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.