Book Birthdays!

It is a new thing to celebrate book birthdays – throwing a party to welcome your novel into the world. I guess if we do that as a new tradition it follows that books will have successive birthdays, just like us!

As with any birthday party, it is a good idea to have the whole family join in! Sadly, LOCKED UP and ROOM 555 weren’t around for the photo op!

So, today I celebrate two book birthdays. BENCHED just turned TEN! Since BENCHED was my first ‘baby’ I was nervous about how it would be received by the world and of course, how I would nurture it so it could grow. I was a novice, and like any new parent, spent many nights awake, wishing and hoping for it to thrive. I guess I shouldn’t have worried. After ten years, this middle-grade novel still brings me a little pocket change in royalties. I often get messages from teachers and youth in different parts of the world – recently, I was contacted by a teacher in New York asking if I had accompanying lesson plans. Orca Book Publishers creates lesson plans for most of their books and to access the one for BENCHED, click here: I still receive notes from young people saying it is the first novel they were able to complete – the reason I wrote this book. As this novel falls into the hi-lo category, or as I like to call them, accessible books, it is a quick read for avid book lovers and one that all readers can manage. A bit more about hi-lo fiction can be found here:

It is also a book birthday for CUTTER BOY. Originally titled, EDGE OF GREY, this book just turned FIVE! Interestingly, it was also a first for me as an author. It was the first book published with Lorimer and I now have three more books with their SIDESTREETS series, also a hi-lo category for YA: I have had many young people connect with me over this book – how it clicked with them, how it spoke to them, and how it helped them understand themselves and others. It covers a tough topic, and all of my books with Lorimer look at realistic issues facing teens today. If you read this book, be aware that it can trigger folks who are struggling with mental health issues and do remember to reach out for help and support:

BENCHED and CUTTER BOY thank you for celebrating their book birthdays this January. Authors – do your books have an upcoming birthday? Feel free to share with me in the comments section!

Locked Up

This book came out in January 2019 and time has flown since then. I was able to donate copies of all my books to a juvenile prison in the United States thanks to the brilliant Isaiah Roby, who cares deeply for the youth in these situations. I heard back from the prison librarian that the books were getting youth talking: a debate ensued about the back story for the mom in Cutter Boy, and one youth realized he needed to reach out to his dad after reading Dead to Me. Hearing this compels me to write more novels!

Today, while checking the internet, this popped up on my feed. It’s from the Delaware County District Library. I appreciate their choice of words for the book’s appeal:


I entered my first writing contest when I was in Grade 10 and won third prize for my short story, HOW THE SKUNK GOT ITS SMELL, a story I wrote after reading Rudyard Kipling’s, JUST SO STORIES. I revisited that practice after my cancer diagnosis, rekindling my desire to be ‘a writer’, with submissions to, ‘the rag’ which was a local magazine printed in Mission, BC. That endeavor proved fruitful, with a win and several poems being published over a two year period.

When presenting writing workshops, I always encourage participants to seek out contests as a place to submit their stories and poetry. It is often an easier way to learn one of the harder parts of getting published: rejection. In a contest, if you don’t win, it could still mean you received fourth place! I have gone by that motto for the latter part of my writing journey!

So, this year I took up the challenge and it helped stead me through this pandemic. It also provided some unique and wonderful opportunities.

In February, I was accepted into the First Five Pages Workshop, where after several weeks of working and re-working the first five pages of my newest book, I ‘won’, and had an agent from New York ask to see my full manuscript. While I didn’t succeed in earning myself an agent, I did come close, and for me, that is enough! I also gained a few writers with whom I now continue to workshop the novel. The first five pages of your work must stand out if you hope to be published.

To gear up for April’s Poetry Month, I entered a Facebook contest and wrote four poems in four hours to a prompt. Then from April 24-25, 2020 I participated in two days of feverish poetic creativity using ten designated words which included: bootlegging, lethargy, eggplant, bin, carapace, octothorpe and peristeronic. This contest always tests my ability to work within deadlines, a necessary skill for any author who wishes to be published.

Then in May, for six weeks, I participated in a grueling contest that honed my short story telling skills, from a focus on narrative, tropes, description and voice, to writing children’s stories and world-building. This contest not only helped one with skill-building, but also supported the writer with immediate and supportive feedback.

A week after that contest ended, I was back at it with twelve hours of prompts and twelve hours of creating poetry in the Poetry Marathon! This year I learned about a new poetic form… the BOP: and last year I learned about the SEVENLING: I once again enjoyed connecting with an international writing community and will have a poem published in their anthology in the fall. This day produced poetry from the great prompts that I can edit and submit elsewhere.

So, if you want inspiration, wish to connect with a writing community, need to hone your skills, or would just like to drive yourself a little crazy on the way to publication try one of these contests or find a new one that is a good fit for you!

Gearing Up!

Poetic Forms and Words from Past CV 2 2 Day Poem Contests

It is almost time for this year’s Contemporary Verse 2 Two-Day Poem contest. I have been entering now for almost a decade and it is the highlight of National Poetry Month for me. I was originally turned on to the contest while taking a poetry workshop from local poet, Heidi Greco. In her class, I experimented with poetry and found my voice. I had been writing since the age of eight but this was the first time I began to feel like a poet.

Past CV2 Magazines

There was a sense of camaraderie as we dove into the CV 2 Contest that year and in 2013, I was fortunate enough to win Editor’s Choice and a copy of the book, with my entry: Vegas, Baby. Since then, I have continued to enter contests, like the Coffee Shop Author Contest put together by Susan Toy, where I won Honorable Mention. I have also participated in the Poetry Marathon for a few years now and love the connections I have made there, as well.

Book with my entry from last year’s contest

I have created four chapbooks of poetry I share with friends and family and I have had the unique pleasure of hosting a literary Open Mic in my local community for many years, where usually we have only poetry shared in the April session. This year we missed our time together and it seems we may be out of luck for gathering to celebrate poetry and other writing endeavors for some time to come.

Chapbook created during the Coffee Shop Author Contest.

Let’s hope that while we are quarantined the words flow and poetic musings abound. Or, at least that I have some luck with tonight’s ten words as I venture off into 48 hours of poetry madness.

Christmas Treats and 2020!

I was so excited to find a note from my publisher just before Christmas, informing me that both BENCHED and LIVING ROUGH had gone to reprint. Even more wonderful, was seeing BENCHED sporting a new cover!

One of my resolutions this year is to be better at the social media part of my job as author. So, I posted a new blog on Goodreads and decided to link to it from here. Sort of cheating, I know! But it may also help me to get new followers on both sites. As an author, it is on my contracts that I do my part to promote my books. So… here goes!

Poetry Marathon 2019

This past July, I wrote a poem an hour for twelve hours as part of the half-marathon participants in the 2019 Poetry Marathon hosted by Caitlin and Jacob Jans. At the top of each hour, a prompt was posted and the poet had the hour to write to the message. It tested my poetic prowess and I had great fun! I couldn’t imagine having the staying power for 24 hours!

The sevenling was new to me and I enjoyed my ‘fun’ take on that poem. Friday my books arrived and I am thrilled to say that I have a poem alongside other international contestants, on page 134. The poem of mine that editor Jennifer Faylor chose was to a picture prompt – one showing the night sky uninhibited by city lights, so the stars were dancing!

Thank you Jennifer Faylor for editing this anthology and to Caitlin and Jacob Jans for this wonderful contest that brings folks together from all over the globe.

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…




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


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!


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