Tag Archives: Canadian Writers

Embracing Your Discomfort Zone

Embracing Your Discomfort Zone

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.

Keep writing.


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That Glass of Water — Lookin’ Good

That Glass of Water — Lookin’ Good

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…

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EMWF — Yes, Yes, Yes!

EMWF — Yes, Yes, Yes!

I could barely contain my excitement about participating in the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival 2012. Some may vouch, in fact, that I did not contain my excitement, but rather it bubbled forth at every opportunity for self-expression. The festival goers were numerous and engaged. The weather was perfect. We, the authors, enjoyed delicious meals in beautiful settings in the scenic hamlet of Eden Mills. There was a wonderful literary vibe in the early autumn air.

Highlights included meeting and chatting with authors Helaine Becker, Lizann Flatt, Susan Hughes, Deb Loughead, and Donna Morrissey. I also was pleased as punch to shake hands with Alistair MacLeod and to extend gratitude to Leon Rooke, the festival’s founder and former resident of Eden Mills. It was lovely to reconnect with fellow Second Story author and illustrator Janet Wilson, illustrator Linda Hendry, and to meet Susan Glickman who is also a Second Story author (the Lunch Bunch series). And, of course, I loved seeing all the familiar faces in the village and getting caught up with friends.

I left with a huge grin on my face and lots of inspiration to write, write…


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Bye-Bye, KNOW and YES Mag

Bye-Bye, KNOW and YES Mag

On Jan. 26, 2012, it was confirmed that Mad Science, owner of Victoria-based Peter Piper Publishing, would be shutting down both KNOW and YES Mag. The news came as a shock to the six employees, support staff, and freelance contributors most of whom were told to cease working immediately.

Issue 37: Exploring Caves, published in January, marked KNOW‘s 6th birthday. KNOW was awarded 2011 Winner, Best Series & 2008 Winner, as well as Best Column by the Association of Educational Publishers. It was also recommended in 2011 by the Parents’ Choice Awards.

Adrienne Mason, the “mother of KNOW” — along with publisher David Garrison and editor-in-chief Shannon Hunt — helped launch the magazine and lead it to success as its managing editor for six years. I took over as managing editor in September 2011. It was my dream job, so the closure’s been very upsetting.

My heart goes out to the children who subscribed and won’t receive any more issues in the mail. Sadly for me, professionally, only one issue was printed with my name in the masthead as managing editor, though I contributed many articles over the life of the magazine. The March/April issue was one week away from being sent to the printer. I was proud of that issue, which featured a popular character from a children’s picture book and had some wonderful articles. Sam Logan did a superb job on this issue’s design. The May/June issue had been fully planned and assigned. Most of the articles had been submitted and illustrators were just about to start drawing.

YES Mag received accolades from the Association of Educational Publishers in 2009 as Periodical of the Year. Jude Isabella took over as managing editor about ten years ago. She did a wonderful job in developing ideas with high appeal for children ages 10 to 15. The last few issues were managed by the talented Matt J. Simmons (who also co-managed KNOW issues 35 and 36), while Jude was on leave to pursue writing projects. My own children subscribed to YES Mag, having outgrown KNOW. They loved the content, which was intelligent, thought-provoking, and stimulating.

David Garrison and Shannon Hunt started YES Mag in their basement about 16 years ago. Wanting to fill a gap in the market and turn kids onto science with high-quality, accurately researched science articles, these creative and science-savvy entrepreneurs worked tirelessly to build a base of subscribers across Canada, into the U.S., and beyond. Tapping into Canada’s rich and talented community of science writers for children and children’s illustrators, the couple forged long-lasting relationships with a number of regular contributors. In turn, the creative community enjoyed regular paying gigs for assignments that were stimulating, fun, and challenging. In his role as publisher, David Garrison was fair-minded, pleasant-mannered, and generous (certainly as generous as shoestring budgets would allow). Shannon Hunt’s keen eye and top-notch copy editing skills ensured that issues went error-free to the printer. Bill Slavin, Mike Cope, and Glen Mullaly illustrated for the magazines on a bi-monthly basis for many years.

The loss of these two high-quality, highly respected children’s magazines will be felt for a long time. Not only have these magazines served to promote the work of children’s nonfiction/science writers, but they have helped writers hone their skills and write entertaining, engaging, factually accurate science articles for specific age ranges of children — not an easy feat.

As a freelancer, writing assignments for KNOW used to fill a gap between other contracts. Now that KNOW and YES Mag are gone, this stop-gap is gone, and with it a little more of the confidence remaining in Canada’s artistic community.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve received an overwhelming number of emails from writers and illustrators, including former, longtime KNOW Editor Adrienne Mason; Contributing Editors Ken Hewitt-White; Philip Currie; Eva Koppelhus; freelance writers Megan Kopp, Helaine Becker, Gillian Richardson, Cora Lee, Stephen Aitken, and Claire Eamer; illustrators Bill Slavin, Patricia Storms, Mike Cope, Glen Mullaly, and Howie Woo — and many more. I feel honoured to have been able to be a part of the team at KNOW. I enjoyed every day on the job.

You can read more about the closure of KNOW and YES Mag at Adrienne Mason’s blog and Glen Mullaly’s blog here.

Sometime soon, I’ll try to post some of the articles I’ve written for KNOW on the main pages of my website.

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