More Information on Books and School Visits

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Family of Spies Book Launch

It is official!

The McNally Robinson launch date for my third novel 
Family of Spies
is set for April 29th at 2:00 p.m. 

Please join me in McNally's atrium for a fun-filled afternoon. Of course there will be cookies, clues, and prizes! 

This is a family friendly event, with special guests from the Adopt an Author program at Beaumont School.

Family of Spies, is a middle grade novel loosely based on the mystery revolving around my Rhodes Scholar grandfather, Edward Hugh Martin Crawford. He was a pilot with the R.C.A.F. and was awarded an MBE, based on his involvement in World War 2. Eighty years later, the details of his military career remain sealed. Our family lore of code breaking, secret missions, and connections to Bletchley Park, fueled my imagination when writing this story. Back in 2013 when I began research for this novel, I wrote a blog post exploring my grandfather's life. You can read it by clicking here: The Queen's Rum Runner.

When cousins Ford, Ellie and Gavin, discover their great-grandfather was a rogue World War 2 spymaster, they must outrun MI6 and the CIA through the streets of Paris, relying on their wits and Ford’s newfound clairvoyant skills to unlock Great-Granddad’s spy secrets buried in the past. Great-Granddad hid something important to the war effort and these agencies want it back!

And finally, a huge thank you to my editor, Stephanie Berrington of Yellow Dog, an imprint of Great Plains Publications, for working with me to strengthen every passage of this novel. 

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Meet The Streamers!

Writing is primarily a solo occupation and can be a little lonely at times. Writing groups build a community of like minded folks, people who truly "get" you.

When we moved to England in 2015, I sorely missed my Winnipeg writing group, The Anita Factor and already homesick, I soon became writer sick. I needed to find a new "tribe" with whom a could talk story and so I began a search for fellow children's authors. Within a few months, and my first British Isles SCBWI event at Hertford's Leaf Cafe, I found two writers also searching for a writing group. Kismet? Karma? Fate?

Who knows, but from our first session at our local pub, The Millstream, we knew we had struck gold in finding each other and quickly named ourselves The Streamers. 

The Streamers:

Alice Hemming, Louise Morriss, and Me.
 Apparently, we are selfie-challenged. 
 Perhaps, it was the fizz. 
We may not have been calm, but we carried on.
Definitely the fizz.

Since then we have been to conferences together, workshops, agent meet and greets, and have completed many books together. Now that I have returned to Canada, The Streamers has gone international and we hold our crit session via facebook video. Technology is a wonderful thing.

Alice and Louise are two of the most talented writers I have met. Alice has NUMEROUS books published, with one more launching in April 2018! We had the pleasure of working on this book in our group and to see the initial illustrations and cover design is so exciting.

Louise is on the cusp of her first contract, with heaps of praise with her short listed entry in last year's Hook Competition through the SCBWI conference in Winchester.

With another transcontinental meeting coming at the end of the month, I am counting sleeps until I can hear their lovely voices and laugh the day away. Together again.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

I've Been Adopted!

That's right. I've been adopted, but its not quite like it sounds. Beaumont School in Winnipeg, Manitoba has adopted me as their author in residence and I am beyond the moon excited.

Beginning in October, I will visit the school on a monthly to semi-monthly basis to share the behind the scenes details of publishing my middle grade novel, Family of Spies. Together we will journey through revisions, book designs, promotional considerations, more revisions, marketing decisions, final last minute revisions, book printing, culminating with the book launch.

I am so grateful to Prairie Bookings  for being so incredibly forward thinking and responsive and to Colleen Nelson who referred me to this author service. Colleen is the award-winning author of the following; Blood Brothers, Finding Hope, and 250 Hours, and many more! She champions fellow writers, always looking for ways to offer support and is a model of kindness.

I cannot wait to meet the Beaumont students and introduce them to Ford, Ellie, and Gavin. 
A world of espionage, secret agents, and clairvoyance awaits!
*Just found out one more school is interested in adopting me! 
More deets to follow...

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Judging a Book

As I journey down the publishing road of Family of Spies, I have started to research middle grade book covers. Since readers do judge a book by its cover, getting this right is imperative.

Yesterday, I met with Winnipeg's McNally Robinson who graciously shared their knowledge on what draws readers in, what sells, and the key features of an older middle grade novel cover.

We found some key similarities in popular titles. More often than not, the faces of the characters are not revealed, leaving more to the reader's imaginations. Certain colours seem to dominate: blues, purples, blacks. Mysteries do lend themselves to a darker cover after all. Each book title has a striking font which reveals a glimmer of the story's tone.

These stunning covers topped the list:

The Girl Who Drank the Moon was our favourite. 
I loved it so much, I bought it and can't put it down.

Then I found these gorgeous books this morning:

I have read many of these titles, and now want to read them all!

Which ones do you like best? 

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Family of Spies Launching Spring 2018!

It's official!

Family of Spies will launch in spring 2018!

I am extremely happy to have another book published with Great Plains Publications under their new teen and middle grade imprint, Yellow Dog Press. Partnering with editor Catharina de Bakker on Forever Julia was a dream and I can't wait to work with her once more.

Soon I will start revisions, which will take me into November/December and in the mean time discussions around cover designs begin.

Book covers are always important, but with this age group they can make or break book sales. This week I am meeting with McNally Robinson who have graciously agreed to discuss what makes a middle grade cover pop off the shelf.

Then to plan the book launch. 
Spy theme? 
Yes please!

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Write to Write Another Day

Writing a book is thrilling and exciting, and at the same time an extremely difficult business full of rejection, critique, and struggle.

I have often been asked, how I take a nugget of an idea and turn it into a bound novel. So today, I thought I would distill it down to;

The Creation of a Book in Seven "Simple" Steps:

1. A writer combines their passion for words and storytelling with bits of their heart and soul to create a first draft.

2. To produce the best possible manuscript, a lengthy period of editing, rewriting, and revising follows.

3. With heart a' flutter that book baby is then submitted to editors and publishers to find a home.

4. Contracts are signed.

5. Further edits are completed at the request of an editorial team.

6. Cover reveal! Happy Dancing begins.

7. The launch. Happy Dancing continues.

However, this takes time, patience, and an extremely thick skin. Think Earth's crust magnitude.

Not mentioned in the above process are the rejections that flood in. Sometimes it is tempting to quit under the weight of the "no's", the "sorry this is just not for us", or "we like it, but not enough to really get behind this project." Ouch.

However, I am exceedingly stubborn and will not go silently into any good night (er' whatever).

To combat rejection woes, I have developed a (mostly effective) strategy. Perhaps it will work for you. If nothing else, you may find it delicious.

Three steps to overcome writing rejection:

1. I repeat over and over again the following mantras:

"Real writers write, they don't quit."

"Winners don't quit and quitters never win."

2. I write to write another day:

This is more than just a clever sentence. I find the best way to assuage the sting of rejection is to write myself back in the game. Essentially, I write to renew my passion, pouring myself into a new project. This creates the writing fuel I need to continue.

3. Chocolate:

Eat. All. The. Chocolate.

What are your salves for rejection?

Friday, 26 May 2017

The Business of Writing

See? Creating worlds is very cool.
Writing grant apps? Not so much.

Being a writer isn't only about creating imaginary worlds and characters to explore them.

It also includes tasks that range from writing grant applications to writing bios both lengthy and short and sweet. It also means perfecting blurbs, tweets, and elevator pitches to catch and hook the attention of readers, editors, and publishers.

All of these efforts take creative thought into a different direction and help to promote both a writer and their work. It is the business side of our industry and is as important to a writer's career as is writing the best book possible.

Today, I work on author bios for Sourcebooks, who purchased Little Pickle Press, the publisher of Spaghetti is NOT a Finger Food. Author Bios are basically a humble or even not so humble brag about yourself and can be quite challenging. The goal, in my mind, is to encapsulate who you are, your writing style, and to pique interest in your work. No worries. I have a fresh pot of coffee brewing and a chocolate reward waiting.

This may need some work...

You can purchase Spaghetti is NOT a Finger Food by clicking here.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

A Dummy Layout is Never Stupid

A Dummy Layout is Never Stupid.
(I know. Lame joke. I couldn't help myself.)

This is Peaches. 

Hopefully not the final version of this magic-wielding peacock, but it isn't half bad for someone who is drawing challenged.

I actually had quite a delightful time sketching Peaches into existence when creating the dummy for my picture book, Peaches in a Peach Tree.

Recently, I completed a graphic novel and comic books workshop and not because I thought, like Peaches, magic would rain from me and I would suddenly be able to draw. That would be insane. (Although, a tiny bit of me hoped I would acquire more than stick man drawing ability.)

I enrolled in this class, because I was curious to learn more about the craft and to discover if I could somehow turn my novels into graphic novels. The instructors, Justin Currie and GMB Chombichuk, were dynamic and inspiring and shared their massive amounts of experience and talents with us and I learnt too much to do the course justice on this post. However, what helped me specifically with creating picture books was the idea that a thumb nail sketch didn't have to be perfect. This was quite freeing and when I returned to Peaches, I let my pencil loose and I gotta' say...

...maybe a little magic did happen today.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

And Two Makes it Real

"The only thing harder than getting your first book published, is getting your second book published."

I heard that ages ago, long before my first book was complete, years before it was even published. Once I began submitting manuscripts to editors and agents, I thought of that saying and grumbled, "I'd love to have that worry."

The reality of it hit me like a concrete wall of self-doubt as I started the submission process all over again with my second novel. The "no's"  arrived by post and email and those same feelings I had in my early days of writing descended, coupled with a new worry...

What if I was a one hit wonder?

What if Spaghetti was a fluke? A bit of good luck? Was it possible all I had in my was one good story?

My normally positive attitude was almost flattened. Almost.

The reason I was able to continue submitting, revising, and rewriting was because I made a few very smart decisions a few years ago. (I make many ridiculous decisions on an ongoing basis, so when my choices work out, they're quite a whoopdeedoo to me.)

The first brilliant thing I did was take a writing workshop led by Anita Daher. Not only did I learn more about writing in those eight weeks than I had in the previous eight years, Anita became my first writing mentor and a great friend. And to boot,  I met the most amazing circle of writers.

That's when I made my second most stupendous decision. I stuck with those talented women and we formed a writing group - a sisterhood of sorts. Seven years later, "The Anita Factor" is still together, meeting every second Thursday at McNally's, supporting each other through the dark hours of self doubt and celebrating each other's glory days of publications and award nominations.

Sheldon Oberman
The second wise move I made was to apply for The Sheldon Oberman Mentorship Program run through The Manitoba Writers' Guild. When I was accepted, I had no idea that I would be fortunate enough to be paired with Carolyn Gray, then Executive Director of The Guild and incredible playwright. Under her guidance, I ditched fourteen of my darling chapters, replacing them with better written, faster paced scenes that actually contained plot! Yes, plot peeps. Every story needs one.

The final thing I did was listen to my inner voice. The voice that sometimes is hard to hear over the busyness of daily life. The voice that gets pushed to the bottom of my to-do list of laundry, work, and kids' soccer practices.The voice that knows me best.

I think it may be my ego. Or id. Or conscience? 
(Yes, that is a Finding Nemo reference. Of course.)

I'm not a student of Karma, or meditation, or Disney movies, so I'm not sure what it is called. But, whatever it is, that little voice that knows both my wildest dreams and worst fears, said to me long ago, "You can't stop writing, so don't ever try, sister." 

Even though that wee voice has whispered, chanted, and even shouted those words, for over a decade now, I have tried to stop writing. On occasion. But only when it all seemed too hard, the rejection hurt too much. However, abstaining from writing, not losing myself in the story-worlds of my imagination, hurt even more.

So, I've stopped the stopping and I just kept on writing. because only if you're writing and polishing your words can the good stuff happen, like having my second book, Forever Julia, picked up by Great Plains Publications in 2015. And man, two published books is the perfect way to squash self-doubt.

In fact, it makes me wonder what three books would feel like...

             Forever Writing

Thursday, 30 March 2017

No ghosts, goblins, or scary witches. At least not anymore...

Nervous. Excited. Hopeful.

Triple the feels today.

I've been working on two picture books for sometime now and this morning I submitted one of them to a publisher.

SQUEEEE!  (I actually whispered my joyous scream, as my children are sleeping and it's never good to wake teenagers before 11 am during spring break.)

Strangely enough, the waiting time between submission and response is one of my favourite stages in the writing process. It's full of promise and wild fantasies. What if they adore my book?  What if they think it is the next BIG thing? What if they give me a 6 figure 4 figure advance? (Sometimes even fantasies are a bit ridiculous.)

Possibly even stranger is that I never rarely think negatively. No gloom and doom as I wait. It's not that I don't know there are zero guarantees in publishing and that receiving rejections are part of the game. I just choose not to dwell on that part. No need to ruin my bliss with reality.

So now, NOT a Halloween Book, is out there; looking for a publishing home. 
And I am enjoying the ride.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Spies, Code Breaking, Secret Missions, Clairvoyance? Yes, Please!

When cousins, Ford, Ellie and Gavin, discover their great-grandfather was a rogue World War 2 spymaster, they must outrun MI6 and the CIA through the streets of Paris, relying on their wits and Ford’s newfound clairvoyant skills to unlock Great-Granddad’s spy secrets buried in the past. Great-Granddad hid something important to the war effort and these agencies want it back! Family of Spies, is a middle grade novel inspired by my Rhodes Scholar grandfather and his still sealed World War 2 records. He was a pilot with the R.C.A.F. and family lore of code breaking, secret missions, connections to Bletchley Park, and links to Canada’s top spy, William Stephenson fueled my imagination when writing this story.

This is the manuscript I finished while we lived in Hertford, England. I typed the final words while movers packed everything around me.
Hit my deadline with no time to spare!
Once back in Winnipeg, the revisions began. Darlings were killed, scenes rewritten again and again, sentences tightened, character arcs strengthened and now two months later, I journey down the path to publication. My upcoming days and weeks will be filled with writing engaging hooks, synopses, and queries in search of a home for Family of Spies.

Wish me luck!

Monday, 7 November 2016

The Year of Yes

Yes, please. Yes, thank you. Yes, of course.
Our move overseas was full of changes and challenges for our family, not all of them fun. Some moments were downright unpleasant. 
However, rather than run naked through the cobble-stoned streets of England like a lunatic, I decided to challenge myself to try anything and everything that came my way while over here. 
(That is correct. Those were my only two options; Wild Nudity or Never Uttering No.)

I am now coming up to the 18 month anniversary of "Saying Yes", whenever possible, and so far all opportunities have proven possible. I've been pushed over, above, and beyond my comfort zone. This has been nerve wracking, nauseating, and exhilarating all at the same time. Who knew adrenaline could be such a rush. I know, lame, but sometimes you have to "say yes" to lame. See what I did there? 

So, this is me, doing something I never thought I'd ever get the chance to do. I got to be a reporter; not once, but twice.

I practiced head nods for this bit. Such dedication.
Here is my first interview and foray into the world of journalism. (That would be extremely small "j" journalism, as I have zero training, and truthfully the CBC will not be calling anytime soon.) In this video I speak to Karen Delahay, one of the founders of Hertford's leading visual arts venue; Courtyard Arts.

In my second Courtyard Arts interview I met the talented artist, Paul Hiles. His work illustrates his love of London and showcases his affection for 1950s/60s culture and style. His house was an homage to everything Mod.

I could have lived the rest of my days, quite happily in this kitchen.
My extreme gratitude goes to Courtyard Arts for saying "yes" to me conducting these interviews and to Dr. Mike Howarth for having faith in me to pull them off. He is a video wizard and was somehow able to edit out my mad-blinking affliction. 

If you are looking to get connected to the art scene in Hertford, England, follow this link to Courtyard Arts.

If you need anything to do with video, get in touch with Dr. Mike Howarth here: MHMVR

And finally, if you are considering your own, "Year of Yes"
I highly recommend reading Amy Poehler's book, 
Yes Please
Inspirational and hilarious. How could you say, no?

Buy it!

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Forever Julia wins McNally Robinson Book Awards for Young People (older categor)

In fact the road was a lot like this,
minus the mountains & the arid landscape.
Otherwise identical, but metaphorical.

It's been a long and winding road, back to this blog!

Apparently moving to another county across an ocean is sort of a big deal. Sometimes it even interrupts your life, even if you are not an organized type A personality. It seems a transatlantic relocation will put a bit of a kink in your everyday goings on.

Go figure.

Sunrise over our Pier in Ponemah.
(The Drew snapped this photo!)

Now we are back to the cottage in Ponemah, Manitoba for the summer, where I get to complete my middle grade novel; Ford and Ellie: Family of Spies along the shores of Lake Winnipeg.

While in England I had the extreme honour of receiving two nominations for Manitoba Book Awards; The John Hirsch Award for Most Promising Manitoba Writer and the McNally Robinson Book Awards for Young People (older category). The first award went to the talented Chantal Fiola, but I won a Manitoba Book Award for Forever Julia

                              Crazy, right? 
Super bad image, but that signature doesn't lie!
Much Happy Dancing was done.
Come August 30th we head back to our final year in England with full and heavy hearts. Our Winnipeg and lake-time fun with our friends and family will fuel us for further adventures in Europe and carry us back to our new friends and dear family in England.

How can it be, that in 12 short months we now find ourselves stretched between two countries, thousands of miles apart? If only the Concord would come out of retirement and fly to Winnipeg every four months, life would be sublime.

Hmmm. There may be a story in there...

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

How to Write a Synopsis in 4 to 6 Easy-ish Steps

1. Procrastinate. Be sure to leave it until either the night before the deadline - at the very earliest - or better yet, push it off to the due date. 

2a. Make sure you are working in a room with a large clock that tick-tocks* down the seconds so loudly that you no longer hear your inner voice ranting, "Why do I always do this!" *Added bonus: annoying sounds are guaranteed to diminish all creative thought. Perfect.

Snip snip here, and a snip snip there...
2b. Include every last detail of your book, carelessly disregarding the finely worded request for a succinct double-spaced one page synopsis. Why? So later, when time is purposely working against you and you re-read the submission instructions, you can torture yourself with the trimming, snipping, and deleting of all your little darlins'. 

3. Throw a temper tantrum. This will make you feel extremely liberated for 30 seconds.Then return to your computer and rage-type out the following synopsis:

Once upon a time, there was this person, who wanted something really, really badly, but big trouble happened and it got really, really hard, but this person never gave up and they saved the day and lived happily ever after. 
The End

3. Part 2 - Pour yourself a beverage. Pots of coffee work for me, but you may prefer a tall glass(es) of Shiraz/Chardonnay/Bourbon/Vodka. I do not judge. Now delete each word as typed above.

4.Take 3 to 5 deep breaths, careful not to hold them too long or you may pass out. Especially if you are pulling an Ernest Hemingway, Oscar Wilde, or Edgar Allen Poe. Most likely absinthe and yoga breathing don't mix well.

5. Now, write out as simply as possible a very loose outline. Then add a few key details. Do not forget to include how the story ends. This is no time for clever hooks and mysterious innuendos. A publisher or editor needs to see the story arc.

6. Let your latest synopsis draft sit and simmer for awhile, but not too long as you are tight for time. (Please see item 1.) 

Who would miss one teeny egg?
How to spend those precious hours until you begin further edits?

Take up macrame. Craft a scarf, an extremely stretchy dog leash, or a groovy pocket square for your favourite suit sporting guy. Everything old is new again. 

Dig into the Easter chocolate your children have not-so-carefully hidden in their bedrooms.

Or write a blog post about it.

Happy Synopsis Writing!

Friday, 11 March 2016

What is Your Theme Song?

By the light of the silvery moon...
While listening to classical music on the drive home this morning - Claude Debussy's Claire de Lune to be exact - I had this funny sort of thought. 

Normally while driving, fresh writing ideas come to me or my current character's dialogue chatters on in my head. But today as I raced down the back roads of Hertfordshire, I began thinking about the composer of the beautiful music that flooded through my car.

Who was this Debussy?

Mozart, Quartet in C

How did he "think" up these songs? Did he hear the music in his head as he walked about town, like writers hear their characters' conversations? When Debussy showered, did great trills and crescendos crash down upon him, like words and passages do for me?

What would it be like to have music as great as Mozart, Beethoven, and Debussy lilt through your mind and carry you through each and every day?

I have often used music to set the tone for writing. Some characters I create prefer AC/DC, others The Weekend. Some, I feel even have a theme song that become synonymous with who they are. Music helps my creativity. 

I have now arrived home and have Claire de Lune cranked on my laptop. Its haunting melody surrounds me as I tackle the next scene in Ford and Ellie

Moon Fever on my brain.
How will Debussy's music shape my next passage?

Imagine, if you were the one to make music that others enjoy and use to help fuel their creative endeavours. Both current and classical music is often used in television and film as a movie's score and I then wondered further, "Was there one specific song that Debussy would have considered the score to his life? Did he have a theme song?"

My theme song changes quite regularly. Currently, it is Chumbawamba's Tub Thumping (I Get Knocked Down). Not because the lyrics are awe-inspiring or incredibly meaningful, but the energy of the song lifts my spirits and pumps me up.

What is your theme song?