Whitby This Week published a short piece on the course Gwynn Scheltema and I are teaching in Oshawa next month. I think the course was already close to full, but this might help reach a few more people. I’m looking forward to it!
I’m excited about my friend Lena’s upcoming book, Witchlanders! Take a look at her cool new book trailer.
Boarder Patrol one of CCBC’s “Best Books for Kids & Teens 2011”
In other exciting news, I learned last week that Boarder Patrol had been chosen as a Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s “Best Books for Kids & Teens 2011” selection. I’m thrilled that my book was included because so many of my favourite authors are in there, too.
I wanted to do cartwheels. The trauma of the OAC grant is still fresh in my mind, though — my leaps of joy resulted in the premature death of my husband’s desk lamp. I’m working on a more reserved demeanour these days. When you’re clumsy, it really is the best way to go.
New Course in Writing for Children, based in Oshawa
I’m also teaming up with Writescape’s own Gwynn Scheltema to teach an introductory-level course on writing for children, right here in Durham. Gwynn and I have had fun working on this course together. The hard part is going to be fitting it into only six weeks. Course information can be found here.
I’m not wavering from my stance on the Mabel’s Fables courses — if you can get to Toronto, you need to be there. Ted Staunton is a wonderful instructor. We’re all going to miss Peter Carver now that he’s retired from the level two course, but I think it’s going to remain a great writing environment and supportive group for children’s writers under Ted’s guidance. But some of my Durham Region friends find that commute a bit off-putting, so I decided we needed a more local starting point.
Between my kid-lit fanaticism and Gwynn’s teaching expertise and experience, I think we’ve managed to put together something special. I’m looking forward to it, and if you’re a Durham Region writer who wants to learn more about writing for chidren, I hope to see you there.
(And then, of course, I’ll recruit you to Mabel’s and to CANSCAIP and all the rest of it, bwa-ha-ha. Kid-lit is an addictive world. Enjoy it.)
For various reasons, I’m feeling neither clever nor articulate these days. I mean, um, all my clever-articulate-ness is being routed into my writing projects. Yes. That’s it. (Nods sagely. Hides writing projects.)
And so, in lieu of a proper blog post, I offer you buttons that you are welcome to use on your website if you like. Amazon makes their “buy” buttons widely available, but I wanted a matched set, and my web developer husband was kind enough to make some. They’re at the bottom of this post, due to technical issues. (That means I can’t make it look right any other way and I don’t want to bug my husband again.)
My latest book, Wolves at the Gate, has just come out from HIP Books. I haven’t even seen a copy yet. They’re in the mail, apparently. I’ll be updating my Books page as soon as I get a look at the back cover text.
Wolves at the Gate is part of another fantasy series written with Cheryl Rainfield and Deb Ouellet, but this time, the books share the same world but deal with different characters. That means you can read them in any order or combination that you like.
My character, Ren, is a thief who learns over the course of the book that he is a Skinwalker — someone who can choose between two shapes. Ren needs to decide whether learning to use his new skills is worth the risks that come with joining a community. Human or fox, loner or pack member. And he has to decide soon, because the Skinwalkers are planning an attack on the king.
This is a novel for reluctant readers, which means it’s a fast, action-packed read. It’s targeted at readers in about grade five and up, but written at the grade three reading level. Charlie Hnatiuk did the illustrations. I had fun creating Ren’s world, and I hope you’ll enjoy reading about his adventures.
At Last: The Buttons
Here they are! Matching buttons for Amazon, Chapters and others.
Please note the addition of Blue Heron Books, my lovely local bookseller. Shelley is so supportive, she deserves her own button. There’s also a “Find Local Bookseller” button for those of you who don’t live in Durham Region, Ontario.
Scribbling Women Book Tour
Coming this week: Marthe Jocelyne’s “Scribbling Women” book tour has officially started. If you comment on any post that’s part of the book tour, you are entered into a draw with Tundra Books to win a complete set of Marthe Jocelyne’s books. That’s a lot of reading!
My contribution: later today and Tuesday, I’ll be sharing with you the stories of some Scribbling Women I know and the women who inspired them to write. Wednesday, for my official blog tour post, I’ll be sharing an interview with Marthe Jocelyn. She’s an amazing woman. You don’t want to miss it. Or your chance to win the eight zillion books she’s written!
Things look a bit different here this morning. My husband was up late last night, wrestling with WordPress to give this website a bit of polish. I love it!
What I want to point out: over on the right, you’ll see two widgets. One is linked to Goodreads and shows the book that I’m reading at the moment. I’m always happy to talk books, so please feel free to get in touch if you’ve read it or if you’re thinking about it!
The other, the one I’m most proud of, is “Whitby Chronicle.” I’ve been researching Whitby in the 1880s for a current project. That means lots of time in the Whitby Archives with incredible local historian Brian Winter, and it also means quality hours with the microfiche readers at Whitby Library. As I go cross-eyed, I thought I’d share some tidbits from the Whitby Chronicle, the local newspaper at that time. Enjoy! It’s set to random, and I’ll be adding as I go, so you never know what will pop up.
I wouldn’t normally post twice in one day, but this deserves its own space.
My friend (and very talented writer) Lena Coakley has just posted her first blog entry. It’s a cute one, on writing and superstition and how she gave up a love affair with her local mailman in order to focus on her true calling. She’ll be posting every Wednesday (hopefully more reliably than I’m sticking to my new resolution to post on Mondays). That’ll be a blog to watch.
Also, when her new novel, Witchlanders, comes out? You want it. Trust me, you want it.
But you’ll have to stand in line behind me to get it.
The Skinwalker books are coming! This is the new hi-low fantasy series from HIP Books that Cheryl Rainfield, Deb Ouellet and I have been working on. Paul Kropp sent us the cover images yesterday. Mine is the one in the middle: Wolves at the Gate.
This series is different from the Dragon Speaker books in that the stories all deal with different characters within the same world. They don’t need to be read in any particular order, and you can read any title as a standalone, although I think the story concepts complement each other well.
The plan is to print the books in April for a May 1 release. I look forward to reading the final versions of Cheryl’s and Deb’s stories–I haven’t seen them yet!
This Saturday I’ll be presenting an hour-long workshop on writing for the hi-low and reluctant reader market. The workshop takes place at the Ajax Convention Centre, after the Writers’ Community of Durham Region monthly breakfast meeting. There are still a few spaces left, although I’m told that 20 people have already registered, so the room is filling up! Yay! You can find more information here.
It’s shaping up really well; I think the people attending will get their money’s worth and then some. (Okay, it’s a $10 workshop, but still. There’s a principle at work here, and I live to overprepare.) The publishers I’ve been in touch with have helped me by providing submission guidelines and “what we need now” hints, so I’ve got lots of great information to share. I’m looking forward to it.
Now to work on the whole ‘voice projection’ thing…
I’ve blogged about Blue Heron books before. Shelley, the owner of Blue Heron, was kind enough to agree to host my book launch for Boarder Patrol. She went well beyond just hosting, though — Shelley helped guide me through the planning process and suggested Uxbridge-based businesses that might be interested in getting involved. She offered contacts and helped me promote the event, and even supplied coffee, tea and goodies for the launch.
She keeps my book in stock, and I know that she promotes it at local educational events when she has the chance and feels that it’s appropriate. As a writer, I couldn’t ask for more.
I love visiting Blue Heron as a customer, too. If they don’t have a book in stock, they’re always happy to order it in and call me when it arrives. I love their selection and the feel of the store, with its wooden floors and comfy chairs. It’s a place for book lovers, run by book lovers, and that shows. I could spend hours there. It’s worth the drive to Uxbridge.
In fact, it may be time for a road trip…
Friend and fellow writer Bill Swan is feeling proud over his stepson launching a new song at the True Patriot Love Foundation fundraiser dinner last night. Net proceeds from the song go to foundation, which raises money for Canadian forces and their families. Find the song on iTunes here.
Today, Kathy Stinson is in Ottawa, presenting her new book, Highway of Heroes, at the Canadian War Museum. Read her post about it here. If you haven’t yet read the book, you should. Kathy handles the subject matter with sensitivity.
I have yet to make it through a Remembrance Day ceremony without crying, even the ones in schools. Maybe especially those. Today’s was no exception. It’s a complicated day. I have a good friend in the Armed Forces, who recently returned from a Tour in Afghanistan. From what Dave tells me, I have to believe that we’re making a difference over there. But I’d be really happy if there were no need for him, or anyone, ever to go back.
Anyhow. Remembering my Grandfathers today, and feeling happy to be living in such a wonderful country. And grateful to those who helped make it that way.
It’s been a busy few days in writing land. Yesterday was the annual CANSCAIP Packaging Your Imagination Conference. The day before that, I had the opportunity to drive one of the PYI speakers (Arthur Slade) to a couple of library presentations. And I should probably draw attention to my author interview on the Teens Read Too website, which just went up.
First the interview: you can find it here. It includes such fascinating trivia as my childhood ambition to be a tightrope walker, my favourite books of 2010, and the fact that I’m a clumsy skier. Also the ten words my younger brother would use to describe me. Don’t worry. I warned him that this was for public viewing, so he kept it clean.
So Friday, I had the wonderful opportunity to spend the day with Arthur Slade, author of Dust and Megiddo’s Shadow and The Hunchback Assignments and at least a dozen other books. I was excited about this. I planned for it. I looked up his work and managed to read Tribes and part of Dust ahead of time (it was a reading time fail because I wanted to get through more, but trust me, the books are excellent. Great voice in Tribes, and absolutely beautiful writing in Dust). I went to Google Maps and created a route plan for each part of the day, then made PDFs and loaded them onto my iPad, maps and all. I spent Thursday night at my cousin’s place in the city, to avoid the morning tangle on the 401.
And then I got to the hotel and spent about ten minutes driving around the block, looking for the passenger pick-up/drop-off zone. Oops. I guess planning only takes you so far.
Anyhow, it turns out that in addition to being a great writer, Arthur Slade is also really friendly. He’s a self-declared Mac geek, so we had that in common. I enjoyed watching him talk to the kids — he has a fancy AV show to go along with his talk, including book trailers and the whole bit. I haven’t gotten there yet, but maybe someday.
For me, the best part was hearing about the seeds that were the beginnings of his stories and seeing how they grew. If you haven’t read his work yet, it’s well worth a read.
Final bit of Art Slade trivia: he writes on a treadmill, slowly walking in place at his desk. You can see a picture of it here. It reminds me of something I read in high school, in a biography of Victor Hugo (I think). He wrote standing up because he wanted his blood to flow to his head, not to his rear. Loosely translated. Anyhow, the idea of writing and walking at the same time sounds pretty good to me. Hmm. Wonder if I can fit a treadmill in here.
Packaging Your Imagination Conference
Now onto the Packaging Your Imagination Conference. As always, it took place in Victoria College at U of T. I guess I’ve been attending the conference and taking courses for enough years that there are as many familiar faces there now as unfamiliar ones. I love catching up with writing friends and meeting new ones.
It’s always tough, choosing which speakers to see. I went with Barbara Berson, Arthur Slade and Norah McClintock. And, of course, keynote speaker Marthe Jocelyn.
Some of my favourite points:
From Barbara: Give thought to what is different about your book. You should be able to say what your book is about in no more than two sentences. (I suspect that “it’s about a little boy and an alien” isn’t exactly the pitch I need for my current wip. Gotta work on that.) And most importantly, if you want to be published, make friends with rejection.
Stay original. The story needs to feel real — it’s fiction, but it needs to be grounded in Truth. Capital T.
It’s not a bad thing, having ideas for a series. The first book should stand alone, but if you have ideas about what might follow, that can be worth mentioning. Sadly, right now I don’t have any series-type ideas. Maybe someday.
Be productive. Know how to tell a great story. And have some marketing savvy, but don’t get lost in the publicity side. It really does come down to the writing.
From Art: Ground your reader. The more realistic the character and emotions in the story, the more you can get away with as far as a fantasy or sci-fi element goes. You need to know the world of the story intimately, to be convincing. If that’s real, and the characters feel real, the story will feel real.
For historical research, reading things published at the time you’re writing about (not just about the time you’re writing about) will help you get the voice right. Newspapers and local writers are great resources.
You have to “prime the brain”, or get the reader ready to accept the fantasy element in your story. This might be done through language choice, or through the introduction of smaller fantasy or hard-to-explain elements until you are ready for the “big reveal”.
Sometimes, talking about real-life things that seem fantastical can help make the made-up stuff easier to swallow. (There was a story about howler monkeys. Trust me, you don’t want to know.)
It’s okay if the reader figures out what’s going on before the characters do, so long as the characters aren’t being obviously dense about the whole thing. (“Gee, my new neighbour Vlad is awfully pale. Funny how I never seem to see him during daylight hours. And what’s with all the bats and coffins?”)
In your description, leave room for the reader’s imagination to do some of the work.
From Norah: When writing a mystery, you need to write two stories. The first is the story of what actually happened–who did it, why they did it, the timeline and so on. The second, the story you’re actually intending to write, is the story of solving the crime.
An unusual setting or “world” for the crime can help keep things fresh. Draw on your own experience. If you know a lot about international guppy racing, well, that probably hasn’t been used before as a setting for a murder mystery.
The sleuth must be the kind of kid who cares about what happened, for some reason. Probably because they have a stake in it. They also have to be tenacious, so they’re the sort of person who’s likely to see the mystery through and want to get to the bottom of things.
Look at the victim’s life (if it’s a murder mystery) to find other suspects and red herrings. Who would have had motive, method and opportunity? Try to give each of your suspects at least two out of the three.
You do need to research the police side of things, to find out what they’d be doing and what they’d know and when. On the plus side, real-world forensics (as opposed to those on television) take a long time to process. And kids have access to information on the schoolyard and in the neighbourhood that adults don’t know about.
When writing a mystery for kids, keep in mind that a young person’s world is full of firsts. If they’re involved in an extreme situation (crime, murder), the emotion around that might be heightened by lack of experience. It may be their first experience with someone dying, or first experience with the police. What does that feel like?
At the end, the mystery part of the story must hold together. The clues have to have been there. The red herrings must be valid, and the solution has to make sense.
From Marthe: For a writer, lies are “as important a tool as an eraser.” And a writer’s world is full of possibility. And finally, echoing something that Art said, stories depend on the imagination of the reader, as well as the writer.
It was a great conference. Energizing. This morning, I woke up and went straight to my (non-treadmill-affixed) desk this morning and worked through revisions on two chapters before breakfast, and I think that’s because I went to bed with writing on the brain.
And now… back to work.