Friday, December 10, 2010

Fun with the SCBWI Canada East Fall 2010 Retreat

So you take pictures at a writing retreat, and they sit around doing nothing. While you get your snow tires put on, you sit around doing nothing. Put the two together with laptop and.... come up with something a bit better than nothing. Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Rebecca Upjohn: Creating Through the Clamour

Feel like there's not enough time in your busy day to be creative? You're not alone. How do authors or illustrators continue to create while tackling everything else in their lives? About once a month as I'll ask a writer or illustrator these types of questions. 'Cause I want to know (I need all the help I can get in this department).

The Creator
name: Rebecca Upjohn
resides: Toronto and sometimes Harrisville, New Hampshire.
creates: So far? Picture books (1 fiction, 1 non-fiction), 1 mg (?) chapter book for 8-11 yr-olds

The Creations
The Last Loon, published by Orca Books, 2010
Patrick's Wish,  (co-authored with Karen Mitchell) published by Second Story Press, 2010
Lily and the Paper Man, Illustrated by Rene Bennoit, published by Second Story Press, 2007

The Clamour
work obligations: Um, I'd like to say I was a brain surgeon who worked for Doctors Without Borders or something impressive, but no, not at the moment.

kids: Two teenage boys who need less physical input (except when they need roadie services-drums and amps-to their gigs) but more time to talk things over. They like to have me and my husband around for toubleshooting, and they seem to appreciate being fed.

It took me a long time to figure out that they were fully capable of pulling their weight around the house. Everyone takes their turn to cook, clean, do laundry and walk the dog. A certain amount of standard maintenance is required on my part. Did you clean the bathroom? Yes. Did you clean the bathtub? No. Did you clean the toilet. No. Did you clean the counters? Mirrors? No. What did you clean? You know, the bathroom. Then when I go over the basic information again, they act as though it is all new information. It's entertaining, really.

volunteer work: Cooking/serving breakfast for Out of the Cold during the winter. I recently retired from the school volunteering after 13 years.

the internet: a time sucker. It's worse at the moment because I have a new computer and suddenly can access information I couldn't on my old system. Just pushing the new buttons is using up precious time.

household stuff: I find juggling all the stuff to keep everyone on track takes time to plan and execute. By the time everyone is up and out the door and the dog has been walked and I've been to yoga class, three hours have passed. Sometimes I find I actually get more writing done if I go to the library where there are fewer distractions. I notice when I'm trying to meet a deadline, I let more things go. I don't answer the phone, don't check my email, don't decide I have to clean out a closet. The fact is at home there are always things that are undone and they whisper, in subversive little voices, for attention.

Inevitably when I block out some time to work then one of the boys gets sick or needs a ride to school or can't cook on their night or can't walk the dog. As the person at home, I'm the fall back fixer.

How did you get started writing?
I started writing for my local community newsletter when I was living in New Hampshire. It was the first experience being "published" consistently. I wrote all different kinds of pieces. It fed my curiosity and satisfied my need to do creative work. Reading to my boys, I rediscovered how wonderful children's books were. I began to make up stories for and about the boys. I'd write, illustrate and bind my own books.

After I moved back to Canada, I took some writing classes, most notably one from Barbara Greenwood. Then I wrote a story and submitted it to the annual Writers' Union Writing for Children contest. When it placed among the twelve finalists, I realized people other than me and my friends/family saw merit in my writing (at least for that story) so I did what any sensible excited new writer would do, I put it in a drawer for two years.

I formed a writing group with a few others from Barbara's class and continued writing. (Two of us from the original group are still together after ten years.) Finally one day in a mad moment I decided to send out the contest story. I went to the Canadian Children's Book Centre and the librarian at the time suggested I look at Second Story Press for my story. So I read a bunch of their books and saw it was a good fit and I sent it. Ten months later they said yes.

What are you working on these days?
A non-fiction picture book set during the second World War.

What's the hardest thing for you to manage in terms of finding time or space to be creative?
I'm not particularly organized and disciplined. I allow myself to get distracted. I also seem to need fallow periods. Is it procrastination or replenishing the well? Sometimes one, sometimes the other. When I'm in the thick of writing, I tend to try to shut out everything around me. At that point having to stop and cook or be a parent or a responsible adult makes me grind my teeth. On the other hand, breaking it into smaller chunks of time is healthier.

I have to take the time to exercise and eat properly or it take its toll on my body. So it's a constant battle of forcing myself to start and then once I'm going forcing myself to stop and take care of myself. Sometimes it feels easier not to write and just be in my other roles.

Do any of the distractions end up feeding your creativity?
I have found sometimes when I walk the dog or cook or drive either new ideas will come up or solutions to problems I've run into writing a story. Another part of my brain is in charge of those activities and it frees up the thinking--thoughts flow differently. Once I was at the TSO with my husband and an idea for two characters and a picture book story came into my head. I wrote it down in a little notebook I carry and several years later that story is under consideration at a publisher.

How do you minimize your distractions while you're working? Any tips for others?
Working in a place like the library where there are fewer things pulling at me works as a kick start, especially if I have had a long time between writing days. Once I'm back in the story in my head it's easier to say no to things. I've even turned down paying work or renegged on something I agreed to do in order to use that time to write.

Oddly though, I work better when my family is around. It's as if part of me knows they are all present and accounted for and that part of me can stop worrying. I think everyone needs to figure out what works for them. Virginia Woolf said 500 pounds and a room of one's own will do it. I know people who work full time and still write books. They are usually very disciplined and highly motivated. Tim Wynne-Jones said only you know if you are procrastinating or if you are doing the work. So I think the best strategy is to not lie to yourself. Sooner or later you have to do the work, one word at a time. The rest is just chatter.

Are there times when you just can't focus on your writing and if so how do you cope with them?
 Yes, well, I'm not very great to live with at those times. My mode is to get anxious so then walking the dog helps. I try do do practical things, things which need to be done anyway. It has a calming affect. I'm less likely to snap someone's head off.

Any tips on how to do something faster/more efficiently to get back to writing?
Well, you can avoid doing most everything by writing. And you can avoid writing by doing everything else. My favourite strategy for avoiding everything is lying on the floor with the dog and staring at the ceiling. To be more productive? I think what helps the most is to avoid comparing myself to anyone else. Comparison can be debilitating. Honour your own way of working and be truthful with yourself.

Are there any other creative genres you look to for inspiration?
Music. It affects my mood and sometimes that is what I need to get my creative mind flowing.

As a creative person, do you have any other outlets for your talents?
My background and training is in photography. I still like to create and use images. Also I play the flute--not very well--but having music in my life is really important. I also love to knit, sew etc. I learned to spin with a drop spindle and then a spinning wheel when I was nine years old. My grandmother once told me that as a child I was always making things. I still have that need. It's the best strategy for reducing angst.

Why do you keep creating in the face of all this?
If I didn't do creative work I'd be locked up in a padded room somewhere with seriously compromised mental health.

Hah! Well I’m glad you haven’t chosen the padded cell route. Thanks so much, Rebecca, for spending some of your valuable creating time here with me and sharing your tips with us. Here's to minimizing your clamour and maximizing your creations!

Monday, November 22, 2010

This Bites

Some of my writer friends have squirrels to deal with. Yes, those rodents are definitely a pain in the birdfeeder.


Squirrels don't give me any trouble. I don't keep bird feeders. But I've got bigger backyard rodents to deal with: beavers.

Yep. Apparently the beavers have decided my deciduous trees are delicious. They appear to be helping themselves. Check this out! Here's the chewed tree we discovered this past weekend.

This is a large tree, but it's going to be a stump impersonating a pencil point any day now.

But that's not the end of the story. Walking to the right of this big tree we came upon this beaver bitten evidence (see right).

Two more gnawed trees! (The one in the foreground is a double trunk.) And then walking up from the smaller tree in the photo, MORE damage!

The  photo on the left shows that the tree on the right is the tree on the left in the previous photo. How's that for confusing?

But look, there's another tree that's been nibbled and yet another further back that's been chewed to nearly a stump.

Walking up from that small tree in the background we found this big bitten patch below.

Hopefully we can save it. It's just the bark that's been bitten. We've wrapped it with chicken wire along with a couple other trees that were only bark bitten. Which brings me to this discovery below a day or so later:

I know they have to eat too. But yeah, it bites. Better make plans for planting this spring.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Katie Comes to Life

I must indulge in a bit of squee for a moment:

My author's copies of Ladybug arrived!!!

What author doesn't love holding their published work in their own hands? Up till now what you've written might have been a rather ephemeral creation--text on a computer screen, a printout of your manuscript on your own paper. They don't cut it quite the same.

When you hold your published work in an actual magazine, one that will be read by many a child and parent, it makes your story suddenly very real. And look at my characters brought to life in those illustrations by Blanche Sims!

Thanks to the Ladybug team for helping my words reach readers. I hope they're enjoyed.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Treats and Tricks: the October Carnival of Children's Literature

It's Halloween night. It's COLD outside here. The wind is swirling the dried leaves and has sent us indoors the moment our trick-or-treating was finished. So now that we all have our loot, what are we going to do? Enjoy the October edition of The Carnival of Children's Literature, of course. This month there are treats for everyone, and perhaps a few tricks as well. So grab your candy and let's begin.

Book Recommendations and Reviews

Tanya Turek at Books4Your Kids says "Two powerhouses of picture books, married for over 40 years and creating books for even longer, have finally combined their talents on an amazing, gorgeous, essential book. Check out Tanya's review of There's Going to Be a Baby, written by John Burningham and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury.

Need to get your little ones to bed after all the excitement of the day? This one's for you. Rachel presents some of her favorite bedtime children's stories in B is for Bedtime… I love books for preschoolers! posted at Quirky Momma: Fun Learning Activities for Preschoolers and Kids.

Over at Read Aloud ... Dad you'll find children's book reviews and read aloud impressions from a dad and his twins. They review what they read aloud and recommend whether you should Buy, Loan or Pass on the books. See what they say about Today's read aloud: The gruffalo. And what would Halloween be without at least one monster anyway?

Kids need great poetry; poetry that catches them up in its rhythm and helps them see the world through fresh eyes. But finding it isn't easy. So says Susan Stephenson, the Book Chook, and that's why she's so excited about A Ute Picnic and Other Australian Poems, written by Lorraine Marwood and published by Walker Books (2010).

Dona presents The Duck Song, by Bryant Oden at Allergy Kid Mom. And be sure to check out the trick which comes in the form of a clever song. It will leave you chuckling for sure.

Margo Tanenbaum asks that we please don't call Laurie Halse Anderson's new novel historical fiction--she prefers the term historical thriller, which is perfect to describe her new novel Forge, sequel to Chains. It's a real page-turner and made Margo at The Fourth Musketeer gasp aloud at some of the twists in the plot! Don't miss A Historical Thriller: Forge, by Laurie Halse Anderson (Atheneum Books, 2010).

Think you saw some ghosts tonight? Then you definitely want to see this. Mary Elizabeth of A Novel Idea reviews The Seer of Shadows at Book Review Revisited :: The Seer of Shadows by Avi.

Jen Robinson has a treat for you with a review of Cynthia Lord's newest middle grade novel, Touch Blue, which she adored, and wants to share with everyone. Don't miss Jen Robinson's post Touch Blue: Cynthia Lord over at Jen Robinson's Book Page.

Melwyk says "This is from a few months ago, but I loved this book so much -- touching without being sentimental, funny and serious as well. It's rare to see children's books available in translation, so I am glad that Groundwood decided to publish this book, originally in Dutch. A great find." Melwyk shares Against the Odds at The Indextrious Reader.

Ready for a few more reviews? melissa @ 1lbr presents Book Review: The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan posted at One Librarian's Book Reviews and Aaron Mead features Teen Fiction: Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins posted at Children's Books and Reviews. Lori Calabrese reviews the frightfully fun "Halloween Night" by Marjorie Dennis Murray at Lori Calabrese Writes!

While The Quiet Book is getting a lot of deservedly high praise, Jeff says don't overlook another Deborah Underwood 2010 title by the name of A Balloon for Isabel. You can't go wrong with porcupines, bubble wrap, and balloons! Jeff reviews A Balloon for Isabel at NC Teacher Stuff.

Tammy Flanders highlights Voices from India at Apples With Many Seeds because, as she says, in teaching about cultures, it's important to find authentic voices in the narratives. Tammy has focused this post on books written, illustrated and published in India to provide that authenticity.

Feel up to visiting with vampires? Danielle Smith presents Book Review and Giveaway: A Vampire Is Coming To Dinner by Pamela Jane at There's A Book.

After that, you might be ready for some thought provoking questions. Roberta Gibson at Wrapped in Foil certainly is. She features a look at the book I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced, which is touted as a young adult book and is sure to generate discussion.

Nothing but good stuff here. Callie Feyen was honored to review No English by Jacqueline Jules this month on her blog Sit a While. It's a touching story of how two girls who speak different languages become friends. 

How about an exciting adventure featuring Japanese supernatural demons – yokai – and a young girl’s fight to protect her younger brother? Mary Ann Scheuer presents Takeshita Demons, by Cristy Burne -- exciting fantasy with Japanese mythology (ages 9 - 12) posted at Great Kid Books.

Alex Baugh features Sweethearts of Rhythm. The Story of the Greatest All-Girl Swing Band in the World by Marilyn Nelson, Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney posted at The Children's War and states "This a wonderful picture book written from the point of view of the instruments played by the all girl swing band the Sweethearts of Rhythm during World War II. It is definitely worth reading to discover this little known group of talented women and their accomplishments."

And you definitely can't miss a reader's response to a vampire book that wants to be more than a teen slacker story. Gail Gauthier presents A Vampire Book For Teens Who Want To Think posted at Original Content.

Other Great Book Stuff

Ready for some book related news and discussions? First, find out about a recent charitable event in which Canadian authors helped refurbish a desperately underfunded school library in inner city LA. More than 5000 books, and 4 murals later....a library is born! Helaine Becker tells you all about it in A Library Is Born posted at Track & Display Changes: A Writer's Blog.

Kate Coombs gives you an analysis of trends in MG SFF as reflected in this year's Cybils nominees at From Harry to Scary: Trends in MG Sci-Fi/Fantasy posted at Book Aunt. And what do teens think? Jon Bard presents some of their views in The YA View: What We Like in Our Books (and What We Don’t) over at Write4Kids!.

Want to bring reading and puzzles together? Puzzles can also be a reading material for Amanda Hartman in Puzzles are Fun to Read posted at The Literary Family, a blog that aims to help adults connect with kids in their lives.

Eva Mitnick muses about sisters in children's and YA books in A Chompo bar for my sister posted at Eva's Book Addiction. Aline Pereira presents Children's Literature from India and the Indian diaspora posted at PaperTigers Blog.

Barbara Krasner hosts A History of Jewish Children's Literature-Part Four posted at The Whole Megillah. It's the fourth in a series adapted from a talk by Lisa Silverman, Library Director at the Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, given at the May 2010 Highlights Foundation workshop, "Writing Jewish-themed Children's Books."

October marks the "Death of the Picture Book" brouhaha for Pam W Coughlan, and so she wants to highlight her rebuttal. You can't miss Picture Books Aren’t in Trouble Just Because the NYT Says So posted at MotherReader.

Does October mark a different milestone for you and your child? Some might say this particular milestone is a very scary one. To help you out, Rebecca Reid covers Children’s Corner: Potty Training Books From Diapers to Success, Age 2 to Age 3 at Rebecca Reads.

And who celebrated a birthday this month? Eric Van Raepenbusch of Happy Birthday Author wants you to know about Happy Birthday Nancy Carlson - October 10.

Creative Endeavours and Congratulations

How about some congratulations for new creations? Alessandro Vene presents The Timmy Rabbit House at Allie's Blog. And Deborah Freedman has a creative take on why she isn't blogging in the entry titled In which I am harassed for not posting?... at writes with pictures.

You Can't Wear These Genes is about the basic building blocks of what makes us and how the traits that appear in us are passed down from parent to child. It's Shirley Duke's first science book, and the post You Can't Wear These Genes at SimplyScience Blog includes an activity for use in the classroom, library, or home.

Author Lynn Hazen, blogs at Imaginary Blog about how her YA novel, Shifty, was chosen by Napa County Reads, a collaboration of the Napa County Board of Education, the five school districts, the Napa County Library, Napa Valley College, and the Arts Council of Napa County in the entry More Napa Reads Shifty-Themed Planter Boxes. Student and professional artists created Shifty-themed planter boxes inspired by the book. They were auctioned off to support literacy at a special event at the Napa Valley Opera House

And while the video is not specifically about children's/YA lit, it was created by a Cheryl Rainfield, a YA writer, for LGBT youth and anyone who's thinking of suicide--a real issue for many teens. You can view Cheryl Rainfield's It Gets Better video for queer youth and anyone thinking of suicide posted at Cheryl Rainfield.


Tonight's the night for hearing things that make you shiver, or seeing things that creep you out. Get your mind off that stuff by reading these interviews. Pat Zietlow Miller features An Author You Should Know: Wendy Delsol, a debut YA author, posted at Read, Write, Repeat. Tarie presents Author Interview: Becky Bravo at Asia in the Heart, World on the Mind.

Anastasia Suen interviews the Jimi Hendrix picture book biographer in Nonfiction Monday: Jimi Sounds Like a Rainbow posted at Picture Book of the Day. Zoe Toft interviews Polish born British illustrator Jan Pienkowski, twice winner of the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration in An Interview with Jan PieĊ„kowski at Playing by the book.

D.M. Cunningham presents Trace Beaulieu brings us Silly Rhymes in which Trace Beaulieu, co-creator of Mystery Science Theater 3000, talks about his first book for children at Literary Asylum. And Lizann Flatt finds out what sort of tricks Peggy Collins uses to find the time to write and illustrate with two small children and a number of other distractions in Peggy Collins: Creating Through the Clamour over at The Flatt Perspective.

Publishing/writing tips

And last but definitely not least, to help all authors ensure their submissions to their editors will not send said editor screaming away from their desk, here's a blog entry about all the things author Wendie Old has to remember to include in a nonfiction proposal. And, since it's a picture book bio, she also includes the full ms. Don't miss Wendie Old sharing Into the Mail it goes at Wendie's Wanderings. This is definitely a treat!

And that marks the end of this month's edition of the Carnival of Children's Literature. I hope you've enjoyed the treats and a few of the tricks too. It's been a pleasure to spend this spooky evening with the wealth of material available for fans of Children's Literature. I hope you've enjoyed it too. Thank you!

Submit your blog article to the next edition of carnival of children's literature using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Peggy Collins: Creating Through the Clamour

Feel like there's not enough time in your busy day to be creative? You're not alone. How do authors or illustrators continue to create while tackling everything else in their lives? About once a month as I'll ask a writer or illustrator these types of questions. Cause I want to know (I need all the help I can get in this department).

The Creator
name: Peggy Collins
resides in: a crooked little house beside the Salmon River in Eastern Ontario
creates: picture books, stories and illustrations

The Creations
Tooter's Stinky Wish (coming in 2011) Fitzhenry and Whiteside
Fatou Fetch the Water, Red Robin Books, 2010
In the Snow, Cider Mill Press/Applesauce Press, 2009
In the Garden, Cider Mill Press/Applesauce Press, 2009
Shaun the Shay Shark, Red Robin Books, 2009

The Clamour
work: Loyalist College, though right now I am on maternity leave. I work in the Marketing Department as well as teaching design and hopefully illustration.

family: I am a mom to 2 kids: a boy who is 5 and a baby girl who is 7 months. I am also a wife to a contractor so life is very busy.

volunteer work: I volunteer for the PBAA doing marketing (though this last little while I've been terrible), I also work for the Green Party, our local OEYC (early years centre) and when I can I volunteer at my son's school (for book fairs and stuff).

house work: Sucks, I wish I had a live-in maid. I am not a housekeeper at all. I do my best, but when I have a deadline the house suffers. Cloth diapers = much more laundry.

the internet: Wasn't really a problem until recently. I was on dial-up so that pretty much prevented me from doing anything fun at all. Blogging takes up time, as do Twitter and Facebook -- and keeping the website up to date is tricky too... I need a few clones to do that stuff.

How did you get started illustrating?
Well, I've always wanted to do this, that has never changed. My family are all artists in one way or another, and my dad is a great storyteller. My mom used to make books for us (similar to the Alexander books by Judith V.) I went to Sheridan College for illustration. I was lucky and had a man walk into my office and notice a picture I had hanging up -- from that I got an amazing illustration job and I have not looked back since.

What's the hardest aspect for you in terms of being creative, finding the time, the space, the focus, or something else?

Time is the issue, as is space. We are 4 people living in a tiny house. My 'studio' is actually the corner of our living room. I am surrounded by toys and fishing tackle -- lol. I use my kids' train table to lay out my work. I won't/can't work (other than checking my email) while my kids are up. There isn't enough time when they are little to enjoy everything and I am not going to waste it by being distracted all the time. SO my workday typically will start at 8pm and during nap time on school days.

Do any of the distractions end up feeding your creativity?
Hmm, right now I have the jumparoo set up beside my desk and my 7-month-old daughter is jumping furiously beside me -- happily. She makes me laugh.

My kids are a major source of distraction, but one I definitely feed off of. The two books I have authored so far stem from this -- adventures with my son. And the ones I am working on right now do as well -- from direct conversations with Mo and his friends. I think there is inspiration everywhere especially when you have kids. They have ways of looking at things that are so refreshing and truthful. They are also amazing critics.

What are you working on these days?
Fleshing out a few of my own projects, and I will be doing a lovely book for Fitzhenry and Whiteside and a fun book about dinosaurs.

How do you minimize your distractions while you're working?
I cannot minimize the distractions. I guess I am lucky in that I kind of need distractions in order to focus. I tried setting my studio up in a separate room, but I HATED it. Not only did I not get to see my husband, but it seems I need something to tune out to get anything done. I think it comes from growing up in a busy house, having lots of roommates in college and just a desire to be with other people. I tend to work at night, after the kids have gone to bed, or during nap time.

For me, ideas culminate long before I ever get them onto paper so by the time I write it down it is pretty realized... the dishes and household chores are not something I take pleasure in, but I get my kids to help and we really just do the bare minimum when I have a deadline. I save the deep cleaning for when I have some time.

Are there times when you just can't focus on your writing/illustrating and if so how do you cope with them?
In the last few months of pregnancy, and the first few months after the birth of my 2nd. When my kids are sick, when my house is an over-the-top disaster or when I am marking assignments. I trudge through the stuff that needs to be done, knowing the other will always be there. You just do what you have to do. Sometimes I have a deadline and I just can't get into it. That is when it seems like WORK and so I pick the easy stuff, and then the rest falls into place. Taking care of a baby leaves a lot of time for thinking as you are cuddling...

Any tips on working faster or more efficiently? 
My revelation came when a fellow illustrator mentioned printing out sketches directly on WC paper. That is a lifesaver and an ENORMOUS time saver. I also now only check my email 3 times a day, which ultimately saves me a tonne of time.

As a creative person, do you have any other outlets for your talents? 
I love to felt. Needle felting is soothing and good for the hands. I like to sew, too though right now it is far too arduous a process. Felting is quick and easy and I can put it down at any point without too much fuss.

Are there any other creative genres you look to for inspiration? 
Hmm, other books. I am an avid, avid reader. I love kids books. I find it interesting to see what my kids in particular gravitate towards. I also love looking online at the work other people are doing: the picture book artists association is a great outlet as is the SCBWI. I also love to attend conferences, and have missed the last few because of circumstance only. I always come away feeling refreshed and inspired - I miss that. Next year maybe I can leave for a day at least!

Why do you keep creating when it's such a challenge?
Because I have to. I love it. It definitely is not for the money or the fame!

You said it! Thanks for taking the time to share, Peggy. Wishing you all the best in your current and future projects. Love that you work surrounded by toys and fishing tackle!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Of Politics and Poop

So last week I was out driving and I came across a municipal election sign with a toilet seat draped over it. How eloquent!
I laughed so hard I nearly drove off the narrow road.

I couldn't take a picture of that particular sight, much as I wanted to. I felt it wouldn't be fair to the candidate because there was no way to hide the identity of the beseated individual. But now that the election is over and all the signs have disappeared from the landscape, I keep thinking about this incident. It brings to mind a story starting point.

What if a kid saw someone had done that to his or her parent's election sign? Do you want your parent to be mayor? Would this make you angry or make you ready to die of embarrassment? Or what if this happened to a teen's election sign if they were running for high school or class president? Would you get to the bottom (pun intended) of who did it? Would you ignore it? Laugh it off? Stew in silence? Hmmm.

Okay, so you'd have to add a lot more. But it's a start. Go run with it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Patience and Published in Ladybug Magazine

Ladybug, October 2010
My short story is finally published in Ladybug magazine! October 2010!
Why the word finally up there? Cause I've waited a long time. You know how writers are told you have to have patience in this business? I signed the contract for this story in 2004.

I'm not particularly bothered by that, although it's always nice to see your work in print quickly. But I've been a magazine editor and I know that sometimes editors have to wait for the right issue to slot a piece into in order to ensure that each issue you put together is a pleasing and cohesive whole.

This story, published under the title "Katie Kicks," was inspired by my daughter and her first attempts at playing soccer. She was dressed in her lovely clean white team shirt and black shorts. She held her very own soccer ball proudly. She was looking forward to it. And then we arrived at the field and she wouldn't even set foot on to the small patch of grass they'd set out for her team. She watched her teammates but she was too shy to join in herself. It really affected me. I struggled with feelings of understanding where she was coming from as well as a tinge of embarrassment as a parent that my child wasn't out there like the others. So I went home and jotted down my thoughts about this and it eventually became a short story. From her point of view though, not mine.

Now that it's in print I'm very pleased. I can't wait to see it myself. I've combed the stores looking for the issue but it's nowhere to be found. So I will just have to be patient awhile more while I wait for my authors copies to arrive.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Missing Milkweeds

 So how's this for a bit of irony.

In trying out a camera I figured I'd attempt to get some closeups of the milkweeds at the end of my driveway. I love that plant. It's so full of textures: the plump velvety leaves, the sticky milky sap, the rubbery pink flower clusters of spring; the knobbly green pods, the black-and-orange beetles and monarch caterpillars that snack on it in summer; the soft downy fluff that flies from the dried papery pods in fall. So anyway, I got some okay shots, which you can see here. I figured I could see how they turned out and if they were dreck I could go back later to take some more. So here's where the irony comes in.

It's a good thing I took a picture of those milkweed pods because now they're missing! The photos are all I've got left.

On (Canadian) Thanksgiving Sunday I drove out my driveway only to find a car parked crosswise at the end blocking my exit. Some guy was fingering a small pine tree growing at the side of my driveway and his apparent wife or female companion was bagging up the milkweed pods!

I rolled down my window and asked them what they were doing. Alright it was obvious but I had to ask.

The woman laughed sheepishly and said she was just gathering the milkweeds. Yeah, like I said, that was obvious. I could see she'd gathered quite a few in her bag. I asked her to leave some for us thank you. Meanwhile, the man had gone to his car and moved it so I could get out of my own driveway. I wasn't moving. Not till they left. Nope. Not budging.

The woman continued to gather for a few more moments. I really was astounded. Then she got into their car and drove off. So now I hardly have any milkweeds left AT ALL! Like, maybe two or three pods (not plants) at the most. These ones in the photos? GONE!

I wouldn't have minded so much if she'd only taken a few and then driven on down the road and taken a few from another patch and so on and so on leaving no patch destitute. But she pretty much cleaned me out. So now while we wait for the school bus we have no ghostly patches of down to filter the rising morning sun, no fluffy parachutes to launch into the sky. Milkweeds were kind of a fall ritual for me and my kids.

Okay, rant over and now I feel better. It's a minor thing, I know. But sometimes it's the little things in life that get to you, you know? Little things—at once both little and hugely important. And it's the little things a writer adds to a character or to a setting that make for the best stories, I think. So go, and may you sow the seeds of your own milkweeds in your manuscripts.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Poor Pine

Fall is such a spectacular time of year around here. You can't ignore the colour of the deciduous trees, and every warm day is like a gift as we count down to the coming constant cold of winter. I climbed the Dorset fire tower with my family this past Thanksgiving weekend. How can you not love a view like this?

(Dorset, Ontario at the Fire Tower)
The colour is past its peak but it's still a spectacular view. I usually focus on the colourful trees, but consider the plight of the pine. The poor pine gets overlooked this time of year. But what would the view be without the deep pine green to punctuate the colour? Maybe you've heard that pine trees don't lose their leaves? It's one of those "facts" that gets tossed around, but don't you believe it. It's not true.

Pine trees do lose their leaves, or rather their needles. It's just that most types don't lose them all at the same time so it's not as noticeable (but take the tamarack--it does lose its needles all at once). No spectacular reds or oranges on a pine to make for great pictures. Pine needles turn yellowish and then brown. You might not even really notice those needles.

Then the needles fall off the tree and collect on the ground. They don't make a satisfying crunch when you walk on them, but they do form a cushy carpet.

And if you want a lawn anywhere near a pine, you know the needles make as much of a mess when you rake them. So here's to the poor maligned pine, holding out for its moment to shine--the Holidays.

In the meantime, happy Fall to all!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Carnival is Coming!

I'm happy to say I'll be hosting the Carnival of Children's Literature for October. Yes, a roundup of a month's worth of children's literature links from around the blogosphere--here! You don't want to miss it. Judging by the links to blog posts that are already starting to trickle in, this is going to be a lot of fun to put together and even more fun for you to read.

So be sure to stop in around October 30 or 31st for some spooktacular reading!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Stormy Interlude

There was quite a bit of drama in the sky hereabouts last evening.

I tried to beat the storm home, but I lost. Ah well.

It was a challenging drive home. But once home

The girls and I raced
to cross the space
from door to door
by downpour
enjoying ourselves

Or something like that anyway.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Still Slacking into September

I've been AWOL! How did that happen?

A story to illustrate the state of the union chez moi. The kids came home from one of the first few days of school last week with this story. Paraphrasing:
"Mommy, the exhaust pipe fell off the bus this morning so we had to get on the high school bus and she turned the wrong way on the highway and then we had to do the last part of our route backwards."
Disclaimer: wrong way means not the way the route should go, not as in going south in the northbound lane, which sadly happens a few times a year around here.

What does that illustrate? It's like a metaphor for my writing life the last couple months!

Yep, my exhaust pipe fell off somewhere. What writing have I done recently? Ahem, nothing. Between volunteer jobs taking over my life, going to work very part time (more on that in another post), dealing with regular family maintenance, and stupid allergies that make me look and feel like I've had about 2 hours sleep--oh wait a second, sometimes that might be true--I haven't had an inch of head space for writing projects.

And now I feel guilty about that. 

You know all that writing advice that says stuff like just write? make it a priority? you've got to treat it like a job? do it everyday? writers write? just plant your heiney in a chair and get writing? Yeah, I hear it and it makes sense but when I just can't manage it I feel like a bit of a failure.

Sometimes your family has to come first. Sometimes they need to be fed. Sometimes they need you to help them put Barbie's hair in a ponytail. Sometimes you have to work to make money to pay the bills. Sometimes you have to step up to help with extra curricular activities your kids love or they won't be available. Sometimes you just have to catch a few moments enjoying the sunshine and your flowers and watch the vibrant green of summer turn to the mellow gold of fall or you'll go insane. 

But I'm trying to claw my way back to writing. Maybe now that the kids are back into a school routine I might have a bit more time to write some days. Maybe the volunteer duties will settle down for a bit. Maybe the first frost will come soon and kill all the nasal and sinus irritating pollen producing plants. 

My return to writing feels awkward and sporadic and like I'm coming at it all backwards right now. But maybe one day I'll find all this supposed distraction sowed some good seeds, gave me some fantastic fodder, for future writing. Or am I just kidding myself? 

Time will tell. But in the meantime, if you're a writer who sometimes feel like this, let's not beat ourselves up too much. Okay?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Anthology Appearance!

I have some book news! It's not a book written by me, but I do have a poem (my "Bedtime Teeth") appearing in a new poetry anthology. Yay!

Switching on the Moon is compiled by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters, illustrated by G. Brian Karas. It's published by Candlewick Press and is out September 14th. And it just got a starred review in Publisher's Weekly.

I originally sold this poem to Babybug magazine. They published it in 2000, reprinted it in 2008, and now here it is in a book in 2010. It's definitely been to my advantage to sell only first North American publication rights and non exclusive reprint rights. It might seem like you'll never be able to resell a piece, but you never know.

And because you never know, it kinda keeps you going as a writer, don't you think?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Me and Iced Tea from Nancy D.

Every summer I keep a steady supply of iced tea in my fridge. I make it from a recipe I've had since I was, oh, 10 or something. It's straight from my copy of The Nancy Drew Cookbook: Clues to Good Cooking, copyright 1973, my edition printed in 1975.

I keep making this recipe because it's the best iced tea I've ever had. There's a secret ingredient in the tea: real mint leaves added while the tea is hot and steeping. The practical side of me likes the added benefit of making use of the mint that threatens to overrun a corner of my backyard.

The nostalgic side of me likes to pull out this recipe book because I get to remember what it was like to make this tea when I was young.

When making any recipe was a real accomplishment.
When I spent my summers reading in the shade on the patio swing.
When I built forts in the treeline with my best friend.
When my best friend and I climbed the old cherry trees in her yard and ate all the cherries we could reach.
When evenings were full of games of kick the can or ghost in the graveyard.
When summer stretched out in front of me like an endless expanse of possibility.

So I'm off now to make another batch of tea. You're welcome to join me.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Dragonfly Rock

Time for a silly interlude. These guys were sunning themselves on a rock beside my driveway. It was quite a high traffic zone. The comings and goings put me in mind of that song involving a barley based beverage and a wall...

Five little dragonflies sunning on a rock, five dragonflies soaking up sun,
If one more dragonfly should alight on the rock... 


Six little dragonflies sunning on a rock, six dragonflies soaking up sun,
If one more dragonfly should alight on the rock...


Six little dragonflies and a wasp sunning on a rock, six dragonflies and a wasp soaking up sun,
Should one more dragonfly find room on this rock? That'd be...

Seven! (Plus a wasp.)

Seven little dragonflies and a wasp on a rock, seven dragonflies and a wasp soak up the sun,
Luckily that's all that alighted on the rock, so now this silly song is all done!

Monday, July 12, 2010

He Did What?

I just finished a YA novel and it was an interesting read. Except one thing bugged me. It was a little thing, a tiny thing even. But it jumped out at me and clobbered me over the head. And I swear I came across it three separate times in the book.

What was this tiny annoyance? It was this peculiar descriptive action I've never noticed in a book before. The descriptive action had a character doing this: sanding his hands together.

It stopped me short in my reading. Well, okay, that's unusual, it brings to mind a carton villain, but I could get past it. The first time. But the second? Then the third?

I enjoyed the book for the most part, but for me this is now the book where the guy sands his hands together. It's made the biggest impression on me. Can you overuse a quirky description or action or is it just me? I suspect it's an individual response.

Do these types of tiny details ever take over a story for you?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Words and Warnings

I like to bake. Usually I just grab the flour and use it. But I couldn't help notice the new packaging this time. It was no special type of flour, just your regular run-of-the-mill whole wheat stuff. It was exactly what the words on the front said it was:

 But check out the back of the bag. Below the ingredients list there's that very helpful orange exclamation mark so you can't miss the allergy warning.

Because OMG apparently if you have a wheat allergy you need to be told that your whole WHEAT flour actually contains something called WHEAT!!

Good thing you were warned.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Me and Some Girl on TV

Driving home last night from parts further south, I was stopped on a minor highway between two small Ontario towns. Cars and vans and miscellaneous vehicles lined both sides of the road, and a huge blinding spotlight was illuminating spooky fog swirls up ahead. I expected a R.I.D.E check but that wasn't it.

We weren't moving at all. Cars in front of me turned around and went back. After debating whether or not to do the same, to trust the road sign at the intersection I'd just crossed and detour on a road I'd never driven on before, I too turned around. Oh, sure, now some guy puts up a road closed sign. But I also saw a couple other guys on the side of the road dressed similarly in odd whitish/grey outfits. I decided to ask them what was going on as I drove by.

The answer? Filming for some TV show, I was told. Then the guy said, "Hey, you look like Being Erica's Erica.
I laughed, said thanks, and went on my way. I was thinking either the guy needs glasses or it was the fact that

  1. it was dark out
  2. and drizzling rain
  3. and I asked the question through the passenger side window while sitting in the driver's seat so he couldn't see clearly 

Still, it's okay to be mistaken for the star of a TV show who happens to be only 32. Hah!

(I confess to recognizing "Being Erica" as the title of a CBC TV show but it's not one I've ever watched. I had to look it up today. The premise sounds cool. I might just have to check it out now.)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Frog Find

I dashed out to cut some chives for my dinner the other day when I was surprised by this green guy:

Maybe it's an all-you-can-eat slug buffet at the third clump of chives from the tarragon. Bring some friends!!

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Between the natural world throwing us an earthquake yesterday, last night's tornado off to the southwest of me, severe thunderstorm warnings here this morning (which amounted to only heavy rain, thankfully), and all the security and shenanigans associated with the G8, things here have been rather interesting lately.

Yesterday my kids came home excited to tell me about the military helicopter that landed across from the school and how everyone in a couple classroom portables abandoned their desks and ran outside for a better look. I guess some guy told them to get back and it took off again. The kids got a talking to from their teacher too.

And yesterday three very loud helicopters flew over the house a couple times. Those things are loud! The wildlife in my backyard was not too impressed. The low flying copters scared at least one heron and a turtle. I initially put the quake shake down to another flyover. Oops!

I know these things are necessary with an event such as the G8 and the important people attending it, but it's a very odd juxtaposition to have such a technological military/security presence in such a rural region known for being a get-away-from-it-all vacation destination. Makes me appreciate the time when the peepers were my biggest noise complaint:

And I am fortunate that things will return to normal in just a matter of days.

2 appreciate
1's normal state

Monday, June 21, 2010

New Views, Two Views

I’ve been contemplating some info I learned through one of my volunteer activities. Although said activity has nothing to do with writing, the info itself can be useful to writers, I think. 
I was in Toronto (Hi, CN Tower!) at the Skate Canada annual convention a few weeks ago and attended a workshop titled “New Web Strategies.” You can’t beat sports when it comes to expertise in fans and technology, right? 

The workshop was given by Kevin Albrecht of iSport Media and Management. He went over the current landscape in consumption of sport product and internet usage, and how to make use of this to promote and build a eventually make money of course. 

The community being referred to was the community of skaters or skating clubs and organizations and fans, but presumably the community could be any group of individuals with similar interests. Maybe like, say, followers of certain books or authors.

First, it’s kind of obvious, but we were told the goal of any business is to produce content, distribute the content, and somehow make money from that. Whereas in the past the distribution channels for sport were limited to a couple options (TV mostly and only a couple channels at that) now there are hundreds of options for distributing content. Hey, sound familiar my publishing pals? 

Into this new world of distribution options comes these facts:
  •  Canadians spend more time online and view more content online than any other country in the world 
  •  Canadians spend more time online than in front of the TV 
  •  Internet penetration in Canada is 72%; in the USA it’s 62%
Pretty obvious digital content is becoming very important. Add to this a study that found how people view websites. He said a study of 1.36 million internet users found the eye tracks a website this way: across the top, down the left and across the middle/bottom. You have 2.4 seconds to grab a visitor’s attention.

What does that mean?
    • This dictates where your important information and/or big advertising spots on your website should go 
    • You need new content regularly to give people a reason to come back to your site (so quit taking blog holidays already, sheesh!)
      Some interesting predictions were: 
      • live streaming from just about anywhere will become a reality as people live stream events from their own phones and send that to a website of their choosing
      • apps to a closed community will be worth the most money (so eg. a skating club app with schedule, news, competition results, live streaming of competitions or events, etc) 
      So will we soon see author apps?

      I bet it'll start out with the big guys, those who are big enough to warrant interest in appearances, opinions, news of forthcoming books, etc. Maybe later on it will filter down or come down in price for those of us with a more modest presence.
      Food for thought, no? 

      Sure made me think. It was fun to step outside my regular writing mindset. I was glad I went on a number of levels. Besides, this easily-fascinated-by-forms-of-transportation gal got to enjoy this view from my hotel room. Airplanes took off from the runway, and there are sailboats, ferry boats, and a water taxi. Yes, this view was pretty easy to take.

      But at the banquet I kinda wish I'd never had this view. Who wants a big ole castor canadensis looming over an otherwise stellar dinner? 

      (Yeah, it's standing on the floor and that's the ballroom CEILING and part of one of those gargantuan projection screens on the right.) Apparently they'll make a big inflatable anything these days.

      Wednesday, June 2, 2010

      Special Skype School Visit

      How cool to be asked if I could talk to the kids at  Monticello Elementary in Wisconsin about Life in a Farming Community, which focuses on Monticello, WI.

      How disappointing for both the teacher and I to realize I couldn't get there on either the school's or my own budget. But then we settled on the possibility of a Skype visit. Jody Indergand was able to get the technology to do it. I had the capability. We agreed to do it! Was I nervous? You bet: I was going to be talking to the kids in the very community I'd written about.

      To prepare, I read a lot about what other authors had done with their virtual visits to get a sense of what to do on my end and what the experience would be like. Google "skype author visit" or something like that. There's lots of good info out there. So here's how it went for me.

      First I tested my Skype out with a friend to get a feel for it. Then teacher, Jody Indergand, and I set a date and time a few days before the scheduled talk to test how our systems worked together. By turning her camera she showed me where the kids were going to be sitting. We made sure she could see and hear me and that I'd show up on their large screen. We double checked our time zone differences so we knew exactly what time we'd scheduled in local terms.

      After that, I needed to tidy my desk, which regularly looks like a disaster. More importantly I needed to tidy what the kids would see behind me (which incidentally also usually looks like a disaster). I used my webcam to see what the kids would see. Saaaay, they can't see the floor! I hid a lot of stuff there. This is what they would see. I lined up a few of my books face out behind me so there'd be an interesting background. I had this weirdly vague feeling that I should clean the rest of my house, like I was having company or something, but quickly canned that idea. That didn't stop me from having to remind myself that they couldn't, afterall, see the crumbs from my lunch left on my kitchen counter.

      This is what my desk looked like before the event. I've got water perched precariously close to the keyboard in case I needed a drink during my talk. Next time I think I'll use a container with a lid, like a travel coffee mug or a reusable water bottle. I perched my laptop on my handy dandy Muskoka phone books because what I'd realized from testing the view from my webcam was that I needed to bring the level of my web cam up higher. My notes and props are within reach on the right. Everything was ready and then it was just a matter of waiting for Skype to ring.

      Jody and I had decided who would phone whom on the day plus we'd exchanged real phone numbers in case of difficulties. There was the ring! We only had to fix the small glitch that they could see me but I couldn't see them, and then we were all set. It turned out they even had some special guests in the audience so that the people who fact checked and provided photos for the book were there too. I waved to Richard Grahn and Sally Braem. This is the terrific audience of kids I was talking to.

      I did a brief presentation on how I wrote the book. The kids found it fascinating to learn how a British book packager contacted a Canadian writer to write about a small village in the US and put together a book that is published in the US, Canada, and Australia. After I talked, some of the kids came up to their computer and web cam individually and asked me some great questions. They wanted to know things like what was my favorite thing I learned about Monticello, if I'd ever written about farming before, and whether writing was a job or a hobby for me. Like I said: great questions!

      My overall experience was very positive and I'd definitely do it again. Challenges for me included:
      • not being able to read the audience as well. I could see and hear them obviously, but couldn't make eye contact with individual audience members. 
      • my presentation felt more static to me. Because I wasn't physically there I couldn't walk around and change positions. Maybe that wasn't helped by the fact that I had to stay fairly still in my chair because my chair is annoyingly squeaky and creaky when I move. Next time I'll hunt down the WD-40 first.
      • hanging up was a downer. When it was all done and we'd said goodbye and thank you, you just hang up and presto you're back to your regular life. After a physical school visit you get to do some handshaking or whatever and drive away. There's a more gradual transition or something. 
      • forcing myself to look at my web cam was difficult. Other authors have commented on this too. You have to make yourself look at a small black dot when your brain wants to look at the kids on your computer screen. But if you don't look at the dot, to your audience it will look as if you're looking down whereas if you look at the dot it looks to them as if you're looking at them.
      But we were able to exchange some valuable information (like I learned how locals pronounce Monticello) and interact when we otherwise wouldn't have been able to. I think until an author can project a hologram of themselves elsewhere (you know, like in Star Wars!) doing visits this way works very well for short presentations.

      Finally, this is a screen shot of my entire computer screen. This is Skype on my desktop background during our call. When I wanted to hold something up for my audience to see, that little window of me showed me what they could see so I could hold things up properly for them.

      So a big thank you to Monticello Elementary for inviting me to visit! It was a pleasure, and I hope that one day I will indeed get to visit your beautiful corner of the world--in person!