Sunday, December 29, 2013



To mark the end of 2013, I'd like to share some of the words of wisdom I've gleaned from other writers over the year. These are random with no particular theme but I'm hoping they'll inspire (and sometimes make you smile) you the way they've inspired me!
Only bad writers think their work is really good. (Anne Enright)

Just leave out the boring parts. (Elmore Leonard)
Backstory developed early on crashes down on a story's momentum like a sumo wrestler falling on his opponent. (Donald Maas)

Every true writer, I believe, starts a new story with a troubled mind. (Pierre Burton)

Rule #5 Keep trying to top yourself.
Some years ago, my old college friend and fellow broadcaster Lister Sinclair asked: "Is writing getting easier for you?"
"No," I told him. "I'm trying to make it harder."
(Pierre Burton)

Strong characters are at the heart of great literature. Not many readers could outline the plot of The Sign of the Four, but no one has any difficulty bringing Holmes and Watson to mind. (Andrew Miller)
We live in the best time for dialogue heavy books because it's fast and we're fast. Pace sells and dialogue is pace. A reader who falls into good dialogue on the first page of your book is in your pocket. (DBC Pierre)

Don't sit down in the middle of the woods. If you're lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. (Margaret Atwood)

Give the work a name as quickly as possible. Own it and see it. Dickens knew Bleak House was going to be called Bleak House before he started writing it. The rest must have been easy. (Roddy Doyle)

Finish the day's writing when you still want to continue. (Helen Dunmore)

If you are going to be obsessive about anything in the writing business, make it your word quota. (James Scott Bell)

What we take away from our reading of a good novel mainly is the memory of character. (Elizabeth George)

You will be published if you possess three qualities - talent, passion and discipline. (Elizabeth George)

A lot of writing is simply showing up. A lot of writing is being willing to show up day after day, same time and same place.
Lots of people want to have written; they don't want to write.
(Elizabeth George)

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. (Stephen King)

Let me end with a wonderful story that Stephen King tells about James Joyce:

According to the story, a friend came to visit him one day and found the great man sprawled across his writing desk in a posture of utter despair.
          "James, what's wrong?" the friend asked. "Is it the work?"
          Joyce indicated assent without even raising his head to look at the friend. Of course it was the work; wasn't it always?
          "How many words did you get today?" the friend pursued.
          Joyce (still in despair, still sprawled facedown on his desk): "Seven."
          "Seven? But James. . . that's good, at least for you!"
          "Yes," Joyce said, finally looking up. "I suppose it is . . . but I don't know what order they go in!"

Tuesday, December 17, 2013




As I work on my picture book manuscript, I can see the pictures clearly in my head. I can visualize each page and I am full of ideas for funny little details the illustrator could add. I am dying to make notes in the margins for the illustrator because I know how this book should look.


Unfortunately not.

My job is the words. I have to trust the illustrator to do his job which is the pictures.

I admit I was dismayed to read the following list of Don'ts in The Business of Writing for Children by Aaron Shepherd:

Do not find an illustrator on your own.

Do not send sketches or a dummy (mock-up of a book) or show page turns.

Do not write notes describing illustrations - unless an essential element cannot be described in your text.

The problem is, I know what I want the pictures to look like.  It's going to be hard to let someone else make those decisions.

But that is exactly what a picture book writer must do unless you illustrate your own books. Trust the illustrator. Allow him his own opportunities for creativity. You wouldn't want someone to tell you what words to use.

The end result may not match the pictures in your head.   It may be even better!  I have a friend who visualized her characters as people and the illustrator turned  them into animals - it turned out to be a charming book that everyone was happy with.

 Ann Whitford Paul in Writing Picture Books says "Ironically, while we must write with a visual image in our mind, we must eventually let that image go."

Whose story is it? Both of yours. 





Thursday, December 5, 2013



The more I study the craft of picture book writing, the more I realize that so many of the things I'm learning apply to all writing for kids. Using as few words as possible to convey your meaning, using carefully chosen words, leaning towards dialogue and action with limited description, avoiding adverbs and going light on adjectives - all these things are important when I write a juvenile or young adult novel as well as a picture book. You can just get away with mistakes a little easier in a novel.

In a picture book, every word needs to go under a microscope. When you're used to writing novels like I am, it's challenging to tell your story in  1000 words. You absolutely don't want to waste any of them! And when you're choosing your words, one of the things you need to think about is rhythm.

  I like what Theodore Cheney says about rhythm in his book Getting the Words Right. He talks about ancient storytellers and how "stories with the most satisfying sounds and rhythms were remembered easiest and longest."

That's what we want -  children to remember our stories and, with picture books, to ask for them again and again.

The best way to test for rhythm is to read your story aloud. Picture books are meant to be read aloud so this is doubly important (novels can benefit from being read aloud too). Try reading your manuscript into a tape recorder and listening to it. Or ask someone to read it out loud to you. 

There are some tried and true ways to get rhythm into your writing.

1. Vary your sentence length. A longer leisurely sentence slows the pace. A short snappy sentence gives punch to your story. You want both.

2. Use alliteration (repetition of initial consonant.) Don't overdo this and create a tongue twister (unless deliberate!) The words don't have to be side by side but can be scattered throughout the sentence. eg. There are some tried and trued ways to get rhythm into your writing!

3. Have fun with onomatopoeia (words that imitate sounds.)  eg. slish slosh swish

4. Pay attention to where the stress falls naturally  in your sentence and how changing the order of your words can change where the stress falls.

Listen to the difference between:

He fell over with a crash.

Over he fell with a crash.

A comma can change the stress.

Listen to the  difference between:

And he never said a word.

And, he never said a word.

Time words and superlatives are often stressed:

Lyle could spend hours watching building construction.

Harry's bath was the soapiest one he had ever had.

I'm planning to print a copy of my manuscript-in-progress and mark the stressed word or words in every sentence. Maybe I'll move some words around and make some changes. I'm sure I'll learn something.

 In The Business of Writing for Children, Aaron Shepard says . .

One of the greatest compliments a reviewer can bestow on a children's story is to call it a "great read aloud." But how does a story come to merit such praise? The secret is rhythm.

Rhythm. It will make your story sing.

Favourite Kid's Book of the Week:

Mr. Zinger's Hat by Cary Fagan

A story is trying to escape from Mr. Zinger's hat. Leo contributes all the important details and learns that his cap has a story in it too!

A terrific story with charming illustrations.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Dr Seuss Look Out?


Rhythm and rhyme. Once I learn how to spell them, I've learned that they are two things I should definitely consider when attempting to write my picture book. (Please note I say attempting! I'm still not comfortable saying I am writing a picture book as there is so much more I have to learn!)

I told a few friends I was working on a picture book and their immediate response was "Will it rhyme?"

No, no and no! Writing this story in 1000 words (the goal I set) is daunting enough. Trying to do it in rhyme - the stuff of nightmares! Fortunately for me, it's probably not a good idea anyway.

Many editors will not look at a rhyming submission. Some publishers guidelines even state No RHYMING BOOKS. Why is this when children love rhymes?

The main reason is probably that it is so hard to do well. Most attempts at rhyming books fail. You need to have a clear understanding of how rhyming works to pull it off. You need to study things like iambic, anapest and trochee (see what  I mean it's not easy - if you're interested, Ann Whitford tells all in her book Writing Picture Books.)

Ann Whitford also states that it is easy to get swept up in the fun of rhyming and forget what the darn story is all about. Your word length grows by leaps and bounds as you dream up the next rhyming word - often a word that doesn't even express the meaning you want. When I taught creative writing in elementary school, by far the best poems the kids wrote were the ones that didn't rhyme. That's where the kids could really focus on what they wanted to say.

I'm not rejecting rhyme entirely from my work-in-progress. I have a couple of places where I threw in a rhyme and I think it adds to the read aloud fun.  But I think I'll leave rhyme to Dr Seuss and pay much more attention to the rhythm of my story.

More about rhythm in my next blog!

Favourite Kids Book of the Week:

Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel

If you haven't already discovered this classic, go look for it now! Frog and Toad are such engaging delightful characters. Arnold Lobel is a master at achieving characterization with so few carefully chosen words.

There are three more books in the series and they are all gems:

Frog and Toad Together

Frog and Toad All Year

Days with Frog and Toad

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


My attempts to enter the world of picture book writing continue. I find it both daunting and fascinating! Who knew you could pour for hours over a fairly short piece of writing - my first draft ended at about 1000 words. I've since written and rewritten it at least half a dozen times but I'm no where near satisfaction.

I have my story line and my characters and I'm learning how to make them come alive in such a short number of words. Every word counts! I've heard that said lots of times about picture books but it never really hit home until I tried to condense my story into 1000 words. I knew I was in trouble when I'd only got started and had already hit 350 words! This is  what I'm finding out . . .

Description - don't need it. The illustrations will take care of it.

Character development - not really room. That doesn't mean your character can be flat or one dimensional. He's just not going to change a lot.

Colourful enriching vocabulary - yes! Most picture books are read aloud to kids by adults so you don't have to worry that the words are too difficult for a child to read. But they should be easily understood in context.

Probably the best thing I've done so far is check out a stack of quality picture books from the library and read and reread and reread them.

I'm learning lots but I'm still scratching the surface. I've found the book Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul useful. The other book I purchased from Amazon called How To Write a Children's Picture Book Volume 2 by Eve Bine-Stock is helpful in the beginning chapters but the second part loses me completely.

Ann Whitford lists the characteristics of kids aged two to eight years old that I think are worth repeating here:

Everything is new to children.

Children live in the present.

Children have had few experiences.

Sometimes childhood is not happy.

Children understand more than we think they do.

Children have short attention spans.

Children are self-centered.

Children long to be independent.

Children are complicated.

Children have rich imaginations.

All these are important things for me to think about as I carry on  wrestling with this fascinating, sometimes frustrating and always challenging project!

Favourite Kids Book of the Week:

Big Brown Bear's Birthday Surprise by David McPhail

This is a heart warming picture book with the wonderful characters of Big Brown Bear and Rat. It's a story of friendship at its very best. The illustrations are  charming.

Monday, November 4, 2013


I'm heading into uncharted territory right now for me - the world of picture book writing! I have a kernel of an idea that's been niggling at me for awhile so I'm going to give picture book writing a go!

I know I have a lot to learn.  In other words, I haven't a clue how to start. I also know it's not going to be easy. Shorter does not mean easier.

I can visualize marvellous illustrations for my book but I'm a little vague about the words. I haven't read many picture books since my daughter passed that stage and I retired from teaching school. I'm full of questions - How long should it be? Do I include description? How many characters? What kind of vocabulary? Do I give the illustrator suggestions?

My journey has begun! I bought two books from Amazon on writing picture books and I checked out a dozen picture books from our local library. I've just got my toes wet but already I've learned a lot.

A good starting point for me has been the idea of a story question and a story answer. In her book Writing Picture Books, Ann Whitford emphasizes the importance of knowing your story question. Note: one question because picture books are short. It might start with What happens when . . . ?  What happens when two friends find an abandoned boat? What happens when a dog is bored? What happens when a baby bat is separated from his mother? A story question will keep your story focused. The story answer should be specific to your story and should be only one sentence.

I set myself some homework and wrote down a story question and a story answer for each of the dozen books I got out of the library. These are all quality award winning picture books and they all had a clear story question and answer! So it does work.

Do I know my story question? Not yet. It's okay to start playing around with the first draft before I'm sure exactly what it is my story is about, but I think I'll breathe a little easier when I can write my question on a card and stick it above my computer.

I'm loving this new challenge in my writing life and will keep you posted on my ups and downs as a wanna-be picture book writer, as well as other useful tips I come across!

My favourite picture book of the week:

Stanley's Party by Linda Bailey

A rollicking picture book that I guarantee will change the way you look at your dog! There's lots more in the series, all hilarious.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Often writers who are new to the craft panic at the long line of "he said" and "she said"  on their page. They try it solve the problem by searching their thesaurus for synonyms for "said" - shouted, explained, retorted, intoned, exclaimed etc.

I tried inserting "said synonyms" into a passage from my book "Whiteout." This is what it sounded like:

"I don't eat meat," April explained.
Molly's eye's widened. "None?" she questioned.
April buttered a bun calmly. "Nope," she replied.
"Since when?" Robin shouted.
"For awhile. I thought I told you about it," she retorted.
"I guess I forgot," Robin muttered.

Sounds terrible, right? Said is considered an invisible word. The reader doesn't notice it. But the reader will notice all these other variations of said. They are distracting and just plain annoying.

That doesn't mean you should never use a synonym for said. But use said most of the time.

Especially watch out for synonyms that are physically impossible - he laughed, he giggled, he smiled, he grimaced.  "I don't like onions," he grimaced. "Come to my house," she smiled. Try it. Hard to do, right? "Come to my house," she said with a smile works much better.

Said is invisible, but a long string of them can be monotonous. Use a beat of action instead. Back to that passage from "Whiteout."

"I guess I forgot." Robin stirred grated cheese into her steaming chili and watched it melt.  The action of Robin and her chili tells us who is talking. You don't need "she said" as well.

When the dialogue goes back and forth between two characters, it is often obvious who is talking and you don't need anything.

"Dad?" Robin said.
"Did these steaks come from one of Kim's family's cows?"
"Yes. What's the matter? You're not going over to the other side too, are you?"

You can go along like this for awhile, but it will read better if you stick in an occasional beat of action. You never want your reader to have to stop and figure out who is talking.

Another pitfall to avoid: propping up your "saids" with adverbs. He said angrily, she said wearily, they said enthusiastically etc.

The emotion should be contained in the dialogue.

"I can't believe you did that to me!" he said angrily. Angrily is unnecessary and distracting.
The best way I know to steer clear of these problems is to read your passage of dialogue out loud. Even better, record it and play it back and listen to it. You will naturally hear where to insert the beats, when you need to up the emotion in your dialogue, how to eliminate the distracting words.

"It's fun to read your dialogue out loud," the author said. "You can pretend you're on the stage."
"I'm going to try it." The reader reached for her manuscript.
"Good luck!"


Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff

Hollis Woods has been in so many foster homes she can hardly remember them all. When Hollis is sent to Josie, she’ll do everything in her power to make sure they stay together. This is a Newberry Honor Book and has been made into a movie with Sissy Spacek.



Hollis Woods has been in so many foster homes she can hardly remember them all. When Hollis is sent to Josie, she’ll do everything in her power to make sure they stay together.


Sunday, October 13, 2013


Every writer deserves a place to write - even if it's a table tucked into the corner of the living room, away from the traffic of everyday life. It's a place where you can leave a few things of your own to inspire you, maybe your laptop, your writing journal, a stack of fresh paper.

For years, I shared a room with my husband's desk, computer and photography paraphernalia. It was not ideal (Too much stuff! Too much clutter!) but it served its purpose. When my stepson left home, I inherited his old bedroom and I've stayed there ever since. I can close the door and no one will disturb me.

My writing room isn't fancy. No interior decorator ever got loose in there!

But it is special. I've filled it with shelves of kids books and how-to-write books. I have a photo of my writing group, a bulletin board of inspirational sayings (my favourite is: "Never take the reader where the reader wants to go") and lots of stationary "stuff" ( my weakness) - multicoloured file folders, bright post-it notes, yellow legal pads, stacks of recipe cards. There's a cozy rug and a heater and I'm thinking of adding a kettle and a teapot!

I feel good when I go in my room and that's important because I spend a lot of time in there, alone with my characters.

Sometimes I venture out to write - to our shady porch in the summer or to our cabin in our meadow, where the views are a little too distracting! I have moderate success when I take my laptop to my mother's for a week long visit and no success when I take it on holidays. I'm not one of those lucky people who can write on planes and in hotel rooms. I just don't feel like it. Some of my "writing" occurs on a walk.  I take along a little pocket sized recorder (an Iphone would do the trick too) because some of my best ideas occur when I am far away from my writing room. I haven't tried to follow  in J.K. Rowlings footsteps and write in a cafe but I might one day. My daughter has a favourite writing place on a windy beach in Victoria.

Find yourself a spot, make it personal and make it yours and write!

Thursday, October 3, 2013



Writers call it "The Wall." It's that horrible moment that occurs in most first drafts when you can't move forward. You are immobilized by: fear, frustration, boredom, despair . . . even loathing.

You grind to a halt.

You have writer's blocK.

What can you do about it?

I find it helpful to do a diagnosis, just like a doctor, to find out what exactly is wrong.
The causes of my writer's block have included:

- literally not having a clue what happens next

- self doubt

- distraction (all those millions of things I would rather do!)

- the next scene is just too hard to write

Some remedies that have worked for me:

1. Take a break for a couple of days. Go for long walks with a tape recorder. Let the story percolate. Stephen King calls it letting "the boys in the basement" work.

2. Stop your daily writing in the middle of a scene.

3. Set a smaller daily word quota (maybe only a hundred words) until you get rolling again.

4. Set specific goals that are easily obtainable.

5. Be less judgemental of your writing.

6. Read out loud an earlier scene that you are proud of.

When you slam into The Wall, you need to know:

- when to forge on

- when to change direction

- when to allow yourself to stop.

Sometimes I am just not ready to write more. I need to do more outlining, research or some character profiles. Sometimes I need a vacation. Writing is a job, right? All jobs have some vacation time built into them.

If I have a lot of other things going on in my life, that might be a good time for a vacation from writing. It's better to declare a few weeks or even a month, or two,  of vacation time rather than feeling guilty every day because you are not writing.

During my vacation, I might meet with other authors, work on promotion, read OR I might do nothing related to writing. Then when I come back to my computer, I am refreshed and ready to go!

 Some advice from Nigel Watts in Write a Novel and Get It Published . . .

Sometimes the reason your writing refuses to budge is not because you are blocked but because the idea isn't ready. Like a seed in winter, your novel may be biding its time . . . If your idea is not ready, keep it watered and warm, check at intervals to see if anything is sprouting - but don't force its growth


If I Just Had Two Wings by Virginia Frances Schwartz

Winner of the Silver Birch Award and the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fictio

Indigo Chapters review:  Thirteen-year-old Phoebe has always dreamed of leaving her life as a slave behind. She has heard whispers about a secret path to freedom, and she has seen what can happen to those who take it and fail. But freedom means more to Phoebe than anything, and when she meets Liney, a strong young woman who picks cotton next to her, they form a plan to escape together.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Some of my favourite opening lines:

Where's Papa going with that axe? Charlotte's Web

 On a Thursday afternoon, just after tea, Charlie Bone smelled smoke. Midnight for Charlie Bone

The ghost was restless. Awake and Dreaming

Keith, the boy with the rumpled shorts and shirt, did not know that he was being watched as he entered Room 215 at the Mountain View Inn. The Mouse and the Motorcycle

The wizard's house was tall and narrow, just like the wizard himself. The Minstrel's Daughter

One day, Grandpa wouldn't get out of bed. Stone Fox

Half the town's driving past our farm today, just to stare at a man driving a tractor. The Crazy Man

When May died, Ob came back to the trailer, got out of his good suit and into his regular clothes , then went and sat in the Chevy for the rest of the night. Missing May

If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book. The Bad Beginning

I could tell right away that this wasn't a house that wanted me. Tumbleweed Skies

The best day of my life was the day that I found out that I was all alone in the world. No Ordinary Day
The day I almost died, the sky was a bright brilliant blue - a nice change from the rain earlier in the week. Word Nerd

I woke up knowing already that she was gone.  Almost Eden 

Everyone thinks children are as sweet as Neco Wafers, but I've lived long enough to know the truth: kids are rotten. Turtle in Paradise 

I'm not going to lie to you.  The Lit Report

Friday, September 6, 2013



"If you want to be a writer but have nothing to write about, you'll be like a knight in armour, searching for a damsel in distress to rescue."
-from Write a Novel and Get It Published by Nigel Watts

I've felt like that before. About three years ago, my well of story ideas ran dry. For a few years before that, I had been pulling old manuscripts out of my drawer and bringing them back to life. One day I realized I had used them all up. Relying on ideas from my years as a teacher wasn't working anymore. And I exhausted my ranch and life with horses as a source of inspiration. Help!

Fortunately, that depressing time didn't last too long. A spark here, a spark there and I was back in business. Now I have lots of ideas and not enough time!

Some tips that have worked for me:

1. Look into your own life, the things you know well and love to do. 

My historical Max and Ellie series was inspired by an
 article in a Canadian history magazine.
2. Write about what you want to write about, not what you think will sell or what you should be writing.

3. Read newspapers and  magazines, keeping an eye out for an interesting character or setting.

4. Ask yourself What if?

5. Get involved in a new hobby or activity.

7. Experiment with a list of opening lines or catchy titles.

8. Think about your childhood - especially the times you were afraid, embarrassed or excited.

9. Research a topic that interests you.

10. Read books or google a period in history that you find fascinating.

11. Think about the books you love and ask yourself why.

12. Keep a notebook of ideas.

13. Write anything (blogs, journal entries, letters) while you are waiting for your muse.

A few tips I've never tried but who knows?

1. Pull out two random words from a dictionary poge and develop a story around them.

2. Listen to music.

3. Look through a book of quotations and use that a starting point.

Not every idea is usable. You must be excited about it. A book takes a long time to write and you will have to stick with through good days and bad days. If you're not excited, you're more likely to give up.

You'll know when it's a great idea. Images, lines of dialogue, characters will start popping into your head. You're ready to take off!  


My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett

There are three books in this series, all published over 60 years ago, and they are real gems. They are fantastical tales, written in short chapters, and filled with delightful illustrations and maps.

The titles are My Father's Dragon, Elmer and the Dragon and The Dragons of Blueland.

Friday, August 30, 2013


A maddening thing about writing is the best ideas come when I’m far away from my desk. I can’t count how many times I’ve pulled the car over to the side of the road and scribbled down a scrap of dialogue or an opening line on the back of a cheque or a gas receipt (or once, in desperation, on my hand!)

Stephen King refers to the “boys in the basement” who are constantly working, even when we are no where near the computer.
One of the best things I can do when I’m stuck is take a break and go for a walk. As I walk, I try to visualize the scene and let ideas flow. I’ve come home from many walks and said to my husband, “Don’t talk to me!” and then rushed to jot down all the brilliant things I thought of as I ambled along. Very frustrating when you know there was one more thing and it’s lost!

My solution – a small (palm size) digital voice recorder. It slips in my pocket, weighs nothing,  and now I don’t leave the house without it. When I get home, I can write down all my ideas at my leisure. No more panic! (The first time you try it, you'll probably think of nothing to say – that’s called performance anxiety! But once you forget you’ve got it, the boys in the basement get to work.)

I have a brand new Iphone, which I am sure has a recorder on it somewhere, but I’m going to stick with my little digital recorder. It might be one more thing to tote around but I’m already attached to it and besides, it’s user friendly!   


The Penderwicks  A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy  by Jeanne Birdsall     

The title says it all. This is a charming, somewhat old-fashioned story. It is a New York Times Bestseller and a National Book Award Winner.

Amazon: This summer the Penderwick sisters have a wonderful surprise: a holiday on the grounds of a beautiful estate called Arundel. Soon they are busy discovering the summertime magic of Arundel’s sprawling gardens, treasure-filled attic, tame rabbits, and the cook who makes the best gingerbread in Massachusetts. But the best discovery of all is Jeffrey Tifton, son of Arundel’s owner, who quickly proves to be the perfect companion for their adventures. The icy-hearted Mrs. Tifton is not as pleased with the Penderwicks as Jeffrey is, though, and warns the new friends to stay out of trouble. Which, of course, they will—won’t they? One thing’s for sure: it will be a summer the Penderwicks will never forget.
Deliciously nostalgic and quaintly witty, this is a story as breezy and carefree as a summer day.

There are two sequels: The Penderwicks at Gardam Street and The Penderwicks at Point Mouette . I can't wait to read them!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013



Too many acronyms these days?

Maybe, but here’s one that I bet you’ll find as helpful as I do.


It stands for Lead, Objective, Confrontation and Knockout.

It’s the invention of James Scott Bell, the author of several how-to-write books including my favourite,  The Art of War of Writing.
According to Bell, if you have a good grasp of these four elements, you’ll have a strong story. I think he’s right.

Lead is, of course, the protagonist. The Lead must be compelling because the reader (and author) will be travelling with him for a long time. Whole books have been written on how exactly to achieve a compelling Lead. It’s essential, and the reason most memorable books are memorable!

Objective is what the Lead wants. It’s what drives the story. It’s the reason why the Lead does the things he does. When I revise a first draft, I make a list of all the things my Lead wants in the story. Then I circle the dominant objective, the one thing the Lead must get at all costs.

Confrontation is the opposition the Lead faces trying to get what he wants.  Bell reminds us to think: two dogs and one bone. It can’t get simpler than that.

Knockout is that great ending that all authors want to write and all readers want to read!


It’s a good reminder of what a story really is. I’m almost ready to revise the first draft of a book I’ve been working on since last winter. I’m going to start with LOCK and make sure all those elements are there before I start tinkering with the finer stuff

Lead, Objective, Confrontation, Knockout – nothing really new, but it’s a neat reminder.


Hero of Lesser Causes by Julie Johnston

This is not a new book but it is well worth searching for a copy. It won lots of accolades including the Governor General's Award. It is the moving story of Keely Connor whose world is shaken when her brother becomes ill with polio.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


I picked up a wonderful book called Page Fright:  Foibles and Fetishes of Famous Writers. A quick scan of the chapter headings intrigued me.

Here's a sample:

They Wrote Laying Down, Standing Up, Stark Naked

 Keep Out! Writer at Work!

Out of Their Mouths Popped Literature

I'm a Drunk with a Writing Problem

Horror Rolls In Like Some Poisonous Fog Bank

This entertaining book is full of fascinating, fun and curious anecdotes. I'll give you a taste!

*Isabel Allende always started work on a new novel on January 8.

*Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a chapter a day of Treasure Island and read it each night to his family.

*Thomas Hobbes wrote Dialogue on Physics or on the Nature of Air, using bedsheets for paper and when he'd used them up he scrawled on his thighs.

*Mark Twain told a reporter that he often lay in bed all day and wrote. He added that he'd spent whole weeks that way.

*E.B. White wrote standing up, usually in the middle of his living room.

*Playwright August Wilson had a punching bag suspended from the ceiling and "when the dialogue was popping, he'd stop, pivot, throw a barrage of punches, then turn back to work."

*The best  thing about being an author, according to Canadian novelist Will Ferguson, is "you get to work in your underwear and scratch yourself whenever you want. Try doing that in your standard office work environment."

* John Cheever worked in boxer shorts in a windowless storage room in the basement of their apartment building.

*Alistair MacLeod wrote on the right hand pages of cheap scribblers.

*Saul Bellow wrote The Adventures of Augie March in trains and in cafes.

* Victor Hugo wrote his last novel Ninety-Three in a glass cage on the roof of his mansion - at dawn and stark naked!

* John Grisham write his first novel in longhand on yellow legal paper.

*Emily Dickinson composed her first drafts on the backs of recipes, grocery lists and used envelopes.

That's only a tiny bit of what you'll find in Page Fright. If you get a chance, pick up a copy.  It's fun and fascinating!







Sunday, August 4, 2013


The shelves and shelves of beautifully bound journals  in our local Chapters store call to me every time I walk into the store. How do you choose between covers of turquoise, pink or orange, brown leather that looks old or plain black that looks serious? Lined or blank? Plump or slender? A silk ribbon for a marker? A magnetic closing that makes a satisfying snap to say I’m done!
I’ve bought my fair share and they’re lined up like a rainbow on the shelf above my computer. That’s where they’ll probably stay. I feel intimidated every time I attempt to write in one. The journals are perfect so the writing needs to be perfect too, right? A gem of wisdom, a sparkling metaphor, a brilliant line of poetry, a witty scrap of dialogue.
Writing novels is challenging enough. I don’t need my journal to be challenging too. Writer’s block in my journal? No thank you!
So I write in a cheap drugstore variety spiral bound notebook with Writing Journal scrawled across the front cover in black felt pen. Over the years, I’ve filled at least a dozen notebooks. I wish I’d kept the earlier ones but I tossed them out when I was finished – dog eared and full of crossings-out and barely legible handwriting.
I wish I’d kept them because they are the only real record I have of my writing career. I have no rules for my journal. Everything is welcome: word quotas, daily (weekly, monthly) goals, reminders of deadlines, email correspondence, ideas, books to read, problems, solutions, successes, failures. No brilliant writing, no dazzling words but lots of words. I start and end every writing session with my journal. It’s the best way I know to keep me accountable, on track and motivated.
Elizabeth George in Write Away . . .
I begin every day by writing in a journal, sometimes about the writing I’m doing, sometime about what’s on my mind at the moment. . .  but before I do that, I read a day in the last Journal of a Novel for the previous novel. That allows me to see that, whatever I might be experiencing at the moment, I have experienced it and survived it before.
Laura Oliver in The Story Within . . .  
Journal writing is a way writers find their voices and gather courage. After all, you can do anything you want to in a journal, like singing in your car or dancing alone in your kitchen.
My journal is a reminder of where I have been and how far I am going. From now on, I’m saving them a shelf, right beside those fancy books from Chapters.



Sunday, July 21, 2013


“That’s a cliché!”

We’ve all heard that and we cringe when someone says it about our writing. We know clichés are bad. We know they’re a sign of an amateur. But sometimes we’re too lazy to get rid of them.

Do clichés have a place? Yes. In dialogue, if you have decided that is how you want your character to talk. And in first drafts, when you want to write fast and furious. It can slow you down to think of something new and fresh and slowing down is something we don’t want to do in our first drafts. We want to get the story out. Then we can go on a cliché hunt.

Why are clichés appealing? They’re easy (usually the first thing that pops into our head). And they’re effective. That’s why they exist. The first person who spoke or wrote a cliché was probably brilliant. The comparison or descriptive phrase was so perfect that it was worth repeating. Again and again and again. Then one day it became stale and boring.

Clichés can be a few words (as wise as an owl),  a description of a character (a fast talking lawyer) or even a description of a setting (Grandma and Grandpa’s farm.) James Scott Bell talks about “flipping the obvious.” Change that burly male baseball cap wearing truck driver to a woman and see what happens.

In recent news, I was startled to hear that one of the bombing suspects of the Parliament Buildings in Victoria was a 29 year old woman. In a book, she would be a more interesting character than her male partner. 

In my Language Arts classes, my grade sixes and sevens had fun with clichés. At breakneck speed I would shout out the beginning of a phrase and they would shout out the ending:

Pretty predictable responses.

As speedy as . . .  a bullet
As skinny as . . .  a stick
As black as . . .  night
As white as  . . . a ghost.

They learned that the first thing you think of is almost always a cliche.
Then we would go back and see how creative we could be.

I remember one student beaming with pride when he came up with “as white as mayonnaise!”  

Nigel Watts in Write A Novel and Get It Published warns us that . .  .

A writer serving up clichés is in effect feeding his readers warmed-up leftovers!

Does that make your stomach sink? Whoops! Heard that before.  Does it make your stomach turn a somersault? I’ve probably read that a thousand times. Does it make your stomach plummet six stories?

Hey, it’s late.

But one day I’m planning on using “as white as mayonnaise” in a story!


The Old Brown Suitcase by Lillian Boraks-Nemetz

Slava is a compelling narrator in this award winning Holocaust story that alternates chapters between Poland and Canada.

Good Reads says:
The story juxtaposes heart-wrenching scenes from a child's life in war-torn Poland with the life of a teenager trying to adjust to a new country in time of peace. In Canada, it is not easy for Slava to build a bridge between two cultures; nor is it easy to live with the turmoil of her immediate past. At the same time she must face the new challenges involved in being an immigrant, a Jew and a teenage girl.


Monday, July 15, 2013



I love making New Years Resolutions. They suit the side of me that loves to make lists (I make lists for everything!) Occasionally I stick to one or two resolutions, at least for a few months. In my writing journal, I make a list of resolutions specific to my writing career, mostly to do with word quotas, deadlines, finishing first drafts and so on. Not too daunting.

This past January, I added a resolution that I’ve been avoiding like the plague. Get into social media.

That’s where the world is (the young world, anyway, that makes up most of my readers.) So I need to be there too. I know that but I avoid it.

I pride myself on having an up to date website. I also answer emails from kids all over the country. I bought a book called 55 Ways to Promote and Sell Your Book on the Internet by Bob Baker. I even participated in a chat room with girls across the U.S. Surely that’s enough? Not any more.

So I made two New Years Resolutions. Start a blog. Get into Facebook.

The problem is, I didn't think I liked blogs all that much. I’m not interested in reading (or writing) about day to day trivia.   Then I read an article about blogging that suggested you pick an area of expertise and blog about that. Aha! That sounded better. So I came up with this blog of writing tips and strategies.

I made a commitment in February to blog for a year. I aimed for once a week, but now am happy with every ten days or so if I’m busy. I keep a bank of blog entries, ready to post, so if I travel or have a lot of other things going on, I can pull one out of there.

Is anyone reading my blog? I don’t know. I read that you should ignore statistics on how many readers you have for the first year. Makes sense to me. I don’t want to worry about this blog. I want to have fun

And I am. I’m digging into all my how-to-write books for ideas and inspiration. I’m thinking about what works and what doesn’t work for me. I’m remembering old tips and strategies that I’ve forgotten and I’m incorporating them into my writing. Best of all, I get to practice a different form of writing than juvenile fiction.

And I get a thrill when someone (rarely) posts a comment!

As for my second New Years Resolution . . . er . . . something to do with Facebook. I do have a Facebook Fan Page and I try to post things on it but it’s not really working for me yet. The problem is, I don’t really get Facebook.

Anyway, I’ve got an idea for another blog so Facebook can wait . . . for now.