Spring and fall are the choice times to schedule school book talks. The weather is more predictable for longer commutes, which means fewer snow days and cancellations. By this time of the school year — June — students are longing for summer. Classes take on a more celebratory tone with outdoor poetry lessons, strolls around the neighbourhood, and large-scale art projects, such as painting murals for graduation ceremonies. Fall marks the start of the school year and is a-buzz with enthusiasm, planning, and bountiful ideas for an exciting year ahead. Whatever the season, you can bet an author in your region will be happy to accept a booking to speak to students about the writing process, the challenges and successes of the writing life, and how they got into this rewarding but tumultuous biz in the first place. Subsidies are available under various schemes, as are customized talks tailored to your needs, so don’t hesitate to inquire.
I had the great pleasure of presenting book talks to two eastern Ontario schools last week. Focusing on my book Dazzling Women Designers I showed kids how strong role models can help shake up stereotypes and open up a wide range of career choices for everyone, regardless of whether they are female or male. We have so much to learn from successful, kind-hearted, hard-working people who give back to their communities in admirable ways.
Some highlights of the talk included playing the “pink hat game” with the kids — a game that gave students a chance to examine designed objects and consider their qualities. We talked about what makes a winning design and the importance of function in design. Objects can’t just look good; they have to work well, too, to get the thumbs up. We focused on three designers: Jane Jacobs, Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, and Ritu Kumar. Environment-friendly design characterized the first two, while the third is instrumental in helping rural communities achieve sustainability by restoring their livelihoods. (Oh, and yes, there are links to the Science & Technology curriculum.) Students in grades 3 to 8, or 4 to 7, were keen to participate, handle real designed objects, answer questions, and offer their own ideas. By the end of the presentation, students had a deeper understanding of how design impacts our world. The talks wrapped up with questions posed by the students and teachers, mainly dealing with the publishing process.
I’d like to extend my gratitude to the principals and teachers for inviting me to speak to their students. It was a wonderful opportunity. Children — with their positive attitude, joy, and exuberance — are a great inspiration to us adults in so many beautiful ways. I take my (pink) hat off to children, and say: Kids rule!!!!
Keep reading, keep writing, and keep celebrating the rich community of readers and writers all around.
Until next time,
PS: As noted in my last blog post, Second Story Press has set the pub date for Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs ($10.95) at September 16th. I expect to have a cover image to share with you soon. Also, the amazing Nicole Robertson, media specialist, will be issuing a press release detailing her involvement in this project as one of the ten entrepreneurs featured. The “2013 Kids’ Preview” article by Dory Cerny, Laura Godfrey, and Stuart Woods in the June issue of Quill & Quire includes a mention of Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs in the Non-Fiction section, which was lovely to see. You can see it on the Quill blog by clicking here. (Note: Yikes! There is a cover image shown there, but it is not final!)
PPSS: Young Kingston’s June 15th event in Picton, Ontario at Books & Company has been cancelled; other plans are in the works.Read More »
Hello, friends. I have a date! The publishing date for Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs is September 16, 2013. After that date, you can find, or ask for, this title at your favourite local bookshop. It is possible to pre-order the book now. It is still early days in the production process, so I don’t yet have a cover to share. Keep checking in, though, because I expect to have a cover design in the next few weeks.
In the meantime, I’ll be planning some publicity events. Young Kingston has a upcoming event in Picton, Ontario at Books & Company. This gorgeous and spacious bookstore, in the heart of Prince Edward County, is a favourite spot for locals, book lovers, and tourists. There, on June 15 at 2:00, I’ll be talking about Dazzling Women Designers, also in The Women’s Hall of Fame Series. Young Kingston members will be there from 1:00 until 3:30 p.m. talking about one or two of their books. The full line-up includes Mary Alice Downie, Ann-Maureen Owens, Y.S. Lee, and Christine Fader. The diversity of our group means we can target children and youths from ages 5 to 15+.
If you are a teacher and your school is within driving distance, please contact me about book talks. I have space available this spring for book talks and also in the fall. Please enquire if you would like a customized book talk, or if you have any questions about presentations. Some information is available here on my website, and also on my webpage of The Writers’ Union of Canada at this link.
F.Y.I.: My website was acting up this month and was becoming rather sluggish. This seems to be due to the large number of images. I may have to scale back on the number of images I use in future blogs, which is unfortunate. I will keep experimenting, however, and will try to find a way to retain the photo format. As a quick fix, I’ve de-activated the blog scroller at the bottom of the home page. If you experience any problems viewing my website, please let me know. I am hopeful now that this problem is behind me!
Until next time!Read More »
I’m not a playwright.
I finished writing a play this week. A play? Yeah, I know. I’m not a playwright, or didn’t used to be.
I’m not sure if completing a draft of a play makes me a playwright or not. Of course, it took me years to accept that I was a real author, too. It’s that old insecurity complex that plagues authors, young and old, experienced and inexperienced alike.
I took a playwriting/screenwriting course last spring. On my first day, I told the group:
Writing fiction terrifies me.
I’ve always loved reading it, admiring it, and promoting it, but do I view myself as a fiction writer? No. But in this hands-on workshop we had to write a play. Well, at least the beginnings of a play. After meeting once a week, for six weeks, we either read a portion of our play aloud or, better, had friends come and act out a ten-minute segment. I opted for the latter. I invited some actor friends and their son to come and act out a couple scenes. The play I was working on was suitable for families. It featured three siblings, a mother, a father, and an uncle. It was amazing to see the story come to life on stage. I know that sounds clichéed, but it really was a worthwhile part of the process. It helped me see and hear which parts worked and which parts didn’t. After I knew which lines to rewrite, shorten, or expand upon. It made me think more about the logistics. Does it makes sense to have a set change after just one scene? Which props will have to be mimed? The stones. And which ones can be real? The doll.
Then, a year later, I had some time. I opened up the file and read it over. I looked at my notes, scribbled down some more and did some more research. Then, I pushed myself to devise a plot — something very new to me. The hardest part — which I see more clearly now — was getting started and making a commitment to focus on it and try to finish it. Once I’d done that, however, the process wasn’t as terribly scary as I thought it would be. It was a challenge to work out the plot, but I decided I should get more lines down on paper, and see where that took the story. And so, I wrote another page or so. Then I looked at what I’d written and asked, “Now how can I get from A to B?” It was never obvious. Sometimes I took a break and mulled over the conundrum while doing other things. Then, I wrote some more. I knew it still wasn’t quite right; I had more loose ends to tie up. I continued writing and thinking, and writing some more. In the end, I finished it. Setting a personal goal and exercising determination helped me create characters, build a setting, and unravel the plot. Much of the process was a lot of fun. I felt productive while writing and pleased with the way it was developing. I proved to myself that I could do it. And I discovered that I enjoy writing dialogue; I like making up scenes.
It was fun.
This week is Canadian Children’s Book Week. Last year, during this special week, I had a lot going on in the community. You can read about it in a previous blog posting here. It’s lovely to have a week that honours the wonderful home-grown talent we have. I hope you’ll read some wonderful Canadian children’s books, stop by your library and see the book displays. Check out the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s website: here.
Writing is hard. Writing a book, poem, graphic novel, or play, which is accepted, published, reviewed, shared, and read, is deeply rewarding. I think what this quiet, writing-focused week has shown me as a children’s author is that it is important to continue to challenge oneself artistically in order to develop as a writer. Who knows where this path will lead?
The notion of continually challenging oneself reminds me of The Little Engine That Could: “I think I can, I think I can. I think I can.”
If you are passionate about being a writer and are willing to work hard, you can succeed.
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Work-life balance. Have you got it? Do you want it? Adrienne Montgomerie, an accomplished editor and member of Dameditors, posted a comment about what she calls “work-work-life balance.” She made a point of stating that this was not a typo. I felt compelled to weigh in. After all, three of the ten women profiled in Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs refute the work-life balance paradigm. During my phone interview with the dynamic and highly successful Sue Chen, CEO of Nova Medical Products in California, Sue admitted that at one point she searched online at Amazon.com for books about work-life balance. Sue was amazed at the results that she said numbered in the high thousands. (I tried and came up with 13,755 books.) Sue explained this hefty number saying, “No one’s figured out you just can’t do it!” So, is work-life balance an unachievable — indeed impossible — ideal? In Sue’s case, her response is, “just throw that out the window! Don’t try to achieve this work-life balance.” Instead, Sue Chen happily immerses herself in a chaotic stream of day-to-day duties. Life is always busy, her office is often messy, but tasks get completed and business is thriving. Somehow, amidst the chaos that she willingly embraces, Sue always looks glamorous and pulled together. She even squeezes in regular pedicures and lunch dates with friends. In fact, when I spoke with her she was looking forward to lunch with O.P.I.’s Suzi Weiss-Fischmann. Hmmm, a lunch date with a friend? Regular pedicures? I think I detect some luscious “life” creeping into her work-centred existence. That’s a good thing, of course.
Award-winning businessperson Kelsey Ramsden (CEO of Belvedere Place Development and founder of SparkPlay) acknowledges and appreciates the personal sacrifices working parents often make. About the notion that some successful women — namely entrepreneurial mothers — have it all, Kelsey says “that doesn’t exist! It’s a pipe dream.” Like Sue Chen, Kelsey says she’s “satisfied and happy with both parts of her life, but they’re never balanced. In any given moment, one requires more attention than the other.” OK, that makes sense to me.
In a video for the Makers series (produced by PBS and AOL), Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook is famously quoted saying: “So there’s no such thing as work-life balance. There’s work, and there’s life, and there’s no balance.” I love that. Sheryl has a knack for delivering wonderfully pithy, high-impact comments. It’s no wonder her words resonate with many women. Indeed, we all look to leaders, high-profile executives, and daring entrepreneurs — our role models — for guidance on how to make it all work. We want to have our cake and eat it too, but something’s gotta give.
I don’t work 60-hour weeks, but, even so, I find life gets awfully busy. I thrive off the state of being busy, however, and try to carve out personal and family time. When the going gets tough, I listen to music and take lots of hot baths. My house gets messy, papers pile up, and laundry begs to be sorted; but three times a week — rain or shine, tired or energetic, in the face of a looming deadline or not — I walk to the pool for a swim workout. I swear that the lure of the water, and this well-established routine, helps keep me sane and makes me more productive. Sometimes I focus on my stroke; other times, however, I let my mind wander and “write” in my head. How could I better express that paragraph I was wrestling with today? What am I really trying to say? How can I best connect with my readers on this issue? It’s so satisfying to have those “aha” moments in the pool, while out walking, or during life-enforced “breaks.” I understand the value of breaks. They refresh and invigorate. They restore.
It often feels like every day is a push-pull between work and life. Most days, it feels like work is winning and Adrienne Montgomerie’s “work-work-life balance” rings true. If you are passionate about your work then this isn’t so terrible. Exercise some patience. Then, on another day, in another moment, a lovely shift takes place. “Life” is the focus in all its splendour, its ups and downs, its strong emotions, its heightened “moments of being.” At that point, work slides silently into the background and life pushes to the fore. Life-LIFE balance takes over. “Live in the moment.” “Seize the day.” (Carpe diem.) We all need to eke out some peace in our busy lives. Out of those peaceful moments come great ideas.
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Mmmmm. This is a celebratory apple pie that I baked. That’s A – P – P – L – E. My (almost) six-year-old helper put the letters on top. Thank you, Noah!
First, I’m very sorry for the delay in blogging. I’ve had too much going on. Ai-ya, where do I begin?
I submitted my latest book manuscript to the publisher in February — ten days early! It was an amazingly intense, but infinitely gratifying, researching and writing process. I was feeling pretty darn pleased with the final draft. I was even more pleased as I began to receive bits of very positive feedback from the publishing house.
I have a title. My book, which profiles ten female entrepreneurs, from different countries, different times, and working in different fields, will be called Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs. The series’ name is The Women’s Hall of Fame series, and the publisher is Second Story Press in Toronto, Canada. It was challenging to find a title that worked with the press’s established alliterative pattern of Adjective + Female/Women + Descriptor [field]. The obvious choices of “Extraordinary” and “Exceptional” had already been used for previous books in the same series. Though I scoured the dictionary and flipped through the entire “E” section of my humongous Random House Dictionary of the English Language, I couldn’t find many words that had quite the right meaning. We mulled over “Excellent,” “Eminent,” “Enlightened,” and “Exemplary,” but, in the end, credit goes to the publisher herself for crafting the title as it now stands. I like it. I think it has a good balance. I admire the way “Phenomenal” and “Entrepreneurs” are equally long, look good on the page (which I think is really important), and have some heft to them. The managing editor said she likes the ring of the title. It’s true. It does have a ring to it.
And then, it got even crazier . . .
No sooner had I submitted my manuscript — no, wait — before I had even submitted my manuscript, I received an email asking if I was available to work on an editorial project. I wasn’t quite available and had heaps of papers all over my desk as I fine-tuned the final draft of Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs. But like the intrepid freelancer I am (and most of us are), I gulped, said “yes,” and jumped in. That’s what I’ve been doing since mid-February. The hours have been crazy, the work stimulating and interesting with a great balance of research, thinking, and writing. But best of all, I have to say, is to get a contract like this after taking 15 weeks off to write a book. Yes, day jobs are worth their weight in gold. I love writing books, but editorial work helps make it affordable to do so, and, thank goodness, I really enjoy the editorial work, too.
Drop me a line if there’s something you’d like me to write about on this blog. Apparently a lot of people are reading it lately and I thank you for visiting. I appreciate your feedback and thank you for your interest in my books!Read More »
With Family Literacy Day falling on January 27th this year, families across Canada have been celebrating with much hoopla. Elementary schools make a weekly event of this special day, promoting reading and books, and often hosting in-school contests, including dressing up like a favourite book character — fun! Curl up with a book for 15 or 20 minutes a day. You know you won’t regret it. I’d like to remind readers to check out the 49th Shelf’s Read Local: The 100 Mile Book Diet. By supporting authors in your own community, you will make writers smile, and smile, and smile.
The Canadian Children’s Book Centre is a great place to visit (virtually or in person) to learn more about books for children and young adults. I also love promoting the Ontario Library Association Forest of Reading Program every year. Some schools and libraries have Forest of Reading groups and purchase sets of books. The books listed are always of very high calabre, so it’s also handy for making a shopping list. The Toronto Public Library has created its own list of the One Hundred Best Canadian Books for Children. Which books do you recognize? Which other titles would you add? I think I’ve read 25 of the 100, so I have some catching up to do.
And now — drum roll — the inspiration for today’s blog is a composition written by an eloquent elementary student. Her piece, below, expresses beautifully the joys that reading brings to our lives. Thank you to Isobel for inspiring us all to turn to delicious, delectable books much more often.
Why I Love to Read
This is why I love to read. I love to read because if you feel sad, mad, or annoyed, when you start to read a good book, you forget all your feelings. It’s like looking through a window. In books like Lemony Snicket, Harry Potter, The Hobbit, or The Lord of the Rings, you fall through that window, and you can see orcs, wizards, hobbits and dwarves, and elves yelling in battle all around you. It is a feeling you do not get from watching a movie.
Books in shop windows are like ice cream beckoning to you to take a taste. Some people are reluctant to start new books and others jump right in. Books are like chocolate — some with cherries inside, and some with toads inside. Reading is a time to relax.
by Isobel, grade 4Read More »
One morning last week, I felt compelled to look for an necklace from my childhood that I still have. It’s a piece of Aboriginal jewellery–a yellow, red, and blue beaded necklace. I found it and put it on. I wore it all day and thought about Idle No More, First Nations communities, and Nicole Robertson. This evening I heard on CBC Radio that Chief Theresa Spence will end her hunger strike, and has signed a 13-point declaration. See this breaking news story here.
In November and December, I had the honour and privilege of interviewing Nicole Robertson for my upcoming book about women entrepreneurs. Like the other books in the Women’s Hall of Fame series by Second Story Press — two others of which I’ve written — this new title will feature profiles of ten women who are excellent role models for children, especially girls. The series targets children ages 9 to 13.) Nicole is a Media Specialist and President of Muskwa Productions & Consulting in Calgary, Alberta. She’s a Rocky Cree from Sandy Bay in north-eastern Saskatchewan, but she now resides at the Tsuu T’Ina [soot-tenna] Nation, just outside Calgary.
Nicole is devoted to spreading good news stories about Aboriginal peoples. She is well connected with the media and this puts her in a great position to notify mainstream media about positive and inspiring stories about indigenous people. She also makes videos that educate non-Aboriginals about First Nations culture. I just love this whole idea of being a messenger of good news stories for the media. What a welcome change!
In the last six weeks, the Idle No More movement and Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike have brought Aboriginal issues into the spotlight. Concerns about poverty and the destruction of the environment are central in the movement. When I visited the remote Inuit community of Nain, Labrador, two years ago, I felt like I was in a far-away foreign country. The living conditions were closer to developing countries than they were to what I previously associated with Canadian communities. There was tremendous beauty in the land and most Aboriginal people feel this connection strongly. It’s part of their culture and something they revere.
What’s clear to me is that something HAS to change. It is not right that a disproportionate number of Aboriginal people live in poverty. How can we turn our backs to this and pretend it’s not our problem?
I think non-Aboriginals have much to learn from indigenous people. Consider the value in inviting a full-of-attitude tween to sit quietly with an elder in the community, listening to stories that the elder chooses to share, or meditating silently. This deep respect for elders is lacking in non-Aboriginal culture, and we are missing out! Our elders possess great wisdom, gained from years of living and experiencing life. Young people can learn a lot from the elders in our society, and yes, we can learn a lot from young people, too.
Let’s stop the racism and embrace the positive changes that are underway, at last.
You can read more about Nicole Robertson and other fantastic women in my fall 2013 book, Enterprising Women Entrepreneurs (working title).
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Here’s a great way to give back to your community by hiring an author to visit your school! The Writers’ Union of Canada will subsidize author visits, which makes this a win-win situation for your school and local authors. Yes, I would love to visit your school. Visit my Book Talk page to learn more about my talks. See also my page on The Writers’ Union of Canada website.
There is funding available for reading programs, beginning March 31, 2013.
The Writers’ Union of Canada pays the author a $250 honorarium per full (solo) reading or a $125 honorarium per half (joint) reading. Also available is up to $300 in travel expenses per reading. The host school must provide the author’s accommodation (if necessary) and meals.
See guidelines listed here.
OAC Writers-in-the-Schools Program
Every Ontario elementary and secondary school is eligible for one funded reading from April 1 to March 31.
For more information click here.
Note: Requests for funding must come from the school. Funding is provided on a first-come, first-served basis.Read More »
I was reading the December 2012 issue of Quill & Quire and saw a quote by Howard White that resonated with me. In responding to a question about the future of Canadian publishing, he says, “…we need to keep the faith.” Then he raises the glass of water analogy: “I think one of the most damaging things that’s happening to publishing right now — and to writing — is that people are looking at the empty half of the glass.” I’m going to keep this analogy in mind over the next while and consciously try to talk more positively about the book biz. Why not?! A prolific children’s writer recently stressed the importance of celebrating the good things: a new book contract, a cheque from Access Copyright (yay! Just got this!), a royalty cheque that is bigger than expected, a request to speak at a writers’ festival, a glowing comment from a reader, a booking at a local school for a book talk. These are not events that happen every day, or even every month — but when they do happen, take note, smell those roses and take the time to do something special to celebrate the success.
I’d like to raise my half-FULL glass of water to all the Canadian publishers, editors, authors, designers, publicists, and marketing staff who create the beautiful landscape that is Canadian literature. Thank you for all the hard work you do to give readers so many rich experiences with painstakingly crafted content. And for the rest of you, my advice of the day is: hug your children, read books, and buy some made-in-Canada books for the fast-approaching holiday season.
Psst! My personal celebration this week is that I’ve completed drafts for four out of ten profiles for my upcoming Women’s Hall of Fame book. It will be the last book in this important series. The release day is early fall 2013. Hurray!!!!!!
Other news is that the National Reading Campaign has some great Twitter-based contests for kids and adults. Check it out. And, in case you’re wondering, I’m not on Twitter. I don’t know if I should add the word “yet” to that sentence.
Until next time…Read More »
My apologies for the lag in blog postings. I’ve been researching and writing my next book–yay!–which will be released by Second Story Press in early fall 2013. I feel so good being in writing mode, but there is this deadline looming over my head, adding some time pressure to my life.
I may be a bit lackadaisical about blogging over the next few months. Multi-tasking while writing a book is not my forte. It’s one of those all-consuming projects that demands full attention and makes for lots of late nights. Currently, my home office is filled with stacks of library books from two different libraries–the public library and the university library.
Tomorrow, however, I’m taking a day off to attend The Writers’ Union of Canada workshop “How to Be Your Own Publicist” by Ann Douglas, Elizabeth Ruth, and Kelly Duffin. It will be so valuable to learn about social networking and blogging and all that through these talented and accomplished women. I’m especially looking forward to seeing Ann Douglas who I first met when I was a children’s book editor working in-house in Toronto. Ann is the creator of the blog Having-a-baby.com and is well-known for The Mother of All Books series. I’ll have to report back as to which local writers attend the workshop.
I have some homework to prepare for the workshop, which I haven’t even looked at yet. For now, it’s back to my research!
Cheerio!Read More »