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.