When making art is like writing – or vice versa


I’ve not been doing much writing these days – partly sidelined by the various promotional activities related to the Oct 12 release of SHELTER: HOMELESSNESS IN OUR COMMUNITY. Partly because I have discovered watercolours.

I have been dabbling in both sketching and watercolours for the past few years, largely as an alternative to using a written journal when I have been traveling . But in the last few months I have been doing it a lot more. And in the process, I have recognized tendencies and practices that seem to serve me well across both media.

Istanbul, 2019

Less is more. I have always been what I think of as a ‘quick and dirty’ writer. My practise is to write a lot and quickly, and not worry too much about the details. In art it’s the same. I like the broad strokes, at least in the early stages, before I start getting much closer.

Know what I want the reader/viewer to get out of the piece. In writing, for me that means identifying and articulating my central premise / theme / the story or scene goal right off the top. (Sometimes I put the premise line at the top of each page to keep me focussed.) In sketching and painting, it’s about being aware of where I want the reader’s eye to go (‘Focal Point’). I am often amazed at many pieces of new artists’ work give no real idea of what they want the viewer to look at – this applies to photogrpahers, too. I am glad I learned this early.

Lean on mentors. In writing, early on I relied on Gary Provost (Make Your Words Work), Constance Hale (Sin and Syntax), The Art of Narrative by Vancouver Island writer Jack Hodgins, and others, as I found my way. For art, I watch a lot of Ian Roberts’ invaluable and admirably concise video series on composition, British artist Liz Chaderton, and the book Loosen up Your Watercolours by Judi Whitton.

The Seven Sisters from Seaford Head, Sussex

Share what I have learned. I don’t know much about art yet. But if someone admires something about a piece, or is curious about it, I will gladly tell them why I did it that way, and how.

Write / sketch or paint first. Edit and add detail later. I love a good first draft – that heady moment when I look at something and really discover what I am working with and how I might continue. It’s a pretty neat moment in art when I see the first marks or washes on the page. So many ways to go! But not too soon!

Sissinghurst, Kent 2021

Do it a lot. I’m a pretty immersive learner. Although right now I call what I do with paint and pencil ‘dabbling’ – as much for the watercolour analogy as anything – I am actually working on it nearly every day for as much as two to three hours. I did pretty much the same when I was writing. Word is that it takes a million words to attain mastery at writing. I wonder how many of my 10-minute watercolour ‘jobbies’ will it take to get anywhere close with art.

Study the work of others. Reading and analysing what’s on the page and how the writer achieved it is one of the best ways for writers to learn their craft. I recently discovered Dan Scott’s Draw Paint Academy where he offfers courses and shows the progress on individual pieces of his own work, and also analyses the work of the great artists. I find I am learning a lot about composition, colour, light, and values from them.

Mimicking David Hockney 2021

Finding the best tools takes time – and in the case of art, even more money. I have spent hours standing in front of displays of notebooks and pens – in an agonized search for the right ones. For art there are even more tools to spend time – and much more money – on. Watercolour paints and pencils comes in many forms, qualities and colours. Paper is a very personal choice – I prefer to work on 5.5 x 8.5 spiral pads of mix media or cold press watercolour paper. But I will keep buying and trying different ones – and the rate I am going I need lots of it!

‘Estuary’ Sept 9, 2021

Process over product. I don’t worry about ‘getting it right’ or being ‘good’. I am always more excited – both in writing and watercolour sketching – on practising the craft than worrying about the outcome – yet.

Always return to ‘Beginner’s mind’. I try to be open to new ways of doing things, new topics and themes all the time… even though no story I have ever written included ‘kitties’, and they are not likely to be a subject of my watercolour sketches. any time soon.

Beach Visit 2020


And another month goes by…


I am not much farther along than I was last month, although I can feel the heat of the fire that someone needs to light under me.

The release of my new book is just over a month away. Already I made a short intro video for United Library Service reps to use as they promote my book, and agreed to do a Schools Presentation for Vancouver’s Readers and Writers Festival and perhaps talk to the media about the book in relation to the presentation. And I am working with fellow author Jacquie Pearce – whose own book What Aniamls Want: The Five Freedoms’ comes out the same day as mine – to create a series of three short videos ‘She Said / She Said’ in which we interview each other about our books. Oh – and I am also working on a book trailer for my own book, which you will see here first.

The next thing to do is to pin down just how and where to do a book launch. I am hoping it will be hosted by the First Unitarian Fellowship of Nanaimo as 25% the the author roylaties from the book will go to the Unitarian Shelter they oversee, and I am a member of that supportive and loving community.

Problem is – How? In person with limited numbers? On Zoom? Where? In person at the Fellowship Hall or by Zoom? I am hoping that Nanaimo’s Windowseat Books will be the launch bookselller, and that I can pitch the launch to both Fellowship members, my writing freinds and peers, family and anyone interested in the issue of homelessness.

It’s a lot to get my head around given the shifting circustmances of COVID. And more and more it’s looking like this will be an online event. But I must ‘get my finger out’ and make some decisions.

But whatever else I decide and how I plan to do it, I do hope my writing mojo will come back. My creative energies have recently been directed into sketching and watercolours… and I just don’t seem to have the urge to do much with words on paper, right now. Possibly because the whole process of promotion and making ‘art’ uses completely different parts of my brain than writing.

An early ‘dabble’. One of my favourite views in the world. The Seven Sisters, from Seaford Head, Sussex, UK.


It’s been a while

COVID – and life – seems to have upended all my routines and messed with my goals in recent months. But I have managed to plod on, word by word, line by line, and have especially enjoyed the magic of dipping in and out of picture book stories – older ones languishing in my files, and a few new ones. And I even have a few out on submission now.

But the past week or so I have been preoccupied with the intracies of iMovie and Zoom’s recording function as I struggle to put together a couple of videos and book trailers to help promote my forthcoming book.

All the technology is there. But my tolerance for and patience with it is diminishing. Even a recent update on this platform has got me frustrated and confused. Which could explain my recent blog silence.

But I will keep at it. And soon, I hope, be able to post a clip or two of a conversation with another writer whose latest book releases on the same day as mine, and a trailer for mine. Meanwhile, stay tuned for that, as well as details as events and activities around the Oct. release and book launch for SHELTER: HOMELESSNESS IN OUR COMMUNITY.

And perhaps, if I’m lucky, I might even some good news about one of those pieces drifting out there in the publishing ether.


Committed to picture books


Since January I have been committed exclusively to picture books. Reading them. Critiquing them. Studying them. Writing them. I plan to keep it up until December 31 at least, hoping that this might be THE year that I can sell one.

Picture books are the equivalent to poetry in my mind. Good ones engage, enlighten, entertain and have the power – when done well – to be ‘about more than they’re about’. Leaving the reader or listener with more than they are aware of, something that stays with them.

Thinking about this today, I was reminded of something that happened on April 20, 1995. Almost 26 years ago.

I had been teaching weekly creative writing classes to inmates at a medium/maximum security prison in BC’s Fraser Valley. Some men showed up every week because they were interested in writing. Most, because the class was the best option when there was nothing else to do.

As I prepared for class that day, I knew I had to come up with something particularly engaging. The day before, the Oklahoma Bombing had occurred, killing 168 people, including 19 children, with many more injured.

I wanted to head off any discussion – which was very likely to arise – about the crime, the penal system and the need for anarchy. Something I discouraged as these topics often arose as writing subjects and topics for general discussion.

Corrections Canada Matsqui Institution


That day, some instinct made me reach for something I had never done before. I pulled every picture book I could find from my own shelves and made a run to the library for another handful.

I began the class that afternoon with what I told the students I did regularly in the library where I worked – a storytime. I may have read them In The Night Kitchen. Or The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Most men there looked bored, lit cigarettes, tipped their chairs back against the wall and talked amongst themselves. But a few listened.

Then I talked very briefly about some of the qualities of picture books, and fanned my selections out across the table and invited them to take a look.


It took a while. But soon, even those who had been bored earlier were engaged. Picking one up book after another, reading it to themselves or to a neighbour. One man reminisced about his memories of his childhood ‘library storytime lady.’ Another described how his grandfather had bought him a subscription to a series of Disney books, of which he received one a month through the mail. Another mentioned reading picture books to his estranged son. Their voices softened. Their stance shifted.

Soon everyone was poring over the books, passing them around, reading entire stories aloud to themselves or each other, laughing, joking, competing for books they recognized or wanted to explore for the first time.

I didn’t teach anything else that day. Instead, I sat back and watched and listened, relishing the sight of these men whose experiences I could hardly imagine and whose crimes I knew little about, returning to gentler times for just a short while, though the magic of picture books.


Red letter day: Cover Reveal

 

There are a number of significant dates in the journey of a book from idea to publication.

1. The contact is signed…. In this case April, 2019. (This after pitching the book in fall 2018).

2. The manuscript is delivered.
(Jan 2020).

3. The publisher and author sign off on the final version of the MS.  (Fall 2020)

4. The cover reveal. And here it is!

 

Back and front covers

Thanks to Toronto illustrator Taryn Gee, who did not only do the cover image, but also contributes illustrations that accompany the text – which will also includes a number of photos as well – a few of which are my own.

I could not be more excited or proud of this book, which is due out October 2021, and can be pre-ordered through Orca Book Publishers’ website and on Amazon and other online sites.

Who knows what the landscape will look like next fall, but wouldn’t it be great if it were possible to plan an in-person launch!

Especially if I can combine it with the launch of fellow BC writer Jacquie Pearce’s book in the same series What Animals Want: The Five Freedoms in Action.


Word by Word


Hard as it may be to believe, not every writer is as enamoured of words as I am. I love the sound, shape and taste of them (yes, many seem to actually have a taste to them!)

Many writers love concepts and ideas, are great storytellers, create engaging characters, explore signifianct themes and subjects and develop interesting plots. But not everyone is keen to get down, dig deep and pick over each word, making sure it’s doing the job it’s there to do, conveying the idea most clearly, helping define the tone and pace of the piece.

I learned to love wordsmithing from reading works by Dickens, Rumer Godden, Hemingway, Margaret Wise Brown, Rudyard Kipling, Karma Wilson, Dr. Seuss. William Mayne, Anthony Doer, Dylan Thomas, Maya Angelou, Anne Kenyon, Mary Oliver… From hearing my father read aloud, and a high school teacher reciting Chaucer in Middle English, from animated children’s storytime readers and adult storytellers, from lyricists and poets, bible-thumping minsters and political orators, children and elders, and everyone whose work I have read or heard.

The writing teacher and author Gary Provost explored many elements of language in his book Make Your Words Work; his classic piece ‘This Sentence Has Five Words’ is always worth revisiting. Oregon editor and writing instructor Elizabeth Lyon digs deep into diction and syntax in many of her writing books. A new book I recently discovered Elements of Eloquence: Secrets of the Perfect Turn of Phrase by Mark Forsythe takes words, language and its meanings seriously. And in a recent presentation called ‘Sound, Sense and Shape – The Work of Our Words’ author Sutta Crum provided a highly engaging and useful look at the power of words to shape meaning and tone.

In my opinion, every word counts. And every time I come across a wonderful piece of writing, or a teacher who makes the point eloquently by sharing examples along with their own passion for language, I am reminded once again to slow down and look closer at every word I commit to the page.

Edited to add the link to this useful presentation by Pat Zeitlow Miller – ‘When Less is More’.


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.

IMG_1862


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.

biceps 2

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.

Snip20201024_4

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.

knot-6775607

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:

Nano1

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.

DSCN1269

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.

IMG_1107

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