Friday, December 16, 2011

A Big Backstory

Last Friday morning I walked my son into the high school's office to sign him in as late. The first secretary looked up and pointed out the late registration secretary around the corner of the desk. This second secretary looked up from her keyboard and said, “Is the reason for the lateness: family, weather, an appointment, or something else?”

Um...what? Which category? Which one category? My brain couldn't process that. My reasons fit into a bunch of those categories. In fact, I had a whole backstory full of reasons. So I stood there like an idiot. How the heck could I distill my morning to fit into just one category? So out spilled the whole sorry story.

What I told them went something like this:

I got up early, got the girls breakfast and drove [in treacherous snowy weather] to skating rink for 7am. I found out my son had missed the bus because hubby was stuck in a ditch and didn't get home to wake him up. After arranging for another mom to take the girls to school, I drove [in treacherous snowy weather] past home to find hubby at the roadside getting his vehicle towed. I drove [in treacherous snowy weather] hubby home to change clothes, also picked up son, and drove [in treacherous snowy weather] to town to drop hubby at a critically important appointment in one end of town and then drove [in treacherous snowy weather] to the other end of town to sign son in at school. And I needed to leave immediately because I had to drive back home [in treacherous snowy weather] to the village library where I was now likely to be a few minutes late for my annual job evaluation, after which time I could expect hubby’s text so I could drive back into town [in treacherous snowy weather] to pick him up, and then drive [in treacherous snowy weather] back home again. Did I mention that town and home are like 20 minutes apart in good weather?

Gad, no wonder those secretaries laughed at me. And no wonder no one wants to have an entire backstory dumped on them at once.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

You know you might be a children's writer if...

There you are, sitting on the hard white wooden bench in your small town arena lobby. You're reading quietly, passing the time during your son's hockey practice, while two young boys you don't know toss a small ball back and forth across the lobby. Back and forth, back and forth, they chase the ball, toss it, chase it, and so on until--

The arena doors open with a clatter and a woman walks in. One of the boys calls out to her with an enthusiastic, "Hi, Bitch!" (Which sounds a bit like "hiya beetch!")


A silence in which you cringe for the boy.

"What did you say?" the woman, finding her voice, demands. She repeats her demand several times in increasingly higher volumes.

The boy wisely stays silent.

Finally the woman orders him to SIT THERE on THAT BENCH and DON'T MOVE.

He perches timidly beside you, head bent, sitting on his hands. You just want to hug him.

Do you empathize with the mother having to hear that from her child? Not really. You feel for the boy. You bet he's seen someone greet a friend that way on some TV show, or heard it uttered by an older kid, and the reaction was much different from the one he got.

Yes, if this happens you just might be a children's writer. And there might be a story there....somewhere.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Hint of Good Things To Come

My editor just emailed me a close-to-final version of the cover for "Counting on Fall," my book that's due out next fall from Owlkids. It's really lovely!

Unfortunately, I can't share it just yet. But I can give you a hint. Check out this blog post by Ashley Barron: "Is 'Autumny' a Word?"

Those leaves look very familiar to me.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Shades of My Muskoka Sunrise

What a sunrise this morning! It sure made me glad I got up early, and what a way to start December. I got a few photos of the colour, but in playing with my camera the photos came out looking quite different depending on the setting. See:

It made me think: which one is the shade of reality? Do I even remember now? Nope, not really. Does it matter? Maybe, but for me the variations are what matter not which one is more authentic.

Those differing shades of reality...the stuff a writer navigates through all the time, wouldn't you say?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Story in a Statement

Tonight I popped into the Mac's Milk store with my youngest daughter. She was wearing thick beige tights and a light blue sheer skirt, both of which showed beneath her winter coat. The cashier asked my daughter if she'd just come from dance class. Shyly my daughter replied that no, she'd come from skating.

The cashier smiled and, as she handed me my change, leaned over and said quietly to me, "Enjoy her at that stage."

I nodded and walked out thinking that yeah, she's absolutely right. But I also caught myself wondering about the background to that statement. What was it in the cashier's story that urged her to say that to me, a stranger. I'm sure there's a story there...somewhere.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Eleven for Eleven

I've updated my website with my book on the War of 1812. This, The Legacy of the War of 1812, is my eleventh book--and it happened in 2011. Not that that's newsworthy, but it's kind of neat.

Interested in the topic of this conflict? Here's a commemorative site from the Government of Canada It's a solid first step for finding out more about the events that made up this war as well as the bicentennial commemoration events that will be happening soon:

So now, dare I hope for 12 books in '12? Actually--shh--it might be more than that. More details when I can share them.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Outdone by the Cat

I feel like sharing a piece a wrote awhile back.

Raising A Reader

It was one of those days when I was scrambling to make dinner. We had to eat and dash out the door almost as soon as my older two kids came home from school. My youngest daughter picked that moment to ask me to listen to her read. Being four and in Kindergarten, she was at that wonderful stage where she loved to be read to, but she also loved to “read” to me.  She’d grab a book and make up the story. I’d already heard a couple renditions of the book earlier that day and I just couldn’t stop for another.

“I’m busy right now,” I said. “We’ll read some more tonight, okay?”

She gave me her best “Fine, you don’t love me!” and went stomping off.

Ouch. I wished I could make her understand why I had no time to listen right then, but my attention was needed at the now boiling pot on the stove so I rushed on with dinner.

Not too long afterwards I realized that I could hear my daughter’s voice coming from the laundry room. What was she up to?

I walked quietly over to the closed laundry room door and listened. She was definitely talking, but there was no one else in the house at the moment. Was she talking to herself with that much energy?

Puzzled, I opened the door and peeked in. There she was, sitting on a stool with a book in her lap. And there was our cat, Marshmellow, sitting at my daughter’s feet and purring.

“Hey, what are you up to, sweetie?” I asked.

She looked at me like I must be dense for not grasping the obvious. “Reading to Marshmellow,” she replied, and then she smiled.

I looked at Marshmellow, sitting up with her ears pointed towards my daughter, giving her her full attention.

It was my turn to smile. I’d been outdone by the cat. But at that moment, my daughter couldn’t have asked for a better audience.

And for that, I couldn’t have been more grateful.

So thank you, Marshmellow. You will be missed.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Spectacular Sunset Sky

I invested a little time to be a spectator at the town ball park a few weeks ago. It paid off. Isn't this a spectacular show in the sky?
Peake Fields Ball Park, Bracebridge, Ontario, Aug 22, 2011
Peake Fields Ball Park, Bracebridge, August 22, 2011

I think even hubby's homeruns were eclipsed by the scenery. But don't tell him that.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Aw, Nuts!

How many of you who write for young kids find yourselves the recipient of requests to change your text because of sexual innuendos in your writing? Oh, come on. You know it's happened!

I'm here standing up (har) to say I am not afraid to admit that it's happened to me a few times. (I mean, I wrote a book titled "Let's Go!"?? Come ON! You can just picture the nudge-nudge, wink-winks.)

I just agreed to change a line in a forthcoming picture book from:
Can you count each squirrel's nuts?
How many nuts has each squirrel gathered?

Not a big change in intent, but probably a little less titter inducing. But grade two humor will rule no matter what. Just say the word 'nuts' and they'll probably be rolling in the back row. But I don't mind that reaction from an audience. It gets the kids/class involved, no? Books are fun. Books are funny!

You can call me naive for not picking up on these types of innuendoes on a more regular basis. But I also know that just about anything can be an innuendo if you want it to be. I always remember a lecture from one of my university professors that pointed out that the English language will always refer to the sexual in the absence of a concrete noun. Even you will titter if I write:
I want it.
I like it.
You need it.
no matter that I'm referring to chocolate. (Damn, what were you thinking???)

But I will consider softening an obvious innuendo if my editors asks. I'm not completely nuts.

So that's my rant for the day--a day which kicks off the last long weekend of summer. Have a good one!  (nudge-nudge, wink-wink)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

It's Kidlitosphere Interview Wednesday

I'm hosting Interview Wednesday today. What does that mean? It means I'm posting a roundup of links to kids' writing related interviews from the past week or so. You'll find interviews with all sorts of people in children's literature--authors, illustrators, editors, agents and librarians.

I'll add links throughout the day and evening to this post. To leave a link to your interview, please add it to the comments and I'll put it here.

So for your reading pleasure, here we go:

JoAnn Early Macken has posted an interview with Donna Gephart on the TeachingAuthors blog. Readers can enter to win an autographed copy of Donna's book, How To Survive Middle School. Donna shares a couple of her favorite writing exercises and a funny anecdote about a workhshop she presented. See: Entry deadline is Friday, 8/26.

Playing By the Book has an interview with British author Frances Hardinge:

Don't miss Bigfoot Reads where you'll find the "purloined" interview with Colleen AF Venable at:

Hope you can hop on over to enjoy those interviews. Thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Interview Wednesday Tomorrow

I'm hosting Interview Wednesday tomorrow. Can't wait to see who's been Q&A'd this week.

If you'd like to leave your link to your interview early, feel free to add it in the comments. And please come back tomorrow for links to some excellent interviews about people in children's literature--authors, illustrators, editors, agents and librarians.

Monday, August 22, 2011

SCBWI Canada East Conference

I was lucky enough this year to get to SCBWI's Momentous 40th anniversary conference in LA. Read about it here. My take on that amazing experience will appear on this blog in a bit. But allow me to momentarily don my official SCBWI Canada East Regional Advisor hat to shout about an event closer to home:

"The Courage to Create" Fall SCBWI Canada East Conference
No matter whether you're creating, marketing, or promoting your work, it all takes courage. 

October 14-16, 2011
Ottawa, Ontario
Sheraton Downtown Ottawa
150 Albert Street


Diane Kerner, VP, Scholastic Canada
Susan Hawk, Agent, The Bent Agency
RJ Anderson, Author of Ultraviolet, Spell Hunter, and more
Ben Hodson, illustrator of Richard Was a Picker, Jeffrey and Sloth, and more

* Crystal Kite Award presentation to Marsha Skrypuch
* one-on-one critiques
* Friday night Bookstore Book Bash at Collected Works

You can download the brochure from this site (scroll down to the linked pdf file).

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

In Search of the Thief

I found myself earlier this month chauffeuring my son to a hockey thing that was over an hour’s car ride away. Imagine my delight when he brought along a book to help pass the time.

He was reading The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, a book I’d already read and recommended to him. (Why yes, that is me feeling a moment of parental satisfaction.) On the way home he begged for some ice cream so we stopped at a McD’s off the highway. After we got back on the road and the ice cream was devoured, he went to pick up the book where he left off.

But the book was nowhere to be found.

He searched as best he could while seat belted in but no luck. I assured him we’d find it once I pulled over. So I did just that. We searched and searched. No Thief under the front seats, not under the middle seats, not in the door pockets, not in the glove box, not wedged under the crap on the tray between driver and front passenger.

Gen had gone missing. With one chapter to go.

In addition to feeling acute sympathy for my son being denied the ending of a good book I couldn’t bear to think that perhaps we’d abandoned Gen in the McD’s parking lot some 35km back down the road. My poor book, perhaps lying there abandoned at the mercy of seagulls and tires and the weather. That's no way to treat a good read. On the other hand, it would be about a half hour back. Then another half hour to return to where we were. I waffled. My son said he’d just buy me another copy of the book. But it bugged me too much.

I couldn’t do it. I couldn't leave it.

I had to know if it was back at McD's lot. I had to attempt the rescue. So back down the road I drove. I parked near our former parking space only to watch a big old beige Buick pull into the spot. The view of the pavement was now obstructed, plus it was getting dark, so it would be tricky to see if The Thief was lying there. Um, could we go looking around under the car without looking like thieves ourselves? Well, no. We looked suspicious but we did it anyway.

No luck. No book.

So it was back into the Odyssey, me feeling disappointed the whole 35km back to the turnaround point and further on up the road. Maybe someone else had picked up the book and was enjoying it. That was somewhat comforting.

We arrived home, unloaded all the junk from the car... and found The Thief tucked inside the folded down 3rd row seat.

All that for nothing? Yes and no. I guess just like a good book, it ended well. And there's a lot of satisfaction to be had in that.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Beautiful Beetle

Green beetle, sheen beetle
six-spotted tiger beetle
soaking up sun on a stone

Green beetle, sheen beetle
six-spotted tiger beetle
seeing me near so you've flown

Not top quality verse, just for fun.

The Facts
I found this cool insect by one of my flower gardens. Such an amazing dazzling emerald shade! I wanted to know more about this creature. It really is called a six-spotted tiger beetle.
Here are some good links for tiger beetle info in case you want to know more too:

Types of tiger beetles in Ontario

Comprehensive US site on Tiger Beetles

Scientific info on ground beetles of Canada

And if you're interested in poetry, for a much better poetry experience check out the Poetry Friday links from the Kidlitosphere.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

This 'n That

This is my office floor.

This project is just about done now.

This would mean it's time to tidy up.

That would mean Lizann turns to the other 50,000 things on her to do list.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

It's Interview Wednesday!

No interview here on The Flatt Perspective today (mine are done on a mostly monthly basis as seen here), but I'm honoured to bring you other people's interviews, because:

Today is Interview Wednesday in the Kidlitosphere!

Check the comments to this post all throughout the day to see links to interviews with authors, illustrators, editors, agents or librarians. Who will show up? Who's been talking to whom? We'll have to wait and see. But I know it'll be worth it, because children's literature is always worth talking about.

Thanks for stopping in!

(And thanks to Tina Nichols Coury for the great graphic.)

To leave a comment, click the link that says "x other perspectives"where the x stands for a numeral. Blogger should walk you through the rest.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Directions or Descriptions?

Ah, Muskoka. Where I live. And where directions to someone's place are more like descriptions. They include phrases such as:

  • I do not know her address 
  • She lives on This Road off of That Road 
  • It is on the left hand side a little ways past the dam 
  • There is a red sign but it's spelled wrong 
  • You go down that road past the house on the right to the next house on the right 

and then a phone number "in case you get confused."

Which I did.

So I had a nice detour down a remote rut and crater infested road I'd never driven before. The shoulders were either non-existent or so soft and squishy I feared executing a 3-pointer would mire the Odyssey in mud. I followed the road all the way to the end before turning around. But I got to my destination.

Descriptions. They lead to places you've never been before. Isn't that what writing is all about?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Catherine Austen: Keep Faith in your Ability to Write a Really Good Piece of Work

Creating Through the Clamour: Instalment 7
Feel like there's not enough time in your busy life to be creative? 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 how they do it. 'Cause I want to know. (I need all the help I can get in this department.)

The Creator 

name: Catherine Austen

resides:  Quebec
creates: Writing for all ages: PB, MG, YA. I used to write stories for adults and may return to that some day.

The Creations
Walking Backward (MG novel), Orca Book Publishers, 2009
My Cat Isis (picture book), Kids Can Press, 2011

All Good Children (YA novel), Orca Book Publishers, coming Fall 2011
26 Tips for Surviving Grade 6 (MG novel), James Lorimer & Company, coming Fall 2011

The Clamour

Work obligations: About ten years ago I quit my full-time job and began to write freelance part-time (conservation reports, funding proposals, fact sheets, etc.). My husband suggested I try it, and he’s been the main breadwinner in our family ever since. I did it partly to free up time to write fiction, but mostly to spend more time with my son. (It worked out so well, I had another one.)

After selling my first two books in 2008, I began to take fewer paid contracts in order to focus on my fiction. My work benefitted enormously but my debts increased. I was thrilled to receive news over Christmas that I’m getting a grant from the Quebec Conseil des arts et des lettres to help me write a sequel to my forthcoming teen novel. It’s a lifesaver, and in the nick of time. Now I can devote half of each day to my work in progress. Yay! That reduces the clamour.

Kids to raise, look after, chauffeur: My kids are aged 8 and 15, so there’s a lot of chauffeuring and assisting but not the intense and constant demands of the early years. I try to do my first drafts in big chunks while they’re at school. Revising and polishing I fit in whenever I can. Because I work from home, I’m with my kids on PD days and vacations and I don’t try to write much those days and seasons. On school days, my work usually ends when my youngest gets off the bus at 3:00.

I didn’t write much when my kids were tiny – I was a real cookies-and-crafts kind of mom – and I don’t regret that. As they age and become more independent, I devote more mental energy to my work and the focus of my life and my sense of self reorients. (Or that could just be middle age.)

Volunteer work: I volunteer in the library of the local elementary school two mornings a week – an ideal volunteer job for a children’s book writer. I enjoy the work, both helping rambunctious classes of kids find something to read and doing the more tedious coding, shelving, and repairing of books. The school has no librarian so my help is appreciated.

The internet: The internet can be a sinkhole for time but it speeds up research enormously. I am so often awed by how simple it is to check facts for a story. (What time does the sun set in Hawaii on August 14th? When was the tape recorder invented? Where do police dogs live? OMG, you can find out anything!) And even though I do most of my research through books, I find and reserve those books from my desk via the online library catalogue. 

Life in general: When a story is really alive in my head, it’s not hard to find the time to draft it because I can’t concentrate on anything else. But preparing for that stage and, afterward, revising the mess that comes out of that stage, are more challenging because they require more discipline. The internal drive just isn’t as strong. So that bizarre human habit of avoiding the difficult things we love to do comes into play. (I know it’s not just me. After every yoga class I drag myself to, I hear someone say, “I feel so good! Why did I put this off all month?” Same habit. I’ve cleaned closets to avoid writing stories. What is that about?!?)

There are so many diversions out there – work and kids, friends and fun, chores and errands. Most of us have a long list of things we either have to do or like to do and it’s difficult to admit that you can’t do it all. If you want to write a book, you have to forego other stuff. Fun stuff. If you only have one spare hour in the day, you can’t meet your friend for coffee or take a piano lesson or walk the dog in that hour. You have to write your book. And hope that one day you’ll have more time to devote to your writing so that you can do other stuff in your spare hour. (That’s where I’m at now. But for years I wasn’t so lucky.)

How did you get started in this field? 
I wrote stories and poetry as a child but I don’t remember much and didn’t keep any. The first time I took writing seriously was in university when a professor suggested I try to publish a story I’d written for an English elective. It was the first of about a dozen stories I published in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I continued to write sporadically over the years and writing was always a major part of my work for conservation organizations. After reading a thousand picture books to my own son, I tried my hand at writing them. The first dozen were wordy, dull, or Robert Munsch echoes, but I got better each time. I now write a mix of picture books, stories, and novels for different ages. 

What are you working on these days?

I’m revising my teen novel, All Good Children, based on my editor’s comments, and I’m drafting its sequel, Across the Water. Over the Christmas holidays I returned to a picture book I’d drafted in the summer and polished it to where I want it to be. I have MANY books on the go, outlines and drafts and not-quite-there manuscripts. Sometimes I wake up wanting to work on a specific piece, and I get to it. But I try to work on one draft at a time.

What's the hardest aspect for you in terms of being creative, finding the time? the space? the focus? something else?
Sometimes it’s not the clamour but the writing itself that pushes me away. Sometimes a story just isn’t ready or isn’t working so the writing is frustrating and hard to face. It’s a lousy feeling reading back your work and thinking, “This is crap.” It takes a lot of experience and a thick skin to learn to work through the crappy and mediocre pieces and keep faith in your ability to write a really good piece of work. (Give me the strength to file my crappy drafts, the courage to revise my promising ones, and the wisdom to know the difference.)

One other obstacle for me is that sometimes I just can’t face my character’s hardships. There’s an emotional surrender in writing that’s frankly exhausting. I love to write humour, which doesn’t pose this obstacle. But the novels I’m drafting and editing now have some sad parts, and getting in the head of a narrator who’s in pain is just not fun. There are certain scenes I dread. (I’m a fanatic outliner so I know what pain is coming.) I procrastinate as they approach. I have to work myself up to it. (Mentally and physically – I run and lift weights before writing and during breaks. I suspect it helps my aging brain but, if not, at least it keeps me trim.)

Do any of your distractions end up feeding your creativity?  
Anything to do with my kids or pets feeds creativity. Dabbling on the internet can spark things, too, just as any reading or conversation can. A few weeks ago, I wasted half an hour of work time doing an online survey about emotional intelligence (of which I have little, it seems). I was berating myself for the waste when suddenly a list of feeling-words struck a chord and led to vast improvements in my picture book manuscript about an emotional marmot. Hah! Surfer vindication.

Do you have any tips for others about how to carve out time to be creative? 
If you have trouble facing the keyboard, I recommend doing a minimum amount of work each day, like half an hour, and not doing any more than that (until you no longer feel like procrastinating). That technique worked for me in the past when I was more pressed for time. It changed the way I look at my time and made me eager rather than reluctant to write. Three hours on a Saturday morning is a lot of time to fill if you’re not used to writing regularly. You put a lot of pressure on yourself to perform in those hours, so you may be reluctant to start. But half an hour? What can a person accomplish in half an hour? Not much. No pressure. Anything you write in that time will be better than nothing so you might as well get it over with. And books are written that way, a couple of pages a day.

I also recommend outlining for those so inclined. I used to write without outlines and I’d steam ahead until halfway through a novel, when I wouldn’t have a clue where to take the book. Then I’d get easily distracted. Now I have a clear outline of my scenes, so even if I don’t feel like thinking on a given day, I know what I have to write and it’s easier to just do it.

Are there times when you just can't focus on your writing/illustrating and if so how do you cope with them? 
Yes, and I have learned to accept them and trust that they will pass. I still usually drag myself to it, because I want to keep my work habits, but I’ll work for less time than usual, or I’ll work on editing or researching rather than actual writing. In a pinch I’ll read a slew of “how to write” books, which often spark renewal of interest in some project or other, or I’ll just read. (All reading is professional development for writers.) People in other professions do professional development activities. They spend a few days filing and emailing. And they take vacations. Why do writers expect themselves to produce pages of new work every day?

Any tips on how to get through chores faster/more efficiently? 
Sorry. Nothing comes to mind other than “Embrace messiness.” 

Are there any other creative genres you look to for inspiration? 
Music is often part of my writing process. I don’t play it while I write but I play it while I cook or exercise before and after writing, and I use it as a soundtrack for envisioning scenes or generating emotions. I actually make playlists for each novel I’m working on. The one I’m listening to today has a don’t give up/stay strong theme and includes songs like:
“Kangaroo Cry” by Blue October,
“Swim” by Jack’s Mannequin,
“Badlands” by Bruce Springsteen,
“Dying to Live” by Jonny Lang,
“You Get What You Give” by the New Radicals, and
“Colby’s Song” by Joshua James.
I listened to that last one about 100 times while writing the last half of All Good Children. It has nothing to do with the story but something about the emotion in it helped feed my writing. The same thing happened while writing Walking Backward with the song “Virtue the Cat Explains her Disappearance” by the Weakerthans. I don’t know how it works but I don’t question it. (I embrace it along with messiness.)

As a creative person, do you have any other outlets for your talents? 
I photograph mushrooms with a passion. And I quilt by hand in front of the television a few times a week while watching mediocre movies or bad TV. (“So You Think You Can Dance” is excellent quilter’s viewing since you only have to look up one minute out of five.) It takes me about two years to make a quilt, longer if there’s a lot of appliqué (or subtitles). I’m still a beginner but I learn more about design and fabric with each quilt. I’d like to quilt a story, especially a life story, like Harriet Powers, but I don’t feel ready yet. I have no visual intelligence at all so it’s a big learning curve for me to figure out how colours and shapes balance. But I love it. I get all my material from old clothes. I tremble with excitement when I find unusual cotton pyjamas at the junk shop and I’ve been caught ogling the shirts of strange men in elevators.

Why do you keep creating?
I think creating is natural to our species. Our brains are awfully big and our hands are free, after all.


Thanks, Catherine, for spending some time here, for sharing this wealth of information, and for making me chuckle in the process. I love that New Radicals song you mention. Here's to your forthcoming titles (can't wait to read them!), quilts, and continued creativity!

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Turtle and the Toonie

This evening my daughter came running into the house all excited because she'd found a turtle on the driveway. I ran out to see. She'd found this baby turtle.

But it's hard to tell this is a baby turtle from the photo. So we figured we'd try including her shoes in the picture. Here they are, size 4 Crocs in all their well worn glory, and a baby turtle:

But even that's not the greatest reference. So we thought we'd add in her hands. Here is the baby turtle with an 8-year-old's hands for reference:

That's pretty good. But we wondered if we could make another size comparison. And we think we came up with a brilliant idea. If you're Canadian. Because here is the baby turtle beside our two dollar coin, or Twoonie:

Definitely a teeny tiny turtle when seen with a toonie. Cute or what??

After we were done taking its picture we let it continue on doing its turtle thing. We hope it grows up to be a big turtle.

Friday, May 13, 2011

When Turkeys Play Chicken

So you can be driving your mom-mobile, coming home from the grocery store. Your mind can be wandering and you’re enjoying singing along to the radio because you have some time to yourself. Not much is going on in this mundane moment.

Then something catches your eye and you can’t quite believe it but a turkey has jumped out of the bush on the left side of the road and is now strutting towards your lane. Now running. You calculate that--OMG--your trajectories will definitely meet. You inch over to the right hoping turkey will slow. You inch over more. No, it’s not going to work. The geometry and physics are undeniable.

Are you going to slam on the brakes and probably hit the bird anyway? Are you going to drive off the road and risk sliding into the rocks or trees?

You are seriously wishing for your mundane boring drive back again when some turkey- brained thought or instinct tells it to turn around. It races for the ditch on the side of the road from which it emerged.

For both of you.

It can happen....

Thursday, April 21, 2011

As Overheard

Husband: talks enthusiastically about a movie he saw when young and thinks the kids would enjoy too.

Daughter: "Is it in black and white?"

Lizann: laughs into the dish sink.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Today's Office Window View

Snow mixed with freezing rain. All school buses cancelled. Today you have to feel sorry for the robins.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Stint at Mahtab's Moonlight Musings

In which I make an appearance at Mahtab Narsimhan's blog in a spot in her Q&Q (Quirky and Quintessential) series:

Thanks, Mahtab, for deeming me worthy!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Did I Imagine That?

I had a great phone call from an editorial director a couple weeks ago. I think.

Okay, I'm kidding. I know it happened, but I feel as if I'm in a bit of limbo.
Like a timeout in a hockey game.
Like the Jeopardy thinking music is going on.

Because I'm waiting for further direction on the manuscript/proposal that generated that phone call and a verbal assurance of a contract to come. Yay! Good thing I've about a bazillion things to keep myself occupied while I am patiently awaiting further instructions and paper proof I'm not living an illusion.

But there is a little part of me that wonders if it was all just wishful thinking.

Anyone else do this to themselves?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Between the Book Covers

There I was, working at the library on a cold blustery Saturday. I'd gone out into the freezing cold and unlocked the green steel after-hours return bin. I'd filled a big blue IKEA shopping bag with all the books and DVDs that had been dropped through the door.

I'd hauled the bag back inside to the circ desk, separated and stacked the books and magazines and opened each of the DVD cases to be sure the disk was inside. I'd backdated the system and scanned the bar codes on everything to process the returns. I'd separated out the new books and put them back on the new shelf right away. I'd put the paperbacks, nonfiction, YA fiction, and hard cover fiction on their own areas of the return cart.

Then I noticed that one of the hardcover fiction titles on the cart appeared to have some crumpled pages or something, or at least the top of the book wasn't closed up tight.

I pulled the book off the cart, a James Patterson title, and took a closer look. Oh! Something was stuck inside the book. The book opened easily to the page where the object was wedged inside.

It is a kleenex. A crumpled kleenex. A crumpled kleenex with unidentified brownish substance clearly visible on its surface.


A crumpled kleenex with an unidentified brownish substance clearly visible on its surface that I prayed was the product of someone's late night reading session with leftover Valentine's chocolates.

I gingerly lifted the offending object out of book with thumb and index finger and dropped it into the garbage, then dove for the bottle of hand sanitizer.

Please, remove your personal items from your borrowed materials before you return them. Circulation clerks everywhere will thank you.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Mahtab Narsimhan: Writing is as Essential as Breathing

Feel like there's not enough time in your busy life to be creative? 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 how they do it. 'Cause I want to know. (I need all the help I can get in this department.)

Creating through the Clamour, Instalment 5

The Creator 
name:  Mahtab Narsimhan
resides: Toronto, Canada (aka the centre of the universe :>)
creates: MG and currently working on a YA novel

The Creations
The Third Eye (Dundurn Press, 2007) which won the 2009 Silver Birch Fiction Award in Ontario
The Silver Anklet (Dundurn Press, 2009)
Her Mother's Ashes (TSAR Publications, 2009) Anthology to which she contributed
Piece by Piece (Penguin Canada, 2010)  Anthology to which she contributed
The Deadly Conch (Dundurn Press, Jan 2011)
The Tiffin (Dancing Cat Books, September 2011)

The Clamour
A day job: Gotta eat/pay rent. But on the flip side it also gives me a rest from the intense mental activity of creating something out of thin air. Not a bad thing at all.

Household Chores: Real bore but has to be done. I hate a messy place. Sometimes I’ve solved quite a few problems in my plot/character motivation while vacuuming or cooking, so again, not a bad thing at all!

Kids: One with two legs and one with four. And a third one whom I married. All boys and they all need looking after.

How did you get started in this field?
I started out with recording incidents of life back home (Bombay, India) after my father passed away in 2003. That somehow got me thinking that I would try my hand at writing since I had always been an avid reader. I’ve never looked back since and this is my favourite of the four career paths I’ve taken!

Someday I'll have to ask you about the other three! What are you working on these days?
Just finished the second round of substantive edits on THE TIFFIN. At the moment I’m writing a dystopian YA which will be a trilogy. Finished the first draft of book 1. I’m taking a break so that I can get back to it with fresh eyes in a few weeks. It’s a lot easier to see mistakes when you put it away for a while.

What's the hardest aspect for you in terms of being creative? Finding the time? the space? the focus? something else?
Finding the time. There is always so much to do that if I don’t carve out some time in the day, I’ll never be able to write. And so, every morning from about 6:00 am to 8:00 am is the time I devote to writing. This includes Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. And yes, even my birthday.

Now that it’s become a routine, it’s easier to focus and get my quota out for the day (approx. 1500 words a day) before I allow myself to stop.

Wow, that's discipline! Do any of your distractions end up feeding your creativity?
All I can say is that when you are looking at a problem slant, sometimes the answer comes to you.  When I tend not to focus on my writing and instead distract myself with other work, it helps.

How do you minimize your distractions while you're working? Any tips for others? 
Have a set time, a set place and a goal. The rest will follow. An interesting fact I discovered is that most habits, good or bad, take about two weeks to form.

I have followed this routine of mine, i.e. writing early in the morning in my basement office and giving myself a daily quota, for the last six years. It’s a deeply ingrained habit and has allowed me to complete the first draft of a novel in about four to six months. It works! In fact, now, if I have not finished my “homework” on a daily basis, I feel terribly guilty and even cranky.

Are there times when you just can't focus on your writing and if so how do you cope with them?
As time goes by I have learned to trust myself and the creative process. If I cannot write or think of the next thing that needs to happen in a plot, I’ll put it aside and work on something else. I know that I will still be thinking of the problem subconsciously and by forcing the issue I’ll only get frustrated. And sure enough after a couple of days' break, I come up with a solution and am eager to get back to the manuscript. The first few times this happened I felt panicked, wondering if I would ever write again. Now I know I will.

Any tips on how to get things done faster/more efficiently? 
I know this is the age of multi-tasking and I am as guilty as the person sitting next to me on the bus. However there are some things that need complete focus and for me, it’s writing. I try not to think of or do anything else when I am writing. I cannot even have another person in the room when I am writing. This is why I write best early in the morning when all the boys are all snoring.

I tend not to think about unpleasant tasks too much. I grit my teeth and jump right into it. And before I know it, it’s over and done. Most efficient if you don’t dwell on it too much.

What book, song, painting, movie, etc has touched you or has great meaning for you recently?
I love fantasy fiction. It’s what has always fascinated me. The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Harry Potter series remain my favourites to this day and once in a while when I have the time, I’ll read through them again.

I loved Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Illusions by Richard Bach. Also love The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran.

As a creative person, do you have any other outlets for your talents? a hobby or interest?
Reading is my only other hobby. If I’m not writing, I’m reading. My secret ambition at one point in my life was to be a librarian. I mistakenly assumed that all I would have to do is check books in and out and read the rest of the day. This revelation never fails to make all the teacher-librarians I know, laugh.

Why do you keep creating in the face of all this distraction and effort?
Writing and creating is as essential to me as breathing. I couldn’t stop either even if I tried.

Looking forward to reading more of your work, Mahtab! Thanks for spending some of your time here.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Think Spring: SCBWI in Niagara Falls, Ontario!

I'm soooo tired of winter, of either being sun deprived or freezing, so I'm going to focus on spring for a moment.

You know I'm involved in SCBWI's Canada East chapter, right? (Full disclosure: actually I'm the Regional Advisor.) I'm really looking forward to this spring's conference in Niagara Falls, Ontario. This year a volunteer stepped forward and offered to be the conference coordinator for our spring event. I'd met her at our fall retreat and things went from there. Super huge thanks to writer Jackie Pynaert for stepping forward to spearhead this huge undertaking!

Writers: you know you want to join us! Here are the details:

SCBWI Canada East Niagara Falls Retreat and Conference

May 13-15, 2011
Niagara Falls, Ontario

Josh Adams, Agent, Adams Literary
Hilary Van Dusen, Senior Editor, Candlewick Press
Alan Jones, Art Director, HarperCollins Canada
Authors: Terri Farley, Sydney Salter, Fran Cannon Slayton, Veronica Rossi

Find the complete registration package on the SCBWI Canada East website or our Chapter's page at

Hope to see some of you there, and please feel free to spread the word.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Writer Frustrated

Why are the manuscripts that look simple when finished almost always the hardest to arrive at?

Why is the approach that elicits an “Aha, that’s so simple!” so damned difficult to get to?

Makes doing some mindless chore like washing the dishes seem so much easier: apply water and soap and voila--desired result.

Yep, off to tackle the mountain of dishes left from yesterday.

Monday, January 31, 2011

What Was my Favourite Read in 2010?

You'd think I would've posted this earlier what with all the end of year wrap up lists. Well, it's not the end of January quite yet, so better late than never.

I'm normally not comfortable speaking in superlatives, but one title did stand out for me amongst a long list of good books I read in 2010.

Which one? Fire by Kristin Cashore.
Why? This book gave me the best reading experience of the year. It was the one I couldn't wait to get back to. The one that made me stay up waaaay too late while reading it. The one that took me away from the setting in which I was reading it: a round trip bus ride to Toronto. Nothing like the experience of trying to hide the fact that you're crying on public transit. It was the book's fault--honest!

Looking forward to crying over many more good titles in 2011.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Alma Fullerton: Creating Through the Clamour

Feel like there's not enough time in your busy life to be creative? 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 how they do it. 'Cause I want to know. (I need all the help I can get in this department.)

The Creator
name: Alma Fullerton
resides: Ontario, Canada
genres: YA, MG, PB, and apparently now illustrator

The Creations
Walking On Glass, published by HarperTempest, 2007
In the Garage, published by Red Deer Press, 2006
Libertad, published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2008
Burn, published by Dancing Cat Books, 2010
The Clamour

part time retail worker

volunteer work: SCBWI Canada East

full time mom: Two children. One Husband (or would that be three children -hmmm), one dog, one cat, fish-- last time I checked the tank --two -- however one is really mean so I might/should check again.
taxi driver: (not paid) routes to work -- hubby's work, my work and oldest child's work, schools, guitar lessons, cheer practices, cheer competition, grocery store, malls (my children are girls - -enough said about the shopping),  school visits, book launches, book festivals, veterinarian (my dog is a hypochondriac but we love him anyway).
maid: - okay seriously not. My house is clean but not spic and span clean (do they even still make spic and span)? 

and: master Googler, blogger (rarely), Facebooker, youtube addict. Researcher. 
How did you get started in this field? 
I fell into it -- quite literally. I never read as a child. I couldn't read as a child until grade four when my teacher discovered I had a learning disability  and helped me. And then I still hated reading and still had people tell me I could never achieve things and didn't read for fun until I came across a book I really loved (I did actually trip over that particular book). I read the whole thing because the character drew me into the story -- that was huge for me. Then I found more books I loved and decided I wanted to write books kids would love, so even though reading and writing were the most difficult things for me I worked really hard at them and just did it. And now I'd really love to slap the teachers that told me I'd never be able to achieve anything with my novels -- especially the hard cover ones.
What's the hardest aspect for you in terms of being creative, finding the time? the space? the focus?
All of the above. I need a lot of time to actually draw myself into a character to be able focus on writing. And sometimes even then I might be interrupted and have to start the process all over again.
Do any of the distractions end up feeding your creativity?  
Googling ended up feeding my creativity. I was procrastinating on writing one novel by googling when I came across a story that gave me the idea of Libertad. I did try to push the idea aside but it wouldn't go. Libertad was finished and published before the other novel.
How do you manage to carve out time to do your creating?
Carving out time is difficult. But I can mind write while doing menial tasks (like my job) and then when I do get time to get to the computer a lot of times I'll have the plot issues worked out. I also listen to music as I write to drown out other distractions. Closing the office door only works if no one else is home and then it doesn't really matter.
Are there times when you just can't focus on your writing/illustrating?  
ALL THE TIME. I have an extremely hard time focusing. It's part of my learning disability, but sometimes I just have to sit my butt down and do it. 

How do you cope with that?
One poem at a time. Sometimes if that doesn't work I'll just paint. That tends to relax me and if I'm painting my characters or what I think they'd look like sometimes it gives me inspiration to find out their story.
Any tips on how to avoid doing some of those distracting thing? 
Avoiding is easy. Too easy. Think write when you're cleaning. Often the thing I'm avoiding is the novel. 
Why do you keep creating in the face of all this? 
Because I can't not create. I tried not writing. It didn't work. I was grumpy, snapping and just horrible to be around. 
What are you working on these days? 
I'm working on a novel call "Broken" which will be along the same lines as Libertad, and I just finished a chapter book called "Miss Understood" about a girl with a learning disability.
As a creative person, do you have any other outlets for your talents?
Yes, I paint, garden, sew, read, and cook very little but love to eat great food.

Are there any other creative genres you look to for inspiration? 
Music. I love music --as well as art, and photography. Books are food for the mind, music is food for the ears and art and photography are food for the eyes and as I said, I love to eat great food. 

Thanks, Alma!
Thanks so much for spending some of your valuable creating time with me and sharing your tips with us. Here's to lots of great food, minimizing your clamour and maximizing your creations!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Book Size Matters

What a surprise when I finally got my copy of Switching on the Moon, edited by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters. Not a surprise because I got the book but a surprise because I finally saw its size. This is a BIG book! See, it's almost as wide as my shoulders.

I'd only ever seen a photo of the book cover before. Not until I held it did I think of its dimensions. A child could really get lost in this book the illustrations are so large. It's perfect for a bedtime read. And my piece of real estate on page 28? I love it!

I had a very large edition of Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses when I was little. I love the idea that some of today's children might build similar fond feelings about poetry with this book.

My thoughts on my first chance to read the book all the way through, not just my own poem? Wow. This poetry anthology is top notch. I'm going to gift this book whenever I can.

(And it's just been shortlisted for a Cybils award in the poetry category!)