw you into a situation quickly with not a lot of lead up and keep that pace going at a pretty good clip. Pace was one of the hardest things I had to learn. What ultimately helped me were two things:

Jack Bickham’s book Scene and Structure


Donald Maass’s workshop on How to Write a Breakout Novel

One gave me the structure I needed to know how to get into and out of scenes quickly, and how to develop scenes that were action oriented and then followed by a breather/time to contemplate what had just happened kind of scene.

The Maass workshop gave me the best advice for creating a page-turning story – Make It Worse.

You think things are bad for your heroine if her parents ground her? Make things worse by having her sneak out of the house and get caught by police for something she REALLY shouldn’t be doing. Illegally Blonde had my heroine getting deported, then buying a fake passport, working for people she likes to help pay for that illegal document, then having to help someone commit a criminal act against those people she likes if she wants to get that passport. How far is your character willing to go to get what they want? Escalating conflict isn’t just about external obstacles. It’s also about the internal conflict those obstacles create in your heroine. Lucy likes the owner of the house abd doesn’t want to hurt them but she wants to go home very badly and wants that passport – so a conflict of conscience is created.

3. Make Your Main Character Likeable

Make your character likeable – I can’t stress this enough.

She doesn’t have to be perfect but I learned the hard way that if you have a snarky, surly heroine and you put her into a situation that you think would engender sympathy does not necessarily make HER sympathetic. The author needs to show the reader elements of the main characters personality pretty early on that would engender sympathy – is she vulnerable or funny or sweet in some way? Can you show them having affection for another person or an animal? Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games would not be a very likeable personality if she didn’t love her sister Prim so very much and that was shown so clearly at the beginning of the story.

4. Make the Hero/Heroine’s Goal Worthwhile

Whatever your main character wants must be important enough to the character for a reader to believe everything he/she does from that point on and to care enough about the character and goal to stick with him for 200 plus pages.

Teens feel so passionately about things that your heroine must be passionate about what she needs to do or obtain as well. Make it clear what the heroine wants or needs to do and why she needs to do it.

Remember, too, the goal can be denied or not achieved or even change mid-way through the story – if it leads to the heroine’s personal growth.

In THE BREAK, Abby is determined to keep her Nonna out of a senior’s residence and home with her where she thinks Nonna belongs. She wants to show her mother that she is wrong about putting Nonna in a “seniors bone garden” as she calls it and that she is responsible enough to take care of her grandmother. That goal of hers is continually thwarted. Abby ultimately achieves her goal but it comes at a great sacrifice and not in the way she envisaged. The other goal Abby had never articulated to herself or the reader is her deepest wish - reconciliation with her mother – that goal was ultimately achieved because her first goal failed so miserably.

5. Be Honest to the Character, the Story and the Reader

If you are writing YA to give teens moral lessons just stop now. Teens can ferret out when adults are trying to impart ‘life lessons’ on them very easily. I’ve got 3 teens of my own and they hate being given obvious and constant advice.

If you are writing YA because writing about teens is an opportunity for you as a writer to explore a fabulously energetic, dramatic, conflicted, angst-filled, hope-filled time in a person’s life then you will write honestly and passionately and that is the most important piece of advice I can hope to impart to you.

Write Well. Write Often. Write Honestly. Write Passionately.

What are the critical things in a YA novel that makes it stand out for you?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Good Writerly Things

This week is a good week to celebrate writing. Why? Because with all the angst of writing, or not writing, or worrying about the book that's out or the book that's about to come out or if you're doing enough, not enough, too much, whatever, we tend to not celebrate the good things that do happen. What are my good things this week?

Going to Jocelyn Shipley's book launch for How To Tend A Grave tomorrow at Ben McNally Books. So excited for her and this book!!

THE BREAK got its first review - and a really nice one at that! - from the Winnipeg Free Press and so did fellow Great Plains author Brenda Hammond! Yay for good reviews!!

THE BREAK is starting to be ordered by libraries (thanks Hamilton Public Library and Oshawa Public Library!) and its on the shelves at Chapters/Indigo (Canada's major book chain) across the country (never a sure thing in these days of shrinking book shelf space)!

So, all in all, a pretty good writing news week. What about you? We need more celebrations and less worry!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Summer Writing Goals

The May 2-4 weekend approaches (yes, I know it’s not always on May 24th but here in Canuck land the Victoria Day weekend is known as May 2-4 because of the ubiquitous celebration of the start of summer with a case of beer (24 bottles) at the cottage.) and it symbolically heralds the official start of the summer season even though summer doesn’t begin until June 20th. Now usually I don’t do goals for summer. Goals in my mind mean pressure to accomplish something. The only things I usually want to accomplish in the summer are reading a stack of trashy magazines and getting my legs tanned. But this year I need to have goals because, honestly, I have been running around like a crazy lady and feeling like I’ve not accomplished much lately.

I may be being a little harsh on myself since we did finally move into our house after over a year of reno’s so that was a huge accomplishment. But there are still so many things to do and never enough time to do them. What I have been most lax about has been my writing. I have had bursts of writing over the last year but not the steady, progressive output that I usually produced. So, beyond my neverending list of household goals (e.g. get a den couch! Paint the blanket chest! Get a dining room light fixture! Build a fence! – don’t exclamation points make things sound exciting rather than the pain in the arse they really are?) I have a few writing goals that I need to accomplish by September so that I can once again feel like I’m making progress in that part of my life rather than stagnating or falling backwards.

For better or worse, here are my summer writing goals for 2012:

I know, I know. I said writing goals. Not reading goals. But wait a minute. Every serious writer knows that to re-energize, to get better, to learn craft, to revel in the joy of story, one must read other writers. I have a slew of amazing books to read this year –my fellow Great Plains Teen authors books (How To Tend a Grave by Jocelyn Shipley

, Cape Town by Brenda Hammond

and The Green-eyed Queen of Suicide City by Kevin Marc Fournier

); my fellow Torkidlit author’s books (some on my list include Hunted by Cheryl Rainfield

, Real Mermaids Don’t Hold Their Breath by Helene Boudreau

, Under the Moon by Deborah Kerbel

and more coming after the summer – especially Maureen McGowan’s Deviants (Dust Chronicles Book#1), Debbie Ohi’s I’m Bored and Natalie Hyde’s Hockey Girl.) Torkidlit authors are so prolific and the group is expanding so much I can hardly keep up with all the amazingness coming out of these writers. But I know that whichever book I pick up I will learn and be inspired by in my own writing.

I used to write almost every day, every time I got on the subway in the morning and again on the way home from work, then I’d put in another hour or two (or more) that evening. While that was an intense schedule – sometimes I wouldn’t get to bed until 1:30 in the morning – and I won’t be able to keep up that pace in my current semi-exhausted state - whatever I write (and I currently have an almost finished WIP and a just started WIP) I need to strive to write something for either of those two books every day. Just like I need to take my vitamins every day to stay healthy, I need to write every day to keep my writing healthy.

Now this sounds weird, but Twitter actually is not a distraction for my writing. I mostly follow other writers and I need to hear what they’re up to and get a kick in the pants by following the #amwriting hashtag and celebrating their successes and commiserating with their struggles. The children’s writing community is one of the most helpful and encouraging ones out there and I need that to kick start me again.

There’s old info and old pictures and I need a new background. Plus I need to get back to blogging regularly. ‘Nuff said.

I need to connect with some other bloggers about doing interviews, send some info out to some groups to let them know about THE BREAK (especially the Alzheimer’s Society) and other writers who are generous about spreading the word on new books. Publishing with an independent Canadian press means an author has to do a little more work in getting the word out there about their book or else we get lost in the noise of new books from the larger presses.

The last couple of years I took a break from judging the Toronto Romance Writers annual contest for unpublished writers but I agreed to do it again this year. Judging contests is an amazing way to hone in on craft and voice and the things that work and don’t work in the beginning of a book. While I can’t commit to a writing workshop or conference this summer, judging a contest helps to get the analytical side of my writing brain working which always helps the creative side of my brain.

I’m almost 45,000 words into a planned 60-65,000 YA contemporary that I think is not complete crapola (that is high praise for me for a WIP). If I can just finish the darn thing!! Another 100 pages will do it. If I just write a measly two pages a day I can finish it in less than a couple of months. Here I have to invoke one of my favourite quotes from Nike: Just Do It.

This is more of a September goal but by the end of the summer I want that WIP polished and a query letter ready to go. I need to get back in the game and I need to be ready to do it. My home life may be crazy but it is no longer SUPER crazy. Another quote I like: No More Excuses.

So that’s it. I know I should have added one more goal: DRINK MORE RED WINE but that makes me sleepy. And I need to be energized, not lethargic. How about you? Any summer writing goals for you or are you taking a wee bit of a break to enjoy sun, sand and water?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Mood and Creativity

I always believed that whole idea of being in the ‘mood’ to write was poppycock (aside: I believe that is the first time in my life I have written the word ‘poppycock’). I was/am a firm believer in BICHOK (Butt in chair. Hands on Keyboard) no matter what – rain, shine, happy, sad, inspired or not just get the words down and do it every day and presto (well, presto may involve months of BICHOK) you have a workable first draft of a book. But lately, especially with this last year of highly stressful personal life and emotions going through the wringer and the myriad of decisions, decisions, decisions that I’ve had to attend to, my BICHOK approach has changed to BIBHOC (Butt in bed. Hands on Chocolate) more often than not. I have come to believe that mentally – emotionally – I have to be in a good mood to write, to create something.

I’ve even looked up some articles to justify this shameful revelation of mine. See the following story about how being in a positive mood boosts creativity at work.

You’d think this would be a no brainer. Of course you have to be in a good mood to create! How else can you access all those wonderful areas of the brain that surprise you with their inventiveness unless you are relaxed, open, stress-free? But …

What about those grumpy, unhappy, miserable, hermit-like writers who create masterpieces yet seem to hate everything in the world?
What about all those writers writing on a deadline, who have ill relatives, had their car break down, lost their wallet etc. etc. and still write and create amazing books.

Why can some people do that? Why can’t I???

I wonder if it has been because my environment (my home) has been in such disruption lately that (homebody that I am) I have been unable to adjust as well to that stress as I could have to the litany of stressors I just listed above? I think, for me, my environment directly affects my mood thus my ability to write.  And by environment I don’t mean I have to be sitting in my living room chair with the lamp on and my favourite pillow behind me. No, I can write on the subway, in cars, at skating arenas, in doctors offices – anywhere really. I can tune out the outside world. But if I don’t have that refuge to escape to at the end of the day or if that refuge is so disrupted that it is no longer a refuge but someplace I dread going, then that seriously affects my ability to write.

So for me, environment affects mood which affects my writing. Or lack of it. What about you? Do you need to be in a good mood to write well? Or does angst and stress actually bring out the creative beast inside you?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Dreams vs. Reality. Which do you prefer?

As I take yet another vacation day to wait for the delivery of a brand new wall oven to replace the brand new wall oven I had just installed in the home reno, a saying I've heard from people who have renovated their homes comes to mind:

"No one ever tells you that a dream house can sometimes become a nightmare."

That pretty much sums up the last three weeks of moving out, moving in, and dealing with the ongoing business of a house reno. It has been, if not exactly a nightmare, then certainly less than perfect. Certainly, not a dream. But what I failed to remember is that while dreams are supposed to be perfect real life is not.

Real life is messy. It has problems. Most of the time it cannot be controlled. Real life has other people in it. People make mistakes. People fail to show up.

Dreams are ethereal. They are images in your mind. Dreams are things you can control. There is no one who can mess up a dream for you because your dream is in a bubble-wrapped present, sitting in that perfectly decorated living room with designer art on the walls.

And yet.

You can't touch a dream. You can't live in a dream. A dream can't hold you when you're crying out in exhaustion or frustration. Only the people in your real life can do that.

But I still believe dreams are important. A dream can sustain you. Especially when real life is beating you over the head with its problems.

So, while I sit in my still disorganized, unfinished house I hold on to my dream of one day having a neat, perfectly finished house. But I make sure that I'm realistic in my expectations. For example: My dream today is that my wall oven will arrive and actually work this time. My reality? I keep the listing of take out restaurants close beside me, just in case. :)

How about you? Which world do you prefer to live in? Dream world or Reality?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Life is Crazy But I'm Still Having a Book Launch!

T-minus 4 days till the big move and the house is turned upside down. At one point today there were about 8 vans from various trades in the house. Out of chaos comes order, right? But AFTER chaos comes the book launch for THE BREAK. With all the crazy my life has had lately, I've been guilty of neglecting this book I am so very proud of. But come April 20th, from 5-7 pm I'll be celebrating its arrival with a launch at TYPE Books on 833 Queen St. W. You know TYPE Books, right? It's that cool indy bookstore that gave us this awesome video:

I am thrilled to be launching THE BREAK at one of Toronto's coolest book stores.

I hope if you're in the Toronto area, you can join me! There may or may not be cannoli for treats. :) You'll have to drop by and find out!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Why Did I Write This Story?

Before I fall off the face of the earth (well, actually, just into the abyss that is prepping for our big move into our semi-finished reno in a couple of weeks) I wanted to get in this blog entry about why I wrote THE BREAK.

It’s the question every author should ask themselves before and during writing their book: WHY are you writing this story? If you are writing a story because something is hot in the industry (e.g. post-apocalyptic, dystopian, vampires, etc.) this post is not for you. I wish you well in chasing that elusive and all important “what’s hot in YA novels these days” trend. What I’m going to touch on is different. It is the meaning behind your story – the core truth you want to highlight, explore, reveal for yourself and, ultimately, your reader. Why is this story important to YOU?

THE BREAK began with a simple thought, one that came into my head as I saw my mom interacting with my kids in that completely unselfish, completely there, unconditional love she and my dad have for them. “This is the purest kind of love”, I thought. From there came the less happy thought, “What would my kids life be without their grandparents in it? What would they lose? What would my parents lose?”

Once those thoughts start happening then, if you’re a writer, you know a story line will surely follow. So Abby Lambert and her beloved, Nonna, were born.

Around the same time that I was thinking about writing a love story about a girl and her grandmother, I also decided to bring the aging theme – and all the constraints and difficulties aging creates – into sharp focus by making Nonna be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Memory - and all that means to relationships and family and the passing down of family history from grandparent to grandchild – is a fascinating thing. Without it we have no connection to each other. How does the loss of memories affect relationships? How do family members react when this starts to happen? I knew so many people whose lives have been impacted by various forms of dementia. So many times I heard people say it was almost harder to deal with seeing their parents/grandparents/spouse etc. losing their memory than if they were dealing with a physical illness.

Finally, I wanted to look at how we, as a society, treat our seniors. Much of THE BREAK is set in a retirement/nursing home. Do our young adults connect with seniors in any substantive way? What can we learn from them? What do young people lose when they don’t interact with our seniors?

All this to say, I had all of these “ideas” or “themes” swirling around my head as I plotted out what would happen to Abby and her Nonna in THE BREAK. I didn’t write the story to send a “message” but I wanted the story to have a “meaning”. To me, anyway. After all, an author is her first audience and if the author doesn’t care enough about the story then why is she writing the thing?

Here’s hoping all your stories mean something to you. Because otherwise, what’s the point?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

And the winner is...

Shakespeare!! I'll be contacting you to get your mailing address and sending you a copy of THE BREAK as soon as possible (this may have to be a few days as I'm currently on a deadline to select kitchen and bathroom faucets as well as other sundry hardware items for the reno!) But no later than early next week for sure! I do hope you enjoy THE BREAK, Shakespeare. And thanks everyone, so much for leaving a comment. As for other winners, how about everyone who's enjoying this amazing March Break weather. We didn't even have to go to Florida! I'll be taking the next couple of days off to do family shtuff but I'll be back next week for a blog post. I want to talk a little bit about why I wrote THE BREAK and start discussing the devastating disease that is Alzheimer's. But for now I want to leave you with a picture of what I love most about Spring - which is just around the corner people!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Author Copies Arrive!! Time for a Giveaway!

My author copies of THE BREAK arrived today just in time for, you guessed it, March Break next week. Aren't they pretty? :)
I don't think they're on shelves yet but if you'd like, maybe, to get an early read I'd love to give away a copy to a good home. So, just leave a comment and if you're in North America I'll mail you THE BREAK. Comments on until next Tuesday the 13th then I (or maybe The Boy) will pull a name out of a hat (he likes doing stuff like that! Unlike his homework).

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Painting Your Characters into a Corner: 5 Ways to Deal

Okay, writers, let’s talk about The Corner. You know what I mean. That place no writer wants to go, much less his/her characters. That awful, dark, trapped place that you’ve led your protagonist to and where you’ve abandoned him/her with no window, no ladder and no idea on how to get out of there. What’s a writer to do??

Well, I don’t have a magic bullet (although, if your character has to shoot his way out of a maximum security prison, magic bullets do help, implausible though they may be) but I do have a few thoughts on how one might get your hero out of the jam you’ve put him in. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of magic to it.

1. Don’t Panic. Do Review Your Plot
There’s been a whole lot of writing that has led up to this corner. Go back and review your story up until now. Look for hidden clues that might give you a solution. You might have subconsciously written a piece of dialogue that allows for a minor secondary character to come in and help your hero save the day. If you don’t see any clues, then go back and write them in! Maybe you want to leave a certain piece of equipment lying around that might help out the character, or an abandoned road that gives an alternative getaway. Those ‘clues’ should only be mentioned in passing through dialogue or description before the unsolvable situation – just little nuggets of information – that you can pull out later when you need your character to break away from the corner.

2. Go Over Your Main Character’s Personality Traits and Motivation/Goals
Ask yourself, how would your hero react to this situation? Would he do something out of character here? Why? Would desperation make him do that? If your painted corner is really desperate, it might be enough to make that character do something (a criminal act??) that they might not have done before. Especially if his motivation/goals are strong enough to drive him forward from one painted corner into another one. But make sure if he’s going to do something that rebellious or desperate that you have set it up or hinted at that potential. And be prepared to live with the consequences! The reader must believe that your quiet, mousey hero has shown something (like running in front of a car to save his neighbour’s cat) early on in the story to then not be too surprised that when something he cares about is in danger his adrenaline starts to pump and it’s not too far a stretch to believe he will jump down a ravine to save the girl he loves.

3. Write/Outline Different Options for Resolution
No matter how crazy they seem or how far-fetched write those ideas down! See where those options might take you. I know this goes against many pantsers methods but brainstorming solutions (whether on your own or with others) is not the same as writing a complete outline. It can be very loose process and might just give you the spark/idea you need to move forward. Sometimes, the solution you come up with might take your character to another corner (that’s what just happened to me in this WIP). If that’s the case, don’t despair. Think of corners as a naturally escalating the conflict in your story. Escalating conflict is a Good Thing. How many corners can your character get out of? Too many and it becomes unbelievable (unless you’re doing a thriller where problems should be stacking up one after another throughout the book). Just don’t worry if you have more than one corner. Where one solution exists, so will another one.

4. Let Your Characters Sit in the Corner for Awhile
Walk away from the WIP. Sometimes your brain needs to digest the problem for a bit. If you stare at the scene every day and are getting more frustrated than inspired, it will not only paint your character into the corner, you’ll end up building a brick wall around him with barbed wire on top.

Walk. Away. Muse on it.

Let your brain do its weird story telling magic. Think about ALL the characters you’ve written. What are they doing when your hero is in that corner? Does a sub-plot create an opportunity to resolve what’s happening in your hero’s corner? Is there something/someone unexpected or underused until now that might create a disruption/surprise to the plot? If you’re surprised the reader will be too. Again, that's a Good Thing.


5. Don’t Despair! The Corner Can Be a Good Place
Remember when you were a kid, or when you, as a parent, send your kid to the corner, that it was not just about punishment? It was to allow for a Time Out. It was a place to think about all you (your character) had done to get you to there and to think about how to act from that point on. The same can be said when you paint your character into a corner. It is an opportunity to see if your story and your characters are acting the way they should or if you need to re-evaluate their behaviour and if their actions need to change in order to move their story forward in a positive, satisfying way.

What other suggestions do people have for making that corner less frustrating for writers? Let me know!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Signs You’ve Lost Control of Your Life

I realized this weekend that my life has totally lost control. I’m pretty much used to hectic being my new normal but when I glanced at the calendar and realized that next Sunday is the Oscars and, for the first time in I don’t know how long, I have only seen one of the nominated Best Picture candidates, I freaked.

WTF??? How did this happen?

It was then that I knew I had completely lost control of my life. You may laugh and say, “Oh, please. The Oscars?? It’s not like you forgot your kid in the emergency room when you stepped out to get cough syrup at the all night pharmacy and you left your stove on with a pot of soup boiling on it. Now THAT’s losing control of your life.” Sure, not seeing any Oscar nominated movies for 12 months is not a sign the apocalypse is coming but for a movie addict like me it’s a sign that I have not been managing and maximizing my time in the most beneficial way.

Intellectually, I know this last year has been one of the busiest and most challenging of my life but, still, that’s no excuse for not seeing movies! And, yes, I know that I’ve tended to wait longer to see films if I think they’re more DVD material or will be on Netflix soon, and yes the cost of going to movies is crazy, but, like the purchase of tangible books, I will never stop going to movies completely. I WANTED to see The Help. I’m curious to see The Artist. I definitely want to see The Descendants. All I’ve seen is Moneyball. And that was because we got it on demand through our internet services. I didn’t even see it in the theatre. Sigh. It’s like there’s a hole in my life that I won’t be able to fill (at least not in less than a week!)

So in the next five days, I have to fit in three movies. I know, I know, there are nine nominated films but I may be a movie addict I’m not an insane movie addict. All this while hockey playoffs and practices are going on for The Boy, when I have to travel back home this weekend to see my folks, when I have to do things like, oh, buy groceries, do laundry, deal with house reno decisions and try to get at least 3 or 4 hours sleep a night. Let’s not even discuss squeezing in some writing time in there. That’s the second sign I’ve lost control. My writing output has diminished considerably in the last six months. Double sigh.

Maybe I can squeeze in ONE movie. But, really, how will I be able to enjoy Billy Crystal’s jokes if I haven’t seen most of the films?? Triple sigh. At least I can still enjoy the dresses and the acceptance speeches. It just won’t be the same.

How about you? What signs tell you all control has left the building?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Cover Reveal! The Break

Out of all the milestones there are in publishing a book, my absolute most favourite is when an author gets to reveal the cover of his/her new book. And I get to do it now! Here it is, the cover for THE BREAK out this spring! (late March or early April 2012)

I really, really love it. I think the design team at Great Plains did a fabulous job with getting the mood of the story on the cover. I especially love the colours and the blurryness of the girl's face symbolizing the fading memory of her beloved Nonna. But it's also the little things I love - like having the broken letter in the title. The Break has so many different layers of meaning - the actual spring break where Abby needs to look after her Nonna, Nonna's break from reality due to her memory issues, the breaks between family members because of illness or emotional distance. So many things to consider when pulling a cover together like this. I'm so happy with it!

I know authors have a real worry when their cover is revealed to them because so much of it is out of their control. I'm very lucky in that the team at Great Plains do really care what their authors think about a cover. I'd sent some thoughts/pictures to them and they very much captured the mood I was hoping would be invoked.

I really hope the cover draws people to pick up the book when it's released but right now I'm just enjoying staring at it. Sigh. I may just look at it all day! :)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Journey of a Thousand Words

I took a tremendous leap forward yesterday. I wrote 1,205 words. I'm not talking about revising old ones. I'm talking brand spanking new ones.

Big deal, you say. What's a measly 1,200 words? Well, when you haven't written a new word in months it is a very big deal, my friends. At least for me. For a lot of reasons, the last several months have seen me do everything and anything except write. I can blame it on a number of things and I have. All legitimate reasons for not writing. Seriously, my life outside of writing is a huge, messy, time-consuming vortex right now that has been sucking all creativity out of me. I have not been in a happy writing place as a result.

But no matter the excuse, the only way to pull yourself out of that place is by doing one thing: writing that first new word. But I also know that it can't just be any writing for any story or situation. I have been struggling to find the right story, the right characters that I care enough about, that are strong enough to pull me out of my messy vortex of life. I found that story this week when I began re-reading something I'd started a few years ago and stopped mid-way through. I was reading that story again, enjoying it and the characters when it suddenly stopped. Dang it. I wanted to know what happened to these people! I was mad at myself for stopping this story all those years ago. I remember I stopped writing it right around the time I was getting interest in Illegally Blonde and was getting distracted by submission/agent/editor stuff. I'd also heard of a slightly similar story premise that had just been published. Between the IB action and that irritation of hearing about a story like mine (which turned out to be nothing like mine) my writing flow on this story was interrupted enough to make me put it aside. Well, stupid me.

I have always wondered why I don't throw away the half-finished (or half-started, depending on your point of view) stories that sit on my computer hard drive (or scribbled in my journals). Now I know. They are waiting for the right (write?) time to be finished. They sit, their characters waiting for me to face the next page, to fill it with one word, then two, until I string enough of them together to start leading the characters through what will be their world.

The journey of a thousand words begins with one word, true. But it also must continue day after day until you reach the end. If I do a thousand words a day for the next 30 days I will, hopefully, reach that end. I wrote 1,664 words today. Let's hope this story and these characters continue to keep me away from the vortex.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Show Don't Tell - Truth or Lie??

I've been reading a lot of articles lately about writing advice and how, like any advice, much of it should be taken with a grain of salt (I need to look that up and see why salt is used in this cliché). See this piece by Nick Mamatas. Hilarious and makes the point that a writer needs to do what he needs to do and don't let the so-called rules constrain you. I agree with much of it but I do think writers just starting out should be aware of these pieces of advice and follow them at first. When they are more comfortable in their writing voice then they can determine how much of that advice, if any, they should take. Still, at some point, a writer will be faced with one of these rules, like 'Show Don't Tell', and have to decide whether they will break it.

In my case, I was always a firm believer in the 'show don't tell' piece of advice. Why on earth would a writer choose to drone on about what a tree looked like when they could have their main character climbing the tree, feeling the rough bark beneath his fingers and balancing precariously on a low hanging branch? Well, I did believe this advice until I wrote THE BREAK and I had two major scenes where, in effect I was telling rather than showing.

Oh, my God, I worried over those scenes. I kept thinking: "Is there any way to reveal this information without a character just talking about it?" Well, since that information happened in the past, I would have had to have a flashback and I really don't like flashbacks. Flashbacks are another thing some writers advise to keep to a bare minimum if used at all. I guess that's one piece of writerly advice I've kind of stuck with but, since cutting myself some slack on the show don't tell advice now, I figure that one is also ready to be blown up. I'll probably have a flashback scene in my next book, for all I know! As for 'show don't tell, I finally accepted that sometimes in a story (as in life) characters tell another character about something that happened to them. Talking reveals information, characters react to that information and (here's the big thing) if it is DONE WELL a reader will not feel like the information is revealed in a flat, boring way. I really hope I did those 'telling' scenes well. Time will tell (agagaga!!)

In fact, in a book I'm reading now called "World War Z", the entire story is told in a 'telling' way because the format is based on interviews about events that occurred in the past during the zombie war. The writer still manages to make the telling compelling even though it reads like a historical document based on interviews. But because those interviews are filled with complex, flawed characters that went through a horrific experience the stories they are telling are never boring. Very different and very well done.

I guess the moral of this is that the more you write, the more so-called 'rules' you come across and the more comfortable you become in breaking those rules when you need to in order to tell (show??) the story. Writing is not mathematics (thank God). There are instincts that must be listened to, rules that sometimes need to be broken and, most importantly, a story that needs to be told in the way the writer feels works the best.

How about you? Have you broken any of the so-called 'rules' of writing?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Canadian Children's Book Centre List of Books for Family Literacy Day (and ILLEGALLY BLONDE is on it!)

We have a fantastic resource in the Canadian Children's Book Centre (CCBC) that promotes reading and books by our authors and helps teachers, librarians, and the general public in their book buying and reading decisions. Canada has a strong, supportive culture that encourages reading (the recent budget threats to our Toronto Public Library system notwithstanding) and as part of that, we celebrate Family Literacy Day on January 27th. As the CCBC states in its promotion of this day:

"Family Literacy Day is a national awareness initiative created by ABC Life Literacy Canada in 1999 and held annually on January 27 to raise awareness of the importance of reading and engaging in other literacy-related activities as a family. More than 1.5 million Canadians have already participated in the initiative since its debut. Taking time every day to read or do a learning activity with children is crucial to a child’s development. Even just 15 minutes a day can improve a child’s literacy skills dramatically, and can help a parent improve their skills as well. For more information, please email"

In celebration of Family Literacy Day, the Canadian Children’s Book Centre compiled a list of 50 Canadian books (25 picture books and 25 works of fiction) that share in the joys (and struggles) of families of all sizes and combinations. And guess what? They included ILLEGALLY BLONDE on it! Here's the link

I'm so very, very pleased IB is on this list since, at it's heart, the story is about the strength and strains of family and what we do and what we have to sacrifice for the ones we love. I'm also awed and honoured by the fantastic company of books ILLEGALLY BLONDE sits with.

So Yay for the CCBC! and YAY! For Family Literacy Day (January 27th). Here's hoping that the joy of reading spreads to those that need to hear it the most.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Preview's Sell E-books! (at least to me)

Sorry for the long hiatus but it's been an unusually busy holiday season. Hockey tournaments, Dad's 80th birthday celebrations (on New Year's Eve no less) and ongoing house reno madness has left me about six balls behind the 8th one. I must confess, though, that one of the things that led to my distraction from blogging was my hubby's birthday gift for me of the new Kobo Vox. It's sort of the Canadian version of the Kindle Fire - a tablet e-reader (that also allows me to surf the web since I can never get my hands on any of the computers at home!). It's fabulous. After I pried it away from my husband (seriously, I did not see it for the first six hours it was home) I was finally able to download my first e-book purchase.

I chose World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie Apocalypse by Max Brooks for a number of reasons, one of them being my recent fascination with all things zombie due to The Walking Dead. But the biggie? The publisher let me read the first few pages. What, you ask? Isn't that standard e-book practice? Don't ALL e-books allow a potential buyer to get a taste of the book, an author's style, whether the beginning pages hook you or not? Surprisingly, NO.

I'm a big lover of sneak peeks. I love watching movie trailers for upcoming releases before the main movie begins. In fact, if we're late to a movie and miss the previews, it puts me in a grumpy enough mood for me to not enjoy the movie I actually came to watch. Those trailers hook me (or not) and are necessary (along with reviews) to help me make my decision about what movies I want to pay money to see in future. Same thing with books. When I browse for books from authors I have not read before I go through my process: Interesting title? Cover's cool? Blurb intrigues me? If all those are a yes, then I open the book and read a few pages. If it's all good then I usually buy.

When I was going through the Kobo library, I used the same process. Cover, title, blurb then I clicked on the Download Preview button. Then I went to my library where the book was sitting on my shelf, clicked on it and 9 times out of 10 I would get to read the first few pages. Well, I was deciding on whether to purchase World War Z and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. World War Z had it all and the writing was good so it was a no brainer. Click on Buy. With the second one, I already new Jonathan Safran Foer was a fabulous writer, my brother had spoken highly of the book, and I wanted to read the book before I saw the extremely well-reviewed movie. So you figure I should just buy it, right? Well, when I downloaded the preview and scrolled through the pages what I got were the first few pages of illustrations/pictures that were in the book but none of the actual writing. What the … ? No first five pages of writing, nothing. I know it probably didn't matter since the writer is who he is. But still. It irked me. I was denied the pleasure of browsing. I don't like to buy without browsing. No matter how many people tell me it's an amazing product. No click on Buy.

And it wasn't just that book. There were a few books from major publishing houses that gave me a preview of copyright and acknowledgement pages but stopped just before chapter one. I just don't get what they think they're accomplishing by doing that. Seriously. I don't buy the car without the test drive, people.

On a more positive note, I'm really enjoying World War Z and my Kobo Vox. And I'll probably go buy Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close the old fashioned way - standing in the bookstore aisle, flipping through the pages and enjoying the preview.

How about you guys? Do you need the test drive when you buy an e-book or not?