Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Snow Spectre

The Snow Spectre is haunting me. I know because...

...I had to be winched out of the ditch in my driveway after driving off it in slippery snow

...the tow truck who winched me subsequently got stuck in my driveway because it broke through the hard packed base and became mired in the stuff hubby had to be come-alonged (by a neighbour) out of the driveway ditch because it is highly probably that the tow truck company will have nothing to do with us ever again this winter

...the kids have had two snow days and so missed school

...the snow, weighing down tree branches, has caused the power to go off at least once almost every day (I am now a whiz at programming the clock on my microwave, stove, coffee maker, you name it)

And that's in the last two weeks. And the white stuff keeps falling!!

Yes, the spectre of snow looms large for me. I'll try not to grumble too much but I'd better not make any promises.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Finds in my Files and my Fridge

The Files Find
I was cleaning out some of my computer files and found an idea I'd jotted down for a magazine article. It still sounded interesting to me, so yay! I think I'll pursue that one again. It'll be fun to see what happens.

The Fridge Find
I was cleaning out the fridge and found some coleslaw. . . from Thanksgiving. . . Canadian Thanksgiving. . .October 13th.


Seeing what happened there was NOT fun.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


I'm feeling rather blah and uninspired lately, so here's a cute photo I took earlier this fall.

Chipmunks are so cute, but can they ever scare the crap out of you when they scamper over the carpet of dry leaves. They sound much, much bigger!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Buns at the Door

Yes, those are sandwich buns on the ground just outside a door in a plaza in town. Not a great photo but it's from my phone.

I just had to take this picture. The scene got me thinking, like it was a story played out I'd just missed seeing. . . or was it yet to be played out? Did those buns spill out of the cardboard box? Did someone open the door and dump them out on the pavement? Was it an accident or were they left there on purpose? Will they stay there until they turn to mush and disintegrate? Will they become a feast for a bird or mouse or rat or homeless person?

I guess I found this sight oddly moving...curious...thought provoking....

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Lunch Leftovers

I'm currently denying the existence of the snow outside. It appears now that it's here to stay. So this is a shot from a couple weeks ago. Someone was kind enough to leave their lunch leftovers at the end of my driveway.

Yeah, thanks for the litter, pal.

What possesses someone to just chuck something like that out a car window? "Oh, those people will just put it in the garbage for me, no problem."


Sure, I did dispose of the offending matter but come on! Would it have hurt you to do it yourself? Sheesh!!!!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Talking to...Caroline Pattison

Talking to Creative Canadians . . . About books!
(A mostly monthly feature)

Caroline Rennie Pattison is a teacher-consultant for Trillium Lakelands District School Board. She lives in Muskoka with her husband, Mike, her two children, Jacob and Natasha, and a couple cats. She enjoys being outdoors. Her favourite things to do are kayaking, snowshoeing, reading, and - of course - writing.

I've known Caroline for several years, and in fact we are in a critique group together. I'm really pleased to present this interview with her and hope you'll check out her two teen novels published by The Dundurn Group.

Have you always known you wanted to be a writer or did you take some time coming to this discovery?

I remember always wanting to be a writer but at the same time being intimidated by all of the great books I was reading. I questioned myself and wondered if I could ever write something good enough to get published. While I didn’t let that stop me from writing, it did prevent me from pursuing publication as energetically as I could have, earlier.

How do you find time to write with a family and a full time job?

This is definitely an ongoing challenge. I keep trying new strategies, depending on the demands of my job. For a while, writing in the morning before work seemed to work. Unfortunately, I’m not really a morning person so it’s tough on my system to force myself to get up in the wee hours, which to me, means anytime before 6 a.m. Currently, my writing schedule is restricted to the weekends. I make sure that I make writing a priority so that it’s the first thing I do weekend mornings. When writing a first draft I set a goal of writing 10 pages over the weekend.

What was the inspiration for your first novel, The Whole, Entire Complete Truth?

I was out for a walk by my home when I noticed an old barn set back from a farmhouse. I could hear various animal sounds, perhaps coming from the barn. Because I was alone, had no one else to talk to, and my mind sometimes works in strange ways, I spent some time thinking about it. I asked myself, “What if there was something unusual being kept inside that barn?” I couldn’t seem to let that thought go. This is what planted the seed that would become the first Sarah Martin mystery.

About how long did it take for you to get this novel published?

I was fortunate. The manuscript was picked up by Dundurn fairly quickly. It was less than a year from signing a contract to the book sitting in bookstores.

This novel has your main character Sarah investigating the possibility of bear poaching near her. What caused you to look into this issue and is it a big issue in Ontario really?

When I had my “What if?” question about the old barn during my walk, I began to research exotic animals. This led me to poaching. I became interested in the plight of black bears, who are poached for their gall bladders and paws. I was surprised to learn that, while more of a problem in our western provinces, it is a growing issue here in Ontario. Since the book has been published, I’ve heard and read various news items and articles about bear poaching convictions in Ontario.

This novel is written as Sarah’s report to her police officer father after she’s caused lots of trouble. Was this format a challenge?

This format did have some challenges as I could only include events that Sarah was comfortable sharing with her dad. I constantly had to think of the context and her audience.

What was the best part about writing this way as opposed to say a straight third person narrative?

This format allowed me to have lots of fun in framing situations and events through Sarah’s point of view. I think it allowed me to inject more of her personality into the book. I also liked that readers needed to read between the lines and understand that Sarah tended to write with a certain amount of bias, given that she knew her dad would be reading it. I had fun writing Roy’s section of the report for the same reasons.

Your second novel is another Sarah Martin mystery, The Law of Three. It’s written like Sarah’s journal. Did you face any challenges or pleasant surprises writing in this format?

The challenge anytime you write from a first person perspective is that you’re restricted to writing only those events in which your character was directly involved or had learned about through someone else. However, as the author, I had to be aware of what was happening behind the scenes that Sarah didn’t know about, and how it would affect her relationships and exchanges with the other characters. The pleasant surprise was how much fun it was to step into Sarah’s shoes and write from her point of view, in a private format. Because she was no longer writing for her dad, or anyone else, I could allow her to be more open and honest.

Did you set out to tackle another issue with this book?

Yes, I wanted to explore the issue of rumours and how easy it is to pre-judge people based on hearsay, with little knowledge of them as individuals.

So that's why Sarah delves into the issues of rumours or reputations in a small town as well as misconceptions regarding Wicca. Is her open minded attitude something you admire?

Absolutely! Because of her open mindedness, she didn’t blindly embrace the rumours and misconceptions like most people around her. I admire that she was willing to take the effort to search for the truth about the Hoppers and to learn about them as individuals, in spite of resistance from her friends and her own uncertainty.

The lake plays a big part in the novel, particularly when one of your characters goes missing. Is the setting something that resonates with you personally?

I do love the lakes of Muskoka. How can you not? I spend a lot of time on lakes during the warmer seasons; kayaking is one of my favourite things to do. I also spend time in a ‘tin tippy’ and have found myself caught on a lake during rough weather. So, yes, I would say the setting resonates with me personally.

Did you have a specific place in mind when you set up Sarah's setting?

As for a specific place, I was using the Muskoka River area in Bracebridge as my starting point for the search scene. But I didn’t adhere to the geography of Lake Muskoka in my further descriptions. Instead, I would say that it was a collage of various places I’d been.

Was it harder to write the second novel or easier? Any challenges you didn’t anticipate?

It was both harder and easier, depending on the day. For instance, one thing that was easier was that I already knew the characters from the previous book quite well, so I didn’t have to go through the creation process for them. However, on the flip side, the challenge was how to keep them involved and relevant when new characters had been introduced who were more involved in the central focus of the book.

Although there are serious issues in the books, they really are quite funny at times, especially with the relationship between Sarah and her older brother, Roy. You must have had fun writing them, did you?

I have so much fun writing scenes of them verbally sparring. I put Sarah and Roy into a room together and the scene almost writes itself. In general, I really enjoy adolescents and teens; what a fun and interesting age!

Any real life model help you develop those characters?

I have real life models all around me every day. Not only do I have two teenagers at home with me (mind you, I didn’t when I began writing the series) but I also work in an elementary school that includes students up to thirteen or fourteen years of age. I think we all keep a little adolescent spirit within us; some of us display it more readily than others! I’m constantly learning about people - of all ages - and am inspired by them every day. Having said that, I do have to admit that the physical appearance of Garnet Hopper was definitely inspired by a specific individual who I observed at a conference. I didn’t know this person at all but as soon as I saw her, I knew that’s how I wanted Garnet to look. Too bad I didn’t get a chance to thank her.
Do you think you might ever write straight humour one day?

I have no idea. I don’t deliberately inject humour into the Sarah Mysteries, it creeps in naturally. I’m not sure if I could write it deliberately. But you never know; I do like to make people laugh.

Is there another Sarah Martin mystery in the works?

You bet. I’m busy writing away and having a great time with it. This time, the problem Sarah is investigating has to do with cyberbullying. I’m looking forward to seeing how she solves this one!
Me too! Is there any advice you wish you’d heard early in your career? Anything you’d like to let aspiring writers know?

I think the best advice I wish I’d heard earlier was to join a critique group. I wrote for a number of years in solitude with little opportunity for feedback. For me, it was a pivotal moment when my current critique group joined together. I needed to have critical friends, who’s thoughts and opinions I respected, read my writing and provide honest feedback - both positive and negative - as well as suggestions and recommendations. If not for that, I’m not sure if I’d ever have been successful in getting published.

Lots of readers are glad that you were published! Thanks, Caroline, for taking the time to give us a look behind your books.

See how The Law of Three was The Lone Survivor and which other titles it beat out. Find more about Caroline Rennie Pattison's books and background here or on Facebook, or at .

See all the other author interviews under my Talking to Creative Canadians label.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween

Normally I love Halloween. It's one of my favourite events of the year. But this year, Halloween is turning out rotten. First, I had to return home after I'd just gotten to town because a certain someone who shall remain nameless (he knows who he is) forgot his keys and I had to let him in the house. There went my original plan to walk the track and feel self-righteous about exercising two times this week (couldn't do it later because there's only a certain timeframe the rec centre says you can do it).

So I returned to town to go to the coffee shop to use their wireless connection. Couldn't get my laptop to connect no matter what I did. Got a signal just fine but couldn't get either one of my browsers to go to any websites whatsoever. Grumpily, I decided to try the library since I'd pretty much finished my coffee and bagel by the time I gave up.

Went to the library and got the password but NO. No can connect there either. They had just switched to a newer and bigger, better network so apparently my dinosaur of a laptop is no longer able to use it. Couldn't even get the wireless signal to come up. Seriously, I was in there Tuesday using it and it worked just fine!!! Drat, drat, drat.

Signed in to use the last available desktop at same library. It wouldn't recognize my flash drive. No can update this blog then with lovely above pumpkin photo. Tried to do something else. Said I had to install software to download an mp3 file I'd previously purchased, and if you've ever tried to install something onto a library computer you know that's really, really not allowed. Tried to update some of my online stuff and was told the browser wasn't current enough to display things properly. ##$@!#@# Gave up. Did the groceries and came home. I probably forgot something I really needed.

So here I am at a different library using their last available desktop computer but at least it recognizes my flash drive. (Forget uploading photos from home because I'm apparently only eligible for dial up--the desperate search for better continues).

I haven't put up any Halloween decorations yet. We haven't carved our pumpkins yet (yes, there they are above from a couple weeks ago and so they pretty much remain). Am I being plagued by gremlins? ghosts? Feels like it.

Halloween so far stinks! Maybe I should dress up in my witch costume so I can at least look the way I feel. One good thing: the weather is cooperating and we may not have to wear our arctic gear under our costumes tonight.

I know, nothing is really all that bad so I should just quit whining. I will. Soon...maybe I just need some chocolate.

Happy Halloween all!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

How Can I Quit Reading?

I love to read. I have a pile of books to read that my friends have lent me. I find it hard to leave a school book fair without buying something, and I have real trouble resisting just one little bookstore book purchase. And through all this I keep going to the library to borrow more.

Writers are supposed to be readers, aren't we? But here's the problem:
I'm coming to the conclusion that if I read less I might actually write more. As in, if I put some of that time into my own writing I might have more to market. If I start reading, and if it's a good book, I have real trouble putting it down. I want to finish it right away. So what can I do?

I could quit cold turkey. But what would I do without a book when I wait for one of my kids at skating or jazz or hockey practice? What would I do without a book when I have to take them to some appointment or other? What would I do without a book when I'm waiting for dinner to cook? Oops, maybe that one I can do without. (Yes, I have been known to stir dinner with one hand and read with the other!)

Anyone else have this problem? How do you moderate your reading habit?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Foliage at the 45th Finale (Part 6)

So I was going to say that the only deciduous leaves left are the oaks and some stubborn maples. That's true. But today there was something else on the trees: snow. AAAACCCKKK!!!

Yep, proof. Snow on the brown oak leaves. And since it was a wet dumping it clings to everything. Here it is below attached to the trees.
Say this with me five times with feeling, please: It will melt, it will melt.


I'm so not ready for this.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hazard of the Profession

So I’m sitting in the stands in an arena, because I am in arenas a lot between my kids’ figure skating or hockey, and I’m reading a book. But since I write for kids I’m reading a book for kids: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Roderick Rules by Jeff Kinney. After my daughter got it out of the library and gobbled it up, then my son grabbed it and declared it a winner, so it was my turn at last.

Okay, so anyway I’m reading it and chuckling away when another skater’s mother walked by behind me. She checked out my book, and I’m sure it wasn’t just my imagination that “my” book’s graphic presentation, the large typeface, the cartoons, caused a raised eyebrow. She proceeded to sit down in the next seat section and pull out a Norah Roberts paperback.

Guess I’m not up to that standard of reading yet.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Foliage at the 45th (Part 5)

The colours don't get any better than this. I'd say we have reached peak colour. Since this past weekend was Canadian Thanksgiving it couldn't have happened at a better time.

Some of the treetops are getting bare. Won't be long now till they're totally bare. Sigh.

See previous Foliage installments starting here.

All Together Now, One, Two, Three:

Another one of those writing things that bugs me (see previous rant on screaming) is when writers have their characters say things all together or altogether or they all answer in unison. It always makes me stop short. It kicks me out of that story world. Yes, if you're old enough to have heard a record scratching then I hear a record scratching. Insert said sound.

Do people act like this in reality? Does more than one kid say the exact same sentence at exactly the same time?

"We want some of your chocolate chip cookies, Mommy," the three kids all said together.*
* [Don't even get me started on the proliferation of chocolate chip cookies in stories]

Come on, no way, right? Are they reading a script? Are those kids robots? So don't write that in your stories.

I get that sometimes people will say sort of the same thing more or less together. Maybe everyone cheers or boos or hollers or something. That's fine. But not in complete sentences.

Maybe it's more like:
"Mom, can I have a cookie?" Carson asked.
"Yeah, me too," said Mark. "Chocolate chip, please."
"And me!" added Stanley. "Don't forget me!"

Wordier, definitely, but definitely more realistic.

So does this "all together thing" ever work? Are you dying to tell me you've seen it in: insert title here? Yes, you know there are always exceptions. But the one I can think of is a lot of years old. The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper has reams of characters saying the exact same sentence at the exact same time ("said all the dolls and toys together"). So why does it work?

Simple: It's old.

So it's allowed to sound old, or okay, old-fashioned. Think of the precedent set by all kinds of voices reciting a single sentiment in unison: the chorus in Greek tragedies. Hey, it works too, but like it's a Greek tragedy. Is that the flavour you want to invoke for your writing voice?

So yes, if you want to create an old-fashioned feel or a folk tale or a large tale or even a bunch of robots then by all means give it a try. But don't insert this in the middle of your modern story or you'll hear that record scratching (oh, okay, maybe a CD skipping...or the sudden silence of crickets chirping after someone yanks your iPod ear buds outta your ears).

(Disclaimer: Lizann really does enjoy her work as an instructor for the Institute of Children's Literature, where she can help writers not to do this. Unless of course they really want to.)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Foliage at the 45th (Part 4)

This past week I was lucky enough to be driving through Algonquin Park. I could have stopped to admire the view at least 18 times. But the view above was one that I couldn't pass by.

If I turned around this was the view behind me. Not so bad either. I particularly like that moose danger sign you can sorta see. But just as I was snapping this photo with my tiny Kodak, about four or five other cars pulled in behind me one after the other. Out jumped people with seriously huge telephoto lenses: Serious photographers. So me and my little pocket model sorta slunk away.

Back at home this week we had a couple sunny days. At this time of year when the sky is sunny it can be so blue it practically hurts your eyes. The fall sky is my favourite sky, absolutely! And when you look down we're starting to get the leaf carpet.

Leaf fights, pile jumping, here we come!!

See the previous installments starting here.

Monday, October 6, 2008

After the Agents' Day

Lucky me, I got to go out and about as an author this weekend as I attended the SCBWI Canada East Agents' Day in Ottawa, Ontario. Okay, so I wasn't merely attending. I was part of the organizing group for this event. But that aside, I always find so much benefit to mingling with others writers and with illustrators. We all work alone, so it's always helpful to connect with others who face the same issues.

We heard from speakers Kendra Marcus of BookStop Literary and Rebecca Sherman of Writers House. Both did a fantastic job of explaining what an agent does, why you would want one, and how best to go about acquiring one. The panel session of first pages, where anonymous manuscript first pages were read aloud and the agents had to comment on their reactions to the pieces, was truly educational. If you've never attended a session like that then I highly recommend you find one.

So I returned home tired, inspired, and newly determined to polish my work only to face a mountain of laundry and a birthday cake that needed baking. It's good to remain grounded, no?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Foliage at the 45th (Part 3)

There are so many great spots to see spectular scenery around here. This is in Huntsvile, Ontario. Those are sumac trees that you can see on the lower left.Then a couple days later, as I was going on a grocery run, the view made me stop for a minute to just enjoy the colour.
The trees fairly glow if the sun is out. We have had rain most of this past week but so far it hasn't knocked off too many of the leaves. Fortunately we're not at the raking stage yet.

Colour, colour everywhere! You'd think I'd get tired of looking at leaves.

Not yet!

See earlier editions of this year's foliage starting here.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

What Word Will You Be?

I was listening to a keynote address sometime last fall, and the speaker used a particular word several times. It was an unusual word, a nice word, and it made me wonder why she'd chosen to use that word over any number of others that would have expressed a similar sentiment. Somehow that word must have resonated for her. Somehow now that word resonates of her for me.

That word? Astonishing.

Now whenever I come across that word I think of this particular speaker. Astonishing how you can use even a single word to conjur up an image or a perception or a memory of someone.

May your characters resonate with their own astonishing words!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Foliage at the 45th (Part 2)

The leaves are shaping up nicely here this year. What a difference a week makes! Even driving around doing errands is a great excuse to view some beautiful scenery.

The weather has been dry, with warm days and cool nights. After a rainy summer this is a most welcome change!

Still lots of green left to go, so stay tuned for more colour. I love the fall!

To see how things have changed, see Foliage Part 1 and the very beginning.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Power to the Proofreaders!

So there I am doing my proofreading/copy-editing thing, dutifully inserting commas, deleting commas, reigning in the mad usage of dashes and applying CP style when WHAM! I am forced to turn a FIEND into a FRIEND with a single stroke on my mighty keyboard.

Ah, the power...the satisfaction.

Not that anyone will ever know.

(A job well done then.)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Foliage at the 45th

According to Santa's Village, I'm living at about the 45th parallel -- halfway to the North Pole. So here at the 45th, this is how the leaves are shaping up this year:

Not too spectacular...yet. Just the tips of branches and some individual trees turning colour. But this is how it began so that's progress. The colour is easy to see now, not just a subtle hue. More to come!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Friendly Frog?

I think this is a green frog (Rana clamitans). I was pretty excited when it stood still and let me snap quite a few pictures. How cool, how friendly, I though.

But then it hit me: maybe it wasn't being friendly at all. Maybe it was frozen, frightened-- petrified! After all, this silver box was being shoved at it by some huge, gigantic mammal type being. Uh, yeah. That made more sense.

So I slunk away and left it to its froggy business.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Talking to...Elizabeth MacLeod

Talking to Creative Canadians . . . About Books
(A mostly monthly feature)

Elizabeth MacLeod is an award-winning author of over 30 books for kids ranging from picture books to easy readers to reference books. Photo by Paul Wilson.

Welcome, Liz. Thanks for agreeing to be my first ever blog interview. Could you start off by saying a little bit about yourself?

I didn’t take a typical route to becoming a writer. I studied sciences in university but I wasn’t sure what to do when I graduated. I had a chance to attend the Banff Publishing Workshop and I hesitantly took the opportunity. The faculty was amazing and the workshop was a great chance to make terrific contacts in the industry. When an editing job came open at OWL magazine, one of the faculty (the incredible editor Lynn Cunningham) called to tell me and I applied. I had no experience except for my science background and the Banff training, however I got the job. (I later found out that some major factors in my hiring were that I listed singing and tap dancing among my interests, which made me sound intriguing, and that I looked “healthy” (????!!!) so it was likely I wouldn’t miss a lot of work!)

OWL’s editor Sylvia Funston was a great mentor to me and through the magazine I also met Valerie Wyatt, a terrific writer and editor. (I’m also grateful that I met wonderful, longtime friends there, such as you, Lizann!) I left children’s publishing for about a year to work in the high-tech industry, but I really missed the supportiveness of the people in kids’ publishing. So when Kids Can Press asked me to write and edit for them, I happily changed companies. I was an in-house editor for many years, then I was a freelance editor for Kids Can. Right now I’m only writing and I’ve expanded the number of publishers I have — now they include Annick and Scholastic, too.

The topics you’ve written about are quite diverse, from dinosaurs to war to Eleanor Roosevelt. Do you have a systematic way to approach each topic? Is there always a first step or series of steps you take?

As soon as I am assigned a topic, I start researching. I open a file on my computer and I begin dumping in anything interesting that I find on-line. I immediately put holds on any library books that I think will be useful and to help me decide which books are worth buying.

As I gather this information, I’m thinking about what I need to include, how I’ll divide up the material (into spreads, into sidebars), etc. I find it really important to write down any ideas I have so that I don’t forget them and so that they can inspire other ideas.

How do you find a connection with (or inspiration for) each topic or person you’re writing about?

I guess I’m just a very curious person. I love finding out how things work or why people did what they did. I do my best to make it clear to kids how interesting our world is.

You’ve written many different styles of nonfiction (biography, early reader, reference book). Do you have a favorite type? What sort of challenges do you face with each one, or one in particular?

I think I’m lucky to be asked to write in so many styles. It means that I don’t get tired of one or the other and I think it affects, for the better, each book that I write.

I don’t have a favourite type — I love each one as I get started and usually ended up tearing out my hair over it at some point in the process!

The biggest challenge that all the styles have is how succinct one has to be when writing for children. I know it’s vital to allow room for white space and images but it can make it very difficult to explain things. As well, in my biographies for early readers, I have very few words in which to explain tough concepts to kids who are just developing their vocabulary and reading skills. Now that’s a challenge!

As an editor, do you have to work hard to turn off that side of your brain when you write? Do you find it hard to have your writing edited?

I’m not really aware of turning off the editor-side of my brain when I write. Sometimes my internal editor makes it difficult to get going on a spread but deadlines usually overcome that difficulty! I find that I edit a spread a lot before I go on to writing the next spread, so that when I put all the spreads together, there isn’t a lot of editing left for me to do. Of course my editor usually finds lots to improve!

Maybe because I’ve worked as an editor, I know the importance of being edited and how much an editor can improve a manuscript. I love being edited and I get nervous if the editor doesn’t ask for many changes.

As you write, do you footnote the facts or use another method to keep track of your sources?

I really try hard to keep careful track of my sources and facts. Either I photocopy pages from books (then mark up the photocopy to indicate exactly where the information is) or input facts from them, along with page references.
If I find information that I want to use off the Web, I put the complete text in a file, along with the URL and date.

It takes time to be this organized but I’m always grateful when I can quickly locate a fact later.

For books such as The Kids Book of Canada at War, is it your job as the writer to propose what the main focus of each page is and what the other related boxes or sidebars on that page are? How do you denote which type of element each chunk of information is when you send in the manuscript?

For this book, my editor and I worked out the main focus of each page at the outline stage. The format of the “The Kids Book of” books is a spread-by-spread approach and I knew how many pages long the book was to be, and how many wars I wanted to write about, so it was fairly easy for me to create a rough outline. The hard part was refining the outline and realizing, for instance, that I had six pages to describe the entire War of 1812!

I also proposed the boxes and sidebars on each spread. Before each chunk of this sort of information I would indicate what it was by writing the title in square brackets, such as [Canadian Courage] or [Did You Know].

Are you ever involved in finding the photos for your books or is that someone else’s responsibility?

I think every publisher handles photo research differently and even books from the same publisher can be different. The great photo researcher Patricia Buckley found most of the photos in The Kids Book of Canada at War. However there are photos of my dad and other of my relatives in the book that I provided, and we also put out a request at Kids Can Press for photos and artifacts of relatives, and people were very generous.

As well, Val Wyatt, my editor, had seen a great Remembrance Day display at a bookstore in Victoria, British Columbia, and contacted the people who had supplied photos and letters. They were also kind enough to let us use the material. Elements like that can really make history come alive.

Royal Murder: The Deadly Intrigue of Ten Sovereigns sounds both fascinating and gruesome. What did you do to make this topic both interesting and not too scary for your audience?

Annick Press, who published the book, asked me to remove a lot of gruesome gore that I thought kids would like. I was surprised and disappointed but I agreed because I figured they had a better sense than I did of how much gore is enough.

I’m glad I went along with the changes — every review has mentioned that the book is gory in places and not for young children. I wonder if some of these reviewers have seen “kids’” movies and television shows lately?? However, perhaps reading about blood and guts allows your imagination to take you places that films and shows don’t. Isn’t that the magic of books?

How can a writer stay true to a difficult or controversial topic while keeping in mind the sensitivities of a young reader or do you think that this isn’t an issue?

If a writer is presenting a controversial topic, then I think it’s only fair to present both sides of it, even if you strongly disagree with one. Otherwise, it’s very difficult for a child, whose parents may hold the view opposite to yours. With controversial topics, I think it’s important to help kids develop their own opinions. A good editor can also help an author from coming across as too biased.

You collaborated with Frieda Wishinsky on Everything but the Kitchen Sink. What, if anything, surprised you about writing a book together with another writer? What was the best thing about working together? Any challenges?

Working with Frieda was amazingly easy. She’s a great writer and very flexible. We get along very well and/but our interests are very different. The book has ten chapters so it was clear right away that we’d both write five. We easily decided what the ten chapters should be and divided them almost as easily. I took the science chapters and Frieda took the history and social studies chapters. We had no idea that it would be so easy.

I’m sure we both found it difficult not to edit each other but that wasn’t our job. We had a great editor, Brenda Murray at Scholastic US, and it was always on my mind that any changes that Frieda or I suggested the other make, might take the book further away from where Brenda wanted it to go.

Out of the books you’ve written, would you pick one as a favourite or do you like them all more or less equally? If so, why?

Oooo, that’s like asking someone to name her favourite child!

BUT — I especially loved writing about magician Harry Houdini. I had bought a book about him when I was in grade seven so he’s obviously been a longtime interest of mine. He had a strong, in-your-face personality so there were lots of great quotes by him, amazing stories (true or not!) and terrific photos. As well, I’d been nominated for more than 20 “Children’s Choice” awards across Canada before I finally won with my book about Harry! It’s hard not to love that! I was delighted to revisit his life when I wrote an early reader about him.

Have you seen any changes in the nonfiction books being published for kids in Canada since you began in the business?

I’ve been in the business for a long time so there are a lot more books out there now than when I started. It’s a lot tougher now to make a living writing than it was about ten years ago. People just aren’t buying many books the way they used to buy them. Today, as well, nonfiction has to offer something really different from what’s on the Web, since Web content is so much easier for kids to access. I think books that kids use just for researching projects are very hard sells right now since most kids just use the Web. I really appreciate teachers and librarians who insist kids use books when researching a topic!

What advice do you have for writers who want to write nonfiction?

If you feel the urge to write nonfiction, then you have to try it! But you can’t assume that you’ll make a living at it. Many writers have part-time jobs, take time from their writing to do school and library visits (for which they’re paid) or find other ways to make their living.

Nonfiction writers need to be especially careful to be sure to look critically at publishers’ book lists to see what topics have all ready been covered and try to find a unique niche.

As I said before, I’m a very curious person so writing nonfiction lets me investigate a lot of different topics — and get paid for it! It can make a great change from writing fiction, as well. Writing nonfiction magazine articles, for kids or for adults, can be a great way to get into a writing career. And I can’t imagine anything I’d rather be doing than writing!

And your readers are very happy that you are doing all that writing. Thanks, Liz, for taking the time to give us a look behind your books.

For more on Elizabeth MacLeod’s books, background, and school presentations, you can look her up here, and find more on her publishers Annick Press, Kids Can Press and Scholastic.

See all the other author interviews under my Talking to Creative Canadians label.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

SCBWI Canada East Agents' Day

Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators Agents’ Day
October 4, 2008
National Library of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario

Do you write or illustrate for children or teens? Are you wondering if you need an agent, unsure about what they do or how to acquire one? This is the event for you to get all the answers.

Kendra Marcus, Agent, BookStop Literary Agency, California,
Rebecca Sherman, Senior Agent, Writers House, New York,

The brochure /registration form for the SCBWI Canada East Agents' Day is
now available on the Events
page of the website at

Or... go directly to the brochure at

Please feel free to pass along this information.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Finding a Fix for Fingernails

One of the hazards of the writing profession is being forever doomed to short fingernails.

Apparently I haven't been doing enough housework or something this summer because the fingernails on my left hand are really long — I mean two of them are 6 mm long. And I've been holding off shortening them because it's kinda nice for once to have these elegant looking things belong to me. But I'm getting mighty tired of the fingernail induced typos. I'm sure I've fixed over 10 errors in this short paragraph alone due to the fact that my nails keep hitting the keys I'm not intending to hit.

But with each day that passes, actually getting out the file or trimmer is seeming more and more like an act of destruction than an act of mere practiciality. So what's a writer to do?

I keep hoping that having to tie up my kids' skates again will make short work of them since that's usually good for snapping off even two short ones at a crack, easy. But so far no go, and I've been skate tying for a month already (that in itself is a scary statment but I won't go there).

Maybe now that the start of school is impending I'd better step up the work cleaning the house. Meanwhile, guess I'll just let spellcheck clean up my documents.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Change

There's no more denying it. It has begun. At first there was just a subtle hue of yellow or orange to the maple leaves, and only this one bunch of leaves was reddish orange. I figured it was an just a mutant branch.

But now there are more--everywhere. I can't pretend anymore that I don't see it. The change has begun. Fall is my favourite season, but nevertheless I feel a sense of sadness to see summer winding down.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Blooming Bee Balm

"Tea: Earl Grey, hot!"

Okay, so bergamot always puts me in mind of Jean-Luc Picard...and my favourite tea. But call it bee balm or bergamot, whatever -- I love this plant. It looks and smells lovely.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Out of it?

Okay, what happened to July? I'm seriously feeling out of it.

But apparently I shouldn't feel out of it at all. It's come to my attention that supposedly I'm living where it's at.

Here's reason #1 I'm where it's at:

The 2010 G8 Summit is coming to a resort near me. Gack!

Here's reason #2:

Camp Rock was filmed near me. Cool!

And you can probably judge my mental age by my reactions to those tidbits of info.

(Keep in mind that when I say near, that actually means within an hour's drive. Round here that distance is like right in my backyard!!!)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Write with Robert Munsch!

Want to help write a story started by Robert Munch and help out the cause of literacy at the same time?

During the Great Muskoka Novel Marathon, in which writers gather in a big room to get away from everday distractions and do little else but WRITE! (and raise money for adult literacy), the Muskoka Literacy Council is inviting everyone to dust off their keyboards and participate in a story relay.

So, if you're like me and at this point in time you know your family would go to that place that's apparently sometimes found in a handbasket if you were to be absent for that long, between Friday, July 11, 2008 at 8 p.m. and Monday, July 14 at 8 p.m. you too can have a little literary fun without leaving home.

Here's how the Story Relay works. Three writers have begun three separate stories. Robert Munsch has started a children's story, Mel Malton's is a mystery, and Roy MacGregor's feels a little historical. Add a word or a few sentences to the story. See what others have added. At the end of the event the authors will come back and complete their tales. Interestingly enough, while Robert Munsch is renowned as a bestselling Canadian children's author, both Malton and MacGregor have also written for kids as well as for adults.

For all the details and the how-to on participating in the Story Relay go to

Find out more background on Munsch, Malton, or MacGregor, visit each author at their website:
Robert Munsch at
Mel Malton at
Roy MacGregor at

Learn more about the Muskoka Literary Council, and the Muskoka Novel Marathon at the MNM blog.

Happy writing!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Lucky Odometer

In honour of the seventh day of the seventh month, here’s a shot from last fall of my lucky odometer. Not often you see that!

But here’s the thing: Like all things in life, everything depends on how you look at it.

This is a lucky odometer if you believe the number seven has some significance. So what's my problem?

Using my feeble math skills, these sevens mean there's only 2,223 km left in my lease agreement. So take my average km usage per month X the 10 months left to go on the lease = the fact that I seem to be, well...Robertsoned!**

**(Canadian proprietary noun: a threaded metal fastening device featuring a unique square indentation on the head. More on Robertson.)

Sunday, July 6, 2008

You might like words if . . .

. . . you own four English dictionaries, two style guides (okay, one's technically on loan), a thesaurus, a French-English dictionary and a rhyming dictionary . . .

. . . and you actually use them all.

How can I possibly use them when every computer comes with a built-in dictionary and thesaurus and often a grammar checker? Easy. There are things that the computer just doesn't catch. I do use those computer functions, but I don't rely on them exclusively.

I work sometimes as a freelance copy editor. A publication will have a house style and that includes following a particular dictionary. It goes without saying that I'd better have that same dictionary. I have never yet been told that that dictionary is Microsoft Word. I repeat, Not yet.

Words can have more than one correct spelling. The one that gets published comes down to the dictionary the publisher decides to follow. Canadian spellings freak out my computer software. Red lines everywhere! And computer dictionaries don't catch when a word's spelling depends on the meaning intended or how the word is used in the particular sentence. Think: they're, their, or there. They are all spelled correctly so a spell check wouldn't flag this as wrong: There party is they're on the street where their doing construction.

Sorting out spellings and meanings and grammar rules can be a headache. You definitely have to like obsessing about this stuff. But there's this awesome moment of triumph when you zero in on a typo and then blast it from the face of the paper or screen forever. Gotcha! Hah! You just have to hope the 95 percent rule kicks in when you miss one (you know, the one that says 95 percent of people reading it won't have noticed).

Some things I've had to wrestle with recently:

Is it raccoon or racoon?

phosphorus or phosphourus?

give away or giveaway?

awhile or a while?

through, threw, or thru?

compliment or complement?

affect or effect? (I hate that one!)

and finding the use of "jester" where "gesture" was what was needed put me in a good mood for hours.

But don't assume then that this blog is free from typos or grammar mistakes, okay? 'Cause while I try to be correct if I had to obsess over that stuff here too I'd never ever get around to posting.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Importance of Line Breaks

Here's a tale about a note that came home from school awhile back. It caused me complete confusion. Why? Because of a bad line break.

It was a slip of paper with all the various possible comments that could be applied to the particular project presented in a series of boxes. In word processing terms, think of a table with text in each box. The circled box, and hence comment on my kid's project, read:


rule but needs

more to be


Excuse me? Needs more to be? As in it needs to be clearer? As in: I need more to be speaking English better?

Surely I wasn't seeing things correctly. So I looked again at that little slip of paper. I must have read it 10 times. But then it hit me: the line breaks were making me read each line as a phrase. I was reading those words together, such as in a poem, so that meant I was reading the ungrammatical "more to be" together as some sort of dialect or expression that should have no place in a formal marking scheme.

But if I read it as a whole sentence it's fine, sorta: Undertandable rule but needs more to be clear.

Okay, I got it that way. Needs to add more content to be a clearer rule. Or, broken properly with line breaks:

Understandable rule

but needs more

to be clear.

There. Much clearer. Line breaks do matter. In poems...and apparently in marking schemes.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Special School Visit

On Friday I visited the school I attended as a kid, Kilbride Public School. What fun to go back to the place that had such a huge influence on me. My talk was in the library and, while it wasn't in the same physical location as it was when I went there to school, it was quite amazing to be there again.

I talked to students from grades K to 4 (at different times) about Let's Go! and The Nature Treasury as well as about the process of writing and editing a book. They tried to convince me that some of them had taken the space shuttle to school, but I wasn't biting. (Although it may be possible that one or all of them could travel in space by the time they're grownups.) What a terrific group of kids. Thanks to everyone for listening. I hope that all of you go for your dreams.

And thanks, too, to Sharon and Ruth for organizing the visit.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Why Does Everything Cross the Road?

So further to my previous post (click here ) on the deer, deer, coyote encounters on the road, I have had more close crossings. In the last two days I've been out driving, here's what's crossed the road in front of me:




I kid you not. Another pattern of three. Okay, so the turtles didn't technically cross in front of me. I drove around them because I wasn't about to wait for them. But they were crossing the road. Be careful all you drivers out there!

So why did the frog cross the road? To get to the other flied!

Groan, yes. Well then, tell me a better one.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Three Times is Charmed

Saturday found me driving here and there. I was doing whatever you do when you're driving, concentrating on a tricky hairpin corner, when whoa! I hit the brakes. There was a deer standing right in the middle of the road. It gave me a good look and then sauntered off the road and into the bush. The kids and I thought that was pretty neat.

So then I'm actually driving down my driveway when suddenly a deer springs right in front of my car and bounds into the bush. It all happened so fast I pretty much didn't have time to blink. You can bet that caused a lot of marvelling.

And then that same day I was returning home from yet another trip (kids!) when, just off to the side of the road, I see a streak of brown rushing towards the road. I slam on my brakes. Out in front of my car races a—wait for it—a coyote! (Or some other such canine type creature.) Wow!

So when I got home safely and without further incident I pondered those encounters. Deer, deer, coyote. Hunh. Taken as a whole they seemed sort of completed, and not only because after three close calls I was still un-dinted. I think the feeling came from the element of three. Three feels like a significant number. It feels complete; like closure.

This three thing resonates in stories (in religion too but I'm not going there). Here's how it goes:
The First incident is the setup. What is the situation? It's shown to readers.

The Second incident is a repeat of the first and so it sets the pattern. Readers will now expect that the situation will be repeated, or that it's part of a regular pattern.

The Third incident similar but it's changed somehow. While the reader expects to see what's come before, this time it's different. This is the twist or the unexpected conclusion.

And that's what I experienced with my deer, deer, coyote encounters.

Look for the pattern of three in stories. Would it work for yours? Try it and it might just be the charm you need.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Ducks on the Loose

What a day! I'm starting to feel like I'm in the middle of a Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom episode (loved that show as a kid!!) except the locale isn't nearly as exotic. The same day of the deer sighting (see previous post) I have a close encounter with ducks . . . of the mallard kind.

Not an unusual duck, but unusual circumstances. First the ducks decided to check out our backyard. They passed up a chance at the swings. Here's the female faintly visible to the left of the shovels:

Then they continued on to the side of the house. Here's the male:

And here they both are believe it or not. Can you see the female hidden in the middle on the far right? No wonder she can hide on a nest.

So there I was happily photographing these ducks when I decided to take moving footage because the ducks were on the move. I had no idea what they were up to. And I had no idea that our cat was out and about either...

Funny how moments like that just happen. (Okay, maybe only funny to me.)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Distractions...Deer Me

So there I am in my office trying to get some work done. I was concentrating on my computer when something caught the corner of my eye. Whoah! It was a deer! Here's the view, messy office and all: There's a deer there honestly. Look just to the right of the post. So now that I was thoroughly distracted I got up and took another photo through the window. I didn't want it to run away just yet. Then another one appeared and they seemed to want to chase one another away. There must have been some tasty greens growing right there. I wouldn't know. But later on one of them came back again. This time I took a mini movie.

Like the deer, I'm outta here!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Nothing To Write About

It's been a while since I updated this blog. That's because I have nothing to write about.

No, apparently the fact that I saw three rainbows in three days is nothing much to write about. One was a very vivid but short-lived partial rainbow, so I didn't get a picture of it. The other two were faint, huge side-by-side rainbows. Spectacular sights! But I guess nothing to write about.

The fact that I had to
a) pull over to the side of the road to discuss a matter of discipline in a very serious manner with my kids, only to
b) pull back onto the road, drive for about half a kilometre, and then
c) start yelling to the kids like a crazy person when I saw a moose having a meal on the side of the road.
We all enjoyed that sight. The previous disciplinary interlude was forgotten, and they forgave me for being perhaps a little too excitable that day. But still, apparently that's nothing to write about either.

Or the fact that due to a bathtub mishap water leaked from the upstairs bathroom floor down into the downstairs bathroom ceiling and wall and then further down into the basement, which we'd just finished with drywall this past winter, and which caused all manner of panic and mayhem with towels strewn everywhere for mopping up the mess. Fortunately damage was minimal. No, I guess that's nothing much to write about either.

Hmmm, too bad I've got nothing to write about.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

May, Museums and Moose

This past weekend we found ourselves in Ottawa for a family thing. Ottawa is such a nice city! We took advantage of being there by visiting a couple museums. The Canadian Museum of Civilization was great. They have an amazing collection of totem poles. They're so tall! My favorite exhibit was the History of Canada hall. The interpretive guide in New France was truly entertaining. We could have stayed there all day and listened to her describe what life was like then, how she'd have put my daughter to work cleaning and cooking and how my son would be going off to work on a ship at age 12, a mere two years away. Here is Ottawa as seen from the side of the museum.

Another highlight was seeing the IMAX movie Sea Monsters. While I thought the sea monsters themselves would be the scariest parts of the movie, it ended up being a rock explosion scene that made me jump out of my seat. Doesn't make sense? Well, just go see it and you'll know what I mean. We also went to the Museum of Science and Technology. While I've seen them before, it never ceases to amaze me how incredibly huge those steamtrain locomotives are. I almost wish they were still in widespread use.

So on our way home we were all tired and eager to get home (not to mention the fact that I was running low on gas) but we were still hoping to see a moose as we drove through Algonquin Park. We drove and drove. We were almost through the park when there it was--no, there they were! Two moose on the side of the road. Can you see both of them here?

Then after we'd watched those moose for awhile we drove on. About a kilometre further we saw yet another moose. This one was in a marsh. My hubby got out of the car and took the still photos you see here. Me, I'm not so brave. While I love to look at them they're really quite big. I prefer to admire them from from inside my car.

The moose really do blend in with the forest. Plus it was dusk. Here were were staring at these magnificent creatures but still, it's hard to know how to feel when the moose become a veritable roadside attraction. We were the first to spot those two moose and stop, but shortly afterwards one more car and then another and then at least four others stopped. Some people came seriously equipped with their photographer paraphernalia. I'll bet they got some great shots. Almost everyone was snapping pics, obviously myself included. What must the moose think of our odd behaviour? You never know what an animal will do when you start filming it. I had a bit of fun adding embellishments to my footage. Here's my story of my first moose sighting of the year.

Made it home safely even if the car was barely running on fumes. Note to self: if you listen to your hubby as he looks at the gas guage and says "oh, that's plenty of gas" while you pass by the last gas station you can possibly stop at until you're home the resulting stress is NOT worth it.