Saturday, September 6, 2014

Keys to being a successful writer

There's a lot of talk on the internet about how to become a successful writer. Nothing new here: butt-in-chair time, steely determination and persistence, ongoing craft development, and a social media presence are some of the elements needed.

But I'm going to tell you the other things you need to become a successful writer:

1) Warm socks and a cup of tea. Because let's face it, if you're toes are cold then nothing is going to get written and if you're parched it will be hard to summon up any empathy for your protag;

2) an editor that will shred your prose with razor sharp acuity;
But Stubby I liked that adverb! 

3) A second editor that will make you work through distractions and force you to see through the cat hair to the essence of your story;
Get off the key board Sprite 

4) Licorice. Just because it's licorice;

5) The other essential food group for writers and lots of it;

6) A little irony to throw at the life of a writer; and

I like my irony with a side of cheese!
7) great, supportive writing friends to share the irony of the writing life!

Raise a glass of irony to a supportive writing community! 

I've certainly found a supportive writing community here through the Young Alberta Book Society, the Writers' Guild of Alberta, and internationally through the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

Book launch season is coming up, support your local and international writing peeps!

And now that you know how to be a successful writer -- go forth and write! 

Forsooth, is this a cup of tea I see before me? 

Warm and milky, just the way I like it! 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

How a cookie is like a plot

In grade four I had a spelling book that had a recipe for Thumbprint cookies. What’s a spelling book? And why didn’t you just use spell check? you ask.

Hold on, let me get my Roy Rodgers & Dale Evans lunch box, time travel back to grade four and answer that question. Clearly, spell check, and the world wide interwebz hadn’t yet been invented by aliens.                                                                          

Why my spelling book had a cookie recipe is an even better question.  

So, the assignment was to go home and make Thumbprint cookies. What’s a Thumbprint cookie? It’s a cookie that you press a thumbprint into (hand sanitizer wasn't invented either!) and then fill the resulting crater with jam. My big sis and I made the cookies.

Nice story Jan, how does this relate to writing?

Hold on, stick with me, just need to finish this cookie that I got at Lena’s Italian Market.

Every kid made the cookies from the same recipe but they were all different. 

Just like the plot of a book. 

All books need a plot and plot devices, but you can take the same story idea, give it to five different authors and you’ll have five different stories. 

So, write the story you want to write – it is unique to you. Don’t write what you think is popular right now in the market – unless you want to write that.

And don’t read spelling books looking for cookie recipes.    

Monday, June 30, 2014

Oh, Oh Canada!

Chateau Lake Louise Canada Day 2012
Yes, it's that time of year again when Canadians en mass have a barbeque, drink beer and discuss what makes them Canadian - yes, July 1st is Canada Day! 

Time to show some of my favourite representations of Canadian identity through the symbols of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Captain of the Starship Enterprise and, of course, beer and mountains

Join me for a walk down Canadian identity lane:

First the Canadian Please song (song & video produced by Julia Bentley & Andrew Gunadie) where they accuse you of wanting to be a Canadian... please!  

Canadians take credit for many things, the invention of basketball, insulin and Captain James T. Kirk. William Shatner gives a nod to his spoken word past with this rendition of O Canada. 

Here's Oh ... Canada by Classified (they take a poke at those lame awesome Heritage Moments, then they go all rap - Oh, Oh Canada!).  

And finally what anthropological analysis of Canadian identity would be complete without identifying ourselves in juxtaposition to a dominant society (read: what makes us Canadian is that we're different from Americans)! 

I Am Canadian! (yes, I am!)

Enjoy Canada Day everyone, eh!?

Sidewalk chalk art by neighbours Clare & Thomas!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Be the egg encrusted fork!

Writing a novel is like doing the dishes. 

Just when you think they’re done, just when the last of the grimy sudsy water gets sucked down the drain, just when you’ve wiped dry your water logged hands – someone shows up with an egg encrusted fork they found in the basement. You can either choose to ignore it or you stop up the sink, run the water, get some suds going, plunge your prune-like hands in, and start all over again. 

A manuscript is like that. It’s never done until it’s between two covers. 

While you’re still doing the dishes, writing the novel – you be the egg encrusted fork to your writing. 

That problem that you know is there, but want to ignore - that's the last fork.  

Don’t just put it in the sink and forget about. You pick off that egg with your nail, scrub it with the little scrunchy-wash pad thingy, and wipe it clean. 

Sure you feel like leaving it in the sink, for next time, for someone else to clean up. Like a member of your critique group. Like the agent or editor you don’t yet have. 

No one is going to get the gunk out between the prongs of your manuscript but you.

Be the egg encrusted fork to your writing. 

Just when you think your manuscript is done, put your mechanical pencil on the line and apply everything you’ve learned in every book, in every workshop, and in every blue pencil session. 

Apply what you’re learned about tension on every page, showing – not telling, realistic dialogue, flawed, yet human characters, plot, setting, pacing, grammar, and scrub - scrub until we the reader, not only don’t see any encrusted egg, we never knew it was there.

That’s your job as a writer. 

Doing the dishes … get someone else to do them!   


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Unicorns, Rainbows, & Cupcakes or Where I get my inspiration!

Maybe it's because I write middle-grade mysteries about scientists creating giant frogs (Dead Frog on the Porch) or a slightly crazed-Scottish-Shakespeare-quoting owner of the bird sanctuary who's killing birds (Dead Bird through the Cat Door). 

But as a writer, the question I get asked most often is: 'where do you get your inspiration?'

Once asked this question I usual gaze skywards searching for a double rainbow and mumble something about unicorns, rainbows, and cupcakes. 

Or I give the cliched answer that I draw inspiration from everything around me. Which isn't really a cliche if you think about it. 

Is it just me? 

Am I surrounded by weird, unusual and unique things or do I just notice them? 

Take this for example. It's a sign at the local electronic recycling place. 

Seriously people, you can't recycle your children!
So, what does this even mean? No recycling of children - that's pretty clear. But microwaves are excepted - so if you put your child in the microwave, they'll make an exception and you'll be able to recycle them?! Maybe they mean microwaves are 'accepted.' 

As I unsurreptitiously took the photo the manager asked if I needed any help. (No, but clearly you do if people are dropping off their kids to be recycled). I told him that I was taking a picture of the sign because it was funny. He assured me that it was true and that kids climb into the recycling bin. Then I tried to clarify the 'accepted'/'excepted' issue and he told me he didn't know anything about that. 

Tru dat.    

Then we have my newest pet - no care and feeding - you just have to squeeze it until it's head (or other body parts) threaten to explode. My nephew, knowing how quirky I am, knew it would be the perfect Christmas present. 

Purple Squishy Dude

Who wouldn't be inspired by this purple squishy dude who I can squeeze, stretch out and manipulate to my tactile heart's content!  

He loves my books! 

And he glows in the dark!
Okay, get a load of this sign at a local pet store: 

Okay, walk me through this. You're sitting at home with your favourite boa constrictor, you figure she needs a little outing and you think, I know, let's go to the pet store. So, you wrap her around your shoulders like a reptile stole, you hop in the car and head out. 

Really?! People! Behave! 

Final one. On the window of a local hamburger restaurant:

Hmmmmm bacon! 
This one is self-explanatory. I guess I won't be applying since I'm a cat person and probably a flake as well! 

Inspiration is everywhere - you just have to notice it! 

Unicorns, rainbows, and cupcakes!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Dear Blog: I'm Sorry!

Alright, it's been a while! I'm sorry. I know I've been neglecting you. I've been busy finishing the latest draft of my contemporary young/adult manuscript. What's that blog? You're busy too, everyone is busy, but you're still here for me. Alright, that's fair. Stings a bit, but fair.

What's that blog? If only you'd been a better blog, maybe I wouldn't have neglected you so badly for so long - crikey, I still have a Christmas blog post up!

No blog - it's not you it's me. This one is all on me. Don't blame yourself. I'll try harder to update you regularly.

What's that blog? "No! Try not. Do, or do not. there is no try." ~ YODA, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. 

Oh, you are seriously not quoting Yoda to me are you blog? Is that where this is going, you're going to lay a Yoda wisdom guilt trip on me? We'll that's it! I'm not even saving you in draft - I'm posting this as is.

(Some time later after a chai tea).

So, I'm back in full blog-on fashion. I am in the throes of re-writing hades and will be posting some of my writer friends thoughts on rewriting. And, yes, I'll be nicer to my blog and followers! Thanks for sticking around during my brief hiatus! 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Merry Christmas Flash Mobs

Merry Christmas to all my bloggowers who celebrate Christmas. Happy Wednesday to those who don't! Here's hoping everyone will have a nice break over the holiday season (to do some writing and eat chocolate).

As you know I'm all about the flash mob. I've said it before and I'll say it again, pleeeeeze someone, somewhere invite me to participate in a flash mob. I'm waiting for an invitation (I dance gangsta y'all!). 

What do I like about flash mobs? They make people happy - simple enough! The people who participate and the people who watch - all happy. 

Here are three flash mobs to enjoy. 

The first one is dedicated to the memory of Nelson Mandela for showing us that we can change the world. 

The second is legendary and I'm sure you've seen it (if you haven't you must live in a cave and haven't heard that aliens invented the world wide interweb). It is a classic flash mob - random people, dressed randomly (not like performers) in a random location (mall food courts seem to be popular) who break into song (and often dance) perform, and then go about their business like nothing has happened - that's a flash mob!  

This is a Canadian flash mob (in les deux langues official no less), gotta love those Canadians eh?! The security guard is running a little schtick in the beginning when he tries to stop it before assuming his rightful place on stage as the lead singer. 

Looking forward to a productive and peaceful 2014 for one and all!