Tag Archives: Guest Post

News and a Guest Post

My guest post on Janice Hardy’s blog will be up Tuesday. I’m very excited about it! She asked me to write something on writing for the reluctant reader market.

(Update: You can read the post here.)

Lots going on in my writing life right now. This Friday, I’m heading out to a local school to visit some classes and talk about my books. And, hopefully, get the kids excited about doing some summer reading. And later this month is my visit to the local library’s teen writing group. I love meeting kids who are serious about writing. I haven’t quite worked out what I’m going to say to them yet. “You’re awesome, keep at it?”

And, of course, those deadlines. The end of June is getting closer. Fortunately, my manuscripts are getting closer to submission-ready, too. Just need to keep at it.

Proper blog post soon. Honest. In the meantime, keep writing!

Scribbling Women: Interview with Marthe Jocelyn

Today’s blog post is officially part of Marthe Jocelyn’s Scribbling Women book tour. That means that anyone who comments on it gets entered into a draw by Tundra Books to win a complete set of Marthe’s books! You can find more information, and a list of the other participating blogs, here.

The first time I heard Marthe speak was last November, when she was the keynote speaker for CANSCAIP’s Packing Your Imagination conference. I wrote a little bit about it here. My favourite line, still, was when she said that for a writer, lies are as important a tool as an eraser.

That’s a strange introduction to an interview, isn’t it? But I’m pretty sure Marthe was telling the truth here. You can decide for yourself. Read on for what she has to say about letter writing and online platforms and growing up around the stage.

* * *

ET: I remember from your PYI talk that you grew up around the Stratford Festival — did the stories there influence you in wanting to write?

MJ: I wanted to be an actress when I was very young, possibly because the writer was not as visible a part of what I watched and loved on stage. After a brief effort, I gave up the idea of acting, due to serious shyness. Possibly that is when I started to pay attention to the other ways I might participate in theatre. I have written two plays — one for child actors and one for a child audience — but the main trickle-down learning from the stage to my novels is probably the realization that dialogue is far different from conversation. It should be moving the plot or enhancing the characters.

ET: Were there some actors (especially women, since we’re talking about “Scribbling Women”) who showed you how characters could come to life?

MJ: I was a big fan of Martha Henry, initially because of her name and later because she was a great stage actress. I used to wait for her outside the (Stratford Festival) stage door, even if I hadn’t been to see the play. I still have numerous programs with her autograph.

ET: In your foreword to Scribbling Women, you mention coming across the letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, and that her letters inspired you to look for other women who wrote. You also make the point that the physical act of writing intrigued you — when did these women find the time to put their words to paper, given all the other things that they had to do? Do you think that, in writing, they (or we) are hoping to leave something behind to connect with future generations?

MJ: Of the eleven scribblers in my book, four were consciously attempting to connect with and pass along to future readers; Harriet Jacobs was a runaway slave who wrote a memoir for the purpose of revealing the trials and abuses suffered by the community of slaves that she’d grown up amongst. Isabella Beeton and Mary Kingsley each wrote books about her own particular passion — homemaking for Mrs. Beeton, and West Africa for Mary. Doris Pilkington-Garimara wrote memoirs about her mother’s and her own life as members of Australia’s Stolen Generations.

Nellie Bly was a journalist, concerned with the immediate, and all the others wrote private documents that they would be astounded to know are being read by the general public today.

As for “us”? Anyone who publishes a book is hoping that it will possibly be read beyond our lifetime. That is not, however, the driving motive behind my daily task of writing a few hundred words…

Which leads neatly into your next question…

ET: As a writer, how do you structure your time around writing? Do you ever think about why you do it?

MJ: I don’t really think about why I do it except that it’s one of the few things I know how to do AND like doing, in exchange for money. Structuring time is one of the big challenges. I make a to-do list every morning. I put a time beside each item. I get about halfway through the day on schedule and then I make excuses and change my mind and do an errand or read for awhile… and then I try to write some more.

ET: Some of these women were writing letters, wanting to share their stories with their friends and family. That was a practical thing, of course — back then, there was no other way to communicate with those who were far away. Still, there’s something interesting in that urge to share narrative in the form of long letters. Nowadays we don’t tend to do that. We share little blips at a time — email, tweets — and because the liens of communication are always “on,” there’s less of an impulse to step back and think about what the story of the past week/month/year has been.

MJ: True

ET: Are you a letter writer?

MJ: I used to write letters, before email, and I still manage the odd thank you note or condolence letter. But what is sad for the archives (fewer letters for historians) certainly makes for a livelier, if more vacuous, social life, with daily communication instead of monthly or even yearly with some distant friends.

ET: As a writer, do you put a lot of time into building your “online platform” (blogging, tweeting, etc.)?

MJ: No, not much. I’m learning, but it’s a bit too time consuming to make the commitment to using the “online platform” to its full extent.

ET: I liked the point that you made in your book about email not leaving behind any artifacts, like a scrap of cloth or a lock of hair. There’s the loss of handwriting, too. Seeing the shape of someone’s letters on paper can help us form an impression of them. When we type, all our letters look the same. Did writing this book change the way that you feel about writing and communication?

MJ: I was already a believe in writing, so I can’t say that has changed, but possibly my definition of “writing” has expanded. Even the women who were nearly illiterate and certainly not literary managed to tell profound stories and to reveal their spirit. And I found it intriguing that even women who were nearly illiterate chose, perhaps urgently needed to express themselves using words.

* * *

I should explain that by “interview,” I mean that I sent Marthe a rambling email filled with questions and observations, and she somehow managed to make sense of it all. Thank you, Marthe!

Please don’t forget to comment, so that you can be entered for your chance to win a set of Marthe’s books! I’d love to hear about the Scribbling Women who inspired you to write, or about your views on letter writing versus email. Or how you approach writing in your own life. And when you do have the chance to read Scribbling Women, please share your thoughts! I look forward to hearing them.

Scribbling Women: who inspired you to write?

Last week I asked some of my favourite female children’s writers if there were any “scribbling women” (authors or otherwise) who inspired them to write.

We’ll start with Marthe Jocelyn. Tomorrow I’ll be posting an interview with her, so this is a preview.

The question: Are there any “scribbling women” (in your book, but especially in your own life) who helped inspire you to write?

Marthe’s answer: “I’m not conscious of direct inspiration or influence except that every book I read – more than half written by women – leaves a tiny trace behind. A diligent scholar could probably trace the effects that certain other people’s writing had upon my own, but I am thankfully not aware of it myself.”

Lena Coakley, author of the upcoming YA fantasy novel The Witchlanders, remembered one woman in particular.

“When I was growing up, we had a border named Miss Hurka who lived in the attic apartment of our house. She was a retired secretary and an aspiring novelist. I would hear her typewriter late at night as I was going to sleep. Miss Hurka always wore black and made frequent trips to New York City (about 40 minutes by train, but to me, a world away).

“Most of my family was a little afraid of her, but when I was young, I often called up the stairs and asked to visit her. Miss Hurka would feed me dry cookies and tell me highly age-inappropriate stories. Her three favorite topics were: The grand affair she had during the war with a married man; her loathing of Richard Nixon; and the (then) sad history of the Czech Republic.

“As far as I know, Miss Hurka was never published, but the portrait in my mind of what it means to be a woman writer will always be a little coloured by her.”

Lena will be writing more about Miss Hurka in her blog entry this week. I can’t wait to read it!

Cheryl Rainfield, whose GG Award-nominated YA novel Scars draws on her own experience of abuse and self harm, looked at reading as a refuge. She says that she loved most of the books she read, and I suspect that included a lot of books! But some stood out.

“I especially loved LM Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables because I identified with her so much — initially unloved, unwanted, searching for a family; she had strong swings of emotion (when she was happy she was SO high, and when she was depressed, she was SO down) like I did; AND she was super creative, almost like dissociation the way I was, AND wanted to be (and became) a writer. That was one of my faves.

“Also Ellen Bass and Laura Davis, because they wrote The Courage to Heal, about incest, which I read over and over as a teen, and needed to know others were breaking the silence; it helped me with my breaking the silence.

“And Lois Duncan, because I loved her books SO much, and read and reread and reread them.”

Cheryl says that all these women writers helped her to want to be a writer, along with the other writers she has since discovered and loved along the way. She’s also grateful to the English teachers who encouraged her.

Wide-ranging children’s writer Kathy Stinson talks about feeling encouraged to try new forms.

“New Zealand writer Margaret Mahy, with her writing across many genres and age groups, encouraged me to try my hand at anything I felt remotely inclined to write. With her wonderful collection The Leaving, Budge Wilson ensured that short stories would be in that category.”

And Karen Krossing, like Marthe Jocelyn, had trouble choosing just one “scribbling woman” who influenced her, but is grateful to many writers.

“Rather than being inspired to write by any one woman, I feel that I’m inspired by the ‘grand collective.’ Over the years, I’ve drawn insights from a wide range of female scribblers whom I admire, like Ursula K. LeGuin and Margaret Atwood. When I read The Life of Margaret Laurence, by James King, I bemoaned the heartache that seems to be part of the creative process. I obtained ‘permission’ (if you can call it that) to pursue a writer’s life from women like Julia Cameron (author of The Artist’s Way) and Natalie Goldberg (author of Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within). But I have to say that my original inspiration is likely my mother, who is not a scribbler, but a teller of rich and diverse family stories. The love of a good story captured me young and I know that, as long as I have a pencil and notebook, I will be content.”

Like some of the others, I have trouble choosing a female writer who inspired me to write. As a kid, I read everything I could get my hands on. Since my dad was a sci-fi fan, that included a lot of Andre Norton’s books. I didn’t know she was female, though, until my friend Jonathon started moaning about it one day in high school. He was devastated — or else pretending to be, to get a laugh. I hadn’t known Andre Norton was female, either — to be honest, writers were pretty much invisible to me back then. I just wanted to read the stories. I wasn’t picky about who wrote them. But hearing Jonathon talk about it, I remember smiling. Andre Norton wasn’t my favourite author, not by a long shot, but all those planets, all those worlds, they came from a woman? Someone who had been a girl. Someone like me. It felt like a delicious secret. It felt empowering.

It doesn’t always have to be a writer, either, as Karen Krossing pointed out. Most of the women in Marthe’s book weren’t. I had the amazing experience of seeing Sarah McLachlan in concert last Saturday night. In Oshawa! Who’d have thought? She was recovering from laryngitis, but I’d never have known it. She sounded incredible. Her passion and drive and professionalism made me want to dig deeper as a novelist, to write better. To try harder. (Also to sing more, but nobody wants to hear that. Really.)

The inspiration to write can come from anywhere. From books we read. From people we talk to. I think in the end, what matters is that we act on it. Pick up a pen, tell a story. Scribble away.

You never know whose life you’re going to touch.

Book Launches

This is book launch week! Last Tuesday was the launch of “Writescape: Inspiration Station“, a book of writing exercises put together by my friends and writing group partners Ruth Walker and Gwynn Scheltema. The writing exercise book came about as a result of the successful Writescape Writing Retreats that Ruth and Gwynn run twice a year. Participants wanted more of the motivation and inspiration that Ruth and Gwynn provide; the book is their answer to that.

Ruth and Gwynn held their launch at Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge and kept us all entertained with readings, live music performed by singer and songwriter Kathy Himbeault, and even on-the-spot writing exercises. They did a great job of tailoring their launch to fit with the message of their book.

Tonight’s book launch is for another friend, Cheryl Rainfield. Cheryl is celebrating the launch of her new YA novel, Scars, at the 519 Church Street Community Centre in Toronto. The launch is a fundraiser for the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre/Multicultural Woman Against Rape. Details on the book and on the launch can be found here. Scars is an important book and well worth reading, even if you can’t make it to the launch. Cheryl is a survivor of incest and ritual abuse, who used self-harm to cope. She will talk about ways people who self-harm and stop and things you can do to help your loved ones who self harm. The launch will also feature live music and a Wen-do demonstration.

And finally, on the topic of book launches, Orca Books published an article that I wrote for them as a four-part series on their blog. It’s a follow-up to my book-free book launch.

Introductory Post: How to Plan a Successful Book Launch

Part One: Find the Right Place

Part Two: Get the Word Out

Part Three: Know your Venue, Know your Crowd

Part Four: Be Flexible