Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Brian Henry Bestseller Workshop

My lovely purple workshop notes
On Saturday I went to Brian Henry's How to Write a Bestseller workshop in Gravenhurst. I really enjoyed it. It was good to think at an objective or macro level about what makes a compelling story, a sympathetic hero, a realistic villain, and so on.

Of course, part of the workshop involved an exercise in writing. I must be the only writer I know who dislikes doing writing exercises at workshops. I'm not sure what's with me on that. Anyway, I have to say, once I got going I really did start to enjoy it. Maybe I'm just a little bit rusty because it's been awhile since I wrote longer narrative fiction (been writing short poetic prose lately).

It was truly fascinating to hear what some of the other writers had written for that exercise. As for my exercise, it sort of dovetailed with an idea I've been mulling over for a middle grade novel. My piece hinged on the content of a text message the hero was trying to conceal. I quite like that idea, but here's my problem: I have actually no clue what the content of that text message is. And I think it's kind of important.

So hopefully my brain mulls that one over for awhile. The workshop was a good kicker for me to begin thinking in a longer format than I've written up to this point. It's getting me to think about what I'm going to write for, oh, July's (whisper) Muskoka Novel Marathon in which I have to work on writing a novel for a whole entire weekend--eep! Nothing like a writer setting herself up for a huge and intimidating challenge...but it's also all in the name of raising money for literacy, and that's always a good cause.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Getting on Goodreads

Are you on Goodreads? I am. Almost a year ago now I decided to join. I wasn't really looking for yet another online presence to look after, but I decided to join because I wanted to track the books I'd read and, maybe more importantly, to remember the ones I wanted to read.

And for those reasons it's been great. I can look back and see all the books I've read since I joined and feel a sense of accomplishment. I also love being able to come across a book mention and add it to my virtual to-read pile. Then, when I get to the bottom of the book stack I have on hand, I just look at my list and pick from that.

But of course sooner or later there's the whole rating and reviewing thing. So far I only use the stars to rate books because I don't really like reviewing books. I see myself as a book recommender rather than a reviewer. Plus, I feel uncomfortable about reviewing another writer's book because I have some inkling of the work that went into it.

Sometimes I don't give a book a rating. Why? Sometimes it's as simple as I just don't know what to say. I may have enjoyed it for the most part but something about it bugs me. Or maybe the book I read previously was so awesome the next one in line was bound to be less in comparison and so I'm not sure I'd be giving an unbiased rating. Or sometimes I just don't know how many stars to select--I just can't decide. And for wafflers like me there doesn't seem to be a half a star option. Or did I miss it?

I do enjoy seeing what my friends are reading. I've added several to-reads from their selections. And being able to have an author profile there is pretty cool, too. It's another place to appear with your author hat on while never leaving home. All in all I'm glad I'm there.

If you're there too, please let me know. I'd love to connect over books with you.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Taking (a photo of) Trilliums

Last week I was driving to a writer's critique group meeting when I nearly drove off the road from gawking at the sight of hundreds of trilliums carpeting the forest floor.

I've seen trilliums for many a spring over the years (hey, I even blogged a poem about one a few years ago) but I've never myself seen that many together.

So I pulled over and snapped a few photos. It was dusk and I just had my phone so they're not the best photos, but it was a nice moment made even better because no one in the neighbourhood came out to call me bonkers.

I got back into my car and carried on. I was pleased that I'd taken the time to...well, take a photo of the trilliums (no roses out to smell yet) even though I was a bit late for my meeting.

And at the meeting, Caroline helped me to sort out what I might tackle writing next. If I'm brave enough to take it up, I'll let you know.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Spying on my Illustrator

I have to confess that I've been peeking at some of Ashley Barron's illustration works-in-progress for our new nonfiction picture book series which begins this fall with OwlKids. I can do this because Ashley keeps a blog, and sometimes she blogs about her work ... and sometimes the work looks a bit familiar.

But I respect the industry norm that I'm not to comment on the art to the illustrator. I wait until my editor sends me the actual roughs if they want my comments. And, seeing as it's non-fiction, they do let me see the roughs. If I have comments I use the proper channel.

Still, I can't resist popping by her blog once in awhile. If she's sharing something I think it's okay to leave a positive comment, too, occasionally. And it's not like she's trying to avoid me since she did like my Facebook Page. These days it's so easy to look up someone your publisher partners you with for a book project. We all do it, don't we? Um, well, don't we?

What do you think? Should I avoid looking? Look but don't comment? Wait until the whole project is done and then interact? Am I making too much of this (non)issue? It's okay, you can tell me.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Lichen Art

After a rain the lichen patterns really stand out. They're quite beautiful, don't you think?

I'm lichen it, at any rate. (Yes, groan, lame joke, I know.)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Interview Wednesday May 2012

Welcome to May's Kidlitosphere Interview Wednesday. I'm pleased to be your host. Are you looking for links to terrific interviews about children's literature? Or maybe you'd like to add your own link to an interview? You've come to the right place.

The links to the interviews are just below, and you can add your own link by leaving the information in the comments on this post (click on the "other perspectives link" in this blog post's footer) so that I can add to this list throughout the day. So let's get to it.
  • First stop, it's over to Maeve at Yellow Brick Reads. She's interviewed Celine Kiernan about her Moorehawke trilogy. This author has just been shortlisted for Children's Books Ireland's Book of the Year award for her novel Into the Grey.
  • And here at The Flatt Perspective you might like my own interview with Lena Coakley about how she carves out time for her writing in a busy life. Lena is the author of Witchlanders, just named the 2012 winner of the Americas division SCBWI Crystal Kite Award.
  • Carmela Martino over at Teaching Authors recently posted an interview with author and writing teacher Karen Schreck. In addition to talking about her just-released YA novel, While He Was Away, Karen shares two great exercises—one in how to silence the inner critique and one in generating story ideas. And readers have till May 14 to enter for a chance to win an autographed copy of the book.
  • Over at Inkygirl Debbi Ohi interviews Holly Thompson to find out how she came to be the editor of TOMO: Friendship Through Fiction as well as the author of the YA verse novel Orchids. You can see the book trailers and also enter a giveaway.
  • How about learning more about Erik, the young book review blogger at This Kid Reviews Books, and his new blog feature Creative Kids to showcase the creative works of kids from all over? That's what you'll find at By Word of Beth as Beth Stilborn interviews Erik and Josie
  • Finally, Jocelyn Shipley interviews Anita Daher over at her website about Anita's YA and MG novel writing and about Great Plains Publications, where Anita is associate teen editor. 

Leave a Link?
Have you seen an interview about children's literature within the last month? If it's a written, audio, or video interview that follows these guidelines:
  • The interview is with someone in the field of children’s/young adult literature, including authors, illustrators, editors, agents, and librarians.
  • Interviews featuring writing tips, illustration tips, cyber tips, etc., as long as the information pertains to children's/young adult literature.
...then I'd love to add it to the list. Please leave the link to it in the comments. I'll be checking back here throughout the day and updating the list.

Do you have a blog related to reading, writing, or publishing books for children? Maybe you'd like to host Interview Wednesday. Just visit the official Kidlit Interview Wednesday sign-up page and you can do just that. Next month's Interview Wednesday will be hosted June 13 by Anastasia Suen at Booktalking.

Thanks to everyone for participating, and thank you for stopping by.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Lena Coakley: Carve Out Space for Your Creative Work

Creating Through the Clamour: Instalment 8

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. Because I want to know. (I need all the help I can get in this department.)

The Creator
name: Lena Coakley
resides: Near the distillery district in Toronto
creates: Right now I’m writing young adult fantasy novels, but I’ve also published two children’s picture books and short stories for both teens and adults.

The Creations
Witchlanders (YA novel), Atheneum/Simon & Schuster
Mrs. Goodhearth and the Gargoyle (picture book), Orca Book Publishers
On the Night of the Comet (picture book), Orca Book Publishers

The Clamour
Doubt: I’m lucky enough to be able to write full time right now, but sometimes I can be my own worst enemy when it comes to procrastination and self doubt.

Volunteer Work: Although I’m no longer the administrative director at CANSCAIP (the Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers), I still keep my hand in by designing the newsletter and organizing the Pitch Perfect critique sessions at their Packaging Your Imagination Conference.

Research: I’m writing my first historical novel right now. I love the research, but I’m not sure I’ve learned when to stop!

Crazy Interruptions: I’ve had a strange start to 2012 with everything from bedbugs to minor surgery to family crises to unexpected houseguests all taking me away from my writing. It’s been a great lesson, though: Life intervenes as it always will, but we still have to carve out that space for our creative work.

Wow, those are some crazy interruptions! How did you get started in this field?
I think I got started in this field the day my mother read me my first picture book. I have loved books ever since I can remember, and I think I started making up stories of my own at a very early age. When I first came to Toronto, the best thing I did was to enroll in Peter Carver’s course in writing for children, a class he taught for over 20 years at Mabel’s Fables bookstore in Toronto. I had always liked the idea of being a writer, but Peter started me on that long (never-ending!) path of honing my skills. It took me over 10 years from the time I enrolled in that course to the time I published my first picture book, but those workshops were where I first began to develop my own distinctive voice.

What are you working on these days?
I’m working on a historical fantasy novel that takes place in 1834 and features the four Brontë siblings, Anne, Charlotte, Branwell and Emily as characters. It’s quite a daunting task! Last weekend I went to tea with the Toronto members of the Brontë Society and I can tell you, there are some huge Brontë fans out there! I feel an enormous sense of pressure to do justice to these extraordinary siblings and to get the details right.

How do you minimize your distractions while you're working? Any tips for others? 
Decide in advance how you are going to deal with social media and stick to your plan. Some people can have a quick look at Twitter and Facebook before they start to write, but I find that I can get sucked into social media and that it can drain my creative energy. I try not to look at either until lunchtime and then just for a set amount of time. Because I need to do so much research for this book, I’ve also decided to only watch television on the weekends for the next little while.

The important thing is not to let one distraction ruin your whole day. The writing flow sometimes gets interrupted—it happens—but it’s important to learn how to get back into it.

How do you cope with times when you just can't focus on your writing?
Being a procrastinator of Olympic caliber, I have developed a few tricks:
  • Try an egg timer. Sometimes if I’m really feeling squirmy at my desk, I set an egg timer and tell myself I only have to write for that amount of time before taking a break. Usually I set the timer for an hour, but if I’m really unfocused, I can set it for as little as 15 minutes.
  • Make a date with a writing partner. I’m convinced I never would have finished my first novel, Witchlanders, if I hadn’t been meeting regularly to write with my friend, Aino Anto. Somehow writing regularly helps get over that bottleneck of dread that keeps us away from our desk. At this point in my career, I don’t think I need a writing partner as much as I once did, but I will still make a date to bring my mini to a friend’s house to write if I’m feeling stuck.
  • Write every day, even if it’s for 15 minutes. You’ve probably heard this one before, but I’m a big believer in it. It keeps your work in the forefront of your mind, even when you don’t have much time for it.
  • Try a change of scene. I love to pretend I’m JK Rowling and write in my local café.
What book, song, painting, or maybe movie has touched you or has had great meaning for you recently?
I’m reading David Copperfield right now, a book my grandmother read to me when I was growing up. I hear the intonation of her voice very clearly when I read it, and that’s something that makes it doubly wonderful to read, now that she’s gone. It’s such a funny, sweet, clever, charming, sentimental book—probably one of my all-time favourites. I recommend it to absolutely everyone. 

As a creative person, do you have any other outlets for your talents? a hobby or interest?
I love to swim and I think my swimming and my writing go hand in hand. If I have a swim in the morning I find I come to my desk with half my plot problems already worked out.

Why do you keep creating in the face of all this trouble/effort?
That’s a good question, Lizann! Sometimes I do think my life would have been much easier if I’d become a computer programmer or a paleontologist, but I seem to be committed now!

Thanks, Lena. Having read Witchlanders, I'm very glad you're committed. No escaping now, is there? Thanks so much for spending some of your time here. I'm going to try that timer trick.

Which tip will you try?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Susan Hughes' Ideas

It's nice to be asked how I do things. Although I'll be honest and admit I don't usually analyze how I do things, I just do them. But it was a lovely idea for Susan Hughes to ask me to think about how I generate my ideas.

Susan Hughes is May's writer-in-residence blogging for Open Book Toronto. She gives great insights into how she comes up with ideas for nonfiction in Looking for the Lightbulb--Part 1. It's a good read for anyone interested in writing non-fiction. Thank you to her for including me as part of her article.

And there's a whole month more of her articles to look forward to. That's definitely a great idea.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Page 41, Painting, and Politics

World leaders' paintbrushes
It's not often that one of the books I've written as a work for hire project ends up having something that's close to my daily life in it. That's because a work for hire book has been thought of and planned out by someone else and I just fulfill the project parameters.

But this small life/project overlap happened with a photo on page 41 of a few world leaders talking at the G8 Summit in Huntsville, Ontario in my book The Legacy of the War of 1812. And the overlap? This world leaders' meeting happened in my corner of the world and I see a commemorative display to this particular G8 quite regularly.

Painting containing world leaders' brush strokes
It's  a wall display of a painting and the paintbrushes used by the world leaders when they added their brush strokes to the artwork. The artwork itself is a large wall mural replica of a famous Group of Seven painting. I made myself stop and look at it carefully not too long ago. Usually I walk right by it as I hurry to and from the community centre for my kids' sporting activities. But I was glad I decided to stop and really look at this display for once.

There's a nice YouTube video of part of the process of the leaders actually adding their colors here. And there's lots of information behind the whole Group of Seven Outdoor Gallery mural project, which puts mural sized replicas of Group of Seven paintings all over parts of Muskoka, available online.

So what's my point? Don't know. It's nice to see painting and politicians mix. Most likely the photo on page 41 just happened because it was a recent current event...or maybe the universe is telling me to stop and admire paintings more often.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Bad, Boring Blogger?

I am a bad, boring blogger lately, aren't I? I mean, if I don't post it's just bad and boring by default. Better to post and be bad and boring while trying. Maybe?

My problem seems to be I constantly put other things before my writing or my blog. It's a sickness and I have to figure out how to cure myself of it. It's the *constantly* that's a problem, because there are legitimate times other things have to come first. But surely I could learn to put myself first sometimes, couldn't I? Here's me saying I'll try.

So to make this post not entirely whiney, yesterday I went to the local library and it's not everyday this greets you in your library parking lot:

Yes, the Canadian military is conducting exercises in the area and they were camped out at the community centre. But they were more than happy to answer peoples' questions. My kids and many other kids were able to peek inside the vehicles and find out more about what it's like to be in the military. Here's a brief article on the background for them being here:

So let that reinforce the lesson about libraries again--you never know what you'll learn at the library.