The trouble with first drafts


I do quite a bit of critiquing. As a member of two writing groups and as a writing teacher, and randomly supporting other writers online.

I love it. I learn more about my own craft from critically reviewing other people’s work. And I hope my input helps other writers move their work along to the next draft.

What I am uncomfortable with, are first drafts.

First drafts to me are compost heaps. You throw everything on there, let it season, then later dig through it to find what’s germinated. First drafts are where you figure out what you want to write about, why, the tone, tense, POV you might use. Where you might just be laying down a premise or idea without committing to it yet. Something you will use later to discover what you still need to learn about your topic, or your intent.

Giving your first draft to someone else to read is one thing. Asking for input on it is another. In a way, it’s asking others to do much of the heavy lifting that you should be doing yourself in the second draft – as a way to discover the why and what of what you’re writing. And to figure out the best way to write it.

This is why I ask people who ask me to critique their work s to tell me which draft they are sharing. And why I will probably send it back if they say it’s in first draft.

Sharing ideas, themes, story germs is a wonderful thing for writers to do. Asking others to throw a lot of What Ifs at the idea for you to pick through can be tremendously helpful. Having others ask any of the Five Ws and How questions may help you clarify your idea and your thoughts.

But that is not critiquing. It’s brainstorming, something that can be fun, energizing and enlightening.

Plan a brainstorming session with your group or writing partner from time to time. Or make it a regular part of your meetings. Everyone will get a lot out of it.

But those first drafts? Get in the habit of throwing everything you have at them, without worrying about who else will see it. Keep it to yourself. Then, in the next draft apply what you know about the craft to refine your central premise, identify your intent, and fine-tune the writing.

And only then pass it on to a trusted reader or writer to critique. 

I will be posting a Tip Sheet on critiquing here in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, check out other information on my Help for Writers page.


I hereby resolve…


Some realizations come slowly, like an incoming tide. Others, they’re on me like a rabid dog.

On Monday, January 4, in the midst of sewing a handful of dummy books for a couple of picturebook ideas I have been toying with, I realized that THIS IS WHAT I WANT TO DO NOW. Work on capturing, exploring and developing picture book stories.

My grandson, immersed in one of my storytime favourites

I’ve had fifteen years of writing fiction for primary to middle school kids. I am proud of the eight books I’ve published for those readers. And gratified by the response from readers, teachers, librarians and awards judges.

I am coming to the end of almost two years work on my first – and what may be my only – midgrade nonfiction book, Shelter – Homelessness in Our Community, due out from Orca Book Publishers in October 2021. (You’ll be hearing much more about that as things develop.)

But now, for the next year I want to have fun. I am not as yet – but ever optimistic that I will be – published in the picture book genre. I have loved them for years, having shared hundreds with children in my own family and at library storytimes, and admired them for the delicate marriage between text and imagery and their poetry-like attention to language.

They are a hard sell, in more ways than one. I’ve sent many off into the unforgiving – and often unresponsive – picturebook publishing ether. The closest I came was with one story My Boots, Your Boots, which was accepted, the first payment in the advance paid, and then, like so many other projects, disappeared without a trace during a change in editors at the publishing company. A more recent story Spit and Polish, about the unlikely topic of PTSD, has been doing the rounds for quite a while.

I am now ready to try again. And to keep trying.

I am on Day Four of the StoryStorm picturebook challenge, aiming for at least 30 ideas in the next month – I’m at six so far. In a few days I will be signing up for the Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Picture Book challenge, during which I will try to come up with drafts of 12 picturebook stories over the next year.

I will still be teaching and mentoring – something I truly love doing.

But for 2021, I am going to commit myself to dancing dogs, puddle jumping, the world of underwater flowers, Morning Monsters, angels with frozen wings… and small children exploring and surviving their challenging lives.


StartWrite in 2021


As of January 1, every day I am posting a writing prompt to help anyone hoping to develop a regular writing habit,  strengthen their writing practise, generate words, explore ideas and examine craft.

Now all listed on the Prompts page of Help for Writers.

There you will also find tips for using the prompts, and others for what to do with the results.

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NANOWRIMO + 21: SO done with outlining

Jan 10 2021 Update
On Jan 4, I packed away all my hardcopy files, sunk the electronic files for my NANO projects deep in me laptop directory, and saved just the germ of The Child of Sea and Sand for a picturebook story called The Selkie’s Buttons. For the next year I am committing myself to picturebooks. And will come back to chapter books and midgrade novels in 2022. You’ll find the ‘full story’ here


I
gave it my best shot.

I spent October outlining a novel Wherever You Are, and exploring various tools and structures for creating an outline – so I could pass the info on to anyone else who wanted to know how to do it.

On November 1, I started off working on scenes that I had outlined.

I kept it up until November 7.

Confused much?

Confused much?

At which point I decided ‘Sod this for a lark’, and packed away my binder, notebooks, spreadsheets and checklists. By the time I started writing the story I had planned, I was sick to death of it, knew too much about it and everyone in it. So I decided to start a new project from scratch without an outline in front of me.

I am now 33.482 words into Child of Sea and Sand, and loving every minute.

I have listed over 20 scenes by name – and coming up with more almost every day – and work from that list, some items of which might include a few notes to get me started. But that’s all I need. I don’t have time for The Muse or any faith in Inspiration. But I do trust in some intuitive knowledge of story and rely on the ‘hum’ (as Scott Olen Butler calls it in his book From Where You Dream – The Process of Writing Fiction), or ‘ache’ (as my old short story mentor Alex Keegan named it) of the main character’s basic yearning to keep me moving forward.

And I do that mainly by developing scenes. The basic elements of which include:
a) the scene problem,
b) the conflict that comes out of whatever obstacle is in the way of the solution to the problem,
b) the main character’s emotion that drives that scene,
c) recognition of whether this is a Pre-scene, Main Scene or Sequel, and
d) the outcome/complication/reversal that will continue to drive the narrative at the end of the scene.

At the end of each day I read the pages, mark up threads as throughlines that I want to be aware of as I move forward, but I don’t do any editing then. Nor will I until I have written all the scenes that I think the story needs.

The second draft work (and often my favourite part of the the whole process) will involve figuring out what scene goes where, and only then will I dig deeper into the text to identify and work on what needs fixing.

This is pretty well the way I have worked for years, without necessarily having articualted all the moving parts. I’ve long since stopped listening to advice about what anyone should do in the process of developing whatever creative work they are involved in. 

Everyone works differently. It’s worth trying out other processes from time to time. But I always come back to doing it my way.

Will I achieve the 50,000-word NANO goal by the end of November? Maybe. But possibly not. If the story is done earlier, that’s when I will quit and move on to working on the next draft of Child of Sand and Sea, or whatever it’s titled at that point.

But what I have finally been able to do, after the past eighteen months working on nonfiction, is to find the flow of fiction again. And I am loving being totally immersed in the Cornwall of my childhood, its beaches, cliffs, villages and language, and the old follktales of giants, knockers, piskies and selkies.

selkieMerryn Prowse swims with the seals on Porthallow Beach


The NANOWRIMO three-step


NANO is less than 24 hours away.

I’m stoked.

I took my best shot at outlining (not  a natural process for me), and have been exercising my creative muscle by writing every day since Oct 1 (resulting in drafts of one picture book story, one short story, one piece of personal narrative, and one ‘pome’ + other dross), so I am back in the routine.

I’ve also tested a three-step process that seems to work.

ONE. Begin each day by making a few notes in my daybook about the writing I expect to do that day (or about what I struggled with the day before). During  NANO it will be at that point – in bed with my morning cup of tea – that I will figure which of the 33 scenes I’ve listed so far to work on. I won’t write it there and then. But write about writing it.

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That’s me, can’t you tell? In shape and ready to go!

TWO. Then I will write that scene, and maybe more – in one or two 60- to 90-minute sessions during the day with my eye on the daily goal of 1,667 words. 

THREE. Each evening, I will print the pages I’ve worked on that day, and mark them up. Not in the same place where I have been writing – at my desk. But in another chair somewhere far from the siren call of my laptop. And not for the purposes of revising and editing right away, but before I file the hard copy pages, which I will put away until NANO is over. 

That’s it. As easy as One-two-three… that’s how elementary, it’s gonna be.

Well, we’ll see!


NanoWriMo -7: Waiting for the spooky stuff


Seven days to go. And I am SO done with outlining.

It is not my natural way of working, but I thought I would try it this time, as I am working from scratch on a new project, and many other writers suggest this is a good way of working.

So far, I have:

  • Identified the Six Big Scenes in the story – Inciting Incident, First Plot Point, Mid Point, Second Plot Point, Climax and Resolution.
  • Listed 26 other scenes that I will cobble together – possibly combining or extending some into full chapters – once I have reached the end, wherever and whenever that is.
  • Drafted notes of background and motivation for each of the three main characters and four secondary ones.
  • Some days used my First 500 Words daily sprint sessions to brainstrom thoughts about setting and plot details, and the entire story overall.
  • Collected a gallery of images to represent my main characters and three main settings.
  • Started a section of Random Notes to add anything and everything as it occurs to me – so far three pages of handwritten notes.

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And I am done.

And ready for the next – and my favourite part – of any fiction project.

This is when the actual act of writing tends to throw up all kinds of ‘spooky writing stuff’ on the page. Leaving me to respond – internally or out loud  – “Ah, so that’s what happens.” “Who are you, and why are you here?” “Oh, I didn’t know that.” “Yes. That could work.” “No. Not a chance.” 

 One advantage of using my writing muscle regularly is that I am usually able to write ‘quick and dirty’. Which for the most part helps silence that monkey-mind editor that sits on my shoulder as I unconsciously delve into all the stuff that’s below the surface, or hiding in the deeper recesses of my overloaded brain.  

Usually I can just keep going to see where the writing takes me without too much judgement and a lot of curiosity. 

I will be interested to see what happens this time.

 


NANOWRIMO – 16 days to go

 

Outlining seemed like a good idea at the time. Even if I had always been a ‘pantser’ in the past, I had lots of tools, links, books and articles to show me the way. But as often happens,  too much research led me to dig myself into a hole I am having difficult getting out of.

Sure, I have somewhat of an outline for a midgrade novel WHEREVER YOU ARE. Basic character sketches. Five Big Scenes identified, including the first Plot Point, Second Plot Point, Mid Point, Third Plot Point and Climax. And about 20 smaller scenes listed.

I am juggling a mess of index cards, worksheets, and notes. All of which I hope will be useful when I actually start writing this thing on November 1. Which is what I am most looking forward to – putting words on the page in narrative form that bring the story to life. But I have twisted myself into such an unwieldy knot, I am now trying to extricate myself from it.

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At the beginning of October I starting leading a group of beginning writers in writing one-page stories, profiles and personal narrative. One page or 500 words. To support them, I committed to writing 500 words a day, every day, in an effort I called First 500 Words. As in – First, five hundred words – that is, before doing much else in the day – or as in, before writing anything else, first get those 500 words down on paper.

It’s that that has saved me. I have written 500 words a day since then, on top of anything and everything else I had going in terms of outlining, revising other stuff, drafting teaching handouts, etc. Most days I don’t even write about the story. I have written about eating pomegranates, the loneliness of solo long distance flights, my father’s hands, windstorms, Harvest Festival church services, beachcoming… In fact, I have a list of 37 things I could use for my daily 500-word sprints. 

NGThe few times I have tackled this new book idea, I have found that by using stream of consciousness writing (or using Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Practise Rules from her book WRITING DOWN THE BONES) I have not only unearthed story elements that had not occured to me, but have also come up with character details, setting descriptions, lists of questions that need answering before or during wiriting the story, and notes on what I already know about at least two topics I need to do research for the book. 

Writing 500 words a day, I told my students – without expecting they would want to do it as a daily practise – could yield 180,000 words in a year.

Even if this latest book idea turns out to be a bomb, if nothing else – if I can keep up my First 500 Words project as I have since the beginning of October – I will have come up with a lot of words.

Including these – which coincidentally when I just checked, turned out to be another 498!

 


NANOWRIMO – 24 days to go

 

I tried NANOWRIMO once before, making it to 39,000+ words on a YA historical novel THE ROUGH DRESS by the end of the month of November. But without an outline, or a clear plan of where I was going and how to get there, I ended up with a lot of words but not much structure.

Four years later, that book is still a Work in Progress (WIP)!

I’ll be trying again this year with a midgrade contemporary realistic novel WHEREVER YOU ARE. This time, I’m outlining it in a rather hybrid way, drawing on some of the following tools, but not sticking faithfully to one or another.

I am still in the process of grabbing other bits of outlining advice as it shows up on various writers’ and writely website and blogs. I hope that by time November 1 rolls around – the first official day of National Novel Writing Month – I will have condensed all my notes, tables and index cards into one coherent outline. And be ready to write 50,000 words in 30 days. (That’s an average of 1,666 words a day. But who’s counting!)

Meanwhile, this is what I am working with:

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I’ll check back in a week to let you know how far I have got.

L

 


Seeking Shelter – Challenging Ideas About Homelessness

 

It’s been a long slow process since I first pitched my idea for a kids’ non fiction book on homelessness to the publisher who published my eight children’s fiction books.

In January 2019 if I recall.

IMG_4209Between my editor and I, we have finally decided on the title and subtitle Seeking Shelter – Challenging Ideas About Homelessness (though it might still change!). Today I finished what I hope will be the final text revisions – and made it to the desired wordcount. I have had a glimpse of the illustrator’s sketches and colour palette (I love them!). And next week I will finalize the photo package from which the designer will select as they lay out the book.

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The publication of the book is still a year away – October 2021 – when it will join others in Orca Book Publishers’ THINK series of mid grade non fiction books on social issues.

Meanwhile, homelessness continues to be a serious issues in many communities. More programs and services are being developed all the time. People and organizations continue to come up with innovative ways to address the issue and help those affected by homelessness. And every day there’s something new  in the news – locally, provincially, nationally or globally –
about it.

It’s hard to keep up, and even harder to include everything I would have liked to include in the book.

So this Facebook page is where I will post anything and everything that I think is relevant to the book or the issue in the next year. If you’re interested, I hope you will Follow it. And if you’re around in the fall of 2021, I hope you will  be around to help celebrate this book – a labour of love and deep commitment.

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All photos: L Peterson

25% of author royalties will be donated to the Nanaimo Unitarian Shelter,
– offering overnight respite from the streets for more than ten year –
where I was privileged to work for more than 2-1/2 years.

 

 


Author Q & A: Laura Stegman


Laura Segal Stegman‘s non-fiction work includes collaboration on the travel book Only in New York. Her  feature stories have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Magazine, Westways Magazine, the Christian Science Monitor, Hollywood Bowl Magazine and Los Angeles Daily News. Summer of L.U.C.K., her debut for middle grade readers, is her first novel.

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Which book do you most clearly remember from when you were a child?
 The Diamond in the Window by Jane Langton fits that bill. In fact, the magical elements woven into its heroine’s journey to self-acceptance inspired me to write my debut novel, Summer of L.U.C.K. (see below)

Did you ever write a fan letter to an author? If so, who to, and did they write back?
 Yes! When I was a kid, I wrote to author Sydney Taylor, who wrote the All of A Kind Family series, another of my childhood favourites. I was so thrilled when she replied that I still have her letter.

How did you learn to write? What is one writing book or website you’d recommend to anyone else wanting to learn?
I’m actually not sure how I learned to write – maybe by widely reading ever since I was a kid. And by doing, probably. What helped me the most was input from editors and other writers. Agent Janet Reid’s blog has tons of great advice about querying and writing along with the occasional flash fiction contest/writing exercise.

What is your favourite hobby or activity that has nothing to do with writing or reading?
I’m a big fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers, so following the progress of their season and Major League Baseball has always been a big part of my life. With limited baseball during the pandemic, I’ve significantly upped my reading and writing time.

Who is your favourite author now?
That changes over time! Right now, I’m making my way through the Inspector Gamache mysteries. When I finish one, I can’t wait to start the next. So I’ll say Louise Penny, the series’ author. For kidlit, it’s J.K. Rowling, hands down. I also love her adult fiction under the Robert Galbraith pen name.

LS2Do you have a new book coming out soon?
I do, and it’s a dream come true. Summer
of L.U.C.K.
, my middle grade debut, is being published September 15, 2020, by INtense Publications. It’s a contemporary fantasy about three kids finding their way to self-acceptance with the help of a ghost who haunts a magical carnival.

What are you writing these days?
I’m writing Summer of L.U.C.K.‘s sequel, called Ready or Not, which follows one of the first book’s three main characters. Justin, still grieving the loss of his father, struggles with a bully during his second summer at Camp Inch. He’s convinced he’ll find solutions with the help of the magical carnival, like last year. Turns out real life is much more complicated.

Do you write regularly, or just when you feel like it?
Since Ready or Not is due in the fall, I am writing for a few hours just about every day, often more. My writing pace was much slower when I wrote Summer of L.U.C.K., which took many years, including rejection after rejection and what could be the world’s record number of revisions.

How do you like editing and revising?
Sometimes editing and revising seem easier than creating a story, especially when I’m stuck in a scene or a chapter. But I love writing too. There’s nothing like the feeling when words and ideas start flowing, as if some magic angel is whispering them in my ear.

Can you share one strange, weird or wonderful thing about yourself?
Strange: Other than baseball, I rarely watch television or movies.

Weird: I’m super organized. Almost to a fault.
Wonderful: I care about others.

What’s the one question (and the answer) that you wish I had asked.
You said that Summer of L.U.C.K., your debut novel, received “rejection after rejection.” What kept you so dedicated to it?
With every rejection, I worked harder on making improvements. I kept going. I kept believing. Summer of L.U.C.K. is the book of my heart. Its publication means the world to me.

More about Laura and her books:
Her website: https://www.laurastegman.com/
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/LauraSegalStegmanAuthor
Buy Summer of L.U.C.K: https://www.childrensbookworld.com/laura-segal-stegman-conversation-kitty-felde


This is the last in this series of author interviews for now.
Thanks to all the authors who participated.


Author Q & A: Jane Whittingham


Jane
Whittingham is a picture book author, children’s librarian, book blogger and mom who lives with her family in British Columbia.
 
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What is the book you most clearly remember from when you were a child?
I’m going to cheat a little, because I simply can’t choose one standout book from a childhood surrounded by books. I grew up on a steady diet of classic modern British children’s literature thanks to my English-born parents, and The Wind in the Willows, Beatrix Potter’s stories and the tales of Paddington Bear and Winnie the Pooh still hold such dear places in my heart.
 

Did you ever write a fan letter to an author? If so, who to, and did they write back?
No. But I did get a chance to meet one of my favourite childhood authors, the great Kit Pearson. There’s a saying that you shouldn’t meet your idols, lest reality not live up to expectation, but Ms. Pearson was as kind and gracious as could be, and I was thrilled to get my childhood copy of The Sky is Falling signed. 
 

How did you learn to write? What is one writing book or website you’d recommend to anyone else wanting to learn?
If you want to write, read! I’m a self-taught writer, and I hone my craft by reading lots and lots and LOTS of picture books! Reading extensively in my chosen genre lets me work out which writing styles, elements, themes and formats appeal to me and which don’t, and helps me learn more about myself as an author, and as a reader. The more you read, the better a writer you can become. It’s also a great excuse to read lots of fun books!

What is your favourite hobby or activity that has nothing to do with writing or reading?
Watching movies! My partner and I have weekly movie nights, and we’re currently working our way through the silent movie era, which means a lot of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton films. We make stovetop popcorn, dim the lights, and settle in for an evening of escape through film.

Who is your favourite author now?
I’m going to be indecisive again because I can’t pick just one favourite author, but there’s a bit of a running joke among my story time audiences that I must be friends with English author/illustrator Jane Cabrera because of how often I include her books in my programs (I’m not, I just really like her books!).  Mo Willems, Mac Barnett, Atinuke, Mem Fox, Anna Dewdney, Eric Litwin, and John Klassen are some other favourites.  I could write an entire list of kidlit authors I love! 

Do you have a new book coming out soon?
I have two picture books coming out in 2022 (the publishing machine moves slowly), so stay tuned for more details! 

What are you writing these days?
Picture books, picture books, always picture books. I literally have about a dozen different manuscripts in various stages of development tucked away on my laptop.

Do you write regularly, or just when you feel like it?
I write whenever I can find the time. I have both a day job and a small child, so finding the time and energy to write can be a bit of a challenge, but I try to be kind to myself and not get too discouraged when I haven’t written for a while. Slow and steady wins the race, at least when it comes to my writing career!

 

How do you like editing and revising?
I hate it! I treat editing like a necessary evil. I’m such a nit-picky writer, I can chip away at a story for eons, and I find it really difficult to know when a manuscript is truly finished. Even worse, I tend to edit as I write, which is a terrible habit for an author – as everyone will tell you, it’s much more efficient to get a story down on paper first, and then start tinkering away with it. If you stop to edit after every sentence, you’ll likely burn yourself out before you’ve even finished a single draft! Thankfully I’ve had the opportunity to work with some really great editors who have helped me grow as a writer and as a confident editor, and my distaste for editing has lessened over time.

Can you share one strange, weird or wonderful thing about you?
I can touch my nose with my tongue!

What’s the one questions (and the answer) that you wish I had asked?
Jane, how do you deal with rejection?
Ice cream. Sweet, delicious, comforting ice cream. And a good sense of humour.

Thanks, Jane.

 

Find out more about Jane and her books:

Website: www.raincitylibrarian.ca
Twitter: @janewhittinghamauthor
Publisher: https://pajamapress.ca/author/whittingham_jane/


Next up: (and the last interview in this series)
Laura Stegman

 


Author Q & A: Cathey Nickell

Cathey Nickell is children’s author and school speaker based in Houston, Texas. She is the author of Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car and Yazzy’s Amazing Yarn.

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What was your favourite book when you were a child?
A book I most clearly remember from my childhood is Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald. I loved everything about Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle… her upside-down house, her dog Wag, her cat Lightfoot, and the hump on her back that was full of magic. I dreamed of getting to someday help her search for the buried treasure left by her late husband. Her “cures” were hilarious, and I still remember them so well.

Did you ever write a fan letter to an author? If so, who to, and did they write back?
I don’t think I ever wrote a fan letter to an author. If I had gotten the nerve up, I wish I would have written E.B. White to talk to him about Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan. They were such beautiful books that I read over and over as a child. I would have asked him how he was able to write animals in such a way that they felt like real people… like a best friend.

How did you learn to write for children?
I learned to write in college as a journalism major. I started off working as a newspaper reporter, which honed my research skills. Years later, I joined SCBWI, went to writers’ conferences, and read several books about how to write picture books and novels. One writer I follow and recommend is K.M. Weiland, and I really enjoyed her book, Outlining Your Novel. One of the websites that has helped me the most in picture book writing has been Tara Lazar’s Writing For Kids (While Raising Them) blog. Tara is so generous with her knowledge and just generally fun to follow.

What is your favourite activity that has nothing to do with writing or reading?
A favorite hobby that my husband, Kevin, and I enjoy is traveling. We love going to new places, snow skiing, hiking, and exploring unique restaurants. We also attend many musicals and plays here in Houston, Texas.
 
Who is your favourite kids’ author now?
My current favorite author is John Green, and I’ve read (and re-read!) every book he has written. He writes young adult books,  a genre I enjoy. A favorite kid-lit author/illustrator is Peter Reynolds.
 
Do you have a new book coming out soon?

 I don’t have a new book coming out, but I launched a picture book this past August 2019. Yazzy’s Amazing Yarn is my most recent children’s book. My first was Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car in 2016.

What are you writing these days?
These days, I’m writing a middle grade novel. I finished the last line of the story this past week and am now doing the edits. I plan to start querying this manuscript out soon to agents. Fingers crossed!

Do you write regularly, or just when you feel like it?
I typically write whenever I feel like it, but due to the pandemic, I’ve been writing every single day. I decided to make good use of the down-time and set a goal to finish the manuscript of my middle grade novel. Goal achieved! Now that I’ve gotten into the habit of writing every day, I hope it is a pattern that I won’t stop.

How do you like editing and revising?
The editing and revising process is a fun part of the book-creating process. I don’t mind it, and I sometimes like it even better than the initial “cold” writing.

Can you share one strange, weird or wonderful thing about you?
I can say the Pledge of Allegiance in Latin! I took Latin in high school, and my teacher made us recite the pledge as a group every single morning. It stuck, and I can still say it to this day. It’s quite dramatic sounding.

What question do you wish I had asked… and the answer?
I wish you had asked me if I listen to music while I write. The answer would be: Yes! I have a playlist mix on my iPod that’s filled mostly with old 80s music. It’s just quiet noise in the background, but it makes me happy.

Thanks, Cathey!

Find out more about Cathey and her books:

Where to buy Cathey’s books: https://www.catheynickell.com/books/

Next up: Jane Whittingham 


By popular demand… and because my default is ‘Yes’ rather than ‘No’

I am now offering one-hour one-on-one Zoom sessions of instruction and discussion on a number of writing-related topics.

I’ve enjoyed presenting a series on online presentations over the past two months, and look forward to working with individual writers over the summer, and perhaps even into the fall.

More information here. Or email me for details, or to ask for a session on any particular subject.

 

 

 

 


Author Q & A: Naomi Danis

(Photo Credit. Joan Roth)

NAOMI DANIS is the author of recent picture books My Best Friend, Sometimes; While Grandpa Naps; and I Hate Everyone. She lives in Forest Hills NY.

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 What is the book you most clearly remember from when you were a child? 
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton. It was long, and I remember feeling consoled that it would go on for a while, that these moments of family togetherness with the book would last. My dad would read to me and my sisters after dinner. We would lie in a row on a rug on the floor with our heads on a bolster taken down from a couch. I still hear the up and down intonation of my dad’s voice when I read aloud to myself my own stories-in-progress.
 
Did you ever write a fan letter to an author? If so, who to, and did they write back?
As an adult I wrote a fan letter to author Susie Morgenstern after reading her middle-grade novel Secret Letters from 0 to 10. I read it in French. Its themes of silence, abandonment, loss, reconnection and love touched me deeply at a difficult time in my family’s life. I looked for the author online emailed  her, told her a little about myself, and asked her  questions. Nine hours later I got an email back from her. We still exchange emails 20 years later. Writing a fan letter can be a lovely and surprising way to make a new friend.
 
How did you learn to write? What is one writing book or website you’d recommend to anyone else wanting to learn?
Reading and writing. And more reading and writing.
The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White made a strong impression on me. Also I’ve worked at Lilith magazine for the last thirty years and I have all along loved seeing how editing makes writing more clear and precise.
 
What is your favourite hobby or activity that has nothing to do with writing or reading?
Gardening. Cooking and baking for friends and family in the days when they could come over for a meal, and looking forward to doing that again one day.
 
Who are your favourite authors now?
This month? Amor Towles, because his A Gentleman in Moscow spoke to me during this pandemic about privilege, confinement, escape and compromise. I was so inspired I’m even considering  reading War and Peace now, though I am a very slow reader.
       But mostly I read middle grade and YA novels. Recent favorites include Merci Suarez Changes Gear by Meg Medina, Anne Blankman’s The Blackbird Girls, a middle grade memoir Free Lunch by Rex Ogle and the YA novel Color Me In by Natasha Diaz. A favorite picture book my grandsons ask me to read to them every time they visit is Rukhsana Khan’s Big Red Lollipop illustrated by Sophie Blackall.
 
BestfriendDo you have a new book coming out soon?
My Best Friend, Sometimes illustrated by Cinta Arribas came out in May from Pow Kids Books. It’s Cinta and my second book together, following I Hate Everyone. Forthcoming from Child’s Play International is a very young picture about watching cars go by.
 
What are you writing these days?
More picture books, I often have as many as a dozen I am tinkering with at the same time.
 
Do you write regularly, or just when you feel like it?
I try to write regularly, but often fail.
 
How do you like editing and revising?
 I love editing and revising.  Most of my writing is re-writing.
 
Can you share one strange, weird or wonderful thing about you?
I  keep two compost heaps, one on each side of my front stoop, somewhat camouflaged in leaves, torn strips of newspaper and  pulled weeds. And I can sing a Chinese national anthem, ironically learned long ago from a college roommate from Hong Kong, and the Belgian national anthem, learned long ago from my mother.

Thank You, Naomi!

Learn More about Naomi.


Next up: Cathey Nickell

 

 


Author Q&A: Tanya Kyi Lloyd

TANYA KYI LLOYD is the author of more than 25 books for children and young adults. Her most recent works are Me and Banksy (Penguin Random House) and Under Pressure (Kids Can Press). Tanya lives in Vancouver with her husband and two children.

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What was your favourite book when you were a child?
I loved A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. And I still love it today!

Did you ever write a fan letter to an author?
I’m not sure I realized that was possible. I grew up in a small town and while my house was full of books, most of them were classics or hand-me-downs. It wasn’t until high school that I realized authors lived and worked in the real world.

How did you learn to write for children?
After university, I got a job doing graphic design at Whitecap Books, a publishing house in North Vancouver. At the time, they were looking for someone to write a book about famous Canadian Girls. I must have walked by the publisher’s office at just the right moment… The book was Canadian Girls Who Rocked the World, and writing it showed me how much fun children’s books could be to research and create.

What is your favourite activity that has nothing to do with writing?
Picnics! Preferably on a grassy spot near the beach.

Who is your favourite kids’ author now?
That’s a hard one. I admire so many writers. Rebecca Stead is one of my favourite, because she gets the emotional tone of her books so perfect. Rachelle Delaney constantly makes me laugh. I secretly wish I were half as cool as Heather Smith. The list continues…

TK1Do you have a new book coming out soon?
This is Your Brain on Stereotypes (Kids Can Press) comes out in Fall 2020. It’s all about how our brain sorts and categorizes, somethings without our conscious knowledge. I learned SO much while writing it, and I can’t wait for its release!

What are you writing these days?
I just finished the editing changes on a picture book called Our Green City, to be released by Kids Can Press in 2022. (So long to wait!) It’s my first real picture book, and I’ve never had so much fun working on a project. It makes me happy every time I open the manuscript.

Can you share one strange, weird, or wonderful thing about you?
I’m very good at finding things. In our house, “nothing’s lost until Mommy can’t find it.” But I’m thinking of denying people my finding abilities, so they stop losing things so darned often!

Do you write regularly, or just when you feel like it?
I try to write for a couple hours every morning. Life sometimes gets in the way, but I do my best.

How do you like editing and revising?
I actually enjoy the editing process. I think of editors as people who are trying to make me sound smarter than I really am.

What question do you wish I had asked?
Do you have a writing group?
I have the best writing group ever: Stacey Matson, Rachelle Delaney, Kallie George, Lori Sherritt-Fleming, Kay Weisman, Sara Gillingham, and Holman Wang. They are wise and funny and I’m sure I would get nothing written without them.

Thanks so much, Tanya 
 
Find out more about Tanya and her work.

Next up: Cathey Nickell 


Some days this is what writing looks like – a pome

 

Some days this is what writing looks like
by L J P

Some days it’s a bloody grind
like shoving a heavy load uphill
without knowing what the view will be like
from the top.

It can be a slow slog, a stagger, a plod
With the occasional moment of free flight
lightening the load
especially when there’s someone to lend
a steady hand, a kind word
or a good shove from behind.

The only way to do it is
step by step bird by bird
one word, phrase, line, scene,
page, chapter, section,
after        the        other
accepting that you might not know
what it will look like when it’s done
but with any luck
if you still give a fuck
it will turn out
okay.

And if all else fails
and the dog’s dinner before you
is something even the dog won’t eat

take a break
take a hike
call a friend, turn the page
wash a floor, iron a shirt

or write a pome.

It can’t hurt.

Revising-cartoon


Author Q & A: Mark David Smith


Mark
Smith teaches children by day, and writes for them by night. He lives in Port Coquitlam, BC with his lovely wife, adorable children, and obnoxious cats.
 He is the author of Caravaggio, Signed in Blood.

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What is the book you most clearly remember from when you were a child?
Gordon Korman’s Bruno and Boots books were hilarious—they always created the kind of mischief I wished I had the guts to try. As an alternative, CS Lewis’s sci-fi Perelandra always stood out for me as creepy, weird and fascinating.

Did you ever write a fan letter to an author? If so, who to, and did they write back?
I never wrote them as a kid, but I’ve written a few now as an adult. My highlight moment came when Ken Follett retweeted me.

How did you learn to write? What is one writing book or website you’d recommend to anyone else wanting to learn?
I like how you use the past tense, as if that learning is over! Ha! I really benefitted from a book on editing called The First Five Pages, by Noah Lukeman. I lent it out once and then was terrified I wouldn’t get it back. From now on, friends, get your own copy!

What is your favourite hobby or activity that has nothing to do with writing or reading?
I really like power tools, especially my pneumatic nailing gun. Unlike writing or teaching, construction yields immediate results. I’ve never been good at delayed gratification!

Who is your favourite kids’ author now?
Well, I’m very partial to Mo Willems’s pigeon, and Kate DiCamillo’s Mercy Watson series is something I can’t get enough of. For older kids, all things Kenneth Oppel will do!

Do you have a new book coming out soon?
Soon is a relative term in the world of writing. I’ll say, “Yes.” By yes, I mean sort of: I have a picture book coming in the fall of 2021, and then in Spring of 2022 the first of a series of beginning chapter book mysteries, both with OwlKids Books.

What are you writing these days?
I’ve just finished editing a YA historical novel that I’m beginning to shop around, and I’m going back into a few stories I’ve had rejected that I would really like to retool. If a story is rejected but I can’t shake it from my mind, that’s a good indication there’s something there. I just haven’t quite found it yet.

Do you write regularly, or just when you feel like it?
Who ever feels like it? It’s a compulsion, really. Everybody needs a vice, and I don’t smoke. But I teach full time, and have three school-aged kids, so this compulsion is managed in fits and starts. My regular is somewhat irregular.

Caravaggio_coverspineback_4_Layout 1How do you like editing and revising?
Like exercise: it feels great when it’s done. But that sounds cynical. The truth is I find it satisfying to take a clunky sentence and streamline it so that it zips, or sings, or dances, or whatever metaphor means “it sounds good.”

Can you share one strange, weird or wonderful thing about you?
That’s tough. Everyone knows what’s strange about a person except that person. Aren’t I completely, 100% normal? (Don’t ask my children. They’re biased.) I know my wife used to hate the fact that I insisted we not dig into the popcorn before the movie started, but she has broken me of this. Now, what’s weird? I really like brushing the dead fur off of my cats—sometimes I get so much it looks like I’m holding a second pet. I could also pull clover from the grass for hours if I’m allowed. Are the two practices are related?

What is the answer to the one question you wished I had asked?
Chocolate. It probably doesn’t matter what the question is. In fact, I’m thinking I should revise all my previous answers now.

Thanks, Mark!

Find out more



Next up: Tanya Lloyd Kyi

If you or a writer you know one would like to be profiled on my blog, please contact me.


Author Q & A: Barbara Renner

US author Barbara Renner has written eight picture books that all contain facts about wildlife and include QR Codes so the animal calls can be heard.

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What is the book you most clearly remember from when you were a child?
I liked to read mysteries, so the books I remember reading as a young girl are the Nancy Drew books by Carolyn Keene. I still have my original collection.

Did you ever write a fan letter to an author? If so, who to, and did they write back?
No, I don’t recall writing a fan letter to an author. If so, it probably would have been to Carolyn Keene. I wanted to be Nancy Drew.

How did you learn to write? What is one writing book or website you’d recommend to anyone else wanting to learn?
The creative writing class in high school and a writing class at Arizona State University were very influential in forming my love for writing. Lately I’ve been watching a lot of webinars. I would recommend books by Ann Whitford Paul and articles by Harold Underdown to learn about the craft of writing picture books.

What is your favourite hobby or activity that has nothing to do with writing or reading?
Walking, hiking, gardening, playing golf, and anything outdoors are the activities I enjoy the most. I also love to travel – anywhere and everywhere.

Who is your favourite author right now?
Just one? To name a few, my favorite authors are Kate DiCamillo, Jane Yolen, Lisa Genova and Erma Bombeck

Do you have a new book coming out soon?
The second book in my Trumpeter Swan series, Summer! Time to Search for Food, will be available this summer. I’m also working on a book about my dog, Larry’s Words of Wisdom. It will be ready by the end of the year.

What are you writing these days?
I’m working on two informational fiction picture books. One book is about two female painted turtles who intuitively feel it’s time to leave their lake and find soft, sandy soil. They encounter several dangerous obstacles, one of which is crossing a busy road. The other book is about a roadrunner who wants to compete in a flying contest with his raptor friends. I also write a weekly blog on my website and am making the final revisions to the Larry’s Words of Wisdom book.

Do you write regularly, or just when you feel like it?
Since I’ve had so much free time lately, I’ve been writing almost every day.

How do you like editing and revising?
Unfortunately, I tend to edit as I write, which is why I haven’t tackled writing a novel . . . yet. After my critique partners give me feedback on my picture book manuscripts, I let them cure for a while, and then I’m ready to revise. Actually, it’s quite exciting to see how the story will change.

Can you share one strange, weird or wonderful thing about you?
I tend to be a little OCD. My spices are alphabetized, and my desk is either in terrible disarray or well organized with papers in folders and trays.

What’s the answer to the one question you wished I had asked?
What are your plans for the near future?
My friend and I are taking a river cruise up the Rhine River in April 2021, and I want to travel to either Scotland or the Scandinavian countries with my adult children next summer.

Thanks, Barbara

Find out more about Barbara Renner
     Check her website
     Find her books through www.indiebound.org.


Next up: Mark David Smith

If you, or a writer you know, would like to be interviewed, please contact me.

 

 

 

 


Author Q & A : Lee Edward Födi


LEE EDWARD 
FÖDI
is an author, illustrator, and specialized arts educator—or, as he likes to think of himself, a daydreaming expert. He lives a creative life in Vancouver, BC, with his wife, Marcie and son, Hiro.

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What is the book you most clearly remember from when you were a child?
I remember The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which our teacher read to us in school—and all of the Oz books. I loved the wonderful art-deco design and illustrations.

Did you ever write a fan letter to an author? If so,  who to, and did they write back?
As someone who teaches creative writing to tweens and teens, I help my students write fan letters all the time. I’m very passionate about this because, when I was a kid, I don’t think I realized that I could possibly connect with an author that way!

How did you learn to write? What is one writing book or website you’d recommend to anyone else wanting to learn?
As a kid, I learned to write from reading. These days, I think it’s still the number-one way I learn to write. I read a lot of books for the age-level (middle-grade) and genre (fantasy-adventure) that I write for. I do also read books about writing; the number-one book I love about creativity is Steal Like an Artist (and the two follow-up books, Show Your Work and Keep Going) by Austin Kleon.

What is your favourite hobby or activity that has nothing to do with writing or reading?
I feel like writing oozes into every crack of my life. I do a lot of drawing and prop-building, but those are all inevitably connected either directly or non-directly to my books. I am a big believer in cross-creativity; all things are connected. Even when I’m riding my bike, it’s good thinking time. I work out a lot of story or plot questions while walking or pedaling.

Who is your favourite author right now?
I have many authors I admire. Terry Pratchett is my all-time favorite, but others include Tony DiTerlizzi, Kate Dicamillo, and Linda Sue Park.

LEF3Do you have a new book coming out soon?
My latest book, The Guardians of Zoone, just came out in March and I have a brand-new title coming out in the Fall of 2021 with HarperCollins. I can’t say the title yet, but it’s about a girl who is failing wizard school.

What are you writing these days?
I’m currently in rewrites for the wizard school book I mentioned above and a spare corner of my brain is working on another, unconnected story about a girl who works for a delivery service in a fantasy world.

Do you write regularly, or just when you feel like it?
I’m writing pretty much every day—whether it’s sitting at my computer, doodling in my sketchbook, building a dragon egg, or staring off into space.

How do you like editing and revising?
Whenever I get an editorial letter from my editor, I have this moment of dread because I know she’s going to really, really push my story—and that means a lot of work. But after I’ve absorbed all the changes, ideas, and suggestions she has provided me with, I’m generally feeling left excited and invigorated to dive back into that world. So, I guess you could say I ultimately like it. Emotional stuff is easier for me—figuring out how characters react and respond. It’s piecing and arranging plot points that I find the most challenging. It’s like putting together a puzzle!

Can you share one strange, weird or wonderful thing about you?
I don’t know if this is wonderful thing, but my students are obsessed with the fact that I hate ketchup. There have been MANY stories written about me facing ketchup, or being poisoned by ketchup (I’m not sure why they think it will poison me), or being drowned in ketchup. In any case, I encourage these stories—when students decide to pick on me in stories, it at least gives them something to write about and it distracts them from picking on each other!

What’s the answer to the one question you wished I had asked? : What is the favourite book you’ve written
The answer: It’s usually the book I’m currently writing or the one that I’m about to write . . . I love the phase of writing a book, when everything is still possible, and all this potential exists. Once the book is printed and released, it has left my creative sphere and then I can no longer play with it!

Thanks, Lee!

Learn more about Lee and his books:
Check out Lee’s website

His books published by Harper Collins
His books published by Simply Read

Lee’s books
The Guardians of Zoone, HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2020
The Secret of Zoone, HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2019

Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen, Simply Read Books, 2015
Kendra Kandlestar and the Crack in Kazah, Simply Read Books, 2014
Kendra Kandlestar and the Shard from Greeve, Simply Read Books, 2014
Kendra Kandlestar and the Door to Unger, Simply Read Books, 2013
Kendra Kandlestar and the Box of Whispers, Simply Read Books, 2013


Next up: Barbara Renner

If you or a children’s author you know would like to be featured, email me for information. 

 


Author Q&A: K.A. Wiggins

 

K.A. Wiggins is a BC writer who writes speculative fiction exploring society, environmental crisis, and identity through intricate, dreamlike tales of monsters and magic.

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Is there a book you most clearly remember from when you were a child?
When I was 5, I spotted a copy of The Hobbit during a move and nagged to read it for two years until I was “old enough.” But I also read The Chronicles of Narnia (all 7!) 3 times a year from age 7-12, so it’s maybe a tie.

Did you ever write a fan letter to an author? If so, who to, and did they write back?
No way, too scary! I prefer watching from a distance and occasionally liking a Tweet or something.

How did you learn to write? What is one writing book or website you’d recommend to anyone else wanting to learn?
I’ve read so many books, I think all the words just kind of sunk in.
I tell the kids in my writing workshops it’s the kind of work where you mostly learn by doing. But for those who like research too, the incredible blog at https://kriswrites.com/(also adapted into several books) is my number one recommendation for both aspiring and pro writers. It has both writing and business-for-authors content.

What is your favourite hobby or activity that has nothing to do with writing or reading?
I love making music, particularly in a band. Rock star would have been my second choice of career—but thankfully writing is more quarantine friendly.

 Who is your favourite author right now?
Louise Penny is utterly brilliant, but in kidlit specifically? Brenna Yovanoff is a perennial fave and I cannot wait for Christelle Dabos’s next book to be translated.

Do you have a new book coming out soon?
I do (finally!)

It’s so new the cover hasn’t even dropped yet, But Black the Tides, book 2 in a YA series set in a post-climate-crisis Vancouver with bonus monsters from folklore & legend, is set for a September release
( . . . and might be bumped up even sooner if all the behind-the-scenes pieces fall into place!)

What are you writing these days?
I’ve been doing a lot of creepy (or in one case, gross-out hilarious) short fiction for magazines and anthologies between novels, but my next release has a doozy of a cliffhanger so I’d better get on writing the sequel or my readers will be hunting me down.

Do you write regularly, or just when you feel like it?
I write when I can find the time, and when I have a project to finish, but not on a daily schedule (I believe in taking breaks, or at least weekends!)

How do you like editing and revising?
NOT a fan of editing and revising, but occasionally it’s inevitable.

Can you share one strange, weird or wonderful thing about you?
I LOVE public speaking—which is super weird to those who know me, and also to all the normal folks who have nightmares about it! The bigger the crowd the better (small groups are stressful!)

Somehow, I’m both a flaming introvert who can happily spend weeks indoors working and also a natural performer and teacher at the same time?

What’s the answer to the one question you wished I had asked?
What’s your number one tip for new and aspiring authors?
I get this all the time in live speaking situations and never manage to spit the right answer out (it’s hard to think and talk at the same time, okay?).

      So here it is: Go create things, go share things, and then move on to the next thing. I 100% struggle with this too, but done is much better than perfect, you learn by trying and FINISHING things, and you build an audience and a career by getting your words OUT into the world. Good luck!

 Read more about the author


Next up: Lee Edward Fodi