Surrey International Writer’s Conference

Someone asked me today how long I have been attending as a volunteer or attendee and though I can’t recall at the moment how many years I have been volunteering, I know that my step-son was in grade five the year I first attended SIWC as a scared, wide-eyed, hope-to-be-a-published author some day. I paid for two days, the first time, and it was in 2005.

I wish I could also remember who the keynote was that year but I have never forgotten one thing she said: “Go to your local library or bookstore and imagine your book on their shelf.” That got to me and I actually did what she suggested. Six years later, I remember standing in front of the YA section at Black Bond Books in the Semiahmoo Mall and the store owner, Susan coming up to me to see if I needed any help. I was embarrassed but blurted out that I was fine, thank you. I was just excited to see my book in the ‘W’ section.

She promptly got a pen and had me autograph the copy of “BENCHED” and then she turned it face-out and placed a sign underneath that read, “Local Author”. My journey had begun! I thank the #SIWC for helping me begin my writing journey and to believe in myself as a writer and author. I watched the faces of so many over the last four days who are just at the beginning of their journey and I hope the conference gave them inspiration!

Today, I noticed the amazing view from the 21st floor as our conference came to an end and I admired the typewriter I wish I could have taken home from the silent auction. Another year of amazing memories. Another year of visiting with old friends and new in the #writingcommunity. Another year of writing tips and tricks of the trade. I’m ready to write and write and write…

 

 

Author-time

I recently chatted with a writer about becoming published, and the process of story-editing, and she suggested I should make a business out of helping people on their journey as authors. While I appreciated her thoughts, I wasn’t sure I had the right stuff to help others. But then, I reviewed what I did this summer in the ‘world of author’ and realized I am being asked to help others on a regular basis, so maybe there is something there…

I have been a frequent supporter of a few writing contests (as judge) and have been asked to take on one more this Fall. In judging contests, I am reminded of where I started and how important it was for to me to have contests to enter: they helped me to write to a deadline and possibly a theme, and they encouraged me to put myself out there as a writer. I always say with a contest, “Even if you don’t get picked, it is still possible you were fourth place!” That thinking helped me accept ‘rejection’ if I didn’t get anything in the contest, which further prepared me for the writer’s life!

I also enjoy reading contest entries because I see what works and what doesn’t work. I get a sense of what editors notice in first pages of one’s poetry or fiction – how important it is to grab people’s attention from the start! The greatest part of reading these entries this summer was the quality of literature and the enjoyment I got from their stories. Authors are readers, too, but when we have a busy year (two books at two publishing houses, at once) we may forget the importance of remembering the joy readers get from our books – that should always be front and center!

Another author-related challenge I accepted this summer was to help a few folks with their manuscripts (poetry and children’s lit) and that helps me to think about editing in my own work. All of this fuels my writing in terms of literary skill and I believe this translates directly to my works-in-progress. We learn from each other and when I was at the beginning of my writing career, I was part of a writer’s group where we critiqued each other’s work. This experience taught me a great deal about editing and seeing one’s work from another person’s perspective. We have the whole story in our heads/heart but some of those details may not make it to the page – do our readers get the full sense of the story we are telling? Or do we need feedback to see what parts are missing in the manuscript?

Finally, I also connected with writers (in person and online) around all types of things and being a part of a writing community inspires me! I enjoy #amwriting and #author tweets. I see myself in beginning writers and love encouraging them. I learn from seasoned authors and I enjoy honoring their successes! I do believe all of these endeavors enhance my writing and give me pause to think and to celebrate!

 

 

Realistic Topics in Teen Fiction

In the 2019 spring issue of Canadian Children’s Book News, the teens take over and share their views on literature and the current scene in Canada. While all of the articles were great, one in particular, caught my eye. It is by Sara Rigotti and it is her perspective on how authors should tackle ‘Themes of Social Justice in Teen Fiction.’ She says, “We need stories with real issues to break through the barriers of our society.” Her article aptly reminds us that “teens are the generation on the brink of entering adult society. They have the capability of understanding these issues and working toward changing them.”

Two publishers of teen fiction here in Canada offer stories that are realistic, that look at challenges our youth are facing, and do all of this with an accessible reading level for any reader. They are Orca Publishers with their Currents and Soundings series, and Formac/Lorimer, with their Sidestreets series. Orca is also introducing a new series called, Orca Issues. I am proud to write for the Currents and Sidestreets, and to shed light on tough topics. Sara suggests that authors not shy away from these issues, but that they treat them with openness and honesty. Some folks criticize the teen novels that look at tough topics, but today’s youth are hungry for them. Even when I was a teen in the late seventies and early eighties, I gravitated toward stories that shed light on mental health issues and LGBTQ youth. Back then, the novels were few, but they spoke loudly to me and helped shape my understanding of the world – they helped me to further develop empathy and care.

Today, we are more open to conversations, but still have work to do – the low star reviews of my books often suggest I got the rating because I should have ‘fixed the problem at the end of the story.’ But I wrote my novels without a tidy, neat ending because that is real life. Sara Rigotti says, “Everyone enjoys a good happy ending, but honestly, sometimes it is better to have a realistic ending… A realistic ending shows that even though the story’s conflict is over, there may and probably will be more conflict to come, more obstacles to overturn. It gives the sense that this is not over. This is current, this is real, this is ongoing.”

Real stories, with real endings allow teens the opportunity to ask more questions, to look at issues from a number of perspectives, and to further research topics they find important to them. Real stories sit with them and impact them, emotionally. Librarians, and some of the teen readers themselves, tell me they come back to my stories and read them again. They feel connected to the characters and their unique journeys. They recognize their own struggles in the authentic struggles of the characters portrayed in the books. And this makes them want to change the world for the better. As Sara says in her final lines, “Fiction can make us want to learn more, it may encourage us to help. We need to look at social justice issues in teen fiction because our generation can make a difference.”

Thank you, CCBC for the teen issue, and thank you, Sara Rigotti!

Research for Recent Releases

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Ever tried to lock or pop? How about breaking? Doing isolations or freestyle? If this language seems foreign to you, it was definitely new terminology for me. Sure I watched dance shows and had some idea of the moves associated with Hip Hop, but I was still a novice. I spent countless hours watching videos to learn the moves and understand the jargon. If you happened by my house anytime in 2017 or early 2018, you would have spotted me trying to bust a few moves! More like, bust an arm or two! But I enjoyed the research associated with writing ROOM 555 and it even helped to limber me up a little.

The second phase of research for ROOM 555 happened more organically. And that is the unfortunate part! I was recovering from a bad car accident where I was t-boned in an intersection. While it was 100% the other person’s fault, my body did not lay blame, it only hurt. At the same time a friend of mine was also hospitalized for a bad fall. Being a senior she had a tougher time with healing and ended up in extended care at a private facility after her hospital stay. The two places in which she recovered, gave us great insight into the system and its many flaws. Visiting her regularly also gave me fodder for writing and we began to talk about a book where a young person’s grandparent was in a similar situation. And the premise for ROOM 555 was set!

Research for LOCKED UP came in different waves. I had a conversation with a friend several years back where we talked about the lack of books available around incarcerated parents and how youth needed books written on this theme. I had toyed with the idea and even began writing a few scenes. I remember chatting with my young second cousin about my ideas, and at sixteen, she thought the story would be powerful and an important one to tell. So, I set off!

Then when my publisher Formac/Lorimer suggested doing a book on youth in the system the main premise changed but I was still interested in writing such a story. I met with a friend who knows someone in the system and it turned out the young person was more than willing to talk and give me insight into life on the inside of a Juvenile Detention Center and life inside a prison setting. This person was in a place of wanting to give back to the community.

Originally, we aimed for a story of a youth in adult custody. However, after finding myself about 10,000 words in, the request came from the publisher to change the story to reflect our Juvenile System instead of adult prison. That meant a full re-write but I was glad to have had the conversation with a person living in the system who knew both worlds. That gave my character and story great authenticity.

I also had conversations with a few others touched by the system. Then I pored over government documents on youth custody to be clear on the legality of terms and sentencing. I also found a great documentary on life inside the very Juvenile Detention center about which I was writing. That gave me a view of the layout of the building, and in listening to the youth, real insight into their lives. Friends of mine also visited a prison in the lower mainland of BC for several years before the government cut the program, where they brought their writing talents to share with inmates who were crafting stories and poetry. I was able to borrow a few of the journals that were produced during that time and read several of the works by both those on the inside and those who were living on the outside. They also gave me clarity about the world of prison and the place where hope resides.

In both of my accessible, hi-lo novels for middle-grade and YA readers, I incorporated research into the story. The work on ‘getting it right’ took as much time or more, than the writing of the fictional story itself. But I loved the learning curve I was on and I loved being able to work that information into the story. Research took up a great deal of time but it often led to new ideas and ways for my characters to interact with their unique worlds. I hope I ‘got it right’ and where I may have made mistakes – those are my own and not from the shared knowledge of others! I hope you find an opportunity to meet ROONIE from ROOM 555 and STRIDER from LOCKED UP – they both have important stories to tell!

 

High Praise

High praise for the students at Chaffey-Burke Elementary in Burnaby, BC! And happily, high praise from them, as well! I recently visited their grade four/five class after they finished reading LIVING ROUGH and did their ‘Book-in-a-Bag’ projects. It was wonderful to meet such eager readers of my novel. Their in-class questions were just as interesting as their printed letters, which I received before the visit and have since responded to individually.

What great fun! Some of my favourite comments and phrases:

I’ve never seen a book that belongs so much in a classroom like this one.

I drew the part where Edgar had to talk on camera and we had to draw about something important and I thought that part was important because he was trying to help his dad. I love that book. 

When we ended a chapter, we were begging our teacher to keep reading!

Even though reading isn’t my favourite, your book really sucked me in.

I am your number one fan!

For Christmas, I’m probably going to beg my mom for the 2nd book! (Guess I better hurry and write it!)

I also loved the comparison of my books to others – not sure ALL the praise is deserved but it is definitely appreciated. Here are some of the great compliments:

I have interests in chapter books, like Diary of a Wimpy Kid. It is just as good as your book! 

In my opinion your book is as good as Harry Potter!

Your books are wonderful as a diamond!

 

Upcoming Author Presentation

Want to know more about my books or my writing process?

Want to visit a VERY cool place while the weather is cooperating?

Then plan to come out to South Surrey this Saturday, September 29th and spend some time at the library before heading to White Rock Beach or Crescent Beach for a walk and some sunshine! I will be reading/presenting at Semiahmoo Library at 1:00pm and Ocean Park Library at 3:00pm. This is all part of Surrey’s first Arts4All Festival.

See all the great activities happening around the city here: http://arts4allfestival.com

 

TD BOOK WEEK

This was a busy week as I finished round one of edits for UNLOCKED, my newest endeavour with Lorimer SideStreets. I also planned and facilitated a poetry workshop with loads of activities to get even the most reluctant poet inspired! Then I gathered my information and tweaked and fine-tuned my application for the TD BOOK WEEK TOUR. Next year’s tour runs from  Saturday, May 4 to Saturday, May 11, 2019.

If chosen, I would get to travel to any other province or territory in Canada than my home province of BC. That means seeing new places and meeting new people. I would have the opportunity to share my love of stories with others and may even inspire those who don’t typically pick up books to want to find a novel and get lost in the pleasure of reading! What fun!

This is my third time applying. And since the deadline was a Friday the 13th and I was born on a Friday the 13th, I’m hoping that is a good sign! For more details on TD BOOK WEEK check here: https://bookweek.ca

 

Hearing from your readers…

One of the best things to receive as an author, besides great questions from students when you visit their class, like this recent presentation to Queen Mary School, are letters. I have a busy weekend ahead answering the wonderful letters from the grade five students at this lower mainland elementary school. Below are some of my favourite messages from their letters. What better accolades can one receive than these:

  • What I liked about “Living Rough” were the cliffhangers.
  • Whenever you put a cliff hanger we wanted to read more.
  • I enjoyed your novel because it sounded so realistic.
  • It’s really inspirational!
  • I really enjoyed that your book could make me picture perfectly what was happening in the book.
  • I really improved my writing skills from your book. Also, I got a stronger, creative mind.
  • I love your book because it makes us a better person by making us care more about the homeless and about any people who have any problems at all.
  • I loved how you didn’t tell us Edgar’s secret. I think it is a very good strategy to pull people into the book.
  • Some suggestions that I have for you are that I really think that you should make a Living Rough #2.

And on this last note, it would be great fun to revisit my characters and give them a follow-up story. I have no shortage of ideas for what book two could entail: from this batch of letters and from previous notes from other students. Please keep reading books and sharing your wonderful messages with us – it is the best part of being an author!

 

 

 

 

 

New Year’s Resolutions

Back in 2007, I sat alone for New  Year’s Eve in my apartment. I was reflecting on my year and its many challenges. I was also looking ahead to what I could differently in the coming year. I knew one thing for certain, I wanted my New Year’s Resolution to be meaningful; I wanted my goal to be something that would bring me pleasure and fulfill my life-long dreams. I decided at two minutes to midnight that my resolution for 2008 would be to write a book. I had done some work for our school district and knew that Orca was publishing the kind of books I wanted to write: books that would appeal even to the most reluctant readers. My resolution was set!

Jump ahead to December 31st, 2008. I am in the same apartment and still don’t have plans for New Year’s Eve. Instead, I am madly writing and finishing the last lines of the story. At four minutes to midnight, I write, “The End.” I have accomplished my goal. I didn’t eat less chocolate or lose 50 pounds, instead, I did what I set out to do the year before: I finished writing my novel, Benched. Exhilarated by the prospect of achieving my goal again, I set a new Resolution for 2009. I decided I needed to workshop my completed novel and by the end of the year, send it off to Orca Book Publishers. I also threw in an additional challenge, just for fun. I would write a second book.

Now we are at December 31st, 2009. Though I had a few offers for things to do for New Year’s Eve, I stayed in so that I could complete my goal. At 10:00, I wrote “The End.” My second book was done! I also sent off my query for Benched to Orca a few weeks before the end of the year. I was amazed at how my Resolutions had helped me finish two books. So, naturally I set my new goals for 2010. To be published (okay, that was a little out of my control) and to write my third novel.

2011 saw both Benched and Living Rough published. I continued my goals each year of writing a new book, and sometimes even finished two. Although it wasn’t until 2016 that I was published again, the books were from each successive year of New Year’s Resolutions. I think I found a great way to ring in the New Year and it has kept me writing and being published, ever since. Now with Cutter Boy, On Cue, and Dead to Me coming out in 2016 and Epic Fail being released in 2017, I think I can say I am on a slow roll. Orca signed with me for Room 555 for 2019 and I have hopes for another book with Lorimer. Of course, there are still two other options floating around and I am writing a new book! Thank you New Year’s for making my dreams come true! Now back to work!

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