Thursday, December 25, 2008

My mother's cards

For a long time, every year at Christmas my mother made me a card, often lettered in my father's lovely hand.

Over the years I've received 22 of Mum's cards - but there was no new one this year. At 84 she is not sewing as much as she used to (she received her City and Guilds when I was a teenager and is a very accomplished fabric artist and canvas work designer).

I bring out the cards every year - still thinking that maybe one day I may find the ideal way of mounting/displaying them all together. But for now, I just arrange them on my bookshelves, some randomly, and some in a row, and they provide all the seasonal decorations I need - other than my small Christmas tree for which I have an eclectic collections of ornaments - a number of which were also made by my mother - and a few Santas who I started collecting a few years ago.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

First ten titles on my must-read list for 2009

That didn't take long. A post from Linda Joy Singleton has given me a list of reading that should keep me busy for the next ten weeks. Her top ten books are:

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
Savvy by Ingrid Law
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Cabinet of Wonders by Mari Rutkoski
Little (Grrl) Lost by Charles de Lint
The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas
Into the Wild by Sara Beth Durst
Found Missing by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Patron Saint of Butterflies by Cecelia Galante

See what Linda Joy has to say about her top picks of 2008 on her blog here.

Please drop me a note with your recommendations. Only 42 weeks left unaccounted for on my list!

I'd prefer third-party recommendations rather than suggestions from authors that I add their book to my list. I'm aiming for objectivity here.

Check out the list as it develops here.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I'm making a list...a Book a Week for 2009

I'm casting around for recommended reading for 2009.
My goal is to read one kids' book a week.

My reading is often pretty random - usually books I review for Resource Links, those recommended by my past colleagues at the library, and new titles by kids' writers I know. I'm wanting to compile a reading list for 2009 of juvenile literature including MG fiction, picture books and YA (no graphic novels). I prefer realistic fiction rather than fantasy or sci fi (although I admire David Almond as much as any kids' writer publishing these days, and I'd say his books verge on the magic realism).

A few I particularly enjoyed this year :

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo
Skellig by David Almond
The Fire-Eaters by David Almond
Johnny Kellock Died Today by Hadley Dyer
I am a Taxi by Deborah Ellis
Mr. Karp's Last Glass by Gary Fagan
Island of Mad Scientists... by Howard Whitehouse
The Lit Report by Sarah Harvey
Love my Dog by Sharon Creech

I will be posting the list on my website once I have 52 pinned down.
Leave a comment with YOUR suggestions. As long as they are still in print or readily available at a library, I'd welcome your recommendations.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Reviews from all over

All writers live for reviews - even if they try not to care.

Reviews come from all over - in professional journals written by teachers and librarians who understand what kids need and want in their reading. Such as Quill and Quire and School Library Journal.

In review journals (print and/or online) written by teachers, librarians, readers and writers written for teachers, librarians, readers and writers. Resource Links and CM (Canadian Materials)

Blogs written by teachers and parents (The Reading Zone) for other parents and teachers.

And ones written by kids for kids (The Spaghetti Book Club).
This is only a very small list of the dozens of review sources out there.
And those for the general literary community such as the Canadian Children's Book Centre's journal Children's Book News.

I have been thrilled over the past two days to be directed to two recent reviews of Meeting Miss 405 - one in CM and the second in The Reading Zone. (Thanks to my friends who passed on the word that the reviews were out there!) The first written by a librarian, and the second by a teacher and parent. (Thanks also to those who took the time to read the book, and formulate such careful responses to it.)

Both gave my book passing marks, for which I am very grateful. Especially if it helps the book find its way into hands of readers who might not otherwise know about it.

It's easy to get distracted by the search for reviews - easier now than it's ever been, now that you don't have to wait for the actual journal to find its way into your hands; most journals post reviews online - something I just discoverd today checkiing out the websites of some of the ones that I still hope will find my book worth a column inch or two.

But two reviews in two days is just what I needed to send me back to my desk to keep working on what I hope will be the next book to find its way into the world.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Book signings and sightings

I've heard of book signing sessions where you're lucky if even your mother shows up and you sell more than a couple of books.

Well, my mother is too far away (but I'd know she'd have been there in a shot if she could ). But there was a nice steady flow of interested people this afternoon when I spent a couple of hours at my local branch of the independent booksellers Black Bond Books.

And sold 14 copies - 11 more than the store initially had on hand. Luckily I was able to send a flare up to my husband who was able to rush over with a bagfull. (The store had had more copies, but had sold more prior to the signing than they'd expected.)

Some familiar faces came out to support me, plus a few writing students I hadn't seen for years, someone from a nonprofit I volunteered with years ago, and many total strangers who took home books for the kids and elementary school teachers in their lives.

My biggest thrill - when a woman asked me to sign a copy for her neice Breezy. Wasn't she thrilled when I told her that's the name of one of the characters in the book I'm currently working on - The Ballad of Knuckles McGraw.

Came home quite 'chuffed' by the afternoon's work, to find a post on the online kidlit listserve I participate in, directing me to a review of MM405 in CM (Canadian Materials), in which reviewer Claire Perrin says, " There are several storylines and themes that are skillfully intertwined in this novel....In spite of the somewhat complicated themes of loneliness and discrimination, the physical presentation of the book and the uncomplicated vocabulary make the book readable for the 8-11 year old reader. It is written in the first person, adding to the novel’s readability." Check out the full review here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

You've got mail!

I wonder if, with even two - five - eight books, authors still get a thrill from hearing from kids after school presentations.

I got such a kick when I got home today to find a thick wad of letters from students at Windermere Elementary, where I visited just a few weeks ago.

Some were illustrated. Some talked about Meeting Miss 405, while others mentioned the story that I retold from the one created by the kids in my storytelling workshop a week earlier.

And I'm a sucker for flattery. Who can resist when someone tells them, 'There's so many cool things about you"?

So thanks to Billy, Braden, Skylar, Katie, Liam,Marissa, Leah (who closed her letter with "Warm milk and cookies from Leah"), Emily, Kaleigh, Daniel, Barry, Raspmason, Langdon, Bythom, Simon, Bobby, Hailey, Lucas, Shannon, Emmett, Vita, and Tyler for their lovely letter.
(I hope I read everyone's name right.)
And to all those who asked, "Are you going to write another book?" my answer is, "You bet I am. And when it gets published, you will be the first to know!"

Monday, November 17, 2008

A lion and a cupcake

A highlight of my book launch day on November 1 was the morning storytelling workshop for kids.

12 enthusiastic youngsters drew, acted out being lions and cupcakes, brainstormed, and collectively came up with The Chronicles of Kendra, the Lion, and PLOP!

(It took a vote to come up with the title!)

It was thrilling to see the kids so engaged and enthusiastic, full of great ideas, but willing to consider everyone else's suggestions, too.

Everyone contributed in their own way, and two ambitious friends Amrit and Preeti kept track of the story as it developed, went home and transcribed their notes, then came up with a typed and illustrated story that is now posted on my website here.

Amrit's mom has been carrying it around in her car for the past few days, and earlier this evening we finally connected so that at last I could see what they had created.

Take a look, and celebrate the creative energies of Surrey kids.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Home again, home again

Home last night, after a short flight from Calgary.

Energized by all the wonderful presentations and ideas drifting around at the Kaleidoscope Conference. Most inspiring were those by Jack Zipes whose approach to storytelling as a way to build community and expand children's confidence in themselves and their own stories has given me lots of think about and work on as I present to children and develop workshop ideas. His work inspires me to go beyond the 'mere' act of writing for children, to looking for new ways to engage them in my work, and their own.

Michael Morpurgo is well-known in the UK - where he held the position of Children's Laureate for two years and has published more than 20 books - less so perhaps on this side of the pond. His animated presentations, his humanity and humour brought his own stories alive in both the keynote speech at the event banquet, and his Saturday afternoon presentation. I went away humming with ideas and the pressing need to get back to work! And a copy of his book War Horse, which I devoured in just a couple of sittings.

Other presentations were amusing, insightful, and entertaining. Most enjoyable perhaps as mere entertainment were those by JanetStevens (one word, as her readers refer to her) as she created a new character in front of our eyes, keeping up an informative and engaging patter as she did so.

Do I really have to wait another four years until the next Kaleidoscope?
As soon as the date is set, you can be sure I'll be signing up.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Road trip - Day Six: Kaleidoscope

Kaleidoscope Children's Literature Conference 9

More than 700 librarians, teachers, teacher-librarians, authors and illustrators and children's lit experts are gathered to talk about and celebrate Canadian Children's Literature.

Last night Ron Job gave a wide ranging presentation about the achievements and challenges of the children's literature field in Canada today. Great visuals, a few self=deprecating jokes, lots of 'Jobian Moments' - all in something for everyone to think about as the conference-proper starts today with a whole host of presentations by an impressive list of authors and illustrators.

Can't wait to get at it. And wonder how long I will last. The Calgary HI hostel is handy -and cheaper than the big hotels around the conference centre. But noisy. So with about four hours sleep I will have to work hard to stay alert to get the full benefit of the expertise and experience at hand.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

On the Road - Day 5: Blog and Launch promo

Thrilled today to note that Orca mentioned my book launch and this blog on its website.

I'm packed and ready for the three-hour drive to Calgary. Bright skies, crisp and cool with views all around. We'll be making lots of stops for pics, I bet!

Kaleidoscope next!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

On the Road - Day 4

LP with Principal Jill Jensen and Windermere Elementary students

Hectic day with a morning presentation to 95 elementary school students in the morning and two large groups of Grade 11s and 12s in the afternoon.

Lots of participation from various children in the morning, plus some good questions about MM405 and the whole writing process.
It's a small school with a close feeling, and in front of the gym a large mural demonstrating the school motto 'Where Children Soar'. Each child had painted a child on the landscape of Windermere Lake, and a few were keen to show me 'their' flowers and make sure I IDd the species correctly.

Two classes are reading the book, which is most heartening. I tried not to give too much away in my readings!

The afternoon groups were attentive for the most part, contributed to the discussion and were willing to talk about their work, some of which they'd brought along with them.

The teachers suggested that it's good that they hear from 'real' authors so they have a wider sense of what's involved in good writing.

A couple asked to follow up with me on their work, and the contest I'd pitched to them.

I'll be pulling together some contest guidelines once I get home, and look forward to seeing what they come up with.

A good day. Tiring. But energizing at the same time, in a way.

So now dinner and a trip to Radium for a swim and soak before heading to Kaleidoscope in Calgary. I look forward to just hanging out and having some down time, too.

The Rockies enroute to Calgary

On the Road - Days 3 & 4

Left: Dave's Book Bar, Invermere

Enjoyed the day wandering around Invermere. Coffee at Gerry's Gelato (I hear Gerry is a mayoral candidate in the upcoming municipal election), popped into Dave's Book Bar to let them know I was in town. What a wonderland hidden behind the rather utilitarian storefront. Books, of course, and interestingly and well arranged and displayed. Furniture, gifts, cards, stationary supplies, magazines, lottery tickets, cigarettes even. In a lovely mellow environment with a very living room feeling to it.

Got a warm welcome from manager/oner Mary Lou who told me about the store's history, that it had recently been renovated, and it is up for sale. So of course, I had to buy a lottery ticket. A bookstore in Invermere! I could live with that.

Under a light dusting of snow I poked around town, into the gallery, a craft shot, a department store, then... the local thrift store. And it's going out of business sale. I did not come away empty handed!
Lunch at the Blue Dog Cafe - GREAT soup, lovely salad, a good visit with my traveling companion and quick hello to a few of her friends who dropped by to welcome her back to town.

Then to Invermere Library where I met the librarians, gave them a copy of MM405 for their collections, talked about the ins and outs of the BC Onecard system, their new circ. system, the old cell in the back of the library that will lose its bunks soon, but will retain the bars.

Left" Librarian Liz in the library cel with a copy of MM405

This must be the only library in BC with its own cell - in Canada, perhaps.

ttendance at the book signing at Dave's Book Bar would have been disappointing were it not for the enthusiasm of those who did make it ("We're reading your book in school!" said Justin. Sweet words!), the kindness of staff, the attentiveness of those who were there.

Left: Justin: 'We're reading your book in school!"

I did a little shopping there, too. So glad to bring in some revenue to the store, and will certainly send anyone I know to be visiting the area to the store. It's one of the nicest I've been in.

Today will be busy. A visit to Windermere Elementary - 95 students in one go, I'm told. And my storytelling presentation 'Brought to you today by the letter W' was refined during a rather sleepless night. This afternoon I'm presenting two creative writing workshops to a class of Grade 11s and one of Grade 12s at David Thompson Secondary. And will offer them a writing challenge, with the prize for the best piece a gift certificate to - where else? - Dave's Book Bar.

I'll report back on how they take to the topic!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

On the Road - Days 1 & 2

Pictures to be added later
Day One
Surrey to Revelstoke
Rained until Kamloops, but made such good time we decided to keep going as far as Revelstoke.
    Easy driving and just getting dark as we arrived in R. First hotel we tried takes dogs, so Eileen, my driver friend, Nugget and I checked in and soon headed out for supper at the nearby Denny's.  
   Words cannot describe the awful meal we ate there - or the extreme Uriah Heap obsequiousness of the server.  
    The following morning had a quick breakfast in Revelstoke (avoiding Denny's), and I would not like to lay all the blame there, but I swear the salad was loaded with sulphites so I spent the day enroute paying the price and looking at the passing scenery enroute to Invermere through a pounding headache.  But it was well worth struggling from the car from time to time - mountains at our elbow, snowy peaks in the distance, the gorgeous contrast of the ox-bow rivers of the Columbia valley winding through ochre coloured marshes.  
   Arrived in Invermere mid-afternoon, and after spending the proper and seemly time with our host Alison, I retired to 'the red room' and slept soundly, waking only to eat some squash soup, yoghurt and cracker, and then retired again for a good ten hours sleep.
Tomorrow: Book signing at Dave's Book Bar in Invermere at 3:30.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


(Posted Sat. November 1 at 6 pm.)

I officially launched Meeting Miss 405 earlier today, with a full house of about 75 writing buddies, friends, family, and well-wishers.

During the launch I did get a little Academy Award-ish when it came to recognizing my daughter Holly and her husband who had come all the way from Nanaimo (the book is dedicated to her; as a child the first thing she read in any book was the dedication), my ex-colleague Namrit Uppal who did the lovely poster promoting the event, Stella who did the catering (really, that's her name - yeah for the Stellas of this world!), and Vancouver Kidsbooks (South Surrey store) who handled the booksales, and absentees Sophie Vecchiato (MM405's first kid reader) and my editor at Orca Book Publishers, Sarah Harvey (who is launching two new books hereself later this month.).

And of course I had to mention the wonderful people at
Surrey Public Library who co-sponsored the event by providing the venue, helping with promotion, and cheering me on every step of the way. What good friends!

What a thrill to see everyone almost beating down the doors at noon as about 12 boys and girls helped me clean up the chaos we'd created in the morning spent collaboratively coming up with a story called The Lion and the Cup Cake.

One industrious child voluntarily took on the job of scribe as we brainstormed and voted and roared and and incanted magic words - and everyone got a little lesson in elementary French as the story, as it turned out, was set in Gaie Paris! I plan to post the it on my website once its typed up.

About 70 books were sold (and signed!) at the noon launch, and when the goodies had been consumed, hugs exchanged and those who had to leave went their way, we rearranged the room again to accommodate the writing workshop for adults - 20 at that one, a really mixed crew of familiar faces, and new ones - wannabes and published writers, and a number of students from my previous classes.

Combining the launch with the two workshops really did the trick of bringing together a big group of people who all seemed enthusiastic and engaged.

"Three people bought six books each!" said Maggie B. of Vancouver Kidsbooks; she sold so many I had to dig into my own supply to make sure everyone who wanted one got a copy of Meeting Miss 405.

I'm dead beat but jubilant after a lively day. Now I must pack for my trip to the E. Kootenays.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Post-conference tips and musings

The Surrey International Writing Conference is all over for another year.

A flare up of arthritis in my back left me wincing my way through this weekend's conference. Hard to sit still for long. Or stand. But thanks to the energizing company of new friends and old, lots of new writing-related insights, one sudden flash of a new idea, and a couple of good long soaks in the hotel hot tub, I made it home by mid-afternoon Sunday, primed to start writing...

But then life intervened. As it does for so many of us who head home planning to hit the ground writing.

Here are a few post-conference tips that might help you make the most of what just passed, and what might be ahead of you.
  1. Before you forget what you heard and can no longer decipher all those notes you took, read through them within the next day or so. Then either type them up, or at least fill in all gaps and rewrite the worst of your scribbles. If you put your notes away untended, you'll have forgotten what you planned to do with them, and if you do go back to them later, they may well seem to be in a totally alien language!
  2. Even if you're not quite ready to mail in that work that you pitched to an editor or agent, if they invited you to submit, drop them a quick note soon to thank them for their time, and give them an idea of when they can expect to receive your submission.
  3. If you were invited to submit, and you think the work is ready, ship it off to one kind reader who will lend their eagle eye, either as copy editor or just general critiquer. Ask them for any pointers on what you still need to do. Then DO IT. And send it off.
  4. Remember to mention in your subject line that you met them at the SiWC so your query rises to the top of the heap of all the other emails they will receive that day.
  5. If you have legible workshop notes that can easily be transcribed, type them up and forward a copy to at least two other writers who you think might benefit from the information.
  6. If you picked up copies of books to take home, take the time to read them soon. And if they were written by someone you met at the conference, drop them a note to let them know how you enjoyed their work.
  7. Check back onto the SiWC site to see what people are saying about the conference, and add your comments.
  8. Mark your calendars now for the 2009 conference - October 23-25.
  9. Share with your writing group or your peers, one significant goal you hope to achieve between now and next year's conference.
    Make sure it's: Measurable (better to say that you want to have written 365 pages between now and then, than that you want to write 'more often'); Achievable (perhaps that you want to 'submit to five publishers' rather than 'get one book accepted' - something over which you have no direct control); Realistic (many of us come away so fired up, that if we do any goal setting too soon, it's driven by enthusiasm, as in "I'm going to write for two hours every day, six days a week", when perhaps the goal of writing for five hours a week might be more realistic, and an improvement over your recent record of writing five hours a month.

It was great to have the chance to say hello in passing to so many old friends; I enjoyed spending time over meals with new ones; I benefited from lots of useful and practical input from a variety of energetic and enthusiastic presenters; I was grateful and humbled to receive such an enthusiastic response to Meeting Miss 405 which translated into good sales at the Chapters table; I was thrilled to see my virtual writing buddy Hèlène Boudreau be recognized with an Honorable Mention for her entry in the Writing for Young Readers category of the conference contest (HB is the author of the recently published Arcadian Star); I was moved and honoured to read the work of writers who submitted their work to the nonfiction category of the contest; and I was grateful to share my trade table with Julie Ferguson who did such a great job of minding the shop while I flitted thither and yon to attend workshops and appointments.

To everyone I shared the weekend with in one way or the other - thanks. All the best for your endeavors in the next year. I look forward to meeting you again.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Surrey Conference Tips - the final one

With less than 24 hours until the official opening of the Conference (although some participants are already sharpening their pencils for the Masterclasses today) I will officially admit defeat. My goal of reaching at least 30 conference tips was not achieved, but I do hope that those I posted were of a help to some conference-goers.

So for my last tip #24
For anything not covered here - and if if you still have the time to sweat your final arrangements - check the conference website.
Information about Surrey and various facilities and services here:
Conference FAQs here

Hope you have a great weekend, if you're going. And if you are, drop by my trade table some time during the day (LPwordsolutions shared with Beacon Liteary Services) and pick up a copy of 101-and more-Writing Exercises to Get You Started & Keep You Going, buy a copy of Meeting Miss 405 at the Chapters' table, and come and get it signed at the Saturday evening book signing session in the Fraser Room.

Otherwise, I hope to run into old friends and new in the hallways, meal line-ups and workshops.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A little - or a lot - blatant self-promotion

Got an email the other day from a student of mine, congratulating me on the local media coverage I'd got recently for my kids' book Meeting Miss 405 - a quarter page in the monthly library page promoting my book launch, two articles and one book review - and saying how lucky I am that the local press knows who I am and what I'm up to.

The truth of it is, I had to tell her, they don't come to you - or me.

Here's a tally of the promotional stuff I've done so far:
  • Attendance at the CWILL Fall Book Harvest - lots of postcards distributed promoting both the book launch/free workshops and school visits and the book itself.
  • 4 full media packages prepared and sent out to local papers - News release, one sheet about the book, author pic.
  • 1 media package plus copy of the book to local book reviewer.
  • 2 different PSAs (Public Service Announcements) emailed to three and seven papers respectively.
  • 11 packages sent out to local school librarians - one sheet about the book, a one pager about my school visits, costs, etc., handful of postcards with info. re book launch and workshops.
  • 12 or so emails back and forth to schools in the East Kootenays which resulted in two writing workshops for high school students and one author visit to an elementary school.
  • Emails and phone calls back and forth to bookstore to set up book signing in Invermere.
  • 4 visits to local bookstores to plan signings, and re book selling at the launch.
  • Poster produced and sent to Invermere bookstore for distributing in community to promote my book signing there.
  • News Releases sent to two papers in East Kootenays area promoting book signing session.
  • Emails months ago to ensure Chapters stocks my book at the upcoming Surrey Int'l Writer's Conference.
  • Emails to Conference trade show organizer to book table for book signing on Sat. night.
  • Postcards distributed to participants in two writing workshops I've taught in the past month or so.
  • 25 postcards mailed to various contacts re. Nov. 1 launch and workshops.
  • Postings on local writers' listserv.
  • Arm-twisting emails to anyone else I can think of, hoping they will show up for the launch just in case I end up reading to myself.

Wow! No wonder I'm tired!

The truth of it is that the more you can do to promote your own book, the more hands your book will find itself in, and the more you'll convince your current and prospective publishers that you'll put as much effort into pitching the thing as you did writing it.

I've now included a page on my website called Clips and Pics where I'm posting at least a jpeg image of any media coverage etc. that I get with links to the articles, etc. You will note it's all local, to date.

My book is in the hands of the Gods and my publisher when it comes to being reviewed by the professional journals, or showing up anywhere in the national media.

Conference Tip #23 - Check Your Bags in Here

Lisa Carson reminds us that it can be a risky thing to assume what your baggage allowance might be if you're flying in for the conference. Especially if you plan to return home with armfuls of books by all those wonderul presenters, in which case the extra bag suggested by some might just empty your wallet and max out your credit card when you reach the check in counter at YVR on your way home.

Check your baggage allowance with your airline before you leave the house. And if necessaary dump that second pair of shoes (like it's possible to spend three or four whole days with just one pair!), exchange all those bottles of hair products either for the little travel sizes or just the one you can't be seen out in public without, or do what I do when I travel sometimes - shop for good quality cheap thrift store clothes to bring with you, and dump them all before you go home so you have room in your sutcase for shopping!
I know when to admit defeat - four days to go, and I'm still at least seven tips short. I WILL keep trying, but can't guarantee that I will meet my own quota. Add your tip in the comments if you can help me out!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Surrey Conference Tip # 22 - Those Darn Doors!

Presenters are used to people slipping in and out of their workshops enroute to and from editor/agent appointments. If you know you're going to have to leave, take a seat near the back to minimize disruption.

And on the way in and out of those doors bear in mind that they have VERY audible latches. So if there's no conference monitor opening and closing it for you as you come and go, take a second to ease it closed slowly behind you.

Saves a lot of whiplash of workshop participants who just can't avoid checking out new arrivals.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Conference Tip # 21 - Get Your Just Desserts

I still have nine tips to go if I'm to meet my goal of 30...

Tip #21 - Just Desserts

You'll find the conference food both plentiful and good if the past few years are anything to go by. (Be prepared to wait in line at the buffet table, and try not to leave your chair sticking out where plate-laden conference participants are likely to trip over them while you're waiting your turn.)

Now this is important - if you're picky about your desserts, preferring the fruit-based ones - or like me, are undertaking a systematic and in-depth sicentific study of the chocolate mousses (mice?) of North America - the tip is to get your just desserts at the same time as you pick up your main course. This will mean that you won't feel shortchanged if you go back later and all that's left is a single slice of peach, or raspberry mousse which can never in a million conferences make up for the lack of chocolate.
Trivial, you say? Check in with me mid-afternoon on Saturday and I'm sure you'll be able to tell if I'm behind on my chocolate mousse quota.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Conference tips #17 to 20

The back's not better, so I might as well keep going...

(PLease note that these tips were contributed by conference-goers and do not necessarily represent my views, nor are they the official views of the conference. But keep 'em coming...)

#17: Re. laptops (this one comes from a surreywriters poster)
A simple "Do you mind if I use my laptop?" is really sufficient, in my books. You have all paid the same amount to attend and there is no "right or wrong" way to take notes. Be considerate- absolutely! But don't feel constrained by the person next to you. I have an Alpha smart that I use only for conferences. I get to class early -tell the people as they are sitting next to me , "I'm taking notes on an Alphie and the keys click as I type, in case that might bother you" then it's their choice to sit down or not. Some people cannot takes notes unless they are typing, for various reasons, and we all need to share our space. So be courteous and considerate but don't let anyone make you feel bad for doing what you need to do (within reason :)) to get the most out of your conference experience.

#18 : Take a Break
From long-time conference attendee Pam Kent, who attended the first one ever, held in a Surrey high school with presenter Jack Hodgins.)
Don't be afraid to take a break and wander the halls. Often presenters are just sitting there, between gigs and are happy to talk to you. Besides, a break will refresh you and you'll take more in at the next workshop.

#19: Invading spaces
From Penny Duane, Bard's Ink writer's group maven, lo these many years.
I know this is a classroom/workshop type of three day period and space-wise it is going to be cramped. When you are in a workshop please realize this. We are all in this together, tightly. Your little idiosyncrasies could possibly drive someone to distraction. Consider the following

Annoying habits
- The person sitting next to you constantly clicking their pen. I have suddenly caught myself doing this and am sure the person sitting next to me would have liked to have ripped the pen from my hand.
Perfume/aftershave - You do not need it. Don't force the person sitting beside you to breath shallowly while trying to take notes. Not nice. For this type of closed space scenario it is uncalled for. Save the fumes for after the conference is over. Everyone will thank you.
Laptops/notebooks. I am impressed that you can type that fast in taking notes, but the hum/beeping/clicking of keys/movement on screen, can be really exasperating. If you can't do without your computer for the three days please sit to the side out of smacking range.
Cellphones - Turn them off while in a workshop. The sudden ring or musical interlude is annoying and embarrassing to the people sitting beside you and to the presenter. If you have to have it with you and it has to be on in case of an emergency, put it on vibrate only and stick it in an inside pocket. If it goes off, leave the workshop to answer.
Eating in workshop - next time get up earlier. Or if you had to run to an editor's/agent's appointment eat the food outside the workshop and then enter. No one needs to hear you masticate. As for gum chewing, remember you are sitting right next to someone. Close your mouth. And if you are a gum snapper, I will hand you a Kleenex so you can spit it out or smack you upside the head. Don't embarrass yourself or someone else.

#20 : Acknowledgements
Hi!, Say 'Hi! Hello! How's it going!?' to everyone. Some of us are shy. We really want to talk to a fellow writer, a presenter, an author, or one of those 'oh so terrifyingly above us' editors/agents/publishers. Say 'Hi, How are you?' Introduce yourself. 'How was the workshop?' 'What are you writing?' 'Hi, has your day been good?' 'Have you seen any good books you might pick up?' "Did you get to talk to someone in the Blue Pencil Cafe?' 'How did it go?'
We are fellow writers, we need all the glad-handing we can get. It is an isolated world for us. Say 'Hi!' 'Hello!' 'How are yah!'
I will probably not remember your name the next time I see you, but that is not the point. The point is 'contact.' Lot's of contact. Writers need contact.

Thanks everyone for pitching in. Keep 'em coming.

The word is getting out

All my marketing to the local media paid off. Over four weeks someone somewhere covered me and my book four times. The most recent was a review in the local NOW newspaper. This was especially nice to see as the reviewer covers everything from bestsellers to local self-pubbed stuff, and she said nice things about MM 405.

Then, visiting the local Vancouver Kidsbooks to drop off the poster for my launch, I was told that the manager had read my book and is handselling it to local teachers, poiting out it's set in Surrey and one of the significant characters is a South Asian child, Parveen. This was a selling point I had not anticipated, but now I think about it, perhaps not too many kids' books reflect the multicultural life of Surrey schoolchildren, and maybe they should!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Conference tips - to be continued

I'm baling out of the conference tips business for a couple of days while I give my sore back a chance to recover with a bit of a break from the computer.

Meanwhile, if you haven't already done so, check the conference website FAQ page for answers to some of the questions you might not have thought to ask.

Normal service will resume shortly - my goal is still to get to 30 tips, at least. We're halfway there, with a few in reserve for when I get back to it.

Surrey Conference Tip #16 - The Scent of a Woman

Surrey Conference Tip #16

The question about whether to wear perfume or not at the conference was answered today on the Conference Blog by Coordinator Karen Dyer, who suggests "Leave it at home. Close quarters, high allergy rates these's just easier without. We love you just the way you smell naturally! (Maybe I should re-phrase that....)"
While my conference tips are my opinion only, and do not represent the official word of the SiWC, this one does! Check back on the Conference blog from time to time as Karen continues to post information to help make YOUR conference the best it can be.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Surrey Conference tip #15 - Pitches not always required

Julie Ferguson offers tip #15.

You don’t need to pitch a book to an editor or agent. If you have questions for them, just explain that you are not pitching but would like some info about……. or would like to discuss…….. or would like some advice. They will be delighted to have a conversation with you and, almost always, will assist you in ways you wouldn’t never anticipate. This is a great approach.

Thanks, Julie. And to everyone who responsed to the contest challenge. I now have a more tips to last me for another few days.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Conference tips - twoferone contest

Here's a challenge to keep those tips coming:

One copy of 101 - and More - Writing Exercises to Get You Started & Keep You Going PLUS a copy of my kids' novel Meeting Miss 405 for the person who comes up with the most interesting, unusual or funky conference tip. Winner will be announced on the Monday following the conference and your books will be delivered soon after by Canada Post.

Either post your tip here as a comment, or email it to me at

Surrey Conference tip #14

Tip #14 - And Now for Something Completely Different

Although you may have signed up for the conference with a specific agenda in mind (to learn more about publishing novels, to explore the magazine market, to refine your poetry skills), take a chance with a workshop or panel discussion on something you might have no interest in at all.

You may be surprised at what you learn, discover an affinity to a topic you've not tried before, or acquire skills that you can apply to your own genre or work in progress.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Surrey Conference Tip #13 - Pick a card, any card

Yikes! I missed a day!

Tip # 13
Reminder to self: If you have them, take a stack of business cards with you to the conference. They don't have to be fancy, just your name and full contact info. is all you need if you're doing any serious networking.
If you have a book to promote, why not use the reverse side of the card for the full ordering information, including ISBN, so anyone wanting to has all they need to order it.
And one further tip - if you give your card to someone so they can contact you later, jot a note on it to remind them why they have it in their wallet. I have often get home from events with other people's cards and wondered just what I am supposed to do next.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

It's a... dogwood

A little damp, I just returned from helping to plant the tree I funded in Surrey Public Library's 25th anniversary Library Grove.

It was an especially meaningful occasion as the project grew out of a conversation we had just over a year ago when I was part of the Library's Green Committee. And one of the last big projects I worked on before leaving my job as Development Officer with SPL.

Finding the necessary 25 donors was a breeze - people and organizations started signing up as soon as the word got out. After long months of negotiations with the City of Surrey, a site was selected in the redesigned Holland Park at Whalley and the city's arborists developed the planting list.

Which brought us to today. When donors, Library staff and board members, civic dignitaries were put to work shovelling dirt and spreading mulch to get the 25 trees settled.

I'd have liked to have my name on the Ginko. But in a random draw, 'my' tree turned out to be a Dogwood.

Long may it thrive in the heart of 'Downtown' Surrey.

Chief Librarian Beth Barlow (Left) and Councilor Judy Higginbotham unveil the plaque of donor names.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Surrey Conference Tip #12 - Dress code?

Tip #12 - Dress code?

New conference participants often look at the weekend's schedule of activities and worry or wonder about what kinds of attire is expected.
The fact is, you might see conference-goers (and I'm talking agents, editors, panelists, organizers, keynote speakers, newbies, vendors, wannabes, experienced writers and conference veterans) sporting anything from sweat shirts to sequins, Blundstone boots to bustiers, pinstripes to pinafores. And I for one would not be surprised to see one Conference veteran wearing a little red cape.

Some evening events might tempt you into your posh frock or dress suit - and you would not look out of place in either - but many writers heed one rule from morn' to midnight - anything goes, as long as they are comfortable.

There is a Masque event planned for Saturday night. Conference coordinator Karen Dyer emphasises that masks with a literary bent are optional. There may even be prizes. But no penalties, I would hope, for those who prefer 'to go as they are'.

With a lot of help from my friends

Surrey Public Library - who I worked for for 31 years - has really come through to support my book and the launch. Last week they gave over a good chunk of their monthly Library Page in the paper to pitch them both.

Then today the Library's graphic designer Namrit Uppal completed a poster to promote the November 1 activities.

And for the icing on the cake, today the local paper ran this article.

Anyone who has ever tried to get their book into readers' hands knows that you really have to get out there and beat the bushes. We're competing against hundreds of others to get OUR books bought, borrowed and read.

I am really fortunate to have the support of so many good people as I flog my wares, toot my own horn, and spread the word. I thank them all.

Surrey Conference Tip #11

A surreywriters listserv member weighed in with tip #11.

When you browse through the books for sale, and you see a book you would like, pull out your wallet. At the last conference I attended, I saw several books I wanted. I got so busy that I never managed to getback to buy them--I have regretted it off and on for the past four years.

During the Conference, Chapters will be there selling presenters' books, and Black Bond Books selling how-to writing books and related material. Both are set up for cash, debit and credit card sales, if my memory serves me right.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Surrey Conference tips 9 & 10

Number Nine - Have manuscript, will travel
If you're staying at the hotel and are pitching a book, you might want to bring a copy of the manuscript to keep in your room. But few editors or agents, however interested they are in it, will want to take it away with them in their suitcase. They are more likely to give you their card, and tell you what they would like to see (complete proposal, query and samples, full ms.) and how (by snail mail or email).

You could be prepared with a one-pager of information - the title, a one-para. synopsis, your bio, and full contact info. - which you can give them as a reminder of who you are and what you will be sending them later.

Number Ten
comes from Ursula Maxwell Lewis who is the conference Treasurer and responsible for media relations. (and editor of the
Cloverdale Reporter & Traveling Times)

Be prepared to make friends. SiWC is one of the best places to make worthwhile writing connections, and good friends. At the very first SiWC held at Johnson Heights Secondary 16 years ago, a writer asked if she could join me for lunch. We've been great friends and writing companions ever since. Each year I hear people say how pleased they are to meet up again, share experiences, trade ideas, and give and take advice. Pearls of great price indeed in a rather solitary field of endeavor.

Please join in. It's going to be a challenge for me to come up with fifty tips, so yours would be very welcome. Just leave a comment here and I'll add a link to it at the surreywriters listserv where I am also posting these tips.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Surrey Conference tips #s 7&8

Tip # 7: Double up for twice the benefit
Conference Volunteer Coordinator Camille Netherton suggests that instead of heading to a workshop with a friend, purposefully go to different workshops, promise to take good notes and share handouts. This way you can get twice the good info!

And while we`re on the topic of multiplication...
Tip # 8: Take twice as many writing implements as you think you might need.
If you`re anything like me, you lend your pen to someone, then forget to ask for it back. Or stick it in your hair then lose track of it just when you need to make note of a particularly cogent piece of information. Or put it down when you`re juggling handouts, coffee, and other conference miscellanea, then walk away without it. If you take half a dozen pens with you, you`ll have one to keep, two to lose, one to lend, and a couple to give to others who have lost their last one!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Conference tips #5 & 6 - Hit pause

Today, two on related topics

#5 comes from Ron Wodaski:
What do you do when you find yourself tongue tied or, worse, gushing when you meet someone famous? Relax and enjoy it. It happens to me every year and I swear before I go, every time, I'm going to keep a level head. I never do. After a while it wears off, and you will find yourself having a nice conversation with that person. Just relax into it. Breathe.

#6 This tip comes from Julie Ferguson of Beacon Literary Services: Editor/agent appointments: Nerves often cause writers to gabble, so treat the meeting as a conversation not a monologue. Stop talking frequently so the editor or agent can get a word in.

Please join in. It's going to be a challenge for me to come up with thirty tips, so yours would be very welcome, too. Just leave a comment here and I'll add a link to it at the surreywriters listserv where I am also posting these tips.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Surrey Conference Tips #3 & 4

As tips from other people are coming in so thick and fast, I decided to post two today. If this keeps up, perhaps we'll hit the 50 mark by Oct. 24.

Tip #3

This one comes from Conference Bookseller Liaison Carmen Merrells. Sounds as if she's already planning her packing list, so this is for all those who like to plan their wardrobe in advance:
Dress in layers. The wonky institutional airconditioning and various numbers of bodies in the different workshop rooms means some rooms are warm and some are cold. Be prepared to peel it off or pad it on.

If you want to know whose who else is who on the Conference Board, check here.
(LP- a shawl can be handy to cover bare shoulders if you're gussied up for an evening event, for covering yr. legs in a drafty room, for wrapping around yourself if you need a breather outside...)

Tip #4

If you're an out-of-towner, bring an extra suitcase or bag for all those signed books, conference handouts and draw prizes you'll want to take home. You may start out thinking you will limit your spending over the weekend, but once you catch sight of all those books - with authors standing by ready to sign them - your budget may fly out of the window, and you may need a book truck to get your autographed copies home.

Please join in. It's going to be a challenge for me to come up with thirty tips, so yours would be very welcome, too. Just leave a comment here and I'll add a link to it at the surreywriters listserv where I am also posting these tips.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Surrey Conference tips #2 - Java anyone?

With thirty more sleeps to the 2008 Surrey International Writer's Conference, I thought I'd rack my brains and see if I can come up with a conference tip a day. These are also posted at the surreywriters listserv. Here's #2, so we're all caught up.

Things have changed at the conference recently. In past years there may have been a single coffee urn on the go for early birds, then you had to wait until lunch for another jolt.

(Don't blame the organizers. The cost of coffee for so many participants is considerable!)

Coffee is now available for much of the day during the conference, provided by the conference and at the hotel's own coffee booth. But limit your intake. If you're spending the entire weekend inside the hotel, dry air and too much caffeine both contribute to dehydration and fatigue. So drink water as much as possible to help keep your energy up, and your tissues hydrated.

Please join in. It's going to be a challenge for me to come up with thirty tips, so yours would be very welcome, too. Just leave a comment here and I'll add a link to it at the surreywriters listserv where I am also posting these tips.

Surrey Conference tips #1

With thirty more sleeps to the 2008 Surrey International Writer's Conference, I thought I'd rack my brains and see if I can come up with a conference tip a day. These are also posted at the surreywriters listserv.

Please note that these tips are not endorsed by the conference, nor do they necessary represent its views.

#1. Re. pitching to an agent or editor

Avoid holding them captive while they are in the washroom/lunch line up, and/or if you're luckly enought to be driving them to or from the airport. If you do find yourelf sitting beside them on a coffee break or outside having a smoke, first ask if they would mind if you talked to them now about your project. If they say tell you, No, they need a short break, respect it.
When you do pitch, the trick, according to this post at
Editorial Anonymous is:
"Don't overthink this. Do your homework: (1) thinking hard about the correct age range and appeal to consumers of your manuscript; (2) researching the publisher and thinking about why your manuscript is right for them. And pleasant and not pushy. Offer us the manuscript, like a good hostess would offer a choice of beverages. Don't try to sell your manuscript, like a car salesman.

Also, check the conference website for information about free pitch advice sessions.