Monday, December 22, 2008

Getting Noticed

A couple of my attempts to get some publicity for the new book have paid off. Of the seven papers to which I sent press releases, only one responded with a request for an interview. I was pleased that it happened to be the local paper, sold by subscription and on newstands in this city. The story ran last Friday--a quarter-page spread, complete with pictures--very gratifying.

Earlier, when it appeared that no one was picking up the story, I phoned a reporter whose work I've admired and who has interviewed me in the past. She made an appointment and came out to my home. We chatted and she took pictures for an hour. The result was a piece that ran in another paper.

It's a good idea, I've decided, to get to know one or two reporters personally. It saves a lot of needless effort and can result in a more in-depth article.

Season's Greetings.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

It's Here!

The new book, sequel to Treasure at Turtle Lake, has arrived. Here is what it looks like.

In Trouble at Turtle Narrows, 13 year old Joel has just moved into the old Clifton House in Turtle Narrows with his family and his new dog, Molly. One night, while out with his dog, the two stumble upon some suspicious activity at a nearby, empty warehouse.

Is there a connection between what Joel sees happening there in the dark and the mysterious man he overhears demanding money from his father? When Joel and his friends Paige and Matt make a grisly discovery in Algonquin Park, Joel's father becomes a suspect.

Now, Joel must take immediate action to prove his dad's innocence.

The book is a mystery/adventure for young readers 9 and over. It is available in bookstores across Canada and the US. ISBN 978-1-894917-71-1. Price $9.95
Posted by Picasa

Saturday, December 6, 2008


The first copies of my new book have arrived. I've been busy ever since. On Monday I faxed and emailed press releases about my new creation to all the local newspapers, providing them with enough material to write a brief story, even if they don't contact me for an interview.

For two days I was on the road visiting bookstores in the area, covering over 300 kms. in order to show the book and make sure the buyers had the flier with the ordering information. With only three weeks till Christmas, I'm trying to create some buzz for the book.

The publisher also sent me a very attractive e-advertisement to use as an attachment when I email friends, family and anyone else who ever showed interest in my writing. At the end of the week I used the e-ad as a reminder to the bookstore owners I'd visited earlier.

Promotion is, for me, the hardest part of producing a book. It takes careful planning and then plenty of legwork. But in these days of dwindling resources, publicity departments have all but disappeared. An author has to be prepared to do whatever it takes to get the word out. This is no time to be modest. There's a bookmark in every Christmas card I send out this year.

Till next time.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

My garden

This will be the view I will keep in my mind as the snow begins to pile up over the next few months.
Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Writing can be a lonely business. By necessity, it's a solitary pursuit. So it's always fun to get out and meet my young readers. I always welcome the opportunity to talk to children in schools and libraries. Here I am at one of my book launches.
Posted by Picasa

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Writing Groups

Five and a half years ago I joined a writers' group. I wasn't sure I really wanted to at the time, but I decided to give it a try. Up until that point, I'd never shared my works-in-progress. My adult daughter used to read and give feedback on the "finished" manuscript. But the earliest drafts of my stories are too fragile to survive criticism. I still believe this. I have to turn off my "inner editor" when I'm writing. Because the story is still evolving, too much scrutiny will cause it to shrivel and die. It will be many months before I feel I can share it. And this is where the writers' group comes in.

We meet monthly, except during the summer. We celebrate our successes and commiserate over our rejections. We share any calls for submission we've come across. We also pass around any good books we've read and these too get discussed. Anyone who wants to read from a work-in-progress is welcome to. Usually, at each meeting, one or two of us will. The criticism is always constructive; we're there to encourage each other.

I value the insight I've gained from these other writers and, for the most part, I incorporate the changes they suggest. Their support has become invaluable to me. I've found that sharing the roller coaster ride that is the writing life with a group of likewise-involved people is good for me.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Writing Tags

Trouble at Turtle Narrows went to the printer last week. Just before that happened the publisher asked for my suggestions for the tag--the one or two lines that appear on the back cover, meant to attract a reader's immediate interest.

I thought writing a one-page synopsis was hard. Try capturing the essence of a story in one line! Because I write children's novels the tag had to be catchy enough to grab the attention of a young reader. I came up with: Will Joel save his family's home? Will he prove his father's innocence? Two lines, but only 12 words.

My publisher also asks me to write the cover blurbs for my books. I appreciate that. It gives me, the person closest to the material, the opportunity to sell the story in a few pithy sentences. For Trouble at Turtle Narrows I was asked for a short blurb (about 75 words) and a very short one (35 words). As well as being used on the book's back cover, these could be used in the publisher's catalogue and as part of the pitch for the sales and marketing team. Now I'm working on some more "pithy sentences" to use in a press release.

Write on.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Book Covers

Yesterday I received the rough drawing for the cover of my new book, Trouble at Turtle Narrows. The artist's first drawing is something I always look forward to, but with a bit of trepidation.

The covers of my children's novels have always shown the main characters (s) in a brief scene from the story. How can I expect an artist to draw these characters, who until now have existed only in my imagination? That's a lot to ask. I hope my characters will come alive for the child who reads the story. But have I managed to describe them well enough that the artist can see them too?

The cover illustration is the first thing a young reader sees when he picks up the book. He may not even look inside, if he's not attracted by the picture on the front. I've heard writers lament that the artist gave away the ending by choosing to portray a particular scene on the cover. Others have complained that the scene never even happened the way it was shown.

This particular cover has been through three different versions. The artist who was working on the first two rounds left the company (amicably) for a change in career. We were down to the wire; publication dates were looming.

The final artist filled in at the last minute and I think she's done a terrific job. I love her placement of the three characters, approve of their clothing, even their hair. With this drawing she's captured a moment of high anxiety for the kids in the story. This cover is everything I hoped it would be.

Till next time.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Applying for Grants

For the past couple of weeks I've been preparing material to submit for a writer's grant. The grant I am applying for is one that will make it possible for me to do intensive research in the archives of an Ontario university. The research should provide a touch of authenticity to a children's novel I hope to write.

The Writers' Union of Canada provides a link on its website to government agencies, both national (Canada Council for the Arts) and regional. Go to and click on "writing & publishing" to bring up a list of grant programmes available across Canada.

It goes without saying that one must read the guidelines for applying for any grant very carefully. I usually make a printed copy so that I can study it more closely. I keep it in a file folder with copies of whatever supporting material is requested. Be sure you are aware of all the deadlines and know how many copies for each part of the grant are required and where to send them.

It took me a while to select the writing sample I would submit with the application. I wanted to send something that I felt was my best work, a piece where the writing seems to sing off the page. In the end, I chose a chapter from near the end of a novel that is yet to be published.

Once I was sure all the forms had been properly signed and dated, I drove over to the copy shop to have all the necessary copies made. Yesterday I addressed envelopes, made sure each application went into the right envelope and headed for the post office.

Now there's nothing to do except forget about it and get myself back to the current writing project.

Till next time.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Name Game

My novels are usually character driven. That's just the way I write. The character is the one who decides where we're going with this creation. This means that the story can't go anywhere until the main character has a name. And not just any name. I have to find the name that suits her perfectly.

If the story is not working, or if I'm having trouble getting started, I sometimes find it's because I've given the character the wrong name. So I try a different one.

In the case of my new story, I thought I wanted to give the girl an elegant name, such as Cordelia or Olivia, and she would be better known by her nickname, Corrie or Liv. But neither worked and the story stalled. So, now I'm playing the name game.

I avoid using the name of anyone I know because I'd be afraid my character would take on the personality of the real-life person whose name I'd borrowed. That could result in a real power struggle.

When writing for children I've found it best not to call your character by a name that could cause gender confusion--unless that is part of your plot.

You'll want to chose a name that is consistent with the time in which your story is set. I've found contemporary teen names in the captions under team photos on the sports page of the local newspaper. And I frequently use the phone book to find family names.

If you want to ensure that the name you're giving your character is appropriate for the year of your story, check out You can search the site for popular names by year, as far back as 1897.

In my day, popular names for girls were Barbara, Patricia and Carol. Boys were James, Robert and John. Some classic names--Sarah, Emily, William and Robert--never go out of style. Biblical names too--Benjamin, David and Ruth--are ageless. But I'd stay away from Hadadezar.

For the past 10 years the top names have remained Emily, Jacob and Michael. It interests me to see today's parents sometimes giving their babies old-fashioned names like Charles or Amelia or Isabel. I think it shows imagination.

There are plenty of names to chose from. I'll keep trying them out on my protagonist. Today, I'm leaning towards Delia.

Write on.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Seminars and Workshops

Last Saturday I was in Toronto to attend a seminar called Get Published! It was a fundraiser for the Canadian Children's Book Centre. I always welcome these opportunities to learn from more experienced writers and to network with like-minded people. The writers in the audience at these events are at various stages in their careers. But a writer is always honing her craft.

On Saturday we heard Barbara Greenwood's advice to go ahead and write whatever we want to write. If we are passionate about a subject, that's a good enough excuse to write about it. Barbara was once told that kids don't want to read historical fiction. Let the record show that she proved that naysayer wrong.

Jo Ellen Bogart has written just about everything, and she showed us some of her early successes. Jo Ellen calls herself a "short" writer. She tries to get her ideas across in as few well-chosen words as possible. I call that "tight" writing, something I'm trying to practise in my own writing.

Ruth Ohi, illustrator and author, was lively and interesting, making us laugh with her family stories and her clever drawings, by way of a Power Point presentation. (Note to self: get busy on that Power Point presentation!)

I found it helpful to hear the panel of representatives from three of the big Canadian publishers. To become a published writer a person needs luck as well as talent. Her manuscript has to land on the right editor's desk at just the right time. Then, if an editor is passionate about the submission, that editor has to pitch it to several other departments within the company, including the sales and marketing people and the finance department. It is a lengthy process.

I always come away from these events fired up and ready to get on with the writing. I would advise all aspiring writers to take advantage of workshops and writing courses whenever they can. There are always ways to improve. We never stop learning.

Write on.


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Coming Soon!

This week I sent back to my editor my final edits on Trouble at Turtle Narrows, the children's novel that is coming out later this fall. It had already been edited at the publisher's; now it was my turn.

I always look forward to this stage in a book's development. Up till now, no one else has read the manuscript. I do not hire a freelance editor before submitting my material to a publisher. I know I've been so close to the work that I have lost my objectivity, and I welcome the editor's notes and suggestions.

Working as a team we now have a better book. The story is tighter; the action moves right along. I was grateful for the editor's suggestion this time that I write a short scene at a place where he felt something was missing. He was right; I hadn't seen that before. How much better to make the changes now, than to have a reviewer point out that the solution I came up with for one of the obstacles in the character's path seemed "a little too easy".

All the editing on this book was done on the computer and the revised document sent by email. No more paper copies in fat, brown envelopes going back and forth between us.
Prior to this book, I used to receive the unbound galley pages to edit--a pile of paper, two book pages per sheet, with the edits in bold font and little sticky notes to catch my attention. I'd make my changes, agree or disagree with the editor's suggestions (mostly agree) and add more sticky notes. Then it was off to the post office. This new way of doing it is much quicker and wastes no paper.

I'm waiting now to see the cover illustration. I've seen two different versions, but the artist wanted to do a little more tweaking. After the book has been formatted, my editor will email me the document in pdf. format and I'll do a final read-through. We'll both be hoping I haven't typed "than" instead of "that", something the computer's spellchecker would not pick up, or lopped off any punctuation when we rearranged a paragraph.

Before too long Trouble at Turtle Narrows will be on the shelves in the book stores, and young readers looking for a further adventure of Joel Osler and Paige Duggan should be happy.

Stayed tuned.


Saturday, September 6, 2008

Walking Out the Kinks

I gave myself a present when I retired. It was a present no one else could give me--the promise to start (and maintain) a regular walking regime.

At least three times a week for over a year now I've taken a brisk walk, covering about three km. each day. I rarely meet anyone else on the trail that I take, only the occasional dog-walker or rider on horseback. The trail is an old railway bed, so I don't have to worry about cars, although there is one gent who likes to take his kids for a ride there, in a slow-moving golf cart.

I take the same route every time, but it's never boring, because my walk has become more than the cardio-vascular workout I intended it to be. It has become a time to work out the kinks in whatever piece of writing I'm working on.

No ear phones for me. I don't want to listen to anything while I walk, only the chatter of birds (a whole tree filled with them yesterday), the screech of cicadas and the rhythmic crunch of gravel under my shoes. I want to be able to think, and I need quiet for that.

My story characters are always in my head, living with me over the time it takes to finish the novel. It's natural that I'll be thinking about the story as I walk. I'll be searching for the right words to make that bit of dialogue real, or pondering how to write a smooth transition between scenes. There's always something.

By the time I get home, 30 or 40 minutes later, I'll be ready to see how the words in my head look on paper. Often I'll find the problem is solved.

Why not try taking your writing for a walk? You may be pleasantly surprised at the results.

Walk on.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

How I Begin

Labour Day weekend is fast approaching, and that means the end of summer holidays and the start of a new school year. Although it's been ages since we had a child leaving our home to go to school, I watch the big, orange buses on the road beyond my window.

September 1st has always seemed to me a more appropriate time for New Year's than January 1st. What better time for making fresh starts and new resolutions than when your pencil case is filled with unbitten pencils, the crayons in the classroom are still whole and your running shoes brand-new?

For me as a writer, September 1st this year will be when I start a new writing project. I wish I was one of those writers whose mind is chock full of stories. Mine never is, and my search for a new idea always follows the same pattern.

I begin by free writing, or doing "morning pages" as Julia Cameron called them in her fabulous book, The Artist's Way, (G.P.Putnam's Sons, 1992). I will write at least three pages of whatever crosses my mind every morning. No stopping to read or edit until the three pages are filled. Then I'll read what I've written and underline any bit that sounds as if it has some potential.

The pages go into a file folder called "Morning Pages". It'll get pretty thick before the end of the exercise.
I may, at some point, peruse my notebooks or check through the file I have of "Stories Begun but not Finished". In the end, though, it will come down to the morning pages.

That is where the magic will happen--the connection between a number of loose ideas, or the appearance of a fresh, new character who wants me to follow him or her. It always starts with the character, for me.
It may take weeks of free writing, months even, but I know it will happen. And when it does, the writing will take off.

Keep that pencil moving.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

On Doing Revisions

Whenever I'm working at revisions, which is the stage I'm at with my latest novel, it often happens that I cut the very bits I thought were so brilliant when I first wrote them--the most clever lines of dialogue, the most original piece of narrative.

But when I first wrote them, all those months ago, I had no idea where this story was going, nor how that character would develop. How can that character speak those words, given what I know about him now?

Sometimes it has to do with theme. After the novel is finished, I will make changes to reinforce its theme. And the theme only reveals itself after many drafts.

So, if that brilliant bit of writing no longer fits, out it goes.

Funny how that happens. But it's all right. Those words were all part of the process.

It was my thinking "hey, this is pretty good stuff," that kept me writing. And that's what this is all about, isn't it.

Write on.

We'll talk later.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Baby Steps

I'm ready to take my first baby steps into the world of blogging. This is a whole new experience for me. Exciting, but a little scary.

I tell myself it could be something like keeping a journal, which I've done for over 30 thirty years. Journal writing was one of the habits I developed during a course I was taking in creative writing. I do not write in my journal every day. But it is where I return when I need to make sense of what's happening around me, in my personal life. It's where I record strange weather occurences and family events (these too can be pretty strange).

I see the blog being a place to record what's happening in my writing life.

For the past few weeks I've been polishing the new novel. I had thought it was finished, ready to be sent forth into the world. But each time I pick it up I begin tweaking again.

I have just read a great book, filled with useful tips on editing. It made me take another very critical look at the manuscript. The book is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King (Harper Collins, 1993). I highly recommend it.

I took copious notes while reading the book and have returned to my notes many times.

A few of the suggestions I read there were for converting some of the longer passages of narrative into scenes, eliminating speaker attributions--particularly in interior monologue, breaking up paragraphs, even looking at the white space on each page.

Some of the tips I've been using for years, such as reading the story aloud. I've always found this especially helpful when working with dialogue (my favourite part). Hearing the dialogue helps determine how realistic it is.

Naturally, I hope all this careful self-editing will make the manuscript more attractive to a publisher. Especially now that the time and the money to do extensive editing in-house is disappearing.

So, I keep tightening and polishing. But one of these days I have to step back and say, "Okay. That's all I can do. Now, fly!"

It's always hard to let go. Like driving away from the college residence in September, leaving your firstborn on the curb.

Write on.
Till next time,