Friday, December 21, 2007

And now let us pray

Lois Peterson recites King John's Christmas for Surrey Public Library's
Fireside Storytelling for Adults, Dec. 2007

(Picture courtesy Chung Chow, Peace Arch News) Full story here here

Alternate cutline:
"Please, please, please... never use a which without a comma".

Although I am seen here in my role as King John simply praying for a 'big red India rubber ball' for Christmas, I might well have been praying for rescue from the distasteful task of buying a new car this week.

Suffice it to say after four days of back and forth we have a car we're happy with at a price we can afford, from a dealership (or at least a salesman) I would not recommend to my worst enemy.

I'm relieved to think we won't have to do it again for another fifteen years (we work our cars to death). And if we're lucky, this one might see us both out, or at least onto public transit with a Senior's bus pass.

I hope that whatever you hope and pray for at Christmas comes true.

Peace on earth is my wish for us all.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

When a picture is worth a thousand words

Surrey, BC Dec 2, 2007
Photo. Lois Peterson

I'm talking about Power Point presentations. ....

Why DO people think that a slide of words can tell any kind of story?

Last night at a very worthy fundraiser for Libraries Across Borders (LAB), which provides funds for helping develop library services in rural communities across the world, one of the PP presentations was all words, with not a single pic in sight. (The one before was simply 6-8 photos with single line descriptions accompanied by an interesting narrative.) Which do you think has stayed with me longest?

The presenters were all hard-working, dedicated people, all hoping and needing to gain enough interest in their projects - and the work of LAB - to generate funds from the 60+ people in attendance.

Luckily, as most people there are involved in the library world--and understand the power of literacy and other inititiatives in building community--it was a soft sell.

But I can tell you that if I'd been dragged along at all reluctantly, and this had been my intoduction to the great need in the world for booksand facilities for communities to gather and share resoures, the second presentation might have sent me to sleep instead of spurring me to action.

So next time you're thinking of putting together a Power Point presentation to engage and motivate your audience, think pictures rather than words.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Left: Walking the dyke at Crescent Beach.
Photo: Lois Peterson

It's taken me a week to get my internal clock back in order since coming home from the UK. On my first night home I made it to 7 p.m. before I crashed, then was wide awake and ready to go at 1 a.m.

Have not had an interrupted night since then, but I did 'sleep through' until 5 this a.m. which is a slight improvement.

My friend Carole, the wisest woman I've ever known, used to consider sleepless nights as 'gifts of time'. She'd give herself ten minutes or so, then if she could not go back to sleep, she'd get up and find something to do that she might not normally think she'd have time for.

When I wake up at an ungoldy hour, the first thing I think of doing is giving Carole a call, or at least turning on the computer so I can drop her a note to ask what she might be doing if she was me. But it's too late now. She died about four years ago, and it's not only in the darkest hours that I miss her.

But she left me with enough to think about to last me a lifetime.

Sleep well, Carole.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

What next?

When I started writing for children at the beginning of this year, my goal was to sell my first book by June 2008. As I'm eight months ahead of schedule, I figure I had better update my goal and make it two books by June 2008.

But what to do next? I'm well into Kissing the Piggy Boy, which could be consdered a sequel (I prefer to think of it as a companion book) to Tansy. But although I have not mentioned it to my editor at Orca (oooo, that sounds sooo good!), I can imagine that they would need to see how Tansy does before committing to Piggy Boy - if indeed the book is good enough for Orca.
Elsie and the Silver Rain was my attempt at kids' fiction. Set during the Depression, it tells the story of Elsie, whose father has abandoned the family and whose mother has now 'run away' to join a dance marathon, in an effort to relieve the family's poverty. Can Elsie - and her sidekick Scoop - bring Mother home without incurring the wrath of Elsie's grandmother, who following the lead of social activist Reverend Hampton, holds strong views about the marathons?

I'm fond of Elsie. So fond of her I keep the photo culled from a book called Children of the Depression on my computer desktop at home and at work. And the book is 85% done - at about 32,000 words.

So while I'm England for the next couple of weeks, helping my mother catch up on the garden pruning and listen to my father's rants about Tony Blair (gone, but not forgotten in my family), I will spend the evenings helping Elsie prepare for the outside world.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Speechless - for once

Just heard this morning that Orca Book Publishers will publish my first children's novel - currently entited Tansy Here and Now - in Fall 2008/Spring 2009.

There's an English term 'gobsmacked' that seems to work here. I'm thrilled and excited and full of anticipation.

I've long admired Orca, both the books they publish and the people who work there. The first 'encounter' I ever had with a 'real live' editor was years ago at a Surrey Writer's Conference - before it went 'International' - when I met then-Orca-editor Ann Featherstone (she now works elsewhere) who not only gave a dynmaite workshop but also gave me great feedback on a YA novel I was pitching at the time.

That book is still in the drawer, but I'm so thrilled that Orca will be the midwife for my first venture into the world of publishing books for children - a place I hope to inhabit for many years to come.
And of course, who does not love Orcas!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Where can I find lists of writers' guidelines?

Here are a few websites that list writers' guidelines and/or provide direct links to them.

One tip for finding them through individual publication websites - they are sometimes buried quite deep in the site, and you might find them by searching 'contacts', 'submissions' or 'contributors'.

Worldwide Freelance Writer
Writer’s Digest - You need to type in a search word to bring up related listings.
Jacqui Bennett Writers Bureau - A British site – useful in finding other English-language markets.
Writers Write
Writing-World - Writers Wanted pages by paying and non paying markets.

Drop me a note if you know of other useful sites.

And don't forget to try using online databases for marketing purposes (check my previous post). Most databases include a section called Publications which lists the source from which their archived material comes, and hot links will take you directly to the publication website to find out more about the magazine or journal.

An overlooked resource - online databases

Spent a few hours this morning conducting a short workshop for local writers on using online databases.

Never heard of them? You would not be the only one. And even though libraries understand just how valuable these tools are in today's information world, the fact that so few laypeople know about them is a sign that they need marketing more strongly.

But it continues to surprise me that so few writers know about this invaluable resource. They are a tool that can help with all kinds of research and marketing questions, and you've a btter chance of including credible material using them, rather than general Internet searching.

Online database are electronic collections of articles, papers and information that's a far superior source of research information that general web searches.

Below is the list of those that my library offers. This will give you an idea of the range of information available. If you live in Surrey, most of the the highlighted links will take you right into the database, where you simply have to enter your library card number to go any further. (In a few cases you have to be in the library iteself to access the db.) If you are elsewhere in the world, go to your own library website to see what online databases your card gives you access to.

AccessScience - a science encyclopedia, plus biographies, study guides and more, for high school through university.
Alldata - automotive repair information for technicians, from manufacturer's manuals, 1982 - present.
Ancestry Library -International genealogy resource with the largest online Canadian family history collection, searchable by surname. Includes many digitized full records.
Ancient & Medieval History Online - Learn about the cultures of ancient Egypt, ancient Mesopotamia, ancient Greece, ancient Rome, ancient and medieval Africa, medieval Europe, the Americas, and ancient and medieval Asia.
Auto Repair Reference Center - automotive repair information for the layperson, from Chilton's manuals, 1945 - present
BC Codes - BC Building Code, BC Fire Code, and BC Plumbing Code.
BC Stats Releases - Up-to-date business and economic indicators such as the Consumer Price Index, Earnings & Employment Trends, Small Business Quarterly, etc.
usiness Source Premier is the industry’s most used business research database, providing articles from more than 8,800 top business magazines
Canadian Newsstand - 200 Canadian newspapers online including major dailies like The Vancouver Sun, The Province, The Globe & Mail, and The National Post, plus many community papers including The Surrey Now, The Surrey Leader, The Langley Advance, etc.
CBCA - Canadian general interest and business magazines, newspapers, and broadcast transcripts. Good for current affairs, scholarly articles, book reviews, company information, and a range of Canadian topics.
Consumer Health Complete - articles on all areas of wellness, from mainstream medicine to complementary and alternative approaches. Includes information from encyclopedias, reference books and academic journals.
Contemporary Authors - biographical and bibliographical information on over 120,000 authors
Contemporary Literary Criticism - 35,000 critical essays on the works of contemporary authors
Discovering Collection - for middle to high school students on literature, history, biography, science and social studies, including essays, criticism, biographies, timelines and multimedia.
EBSCO - a collection of databases, including: Masterfile -- over 1700 magazines covering all subjects, Academic Search - over 2000 periodicals Computer Source - over 300 computer publications, Hospitality & Tourism Index, Religion & Philosophy Collection.
EBSCO Kids Search - articles and encyclopedias for K-8.
EBSCO Searchasaurus - a dinosaur guide to articles and encyclopedias for K-8.
eBooks & eAudio - read or listen to ebooks online, or download eaudiobooks to a PC or portable device...
Encyclopedia of BC - over 4,000 articles on BC places and things including photographs, statistics, maps, web links, sound & video clips
E-STAT - Statistics about Canada and Canadians, designed especially for students and teachers. Available in library only at all Surrey Public Library branches.
JobFreeway - job search, post your resume or search candidates for BC.
LitFinder - Poems, Stories, Plays & Speeches.
Naxos Music Library - An online listening music library containing over 85,000 streaming audio tracks of classical, jazz, world, and folk music. Sound quality near CD. While listening online, you can read notes on the works being played or biographies of composers.
Naxos Spoken Word Library - 275 audiobooks online including classics for kids and adults, biographies, non-fiction and poetry.
NoveList - your guide to fiction for adults, teens and children, including plot summaries, author read-alikes, award winners, book reviews, discussion guides and more.
Opposing Viewpoints - books and magazines about social issues.
Oxford Reference - 100 specialized language and subject dictionaries.
Press Display - Today's newspapers online in 35 languages, from 65 countries. QPLegalEze - BC laws, regulations and legal information.
Reference Canada - Comprehensive database of 1.5 million Canadian businesses, great for market research and job hunting. Search by name, industry, location, business size, phone, etc.
Science Online - diagrams, experiments, biographies and more, for school projects and homework grades 4 - 12.
Tumblebook Library - A collection of animated picturebooks, games and puzzles for kids.
What Do I Read Next? - a guide to fiction and non-fiction for adults, teens and children.
World Book Online - an all around great encyclopedia for elementary school and above.

All public libraries subscribe to suites of online databases, and any person holding a library card from that library can access the databases from home through the library website - or by visiting the library.

My next post answers one question that came up during the workshop - Where can I find lists of writer's guidelines?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Conference round-up

The 15th annual Surrey International Writer's Conference is over. And I bet there are a lot of participants out there who have already marked their calendars with the dates for next year's (Oct. 24-26).

I've lost count of how many Surrey conferences I've attended, but this was as good as any - if more tiring. This year I presented one workshop (to standing-room only crowd of 65 - perhaps my first full house ever!) moderated a panel of children's writers, publishers and editors, did a handful of Blue Pencil Cafe manuscript consultations, hung out a little with old friends and new, and even pitched a project.

(Oh! And sold a few copies of my book 101 - and more - Writing Exercises to Get You Started & Keep You Going. And came home with a new idea for a kids' novel - something that came to me watching a friend wash her hands in the bathroom. I've never figured out why so many ideas come to me in bathrooms!)

But I did get to hang out with some wonderful people, put a few faces to names of those with whom I share a virtual space from time to time, watched an old friend get newly-inspired and a new writer find her feet in the throngs of eager conference-goers.

By the time Sunday rolled around I was ready for a long retreat somewhere very quiet, but had to turn around and head straight for a symposium for which I was hired to do some contract work. Now the deadline for that project is staring me in the face before I've even had the chance to read through the few conference handouts I managed to snag.

But life's like that. Between now and Nov. 7 I have the symposium report to compile, a 4-week class to wind up, a reading to give, a new workshop to present, and a load of laundry to get through, plus a couple of other deadlines that need to be wrestled to the ground.

Not to mention that I am still awaiting news of the fate of Tansy Here and Now, my kids' novel currently under consideration at a BC publisher. I was told I could expect to hear by the end of the month; I'm watching the days slip away as my nails get shorter and shorter!

In less than an hour I'm off to do my first reading of Tansy Here and Now, a gig I am sharing with kc dyer. She's an old hand, and warns me that there's no way of knowing if anyone will show up. If not, we'll read to each other and enjoy the first downtime either of us have had in a while (she did a stellar job as the SiWC's new conference coordinator this year, and deserves all the accolades coming her way).

But if there's an audience, I'll get my husband to take a picture or two so I have it for my archives.

But now I had better go and change, then figure out which passage of the book I'm going to read.

Friday, October 05, 2007


My annual trip 'home' to visit my 'aged parents' and other relatives - all of whom live in the UK - is coming up fast, and my to-do list does not seem to be getting any shorter.

Detail from The Spirit of Haida Gwai,
pic. by Lois J. Peterson

But I do have my eye on the date - Nov. 7. By mid-afternoon that day I'll be in my favourite spot at the airport, sitting on the steps watching people interact with Bill Reid's Spirit of Haida Gwai, and knowing that whatever I've left undone will stay undone until I get back on Nov. 21.

D. is not coming with me this time - too little time, too few $$. But we are planning another trip to the UK in the spring, which will include a week in Cornwall, where I grew up. I haven't been back since the last of my relatives moved away from there. I am looking forward to dragging him up the hill to see Truro High School where I spent six years as a boarder, to my grandmother's village of Tresillian, and to the lovely Perranporth beaches where I spent many summer holidays.

We'll be staying for a week in Mevagissey, where we've rented a cottage for seven days, and from where we will be able to explore much of the peninusular - as you can get almost anywhere from anywhere in a day in Cornwall. One trip I'm looking forward to is the 35-minute ferry ride across to Fowey, where Daphne du Maurier lived - and wrote about - for many years.
My favourite DdM books are Vanishing Cornwall, and The Loving Spirit which may well be set in Fowey itself.

While I try and get through the next hectic month until I go away in November, D. is reading books about hiking COrnwall's Coastal Path, and counting sleeps until April.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Bedtime stories

Spent a pleasant half hour on the floor of Duthie's on Vancouver's W. 4th. Avenue this morning with my daughter Holly, searching for the perfect book for her partner's three-year old's birthday. And there was me thinking there must be lots of books about trains - Adam's passion - but besides the predictable Little Engine that Could and Thomas the Tank Engine, there was nary a one.

But it reminded me of Holly's favourite books when she was A's age, and older:

  • Alligator Pie by Dennis Lee - she once met DL when he came to my library to give a reading, and ever after she referred to AP as 'Dennis' book'.
  • Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein - poetry was always big in our family - I remember as an infant H. fell asleep on my father's chest while he recited John Donne's 'Song' that begins, 'Go and catch a falling star, get with child a mandrake root..' later recorded on a wonderful album Circle of Light by Pentangle.
  • Drummer Hoff by Ed Emberley - and me the pacifist had to read this every night for weeks... about the building of a canon, the last line of each refrain being, But Drummer Hoff fired it OFF!"
  • Are You My Mother? by LeSieg
  • The Mud Puddle and Mortimer by Robert Munsch - both became favourites in the years I was doing a lot of storytelling.
  • A House is a House For Me by Mary Ann Hoberman - another one in rhyme.
  • Sssh Bang - Margaret Wise Brown - this may well be out of print. My copy is so old and beat-up I'd only lend it to a reader who has very careful hands.
  • The Gunniwolf by Wilhemina Harper (Holly liked it better when I told it with a wolf puppet)
  • Black Beauty by Anna Sewell (on tape, long before I'd have thought she'd be interested).
  • Mr Gumpy's Outing - lovely Mr. Gumpy....
  • The Elephant and the Bad Baby - Raymond Briggs. "But you never once said Please!"

I think most of these are still in print - or should be. Which is more than you can say for many of the adult books I was reading about that time.

(Holly turns 32 tomorrow! So it's been a while since we shared a bedtime story. But I read The Runaway Bunny to Adam on his first visit here...)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Nine tips for writing students

It's that time of year. Time for me to get back into the classroom for a while. When I'm writing, I wish I was teaching. When I was teaching, I wish I was writing. It's getting the balance right that's the tough part.

If you're new to writing, or taking classes to refine your skills, consider these tips.

  1. The teacher does not know everything - but hear him/her out before you decide.
  2. Do the homework if you can. The more you write ~ The better you get. The more you write ~ The easier it gets. There's no way around it.
  3. There is no 'secret'. So don't sit around waiting for the instructor to let 'it' slip. Contribute. Paticipate. Process. Practise.
  4. Share your writing with others in class if you can. They know as much as the teacher, even if they don't know that they know it yet. Stay in touch. Throughout the course, and after. With each other, and the instructor.
  5. Don't take too many courses at once. Give yourself time to absorb what you are learning. And to practise it.
  6. Don't read too many writing books at once.
  7. Try and balance the amount of time you learn and read with how much time you put in writing.
  8. Most teachers are eager for feedback. Let them know what was most and least useful to you in the class. It will help them do even better next time.
  9. Two books that teach as well as ilustrate lots of good writing:
    Imaginative Writing by Janet Burroway, and Make Your Words Work by Gary Provost. And of course there's my book, 101 - and more - Writing Exercises to Get You Started & Keep You Going.

This term I am teaching Getting Started, Keeping Going, Writing and Selling Short & Long Nonfiction, and Fundraising in General (and Grantwriting in Particular). For particulars... check my website.

Maybe I'll see you in class.

Writers Read

I go through phases of hardly having time nor energy to read a word of anyone else's work - besides students' or writing buddies'. Then I pick up one book off the shelf at work, then another... and it's early to bed if there's nothing good on CBC's Ideas, and I have the light on until midnight.
Here are a few I've worked my way through over the summer:
  • King of Lies by John Hart - from the discard shelf at work. His first novel, showed up on a number of bestseller lists. A great read, and defying the description on the cover - 'Grisham-like' - with whom I have always been seriously underwhelmed. JH has a new one coming out soon. I'm on the waiting list at work.
  • Earth and Heaven by Sue Gee. About an artist and his family between the wars. Another discard; I've read it at least twice since I found it. And no. You may not borrow it. My eiditon with its glorious cover is probably out of print.
  • Breakdown Lane by Jacquelyn Mitchard - found this v. compelling.
  • ??Elysian Fields by James Lee Burke. I think his very best, even if I can't remember the title - it's gone back to the library.
  • The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond. Enjoyed this. A mystery story of sorts, and a rumination on memory. Which I find facinating, anyway. She has written a few and I'd definitely track down more.
  • Looking Down by Frances Fyfield - I thought I liked her books, but couldn't get past the first couple of chapters. Me or the book? Was I mistaking her for...
  • Denise Mina. If you haven't read her, do.
  • Home Cheese Making - well, I thought I might try, after reading...
  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. A good companion to The 100-Mile diet if you're into eating close to home.
  • Joy School by ELizabeth Berg.
  • Lots of kids books, but I no longer have them in my hand, but loved Sahara, Boy O'Boy by Brain Doyle, The Skellig, and Al Capone ...shirts... see, I have a filthy memory.
  • Pay Attention, For Goodness Sake by Sylvia Boorstein - my bedtime reading, every night, for a very long time. Helps me get through the days in one piece..

(Sorry. No links to Amazon. Find them yourself at your local independent bookstore if you can pay full price - or at the local library.)

What have you read this summer?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Start of a new year

January 1 may be the official start of the year, but to many of us it seems as if September is the real beginning. Back to school / putting away the sandals and airing out the sweaters / a flurry of activity that we forgot about over the summer.

Suddenly it's almost October.

I love barelegged summers, long days, mild nights, and lots of light. As soon as the first fall rainclouds gather overhead I feel a mood shift take place in my body and my psyche. And unless I work hard to keep the energy flowing, this change can swamp me, and I'm wading through the doldrums.

I know it's the same for a lot of people. But as fall brings with it the beginning of fresh assignments, a new school term, ballet and judo for the kids, a garden to be put to bed - even for some crazy types the first preparations for Christmas - hopefully we all have enough to get us out of bed in the morning and hold off the fall blues as long as possible.

I'm knocking over deadlines like dominoes. One presentation to a Vancouver literary group - the Shebeen Club, a reading at the local Arts' Council anniversary gala, contest finalist submissions to read, a new workshop to outline, the monthly arts council newsletter contributions to edit and submit, and preparations for the 15th. annual Surrey International Writers' Conference to prepare. That should be enough to keep my mind off the brooding sky.

But today I went in search of new tights for the season (gave up nylons and 'business dress' when I turned 40, and haven't regretted it yet), and as long as I can keep busy - and warm around the legs and neck - I can take on whatever this fall sends my way.

I hope you can, too.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

When my writing becomes real to me

Last week I spent a wonderful ten minutes talking to a real editor on the phone this week - 'real' as in someone I have never met who was talking about my manuscript.

The upshot was/is that she will be recommending my book to the next meeting of her company's editorial board.

Never mind that it may not be until late October. Never mind that just an hour before her call I had returned from the post office where I had mailed out three complete copies of the ms. to publishers who like to bite off the whole thing right from the start, (having spent $30 at Office Depot for good copies on 24-pound bond, and a further $26 on postage).

Just the fact that a complete stranger--and an expert at that-- not only took the time to say some really nice things about the story and my writing, but that she talked about it and the issues it contains as if they existed, was enough to make my day. As if they were real and not just some kind of deluded fantasy in my addled brain. As if the book matters. And the conversation convinced me that, even if for some reason the editorial board at her company says 'no', someone thinks it is worth publishing, and so it was worth writing.

However, it is now September. And September is back to school time - which means time to teach again. Which means time to plan what I will cover in my three upcoming courses - Getting Started, Keeping Going; Writing & Selling Short & Long Nonfiction - a Primer, and Fundraising in General (and grantwriting in particular).

I have a pretty good idea about what I will include in the latter workshop.
And I have written enough grants in my time to have some useful tips to pass along.

But that doesn't help when I have to sit down and write a grant applications for myself. The BC Arts Council deadline is in just ten days, with Canada Council's coming up just two weeks later. And between now and then I have a deadline to meet for an article for The Writer, and a bunch of other deadlines nipping at my heels.

Which beggars the questions - why am I blogging when I could be working?

Fine. O.K. then. 'School' tomorrow. Must get an early night.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Pleases and thank yous

In all the years I worked in children's services at the library where I'm still employed, my favourite story for telling was Elfrida Vipond's The Elephant and the Bad Baby. Mainly because of its lively story, wonderful rhythm, and great pictures by that wonderful writer/illustrator Raymond Briggs.

It tells the story of an elephant who carries away a baby to whom he gives cream cakes and candy and all the kind of goodies young children love. After all the rumpeta-rumpeta-rumpeting down the street, the elephant finally has enough, and comes to a thundering halt with the words, ''But you never once said please!"

In all the times I read this to receptive two to five-year-olds, I never thought of it as a story with a moral, but one that had all the elements that make storytelling such fun. Cumulative detail, repeated phrases, visual clues, and a rollicking story.

But it's the first book that came to mind today when I started thinking about manners.

As a fundraiser, I've been taught that donors needs to be thanked seven times. This does not mean they need to be inundated by thank you letters and phone calls. But small gestures of being recognized in publicity, invited to events, named on annual reports, etc. make all the difference.

Few donors will say that they give in order to be thanked (although many say that one of the reasons they do not give, is that they have not been asked!) .But research has shown that one of the main reasons donors do not give a second time to a cause or an organization is that they have not been thanked promptly or properly.

This year I donated a couple of copies of my book 101 Writing Exercises to Get You Started and Keep You Going to a literary contest which was part of a community festival. I have yet to hear if they received the books. Who they were awarded to. How the contest went. And I have not been thanked.

We spend a lot of time teaching young children their basic pleases and thank yous.
While most of us give to causes or organizations one way or another, we mostly do it as a result of being asked. And all most of us need in return is the basic courtesy of a heartfelt thank you.

Ever since I was a kid, my favourite part in almost any book has been the acknowledgement and dedication pages. Writers are great at acknowledging their debt to family and friends, the support they get from their peers, the influence other work has had on their writing, the information shared by the experts...

On the whole writers are very good at saying 'thank you'.

It's a habit that serves us well.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

It's so nice to be asked

Never a very social being as a teen, I didn't much like going to dances. But once in a while I'd drag myself there with friends. Then hang out hugging the wall the entire evening.

And occasionally I might get asked to dance.

That's what it felt like when I got an email from Orca yesterday requesting the full ms. of my children's novel Miss Stella's Mindful Moments as as result of the query and sample chapters I'd sent them just the week before.

I got myself there, and now someone's asked me to step onto the dance floor. They might end up walking another girl home instead of me, but meanwhile I plan to enjoy the moment while my friends look on encouragingly.

Just getting this far has generated lots of support and kudos from the writers and readers who read the ms. and gave me really invaluable feedback on it.

So this dance is for them.

Also this week, I was asked by the
Arts Council of Surrey to read at their 40th. Anniversary event in Sept. A year or so ago my short story Skim Milk won in the fiction category of the Surrey Stories contest, which went along with a photo exhibit at the Surrey Art Gallery.

While I was thrilled to accept the invite, I did ask that they review the story to ensure it is the tone they want at this gala event. It is, as one of my writing peers says, 'one of Lois's bleak little stories.' Luckily, I have a couple of cheerier pieces I can pull out it they'd prefer.

Two invitations in one week! I've rarely seen my dance card so full.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Anthologies for everyone

Anthologies can be a great way to see your work in print in the company of other good writers. But calls for submission can be hard to track down.

Here are a few from the most recent issue of Poets and Writers.

Listings here are not endorsements - I am just the messenger.
  • Things I'd Never Tell My Mother
    Essays exploring mother-daughter tensions.
    Deadline Nov. 30. 5,000 words max.
    More info. from P.O. Box 7231, Norfolk, VA 23509

  • Bathroom Stories
    'Just the facts - no novel writing'. Deadline Aug 18. No pay.
    Info: Bathroom Stories, c./o Shook, 1775 E. Palm Canyon, Ste. H-254, Palm Springs CA 92264
  • Four upcoming anthologies from Casagrande Press.
    Fishing's Greatest Misadventures, Surfing's Greatest Misadventures, Weddings Greatest Misadventures, Cycling's Greatest Misadventures. Check online for details.
  • Dog Blessings - Poems, Prose and Prayers Celebrating Our Relationship with Dogs.
    To be published by New World Library. Details at the website of
    June Cotner.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Contest deadline approaches - you do not have to be present to win

The Fri. Aug 3 deadline
for the Surrey International Writers' Conference writing contest
fast approaches.

Note: this deadline is much earlier than usual.
Just one week after the conference registration begins

4 categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, poetry, writing for young people.
Top Prize: $1,000 Can. in each category. $100 Hon Men prizes also available
Prize sponsors include: Diana Gabaldon and Jack Whyte, LPwordsolutions (c'est moi!), SFU Writing & Publishing Program, Quills Magazine, Lions Literary Agency
Complete details at the
Conference website

Conference registration opens July 26.

But you do not have to attend the conference to enter the contest.

If you're a new contest entrant, check out some tips here in my now out of print newsletter Imprint.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

One liners can help sell your ideas to an editor or agent

If you have a project you plan to pitch to an editor or agent – either in person at a conference or convention, or through the mail in a more formal proposal – you need to come up with what some people call an elevator pitch. This is a short, snappy description of the project to describe your book verbally to anyone you meet who might be in the position to review your work for possible publication, to describe it to a possible research interviewee, or to use the ‘hook’ in a query or cover letter accompanying a submission to an agent or editor.

These are not mere one-liners that you throw at a moment’s notice. They need to be well-crafted sentences that are short and sweet, yet manage to convey the central idea, and the conflict that your main character(s) will attempt to resolve in the course of the book.

You may be amazed at just how time-consuming it can be to come up with the perfect elevator speech. But it’s well worth it.

Once you’ve got something that seems to represent your book (or story or article) test it out on fellow writers or anyone who has read the ms. Ask them whether it might entice them to read the work if they haven’t already done so, how well it expresses the central idea, if they have.

The blogging agent Jessica Faust of Bookends, LLC – a Literary Agency recently challenged her readers to come up with their own.
Here you’ll find some of their one-liners, and also a few of her responses to some of them.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Excuses, excuses... and a summer festival

What is the best reason for not blogging?

Writing, of course!

I've had a wild couple of weeks, with an idea coming to me as I cooked some rice for supper one night, and ten days later I have a decent first draft of a 17,000-word book for early readers (8-10) called Miss Stella's Mindful Moments.

(The rice burned!)

This one almost wrote itself. I felt as if I was just along for the ride.

I've had some great feedback from some real pros, along with very specific craft advice that has made so much difference: young readers have problems with contractions, and if you're going to name a place, person or thing that is not familiar to them, it helps if it's pronounceable. Which is why in Mindful Moments, Sechelt has now been changed to the Sunshine Coast, and the second run- through on the story took more time that I thought, as when you try to eliminate contractions, quite a bit of rephrasing is required. But I think the text benefited in the long run.

I have
Marsha Skrypuch to thank for that invaluable advice.

I feel confident enough to start pitching this baby; later this week will send out full proposal packages (query letter + sample chapters) to four publishers simultaneously. I'll wait to start the second wave of marketing Mindful Moments until I hear back from those four. And in the meantime, plan to finish up Elsie and the Silver Rain and start really digging into
Return of the Summer Fish.

Pandora's Collective Summer Dream Literary Arts Festival will be held Sat. July 21, 12 noon - 7:30 at Lumberman's Arch in Vancouver.

I'll be sorry to miss this - I will be working at the library, as I do most Saturdays.

This will be a great day of presentations, readings, workshops... and much more.

Check out the full day's schedule at

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Surrey Conference registration date announced

The registration date for the Surrey International Writer's Conference has now been announced - it begins July 26, at noon. Complete registration info will be available at the website.

Register early for the best chance of getting your first choice of agent/editor appointments, and to get a place in a Thursday masterclass.

Demand is now so high for this stellar event, that they usually have to cut off registrations at some point, so put you money where your mouth is soon, and mark July 26 on your calendar.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Inspiration vs. intent

Pictured above is a work by British artist Eric Ravilius (1903-1942)

I meet them all the time, writers (and those who've never written a word) who are waiting for 'inspiration' to hit so they can produce that poem/article/novel they've been wanting to write.

I try not to sneer.

But I truly believe that the only time inspiration strikes is when you're sitting at your desk working, or already so deep in a piece of work, that the new idea or insight almost comes as an irritation.

But don't believe me. Here's what Mary Oliver, the Pulitzer Prize winning American poet says in her book ‘A Poetry Handbook’.

“If Romeo and Juliet had made appointments to meet, in the moolight-swept orchard, in all the peril and sweetness of conspiracy, and then more often than not failed to meet, one or the other lagging, or afraid, or busy elsewhere – there would have been no romance, no passion, none of the drama for which we remember and celebrate them.

Writing a poem is not so different – it is a kind of possible love affair between something like the heart, that courageous but shy factory of emotion, and the learned skills of the conscious mind.

They make appointments with each other, and keep them, and something begins to happen.

Or they make apppointments and are casaul and often fail to keep them them; count on it, nothing happens.

So if you're not inspired, or have writers block, or are the only one in your writing group with nothing to share, it might be because you're not making an appointment with yourself to write - in which case, how can you expect anything to happen?

So pick a place, set a time, make a goal.

And be there.

Something will happen.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

O! Canada!

It was 1971.

I was nineteen, tired after a tearful parting from friends in New York and a long bus ride to Montreal.

I guess I didn't look too appetizing. Long hair, torn jeans and a tie-dye shirt, a scruffy hat and a guitar. I can only imagine what the Immigration officials thought of me at the border when they hauled me off the bus, put me through the third degree. (a) How long was I going to be in Canada? b) How much money was I bringing in? c) Who would I be staying with in Vancouver, etc. etc.

I can't say I was quite up front with them.
I told them a) a few weeks - even though I had no idea, b) I said $400 - I actually had $38, c) I said with friends, although I'd planned to sleep on the Beach at English Bay.)

So they strip-searched me. I guess expecting to find drugs hidden about my person.

(There were none to find).

An hour later I was escorted back to the bus, and handed up to the waiting driver who was trying to placate the passengers who hadn't come all this way in the middle of the night to be held up by a longhaired guitar-carrying hippie.

As he saw me on my way, the Immigration Officer said, "Welcome to Canada!"

How very Canadian, I think now. Personal violation and suspicion, promptly followed by ritual courtesy. (Although I won't tell you what I thought at the time!)

But I'm not bitter. And I'm still here thirty years later.
And glad to be.
Happy Canada Day to you!

Friday, June 29, 2007

Grasshopper mind

In my family we call it 'Grasshopper mind'* - the inability to settle on one thing for too long before we go hopping on to the next.

My paternal grandmother Granny-P had it worst. The syndrome affected her coversation so much that you stuck around just to see how she could get from A to Z in lightening time and still make no sense at all. But she made the best chicken pie of anyone, so could be forgiven her grasshopper mind and her obsession with good (= expensive) handbags and shoes, although she rarely went out.

Me, I'm all over the place these days like a demented child. Stuck in deep to my first children's novel Elsie and the Silver Rain, I soon decided it should be the first of at least two books, the second of which should feature Elsie' sidekick Scoop, thereby coming up with Scoop and the Boxcar Tourists.

So, Elsie done at 29,000 words, you'd think I'd jump right into Scoop. But what about Return of the Summer Fish, the morphing of my memoir-that-got-stalled Summer Fish - reflections of a childhood in Iraq into a children's novel?

Well, with that one outlined, and a new central character jetissoned in to provide the necessary conflict, I soon got sidetracked by an idea generated by a quick 'sighting' - you know, that spooky stuff we writers are so prone to - of a boy kneeling looking out of a window to watch a high-born lady walk down his front path. This coupled with my long interest in the Riverview lands which were home to BC's first arboretum, developed by the Scot Mr. MacDonald (he has a first name I can't recall right now) - and I have a new book Escape to the Summer House featuring 13 year-old Lionel (goodie, a historial novel for YAs with a male protaganist - agents/publishers, please take note!) .

I love them all; I know the MCs without having to dig too deep.

Elsie with her hat and her strong survival instinct when everything else is falling apart.

Scoop who hides his dyslexia with wiles and cunning and by taking to the rails, where "no one needs to read nothing."

Pauline who longs for the exotic life her sister recounted in letters - wild camel rides across the desert, tea taken in Sheiks' tents, long rides down the Shatt-al-Arab river on overloaded date boats, finding only heat and dust and a sister who's too busy with her own life to let her in.

And Lionel whose only goal is to find a way to give little sister Grace the love and security he feels he lost when his father was killed in a logging accident.

I can't decide who I love most, that's the trouble. I see their faces, hear their voices, and can't decipher who needs me soonest.

Right now I'm hooked on Lionel, and in the process discovering that history is not all dry dust and old photos. What was New Westminster like during the time that Mr. Macdonald was bringing over his first trees from Europe. How am I going to get Lionel and Mr. Macdonald together? How will The Hospital of the Mind - as it was called then - feature in the story? And how long can Lionel and Grace survive in that abandoned summer house before they are discovered. And by whom?

Meanwhile, I'm still not sure when or if Elsie's own father is going to turn up.

But until he does, her mother Peg and ne-er do well Uncle Dannell will just have to keep stagggering through the thirty-fourth day of their dance marathon, holding each other up while I stand on the sidelines, wondering whose trail I should be following this week?

So I skip from one to the other. Afraid to let any of them out of my sight unless they dispappear from view without telling me all their secrets.

Grasshoppers are agile. So maybe I can keep up.

Or break a leg trying.

* Odd connection to that grasshopper metaphor. One of the pivotal scenes in Summer Fish - and one truly taken from life - is the day the British Club in Basra, Iraq, was infested by a plague of locusts... which of course are related to grasshoppers.

Volunteers needed at the best writers' conference in N America!

The 2007 Surrey International Writers' Conference is coming together nicely. The full program should be on-line soon, and registration will open at noon on July 23. The conference dates are October 19-21, with Master Classes on the 18th.

Conference Planning Committee Chair Carmen Merrells has put out the following call for conference volunteers.

The SiWC cannot operate without its loyal volunteers! We need people to help out in various capacities during the conference, as well as pre-conference and post-conference presenter transportation. Some of the benefits of volunteering include:
(1) Free lunch! (on the days you volunteer)
(2) Opportunities to meet and work with other writers and the presenters -- great camaraderie!
(3) If you're doing presenter transportation, opportunity to pitch your work during the ride, reimbursement for gas ($10 round trip) and parking (receipted)
(4) Free workshops for volunteers doing workshop monitoring and introductions
(5) A thank you gift

For more detailed information or to sign up, please contact the SiWC's Volunteer Coordinator, Camille Netherton, at

I can only add that this is a great way to spend a weekend. This is probably the least hierarchical conference you'll run across. You'll meet the big names and the up-and- comers alike in meal line-ups, in the washroom, at lunches and coffee break, as well as learning useful craft tools, getting inspriation and motivaito for whateve ryou're working on, building your network. And you'll have a lot of fun in the process.

And whether you're there as a volunteer or fully paid up particiapant, drop by the Metta Publications trade table where I'll be selling/signing my book 101 - and more - Writing Exercises to Get You Stared & Keep You Going or drop into my workshop 'Having Your Say - Writing Personal Essays and Opinion Pieces'.

And check out the Conference website regularly, as more info. is being added all the time.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Time is running out

July 1 is the deadline for the BC Federation of Writers Literary Writes Contest. Complete info. here.

An earlier deadline of June 30 applies to The Writer magazine's fiction contest.

Speaking of The Writer, my article May I Put You On Hold - dealing with interruptions appears in the Aug issue. I have my copies, so I expect it will be on the newstands any minute. Check it out if you are interested to know how long it takes to 'recover' from a phone or email interruption while you're working.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Rant of the week - Boycotting the big boxes

Readers - and writers - may have lots of good reasons to visit Chapters or shop online at Amazon. Hundreds of good books (along with candles and yoga mats and coasters and music and notebooks and games and other stuff which seems to rise up in ranks and offer the buyer so much distraction that they may never get as far as the actual bookselves).

The reason many people shop there is because they can get their books cheap. And fast.

Which seems to be the priority for most consumers these days.

But what about supporting the independent stores whose owners live in your neighborhood, who are in touch with what you want and need, who ensure that local issues are reflected in their bookstock, that local authors get exposure?

You won't get that from the big boxes.
What about spending just a little more, waiting a little longer, and eschewing (I've always wanted to use that word, never have found a good reason until now!) the allure of more and quicker products in favour of closer to home.

As a publisher, I have good reason to aviod the big boxes - they just don't care about the little guys. It took us over two months to even make contact with a 'real person' in the national purchasing dept. of Chapters (couldn't even get the time of day from the local store manager) and having sent sample copies of our books to them about six months ago, haven't heard since.
And can't even get a return call when we try to contact them.

But not all independents are so friendly, either. Blackberry Books, one of Vancouver-area's oldest independent bookstores won't even consider independent publishers offerings, although they're more than willing to spend an hour flipping through a national distributor's catalogue and sneering at most of their offerings. (I know. I had the dubious pleasure of sitting in a public cafe and overhearing the poor salesperson being turned down on every page.)

While many independent bookstores obviously get more mileage from ordering from a big distributor, they will, if aproached properly, consider smaller publishers' books.

When Metta Publishers approached Munro's Books in Victoria - one of my favourite bookstores in the province - they said they didn't handle small publishers' work. But when we were in town, they were willing to sit down with us. At which time they said they'd buy two of each book, changed their mind and ordered five, and have since reordered both books.

Left. Munro's bookstore, Victoria, BC

Independent bookstores get my support - as a consumer and a publisher - and my dollars every time.

I don't even like Starbucks coffee, so I never have a good reason to even enter Chapters. And in my work at a library I use Amazon regularly to track down new books that customers are looking for.

But I prefer to spend my money elsewhere, in my own community.

It's worth the wait, and the expense to support the little guys.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Write to Win - a few current contests

New Works of Merit Playwriting Contest - 'an international contest whose mission is to seek out extraordinary, socially conscious scripts from around the world'. Deadline postmarked by July 15, 2007. First Prize: $300 and a reading in an established New York City theatre. Second Prize: a reading in an established New York City theatre. Third Prize: a reading in an established New York City theatre. Submission guidelines and application form here.

The Rejected Quarterly

Someone actually wants your rejected fiction! Fiction to 8,000 words. You must also submit 5 rejection slips with your entry. Entry fee: $200 / Deadline: June 30, 2007. Check it out

Arc - Canada's National Poetry Magazine contest
Deadline: June 30 / Entry Fee: $23 (includes one-year subscription). Prizes: $1,500 / $1000 / $750. Accepts email entries; more info.

Surrey International Writer's Conference
$1,000 First Place
prize in each of four categories: Fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and writing for children. Note the earlier than usual deadline: Must be received by 4 p.m., August 3. Entry fee: $15. Details
here. Accepts email entries.

Federation of BC Writers: Annual Literary Writes Contest
Open to BC writers. This year's topic - Foreign Affairs: Travel Writing With a Twist. Entry fee: $15 members / $20 non-members. Prizes: $500 / $300 / $150 . Details

Want to know some useful strategies for entering contests? Check out the back issue of Imprint for my article Writing to Win. here. More contests listed at Place for Writers and The Writing Circle of Durham Region website (Canadian listings).

Monday, June 18, 2007

When a picture paints a thousand words / pointers for freelancing success

If this doesn't give you the chills, you've become immune to the world as it is. If this photographer doesn't win some kind of prize for this image, I'd be surprised. This appeared in Saturday's Globe and Mail over the cutline 'Hamas militiants seized control yesterday at the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt...' Photo. Hatem Otar / AP

And on another topic entirely:
Vancouver speechwriter Colin Moorhouse seems to have resuscitated his e-newsletter Freelancing Success, available through his website of the same name. When you subscribe, you can also receive a copy of his e-book Finding Work - Marketing mantras for the freelance writer. Lots of useful insights that might help you make some kind of a living in this business.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Sometimes all that words are good for, is for a good laugh

So, I'm looking for something to read on my coffee break. Something to see me through 15 minutes, a couple of glasses of water, and a chocolate digestive biscuit.

I cruise the magazine shelves at work (I work in a library). I gave up People and Hello in Jan 2006, no longer drool over Bon Appetit, couldn't find the recent issue of Yoga Magazine which I mostly read for Sally Kempton's wonderful articles, and I don't need the latest issue of the New Yorker as it's waiting for me at home.

Riffling through Vanity Fair I come across a wonderful photo of a Tuareg man ( I was brought up in Iraq, can still count to about twenty and say Good Morning and Good Evening in Arabic, and love anything to do with the Middle East or North Africa.) That will do me, I think.

And I'm on my way up to the staff room, flipping through the magazine, when it opens to an ad for water. Glaceau Water. 'Smart' Glaceau Water. 'Smart' Glaceau water, a bottle of which is held by a naked Jennifer someone (can't remember her last name - she was in Friends...).

And the tagline?

'The water with all the answers.'

I laugh so hard I just about fall down the stairs - all twenty of them. What the hell does that mean? Is it meant to mean anything?

Who are these people that come up with these ridiculous taglines that may sound good, but mean nothing.

'The water with all the answers', indeed!

Can you top that? Send me meaningless taglines that you run across in ads, on singage and bulletin boards. I'm going to start a collection. I'll add them to the list I started years ago when my father and I walked near a new housing development, which billed itself as 'Built for life - Designed for living' .

'The water with all the answers'! What I want to know is - what are the questions?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

News now here rather than on my website

I'm now using my blog to replace the News page of my website. I hope to add new information, resources, opinions, and event listings every day or so.

Of course you all know about the
Surrey International Writers' Conference. Three days of great presentations, panels, author and agent interviews, trade show, book signing sessions, etc. This year's line-up is impressive, and registration begins soon. You can sign up for early notification of the registration date at the website.

I'll be doing my usual gig of reading manuscripts in the Blue Pencil Cafe, presenting the workshop - Having Your Say - Writing personal essays and opinion pieces, and selling my book 101 Writing Exercises to Get You Started & Keep You Going and the new A Writer's Year. And this year, as well as being a sponsor of the Nonfiction category of the the conference contest, I'm co-judging with my good buddy Elizabeth Lyon. I'm looking forward to reading the shortlisted essays and articles and being on hand when the winner picks up their $1,000. All the contest info. is

During the conference, I hope to put faces to a few of the names I've recently encountered in the YA/Children's Literature section of Compuserve's Books and Writer's Community. What a supportive group of newbie and published writers to share with and learn from! Whatever you write, check out the forums to find writers working inyour genre.

The fact that you're here, means you have some interest in blogs. But to know more, and learn how they can benefit your writing, attend the Tues. June 26 meeting of the Shebeen Club when the topic is 'Blogging as Writer's Practise. Irish Heather Pub, 217 Carrall Street in vancouver's Gastown.

I'll be sorry to miss it, but it conflicts with the mandatory volunteer meeting for the Vancouver International Folk Music Fesitival. This will be my third year helping out in the Information Booth - a highlight of my summer. I was in the audience for years, along with my daughter who loved the freedom of spending a day in the sun on site with a couple of friends, only having to check back in once an hour. I quit going when it got too crowded, but when I started as a volunteer in 2005 I discovered that it's still possible to find a quiet spot to soak up the sun and listen to the music in the distance. Working my three shifts at the Info tent, I get to meet all kind of out of towners and new and older follkies, reunite people with their wallets, cellphones, and children, and soak up the music from a shady spot.

Over the past few months I've been acting as unofficial marketing consultant to the Young People's Opera Society of BC. They're staging the world premiere of a new work entitled The King Who Wouldn't Sing in early July and the rush is now on to put bums in seats for the 8 scheduled performances. It's exciting to be in on the ground floor of a brand new organization as it struggles to get support and public awareness, and involved with people such as Patricia Dalquist (librettist) George Austin (composer and Musical Director) and Barb Gould (Executive Director of the Society, and tireless advocate).